Levelling Up

As I’ve mentioned a couple of times recently, at the end of March (it being my birthday) I decided to pick up the Pathfinder Card Game. Like LotR it’s a Fantasy, Adventure, Card game, and I’d heard some positive reviews about it. It’s also co-operative, which is always a bonus, as it reduces the misery attendant with the same person winning all the time. The best bit for me is the way that your character and your deck improve as you go through- provided you don’t die.

After completing a scenario, and adventure (several scenarios stuck together) or even an adventure path (several adventures stuck together) you can add additional cards to your deck, boost your stat points, or even take additional powers.

Obviously, the format with this game is a bit different. 95% of the time, as soon as a card is released, you can put it in your deck, without having to “earn” it. There are a few exceptions though, and those are what I want to look at today.



ImageTreasures were first introduced in the Hobbit Saga expansions. In the first box, Over Hill and Under Hill, we had three – Orcrist, Glamdring and Sting, which were added to in the second box, On the Doorstep, with the Arkenstone, a Mithril Shirt, Thror’s Hunting Bow, Thror’s Gold Cup, and Thror’s Battleaxe. Last, but by no means least comes Bilbo’s Magic Ring.

Generally speaking, the Treasures were powerful attachments, with no cost, no sphere-match requirement, and a powerful effect. Being able to add 2 attack to a hero from the start, and draw a card/gain a resource can make a major difference. As Bilbo’s death typically meant instant loss for the players, being able to give him a global stat boost was a major advantage.

However, there were problems with the Treasures. In the first box, you not only had to defeat the scenario to gain the swords, you had to do so, whilst exploring a location that was immune to player card effects, and required a key, and probably a purse to be found from the encounter deck. As originally printed, these cards invariably wound up in the discard pile- thankfully, Fantasy flight issued an errata, to make sure they hung around in the staging area long enough to at least be theoretically possible to acquire.

ImageFor the treasures of the second box, acquisition was much more thematic- you had to burgle the Lonely Mountain to get them. Each time you removed a treasure from the Lonely Mountain, its threat grew, and the odds of unleashing an enraged Smaug upon your party grew. This felt a lot more satisfying, and provided a much more meaningful choice.

The other problem with the Treasures, was when you were supposed to use them. If you managed to acquire the Swords, you could use them in the following 5 quests. For the loot plundered from the Lonely Mountain, you could only use them in 1- The Battle of Five Armies. This is a fun quest, but at the end of the day, it’s only 1 out of an ever-growing pool that currently stands at around 40 official quests, and countless fan-made ones. How often is Thror’s Battle-Axe actually going to see play?



The other major attempt by the developers to create cards which needed to be earned came in the more recent Lord of the Rings Saga expansion, Black Riders, with more to follow in the succeeding boxes. These were the Boons.

There have been various different types of Boon thus far, and generally speaking they seem to be a lot more abstract than the Treasures. Whereas Treasures were concrete objects which you could hold in your hands, and typically use to beat-up an orc with, these tend to be skills, traits, aliases and the like.

ImageFor example, if you complete the “Knife in the Dark” scenario, you can designate one of your heroes a “Tireless Ranger” a “Skilled Healer” a “Valiant Warrior” or a “Noble Hero.” Each of these attachments have the “set-up” and “permanent” keywords, meaning that from now on, they will start in play, and aren’t going to get discarded by standard attachment hate. Each brings a boost to one stat, and a trait (adding hope for those of us wondering whether we will see more cards which off of these traits in the future.)

Evidently, there are downsides. To gain the boons you need to be playing in Campaign Mode, and are limited to future scenarios in that campaign- currently that’s a grand total of 1, but it will grow, and should eventually be 15 or so. The other major issue is that along with Boons come Burdens- lingering negative cards which for the most part are surging treacheries – i.e. they do something bad, and you still get an additional card, so can never luck out and be better off than if you hadn’t drawn them.

Generally speaking, I’m not really sure which I prefer out of Boons and Treasures. As I’ve mentioned in another article, I’ve certainly been tempted to use Treasures outside of their approved environment, which is something I’ve never seriously contemplated with Boons. The sheer length of a Lord of the Rings Saga campaign is also sufficient to be worth the investment of gaining those cards. Likewise, the power level seems decent- If Dunhere has a base attack of 3, before he starts getting attachments, then he could easily be hitting the staging area for 8 within a couple of turns, which is enough even to trouble most Nazgul. Likewise if Beregond starts with 5 defence, before he gets his first shield, you’re more likely to just be able to field the Nazgul normally, then smash him with a group of characters.

None of this however, does anything to address the issue of being able to use cards in other settings. A campaign is fine for the 2 or 3 of us who play this game regularly, but for the person who plays this game with us twice a year, the chances are, that their deck no longer exists by the time they play again. I’m not opposed to a bit of record keeping, but I don’t want to be tied to a deck that’s a year behind the card-pool.



Stepping back a bit, to consider more broadly the options we have for introducing rewards and power-ups into this game, it’s easy to see that we need to be careful. For a Pathfinder character to move from rolling a D12 in a check, to rolling a D12 and adding 1 (or later 2) to the result is a useful bonus, but it doesn’t shift the game massively. For an LotR hero to move from 3 attack to 4, or 5, is a major deal.

Adding additional powers, or perhaps modifying them, is a possibility – given that powers typically have a cost, such as exhausting the character, an additional one is perhaps not that dangerous. For example, if Beravor could exhaust to choose 2 players who each drew 1 card, as an alternative to choosing 1 player to draw 2, then this would broaden a player’s options, without massively increasing the power level.

Adding cards to the deck is perhaps the fiddliest option. Pathfinder is designed to be played in a linear fashion. You start at scenario 1, and you play through, with an ever evolving deck. Every time I get new cards for Lord of the Rings, I tend to re-build, or at least tweak, my decks- but I don’t want to start again at passage through Mirkwood. The other issue, is that cards aren’t necessarily straight-up better than one another in this game. Elven Dagger +1 is automatically better than Elven dagger (to use a name plucked from thin air) – the relative merits of Dwarven Axe / Dwarrowdelf Axe or Dagger of Westernesse / Spear of the Mark are far harder to determine.

On the powers line, it’s fairly easy to see how some heroes could be powered up – let’s take Core Set Aragorn as an example:

Currently his card reads: “Response: After Aragorn commits to a quest, spend 1 resource from his resource pool to ready him.”

This could be modified to

“Response: After Aragorn commits to a quest (□ or is declared as a defender / □or an attacker) spend 1 resource from his resource pool to ready him.”

Or alternatively

“Response: After Aragorn commits to a quest, spend 1 resource from his resource pool to ready him (□ he gains +1 Willpower until the end of the phase).”


The idea here, is that the card initially functions as the official Aragorn does, but Imageonce the relevant box is ticked, it gains the additional ability. The question would need to be asked, of course, as to what exactly a player would have to do, in order to earn the right to tick such a box, but the general principle is clear.

For other heroes, however, there’s no obvious progression – how would you power-up Spirit Glorfindel? Removing his forced effect would make him exceptionally powerful. Adding a new ability would essentially just be a case of plucking something from thin air – as much as I’d like to add “Exhaust and discard Glorfindel to discard any 1 Balrog enemy from play. After 3 rounds, you may return Glorfindel to play.” It doesn’t really relate to the card as it’s currently written.



Occasionally, people writing deck-building articles about this game will talk about having a “sideboard” – a few cards which aren’t part of their deck, but which they swap in and out. I thought about creating cards which could be used as part of a sideboard. Essentially these cards will work like costed treasures. However, unlike the Treasures, with their per-scenario limit, these would be globally available once that player had earned them for that hero.


Passage Through Mirkwood: Cobs-Bane.

Earn if you have completed the “Passage Through Mirkwood” scenario – any hero who participated in an attack that destroyed a spider is eligible for the “Cobs-Bane” attachment.

Attachment. Neutral
Cost 1
Attach to an eligible hero. Limit 1 Prowess attachment per character. Attached hero gets +1 attack, when attacking an enemy with the Spider Trait.

–          If I play passage through Mirkwood with Aragorn, Dunhere, and Eowyn, and Aragorn and Dunhere each kill a spider, then I would tick their names against the “Cobs-Bane” entry on the sheet. Any quest I play in future, where I have Aragorn or Dunhere in play, I can shuffle in the Cobs-Bane attachment to my deck.


Journey along the Anduin: Scourge of Wolves

Earn if you have completed the “Journey Along the Anduin” scenario – any hero who participated in an attack that destroyed an enemy with Wargs in its name is eligible for the “Scourge of Wolves” attachment.

Scourge of Wolves
Attachment. Neutral
Cost 1
Attach to an eligible hero. Limit 1 Prowess attachment per character. Attached hero gets +1 attack, when attacking an enemy with Wolf/Wolves or Warg(s) in its name.


A Journey to Rhosgobel: Death to the Skies

Earn if you have completed the “Journey to Rhosgobel” scenario – any hero who participated in an attack that destroyed a Mirkwood Flock or Black Forest Bats is eligible for the “Death to the Skies” attachment.

Death to the Skies
Attachment. Neutral
Cost 1
Attach to an eligible hero. Limit 1 Prowess attachment per character. Attached hero gets +1 attack, when attacking an enemy with Crow(s), or Bat(s) in its name.


Mirkwood Cycle: Beast-Slayer

Earn if you have completed any Mirkwood Cycle scenario. Any hero who earned 3 Prowess attachments may take this attachment. They cannot have any other Prowess Attachments.

Attached character gets +1 attack when attacking any Creature enemy, and +1 defence when defending against any Creature Enemy. Or: exhaust to cancel a when revealed of a creature


At a basic level, these attachments seem balanced, if potentially a little underwhelming. They are 1-cost neutral attachments, so they aren’t going to cause you massive resource headaches. They are also not weapons, or restricted, so there are no problems in terms of them ‘taking up a slot’ on a character. They balance this by the fact that you have to earn them, and the fact that they only provide a very situational boost.

One concern I did have was thinking about how these should make their way from the deck to the hero. As a non-free card, having it in set-up could potentially hamper you – if my Glorfindel/Elrond deck gets Light of Valinor and Asfaloth in the starting hand, I’m not going to be happy about spending a resource on +1 attack against spiders!

These attachments are also vulnerable to all the standard attachment hate that goes on in the game. Given the lengths players need to go to get these, this felt a bit unfair, so I decided to go for the following:

Setup: you may search your deck and add this card to your hand. Once in play it is immune to encounter card effects.


I’m aware that this gives the prowess attachments and advantage as opposed to other attachments we’ve seen in the game. Nonetheless, this felt like quite a good approach.

My next stage is to do a bit of play-testing. I’m intending to go through the relevant Core/Mirkwood scenarios, adding these in as I go – Passage Through Mirkwood, Journey Along the Anduin, Hunt for Gollum, Dead Marshes, Return to Gollum. Ideally I’ll do this twice, once with the Prowess, and once with Banania’s Boons and Burden. It’ll probably take me several weeks to get it all done, but once I do, I’ll post another article on here, with a few thoughts on how they seem in practice.



2 thoughts on “Levelling Up

  1. Joe Zimmerman

    I think the attachments should be like the Boons. If they are from past experience, then it’s not something that should be fetched and paid for, it’s something the hero should keep all along. So make it free, give it “Setup: attach to a hero that has earned this Prowess.” and give it the “permanent” keyword. I don’t think these are too powerful to just have automatically.

    Also, all of these just add attack. There need to be other stats that can be affected.

    1. Dor Cuarthol Post author

      So what criteria would you use for earning boosts to other attacks? – would you link it in to a related activity (successfully defend X attacks from a spider to get +1 defence against spiders) or more generically – after winning a quest in which 5+ spiders entered play, choose
      +1 defence / attack / etc?


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