Brian “Zombie Columbus” Aloisio
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.
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.
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.
The Attunement system is our solution for the Rune-keeper's hybrid nature. Attunement is a spectrum, with nine steps of Healing (Nestad) Attunement on one side, and nine steps of Battle (Dagor) Attunement on the other. Over the course of a battle, the Rune-keeper will shift his position on this spectrum by the skills he uses. The closer he gets to one side, the less he is attuned with the other.
When a battle starts, a Rune-keeper will typically be in the Steady (Thalas) Attunement state. This is a position of readiness that allows a few minor healing or damaging skills to be used (though all utility skills are available). The grey rune in the middle of the Attunement meter that looks like a "b" is the first rune-letter of Thalas in Tengwar.
If a Rune-keeper uses skills that damage foes, Attunement will shift towards the Battle side of the scale. As that end of the scale is approached, new damaging skills will unlock and some damaging skills will deal additional damage, but healing skills will be blocked. Here, the symbol that looks like an "f" is the first rune-letter of Dagor in Cirth script (which all Battle-attuned skills use.)
Likewise, if a Rune-keeper starts using healing skills, then Attunement will shift towards the Healing side of the scale. As that end is approached, new healing skills will unlock and some healing skills will restore additional morale, but other damaging skills will be blocked. Lastly, the green symbol here that looks like an "m" is the first rune-letter of Nestad in Tengwar script (which all Healing attuned skills use.)
Looking over the skills a Rune-keeper has will help illustrate this. Here are some example skills:
Scribe's Spark is a basic Rune-keeper Battle skill. It deals lightning damage to a target, and its damage increases by 4% for every step of Battle Attunement. Using it shifts Attunement one step towards Battle.
Prelude to Hope is a basic healing skill that shifts one step towards Healing. It receives a bonus to its healing amount based on Healing Attunement.
If a Rune-keeper alternates between these two skills, his Attunement will end up staying at the Steady midpoint. However, if Scribe's Spark is used 9 times in a row, full Battle Attunement will be achieved. This will unlock a number of Battle-aligned skills, and increase the damage of Scribe's Spark by a total of 36%!
Finally, there are various utility skills not associated with Healing or Battle. These skills are Steady skills that always pull Attunement toward the middle. Their advantage is that they have no Attunement prerequisites.
The system may be a little confusing to read about, but while in game the link between skills and Attunement is fairly easy to see. The net effect of this system is that the Rune-keeper can shift from damage to healing focus and back again during a fight, but it takes time. Don't expect a quick spot-heal from a damage-dealing Rune-keeper!
So far, we've gone over the lore aspects of the class, the higher-level design, and the Attunement system. All that's left to share is a bit about the Rune-keeper's skill families and how they work.
First, the Damaging skill families. All skills here shift Attunement towards Battle, and some require a high Battle Attunement to be used.
Fury of the Storm - These lightning damage skills are mostly quick instants that can be used while moving. They have unpredictable effects, like the storms they are derived from.
Wrath of Flame - Fire damage-over-time is the style of this family. Most skills have longer casting times. Maintenance is required to keep the Flames burning hot, but very efficient damage can be generated.
Chill of Winter - These chilling skills deal frost damage in smaller amounts than the other two families. However, many skills hit multiple targets or debuff the Rune-keeper's foes.
Next are the healing skills. There is only one skill family, but it is rather large. All the skills here require Healing Attunement.
Words of Grace - One of our goals for the Rune-keepers has been to make sure his healing skills work differently than the Minstrels. Rune-keeper healing is mostly done through heal-over-time (HOT) effects. Maintenance on a single target is rewarded with a number of different, smaller heals affecting the target at the same time. Group maintenance is also done through HOTs. This leads the Rune-keeper to be wonderful at maintaining high morale, but he cannot quickly react to new threats like the Minstrel can (though, he does have a few tricks to help him out).
Finally, there are the utility skills. All of the skills in these two families shift the Rune-keeper towards the Steady Attunement, which is the middle of the scale. This makes these skills interesting strategic choices, since access to higher Attunement skills can be temporarily removed by using them
Visions and Foretellings - The small amount of prophecy the Rune-keeper is capable of lies here. His talents generally allow him to predict an event, and then see that it comes true. For instance, he can see that a foe will meet their end in flames. This will cause later fire attacks against that foe a chance to see that end come about!
The Middle Path - This family contains all the tricks of the Rune-keepers trade. Neither damaging nor healing, these skills help keep the Rune-keeper running smoothly. There are some tricks to escaping from enemies or temporarily disabling them. Other skills help keep enemies from getting upset with you in the first place.
I hope you enjoyed getting a glimpse of what went into creating the Rune-keeper. Adding a new class into the mix we already have has been challenging and rewarding. I hope that everyone who tries the class out finds something they enjoy in it!