Over the past few weeks, I’d been thinking about the idea of Sacrifice in Lord of the Rings the Card-Game. Obviously, we already have a card or two that links directly to this theme – something like Valiant Sacrifice on a very literal level, as well as more oblique references, such as in an ability on a hero card like Caldara.
Although some people seem to have found some pretty powerful decks to build around her, Caldara’s ability has always struck me as a bit forced, and slightly too abstract – I’m not quite sure what she’s doing in the discard pile to make the allies appear, nor why the number of allies who respond to the call is so directly linked to the number of other Spirit Heroes you control. I wanted to come up with something, which could bring to the table a direct, discernible link between the sacrifice that was being made by the character, and the benefit being brought to the table.
To my mind, there are two iconic moments in Lord of the Rings which really capture this idea of self-sacrifice. They involve respectively, Mr & Mrs Future-Steward-of-Gondor, Faramir and Eowyn: Eowyn, when she stands between the Witch King and Theoden’s body, and Faramir, when he rides back out of Minas Tirith towards Osgiliath at Denethor’s command. Neither of them are under any illusions as to the harm likely to come to them, but they do it anyway, for love of the Uncle who raised her, or the City that he calls home.
Fan-made versions of Eowyn are fairly common, and always a tricky one to balance. On the one hand, a low will-power Eowyn makes no sense, but at the same time, a Tactics Hero with 4 willpower could easily be seen as breaking the game. Instead, I opted for an attachment. This takes the Lady of Edoras who we first see billowing so finely in the wind, and turns her into the shield-maiden of the Pelennor. On the one hand, she has not suddenly become a master-warrior – she is not about to drive off the entire army of Harad like her brother does when the red mist takes him, but nonetheless, she is able to accomplish deeds worthy of song by sheer force of will.
The card as designed then, is a tactics attachment. It isn’t meant to be a combat fix for a mono-Spirit deck, nor does it guarantee willpower boosts for Tactics. It’s unique, and only attaches to Eowyn. In the first instance, it gives her +1 attack, taking her up to 2, which is hardly world-beating, but a recognition of the way she has steeled herself to reach this point. Where this card really comes into its own, is with the action: exhaust “Shield-maiden,” until the end of the round, Eowyn uses Willpower instead of attack or defence. At 4 attack (or defence) prior to weapons or armour being dealt out, Eowyn is the equal of almost any hero in the game (Beorn being the obvious exception), but this comes at a price- Forced: after “Shieldmaiden” exhausts, deal 1 damage to Eowyn. For a character with only 3 printed hit-points, this is not an ability to be used lightly- players have to choose carefully the right moment to trigger it.
Faramir’s sacrifice is, in some respects even more heroic. Unlike Eowyn, he is a seasoned fighter, who has fought the enemy before, and has no illusions about where his actions are likely to end. His is not an instinctive leap, but a measured decision taken in the council room. The existing hero version of Faramir gives him stats of 2, 2, 2, making him either a solid all-rounder in earlier quests, (or a jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none in the later and more brutal encounters, depending on your perspective). I decided to stick with these – I did briefly consider knocking a hit-point off, in order to lower his threat cost, but decided that Spirit can afford it – a mono-spirit Gondor deck would still only be at 26, and with access to all the standard threat-lowering effects.
For the ability, I started off with something very simple – deal 1 damage to Faramir to deal 1 damage to an enemy in play. However, I decided this was a bit too powerful. For one thing, If the card wasn’t called “Faramir” (and thus ineligible for use in the ‘Morgul Vale’) it would allow you to take down the Nazgul of Minas Morgul in a single round. Additionally, it would allow him to quest for 2+ (The Gondor Trait is always ripe for willpower boosting), and still deal multiple points of damage to even an enemy with the highest defence.
The card below is a somewhat dialled back version of the idea- adding in the “exhaust” requirement knocks out any daft infinite loops, and making it X damage, instead of 1, stops it circumventing any damage cancellation effects. I wasn’t massively happy with the last line (the wording is a bit clunk), but I wanted to avoid anyone trying to deal 20 points of damage to a hero 1 point from death, in order to take down Smaug or a Balrog.
For the flavour text on Faramir, I initially went for the version from the films – it’s slightly shorter and punchier, just a direct question to Faramir – “Is there a Captain who still has the courage to do his lord’s will. Of course, we know that Faramir does – as he says to Gandalf (films again), “This is the city of the men of Numenor – I would gladly give my life to defend her beauty.”
I know other people might think of other examples of moments of great self-sacrifice for the good of others in the film – Boromir at the end of Fellowship is an obvious one, but already captured brilliantly in the hero-card for The Dead Marshes. For those that like Hobbits, there’s probably something involving Sam they could think of (I usually read a book during the Sam and Frodo bits of the films). For me though, the Battle of the Pelennor was where I wanted to focus my energies, and I hope that these will make a valued addition to the defence of Minas Tirith.