Sunday, October 5, 2014

Warhammer's Evil Influence on War of the Ring and Middle Earth

I have never been a Games Workshop gamer.  My start in the hobby was playing Napoleonics and then branching out to the Seven Years War and dabbled in WWII.  I gamed with a group that met every Saturday night at a community room at a local police station that started about 7PM and usually ended around 2AM.  Our only exposure to any type of fantasy gaming was Gary Gygax's Advanced Dungeons and Dragons (1st Edition) which we played in our pre-teens and grew out of, preferring the more serious study of historical gaming.  The idea behind the games that I played such as Napoleon's Battles and Koenig's Krieg (Seven Years War or SYW) was to play a simulation of 18th and 19th century warfare.  Uniforms and tactics were extensively researched and Games Workshop games were sneered upon, as they were thought of as cartoonish and not real wargames.

So in 2001, I was in the local mall and noticed a painted Fellowship in the store window and asked the sales clerk if he was willing to sell the painted minis as I thought they would look nice in a glass case in my war room.  The clerk would not sell the painted figures, but twisted my arm into buying the Fellowship of the Ring box starter set, along with the Fellowship box and the starter paint set.  I'm not sure of I regret or rejoice in this decision.

I painted my Fellowship, Goblins, Elves and Warriors of Men as they were then called and even bought some of the metal orcs.  I solo played the first few scenarios of the first rulebook, and was reluctantly impressed.  It was a good skirmish game, something I never really cared for in my wargaming experience.  When I went to the local historical game days, I found that the same people who were playing Napoleonics and SYW were also playing the Strategy Battle Game (SBG).  But when I went to the local Games Workshop store, nobody was interested in playing SBG as the teen and twenty somethings were more interested in Warhammer Fantasy and 40K.  The people who I played SBG with were my age or older who remember the Glory Years of high fantasy of the 1970s and 80s when AD&D was king and films like Conan the Barbarian with Arnold Schwarzenegger graced the screen.

So when GW's War of the Ring (WOTR) came out, it was the natural progression for me to evolve into mass battles in Middle Earth.  But, there were a few things about the system that for me, were not Tolkien.  Alessio Cavatore and Rick Priestly, the original creators of SBG, were no longer with GW and did not design WOTR.  Alessio (a big AD&D player) even said in an interview that SBG would always be a skirmish system and he had no desire of developing a mass battles game.  The designers of WOTR, Matt Ward and Jeremy Vetock, were from the Warhammer department at GW and not part of the original SBG design team.  What they did was incorporate the SBG stat lines to some new ideas they were working on for Warhammer Fantasy.  WOTR was in essence a Beta for Warhammer Fantasy 8th Edition.

Now I do enjoy WOTR or else I wouldn't be playing, but I have found that most of all the things I find wrong with the system come from Warhammer Fantasy.

Here are some things that in my personal opinion should not be in WOTR:

Orc Shamans - Orcs can cast spells?  What?  Where is that in Tolkien?  They are supposed to be the cannon fodder weaker servants of the Dark Lord.  Warhammer Fantasy incorporates a lot of magic and the shaman comes directly from Fantasy.  Magic is supposed to be subtle in Middle Earth, or else Gandalf, Elrond, and Galdriel could have easily marched into Mordor, destroyed Saruman and his armies and the One Ring along with it.  The shamans give to much magic ability to the evil side, and I don't use them in my games.

Dwarf Rangers - This is the ultimate oxymoron.  A ranger is one who patrols the borders and forests and lives off the land.  Tolkein's dwarves delved deep in the mountains mining gold and precious gems.  I will never field dwarf rangers.

Isengard Trolls - GW insists on giving every evil army a monster of some sort.  Since Tolkein never mentions Saruman employing monsters, GW took it upon themselves to add trolls to the Isengard army.  I prefer every army being unique and using the strategy and tactics of their inherent units to defeat overwhelming odds.  For me, Isengard trolls are right out.

King's Champion - Again the need for monster type in an army and another mechanic from Warhammer that has no place in Middle Earth.  You mean to tell me that Durin or Thror need someone to fight their battles for them?

Vault Warden - Aside from not being mentioned in Tolkein, the cost of the models themselves make it unrealistic to have a player field one company let alone two in a formation.

Named Ringwraiths - Giving each ringwraith an additional special ability makes them too powerful for their cost and can make lower point games unplayable.  This is because Warhammer has the Gods of Chaos and the desire of each to have their own special ability.  I play that each ringwraith has the generic stat line and knows all the Spells of Dismay and Darkness with a Mastery level of 3.  The only difference for the Witch King is Might 3.  Yes, I know Tolkein mentions Khamul the Easteriling, but this doesn't mean each ringwraith has to be named and have a special ability.

Epic Heroes - Warhammer is all about Lords and Heroes and is big part of the game.  Tolkein's Middle Earth had it's share of heroes, but not entire armies made out of them.  Yes each formation should get a captain, which coming from a historical gamer background makes sense to me.  But, if a "power gamer" bring the Nine are Abroad, Sauron, trolls, and just a few orc formations, the Kingdoms of Men will never have a chance.  I have a house rule of one Epic Hero for every 1000 points.  This way you can field plenty of formations to eat up hits of the powerful epic heroes such as Sauron. 

Tolkein's Middle Earth is a very rich gaming environment and I disagree with many Warhammer players that the universe is too limited.  Much like historical gaming, it requires a little research into what Tolkein wrote to get a feel for battles in Middle Earth.  I guess this is why more historical gamers are attracted to SBG and WOTR than Warhammer players who they feel that they are limited and can not make up their own narratives without worrying about not following cannon material.

I think there is room for both types of players, and I have nothing against anyone who plays both systems.  But there is a divide between the Warhammer side of GW and the Middle Earth side and it is rare to find someone who plays both.  This is why I prefer to play WOTR at historical gaming circles and stay clear of Games Workshop stores and events.


Sunday, September 14, 2014

1500 Points Isengard vs. Rohan

Following up on the Fords of Isen scenario, several local area gamers got together to up the points a bit and do 1500 points of Rohan and Isengard.  The main thing I wanted to do was show how Epic Heroes work in the game.  Rohan was led by Eomer and Isengard was led by Lurtz.  We decided to do The Field of Swords Scenario with the Shieldwalls setup.
Here was the Order of Battle:
Leader:  Eomer
4 x Co Oathsworn Militia w/Captain & Standard
4 x Co Grimbold's Helmlingas, w/Grimbold, Standard
2 x Co Rohan Knights Dismounted w/Captain, Standard
2 x Co Oathsworn Bowmen
2 x Co Oathsworn Bowmen
1 x Co Dismounted Outriders
3 x Rohan Knights w/Captain
6 x Co Erkenbrand's Riders w/Erkenbrand, Standard
6 x Co Elfhelm's Riders w/Elfhelm, Standard
Leader:  Lurtz
4 x Co Uruk-Hai Phalanx w/Captain, Standard
4 x Co Uruk-Hai Warband w/ Captain, Standard
2 x Co Uruk-Hai Scout Archers
2 x Co Vrashku's Talons w/Vrashku
4 x Co Ugluk's Raiders w/Ugluk
1 x Co Uruk-Hai Bezerkers
4 x Co Sharku's Hunters w/Sharku
3 x Co Warg Riders w/bows

The initial set up.

 I set up the table with minimal terrain aside from a few hills, two woods, and a wooden building that counted as defensible terrain and could hold two companies.  We had two players playing Rohan and two for Isengard.  Since I was Rohan, the other Rohan player liked my setup and had no objections.  The Isengard players decided to put the bulk of the their force on their left flank to include both formations of wargs.  They solidified the middle with Uruk-hai and had Ugluk and his Raiders out on the right flank

Rohan won priority for Turn 1 and quickly moved the Oathsworn Bowmen into the woods to take advantage of the defensible terrain.  The rest of the army moved up alongside them to keep the army in line.  Isengard then moved Vrashu's Talons and the Uruk-Hai Scout Bowmen up on the hill and pushed the wargs along the left side to exploit Rohan's right flank.  Vrashku's Hunters anchored the right flank by moving into the woods.

Beginning of Turn 2.

On Turn 2 Rohan moved the Dismounted Outriders into the building and moved up the rest of the infantry.  Isengard pushed up the Uruk-Hai in the center and moved up the wargs on the left.  The Shoot Phase began causing casulties on both sides with the Rohan Bowmen in the woods losing a company.  Since the Isengard player retained priority, they charged the Oathsworn Militia with Lurtz and his Uruk hai Warband.  Lurtz declared a Heroic Duel and easily killed the Rohan Captain.  The ensuing Fight Phase proved inconclusive with both sides taking casualties and Rohan rolling a Steadfast result on the Panic test. 

Uguk leads the Uruk-hai against the Oathsworn Militia.

On Turn 3, Ugluk's Raiders came out of the woods on their right flank to block the Rohan Royal Guard from charging the Uruk-Hai Phalanx who was already opposed by Grimbold's Helmlingas.  Ugluk's Raiders lost the fight and became disordered on the Panic test.  Lurtz and his Uruk-Hai charged the Oathsworn Militia taking out two companies who then became disordered on the Panic test. 
Ugluk's Raiders lost the fight and went disordered.

The Uruk-hai bezerkers flank Grimbold's Helmlingas.
On Turn 4, all formations passed their Courage tests recovering from disorder.  Ugluk's Raiders decided to move backwards in order to escape from Erkenbrand's Riders who were coming up on the left.  Erkenbrand then charged Uguk's Raiders, but then Erkenbrand was killed in a Heroic Duel with Ugluk.  Erkenbrand's Riders ultimately won the flight, but took heavy casualties and Ugluk's Raiders became disordered on the Panic test.  On the other flank, Eomer charged the Royal Knights into the Uruk-Hai Warband formation killing Lurtz in a Heroic Dual and causing the Uruks to disorder, but the Knights took heavy casualties.

On Turn 5, the Uruk Hai Bezerkers charged the Royal Knights suffering three casualties, but killing the other Royal Knight Company.  The Uruk-Hai Phalanx charged Grimbold's Helmlingas taking them down to one company.

On Turn 6, Eomer thought it would be best for him to move to the Oathsworn Militia formation and regroup with Grimbold and the remaining Royal Knight company.  The Oathsworn Bowmen on the Rohan left flank decided to move to reinforce the center.  The Uruk-Hai scouts charged the woods defeating the remaining Oathsworn Bwomen company.   On the far right of the Rohan army, Sharku's Hunters engaged in a series of fights with Elfhelm's Riders, with Elfhelm killing Sharku in a Heroic Duel, but Elfhelm and the rest of his riders were killed in the ensuing fight.

Om Turn 7, Ugluks Raiders took refuge on the woods, so the remnants of  Erkenbrand's Riders decided not to pursue and headed across the field to assist Eomer.  The Royal Guard charged Ugluk's Raiders in the woods, but lost the combat due to the defensive terrain bonus. 

The remnants of Erkenbrand's Rider's move to finish the Uruk-hai.
On the decisive Turn 8, Ugluk's Raiders were able to exit the woods during their move and were able to set themselves up to charge the Royal Guard in the flank.  Erkanbrand's Riders rolled a six on their charge move and defeated the remnants of the Uruk-Hai Warband.  The game came down to Eomer charging with the Oathsworn Militia at the remnants of Sharku's Hunters.  The Militia were able to defeat the wargs with Eomer using his Epic Strike special rule.  Sharku's Hunters became disordered on the Panic test.
Eomer charges what's left of Sharku's Hunters.
So in the end it was a Rohan victory with Rohan killing Lurtz, Shaurku, and two Uruk-Hai Captains and Isengard killing Erkenbrand, Elfhelm, and one captian.  Since an Epic hero is worth four points, and captains one, Erkenbrand was in his Legendary Formation and did not count as an Epic Hero, but as a captain which resulted in Rohan taking the game on points.
You can see the video battle report here:
For the next game we are going to up the points again, this time to 2,000 and add monsters and magic.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

First Battle of the Fords of Isen Battle Report

This scenario was run at Historicon 2014 held in Fredericksburg, Virginia in the US.  We had six players, three on each side.  Isengard was led by Vrashku's Talons with one player commanding the Isengard orcs, one player controlling the Dunland allies, and one player commanding the Uruk-Hai scouts flanking force led by Sharku's Hunters.  Rohan was led by Theodred's Knights with one player Theodred and the East Bank force, one player commanding the West Bank Force led by Grimbold's Helmlingas, and one player commanding the relief force led by Elfhelm's riders.
The scenario is not balanced and Isengard has twice the points value in their forces than the Rohan players.  The victory conditions for Isengard to be in control of all three fords by the end of any turn with no enemy within three inches of the ford.  Rohan's victory conditions are to destroy two thirds of the Isengard army by the end of any turn.  If neither of these conditions are met, the game is a draw, unless Theodred is killed.


The Rohan side begins with initiative and they decided to move all their forces to the East Bank and take the Isengard army head on.  A bold move, but they gave up the river’s natural defenses.  Any formation touching one of the fords and loses a fight suffers an addition 1D6 casualties.  Rohan did move Theodred’s Knights into the eyot, but could have also pulled Grimbold’s Helmlingas back to the West Bank.
On Turn 2, when the Isengard flanking force arrived on Turn 2, they easily made their way into Rohan’s rear, cutting off any chance of retreat. 
Back on the East Bank, Isengard used At the Double moves and several Heroic moves when Rohan had initiative to move into charge distance range.  The seizing the initiative they were able to use the open terrain to their advantage and double up on the Rohan formations.  If they remained on the East Bank, they could have channeled Isengard in the fords and taken them on one on one and if Isengard lost a fight they would have suffered the additional D6 hits.
On Turn 3 when Grimbold’s riders arrived, they charge a formation of Uruk Hai Scouts.  Sharku’s Hunters saw their chance and used all three points of Sharku’s Might to add to the die roll of their charge move to reach the flank of Grimbold’s formation.  Sharku was killed in a Heroic duel and Grimbold’s riders survived and regrouped, and decided to back away and fire arrows at the Uruks from distance.

The Rohan attack on the East Bank quickly disintegrated and Isengard was able to take two of the fords.  The only objective remaining was to take the final ford, but Theodred’s Knights were prepared to make a stand at the eyot. 
After a failed charge, Isengard decided to pull back and pummel the eyot with arrows.  The eyot gave the Knights a total of Defense 9, so the orc archers had to roll 6’s then 5’s to cause casualties.  It came down to Turn 8, but the sheer numbers of arrows were enough to kill Theodred and his remaining knights.
And so lies Theodred, Heir to Kingdom of Rohan, killed defending the last remaining ford, and leaving the Westfold open to the treachery of the forces of Isengard.


Monday, August 18, 2014

War of the Ring Blog

This blog will record my attempt to fight the battles of the Second and Third Age of Middle Earth.  I  collect Games Workshop Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit miniatures and use the both the Strategy Battle Game and War of the Ring systems.  This blog will concentrate mostly on the War of the Ring mass battles system as Games Workshop no longer supports the system and I am attempting to keep the game alive underground.

For those who are just coming upon this blog, The Lord of the Rings/The Hobbit Strategy Battle Game or SBG is a skirmish level game initially intended to re-create the journey of the Fellowship of the Ring and the attempt to destroy The One Ring.  SBG was re-branded when Games Workshop renewed the license to produce miniatures for The Hobbit movie trilogy which follows Thorin and Company in their quest to retake Erebor.  The Hobbit SBG is compatible with the profiles from Lord of the Rings (LOTR) SBG and has gained popularity for points match and tournament style play that came about with the army books released in 2012.

War of the Ring was designed to fight the large scale battles of Middle Earth.  Gamers became frustrated using a skirmish game to fight battles with large armies such as The Battle of Dagorlad or Pelennor Fields, so Games Workshop finally released a mass battles system in 2009.  War of the Ring or WoTR modified the profiles from SBG with simple mechanics for the larger amount of models.  Infantry companies were based on special movement trays with eight infantry models to a tray and two cavalry models.

But only three years after its release and the rising cost of metal, Games Workshop decided to take their product in a new direction with the introduction of finecast resin to replace metal blister packs.  The plastic models were repackaged from 24 or 20 model infantry boxes to 12 or 10 model boxes to coincide with the SBG warband rules.  Two years later, Games Workshop decided to drop support for War of the Ring and no longer carries the core rules or infantry movement trays.

For many of us, it took a few years to collect armies large enough to play War of the Ring.  Now that we have the models and are comfortable with the rules system, it is up to us to continue the game through the online community.  I will be documenting my collecting, building, painting, as well as providing battle reports.

For me, the near term for WoTR will be to fight a map campaign with several other gamers of Isengard's invasion of Rohan in the opening campaign of the War of the Ring.  Once the Rohan campaign is over, the next goal will be to continue with Mordor's invasion of Gondor.  There are future goals such as fighting the Second Age Wars of the Elves and Sauron and the early Third Age War of the Dwarves and Orcs.

For now, join me as Saruman is building an army worthy of Mordor and Theodred, son of King Theoden has heard of an evil taking hold at the ancient fortress of Isengard

- Warlord