Tuesday, 31 July 2012

The Last Days of the North Part II - Battle at Ceath Cross

Early Spring, Y3090

It was a cold spring morning in Whitetower province. The sea air lay thick and salty over the marsh and woods around the village of Ceath Cross. Gulls cawed overhead. But the sea breeze had not just brought gulls, but wolves too. From the eastern marshes and the woods they ran, horns and axes braying and clattering in the morning air. They came not for blood but plunder, and hoped that such a raucous display would clear the way. Made brave by cheap victories against Whitetower's rangers on the road inland, they thought nothing of making their presence known.

No matter what the wolves wished, there would be blood. Prince Elion of lost Geredwyn, commander of the army of Caerhenned, had received word of the Wolves' advance from the ravens of Whitetower. Through arts lost to the rest of the kingdom, the masters of Gungnir's tower used ravens to communicate over far distances.

Such blessed sorcery aside, Elion Greycloak had long been awaiting such an unwise incursion by the Sea Wolves. He meant to fall upon them, to break them and harry them back to the coast, that it might be long years before they troubled his adopted shores again. From all across Caerhenned his men had come, to stand beneath the white dragon and prove worthy of their king.

These were not the serried lines of a pitched battle: the Caerhennin and Sea Wolf lines formed two sides of a square, with Ceath Cross as the far corner. Far ahead of their main lines, Caerhennin boys ran with slings, desperate to reach their homes and defend them from the invaders. The local levy that formed Greycloak's left flank sped through the woods, comfortable in their home ground. It was a desperate race for the Caerhennin to turn their lines before the Sea Wolves struck them in the flank – though they had come for plunder, glory would be a greater prize.

Under Anwyth Halfsword's hurried direction they managed it, though a shieldwall was slow in forming on the rough ground. Seeing a hidden group of Sea Wolves emerge from behind the Ceath Marsh, Anwyth left the greatest part of his men in a shieldwall on the open ground south of the village and led his retinue of warriors against the new threat. The first rank of wolves were scythed down by his mad charge and the rest fell back, shocked by the Caerhennin audacity.

Despite his short stature, Jaetar Foxfriend was not a man easily cowed. Rallying his much-diminished men, he charged back into the fray without a second thought, seeking out his opposite number with grim determination. He soon found the man he sought, a madman with a short Quethani sword. As men died around them they locked eyes for a mere moment, before Foxfriend's men began to retreat, dragging their lord with them.

Such cowardice was no salvation, and soon Jaetar was alone on the edge of the marsh, his men dead around him, fending off his enemy with swift and sudden stabs of his sword. It was no use, and as he saw men calm the maniac with the small sword, he felt a crack on the back of his head and a sudden darkness took him.

Meanwhile, the Caerhennin boys reached the fields surrounding Ceath Cross and began whipping their stones at the Sea Wolves advancing toward them over the open ground. But these men were veterans of ten and of twenty years' raiding, veritable masters of the Long Shore and the Burning Coast, and they were not worried by such small nuisances. As youths are wont to do, as they fought the obvious threat they missed Njall Crowbone and his hearthguard charging from behind Loxsom Wood. The fields blunted the initial charge, but restricted the boys' escape as well. They were trapped in a green hell with the best of Crowbone's retainers, and all too soon joined their ancestors in the Green Hall.

Seeing Crowbone's men in the fields, and that Foxfriend had successfully drawn off part of the enemy strength, Thorvald Snowbane summoned up the blood and led his main force in a devastating charge on the enemy centre. He saw the white dragon flapping in the wind on its green banner with a royal golden trim, and in that moment wanted nothing more than to take it home as a trophy. He forgot gold, forgot plunder, and saw only glory to be snatched from the enemy's lifeless hands. It was a brave and daring gambit. A gambit that failed.

With Halfdan Flintfinger at his side, Thorvald charged home. Like a crashing sea the wolves attacked, and like the stony cliffs the Caerhennin stood their ground. Elion and his champion Cei Wolfhand were with them, and like angels of death they stepped forward. Thorvald himself was saved a dreadful wound only by his bright armour, now grey and buckled by the blow. Flintfinger, the bloody, the bastard, tinkling in his cloak of bones, met Cei Wolfhand, last knight of Geredwyn on the field of battle, and was smote a terrible blow from his wolf-handled sword that left him gasping and dying in the dirt, blood frothing on his lips. After a dreadful slaughter, the lines fell apart, neither victorious and both soaked in the blood of friends.

The Snowborn however was nothing if not cunning, and as his tired warriors goaded the Cairhennin captain's retinue, he assaulted the other end of the line with his own Hearthguard, sending them running in a mad panic. Immediate victory clearly unobtainable, the Snowborn then retreated, hoping to double back into Ceath Cross and make this mad bloodshed somehow worthwhile.

Resisting the urge to despair as he saw the slaughter Elion and his men had endured, Coiran Longfoot now led his levies in one great shieldwall to take their place. As they advanced, the now-outnumbered Sea Wolves began to give ground, their archers sending flights of goose-feathered arrows into the approaching mass. Coiran and his men were nonetheless heartened to see Anwyth and his retinue returning from behind the marsh, loping across the open ground to bring the fight to the enemy once more.

Greycloak may have blundered, but he was no fool. Having blunted the Sea Wolf assault, he realised their true target, and as Coiran began to steadily drive the battered enemy from the field, he turned his retinue towards Ceath Cross, determined to upset whatever the enemy designs upon it were. As he neared the fields however, he came under ambush from the wolven archers, and though he scattered them to the nine winds, his retinue took many casualties – too many to risk storming the village alone.

The Snowborn reached Ceath Cross to find Crowbone and his men frantic and frustrated. They had been turning the village upside down for quite some time, and had yet to find anything. Snowborn's sympathy quickly vanished as his own hearthguard began dragging bags of gold from the village well. Swiftly they began to flee, but Coiran Longfoot was not known as fleet for nothing. He led his levies across the fields and into the village, slaying Thorvald's rearguard and sending the rest running into the weapon-wielding arms of Elion Greycloak and his few companions. In a few quick moments, both retinues hacked each other apart, and Thorvald took to his heels with nary a groat upon his person, leading Crowbone and his men in an inglorious retreat with hardly a crown to show for their pains and Coiran Longfoot in hot pursuit with the Whitetower levies.

The battle at Ceath Cross was the first in a long war. It bred the seeds of anger and resentment in Thorvald Snowborn, and brought Caerhenned the outright enemity of the Asvaldrson clan. Though the carnage was great on both sides, the Sea Wolves lost more, and with no Caerhennin gold to soften the blow, the Snowborn's reputation was sorely dented. It would take him three months to rebuild a crew worth fighting alongside, especially with both Jaetar Foxfriend and Halfdan Flintfinger dead on enemy ground.

Elion Greycloak was toasted in Rath Luin for a great victory, and the size of his army swelled as patriotic young Cairhennin stepped forward not only to replace his losses, but to add skirmishers to the force he could wield. The prince of Geredwyn was glad, but much gladder was he when Cei Wolfhand began to recover from the injuries he took at battle's end. Such was the feasting at Greycloak's victory that men began to call him Blessed, and to toast the gods in his name.

And in the Queen's Tower at Rath Luin, the Ivory Lady, that pale perfection called the Bone Queen by her detractors, began to plot his downfall alongside her fiery priests. For the people of Jorsala knew only one god, and he was jealous. If Elion Greycloak was to be blessed, he would be blessed by fire - or by death...

The Last Days of the North Part I: Prologue

A Dux Britanniarum campaign in a fantasy land.

The kingdom of Caerhenned has stood since the sun kissed the moon. Other kingdoms have risen and fallen around her, but neither the Thorny Crown nor its seat at Rath Luin have ever fallen. Even now, when alone among the Nine Kingdoms it still stands, the king's word is law across moor and wood, field and town. But the king is old, already two and sixty. His southern queen finds no favour with his council, either in her pale beauty or the fiery priests she has brought with her from far Jorsala.

The Five Islands fell to the Sea Wolves long ago. They have their own kings there now, petty warlords with wild hair who rule by the sword rather than by sceptre. As the rogues of the east once fled the coming of the Great Ice, now the Five Islands' rapscallions sail west to Caerhenned, the last of the Nine Kingdoms, seeking that same success that their grandfather and great-grandfathers carved out with their cruel axes.
Caerhenned and surrounds. Click for larger image.

Among the armies Caerhenned musters against the resurgent Sea Wolves four men stand out: Elion Greycloak, Anwyth Halfsword, Coiran Longfoot and Cei Wolfhand, the prince's champion

Elion Greycloak, nine and twenty, tall, strong and brave. A prince of the lost kingdom of Geredwyn, all his riches are displayed in his plainwoven cloak. His strength in battle is matched only by his weakness for the women of the king's court, whose affections barely keep him from the beggar's bowl. The king having no trueborn sons, Elion Greycloak is favoured by the crown with command of Caerhenned's armies. Cei Wolfhand, his last retainer from lost Geredwyn, stands fierce by his side in every battle, ready to do his prince's bidding to the last.

Anwyth Halfsword has not even a score of years under his belt. Of average build, he is nonetheless known for his insane courage. He won his name when he slew a mountain chief of Cragowen with his dying captain's broken blade. Some whisper in the halls of Rath Luin that this owes more to his prodigious drinking than any noble blood, since his father is rumoured to have been a mere peasant. No matter the truth, he now wields twin Quethani shortswords with consummate skill as his king's sworn man.

Coiran Longfoot was once the fastest runner in the kingdom. Now that he is in his thirtieth year, he takes his place instead in the shieldwall, wielding his father's sword with pride. A quiet man, he is known for his thrift and caution in matters of coin. A natural son of the king, he hopes one day to earn legitimacy by his deeds on the field of combat.

The wolves of the Five Islands travel far in their dragon-ships. In the cold East they were dragons truly, but the Great Ice quenched their fire, and like wolves they ran from death in savage packs, bringing that cold kiss instead to their victims, the true owners of the lands they now hold from the Five Islands to southern Quetheen.

One man among the hordes stands head and shoulders above the rest: Thorvald Snowborn. It is he who leads the greatest assaults on Caerhenned, with his lieutenants Njall Crowbone and Jaetar Foxfriend. At his side marches his champion, the bone-strewn, the bloody, the bastard Halfdan Flintfinger.

Thorvald Snowborn. Already four and thirty, Thorvald has carved a name for himself in the Five Islands. Since his noble father escaped the blizzard with his mewling newborn in his arms, Thorvald has grown tall and strong, proud of his strength and his iron liver. He has amassed a fair sum of gold in his raids, and now he seeks to rob himself a kingdom.

Njall Crowbone. At one-and-thirty, he is almost of an age with his leader, though of much poorer birth. He is penny-wise and foolish with no coin, having not forgotten the hut he was raised in. He has served Thorvald long and well, even losing an eye in a skirmish off the Quethani coast. When Caerhenned falls, his reward shall be great indeed.

Jaetar Foxfriend. Barely a score of years old, the Foxfriend is short and wiry, a natural athlete. He has made no name for himself as yet, but has claimed a positon in the Snowborn's expedition by virtue of his father's position. If Thorvald wishes to keep the sealanes to the Five Islands open, he would do well to please the Asvaldrsons.

And now, in the 3090th year of the gods, these men will clash in battle. In the fields of Whitetower, in the rakes and gullies of Ravenwood, even in the streets of Rath Luin itself will the sound of steel ring. The North is at its end, but it shall make such an end as to be worthy of a song by men in every corner of the world.

Friday, 27 July 2012

FUBAR the First

It's been a month and more of painting and terrain-making, so sorry for the lack of posts. But rivers and palm trees and Space Marines and Saxons and Ruritanians and Vietcong and marshes and ANZACs and fake Imperial Guard and Jacobites and more Boer War stuff have all been joining my little tin family, so I hope you can forgive me.

In today's first ever FUBAR game, Bishop (Second Class) Octavian and his clerics face off against the murderous Vryheid Totenkorps – villains so deadly that they don't even let their painters finish them before they hit the table!

Bishop Octavian – Elite, 5+ Armour, Assault Rifle
Fire Team One – Veteran, 5+ Armour, 2xAssault Rifles, LMG
Fire Team Two – Veteran, 5+ Armour, 2xAssault Rifles, LMG
Fire Team Three – Veteran, 5+ Armour, 2xAssault Rifles, LMG
Fire Team Four – Veteran, 5+ Armour, 2xAssault Rifles, LMG

Vryheid Totenkorps
Fire Team Alpha – Veteran, 5+ Armour, 4x Assault Rifles
Fire Team Beta – Veteran, 5+ Armour, 3x Assault Rifles, RPG
Fire Team Gamma – Veteran, 5+ Armour, 3x Assault Rifles, RPG
Fire Team Delta – Veteran, 5+ Armour, 3x Assault Rifles, LMG
Fire Team Epsilon – Veteran, 5+ Armour, 3x Assault Rifles, LMG

Here at the hamlet of Mortimer's Croft, the two sides come into contact. The Totenkorps are looking for death and mayhem, the Clerics to defend the civilians (who have already fled).
Totenkorps behind the fields, Clerics in the jungle.

Seizing the initiative, the clerics began their move forwards.
Clerics take their first building.

Nonplussed by their fellows' swift advance, several Cleric teams refused to budge, staying on guard for any Totenkorps trickery. Unsupported, the Clerics in the village take fire. Outraged, Octavian urged his men forward, laying effective fire down on the Vryheid left flank.
Octavian in the house!

The battle began to slow down into a firefight, both sides inching forward under suppressive fire. Finally, the fire team on the Cleric left flank moved from the jungle, and in a daring assault wiped out half the Totenkorp team that had been edging round to outflank the hamlet. They followed this up with a howling charge that sent the rest of them screaming down to hell's gates!
Secure the area!

At the same time on the other flank, the Totenkorps made it into the unoccupied building, threatening Octavian's hold on Mortimer's Croft.
The Totenkorps advance.

The bishop's leadership was exemplary; under his stalwart command the clerics kept up such a terrible rain of fire on the Totenkorps that their attack was driven to ground, and then driven out entirely, only to be replaced by Vryheid reinforcements. These men proved much more canny and determined, holding on to their toehold with grim fanaticism from behind their blood red masks. In the end, Octavian decided that a great gamble was all that could be done, and charged them. It was a bloody and gruelling combat, but in the end the Clerics were victorious through sheer weight of numbers.

The Totenkorps had lost four times as many men as the Clerics at this point, but their dead-eyed pride would not let them quit the field. So it was that they stood among the blood-stained corn, chanting their morbid songs amid the religious percussion of fire, falling one then another in the grim satisfaction that their scarlet-toothed god was pleased with their deaths.
The end of play.

With 20 kills to 3, this was a definite and total Cleric victory over the Vryheid Totenkorps.

FUBAR certainly lives up to its quick, fun and easy reputation. It would have been more interesting had the activation rolls not been so uniformly dire, but them's the breaks. It was good that even in such a simple system, within half a game I was cursing myself for not having exploited tactical nuances properly.

The lack of morale other than suppression was a little disconcerting, but I'm not sure why since Crossfire is one of my favourite games. I certainly enjoyed the suppression system, which forces a pick between using more effective squads and getting battered ones back on their feet. It just felt like there should be some retreating somewhere!

Man of the Match: Fire team Four, who started slowly on the Cleric left, but eventually dealt the coup-de-grace to three enemy fire teams – wiping out one entirely on their tod.

I'll definitely play FUBAR again, but maybe with a little more preparation next time. For instance, the cluster of buildings, so useful in Force on Force, really dragged the game down with their +2 armour bonuses against fire.

Sunday, 8 July 2012

Graut Kop, 1900

A gallant action was fought by General Brassick's 6th Division today at Graut Kop, by the meeting of the Gebeer and Harrison rivers. The Irish (South Irish Regiment, Ulster Light Infantry, Connaught Fusiliers), Royal (King's Own Royal Borderers, Royal Sherwood Rangers, Royal Scots Fusiliers) and Light (New Zealand Volunteers, Queen's Northern Lancers, Canadian Mounted Rifles) Brigades advanced in column from the east, the Irish Brigade moving alone on the southern bank of the Harrison River. The Light Brigade deployed before the marsh, and the Royals took the northern flank.
Starting set up. Graut Kop is the triangular hill.

In order to secure a good artillery position for further assaults on Boer positions closer to Pretoria, General White's orders were to secure Graut Kop, the steep central hill, by the end of the day. Despite the keenness of General Brassick's staff however, the advance began late, with the King's Own leading the Royal Brigade in its advance.

The Irish Brigade moved en masse on the other flank, the Connaught Fusiliers moving their flank companies into skirmish order as they approached the Gebeer bridge.
The British advance.

The change of formation had barely been completed when fire from Plat Kop, the flat hill that split the rivers, took an almighty toll on that brave regiment, killing a third of their number in one terrible ambush. Men of the South Irish were also caught, but the greatest storm fell upon the Fusiliers leading the Irish Brigade's advance.

Having begun the Royals' advance, the King's Own were now slowed by terrible circumstance. Determined to assault Graut Kop without coming too near the northern hills, they found Harrison River near impassable, having great difficulty in crossing short of the bridge that stood in those hills' shadows.

Only two hundred and fifty-odd effectives remained of the Connaught Fusiliers, and the ravaged remnants of the regiment began to pull back. They were several hundred yards behind the front lines when General Brassick managed to rally them into some sort of order.

Finally making it across Harrison River, the front elements of the King's Own began storming Plat Kop, enfilading the murderers of the Connaught Fusiliers. Unfortunately, their supporting line was itself enfiladed by a Boer position set up to protect the Harrison River bridge, which they had so wisely avoided.
The King's Own take the rear of Plat Kop.

Crossing the Gebeer while the King's Own distracted Plat Kop's defenders, the front companies of the Ulster Light Infantry made a gallant assault on the hill, but were shot down in droves on the slopes and the few dozen survivors fell back across the river. The King's Own charged the Boers from the rear, but were themselves thrown back by these martial paragons of Afrikaner virtue. The support line arrived for a second assault, but yet another ambush from the banana-shaped Pinang Hill destroyed it with mercilessly accurate enfilading fire.

Fortunately for British pride, the infantry's sacrifices had given the Queen's Northern Lancers time to navigate the marshes, and they fell upon the Boers with great shouts and flashing steel, sending the greyclad farmers fleeing in terror. Seeing the objective taken, the QNL's second line instead charged Pinang Hill, seeking revenge for the winnowing of the King's Own. Their gallant charge took the hill, but over a hundred troopers fell in the charge. As this war progresses it becomes more and more apparent that the antiquated cavalry tactics of some of our Crimea-blooded generals are inadequate for the modern age of rifles. In a perfect example, the volunteers of the Canadian Mounted Rifles cleared Bridge Kop by the banks of the Harrison of the Boers who had enfiladed the King's Own advance across the river for fewer than fifty casualties.

The lancers regrouped on the now-pacified Plat Kop, and moved to assault the remainder of Pinang's defenders. By luck or Brassick's inept design however, the cavalry were interrupted in their charge by fire from the Royal Artillery. While few men were killed, the horses were so spooked by the close fall of shells that the lancers were of no use for the rest of the battle.

For an hour or so around 3pm, the battle stalled into a series of long-range sniping matches. The Royal Sherwood Rangers, advancing in open order, had been ambushed by artillery which flensed their leading companies from Craggy Hill. The orders went back, and soon the Royal Artillery had opened on the suspected source of fire, pouring down lyddite in an attempt to clear the way. All down the line, the British held their ground, restoring their calm and confidence before another push for Graut Kop.

The Irish began the afternoon's great effort, the South Irish and Ulsters moving on the Gebeer. Unfortunately, patient and cunning Pom-Pom gunners were waiting on deVoer's hill and the South Irish were driven back under fire from them and the riflemen on the hill south of Mikel's Kraal, shattered and dying and broken beyond repair.

The Ulsters at least made it across the river, but were caught in the kraal's fields and decimated over the next hour or so as their advance slowed to a crawl. By the end of the battle, the South Irish and the Ulsters had both been forced to retire in the face of the enemy with extremely heavy losses.

There was better news on the northern flank however, as the Royal Sherwoods & Canadians took Craggy Hill and the Boer artillery positions on it after several abortive moves forward. At the same time, the New Zealand volunteers crossed the Harrison and stormed towards the kraal in column, only to be ambushed twice, once from Graut Kop and once from Bak Hill, costing them three of their four hundreds before they even saw the enemy.

The Royal Scots Fusiliers during all this advanced as an epitome of the British infantryman. They crossed the Harrison, consolidated Bridge Kop and then stormed the entrenched Boer positions on the north of Bak Hill despite the defenders' superior numbers. Alas, their time held in reserve by Brigadier Mordaunt cost the battle dearly. Despite all the sacrifices and all the advances by the British, the Boers still held Bak Hill and Mikel's Hill by fall of night.

With so many Boers still in the close vicinity, the risk of bringing up the guns was far too high, and so reluctantly, and with great passing of the buck, Brassick gravely put his name to a telegram informing General White of his division's failure in the day's operations.

Mark Abelard, esq.
The Eastern Times 
The end of play. Boers to the left, and hidden at the back.

Butcher's Bill
British: 800 dead, 1,400 wounded. 3 battalions routed.
Boers: 500 dead, 700 wounded, 4 guns lost. 400 dispersed into the countryside.

This was a real see-saw of a battle. The early British successes made it seem like things would be over by 2pm, but by nightfall at 7pm, things had gone too slowly for victory. The problem, of course, was shock. Initiatives spent moving men forward were lost when it came to keeping them there, and eventually, great things fell apart (not withstanding the amazing sprint by the Royal Scots that took them from the reserve to the Boer board edge in only a couple of turns.

The Brits took 48% casualties in this battle, but Barbarossa and I both really enjoyed it. Despite being in charge of Brassick's division, he was pleased to see that both sides could achieve tactical victory.

Man-of-the-match: Royal Scots Fusiliers, for storming Bak Hill in such magnificent style.
Anti-man-of-the-match: Royal Artillery, by special request.

It seems that no-one has yet quite grasped using the British artillery, especially with only one Staff card in the deck!

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

A First Game of Saga

Having just finished a four-point SAGA warband of Anglo-Danes (my first 28mm models for about six years!), I decided on a game to break them in, against some old Rohirrim (with Gondorian support) who played with the Norman list. Pictures first though. They look better on the table, but I'm not sure how to do better given my camera and my apartment's light:
Half the Hearthguard
The other half.

The Warriors of the warband.
All the lads together.
A slightly better view?

So two armies came together in a Clash of Warlords, 4 points of Norman Hearthguard versus Anglo-Danes evenly divided between Warriors and Hearthguard – and some of them had Dane axes!

The game started slowly, both sides trying to be cunning and add to their battle boards before the inevitable clash of shieldwall and lance. The Normans advanced fastest (of course), refusing one flank for lack of activation dice.
The lines close.

With a quick flick to the back of the rulebook, the Norman Warlord called out, and with a roar of We Obey!, a unit of Hearthguard followed him in a charge against the Danish standard, and the axes surrounding it. All along the line, Norman knights crashed home, and what followed gave great glee to the ravens. Stamp combined with terrible save dice saw one unit of knights kill half the Warriors facing them, only to take 75% casualties themselves! The Warlord and his knights destroyed the Danish axemen who reaped bloody slaughter as they died, leaving only the Warlord standing. On the far flank, the Danes defended themselves superbly, bringing the Norman advance to a crashing halt.
The lines, thinned out.

There was plinking for a round, as neither side did anything in combat, and then came the final turn! On the Danish right, the men who had done so well before slaughtered the cavalry before them for the loss of three of their own, and on their left, the late-arriving Norman knights annihilated the brave Warriors who stood before them. In the centre, Warlord met Warlord, and with a full ten attack dice (thanks to some impressive Battle Boarding), the Norman master destroyed his opponent. In true epic fashion however, the Danish lord struck down his nemesis even as death clouded his eyes, leaving the battle a bloody draw.
The end of play.

That was fun – and a lot quicker than I was expecting, given that it was a first time out for the boards. A draw seemed fair, although the Victory Points came out to 13-10 in favour of the Normans, due to some last minute Warrior slaughtering.
The lucky: 5 Norman Hearthguard, 9 Danish Warriors, 1 Danish Hearthguard.

I'll definitely play this again, and have many more Gripping Beast plastic Saxons to paint up. I may do some of them as extremist 1st millenium Christians and use the Jomsviking list with some creative name changes for the less crusader-y abilities. Why let the pagans have all the fun!?