Celebrant Field

Published in Miniature Wargames June 2002, issue 229.

Miniature Wargames magazine issue no. 229

Celebrant field war-gaming miniatures
The Éothéod rescue Gondor from destruction.

click for colorized Celebrant field campain map

In the year 2510 of the Third Age came the Éothéod (“horse folk”) to Gondor, and under the rule of their chieftain Eorl the Young (d. 2545) settled in the wide lands between the Anduin and Isen. This goodly land had always till then gone by the name Calenardhon (“green region”). But after Eorl became king there it was always called Rohan, which in the tongue of Gondor means “land of the horse:” and the Éothéod were called the Rohirrim ( “the horse-lords”). This came about not by invasion of the Éothéod, but because earlier that year the twelfth ruling steward of Gondor, Cirion (d. 2567), had sent to them asking for their aid.

The power of Sauron at Dol Guldur had grown as the Third Age progressed and his shadow now reached far into the world, corrupting the hearts of men and gaining mastery over an ever-increasing horde of orcs. Most numerous of the men serving the dark lord were the Easterlings known collectively as the Balchoth. They had lived for many years in Rhovanion, multiplying in numbers and evil intent. Greedy Balchoth eyes fastened upon the vales between Mirkwood and the Misty mountains. Raiders emerged from Mirkwood and crossed the Anduin, bringing fire and sword and rapine to the folk there, until all the land south of the Gladden fields was nearly deserted.

Far in the north lived the Éothéod, between the Misty mountains and the northernmost reaches of Mirkwood, — where springs Anduin — having moved there in the days of king Eärnil II (d. 2043) of Gondor. They considered themselves kinsmen of the kings of Gondor, because they too descended from king Eldacar (d. 1490). Once their forbears had ruled in Rhovanion. But a confederation of Easterlings — known as Wainriders — had invaded (in 1856) and enslaved the people who did not flee. Thus the Éothéod held a great hatred for the Balchoth, whom they looked upon as descendants of those who had dispossessed them of their ancestral lands.

The Balchoth at this time were very strong and getting ready to invade Gondor. And Cirion the steward knew of these preparations. But as the record says: “. . .Cirion sent north for aid, but over-late; for in that year (2510) the Balchoth, having built many great boats and rafts on the east shores of Anduin, swarmed over the River and swept away the defenders. (1)

"(Cirion) gathered as great a force as he could, and taking command of it himself, made ready as swiftly as might be to lead it north to Calenardhon." (2)

"At the same time by chance or design the Orcs (who at that time before their war with the Dwarves were in great strength) made a descent from the Mountains." (3)

The army of Gondor marched to the defence of Calenardhon. The Balchoth were, by then, in greater strength than Gondor could face at short notice. Cirion engaged a large host in battle unsuccessfully in the Wold. He would have withdrawn then, but it was too late, for he discovered that the road back into the south was blocked by swarms of invaders. Perhaps hoping that he might meet the Éothéod, Cirion took his army north, pursued by the victorious Balchoth. As yet he did not know of the orc incursion.

"Defeated in the Wold and cut off from the south, (Cirion's army was) driven across the Limlight and was then suddenly assailed by the Orc-host that pressed it towards the Anduin." (4)

The warriors of Gondor were surrounded and the outcome looked hopeless. Cirion did not know if any of the six messengers he had sent to the far north had even reached the Éothéod and their chieftain, Eorl the Young.

Fortunately, one, Borondir, had managed to get through and deliver Cirion's message. Eorl the Young -- wise for his twenty-and-five years -- had felt that to refuse aid to his kinsfolk in Gondor would be very short-sighted: since in the future after destroying the southern kingdom, Sauron would turn his wrath upon the north, and then the Éothéod would stand alone without hope. So he quickly mustered the full strength of his people and with Borondir at his right side to scout for the host Eorl took the warpath into the south. It was a ride of over five hundred miles to the Undeeps and took them nine days. As they drew near Dol Guldur, Eorl led his warriors westward away from the fearful dark shadow and cloud that flowed from Mirkwood.

They came within sight of Anduin, and saw a gleaming mist that shrouded the fabled land of "Dwimordene" (the Éothéod name for Lorien). They entered the mist reluctantly, but found that it hid their march from the shadow at Dol Guldur. And as they rode, the secretive mist seemed to invigorate both man and beast, so that they were "as fresh and eager as on the morning of their setting out." (5) Emerging from the mist on the third day, Eorl and his men saw the loops of the Undeeps before the. Crossing Anduin by the North Undeep, they entered the Wold and saw all around them signs of a running battle that had passed by. Following this they came to the Limlight and crossed over. Scouting revealed the battlefield not far away. Eorl led his warriors in a great arc to the northeast. (This is implied in the narrative: "...the Riders came out of the North and broke upon the rear of the enemy." One could assume this to be a rhetorical statement since "out of the North" describes where the Riders originated from. But if they did not attack from a northward position there is no way that the invaders could have been "driven with great slaughter over the Limlight" ie. south.) Borondir was the first across the Limlight and foremost in the charge. "(Cleaving) a path to the aid of Cirion, he fell at last on the Field of Celebrant defending his lord." (6) The onslaught of the Éothéod quickly restored the fortunes of Gondor. Together they broke the enemy.

But it seems that most of the orcs escaped to the mountains: perhaps the race-hatred of the Éothéod for the Balchoth caused them to largely ignore the orcs once the rout had begun. For many days the invaders were scattered and pursued across the plains of Calenardhon to utter destruction. After this, the Balchoth are never mentioned again.

“Cirion granted to Eorl that land to dwell in, and he swore to Cirion the Oath of Eorl, of friendship at need or at call to the Lords of Gondor.” (7)

War-gaming the battle of the Field of Celebrant

Celebrant field war-games table setups

I found that three stages were more interesting than a single, final set-on.

Game One: The defenders of Anduin.
This represents a couple of garrisoned camps, similar to those strung north and south along the west shores of Anduin. There are two camps at this point, separated and 20" back from the edge of the river. A suggested size for the defender forces is 1,500 men, easily created with 24 bases. These are all levies, and not regular troops. They begin encamped, 12 bases per camp. At the first alarm -- a roll of 1d6 = 5, 6 -- the defenders can begin to issue forth in open order from their camps; roll each turn until the alarm is given, or until the Balchoth attack the camp(s). The Balchoth are three times stronger than the defenders, or 72 bases. They start in two disembarked groups, 12 bases each. They begin in "open order" facing the two Gondor camps and may start moving on the first game turn. Starting with game turn one, and each turn thereafter, roll 1 d 6 = 5, 6 and a two half-units (4 bases) of Balchoth arrive and disembark on the shore 1 d 50" in from either (50/50) the north or south edge. (Note: the river showing on the table is only the west shore of Anduin: the whole of the river must have been in excess of 300 yards wide.) After game turn number six, start rolling a second 1 d 6 each turn: 6 = a full eight-base unit of Balchoth arrives on the table — having already disembarked further upstream or downstream — from one of 1 d 6 directions: 1,2 = at the north edge; 3,4 = at the west edge; 5,6 = at the south edge. Both 1 d 6 rolls for entering Balchoth happen each turn until all 72 Balchoth bases are disembarked here; thereafter only the roll for arriving units from the north, west and south is done each turn, and each 5-6 brings on a full unit. The defenders can start to retreat for the west edge (at their rear) after the first unit of Balchoth arrives on the north, west or south edge.

Game Two: Cirion’s army versus the Balchoth.
The battle begins with equal forces; which is to say, the Balchoth have more men of far lesser quality. A good mix is 10 to 20 bases of Gondor cavalry in two units; four units of Gondor spearmen, at 8 bases each; four half-units of Gondor archers, at 4 bases each; one double-unit, 16 bases, of collected Calenardhon infantry levies: the Balchoth only operate in a massive phalanx of left, right and center, 6 eight-base units each: their crude, irregular and confederate tribal structure does not allow a reserve (which, if suggested, would be scorned as a position of extreme ignominy and insult). The Balchoth are facing west, the Anduin at their rear off-table. Gondor’s army is facing east. Beginning with the first turn, roll 1 d 6 = 5, 6 brings on a full eight-base unit of Balchoth; from direction 1 d 6: 1-3 = south edge; 4 = west edge; 5 = north edge; 6 = east edge, reinforcing Balchoth battle line. Gondor's purpose is to get off the north edge -- across the Limlight.

Game Three: Surrounded in Celebrant Field.
Cirion’s army outpaced the pursuing Balchoth and got across the Limlight; hoping, perhaps, to reach into the north vales and find the Éothéod; but as they continued their march, a horde of cors from the Misty mountains came down upon the warriors of Gondor from the west. It seems that Cirion tried to avoid combat when he discovered the orcs coming; for the narrative says that the orcs "pressed it (the army of Gondor) toward the Anduin." But the orcs caught up to them and Cirion's army was "suddenly assailed." No sooner does Cirion's army face this new threat than the Balchoth arrive on the field. The battle commences anew. Gondor is: 10 to 20 bases of cavalry; four units of spearmen, 8 bases each; four half-units of archers, 4 bases each; one unit of Calenardhon infantry levies, 12 bases (or, alternately, give Gondor only what they escaped over the Limlight with in the previous game - see "Playing the Battles"). The Balchoth are the same as for previous game — three “battles” of 6 eight-base units, plus any units that generated on in Game Two: they begin the game c. 20" away from Gondor. Gondor is in the center of the table facing south or in square; the Balchoth are facing north and around to facing southwest, and the Limlight is south of them, off the table. The orcs from the Misty mountains are 20" away on the west: they are moving in several units totaling 70 to 80 bases. After the orcs have moved into combat with Gondor, roll 1 d 6 = turns of combat more before you can start rolling to bring on the cavalry of the Éothéod: each turn roll 1 d 6 until 5, 6 = a unit of 20 bases heavy cavalry arrives; the first being led by Eorl the Young himself; the second 5, 6 = another 20 bases of cavalry; a third roll of 5, 6 = one last force of 20-plus bases of cavalry: all the cavalry units arrive on the east, northeast and north edge of the table, and in that order - see map.

(Note on numbers: In "Unfinished Tales" Tolkien states -- "It is said that Eorl led forth some seven thousand fully-armed riders and some hundreds of horsed archers." (8) Therefore, I have given a game that is roughly half-sized in the scale that we use. Of course, this makes not the slightest defference. The proportions are what matters. In the underpopulated world of post-plague and war-torn Middle-earth, armies were "huge" when they exceeded ten-thousand men. A host of seven- to eight-thousand horsemen was so formidable that in the long ride of Eorl and the host of Éothéod down the Vales of Anduin they met no resistance whatsoever. "Such folk of good or evil kind as saw it approach fled out of its path for fear of its might and splendour." (9)It is highly unbelievable that the Balchoth could have had their full strength at the field of Celebrant: they knew they had won and that Calenardhon lay helpless and ripe for plundering: many, in fact probably a major part, of the ill-disciplined horde probably turned into the Wold when Cirion marched his army over the Limlight. For the battle of the field of Celebrant I have only given the Balchoth the same "core" host that Cirion fought in Game Two; the rest of the Balchoth have gone southward to rape, loot and burn, their favorite pastime. In fact, if you want to, reduce the Balchoth forces for the final battle considerably, and put on more orcs.)

Tactical differences: using historical armies as models for Middle-earth armies
In this earlier period, Gondor’s military -- though in decline -- is more classical than at the end of the Third Age during the War of the Ring. So for these battle, consider all regular Gondor troops as Byzantines at their peak (during the ninth and tenth centuries). The regular spearmen all are heavily armed, with long spears and large shields inside of which are carried five rounds of darts; two rounds can be thrown just before the enemy closes for hand-to-hand combat (we call this "double-pre-contact"); a stout broadsword or axe is the usual sidearm. The regular archers are mailed too and carry a small buckler and an axe or short sword for hand-to-hand combat. The regular cavalry are all heavily armored and use a very long lance; they also throw darts (which are effectively in unlimited supply because they carry cases of them). The Calenardhon levies average as medium spearmen in leather with large shields; they have swords, and two javelins apiece for "pre-contact" missile fire; there are light archers on foot too; and some levied troops are medium cavalry with either bows or darts; but the spearmen are the predominant arm. For tactics: all troops can withdraw after a round of combat. The turn they do this they may not use their missiles. These "classical" troops, both regular and militia, can "pivot" in place at a full walk move (trot for cavalry): and in oblique and rearward directions at a three-quarter-walk and half-walk respectively (cavalry can face ninety degrees per half-turn at a trot) -- except when withdrawing following combat, which is allowed at a full walk (trot). Cavalry can also charge in echelon: which allows them to angle up to ninety degrees to strike into the flank of an enemy while charging. Cavalry units can "checkerboard" as well, which allows units to space apart their figure bases a full width, which allows other cavalry units to charge through the gaps: if used properly, this charge-through maneuver can be allow a charge and withdraw of alternating units and can keep a much larger enemy off balance or even make them rout.

The cavalry can fake a rout. The spearmen can perform a "pike" charge: but in doing so they forego any missile using capacity. This charge also causes an enemy to check morale to stand up to it. All charging (except cavalry echelon) is done straight ahead and no turning. While running, only darts or javelins can be thrown, and bowmen behind may not shoot. Archer units are usually brigaded with and behind the spearmen: either in half-units or full units of equal size. As there are twice as many spearmen as archers, doing the latter will deprive half the spearmen units of any archer support. Alternately, archers may be stationed on the flanks or put out in front as a skirmish line. Morale is A and B class for regulars, and B or C class for Calenardhon levies. Each unit tests morale for casualties once at the first 25% lost.

The Balchoth are real barbarians. As Tolkien said the Balchoth resembled the earlier Wainriders, (10)I recommend thinking of Germanic infantry as the historical type, c. 4th to 6th century A D; early Franks work well too. Balchoth average as light infantry, most carrying only a large shield. A single spear, and a couple of javelins or throwing axes, and long knife make up the arms of most. Chieftains with maybe ten percent bodyguard are armed in mail and have swords and helmets. Any chariots have been left behind, except for enough to mount the war chiefs and their immediate household guards: this will equal no more than one chariot base per “battle” of left, right and center. None of the Balchoth units generating into the battle later have chariots. For tactics: the Balchoth fight in a dense phalanx of thrusting spears and overlapping shields. They rely on pushing their enemies over, using their vaunted superior physical size and strength. (In this they are mistaken, for the men of Gondor are not a whit less in physical prowess.) But if a Balchoth player can roll a successful morale test for his "battle" then he may opt to throw a single round of javelin or axe in the initial turn of melee combat: the downside of doing this is that for that first turn of melee they are at a disadvantage: only their armor is effective as they switch to melee weapons: this reflects poor training in imitation of Gondor's ("Byzantium's") "pre-contact" and "double-pre-contact" missile fire. The ponderous phalanx of a Balchoth army cannot wheel once formed up, but must rumble straight ahead: to move faster -- or maneuver -- will break the cohesion of their battle line into "open order." A large Balchoth "battle" takes a lot of killing, however, before it finally starts to check morale for losses. (At 25%, and again at 50% and 75% losses.) Morale is usually D; but for this campaign they are whipped up to C class by Sauron’s propaganda (and their fear of him). When charged by cavalry, Balchoth infantry must test morale successfully or rout.

Orcs are actually better in some ways and worse in others compared to Balchoth. They come from the mountains, where they are more accustomed to fighting in caves, tunnels and canyons. Out in the open they are less happy. And daylight is even more of a hindrance to them. This battle is fought in broad daylight, but Sauron has created a heavy overcast which shields his orcs from the sun. Nevertheless, their morale is D class. They must test morale successfully to stand up to charging cavalry. They check morale for 25%, 50% and 75% losses. They fight in large, massy units, and while moving at a "trot" (which they can do almost indefinitely) they are in open order. They are well-armed, being mailed and helmed and having big, heavy weaponry. They like to throw a round of something heavy and (or) sharp just before closing: but like the Balchoth they only get to do this if they test morale successfully first; and if they do they are also at a disadvantage in the initial round of melee. Bows are not uncommon with them, and their effectiveness, although not equal to that of Gondor's archers, more than makes up for lower quality with numbers: one in five orcs and Uruk-hai can be an archer. And Uruk-hai can shoot screened if they do not move: but all orc and Uruk-hai archers shoot in open order only. Orc hordes with Uruk-hai (c. 25% of the horde) sound like Vikings to me; except for the cruddy morale (although D class Vikings are not unheard of). These early Uruk-hai are not steady before charging cavalry and must test morale to stand firm. Berserkers are found among the Uruk-hai. When they enter hand-to-hand combat treat them as fully plate-armed foot for effectiveness, and they have “fanatic” morale: that is, they test like A class until they fail, then they revert to Ds. Only about five or ten percent of an orc horde should be considered as berserkers, and they always open the battle by being the first to charge into the enemy line. They do not use missiles.

The Éothéod are best as early medieval knights, such as the later Franks of Charlemagne, or even the Normans. They are mailed, helmed, and use javelins from horseback. A percentage — perhaps a fifth — carry a good bow. Most prefer the lance charge, but some like to “fence” with the lance or sword. For a large fracas, such as the Celebrant, the “horse folk” dispense with such skirmishing, champion-like forms of fighting and get down to business in large, knee-to-knee masses, ranks deep. Their charge is quiet ferocious; but calculated as well. They can withdraw from a combat and reform to charge again. The feigned flight (or faked rout) is a favorite tactic. They have no trouble maneuvering while in dense order, as long as they are not committed to a charge. Once they have begun a charge, they are limited to straight ahead only. Once in pursuit of a routed enemy, they are hard to recall. Their morale today is B and C class; but once they set out in pursuit they are D class for the purposes of getting control of them for anything else.

Playing the battles
I intended that these three games be playable in a single evening. And using our rules we did indeed play all three battles in around five hours. Game one uses very few bases at first. But by the time the defenders are dead or fled, a good portion of the Balchoth army for the next game is already laid out. For game two it is a simple matter to set on the rest of the Balchoth and the other bases needed for the Gondor army of Cirion the steward. (I found that actually placing the river Limlight across the north end of the table gave the players a visual orientation of their goals - to get as much of the Gondor army over the river as possible, or the prevention of such; but the river as a terrain feature should not have any tactical effect upon the troops.)

I made how well the defenders did in game one decide how large the contingent of Calenardhon levies would be in game two: the percentage of escaped defender points might allow the full sixteen bases if the defenders got off with at least half of their bases; but if they lost over half, then the sixteen bases of Calenardhon levies in game two would be reduced by a quarter or even half.

To move from game two into game three requires only that you get out the orcs and reposition all the other figures. The Balchoth get back all of their bases that they used in game two: while Gondor gets back all of its escaped bases and twenty-five percent of its losses. It doesn’t take long to lay out twenty bases of cavalry on each turn that the Éothéod arrive. And if your rules work efficiently there is no reason why this battle - by far the largest and most involved of the three games - should take more than two or three hours. In our play-test the defenders only got off with seven bases of their starting twenty-four in game one; for which “failure” they only received 12 bases of Calenardhon levies in game two. In game two, Gondor advanced into the Balchoth “battles” and destroyed them as a fighting force; allowing Gondor to disengage, out-march the Balchoth coming onto the south edge of the table, and escape over the Limlight with a loss of half their cavalry, the Calenardhon levy unit, a few bases of spearmen regulars and c. half of the archers: after getting back 25% of these they still had a sizeable force for game three. The Gondor players dismounted all but around six bases of cavalry (one of which was “Cirion”) and kept them inside a square of spearmen backed by archers. Through a mutual hail of javelins and darts and arrows the orcs and Balchoth crashed into all four sides of the square: at this point, due to casualties taken, the shaky morale of the orcs caused half of them to pull off, some permanently, but the Balchoth players rolled very good morale dice for casualties. The éored of Eorl the Young took its sweet time getting onto the table (poor die rolls by yours truly, the GM) and had to use up most of its charge moves getting to the stricken Gondor square as quickly as possible. Their late charge into the rear of the Balchoth caused a rout; but then the charge played out and the Balchoth rallied. At this point the second éored showed up and charged into the rear of the Balchoth right. Poor combat rolls for the Éothéod nearly undid their rescue efforts. But the quick appearance of the last éored saved the day for Gondor: the orcs broke before the cavalry charge, and the panic spread until only the dregs of the Balchoth right still resisted. Cirion stood exhausted with the last few bases of his army still capable of fighting. It was a very near thing. And I suppose that was the way Tolkien saw it too, as he dramatically introduced the Rohirrim into Middle-earth at the battle of the field of Celebrant. The “historical” outcome pleased me very much. But it could have gone otherwise.

1. Lord of the Rings, page 1090, Houghton Mifflin 1992.

2. Unfinished Tales, page 297, Houghton Mifflin 1980.

3. ibid, page 299.

4. ibid.

5. ibid.

6. ibid, page 313.

7. Lord of the Rings, page 1091.

8. Page 298.

9. ibid.

10. ibid, page 296: "They were only rudely armed, and had no great number of horses for riding, using horses mainly for draught, since they had many large wains, as had the Wainriders (to whom they were no doubt akin) that assailed Gondor in the last days of the Kings."