Skirmishing 101: What is a Skirmish?


Ford Trio vs Flesh Gorger

What is a skirmish? In short, a skirmish is an instance that is scalable on three dimensions: level, difficulty, and group size.

Types of Instances

Before we can discuss what sets skirmishes apart from other instances, we need to discuss just what an instance is. Instances are areas set apart from the main world for various purposes. Most instances are private (each player or group that enters the instance area spawns their own copy of the area). This allows the player or group to play through the content without unwanted interference.

Public Instances

While most instances are private, some are public. The housing neighborhoods are one example of public instances. Several of the daily quests in Rohan are also accessed through public instances.

Quest Instances

Quest instances are the earliest instances you encounter. When you create a new character, you start in a quest instance. You will also run this type of instance for many class quests. Quest instances are used quite often during key moments of the storyline. Many quest instances emphasize storytelling elements.

Generally, one runs a quest instance when you reach a given point in a quest chain. Some may be accessed later through a Reflection Pool (especially those associated with the epic storyline), while others can be accessed once per day by visiting the quest giver.


When a player says “instance” without any modifiers, they most likely mean a dungeon. These may be entered by anyone who meets the requirements for the dungeon. Requirements include such things as minimum level, completing certain quests or deeds, and having purchased the required access.

Originally, dungeons were always at a fixed level. In recent years, many dungeons were either designed or revamped to support scaling by level. We expected several more classic dungeons to be converted into scalable dungeons in the future.

Dungeons are entered through the instance finder. While many dungeons are scalable by level and difficulty, all of them are designed for a single group size (generally three or six players).

Note that despite the name “dungeon,” these instances are not necessarily set underground (they are generally set in enclosed areas, though).


The word “raid” has several meanings. In this context, it is a dungeon that is designed for either 12 or 24 players. The reason raids are placed in a separate entry is because when players say “instance” they generally mean “non-raid dungeon.” If they were looking for a raid dungeon, they would either say “raid” or specify which one they wish to play.

The reason raids are considered different is because they are generally the most challenging content in the game. In addition, the “Advanced” tab of the instance finder does not support raids.

Resource Instances

Resource instances are a special type of quest instance. They are designed for a single player and can be run once each day. What makes them worth a mention is that they include resource nodes that can be gathered. While you can run the instances once per day, the resources do not necessarily respawn at that rate (the once in Rohan seem to respawn daily, while those in Moria are on a time table that I have yet to decipher).

The other interesting matter with resource instances is that the type of mobs you face changes from run to run. All mobs in a given run are of a specific type but the mobs may be of a different type the next time you run the instance (for example, one run could include orcs while the next run could include wolves).


All of the instance types described above are designed for one specific group size. Some quest instances get around this by either having two versions of the instance (one for the group size for which the instance was originally designed and one that allows a player to run it solo) or by providing an inspiration bonus that allows a single player to run an instance intended for six players.

Skirmishes are deigned to be run by different group sizes. When you launch a skirmish, you can specify the size limit for the skirmish (one, two, three, six, or twelve players). Rather than adjusting the character to achieve this, skirmishes instead alter the opposition (and occasionally the scripting) when played at different sizes.

Skirmishes can also be scaled by level and tier.

The other key element of the skirmish is the skirmish soldier. Each player in a skirmish is able to summon a companion (a skirmish soldier) that joins them in the battle. You are able to trait and progress your soldier as you level and participate in skirmishes. We will discuss skirmish soldiers in more detail in later lessons.

The exact composition of each enemy group you face is generated at random. Each skirmish includes a pool of possible monster types you will face (such as brigands, wolves, and goblins in Trouble in Tuckborough) from which these opponents are drawn.

Types of Skirmishes

There are currently three types of skirmishes: offensive, defensive, and survival.


In offensive skirmishes, the object is to clear the enemy from each control point and capture the control point’s flag. At some control points, you will face a counterattack after capturing the flag. If you have any defenders in an offensive skirmish, they will only be available during the counterattacks.

The greatest variance from this general layout is in Rescue at Nûrz Ghâshu. While technically an offensive skirmish, the system of progression works very differently from other skirmishes. In that skirmish, you reach each control point (which is blocked by the fumarole), face a counterattack, and then attack the fumarole. When you destroy each fumarole, you can progress to the next one.


In defensive skirmishes, you attempt to defend a particular area. Success or failure is dictated by the survival of a key NPC. In many skirmishes (especially when run in large groups), the main challenge isn’t staying alive but keeping the key NPC alive.

Note that defender NPCs are not necessarily persons. In Defence of the Prancing Pony, the inn is also a key defender (albeit a passive one).


In a survival skirmish, the object is to stay alive as long as possible. Currently there is only one such skirmish – Survival: Barrow Downs.

Survival: Barrow Downs is unusual in that it has no solo or duo setting (only three, six, and twelve-player settings). This is presumably because it is difficult to properly balance a solo survival skirmish for all classes.

This skirmish also lacks a difficulty setting. The skirmish grows more difficult as time progresses, as the number of mobs and lieutenants you face increases during each stage of the skirmish.

Important Note: As of this writing, Survival: Barrow Downs is not available in the Instance finder for reasons that have yet to be announced. We will post a message on the site when the skirmish is once again available.


As we stated in the first paragraph, a skirmish is scalable in three dimensions. Let us now look at each of these dimensions.


Level is the most common form of scaling for instances. Prior to the release of the Mirkwood expansion pack, there were no scalable instances. Skirmishes were the first instances to be scalable by level, though many non-skirmish instances have been scaled since.

All skirmishes have a minimum level. This is also the minimum level you character must be to run the skirmish. For example, Thievery and Mischief has a minimum level of 30.

Currently, all skirmishes have a maximum level equal to the level cap (85 as of this writing). When the level cap is increased, the maximum level for skirmishes and other scalable instances are likewise increased.

When you start a skirmish through the Specific tab, you can run the skirmish anywhere from the minimum level for the skirmish up to 10 levels above the lowest-level member of the group.

If you use the Advanced tab of the Instance Finder (we will go into more details in a later lesson), the level will be set by the Instance Finder. If everyone in the group is the same level, then the skirmish will be run at that level; otherwise the skirmish will be run at a level somewhere between the level of the lowest-level member of the group and the highest-level member of the group.


Skirmishes can be run at one of three tiers. Tier 1 skirmishes form the baseline. If you run a skirmish in Tier 2, the opponents will be tougher (they will have more morale and presumably better combats stats). If you run a skirmish at Tier 3, the opponents will be even tougher.

As noted in the first installment of Ask Pineleaf, some skirmishes have minor mechanical tweaks when you set the skirmish to a higher tier. This appears to be the exception rather than the rule, though.

Group Size

While many classic instances can be scaled by level and difficulty, skirmishes are the only instances that are scalable by group size. A skirmish can be run in one of five group sizes: solo, duo, small fellowship, fellowship, or raid (note that Survival: Barrow Downs is only available in the larger group sizes).

The group size will affect the quality of the mobs you will be facing and often the number of mobs you will face at a time. As each mob group is randomly generated, the composition will vary. Below is a typical composition of a mob group in Trouble in Tuckborough:

Skirmish Size Possible Mob Group Composition Lieutenants
Solo 2 Normal and 2 Swarm Signature
Duo/Small Fellowship 1 Elite, 1 Signature, and 2 Normal Elite
Fellowship 1 Elite Master, 3 Elite, and 2 Signature Elite Master
Raid (aka Skraid) 2 Nemesis, 2 Elite Master, and 2 Elite Nemesis


In skirmishes, each trash mob has a prefix to its name that indicates its quality level:

Quality Level Skirmish Prefix
Swarm Weak
Normal Hale
Signature Hardy
Elite Strong
Elite Master Staunch
Nemesis Mighty


Note that the information for duo and small fellowship skirmishes are the same. This is because these two group sizes use the same templates. When you run a duo skirmish, the mobs are made weaker to make it possible for only two player to complete the instance (this adjustment is likely to be a bit too much for a pair that works well together).

Alas, a skirmish does not scale to an arbitrary number of players. If you have a group of four, you have essentially three choices: split the group into two smaller groups, find two more players to bring the group size up to six, or run the skirmish with only four players.


Since skirmishes are scalable, most players and groups should be able to find a setting that fits their playing style.

In our next lesson, we will discuss how you start skirmishing. Until then, may your shield protect you and your spear never break,

Pineleaf Needles



  1. Andang /

    Great overview Pineleaf!

  2. Wilros /

    I appreciate that you are starting from the very basics. Although this is old info to me, it is a great article for new players asking what these Instance/Skirmish things are. I am looking forward to the rest of the series!

  3. Achazia /

    very nice overview. Very helpful!

  4. nova /

    once in a while some games make something out of the ordinary, something that appeals to certain individuals, but that certain something is not popular enough to make it to the game’s sequels.

    i have survival: barrow downs in mind when saying this. it fits in this category. i hope it’s not available at the moment because they’re tweaking it and making it better, i’d like to play it solo with my champ. although, sadly, i think it will permanently be left unavailable.

    i would like to compare this skirm to a game mode. i don’t know if there are any people who played the original “unreal” title in 1998 or 1999, i can’t remember exactly when it came out. but at the multiplayer there were different play modes, that later went separately to become unreal tournament. there was deathmatch, capture the flag, assault etc. all of them well known to FPS players. but there was one more, a thing called dark match, where everything was dark and you had a flashlight to see the other players. it was, for me at least, the best mode there. when unreal tournament came out i was surprised to see it had no dark match.

    survival is kind of like that – fun for a small group of people, and probably not worth it in the long run.


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