28 April 2020
Main image: Gwindor's calvary await their start orders in the tree line (Scenario 1). Converted Foundry figures.
Due to Peter Jackson’s films, most people have heard of the adventures of Frodo and his pals and – as I always say – please read the books instead: you won’t regret it. However what many don’t seem to realise is that those events happen in the just the last century of the Third Age. The history of Middle-earth goes back at least seven millennia through two previous ages, both of which have their own rich histories and stories. In this article (and, I hope, some follow-up ones) I’ll deal with the battles that happened in the last half of the First Age, 6500 years before Frodo Baggins was born.
The battles in the First Age were massive, if you consider that at the time of the Battle of the Pelennor Fields (the biggest battle of the War of the Rings), the Army of Gondor numbered approximately 10,000 and the Rohirrim force that arrives to help them was around 7,000 strong, that is a combined force of between seventeen to twenty thousand men (perhaps half of which might have been mounted. Ed.). In Tolkien’s The Silmarillion he details the Battle of Unnumbered Tears (Nirnaeth Arnoediad in elvish), the fifth, and largest battle of the War of the Jewels. In that battle, the Elven army of Gondolin alone was 10,000 strong, however it was only a part of the total forces facing Morgoth, the enemy of that time. The estimated forces involved (on both sides) for the Battle of Unnumbered Tears totalled nearly 750,000, so you can grasp the difference in scale between First and Third Age battles.
The problem for us as gamers however is the sheer size and scale of those First Age battles: even if you use a scale of 100:1 you are still looking at 7500 figures, so how do we recreate these events? That is what I am going to attempt to show you: a way to game the events of these cataclysmic battles on the tabletop.
Obviously – even at 100:1 – we can’t easily use over 7,000 figures and, if you attempt to take the scale down even further, some of the units involved almost disappear (at 1000:1 the Gondolin ‘army’ becomes just ten figures), so the best way is to scale down the events, rather than the actual forces involved.
Every battle, both historical/real and imaginary, is made up of various stages and events (Pickett’s charge at Gettysburg is a good example), and Tolkien’s battles were little different, so my idea was to identify these individual events and then to scale down only the forces that were involved in those specific moments. This means that we can then play a game in an evening and with a sensible amount of figures, and yet we can still enjoy the feeling and flavour of the story.
In this article will be giving you two scenarios from Battle of Unnumbered Tears. I won’t go into the causes and history involved as that alone would fill this magazine: all I can suggest for that, is that you read The Silmarillion. The scenarios we will be recreating are the first action that started the Battle and the last action that ended it.
Image above: Gwindor's calvary start their charge (Scenario 1). Converted Foundry figures
Rules wise, I have tried to make this article generic: personally I use a provisional set of rules called Oathmark (available only from a closed facebook page, I believe. Ed) that will be officially released later in the year by Osprey (they are, I think, delayed. Ed.). However you can use any rules you wish to or that suit your gaming style: the Orcs are the same in both scenarios, and the Trolls in the second are ‘average’ or fairly generic so I would give them the basic stats in whatever rules you use.
For the Elves in the first scenario, I would give them the top stats of their race: the reason for this is that these are mostly Noldor Elves: they have returned from the undying lands and are some of the most powerful fighters on Middle Earth. Gwindor’s cavalry should be ‘Heavy’, and the rest of the cavalry, ‘Medium/Heavy’.
For the second scenario, the Men should all be ‘champions’ with Húrin and Huor given the top stats of their race. The reason for this is that all of the men of the house of Hador – of which Húrin and Huor were chieftains – were simply powerful, brave warriors: many of the men of the first age were very close in body and strength to the Elves.
Scenario 1: Gwindor's Charge
Gwindor was an Elven lord from the city of Nargothrond and he was in command of a company of Elven cavalry serving in the forces of Fingon, the high king of the Elves at that time. Fingon’s forces were one half of the total force of Elves, Men and Dwarves that faced the dark lord Morgoth. The other half of the army was commanded by Maedhros, the lord of the house of Feanor.
Fingon’s forces were on the western side of the intended battleground, and Maedhros was on the Eastern side, and the basic battle plan was that Maedhros would advance and tempt out the army of Morgoth after which Fingon would attack them in a classic hammer and anvil tactic. However, due to treachery, Morgoth knew their plans in advance and Maedhros was delayed in his attack which left Fingon isolated on his flank unaware of what had happened. As to their opposition, the only problem for Morgoth was he didn’t know exactly where Fingon’s forces were.
Consequentially, Morgoth sent forward an element of his massive army in an attempt to lure Fingon into an attack, essentially turning their own plan against them. To achieve this, the Orcs of Morgoth advanced into the area where they thought Fingon might be hiding, and – arrayed in front of him – they produced a number of Elves that had been captured in earlier battles. In full view of the Elves, the Orcs then mutilated and executed these captives in an attempt to goad Fingon into attacking. The problem for the Orcs was that one of the captives selected was in fact Gelmir: an Elf captive who was unfortunately the brother of Gwindor. As chance would have it, they carried out the execution right in front of Gwindor who – after seeing his brother killed – instantly lost control. Leading his company, Gwindor charged into the Orcs, and this, in turn, led to the entire host of Fingon charging with him in support.
So the battle started just as Morgoth had wanted, however the problem was that the Elven charge was carried out with such ferociousness that it caught the Orcs out and – in their terror – they broke and fled. This allowed Fingon’s forces to advance right up to the doors of Morgoth’s stronghold, and the Dark Lord came close to losing the battle there and then. In this scenario, we join these events as the Orcs parade and execute their captives.
Image above, more of Fingon's Calvary, tis time mounted archers (scenario 1). Converted Victriz figures.
The Elves were hidden from view in the tree-line on the west of the Anfauglith (a plain to the north of created by fires during a previous battle the Dagor Bragollach – the Battle of Sudden the Sudden Flame). The Orcs marched south across the plain and halted in front of the trees.
As you can see from the simple map (left), the battle is played on a four foot square table, with a tree line along one edge and a quarter of the way up the left hand edge, the rest of the table is plain with a couple of hills in place. For aesthetic reasons, individual trees can be placed on the plain, but these have no effect on the game.
As this is intended to be a game that can be completed in an evening, the size of the forces involved are relatively small. All these numbers can be adjusted to suit whatever rules you are using (see earlier). Not all of the Orc units need to be deployed on table so you can re-use casualties as new units if you don’t have enough.
Image above: Fingon and his Elven calvary follow Gwindor (Scenario 1). Converted Victrix figures.
All the Elves and men are deployed hidden in the tree line, and off table, player should draw a map showing starting location of each unit.
Orc units are deployed with the command unit, 12 inches away from anywhere along the tree line, at least 50% of the remaining Orc units should be deployed along a line encompassing the small hills, any other Orc units start off the table to the north edge.
Image Above: Orcs brandishing the heads of executed prisoners (Scenario 1). Oathmark and Mirthril figures
Objectives & Special Rules
The objective of the Elves and Men is to destroy the Orc command and break through the rest of the Orc units and head off table to the north, at least 50% of their forces must achieve this.
On the first move, no matter what activation rules you might be using, Gwindor’s unit will move first and charge straight towards the Orc command unit. They are the only Elf/Man unit to move in the first turn, and they will keep attacking the Orc command unit until it is destroyed. Gwindor has lost control and consequentially is in a state of perpetual ‘charge’. His unit will also ignore any adverse morale results. They can be pushed back and disordered, but they won’t break. On the second turn the rest of the Elf/Men units can start to move from their pre-mapped locations, with Fingon and the other cavalry units moving first, and then any infantry units can move afterwards.
The Orc objective is to simply hold back the charge: they achieve this by killing at least 50% of the opposing forces. All Orc units on the table can move from the first turn, however if an Orc unit ‘breaks’ it is removed instantly and can then go into the ‘reserve’ pile. The off table Orc units can start to enter anywhere along the north edge of the table from the third turn and if the figures are available (reused ‘casualties’). The game carries on until either side achieves it’s objective.
Scenario 2: Last Stand
Gwindor’s charge was so successful that the Orc forces facing them broke and the host of Fingon reached the doors of Thangorodrim, the mighty Fortress of Morgoth. It even caught Morgoth himself unawares and he locked himself into the lowest levels while the Elves hammered on his doors! It was at this point that the Dark Lord ordered the emptying of his fortress: all the remaining forces at his disposal charged out of hidden doors trapping the Elves at the gates. In his forces there were not only Orcs, but there were also Trolls, Balrogs, and Dragons: it was the turn of the Elves to be surprised and it went very badly for them very quickly!
Gwindor’s entire company were wiped out and Gwindor himself was captured. The rest of Fingon’s army was forced back and barely held their own, while – on the east flank – Maedhros had at last started his attack but things went just as badly for him. The battle raged on for five days and the casualty numbers were terrible: Fingon’s host was pretty much destroyed and Fingon himself was killed. Maedhros’s forces were forced to flee: the battle was lost and only Turgon – the King of Gondolin – and his army were left to stand against Morgoth.
The Last Stand of the Men of Dor Lomin
Turgon was persuaded to withdraw his Army to save it for the future and with the remnants of the men of Dor Lomin. Turgon started to retreat south through the Fen of Serech: a marshland at the confluence of the River Sirion and its tributary, the Rivil. It lay at the north-east end of the pass of Sirion which connected the Anfauglith (the main area of the battle) and the rest of Beleriand: it was a narrow area and was the only way an army could get into the West of Beleriand. The rivers were impassable except at a couple of points.
It was here that Húrin, the lord of the House of Hador, and his remaining force of the men of Dor Lomin, decided to make a stand to allow the army of Turgon to retreat unmolested. This they did with success, although it meant that the men of Dor Lomin were destroyed and Húrin himself was captured, this was the last major action of the battle. Where we join the action is towards the end, only a small force of Men is left, and they know they are not going to survive: their only intention now is to hold for as long as possible to give the Elves the chance to disappear into the mountains to the south.
Image Above: Gwindor's calvary crashes into a hastily formed Orc shield wall (Scenario 1). Oathmark and Mithril Orcs, Foundry conversions for the elves
This battle is again on a four foot square table, with a river to the southern lower edge approximately 12 inches from the edge, to the south of the river is a line of hills. To the north is broken marshy ground with a few copses of trees, the ground is very soft and heavy going except along the roads on the map, these roads cross the river at two fords. This is the only way across the river.
Like the first scenario, this can be played with a minimal pair of armies:
The Men of Dor Lomin are placed anywhere to the south of the river.
The army of Morgoth enter the table via the roads from the North and any more forces will enter that way at the beginning of each turn.
The Men of Dor Lomin hold a fort (Scenario 2). Converted Oathmark figures.
Objectives & Special Rules
The men of Dor Lomin do not expect to survive: their objective is to hold position for as long as possible. If they hold the Orcs back for at least 10 turns they will win a tactical victory: any other result is a loss. Because they are prepared to sacrifice themselves, the Men of Dor Lomin will ignore any adverse Morale checks: they can be pushed back, and disordered, but they will not break.
The Orcs have to kill all the men and preferably capture Húrin or Huor alive. If all of the men are killed before the tenth turn they stand a chance of catching the retreating Elves (roll a D10, if the number equals or exceeds the turn number they find the Elves) and this would be a victory. Additionally, if they capture Húrin or Huor its a major victory.
Any amount of Orc units may enter the table at the beginning of each turn, but they have to be able to fit on one of the two roads. The single unit of Trolls can only move onto the table on turn three. The Orcs and Trolls can only move along the roads: if they are forced off of them the unit is lost, however the Men can move off road with no restrictions (this represents them knowing the safe ways through the marshes).
To capture Húrin or Huor alive the Orcs must only cause them exactly the right number of wounds that their statistics state (whichever rules you use) if they suffer any more wounds that represents overkill and they are not captured but die (probably hideously! Ed.). If the Orcs use bows against a unit of men, roll a D10 for any hits: if the result is 6 or above the hit goes onto Húrin or Huor if they are present in that unit.
Image above: The Men of Dor Lomin hold a fort (Scenario 2). Converted Oathmark figures.
These two scenarios are both ‘biased’: one to the ‘good’ side and one biased to the ‘bad’. All of the rules and force sizes are adaptable to whatever the rules system that you use and can be altered or adjusted as you see fit, you can also use ‘historical’ forces instead of Fantasy ones, it’s up to you and your own imagination. I hope you give these scenarios a try and that you enjoy them.
Words by and ﬁgures by Graham Green of Greygreen Customs
Photography by John Treadaway
This review originally appeared in Issue 436 of Miniature Wargames . Pick up the latest issue in print or digital here or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue