Sunday, May 18, 2014

First Saga Battle - Vikings vs Anglo-Saxons

Asgrim leaned heavily against his Dane axe as he wiped his forearm across his face. It came away drenched with sweat and blood. Across from him, Haakon sat, binding a gash on his arm.

"By Hel's ruined face, Haakon, it has been a day for the sagas!"

"Asgrim, you hairy arse, sagas are sung of victories, and today there was no victor."

"This was a red day, a day of heroic acts and feats of arms. How can you be in such a grim mood?"

As he got to his feet to find something to eat,  Haakon thought back on the day's events. Yes, grim was the right word to describe his state of mind. Dawn had broken with the promise of glory and plunder, but the sun had set on a field of the dead.

He thought back to the battle that had transpired...

Ulf had led their band, the bloodsworn, to a hill that the nithing Anglo-Saxon considered sacred. According to local legends, they buried their so-called kings there, clad in their best mail, and surrounded by treasure. In their home village, a volur had read Ulf's dreams, telling him that hill would be where he would find his destiny. Ulf had taken that to mean that was where he'd earn a crown.

The men had been uneasy at that, believing no good come from looting a barrow - at best they would anger the spirits of the dead, and at worst the dead might not really be dead. They had all heard tales of draugar. But Ulf was persuasive, and had gathered a band of warriors to his side to explore the place. Before they departed, however, he took two precautions. He'd had the witch craft a spell of binding onto an iron amulet in the shape of scissors. And he'd had the men take a blood oath to each other and to the mission. They had sworn, cutting themselves and mingling their blood, not to abandon their quest or their mates. They were brothers, bound by blood.

Whether he was led by his dream, or by his fate, Ulf led them unerringly to the holy mound. Their journey across the sea had been uneventful, and they had thought it to be a good omen. Once they had beached their longship, hard marching had brought them to the barrow on the third night. But, across from them, they had seen the fires - the Anglo-Saxon dogs were here to protect their sacred ground!

The men had awaked long before the sunrise, and around him Haakon could hear the sounds of warriors adjusting armor, sharpening blades and engaging in their usual banter. By dawn, which had broken bright and cloudless, they were ready.

Ahead of them was the barrow, rising lightly from the flat ground. To the left was a grove of trees, obviously planted for a purpose as it stood alone in the field. To the vikings' right were some erected stones, though no one could guess at their significance.

Ulf ordered the ulfhednar and some of the bondi ahead into the grove, while he led the hirdmen towards the hill. One group of bondi were held back, much to their anger. The Anglo-Saxon warlord had much the same idea, sending his warriors ahead into the field of battle.

Haakon had been with the group of bondi and berserkers that made their way towards and into the trees. They encountered some spearmen, but were able to push them back and out of the grove in hard fighting. But, the bloodiest action was reserved for the central hill.

Ulf's chosen men, wanting to impress their jarl, charged up the hill and into the waiting ranks of foemen. They were unable to break the enemy's shieldwall, but held a portion of the sacred ground. Then Ulf arrived, and the stalemate was broken, and bloodily!

One band of huscarls charged into the spears of the Anglo-Saxons, only to be driven off by greater numbers. By Odin's dead eye, these Angles bred like dogs in rut! Kill one and two seemed to rise in his place.

The wolf-men had abandoned the grove then, seeking to find and kill the enemy leader and bring a quick end to this fight. The Saxon archers, though few, made them pay for leaving the cover of the trees. A group of Saxons fell upon the surviving berserkers, and overwhelmed them with their numbers.

Finally, Ulf had had enough of this stalemate. Calling upon Odin and his son, the Thunderer, Ulf led the remaining hirdmen in a charge against the Saxon swine-farmers. From the woods, Haakon had seen them race into the massed spears of their enemy. The gods truly were with them, and though they fell, they did not leave a single foeman standing. The last of the huscarls had thrown himself in front of a spear meant for Ulf, giving his life in exchange for his jarl's, and thus fulfilling his bloodoath.

But the charge left Ulf weary, and when the Saxon leader came upon him, wearing outlandish and sorcerous armor, he fell. There, on a piece of dirt sacred to dogs, Ulf met his destiny. The witch's prophecy was fulfilled. The bondi that had held back until then, seeing their leader fall, charged headlong towards the Saxon dog, Asgrim in the lead. They caught him, and despite his strength and size, like a pack of wolves taking down a  bear, they felled him.

The death of their lord took the spirit out of the enemy. Their bowmen milled about in confusion, while the warriors among the sacred stones held their position, watching warily but not advancing. From his position on the edge of the woods, Hakon could see the Saxon spearmen ahead of him, and hear them shouting curses and insults, though they too did not move against the viking warriors.

The day ended much as it had begun, with neither side being able to completely claim the sacred land. The only victors were the scavengers, four- and two-legged, picking over the corpses of the fallen.

Note: It truly was an epic battle, and a great introduction to Saga for me. Big thanks to Sean for his patience with a newbie! I had tons of fun, and would gladly play him again. As far as Saga, I love the battle board mechanic! It gives you a wealth of decisions to make about how you're going to conduct your troops, while keeping the actual game mechanics pretty simple. No need to memorize huge charts of armor and weapons values. Just attack, choose what abilities you're using, roll dice and remove casualties. I'm very glad I chose to get into this game. My only regret is that neither of us thought to take photos during the battle. (Note to self - remember to bring a camera!)

Now what I need to do is (1) become more familiar with the abilities on the battle boards, both my own and my opponent's, and (2) finish painting my warriors! I was very inspired by Sean's wonderfully painted Saxons, especially his shield work. I have to say, you must see them in person, the photos on his blog do not do them justice!
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