QUEST PROFILE 003
Escape from Dol Guldur
ORIGINAL RELEASE: April 20, 2011
WHICH ONE WAS THAT? That really difficult one where one your heroes is randomly imprisoned. You need to collect three awesome-looking objectives, defeat a Nazgûl and fight through your own player cards posing as “Orc Guards” to get the prisoner out!
COMPLETE SCENARIO DECKLIST: (41 encounter cards + 3 quest cards)
WHERE DOES IT HAPPEN? The quest cards would have us believe that this one takes place entirely within the tower, caverns, and dungeons of Dol Guldur. The “Index of Names” in The Silmarillion tells us that Dol Guldur means ‘Hill of Sorcery’ in Sindarin and that it was the “fastness of the Necromancer (Sauron) in southern Mirkwood in the Third Age”. Dol Guldur was built on “the highest point in the highland at the south-west corner of Greenwood” and was originally called Amon Lanc meaning ‘Naked Hill’ “because no trees grew on its summit”.
The locations in this scenario however, once again range across the vastness of the forest by including the Mountains of Mirkwood and Enchanted Stream which are nowhere close to Dol Guldur. Only in this quest is it possible to take a detour to hike through threatening mountains while simultaneously making progress 250 miles away on an underground prison rescue! Check out the locations from this scenario placed on the map at Master of Lore’s LOTR LCG Atlas.
WHAT HAPPENS? The Lady Galadriel gives us no hint as to the contents of that “urgent message” we’ve delivered from King Thranduil, but she does request that we “investigate the area in the vicinity of Dol Guldur”. While doing so, one of our heroes is ambushed by Orcs and captured. This all happens off-screen, as it were, since the scenario begins as a rescue mission — to infiltrate the dungeons of the Necromancer’s tower and bring our imprisoned hero back out alive.
NOVEL INSPIRATION: The Lord of the Rings Appendix A Part III “Durin’s Folk” mentions that Thorin’s father Thráin “had been taken alive and brought to the pits of Dol Guldur”, a tangential reference which is further developed in the Unfinished Tales “Quest of Erebor”.
BEST ARTWORK: This blog has already discussed David A. Nash‘s depiction of this scenario’s sinister swooping boss enemy in Derek’s excellent feature on the Nazgûl of Dol Guldur but the piece is definitely cool enough to warrant a re-post in this article as well.
Before moving on, however, I do want to showcase the work of Daryl Mandryk whose artwork is featured on the cover of the Core Set and cropped for two encounter cards included in this scenario. Mr. Mandryk first posted this piece on his blog back in September 2010, the month after the game was first announced by FFG saying it “proved a challenge because of the odd aspect ratio” needed to wrap around the box.
We find Mr. Mandryk’s work in this scenario on the debilitating Caught in a Web treachery and nefarious Necromancer’s Pass location. Strangely enough, despite providing the iconic image for the Lord of the Rings LCG, Mr. Mandryk’s work has never again appeared in the game beyond the box art and these two cards. Nevertheless, it will certainly remain (cropped and reversed) as the banner on the official site, calling our heroes to adventures in Middle-earth.
MY OWN WORST ENEMY: When the core set was released, the Nazgûl of Dol Guldur was the nastiest enemy in the game. Even today, he remains a fairly formidable foe with 4 attack, 3 defense, 9 hit points, and a 35% chance of discarding a character with each attack (13 of the 37 cards that could be in the encounter deck when he is engaged have a shadow effect). But when players just started throwing a Forest Snare over this guy, FFG immediately fought back.
The first official FAQ was released on May 20, 2011, exactly one month after the Core Set came out. In it, the Nazgûl of Dol Guldur became the first card in the game to receive an erratum. The line “No attachments can be played on the Nazgûl of Dol Guldur” was printed on all future editions of this wretched wraith. It wouldn’t be until the Conflict at the Carrock adventure pack that our game designers minted an even more infuriating phrase: “Immune to player card effects”.
GO TO YOUR HAPPY PLACE: Actually don’t go there. You can escape the dungeons without actually traveling through the Tower Gate, which makes this location a fairly happy reveal from the encounter deck. With only 2 threat and a single quest point, you can leave it in the staging area without slowing you down too much. If push comes to shove, you can just send a Snowbourn Scout to clear your path. Those “Orc Guards” will never see you coming. Wish I could say the same for the Nazgûl…
MOST OBSCURE LORE: This quest takes place beneath the ‘Hill of Sorcery’ but actually begins on another hill, one “piled by the labour of many hands” specifically for the purpose of watching Dol Guldur. The first line of flavor text on quest card 1A reads:
The Lady Galadriel of Lórien has asked you to investigate the area in the vicinity of Dol Guldur.
Presumably this order is issued to our heroes from Cerin Amroth, the highest point in Lórien, which served as Galadriel’s outpost for keeping her eyes, “keen as lances”, on Dol Guldur. Standing atop this hill in The Fellowship of the Ring while looking towards The Necromancer’s Tower, Haldir explains the situation to Frodo:
There lies the fastness of Southern Mirkwood. It is clad in a forest of dark fir, where the trees strive one against another and their branches rot and wither. In the midst upon a stony height stands Dol Guldur, where long the hidden Enemy had his dwelling. We fear that now it is inhabited again, and with power sevenfold. A black cloud lies often over it of late. In this high place you may see the two powers that are opposed to one another; and ever they strive in thought, but whereas the light perceives the very heart of darkness, its own secret has not been discovered. Not yet.
DECK-BUILDING TIPS: Don’t play solo! This quest can be nigh impossible by yourself, especially with a random captive. If you must play alone, try a mono-sphere deck or include Song attachments so that you don’t also lose access to a third of your deck in case your off-sphere hero is the one locked in the dungeon. Finally, a bit of healing might come in handy. Between the wounded prisoner, that seemingly ubiquitous Necromancer’s Reach, and the sizzling Shadow Key, your heroes can take a beating!
MY MOST MEMORABLE PLAYTHROUGH: This is a quest that I actually haven’t played too often. As more quests became available, I rarely felt inspired to use my limited gaming time to be repeatedly eviscerated by the forces of Dol Guldur. Despite joining the game in December 2011, I didn’t achieve my first solo victory against this quest until September 2013. In those days, I dutifully recorded all my significant play reports in the official FFG Quest Log for posterity. Here is my journal of that long-awaited triumph retrieved from the archives.
12 rounds / 33 threat / 2 wounds / 10 victory points
At long last, I tackled the insidious Escape from Dol Guldur solo and was victorious in my first attempt with my “Flight to the Ford” Spirit/Lore deck.
Frodo Baggins was Caught in a Web during setup, perhaps explaining how he was so easily captured as the prisoner of the Nazûl of Dol Guldur. Gandalf’s Map was guarded by the Dungeon Jailor and the Shadow Key was hidden in the Mountains of Mirkwood.
The first round Light of Valinor allowed me to quest for 5 and when a second Mountains of Mirkwood came off the encounter deck, I was able to match the staging threat exactly to avoid the Dungeon Jailor‘s forced effect, not for the last time.
Asfaloth came out in the second round and was absolutely indispensable in neutralizing locations throughout the scenario. Things were most tenuous when a King Spider began attacking me undefended before I had any other allies on the table. Soon Bofur joined the questing contingent and I was able to keep sneaking by.
Glorfindel grabbed the Shadow Key to pass the first stage and with the Warden of Healing attending to him each round, its deleterious effects were handled. The Miner of the Iron Hills ended up being a crucial defender twice (after healing) and the Silvan Refugee was able to stay on the table for the entire game as I did not lose a single ally.
Northern Tracker was used primarily for extra attack strength, swinging with Aragorn and Glorfindel to dispatch the Dungeon Jailor and helping to destroy the Nazgûl in two rounds.
I engaged the Hummerhorns and took the 5 damage as threat with Frodo before dropping it back down with The Galadhrim’s Greeting (for the first of two times). In the final round, an Escort from Edoras arrived to usher us Out of the Dungeons.
Certainly the Light of Valinor was the key early and I don’t think it would have been possible without that first round draw. This may be my proudest victory in a long time!
OTHER MASTER OF LORE LINKS:
• Explore Gandalf’s solo quests into Dol Guldur prior to The Hobbit in my article on Out of the Dungeons.
• Derek has an unhealthy fascination with Khamûl, the only named Nazgûl and the captain of Dol Guldur at the time of our game. Find out more in his feature on the Nazgûl of Dol Guldur.
• 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: Escape from Dol Guldur.
• Our favorite ursine blogger has an excellent series titled “Beorn’s Path” with deck-building advice, strategy tips, and detailed play reports for each scenario in order of release through the Dwarrowdelf cycle. His article on the “Escape from Dol Guldur” is a wonderful resource for new players and a nostalgic read for the veterans.
• Check out video playthroughs of this scenario on YouTube from the original Progression Series, rebooted Progression Series and power-playing speed-shuffler Glaurung.