I have looked on Moria, and it is very great, but it has become dark and dreadful... - Gimli (The Fellowship of the Ring, by J.R.R. Tolkien).

The Mines of Moria are a dark, dangerous passage through the heart of the Misty Mountains. The upcoming expansion Mines of Moria to Lord of the Rings Online is in its final beta stage (see the trailer here). One of the new classes available to brave the depths of the mines (along with the other adventures within the game) is the dwarf and elven Rune-keepers. Brian "Zombie Columbus” Aloisio enlightens us with the details of this new class in an all new dev journal! Check it out below (the original article can be found here).

The Rune-keeper

The Minstrel sings words of Power and the Lore-master finds Power from ancient secrets, but there are more paths than these. Middle-earth is a land where language has Power, and such words are comprised of rune-letters. Put them together in the right order and the world can be changed in subtle and sometimes grand ways. There are some who greatly specialize in such linguistic arts: they are known as Rune-keepers. Their kind had a hand in curiosities like moon-letters, and marvels like the west gate to Moria. In these troubled times, even these normally secluded linguists have stepped up to fight against the Enemy.

    Class Summary
  • Role: Healer or Damage Dealer (DPS)
  • Equipment: Light armour, Rune-stone
  • Races: Elves, Dwarves
  • Skill Level: Advanced

The Rune-keeper joins the Free Peoples of Middle-earth, adding his unique skills to the fight against the Enemy. Scribing words of Power upon special Rune-stones, the Rune-keeper can harm foes or assist allies. Cirth-based writing, favored by the Dwarves, are associated with influencing the elements of Middle-earth, allowing the Rune-keeper to battle foes. Elvish tengwar Runes and words are commonly used more for inspiring allies, keeping them healed and in the action. Rune-keepers even dabble in foretelling, allowing them to change what will happen next in a fight. Through these skills, they can perform such feats as foreseeing that a blade will not Wound an ally, or that a foe will fall to fire.

Is this Magic?

A question I know some of you will be asking is “Does the Rune-keeper use magic?” The answer is a little yes, and a little no. In Tolkien’s world, and in our world, ‘magic’ is a term for explaining things that are not well understood. A perfect example of this is when Sam was offered to look in Galadriel’s Mirror:

`And you? ' she said, turning to Sam. 'For this is what your folk would call magic. I believe; though I do not understand clearly what they mean; and they seem also to use the same word of the deceits of the Enemy. But this, if you will, is the magic of Galadriel.'

Rune-keepers utilize the Power of writing and of words to change small bits of the world. There are some who would call this magic, while others would call this the natural way of things.

It is worth mentioning that of the races of Middle-earth, only Elves and Dwarves have such innate Power. No Man or hobbit scribe could harness the power of runes in these ways; such talents are not part of their nature. Yet to an Elf, such things can be as natural as breathing.

Tools of the Trade

A linguist by trade, the Rune-keeper does not train with any conventional weaponry, or even armour. Instead, he wields Rune-stones. These he covers with the writings he uses to work his trade. These stones are tied to the elements whence they came (for instance, volcanic rock tends to have a fiery touch to it) and modify some of the Rune-keeper’s skills. Rune-keepers also utilize rune-satchels for holding their supplies. These supplies include various writing implements, scrolls of powerful words, and extra Rune-stones. All of these help the Rune-keeper focus his abilities.

Class Design

Game design boils down to a sequence of choices. Some choices are made for you, either by fundamentals of the game or by other people, and some you get to make yourself. Each choice influences the options available at the next choice, until the design has been finished. I was given the task of designing one of the new LOTRO classes with these few choices already made:

  1. The new class is called “Rune-keeper”

    For the class name, we wanted something that evoked more of the mystical side of Middle-earth. Using Rune-letters to make words of Power fit nicely with other classes who use such words, but with different ways of presenting them. The Rune-keeper would be a mystic linguist, capable of writing and presenting words of Power on Rune-stones.
  2. Rune-keepers are capable primary healers

    Adding an additional primary healer would allow fellowships a variant on the Minstrel, and allow players who enjoy healing roles to try out a different style of play.
  3. Address the desire for a “glass-cannon” class

    Many MMO’s have a class with high offensive power, but lacking in defence; a “glass-cannon.” LOTRO did not ship with such a class; the Hunter wore medium armour and neither the Lore-master nor the Minstrel were offensive powerhouses.

With all that, we are left with a class capable of acting as both a primary damage-dealer and a primary healer. This is a very strong combination of class roles, so caution was required. It's very easy to make such a class too powerful; quick and easy access to high-end heals and damage skills is very potent. On the other hand, overly segregating the two roles can become frustrating. If changing between them required a trip back to town for a full trait respec and gear change, why even make it a single class? The solution we came up with is the Attunement system.

Continue reading on page 2 to learn more about the Attunement system and gameplay!

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Last Updated: Mar 29, 2016