Blog

The Flight From Moria, Revised

A lot of early Lord of the Rings quests were gimmicky, unreliable, or just downright broken. For every fan-favorite like Conflict at the Carrock there was a quest that was either impossible or super easy, like Journey to Rhosgobel. I suspect a lot of players consider The Flight From Moria, one of my favorite quests, to be in the “gimmicky” camp… and I wouldn’t blame them.

When Flight From Moria came out, it was the very definition of gimmicky: it was easy to random into no-win scenarios or into an easy victory by abusing the victory condition. That said, it’s still one of my favorite quests, and I think Nightmare added a lot to it. Unfortunately, I’m very much not a power gamer, so the added difficulty of Nightmare mode doesn’t hold any appeal. Therefore, as someone who is constantly deckbuiding, I took it upon myself to revise the quest into something that functioned a little more reliably while keeping all of the things that I loved about the quest.

Revising The Classics

When I was in middle school, just after the first Lord of the Rings movie came out, I got into a game called Lord of the Rings: TCG by Decipher. It was a wonderfully messy game, as so many of Decipher’s games were, but it allowed you to play simultaneously as the Free Peoples and as the Shadow, and while Lord of the Rings LCG is basically a better game in every way, sometimes I miss getting to build decks themed around the Shadow factions. So when Nightmare Decks came out, I took it as an opportunity: I could build custom encounter decks the way you’d build player decks, combining regular and nightmare cards from any objective sets I wanted!

Unfortunately, there’s a pretty significant snag with that plan: Lord of the Rings quests are defined by their quest cards. And because I wasn’t going to be changing them or making custom quest stages (trust me, I toyed with that idea), it ultimately came to this: I wouldn’t be making new quests from existing cards, but would only be modifying the quests that existed. As most quests in the game are actually super fun and balanced, I ended up looking towards the earliest quests: Shadows Over Mirkwood and Dwarrowdelf.

Many of these quests were redesigned in some way by the addition of nightmare mode, but in addition to redesigning the quest mechanics to add more flavor (such as the Hunters From Mordor stealing clues in Hunt for Gollum), Nightmare is also designed to increase the difficulty. Considering I have a strong tendency to build fun, thematic decks (as opposed to powerful decks), the difficulty increase isn’t something I want to be forced into dealing with when I’m trying to inject more theme into my quests. Therefore, while some nightmare cards are good, the “blatantly more powerful” ones aren’t as useful. Ultimately that makes the design goal clear: to take out the “un-fun” cards and mechanics from the regular sets, and replace them with “fun but not overpoweringly brutal” nightmare cards available. In some of the easier quests, increasing the difficulty to compensate for the player card power creep is acceptable.

Balrog Roulette

the-nameless-fearSo why does Flight From Moria hold such a prominent place among my favorite quests? It’s certainly not because of the original quest, as it featured such un-fun cards as Crumbling Ruin and Sudden Pitfall. And with such high randomness, it has many of the same problems that I have with Journey to Rhosgobel, in that you can lose simply to not drawing the victory condition as you plunder on endlessly into the quest. Yet here, a curious confluence of theme and mechanics makes something that shouldn’t be fun into something that’s surprisingly enjoyable.

The hook that makes Flight From Moria something worth looking at (as opposed to all the other excellent quests out there) is, of course, the way it treats the Balrog. This isn’t some boss you have to defeat, it’s a shadowy force looming over the Orcs and Goblins you come up against, increasing the danger and lethality of the Mines of Moria. Except for the specific quest card in which you do physically encounter the Balrog, it only exists to produce threat: both in the literal, “stop your progress” sense and in the figurative, “threat of hitting you with A Foe Beyond” sense. Even his 27 hit points becomes fascinating, as it’s there despite having no apparent meaning or purpose. Twisting the way enemies function on their head in such a Lovecraftian way strongly draws my interest.

I also love comeback mechanics. I love witnessing power structures become inverted, where the more power and authority you’re in, the more you’re in danger. This quest has that in spades. Technically speaking, the correct way to play is to simply bypass each quest stage and suffer the When Revealed effects until you find one with a victory condition and just attempt to push through to victory. But if you wish to improve your chances of actually finding a quest with a victory condition, you can complete the one you’re on and add it to the victory display, at which point it won’t come back… but the Balrog will get more powerful. There’s even an interesting dynamic where some of the more powerful and unique player cards, which themselves provide victory points, become liabilities as they too increase the threat and power of the Nameless Fear. The quest rewards players who are careful, prepared, and who know when it’s correct to play it safe and when it’s correct to swing for the fences.

All that said, this quest is Balrog Roulette, and there’s no changing that. You will have to be prepared to draw treacheries that say, “kill a hero you control, cannot be canceled” and ready to auto-lose to a poorly-timed Wrong Turn. Not knowing even what quest you’re attempting until you’re already committed is going to make this one of the more gut-punchy quests out there. A certain amount of acceptance is needed to attempt it. But that’s part of the theme, and it hits the theme very well.

You might think it crazy that a player would want to attempt a quest that matches the theme of “desperately searching for an exit as doom inexorably advances,” but sometimes it’ll generate insane stories of single heroes making it out despite their fallen friends, or of strong beginnings dashed by horrible tragedy, or of careful planning bringing the heroes to the brink of escape before the Nameless Fear finally got them. It’ll give you the adrenaline rush of narrowly evading defeat, or the consistent surprise that comes when you flip over each new quest card. Just like people enjoy to experience fear within a safe space (a horror movie in a theater), being constantly in danger of losing becomes exhilarating—especially when your narrow escapes are because of decisions you made. Desperation can be enjoyable when you get to pack up the game at the end of the afternoon.

Building Tension

So Flight From Moria is due for an update. What gets cut, and what gets added?

search-for-an-exit-blocked-by-flame-2a

Despite the high-risk nature of the quest, present on cards like A Foe Beyond and Wrong Turn, it’s very easy to overload on “gut-punch” cards and make the experience unenjoyable. Dramatic catastrophes are only fun when they’re rare; taking away too much player agency quickly makes the experience boring, and takes away from the excitement of hitting (or avoiding) one of the catastrophe cards. And certain catastrophe cards are better than others, as something like Sleeping Sentry simply says, “kill a bunch of characters” regardless of when it’s drawn or by whom, whereas something like A Foe Beyond is something that’s okay to draw early but terrible to draw late, and depending on who the last player is, it becomes something that’s scary or not scary—not to mention the fact that because its effect is based on the victory display, its strength is something the players (mostly) have direct control over. You want your catastrophes to be context-dependent, and something the players can play around.

In that vein, the real awful stinkers (Crumbling Ruin and Sudden Pitfall) are out. In fact, the entire encounter set they’re a part of (Hazards of the Pit) is just all about randomly punishing the players, so let’s cut all of it and keep things simple. The Deeps of Moria (chain) encounter set is fine, being a generic set that scales based on the number of players, and the Goblin Spearmen are fine to include as well to encourage defending. Something that probably shouldn’t be included, however, is the Great Cave-Troll; while I’m all for punishing the players for doing well (by scaling based on the victory points), this is the kind of card that can be a 7-attack catastrophe card when it’s drawn and becomes even worse once it’s killed, making it something the players can’t play around except pray no to draw it. So it’s out.

In addition, since the Nightmare pack comes with a few new quest cards, we get the chance to remove another problem card: Blocked By Shadow. Any card that says, “flip a coin, if you lose the flip you’re eliminated” is bad card design, pure and simple. We do want an alternative win condition to the Abandoned Tools, however, so we can replace it with Pursued By Shadow from the Nightmare pack. This is the obvious inheritor to Blocked By Shadow: it provides a win condition that can be done by questing, and it provides a roulette-style punishment that hits the players as long as they continue to attempt it. However, Pursued By Shadow is actually a much more fun card.

Blocked By Shadow is incredibly binary: either you’re randomly eliminated or you’re not. Pursued By Shadow is much less punishing, but the punishment happens many times. It’s still random, but because it happens repeatedly rather than all at once, it gives the players a chance to interact with it. They could use Scout Ahead or Into the Wild to remove A Foe Beyond from the deck, or they could hit the same hero multiple times by healing them, or they could just suffer through it and lose heroes left and right and hope to have one person make it out alive. None of these options were available in Blocked By Shadow.

Since we’re adding quest stages, let’s consider the other two. Blocked By Flame is a neat quest if only because it changes the dynamic while you’re at that stage: rather than having the Nameless Fear be an ominous presence, now it’s an actual Balrog you have to fight. Uniqueness lets us include that one, but I’m not keen on including Ghash!. It’s obviously designed to punish you the way Wrong Turn is, but considering the players already have the Scylla and Charybdis of Wrong Turn/Narrow Paths that they have to contend with, having a card that randomly wipes the board isn’t something I’m keen to include. So we’ve removed one problematic quest stage and replaced it with two good ones.

flight-from-moria-mid

What do we want in the deck, then? Cards that fit the same theme that I like from the quest: desperate flight, the encounter deck’s “comeback mechanic,” and ominous, impending doom. With a number of enemies already in the deck (Goblin Spearman, Stray Goblin, and a couple one-ofs), we probably only need one new one, and it should probably be on the stronger side. Fortunately, Coal-Black Orc from the nightmare set fits that perfectly: it scales along with the Nameless Fear, but is something that can be opposed and defeated by the players. Its shadow effect can be very nasty, but only in the late-game when the players are (presumably) more powerful.

Cutting the Random Hazards encounter set took most of the deck’s locations, so we look into the nightmare decks for locations to add. Shadowed Corridor absolutely fits the “ominous, impending doom” theme we’re going for, so that’s a no-brainer, but it’s the only location in the Flight From Moria nightmare set. Seven locations isn’t enough (we want some balance between locations, treacheries, and enemies) so it’s time to go digging.

I said that the idea was to build decks as if these were player cards, and that means not limiting myself to just the Nightmare set associated with this quest–or even just the normal cards associated with this quest. However, I quickly discovered that in looking at all the other Khazad-Dum/Dwarrowdelf encounter cards (as the location would obviously need to be in Moria), it’s pretty rare to have encounter cards that aren’t specific to their quest mechanic. I don’t want to include anything that references “locate tests” or “Nameless enemies,” and most of the generic locations from the original quests are, frankly, not very difficult given the current card pool.

Fortunately I managed to find the perfect location, this time from the Long Dark Nightmare pack; Bottomless Chasm is a scary location that makes the players as a group lose cards in their hand, which is a resource that’s relevant no matter what quest you’re playing. Including a full set of that brings us to 10 locations, which when combined with all the treacheries already included by the selected encounter sets, gives us a slightly large but hopefully more streamlined encounter deck. The only final change to make is to cut a couple cards that are just too easy given the current card pool, so Goblin Archer and Plundered Armory are out.

One Final Effort

What this gives us is the final decklist:

Flight From Moria, Revised

Replace the quest card Blocked By Shadow with Pursued By Shadow and Blocked By Flame.

  • The Nameless Fear (Flight From Moria)
  • 3x Coal-Black Orc (Flight Nightmare)
  • 5x Goblin Spearman (Plundering Goblins)
  • 1x Chieftain of the Pit (Plundering Goblins)
  • 1x Orc Drummer (Plundering Goblins)
  • 3x Stray Goblin (Deeps of Moria)
  • 4x Shadowed Corridor (Flight Nightmare)
  • 3x Bottomless Chasm (The Long Dark Nightmare)
  • 3x The Mountains’ Roots (Deeps of Moria)
  • 4x A Foe Beyond (Flight From Moria)
  • 3x Shadow of Fear (Flight From Moria)
  • 3x New Devilry (Flight From Moria)
  • 3x Undisturbed Bones (Plundering Goblins)
  • 3x Chance Encounter (Deeps of Moria)
  • 2x Massing in the Deep (Deeps of Moria)

(For those keeping track at home, that means the original Flight From Moria encounter set, plus the Coal-Black Orc, Shadowed Corridor, and Bottomless Chasm from Nightmare packs, plus the Deeps of Moria and Plundering Goblins encounter sets, minus Goblin Archer, Plundered Armory, and Great Cave Troll.)

The final thing to consider is the possibility for custom rules that go along with the scenario. The Nightmare Deck introduced two rules, both of which are very good:

  • When a quest card is bypassed, shuffle it into the quest deck instead of placing it on the bottom.
  • While the Escape from Darkness quest card is in play, the Refresh Action on Abandoned Tools can only be triggered once each round.

The first solves the problem of the quest getting too predictable (just bypass everything until you hit the escape condition), and the second solves the problem of giving Boromir an Abandoned Tools and winning on the spot. It also helps that both of these rules are conveniently found on the Nightmare card, which you can keep with the quest as a reminder. If game length is an issue, I would recommend adding a third rule:

  • If either the Pursued By Shadow or Escape From Darkness quest card leaves play with one or more progress on it, set that progress aside. When the same quest card (either Pursued or Escape) enters play later in the quest, put the set-aside progress on it.

This solves the problem of getting 3 out of 5 rounds into your Pursued By Shadow and having it get randomly shuffled away by a poorly-timed New Devilry, thus resetting your clock and forcing you to play another 30-60 minutes just to finish the quest. If time is less a concern, or if you like the added tension, feel free to play without it: turning New Devilry into a “must-cancel” treachery certainly changes your options when you reveal another bad treachery like Massing in the Deep.


I hope this has given you reason to reconsider Flight From Moria, a quest which I suspect isn’t loved by most. As I said earlier, I’m not a power gamer, which means Nightmare Mode doesn’t appeal to me, but the idea of reinventing old quests absolutely does, especially when it can make broken quests more playable (Assault on Osgiliath) or to inject more theme into already-functional ones (Road to Rivendell). I’ll be writing about more Revised Quests in the coming months, and occasionally posting my decklists on ringsdb.

If there’s something you’d like to see more of for Lord of the Rings content, drop a comment or shoot me a message on Twitter! I’m new to the Lord of the Rings content space, and with so much covered already by such great venues as Tales From the Cards, Master of Lore, Cardboard of the Rings, and Hall of Beorn (among many others), I’m still figuring out what would be most interesting to write about, and to read about.

~Dav Flamerock

1 Comment to The Flight From Moria, Revised

  1. Yepes's Gravatar Yepes
    April 29, 2017 at 3:42 pm

    Today me and my girlfriend played this quest twice. First time we finished in 30′ as we had abandoned tools as a revealed card during set up and escape from darkness was revealed as our first quest. On the second attempt we could not get abandoned tools (were discarded as a shadow card) and when narrow paths appear we were eliminated by the sudden increase of our threat.

    I wish I would have seen your blog sooner.

Leave a Comment

You can use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

The Shadow Archive