Saturday, September 24, 2022

Wars of Greyhawk: Barren Plains War

Greetings Greyhawkers to another installment of my Wars of Greyhawk series. These battles are hard to research and produce, plus it's a project I've struggled with writing for years, so I'm sorry for holding onto this next one for so long. Many of you have probably never heard of the Barren Plains War, and the simple reason for that is because I believe I coined the name for it, for lack of any other description. This battle comes from Gygax's excellent article Events of the North Central Flanaess in Dragon Magazine #56. This "war" or "conflict" is really just one part of a long historical struggle between the nomads of the north and certain adjacent evil nations. There will be at least two more battles to come that will tie into this entry, so until then Greyhawk armchair historians, enjoy!

Barren Plains War

Conflict & Date: 
The Barren Plains War occurred over a several month period from Coldeven 578 CY to the 26th of Goodmonth, 578 CY.
Armies & Commanders: 
Confederation of the Barrens (7,850 total)
        Chada-Three-Lances, War Sachem.
        Chieftains primarily of the Red Horse, Black Horse, Horn Bow, and Sly Fox clans. Centaur, and     Sylvan elf tribal leaders.
        1,850 light infantry, 2,500 light cavalry, 500 medium cavalry, 2,000 mounted archers, 900 centaurs, 100 sylvan elves.
Wegwuir (Wolf Nomads) (1,000 total)
        Lekkol, emissary of the Wegwuir.
        1,000 mounted archers.
Host of the Horned Society (20,000 total)
Hierarch Blontug.
        4,000 light infantry, 500 medium infantry, 2,000 light cavalry, 500 archers, 4,000 orcs, 7,000 hobgoblins, 2,000 goblins and kobolds. 
Allied Bandits (7,500 total)
        Plar Rostal.
        Seenia (renegade sylvan elf).
        6,000 light cavalry, 1,000 medium cavalry, 500 mounted crossbows.
The Horned Society repels the advance of Confederation of the Barrens.
Confederation of the Barrens (2,705 total)
        1,000 light infantry, 750 light cavalry, 100 medium cavalry, 670 mounted archers, 170 centaurs, 15 sylvan elves.
Wegwuir (Wolf Nomads) (270 total)
        270 mounted archers.
Host of the Horned Society (7,200 total)
4,000 light infantry, 500 medium infantry, 500 archers, 4,000 orcs, 7,000 hobgoblins, 2,000 goblins and kobolds.
Allied Bandits (2,800 total)
2,100 light cavalry, 500 medium cavalry, 200 mounted crossbows. Prelude
   The stalwart presence of the Shield Lands continued to prevent the diabolical Hierarchs of the Horned Society from capitalizing on their designs to conquer and control the entire northern shore of the Nyr Dyv all the way to Willip in Furyondy. In early 578 CY, the Hierarchs attempted to once again take advantage of moves by the Land of Iuz against Furyondy to the west. However, their campaign would stall once again, and the armies of the Horned Society would need to turn about in haste to respond to a major threat against their northern territory by Flan nomads out of the barrens.
   These nomads, referring to themselves as the “People of the Plentiful Huntinglands”, were pushed out of their western plains and forest camps by the combined hordes of Iuz and the Horned Society following the disastrous Battle of Opicm River in 515 CY. More than sixty years later, the so-called “Rovers of the Barrens” had managed to survive and prosper, with two generations of warriors honing their fighting skills against the brutes of Stonefist as well as creatures from the Wastes and Cold Marshes. By 566 CY the Rovers began to encroach on the northern edge of the Fellreev, and within a few more years their famed Wardogs were hunting west of the Cold Run. 
   Despite the dangers of Iuz, the Rovers contacted the Wegwuir for an alliance. In autumn of 577 CY, a great hunt and conference was called with emissaries from the Wolf Nomads. Reports estimated over 26,000 warriors from seven major clans attended, their chieftains and Wardog leaders agreeing to a bold plan to regain their lost territory along the Opicm River and the Fellreev Forest. Three western clans most affected by the Horned Society, the Red Horse, Black Horse, and Horn Bows, volunteered to spearhead the confederation’s war-party, while the forest dwelling Sly Fox Clan secured an alliance with the sylvan elves of the Fellreev, to coordinate a strike at their common enemy from the woodlands. The Wegwuir however, would not commit to joining the confederation that night, even though they felt a kinship to the Rovers’ plight.
   The mighty Flan warrior Chada-Three-Lances, hero of many raids against Stonefist, was elected War Sachem of the confederation. He personally brought an alliance with the centaurs of the barrens who, like the Rovers, were displaced from their plains on the western end of the Fellreev by the hated Horned Society. 
Battles (Map Stage 1)

A):  In the spring of 578 CY, Chada-Three-Lances and his war-party of 6,000 riders along with 900 centaur warriors, and 1000 fast-moving Wardog footmen moved south on the plains. At the same time, 850 Sly Fox warriors and 100 allied wood elves slowly advanced along the edges of the Fellreev. Their initial forays into enemy held territory went uncontested as several settlements were pillaged even as far as the frontier town of Dingaverge. After enduring a couple months of these hit and run raids, news finally spread back to the Hierarchs from the survivors of their raided settlements. These reports were wildly exaggerated however, as most claimed the invading horde had two to three times their actual number. B):  In response to the increasing raids, the Hierarchs finally decided to forgo their southern campaign, and sent an army north, calling on additional mercenary bandits and brigands to muster at Dingaverge. Led by Plar Rostal, an infamous mercenary warlord and his consort, Seenia, a traitorous sylvan elf from the Fellreev Forest, a cavalry force of 7,500 mobilized at Dingaverge within a week, all eager for coin and some action. C):  Rostal would not wait for the Hierarchs’ slow-moving army to arrive though, as his cavalry units began to scout northward to locate camps and prevent any further incursions by the Rovers. At the same time, he sent bandit outriders along with small bands of kobold spotters to search the fringes of the Fellreev, due to more recent reports of Wardogs and elves moving through the woods. D):  Even more troubling for Plar Rostal was a rumor that a force of Wolf Nomads had been seen skirting the Cold Marshes toward the Barren Plains.

E):  Late in the Dozenmonth of Reaping, the forces of the Horned Society finally arrived at Dingaverge. The Host of the Hierarchs was led by the dread Hierarch Blontug, a half-orc war-priest and assassin of ill-repute. His vile army was 20,000 in strength and included well-armed hobgoblins, goblins, and orcs. The Host spent a few days at Dingaverge resting and restocking for their next march.

F):  The Rover war-party withdrew from any further raids south at the news of a large cavalry force scouring the plains. War Sachem Chada brought his chiefs into council to decide a course of action. Their war council was emboldened by the arrival of Wegwuir emissary Lekkol Noyon, (seventh son of Tarkhan Bargru and first with his Rover wife Golden Dove) who had returned to the Barren Plains with 1,000 mounted bowmen at his back. It was decided that their best riders would strike the enemy cavalry swiftly and by surprise. So that the Rover cavalry was not slowed down, most of their Wardog footmen were ordered to circle south into the Fellreev to bolster the Sly Fox forces waiting there. Another band was then sent back to their home camps in the north and east along with their remaining loot and captives.
(Map Stage 2)

G):   Having been informed of Rostal’s cavalry advance, Blontug started his march north to catch up with his mounted allies, sending outriders ahead of the main body to make contact. Rostal’s cavalry regrouped but was lured further out on the open plains where they were assaulted by an equal force of nomads and centaurs. H):  The bandits were not ready for such a furious charge, as Rovers and Wegwuir circled the regiment, raining arrows, and striking with lances, while many of their cavalry were brought down from their mounts by the Rovers expert use of lariats. Rostal’s cavalry suffered severe casualties and were forced to retreat northwest with the Rovers in pursuit. Chada Three-Lances only feigned pursuit of the bandits however, by sending a screen of 1,000 riders and a band of centaurs. This would prove to be enough to make Rostal believe the entire horde was following. The remaining confederation warriors continued southwards for one last push to finally seize control of their former territory. Their scouts then located the larger army of the Horned Society approaching, but they were in turn alerted before the horde could get close for an attack. I):  Hierarch Blontug wisely sent light cavalry to cover his infantry’s withdrawal from the open plains, eventually positioning his army at the edge of the Fellreev Forest in order to protect against cavalry charges. J):  On the first day of actual battle between the two armies, there was more light skirmishing as the allied cavalry probed the opposing infantry for a weak spot in their formation while Hierarch Blontug likewise attempted to assess the strength of his enemy. Despite heavy losses that day, the Host of the Horned Society held their ground.  
K):  On the second day, the Blontug’s humanoid scouts again prevented a surprise attack, this time coming from the direction of the forest. The Sly Fox clan had arrived with Wardog support. Assisted by elven archers of the Fellreev they taunted and lured the Hierarch’s humanoid units out of formation momentarily. In a short span, the zealous Wardog footmen managed to exact severe casualties upon the Horned Society but were inevitably repulsed by Blontug’s greater numbers. L):  The Rovers’ ruse had kept Rostal’s bandits cut off for several days, but once their true numbers were discovered, the Plar regrouped and easily turned away the harassing riders in a decisive counter-offensive. The remaining cavalry then ignored the scattered nomads to speed southward and reinforce the defending Host of the Horned Society.  M):  Several days of combat ensued as Blontug’s loyal humanoid infantry and human cavalry matched Chada-Three-Lances move for move, withstanding several coordinated charges from all directions. The Hierarch was now certain the Rovers lacked the numbers to defeat his army, but their superior mobility prevented him from mounting any offense. N):  On the 26th of Goodmonth, Chada and Lekkol called off a final mass assault when their lookouts spotted the arrival of Plar Rostal’s cavalry. The relieving bandit force made to encircle the depleted nomads while with a boost of morale, the main body of Blontug’s army charged forward. Sensing their campaign was finished, Chada-Three-Lances deftly countered the enemy maneuvers with a series of feigned retreats by enraged centaurs and sniping mounted archers, all while the majority of the war-party retreated back into the plains and the deep forest. The Confederation of the Barrens managed to inflict significantly more casualties than they suffered as the humanoid infantry attempted in vain to give chase, and by then Rostal’s weary cavalry could not mount another charge. Though the Horned Society had allowed their enemy to escape, they had ended the Barren Plains War. Aftermath 
   Hierarch Blontug called on his forces to regroup and resupply for a new campaign to end the nomad nuisance. His plans were soon thwarted as Plar Rostal received news from Rookroost that the Bandit Kingdoms were uniting against the forces of the Duchy of Tenh who had crossed the Zumker River and were now marching on their freeholds. Though personally threatened by Blontug, Rostal and his remaining cavalry departed without hesitation to join the combination of freelords in the east.    The Confederation of the Barrens would not attempt any more raids for the rest of the year either, though the damage done to the Horned Society and its colonial expansion was enough that it allowed previously scattered tribes of Flan (Gray Lynx, Wolverine) to return and reestablish themselves in the northern regions of the Fellreev. Chada-Three-Lances was hailed as a hero among the clans, and remained War Sachem at least through 579 CY, though later war councils failed to assemble a second war-party to permanently drive their enemy from the plains. At a stalemate, the Hierarchs began to rebuild and kept their focus on the northern frontier, building up stronger garrisons beyond Dingaverge.
   Lekkol and the Wegwuir had no time to celebrate the spoils of the war with the Rovers, as they returned home in haste at news that their people were besieged at Eru-Tovar. They would meet with their kin in time to drive off the forces of Iuz at the Battle of Blackwater Bend.
Heroic Hooks
   DMs who wish to feature the Barren Plains War in their own campaign should note this conflict takes place about two years after the starting timeline of the World of Greyhawk boxed set. This campaign is set during a time when the Hierarchs still rule the Horned Society, and the Rovers of the Barrens still have the numbers to make a comeback in the Bitter North. This War could make a good historical flashback, or a climatic event for a wilderness campaign. The following hooks are suggested for DMs who want to have player characters participate in the Barren Plains War without necessarily reenacting all the events. Diversionary Tactics: The player characters have joined the Barren Plains war-party and have been tasked with distracting Plar Rostal’s bandit cavalry so that the Rovers and their allies may proceed on to fight the Horned Society. It is up to the heroes to keep the enemy busy as long as possible. As a complication, Rostal’s lieutenant the evil sylvan elf Seenia and her guard will break off from their force to try and deal with the small skirmishing band herself.   Ambush from the Woods: It is the PCs job to lure out a column of hobgoblin and orc warriors who are entrenched at the edge of the Fellreev Forest guarding the main Horned Society army encampment from Rover Wardog or Wood Elf attack. The PCs will be outnumbered but they can plan an ambush on their terms if they are crafty enough. Protect the Leader: The Confederation is making yet another bold attempt to pierce the Horned Society’s formations. The allied PCs are given the honor to ride at the side of Chada-Three-Lances, whom they must keep safe as he is a high-profile target for Hierarch Blontug’s humanoid soldiers. Time is of the essence, the party must navigate a chaotic battlefield, and return to safety before Chada becomes overwhelmed. Spies in Dingaverge: The heroes are sympathetic to the Rovers’ plight and have been in Dingaverge since the call was made for bandits to converge here. The PCs are thus able to blend in easily and do some reconnaissance, or information gathering about the build-up of troops to take on the nomad confederation. Once they have the information they need, they must ride into the barrens, evading any chasing patrols, and meet with the Rovers at a rendezvous location. Sources:
Gary Gygax. World of Greyhawk Fantasy Game Setting (1983).
Gary Gygax. Greyhawk’s World: Events of the North Central Flanaess. Dragon Magazine #56.
Gary Holian; Erik Mona, Sean K. Reynolds, Frederick Weining. Living Greyhawk Gazetteer.
Carl Sargent. Iuz the Evil. Dave Howery. Ghost Dance. Dungeon Maga
zine #32.


Brian Rogers said...

These war reports must take a ton of effort but I find them fascinating and a lot of fun to read. I recently reread Artifact of Evil and these reinforce the books presentation of wars and mass troop movements as been key to the original Greyhawk campaign.

Mike Bridges said...

Brian: I appreciate the comment. Yeah they are quite research heavy though Gygax did alot of the content I'm just presenting it in a more visual manner and trying to give in-game reasons to even use the battle.
AoE like you mention, and early Greyhawk is definitely built for mass combat. That's the wargamer roots of D&D. Greyhawk is thus distinctive from other D&D worlds because of this military history. Thanks for reading. More to come!