At the edge of a cursed forest, the Boar Shaman explains that you must undertake three trials in order to recover the Antlered Crown, or face death. Each trial will test your worthiness. Guardian spirits watch over three sacred swords, protecting them from the undeserving.
Having survived the perils of The Dunland Trap, our Heroes find themselves facing a completely different kind of challenge. In a plot twist that—let’s face it, feels a little contrived—the Dunlandings of the Boar Clan agree to let us go under one condition: we must face The Three Trials and bring back the fabled Antlered Crown, an item that would bestow the right to rule over all of Dunland upon the Boar Clan! Retrieving the crown is a task much easier said than done, however, since the artifact is guarded by the unquiet spirits of the ancient Dunlandings, cursed to ever protect it from the unworthy.
As the name implies, the bulk of The Three Trials consists of three Quest cards. The players can choose to undertake these Stages in any order. Each Stage forces the players to face one of three random Guardian Enemies at one of three random Barrow Locations, in order to claim one of the keys of one of the three tribes of Dunland: Raven, Boar, and Wolf. Each quest card requires a different procedure in order to claim its key.
During the Trial of Strength, the players must defeat the Guardian Enemy to claim its Key, and they are forced to endure the effects of the Barrow Location without being allowed to travel to it. The Trial of Perseverance is the opposite, requiring that the players clear the Barrow, but not permitting them to deal any damage to the Guardian. The Trial of Intuition causes the Key to be shuffled into the final 10 cards of the encounter deck, with progress on the quest allowing the players to discard cards from the top of the deck. They may claim the Key whenever it is either revealed or discarded in this way. In the Nightmare version of the Quest you may neither defeat the Guardian nor clear the Barrow during this trial. Choosing the order of the Trials is an important strategic decision.
Importantly, however, the players do not know ahead of time which Guardian and Barrow they will face at each step of the journey. Each one has its own unique effects to test the players’ resolve.
The Barrow Locations have fairly high quest points, and they each have a nasty ability that causes trouble as long as they’re in play. The Hill Barrow gives the Guardian an extra Shadow Card each round, and has a whopping 4 threat to boot. The Cave Barrow limits the players to having no more than 5 Allies in play total. The Stone Barrow raises your threat by the Guardian’s threat every time it attacks you.
So what about the Guardians? Text on the Quest stages ensure that they stay engaged with the players despite their 50 engagement cost, and they’re immune to Attachments (although not all player card effects, so consider bringing along Feint). Each one has a Time effect designed to wreck your board state every few rounds, and in the Nightmare version of the quest they continue to contribute their threat to the Staging Area, even when they’re engaged. Talk about mean!
The Raven’s Guardian has the lowest attack of the bunch, the highest threat, and the lowest combined HP + defense (but the highest base defense, clocking in at a whopping 5) and every 4 turns it deals 1 damage to each character in play. The Boar’s Guardian has the lowest threat, but is the middle-of-the-road Guardian when it comes to combat stats. It discards an Ally every 2 rounds, though, which is probably the worst of the Time effects of the three. The Wolf’s Guardian has middle-of-the road threat, but the highest attack and best combined HP + defense. It gets to put those strong stats to use by getting an extra attack every 3 turns.
Each of these Enemies is tough on its own, but it gets even worse once you’ve collected all three Keys. All of the Guardians rise from the Victory Display to block you from reaching the final Location, the Hallowed Circle, which must be cleared in order to win. Each Guardian engages whichever player holds the matching Key, and gets an immediate attack against you when you travel to the Hallowed Circle if you don’t put them back down again first.
Once you manage to clear the Hallowed Circle’s 12 quest points, you can claim the Antlered Crown for the Boar Clan, and are free to go.
As if that wasn’t enough
To reinforce the theme of this being a tough task meant for heroic individuals, this Quest has a mechanical subtheme that doesn’t appear anywhere else: it punishes you for using Non-Unique characters. Curse of the Wild Men is a lot like the dreaded The Necromancer’s Reach from the Core Set, but it only affects Non-Unique characters. Trial of Ancestors is a Condition Attachment that gives Non-Unique characters -1 willpower and prevents them from attacking Enemies that match the tribe of current Trial, many times making them all but useless.
Even worse are the new Spirit Enemies added to the Nightmare version of the quest. They’re tough in and of themselves, often with high attack values and requiring a total of 7 attack to kill in one hit. But their real power is that they buff one stat for other Enemies that match their tribe—including the Guardians. This can make a tough boss Enemy even worse, and things can quickly spiral out of hand if you happen to get two of the same Spirit at once!
There are plenty of other nasty surprises in the encounter deck, but in the end it all adds up to this: you’re going to be facing some really tough Boss Enemies all game, and the rest of the encounter deck isn’t going to cut you any breaks either. You’re going to need a solid defense plan, and fast. This quest will test every ounce of your mettle, so make sure you come prepared!
You can see all of the encounter cards over at the Hall of Beorn.
Deck: Help Unlooked For
Theme: The Rohirrim meet some Dúnedain in Dunland…
“A little apart the Rangers sat, silent, in an ordered company, armed with spear and bow and sword. They were clad in cloaks of dark grey, and their hoods were cast now over helm and head. Their horses were strong and of proud bearing, but rough-haired.”
—The Passing of the Grey Company, The Return of the King
Amarthiúl (The Battle of Carn Dûm)
Elfhelm (Temple of the Deceived)
Éowyn (Core Set)
3x Andrath Guardsman (The Mûmakil)
2x Ceorl (Temple of the Deceived)
3x Gandalf (Core Set)
1x Halbarad (The Flame of the West)
3x Ranger of Cardolan (The Wastes of Eriador)
3x Snowbourn Scout (Core Set)
3x Steward of Orthanc (Race Across Harad)
3x Weather Hills Watchman (The Lost Realm)
3x Westfold Horse-breeder (The Voice of Isengard)
3x Armored Destrier (Temple of the Deceived)
3x Dúnedain Mark (The Hunt for Gollum)
3x Dúnedain Remedy (The Drowned Ruins)
3x Dúnedain Warning (Conflict at the Carrock)
3x Unexpected Courage (Core Set)
2x Windfola (A Storm on Cobas Haven)
3x Feint (Core Set)
3x Taste it Again! (The Land of Shadow)
3x Well Warned (The Sands of Harad)
3 Heroes, 50 Cards
When I first started this cycle, I spent a little time musing on what themes I might want to use for my decks. I didn’t want to spend an entire cycle building decks upon the same basic theme (a lesson I learned from my experiences with the first cycle). So, I decided that our Rohirric Heroes would eventually be joined by some Dúnedain. Since this quest marks the halfway point in the story, this seemed like an appropriate spot to add them in.
So here’s my headcanon for the deck: I like the idea that the cursed burial grounds of the ancient Dunlandings are also guarded by a troupe of Dúnedain who keep people from accidentally wandering in there. Perhaps after Chief Turch sends the Rohirrim into the mists, they begin seeing Dúnedain Signals etched into the rocks—Marks that serve as a Warning to those who might have wandered into the dangerous land by accident. Well-warned though they are, the Rohirrim have a mission to complete, and they continue their advance anyway.
Seeing a group of foreign folk wandering heedless into harm’s way, the troupe of Dúnedain who are watching from their hiding places rush in to save them—but too late, for the Trials have already begun! And as so the Rangers of the West end up entangled with the fate of the Horse-lords for the rest of the cycle.
Since this cycle is all about Saruman weaving his wicked threads unbeknownst to the rest of the Wise of Middle Earth, I’ve been trying my best to keep Gandalf out of my decks. After all, if he caught wind of what Saruman was doing, it’d be that much harder for Saruman to be able to pull the wool over everyone’s eyes later.
For a long time, I tried leaving him out of this particular deck, but I just couldn’t quite manage a win without him. As soon as I added him, he solved a lot of the problems that I was having. He instantly fixed my midgame stallouts with his card draw and allowed me to score some solid wins.
I think I’ll thematically justify it to myself this way: this card represents news or advice from Gandalf, rather than a physical appearance by the Grey Wizard himself. Perhaps the Dúnedain have been in contact with him recently, and can put some of his wisdom to use in completing the Trials.
This is a Voltron Amarthiúl deck, through and through.
My #1 priority is to get an Armored Destrier into play on Amarthiúl. With Amarthiúl’s bonus Tactics resource icon, Elfhelm boosts both his defense and attack to 4 and the Destrier lets him ready during combat to get good use out of both stats. The whole deck is built around this engine, so I use my mulligan unless I have either the Destrier or a Westfold Horse-breeder (to help fetch the Destrier) in hand. If I don’t manage to find a Destrier in my first couple of rounds, I’m pretty much toast.
Most of the deck’s Attachments go on Amarthiúl, too, turning him into a one-man combat machine. The only exception is Windfola, who goes on Éowyn, essentially granting a +2 to Willpower for 1 resource (once Elfhelm’s bonus is taken into account). She and Elfhelm quest every round, and the Allies in the deck serve whatever function I need most at any given time—I alternately use them for questing, additional attack power, and as chump blockers.
By the end of the game, Amarthiúl should have two copies of Armored Destrier, a few copies of Unexpected Courage, as well as some Signals attached. At that point, he’s capable of handling the combat phase all on his own, defending the entire board (only suffering one or two Shadow Effects) and then attacking back for 5 or 6. And when the going gets tough, I can get even more utility out of him with Events like Taste it again!.
The play’s the thing
Win ratio: 2 / 8
This is one tough quest!
In all, I went through 24 different revisions of my deck before I found something that was actually capable of winning against this quest in solo—and that’s not even counting the handful of completely different deck designs I tried out when I was first getting started. I was definitely not expecting this one to trip me up for so long, but in hindsight it makes perfect sense.
The way is shut
The Three Trials is one of those quests that scales unevenly based on the number of players you have. During the first three Stages of the Quest, you’re always dealing with one big boss Enemy. In multiplayer, you can spread the punishment around a bit, with each player only having to deal with its big attack every few rounds. But in solo, you’re going to be tanking that big guy round after round after round, with no reprieve—in addition to having to deal with whatever other Enemies come out of the encounter deck. Oh, and you have to keep up with questing, too.
The Barrow Locations also punish solo players since they contribute a fixed amount of threat to the Staging Area. They’re much easier to deal with if you add more players since they can generate larger amounts of willpower on turn 1. And in Nightmare, the Guardian continues to add its threat as well, only compounding this problem. For what it’s worth, the effect on Cave Barrow is significantly worse at higher player counts, restricting the players as a group to having no more than 5 Allies in play total—but this is the only such effect in the quest where the Quest leans in the solo player’s favor.
The uneven scaling of this Quest is most apparent when you reach the final Stage, and all three Guardians return from the Victory Display to harry you again. If you thought it was tough to take on one boss Enemy at a time, try taking on three! In multiplayer, you can share the burden evenly, but in solo, you’re all alone.
The hour is come at last
It took more than my preferred 5 tries to get 2 wins, but I did eventually find a way to beat this Quest, and Armored Destrier was absolutely key.
One of the things I noticed during my many, many replays of this quest was that worst Shadow Effect was The Guardian’s Fury, which gives the Guardian an extra attack. This card often messed up my careful calculations and forced me to take an undefended attack or lose my opportunity to strike back at my foes. The other Shadow Effect that sometimes cost me games was the one on Wild Tenacity, which deals out extra Shadow Cards to Guardians (sometimes giving them the extra attack bonuses needed to break through Amarthiúl’s defense and kill him). Importantly, both of these cards do nothing when dealt to a non-Guardian Enemy.
With the Armored Destrier, I could discard the Guardian‘s Shadow Card before it was revealed, meaning I could reliably count how many attacks I was going to have to defend, and roughly whether or not Amarthiúl’s defense score would be enough for any given attack. In order for the Destrier to do its thing, though, I had to keep at least one other Enemy around (preferably a Spirit of the Wild, but I couldn’t afford to be picky) to defend first. Once set up, I could greatly reduce the randomness of combat over the course of the game, allowing me to ensure that my mega-defender would survive to the endgame.
Even with this tactic in place, I still lost two of my games to unruly Shadow Effects. Both of those losses took place during the final Stage of the quest, after managing to kill off two of the three Guardian Enemies, with victory nearly in sight. The problem was the Travel effect on Hallowed Circle, which caused the final remaining Guardian to attack by itself, meaning I couldn’t possibly defend another Enemy first to discard its Shadow Card. In both of these heartbreaking games the Guardian ended up getting a bonus to its attack big enough to kill Amarthiúl, and I didn’t have enough juice left in the deck to survive beyond his death.
My other losses weren’t so close, and often involved the encounter deck pulling off some nasty combos. In two different games, the Wolf’s Guardian enlisted the aid of a Wolf Spirit before I managed to find a Dúnedain Warning to boost Amarthiúl’s defense. He couldn’t survive their beatings for long, and my Heroes quickly ended up folding under the pressure.
In another game I had a similar problem, but with a different tribe: Raven’s Guardian. It was the first round of the game, and I had randomly selected Raven’s Guardian at the Hill Barrow—the highest possible starting threat. My first encounter draw added a Raven Spirit to the mix, starting me out with a very nasty 12 threat in the Staging Area on round 1. My next encounter reveal was yet another Raven Spirit. I got threat-locked, perpetually failed the quest, and threatted out in no time.
Not all of my games ended in tragedy, however! Through my many attempts at beating this quest, I honed a strategy that was able to take me all the way through the Trials and live to tell about it. I landed on always taking the Trials in a particular order. First was the Trial of Intuition, since it allowed me to travel to the Barrow Location, getting it out of the Staging Area in the early game when generating willpower was hardest. Second was the Trial of Perseverence, since it took the longest to win, and therefore was my opportunity to turtle in the midgame and build up my board state. Third was the Trial of Strength, allowing me to precisely control when I killed the Guardian, only moving on to the final Stage when I was good and ready.
If I timed things right, I could have some extra attack power lying around after killing the Guardian so that I could take out a second Guardian as soon as they all came back out again. In any case, I always aimed to kill at least two of the three Guardians during the final Stage before traveling to the Hallowed Circle, keeping their extra attacks to a minimum.
Another strategy I learned was to stack all of the Keys on Elfhelm. This was because I was bound to turn over a copy of Cursed Burden at some point during the game. Without any Condition removal, any Hero holding a Key was liable to become less and less useful as the game went on. I couldn’t risk losing Éowyn’s willpower, and I used Amarthiúl for just about everything else—so that left Elfhelm as the guy carrying the cursed ring of keys the whole game.
Things didn’t always go as planned, but when they did, and I managed to place that final progress on the Hallowed Circle and win the game—victory felt so good.
This Quest stymied me for a long time (hence the delayed article) but I still enjoyed figuring out how to defeat it. The Nightmare upgrade definitely cranked up the difficulty, and the addition of the three new Spirit Enemies that buff their associated Guardian was a fun and thematic way to do that. The new Nightmare cards do a good job of expanding upon the themes introduced in the original in challenging and interesting ways.
It’s not a quest I’m likely to return to as a solo experience any time soon, but the next time I find the opportunity to play in a four-player game, Nightmare The Three Trials will definitely be on my shortlist for the evening.
Next on Darkling Door…
Phew, what a roadblock that quest was! I’m hoping to continue on to Nightmare Trouble in Tharbad next, but after that gauntlet I may decide to start in on something a little lighter instead; I’ll play it by ear.
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