Gloom of Kilforth: The Treacherous Dark of Khazad-dûm

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Treacherous Dark of Khazad-dûm

Without any light they would have soon come to grief. There were not only many roads to choose from, there were also in many places holes and pitfalls, and dark wells beside the path in which their passing feet echoed. There were fissures and chasms in the walls and floor, and every now and then a crack would open right before their feet.
    –The Fellowship of the Ring, “A Journey in the Dark”
In The Fellowship of the Ring, J.R.R. Tolkien leads the Fellowship into the mines of Moria in the chapter titled A Journey in the Darkbut that chapter doesn’t begin in the mines and their suffocating darkness. It begins while the Fellowship trudges through the Misty Mountains, under the dim grey of the waning evening.
Tolkien works hard to establish the darkness–the very palpable and consuming darkness–of the mines of Moria, by establishing the presence and importance of light prior to the Fellowship’s first steps into the mines. The chapter contrasts the presence of light outside the mines with the truer, more profound darkness inside the mines. Even in the wintery night, the Fellowship finds light from flame, the fading sunlight, and the coming dawn. As readers, we’re made to understand that the darkness outside Moria comes and goes in cycles with the light. However, once they enter the mines, Tolkien carefully measures his mentions of light. Darkness abounds, but for almost the entire journey through Moria, only Gandalf’s staff sheds light. Even that light is dim.
The dark of Khazad-dûm
Why does this matter? In the Khazad-dûm Expansion for The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game, the darkness becomes a significant theme. Players wouldn’t feel like they were undertaking a trip through the perilous underground if the game were full of bright illustrations. Nor would you likely think much about the darkness if it weren’t reinforced.
Much as Tolkien used the words “dark” and “darkness” liberally through the second half of A Journey in the Dark, theKhazad-dûm design team decided it was important to reinforce the theme with Dark locations, Hazards, and other cards that would get you looking for any means to cast light ahead of your travels through the subterranean labyrinth.
Lead developer Lukas Litzsinger offers some insights on the coming darkness.
Developing the darkness
I knew that Khazad-dûm needed to portray the mines of Moria as a physical danger to the party. While it has its fair shares of enemies, even an empty Moria is a dangerous place. Crumbling passages and abandoned shafts create a treacherous landscape. Still, the most pressing design challenge was the darkness. How would this affect a party traveling through the mines? 
We made several attempts to give the darkness an active role in the game, such as with darkness tokens, but they all felt strange. They complicated the game more than they enhanced the theme, and we moved eventually to a more elegant solution. Dark locations are difficult to explore. This is both a theme and a mechanic, and you will discover thatDark locations have some of the highest quest point values in the game. Additionally, Dark locations get to be much more threatening as two or more build up in the staging area. They tend to boost each other’s threat as the darkness surrounds your party on all sides.
But in addition to darkness, we needed to represent light. So to represent the importance of light, we introduced aCave Torch (Khazad-dûm, 41) objective that the players use to place progress on these Dark locations.
However, the mines are filled with countless dangers, and while any light is a boon, managing the light is not always as simple as it first appears. While your Cave Torch is Burning Low (Khazad-dûm, 40) you’ll find the mines more threatening, especially the darkest of its Dark corners. Also, your Cave Torch can attract unwanted attention, and as you saw in an earlier preview, any enemies encountered have an uncanny ability to proliferate into more.
–Lukas Litzsinger, Khazad-dûm Expansion Lead Developer
Thanks, Lukas!
The dark mines of Moria hold many dangers, but some heroes push, undaunted, to search for Balin and his missing Dwarven colony. In our next preview, we’ll take a look at one of the doughty Dwarven heroes willing to brave a journey into the heart of Khazad-dûm!

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