sunnuntai 18. joulukuuta 2016

A Toll House on the Bridge Road


Amidst all the hassle about my ongoing modified 40k campaign I managed to get in a nice game of Age of Sigmar, too. We played a custom scenario, called A Toll House on the Bridge Road, which was inspired by a certain tome I recently acquired. Here's how we set up the battlefield:

Early this week I received a parcel that held within something I've craved for longer than I can remember... The General's Compendium from the times of Warhammer Fantasy Battles 6th edition somewhere around 2003 or so. At the very start of the book they introduce a narrative three-battle campaign telling the story of the infamous Grom the Paunch of Misty Mountain, a goblin warlord who led a Waaagh! through the Old World and straight into the shores of Ulthuan itself. The first battle in this campaign caught my eye, so I modified it to fit the AoS ruleset and played it out with my trusty (well, as trusty as a grot can be) greenskin opponent.

A Toll House on the Bridge Road introduces 12 bored-to-death Road Wardens watching over a river crossing and 21 Disguised Grots trying to enter the region in order to scout it for the approaching Waaagh!.
At the start of the scenario no model is allowed to attack or run, and the Road Wardens (except those on the bridge or in the Toll House) move D6" in a random direction as they wander aimlessly to pass their time. The Grots are disguised as duardin workers and merchants, trying to get on to the bridge, pay the toll at one of the Toll Takers and exit the opposite board edge. Once 8 Grots have moved off the table it is considered a victory for the greenskins, and the Road Wardens obviously try to stop that from happening.

I mentioned that no-one is allowed to attack. Before the Alarm has been sounded, that is! Each time a Disguised Grot is paying the toll at one of the Toll Takers, you roll two dice. If the result is a 2 or 3 the Road Wardens have seen through the Grots' ruse and hostilities begin immediately, meaning everyone can then attack, run and charge normally!

The concept is pretty straight forward, really, and interesting to the core. On with the story!


The day was hot, even for a day in the Realm of Ghur. Two suns shone from the cloudless sky, making the surface of the slowly flowing river glimmer blindingly. The only sounds were the singing of birds, the buzzing of bugs and the soft purl of river water as it danced around the pillars of the wooden bridge that spanned across it.
Occasionally the tranquil soundscape was broken by a muttered curse from the road wardens as they waved away something buzzing next to their ears. The air was stale and suffocating, making the wardens sweat excessively under their padded leather and steel breastplates.

Many road wardens were wandering around the landscape, trying to escape the heat by finding a cool shadow or waving their hats at their red, sweat-glistening faces. The two toll takers at the bridge watched their comrades' desperate search enviously, for their duty required staying put and collecting tolls until the change of guard. At the top of the toll house three archers kept watch over the scene. Or they should have kept, but instead they now sat in the cool shadows of the stone crenelations and counted birds that passed them in the sky above.
It was a small comfort that from the rippling distance a group of duardin emerged, carrying all sorts of odds and ends as their wares. Their stunted feet beating on the wooden bridge was a welcome sound that drew the eyes of the toll takers, both of them grateful for having something to take their minds off their misery.

The first group of duardin consisted of engineers and merchants, it seemed, followed by a quartet of woodcutters that had apparently finished their day's work in the lumbermill a few miles away. Even a team of miners approached from the nearby hills, led by their prospector. Deeming from their empty hands they were probably returning from their day at the mines, their faces and hands dark with dirt and coal.

"Seems like we're going to have a busy day after all," Sergeant Gruber observed, frowning. "A merry lot by the looks of it."
"Aye, so it seems, sire..." the man next to him replied, looking at the duardin waddling their way towards the bridge. There was a strange sloppiness to the way they moved.
"Ya think they be drunk, sire?"
"When are duardin not drunk, Olfryd? Have I ever told you about the time I spent in the Bochenfels Regulars back when I was a young lad like you..."
"Aye, sir, y'have," Olfryd replied as quickly as he could, but there was no stopping the sergeant now.
"...we were supposed to secure the lands around the site that now holds our great city, we battled orruks and the vile servants of the dark gods, and there was a contingent of duardin fighting by our side. Those buggers were always in their cups, or barrels to be precise..."
The old man's chatter faded away as Olfryd let his mind sweep the green hills and the shimmering river, closing his ears to the story he was hearing the twelfth time already.

On the bridge the first of the merchants were almost across, exchanging murmured greetings with the toll takers who opened the leather pouches on their belts to receive the toll of those who would pass. Slowly but surely the other two groups of duardin waddled towards the bridge, delving into their pockets for coins to pay for their passage.

In the forest on the far side of the river a shadow stirred, suddenly revealing a grot wrapped up in a ragged cloak.
"Keep to da plan, ya gits, keep to da plan..." Urzy da Sneaky 'Un muttered to himself, casting a murderous gaze at the duardin merchants on the bridge. This was a thing he could not afford to fail. Waaagh! Urgokh was approaching the freeguild city of Bochenfels at an alarming speed, making its way through forests and mountain passes to remain unnoticed. Warboss Urgokh knew very well that such an innumerable horde could not approach a fortified city unseen, but he wanted to keep his intentions secret until the very last moment, which was why Urzy and his grots had been ordered to cross this river and scout the lands beyond... and to do it unnoticed. The Waaagh! would have to pass this river in order to get to Bochenfels and the last thing they needed was a freeguild army waiting for them on the river bank.

Da Sneaky 'Un gritted his teeth, still not sure if his underlings had understood the plan properly. Thinking ahead and ordering operations like this was unheard of for an orruk boss, but Urzy supposed that was why he hadn't poisoned Urgokh yet. He kind of liked the muscle and wit combined.
"Gork an' Mork be merciful..." he gasped as the first duardin reached the toll takers.

"State your business and pay the toll so you may pass," the toll taker blurted to the first merchant, his voice laden with boredom.
"I's...err... we's comin' ta trade in," the duardin answered in an oddly shrill voice. The toll taker looked the merchant in the eye but engineer goggles blocked eye connection. Before the man asked any further questions the duardin's gloved hand pushed four coins into the toll taker's palm. Nodding and putting the payment into the leather pouch on his belt, the man turned to the next merchant who also held four coins in an outstretched hand. More coins clinked at the other toll taker as money changed hands.

" one day as me and my mates strode into this duardin tent, we were awed by the mountains of barrels that lined the interior, leaving just enough space for a low table that had tankards in four neat rows..."
The sergeant's story went on and on with no end in sight. Slowly, Olfryd stepped back and started walking circles behind the talking man, kicking stones and watching them roll. At the foot of the hill atop which the archers stood, one of the wardens called out to another.
"Oi, Matthias! Want to hear a riddle?"
"Ehm... well, why not? It's not like I have anythin' better to do anyways," the man called Matthias replied, walking up to his colleague.
"Let's hear it!" he exclaimed.
"It is greater than Sigmar and more evil than the Chaos Gods. The poor have it, the rich need it, and if you eat it you'll die. What is it?" the other warden rhymed with a wide sneer on his face.
"Hmm... just lemme me think on this a bit, okay?" Matthias said, turning away from his mate to ponder on this mystery.

More duardin flocked onto the bridge while the first of the woodcutters stepped in to pay the toll. The last two merchants were doing the same, giving explanations to their passage.
"We's wi' dem, ya sees..." the green-clad engineer mumbled from the depths of his beard, pointing at the other merchants already walking away from the bridge.
"Yeah, sure you are. Four gold crowns... and five for you," the toll taker said, pointing at the duardin carrying a metal box.
"Wus? Dem's four coins fer passage, same as 'im," the merchant said while nodding towards his friend.
"No, it's five crowns 'cause you're carrying merchandise. This payment is called a toll after all, and that box of your's looks heavy," the man replied with a grin that didn't quite reach his eyes.
"I...err..." the duardin hesitated, staring at the four dented coins in his palm.

What Urzy hadn't taken into account in his plans was the increased toll for wares and the fact that grots couldn't count beyond four. After reaching that high a number everything beyond it was simply regarded as 'lots of' by their race.

"Well...? Do you have an answer to the riddle or not?"  the riddling warden asked.
"It ain't an easy one, mate, gimme a few more moments," Matthias replied irritably, deep lines marking his brow as he put his brains to work.
"Tis a tough one you gave me here..." he continued. "What is greater than Sigmar and... oh bugger me, nothin's greater than..."
Matthias's voice traced off and his face brightened suddenly.
"I know it! I know the answer to your stupid riddle! It's nothing! Nothing is greater than Sigmar or more evil than the Chaos Gods. The poor have nothing and the rich need nothing, and if you eat nothing you'll die. Hah! That wasn't so hard after all, now was it Alfons?"

Warden Alfons stared at his friend with an open mouth before his mood darkened altogether.
"You bugging cheater, I bet you've heard that riddle before! Ain't no way you're that bright to figure it out all by yourself..."

"You paying your passage or turning back, master duardin?" the toll taker asked, eyeing the lines still waiting impatiently for their own crossing.
"I...errr..." the merchant stammered, clearly starting to panic.
"That's it, I haven't got time to wait for your explanations, good traveller. Head back across the bridge, please..." the toll taker resolved, wanting to get the situation over with. As he reached out and took the duardin by the shoulder, the merchant repulsed from his touch and his beard fell to the ground.

"What the...?" the toll taker gasped, picking the loose beard from the grass. "Horsetail? What in Sigmar's name is this?!"
From where the beard had fallen now a frightened grot face stared at the man.
"Oooh bugga..." the diminutive creature whispered to itself.
"Alarm! We're under attack, all men to arms!" the toll taker roared, letting the coins in his palm slip from his grip as he took his hand to the hilt of his sword.

All around the bridge and beyond, the duardin engineers, merchants and workers cast off their disguise to reveal a horde of grots, armed and vicious.
The archers atop the Toll House stirred from their thoughts to nock their arrows on bowstrings and the wardens on the ground drew their blades, turning to behold the enemies in their midst.

"Ya freakin' gits, ya useless sods!" Urzy raged to himself in the cover of the forest.
"Ya better work dis out real good or I's gonna gut y'all by the end o' dis..."
Despite his burning rage there was nothing da Sneaky 'Un could do. All he did was watch and hope that no word got off from this outpost to warn the city and raise armies against his liege.

Before the toll taker at the bridge got his sword out from its scabbard, the grot that had just moments before paid its toll turned around to ram a spear into the man's throat.
"Knotface, ya oaf! Dat 'umie could've gutted ye if it wasn't fer me!" it croaked at the grot that stood terror-struck, watching the human soldier's eyes roll before falling on his face in the grass. Behind them the other toll taker had been faster, blocking the clumsy blows of the other grots with his shield before bashing them away to draw his sword.
The archers in the Toll House had been quick to react, sending out arrows from their high position keep the grots on the bridge occupied. One of the men saw his chance in the exposed backs of the creatures that had already crossed the bridge, sending a shaft punch through the head of such a careless greenskin.

The riddling pair of wardens charged into the fray to carve up the intruders, with Alfons cleaving apart the skull of the nearest grot while Matthias ran to the bridge to hold back the tide of black-hooded attackers. From behind the Toll House yet another road warden fell upon the grots with his blade swinging in gleaming arcs.
Matthias ran into the midst of the fighting, ramming one of the creatures against the bridge railing. In doing so, however, he exposed his back to the attentions of two more grinning grots who wasted no time sinking their spears into his unarmoured back.

As the death cries of young Matthias rang across the riverside, most of the wardens were locked in mortal combat by two or more foes. Bashes, kicks and swinging blades did their job at keeping the invaders at bay, but for how long?

One of the grots already across the bridge carried a giant trident, locking its opponent's sword between the spikes to allow its mate run the human soldier through with a crooked spear. Witnessing this, Alfons ran to the scene to avenge his friend.
"Dieter, nooooo!" he cried out as he bashed into the creatures, sending one of them sprawling on the ground.
From the top of the Toll House the archers craned out to lob shafts straight into the mob below. Two attackers cried out in anguish as arrows pierced their backs and necks but the others seemed not to notice, trampling over their still-screaming friends in their hurry to get across the bridge.

The last warden at the bridge thrust his sword into the belly of one of the beasts, but was cut down by the others before having a chance to wrench his blade free. With burning fervor at their apparent success, the grots surged forth in two groups. The first mob ran to the help of their trident-wielding leader, now confronted by a grieving swordsman who was giving them a good battering. The other group ran through the Toll House door which had been left open in the sudden conflict, hurrying up the stairs inside to reach the roof.

As soon as the first grot reached the top of the Toll House the archers kicked it back into the stairway, and the second greenskin got a swinging bow stave into its yellow teeth before rolling back down. The next two grots pushed their way into the battlements, stabbing archer Eduard into a bloody heap at one of the stone corners.
Down on the ground only archers remained, with the last of the swordsmen having his blade caught by a trident before getting pierced repeatedly by over-enthusiastic grots. Sergeant Gruber and Olfryd missed their targets but Hansel on the opposite hill scored a clean shot through the eye socket of the enemy leader. A shudder went through the mob of greenskins as their leader fell limp on the grass but so far none lost their nerve and ran.

"Oh, there's no end to these damned hole-dwellers!" Sergeant Gruber panted, nocking another arrow. Beside him Olfryd loosed a shaft, missing its mark by several feet.
"Focus, lad. And don't worry about missing a few shots, you've got the rest of your life to make up for it," the older man grinned.
Not failing to notice the vaguely desperate note in the sergeant's voice, Olfryd watched him put a shaft through the back of a grot on the bridge. With a yelp the greenskin fell on its side on the wooden surface, never to move again.

Shaken by the death of their leader, a mob of grots ran away from Hans to search easier pray in the two men standing on the hill.
"Here they come, Olfryd! Just like in the good ol' days..." Gruber said merrily, drawing his longsword from its scabbard.
"Get up 'ere you stunty bastards! Let me join my fallen brothers in the feasting halls of Sigmar!"
Sergeant swung his blade in a wide arc but the grots merely ducked, driving their rusty speartips into his unarmoured chest. As Gruber fell under the swirl of dark robes, coughing blood, Olfryd ran to his aide.
"Get your dirty hands off him! Off him, I said!" the young man roared, bashing grots aside using his bow as a club. By the time he reached the sergeant Olfryd succumbed to his wounds and fell in a pool of blood beside the old man.

Even more grots clambered up the stairs to fight at the top of the Toll House, resulting in one more archer dead as a spear was thrown into his left eye. The last archer on the top saw the desperate overall situation: there were only two wardens left with himself trapped in the tower. Plunging his shortsword into the neck of the next grot to poke his head up from the stairway, the man shouted down to his last remaining colleague.
"Hansel, run! Go and warn the city, I'll hold out here for as long as I can."
Watching the grots start running after him Hansel took a few backward steps, still reluctant to leave his friend. He loosed an arrow at the oncoming grots only to have it embed itself in the first shield on the way.

Turning back from his shouting the archer on the roof was confronted by a cackling grot who nailed him against the crenelations with a rusty spear. With the man still cursing and spitting blood on the floor his little assailant climbed to the edge of the tower and let out a high-pitched warcry to mark the capture of the building.
Hearing this, Hansel let fly another shaft at the hooded figure jumping up and down atop the Toll House. The arrow brushed so close to the grot's head that its hood was blown off its green bald dome, making the creature dive back for cover.

More and more enemies came running from behind the hill as Hansel backed away, sending arrows into the mob of attackers but to no effect. Reaching for yet another shaft Hansel realized his quiver was now empty. He could not outrun the grots, not anymore. Drawing his dagger, the last of the road wardens made ready to face overwhelming numbers.

The little greenskins piled on him like a tide of spears and teeth, their yellow eyes gleaming at the knowledge of favourable odds. Pushing them away with his bow and lashing out with his dagger Hansel managed to keep them at bay for several moments before one spear stuck out of his side, then another and soon a third. He fell like a soldier but his death left no-one to bring a word of warning to the city of Bochenfels. The garrison of the Toll House had been wiped out.

Twin suns still shone upon the land, the surface of the river still glimmered like gold. WIth the last of the humans dead Urzy da Sneaky 'Un trotted to the scene, gazing around the carnage his plan had wrought.
"Gud, now get rid o' da corpses so we can move on," he commanded his underlings who were eagerly looting the Toll House and the corpses strewn across the landscape.
"How's it we gonna get rid o' dem, boss?" asked the closest one, its back bent by the weight of a gold-filled leather pouch hanging over its shoulder.
"I dunno, throw 'em in da riva perhaps?" Urzy replied mockingly.
"I don't cares how ya do it, just do it ya git!"

As the grot slinked away with its coin pouch, da Sneaky 'Un drew his curved sword from his back rather theatrically.

"Ooight, an' which one o' ya squig-lovers caused da alarm...?"


8 Grots and all 12 Road Wardens dead, this result left no doubt of the victor!
More than enough grots got away to scout the area around Bochenfels, meaning that soon we'll be fighting a rather massive siege battle as Waaagh! Urgokh comes knocking at the door of my Free People city. Exciting!

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