Relief of Helm’s Deep

There were 5 of us interested in doing some Lord of the Rings miniatures tonight in lieu of our normal Arts and Crafts night, so we broke out the huge Relief of Helm’s Deep scenario again. I wanted to play the bad guys this time, not least because I am no longer all that confident of my handling of the powerful but tricky to use Riders of Rohan and Gandalf the White. Plus, I played Rohan last time. So, we broke down into Milton (controlling the Heroes and a handful of Rohan footmen coming out of Helm’s Deep) and Jeff (Rohirrim Cavalry coming to the rescue + Gandalf) as the good guys, with Kim, Rich, and I splitting the bad guys basically into sectors.

It started out well for us. The Rohan heroes were split into the far north and far south, while the Riders in the middle were leaderless and so frozen when my two captains there declared priority moves to charge them. This beat back the central thrust with heavy loss, at very little cost to ourselves. Meanwhile, Rich’s crossbowmen were raking the Rohirrim footmen as they emerged from the fortress, and Kim’s Uruk-Hai were skillfully holding their own against Gandalf, Eomer, and many Riders (Jeff’s dice-related issues helped here too). The Riders can be very powerful, but they are also fragile once the melee develops since straight-up the standard Riders are inferior to the Uruk-Hai in every way – fighting skill, strength, defense, and crucially much inferior in their ability to concentrate power. So they rely on their charge bonuses; once locked in melee things get tough.

Meanwhile, though, Milton’s Heroes (Aragorn, Gimli, Legolas, Theodin, and Gamling) were riding around the edge of the battlefield to link up with Gandalf. Once Aragorn slammed into our thinned-out lines, he tore through the Uruks at an astounding clip – I think he killed something like 10 Uruk-Hai in 2 turns (yes, really), although it burned up much of his might.

In the end, though, the early losses were too much. Aragorn and Gandalf were unhorsed, Gimli and Legolas were surrounded, and Theoden and Legolas were buried under a sea of Uruks. In the end, it was actually much closer than I thought it would be, given the rough early going for Rohan – if they had just rolled well enough to stay in the game for another turn, the Uruk casualties would have been enough to start forcing courage checks, which are not their forte. Rohan would still have been behind, but it would have been quite interesting. Another point is that it may have taken Milton & Jeff a little bit too long to get Aragorn into the fray; by way of comparison, every Rider on the board (24 of them) weigh in at a total 295 points while Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli are worth some 365 points total – yet the heroes were not engaged for at least the first three turns as they skirted the battlefield to link up with the main force.

Still, I think this scenario might be just a bit too tough on the good guys. The terrain as prescribed by the scenario really breaks up their horsemen, and forces them to attack more piecemeal than they’d like. And all those Uruk-Hai pikes (20 of them) are very tough; they can form hedgehogs almost impervious to the cavalry, and the cavalry really doesn’t have enough room to maneuver. Aragorn & Gimli are the great equalizers once they arrive, but there are just so many Uruk-Hai even they will get buried if they aren’t careful. All it takes is one lost combat when the Uruk-Hai are rolling 6-8 dice to wound for things to go south in a big hurry.

So, next time, I think we should play with a much more open field of battle, perhaps removing all the terrain. It would open things up for more maneuver, and probably wouldn’t be hugely unbalancing as the greater scope for concentrating the cavalry would be offset by the more open fields of fire for the crossbowmen (even though the Rohirrim would benefit more, I think, but that’s the goal after all).

That being said, my appetite for huge scenarios has been sated for a while. Next I’m gunning for some mid-sized stuff; the Charge of the Rohirrim from the Return of the King especially (only a handful of figures will still need to be painted), but also some of the Osgiliath scenarios look pretty cool.

On a slight tangent, the scenario in the game of course models the battle in the movie. Games Workshop has recently been publishing some scenarios in White Dwarf based more on the books (for example, a Fords of Bruinen scenario with Glorfindel, Aragorn, and the Hobbits instead of Arwen & Frodo), and I was wondering how to remake this one more in the mold of the book. Interestingly, the roles would be reversed, with the Horsemen riding out of Helm’s Deep while Erkenbrand’s footmen come to the rescue. I’ll have to break out my Atlas of Middle Earth (which has details on the battle, including force sizes) and try to work it out.

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