Fellow lore masters of Middle-earth, lend me your ear! Our finest hour as players of the Lord of the Rings living card game is nigh at hand. With their recent focus on the Noldor trait, the glorious game designers of Fantasy Flight have given full flight to our fantasies with the creation of new Lore heroes that put bookish scholarship and reclusive rumination at the very heart of a viable deck archetype. Hear, hear! Drawing on their expansive knowledge of Middle-earth, these Noldor can put more options on the table, recall events lost to most, and set-up the quest with greater wisdom than ever before.
Those whose excitement for this game is stoked only by heroes who can be nicknamed “Scorpigorn” or awkwardly wield two swords, move along. This article is dedicated to players whose very soul is stirred by artwork of an Elf-lord sitting alone at a table pondering an ancient book. Now Derek beat me to the punch in writing about Erestor, the library-loving nerd of Rivendell, but with our latest deluxe expansion, we’ve got Galdor of the Havens and I’m going full feature article on this guy.
A participant in the Council of Elrond who has his hometown curiously printed as part of his card title, Galdor of the Havens, has been given two versions (both Lore!) since the Angmar Awakened cycle. But whether he is a hero or an ally, Galdor’s Noldorin noggin is set to churning out the options that will keep our fellowship moving along. But why is it so important to specify where he is from? Is it just to avoid any possible confusion with Gildor Inglorion or is there another Galdor out there that we should know about? Let’s see what we can draw from Tolkien’s writings to learn more about the Noldor and our card-drawing friend!
EXPLORE THE LORE
What power still remains lies with us, here in Imladris, or with Círdan at the Havens, or in Lórien. But have they the strength, have we here the strength to withstand the Enemy, the coming of Sauron at the last, when all else is overthrown?
The flavor text on Galdor’s hero card is excerpted from Book II Chapter II “The Council of Elrond” in which Galdor is lamenting the fading of his people from Middle-earth and their inability to stand against Sauron’s evil advances. The ‘power’ he is referring to in Imladris, the Havens, and Lórien is the power of the Noldorin Elves, of which he is one of the few remaining in Middle-earth. So who are these Noldor?
The Noldor are best known for their learning. The name Noldor derives from the Elvish root ngol meaning ‘knowledge, wisdom, and lore’. Playing on that etymology, the Noldor were originally called Gnomes in Tolkien’s earliest writings. While today, that name evokes a freaky-looking garden ornament with a beard and a cap, we have to remember that “Elves” were popularly conceived of as Tinkerbell-like magical pixies (think Keebler) until Tolkien’s literature enlarged and ennobled them in our collective perceptions. It could have been Gnomes!
The Noldor are also known as the Deep Elves (‘deep’ as in ‘wise, learned’) but the depth of their insight was hard-earned by folly throughout the long ages of Middle-earth. The Noldor are descended from their first king Finwë, one of the original Elves who awoke in Middle-earth and led his people to live in the Blessed Realm of Valinor. While there, his son Fëanor made the Silmarils and then doomed his entire people to centuries of suffering by swearing an oath to reclaim them from the Dark Lord Morgoth at any cost “unto the end of days”. Anyone only familiar with the sage and sensible Noldor of the Lord of the Rings would be shocked by their escapades of exile and kinslaying that fill the pages of The Silmarillion. The Noldor are nasty!
Returning to Middle-earth from Valinor in pursuit of the Silmarils, the Noldor there encountered the Elves who never travelled to the Blessed Realm during the Years of the Trees, the ‘Grey Elves’ or Sindar who include the Silvan culture of our card game. The relationship between the Noldor and Sindar was often tense. It turns out the Sindar were generally doing just fine in Middle-earth until Morgoth’s minions and Fëanor’s followers brought bloody wars of vengeance to their shores. Who knew? But during times of peace, the Noldor “made many fair things”, namely “poems and histories and books of lore”. That would be enough to win me over! The same was true for the Sindar. As we are told in Chapter 13 of The Silmarillion “Of the Return of the Noldor”:
In many parts of the land, the Noldor and the Sindar mingled became welded into one people, and spoke the same tongue; though this difference remained between them, that the Noldor had the greater power of mind and body and were the mightier warriors and sages, and they built with stone, and loved the hill-slopes and open lands.
The tragic history of the First and Second Age is too long to recount in full, but the Noldor were the chief players until Gil-galad, the sixth and final High King of the Noldor, was slain in the Last Alliance of Elves and Men and no one arose to claim his title. By the time of our game at end of the Third Age, the Noldor remaining in Middle-earth are few and Galadriel is the only one still living who can remember being present at the Oath of Fëanor over 7000 years ago. They reside, as Galdor mentions at the Council of Elrond, mainly in Rivendell, Lórien, or along the western coasts around the Grey Havens in Lindon.
The Shipwright of those Havens, Círdan is actually Sindar, not Noldor (despite what his recent hero card says), but that’s a story for another article. We’re here to discuss Galdor and, in particular, why he is specifically identified as Galdor of the Havens for his card in our game. Galdor gets his introduction in The Lord of the Rings during the roll-call of Elven attendees at Council of Elrond:
Beside Glorfindel there were several other counsellors of Elrond’s household, of whom Erestor was the chief; and with him was Galdor, an Elf from the Grey Havens who had come on an errand from Círdan the Shipwright.
Like Glorfindel, the character of Galdor is one that Tolkien used in his First Age legends long before he ever wrote a word of The Lord of the Rings. In the final year of his life, the Professor called this “somewhat random use of names” from his earlier work “unfortunate” as he was seeking to fit everything together in a “now organized mythology”. In an essay of “Last Writings” in The Peoples of Middle-earth, one of the big questions that he asked himself was whether or not his two Glorfindels and Galdors were in fact the same character and, if so, how the contradictions in the text could be reconciled in their stories.
In the case of Glorfindel, Tolkien concluded that although the First Age Elf had died battling a Balrog in the Fall of Gondolin, he was reincarnated and returned to Middle-earth in the Second Age. Such a journey was certainly unique among the exiled Noldor, but one which explains his “almost ‘angelic'” power in The Lord of the Rings. To learn more about Glorfindel’s story, check out my feature article called “The Others” about characters with multiple iterations in our card game and Tolkien’s world!
Galdor, on the other hand, should have been easier for Tolkien to explain as he is never recorded to have died in the First Age. He could just be the same Elf, right? The problem here is that the Galdor from the First Age, like Glorfindel, is an epic warrior in the Fall of Gondolin. He is called “the most valiant of all the Gondolothlim save Turgon alone”. He is “lord” of the “Folk of the Tree” who defend the city with “iron studded clubs” and is hailed as a “champion” and “salvation of Tuor” for his valorous fighting in the great city’s last battle. Just check out this fan art based on Tolkien’s descriptions of Galdor!
Meanwhile, the Galdor in Lord of the Rings doesn’t seem as powerful as the other Noldor. First of all, he doesn’t seem to know as much as the others. He can perhaps be excused for asking why Saruman isn’t present at the Council, but when he questions the Wise about the Great Ring, he specifically refers to himself as one of “those who know less”. What’s more, he doesn’t seem like much of a fighter either, and suggests that if Sauron came to the Grey Havens, the Elves would “have no escape from the lengthening shadows of Middle-earth”. That doesn’t sound like someone who wielded an iron-studded club against dragons and Balrogs in the First Age and lived to tell the tale!
As Tolkien himself later said when considering the two Galdors, the one at the Council of Elrond is “seen clearly as an inferior person” which led him to conclude that Galdor of the Havens is not the same as Galdor of the Tree. Unlike the unique Glorfindel, he decided that the name Galdor is just a “simple and usual form” that has been repeated. Indeed, there is even a Man in the First Age named Galdor, Galdor the Tall, the father of Húrin. In light of Tolkien’s final assessment, Middle-earth enyclopedias have consistently used the “of the Havens” appellation to distinguish our Third Age counsellor from the First Age warrior of Gondolin or the tall Man of Dor-lómin, a tradition our game designers have followed in their naming convention.
Of course, this isn’t to suggest that Galdor of the Havens is just a glorified Errand-rider who is out of the loop and unlearned in lore. He knows of Tom Bombadil by his Sindarin name Iarwain and his final contribution to the Council of Elrond is a decisive argument in the decision about what to do with the Ring. The Council’s options are narrowed to two — bury it in the Sea, or destroy it in Mount Doom. Glorfindel suggests casting the Ring into the deeps of the Sea where “it would be safe”. Gandalf suggests otherwise, as does Galdor, warning that the Elves’ would be unable to stop Sauron should he “march in power along the coasts… assailing the White Towers and the Havens”. In an earlier age, Galdor of the Tree might have been waiting for Sauron with an elite force of arms. In the Third Age, and our game, Galdor of the Havens waffles and stutters, discards that idea, draws on his knowledge, and presents another. Hopefully the option he draws for us will work out as well as the one Elrond finally chose with his counsel!
SHOWCASE THE ARTWORK
The ally version of Galdor of the Havens features artwork by Arden Beckwith, a freelance illustrator based in Melbourne, Australia. While he has done several pieces over the life of the game, Mr. Beckwith really made his big splash in the “Treachery of Rhudaur” adventure pack, with four of the five cards in the spoiler fan to his credit, including the Erestor hero.
While the hero Galdor of the Havens by Lucas Jaskolski shows our knowledgable Noldo in his element on a ship in the Grey Havens, Beckwith’s Galdor is an interpretation of his appearance in the novel. The slight wringing of his fingers and shade of uncertainty in his expression gives Galdor the sense of a smart guy who is nevertheless out of his league among the Wise, insecure about the future of his people in Middle-earth, and eager to suggest other ways to deal with the impending doom. The flavor text chosen is a great fit for the theme and taken together — sphere, ability, title, text, and artwork — this is simply a great card for the game. No wonder it was featured front and center to promote it’s adventure pack. Well done to all involved here!
By providing art for both Erestor and Galdor of the Havens, Mr. Beckwith has emerged as FFG’s go-to guy for pensive-looking Elves and the overall look for the Noldor trait was largely established in the Angmar Awakened cycle by his entries above. You can check out his online illustration portfolio here. His other projects include artwork for “a digital role playing/strategy board game with a fantasy setting” called Armello which is worth checking out. Many thanks to Mr. Beckwith for sending me his full resolution artwork of Erestor, which he said that he “couldn’t resist touching up” since it was now over a year old for him. It was the first hero card he has designed for the game and here’s hoping there are many more. Thanks Arden!
The next piece that we want to showcase comes from the 1993 illustrated Russian edition of The Lord of the Rings. Artist Sergey Yuhimov portrayed scenes from the novel using the medieval style of Orthodox iconography, creating some absolutely stunning work. Galdor appears second from the left in his “Counsil of Elrond”, conceived by Mr. Yuhimov as the Last Supper. Note that, in line with Tolkien’s comments in his “Last Writings”, Glorfindel is featured with a halo showing his “almost ‘angelic'” power.
A few dozen of Mr. Yuhimov’s illustrations have been posted to Tumblr by user egelantier so if you like this style, do see his first post of medieval Tolkien artwork with links to three more pages. There is some breathtaking work there!
Finally, let’s take a look at another rendition of the Council of Elrond, this time in a piece of contemporary fan art by the Spanish artist Nacho Fernandez Castro. While some characters appear to be based on the actors from Peter Jackson’s film (most notably Aragorn in the top right), most reflect original expressions and include some new faces not featured in the film. I assume that Galdor is among the Elves on the left, perhaps the third down with the furrowed brow. You can see more of Mr. Castro’s work on his website, including an amazing morphing image of original movie posters on the main page.
DISCUSS THE CARDS
When it comes to thematic play, both versions of Galdor of the Havens turn on the idea that card draw represents knowledge and putting more options on the table for your heroes. It is fitting, therefore, that the Noldor trait has to do with drawing and discarding as they are the wisest race of Middle-earth in the Third Age, though least likely to be on the front lines fighting anymore (outside of the sons of Elrond). In this regard, the fact that you will be unlikely to use either Galdor of the Havens for anything besides his card drawing ability and a little boost to questing seems thematically appropriate.
It is also a thematic win that Galdor synergizes best with Erestor, the chief of Elrond’s counsellors since they serve as a great foil for each other in the novel. In the case of the allies, having both Erestor and Galdor of the Havens on the table allows you to throw out a bad idea (like a duplicate unique card) and turn it into two new possibilities, all without exhausting a character. While it is certainly costly to summon both of these characters to your council, having them both in play basically ensures that you will never be without options when making tough decisions about how to advance your quest. May their wisdom guide you!
With the heroes, I’ve found it’s useful to pair Galdor of the Havens with Erestor to put card draw events or other later game plays back into the deck instead of the mulligan so that you don’t waste too many cards when you’ve got those whopping 10 to choose from in the first planning phase. Later in the game, Galdor can provide for a clutch round by giving you a fresh start of six cards! In his interview with the Grey Company, co-developer Matt Newman said that hero Galdor’s ability was one of the ideas he had originally brainstormed as an alternative for hero Erestor if the latter seemed too overpowered in playtesting, so the fact that it has appeared on another Noldo from the Council of Elrond was a great way for Matt to avoid discarding his backup idea!
The most effective thematic combo that I’ve found between Erestor and Galdor however, has not been with both heroes or allies, but rather by running the ally Galdor of the Havens in an Erestor deck. Below is the deck I’ve played to a solo victory in each of the three new Grey Havens quests. I’m calling it the “Outlandish Council of Elrond” and you can download the OCTGN file here.
In this deck, Elrond and Erestor can become shadow-cancelling defenders with A Burning Brand and Protector of Lórien. Arwen Undómiel is the key resource engine, discarding a card with her ability and playing her Silver Harp to pull it back, while Galdor of the Havens adds another card for the effort. Do all this with the glow of Elven-light and it becomes easy to pump out cheap cards quickly!
Now admittedly there are two things that might be alarming about this deck. The first is the absence of A Test of Will. As I was using this deck for solo play, I found that it only occasionally showed up in my hand in the same round as a treachery and I’d often rather use the resource to get out another card that was going to disappear if I didn’t play it right away. This deck is just going to have to take those treacheries on the chin.
That’s probably well deserved for the second alarming aspect of this deck — the presence of Outlands! Yes, they are here. Thematically, I decided that if Lord Calphon was going to make an improbable journey sailing from Gondor to Lindon to see Círdan, he probably brought along a crew of his own, recruited from the hinterlands of the kingdom and including the Ethir Swordsman and Envoy of Pelargir from Gondor’s own harbors.
In addition to being overpowered, the biggest knock on Outlands was that they are simply “plop and play” and remove the difficult decision-making that makes a deck-building game fun. I’m not going to argue that that problem is completely solved here, but with Erestor tossing your hand at the end of each round, there is at least some fun in trying to make use of every card every round by figuring out the right order to use each ability in play to make that happen. Execute this outlandish council wisely and you will have a capable crew that can not only handle the sailing and exploring of the first two scenarios, but also the combat of the final flaming showdown at Galdor’s home base.
He might not be Galdor of the Tree, but Galdor of the Havens is still a Deep Elf with some great ideas to keep your heroes running. And hopefully you’ve now gained a little newfound knowledge that will help you unleash your inner Noldo next time you play the most learned scholars of Tolkien’s world on your table. Happy questing!