Many thanks to the Master of Lore for publishing my guest post here, and thanks to you for reading it! Timely as well, since I got the whole shipprekk/shipwreck thing sorted out. I shall skip the introductions and get right to it.
This game, in its way, appeals to us lore nerds because it has, from the core set forward, really drilled down into the books and been unafraid to utilize richer parts of the works, even when it swings and misses (note how I cite no examples). Ungoliant Spawn, the first enemy featured here, was also the first demonstration that these guys had some idea of what they were doing, not only with the game itself but also the stories on which the game is based.
This continued with many of the expansion packs and deluxe expansions: they didn’t call the Moria expansion the ‘Mines of Moria’, but ‘Khazad-dûm’ — that is, the dwarves’ name for their own historical home. The trend persisted with our last big box, ‘Heirs of Númenor’. Again, they didn’t go with ‘Gondor’ or ‘Boromir is Cool’, they chose to directly reference the ancestral island of the High Men who would later found the Kingdom of Gondor.
One of my favorite cards in that set is Blood of Númenor, for which my interest was again piqued by the recent interview with the artist (Magali Villeneuve) on the COTR podcast.
EXPLORE THE LEGEND
“Believe not that in the land of Gondor the blood of Númenor is spent, nor all its pride and dignity forgotten.” – Boromir, The Fellowship of the Ring
One of the things that continues to separate Tolkien’s world from much of the rest of modern fantasy (and even prior mythological works) is that the Powers of the world all trace their strength back to the source. There are no great tomes of magic that skinny warlocks sit up in towers reading, only to descend upon the world and raise armies of the dead. That kind of stuff happens a bit, but only on the periphery. From the Elves and their ‘magical’ abilities, all the way to Sauron, all of the major players in Middle-earth beget their power from the gods who, in their turn, received theirs from God, Eru, the One. So it is with Men. The lowly Woses, the cruel Haradrim, Barliman Butterbur, and Aragorn, that is King Elessar, the Elfstone of House Strider, are all of the same the race. So why the great differential? Those men of Gondor and Arnor, the Dúnedain, can trace their high heritage back to a little island called Númenor that was blessed by the gods.
The myth of Númenor began, for Tolkien in a dream:
“This legend or myth or dim memory of some ancient history has always troubled me. In sleep I had the dreadful dream of the ineluctable Wave, either coming out of the quiet sea, or coming in towering over the green inlands. It still occurs occasionally, though now exorcized by writing about it. It always ends by surrender, and I awake gasping out of deep water. I used to draw it or write bad poems about it.”― J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter 257
So, in effect, Númenor is a retelling of the story of Atlantis, set in Middle-earth, as inspired by Tolkien’s troubled dreams. It was also said that his son, Christopher, suffered from the same recurring dream. But before we go there we must go back, back to the First Age of the Sun where there were three great houses of Men: the Houses of Bëor, Haleth, and Hador (also called Marach). In brief, these were the groups of Men who remained true to the Elves and waged war against Morgoth, the great Enemy of the First Age (think of him as Thanos to Sauron’s Loki [we all saw Avengers, right?]). For their help and the suffering of their losses in defeating Morgoth and his armies, which included lots of Balrogs, remember, the gods gave these Men their own island kingdom. What made this place so special was that it was set in the Sea between Middle-earth and Valinor, the Undying Lands, home of the gods. Men were not allowed to set foot upon those shores, but Númenor was in sight of this beautiful place, which was gift enough in itself.
The first king of Númenor was Elros, son of Eärendil and brother to Elrond Half-elven. As with all half-elves, the two brothers were given a choice. Elrond chose to be an Elf and live forever in the spheres of Middle-earth. His brother opted to remain a Man, but he and his line were given exceptionally long life, which was passed down even to our Aragorn.
The trick with writing these kinds of articles is to keep things relatively brief and not go into lore overload. I’m already pushing it, so let’s skip ahead. In time, the Númenóreans grew tired of their little star-shaped island and so they went back to Middle-earth as the Sea-kings, demonstrating their wealth and power, and became known throughout the world. But even Men given the gifts of long life, friendship with the Elves and with the gods, and neat toys like the Palantíri, can become greedy and corrupted. Cults sprung up and when they finally defied the gods and Númenor was destroyed, a faithful contingent fled to Middle-earth and founded the realms of Arnor and Gondor.
For a time, it was good, and they brought peace and justice to Middle-earth. But over time the bloodline of the High Men was mingled with that of lesser, if still noble Men. And Sauron, their sworn enemy, was constant in setting evil against them. Gondor was sundered from its sister-kingdom, Arnor, in the North by the work of the Witch-King. The Kings grew lazy and their diligence waned. Easterlings invaded. The Black Númenóreans attacked. Rebellions sprung up. Plagues swept through the lands. As Faramir neatly summarized, ‘Death was ever present because the Numenoreans still, as they had in their old kingom…hungered after endless life unchanging. Kings made tombs more splendid than houses of the living and counted old names in the rolls of their descent dearer than the names of sons’.
And so the line of Kings was eventually ended and the Stewards took charge, leading Gondor into relative peace, awaiting the return of the King (should he ever come). Now lesser men, still with some high blood in them, sat on the throne, and the long line of Gondor, which traced itself all the way back to friendship with Noldor Elves and the gods, grew thinner and thinner.
When we meet Gondor, the remaining Blood of Númenor, through the person of Boromir, we meet a kingdom on the brink. It will go one way or the other: return to its noble heritage in strength and defeat its great Enemy, or slip into the darkness that had befallen its forebears and so many other Men in Middle-earth.
SHOWCASE THE ARTWORK
As I said, my new interest in the card sprung up after hearing the artist interviewed. Magali Villeneuve has done some of the finest artwork, not only for the LOTR card game, but also for Star Wars and Game of Thrones. There’s a lot going on in this picture. It’s clearly some kind of battle, but it also looks like a tableaux. So there’s action, but in that very prescribed, artsy way. What stuck out to me in her interview was when Magali explained that this was depicting Boromir and his brother Faramir. Even though it’s not explicit, Boromir is fairly easy to pick out, as he resembles his hero card and is quoted in the text box. However, I had no clue that it was Faramir next to him. I assumed it was generic Dúnedain Ranger guy. So seeing Boromir and Faramir depicted together, representing the remaining blood of Númenor, defenders of Gondor and all free Men, is something special.
Magali also explained that she was a lover of the films before the books. This explains the seeming influence of the ‘For Gondor!’ scene from the films on her Boromir hero card. The brothers are also depicted in countless other ways through countless other mediums, but one of my favorites is Faramir as depicted by Ellaine, a Polish artist who has done some great stuff. He at once looks ‘mannish’ but fair enough (no pun intended) to display his ancient heritage. It was said that the blood of the old kings was come again in Faramir (his mother also had elvish blood) and I think this image shows a little of that.
DISCUSS THE CARDS
One overarching theme of the Heirs of Númenor expansion and subsequent Against the Shadow cycle is the strength of will our heroes must show in overcoming Mordor and its allies. Remember, the enemies in The Lord of the Rings are oftentimes not just a physical force to be overcome, but also a force of will. The Black Riders bring the Fear with them, Sauron is as much a spiritual being as he is a physical one and so he represents not only a strong villain to be dealt with through strength of arms, but a malignant, creeping shadow that requires more than just a good swordarm to destroy. Blood of Númenor, along with its follow-up card Against the Shadow, represents the ability of heroes to defend Middle-earth with more than just weapons. If resources represent a heroes charisma, influence, and ability to get things done, then the card’s ability to turn those resources into a show of strength fits well with the box.
In a more meta sense, it also ushered in a series of cards that allowed mono-sphere decks to compensate in lacking areas. As I said, this idea was expanded up by the recent Against the Shadow card in which Spirit characters can use their Will instead of their Defense in combat situations. This I like. I also find it appropriate for the Spirit sphere to get this kind of buff. Unfortunately, the only hero bearing a Gondor or Dúnedain trait within the Spirit sphere at this point is Eleanor, and so the Blood of Númenor requires a multisphere deck to unleash its full potential. Once done, however, it can turn an otherwise mediocre defender into a wall, or a good defender into a questing machine during a Siege.
It couples nicely with Steward of Gondor, as that attachment grants both the resources to bolster Blood of Númenor and the Gondor trait to use it. I have a deck featuring the brothers Elladan and Elrohir, as well as their brother-in-law-to-be Aragorn, and it uses a lot of attachments. Slap Gondorian Shield, Steward of Gondor, and Blood of Númenor on Elrohir and, coupled with his ability to ready for 1 resource, he becomes an impossible defender to overcome.
So while it may be slightly limited in its theme (as it’s not fully utilized with bare Spirit heroes) coupled with a few adjustments it is an extremely powerful card, especially in a two player context with one player serving as the anvil and the other dealing the ‘hammer stroke’. Here we see Elrohir in full-on ‘Voltron’ mode with all of his attachments, ready for action.
I hope you found my first contribution to this excellent blog informative and helpful. Please comment or contact me directly with any suggestions or questions! And now for a decklist:
The Sons (and Son-in-Law) of Elrond
Arwen Undómiel x2
Master of the Forge x2
Rivendell Minstrel x2
Northern Tracker x3
Gandalf (OHaUH) x1
Gandalf (Core) x2
Trollshaw Scout x3
Ring of Barahir x2
Sword that was Broken x2
Celebrian’s Stone x3
Steward of Gondor x3
Ancient Mathom x3
Unexpected Courage x2
Light of Valinor x2
Rivendell Blade x2
Song of Travel x2
Gondorian Shield x2
Blood of Númenor x2
Elrond’s Counsel x3
The Galadhrim’s Greeting x2
A Test of Will x3
Gaining Strength x2