Monday, February 6, 2012

Battle Report: The Lord of the Rings: The Long Night

A small band of men and their dwarf allies desperately defend a their village against rampaging orcs.  Will they hold out long enough for help to arrive, or will their children and womenfolk be left to the mercy of bloodthirsty orcs?

This is the first battle report I've done for The Lord of the Rings Strategy Battle Game.  A lot of people don't give this game the credit that I believe is due.  There are no tournaments to speak of and would be players have a hard time finding opponents at their LGS.  A glance at the rules shows terms that seem simplistic:  a "Fight" or "Shoot" value instead of "Weapon Skill" and "Ballistic Skill"?  Please. Veterans of "mature" games like Warhammer 40,000 would be wise to turn up their noses up at the childishness of LotR.

Or would they?  In one of the White Dwarf magazine articles touting LotR, the author says that LotR is a game that is easy to learn, but difficult to master.  Having played it, I agree.  There is a whole new set of tactical problems for the general to solve, very unlike a game like 40k.  The scale is smaller, so it is very much a skirmish game, with all the detail that goes along with that.  The rules scale up just fine to larger battles, but those battles will just take longer.  But a game at this scale makes you root for each one of your warriors, each of whom is vital to your plans.  There are no suicide squads so prevalent in 40k.  The scenario is filled with drama.  No fighting over some nameless objective.  Here a small band of humans and dwarfs are defending a village against rampaging orcs.  Will they hold out long enough for help to arrive, or will their children and womenfolk be killed by the merciless orcs?

Scenario:  The Long Night (from The Return of the King rulebook)
In this scenario a horde of orcs threaten the inhabitants of a small village.  While the women and children take shelter in the buildings, the men, with some valiant dwarf allies, defend the village from behind a barricade in the village center.

The Forces of Good need to survive a full twenty turns, at which point reinforcements from a neighboring village arrive.  The Forces of Evil are a non-stop stream--all casualties suffered by them are recycled and sent back into the fight.  If four or more defenders are still alive, they are victorious. If less than four defenders survive but there are less than four of them, the orcs are driven off but the village is abandoned.  If the defenders are wiped out completely, the orcs burn the village and kill/eat the inhabitants.

Forces of Good:  Badelaire
1 Dwarf Captain (Vidar)
3 Khazad Guard
6 Dwarfs with shields
3 Dwarfs with bows
2 Captains of Men (Aldor and Fengel)
4 Men of Rhovanion with shields
4 Men of Rhovanion with throwing spears and shields
4 Men of Rhovanion with bows

Forces of Good Briefing
Badelaire:  It has been...years since we’ve played The Lord of the Rings: Strategy Battle Game.  But we were both thinking it would be fun to get back into it, and since I had just finished painting my metal Dwarf Warriors, Khazad Guard, and Dain Ironfoot, it was a good time to give it a try.  I remember that we’d fought this battle once before and I had lost horribly, but I don’t remember if we used the same forces, or just fought a “similar” battle.

I had fewer bow-armed models than the scenario calls for, but more shield-bearing dwarves and a third Khazad Guard, so my offensive ranged firepower was less, but my survivability was higher. Dain would be playing the role of Dwarf Captain Vidar, and Darkwing would be providing the Rohan models to represent the Rhovanion contingent - twelve models split equally into hand weapon and shields, throwing spears, and bows.  In addition, we had two Captains: Aldor in heavy armor, and Fengel in light armor and carrying a shield..  

Reading the scenario, the goal is to keep the Good models alive as long as possible.  Remembering my last fight, where the Good models all wound up stuck in the center and slaughtered, I knew I needed to hold the barricades as long as I could - the rules give a massive advantage to whoever holds a barricaded defensive position.  While the Dwarf Warriors and Khazad Guard are good, the Uruk Hai are easily superior to the Men in my command, and I need to make sure that the Men are strongly backed by the Dwarves, whose better Fight values will help hold a tie.  It also means that any time a Man/Dwarf pairing loses a fight, the Man will most likely be the casualty, since the Defense values of the Dwarves are so much higher.

On the positive side, both my Dwarf bows and my throwing spears are Strength 3, and given the sparse nature of the Uruk assault, if I can kill a couple of models every turn with shooting and then another one or two a turn with fighting at the walls, I stand a good chance of holding out for the full twenty turns - at least, surviving that long...

Forces of Evil:  Darkwing
1 Mordor Uruk-hai Captain
10 Mordor Uruk-hai with shields
5 Uruk-hai with orc bows

Forces of Evil Briefing
Darkwing:  My objective is pretty simple--kill.  Fitting, since that's really all that orcs understand.  My forces will swarm the village from all directions, kill the defenders, and burn the village to the ground.  The major obstacle to completing this objective are the enemy captains.  My own orc captain will recycle, but still, I foresee Badelaire using his captains to rush to any threatened wall sections and repel any foothold I get.  I think the best way to deal with this is to threaten one side of the village in the hopes of luring his captains to defend it.  Then I'll swarm the other side with my reinforcements, and attack there.  The more time his captains are spent running around trying to get to the fighting, the the less time they will be fighting, and that's what I want.

Layout of the village (Note:  North is at bottom)

Defenders take positions behind the wall, under the watchful eyes of their captains in the center of the village
Turn 1
The defenders fingered their weapons, peering out into the darkness.  They could hear the orcs' growls and mocking jeers.  They knew that the attack would come soon.  The families were hiding in the buildings, waiting and hoping that the attack would be repelled.  Manning the barricades, the men were nervous; the dwarfs grim.    

With a howl the orcs began the attack.  Black shapes appeared out of the darkness, coming from every direction.  The defending archers loosed their arrows.  Only a single arrow found a mark, lodging in the chest of an orc to the south.  The orc staggered and collapsed.  The other attackers ignored him.  
The orcs begin their attack
Turn 2
Orc archers skulked towards the northeast barricade, and loosed arrows at the defenders.  One man archer fell, clutching weakly at the arrow in his neck.  On the western side, the orcs aggressively sprinted up to the wall.  One orc leapt over it, plunging his sword into a dwarf archer's chest.  Already the orcs were inside the defenses.
The orcs reach the western barricade

The orcs close in
Turn 3
Captain Fengel sprinted over to the western barricade, slamming his weapon into the face of the orc that had made it over the wall.  Next to him, an archer killed another orc, and just like that the threat to the west was eliminated.  

A dwarf archer shot another orc to the south, reducing their numbers further.

An orc captain reached the northwest barricade, drove his war mattock into the chest of an archer, then with a hoot of victory, leapt over the barricade to continue his attack.
The orc captain assaults the warriors defending the northwest barricade
The orcs begin to build the pressure (northwest is at bottom)
Turn 4
Dwarf Captain Vidar charged into combat with the orc captain, assisting the beleaguered men.  The orc was no match for the Vidar, who wounded the orc twice, but the orc managed to ward off one of the blows with his Fate Point. The injury filled the orc with rage, and he hurled himself at the dwarf and the other defenders, knocking all of them back and killing one of the men.  

The Dwarf Captain charges in to take on the orc captain.
To the northeast, a ork warrior managed to jump the wall, only to be killed by a dwarf and a human working together.  Another orc was killed at the east barricade.

Turn 5
Captain Aldor charged to the barricade, and the orc captain found himself facing off against the Aldor, the Vidar, and a Khazad Guard.  Summoning his might (i.e., spending a Might Point), the orc hurled back all three of his opponents, wounding Aldor (by spending his second Might Point), but the captain managed to shrug off the wound (with his Fate Point)
The human captain assists the Dwarf Captain and Khazad Guard against the Orc captain

Using a heroic action, Aldor brought the Khazad Guard and the Vidar back into the fight with the orc captain, and finally the Aldor killed the orc. 

In the meantime an Orc jumped the wall to support his captain.  Two Khazad Guard stood in his way, and the orc caved in one Khazad skull and bulled past the other.  The orc sprinted into the middle of the battlefield, howling his challenge to the defenders.

Orcs were piling up towards the east, and they prepared to launch a massed attack.  To the south an orc killed a defender and leapt over the wall.  For every threat eliminated by the defenders, another took its place.
Turn 6
A spearman moves to challenge the orc running amok within the village square

Orcs mass to attack the eastern barricade.

The fight at the eastern barricade heated up, with one orc and one defender being killed, and the rest of the orcs being thrown back.
The orc archers to the northeast (lower left) mass their volleys ineffectively at the defenders.

Turn 7
Reinforcements arrived on the eastern flank for the defenders, and the orc that had jumped the wall was killed.  A newly arrived orc captain was approaching, and began to muster his forces to assault the eastern wall.

The reinforcements arrive at the eastern wall

Rather than continue to shoot, the orc archers at the northeast barricade get stuck in, killing one defender but losing one of their own.
Turns 8-9
The orc captain led the charge against the eastern wall, with one orc and one defender being killed.  Captain Aldor ran to the wall to face the orc captain and blunt the attack.

The defenders rush to repel the latest attack
Aldor put up a good fight, but the Orc Captain struck him down and leapt the wall, only to kill another man.  Suddenly the situation on the eastern flank was desperate.

With all of the action going on to the west, the Vidar felt underutilized on the empty northwestern barricade, and began a lumbering redeployment to the west and south.
Turns 10-12
Arriving at the southern flank, Vidar and his Khazad Guard leapt into the fray with a heroic action, braining an orc with his axe.  The orcs were no match for him, and as time went on he slew two more orcs. 
The Dwarf Captain leads a charge into the southern flank

To the east, the orc captain began pressing the defenders back, but the Captain Fengel charged into the fray with a flurry of axe blows, wounding the orc captain twice, who only managed to survive by spending his lone Fate Point.  Recovering, the orc captain struck back and wounded Fengel, who withstood the blow by spending his own Fate Point.  Another flurry of blows later, and the Fengel was slain by the orc captain's savage blows.  A Khazad Guard moved up to fight the orc captain next, but he too fell to the orc's wrath.

With the main attacks coming from the east and south, the west flank is left undefended, and orcs begin to stealthily approach it. 

Turns 13-15
Seeing that both Captains of Men were down and that the eastern defense had collapsed, Captain Vidar sensed that that end was near.  "Fall back!" roared the dwarf captain.  All the surviving defenders abandoned their positions on the walls and rallied in the village square for their final defense.  Those defenders who were armed with shields went on the defensive, forgoing attacking and instead turtling behind their shields.  The only had to hold out a short while longer, and reinforcements from another village might arrive and save them.
The orcs swarm over the wall as the defenders fall back for their last stand

Despite their valiant efforts, the surviving men and dwarfs were hard pressed.  One Khazad Guard was killed, along with a Dwarf warrior and an archer.  Captain Vidar, with a final bellow of defiance, wounded the Orc Captain before he was killed. 
The fighting devolves into a general melee as the defensive line formed by the defenders begins to break up

Turns 16-Conclusion
The sheer numbers of the orcs begins to tell

The defensive shielding tactics used by the defenders proved helpful, as on more than one occasion a hard pressed defender would throw back three or four attackers.  But as they were unable to kill any of their attackers, it was only a matter of time, and one by one they fell.  One more orc was killed, but then, there was only one dwarf left standing.  He fearlessly hurled himself at the orc captain, but it was a futile gesture, and he was overwhelmed by the massed orcs. 

The last surviving dwarf holds his ground despite the odds and fights to the end
Reinforcements from a nearby village did arrive, but too late.  Despite the valiant defense, the homes were all ablaze; the villagers and their dwarf allies butchered without mercy.  The arriving relief forces vowed to track down the orcs and one day avenge their neighbors.

Forces of Good Debriefing
Badelaire:  Close...but not close enough.  Eighteen turns was a great run, better than I would have expected, and I think I made a number of tactical errors early on which I should have avoided.  For one thing, I should have read the rules for defending obstacles a lot more carefully.  I think I should have been a lot more judicious in how I defended the walls, keeping the Rhovanion archers off the walls entirely.  Their weak bows and poor Defense values made them a liability, and if I had put them in the center of the board with the reserves, I would have had more models later on.  The Rhovanion shield-bearing models should have used the Shielding rule whenever possible, especially on the enemy’s turn, while throwing spears (if carried) on their own turn.  

Actually, I should have been using the Shielding rule a lot more in the early stages of this battle.  The key to remember is that winning isn’t about killing the enemy - he’ll always bring on more models, and perhaps bring them on in a more advantageous side of the board.  The key to winning the battle is keeping my own models alive for 20 turns; I could have “won” this battle without killing a single enemy model, at least in theory.  Don’t get me wrong - you want to kill models if possible, in order to relieve the pressure against certain points along the lines, but I think if I had been more selective about where and when I went on the offense as opposed to pure defense, I would have had more models later in the game, and as we saw, even a handful of added models might have been enough to pull a draw out of the fight.

One thing I do compliment myself on is the use of Heroic Actions.  I think in all the previous LotR SBG fights I’ve played, Might was used simply as a modifier to rolls.  Being able to perform a couple of heroic moves, in order to shift my reserves into the fight where they were needed, was really pretty epic.  Thinking on it, putting a Captain in the reserve with all my bow-armed models and using a Heroic Shoot against the occasional bad breakthrough along the walls might have been equally awesome - we’ll just have to save such idea for the next battle!

Forces of Evil Debriefing
Darkwing:  It was a valiant, but ultimately doomed defense.  Clearly it was my generalship that won the day.  Seriously though, I think the main problem Badelaire faced was one of terrain.  The area that he had to defend was too big (a bit bigger than presented in the rulebook), and so each of his defenders had to guard wide stretches of wall.  The size of the area also made it more difficult for his forces to redeploy.  Seeing as he lasted 18 turns, I think that if the area he needed to defended was any smaller, he would have pulled out the victory.  As it is, the only thing that I would have done differently if I was in his shoes would be to abandon unthreatened wall sections earlier, but in the end that may not have made much difference.

Technical Note:  In the past I would use my digital camera to take photos of the battle in progress, as well as larger pictures of the entire battlefield for reference.  I would upload them to my computer via the USB cable.  I then used ProFantasy's Campaign Cartographer (which I don't mind plugging because it's awesome) to make the maps from the reference photos, and upload them to blogger.  For the action shots I used Adobe Photoshop to edit the photos, and upload them to blogger.  I have since experimented a few other methods for making maps (for example, combining Campaign Cartographer and Photoshop, but that is the basic workflow.

I recently got a new cell phone with a decent camera, and for this battle report I decided to try to make use of modern technology.  I took all the photos with the cell phone camera and uploaded them directly from the phone to Picasa Web Albums.  I would edit them online there, and then right to blogger.  That would save an upload step and streamline my work flow.  

Well, the results are ok, but not good enough.  My cell phone has a good camera, but the exposure time is typically 1/15, which causes some motion blur unless you stabilize the camera.  So the close up photos are not as sharp as I would like.  Also, Google's online editing software is geared more towards editing photos of people, not battle reports.  So I have no way (that I have discovered yet) of blocking out the background of the photos, which I think makes them look much more presentable.  So basically all I can do is crop them, color/contrast correct them, and resize them.  Which is ok, but not good enough for what I want to do.

So for the time being anyway, for battle reports I will likely go back to my old method of documenting the battles.

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