Product review - Moria: the Black Chasm

Author: Peter C. Fenlon
(Middle-earth Citadels #2011)
Iron Crown Enterprises, 1994 — Charlottesville, Virginia

Reviewer: Greg Bailey

Drawing from Tolkien’s published texts and unfinished works, Iron Crown delivers another command performance in Moria, the first installment in the new and revised citadel series. Perhaps more than any other in Middle-earth, this site captures the imagination of those adventurers who would travel into a forbidding and once-forsaken realm beneath the living earth. The very site where Gandalf the Grey battled the fiery Balrog presents the foolish and immortal alike a wealth of adventure possibilities.

The new module is a reworked version of ICE’s 1984 release Moria: The Dwarven City. Although the prose is mostly the same, several sections contain added detail. The presentation of the 1994 release is more readable, with a larger font and pull-out, color maps. In addition to an expanded adventures section, these added elements comprise the primary differences between the rwo modules, making the revision a more playable and detailed resource than its predecessor. The detail on Dwarven life and society, though somewhat skeletal, still provides the reader with the beginnings of a sourcebook for Dwarven characters and campaigns involving Dwarves.

The module opens up with a brief discussion of Moria’s tumultuous history, followed by a compact and easily referenced timeline. This repository of Naugrim lore enables a gamemaster to lend greater credibility to a campaign. The land and climate sections give an excellent descriptive introduction of each region surrounding the three peaks above Moria, while the relative paucity of the flora and fauna section reflects the lack of complex plant and animal life native to Moria itself. The few life- forms detailed within generally possess unusual or magical characteristics.

The appearance and culture of the Dwarves themselves are generally described. A section on warcraft unveils the Dwarven spirit, illuminating Naugrim ethos. Language is also given brief mention, with a list of approximately twenty-five words and their roots, accompanied by a list of Dwarven alphabetic characters. Although informative to the layman, the description of Dwarven technology remains virtually unchanged from the original module. This analysis gives a good introduction to forging techniques, but James Owen’s article on Metallurgy in the Third Age” (OH 4: 19 – 21) would supplement this section well, adding a more explicit explanation of forging methods.

The main focus of the module is, of course, Moria itself — its halls, chambers, and dark chasms — and the seven Deeps of Moria are described with an abundance of pictures as well as prose. Key sights throughout Khazad-dûm and the Underdeeps come alive in the descriptions and drawings. The foul creatures of Moria range from the hell-wrought Balrog down to the unclean Orc bands. Along with brief sections on each tribe, this section gives mostly combat related information. Honorable mention goes to the drawing of Representatives of the Three Orc Tribes.”

The labels given to the social organization of each creature is a most interesting point. Orcs are broken down into tribes,” each of which is further subdivided into bands;” while Trolls, by contrast, only consist of bands.” How these distinctions are made is not quite clear (but would make an excellent research project for a clever but foolhardy Gondorian anthropologist). The Balrog of the Black Chasm rules the forsaken citizens” of Moria, laughing while his minions butcher one another in pathetic attempts for power.

Six full-length adventures and three shorter scenario outlines comprise the last section of the module. In all, these nine pieces provide the gamemaster with good ideas on how to incorporate Moria and Dwarves into a Middle-earth campaign in any age. Several of them base their plots around gaining (or regaining) some of the riches of Moria. One adventure that stands out is The Embassy to the Dwarven King.” Though the search and retrieval of lost wealth lures the foolish to venture into die Black Pits of Moria, The Embassy” adventure provides a most interesting opportunity to become involved in the life and death struggle of Dwarven politics.

The revised module recommends itself as a resource guide to the denizens of Moria, as well as a guidebook to Khazad-dûm itself. It accomplished both with a breadth of information sufficient to cover most issues with at least enough detail to entice the reader into wanting to further explore the subject. Though this is appropriate for many sections, the reader is left hanging when it comes to Dwarven subsistence methods (a question which immediately comes to mind when reading the section on Dwarven life — how do the inhabitants feed themselves?

In the chapter on Dwarven trade, the author says that Khazad-dûm is both self-sufficient and jealously guarded (45).” By contrast, in the section on exports and imports the author says Khazad-dûm imports a number of foodstuffs, especially grains, red meats, dairy-goods, honey, beer, and mead (ibid).” The Dwarven appetite even surpasses that of the famous Hobbits, and the meager resources of fish, fowl, mushrooms, and mountain-lentils hardly explains how Khazad-dûm could be self-sufficient, especially in times of siege.

Another point which ties in with this is how Dwarven labor is organized (except with minor explanation with regard to smithing and other related crafts). A more detailed description of how the Dwarves lived is a question that begs to be answered, but is left untended, lost in the sonorous echoes of iron and stone. Perhaps more detailed information such as this would fit nicely into a Dwarven sourcebook.

The organization of the module into thematic sections makes Moria a clear and useful guide to adventuring inside. The maps and drawings complement each section well, providing the reader with Iron Crown’s vision of the citadel. The history section and description of races associated with Moria, the Naugrim, Orc tribes, and Trolls also make this more than just a citadel guidebook. The sections on the races contain just enough detail to want more, and I hope mat my suggestion for a Dwarven sourcebook does not fall on deaf ears. Further analysis of Dwarven politics, social organization, and language would be key elements in such a resource.


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