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The first rule of adventuring

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Regardless of time, place and purpose, there are many pitfalls awaiting the inexperienced adventurer. The physical obstacles and enemies separating one from one's goal are worrisome enough, but there's also the crucial matter of narrative causality to consider. Moreover, adventuring isn't an endeavor when one can start small and set more ambitious goals with experience. It's impossible to gauge the nature of an adventure before it's finished, and they always end up being more difficult and dangerous than first anticipated.

Therefore it is only prudent to learn from the mistakes of past adventurers and take pains to ensure that narrative causality is on one's side at the planning stage, instead of rushing headfirst into a quest and realizing halfway through that one has set oneself up to become a tragic hero, a condition that is almost impossible to reverse.

You, esteemed reader, are already at a great start, having wisely chosen to consult this course. No doubt you already have some knowledge of the main laws of narrative causality.

Now, please consider those laws, and answer the following question: what is the first rule of adventuring in Middle Earth?

The most common answer is "anyone from the South or East is not to be trusted". And that's quite right, those filthy Easterners and Southerners are evil by nature. Of course, when people to the North and West of you regard you with suspicion they are being appallingly and groundlessly prejudiced, but that's beside the point. As mentioned this rule is quite right, but it isn't the first rule of adventuring. The actual first rule is much neglected and not widely known, perhaps because it seems ridiculous to anyone but those assured of its effectiveness by experience.

The rule is, as follows:

Bring a hobbit.

That's it. If you're bound on an adventure, either by inclination or necessity, bring a hobbit along.

It's rather peculiar and deceptively simple, but there you have it.

Of course, taking a hobbit along won't guarantee your success. You might still fail, or achieve your goals and perish. Nothing is certain, except that your hobbit is going to be of immense help to you and your party. You cannot even begin to imagine the ways in which hobbits can be of use in the course of an adventure, and more often than not, neither can the hobbits themselves.

Some of the more predictable advantages of hobbits include:

They are unexpectedly likeable. The combination of charm, awkwardness, good-natured curiosity and their adorable tiny stature can quickly defuse many a dangerous situation.

They are good at sneaking, which makes them ideal for covert operations.

They are surprisingly hardy. They also often have a thirst to prove themselves. A hobbit can walk leagues and leagues on a bite of bread and a kind word if they have to, and they might not have to because:

They are good at finding food. If there's anything edible in the vicinity your hobbit will home in on it like a truffle dog. Be prepared to eat lots of mushrooms, however.

They tend to stumble upon powerful or important artifacts the way other people tend to step in cowpats. Seeing stones, magic rings, singular jewels - before you can name it, your hobbit would have already located it and probably started doing something dangerous with it.

They have a naturally sunny disposition, and can usually lift others' spirits during the more tedious or bleak moments of your adventure.

They know a lot of riddles, which is a seemingly useless skill that more often than not ends up being crucial for the success of an adventure.

They have an astonishing capacity for bravery when it counts.

They are very loyal, and would never betray your friendship for their own ambition.

All these pale before the main advantage of hobbits, which is simply that they get things done. They somehow manage to give assistance when it’s most needed to save the day or accomplish a seemingly insurmountable task. Whether it's hidden depths, dumb luck, or narrative causality, a hobbit is an indispensable addition to every adventure.

 

Selection of hobbits:

No doubt by now you are convinced of the usefulness of hobbits, but this is only the beginning. You can't simply ride into the Shire, hogtie the first hobbit you see, and call it a day. A hobbit may be worth his weight in gold for an adventurer, but it has to be the right hobbit.

Fortunately, the first and main indication of a hobbit suitable for adventure is that he can be persuaded to go adventuring. You really don't want the ones who don't want to leave their homes, they'd be worse than useless.

Finding a hobbit who's amenable to adventure is further complicated by the fact hobbits are wary of outsiders, especially outsiders who loom over them (so practically all outsiders). The best way to go about the business of acquiring a hobbit is to use a go-between, someone who is familiar with their ways, like Gandalf the Grey, or their old trading partners from Bree.

Take caution, because even with the relative obscurity of the first rule as of late many adventurers have been looking for a hobbit of their own, and a small but booming business in fake hobbits has been flourishing. Don't order your hobbit by post, rather go down to the Shire and chose one yourself. You don't want to end up with a shaved dwarf that would make out with your entire luggage and your boots while you're sleeping.

Once you have a possible candidate you must assess them carefully. Do not make the mistake to ask about your hobbit's battle experience, that's an amateur mistake and doesn't matter anyway. Rather, stand directly before the hobbit and ask yourself the following questions while observing him with a keen eye. Does this hobbit look like an endearing bungler, or like an ignorant clodpole? Does he look like a congenial fellow, or like a mean, scrunched-up penny pincher? Does he rant in a querulous voice about the folly of looking for trouble, or does he babble excitedly about elves? Is he comfortably pudgy and rosy-cheeked, or does he look doughy and pasty?

Ideally, you want a cheerful, friendly, adorably clumsy hobbit - he'll only show more and more competence with time. Resist the urge to check the condition of his teeth, hobbits hate that!

The popular choice is a male hobbit of active age, but should you decide to eschew tradition and pick a female hobbit, make sure that she's unwed and childless, otherwise you might find yourself forced to march towards your noble goal trailed by a string of tiny hobbits reminiscent of particularly mischievous ducklings, and having to pause in the middle of daring fights for potty breaks.

 

Handling of hobbits:

Once you've been issued a hobbit you must be careful of how you conduct yourself with him. Mistreating your hobbit might be the worst mistake you could ever make, as that might turn the hobbit into the hero of the tale, and you into the villain, or the kind of flawed hero who can only achieve redemption through death, and no one wants that. Thus it's a good idea to be kind to your hobbit, and protective of him whenever possible.

Playing an instrument or singing to him is a good way to bond, as is sharing pipeweed. We strongly advice the unaccustomed not to overindulge in pipeweed in an effort to keep up with their hobbit, and not to wander off after any friendly fairies or similar beings that might appear after pipeweed ingestion.

Under no circumstances mock a hobbit for his height, unless you're barely taller than him, in which case the remark might make you appear amusingly unselfaware instead of irredeemably loutish.

As previously mentioned, hobbits have the propensity to happen upon dangerous objects if left to their own devices for more than two minutes. Keep that in mind and keep an eye on them, or set them loose, as the situation demands.

Should you at some point in your journey find yourself thinking that your hobbit is a rather fetching fellow, go ahead and initiate a romance with him. Interspecies romance is a fine addition to any hero's story*. Indeed it is the only romance worth including in the telling of an adventure, excluding incest. But not everyone is fortunate enough to have a long lost sibling lying around, and in any case that sort of thing tends to end in tragedy, so all in all you're much better off with a hobbit.

Insanely expensive objects crafted by your people make for fine courting gifts and are an auspicious start, provided you don't follow up by trying to murder your hobbit soon afterwards.

Should you break or damage your hobbit, DO NOT try to replace him. It would make you look ungrateful, and it's probably a futile effort anyway as hobbits don't grow on trees and you've already shown you can't be trusted with them. Instead, be sure to show your hobbit the appropriate degree of gratitude through small but meaningful gestures of humility - kneeling in front of them is a popular choice, or admitting the virtues of their people in public in a conspicuously loud voice. It would make you look magnanimous and ensure that you won't be punished by the narrative for working your hobbit into an early grave.

If your hobbit notices the calculated nature of your show of gratitude, distract him with some grilled mushrooms before he starts asking pointed questions or demanding backdated hazard pay. You might also want to send him and his elderly relatives on a vacation they're unlikely to come back from, just as a precaution.

 

And now a final word of caution. If you embark on a quest to slay a Dark Lord and finally stand before him only to find out that he's uncommonly short, say, hobbit size, do not attack him! Your best bet is to throw aside your weapons, prostrate yourself at his feet, and beg him to take you in his service. You won't regret it. For one thing, he would probably have taken over Middle Earth by the following winter, as hobbits hate being active in the cold, and for another he would have a dark lair equipped with all manner of creature comforts and with a very nicely stocked larder.

Once again, thank you for choosing our course, and we hope we might interest you in our next title "Wizard Watching: How to Tell a Genuine Ishtar from Any Other Unwashed Old Codger with an Unfortunate-looking Hat and an Eccentric Sense of Humor".

 

*Unless it's with an orc. One might be forgiven for thinking such a warning might be redundant, but every year there's someone who actually attempts it. If you find yourself attracted to an orc, lay off the mushrooms and seek help.