I saw Snakes on a Plane at a midnight opening night screening at the movie theater down the street from Fenway Park. A well-informed (and intoxicated) audience such as this one is well aware of something that the characters in the film initially are not; that there are, in fact, snakes on the plane. The film's humor stems in part from that knowledge. The audience shares in a knowing chuckle as characters react in ways that we know to be foolish because, unlike the protagonists, we are aware of the snakes.
"Go deliver these pickaxes to Hollin Gate," the Dwarves tell me. Well, no reason not to get a quiet little evening swim in. Now where is that dread aura coming from?
Turbine faced a similar storytelling challenge in preparing the Mines of Moria expansion. One would imagine that the overwhelming majority of players who have gotten a LOTRO character to level 50 is sufficiently interested in the subject matter to have read the books, seen the films, or both. A non-trivial number of players, such as myself, will jump into the lake just to see what happens. Under the circumstances, going the horror/comedy route was probably the best possible way of opening the gates of Moria.
The issue, of course, is that I am not the wise and powerful Gandalf the Grey. I am not Aragorn, future king of Gondor. I am not Boromir, bold warrior of Gondor, strong Gimli, agile Legolas, or even a fool of a Took. Those legends were the Fellowship that had to run when they encountered the Watcher in the Water. Allarond is a random level 50 human champion. There are half a dozen of us milling around the broker in Bree at any given time. The Watcher in the Water does not get driven away from the Hollin gate by random level 50 champions. The Watcher in the Water, like Chuck Norris, eats five meals a day. The first four are champions, and the last is the rest of the raid group.
What to do when the player SHOULD lose?
Thankfully for the sake of the lore, the Balrog appears only in flashback, slaughtering the Dwarves of Moria.
This is the double edged sword that the lore of Middle Earth poses for Turbine. The quest I have just describes resonates specifically because it is the Hollin Gate of Moria, and not some random cave in Azeroth.
Characters like Illidan or Arthas were created by Blizzard and killed by Blizzard, and it doesn't really bother me if players get to actually deal the killing blow. By contrast, this is Moria. Since I was twelve years old, I have known that the Dwarves dug too deep, awoke unspeakable horrors, and were overrun by goblins and creatures far fouler than Orcs. This is not some random quest hub that I expect player characters to be fixing. Even if the events of the expansion occur after the Fellowship of the Ring has come and gone, it feels strange to me to enter the Mines of Moria and find travel paths, quest hubs, and even a center of commerce with large numbers of players. And yet, that is precisely what was required if you were going to set an MMORPG inside the Mines of Moria.
What do you do when the lore of Tolkein - arguably one of the game's strongest selling points - says that you cannot do the thing that the game mechanics require you to allow players to do? Apparently you take a stand and declare that you have had ENOUGH of these cursed-by-Durin tentacles on this cursed-by-Durin lake. The result is certainly fun, but it's also a bit disappointing.