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Dwarrowdelf Campaign: Introduction

by on July 22, 2014


Lately, I’ve been thinking about theme and to what degree a sense of adventure is really built into the play experience. I’ve seen some that have played or tried the game argue that LOTR LCG is nothing more than a glorified puzzle, with little to no theme, or at least the theme is overshadowed by the need to continually build decks out of disparate pieces to beat each scenario. Needless to say, I disagree with this view and feel that this game is rich with theme and great stories that you can talk about long after a particular scenario is over. Of course, a card game like this brings with it some necessary abstraction. After all, we are not playing a Middle Earth simulator or in-depth RPG campaign. So it is perfectly possible for people to bring what they want to it or to experience it in quite different ways, with some perhaps truly encountering the game as merely an exercise in mechanics and solving puzzles. On the other hand, some players will build stories and scenes in their minds as they play, drinking in every last detail, piece of artwork, and word of flavor text as the world of Tolkien opens before them. Personally, I fall somewhere in between. There are certainly times where I find myself simply boiling the game down to X’s and O’s and figuring out my best move step by step. On the other hand, I do have many moments where a certain situation in the game evokes a story or imagery in my head.

With all this in mind, I’ve decided to see if I can up the ante on storytelling and theme in my experience of LOTR LCG. The introduction of Campaign Mode in The Black Riders Sage Expansion has to be one of my favorite innovations in the game so far, as it brings a kind of continuity that was sorely missing beforehand. Right now, players mostly experience scenarios as individual bite-sized experiences, rather than elements of a story that really weave together to form a larger narrative. Of course, the use of rule inserts in the Against the Shadow cycle to include lengthy story text, which has now continued in the Ring-maker cycle, has helped to remedy this as well. However, the idea of a set of the same heroes continuing the same story is one that appeals to me. Unfortunately, Campaign Mode is restricted to The Lord of the Rings Saga Expansions, but I would like to see it expanded to the regular cycles as well. While I hold out hope for Print on Demand packs in the future that add special Campaign Mode rules and Boons and Burdens to each cycle (make it happen, FFG!), I’ve decided to take the Campaign Mode rules and apply them to one cycle to see how it improves the experience.

After getting some input on Facebook as to which cycle I should tackle, I’ve settled on a Dwarrowdelf Campaign. Although it would have been possible for me to create a bunch of house rules and my own custom Boons and Burdens for this cycle, and although I have no problem with custom content, I wanted to seek out a means of playing Campaign Mode that did not involve altering any existing rules or creating any cards of my own. The one place that is ripe for doing this is deck building, since I can put whatever restrictions I want on myself in terms of building decks without impacting the actual rules. So here is what I settled on for the Dwarrowdelf Campaign.

First, I am using all of the Campaign Mode rules from The Black Riders rulebook and will choose 3 heroes that will undertake all 6 scenarios together:

– Any hero who is in my discard pile at the end of a scenario will be counted as a Fallen Hero. I can replace that hero at a permanent +1 penalty to my starting threat.

– If I want to replace a hero that did not fall, I still have to pay the permanent +1 starting threat penalty.

– Unfortunately, there are no Boons and Burdens. I toyed with the idea of custom rules regarding choosing certain treacheries to carry over or certain attachments to stay in play, but as mentioned before, I opted out of house rules altogether.

Keeping my heroes together is certainly a good first step to giving the feeling of a real campaign, and preventing heroes from coming back to life also gives an added weight to losing a hero. This alone does add a bit more story punch to the play experience. However, without Boons and Burdens, this didn’t seem like enough to really make this a true Campaign Mode. So I added some restrictions to deck building to make things even more interesting:

– Any unique ally that is in my discard pile at the end of the game due to being destroyed or discarded from play by an encounter card effect (rather than simply discarded from hand by Protector of Lorien, for example) is considered to be a Fallen Ally. This means that I have to remove them from my deck and can’t use them for the rest of the campaign. In order to keep track of this, I will put allies that are removed from play this way into a separate “dead pile”. For all game purposes, they will be treated as if they were in the discard pile. This restriction is basically just applying the Fallen Hero rule to allies, but helps to give an added weight to sacrifice and death that Tolkien’s story warrants. So if Gildor gets smashed to pieces by the Watcher in the third scenario, he doesn’t get to waltz nonchalantly into Moria with the rest of the party for the next quest.

– I will only be allowed to change my deck when the heroes have reached a logical shelter point in the story. This means that my deck will have to remain the same during The Redhorn Gate and Road to Rivendell. I can then make changes (other than the heroes) once the heroes reach Rivendell. From there on out, the deck will have to remain unchanged through The Watcher in the Water, The Long Dark, Foundations of Stone, and Shadow and Flame. This represents the fact that the heroes should only be able to change their equipment and recruit new allies at a haven like Rivendell, not when they’re deep in the Mines of Moria! If I can no longer include a unique ally because of the Fallen Ally restriction, then I will be allowed a replacement ally of the same sphere.

With all of these rules and restrictions applied, I believe that there should be a strong campaign feel to the experience. However, I’ve never tried this before, so this is also an experiment to see how much this kind of Campaign Mode really adds to the cycles. As a final note on the guidelines for this endeavor, I should speak on how I will handle winning and losing.

– Losing a scenario does not mean that I will start from the beginning again. While this is perhaps the most thematic option, I just don’t have the time to keep replaying through the cycle multiple times. Instead, losing simply means a replay with none of the dead allies or heroes counting from that play.

– However, I must play every quest through to an actual victory or loss and can’t simply choose to quit a game because it looks like I might lose. This means that I may end up playing a quest out when things look bleak and actually win, but at the cost of losing valuable heroes or allies. I must keep all wins and cannot simply replay a scenario to avoid losing a character.

Soon, I will begin the journey through the Dwarrowdelf cycle. This campaign will have a little input from you readers out there along the way. The latest TftC poll gives you a chance to vote for what kind of deck I should use. In addition, if anyone has any additional ideas about how to spice up my Campaign Mode rules, please comment below, although keep in mind that I’m avoiding anything that directly changes existing rules. Restrictions to deck building are fair game though! And if you have a deck theme idea that isn’t on the poll, feel free to share that below as well. Join me soon for a discussion of the company of heroes that will be undertaking this quest, along with their equipment, allies, and tricks!


From → Strategy

  1. This is great! For a while I was working on something similar, but it also involved arranging the quests in chronological order and not being allowed to access certain heroes or unique allies until they had been “born” in the timeline. It was a little too difficult to pin down some of the information, so I abandoned it, but it’s great to see you doing something similar.

    One note: Although I know you don’t want to add in Boons and Burdens, I might suggest adding Durin’s Greaves (LD), Axe (FoS), and Helm (FoS) to the encounter decks from the beginning. Perhaps picking them up would allow you to use them later on in the campaign. They’re just too neat to use in one scenario.

    • TalesfromtheCards permalink

      Thanks! Originally, I was thinking of doing something even more complicated, along the lines of what you are suggesting, where I had to “unlock” certain cards for my deck as I went along. Ultimately, I decided to just keep it fairly simple and streamlined and perhaps I can add more complexity in the future.

      Those special items are so tempting, especially since they so rarely come up. I’ll have to give it some thought.

    • banania permalink


      I’m working on exactly that with a friend, and we are close to submit it to the community.

      Would you like to be associated? Looking forward to your own version of this “mega campaign”.

  2. Matthew D. permalink

    The Grey Company, duh! 😉

    • TalesfromtheCards permalink

      Or Outlands with 3 Glorfindels?

      • banania permalink

        Don’t forget to throw a Light of Valinor on Glorfindel. Just found this combo.

  3. One question: If an ally dies in the middle of a quest but is revived through something like Stand and Fight, will he/she be allowed to be used later on?

    Also, it seems like Arwen will be out of your deckbuilding until you “unlock her” after escorting the objective ally version to Rivendell. A small restriction, but an important one.

    • TalesfromtheCards permalink

      Yes. I’m following the same rules as for heroes in Campaign Mode, which is that they can revived through card effects during a scenario, but if they are in the discard pile at the end, than they are considered to be fallen.

      Arwen will definitely be kept out, but I can trade her in during the “haven interlude” between Road to Rivendell and The Watcher in the Water.

  4. diedertk permalink

    My little brother and I just talked about a sort of campaign mode for the SoM cycle. Great idea, I think we’ll take some of your rules and add some of our own.

    Two rules which I had in mind but find hard to apply. My thoughts are about allies-heroes and allies themselfs.
    1. If you would assemble a party led by three Dwarf heroes, they probably wouldn’t recruit Naith Guide or other Elfs. Even human participants would be refused probably because of the stubberness of Dwarves to get their own shit together. You also could argue that part of Tolkien’s wish was to overcome such hostilities (legolas/gimli). It’s just a thematic struggle I guess.

    Second, in your example when playing the Dwarrowdelf cycle, how would an Ithilien Ranger or Gondorian Spearman fit into a quest situated miles away. Only if on of the heroes or thé hero would travel from such regions, I find their place in a deck appropriate, because why else would a Northern Tracker travel to Caradhras?

    As I said, I guess that these two are some highly exuberant mostly thematic problems, but I wanted to share it with you to hear your thoughts about it.

    • TalesfromtheCards permalink

      Thanks! I’m still mulling over just how restrictive I want to be in terms of theme. I kind of want to keep to characters that would feasibly be in the area around Rivendell/Eriador or the Misty Mountains. So I’ll probably try to avoid characters that come from far away places unless I can come up with a nice thematic explanation for their inclusion! As for mixing heroes of different traits, I’m ok with that from the perspective of emulating Tolkien’s “fellowship” idea, but I’ll probably end up sticking to a coherent trait or at least a theme of some kind (i.e. The Grey Company).

  5. Glowwyrm permalink

    This rule would make things unnecessarily difficult, but you could choose to have only one copy of unique items. Personally, I would never do that, but I know some thematic players find that style really rewarding. It makes it a big deal to become the Steward of Gondor, to gain Gildor’s help, etc. I guess it really depends on how much challenge (and card draw) you are wanting to add.

    I like your approach to campaign mode, and I hope it works well. I like to build decks that an beat all the quests in a cycle (or a deluxe/saga box) with only minor changes, so it wouldn’t be too much of an extra step to try what you’re doing. Good luck! I’m interested to see how it goes.

    • TalesfromtheCards permalink

      That’s an interesting one. i’ll have to consider it, although I’ll probably allow multiple copies of unique items in my deck. I think if someone wanted to get really elaborate, they could come up with a system of having to unlock unique items for your deck or even multiple copies by completing quests in a Campaign type mode. This would be a way of leveling up your deck and characters.

  6. Traekos77 permalink

    Playing with 1 deck only?

    • TalesfromtheCards permalink

      Yeah, I plan on playing with just 1 deck. Two-handed would be fun, but I think for the sake of time (especially in writing the articles) and providing a tight campaign story, it will be better to use just one deck.

      • Traekos77 permalink

        Awesome, even more kudos if you don’t use Glorfindel.

        I think Tactics is a must for fighting well and Lore for staying alive. Here are some fun Hero combos that could work.

        Oin + Ori + Bombur
        Boromir + Eowyn + Denethor
        Sam + Merry + Aragorn (Lore)

      • sorty permalink

        I agree with your choice to play with just 1 deck, but please, can you give some advice on your next post about which kind of second deck could be paired with your 1-player deck, if one would play a 2-players campaign?

        • TalesfromtheCards permalink

          That’s a good idea. I’ll definitely give some thoughts on an appropriate paired deck for whatever deck I end up coming with.

  7. Don J. permalink

    ( this post has slight spoilers for Dwarrowdelf, just a friendly warning)
    I can’t wait for this. The narrative-rich telling your TBR campaign was a great read, and I suspect this will be even better. What impressed me about the Dwarrowdelf cycle is that I had never seen a card game build tension over the course of multiple games and change tone. The further you go, the more horrific and survival horror (lovecraftian) it becomes! I remember by the end of it I felt exhausted and drained for my heroes and what they’d been through.

    I did a play-through with two decks where Deck A went through Khazad-Dum, but when they chiseled their way out at the end of Flight from Moria, they just went deeper, lost and forgotten about. Pan to Deck B, whom escorts Arwen to Rivendell and entered the mines from the west. When Deck B gets washed away, I turned my solo campaign play-through into a two-handed game by bringing in my forgotten heroes from Deck A. The two groups met up and escaped the Forgotten Caverns together. With new reinforcements, Deck A was able to muster the resolve to take a stand in Shadow and Flame, thus playing the majority of the expansion and cycle pure solo and ending it two-handed.

    My desire to share my experiences aside, this is a really interesting idea. Not changing your deck after Rivendell is damned gutsy –and unique allies entering the fallen list? You sir, are a thematic glutton for punishment. Oh, and if you find the treasures in the deep during FoS, you should totally bring those babies to bear for the final battle. It would only be fair, I mean you’re tying your hands enough as it is, and there would be something poetic about Durin’s Bane being felled by ax of his ancient victim.

    • TalesfromtheCards permalink

      I must say that that was a pretty awesome idea to bring in a second deck (your original deck) during Foundations of Stone, especially since that quest is so much better in multiplayer or two-handed.

      I am definitely tempted to include those “treasures”, if I can find them, since they are so uniquely cool.

  8. Ben permalink

    I more or less try to do this already, though not quite as strict. If a hero falls in battle, they are simply healed for the next scenario. Of course I was trying to do this before The Black Riders expansion came out. It’s extremely fun to go through the story of a cycle using all the same heroes. Good luck in Shadow and Flame. That was the most difficult building decks that held up against that and some of the earlier quests. I ultimately had to abandon my original decks a pretend that Elrond sent a second group to get the original group out. Good luck!

    • TalesfromtheCards permalink

      Yeah, designing a deck that can handle Shadow and Flame in addition to the previous scenarios will be a hefty challenge!

  9. Per Fischer permalink

    Looking forward to this!

  10. Greeghan permalink

    Hi, first of all i want to say that i really appreciate your work and your passion.
    This is a kind of gameplay that i have often used and it give me the greater satisfaction. I’v played in a sort of
    campaign mode every expansion scenarios,every cycle or also shorter adventures: for example a WITW + FoS + SaF adventure or a mini
    adventure composed of Passage through Mirkwood, Conflict at the Carrock and Travel to Rosghobel in search for Radagast help…
    I also try to stay in a bit thematic style.
    i would like to share my campaign rules hoping that someone give them a try and can have some fun:

    Heroes: 2/3 of them must have a distinctive trait for a cycle, like this:
    Core set + Shadows of Mirkwood: core set heroes, dunedain (in this case lore Aragorn)
    Khazad-dum + Dwarrowdelf: dwarf, dunedain, noldor
    Heirs of Numenor + Against the Shadow: gondor, dunedain, outland
    The Voice of Isengard + The Ring Maker: rohan, dunedain, silvan

    Unique allies and unique attachment: when one of them (except of “condition”, yes…your precious steward of gondor is safe!) die or is discarded
    by the effect of an encouter card put in a separate discard pile: you can’t play other copy of those card since there is one
    in this pile.
    You can regain all of them with the approriate cards (stand and fight…dwarven tomb… erebor hammersmith and so on)

    Victory Points: at the end of the adventure you can spend VP for recover cards in the separate discard pile (1 VP for card), or for heal
    wounds on your heroes (1VP for wound), so it is possible to regain a died hero. for example you can spend 2 VP to heal a discarded Glorfindel,
    the next adventure he starts with 3 damage tokens on him.
    You can gain VP also if your final threat is lower than your starting one (for example: start 28, finish 25 = 3 VP).
    Unused VP are lost at the end of each game.

    End of each game: observing the initial “2/3” restriction, you can change any heroes plus three free cards in your deck. You can
    change one additional card for every VP spent. So it is a better idea to take care of your starting heroes and don’t let them die
    if you can’t consistently rearrange your deck…

    Each game must be played till the end, also if your failure is sure, because if you lose by hit a 50 threat your heroes
    are considered still alive and you can retry the current adventure.

    When all the 3 starting heroes are out of play the game immediatly end and you must restart the campaign.

    • TalesfromtheCards permalink

      Thanks! And thanks for sharing your rules. I like the idea of using victory points to bring back cards, as it would make them actually useful in some way other than scoring. I think when I am done with this initial campaign experience, I may experiment with some more complex rules, like unlocking parts of my deck, perhaps using victory points.

  11. Viet Tran permalink

    Great idea! I’ve been toying with trying to figure out a way to make decks more thematic and epic. I was thinking for myself including only 1 ofs of unique items and unique characters. Like sword that was broken or light of valinor and only 1 ofs if allies like faramir. I haven’t tried it yet but I like the idea that we can’t rely on power cards like steward of gondor or powerful unique allies and it would lend itself to creating good memories and fun playthroughs that will be different everytime depending on what unique characters and attachments you get. Thematically it makes sense because you’ll only ever run across one names Faramir and only one steward of gondor. I don’t know how practical that is in a gameplay sense. I haven’t tried it myself just a thought about how I could change up deck creation

    • Viet Tran permalink

      Haha I see now in the comments someone made a similar suggestion

    • TalesfromtheCards permalink

      Great minds think alike. Definitely would add some more thematic punch, albeit at the expense of added difficulty.

  12. banania permalink

    Do it Ranger Traps!

    I’ve never seen anyone able to producing a viable solo Ranger deck.

  13. Josh permalink

    I played an Eowyn, Eomer, Denethor deck and I blew past all the quests except WitW which I had to try a couple of times. S&F was really hard I had to drastically change my deck to beat it unfortantely.

  14. I like the idea of campaign mode. I continue to try to build a deck that will survive the first three core set quests without resetting threat. It’s quite a challenge – I’m looking at you escape from “Dol’ Guldur”. I’ll be following this campaign.

    I’m in favor of adding (quantity) one of each unique card to a deck. I’m more in favor of this than dismissing a unique ally from future quests if he is discarded at the completion of the quest (though I like this rule a lot too).

    My ideas aside…
    I’m EXCITED!

  15. bootagot permalink

    Awesome idea. Surely your deck has to be the Grey company.

    I wouldn’t go to crazy on the rules and restrictions, it may bog down the narrative. For example:

    If Hero’s die they die
    Add in the dwarf treasures from the hobbit
    When reporting have a narrative element

    • TalesfromtheCards permalink

      I agree. Keeping the rules simple seems best at this point.

  16. Mndela permalink

    What is the Grey Company deck?

    • TalesfromtheCards permalink

      The idea would be to use as many Dunedain characters as possible plus Elladan/Elrohir would be fair game as well.

  17. Mndela permalink

    If one of my unique allis in play is defeated, must i discard all other with the same name from my deck? Same game or the next one?

    • TalesfromtheCards permalink

      Good point. I think I’m going to play it that when a unique ally is in the “dead pile” that I can’t play any other copies. I would have to bring them back from the dead using something like Stand and Fight or Dwarven Tomb. Then, if they are still in the dead pile at the end, they are gone forever and I would have to remove them from my deck.

      • bootagot permalink

        I think the dead ally rule may not work or at least leave you without options quickly. Allies are not that formidable.

        Maybe if they are in the dead pile during the game you cannot play a second copy is a good idea.

        • TalesfromtheCards permalink

          Keep in mind that this only applies to unique allies, so I should be able to safely rely on the non-uniques to make up the difference.

  18. john permalink

    I like this! I am currently doing something similar with this cycle. I play 2 handed solo, so I played Khazad-Dum and the first two scenarios with two dwarf decks. After reaching Rivendell, I mixed it up by consolidating my dwarfs down to one deck and adding an elf deck. Thematically it’s pretty fun though I’m currently 0 for 3 on FoS…I may need to try it on easy mode.

  19. sweetnesswhachacha permalink

    Great idea! I’ve played through the first 2 cycles with the same 2 decks (2 fisting), for an added challenge/continuity.

    It’s interesting that the original “nightmare” mode was to play the core box without resetting your deck or threat. That idea never really caught on.

    Being in the future reading this I know that never come out with campaign play in the non saga stuff, which is a bummer.

    I’m eager to read your results as I may find it fun to replicate this little experiment….

    Good luck!

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  1. Dwarrowdelf Campaign: Deck and Lore | Tales from the Cards
  2. Dwarrowdelf Campaign: The Redhorn Gate | Tales from the Cards
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