Lord Of The Rings Online: In the Mood: LOTRO's Dread System

| 1 May 2007 15:17

If you have done even just the starting quest, then you are familiar with the effects of the Dread System. Brent "Keth" Schmidt takes some time out of his busy schedule to walk us through the Dread System:


Ahoy hoy, I'm Keth, a Senior Designer here on the LOTRO Team. You might remember me from such games as Asheron's Call and Asheron's Call 2. (Well, to be honest, I only did one quest for AC1.)

What happens when you take a heaping helping of writer, an equal portion of programmer, and spice it with a bit of artist? You end up with a designer for LOTRO. Or at least you get me, I guess. One of the things I love about being a designer on LOTRO is the many pies I get to stick my fingers into....

Hrm, that probably wasn't a very good metaphor, but you get the idea. Anyway, what I'm here to talk to you about today is a system near and dear to my heart, the Hope and Dread -- or Mood -- system found in LOTRO.


One of my favorite moments in The Lord of the Rings book is the section involving the Balrog. Not so much the scene involving Gandalf standing on the bridge of Khazad-dûm, although that is a good scene. No, my favorite part is the reveal of the Balrog, and Legolas' response to it. Legolas, who prior to this has always seemed so unflappable, "wails" that a Balrog has come. That one word, "wails," drove home to me the power and terror of the Balrog. That is a testament to Tolkien's amazing ability as a writer. This section, though, isn't the only place where terror, or dread, is found in the books. You could think of Shelob's cave, Mordor, and many more. Even Gandalf's telling of the history of the Ring to Frodo implies terror.

Of course, the books aren't only about feeling terror and dread. Hope and the rekindling of hope are much more important concepts. A concept Tolkien mentioned in his letters was that of the "eucatastrophe." A catastrophe is a sudden and widespread disaster, while a eucatastrophe, in his mind, was just the opposite. It is a sudden and unexpected turn for the better, and there are many such memorable moments in the books. For instance, there is the sudden appearance of Gandalf and Éomer at Helms Deep, the ride of the Rohirrim and many more.

The question is, though, how do you convey emotion like that in the game? What we needed to do was derive a game mechanic from this book concept, and that is where the Mood system comes from.

The Mechanics of Hope and Dread

The initial inspiration for the system was what I was calling the "evil-o-meter." I just imagined getting near some source of great evil, such as the Witch-king, and watching a needle peg all the way to right. And it's hard to explain, but imagining that in my mind made the situation that much more intense and cool. For some reason, that completely artificial mechanism added an important layer to the scene. Sure, we try to convey evil through our art, sound cues and other sources, but it just seemed really awesome to me to really tell you, the player, that, "HEY, THIS GUY IS EVIL!"

Of course, some sort of Geiger counter of evil isn't appropriate to our game world, so we convey that you are near sources of evil through a change in the game's music, portions of the User Interface (UI) changing, and the world itself seeming darker and more oppressive. I think it's pretty dramatic and cool. As we've already talked about, the books aren't all about evil and dread -- hope is just as important a concept, so our UI reflects that as well.

All right, so now that you'll know when you're near evil or good, what exactly are the effects of hope and dread on your character? As I mentioned above, those emotions had a definite impact on the characters in the books, so they should have an impact on your character as well. Our first step was to essentially add an attribute of sorts which reflects the character's mood. The Mood attribute ranges between -10 and +10. A -10 Mood represents the depths of despair and hopelessness, while a +10 represents the heights of hope and jubilation. So what effect does mood have on your character? I'm glad you asked!

Characters experiencing hope find that:

  • Their morale stat is increased
  • They are more receptive to skills that increase their morale
  • They take less damage from attacks
  • Are more likely to hit their target with their attacks

Characters experiencing dread find that:

  • Their morale stat is reduced
  • They are less receptive to morale-increasing skills
  • They take more damage from attacks
  • Are more likely to miss with their own attacks
  • May occasionally be seized with fear and be unable to attack at all.

Now that we've defined your character's mood, let's talk flavors of mood.

Flavors of Mood

When reviewing the books, you could classify those moments of hope and dread into three categories: moments influenced by people, moments influenced by locations, and moments influenced by situations. Of those categories, two of them, people and situations, could be said to be "of the moment," or active mood moments. When that person was present or when that turn of events took place, the mood of the characters almost instantly changed. The third source, though, locations, could be thought of as an underlying mood that was engendered by the place due to its history or who lived there. We could say these were passive mood moments. Let's give a few examples of each type:

Active Mood


Hopeful: Galadriel, Gandalf, Elrond, Tom Bombadil

Dreadful: The Witch-king, the Balrog, Frodo (when he's bearing the Ring, that is.)


Hopeful: The Ride of the Rohirrim, the Eagles' arrival at the Black Gate

Dreadful: The Siege of Minas Tirith, Helm's Deep (before Gandalf's arrival)

Passive Mood


Hopeful: Rivendell, the Shire, Lothlórien

Dreadful: Shelob's Cave, Mordor

Now, here's where things get a bit complicated. As described above, we have two flavors of Mood moments: active moments and passive moments. It could be argued that active moments and passive moments "stack," or amplify each other. For instance, things looked dark in Moria, but when the Balrog appeared, things really got bad. This stacking of moments is another aspect of the Mood system in our game.

The Hows and Whys of Passive Mood

How exactly does this stacking of mood work? Well, we're going to examine passive mood moments first, since they may be the more difficult to understand.

First, let's talk about passive hope. When you enter a hopeful region of the world, such as Rivendell, you will find that your character's mood immediately improves. Things just seem better, due to the hope of the region. If you got near a hopeful NPC in Rivendell, well, your mood would be all that much better. That NPC's hope would stack with the hope of the region.

What though if you entered a dreadful region of the world, like Angmar? Well your mood doesn't instantly get worse. Instead, if you suffer a defeat in Angmar, you'll find that you're temporarily afflicted with dread. This simulates the temporary doubt you might suffer at failing in your last battle. How dreadful your character feels after a defeat depends on how terrible the region is. Also, as with passive hope above, if you were suffering with passive dread and got near a source of active dread, well, your character's day would be that much worse.

To try and put this in common MMO terms, you could think of passive hope as a buff given by a region, while passive dread is a death penalty, the severity of which depends on the region where you were defeated.

How about Active Mood?

Hopefully (no pun intended) you've followed so far, because now we're turning our attention to active mood moments. These are a bit simpler to understand. If you are in the proximity of an active mood source, like a person, you will find that your mood is changed. If you find that you are near two mood sources of the same type, only the more powerful mood affects you.

You may not have followed that, so let's give an example: Let's say you run into Gandalf and Legolas in Rivendell. Rivendell has already given you some level of hope, but getting near two of the Fellowship members makes your day all the better. However, Gandalf is a more inspiring person than Legolas, so only his hope is affecting you, not Legolas'.

Pushing Back the Darkness

Now your character isn't completely at the mercy of external sources for your character's mood. You don't have to wait for Gandalf to swoop in to help you if you find yourself in an especially dreadful situation. No, you can fight back against the dread with your own sources of hope.

What are these sources? Well, they are varied. I won't provide a complete list here, but you'll find that certain character skills can inspire hope, as can some items or temporary perks. (Perks are temporary buffs purchased by Destiny points, as an aspect of our monster play system.) Whatever their source, you'll find yourself with plenty of options to help stir your character's mood to face the challenges ahead. Better yet, these player-generated sources of hope stack with both passive and active hope sources!

Rekindling Hope

I hope (again, no pun intended) this has provided some insight into our Mood system in The Lord of the Rings Online. I think it's one of the many unique systems found in our game, really building off of the concepts and situations presented in the Books of Tolkien and making them into an interesting game system!

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