In the Deep Places of the World: Gareth Hanrahan on Free League’s New Khazad-dûm Campaign

Free League Publishing’s latest expansion to The One Ring, a tabletop roleplaying game based on the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, is currently on Kickstarter. Moria – Through the Doors of Durin, and Moria – Shadow of Khazad-dûm, take players into the depths of the Misty Mountains where the dwarves once dug too greedily and too deep, unleashing Durin’s Bane.

This epic campaign module is written by Gareth Hanrahan, who has written tabletop material for Trail of Cthulhu and Delta Green, and has written the Lands of the Firstborn and Black Iron Legacy trilogies (as well as short fiction for Black Library).

It was our pleasure to interview the author…

First and foremost, tell us about Moria – Through the Doors of Durin and Moria – Shadow of Khazad-dûm. What can players expect?

They’re sourcebooks for THE ONE RING and the 5E LORD OF THE RINGS Roleplaying game respectively – the content in both books is the same apart from the rules material. Moria’s a guide to the fabled Mines of Moria in the waning years of the Third Age – a few years before Balin’s doomed expedition, and decades before the Fellowship pass through the mines and encounter Durin’s Bane. 

We’re aiming for flexibility – one chapter discusses ways to use the material and possible reasons why your player heroes might enter Moria (from we’re taking a really unwise short cut to we’re determined to reclaim the halls of our fathers from the orcs); another presents dozens of Landmarks in Moria, but not every game will include every landmark. In my campaign, maybe the Treasure Vault of the King is buried under thousands of tons of rock and lost forever – but in yours, you can use that landmark and send your players searching for the keys to the treasury. 

What are you most excited for GMs and players to encounter?

Oh, that’s an interesting question. I think what I’m really looking forward is the moment where the players encounter something really familiar and iconic – the Doors of Durin, the narrow span over the chasm, the chamber of Mazarbul – and they’re all excited to see this shared cultural touchstone, this place that’s been written about and drawn and referenced so many, many times over the years. And then they go past that landmark, and they realise they’re into the unknown region, the parts of the world that Tolkien never wrote about… there’s something very potent in stepping off the theme park ride and venturing into the dark.

The One Ring has become one of the most expansive and detailed secondary works based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s writings. What is it like to have joined that legacy? What specific things did you try to keep in mind as you worked? 

It’s honestly terrifying and humbling. You become hypersensitive to language and choice of words. It’s strange – people refer to Tolkien as the father of modern fantasy, and it’s true that there probably isn’t a more influential – or imitated – fantasy book than Lord of the Rings. But Middle-earth is very much not the sort of generic extruded fantasy product that’s derived from it. There’s a melancholic mood to it that’s hard to replicate and very easy to spoil.

So, I try to go back to the source as often as I can. Sometimes, that means rereading Tolkien a lot, and not letting myself create something until I’ve found some phrase or word in his works that I can just to justify it to myself (the giant spiders in The Darkening of Mirkwood, for example, only exist because I found these unused names for monsters referenced in John Garth’s Tolkien and the Great War). It means reading what Tolkien read (I recommend Holly Ordway’s Tolkien’s Modern Reading), or looking at photos of places who inspired him (Garth, again, The Worlds of JRR Tolkien).

At the same time, I have to remain conscious it’s a game, and that means making sure that the players have interesting things to do and monsters to fight. It’s a game product, not a scholarly exegesis of Moria.

Because it comes with the territory, are the player characters themselves in danger of digging too greedily and too deep?

Absolutely. The One Ring already has rules for the Eye, where the actions of the characters can draw the attention of dangerous forces. In Moria, the Eye isn’t that of Sauron – it’s the Balrog. Delve too deep, make too much noise (fool of a Took!) and you may encounter a foe far beyond your skills.

(Of course, the only place you’re going to find treasures like Mithril is by digging deep, so… do you feel lucky?)

Walk us through the process of creating this book. What was it like? What was the writing process?

As many fans know, this is actually the second time I’ve written Moria. I had a complete draft for the 1st Edition of the game, but that got scrapped with the 2nd edition and the change in focus. The first version was a campaign where you had to play dwarves as part of Balin’s expedition in 2989 – this second version is more flexible, letting you send any characters down into the dark for a variety of reasons (but there’s still an appendix on playing Balin’s expedition). 

The writing process – after a lot of research – was mostly driven by the needs of making it a useful game. So, after an initial history chapter, it answers the sort of questions that arise in play. Why might the player characters enter Moria? What are they looking for? How do they get in? What enemies do they encounter in there? How do you run a campaign in a giant ruined city? 

You’ve given GMs many options to tailor Moria to the kind of campaign they want, making every run unique. If you were running it as a GM, what would your personal ideal Moria look like?

The cop-out answer is “depends on my players”. The campaign you run for a group without any dwarves is going to be very different to a group where everyone decides they want to play a dwarf. Some people just see Moria as a mine, a black pit – for others, it’s a holy city, the wonder of the northern world.

Twist my arm – one of the bits in the book that I really like is this bunch of Woodmen living in the mountains. The founder of their little tribe found what he thinks is a gateway to the spirit world, and it’s their custom for young people of the tribe to prove themselves by entering this underground cave and travelling to the ‘halls of the gods’. Now, what’s really going on is that the gateway is actually an old mine that connects to the dwarven city, and the ‘halls of the gods’ are really the halls of Khazad-Dum. Remember, Moria fell a thousand years ago, and the lives of mortal men are short – for them, Moria has completely passed out of memory. Tolkien sketches out ten thousand years of history, but it’s mostly immortal elves and Maiar and long-lived dwarves and Numenoreans. 

I love taking that mythic time down to a human level, and in this case turning the ruins of Moria into something strange and mystical. 

To see us out, what is your favorite Tolkien quote?

You’d probably like a more inspiring answer than ‘ART OR CASH’ (his response to proposals from Hollywood to adapt Lord of the Rings into a movie) – but I’m really fond of it as a freelance writer.

Beyond that – oh, there are so many. Some days, I’d certainly go for Smaug’s boasts in the Hobbit, where he just escalates from the happy children’s-book tone to this Beowulf-esque passage: The King under the Mountain is dead and where are his kin that dare seek revenge? Girion Lord of Dale is dead, and I have eaten his people like a wolf among sheep, and where are his sons’ sons that dare approach me? I kill where I wish and none dare resist. I laid low the warriors of old and their like is not in the world today. Then I was but young and tender. Now I am old and strong, strong strong! My armour is like tenfold shields, my teeth are swords, my claws spears, the shock of my tail a thunderbolt, my wings a hurricane, and my breath death!”

Or Tom’s evocation of the lost realm of Arnor. Or Gandalf’s confrontation with the Witch-King at the gates. Or the description of the squalid sheds in the Scouring of the Shire. Tolkien was fantastic at varying his language to the moment of the story, which makes it really hard to pick a single quote. 

Where can people find Moria – Through the Doors of Durin and Moria – Shadow of Khazad-dûm? Where can readers find you?

It’s on Kickstarter for another week or so, and then via the Free League website. 

If you’re looking for me, I’m at or across the internet as @mytholder). I did a really really REALLY long set of twitter threads as part of the research phase, starting here.

Thank you so much for your time!

Moria – Through the Doors of Durin and Moria – Shadow of Khazad-dûm will be available on Kickstarter until September 14 at 3:00 PM EDT.

Featured Image: Free League Publishing

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One thought on “In the Deep Places of the World: Gareth Hanrahan on Free League’s New Khazad-dûm Campaign

  1. Excellent interview! I mourn what we lost when the license shifted from Cubicle 7 (1E) to Free League (2E). But I am backing the Kickstarter in giddy anticipation of what we’ll receive!

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