A few weeks back, there was a brief discussion on the Cardboard of the Rings Facebook page, regarding an article on a blog, going by the name of “Throat Punch Games” suggesting a new type of quest keyword. Where we have normal questing (with willpower), Battle questing (with attack) and siege questing (with defence), this blogger was suggesting “Endurance” questing in which we would use our hit points. The upshot of this was that if you fail in questing, rather than raise your threat, you would take damage, to be distributed amongst your characters.
The example given, was crossing Caradhras – where willpower dwindling to zero would cause a character to leave play. Willpower is probably the most abstract of the three basic stats but, as Beorn pointed out, it seems a bit odd to think that a giant bear would somehow be a bad option for journeying over a mountain, just because he has zero willpower.
For anyone interested, the original blog can be found here: http://throatpunchgames.com/2014/02/20/daily-punch-2-19-14-new-encounter-type-for-the-lord-of-the-rings-lcg/ – sadly, I can’t seem to find the mini-Facebook discussion which ensued.
From this starting point, I decided to revisit The Redhorn Gate, to see how it could be adapted to include this new keyword. Before I get started, I should be clear- I’ve never been a big fan of this quest. As it requires 5 victory points to win, you not only need to deal with Caradhras and the locations that start in the staging area, but also find and explore one of the other two peaks. The one occasion where I played this quest solo, it took me about 15 rounds to finish, just because I was only revealing 1 card per round and couldn’t find the other mountain. There are potential ways round this, using Black Arrows (if you have 2+ tactics players, an unlikely proposition in this scenario) or Thror’s Golden Cup, if you’re playing very fast and loose with the rules for Treasures, but within the rules as written this can easily become a random trawl through the encounter deck. Therefore, any re-working of this quest was going to have to fix that.
A lot of the card-effects in this quest target willpower –to an extent that still makes sense. Trudging over mountains can be a pain, and the easily discouraged might well turn back. I decided to leave the majority of these cards in, and to leave the first two stages of the quest as ordinary willpower. Only in the final stage when the mountain reveals its full fury, would I switch them over to Endurance.
As a first step, I decided to take out the line about characters being discarded if their willpower ever reached zero, from card 3b. However, I wanted to leave in the possibility of having bad things happen as a result of zero willpower, as from the shadow effect on snowstorm. I also decided to bring in the requirement from Road to Rivendell that “Characters cannot be healed” – in a situation where under-questing leads to damage, and questing is based on remaining hit-points, it would all be too easy if you could just stack Elrond, some Silvans, and a bunch of Silvan Trackers, to watch all the damage from your elves just vanish at the end of each round. (Incidentally, Road to Rivendell is another scenario which sees very little play in our house, mostly due to the excessive frustration/randomness of Sleeping Sentry.)
For Caradhras, I added a simple additional line: “Response: after Caradhras leaves play as an explored location, search the encounter deck and discard pile for another unique Mountain location. Add it to the staging area.” – this makes it easier to find the other mountain, without removing the need to actually quest through it. As a last little tweak – almost an errata to be compatible with the new keyword, I changed Fanuidhol to “While Fanuidhol is the active location, heroes must spend 1 resource from their resource pool to commit to the quest.” – just to make sure players didn’t get a freebie if they were counting hit points instead of willpower.
The Redhorn Gate encounter set has a couple of direct damage effects – the Snow Warg and the Rocky Crags. To ramp up the difficulty towards the end of this quest, it would be good to throw in some extra effects. However, I wanted to be a bit more creative than just “deal one damage to each exhausted character” and I didn’t want to make too many changes all at once, so I decided to give it a test run or two before going any further.
I played it through solo with some dwarves – Dain, Ori and Thorin, and they were generally able to overpower this. Dain stands around and cancels out the will-power reductions, and with Fili/Kili in the first few turns, ideally followed by A Very Good Tale for more allies, this deck was easily able to overrun the scenario. The Caradhras change was useful, as it avoided me having to spend half the morning trawling through the encounter deck for a location, but the endurance element didn’t make much difference- I was just in too strong a position.
Having established that the basic premise seemed to work, I started thinking about making a few more changes, to ensure that this was sufficiently different as a play-experience to be worth bothering with.
It’s worth noting at this point, that this isn’t a massively synergistic encounter set. There a few cards which reduce willpower, and one which trades off of low will-power, and there are lots of mountains as well as a couple of enemies who get boosts from mountains, but there’s also a fairly broad sweep of enemies and locations with no obvious interaction. There are also several cards with the potential to be either devastating or complete let-offs: Fallen Stones with no progress tokens in play is essentially a blank card, likewise Bitter Wind if you’ve spent all your resources. Turbulent waters can potentially be nasty, but it bears little relation to the other themes of the quest, whilst Avalanche can potentially push you through the quest, by committing more characters than you initially intended.
I decided to remove a few cards – the ones which didn’t really seem to mesh with the others, and reduce the quantities of one or two others. This would hopefully reduce some of the randomness or the let-offs that can come from this quest.
At this point, I started thinking a bit more about the Road to Rivendell – as I mentioned, this too was a set which got fairly little use, and seemed to have cards in it that would synergise far better with the encounter deck – Pathless Country adds to the sense of futility and desperation, wandering lost in the wilderness. The enemies also felt more synergistic – Goblin Taskmaster steps up the direct damage, and Orc Raiders really turn the attachment hate up a notch – thinking back to my dwarf deck, the loss of something like Hardy Leadership could be massive for this quest, as could the ring of Barahir, if you were running that.
On this basis, I decided to swap out the Mountain Goblins and the Mountain Troll, (5 cards total) and sub in 3x Goblin Taskmaster and 2x Orc Raiders. Both of these enemies have the little-used “Ambush” keyword, but they also have low enough engagement costs that their forced effect is likely to actually trigger. As I’d added in the Raiders, I cut out one of the Black Uruks. I also added a single copy of pathless country.
Lastly, I decided to create 3 cards from scratch – obviously, these draw very heavily on the themes of the previous cards, but are designed to feed into the new dynamic a bit better.
On paper at least, the new deck looked more synergistic and more balanced than the original versions. Although potentially a fraction easier in terms of the combat, I hoped that the additional direct damage effects should balance that out.
I played it through a few times, and the results were interesting. Ultimately though, the biggest let-down is the final stage, with the endurance keyword itself. Hit-points are just much more common than the three statistics. You can have allies with 0 willpower, attack and/or defence, but you can’t have a character with 0 hit points. A general survey of the 1-3 cost allies in the game at the moment suggests you get more than double the hit-points per resource than you do will power. This means that if you flood the table with characters, you’ll generally be able to stomp an endurance quest pretty easily – On this basis, you definitely can’t just drop “Endurance” onto an existing quest.
I felt that a fix was needed for this, and decided to revisit the unique Mountains again, to make them act as a bit of a counter-weight. Fanuidhol and Celebdil felt ok, but as this quest is about Caradhras, I wanted to make it more of a big deal.
In the end, I decided to go for a Smaug approach, and have multiple versions – vanilla Caradhras which sits in the staging area from the start, and then Caradhras the Cruel, which comes in at the start of stage 3. It essentially becomes a boss-fight against a location.
This instantly stops you from just being able to push through the quest by flooding the table with cheap chumps. As Caradhras (of one description or another) won’t be going anywhere, there’s no longer any point having the “search” response, so I decided the simplest thing to do was just to scrap the 5 victory points requirement.
By this time, it was pretty clear to me that what I had was a new quest, with similarities to an existing one, rather than simply a different version of Redhorn. On this basis, I decided to rename the quest – sadly I’ve not been able to master custom Encounter Set Icons in StrangeEons and throw in some fresh art for several of the altered/new cards, rather than just recycling from Redhorn. As far as names were concerned, I was tempted by “Barazinbar” (The Dwarvish for Caradhras), but ultimately opted for “Caradhras the Cruel.”
The end result is shown below. It’s a 37-card Encounter deck, 6 lighter than the original, but with some significant differences. It has 2 modified encounter cards (the unique mountains), and 3 new ones (albeit it inspired by official cards) I’ve also brought in 6 cards from Road to Rivendell.
Enemy – 14
Snow Warg (3)
Black Uruks (3)
Mountain Warg (3)
Goblin Taskmaster (3) TRTR
Orc Raiders (2) TRTR
Locations – 11
Rocky Crags (3)
Warg Lair (2)
Pathless country – TRTR
Icy Waterfall (2)*
Treacheries – 12
Fell Voices (2)
Fallen Stones (1)
Freezing Cold (2)
Bitter Wind (2)
As a closing thought, I’d say that I think this works fairly well as a quest – although I’d certainly appreciate other people’s feedback on it – I think it offers a pretty good showing of what the “Endurance” keyword can do, as well as some of the challenges of using this keyword in a scenario. It requires thought, but it still seems to be open to a few different strategies- you can try to blitz it, for example with a dwarf-swarm, or you can take powered-up healing effects for the early stages, and make sure that you arrive at stage 3 intact enough to push through.
Aside from the pictures on this article, I’m going to see what I can do to make this available in a more convenient format for other people to get hold of. [Edit – I’ve now added a pdf below that you can download if you wish to try it out for yourselves.]
I’m always keen to know what other people’s thoughts are on the articles, but for this one, I’d be especially interested to here from anyone who decides to play this through. What do you think of the quest? What do you think of the Endurance concept more generally?
Cruel Caradhras – Download a pdf here!