Featured screenshot: North Ithilien at dusk

Welcome to my blog about the Lord of the Rings Online! You can check out my most recent posts below and find links to my social media info, About page, and a more complete archive of posts in the top right menu.

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  • Cosmetic Outfit: Ranger of the Northern Strongholds

    I made this outfit a few months ago, when I got an itch to replace one of Mountainsong’s old hauberks with some fresh cosmetic pieces. My outfit-putting-together process tends to be pretty haphazard: I put cool-looking items in my vault when I quest and do festivals, and whenever I decide to make something new, I just go through my vault and wardrobe and try to find stuff that matches. There’s a lot of trial and error involved, but I love the satisfaction of finding unexpected, cool combinations without always having to rely on preexisting sets.

    This particular outfit came about because I absolutely love the Peacock Trousers reward from this year’s Fall Festival. They dye fantastically, they’re cut in a flattering way, and they have a simple design that pairs well with just about any chest piece: what’s not to love? I tend to gravitate towards dark colors (both in my characters’ cosmetics and in real life—I own a lot of black shirts), so my first instinct was to try dying them black… and then I never moved past that because it looked so great. The trousers aren’t actually completely plain: the sides of the legs have abstract, feather-like detailing, and if the pants are dyed a dark color and put at the right angle, you can see the seams of the embroidery shining a pale green.

    So this outfit was entirely built around the black Peacock Trousers and that green sheen detailing. To match them, I picked a chest piece (Jacket of the Shade-finder) that I put in my wardrobe literal years ago, not just because it dyes a nice shade of deep green but also because the gold and brown accents match well with the hem of the trousers (and with the accessory cosmetics I’d already been playing around with as possible matches). Similarly, the gloves and shoulders have been in my vault for a while as old, nice-looking quest rewards: they have similar gold/brown accents, and their curved lines add some visually interesting elements to the outfit. Note that the Scout’s Gloves, unlike the rest of the outfit, are dyed Rivendell green instead of forest green.

    The hood and cloak are both from the Woodland Ranger set. They dye super well, and obviously they fit perfectly with the “tracking your quarry through a dense forest” vibe I was going for. With regards to shoes, they’re pretty inconsequential for this outfit—the most important part is that you choose shoes that don’t clip through the trousers’ hem (which is low and wide and disqualifies basically all boots). I chose the Dunadan Workman’s Sandals, as they’re a basic piece that doesn’t distract from the rest of the outfit. Again, note I dyed the shoes Rivendell and not forest green, because the darker shade blends in better.

    For cosmetic weapons, I went through the small selection I had in my vault and decided that Lanchigil (a reward from the Vol. II epic, which I put into both the main and off-hand slot) worked the best—both because daggers have a low-key, on-the-go profile and because the orange-ish color of the blade matches the outfit’s golden accents. Mountainsong has exactly two (2) bow cosmetics that she cycles between, and in this case her eagle bow was the better fit. (If you don’t have access to these weapons or just want to use something different, Material Middle-earth’s Cosmetic Weapons & Shields Guide is amazing and will cover all your brainstorming needs.)

    The mount I’m riding is the Lasgalen Spring Steed, chosen because it’s a good color match and has similar flowing lines in its design. For a second, less flowery option focused specifically on matching the green and black tones, the Windfells Goat also complements this outfit well.

    • Head: Woodland Ranger’s Hood, forest green
    • Shoulders: Shoulderpads of the Hytbold Bowmaster, forest green
    • Cloak: Woodland Ranger’s Cloak, forest green
    • Chest: Jacket of the Shade-finder, forest green
    • Gloves: Superior Scout’s Gloves, Rivendell green
    • Legs: Peacock Trousers, black
    • Shoes: Dunadan Workman’s Sandals, Rivendell green
    • Main and off-hand weapon: Lanchigil
    • Ranged weapon: Reshaped Hunter’s Bow of the First Age
    • Mount: Lasgalen Spring Steed
  • Deed Log: Gorgoroth Lost Lore

    Welcome to another installment of Deed Logs! This most recent installment is from earlier this fall, when I continued working through old content on my main by finishing up all her Gorgoroth Lost Lore quests.

    You probably know what Lost Lore quests are, but context for anyone reading who hasn’t made it to 105-ish: starting with Mordor in 2017, the devs added landscape quests that require you to pick up pages of “lost lore” scattered around the terrain of each region. Each page has a snippet of text (with a matching voiceover file that plays when you collect it), and put together, these vignettes tell a story about the region. For instance, the Lost Lore quest for Lhingris (the Mordor xpac spider zone) is about Shelob. I believe every zone since Mordor has had at least one of these quests associated with it.

    You run into a fair amount of Lost Lore pages by doing normal questing and exploring on landscape, but I generally have at least three or four pages left to find even after I’ve finished up an area. That requires looking up coordinates on lotro-wiki and taking the time to ride around to out-of-the-way places, so usually I just go “eh” and save those pages for later. But later is now! (Or was now? Was then? This aside doesn’t make sense anyway, so let’s get on with it.)

    I finished all the currently available Rhovanion Lost Lore quests earlier this year, but for some reason I had never gotten around to the Mordor ones (except Udun, which I finished naturally on landscape). I started by heading to Dor Amarth, and quickly realized after checking coordinates that most of my missing pages were on the lava-covered slopes of Mount Doom, on a path I had never been up before (which involved a lot of crossing over conveniently placed bridges and riding blindly up extremely dark slopes). My guess is that regional dailies would have taken me up here—except I didn’t really do Mordor endgame stuff, so it was all new to me.

    Even in one of LotRO’s darkest and most environmentally oppressive regions (seriously, someone should have introduced Sauron to the aesthetic potential of ambient lighting), I had a surprising amount of fun exploring this new-to-me area while searching for pages (which were scattered fairly linearly up the road). This path climbs for a pretty long distance, up to a point I would not have expected to be reachable just from looking at the many tongues of lava on the Dor Amarth map, and it also gives you lots of opportunities to pause and look down dramatically at the region’s terrain from on high.

    Looking down at Lughash (I tried taking screenshots here on three separate days and this is the best lighting I could get, sorry lmao)
    Now THAT is a skybox

    Towards the top of this route up Orodruin, with only a few pages left, I also found a hidden orc camp. The orcs were level 115, which is what tipped me off that the area was dailies-related. The two guys guarding the entrance must be roasting next to that lava, right?

    I rode through it to check for any collectibles or discovery locations, and found a rare Mordor chest at the end. Because many of the Lost Lore pages I didn’t have were in out of the way places, I discovered several of these rare chests in each of the regions I visited. I do appreciate that extra “discovery and reward” dynamic (with stuff like chests, caches, and pages) that the devs have been sprinkling through late-game zones to add tangible rewards to this kind of exploring. Of course, the rewards don’t do much for me at level 130, but the monkey part of my brain likes the instant gratification. (Should I be admitting that last part? Pretend you didn’t see it, devs).

    I eventually got to the end of the Mount Doom road—it cuts off suddenly where a lava flow plunges through the mountainside—and picked up the last Dor Amarth page. Then I headed to the next zone, but not before I got this cool shot of the Mordor desert. LotRO skies never disappoint.

    I’ll confess that I did go back and take some extra screenshots while writing this post (like three weeks after my actual afternoon of questing) just because I wanted to fill in some visual gaps in what I discussed. With that said, I didn’t take any screenshots of Lhingris then, and I’m not taking any more now. No specific shade intended to the zone, but it’s just more atmospheric than it is scenic. If you want to look at some spooky, spidery, mostly gray visuals, you’d better take it into your own character’s hands.

    The one notable thing that happened while finishing up Lhingris Lost Lore was that it took me literally ten minutes to find the door to Kala-murg (an interior zone for dailies that had one page), despite me running by it from as close as five meters away multiple times. Listen—the door is in a hillside, and I kept approaching that specific stretch of hillside from an angle where the black frame of the door blended into the rock and I couldn’t see the glowing portal. Lotro-wiki can only do so much as a guide when your eyes are on strike. But anyway, I eventually noticed the entrance, got the final page, and went on to Talath Úrui.

    The one screen I took of Talath Úrui was of this burning building that’s in the middle of the Ghashgurm (Lake of Fire). I’m guessing it’s just decorative and we can’t actually go there (because, you know… it’s on fire), but I’m kind of curious about the lore: what was inside this building, and what was the aftermath of it and its contents burning up in the eruption of Mount Doom? Like, are there mutated super-fire orcs trapped in the basement, waiting for their chance to escape and wreak enough havoc to form a regional quest chain? Only time will tell. (Probably not.)

    Grabbing pages in TU was a lot like Dor Amarth: a lot of navigating across barren plains and between spears of lava in a hostile black and orange environment. It’s been 2-3 years since I did questing in Gorgoroth, so I don’t remember all my specific thoughts on each area, but based on the occasional player comments I’ve seen about it, Talath Úrui seems to be pretty far down the list of people’s favorite Mordor zones. If that is in fact an accurate impression, I’m guessing it’s because the region is absolutely lousy with dungeons and encampments that have very high enemy density, which makes them a slog to fight through. It’s also an extremely bleak zone—just like the rest of Mordor, obviously, but the other Gorgoroth areas have moments of levity and/or surprise that I’m not sure TU quite matches.

    For the record, my favorite region from the Mordor xpac is Udun—the vertical design of the landscape was so unusual and fun to progress through, the regional quest lines were interesting and rooted in specific human stories, and the pure feeling of awe and novelty when I first ventured into Mordor and realized I had to dig deeper into my character to match the difficulty of the landscape was just unbeatable. (Ironically, Udun is the one place I didn’t revisit for these Lost Lore quests.)

    My last stop was Agarnaith, aka Agamaur 2.0/Agamaur Reloaded/2 Fast 2 Agamaur/Agamaur But With Even More Blood Water/You Can’t Wear Those Shoes Again*/Is That Enough Joke Names?

    *I once actually had to throw out a pair of shoes because I bled on them, so this joke is for me and me only.

    Pretty sure everyone who’s made it through Mordor has taken a screenshot like this: it’s a rite of passage.

    One of the most memorable parts of the Gorgoroth landscape is undoubtedly the approach to Seregost. I will forever continue to heap praise upon LotRO’s worldbuilders, and their work with Agarnaith is masterful—Seregost, the big bad end-of-the-road stronghold, looms over you with red-stained windows from your first steps into the swamp, and it gets ever closer the further you venture into the zone. It’s peak Jaws theme in the way its threat grows and grows until it’s finally right in your face.

    I’d actually never been inside Seregost or to the lands on its eastern side (Mokal Rukh) before, which is why I was missing half a dozen of Agarnaith’s Lost Lore pages. Again, I assume dailies would have taken me there, but I never did them (and I never ran the Court of Seregost instance, where I’m guessing I could have picked up the pages too). The reason why I never explored east on landscape is because the last time I went to the western threshold of Seregost while on level, my way was blocked by this 600k morale tree that I had no interest in aggroing, even just from running by. For the uninitiated (aka me a month ago), you get to the landscape portion I’m talking about by using a watching-stone hidden behind the elite guardian mob that spawns in this location: that stone will teleport you to the other side of Seregost, where you can run inside, pick up pages, kill mobs, find an instance entrance, and knock out an exploration deed.

    Of course, at level 130 this tree could whack me in the face and do no significant harm to my character, so I just strolled by and clicked on the watching stone without a care in the world.

    The eastern wall of Seregost and its watching stone counterpart: the glimmer of the bloody water is so perfectly creepy.
    Again, trying my best to show you the landscape within the constraints of Mordor lighting

    Now, I want to reiterate that this was my first time ever traveling to this part of the map. I hadn’t even known for sure how to get there until a few moments ago. Then, maybe 30 to 60 seconds after I’d teleported in, while I was shuffling around and checking out the view, I saw someone in world chat ask for a summons to the eastern side of Seregost.

    Serendipity, right?!? I was honestly so excited that their request aligned so perfectly with where my character, completely by chance, happened to be at that exact moment. I sent a message to the person asking, logged onto an alt to mail myself a rally horn (you know, just like in real life), and then relogged and summoned their character to Agarnaith. It was a brief interaction—they just wanted the summons to complete some basic exploration deeds, as their char was level 112 and hadn’t yet gotten to the 114-115 regional quest line that unlocks the teleport stone, and we chatted for just a minute or two about that quest chain before going our separate ways. But I find the perfect timing of this player asking for a summons right as I arrived in Seregost so amusing: it was a fun, unexpected bright spot at the very end of my Lost Lore questing.

    After working that out, I went on to pick up the rest of the Agarnaith pages and finish the last of my four Gorgoroth Lost Lore quests. I also ran around the rest of Seregost to complete an exploration deed that had just been bestowed—it’s a relatively big area, even though you only have access to the outer courtyards and hallways on landscape.

    My last stop in Mordor was the upper balcony of Seregost, where I reaffirmed that the evil minions of Sauron love their fabulous landscape views just as much as the good guys do.

    Agarnaith and the outer walls of Seregost

    That’s it for this installment of Deed Logs! Technically, the things I worked on this time were more quest-related, but I thought the spirit of going back to finish up lower-level content fit better under the Deed Log heading. Plus, I did complete the Quests of Gorgoroth deed at the very end of this session. I rarely switch titles, but I liked the ring of the one awarded by that deed so much that, for the time being, I decided to give my main character a new title: Mountainsong Valleytune, Warrior of Mordor.

    Until next time!

    Agarnaith and the ruins of Barad-dur
  • Questing Diary: Balrog Paranoia

    I have a Captain alt on Landroval called Willamae, who I primarily play as part of a questing duo with a friend of mine (character name Madelenne: she runs the @lotro_pics Instagram account, check it out!). For the last year or two, we’ve gradually been advancing these characters through Eriador while following the epic story, and earlier this year we finally got to the end of Volume I! (It was my second time playing through it and Madelenne’s first). We entered Moria, the land of darkness and LIs, a few months ago, and as of mid-October we’ve reached level 55 and finished three of the six Moria epic books. Since we’re almost exactly halfway through the region right now, I wanted to write up a journal of the most interesting, fun, and memorable moments from our questing experience so far!

    Entering Moria

    Top 10 Screenshots Taken Moments Before Disaster (II.1.8 instance)

    The good old Volume II epic beginning: because it gates such a huge landmass behind its completion, I truly wonder if II.1 is the most-played section of the epic relative to the number of characters that have advanced to its level (Angmar and Mirkwood Landing must also be up there for similar reasons, although they’re smaller landmasses). I won’t talk too much about the epic, because you’ve either done it and know how it goes, or you haven’t and don’t need to read spoilers. (Here’s one spoiler, though: Moria big).

    The other super important part of II.1 is the introduction of Legendary Items. I did have to relearn how non-imbued LIs work as we progressed through this book, since my main character has been chilling with imbued weapons since 2014 and I haven’t taken an alt through Moria until right now, but in general I have an okay grasp on the system, and I’ve been trying my best to help Madelenne get accustomed to it too. I’m back in the land where you have to repeatedly check your LIs for points to spend on legacies… feels weird.

    (Something else I did about a month after we started Moria was finally get my Landroval characters up to speed with crafting—I spent three afternoons riding around on Willamae as an Explorer, grabbing hides and wood and ore to process so that I could unlock the Moria crafting tier, with a specific eye towards being able to craft level 100 First Ages for her and Madelenne in the distant future. It wasn’t very exciting, but I did listen to some good albums while doing it.)

    The Great Delving

    The Great Delving is the first area you enter in Moria—the huge staircase just beyond Durin’s Threshold, which you must ascend to access the rest of the zone, is engineered for maximum visual impact.

    It’s really a region meant for getting you acquainted with the dark and drops of Moria, as well as the dynamics of the Iron Garrison expedition. There are plenty of classic deadly drop-offs in this first area alone, especially around the stairs to the Dolven-view and its neighboring orc-camp Gazatmur, but I’m proud to say that Madelenne and I have not accidentally plummeted to our death at any point so far, in the Great Delving or elsewhere* (purposeful plummeting? Now that’s a different story).

    *Okay, as of late October this is no longer true lmao.

    Gazatmur (Level Up 51)

    Gazatmur is the first big, established orc camp you encounter (there’s also that camp of goblins between Durin’s Threshold and the Dolven-view, but it’s more haphazard). Madelenne and I had our first real “cutting through swaths of orcs” moment here, where we were able to just run around, stab anything that got in our way, and progress several different quests at once. Even though it’s an inhospitable, probably stinky orc encampment, it’s kind of a nostalgic place in that way!

    Another memorable enemy hub in the Delving is the Palace of Nain, aka the first place in Moria where you encounter those absolutely massive, nasty gredbyg. I specifically remembered this place from my adventures on my main character—it’s been years since Mountainsong went through Moria, but the memory of running into these giant gredbyg in the intro area was still seared into my mind.

    I don’t actually find them particularly scary (too fantastical and hard-shelled)*, but the size of the biggest of these bugs was very surprising to encounter out of the blue, back when I was still getting acquainted with the weirder spawns of the Moria depths.

    *A relatively comprehensive list of LotRO enemies that legitimately unsettle me: particularly large spiders (esp. the hissing noise that comes with them), that one absolutely disgusting boss in Minas Morgul’s Filth-well instance, and the Nameless in the Foundations of Stone (I am very masochistically excited to make it to the FoS with Madelenne tbh. Stay tuned).

    One more cool thing I want to note in the Great Delving is the Moria Geode, which sits in a plaza southwest of the Dolven-view. Its lotro-wiki page explains it with more detail I could, but essentially this geode has a map of Arda carved onto its back! If you take the time to look up the translation of the runes (again, see lotro-wiki) you’ll see labels for locations like Belegaer, Ered Luin, Arnor, Gondor, Rhun, etc. Check out the link—it’s such a cool Easter egg with so much detail put into it that’s relatively easy to miss if you don’t know what to look for!

    The Silvertine Lodes

    Level Up 52

    I have a newfound appreciation for the Silvertine Lodes after questing through it this fall: it’s such a cool, cohesive, imaginative zone that packs a punch without overstaying its welcome. On the edges, there’s a traditional orc camp (Gamil Filik, which is the first place you’re sent for quests) plus a “hidden” zone at the very end of the regional quest line (which is clearly visible on the map, but does require you to actually discover it. It’s also significant as being the first location with a riddle plaque). Then, in the center, is the main attraction—Menem-berej, the mining shaft surrounded by goblins, which you must fight your way up and down and through in order to complete your quests. I’m a sucker for the rare vertical landscape design, and Menem-berej utilizes that style in such a fun and engaging way. Sure, you’re killing goblins as you always are, but you’re also climbing down a pit on nothing but boards hastily nailed to the sides of a mine shaft, the most quintessential of all dwarven environments. And it’s so easy to stop and look around at any point and see how far you’ve progressed into the zone and behind enemy lines!

    The Silvertine Lodes is also a relatively compact area. Maybe the timing of our questing there just lined up right to give me that impression, but I like that it feels smaller compared to other Moria regions, because the zone leaves a very cohesive impression that I can easily look back on and appreciate in its entirety. Anyway, the Lodes were a good time with some nice landscape design!

    Oh, that’s right, I also have one more screenshot. I am of course aware of the Blind Leaper hidden deed, so when Madelenne and I come to a location that I recognize as part of it, I helpfully suggest that we leap off it to our deaths (#friendship). The Menem-berej pit is one of those places, so here’s a record of us being very productive by diligently advancing our deed progression.

    You have plummeted into the depths of the Silvertine Lodes!

    Durin’s Way

    Unlike the Silvertine Lodes, Durin’s Way is interesting because it’s a mishmash of a bunch of different landscape concepts. You have:

    • Traditional Moria hallways and orc encampments in the northwest corner (which Madelenne and I quested through pretty comprehensively).
    • The enemy-less interlude of the Winding Way (interestingly one of the only landscape areas in the game where you can see the void of unfilled terrain directly present on the mini-map).
    • The garden of Tharakh Bazan, which is a vibrant anomaly not just in Durin’s Way but in Moria as a whole (we skipped regional quests here at the time, but we’ll get to them in the next questing diary).
    • The Stone Hall of Jazargund, a hub intersection between a bunch of different questing options (we yeeted ourselves off the edge of the bridge here for Blind Leaper too. I’d like to apologize for saying yeeted).
    • A few more hallway orc camps east and west of Jazargund.
    • The Twenty-first Hall, aka the biggest and most important quest hub in Moria (obviously, more on this in the Zelem-melek section).
    • The Fanged Pit, a sub-area themed around merrevail that’s shockingly large compared to the ease with which you can avoid it (I’ve never actually gone here on level, but it kind of fascinates me).

    All that within a relatively thin slice of landscape. Plus, Durin’s Way contains not just the Twenty-first Hall but also the Chamber of the Crossroads, which I would say is the second most important quest hub in Moria based on the amount of epic quests that pass through it. (Shadowed Refuge third, maybe? I don’t know if I’m just saying that because that place has such an air of graveness and otherworldly importance).

    Level Up 53

    As I mentioned, Madelenne and I completed just about all the quests associated with the northwest and central orc camps in Durin’s Way, but haven’t made our way to Tharakh Bazan or the Fanged Pit yet. My favorite moment from our adventures here came from a quest bestowed by an NPC near the Door to the Clouds—Quest name “Scraps of Shadow”, quest objective…. “Find the bat-cave.” Lmao. It did in fact bring me joy to find the aforementioned bat-cave and see that text pop up on screen again: shoutout to the dev who wrote this quest. Pop culture references in places where they absolutely don’t belong can be really funny if they’re done sparsely enough—I remember a quest in the Trollshaws called “Rolling Stones” that I screenshotted years ago.

    Da na na na na na na na Da na na na na na na na

    Let’s close off this section with an homage to the best landmark in Moria, which is of course the Chamber of Crossroads well. Thanks, buddy: you never let me down. Well, you let me go down, but—

    I also have this random screenshot that I took in a completely different Moria zone, and for no particular reason thought might fit well here. I’ve heard it’s a pretty deep well. Next area!

    Speaking of silly things in Moria that bring me joy… 🙂

    Entering Zelem-melek

    The first place we went in Zelem-melek was, of course, the Twenty-first Hall, which is as impressively big and grand as a Moria central hub should be. Even though the dwarf encampment in the 21st is relatively small compared to the larger boundaries of the hall as a whole, I really like that it’s big enough to run around and explore. You can climb up the ramp by the class trainers and look out over the area, find the skirmish camp and other barterers set off to the side, grab quests and sell to vendors by the central platform, and retreat to the vault, crafting, and auction halls as useful and distinctive interior spaces. (Although I do wish those three interiors were a little more convenient to access.)

    Another important landmark near the 21st is the Chamber of Mazarbul: I made sure to direct us up there for morbid sightseeing purposes immediately afterwards.

    Now is the point where I finally explain what the title of this post is about. One of the quests you can pick up in the 21st Hall is entitled “The Fall of Moria”: if you talk to the NPC and progress it, you get ported into a session play as the dwarf Nafni, a servant of Durin VI Lord of Moria (those details from lotro-wiki, thanks lotro-wiki).

    Spoilers for this instance from here to the next screenshot: if you haven’t done it, I recommend skipping ahead.

    The first half of the session play is relatively chill: you welcome an envoy of elves from Lothlorien to the throne room, then accompany them and Durin to the depths of Moria to show off a newly discovered deposit of mithril.

    Near the deposit, Durin requests that you kill off half a dozen cave claws in the area, which have been agitated for some unknown (“unknown”) reason. This is the one part where the session play slog of mashing skills that aren’t your own peeks its leering head around the corner, but it’s not as bad as it could have been. Then, a dwarf miner requests your help in breaking down some rubble that lies between your location and the main vein of mithril. You helpfully select and use the wall, chopping away like a dutiful servant, and after a few seconds, the rocks fall away, your view clears… and there is a Balrog standing in the center of the chamber.


    The tiniest bit of panic spreads through the dwarves and elves—Durin rushes the Balrog and predictably dies almost immediately, Durin’s Bane acquires its shiny new name, and the wall collapses behind Nafni, preventing your character’s escape.

    Now, I had run this session play before, so I knew what was going to happen from the moment I picked up the quest (the first time you break down that wall and see the Balrog lurking there is… quite an unforgettable visual). I will admit, though, that knowing what happens kind of makes the tension even worse. The preamble with the politics and the cave claws and the rubble is so perfectly mundane, except this time you know what’s coming and that the only way to finish the session play is to grit your teeth and brace yourself for it. And I also dimly remembered, once the wall collapsed, that I just had to be patient, keep an eye on the exit, and wait for the way to clear again so I could escape. What I didn’t remember is how long the game makes you wait for this moment: it probably only takes 15-20 seconds for the rocks to shift so you can run away, but it feels like an eternity, as every other second is punctuated by the Balrog taking another menacing, ground-shaking step towards your character. But finally the text popped up on screen and I got the hell out of dodge, with the Balrog taking up way too much of the view behind me. (I do not have any screenshots of the action in this session play, because it was not the time.)

    Nain (Durin’s son), Nafni, and the elves retreat back to where they entered the cave. Nain says that he must escape (presumably thinking of preserving Durin’s line, and also, like, not dying), but he tells Nafni to stay behind and buy them some time. The NPCs run away, and the instance ends here. I still had the Balrog targeted at this point (it’s lurking in place around the corner), and I noticed that in the last few seconds before being ported out, its vitals switch from green to orange and its character becomes fightable. There probably wouldn’t be enough time for you to run over and aggro it anyway (I certainly wasn’t interested in finding out), but I thought that was an interesting detail that ended the session play on a very cool but ominous note.

    Madelenne and I reconvened in the 21st Hall after running the session play. She was, shall we say, a little more surprised by the turn of events than I was (which, not gonna lie, was exactly what I was hoping to hear). “The Fall of Moria” is a really well-constructed instance in that it communicates the exact feeling of surprise the dwarves themselves would have felt upon discovering the Balrog—I phrased that like a thesis sentence, but really, it’s a tense but enjoyable experience.

    Zelem-melek Landscape

    Level Up 54

    After that Experience, Madelenne and I continued on in Zelem-melek, completing a few quests south of the 21st Hall for the epic story. We somehow didn’t get entirely, hopelessly lost among the staircases in the Great Hall of Durin (it’s an area that’s visually gorgeous but challenging to navigate), and then headed south, as the epic sent us to the Redhorn Lodes.

    We didn’t jump to the Lodes immediately: because we’d never been to that zone before, we went by foot through Zelem-melek instead of stabling and subsequently ran into some quests in Uzbad-bakan, an orc camp in the southwest of the map. It’s a pretty big encampment with multiple levels and sections (kitchens, forges, housing—imagine orc dorms, an actual nightmare—and an armory), and it was pretty fun to fight through and knock out auto-bestowed quests on each of its levels.

    Towards the bottom tier of Uzbad-bakan, we also had what can only be described as An Incident. We were on a landing in between staircases, in the middle of fighting some orcs, when I noticed (first visually, then from tabbing around to see its vitals) that a shard-dropper had stepped onto the landing and aggroed on us. Not ideal, since we hadn’t had time to prep before pulling it, but in theory not that terrible—as long as you know what to expect, running into a shard dropper is generally just a fun challenge rather than a deadly threat, plus I was playing a heavy armor class with light heals that could help carry us through it. In theory. Except there was one problem: this mob had SEVENTY-SEVEN THOUSAND MORALE. ON MORIA LANDSCAPE. WHAT THE HELL.

    So, yeah.

    We died.

    Then we pulled ourselves together, rezzed where we’d fallen, and were about to move on (and away from That Whole Thing)—except I really wanted us to go back and try to kill it, because landscape questing as part of a duo almost never presents you with these kinds of intense challenges. Madelenne was a little reluctant about it (to be fair, she had the squishy medium armor character and I had the captain), but we ended up agreeing to it and settling at the top of the stairs to wait for the dude to patrol back.

    Incidentally, this shard-dropper’s name was Dragh (or Drâgh, if you want to be precise about it): here’s his lotro-wiki page. You may notice that the page says he has 40k morale, but I swear that I saw 77k on his morale bar. While searching for Dragh again to confirm this, I ran into another shard-dropper in the same area, Loruz, who had ~11k: on this old list he has only about half that morale, which makes me think that something happened in the game’s code a while ago to make these mobs more powerful.

    Anyway, we buffed up and I pulled Dragh as he patrolled back toward us. Then, uh, he hit me with a knockback attack worth 6k of my 7k morale, so I immediately was like “nope this is not working let’s get out of here, if I’m the tank and he hits so hard I’m already almost dead, we’re not winning this.” Except I didn’t successfully telegraph to Madelenne what I was doing, so she stayed behind and kept attacking him—and maybe 15 seconds later, up another set of stairs, I was like “what’s happening, why aren’t you running/how are you still alive?” and she replied that everything was going relatively fine down there and he was hitting hard but not *that* hard. So I turned around, confused, and came back down to keep fighting Dragh. (This was, shall we say, not my proudest moment.)

    The rest of the fight went mostly okay from there—we had solid DPS with Madelenne as a burglar, me in red line, and my archer pet, and I kept us alive with the handful of heals red captains get. You may have figured this out by now, but the 6k hit at the beginning of the fight was a one-off attack that none of Dragh’s other hits even came close to: I think that one really powerful opening knockback is programmed into his skills as another way of increasing difficulty, since it forces players to fight back from an initial disadvantage. But it sure did freak me out.

    With maybe 12k morale left to go, we did accidentally pull a goblin + a few swarm level bats that respawned in the area and patrolled too close to where we were fighting. There were a few moments of panic when that happened, but we DPSed and I healed through it, since Dragh was almost down at that point anyway. Unfortunately I don’t have a screenshot of the moment we defeated him, but, in the end, Madelenne and I both came out of the fight alive and victorious. This incident was one of the most chaotic, messy experiences we’ve ever had as a questing duo (I’m still a little embarrassed at how I immediately peaced out of the fight after that initial hit… my main is not a tank, y’all), but it also became an instantly memorable (and hopefully amusing to read about) highlight of our time in Moria.

    Further Exploration

    Level Up 55

    After we fought our way through Zelem-melek, totally without any issues at all, we finally arrived in the Redhorn Lodes to work on the epic. Madelenne and I grabbed a few regional quests at the Orc-watch before we kept going—yes, including that quest with the sick goat—and we completed them as we went along, but our primary focus was to knock out the epic objective and be on our way, so I don’t have much more to report from this area.

    Next, we headed north from the Redhorn Lodes to Nud-melek, also for epic story reasons. After getting lost for a few minutes in the south of the map thanks to a multi-level, very hard to navigate orc camp, we arrived in the vast Second Hall and went to investigate the orc defenses at a strategic crossroads slightly further north. Then, acting in my self-appointed role as a LotRO tour guide, I suggested to Madelenne that we stop by the Bridge of Khazad-dum before porting back to the 21st Hall—the bridge is easy to access if you’re already in the vicinity of the Second Hall, and it’s not heavily guarded by mobs, so why not make a stop at one of the most well-known and dramatic locations in Moria?

    We also jumped off the bridge when we were done taking screenshots, because, well, you gotta, right? It turned out my memory was wrong and this area doesn’t count for the Blind Leaper deed (only the lava pits further west do), but I have no regrets. What are the depths of Moria for, if not to explore? (Please ignore how I recounted an entire session play about how that statement is dangerous earlier in this post.)

    I saw this tunnel rat run off the bridge while we were up there, and when we reached the bottom it was still alive, indicating that tunnel rats do not take fall damage and are the hardiest force in Middle-earth. In this essay I will—

    Did someone say committing folly by pressing too deeply into the unclaimed depths of Moria? My last anecdote for today’s questing diary is, finally, part two of the payoff for the post title. After dipping into Nud-melek for that one epic objective and doing some sight-seeing at the Bridge of Khazad-dum, we went back to Durin’s Way to progress the epic, which involved checking in with a dwarf who had read through the Book of Mazarbul found next to Balin’s tomb. Standing there while an NPC gives us a book report wouldn’t be the most engaging quest, so the story of the fall of Balin’s company is presented to players in the form of a session play titled “We Cannot Get Out.” (Mild spoilers in the next three paragraphs.)

    If you know even the bare bones story of The Fellowship of the Ring, you know what goes down in this session play from context and title alone. I won’t narrate the whole thing—no need!—but the relevant part is that the instance ports you in near the (as yet unbroken) Bridge of Khazad-dum, which you fight across to the east before pausing to make a stand against several waves of orcs at the bottom of the stairs to the First Hall. As we were making our way across the bridge in our own separate instances, ~Madelenne sent me a tell saying, “I swear to god there had better not be another Balrog in this session play.” I just sent back “lol” and continued on my way—partly because I didn’t want to say anything spoiler-y and ruin the tension, and partly because I genuinely didn’t remember what happened in the first half of the instance. But as I got to the other side of the bridge, a thought occurred to me: “Wait, doesn’t something happen at the top of the stairs…?” But I kept that particular thought to myself rather than, like, bother Madelenne with it when she was so busy with her own progress in the session play (👀).

    Once those initial waves of orcs have been defeated, you and your fellow dwarves climb to the top of the stairs to regroup, and one of them pulls you aside to say that something doesn’t feel right. Suddenly, an explosion of flame blossoms on the threshold of the First Hall, a shadowy figure materializes inside it—and guess who it is? Guess who?? (Come on, you know who it is). The next objective in the session play is, effectively, to turn around and haul ass back to the Bridge of Khazad-dum before you get roasted by Durin’s Bane.

    By the time I’d gotten to that NPC dwarf’s quest text about feeling a growing shadow approaching, I knew that thought I’d had back on the bridge was totally right and a Balrog was about to appear again. Madelenne, of course, was a little less prepared—when we met up after finishing the session play, she was a little #shook (in a good-natured way) at being jump-scared by the exact same enemy again. Personally, I found it hilarious that her Balrog paranoia had turned into a full-on bit, hence the title of this post. Now, I know Madelenne will read this eventually, so I have to say that the good news is these are the only two appearances of Durin’s Bane in Moria, and we’re in the clear from here on out.


    Another view of the Silvertine Lodes

    Fire, shadow, and spooks is where we leave off for today’s questing diary: “We Cannot Get Out” is the last chapter of Volume II, Book 3, and there are six epic books in Moria, so halfway through the epic seemed like a natural stopping point! (We were also level 55 at this time, i.e. halfway through the Moria xpac levels).

    Next up, we’ll be exploring the Waterworks, progressing further into new regions of Moria, and delving deeper (so to speak) into the epic story following the threats revealed in the Book of Mazarbul. Until next time! And remember—watch out for those surprise Balrogs.

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