Setting the stage
You have been sent by the White Council to Moria, to deliver a message to Balin and his Dwarven colony. No one has heard from him in a while.
The premise behind the first quest of Khazad-Dûm, Into the Pit, is shaky at best. I find it difficult to imagine what sort of message the White Council might have for a bunch of Dwarves, but that’s not even the most interesting thematic problem to solve here. I’m more concerned about when this quest is set.
Obviously, it must take place sometime after Balin has left Erebor on a quest to reclaim Moria, but also after the White Council has heard about it. I have to just ignore the fact that the last White Council meeting was in TA 2953 but Balin didn’t leave for Moria until TA 2989—that mistake is baked right into the first sentence of the first quest card. For the purposes of this playthrough, I’ll assume that “The White Council” in this case is a stand-in for “wise old people like Galadriel, Elrond, and Gandalf”.
From re-reading the chapters “Many Meetings” and “The Council of Elrond” in The Fellowship of the Ring, it’s not clear to me that Elrond and company were even aware of Balin’s expedition until the Council of Elrond took place in TA 3018. But for the sake of working with what I have been given, I’m going to assume that news of Balin’s ambitions had reached Imladris (by way of Gandalf, perhaps) only a few years after Balin had set out, and that Elrond had Glóin re-explain the story at the council for the sake of the newcomers who were present.
This allows me to set this quest any time between Balin’s departure for Moria (TA 2989) and the Council of Elrond (TA 3018).
The other problem I have to overcome is separating this quest from the next one. Into the Pit ends with the characters interrogating a Goblin, who tells them that Balin is in the Chamber of Records. The original intent of the quest is clearly that the Heroes then proceed up there to find Balin’s dead body, but for the purposes of this blog, I’m instead going to assume that the Heroes go up there and actually find him and his colony still alive, currently holed up in the chamber of records. The Heroes successfully deliver their message, and then leave.
The mechanics of Moria
Nightmare Into the Pit consists of 3 quest stages. The first stage requires that you clear 3 different Locations, in order, with each one adding the next one to the staging area.
These Locations form a narrative wherein the characters start at the East-gate, which has 7 quest points and prevents both optional engagements and engagement checks while active (thematically, this is because all of the Enemies are deeper in). The second Location is the First Hall, which has 2 threat, 2 quest points, and a Travel action that raises each player’s threat by 3. The third Location is the Bridge of Khazad-Dûm, which has 3 threat, 3 quest points, and prevents players from playing any cards while it’s active.
Once all 3 Locations are cleared and 7 progress is put on the first quest stage, the second stage (which has been replaced with a new Stage 2 in the Nightmare version of the quest) brings out a number of Enemies equal to the number of players plus 1, and the Patrol Leader and Patrol Sentry must be among them. This stage is only completed after the same number of Enemies is defeated.
The third and final stage of the quest prevents the players from collecting resources anymore, so it’s basically a mad dash to collect 12 quest points before the encounter deck overwhelms you.
The other key mechanic of the quest is an Objective card called Cave Torch. The Cave Torch can be attached to any Hero at the start of the game, and can be exhausted to place 3 progress tokens on any of the quest’s many Dark Locations, but at a cost: the players must then discard the top card of the encounter deck, and if it’s an Enemy, they have to add it to the staging area. In the Nightmare version of the quest, the Cave Torch can only be used 5 times before it is discarded.
Dark Locations and interactions with the Cave Torch seem to be the mechanic that the designers chose to double-down on when they redesigned this quest in Nightmare mode. Locations abound—many of them Dark, but not all—and you’ll definitely find yourself trying to decide if it’s worth it to blow something away with the Cave Torch at the risk of attracting the attention of nearby Enemies…
You can see all of the encounter cards and their quantities over at The Hall of Beorn.
Building the deck
The plot seed I’m given is that this request is coming from the White Council—which I choose to interpret loosely. The story I’ll go with is this: Gandalf and Elrond are having a conversation about something Gandalf heard in his travels: that Balin has gone back to Moria to reclaim it. Elrond is dubious of Balin’s chances at survival, but Gandalf insists that it would be good to know for sure if they indeed have allies in the Misty Mountains, and convinces the Lord of Imladris to lead an expedition to check up on him.
So that gives me a little focus: I’ll be building a Noldor deck. But what kind of Noldor deck?
As it turns out, I’ve never actually played a traditional “Elrond + Vilya + Imladris Stargazer” deck before. The archetype has been on my mind since a conversation I had with RingsDB member D4rkWolf10. They had built a Noldor-themed Elrond + Vilya deck and wanted my input on it. I suggested, among other things, the Hero lineup of Arwen Undómiel and Galdor of the Havens to go with Elrond to help get the key combo up and running faster. You can find the finalized version of their deck here, if you’re interested in checking it out.
But since I’ve never actually played the combo myself, I figure now is as good a time as any to build a deck around it. So here’s my own take on the Elrond + Vilya deck!
Deck: May the Stars Shine
It is a clear, cold night. The moon casts his beams upon the face of the Lord of Imladris as he looks out across the Bruinen. The Misty Mountains sit proudly upon the Eastern horizon, their bulk dark against the starry sky. Elrond draws a deep breath of the winter air: refreshing, but with a bitter bite to it. “Middle Earth is truly a beautiful home,” he thinks to himself, “but it cannot be home to the Elves much longer.”
Arwen Undómiel (The Dread Realm)
Elrond (Shadow and Flame)
Galdor of the Havens (The Grey Havens)
1x Erestor (The Long Dark)
3x Gandalf (Core Set)
1x Gildor Inglorion (The Hills of Emyn Muil)
1x Glorfindel (Flight of the Stormcaller)
2x Guardian of Rivendell (Flight of the Stormcaller)
3x Imladris Caregiver (Flight of the Stormcaller)
3x Imladris Stargazer (Foundations of Stone)
1x Lindir (The Battle of Carn Dûm)
3x Master of the Forge (Shadow and Flame)
2x Mithlond Sea-watcher (The Grey Havens)
1x Rivendell Minstrel (The Hunt for Gollum)
3x Sailor of Lune (The Grey Havens)
3x Veteran Sword-elf (A Storm on Cobas Haven)
3x Light of Valinor (Foundations of Stone)
3x Vilya (Shadow and Flame)
3x A Test of Will (Core Set)
3x Elrond’s Counsel (The Watcher in the Water)
3x Elven-light (The Dread Realm)
3x Heed the Dream (Flight of the Stormcaller)
1x Lords of the Eldar (The Battle of Carn Dûm)
3x The Evening Star (The Grey Havens)
Player Side Quest (1)
1x Double Back (Escape from Mount Gram)
3 Heroes, 50 Cards
The primary goal of the deck is to get the classic Vilya + Imladris Stargazer combo into play as quickly as possible. For the uninitiated, the combo works like this: Vilya allows me to exhaust Elrond and play the top card of my deck for free. Normally, using Vilya is a gamble—the top card of my deck might be a useless Event like A Test of Will, a second copy of a unique card, or some inexpensive card that I wouldn’t really want to trade Elrond’s beefy stats for.
Imladris Stargazer, however, takes the guesswork out of using Vilya because I can exhaust her to look at and rearrange the top 5 cards of my deck. I can always put the most useful card on top. If none of those cards are worth it, I simply save Elrond’s action that round. No muss, no fuss, no risky gambles.
At the start of the game, I use Galdor’s selective mulligan ability to replace everything that isn’t one of the combo pieces or Heed the Dream. If everything lines up perfectly, I can discard a card to Arwen’s ability in order to be able to play both Vilya and Imladris Stargazer down on turn 1.
Even if I don’t find both cards by turn 1, though, there are plenty of other cards in the deck to help dig through and find the combo ASAP. Once both parts are in play, I can use the Stargazer to put an expensive Ally on top of the deck and then play it for free with Vilya. There are plenty of Allies in the deck to choose from, so I can decide on a turn-by-turn basis whether I’m looking for someone more questing-focused or combat-focused.
If I don’t like what I see on top of the encounter deck, I can always use Master of the Forge to shuffle it up and try again!
While I was writing this article, I noticed something that I had missed while I was designing my deck and playing the quest: This quest starts at the East Gate of Moria. Since Rivendell is West of the Misty Mountains, a Noldor theme makes a little less sense than I had originally envisioned. Perhaps a Silvan theme would have fit better—geographically speaking at least.
That said, there was plenty of interchange between the elves of Imladris and their bretheren East of the Misty Mountains. Perhaps the “White Council” meeting took place in Lothlórien, and Elrond and friends just decided to set out from there.
The Play’s the Thing
Win ratio: 4 / 5 (80%)
Because the East Gate prevents me from engaging Enemies until I clear it, the trick to beating this quest seems to be generating lots of early-game willpower before the staging area builds up too much threat. In most of my games, once I got my combo into place, I was able to do that without much trouble. My only concern was my threat towards the end of the game, which could get a little hot depending on how much Doomed had showed up.
The one game that I lost was due to Vilya never showing up. I had a Stargazer in play on round 1, but Elrond’s ring was nowhere to be found. To make matters worse, most of my high-willpower Allies had bubbled to the bottom of my deck as well, and after a few rounds the encounter deck outpaced me and I threatted out.
I used the Cave Torch several times in each game to help clear Locations from the staging area without having to travel to them (often in conjunction with The Evening Star). The usage limit on the Cave Torch for the Nightmare version of the quest made it more interesting to decide whether or not to use it, which was nice. I never felt that I needed it more than thrice, though, so I was never in any real danger of losing it.
And so ends the elves’ final journey among the pillared halls of Khazad-dûm. Having delivered his message to Balin, Elrond returned with his entourage to Imladris, leaving the dwarves to their hard work of clearing the Orcs from Moria. I’m sure something in the back of Elrond’s mind told him that the dwarves were in over their heads, but the stubbornness of dwarves is legendary, and nothing he could say would have swayed them from their foolhardy mission.
I liked the changes that the designers made to this quest for Nightmare mode—putting a greater emphasis on Dark Locations felt like the right call, and it definitely added depth to the quest. Even so, this isn’t my favorite quest from this cycle. Many of the Enemies are easily circumvented by using the Cave Torch sparingly, and while the Cave Torch was an interesting wrinkle, it wasn’t really enough to carry the quest on its own.
What do you think, dear readers? How does Into the Pit rank against the other quests of Khazad-dûm and the Dwarrowdelf cycle? If Into the Pit isn’t your flagon of ale either, fear not, for the cycle is just getting started. Next week I’ll be taking a bunch of Dwarves into Nightmare The Seventh Level, considered by many to be one of the best quests in the game!