QUEST PROFILE 001
Passage Through Mirkwood
ORIGINAL RELEASE: April 20, 2011
WHICH ONE WAS THAT? That one where you randomly select A Chosen Path for the final stage and either quest through or fight a boss spider.
COMPLETE SCENARIO DECKLIST (36 encounter cards + 4 quest cards):
WHERE DOES IT HAPPEN? As the name suggests, we travel through Mirkwood (the forest formerly known as Greenwood the Great) located east of the Misty Mountains. Gradually sickening after the return of Sauron to Middle-earth, the forest has become known as Taur-e-Ndaedelos or “The Forest of Great Fear” in the Sindarin tongue. Check out the locations from this scenario placed on the map at Master of Lore’s LOTR LCG Atlas.
WHAT HAPPENS? Our heroes are tasked with carrying a message from King Thranduil west across Mirkwood to the Lady Galadriel. The forest is infested with spiders and orcs, issuing from the influence of the mysterious Necromancer of Dol Guldur.
NOVEL INSPIRATION: The Hobbit Chapter 8 “Flies and Spiders”
BEST ARTWORK: Ben Zweifel established the look of Middle-earth for FFG with his evocative paintings of Mirkwood in the Core Set. His signature sparkles in the scenery give an appropriately enchanting quality to our game’s first adventure! If you’d like to learn more about about his Lord of the Rings art and other projects, Mr. Zweifel was kind enough to do an interview with me in October 2013 and another with WWPD in February 2015.
MY OWN WORST ENEMY: The boss spider in this scenario is called Ungoliant’s Spawn referring to the name of a monstrous evil spirit from the First Age who took arachnid form. Ungoliant used her webs of pure darkness to help Melkor infiltrate Valinor and steal the Silmarils. Upon arriving in Middle-earth, Ungoliant threatened to devour the original Dark Lord in her “clinging thongs” until he let out a terrible cry and was rescued by an army of Balrogs. Legend says that Ungoliant eventually consumed herself in her ravenous appetite for darkness, but not before producing a brood of spiders which have carried her poisonous legacy in Middle-earth down into the timeframe of our story.
Ungoliant’s Spawn is a filthy descendent of that primal mother of all spiders, a mere shade of her ancient namesake. Still, this wretched enemy literally consumes those who love the light, sucking one willpower from everyone who is committed to questing. In the Nightmare version of the scenario, she’s grown double in size and power. If you are unlucky enough to draw her from the deck before the final stage, you may get the chance to fight this nastiness twice! Still hungry for more on the legend of Ungoliant’s Spawn? Check out my previous feature article for more details!
MUST CANCEL TREACHERY: Who can forget The Necromancer’s Reach? Brutally punishing in its day, it is still a terrifying treachery that can wipe out an army of questing allies! Even now, looking at that lidless red eye triggers tremors of memory and regret.
GO TO YOUR HAPPY PLACE: Before card draw effects were plentiful, the Forest Gate provided a nice chance to boost your hand. Unlike many later locations, this one doesn’t cause any foul effects if you just want to leave it in the staging area.
MOST OBSCURE LORE: The most obscure Tolkien reference in “Passage Through Mirkwood” is found on an enemy that is not mentioned anywhere in the text of The Hobbit or Lord of the Rings. In fact, this creature originally wasn’t part of Middle-earth at all!
The Hummerhorns are drawn from a line from one of Tolkien’s early poems called “Errantry”. The Professor discusses this poem in Letter 133 calling it his “most attractive” creation, noting that it is written in a very difficult metre which he personally invented and used “in a single impulse” only this one time.
Originally published in The Oxford Magazine in 1933, the poem was later included in The Adventures of Tom Bombadil in 1962. There it was categorized as a Hobbit poem from Middle-earth and attributed to Bilbo Baggins. You can hear it set to music by Donald Swann here. Speaking of the adventures of a mighty mariner, the stanza in question reads:
He battled with the Dumbledors,
the Hummerhorns, and Honeybees,
and won the Golden Honeycomb,
and running home on sunny seas,
in ship of leaves and gossamer,
with blossom for a canopy,
he sat and sang, and furbished up,
and burnished up his panoply.
Who knew that that this insect enemy had its inspiration in a rare verse of “trisyllabic assonances and near-assonances”? All I knew was that in the early days of the game, unless I had a Citadel Plate, the Hummerhorns meant a dead hero!
DECK-BUILDING TIPS: With the notable exception of the Tactics sphere starter deck in the Core Set, you can beat this one with just about anything. Don’t include too many squishy 1-hit point allies (the Necromancer is reaching!) and try to win before your threat tracker hits 40 as that is when the Hummerhorns stop being an intriguing poetic allusion and become a violent menace to your hero’s survival.
MY MOST MEMORABLE PLAYTHROUGH: When Small Target was first released, I wanted to make a mono-Spirit Hobbit deck that used hiding and other Halfling shenanigans to survive solo. A video record remains of my attempt against this quest and the final round is suitably epic. Enjoy!
OTHER MASTER OF LORE LINKS: Check out my feature article on the Old Forest Road. Of all the writing I’ve done on this blog, this article remains one of my personal favorites.
• Read the original release article from FFG published on April 20, 2011.
• See the official FFG Product Page for the Core Set.
• Get rules, ratings, and FAQs for this scenario at Online Quest Companion: Passage Through Mirkwood.