Having completed my Nightmarish defense of Gondor, I now find myself heading through the lands of Rohan on a summons to meet the wizard Saruman. Nightmare The Voice of Isengard will see me performing a series of tasks under the banner of the White Hand in an effort to further the goals of the Free Peoples—or at least the goals of the ever-benevolent White Wizard. I’m looking forward to finding out what Nightmares this cycle has in store for me!
This is one of my favorite parts of the Thematic Nightmare series: the period leading up to a new cycle. During this time, I sit back and think about the cycle as a whole, and try to sketch out a rough guideline for the sorts of decks I might be building as I go along. Ideally, I like to ensure I have a diversity of different sorts of decks—both distinct from what I was building last cycle, and distinct from one another within the cycle.
Usually I do this by pinpointing the location of each of the nine quests on the map of Middle Earth, and then thinking about what sorts of people might be adventuring in those regions. If the cycle ends up being too homogeneous, then I think about the events that occurred in those regions during The Lord of the Rings and see if I can build decks to represent those things to shake it up a bit.
But I’ve run into a bit of a problem with this cycle.
It takes place in the middle of nowhere
Well, that’s not entirely true. But most of it takes place in and around Dunland:
There aren’t a lot of famous landmarks to help orient this section of the map. In the bottom right is the Gap of Rohan. The native Dunlandings have a history of war with the Rohirrim—and for that reason you probably wouldn’t find Rohirrim exploring the North-South road very often during the Third Age. To the East is Moria, once a great city of the Dwarves who used to crisscross across this region, trading with the elves who lived in Eregion. But both of those civilizations have collapsed by the Third Age and now stand abandoned.
The only foothold I can really get here lies in the upper-left corner of this map: The Shire. In fact, it is said that Hobbits used to live in the rolling hills of Dunland long ago, before they migrated Northwards and settled in The Shire and The Angle. Of course, the Hobbits of the Third Age aren’t really much for travelling anymore. I guess I won’t be taking the Hobbits to Isengard.
But do you know what group of people lives near the Hobbits that does have a penchant for wandering around in hostile territory? The Dúnedain.
But they already have a cycle
The next cycle, The Lost Realm / Angmar Awakened is set solidly within Dúnedain territory. I’ll definitely get bored if I’m stuck doing two cycles in a row full of Rangers. I’m going to need a little more than just Dúnedain to get me through this. Clearly the map itself isn’t going to be enough; I’m going to have to turn back to this cycle’s narrative for guidance.
The first quest opens with our Heroes leaving Rohan when they are ambushed by Dunlandings. After dealing with the threat, they are led by Gríma (who was among the defenders) to Isengard, where they join forces with the wizened wizard Saruman and agree to help him with some errands.
Clearly characters with the Isengard trait make a good fit for this cycle, so I’ll make as much use of them as possible. But there aren’t many of them, so I need more. I think it stands to reason that Rohan characters might be along for the journey as well, seeing as the whole thing starts in Rohan in the first place (even if it leaves pretty quickly). Plus, the plot of The Voice of Isengard / Ringmaker has this whole dramatic irony thing going on, and it would seem especially poetic if Saruman were to send Rohirrim to do his bidding even as he was plotting their very demise.
So I guess that’s my answer
With the exception of one quest (try to guess which one) I’ll be playing through this cycle with a strange combination of Dúnedain, Isengard, and Rohan characters. For the sake of continuity, I’m going to do my best to avoid any of the big-name Rohan characters during this cycle; after all, sending the King of Rohan (armed to the teeth and mounted on his best horse, no less) into Dunland seems akin to a declaration of war. But in general, those are the traits I’m going to try riffing off of the most. It’ll be interesting to see how well (or poorly) those traits combine mechanically, and whether or not I can even squeeze cohesive themes out of them.
If I’m really lucky, maybe a storyline will emerge from this playthrough that can be read as a single narrative! Or maybe it will be a bizarre, sloppy mess. Either way, I’m sure it will be fun!
I’ll be heading back to my Path Less Traveled to tackle the first quest of Khazad-dûm, Into the Pit, with nothing more than a Core Set to light my way. Then I’ll be diving into the first quest of The Voice of Isengard with Nightmare The Fords of Isen. Stay tuned!
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