Dec 28, 2015

CKII: End of a dynasty

Last time around, King Abbán II of Éire had united Ireland and was going on Crusade. We were eying expansion opportunities in Muslim Iberia and the tiny kingdom of Brittany. The Crusade went pretty much like second crusades do, nowhere, but it got us a bunch of people with the Crusader trait. Then, though, things changed. For starters, England collapsed:

I apologize for how dark the screenshots are; that's the in-game fog of war. If I zoom out further, it becomes difficult to discern anything either, and to be honest, I forgot how much darker the picture looks on a white blog background. Nonetheless, the grey provinces are where a separate Kingdom of Jerusalem split off from England, and the darker red ones are rebel provinces. We also got our man on the throne of Broërec, now Vannes:

Another direction for expansion I mentioned in the previous post was Iberia, and it did actually look promising; the Muslim kingdom of Andalusia was mired in almost constant wars with their neighbors and the Kingdom of Aquitaine was expanding at their expense, so I figured if I wanted a piece of the reconquista, now was the time! My chancellor fabricated a claim on Lisbon, and King Abbán II smashed the Andalusian armies.

So here it is: the Irish county of Lisboa, with my court chaplain hard at work converting the locals to Catholicism! Surprisingly, this conquest also let me establish the titular Kingdom of Portugal, which I didn't know.

Meanwhile, back at the demesne, we'd gotten our own man on the throne of Scotland, which promptly also collapsed into anarchy. We found it necessary to give our kinsman a hand with his subjects.

Here he is in his royal glory:

The downside of the Scottish accession was that the prince I handed Vannes to died childless, and it became a Scottish fief. Despite our repeated interventions, the civil wars just would not stop, both against the King of Scotland and among the dukes.

At one point, the realm actually split in two when one of the dukes managed to claim his independence. This provided us with an opportunity:


By now, King Abbán II had been succeeded by - believe it or not - Baron Domnall of Clondalkin, who reigned as King Domnall. He only held the throne for eight years before dying in combat; he was followed by his son Gabrán the Scholar. At this point, the portraits start to look different, because I bought some DLCs, namely the Celtic Portraits pack. For a massive 1.99€, it got me a selection of new character portraits, which was honestly well worth it as I was sick of looking at the same faces all the time! I also got the Celtic Unit Pack for the same price, but I didn't really feel it was worth it. The zoom level where you can actually see the various unit graphics properly is pretty much useless for actual gameplay.

While I was at it, I also picked up the Sons of Abraham expansion for, what, €9.99 or something. It's worth it just for the opportunity to borrow money from either the holy orders or the Jews, options I feel should've been in the game from the start. We ended up having at least one Templar barony in Ireland during this game, and one of my sons took holy orders on his own initiative.

Speaking of money and holy orders, King Gábran expanded our holdings in Portugal, with some unexpected pontifical help:

These are our continental holdings: the county of Roazhon, since Rennes, in Brittany, and the counties of Lisboa and Alcacér do Sal in Portugal. That ended up being as far as our Breton gambit ever went. At this point, the English territories on the continent have become the independent duchy of Normandy.

When England collapsed into another endless civil war, I decided to roll the dice and press a kinswoman's claim on the county of Teviotdale. It's a de jure part of Scotland that the King of England had taken off Artgus the Usurper in the chaos of his accession, but we had an heiress to install on its throne.

The campaign went all right.

Having taken Gwynedd off the independent Scottish duke, King Gabrán the Scholar added the Kingdom of Bhreatain Beagh, known as Wales in alternate timelines, to his titles.

When Gabrán was succeeded by King Brandub the Monk, England was still in total disarray, with Wessex part of the Kingdom of Jerusalem and Gloucestershire a fief of Normandy. Brandub intervened to support one of our kinsmen in a civil war for the throne.

Shortly thereafter, a major opportunity opened up for King Brandub when the Pope called a crusade for Andalusia. There are basically two ways a holy war works in the game. If it's called in support of an existing realm, then all the territory taken over by the war is handed over to that realm's ruler. If, on the other hand, it's all infidels, then the party that makes the greatest contribution to the war gets the new realm and title. This is how the King of England managed to also become King of Jerusalem. With our existing power base in Portugal, we were in an excellent position to contribute, and damn near managed to add Andalusia to the Irish realm.

Unfortunately, the Duke of Toulouse beat us to it, and at the conclusion of an unusually succesful crusade, the Pope handed Andalusia over to Aquitaine.

Brandub the Monk's reign was also a low point for England, which split up into no less than six separate entities: York, East Anglia, Northamptonshire, Gloucestershire and Wiltshire, with the rump of the kingdom locked in a civil war.

While all this was going on, the Duke of Ulaidh launched his personal war to press a claim on the county of Epiddant.

Which he promptly won!

Down south, we took advantage of the confusion and conquered the three independent counties of England.

Shortly thereafter, Brandub was succeeded by his son Proinsias, who took advantage of the Pope's newfound enthusiasm for holy wars by going on a crusade to Jerusalem.

Unfortunately, crusades aren't just a handy way of getting a nice trait; it turns out they're also dangerous. Eleven years into his reign, Proinsias was killed in combat in the Holy Land. What made things worse was that if my previous post had ended in me worrying about how to possibly manage landing as many as eight children, later generations of the Ua Cheinnselaig dynasty suffered from no such problems. Both Domnall and Gabrán only had two sons; Brandub the Monk only had one, Proinsias, at the very end of his reign. Proinsias's son would accede to the throne as Brandub II, but only after a long regency. Proinsias's second son Eochaid was born after his death, and Proinsias's sister Siobhan immediately started plotting his demise. At this point, a couple of extra sons would have been worth just about anything.


Because we'd been suffering from a distinct lack of personnel, so to speak, I'd been trying to recruit some talented people and marry them into the family. A Jewish spymaster showed up at our court, for instance, and being a capable fellow I had him married matrilineally to one of the ladies of our dynasty, and put him in charge of Northamptonshire. He constantly plotted to secure his independence and actually made some of his vassals convert to Judaism, but the hope of a second Israel in Northampton was dashed when his son, of our dynasty due to the matrilineal marriage, took over and restored Catholicism and order. I'd also gotten another clever courtier married to a daughter of one of my vassals, and their son Ualan inherited the Genius trait from both parents. Help like this isn't easy to find, and since Brandub II's regency was going to take forever and I couldn't do anything myself, I made him Duke of Hwicce (or Gloucestershire in less enlightened times). He promptly pressed his de jure claim to Oxford on the King of England, and conquered Oxfordshire!

At this point, an unfortunate semblance of order was restored to England when Duke Matthew the Merry won the crown for House Lockhart, and his successor settled things down from the family headquarters in Chester.

Soon enough, though, King Brandub II reached maturity, the regency ended, and it was time to not only celebrate but ensure the loyalty of my vassals with a grand tournament.

And pretty much immediately after that, everything went straight to hell.


The fall was so fast and dramatic I honestly forgot to take screenshots. Another civil war started in England, and we took the opportunity to press the claim of one of my vassals to the duchy of Winchester. Unfortunately, they got the civil war wrapped up surprisingly quickly. Then, my kinsman (my kinsman!), the King of Scotland, went to war with us over Teviotdale and allied with the English. As all this was going on, King Brandub died of consumption, and was succeeded by his underage brother Eochaid. We lost the climactic battle for Teviotdale and had to hand it over to Scotland. At that point, Eochaid's aunt Siobhan's plan finally came together, and Eochaid was poisoned. On his death, Siobhan acceded to the throne, and literally everyone rebelled against her. What was worse, she was in her sixties, and her children weren't of our dynasty. That's game over.

With our demesne troops wiped out at Teviotdale and the treasury empty, we had no chance to defend ourselves, and Siobhan surrendered to the rebels. Her kinsmen took the royal titles, at least leaving the realm in Ua Cheinnselaig hands, but Siobhan ended up dying as the Duchess of Mide, succeeded by her son, Duke Osmund of the house of Godwin.

In the end, we lost Teviotdale, and the King of Scotland was rolling back the Duke of Ulster's claims. The rebels instituted lower crown authority, effectively reducing the Kingdom of Ireland to a bunch of squabbling duchies, with Wales in open rebellion.

Here it is: the end.

As you can see from the score breakdown, it was King Abbán II the Lionheart who really made this dynasty. King Brandub the Monk's reign was the high point, both in terms of prestige and territory, and his three successors all went to untimely deaths, and eventually the direct line died out, and the game was over.


I'm not going to lie: I was seriously bummed when Eochaid died. I spent a long time thinking about how it all went wrong, but in the end, it was just the sum of several coincidences outside my control. If Eochaid hadn't been assassinated, at least the realm wouldn't have collapsed completely, and maybe he'd have been able to have some children so it wouldn't have been game over at least. Usually when a kinsman or courtier starts a plot you become aware of, they'll stop it if you tell them to. Unfortunately, the bloody-minded Siobhan wouldn't, and she was safe at her husband's court in Devon so we couldn't throw her in prison. Brandub II tried to have her killed, but the plot didn't have time to succeed before his death ended it.

Maybe if Brandub II hadn't caught pneumonia, he would've eliminated Siobhan. Then again, if Proinsias hadn't got knocked on the head at Jerusalem... In the end, it's like Nethack: a succession of events happens that defeats your best-laid plans. Any one of them I could have survived. All of them in a row? No chance.

Honestly, I need a little time to get over this. Starting the game, my goal had been to unify Ireland for the first time and become king. That happened; not only did I become King of Ireland, but also of Wales and Portugal. We were even making good headway in England and Scotland, which might have eventually led to me becoming Emperor of Britannia. Unfortunately, due to a combination of small families, crusades, pneumonia and murderous aunts, it wasn't to be. Still, I exceeded my goals. Next time, I think I have to try something completely different to get over this.

Dec 26, 2015

Eight years of blogging

I did one of these things last year, where I basically said that I'm better, but not well, and I still have this blog although I don't really see the point of it. I could just say that that's all still true and be done with it, because it is.

In terms of my so-called public life, over the past year I did pretty much decide that there's no point to any of it. I deleted most of the posts on this blog; the quasi-serious stuff hadn't aged particularly well and the rest even worse. I completely deleted my attempt at a somewhat serious Finnish-language blog, because it had become completely pointless. No-one's missed either, so it seems to have been the right decision. When Finland got a new cabinet this year, I was moved to write some very basic stuff on their various economic policies, which some people said they liked, which was really nice. Also, the amount of abuse, hatred and death threats I get is much lower when I write in English. But again, it's hard to see any point to doing this kind of stuff. The processes I described in my previous yearly review have continued: the atmosphere of violent, brutal bullying directed at anyone who doesn't clearly affiliate themselves to an existing political subculture has become far worse than it was before. The Finnish university cuts and the debate around them has really underlined that this is turning into an aggressively stupid country that's proud of its disdain for science, research and thought. I've tried to do my best to counteract this development, in blogging and generally trying to make a nuisance of myself on the social media and what have you. Clearly it's been in vain. So I've quit. I don't see the point of trying to participate in a public debate that's not in any meaningful sense a debate.

Quite frankly, trying to blog or increasingly, to even talk about anything more serious isn't by any stretch worth the investment. Therefore, I intend to focus on doing things that I enjoy. I recognize that being able to do this is testament to my massive privilege, but I don't see any way of doing anything meaningfully positive. My opinions haven't changed, but outside my private life, nothing I say or do makes any difference whatsoever. There's no interest at all in any kind of discussion, debate or analysis at the moment in this country. I've studied enough history to refrain from making comparisons to some earlier, mythical time when things were better, so I'll just say that right now, facts and interpretations of facts don't drive or even influence politics. The main driving forces are stories, and the people who shout their stories loudest are winning. Practically every forum is currently being totally swamped by racist hallucinations of islamization, unlimited immigration, no-go areas and so on, with the inevitable psychotic rage at the imaginary red-green feminist cabal supposedly driving these made-up disasters. Our politicians are attacking the very idea of human rights and working overtime to normalize brutal, dehumanizing racism. There are literal neo-Nazis marching in the streets. The media is either openly taking their side, or accepting their language and framing. At best, there's still this astonishingly naïve delusion that somehow the fascism, racism and sexism aren't real, the virtual terrorism and actual arson attacks on refugee centers aren't happening, and if we just listen sympathetically to these lunatics, it'll somehow turn out that it was all a misunderstanding. Perhaps most worryingly, the police have been enthusiastic proponents of the idea that racist terrorism is not a security issue, while the security service outright campaigns for the fascists. Meanwhile, the economic madness I've tried to describe continues, where our current government believes that in order to save the economy, it has become necessary to destroy it.

None of this is suspectible to facts, figures or arguments. On the contrary, it's mostly founded in the massive confidence and fanaticism of threatened privilege, where all "facts" that don't support the agenda are communist-feminist-multiculturalist lies. These people cannot be reasoned with. Believe me, I've tried. On the other hand, the kind of people who are dedicated to believing that racism and fascism aren't really happening also simply will not accept any information to the contrary. The constant parade of populist politicians making racist statements, delivering Hitler salutes, posing with neo-Nazis, openly encouraging violence and discrimination, can all be explained away. It becomes difficult to tell if this obtuse blindness is because of a fear of the consequences of accepting what's happening, or a secret sympathy for the racists. On both the rise of fascism and the destructive economic policies, so many people have such a blindly naïve faith in the state that they can't process the notion that bad things might be happening.

Influencing the way these massive narratives drive our society can't be done through any kind of appeal to discussion or debate. I'd like to think there's some way in which it's possible, but I don't have the skills or capabilities necessary for it. There's nothing I can do. So I can't see any point in continuing to expose myself to public abuse and vilification, when doing so achieves nothing. Even on a personal level, I've found trying to make sense of the world around me and to communicate with people to be mostly hurtful and futile.

I don't know why I ever imagined anything I thought or said should matter one bit to anyone. Privilege, probably. But I do think that I used to believe that it was possible to make some kind of meaningful contribution to public life; that there was some role in a democratic society for deliberation and debate. I don't really believe in that any more. Certainly I don't believe that it's possible for me to make any such contribution. I've also become thoroughly skeptical of privileged white cis men like myself participating in feminist activism, because what it keeps inevitably becoming is appropriation. The only meaningful thing I can attempt to do is to promote less privileged voices over my own, which is something I've tried to do and will continue to try to do. Other than that, it's time to recognize that I have nothing to give, and no-one cares.


As for my personal life, it's bitterly ironic that last year I could write that I was finally getting somewhere, when that somewhere has almost certainly turned into a dead end. Sure, I finished my master's degree this fall, and I'm actually reasonably happy with my thesis. However, the university cuts I mentioned will probably mean that that's the end of the road for my academic career. It's unlikely I'll be accepted for post-graduate study, and even if I was, it's almost certain it wouldn't lead to any kind of meaningful employment. The life of any kind of academic researcher-teacher-whatever was already at best precarious before the latest round of massive cuts. Now, the entire prospect seems completely hopeless. I'm still probably going to try, if only because I don't know what else to do. A major goal for next year is going to be to find some new direction for my life now that my previous plans have been effectively destroyed. I have very little hope that I can do this.

I'm still going through a process of recovering from my previously debilitating social anxiety and depression. One thing they don't tell you about social anxiety/phobia is how hard it is to build a new social life for yourself. You don't have the social skills and routines that other people can take for granted, or the safeguards. In my case, I went in a very short time from having pretty much no social life whatsoever to, briefly, a very active one. Only in retrospect have I realized how vulnerable that made me to being taken advantage of. Graduating into the current political and economic situation has been a profoundly depressing and alienating experience, and a deeply lonely one. The unfortunate side-effect of having a depressive episode and re-examining my social media use has been that since I'm no longer using social media to actively remind people that I exist, most of my acquaintances don't remember that I do. I'm deeply grateful to the ones who have, but this fall and winter have really driven home the point that I'm just going to have to learn to live with this crushing feeling of loneliness and being the unwanted odd person out. I've been that person all my life, but I still don't know how to deal with it. I've been lucky enough to meet some very special people who I would dearly like to be part of my life, but they've chosen otherwise, and all I can do is respect that. Maybe with time, this feeling of desolate loneliness will get easier to live with. At least I hope it will.

In general, a year ago I still believed that I have some kind of future to look forward to where things will be better, that I'll be able to leave my long twenties of alienation, loneliness and mental illness behind. I no longer believe that.


In practical terms, during the past year I've been trying to orient my blogging energies into things I like. Frankly, my Tolkien-reading project is almost certainly the only reason this blog still exists. I hope to continue it. Last summer, I was introduced to the Lord of the Rings living card game, which I also quite enjoy playing and, unfortunately for the two people who read this blog, blogging about. So as far as this blog is concerned, I'm pretty sure the future holds more Tolkien and card gaming. As trivial as it may seem, these have been things that have kept me going. Pretty much the only thing I can look forward to next year with any likelihood is The Grey Havens.

Other than that, I suppose that next year I have to try to figure out something to do with my life. The plans and motivations that kept me going through my master's thesis have pretty much collapsed and turned to ash. My various personal and social failures have driven home the fact that I'm a lot older and a lot stupider than I ever thought I was. I deeply wish I could come up with some way to make some kind of meaningful contribution to the world around me. Unfortunately, going into the year 2016, I don't see any way that's going to happen.

Dec 21, 2015

Rogue Trader: Sex, Chaos and Imperial theology

One of the easiest ways to explain the Warhammer 40,000 universe is to say it's basically medieval Europe in space. The biggest problem with this, though, is that the Imperial cult isn't quite Christianity, especially when it comes to sexuality. I argue that unlike Christianity, the Imperial cult has no reason to view sex and sexuality as especially dangerous, and therefore the Imperium should be portrayed as much more sex-positive than contemporary society.


Each Chaos god has a defined, more or less distinct sphere of their own. In my mind, there's both the obvious, literal sphere and the wider, symbolic domain; the sensus literalis and the sensus spiritualis of each Chaos god, if you will. Khorne is the blood god, glorying in gory murder; more broadly, Khorne represents violence and destruction. Tzeentch is the god of sorcery and secret plots; on a larger note, they represent change in general. It makes sense that despite their polar opposite attitudes to magic, Khorne and Tzeentch aren't designated enemies: both embody change, as opposed to the lassitude and decay of Slaanesh and Nurgle. Nurgle, god of death and decay, manifests themself directly in disease and pestilence, but overall, the sphere of Nurgle is stagnation - even entropy itself.

Placing Slaanesh into a system of Chaos gods requires a bit of looking past the obvious. Frankly, in most of the GW materials I've seen, Slaanesh is the god of boobs and perverts. Literally, Slaanesh is the god of pleasure and desire - not just sexual. More broadly, Slaanesh can be seen as representing indulgence and sensuality. Clearly, to the particular union of Jewish ritual purity codes and Platonic loathing of the material and corporeal that was medieval Christianity, this is very much the main enemy right here. But not so for the Imperial cult.

All four Chaos gods are represented in aspects of the Imperium. A massively ponderous administration centering on worshipping a corpse on a throne is really very Nurgle indeed. On the other hand, it's a corpse psyker, and one that's very much remaking the galaxy in his image and causing quite a lot of change. Not to mention waging endless war; really, the only way to tell if a horde of insane murderers in red power armour screaming for your blood as they charge you are World Eaters or Blood Angels is to see if they're using chainaxes or not. On the whole, I'd say the Imperium tends somewhat toward both Nurgle and Khorne.

So where's Slaanesh in all this? Certainly we hear about the decadent excesses of the Imperial nobility. Another kind of potentially Slaaneshi sensuality has to be the religious ascetic mortifying his flesh. So certainly Slaanesh is also represented in the Imperium. But there's no particular reason to see humanity or the Imperium as especially suspectible to Slaanesh's temptations. All of the Chaos gods are threats to the Imperium, both through direct force and the subversion of human souls, but nothing about Slaanesh suggests that they should be singled out in particular.


So in direct contrast to medieval - or modern! - Christianity, there's no particular reason why the Imperial cult should be especially suspicious of sexuality. Excesses of sensuality lead to damnation through Slaanesh, but excesses of violence, stagnation and curiosity will do the same. We don't know a lot about Imperial sexual politics, but from what we know of the Imperium's tolerance for, say, the particular sphere of Khorne, I'd expect a fairly liberal approach. There's even a good case to be made that the demands of the Imperial war machine may very well dictate a very pro-natalist approach.

In general, I'd expect Imperial ethics to mostly gravitate toward an Aristotlian golden mean. Excess in any direction leads to damnation, whether it be sensuality or asceticism. Certainly this is how I'd play a Missionary or a Dark Heresy character: no matter which way you're inclined, you're under suspicion. And certainly if someone is far too scrupulously moderate in everything, they must have something to hide!


Since I ended my previous Rogue Trader post with a campaign idea, here's another one. My interest in Dark Heresy rose considerably when I realized I can play Judge Anderson: Hive world, Adeptus Arbites, Mystic background. Sure, as the rules are currently written, that would be an unsanctioned psyker, but who's to say there isn't a corner of the Imperium somewhere where the Arbiters use sanctioned psykers? I'm not aware of any a priori reason why it wouldn't be possible. An appropriately upgraded bolt pistol ought to make for a decent enough Lawgiver.

So, if I had to run a Dark Heresy game, it's going to be set in a massive hive city, and everyone is playing a Judge Arbiter. Hive world and Arbites backgrounds, with roles of their choice. Hell, why not just go ahead and set it on Necromunda? If for no other reason than that the game of the same name is the GW product I've played the most by far. I'd mostly run the game in the hive city proper on Hive Primus. If someone wants to play a character other than an Arbiter, something like a bounty hunter would be entirely appropriate. A Spyrer would just be awesome. Bikes are strongly suggested; jetbikes even more strongly.

Dec 14, 2015

LotR LCG: The mines of Moria

There must have been a mighty crowd of dwarves here at one time and every one of them busier than badgers for five hundred years to make all this, and most in hard rock too!
- Sam Gamgee, in The Fellowship of the Ring

The first deluxe expansion released for the Lord of the Rings living card game was Khazad-dûm, and since we not only kind of like the idea of going through these in roughly chronological order but I also wanted Arwen in my deck, it was also the first deluxe expansion we bought. Moria! The dream of every dwarf and Minecraft player! Deep, dark mines long abandoned by dwarves, now infested with orcs and trolls and haunted by a Balrog. Wait, why did we buy this expansion again?

Into the Pit - DL 5

The first quest sees our heroes sent to Moria to make contact with Balin's lost dwarven colony. In a nice touch, we're entering the Mines from the opposite direction as the Fellowship of the Ring did, so the quest starts with East-gate as the active location. This comes with the special condition that enemies can't engage you nor you them, which can mean that as soon as you clear the gate, you get swarmed by a horde of goblins - or that the threat in the staging area gets so high that you never even clear the first location. If you do, then it's on to the First Hall and across the Bridge of Khazad-dûm with you!

There are lots of awful locations in Moria (*cough*Zigil Mineshaft*cough*), and as an additional interesting wrinkle, you're given a Cave Torch to help clear them.

In practice, the Cave Torch adds an element of randomness: if you're unlucky, using it will summon up a horde of enemies; if you're obscenely lucky, you'll be discarding horrible encounter cards while placing progress on locations. The mechanic of taking bigger risks for more progress is thematically excellent, but I'm not sure I'm overly fond of the wide range of randomness that comes with it.

The scenario itself is quite tough, with three very different quest stages. You need to move quite quickly to avoid being overwhelmed by locations with nasty threat-increasing synergies, and, of course, hella goblins. Our first three-handed swing at this ended in massive location lock. I've since beaten it both solo and with another player running a Leadership/Lore deck, with Northern Tracker unsurprisingly playing a key role.

My first two-handed attempt together with my partner's revamped Tactics deck was a pretty intense emotional rollercoaster. First, of course, we struggled mightily to even get past East-gate. This really is the only quest I've seen where it's perfectly possible to fail to clear the first location! We were lucky to get Dreadful Gap at this point, though, sparing us from ever having to travel to it. Things looked a bit grim until Gandalf stopped by to nuke the Patrol Leader in the staging area, and I got a Northern Tracker into play. We were also quite lucky with our Cave Torch use, getting no extra enemies in play. Still, by the time we raised our threat to travel to the First Hall, with no progress on the quest card yet, it was high enough for Goblin Scouts to engage both of us. I'd also lost one of my two Galadhrim's Greetings to a Fouled Well earlier, which didn't make our lives much easier.

Eventually we cleared First Hall as well, and Northern Tracker saw to Bridge of Khazad-dûm; we were really inside Moria now! I'd played a copy of Elrond's Counsel on myself and a Galadhrim's Greeting on my partner, but both our threats were already well over 40 by the time we hit the second quest phase. To be honest, I didn't think we had a chance in hell. We were both fighting several goblins at this point, giving me ample reason to be grateful for both Arwen's defence boost and A Burning Brand. In order to buy at least a little time, and because we needed so many of our characters to fight, I played Gather Information: completing it got me Dwarven Tomb, which I used to retrieve a Galadhrim's Greeting, and my partner Secret Vigil. They helped!

We managed to thin out the goblins, both got a much-needed wizard intervention to lower our threats, and made liberal use of our torch to blast locations from the staging area. I also started getting a sizeable questing force into play, with our torch luckily discarding several treacheries that would have wiped them out. Where I'd be without West Road Traveller, I don't know. Finally we had amassed enough questing and dispatched all the goblins, so that when Legolas killed the last Patrol Leader standing, we fulfilled both victory conditions for the second quest phase simultaneously! But at grave cost: Boromir fell in battle against the orc horde.

Despite our heavy loss, we moved on to the last stage, where there was nothing left to do except quest like hell, and against all odds, we made it! This was one of the most harrowing experiences I've ever had in the game; at one point, my threat was 48 at the end of the turn, meaning a single treachery in the previous staging would've knocked me out. On the one hand, we were lucky: our cave torch use mostly discarded treacheries rather than summoning enemies, and we were able to avoid some of the nastiest shadow effects. Hell, even the Patrol Leaders took damage almost every time. On the other hand, if so much as a single Warden of Healing or Hasty Stroke had showed up in my hand, Boromir would have made it.

So it could have gone better, but it could also have gone much worse. This is what I mean by the cave torch introducing a wider range of randomness: if we'd been hitting more enemies when discarding encounter cards for it, those treacheries would also have been hitting us in staging.

This is a pretty good quest, though. The combination of location lock and hordes of goblins can destroy you in the beginning, if you even manage to get past East-gate, and the last stage of the quest has a nice little twist to it as well. The whole experience is also thematically strong: there's a definite feeling of despair at the horribly creepy underground locations and the constant threat of orcs. After the hopelessness of East-gate, you'll feel lucky to have gotten in, only to begin to suspect you're never going to get out again...


The Seventh Level - DL 3

Here's a real mystery for the ages: as far as I know, this is the only quest in the entire game with a difficulty level between 1 and 4. Why that is, I have no idea. Admittedly this is a fairly straightforward quest, but there are even more goblins, they're tougher and they surge; you have to quest pretty hard and fight them off. My initial solo attempts ended in complete failure, so if there is some point of view from which this is easier than Hunt for Gollum and considerably easier than Dead Marshes - or indeed Into the Pit - I don't share it.

Having barely managed to get into Moria in the previous scenario, we recruited a third player to run a Leadership deck (Core Aragorn, Théodred, Prince Imrahil), which you'll find at the end of this post, and made a three-handed attempt at The Seventh Level. Suddenly all those Goblin Swordsmen don't seem so tough any more, and I can kind of see where the difficulty level of 3 comes from. To put it simply, if you can handle a constant stream of goblins, this quest is easy. If not, then you can't beat it. It's almost like the exact opposite of Emyn Muil. With the Leadership and Tactics decks smashing goblins left and right, the quest was a total walkover.

In fact, it was so easy we decided to move on to the last quest in the expansion. I mean, how hard can it be?


Flight from Moria - DL 7

Four hours and one Balrog later...

We got a pretty good notion of what we were in for when revealing encounter cards for the scenario setup. We drew Fouled Well, and our Leadership player decided he liked his opening hand so much he was going to refuse to discard anything. So Fouled Well surges into Massing in the Deep, which raises our threats and reveals three more cards, one of which is Cave In, which has no progress to remove, so it surges... You get the idea.

So we kicked off the quest with a pile of locations and a horde of goblins in the staging area, not to mention, well, Durin's Bane. I quite like the way they've depicted the Balrog in this quest: we never fight it directly, but are instead trying to run away from it as fast as we possibly can, while its threat constantly grows. It's an excellent mechanic that leads to a truly nail-biting quest.

There was nothing to do except get down to clearing the staging area and getting some progress on the quest. While we were still more or less busy getting some of the initial cards sorted, poor Boromir was defending an attack from a Goblin Swordsman, who drew Chance Encounter as its shadow card; since my partner was the first player, and Boromir was already wounded, we lost our first hero. It didn't get much easier from there.

I also need to remember to write this one down for the history books: I used West Road Traveller's Response! We drew Dreadful Gap, which immediately became our active location. With our Leadership deck amassing its army of allies, we'd never manage to clear that damn thing ever - until my West Road Traveller swapped it for Plundered Armoury.

Somehow or other, we made it to the second quest stage, down to eight heroes. The second stage is quite clever as well: instead of a single quest card, there's a quest deck, consisting of a whole bunch of second quest stages, all with identical 2a sides, and they only get flipped over to reveal the business side when staging begins, so even as you're committing characters to the quest, you don't know which quest it is! Only when you find one of the quest cards that represents a way out can you win the scenario.

By this time, treacheries like Undisturbed Bones and Dark and Dreadful were taking a steady toll on our allies, including the only Warden of Healing I'd managed to draw. Galadhrim's Greetings, Secret Vigils and Double Back were barely keeping our threat manageable as the looming shadow in the darkness grew and grew...

We struggled through several quest stages looking for an exit, to no avail: we piled up quest stages and even a Great Cave Troll in the victory display, but all we seemed to be able to do was raise the Balrog's threat. Both Thalin and Eleanor were lost to A Foe Beyond, leaving us with six heroes standing. My partner soldiered on with just Legolas and Radagast, but when we finally reached a quest stage that promised us an exit and set Prince Imrahil to digging our way out, a horrifying combo of several enemies and Orc Drummer put over thirty threat in the staging area, which knocked my partner's threat well over 50. The rest of us managed to hang on for a few more harrowing turns while we dug our way out, barely escaping with a horde of orcs at our heels.

So we won! But what a victory. Nine heroes went into Moria, five came out. One more setback would almost certainly have destroyed us completely. This really is one hell of a quest: finishing it took hours, and we were physically, mentally and emotionally exhausted by the end. But it was worth it. I especially like the way in which the quest ramps up the difficulty constantly, rather than by throwing huge enemies with massive stats and card immunities at you. Even when we draw a truly dismal initial staging, we still had a chance to beat this, unlike something like Return to Mirkwood where drawing a gigantic spider, or two, or two and a Hill Troll in the first couple of turns is pretty much the literal equivalent of revealing an encounter card that says "You lose". Top-notch work, this, and absolutely brilliant in terms of theme. The whole expansion is thematically strong, and Flight from Moria is especially awesome. This epic three-player saga is one I doubt any of us will soon forget.


So, why did we buy this expansion? Well, like I said, so I could get Arwen in my Amazon deck. We got that, but what we also ended up with is an excellent deluxe expansion. I'll admit I'm biased: the chapters in Moria in the Lord of the Rings have always been among my favorites, so I'm kind of a sucker for this one. But it really does deliver. I love the fact that the first quest in the Khazad-dûm expansion is a hopelessly desperate effort to get into Moria, and the last quest is a far more hopeless and desperate effort to get out again. To me, the quests and encounter decks in this expansion do a great job of conveying the feel of Tolkien's Moria. The second quest is quite uninspired and either frustratingly overwhelming or trivially easy, but Into the Pit is excellent, and to date, Flight from Moria is my best experience playing this game. Even if you don't care for the dwarf-themed player cards at all, this is worth buying for the quests alone, especially if you get to play multiplayer.


I'm serious about the player cards, by the way. Literally every one of them in the damn thing has something to do with dwarves. I'm not complaining; in fact, I think I'd complain if Khazad-dûm cards weren't heavily dwarf-themed! But as it happens, I don't now have, nor do I think I've ever had, a single card from this expansion in my deck. Back in the core set days, I did use some dwarf cards, and I have nothing against them, but since Arwen is a pretty key ally in my Amazon theme, I feel it'd be thematically better to not mix elves and dwarves in the same deck. For what it's worth, my notion of some kind of fluff explanation for my deck is that Arwen has come south via Lórien, bringing a contingent of elves and Dúnedain with her, who've met up with Éowyn and Eleanor's Rohan-Gondor bunch. To me, dwarves don't fit in here. That's why I skipped doing any card spotlights, too: we're not using any!

In cards we do use, we continued our foray into the Angmar cycle with Escape from Mount Gram, netting the excellent Spirit side quest Double Back. I wish I could include more of the victory display trickery from that expansion in my deck, but I can't think of much anything I'd be prepared to part with to make room for them. I really do have to build that Rossiel deck!

After my latest experiences both solo and in multiplayer, I also decided to dispense with Gléowine's services. The minstrel of Rohan's been around since the very beginning, but to be honest, I've kept finding better uses for my Lore resources. If I regularly pick the same card to discard to Éowyn's ability or Protector of Lorien or whatever, I think that's a sign to consider leaving it out altogether. This may be a mistake based on getting lucky in drawing Unexpected Courage early in several games and attaching it to Beravor to maximize her card draw; I'll have to see how this works out! With Gléowine gone, I added a copy of Double Back.

The biggest change to our card pool during our Moria adventures was my partner's acquisition of a second core set. This put me in a bit of a quandary: I'm actually quite happy with my deck right now, but at the same time I'm painfully aware that the optimal solution is to include three copies of non-unique cards. Since we're not playing the game competitively (hell, we never even keep score!), there's no reason in the world why I should care about this, but there it is: I do. Given that I've got Eleanor and A Burning Brand, and despite my experiences in Moria just now (!), I'm going to take a chance and stick with only two copies of Test of Will and Hasty Stroke for now. I instead added a third Northern Tracker, a second copy of Unexpected Courage, Henamarth and Dwarven Tomb, and a third Galadhrim's Greeting. To make room, I dropped both copies of Westfold Horse-breaker, Radagast's Cunning and Secret Paths. None of these cards had seen much use lately, even though both Radagast's Cunning and Secret Paths can be very powerful at the right moment. That's the thing with deckbuilding; only rarely will a card be so obviously terrible that you can leave it out of your deck with no compunctions. I like this! I also swapped one copy of Over Hill and Under Hill Gandalf for the core set Gandalf.

We also qualified for a discount at our retailer, having collectively spent quite a bit on boardgames and this LCG, and used that to grab a copy of On the Doorstep. I have high hopes we'll finish our Hobbit saga by the time my Let's Read project is done!

For now, here's the current incarnation of my Amazons:

The Amazons

52 cards: 29 Spirit, 18 Lore, 5 neutral; 3 heroes, 23 allies, 9 attachments, 14 events, 3 side quests


Allies: 23 (12/8/3)
Elfhelm (TDM) x2
Northern Tracker x3
Arwen Undómiel (TWitW) x2
Escort from Edoras (AJtR) x2
West Road Traveller (RtM) x3
Haldir of Lórien (AJtR)
Mirkwood Runner (RtM) x2
Warden of Healing (TLD) x3
Henamarth Riversong x2
Gandalf (Core) x2
Gandalf (OHaUH)

Attachments: 9 (2/6/1)
Unexpected Courage x2
A Burning Brand (CatC) x2
Athelas (TLR) x2
Protector of Lórien x2
Song of Wisdom (CatC)

Events: 14 (12/2)
The Galadhrim's Greeting x3
A Test of Will x2
Dwarven Tomb x2
Hasty Stroke x2
Elrond's Counsel (TWitW) x3
Infighting (AJtR) x2

Side quests: 3 (1/1/1)
Double Back (EfMG)
Scout Ahead (TWoE)
Gather Information (TLR)

Solo sideboard:
swap one Warden of Healing (TLD) for Resourceful (TWitW)
swap Gather Information (TLR) for Will of the West
swap Infighting (AJtR) x2 for Forest Snare x2


Here's my partner's Tactics deck:

Team Boromir

53 cards; 49 Tactics, 4 Neutral; 3 heroes, 22 allies, 14 events, 13 attachments, 1 side quest

Boromir (TDM)

Allies: 22 (18/4)
Descendant of Thorondor (THoEM) x2
Eagles of the Misty Mountains (RtM) x3
Bofur (OHaUH) x2
Honour Guard (TWoE) x2
Winged Guardian (THfG) x3
Vassal of the Windlord (TDM) x3
Dúnedain Hunter (TLR) x2
Gandalf (Core) x3
Radagast (AJtR)

Events: 14
Feint x3
Quick Strike x2
Goblin-Cleaver (OHaUH) x3
Foe-Hammer (OHaUH) x3
The Eagles are Coming! (THfG) x3

Attachments: 13
Support of the Eagles (RtM) x2
Dwarven Axe x2
Blade of Gondolin x3
Horn of Gondor x2
Secret Vigil (TLR) x2
Black Arrow (OtD)

Side quests: 1
Gather Information (TLR)


And finally, this is the Leadership deck we ran the last two quests with:

59 cards; 53 Leadership, 6 neutral; 3 heroes, 25 allies, 11 attachments, 19 events, 1 side quest

Aragorn (Core)
Prince Imrahil (AJtR)

Allies: 25 (19/6)
Erestor (TLD) x2
Faramir x2
Ingold (TWoE) x2
Longbeard Orc Slayer x2
Dúnedain Watcher (TDM) x3
Silverlode Archer x2
Veteran of Osgiliath (EfMG) x3
Snowbourn Scout x3
Gandalf (Core) x3
Ranger of Cardolan (TWoE) x3

Attachments: 11
Sword that was Broken (TWitW) x2
Celebrían's Stone x2
Dúnedain Cache (TDM) x2
Steward of Gondor x2
Dúnedain Warning (CatC) x3

Events: 19
Grim Resolve x2
Dawn Take You All (RtM) x2
For Gondor! x2
Campfire Tales (THfG) x2
Second Breakfast (CatC) x2
Sneak Attack x3
Valiant Sacrifice x2
A Very Good Tale (OHaUH) x2
Parting Gifts (AJtR) x2

Side quests: 1
Gather Information (TLR)

Dec 7, 2015

Let's Read Tolkien 15: The Gathering of the Clouds

Now we will return to Bilbo and the dwarves.

Meanwhile, back at the Mountain, Bilbo and the dwarves are wondering what's going on with all the birds: there are whole flocks of them flying around quite unseasonally. A thrush approaches them, but none of the dwarves can understand him. Balin explains to Bilbo that in the old days, the ravens of the Mountain were friends of the dwarves, and he remembers a raven he knew called Carc. Hearing this, the thrush vanishes, and soon returns with an ancient, venerable raven: Roäc, son of Carc, chief of the ravens of the Mountain at an improbable 153 years of age.

Roäc gives Bilbo and the dwarves the news of Smaug's death and the approaching armies. Everyone is overjoyed at the first, and as for elves and homeless Lake-men, Thorin asks the ravens to send word to his kinsman Dáin of the Iron Hills for help. The dwarves immeiately start fortifying the Mountain; the only remaining entrance is the front gate, and using tools they find in the ruins, they build a stone wall to block it. When the elves and Lake-men arrive, they find the dwarves and hobbit holed up in the Mountain.

To say the discussions don't get off to a particularly good start is an understatement. Bard speaks for the Lake-men; he points out that it was he who slew the dragon, and that as descendant and heir to the Lords of Dale, a fair chunk of the treasure Thorin is sitting on is his by right. Further, he reminds Thorin that the Lake-men helped him in his quest, and in return lost their town and a quarter of its population.

Bilbo, listening in, feels quite strongly that Bard is right and reasonable, and I'd agree. Thorin, though, responds in amasterpiece of dwarven arrogance and stupidity. The plight of the homeless Lake-men is singled out for special scorn, and in general Thorin maintains that the treasure in its entirety is his and his alone. He calls the Lake-men thieves and robbers, and won't even talk to Bard again unless the elves leave, and in a final insult, offers to pay for the ponies and supplies the Lake-men provided him with. Unsurprisingly, this turns out to be a non-starter, and talks end. Later, the heralds of Bard return. Their message is that Bard requests a twelfth part of the treasure as dragonslayer and heir of Dale, out of which he's prepared to compensate the Lake-men for their losses. Thorin shoots at them. The Mountain is declared under siege.


I'd like to start my discussion of this chapter off by pointing out that Thorin is an asshole. The rousing song the dwarves sing has a refrain about the death of Smaug that ends "And ever so our foes shall fall!" By the hands of others and at the expense of others, one assumes; the dwarves haven't done anything to deserve the tiniest bauble of the dragon's hoard. Without Gandalf and Bilbo, they'd never have made it as far as Rivendell, let alone into the Mountain itself. They roused Smaug against the Lake-men; the dwarves never had a hope in hell of getting rid of Smaug, or indeed by their own admission any kind of plan or notion for it in the first place. Bard is clearly right: not only does Smaug's hoard undoubtedly consist of the treasure of Dale as well, but the dwarves' reckless treasure-hunting has directly led to the deaths of a quarter of Lake-town's population and the destruction of the town itself. The dragon only lies dead because of the unlikely tag team of a hobbit, a thrush and a man of Dale. Thorin's response to all this is that these homeless people can kiss his ass, because it's his gold and they can't have any of it. The people who paid the price for his wealth are thieves and robbers for appealing to him for compensation, and his answer is violence. There's no two ways about this: he really is a monumental asshole.

As we're told, what's at work here is the curse of the dragon's hoard, and the special suspectibility of the dwarves to it. In modern terms, the curse seems to turn dwarves into excellent caricatures of privilege. Thorin, sitting on a fantastic pile of wealth delivered to him by the work and sacrifice of others, moralizes on his inalienable right to it through his ancestors, and has nothing but violent scorn for anyone actually involved in the work of earning it. The worst thing anyone can do is appeal to his sense of charity.

To be honest, I don't remember reading a more devastating condemnation of unearned wealth and privilege in fantasy. Again, the engine of the story is the juxtaposition of the modern and the fantastical: the great quest to slay the dragon is over, and the romantic figure of the dispossessed King under the Mountain turns into a grasping, avaricious bigot. The only way King Thorin would ever make the river run golden would be by pissing in it because the poor drink from it. Here, if you like, is a precursor of the main theme of the Lord of the Rings: power corrupts. In a powerful allusion to Fafnir, Thorin, under the curse of the dragon's hoard, is turning into a dragon himself. One of Tolkien's key messages is that in setting out to slay a monster, you should take care lest you end up taking its place.


Next time: a hobbit gets bored.