It was a truly great experience attending GenCon 2014. I got to meet my fellows in The Grey Company, along with the gentlemen of the COTR podcast, lots of other great players, and the designers of our game (Caleb & Matt). A real regret, though, was not playing more LOTR. As you can imagine, a Con of 50,000 people has plenty of events and games and I generally got caught up in the hoopla (not to mention a day-long Conquest tournament). I did, however, get to play this year’s GenCon quest, The Old Forest, and it is grand.
As usual, the designers outdid themselves in keeping it thematic, strategic, and just plain fun. One treachery that caught my eye, however, was Ending and Failing.
It caught my eye because I’m usually humming Frodo’s song in the woods any given day. The Tolkien Ensemble really did well in producing a beautiful song from just a few lines of poetry, and so Ending and Failing jumped out at me. Treacheries usually just take phrases and lines from the text and sometimes they feel out of context. Ending and Failing fits in perfectly. So let’s talk about the song and Merry and the Old Forest and the Card.
O! Wanderers in the shadowed land
despair not! For though dark they stand,
all woods there must be end at last,
and see the open sun go past:
the setting sun, the rising sun,
the day’s end, or the day begun.
For east or west all woods must fail…
-The Old Forest
This is the song that Frodo sings with harmless intent: he and his companions have been in the Old Forest for only a short while, but already despair and disorientation have set in. Through the hedge gate and the burnt glade, even just a tad, the forest becomes oppressive. Merry, the resident expert with a number of ventures into the forest equal to ‘several’, has this to say:
‘They do not like all that about ending and failing…I should not sing any more at present. Wait till we do get to the edge, and then we’ll turn and give them a rousing chorus!’
In short, the trees are watching and we’d better be careful not to jeer them until we’re well clear of their domain.
The Old Forest once belonged to a huge, primordial wood that spanned from the Blue Mountains all the way through Dunland to Fangorn: one wood, one massive ‘civilization’ of the trees. What once ruled over a great domain, however, is now on the defensive against tiny creatures on two legs wielding axes and fire. So the forest is angry and its reputation has gone ahead as an ill-omen to Hobbits everywhere, especially those outside of Buckland. It’s the prime reason Fatty does not go with his conspirators on the Quest — he’s more afraid of the Forest than Black Riders. And while the Forest is not quite as immediately dangerous as a Nazgul, it is terribly angry and threatening to all humanoid life. Going into the woods is going into the lurking presence of thousands of enemies.
The card evokes this feeling by raising your threat to represent the enmity of the woods against you. At first the Old Forest might permit you to pass, but any sign of threat means an instant reaction by the trees and the evil will of their master, Old Man Willow (card image to come). As all of the enemies in this quest are tree-related, roots, branches, and such, it follows that the threat of the forest would emanate from these aggressive creatures.
There are two facets to this GenCon quest: the feeling of being lost and the hatred of the trees. Certain cards force you to explore new locations and the quest stage itself rotates randomly, contributing to the feeling of the Hobbits being lost in unfamiliar territory (Merry really dropped the ball on that one, didn’t he?). Cards like Ending and Failing and various attacking tree limbs represent the direct hatred of the wood.
I, for one, love the feel of this quest. It can, at times, play out as tedious when swapping quest stages and locations for a long streak, but shouldn’t being lost in the woods be tedious? And besides everything is made infinitely more interesting when Tom Bombadil arrives! Check the Grey Company for your chance to win a copy of The Old Forest.