Wednesday, July 13, 2022

Wars of Greyhawk: Battle of Shamblefield

Hail Greyhawk lords and ladies! Today is a good day because I'm finally releasing another battle in my Wars of Greyhawk series. You may remember my last one was on Gahru's Folly. These battles take a lot of work researching and writing so I'm usually hesitant to post them right away. As a result, I've sat on this a while, but the only way I'll write more battles is if I get this one out first. Shamblefield is a famous battle in Greyhawk lore, so I hope my interpretation of the events does it justice. Enjoy! 

Bonus: Here is a comic on the featured battle from 2010.

Battle of Shamblefield (Caldni Vir’s Charge)

Conflict & Date: 
The Battle of Shamblefield occurred in the spring of 109 CY.
Armies & Commanders: 
Imperial Army of the Great Kingdom of Aerdy (10,000 total)
        Knight Protectors of the Great Kingdom.
        Herzog of the North Province.
        Sir Caldni Vir of Edgefield. 
        3,000 light infantry, 2,000 medium infantry, 1,000 heavy infantry, 1,500 medium cavalry, 500 heavy cavalry, 500 pikes, 500 crossbows, 1,000 archers.
Kingdom of Fruztii. (Frost Barbarian Horde) (20,000 total)
        Fruztii nobles and chieftains.
        10,000 light infantry, 5,500 medium infantry, 500 light cavalry. 4,000 archers. 
The Great Kingdom of Aerdy defeats the Fruztii Horde.
Imperial Army of the Great Kingdom of Aerdy (6,800 total)
        2,300 light infantry, 1,500 medium infantry, 500 heavy infantry, 900 medium cavalry, 150 heavy cavalry, 325 pikes, 275 crossbows, 850 archers.
Kingdom of Fruztii. (Frost Barbarian Horde) (15,000 total)
        7,500 light infantry, 4,000 medium infantry, 300 light cavalry. 3,200 archers. 

A):  During the reign of Overking Manshen of Rax, annual raids by Suel northmen had drastically increased on the coastal towns of Bellport and Kaport Bay, and worst, Aerdy’s northernmost settlement of Johnsport, was now occupied by these barbarians. The ineffectual herzog of the North Province (House Naelax) was unable (some say unwilling) to deal with these incursions, a fact that incensed the Overking. 
B):  In the spring of 108 CY Manshen turned to his most experienced, trusted generals and tasked them with securing and fortifying the northern frontier of the kingdom without the direction of Eastfair. Answering the Overking’s call, veteran Aerdian legions massed at the town of Knurl, where the campaign was then headed by the finest warriors in the land, the Knight Protectors of the Great Kingdom.
C):  By autumn of that year, the Imperial Army had easily marched between the Rakers and the Blemu Hills dislodging the Fruztii occupation. Part of the army camped south of Kalmar Pass and started laying the foundations of what was to become Spinecastle. 
D):  The Knight Protectors continued to advance, using their royal mandate to call up thousands of reinforcements from the local North Province (despite objections the herzog personally led this contingent). 
That winter, the Aerdian campaign culminated in a decisive battle at Johnsport, that forced the surviving barbarians back over Grendep Bay. 
E):  Word of the bitter defeat at Johnsport spread like wildfire in the barbarian lands, and by the start of 109 CY, thousands of enraged Fruztii headed south along the Timberway to exact their revenge.
F):  Filtering through several smaller mountain passes in the spring of 109 CY, the assembled Fruztii horde managed to eliminate or evade Aerdy’s patrols, and thus surprised the lightly fortified encampment of the Imperial Army overseeing the construction of Spinecastle. Thousands of howling barbarian warriors quickly outflanked the Aerdian positions, encircling the castle-works before the defenders could fully muster their legions, in the process inflicting significant casualties. Completely surrounded, the Knight Protectors courageously rallied the Imperial Army; their vaunted heavy infantry and pikemen holding the line against waves of attackers, in order to buy time for any outlying patrols to come to their aid. The barbarian horde seemed endless however, and they were certain to overrun the stalwart Aerdians. 
G):  The first patrol to respond to the barbarian attack was headed by the young Knight Protector, Caldni Vir of Edgefield who commanded a heavy cavalry column that was part of a larger reserve contingent led by the Herzog of the North Province during the recent campaign to liberate Johnsport. Famously, Vir turned his cavalry toward Spinecastle to counterattack, defying orders from his liege to abandon the imperial forces and fall back to the south. The Naelax banner was thrown down and the valorous Knight Protector raised the standard of the Imperial Orb into battle. 
   Approaching the site of the battle from hills to the north, hundreds of heavy horsemen with lances rode down upon the rear of the Fruztii formation without warning. The spearhead of Caldni Vir’s charge managed to break through the enveloping Fruztii lines, sending the unwary northmen into disarray. The other Knight Protectors saw the standard of the Imperial Orb carried by Caldni Vir’s troops and were emboldened to turn the tide against their foes. Fierce fighting ensued, lasting until sunset with both sides suffering massive losses. 
H):  Eventually, the Fruztii sensed defeat and retreated toward the Loftwood where no pursuit was given by the beleaguered victors.
   The battle site that would be called Shamblefield, left thousands of Aerdian and Fruztii corpses to burn, bury, and rot. Centuries later, farmers still turn up bones and relics from the battle, and tavern stories tell that remains of the dead that day were used in the mortar of Spinecastle’s foreboding walls. The Kingdom of Fruztii was diminished, they would never again be dominant among the people of the Thillonria Peninsula. Overking Manshen rewarded the courage of Caldni Vir, elevating the young Knight Protector to become the first marquis of Bone March, named for the terrible price paid at the Battle of Shamblefield.
Heroic Hooks
   DMs who wish to feature the Battle of Shamblefield in their own campaign should note this conflict takes place 467 years before the starting timeline of the World of Greyhawk boxed set. This battle is set during a time when the Great Kingdom is at its height, and her Knight Protectors are still noble and just. While a campaign set in this era isn’t advised here, the Battle of Shamblefield could make a good historical flashback. The following hooks are suggested for DMs who want to have player characters participate in the Battle of Shamblefield without necessarily reenacting the entire event.
        Barbarian side: The player characters are scouts of the Fruztii tribe or the allied peoples of the north. They are tasked with aiding the advancing horde at infiltrating the Raker Mountains by eliminating an Aerdian patrol. When the battle starts the PCs must circle around the defensive works and try to stealthily capture alive a protected Aerdian architect so that the king of Fruztii can build his own massive castle. 
        Battle Couriers: In the heat of battle, the PCs are tasked by the Knight Protectors to deliver news of the barbarian invasion to the Imperial garrison at Johnsport so they can swiftly contact Overking Manshen. Not only must the couriers break past the barbarian horde, but they must also contend with agents of the Herzog who don’t want the Overking to find out.
        Rescue the Banner: The PCs are trusted allies of the Knight Protectors and stand by their side in the pitched battle. The Overking’s banner, the Imperial Orb, has been taken by a clutch of barbarians and is being brought to a hill overlooking the battle to be sacrificed to their gods. The PCs must break off from the main conflict to regain the flag and surely boost Aerdian morale.
        Caldni Vir’s Ride: The heroes are part of Lord Vir’s mounted hill patrol. The news has arrived that the castle works are under attack by thousands of barbarians. Caldni Vir has ignored orders from the North Province to withdraw, and you ride. The PCs must be the tip of the spearhead, charging into the rear guard of the Fruztii horde. They must last long enough to carve their way to the Aerdian line, and hopefully turn the tide of the battle.
Carl Sargent. From the Ashes.
Gary Gygax. World of Greyhawk Fantasy Game Setting (1983).
Roger E. Moore. Greyhawk: The Adventure Begins.
Gary Holian; Erik Mona, Sean K. Reynolds, Frederick Weining. Living Greyhawk Gazetteer.
Gary Holian. Places of Mystery: Spinecastle and Veralos. Living Greyhawk Journal #9 (Dragon Magazine #293)
Hunter103. Rhizia: A History of the Northeastern Flanaess. Canonfire!


Dick McGee said...

That's a bloodbath by any standard. 68% casualties for the victors and 75% for the losers is just incredible losses even if many of them were injured rather than killed outright. Given the vastly inferior quality of equipment the Fruztii had it says quite a lot about how effective their surprise attack was to have even managed to do as well as they did.

Do we have an idea how large Sir Caldni's force was compared to the initial Imperial defenders? All told the Northmen only had a 2:1 numerical advantage, but I'm trying to decide if their initial attack was sheer foolishness or not. If the forces caught off guard at the castle construction site were outnumbered 3:1 or more then maybe the attack made good sense, but that's about the minimum ratio a good commander would be willing to risk even with surprise on their side. Then again, they may not have had much control over their forces on the day, barbarians are hard to restrain and they don't seem to have had an overall commander to rein them in.

Also a failure of intelligence on both sides. The barbarians evaded enemies patrols despite their large numbers but apparently never considered the possibility that there were other forces in the area on the far side of the main pass, while the Imperials were none to fast to realize that they'd had some patrols go missing. This sort of thing is why you employ diviners and air-mobile specialists when you can, purely ground-based scouting in mountainous country is not ideal. One lucky sighting by a scryer with a crystal ball or a random pegasus rider or something could have changed the whole course of this battle for either side.

Mike Bridges said...

Great commentary DM! I generalized heavily on the 2:1 odds. The horde total numbers I think is stated in publication, the rest is probably something I pitched to Gary Holian. Yeah the imperial forces are spread out so the initial attack could have been 3:1 like you say. The heavy losses of course are what is needed to give the battle its name, so again Holian came up with that bloody decision. Caldni Virs patrol is easily a large garrison of cavalry sounds like, not the petty patrols that were quickly outwitted (or eliminated) by the native barbarians. Intelligence for sure is something often overlooked in these fantasy battle accounts. In this case, I don't think the Aerdy were too worried about an impending counterattack to use magic means. They had ample forces in the area after having drove off the barbarians and probably figured they had time to at least get the foundation of the castle started. Oops.

Dick McGee said...

Thanks, a very enjoyable post overall. Did Herzog Naelax manage to keep his holdings after this battle or was his title revoked or diminished?

A couple of other potential ideas for adventurers to do before and during the battle:

1) Have the party (either as hired mercs or just at random) encounter enemy scouting forces before the battle, potentially changing the degree of surprise one way or the other if the player characters can get away and bring a warning to whichever side they're friendly to. The Imperials might be better prepared for an attack, or the barbarians might be more cautious about guarding their rear against reinforcements showing up during their assault - or the PCs' warning might be ignored or distrusted and the whole bloodbath plays out as it did historically.

2) After the battle, there are a *lot* of bodies on the field, and collecting them to "burn, bury or rot" will take time. If the adventurers are healthy (having arrived after the fight, or just having better access to healing than most soldiers) they might find themselves being conscripted or paid to help search for survivors among the dead, recover the bodies of nobles who are still unaccounted for, or even drive off the inevitable ghoul packs that are going to show up for a ravens' feast on this scale. Opportunistic looting of the dead on the part of the PCs themselves is another possibility, straining alignments and possibly resulting in fights with other corpse-thieves.