Helm’s Deep epic multiplayer adaptation

Welcome to the internet home for Helm’s Deep Epic Multiplayer, a fan adaption. If you’re a fan of poisoned councils, endless orcs, staying up all night in the rain, having your text boxes blanked, and dying alongside your friends, then I question your sanity. But you’ve come to the right place! Put on some ill-fitting armor and sharpen your blade. You may have seen too many winters or too few, but you are needed up on that wall. Saruman’s army will be here by nightfall.

All the files for this can be found here:  https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/1xDARCQ-7rAEMfduTHIT9PdQZBlnKqZu2?usp=sharing  This includes the .txt files you need to load up in DragnCards to play there, one for each different stage, as well as card images in both regular and printable versions.

For a direct link to printing on makeplayingcards.com, click here:  https://www.makeplayingcards.com/design/dn_temporary_parse.aspx?id=D95E8222D22198DF36CB9B76945F9DC4BE0598DA056BF8A2F03B6AC3A299C96206000D2C10C8FA3F

Design Notes

We started working on the design in the Fall of 2020, fresh off the heels of making A Storm on Cobas Haven. (link there) When we were first thinking of good quests to turn into epic multiplayer, Helm’s Deep was always near the top of the list, but we wanted to get some experience under our belts first, so we started with something less iconic. I’m glad we did because finding the right balance for Helm’s Deep took an awful lot of work. I do think we found it, and I’m immensely proud of the end result.

The original Helm’s Deep quest is fantastically designed, with the Defense keyword flipping everything around in the quest stage. Instead of questing against the encounter deck, the encounter deck is trying to make progress against you. This makes for a great challenge, but it does leave a few loopholes players can exploit to make this quest a whole lot easier. Helm’s Deep was released to the world before side quests were introduced as a player card, so when those came out, players could suddenly play and choose a side quest as a current quest, fail to quest completely, and like magic the orcs would complete your side quest for you. Brilliant! And totally unthematic. And I’d say if you’re playing this way, you’re really not playing the quest at all.

Another way people like to beat this quest is with well-timed location control effects. Asfaloth being a perfect example. Since the players are trying to HOLD the active location rather than explore it, when they are successful, locations can pile up in the staging area, building up the pressure the players are facing in trying to hold their stage. Each location has a Forced effect that triggers something nasty when they leave play, but some of them only last until the end of the round, so if you can clear them in the refresh phase, their effect whiffs. This does fit within the original quest design but has always felt unthematic to me. Just how is it exactly that Asfaloth (alone!) is eliminating the threat of that postern door? Trying to figure out what to do with this, I took a look at everything that passes for location control in the player card pool and found almost nothing that made thematic sense in this quest. (The closest I came was Path of Need on the active location, but that was TOO powerful in this quest, far beyond its design intent.) So, to simplify things and to make players actually face the weight of the quest, we made ALL locations immune to player card effects. And no side quests allowed either! You’re going to need to earn your victory here the hard way and play this quest with all the challenge it was intended to bring.

Those fixes made the individual playing experience better, in my opinion, but this is epic multiplayer. How do we make everyone interact with each other? Our core idea here is that your active location is “linked” to the other stages, and what happens to you at that location will affect everyone else with a copy of that location in their staging area. So if my team is at a Deeping Wall, and I successfully defend it through the quest phase, each other team can negate the threat of one Deeping Wall in their staging area next round. Conversely, if my team fails to defend it and it is explored by the orcs, each other team with a copy of that location in their staging area will discard one copy of it and resolve its Forced effect, which is unpleasant. Your success or failure at your location has ripple effects all across the other teams in this battle, and the same is true for their active locations and your staging area. You’re all in this together, and as a group, you’re going to have to fight for every inch of ground in Helm’s Deep.

These effects all take place during a new, universal travel phase. Each team will pause from playing after they complete their quest phase and join together to resolve the travel phase together. There’s a whole checklist of effects to work through together, starting with everything to do with quest stages locations. Did one team lose their quest stage? I’m sorry, but you’re all going to have to retreat from your current stage and join them; otherwise, you’ll die with a flank exposed like that! Next up is locations, who lost ground, who held it, and how that affects all the other teams. Teams without an active location will need to travel to a new one, if possible, one that no other team is defending. And then, finally, the orcs make progress against a location that no team is defending. Ouch! This whole section is usually just a bunch of bad news for the players, and you just hope no team is in major trouble after it ends, but usually, there’s some team who is really hurting by the end of this.

That’s when we get to the far more enjoyable part of the travel phase, the Multiplayer Travel Actions card. This card is filled with ways to help each other out. There’s one copy of Fellowship Aragorn moving around from group to group who can spend resources to ready any hero in play, which goes a long way towards solving combat problems. And each team has a limited amount of powerful actions they can trigger to help out the other teams, like sniping an enemy in the staging area, canceling an attack with a sentinel defender, or even sending a warden of helm’s deep over to help them out permanently. (The limits on these were added during playtesting when we learned if teams could do these every round, the encounter deck never could catch up.) If all that isn’t enough and a team still needs help, once per game, each team can “lend” out a hero they control to another team for an entire round. Is your stage in good shape, and you’ll be fine this round? Send your tower of Beregond over to that one team who’s overrun! In my most recent game, I was able to send Cirdan with Narya over to another team with ents who needed some help. In another game, I saw tactics Eowyn head over to a new stage and take out three enemies there, along with Aragorn’s readying help.

Usually, there are enough choices on the Multiplayer Travel Action card to give each team that’s hurting a fighting chance in combat. Helping out another team may hinder your team’s ability to gain full control of your board state, but it’s better than watching another team collapse and take Helm’s Deep’s defenses down with them. As a group, you’ve got to last 8 rounds together to survive the night and make it to dawn and stage five. I won’t spoil what we did with stage five for you, other than to say we read this part of the book very closely when putting it together. Hopefully, when you play it, you’ll be able to see that for yourself.

Playthroughs

Creating Helm’s Deep Epic Multiplayer was a labor of love and took close to a year to complete. Many different people helped build and playtest it, providing invaluable feedback, suggestions, and most of all, encouragement along the way. We first shared it with the world in June 2021, holding a massive youtube event with three different teams of three learning the quest together and playing. They found themselves cornered in the first game, where they learned the value of choosing your starting location wisely and restarted a new game. This game was a hard-fought battle whose ending came down to the wire. You can find the videos of each individual game here:

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