As it pertains to storytelling, the term protagonist is defined as “the leading character or one of the major characters in a drama, movie, novel, or other fictional text.” Synonyms related to this word have been Champion, Lead, and even Crusader.
The protagonist in any given narrative is often the medium through which the central themes of the story are presented to the audience. Sometimes the protagonist embodies these themes and sometimes they contradict them completely. In any case the protagonist, or protagonists, not only drive the story but often times help the viewer better understand the various subtexts throughout the tale.
What about Frodo Baggins? And for that matter, what about the Lord of the Rings in general? At least in the early parts of the novel it can be said, in my opinion at least, that there are several protagonists that are presented. But when it comes down to it Frodo is the main character through which we see the events of the story take effect. Frodo’s story is tragic, a story of someone being torn from their home and cast into a world unfamiliar and unwelcoming (sort of) to them only to return home and find that they are lost and can no longer reclaim the life they once had. It’s a sad story, more tragic considering Frodo comes out of the whole affair alive and successful in his endeavors and yet the strain of the evils in the world have left their mark on Frodo and he has no choice but to head West, leaving Middle Earth.
I just want to say that the designers came up with a clever, useful, and all together thematic approach to Frodo’s Hero ability. He is weak, has a low tolerance for pain, and can’t do much in the way of attacking. Yet he can slip by unnoticed, his low threat cost keeping most enemies in the staging area. His willpower of two means he can keep pushing onward, providing some assistance to the quest. And then there’s his card text which reads:
“Response: After Frodo Baggins is damaged, cancel the damage and instead raise your threat by the amount of damage he would have been dealt. (Limit once per phase.)”
This is just amazing to me. I don’t use Frodo all too often but every time I flip past his card I usually take a moment and read it again. I can’t get over it. Whether Frodo suffers one damage or twenty he will make it out alive because that’s what he does. But at what cost? The more Frodo survives the closer he gets to losing everything. As players our threat increases until the point that there’s no hiding from enemies and we walk the razor’s edge of hitting our maximum threat threshold and losing the game. Frodo’s ability hits the sweet spot of a well designed ability that plays with a key mechanic of the game while at the same time staying true to the character and feel of the story.
Frodo’s primary utility, in regards to his ability, comes through in combat. It makes sense looking back that we would be introduced to Frodo Baggins in the troll heavy AP Conflict at the Carrock as Frodo’s card ability clearly opposes the high attack power of the enemies that plague the quest.
Outside of combat, Frodo can mitigate archery damage with the player controlling Frodo soaking up the damage, converting it into threat, and diverting some of it away from the other players. APs such as Journey in the Dark and Along the Anduin quickly come to mind. Any nasty treacheries or shadow cards can also be dodged by Frodo, since the direct damage can be cancelled as well and therefore turned into a threat gain.
Thankfully this iteration of Frodo finds himself in the Spirit Sphere which excels quite well at threat management. Classic cards like The Galadhrim’s Greeting and Elrond’s Counsel and even the newly released Hero Galadriel can work well alongside Frodo’s threat gaining ability. There’s other fun things that Frodo can play around with in Spirit. Hobbit Pipe, which draws cards upon threat being reduced by event cards, gives the Frodo player a nice little cycle of actions: Use Frodo’s Ability, Reduce Threat via Event Card, and Draw Card. Another interesting card that doesn’t necessarily go with Frodo’s ability but rather his threat is the card Small Target. I’ve tried messing around with this card but sadly have yet to see it played (I’ll either pitch it or not draw it) but I can certainly see it working out sometimes. The issue is that you are not entirely in control of the result. The card may wiff, and now you find yourself down a resource and with an increase in threat. But then again a successful result could turn a dire situation into a manageable one. At the very least, the risk vs reward nature of the card combined with Frodo makes for very exciting play in my opinion.
What about Hero cards? Frodo can fit along nicely with many Heroes, mostly due to his low threat although his ability does pair well with certain Heroes. In regards to his ability, chief among the Heroes that can be paired with Frodo would be Lore Aragorn, or Loragorn. Although this version of Aragorn hails from the Lore sphere, his one time ability can provide a massive reduction to your threat and breath new life into the current quest. Adding the lore sphere via Aragorn can also give you access to location control and other staging area shenanigans.
Other great Hero pairings and combinations would be Spirit Glorfindel or Tactics Boromir. Hero Gandalf could also be a nice thematic pairing, with Frodo’s low threat mitigating Gandalf’s exceptionally high threat. And of course there’s also Frodo’s close friends and kin, the Hobbits! A popular Hobbit Lineup of Heroes is Sam Gamgee, Lore Pippin, and Merry. This setup is usually more of an offensive one, with the different Hobbits working together to bring enemies down at the right moment then swinging back with surprising ferocity. If you want to go in a different route you could of course replace one of the Hobbits with Frodo, most likely Merry, and take on a more defensive and supportive role. Using cards like Small Target, Silver Lamp, Hobbit Cloak, etc. you could still control when you engage enemies and keep them at bay while a partner deck cleans them up from afar.
Frodo is quite simply a very versatile Hero. This is certainly in no small part to the fact that the Black Riders Saga Box contained so many cards that strengthened the Hobbit trait. As the card pool grows this year, and with a hint at new Hobbit cards in the next cycle of APs, I can’t wait to see what more we can do with Lord of the Ring’s resilient protagonist.
In the next couple of weeks I will go over a popular deckbuild that contains Frodo as well as a few other approaches to this Spirit aligned Hobbit. If you have any suggestions on decks you’d like to see let me know!
What are your thoughts on Frodo? What Heroes or other player cards do you like to use alongside him?
-The Secondhand Took