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Thursday, November 5, 2009

Return to Moria: Next Steps

In the last article on my Return to Moria campaign, I closed with the intent of focusing this article on setting up the main inhabitants of Moria for the campaign. I quickly discovered that wasn't the only thing I was doing however, so rather than stick to plan, I'm going to write a bit about what I'm really working on (My players keep out!).


At the close of the previous article I had enough in the way of notes and ideas that I needed to get them organized. My go to method of organizing campaign notes these days is Tiddlywiki, a single file wiki implementation that requires no hosting, runs in a browser, and is very easy to use. I use it to write articles for this blog, to maintain a personal to do list, and for campaign notes. If you haven't tried tried Tiddlywiki, I'd urge you to check it out. A couple key features I like:
  • Tagging - Any tiddler (Tiddlywiki's term for 'article') can be tagged with one or more terms that serve as categories, making it easy to find things by topic. I have regional (Moria, Hollin, Eregion) tags, category (item, bestiary, location) tags, purpose (encounter, lore, overview), and status (incomplete, published) tags, about 30 in total.
  • Inclusion - Any tiddler can be included within another with a one line command. This is extremely useful for encounters as you can include the stat block tiddlers (always written up separately) for all participants in each encounter tiddler without rewriting a bunch of stuff.
  • Navigation - You can customize the main navigation bar to reflect your content easily, as the navigation bar is just another tiddler. Moria currently lists the home page article for each major region, plus links to my player site, and a few other external resource sites.
The second part of my organizational efforts was to put together a few web pages for my players. Nothing fancy here, just a recap of the pitch, character creation and an overview of the sandbox right now. I'll expand it to provide more information as the need arises.

Moria Expanded

Once I was organized, I spent some time working on a really rough map of Moria. Moria is gigantic and I've realized I can't map every square inch, so I'm going to be using a mix of graph-style maps that show linkages, geomorph-style maps that I can use to piece together secondary areas, and traditional dungeon maps. With this mix I think I can quickly lay out a reasonable map for any section of the Mines that the players choose to explore.

I also spent some time thinking about how Moria is laid out, and drew a few conclusions based on that. I already talked a bit about the major areas within Moria in the sandbox article, but a few more details emerged:
  • Moria was a city, so there must be places to live and work. I made the decision that Dwarves live in clan halls that house many multi-generational families. This decision allows me to design a few clan hall layouts geomorph style and get a lot of mileage out of them. Similarly, workshops and smithies are clan focused so a similar approach can work there.
  • Dwarves are defensive and isolationist. Moria is riddled with defensive fortifications and stonework tricks and traps. Each Hall and Deep can be locked down and isolated from the others and secret tunnels and doors allow flanking maneuvers and troop movements without enemy interference. A combination of geomorph and unique maps will cover these features.
  • The Lower Caves are cold and wet. Gandalf hints at this a few times in LotR. I'm going to run with it. The Lower Caves contain vast lakes and rivers of chill black water. With little lore concerning this area, I will take quite a few liberties with the depths.


I spent quite a bit of time over the past week sketching out a bestiary for Moria. I've been working in broad strokes, from the known to the unknown. I ended up doing three passes, beginning with what was known about Moria. The first pass gave me the following list:
  • Goblins, Orcs, Trolls - These are very much evident in LotR and other historic references to Moria so they'll definitely be included. They also make great fodder for more powerful groups, allowing me to set up some internal politics in the Mines.
  • Dwarves - By canon, the Dwarves were driven from Moria long ago, but there's no reason to assume they all left. I've sketched out four general groups of Dwarves that remain in Moria:
    • Slaves - Some Dwarves were captured and enslaved by Goblins, Orcs or other inhabitants. Their descendants labor on in the dark.
    • Survivors - Isolated groups that remained independent or colonies of escaped slaves.
    • Turned Dwarves - Cultists, power-mad or overly greedy, these Dwarves aligned themselves to the dark powers found within the depths, becoming hated outcasts.
    • Returnees - Dwarves that have returned to reclaim Moria for the Dwarves.
  • The Balrog - To my reading it's pretty clear that Gandalf utterly defeated the Balrog, but I'm listing it here just in case I change my mind.
  • Watcher in the Water - Gandalf believes this creature was driven from the waters beneath Moria. I'll run with that. There is no longer a lake outside Hollin gate and the Watcher has returned to the depths, but it is not alone.
My first pass gave me a nice little list of occupants, but it's a bit limited. I'd like a little more variety so on to pass two where I dug a bit deeper into Tolkien's writings to add a few more occupants (taking great liberties with canon):
  • Spiders - Shelob is one of my favorite villains in LotR, and spiders appear elsewhere in Tolkien's works, so it seems natural that a lesser daughter of Shelob and some of her spawn will find their way into Moria.
  • The Corrupt of Angmar - The realm of the Witch King was defeated long ago, but some of the most powerful and corrupt sorcerers of that evil empire escaped into the deep tunnels and passages beneath the Misty Mountains, eventually finding their way to Moria.
  • The Nameless - Gandalf said "Far, far below the deepest delvings of the Dwarves, the world is gnawed by nameless things. Even Sauron knows them not. They are older than he. Now I have walked there, but I will bring no report to darken the light of day." Yeah, gotta use that.
That's a pretty good sized list now, but Moria is BIG, so time for a third pass. I focused on extrapolating from the existing bestiary or blatantly stealing from other areas of Tolkien's works.
  • Khazad-azun - Dwarf cultists who worship The Nameless as Gods, a faith shared by...
  • The Deep Ones - Foul aquatic beings of the Lower Caves, minions of The Nameless. With the fall of the Balrog they are free to expand their realm.
  • Herders - As the Ents watch over the great forests of Middle-earth so do the Herders watch over the fungal woods and their inhabitants in the depths.
  • Minions of the Corrupt - The dark magic of Angmar perverts flesh and mind to its purpose. Bestial Weres, demonic Imps, stony Gargoyles and spidery Ettercaps serve the sorcerers of the dead Witch King.
  • Golems - Some of the automatons of the Dwarves remain active in the Halls and Deeps of Moria, forever executing their last commands to work or protect the Mines.
  • The Aquatics - The Nameless and the Deep Ones are not the only creatures inhabiting the Lower Caves, the Beingreip and Grimmve, hard-shelled and scaly, also lurk in the depths.
And now, I think, I have a good bestiary for the depths (and a much longer article than I anticipated). I'm going to be walking away from this project for a couple days to see what gels in the interim. Stay tuned for further developments!
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