There's one question that I get asked an awful lot on the LOTRO forums...

How in Middle Earth do you play three characters at once? Are you insane?

Well, I'll leave aside for now the question of my sanity, refusing to incriminate myself and all that, and just deal with the playing multiple characters... 8-)

It sounds tough in principle, but it's actually fairly easy with practice. In EQ and WoW I ran five at a time 8-)

There's obviously quite a lot too it, the main thing of course being lots of practice, and many many deaths, but this is a rough outline on how to get started...

First off, here's a nice pretty picture of my three characters, to help you picture the scenes of chaos...

Me and Me and Me


Secondly, there's the other common question: exactly how do you play three at once?
Well, for that I have three separate LOTRO accounts, and play on three separate PCs.

Right, on to the actual details of playing...

Ok, the central character of my main trio is an Elf Champion, so I'll start there.

A typical fight just playing the Champion goes something like this:-

1) Target a mob and hit Auto Attack to start firing arrows at it to pull it (or just run up and start smacking it, either works).

2) Hit it a couple of times with the attacks that only cost Power and raise Fervour.

3) Hit it with an attack that costs Fervour.

4) Goto 2 until mob (or you) dead.

Ok, oversimplified a lot, but that's basically it. You start a fight, and press a button every couple of seconds. Some of the buttons you press regularly (the ones that raise Fervour), some of the buttons you press when available (the ones that cost Fervour).


Now let's add in the Minstrel. To start with, we'll keep it very basic.

There are four essential keys needed for the Minstrel:-

Target Elf Champion. As long as the Elf always starts the group, she'll always be Group Member #2 for everyone else, so I simply map 'Target Group Member #2' to the / key on the numberpad.

Target Self. No matter how hard you try, there will always be times when the healer will draw agro (the Elf gets chain stunned, for example, and needs healing while she can't maintain her agro). Thus the Minstrel needs to be able to select herself quickly. I have this mapped to 'Home' next to the numberpad.

Auto-Follow. It is extremely hard to steer multiple characters at once. It can be done, but luckily there's usually no need. Most MMOs have an Auto-Follow function, and LOTRO is no exception. I have a '/Follow' command mapped to * on the numberpad.

Heal Target. This is the main point of having a Minstrel in the group, to heal folks, and so you need a key for this. I have Heal mapped to . on the numberpad.


So, now we're running two characters, how does that go?

I start the group with the Elf, and invite the Minstrel. I press / and * on the Minstrel's keyboard (Target Elf, Follow), and set off looking for something to kill. I steer with the Elf, and the Minstrel tags along.

I start a fight using the Elf, exactly as shown above.

Should the Elf need a heal at any point, I press . on the numberpad on the Minstrel's keyboard.

And that's it. For normal fights, I have one extra key to press, should I need it. It is admittedly on a separate keyboard, but that just means I have to let go of the mouse for a second. Not too taxing, but it already lets me fight much tougher mobs than just the Elf alone 8-)

Once the fight is over, I run off to start another fight, and the Minstrel happily follows along. Occasionally I'll find a mob that has special attacks that throw the characters about or stun them, and those will occasionally cancel Auto-Follow, but I just have to press * to start it again, so even those aren't a problem.


So, I'm now controlling two characters, but I'm not really making the best use of the Minstrel. She can do a lot more than heal, after all.

Well, I have two hands, and I'm not pressing buttons on the Champion all the time, all the skills have cooldowns... why not use that extra time to do a bit more with the Minstrel! 8-)

The Minstrel has lots of fun things, but as I'm splitting my concentration between two characters now it's best to keep it to the basics. Let's just worry about five skills for now...

Piercing Cry. This does a bit of damage (quite a lot for a Minstrel), with a 30 second cooldown. Basically a once-per-fight skill really, so that's hardly taxing. Let the Elf get a head start, and hit it. Easy 8-)

Ballad of Steel. Damages the mob, and gives a decent amount of armour to the group. A Tier 1 Ballad, which opens up access to Tier 2s.

Ballad of Swiftness. Damages the mob, and speeds up the group's attacks. A Tier 2 Ballad, which has to follow a Tier 1, and opens up Tier 3.

Ballad of War. Increases the group's melee offense. A Tier 3 Ballad, which has to follow a Tier 2, and opens up Anthems.

Anthem of the Free Peoples. Adds a lot of Morale Regeneration in Combat to the group. An Anthem, which has to follow a Tier 3 Ballad. Two minute reuse.


So, we're now starting the fight with the Elf, and letting her get a bit of a head start, and then hitting Piercing Cry on the Minstrel.

Then, while running the Elf's attacks with one hand (the left, if you're wondering), we tap out a simple pattern on the Minstrel with the other (that'll be the right then!). I (Ballad of Steel), O (Ballad of Swiftness), P (Ballad of War). There's a couple of seconds or so cooldown between each becoming available, so it's a fairly simple pattern to maintain. Should the Elf need a heal during this, I just interrupt the pattern long enough to press . (heal).

This is a bit more complicated, obviously, but it doesn't take too long to get into the swing of it. It also means that I'm now killing those tougher mobs quite a bit quicker, both from the extra damage of the Minstrel and the extra damage the Elf is doing thanks to the Minstrel.

The observant might have noticed that I didn't use Anthem of the Free People's there. I tend to save that for the extra-tough mobs (Elites with nasty special attacks, for example), as it has a two-minute cooldown. Generally I don't need it, and I don't want it to be unavailable when I find out that I do 8-)

You might also have noticed that I'm damaging the mob with the Minstrel while still targetting the Elf... LOTRO has an amazingly useful 'Skill Target Forwarding' feature, which determines if the skill you're currently using is valid for your target or not. If it is (eg I'm targetting the Elf and press Heal, or targetting the Mob and press a damage song) then it simply does that action on your target. However, if the skill isn't valid for your target (damage song while targetting Elf, heal while targetting mob) then it tries to apply the skill to your target's target instead. This is, as I said, amazingly useful! 8-)

Finally, you might have noticed that the three songs I repeat are on single-press keys (I, O and P) rather than the defaults of CTRL, Alt or Shift combinations. That's so I can do them with one hand, which is clearly not the case with CTRL, Alt and Shift. And in case you're wondering, I have other stuff on 1 to = 8-) I also find that I, O and P stand out more when I glance over.


So, I'm now running two characters, doing most of the work with the Elf Champion, but adding quite a lot with the Minstrel. A bit of practice and it's second nature, and fairly simple. Time to add another character! 8-)

The next most useful character to my group would be a Hunter (run buff, porting about, tracking, huge damage), so let's add in one of those! 8-)

Obviously we'll need some of the same 'standard' buttons for the Hunter, / for Target Elf, * for Follow etc, but now there's another 'standard' button that is very useful... Assist. I have this set up on the + key on the number pad. Pressing it will change your target to your current target's target. In a single mob fight I won't really need it, I can use the same 'Skill Target Forwarding' function I mentioned above, but if I'm fighting several mobs then the Elf needs to swap targets a lot, and I might want to keep the Hunter on a set one. Assist allows me to do this easily.

You might have noticed in the Minstrel section above that I don't mention using her mouse at all. That's because using two mice at once is tough, and so I have her set up to be almost entirely keyboard driven. I only use her mouse to talk to quest NPCs, and loot Quest items. All 'normal' looting is done by the Elf.

The same is true for the Hunter, I need her to be keyboard driven, and again single keypresses only, so keyboard setup is a key part of playing multiple characters.

The Hunter keyboard is to the left of the Elf keyboard, so I run her with the left hand, as well as the Elf. This means that I have to simplify what she does quite a lot. In combat, I mostly only use five attacks:-

Swift Bow. Long induction high damage bow attack, uses Power and generates Focus.

Barbed Arrow. Makes the mob bleed, and slows it slightly. Uses Power and generates Focus.

Penetrating Shot. High damage instant shot. Uses Focus.

Merciful Shot. Very high damage instant shot. Uses lots of Focus, needs the mob to be under 50% health, one minute cooldown. Basically a once-per-fight shot.

Rain of Arrows. High damage AoE attack. Uses lots of Focus.

Of those five, for most of the fight I use Swift Bow and Penetrating Shot, so just the two attacks to worry about except at certain times.

Before combat I'll often use traps, and after combat I'll re-apply Find the Path (group run speed buff), but at both times I'm doing little or nothing with the other two, so that's very easy. Same goes for tracking, porting, etc.


So, how does a fight go now, with three characters?

A bit more complicated, that's for sure, but I'm still doing most of the work with the Elf, and using a subset of the other characters' skills. A typical fight against an Orange Elite would now go something like this...

Target the mob with the Elf, and hit Auto Attack to ping it with the bow (I don't often use Shoot any more, it just does the same damage on a longer induction. I only use it if I need the extra couple of feet range).

While the mob is running in (and Auto Attack is still shooting it), hit Battle Frenzy on the Elf to top up the Fervour bar.

Just before the mob arrives, hit Swift Bow on the Hunter.

When the mob arrives, hit it with a couple of high-damage attacks with the Elf, so she'll still be ahead on the agro stakes when the Hunter's Swift Bow lands.

Hit Barbed Arrow on the Hunter to start the mob bleeding, and Ballad of Steel on the Minstrel, to increase our armour.

Then Exchange of Blows and Flurry on the Elf, for the extra damage and agro.

Still on the the Elf, and a Bracing Attack to top up her health, then Ballad of Swiftness on the Minstrel, to give us some Haste.

Penetrating Arrow on the Hunter, another attack with the Elf, and Ballad of War on the Minstrel, to up the Elf's melee offense even more.

At this point I'll usually just go with the Elf, to build up an agro lead. The Hunter will mostly just be auto-attacking and slowly building her Focus back up, and the Minstrel holding back as the Elf will need a heal soon.

Once I've healed, repeat the above until the mob is down to about 30% health, at which point I switch the Hunter from Stance: Endurance (-10% power cost and threat) over to Stance: Precision (faster Focus and lowered miss chance, enhanced by Enduring Precision trait).

Unleash the Hunter! 8-) Merciful Shot followed by constant Swift Bow / Penetrating Shot combos. Piercing Cry on the Minstrel, attacks with the Elf as Fervour allows.

Then either loot mob or click 'Retreat Now', as appropriate 8-)


So, that's most of the stuff needed for playing three characters at once, but there are a few other things.

Minstrel Agro. You never want your Minstrel to draw agro at any time, but this is particularly true when playing multiple characters. You have to concentrate on her more when she has the agro, which means spending less time on the others, which means taking longer to get the agro off her. So, to try to minimise her agro as much as possible, as much of her gear and traits as possible are aimed at agro reduction. She has the Subtle Movements trait loaded, a Superior Theorbo equipped, and a large stockpile of Lute Strings of Greater Subtlety. I have (at least) one of each Crafting skills, so I'm nicely self-sufficient in these items too 8-) She also has the Medium Armour trait loaded, to give her as big as possible survival chance when all the previous stuff fails 8-)

Group Heal. I'll often need this when fighting multiple mobs or mobs with AoE or Multi-Target attacks, and space restrictions prevent me backing the Minstrel and Hunter out of range. This obviously generates a huge amount of agro (heal agro from three characters on every mob I'm fighting), so requires extra care.

Stunning Mobs. Some mobs have stunning special attacks (as in they stun you, not that they're wonderful), which can last quite a long time. When fighting one of these I'll often end up ping-ponging the mob back and forth between the Elf and the Hunter, doing high damage with the awake one to keep it off the Minstrel. This obviously means having to swap who I'm healing, so I do this the easy way... I target the mob, and use Skill Target forwarding to push the heal to whoever he's fighting at the moment I start the heal. If the mob swaps targets half way through the heal, the original target still gets it, which is great. Plus I control when it swaps anyway 8-)

Fellowship Maneouvres. I handle these in two ways:-

Firstly, I map the four colours to the arrow keys on the numberpad. 8/Up being the top colour, 2/Down the bottom, 4/Left the left and 6/Right the right. This allows me to manually select the maneouvre I want.

Secondly, I have the Enter key on the numberpad mapped to a specific colour. On the Elf, that's Blue, because she's always in need of more Power. On the Hunter, that's Yellow, because she does the most damage. On the Minstrel, that's Green, which gives her an extra heal, allowing her to soak up any damage she's taken without having to self-heal (which gives her a lot of agro).

So when an FM opens up, I usually press Enter on the Elf, then + (to select the target) and Enter on the Hunter, then + and Enter on the Minstrel. This gives me the combo Will of the Strong, giving the group a Power boost (biggest to the Elf), a DoT on the Mob (with the Hunter adding extra) and a Heal over Time to the group (with the Minstrel getting an extra free top-up).

Then I press / on the Hunter and Minstrel to re-select the Elf, and carry on as usual.

As well as its stats advantages, Will of the Strong also looks really pretty when it goes off! 8-)

Will of the Strong


So, that's pretty much everything for running three characters. With practice it's not too hard to do, and it allows me to complete Fellowship quests and tackle tough mobs 'solo'. I can take on multiple Elite mobs, and the other day took out an Elite Master.

As I mentioned at the start, in other games I've run five characters simultaneously. That's exactly the same principle, you just have to simplify the characters down even further. The healer just heals, for example, the damage dealers just use their best two or three attacks, etc.

In WoW, for example, I played a Warrior in the centre, then the Priest just healed, the Mage just nuked, the Druid mostly DoT'd and backup healed, and the Shaman just dropped totems and off-tanked. I'd do the odd other thing with them, but none of them were doing near their full potential. It still let me solo dungeons, though 8-)

Callia

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