Sunday, 12 March 2017

Scenario 1: Wardens of the Shire

The veil of dusk crept through the woods in a sheet, draining both sound and sight as it went. The air gradually took on a sharp chill that snapped at the face and burned the fingers. But this chill was not wholly the cold of approaching night.

Aranial peered forwards into the lengthening shadows, eyes straining for a sign of movement. Elren paused by him, placing a hand on his shoulder.
“Can you feel it?” he asked.

“I can,” murmured Aranial. “Something foul is aproaching.”

“Radagast warned us the enemy was moving towards our lands,” growled Elren, “we were right to increase our watch here.”

Suddenly there came a faint noise from the sea of shadows ahead. Armour clinked lightly, followed by the rustle of foot falls in the thick carpet of fallen leaves. The two rangers froze at the sound, holding still like a pair of cats watching for their prey. The sound continued, growing steadily louder, and with it came a deep shadow, thicker and darker than those cast by the light of the fading sun.

But the shadow was no shadow. It was a man, shrouded in the folds of a cloak so black that it seemed to stain the very air about him.

At the sight of him the pair of Dunedain felt the breath catch in their throats. Though the blood of Numenor flowed in their veins, they were not immune to fear. Aranial let out a small choking sound, as the first figure was flanked on either side by two more, all veiled in robes blacker than the darkest shade of night.

Aranial felt Elren’s hand tighten about his shoulder. “String your bow,” he hissed to Aranial. As the younger ranger hastily obeyed Elren loomed to his full height and gave a blast on his horn to signal the others. Even as a dozen other rangers grasped spears and swords and strung their bows, the horn blast was met by a screech that pierced the cold air of twilight and rent it asunder.

Welcome to the first scenario of my Lord of the Rings Narrative Campaign: Wardens of the Shire.  
The Nazgul have finally come to the southern borders of the Shire only to find that they have been expected. A force of Dunedain rangers has mustered with the intent of repelling the fallen kings and protecting their halfling charges. The scenario is inspired by The Trust of Arnor in the Fellowship of the Ring Journey Book, but since I don't have a copy of said publication, I fashioned a slightly different engagement.

For this scenario the Good side consists of 12 Dunedain. I am aware that these models are not Dunedain but instead generic rangers, but this was all I could lay my hands on. 

The Nine are abroad! Front row from left to right: The Dark Marshal, Khamul the Easterling, The Witch King of Angmar, The Dwimmerlaik. Middle row: The Betrayer, The Knight of Umbar, The Tainted, The Undying. Back row: The Shadow Lord

The Evil side consists of 8 generic Ringwraiths and the Witch King of Angmar. Now, I do have four actual models of generic wraiths along with four generic wraith card models to make up the numbers, but I’ve chosen to use paper models of the character Ringwraiths instead. I’ve done this so that I can distinguish easily between them for tracking how much Will they have during the campaign, and also because they do look cooler in my opinion.

The Nazgul all start in a line along the western board edge (from left to right: Dark Marshal, Betrayer, Witch King, Khamul, Tainted, Knight of Umbar, Shadow Lord, Undying, Dwimmerlaik). The Dunedain I deployed in little parties of four. Party 1 was placed on the south hill, Party 2 in the shadow of a grove of trees and Party 3 on the crest of the north hill. I knew there wasn’t much chance of wounding the wraiths with bow fire (it requires a 3+, a 6+ and then a 5+!), but I figured I might as well have a go. In order to win the Evil Side had to get at least five Ringwraiths off of the western board edge, one of which had to be the Witch King.

Turn 1
Good Priority (automatic)
The Dunedain held to their places for the most part, with the central group only moving out into the open a little more so as to reduce the cover the wraiths could get from the woods. The southern band did shuffle slightly forwards, but apart from that they and the northern group held their places. Even if it might not lay them low, the rangers would do their best to turn the Nazgul into pincushions!

In the south the Ringwraiths advanced calmly for their way was clear of any enemy. In the centre, seeing that he could have no protection from the Dunedains’ arrows, Khamul advanced straight towards them, silver blade flashing in the fading light. On his right the Tainted and the Knight of Umbar drew forwards, swerving around the trees that blocked their path. In the north the Shadow Lord and the Undying loomed towards the Dunedain on the hill, while the Dwimmerlaik hurried around the side, hoping to slip past unengaged.

As the Nazgul advanced the Dunedain steeled their nerves and notched their arrows. Eight dark shafts leapt from their bows through the shadows of dusk towards Khamul, and while four did find their mark, the Ringwraith’s armour deflected each of these in turn. To the north a trio of arrows struck the Undying, but each of these clattered harmlessly off of his armour.

Turn 2
Evil Priority
The Ringwraiths continued to advance, pressing in the direction they felt the One was calling them. In the centre, seeing that the Dunedain could likely all charge him at once, Khamul reached out with his dark magic, hoping to transfix one of the rangers before him. Feeling the black magic clawing at his heart, the descendent of Numenor steeled himself and resisted the spell. Despite this great accomplishment his will was all but depleted as yet more dark magic (emanating this time from the Tainted) took hold of him, and he stood rooted to the spot. The Knight of Umbar sought to follow his comrade’s example, but the distance from his dark master was telling, and the spell did not manifest. To the north the Shadow Lord and the Undying both attempted to conjure black darts with which to pierce the ranger’s hearts, but each of these spluttered, and died.

Suddenly, with a cry of “Elendil!” three of the Dunedain charged towards Khamul, leaving their transfixed comrade to stare blankly into space behind them. It was a brave effort, but proved to be in vain as Khamul beat all three of them back in turn, and cut the throat out of one. Gasping, the ranger fell face down upon the grass and lay dead.

But all did not go ill for the brave men of Arnor, as to the north three of the Dunedain charged the Shadow Lord, though one quailed at the approach of the dark being. Hissing with hatred the Shadow Lord swung his blade, but met only air. With a snarl one of the rangers darted by the pale sword and rammed his own weapon into the foul creature, burying it in his invisible flesh up to the hilt. The Ringwraith screamed in pain and fury before vanishing in a flash of white flame.

Turn 3
Good Priority

Seeing their companion fall, the rangers who charged Khamul scramble backwards to avoid his sweeping blade. At the same time the other nearby group of Dunedain, who had up until now been uselessly firing arrows into the approaching Nazgul, hurried down the slope of the hill to assist their brothers in arms. In the north, spurred on by their victory over the Shadow Lord, the Dunedain charged into the Undying. But though the previously terrified ranger found his courage and charged forward, one of his companions froze at the sight of the Undying’s grim visage.

Even as the Dunedain fell back before him, Khamul laughed and gave chase. It was a terrible sound, filled with malice. He loomed above one of the retreating Dunedain and slashed his blade down. The man screamed in pain and fell to the ground, blood flowing freely.

The Tainted and Knight of Umbar summoned their dark energies once again, this time with the intent to kill rather than transfix. The Tainted’s black dart would not materialise, but the Knight of Umbar’s outstretched hand heralded the dark bolt which shot through the fading light. But the fates were smiling on the ranger he attempted to bring low, and by some miraculous occurrence he endured the dark magical assault. The Tainted’s anger at his failure was only increased by the hail of arrows that landed around him, one catching within the very folds of his cloak.

The Undying shrank back from the spears and swords of the Dunedain, just barely managing to escape being cut down like the Shadow Lord. He hissed a curse in the direction of the Dwimmerlaik, as his fellow Ringwraith not only failed to send a black dart into the backs of the rangers, but also began to move up and leave him behind.

Frustrated now by his lack of access to the battle, the Witch King hurried forwards, crying out in a terrible voice for his nearby allies the Betrayer and the Dark Marshal to quicken their pace.

Turn 4
Good Priority

Seeing their friends perish by Khamul’s blade, the rangers who had hurried down from the southern hill called out for their companions to have courage in the face of the shadow. Strengthening their resolve all bar one of the Dunedain charged the trio of Ringwraiths before them, with two to both Khamul and the Tainted while a brave ranger faced the Knight of Umbar alone. Hissing with fury both the Tainted and the Knight of Umbar drove their opponents back, swords whooshing through empty air. Khamul however lunged forwards fiercely, but to his dismay found his blade parried. A spear was thrust forwards, but could push past his armour. The Dunedain, desperate to avenge his fallen kin, poured all his Might into the strike, and to the Ringwraith’s anger and horror broke through. Khamul lunged towards the two descendants of Numenor, even as he exploded into white flames.

With two of the Nine now banished, the northern group of rangers mustered their courage and pressed on against the Undying. His hate kindled by yet another failed black dart, the Dwimmerlaik leaped upon the Dunedain, even as they assaulted the Undying. In the ensuing melee of whirling black and green cloaks one of the brave Dunedain was felled, and the rest driven back, red blood coating the Undying’s weapon.

In the south the Witch King and his two companions moved hurriedly to a gap in the hedge before them, swords drawn.

Turn 5
Evil Priority
Seeing the second mightiest of the Nazgul fall, the Knight of Umbar decided to try and make a run for it. Yet even as he sliped between the Dunedain they set upon him, swords slashing through the air. Feeling the dark magic binding him to this world growing weaker, the Tainted hurled himself forwards in a gambit to hack his way through the Dunedain. With a mighty warcry the rest of the rangers of the north charged the two Ringwraiths, hoping to bring them down. Yet even as he charged the tainted, one of the rangers clutched at his chest and fell, choking, to the ground. The terrible figure of Witch King loomed behind him, hand still outstretched after sending a black dart into the Dunedain’s heart.

Gleeful at seeing the demise of one of his enemies the Tainted drove his opponents back, but to his frustration his sword glanced off of the rangers’ sturdy leather armour. The Knight of Umbar was not so lucky. Though he parried one attack the other found its mark and the Ringwraith vanished in a plume of fire.

Hissing his hatred the Undying pressed onwards against the trio of Dunedain before him. To his annoyance the Dwimmerlaik decided to abandon him, heading westwards towards the call of the Ring. Unperturbed the Undying proceeded to astonish the Dunedain by beating all three of them back and to their horror cutting yet another of them down.

Turn 6
Good Priority
With three of the Black Riders now banished the Dunedain summoned the last of their courage and charged yet again. Three of the northmen attacked the Tainted, seeing that the wraith was growing weak. Knowing that it would likely mean his end, one of the rangers buried his fear and assailed the Witch King so as to prevent him from aiding his fellow wraith. Even as the ranger parried the Lord of Angmar’s blade, the dark shape of the Betrayer loomed out of the dusk and smote him down.

The Dark Marshal rushed past the ranger’s falling body with the goal of assisting the Tainted. But even though he beat back his adversary he was unable to draw blood and screeched in rage as the other Dunedain banished the Tainted in a rush of fire. Even as the Tainted fell, a second scream of hatred and despair filled the night as the Undying too was struck down.

His whole being consumed with hatred for the men of the West, the Witch King called for a retreat. The four remaining wraiths melted away into the darkness as night fell, leaving the Dunedain to try and tend to their fallen comrades, and mourn for those who could not be saved. This would not be enough to stop the Nazgul however; this was only a temporary setback. They would find the Ring, and kill the one who carried it.

Now that was fun! I admit that before this campaign I've only ever played sporadically, and while I understand the core rules well enough, magic is a somewhat underused tool for me. Thus it was a lot of fun to experiment with the Ringwraiths' dark powers during this game. Of course the highlight is my spectacularly short sighted positioning of the terrain that led to three wraiths being cut off from the fight for nearly the entire game. Oops. It did make things a bit closer perhaps, but I feel that it would have been fairer on the Evil Side if those hedges hadn't been there, or at least if they were shorter. Ah well, what's done is done (mainly because I was too excited to keep going and so didn't want to reset and play again).

By the end of the scenario a lot of the wraiths had been reduced to only 1 or 2 Will, though none were banished due to it running out. The Ringwraiths rolled pretty well for recovery for the most part however:

The Witch King of Angmar: 8 Will
Khamul the Easterling: 7 Will
The Dark Marshal: 6 Will
The Shadow Lord: 7 Will
The Knight of Umbar: 6 Will
The Dwimmerlaik: 6 Will
The Undying: 3 Will
The Betrayer: 6 Will
The Tainted: 5 Will

The only really bad one was the Undying, who only managed to regain 2 of the 6 will he had lost putting him at 3. For the 2nd scenario I’ll be giving The Shadow Lord a chance to redeem himself, and bringing along The Betrayer and The Dark Marshal as well.

In Scenario 2: Three is Company, Frodo, Sam and Pippin will attempt to escape the Ringwraiths on their way to Crickhollow. But though the shadow is heavy, there is a light in darkness, as the elf Gildor Inglorion senses their peril and hurries to their aid.

Hope you’ve enjoyed reading this battle report, and I hope you’ll be back to read the next one.