Wednesday, January 21, 2015

War of the RIng Map Campaign

So my group is finally off to doing a War of the Ring campaign. After months of recruiting interested players, teaching the rules system, and painting the models, I have a beta version of a campaign system for War of the Ring that captures the spirit of the books with the imagery of Peter Jackson's films and a few Games Workshop neat ideas, and several notable exclusions.

A map campaign for miniature wargames is something that is quite popular among historical wargamers.  As a historical wargamer (and closet fantasy/sci-fi gamer), I've always liked the idea of trying to change history; faced with the same challenges of Napoleon, Frederick the Great, and George Washington thinking I could do better.  One of the first I played was a Napoleon's Battles campaign where each nation had a team of players fighting the 100 Days Campaign of 1815.  I was Joachim Murat of the Kingdom of Naples and was crushed by an invading Austrian army.  We used one of the SPI strategic games with a map of Europe that had a hex grid called La Grande Armee.  Another was Warfare in the Age of Reason, an 18th Century Horse and Musket Game, where I was Russia fighting in a fictional continental war loosely based on the War of Austrian Succession.  The miniature rules had a companion campaign system complete with map that instead of a hex grid, used an area system where each province in the country was an area.  What I enjoyed most about the map campaign was that strategic decisions that you made on the map impacted what happened on the battlefield.  If you were not able to mass your forces into position before your opponent massed upon you, you were going to have a bad day.  It made our game sessions more meaningful instead of the usual you bring everything you have and I'll bring everything I have and lets play a game and kill each other. In a campaign, you need to decide if you want to conserve your force until reinforcements arrive or hit the enemy when he is weak.

So when War of the Ring came out, I was hoping for a campaign system. There is a chart linking the different scenarios, but it was missing the economy of force element, which to me is what makes a campaign interesting. Most player developed campaigns I have seen for other GW game systems were points based which is flawed, because players would always spend points on elite troops and never on your rank and file which is the bulk of your army.  So I took it upon myself to develop my own system, using elements from historical wargame campaign systems. I decided to do a smaller campaign as a beta test and chose Saruman's invasion of Rohan, since I had plenty of models for both sides from putting on a WOTR Helm's Deep game at a convention.

First for a map campaign, I needed a map.  I contemplated drawing a map with mapping software and adding an overlay for movement, but this required time and a cartography skill which I do not have.  I took a look at the old 1970s SPI War of the Ring game which used a hex grid system that many of us grew up with.  The problem with this map is that the Isengard and Rohan area were too small to move units about in a confined area.  I then got the Ares War of the Ring game which used an area movement system, much like the Age of Reason campaign system.  I decided to go with this map, since thinking ahead, I could also use it for future campaigns culminating in a grand campaign of the entire War of Ring with all the factions.

My next problem was movement.  I needed a way of representing War of the Ring formations on the map so that the opposing forces would meet in an area and force battle.  Ideally I could use a computer application that could scan the Ares game map and then have the forces move on the computer calculating what each formation consisted of.  I still would like to do this eventually, but for the beta I decided to do things the stubby pencil old fashion way on pen and paper (or at least Microsoft Word).

Now for movement, I chose the area map of Middle Earth and figured the maximum movement has to be limited to one area.  We play our games once a month, which was fitting, because I wanted each campaign turn to be one month long in game terms.  Movement on the campaign map would be sequential based on priority.  the Evil side would have priority for turn 1 and then even month when we met for a battle we would roll off for priority just like in WOTR.  Whoever had priority, had the option to pass it to the other side.  The actual movement of formations on the map was done by the payers on each side via email.  The side with priority has one week to email their moves to the other side, and then they have one week to announce their counter moves.  If one side moved into an area with enemy formations, those forces would be pinned and couldn't move a battle would be fought.  The non-priority player could always move forces from an adjacent area to reinforce, but when we played the battle, they would arrive as reinforcements on the turn determined by a D6.  If no forces met in an area, we would move to the next campaign turn and just alternate priority until we had to forces in the same area to fight a battle.

Epic Heroes would have to work differently in strategic movement since they are not tied to any one formation. Standard heroes and Legendary Heroes would of course be with their formations.  Epic Heroes, like in a battle, have more freedom of movement. For the campaign, Epic Heroes can move one area on the map just like formations.  But if an enemy formation moves into an area with an Epic Hero and that Hero has not move, they can perform an “Evade Move” to an adjacent friendly or unoccupied area.  This allows Epic Heroes to escape if they are alone in an area and an entire enemy army moves in.  They can run away to fight another day.  But if there is a friendly formation is in the area, the Epic Hero can still Evade Move, but loses one point of Courage for the rest of the campaign for abandoning their friends.

So now the force composition.  When I did the Napoleonic campaign, the strategic game came with counters that had historical units in brigade size formations.  You moved the counters on the hex grid and when two opposing forces were in adjacent hexes, you fought a battle on the tabletop.  Now I already decided that using points was cheesy, so I decided to come up with army lists for Rohan and Isengard, based on Tolkien's writing and the plethora of research done by Tolkien scholars on the respective army compositions.  For example, we all know that Isengard had 10,000 troops at Helm's Deep that consisted of Orcs, Uruks, Dunlendings, wolves, etc.  Based on some research, the garrison at the Hornburg was 1,000 strong and that approximately 1,000 troops arrived to reinforce the garrsion before the siege.  It is also approximated that Erkenbrand had 1,000 troops with him after the Second Battle of the Fords of Isen that game with Gandalf to the relief of the Hornburg.  Using this I looked at the army lists in the rulebook and also the models I had and my group had. I decided to "bathtub" the army lists to make it playable on a game table and realistically affordable in terms of money and time spent on collecting and painting the needed models.  What I came up with was a 1:40 model to troop ratio so Isengard's army at Helm's Deep would be 250 models and the Rohan garrison would be 50 models with an additional twelve models riding with Erkebrand to the relief (For games, I count cavalry as two models; horse and rider).  And yes, I went with both Bakshi's and Jackson's film version having cavalry coming to the rescue, unlike the book in which it was all infantry.

Tolkein wrote extensively on the first and second battles of the Fords of Isen which can be found in the Unfinished Tales.  This is excellent source material because unlike The Silmarillian, the text is not edited by Christopher Tolkein, but rather footnoted.  In the text, we learn Theodred led a company of horse accompanied by a company of archers to investigate reports of Saruman massing an army at Isengard leaving Grimbold to guard the west bank of the Isen and herders (Oathsworn Militia?) to guard the east bank.  Scholars approximate that a Rohan eored would have 120 riders (6 x horse and rider models) and a company would be 2 x eoreds (See the Annals of Arda for a breakdown of the Rohan military organization).  This means that each formation lead by a Marshal of the Riddermark would have twelve models.

Another factor when looking at a campaign is standardizing formation sizes.  The standard boxes that were released with War of the Ring were 24 infantry and six cavalry models.  But with the Hope is Lost rule, which eliminates the last company in a formation when it is depleted to half strength, you could not have formations of just one company.  But real world economics come into play, particularly since the infantry boxes are now 10-12 figures and the time needed to invest to assemble and paint an army.  A standard convention with many WOTR players is that common formations of infantry needed to be at least four companies in order to absorb hits from cavalry, monsters, and magic.  This worked economically since most common infantry units were available in plastic.  For legendary and rare formations, which are more elite troops, you could realistically afford, at least financially, to field two infantry companies.  Cavalry worked out better since there are six plastic models in a box and depending on their wargear, you could field three to six companies.  The more rare or elite cavalry are metal so you could field two to three companies.

So using these factors, I decided that your standard infantry formation (Oathsworn Militia, Orcs, Uruks, etc) would be four companies and the more elite or rare metal formations (Royal Guard) would be two companies.  For cavalry, the standard formation would be three companies for Evil and three-six for Good, since larger Good cavalry balances out Evil’s general superiority in magic and monsters in the game.  There would of course be exceptions based on limits of how many companies in can be in rare formations such as one company formations of Uruk-Hai Beserkers, but now I had a standard default.

So using all of this I decided that I needed to have a base number of points for each side.  I figured that at the three major battles, First and Second Fords of Isen and Helm's Deep, Rohan  had a total of 8,000 and Isengard had a total of 12,000 (including Dunland allies).  I added up all of the Good forces I thought Rohan had available whern Isengard invaded using the 1:40 ratio and then added a Fangorn force with Treebeard, Quickbeam, Beechbone, and five ents.
The final factor is once forces move into an area, how do you fight a battle or?  For two large forces you fight a standard War of the Ring game, eight turns on with pre-determined terrain for each area.  If there were only two formations on a side, instead of a War of the Ring game, a Strategy Battle Game would be played.   This way you would avoid have WOTR games of just one formation per side, which would be quite boring, but an SBG game of 16-32 figures per side, which would be quite interesting.  You have to use the “One Book” hardbound rules form 2009 as you wouldn’t be able to have warbands of twelve models and one leader.

In essence this is the premise for the beta version of this campaign; strategic movement on a map, set army lists, and the ability for a skirmish, field battle or siege. 


  1. This seems like a very mature and British way to play a game. The differentiation between WotR and SBG is also a good idea, if I may say so. Might I ask what the Ares system is, and how it such a well-known entity?

    As a Middle-Earth fan, I have always liked WotR, and am trying my best to keep the interest up in said system, whether it be in the FLGS or on the web, and it is very encouraging to read a post like this, where WotR is taken seriously. There is a boardgame that might be used as a strategic board in a case like yours, simply called "War of the Ring", which I am certain you know of. In case you aren't familiar with it, one can always visit to learn more.

    Personally, I have always liked resource management more than the conflict and attrition of wargames, but GW:s WotR works in such a way that I can do without the strategic part of the game and settle with the tactical/operational part of a war - still, to one day merge the two (strat/tact) would be a dream; something you seem to work on.

    But I drone on, I would just like to say that I work on updating parts on the WotR-rules, and other people's opinions are always interesting, so if you have a house rule or two that you like, please, feel free to point me into the right direction.

    Sorry about the essay.

    1. So the Ares system is the War of the Ring strategic board game that you mentioned. I don't really use the mechanics of the game, just the map. We are still beat testing the campaign system, but the house rules are all for strategic movement and force composition. I'll post it after the campaign so you can see what I have come up with.