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Once called Greenwood the Great, the black forest of Mirkwood is the next setting for the upcoming Lord of the Rings Online: Siege of Mirkwood expansion, set for a December 1st release date. Up to now, adventurers helping combat the growing menace of the Dark Lord have done so in their own lands. Siege of Mirkwood will bring them closer to Sauron than ever before, as he himself built and occupied the fortress Dol Guldur, on the hill Amon Lanc.

Signs of a great war are increasing, so much so that Lady Galadriel herself has sent forth a call for aid against the shadow menace. Celeborn is assembling those that heed the call into The Golden Host of Lórien (Malledhrim), and sending it across the Anduin to directly oppose the defilers of Mirkwood, and to the very gates of Dol Guldur.

I was recently volunteered for a recon mission into Mirkwood, and thankfully managed to return in one piece to bring this report of what I saw, despite being assigned the task of a healer, for which I was horribly ill-suited. I only accomplished the mission with great aid from Rowan, a mighty dwarf who slew all our foes with incredible ferocity and talent. He was also my guide through the black forest, imparting much of the knowledge I gained during the mission.

I met Rowan on a distant pier in Lothlórien, where we made our introductions, discussed some lore of Mirkwood, and gazed across the Anduin at our destination. The elves there are more than helpful in seeing that those who dare take the boat to Mirkwood know what their tasks are, and are prepared for the encounters to come. Once on the Mirkwood shore, Rowan and I made our final preparations and set off on our venture.

Volume II Book 9: Fortress of the Nazgûl is where this stage of LotRO begins. Sauron no longer inhabits Dol Guldur, yet the power of his Nazgûl is more than enough to hold sway over the entire reach of the forest. Everywhere there is a black taint, a foul, oppressive weight that seeps into your very bones. All manner of creatures have succumbed to the evil here, and their ferocity seems matched only by their uncanny skills at combat, much more so than any other common beasts found on the other side of the Anduin. Countless bats flutter amongst the ugly and misshapen trees, and goblins seem to hide in every shadow. The wargs have especially taken on a much more dreadful nature, and are more ruthless in combat than I have ever seen. Be well prepared for even the smallest foes to take you to task when you come up against them here.

Dol Guldur lies in the southern region of Mirkwood. Starting from the Anduin shore, in the Mirk-eaves, the most direct path passes through Emyn Lum, the next place Rown and I visited. At almost exactly the halfway point on the way to Dol Guldur. Emyn Lum is home to the elven ruins of Ost Galadh, which they inhabit to keep watch on the main road. Similar to the other fortresses bearing the Ost name, this one also holds suppliers, craftsmen, stables, even a crafting hall, all the things needed to provide rest and recuperation for those in the Golden Host.

Leaving the relative safety of Ost Galadh, we continued our eastward journey, travelling north of the Wild Run, and south of the Scuttledells, stopping once again at Thangulhad. The road there is perilous, to say the least, well guarded by crows and scouts. Amongst the ruined siege engines is a very out-of-place looking camp of elves, and even a couple of dwarves. While there, I heard rumor of some new evil being stirred up a short distance north, in the ruins of Gathburz. Something about worms, and I do not think they were speaking of the fishing kind. Rowan hastened me on before I could inquire further, and we set off again in the direction of Dol Guldur, whose towering black walls are easily seen to the east of Thangulhad.

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On the very edge of fortress Dol Guldur, a small band of allies have set up yet another camp, called Helethir. Behind it winds a steep path up Amon Lanc, leading to an unguarded portcullis directly into Dol Guldur. However, once inside, remaining unnoticed could only be accomplished by masters of stealth, and we were not that.

The Nazgûl’s minions are everywhere, and they are well suited for combat. High overheard, the wails of the Nazgûl flying watch over Dol Guldur seemed to enforce the fighting will of their beasts below, giving us barely time to catch our breath before being set upon again. Slowly, and with no small thanks to Rowan’s fighting prowess, we made our way deeper into the fortress. It was then that we entered into one of the newest elements brought on by necessity in Mirkwood – the Skirmish.

Skirmishes are small instances where the call to war is directed specifically against Sauron’s forces. Skirmish camps can be found throughout Mirkwood, and are where veteran warriors and the Free Peoples come to band together to help the Golden Host accomplish a specific military objective. Trainers, weapon-smiths, armourers, and others make up these camps, designed to assist the Host with the mission at hand. Once a veteran has gone through the training, they are assigned Skirmish Soldier to accompany them into battle.

Rowan showed me how to call for the aid of my own Soldier, an alchemist trained in the basic healing arts. Together with his own Soldier, an archer, we were tasked the mission of clearing and securing the outer baileys of Dol Guldur so that a larger force could then assault the main gate. Honestly, how we lived through it remains a mystery! The enemy was against us at every step, in both strength and numbers. And these were no ordinary creatures, either. They employed all their weapons and black magic with deadly precision, and skillfully knew when to press their offensive and when to call for aid.

Bravely (or was it foolhardy?) we fought on, slowly making ground towards the objective, a banner pole set into the ground of the bailey. My Soldier could only execute a few basic commands, halted mostly by my own lack of understanding of how to properly coordinate her skills with my own, which I didn’t fully understand. Once we arrived and had the place sufficiently clear, we were reinforced with a couple more brave (foolhardy?) allies, and just in time for the enemy’s counterattack. Rowan quickly explained that as long as we held the area around the banner, victory could be ours. If we were to be pushed back, the enemy would claim the banner as their own, and we would be faced with mounting our own counterattack, should our will to hold. This time, they were accompanied by one of their lieutenants, a tremendously powerful troll who very nearly turned the tide against us, had it not once again been for Rowan’s martial skills.

With our objective met and the main force en route, Rowan and I retreated back to a skirmish camp for rest and debriefing. He continued to impart his vast knowledge of Middle-earth to me, telling me more about the skirmish camps. With coordinated military actions increasing from the enemy, there is a greater need for the Free People’s to respond in kind, and these camps are one of those responses. He said they are being established outside of Mirkwood, as well, mostly near major cities, like Bree. The enemy has agents everywhere, it seems, and so we must call to all those to fight where they are, against bandits and brigands alike.

Rowan also showed me marks he had collected from slain enemies, marks he said could be turned in to collectors at skirmish camps in exchange for reward weapons and equipment. At the same time, your reputation could increase with the Golden Host, if you were to continue fighting with them. Rowan also spoke of advancing the skill and equipment of your Skirmish Soldier. The Trainers at the camps are able to teach them better skills, as well as help you increase you use of tactics and traits with them, in exchange for these marks.

All said, it was a lot of information to take in, and so after I thanked Rowan for his help and parted ways, I settled in by the campfire to ponder it all, and to write my report. Once that was complete, I could sense a deeper resolve within myself to join the Golden Host again and again on another mission, despite being pitted against the very forces of the Nazgûl. My wish is that I will not go alone. Will you answer the call to war?

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