WC: With the launch of Moria, you’re launching Book 15, correct? What are the plans for the next update past that?
Jeffery Steefel: Correct. Book 15 basically concludes Volume 1 of our epic story that started with the launch of the game. We launched Volume 1 at launch, and that included Books 1 through 8. Our live updates have been Books 9 through 14, and then Book 15 then concludes the story. So anyone who is logging on to the game after the 18th, whether or not they have the expansion¸ they’ll be able to participate in Book 15 and explore most of the new region of Eregion that’s in the game now. Only when they get to the end of that – when they’ve completed Book 14 – does Moria content become available, and that’s only if you have the expansion.
So then in Moria, from that point forward, you’re entering Volume 2 of our epic story. What we’re launching with Moria is Books 1 through 6. We’ve already started work on Book 7, which will be our first live update after Moria. We’re not going to talk about it just yet, but you should look for it around the first quarter of next year.
WC: So you’re calling it Volume 2, but you’re following the story of the books, and you’re nearing the end of Fellowship of the Ring. Will Volume 2 just encompass that, or will it bridge the gap to The Two Towers?
JS: We loosely follow the books, but we’re more following the geography of Middle-Earth in the way that it was unveiled by Tolkien – we’ve never been literally mapped to the books. It gets a little more difficult moving forward because of what begins to happen soon.
WC: The breaking of the Fellowship.
JS: Exactly. So basically, what we know, is that we’ve entered Moria and come out the other side to Lothlorien, and will spend some time there. We’ve made our way to the other side of the Misty Mountains, and we’ve got the whole of Middle-Earth in front of us – everything that’s going on in Isengard, in Rohan, Gondor and all these areas adjacent to them. We’ll start exploring that, and it’s really a matter of how our epic story proceeds. That’s governed by how that relates to the story. We’re not really following the books, but we’re sort of working our way – the epic story and the player’s journey – in a path that’s directionally similar to the way the Fellowship moved. At this point, though, it gets increasingly hard to literally follow them step by step.
So you’ll be in the general vicinity of the second book for a while, there will be clues to where you are in the Tolkien fiction based on where the epic story tells you that the Fellowship is.
WC: So you have the breaking of the Fellowship: Frodo and Sam going off into Mordor, Pippin and Merry get captured, etc. The story splits here. Before this, it was a single linear journey: the Shire to Bree, Bree to Rivendell, Rivendell to Moria. It was a rather logical progression. How will you handle this for the players; will they have more branching paths? How are you going to handle the breaking of the Fellowship as far as the players are concerned, and their interactions with the characters?
JS: Our epic story is still going to continue on a singular path – not literally linear, but a singular path – going forward in the terms of that particular story. Now that the Fellowship is breaking up (though it hasn’t, yet) … if you really step back and look at the story of the world, what’s going on in the world at this particular time? Well, while the Fellowship hadn’t been put together yet, but around the time the Hobbits were leaving the Shire at the start of the game, the players were mostly preoccupied with the Witch-King of Angmar and what was happening there. They weren’t concerned with what Frodo and the Hobbits were doing with the Ring. When you encounter the Ring-Wraith, you aren’t running into the Ring-Wraith that’s been chasing the Hobbits; it’s part of the larger story – the Wraiths are searching all of Eriador and other parts of Middle-Earth in search of the Ring.
It’s really more at that level that we try to stay tied to the story. By the same token, when you enter Moria, you are entering Moria after the Fellowship has just passed through. You’re following them, but you’re on a different journey – you’re there to take advantage of the chaos that’s been stirred up there, so that you can help the Dwarves that have asked you to try and reclaim Moria. Then as you come out the other side and spend time in Lothlorien, then you will, at some point, encounter the Fellowship again. Then they will move on and begin to split up, and it again similarly it comes down to “What’s going on in that part of Middle-Earth, at that time in the Third Age?” Some of it relates to the Fellowship, and some of it doesn’t. That’s what will drive our epic story.
WC: You do have things that are related – Theoden and Wormtongue, for instance.
JS: There’s all kind of things going on in parallel with the story, it’s just that it’s a book, or a movie, and it has to be laid out in a linear fashion. What we’re doing is allowing the story to live in parallel. Sometimes you’ll be part of the parallel bit that you didn’t hear as much about directly in the books, while the Fellowship is doing the part that you did hear about, and other times you’re actually quite closely connected to the part where the Fellowship actually is. But you’re absolutely right that there are all kinds of things going on. Saruman is beginning to do his thing down near Isengard and Fangorn. The corruption by Wormtongue of Theoden is happening and all that craziness is happening down in Rohan. The Gondorians have their own thing that they’re focused on, the Orcs are amassing, there’s all this stuff going on that we allow the player to start to encounter. That’s the exciting part of what we’re able to do with this, as opposed to a linear movie or a short, single-player game.
WC: Players probably won’t get to hang out with Frodo and Sam as they go into Mordor – that’d kind of screw with the story, wouldn’t it?
JS:That might be pushing it!
WC: So, in Moria, you have two new classes, the Warden and the Runekeeper. There’s been controversy over the fact that it’s a pure magic-using class. How are you reconciling the difference between the magic-casting and the Lord of the Rings world, and are you planning to have more magic-using classes in the future?
JS: I think there are two main pieces to it. One: as with everything that we do in LotRO, it’s a game first – but, it’s a Lord of the Rings game, so we have to be very cognizant of that. But if there’s something that really prohibits it from being an RPG game in the way that players expect, then we try to figure out ways to deliver that gameplay and that functionality in a way that still makes sense in Middle-Earth. The Runekeeper is not a Wizard, he won’t be shooting fire out of his eyes or summoning flame from his fingertips. He has runes that has certain powers that he’s able to draw on – arcane knowledge of Middle-Earth and the way things work – and he can use that to manipulate the environment. The archetype for him is more of an Elrond or Galadriel, and less of a Gandalf or Saruman.
It’s about presenting it in a context where it makes sense. Because, you know, for most of the players – and indeed, Tolkien Enterprises, the licensor – the concern isn’t that we have a literal adherence to the books, because we wouldn’t be able to make a game if we did that, literally. The important thing is, let’s not do anything that makes Middle-Earth not feel like Middle-Earth. That’s when we start to get into trouble: not because it isn’t literally correct, but because it doesn’t feel like you’re in that environment anymore. So, that’s the first piece.
The second piece, and we’re lucky that our licensor is right there with us on this, is making a game. There are some places where we just have to concede, “we’re making a game.” Much in the same way that people in the Shire in the books who had errands for people to run didn’t actually have gold rings floating above their heads. There are people in the world who have flashy things happening around them in the game, where that would never happen in the books. You have to make some suspension of disbelief, and you have to make some allowances so that the RPG player can really experience what they want to experience. And again, it’s about context. Is it presented in a way where it doesn’t fundamentally change what the world feels like? This will still not be like some other RPGs where there are literally Wizards all over the place throwing fire and flashing lightning at each other all the time; this is one element of the world, this is one class. Will we have many, many magic-user classes? I don’t think so. We have the Loremaster and the Runekeeper now, they’re distinguished from each other and round out the classes.
The interesting thing about Middle-Earth and the Lord of the Rings story and mythos is that there are only a certain number of types of things – there’s only so many famous things in the world. There’s only so many types of races, people, creatures in the world. That’s what makes them all special; they’re not just one of a long list: “We have 29 classes! You can be this, or this, or this, or this!” You can basically be one of the archetypes in Middle-Earth, whether it’s a Legolas, or a Gimli, or whatever it has to be (and in fact, our classes are definitely modeled after those kinds of archetypes). Then, how you customize and make use of that archetype as a player is what makes you unique in the world. That’s what Deeds and Traits are all about, and that’s what the huge new thing with the Legendary Items that we’re launching in Moria is all about.
Stay tuned for the second half of our interview with Jeffery Steefel, when we look at the star of the show – the ancient kingdom of Moria itself!