Murder at the Prancing Pony, like Ruins of Belegost, really did well at the point which is probably the most important aspect of a GenCon or Fellowship event quest – it’s memorable. It really stands out as being not quite like anything else, so I guess the basic design philosophy behind the two event quests in 2015 was something like “Let’s do something totally different and kind of offbeat compared to the rest of the game.”
Like Ruins of Belegost, Murder at the Prancing Pony really sets a different sort of tone to most of the rest of the quests in the game. But where Belegost made the difference in terms of the morality of the quest (it being a more selfish goal), in the case of Prancing Pony it’s a question of the scale and the stakes – while catching a murderer is certainly a good thing, it’s a lower level thing, we’re not fighting the forces of Sauron, just a minor criminal in Bree. As far as the story goes, this sort of investigation could be seen as similar to The Steward’s Fear, but while failing to stop a conspiracy in Minas Tirith aimed at weakening Gondor’s defences against the onslaught of Mordor could have dire ramifications for the coming War of the Ring, failing to catch a murderer in Bree at most means that maybe some other people in Bree might get murdered. That’s bad, but it’s not going to really shake up the world of Middle Earth.
Mechanically, of course, the quest has little to do with Steward’s Fear – although both have some significance to exploring the active location as a means of investigating, where in Steward’s Fear it adds the resources to the quest to move towards advancing and the Underworld mechanic pulls out enemies; meanwhile here the Investigate keyword is what lets you gradually deduce who you’re looking for and where. They also both give significant replay value based on divergent routes through the quest, with the Plot and Villain in Steward’s Fear; and the Suspect and Hideout in Murder at the Prancing Pony. Both quests are very good, both can have their difficulties, both made it into the top 8 when Seastan ran the Quest Championship, so this is nothing like the gulf between Lonely Mountain and Belegost.
The particular mechanic for this quest is the Investigate keyword and the accompanying Investigation deck which we check (via the keyword) over the course of the game to try and determine which Suspect and Hideout we’re dealing with by process of elimination. It’s essentially Cluedo, integrated into the LotR LCG. Since exploring active locations is a standard thing, I don’t really need to do anything to make that work for me.
As to how I build for it, firstly I should mention that the relevant card pool here is up to Treachery of Rhudaur. Secondly, this quest for the most part is pretty well balanced. The enemies aren’t particularly out there, location control can certainly be useful but it doesn’t need to be a big focus, it’s mostly just your standard sort of stuff with one big exception that tends to be the make or break factor for this quest: threat reduction. There are many effects in this quest which raise your threat, so you need to be able to keep it under control. Ally Elfhelm in particular can be incredibly useful for this quest. I considered a Caldara deck, which could certainly get Elfhelm into play easily enough, but glancing down my list of unused player cards from past boxes there were a couple of ideas which rather suggested themselves and would’ve been tricky to fit in alongside Caldara.
Men of the Westfold
Westfold Horse-breeder x3
West Road Traveller x3
Escort from Edoras x3
Snowbourn Scout x3
Warden of Helm’s Deep x3
The Riddermark’s Finest x2
Dunedain Warning x3
Ancient Mathom x3
A Good Harvest x3
A Test of Will x3
Mustering the Rohirrim x3
Helm! Helm! x2
Ride Them Down x2
Thoughts: Since Land of Shadow I’ve been looking for an opportunity to do a proper Rohan thing with Gamling and Snowmane, and hoping to fit in Helm! Helm! It hasn’t helped that it’s a deck type I’ve never really gotten to work that well, but I think I have managed to put together something workable here, albeit it kind of depends on a little assistance from the other deck to run at full power.
Once again I’ve omitted Steward of Gondor. I don’t think this was a deliberate decision to challenge myself by omitting it from my decks for both these PoD quests, though that may have factored in. In this case though, one problem I have had with trying to make Rohan work has been lack of deckspace for all the things I want to put in (and a shortage of card draw means I don’t want to go oversized). Admittedly another problem I’ve had has been having enough resources, but the other deck can help out there enough that it works pretty reasonably. If I wanted this deck to be viable independently of the other I’d probably have to put Steward in it though.
Elfhelm isn’t a card I’d make a x3 in general, but he’s a really big deal in this quest, so I want him in play as early as possible. And stacking up more Rohan allies, up to half the deck, means I should be getting full value out of Theoden. Gamling has some good targets – The Riddermark’s Finest is a favourite of mine, but I can also go for Escort from Edoras for more willpower, Hama for more defence, or Helm! Helm! to take out an enemy if I’m getting swarmed, most likely triggered with a Horse-breeder or Snowbourn Scout.
You’ll note that there are very few Leadership cards in the deck – that’s why I have A Good Harvest, so Erkenbrand can potentially contribute to some Spirit cards instead, but he can also obviously shell out for the Wardens of Helm’s Deep or of course the neutral Shadowfax, both of which are on the more expensive side. Dunedain Warnings are of course intended to be played on Erkenbrand, since he’ll probably need his defence up a bit if he’s going to defend the Suspect once I find them.
Ride Them Down is potentially useful in general since I can accumulate a sizeable amount of willpower, but it’s in particularly as a quest-specific thing – on stage 2, there’s a Forced effect which triggers when you place progress on the stage by questing successfully, so if I can avoid actually putting progress there because e.g. it was replaced by damage on an enemy, I avoid triggering the Forced effect. Considering that, I can’t recall why I didn’t include side-quests – Double Back while a good fit would run the risk of being blocked by Ramshackle Manor, but Send for Aid and Gather Information could be really useful. I was probably thinking of stage 1, where you really don’t want to hang around.
Even with Horse-breeders, Mustering the Rohirrim and Ancient Mathoms (which I will always try to target on this deck), card draw is probably still this deck’s greatest weakness, followed by, in spite of the Theoden discount, resource generation. Fortunately the other deck includes means to help with both of those problems.
Galadriel’s Handmaiden x3
Curious Brandybuck x3
Warden of Healing x3
Bilbo Baggins x2
Arwen Undomiel x1
Good Meal x3
Gandalf’s Staff x3
Wizard Pipe x3
Hobbit Pipe x3
Unexpected Courage x3
Expert Treasure-hunter x3
Daeron’s Runes x3
A Test of Will x3
The Galadhrim’s Greeting x3
Smoke Rings x3
Free to Choose x2
Hidden Cache x2
Thoughts: I’ve brought out Pipes at least a couple of time before – it’s a natural direction for me if I’m going for threat reduction – but this time I’m going the whole hog with Gandalf/Wizard Pipe and therefore capping it off with Smoke Rings. Besides having a bunch of threat reduction, this deck doesn’t actually do too much. It quests a little, Gandalf can participate in combat especially once he gets Shadowfax from the other deck, and Quickbeam can throw in some attack, but nothing too spectacular. What this deck can do though is support. Gandalf’s Staff provides additional Spirit resources for the Rohan deck, while Gleowine draws it more cards. Wardens of Healing keep Erkenbrand going, and Unexpected Courage lets him do more.
And that’s more or less it, the rest of the deck is really just focused on ensuring those things can be played in a timely fashion – with Gandalf/Expert Treasure-hunter and Hobbit Pipes, this deck draws incredibly fast, and a slight problem I had in testing of running short on Spirit resources was neatly solved by the addition of the Hidden Caches, which of course I can trigger consistently with Wizard Pipe and ETH. The Curious Brandybucks are in specifically as an option for when I completely run out my deck, since they return to the bottom of said deck when the active location is explored and thus give me a chance to continue using the Wizard Pipe at that point.
Free to Choose I might not have included in another quest, but there are enough threat raises in this quest that I can be pretty confident of having opportunity to use it, and it will of course trigger Hobbit Pipes.
This fellowship could potentially have problems early on, but once established should have very little to worry about, and the decks are set up to work very well together. Mostly just powering up the Rohan deck to do everything, but hey, just focusing on making one deck powerful is a viable 2-player strategy a lot of the time.
Youtube: Murder at the Prancing Pony