Dwarrowdelf Campaign: Deck and Lore
There is much that is new and gleaming to review and talk about in the coming weeks. However, in a post recently, I declared my intention to embark upon a Dwarrowdelf Campaign for the ages, and I remain excited and committed to such an undertaking. Step one was to outline the rules that I will use for my venture, which remain unchanged. Several players over at BGG have composed a fantastic set of Campaign Mode rules of their own that you should definitely check out and that I am looking forward to trying out in the future. For the purpose of this campaign though, I will keep to the simple set I outlined before, which will keep the balance of simplicity and depth that I am looking for in this particular venture. With that in mind, the next step is to outline the deck that I will be using for the upcoming campaign. I left the theme of the deck up to you readers through the use of a poll, and while there was a tight race between the Dwarven Miner and Grey Company deck types, the Miner option ultimately won out! I’ll be honest and admit that I was secretly dreading this outcome, as it raises some extremely thorny continuity and lore issues for me as I attempt to weave a cohesive story out of the events of the Dwarrowdelf cycle, and I will delve into some of those matters in this article. On the gameplay side, however, I am excited to push this deck type which I first explored here to new heights, by attempting to build a version that can stand against a variety of challenges.
I’ve Got Issues: Lore in the Dwarrowdelf Cycle
While there are plenty of great aspects of the Dwarrowdelf cycle that I could talk about, the fact is that it is on extremely shaky ground when it comes to the lore of Tolkien’s world and maintaining continuity within his legendarium. Newer cycles, such as the Against the Shadow and Ring-maker cycles, have deep narratives that fit believably into the timeline of events or fill gaps in the world in a way that is not contradicted by other information. The same cannot be said of the Dwarrowdelf cycle. What do I mean by this?
The Dwarrowdelf cycle follows a set of heroes as they first escort Arwen from Lorien to her father, Elrond, in Rivendell. This part of the story, represented in the first 2 quests is fine. We know that Elrond sends for his daughter in the year 3009, which fits into the game’s timeline, and we don’t learn much more information than that, so it’s conceivable and likely that she would have had some kind of escort or protection along the way. It’s less likely that she would have taken such a journey in the depths of winter, but we can let that one slide. From The Watcher in the Water onward, however, matters get much more tricky. Troubled by all the orcs encountered by Arwen and her escorts, Elrond sends the heroes into Moria to determine the source of this increased activity. There are a few problems with this story. First, any such expedition into Moria would have discovered the fate of Balin and his Moria colony, which presumably entered Moria in 2989 and was destroyed in 2994. There was no word of the colony for 25 years, and Gloin and Gimli primarily came to Rivendell during the events of The Fellowship of the Ring to see if they could find out what had happened to it. I highly doubt that Elrond would withhold that information from them then, nor is he a callous jerk that would not have sent word to Erebor 10 years earlier if he had found out Balin’s fate during the time of the Dwarrowdelf cycle!
Making things more confusing, in the Khazad-dum box, which is a prologue to the Dwarrowdelf events, the White Council, of which Elrond is a member, sends the heroes into Moria specifically to give a message to Balin. While it’s implied that the heroes of Khazad-dum actually die after escaping from Moria, which makes sense in terms of story, this does clearly establish that Elrond is not only aware of the colony in Moria but has a specific interest in its fate (by the way, isn’t the White Council the least bit concerned that the heroes it sends to Moria in the Khazad-dum box never return? Shouldn’t they send out a search party or something?). We can assume that Elrond sends the heroes in the Dwarrowdelf cycle to not only find the source of increased orc activity but also to check in on Balin. If that’s the case, then Elrond would know of Balin’s fate upon the return of the heroes, which does not match the lore. The counter-argument is that the heroes perhaps could enter and travel through Moria without knowing what happened to Balin, but this doesn’t make sense. Even if they somehow don’t find bodies or a single sign, the lack of a visible, thriving Dwarven colony combined with a flood of goblins and a gigantic Balrog should be all the evidence they need.
Speaking of a Balrog, this is the second huge problem with continuity in the Dwarrowdelf cycle. The fact is that the Wise, including Elrond, did not know that there was a Balrog in Moria. It was known that some “Nameless Terror” evicted Dwarves previously, and Dain Ironfoot sensed a dark presence after the Battle of Azanulbizar that prevented him from trying to take Moria at that point. Still, no one knew what that monster and presence actually was, and Gandalf certainly wouldn’t have been as cavalier about entering Moria if he had known this to be the case. After fighting Durin’s Bane in Shadow and Flame, even if the heroes didn’t recognize a Balrog or know what a Balrog is, they surely would describe it to Elrond who would be able to identify it. At this point, the whole continuity would fall down. Really, the only possible outcome that could preserve the story would be for the second group of heroes to die at the end of Shadow and Flame as well, although after sending two groups of heroes and having both never return, I don’t think Elrond’s response would be an “oh well” and a shrug of the shoulders.
What all this amounts to is a complete lore mess. Using an actual Dwarf deck makes matters even worse, as Dwarves would be the most interested in Balin’s fate, and, according to lore, Gimli is the first Dwarf to actually find the answer to this question, and he only does so in 3019 as part of the Fellowship. No Dwarf has any business finding out what happened to Balin in 3009. Speaking of lore and Dwarves, there also are a bunch of restrictions that I’ve placed on myself in order to keep continuity, but this does make Dwarven deck building more difficult. I’ve eliminated Thorin, Fili, Kili from inclusion for obvious reasons, while Balin, Ori, and Oin were all part of the failed expedition to Moria and have to be left out as well. This takes out a sizable chunk of the Dwarf hero pool!
However, rest assured, readers, that despite all these protestations I will do my best to weave a believable tale out of this campaign. Tolkien himself would not simply fix everything in his works if he found potential continuity errors, but often envisioned himself as a discoverer of Middle-earth’s history rather than its creator, meaning that he would find inventive explanations for these types of conflicts. I will do the same, and try to write my company of Dwarves in and out of this story in a way that makes sense with the continuity. To be fair to the designers at the time, the Dwarrowdelf cycle was created before there were Saga Expansions, and so they wanted to give players a chance to experience elements of the books, like battling the Watcher or Durin’s Bane, which was certainly welcomed at the time, and lore considerations were given a lower priority. Now, however, there’s plenty to be reconciled for the lore minded player.
Older, Wiser, and Wealthier: The Campaign Deck
Now i’ts time to introduce the deck that will be used in this campaign. Keep in mind that it will remain unchanged for the first few two scenarios, according to my own rules, but once the company reaches the safety of Rivendell, I can make alterations for the final four scenarios. Heroes will have to be kept if I want to avoid a threat penalty, while dead heroes/allies at the end of a scenario must be replaced.
1x Bifur (Khazad-dum)
1x Nori (Over Hill and Under Hill)
1x Gloin (Core Set)
While my original Dwarven Miner deck was a dual-sphere Lore/Spirit build using Bombur, Ori, and Oin, this is a tri-sphere version. Lore and Spirit are pretty much essential to this type of deck, as cards like the Ered Nimrais Prospector and Zigil Miner find their home in these spheres, and key elements like card draw and card retrieval are split between them as well. However, in order to face the varied challenges of a campaign, I wanted to introduce a third sphere for some more flexibility. Leadership gives me access to some key Dwarven cards like Lure of Moria and We Are Not Idle, as well as resource generation as a whole. While I originally conceived of the Dwarven Miner deck type as a way to generate resources for spheres like Lore and Spirit without using Leadership, including it won’t necessarily undermine the theme, but can actually work together with the other spheres to hopefully create a very efficient and strong deck.
Bifur was the first hero I chose. He fits into the continuity, and has an extremely useful ability for a tri-sphere deck. That ability to pull resources over can definitely help to smooth things over, at least until Narvi’s Belt makes an appearance. Another Lore Dwarf hero that I usually love for his card draw, Ori, can’t be used here for theme reasons (he was part of Balin’s expedition), but I can safely make up for his card draw through other means. Moving onto Spirit, Nori was a clear choice, with Oin out for the same reason as Ori, and Dwalin too scenario specific. Nori will provide consistent threat reduction without the need for other such effects. Finally, in terms of Leadership, Balin and Thorin were excluded due to having shuffled off the mortal coil. This left Dain and Gloin as viable options. While Dain would dramatically increase the power of my deck and serve a valuable defensive role, I wanted to avoid the easy solution that made me tired of Dwarves in the past and pursue the fun options that made me interested in them once again. I also didn’t like the thematic fit, as I couldn’t envision Dain leaving Erebor behind for an adventure like this, and could imagine even less him doing the bidding of Elrond! This led to choosing Gloin, who can help generate resources, but just like the mining tricks, does so in an unpredictable and entertaining manner. He also makes a nice final element of a thematic trio, and can work well with Bifur by feeding him resources. With threat reduction, resource generation, and resource smoothing available, I’m in good shape, and the starting threat of 25 is nicely low as well. The main area of weakness is that the starting stats of this hero lineup are not too impressive, with a marked deficiency in terms of attack, no clear defender, and decent-but-not-great willpower. While this will increase difficulty, the rest of the deck should make up for it through the classic Dwarven strategy of swarm and solidarity. I like the theme here, as these are a modest band of heroes going about relatively humble pursuits, not fierce warriors or sage wizards, but they will surely be swept up in great events.
So here we have Bifur, Nori, and Gloin, three survivors of Thorin’s company who settled in Erebor after the events of The Hobbit. We never learn anything more of their lives other than this tidbit. However, suppose that Bifur, Nori, and Gloin did undertake some expeditions now and again on behalf of Erebor, whether for trade, diplomacy, or to seek out new mining prospects. Such a thing is not unheard of and would make logical sense. Imagine that almost 70 years after the events of The Hobbit, our Dwarven heroes find themselves older, wealthier, and (presumably) wiser. A trip on business might put them in the proximity of the Misty Mountains, and anything can happen from there…
3x Longbeard Elder (Foundations of Stone)
1x Dori (Over Hill and Under Hill)
3x Erebor Hammersmith (Core Set)
3x Erebor Record Keeper (Khazad-dum)
2x Ered Nimrais Prospector (The Morgul Vale)
3x Longbeard Map-Maker (Conflict at the Carrock)
1x Bofur (The Redhorn Gate)
1x Dwalin (On the Doorstep)
3x Zigil Miner (Khazad-dum)
3x Erebor Battle Master (The Long Dark)
Experienced deck builders might notice right away that the sphere distribution of these allies is massively skewed. However, with the resource smoothing of Bifur and Narvi’s Belt available, this isn’t too much of a concern and I’m free to simply load up on the Dwarven allies that are most useful for this particular deck. I had to leave out 2 incredibly useful unique Dwarves: Bifur and Gloin, as they conflict with my heroes. In addition, as previously mentioned, Fili and Kili had to be left out for lore reasons. Still, the number of Dwarven allies to choose from is large enough that this wasn’t too damaging a limitation. The first 2 allies I included, as the core of the theme of this deck, were Zigil Miner and Ered Nimrais Prospector. They form the mining heart of the deck, helping to dig for resources and Hidden Cache. Erebor Hammersmith makes perfect sense as with so many cards being discarded as part of how the deck works, any effects that can retrieve cards from the discard pile (attachments in the case of the Hammersmith) are surely useful. It doesn’t hurt that he provides great stat value for a cheap cost. While this is a rare Dwarf deck that isn’t necessarily concerned with hitting the 5 Dwarf character minimum as quickly as possible, I still find the Erebor Record Keeper to be good value at 1 willpower for 1 cost, and they can help provide readying as well. Since I am a bit concerned about having enough willpower for big quest pushes, Longbeard Map-maker can help fill that role, especially when combined with We Are Not Idle (to dump resources on a Lore hero).
In terms of unique Dwarves, being the characters that could possibly perish forever, I have Dori, Dwalin, and Bofur. Dori provides added attack power and an emergency valve for my heroes, Dwalin is a solid defender, and Bofur can help make up questing shortages thanks to his useful quest action. Finally, I needed a way to get some attack power into this deck, and Erebor Battle Master is the perfect solution, with Narvi’s Belt providing a way to play them. It is certainly conceivable that wealthy Dwarves such as our heroes would have some toughened warriors along as escorts, so I don’t have any problems with theme here. Readers might notice one glaring omission for a Dwarven miner deck here: a certain Imladris Stargazer. I didn’t feel it would fit the theme to have a random Elf tag along for this part of the adventure, but it is possible that our heroes may just stop in a placed called Imladris for a short rest…
3x Narvi’s Belt (Khazad-dum)
1x Hardy Leadership (Shadow and Flame)
3x Cram (Over Hill and Under Hill)
1x A Burning Brand (Conflict at the Carrock)
3x Expert Treasure-hunter (On the Doorstep)
2x Legacy of Durin (The Watcher in the Water)
2x Self Preservation (Core Set)
2x Unexpected Courage (Core Set)
Narvi’s Belt has been mentioned a few times already, and this sometimes underrated attachment plays a key role here in helping this tri-sphere deck to function (along with Bifur’s ability). Generally, Gloin is the best target for the Belt, as he can then use his resource generation ability to pay for cards from any sphere. Bifur is another possibility, as he can steal resources from the other 2 heroes to pay for cards with the Belt, but since there are so many Lore cards in this deck, I prefer to have Bifur’s natural Lore resources combined with further Lore resources from another hero. Speaking of Gloin’s resource generation, Self Preservation is here to facilitate that particular engine, while A Burning Brand can be played on him using Narvi’s Belt to make the whole process safer (and to bolster Gloin as a serviceable defender).
Card Draw is an important and easily accessible feature of almost any Dwarf deck, and miner decks can benefit by getting quicker access to key cards, such as the two digging allies. More importantly, while mining generates resources, this doesn’t do much good if there aren’t any cards to pay for! This is where card draw comes in, and this deck boasts it in spades. While King Under the Mountain was an option, I really like Expert Treasure Hunter here as a thematic fit that plays perfectly into the deck type as well. In a deck that is all about finding riches through digging, it makes sense that the heroes should be skilled treasure hunters to lead the way. In terms of mechanics, Expert Treasure Hunter also helps to discard cards from the top of the deck, which could potentially active one of the copies of Hidden Cache. Legacy of Durin is the other card draw option, which is incredibly powerful once it’s in play. At that point, every time I play a Dwarf, I can lower my threat by 1 (thanks to Nori) and draw a card. Since my heroes all have pretty low hit point totals, I’ve included Hardy Leadership for some added support in this department. Finally, Unexpected Courage and Cram provide readying, with the Hammersmith able to bring back the Cram.
2x Lure of Moria (Road to Rivendell)
2x To Me! O My Kinsfolk! (On the Doorstep)
2x We Are Not Idle (Shadow and Flame)
3x A Test of Will (Core Set)
2x Dwarven Tomb (Core Set)
2x Will of the West (Core Set)
3x Hidden Cache (The Morgul Vale)
2x Well-Equipped (The Blood of Gondor)
The events help to tie everything together and provide the finishing touches. Most important is Hidden Cache, which brings in the extra resources, and really solidifies this as a true miner deck. Well-Equipped is a handy Dwarf card that not only gets attachments onto Dwarves in this fairly attachment-heavy deck, but also helps to discard cards off the top of the encounter deck. With cards constantly going into the discard pile, To Me! O My Kinsfolk! can make use of that pile for chump blocking, Dwarven Tomb brings back Spirit cards, and Will of the West cycles everything back together for another go. Lure of Moria and We Are Not Idle are a classic Dwarven combination to generate a ton of resources, while the former works great on its own to get the most out of the Dwarven swarm. Astute readers may notice that I have a fairly portly deck size of 58 cards, but with all the drawing and discarding going on, this is more of a benefit than a hindrance, allowing me to fit more options in while not dramatically impacting consistency.
With a new version of a fun deck type and some thematic knots to unravel, I’m pretty excited to begin this campaign. At the end of the day, this deck and this campaign will not be about Middle-earth’s most powerful heroes showing their might. Rather, it will be about old comrades reunited for one last adventure, as they rely on their wits, resources, and friendship to survive. Join me for The Redhorn Gate, coming soon!