I know we are a few months into 2023 by now, but we finally finished the loot from last year after having had some delays with the internal layout and designs, as well as some personal issues that forced us to take some more time for this project. But I am finally happy with the results and am going to be using this article to go through my thought process for the loot and show you some concepts we went through until we reached the final product. This is the second article on the 2022 loot since I already released an article back in October going through the entire process of the art I commissioned for the loot that year. This article will go through the thought process behind the contents of the book and how we went from the idea to the final product.
This process started well over a year ago, in January 2022. I was in a brainstorming session with myself, trying to come up with ideas that would be unique and still useful to the community. We have gotten a lot of amazing stuff over the years from several community members, and I wanted to make sure I wasn’t going to steal anyone’s idea. So it had to be something that fitted the blog well, and with the cycle scenario analyses coming to a close around that time, the idea of a summary for all quests came to mind. This would be bundled into a book in which players could easily get the necessary info from all of the articles, even when they are offline.
Of course, just a summary of the quests wouldn’t be enough, so I expanded on the idea with things to add to the pages and to the book itself. I had already implemented several useful pages to the playthrough book I made in 2021, so I could copy some of those pages in to fill out the book. I also came up with challenges for many quests, so I created a spreadsheet for other people to add their challenges to so that we could get enough challenges for each quest. We ended up with two such challenges per quest, ranging from easier setup changes to granting immunity to certain encounter cards.
The other idea I wanted to implement was to have a tracker on the back of the book so that players can keep track of their threat, progress, and other statistics during their game. This had already been done before by Cardboard of the Rings in 2020, but many people missed out on this. Apparently, I was not the only one with this idea since the COTR crew brought back their trackers on their 2022 playmats. Still, having a small book with the tracker on it might be preferable to some players, so I continued with the idea. The problem with having the tracker on a book is that the book would have to be a hardcover to prevent pages from curling into one direction and any tokens from falling off. But since a hardcover would stand out well against the paperback playthrough logs, I wasn’t against the idea.
First prototype (cover)
So first, prototypes had to be made in order to see if a hardcover would work and how the printing quality turned out. I had decided to stick to the same printing company as last year’s books, as they were reasonably priced but with an easy-to-use system to assemble the pages and order the books. The hardcover book would look a bit dull if it had nothing but a title and a stat tracker, so I commissioned some artwork that I thought would look really cool on it. I have written an entire article on that, which you can read here: Artwork of the VOTP swag 2022.
When the art was ready, I couldn’t really wait for the rest of the book to be done; I wanted to see the artwork on the book right away. So I slotted in some playthrough log pages and ordered the book. When it arrived, I noticed some loose pages that were falling out of the binding. For a playthrough log, this didn’t really matter, as I could use the loose pages for conventions or hand them out to other people. But with the actual book, the pages should really be in order, as players would need to find the specific quest that they need info for. But I would have to wait for the second prototype to see if this was a one-off issue or if this would compromise the final product.
In the meantime, I had the time to prepare the rest of the packages. I tend to send a handwritten note with every package I send for a more personal touch for the recipient. But with over 70 people signed up for the loot this year, there were a lot of letters to write. It has also been a while since I have written a lot of text by hand, so it was pretty straining for my hand to write more than 5 letters in a row. So I took a month to finish all of them and add a personal touch to the supporters I knew a little bit better. I realize at the time of writing this article that those letters have aged by half a year, but hopefully, the contents are still relevant.
The pages of the book took the longest to design and went through several phases. There were some ideas cut because it would have been difficult to represent things like card-type distribution clearly. Another idea I started with was to have artwork from the related quest on each page. This would make a nice backdrop to the title or some stats. Having to source the right images wasn’t difficult, as there are several databases with the full artwork from many encounter cards, but the rights to those images were a bit tricky to get. It would be impossible to reach out to every artist to ask their blessing to include the artwork in the book, plus the credits for the book would have had to be a lot longer as well.
So those ideas were scrapped, and we ended up including the frame on the back cover as a border for the main body of text. The rest of the art assets were taken from the rulebook or designed by Thaurdir himself. We ended up changing some more things around and ended up with a pretty clean page layout where most of the data for each scenario can be seen at a glance. For people wanting more info about a particular quest, they can scan the QR code in the top-right to see the original article. These QR codes were made by a Patreon supporter of mine, Sam, who managed to write a script that allowed us to quickly make QR codes from all the articles on the blog. This saved a lot of time.
Each page starts with the quest’s title, a short introduction about the quest and its context (easy/difficult, unique mechanics, etc.), and the matching QR code. For more specific info, the box beneath it displays the required encounter sets to play the scenario. Beneath it, it shows the difficulty as decided upon by both FFG (official) and the community (more accurate). The community difficulty was set via the LOTR LCG Quest Companion website, where players can vote on the difficulty of a certain quest. If you haven’t been to the site yet, make sure to visit them and vote on a few quests to make the difficulty sliders even more accurate. Including the community difficulty gives a better representation of the perceived difficulty of a quest, preventing things like Into Ithilien from being deemed a Difficulty 4 quest.
To the right of the encounter sets is a small table with some more stats for the encounter deck. It shows the deck size, the percentage of cards that have a shadow effect, and the average threat on cards revealed. The table is split between easy and normal modes, allowing you a better understanding of how the different modes change the game.
The segment underneath it comes with 3 tips for every scenario that are specific to that quest. Some will require that you bring threat reduction, and others need a strong defender early on. I have tried to make these tips as useful as possible, but understand that even with these tips, you might need a few attempts at the more difficult quests. For those quests, it is also advised to scan the QR code for more help. All quests got 3 tips, though I could have easily included more for some quests. But page space was a concern, so I limited myself a bit.
Below the Tips and Tricks section are three more symbols to tell you more about the quest. The first explains what number of players is deemed best for this specific quest. Quests, like To Catch an Orc, are far easier in solo than The Three Trials. So trying to link a number of players to the scenario can help you make a better decision about what quest to attempt with your group. These aren’t strict guidelines, but you’ll have a bigger challenge ahead if you go with a different number of players. The second symbol (arrow pointing to two cards) is related to the side-quest friendliness of the scenario. Some quests consist of only one quest card, which allows for the use of side quests by players. Others demand a running start for the players, so side-quests are less optimal. The same can be said for Guarded player cards, which is the next symbol on the page. Not all quests are ideal for guarded cards since they can cause a location lock or fish out big enemies. Other quests feature tougher treacheries or benefit you for discarding cards from the encounter deck. In those scenarios, playing guarded cards can be beneficial.
The final section of the page is the Challenges segment. Each quest has received two challenges to try and overcome in order to master the scenario. These challenges range from a more difficult setup to adding additional win conditions. All challenges are custom-made for the particular quest to link with the scenario’s unique gimmick. These challenges originate from the Con of the Rings achievements, though they haven’t covered all the scenarios yet. So in order to fill the gaps, my community and I had to come up with the remaining challenges. This proved quite difficult for some scenarios, but we managed to get 2 per quest done. Not all challenges have been tested, so I will be looking forward to hearing about everyone’s experience with these challenges. I hope this will add to the game’s replayability and that it will inspire you to play different quests every now and then to try and beat a challenge.
Since this explanation goes a bit more in-depth than I can fit in a book, I added a summarized version in the book itself. This points to all the stats on the page for easy reference.
Second prototype (complete)
Then the waiting started. I had Thaurdir do the design of the pages, much like how he did that for the previous book. This time, however, the pages were all unique; we couldn’t just copy and paste the playthrough log table 100 times and call it a book. On top of that, Thaurdir also had other projects within the community, mainly for the AleP project. So the design of each of the pages took a little longer than estimated. This caused an eventual delay in the project until May 2023, when the bulk of the pages were finished. I supported this during that time by supplying the QR codes and other data needed for the pages.
Once the pages were finished and the introduction and explanation pages were written and edited, the second prototype of the book could be assembled. A quick print of 1 copy of the book was done to verify the page layout and whether or not the pages would fall out of the binding. Luckily, that wasn’t the case. The book looked amazing, and the pages were nice and vibrant in colour. While the text on the Against the Shadow cycle pages was not optimized, it was still readable, so I went ahead and ordered the final product so that I could finally end the project.
I ordered a total of 80 books and managed to get a PDF version made at the same time. This did eat up a large part of my paycheck (hardcover books aren’t cheap), but with over a year and a half of Patreon funds, it has been compensated enough.
After a few adjustments to improve the visuals of the non-quest related pages and adding in a few extra pages to fill up otherwise empty pages, the final product could be ordered. In total, the final product consists of 125 pages, made up in the following order:
- Front cover with custom artwork by Emily Dillhunt
- Cover page with the quote that inspired me to commission the art
- Introduction and explanation of the different symbols used on the pages
- Example page with the locations of all the data
- Cycle scenario pages
- Shadows of Mirkwood
- Against the Shadow
- Angmar Awakened
- Ered Mithrin
- Vengeance of Mordor
- Print on Demand scenario pages
- Hobbit Saga scenario pages
- Lord of the Rings Saga scenario pages
- Empty page for notes
- Back cover with the progress/threat counter
While the field guide was the main objective of this year’s loot, I found it a bit wasteful to have commissioned high-resolution artwork to only use for the cover of the book. There are also the people who support the blog on a higher tier than is required to get the loot (which is $3 per month). So I decided to make something extra for those supporters and incorporate the artwork into that.
I quickly decided that if I rotated the artwork in landscape orientation, I could make a nice playmat out of it. It would be a bit empty on the sides, but I think that is fine. Playmats are often too busy with the artwork all over, and that takes away from the artwork on the cards. So a more empty mat with a central piece of art is quite distinct when it comes to LOTR LCG playmats. I did end up putting the border around the edge of the playmat to fill it a little more.
However, when I learned that Cardboard of the Rings was also doing playmats for their loot in the same year, I wanted to give supporters a choice between a playmat and a pack of custom sleeves with the artwork on it. Scaling down the artwork is quite busy, but at least I didn’t have to change the orientation for this. The sleeves were made with the Dragonshield sleeve crafter. This ensured high-quality sleeves, though they were quite expensive. Fortunately, the cost of a pack of custom sleeves and a playmat are equal, so that made the choice fairer.
With all items finally in place, the distribution of all the parts was the next step. This is always quite an intense process since I have to make sure that all the foreign addresses are filled in correctly. I then have to print out a ton of shipping labels and tape them to the envelopes. Fortunately, I always design my loot so that it fits in a small A5 envelope, which fits through all mailboxes. This saves a ton on shipping and ensures a faster delivery with the rest of the letters that people would receive. I also don’t have to worry about packages ending up on doorsteps or being stolen. There is always the risk that the post service loses the package, but I have only ever had that happen once with an Alt Art Legolas I sold to someone. So when it comes to loot, I have a 100% delivery record, which I hope to maintain this year.
I had a total of 80 books delivered to me, most of which got put in their prepared envelope together with the handwritten letter I include each year and a small bag of acrylic tokens for temporary use of the back cover. I am sure those tokens will be replaced by something else soon enough, but I didn’t have the time or funds for custom tokens. Higher-tier Patreon supporters also had their playmat or sleeves included in the envelope, after which it was sealed and prepped for shipping.
At the time of releasing this article, most of the packages will be on their way already, and I will have reached out to everyone that should be receiving the books within the coming weeks. Otherwise, that message will come through soon enough. I am also super grateful that many of the supporters have already offered to pay for their own shipping, which makes this entire project less of a burden on my wallet. To those that are about to receive the books, please let me know when they arrive so that I can rest assured that the books arrived. I hope you enjoy the book!
Pictures of contents
Here are some impressions of what the book looks like on both the outside and the inside. For a PDF of the inside contents, please contact me via the blog, and I will email you the PDF. In exchange, I do request you consider supporting the blog in the future, as stuff like this takes a lot of time and money to produce.
Explanation and introduction
Example of quest summaries
How do I get one?
Unfortunately, I am not allowed to sell the book to everyone who would like one. This is a Patreon reward that is not available to people that are not a supporter of the blog there. However, I will have a digital version of the content available for all new Patreon supporters and for people who can consider making a one-time donation to the blog in order to help us keep the lights on. I only made enough physical copies to give one book to each supporter, so there aren’t any extras for me to hand out, nor will there be another version in the future since all of the quests have now been covered.
In order to get access to the PDF, contact me via the blog or by sending me a direct message via Twitter, Facebook, or Discord. Once the dust has settled, I will get around to replying to all of the messages and emails with the request for a donation to the blog. This can be whatever amount you think the book is worth to you. I am not going to set a price for the PDF since not everyone can afford things like this on the side when FFG is just about to release another repackaged cycle. But just handing it out for free is also something that feels wrong, considering the years of content packed into the book and all the hard work I have done to get it all bundled together. So I will do the easy thing and let you decide what you think it is worth. All the money collected will be put back into the blog eventually, though I have yet to think about what to do next.
If you are interested in the PDF version, please fill in the contact form here, and I will get back to you as soon as I can.
The only other thing I might do a physical print of in the near future is the quest log book that I made in 2021. I am first going to take a bit of a break from shipping stuff like this since I am a bit tired of the constant label-printing and making sure that all books arrive at the right place at the right time. But for more info on the playthrough log, see 2021’s loot article. I will update a few things for the new release to have fully updated the collection log and make more space for your playthroughs.
Since the books were delayed so much this time, I am not going to be making any new loot in the coming year. Otherwise, the process would have to start immediately if I want the new items to be finished on time this time… And with work and my medical condition, I am not feeling like going through that entire process again. I am also lacking inspiration for what to make next. I feel that LOTR LCG players have all they could wish for in terms of additional content, at least within my budget.
I have mentioned this before in the yearly overview of 2022, but the Patreon site is, therefore, also getting simplified. I had expected a reduction in incoming funds, but I forgot that the community is just that awesome and continues to support the blog even if there’s no real reward for it. Perhaps in the future, I will have some additional items if I ever get inspired again, or I can use the funds to do additional print runs of the playthrough logs.
Thank you all for your patience with this year’s loot. I hope many of you will soon receive the books in the mail and will have an easier time preparing for the quests. It was a fun project to work on despite the setbacks here and there. I still learned a lot during the entire process, and I am happy with the final result. I hope that the additional items like the sleeves and playmats will also last a long time, as it is always amazing to see them being used years later. As I mentioned, there won’t be anything new for 2023, but perhaps when the blog turns 10 years old, I will have an anniversary pin or something. Who knows?