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The One Ring designers on exploring Khazad-dûm before the books, invisible goblins and avoiding Balrogs in the Lord of the Rings RPG’s long-awaited Moria expansion

And how it differs from the cancelled The Long Dark campaign.

Image credit: Free League Publishing

Lord of the Rings RPG The One Ring and its D&D 5E spin-off are finally venturing into the mines of Moria in the long-awaited expansion to the game’s second edition.

A Moria expansion for The One Ring has been a very long time coming, starting life under original The One Ring publisher Cubicle 7 as a campaign for the first edition of The One Ring released in 2011, before later being planned for Cubicle 7’s second edition of The One Ring announced in early 2019 only to be cancelled the following year as the result of “contractual differences” with the rights holder for Tolkien’s works.

Tales from the Loop and Alien: The RPG studio Free League subsequently picked up The One Ring in 2020, announcing its own second edition - including elements from Cubicle 7’s unreleased revision - that went on to raise a record £1.4m on Kickstarter in 2021. The RPG built on its own gameplay system was followed by a D&D-compatible adaptation in The Lord of the Rings Roleplaying, a successor to Cubicle 7’s earlier 5E book Adventure in Middle-earth.

The Kickstarter trailer for The One Ring 2E expansion Through the Doors of DurinWatch on YouTube

Free League also confirmed its plans to resurrect The Long Dark, Cubicle 7’s cancelled Moria adventure, as two separate books for The One Ring and The Lord of the Rings Roleplaying respectively titled Through the Doors of Durin and Moria - Shadow of Khazad-dûm.

In a change from The Long Dark’s focused campaign, the new Moria books offer a more open-ended approach to exploring the depths of the dwarven city decades before its depiction in The Fellowship of the Ring, detailing locations, characters, enemies and more encountered throughout Moria.

With the Through the Doors of Durin campaign raising close to £1 million on Kickstarter, we caught up with lead writer Gareth Hanrahan and The One Ring co-designer Francesco Nepitello to discuss what to expect from the upcoming books, what surprises lie in wait in the darkness for Lord of the Rings fans and where in Middle-earth the RPGs might be headed next.

The new Moria books offer an open-ended exploration of the dwarven city between the events of The Hobbit and The Fellowship of the Ring. | Image credit: Free League Publishing

What does Through the Doors of Durin bring to the core The One Ring system that’s brand new?

Francesco Nepitello: This supplement brings players of The One Ring and Lord of the Rings 5E to Moria for the first time, and this is saying a lot already! Fans have been waiting a long time to cross the threshold of Khazad-dúm - I think that for many the chance to enter such a famous landmark represents what makes it worthwhile to play a Tolkien-inspired roleplaying game.

Gareth Hanrahan: There are some new system elements - rules for underground exploration, an expansion of the Eye Awareness rules (modelling the player characters delving deeper and running the risk of encountering the Balrog, as opposed to the searching Eye of Sauron) - but it’s much more about new locations and adventure opportunities.

The chance to enter such a famous landmark represents what makes it worthwhile to play a Tolkien-inspired roleplaying game.

Through the Doors of Durin is set long before The Lord of the Rings. What will Lord of the Rings fans recognise from the books or films, and what surprises are you most excited for them to discover?

Nepitello: Fifty years are nothing compared to the long history of Moria. But the parts of the book (and film!) that players are most familiar with - the passage of the Fellowship - only scratched the surface of that underground realm. Tolkien hints at much more, and Gareth elaborated on that material masterfully. There’s plenty of surprises, but we won’t spoil them here!

Hanrahan: Yeah, the Fellowship went almost straight through Moria, end to end, without poking around very much. Some elements can be extrapolated from Gimli’s songs and the description of Moria - a king he was on golden throne / in many-pillared halls of stone - but really, I’m just looking forward to players being able to explore one of the most famous ruins in all of fantasy.

The books venture outside of the places and elements seen in Tolkien's books - and the films. | Image credit: Free League Publishing

What previously overlooked elements of Tolkien’s lore were you able to use in the book's creation? Were there any elements you hoped to include, but ultimately couldn’t work in?

Hanrahan: As part of preparation, I dug through the History of Middle-earth series, looking for concepts that Tolkien never followed up on - like invisible goblins with their own lesser rings, lurking in the deeps…

I am personally happy we didn’t go down the path we originally chose. I really enjoy the wider ‘sandbox’ approach that we adopted with the new edition of the game and its supplements.

You previously said that “aspects” of Cubicle 7’s cancelled The One Ring 2E were included in your own Second Edition. Did anything from the original The Long Dark make it into this release?

Nepitello: From my point of view, the supplement is really as complete as I could hope it would be.

As far as the previous version of the draft, I am personally happy we didn’t go down the path we originally chose. Following the expedition of Balin could be exciting, but extremely limiting. I really enjoy the wider ‘sandbox’ approach that we adopted with the new edition of the game and its supplements.

Hanrahan: We started the text again from scratch. Personally, I could write endlessly about dwarven internal politics, and I did enjoy the oppressive gloom of writing about a doomed expedition - At The Misty Mountains of Madness - but this is a more flexible and useful book. And now I suddenly want to run Balin’s expedition as a weekend-long convention game…

Some of the best RPGs to play in 2023Watch on YouTube

You released the sourcebook for both The One Ring 2E and The Lord of the Rings Roleplaying under different names. Could you explain why it couldn’t be a single book?

Nepitello: We investigated the possibility, and we discovered the majority of our players would have hated a dual-stat supplement! We are already following the format of closely-timed releases for both versions.

Hanrahan: Dual-stat books have historically been the unloved platypuses of gaming, neither fish nor fowl.

Dual-stat books have historically been the unloved platypuses of gaming.

What other corners of Middle-earth are you most excited to take the RPG to next? Do you have a wishlist?

Hanrahan: The very first roleplaying game I ever played, long long ago, was a one-shot where I played an elf who had passed through Moria. In a weird and wonderful way, this Kickstarter has been like coming full-circle for me.

New rules track whether the party attracts the attention of the balrog. | Image credit: Free League Publishing

Nepitello: We have more than a wishlist, we have a product schedule. We have several titles in the works, but it’s not yet the time to reveal them, sorry!

Hanrahan: As Francesco has spoken, I must remain silent. I shall instead give you one of my favourite bits of Tolkien trivia - the alternate titles Bilbo considered for his book:

  • Memoirs of an Amateur Burglar
  • My Unexpected Journey
  • There and Back Again - And What Happened After
  • Adventures of Five Hobbits
  • The Case of the Great Ring
  • What the Bagginses Did in the War of the Ring

I love The Case of the Great Ring more than I can say!

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The Lord of the Rings Roleplaying

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The One Ring: Second Edition

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About the Author
Matt Jarvis avatar

Matt Jarvis

Editor-in-chief

After starting his career writing about music, films and video games for various places, Matt spent many years as a technology, PC and video game journalist before writing about tabletop games as the editor of Tabletop Gaming magazine. He joined Dicebreaker as editor-in-chief in 2019, and has been trying to convince the rest of the team to play Diplomacy since.
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