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Lonely Hours.png
In the lonely hour, that we all go through.

Rope and Chain

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The Barrens is rotting. Too long subject to the corrupting touch of the Druj's Spring magic is taking its toll. The trees teem with bloated vermin. The marshes buzz with rancid sickness. Every drop of water, every drop of rain, is infused within the taint of the rivers running red. Every wound festers, turning any injury into a potential death sentence. The Druj seem to like it that way.

Since the Imperial armies carved the Steel Causeway through the heart of the Barrens, the territory has been quiet. The Druj here have been quiescent. They are surely here – hiding among the trees and behind the walls of the Spires of Dusk. A trap waiting to snap shut around the Empire's soldiers, should they return to continue their conquest of the Barrens.

Yet the Empire didn't come – the Druj trap remained unsprung. Instead, the Imperial armies were busy closing the noose around the Druj in the south, trapping the orc armies in Zenith, turning the tables on the would-be tyrants of Urizen.

Champions of Dawn, once again we must find a path across the Empire. We rush back to the Barrens to join our comrades in Dawn. This equinox has seen a significant loss of life from our Nation. Now the Druj will pay that price in blood. Love guides us, love for our house mates, love for our fellow soldiers, love for our nation. Lord Garravaine with his dying breath calls out for all of us to Charge

Zoran De Orzel, General of the Golden Sun

Soldiers of the Pride! These are my final orders. It has been an honour to serve as your general for the last several years. You have been my pride and my family. It is time to push in the Barrens. Free the slaves as our troubadours have encouraged and show them the Way. For Glory! Death to the Druj!

Garravaine De Rondell, General of the Gryphon's Pride

Helms, the Druj scatter before us too cowardly to stand against Varushkan Iron. Hunt these dogs down, but be vigilant against their tricks. We advance with caution into Bitterstrand alongside our cousins the Northern Eagle.

Alderei the Fair, General of the Iron Helms

As the Druj in the south flee, however, the northern orc forces strike. They are led by the Black Wind – the army made up of orcs from the western Barrens who have a particular hatred for the people of Dawn. Perhaps banking on the fact the Empire will be occupied in the south, Druj armies emerge from hiding to try and close the Steel Causeway, to recapture Hope's Rest and the Carmine Fields. They pour out of the woods and the marshes, a teeming host of vicious warriors, easily enough to overwhelm the troops left-behind to maintain the Imperial presence in the central Barrens.

Unopposed, they would quickly collapse the Causeway and retake the lands the Empire has conquered. Unopposed, they would easily return the Barrens to unquestioned Druj dominance. Unopposed, victory would be unquestionable...

But the Druj have miscalculated again. They are not unopposed. Half a dozen Imperial armies – thirty thousand soldiers and perhaps as many as fifteen thousand warriors from independent warbands that support them – are already moving to reinforce the Causeway, and bring more of the Barrens under their control.

At the forefront of the Imperial advance – where they have been almost every time the Empire has come to the Barrens - are the Gryphon's Pride. They lead the attack, pushing into the Druj controlled regions and leaving their allies the task of shoring up the borders of the Steel Causeway. They are joined by the knights and yeofolk of the Golden Sun, marching across the northern Empire from Sermersuaq, empowered by potent Autumn magic to make the crossing in time to fight alongside their fellow Dawnish warriors.

Once again the Dawnish fight beside their Varushkan allies – the Northern Eagle and the Iron Helms follow the lead of the Gryphon's Pride, carefully pressing the Druj defences, striking quickly when they can, but avoiding direct confrontation wherever possible. Slowly but surely their tactics push the Druj back, expanding the boundaries of the Steel Causeway east and west.

As well as Dawn and Varushka, the League and Highguard have also come to the Barrens. The Valiant Pegasus crusades against the Druj, eager to see the successes of Zenith re-enacted in the Barrens, hoping perhaps to inspire the septs of subject orcs in some fashion. They will have their work cut out for them. The Wolves of War by contrast echo the tactics of the Varushkans – grinding forward carefully, consolidating their gains, readily supported by free companies recruited in Holberg, eager for another chance to strike against the Druj.

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The Wolves of War carefully consolidate Imperial gains.

Wolves and Brambles

The Imperial armies are supported by even stranger allies. Three days after the first troops set foot in the Barrens, dozens of immense white wolves, larger than oxen, join the fight against the Druj. Individually, they would have little impact, but they fight in disciplined packs. Their bone-chilling howls strike fear into the hearts of the Druj, but inspire the Imperial soldiers that fight alongside them – especially those with Draughir blood. They are more than mere savage beasts – they speak with low growling voices – explaining that they are servants of the Whelpmaster secured by pact to fight in the Barrens. Their interest lies more in keeping the Druj from overwhelming the Steel Causeway than in expanding its borders – but their presence leaves the Empire's armies free to take the battle to the hated foe.

Strike forth from the gloom, soldiers and march with Pride. The Winter Sun guards our home and in turn we go to War. The Barrens await us, ready for conquest. We may bleed, we may fall, but we stand unbroken. Courage! Loyalty! Behold the Eagle of Varushka!

Jaromir Ostrovyn Kostka, General of the Northern Eagle

And take the battle they do. A week after the Autumn Equinox, silent knights wrapped in all-encompassing suits of black steel plate , servants of the Bound King, join the Gryphon's Pride in their assault against Bitter Strand. The knights never talk; they seem to exist merely to drive their enemies before them. For the time being, their enemies are the enemies of Dawn. Their service has been bought by sacrifice - their master given license to feast upon the magic of Dawn by the Imperial Conclave. They avoid the servants of Sorin; for their part the great white wolves seem to ignore the black knights but it is noticeable that there are no engagements where both sets of heralds are present at the same time.

The Druj are not without magical allies of their own; the servants of Arhallogen fight openly alongside the orcs. In particular, abominable horrors with the heads of savage insects and chitinous armour accompany an army the Empire has not seen before. A fresh force of orcs, whose banners are marked with crimson brambles, a strange device never before seen amongst the Druj whose armies are always named for the poisonous beasts that inhabit their lands. Imperial veterans with bitter experience fighting the Druj whisper among themselves as to where they have come from and what this means.

It's difficult to get a feel for the numbers of Druj fighting in the Barrens, but League scouts estimate that there are at least as many orc warriors as Imperial soldiers in the Barrens, without taking into account their supernatural allies, or the garrison of the Spires of Dusk. And of course, Imperial progress is slowed by the magical wards the ghulai have raised over the forests. The forests to either side of the Steel Causeway twist with corrupting magic, striking against any Imperial forces that dare to push into Farweald, the Bleaks, or the Untrod Groves.

Despite their numbers, and the advantages secured with their dark magic, the Druj fight cautiously. They seem almost to be testing Imperial resolve – striking quickly then retreating whenever possible. There are few pitched battles – but those that do take place are absolutely brutal. The orcs seem more interested in minimizing their own losses, rather than inflicting them on the Empire's soldiers, apparently trusting to the Spring magic they have laid down to do their work for them.

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the Empire holds the Steel Causeway against the aggression of the Druj.

Soldiers of the Valiant Pegasus. The Druj are broken and fleeing our siblings in the Seventh wave and the Granite pillar will remain in Zenith to cleanse the Druj remnants. We will take up Dawns challenge and head to the Barrens. There are tribes subject to the Druj that need liberation. Let the Beacons of Virtue we lit in Zenith shine bright on our continued fight for liberation. Death to the Druj.

Achseh, General of the Valiant Pegasus

Stand to Wolves, I arrive with a contingent of Temeschwar's finest. We move to push the foe further yet from the Holberg's walls. To the Barrens now, in the Reaper's name lock pikes and make the filth pay with each step.

Jean Di Sarvos, General of the Wolves of War

Teeth and Tempest

This caution serves to blunt the effectiveness of their attack – the Imperial forces in the Barrens are ultimately able not only to maintain control of the Steel Causeway, but to slowly push outward. The focus of their advance is the Bitter Strand, the coast of the Barren Sea, and the mithril mine that lies along its shores. The defences of Bitter Strand have been shattered thanks to a potent Spring ritual enacted under the guidance of the Spring Archmage during the Summer Solstice. Taking advantage of the conjunction of the Fountain, a band of Imperial heroes used the Sentinel Gate to unleash a devastating tempest against the north-eastern Barrens. The Bitter Sea has poured inland, and drowned the region of Saltmarsh in churning floodwaters.

As soon as it becomes apparent where the Empire's strategy will take them, the Druj move to intercept. Forced to face Imperial soldiers head-on, they fight with vicious desperation, and the churning waters of the hungry Bitter Sea are dyed red with the blood of human and orc alike, making manifest the Spring curse that hangs over the territory. The Druj are desperate, but they are forced to fall back time and again. Yet each time they retreat, they redouble their efforts to attack again the next day. All their defences in Bitter Strand are in ruins – and despite having been the masters of the Bitter Sea for a generation or more the recent magical tempest has reshaped the land to a degree that the Druj cannot use it to their advantage.

As the Winter Solstice draws closer, the Druj are forced to cede parts of the shoreline to the Empire, falling back eastward towards the Fangs – the rocky mithril mine that lies near the eastern shores of the Bitter Sea. Scouts report that the rocky columns that thrust out of the surface of the churning sea have experienced significant damage – access is via a handful of makeshift bridges, made even more precarious by the fact the shores of the sea have shifted. The damage from the magical storm means it's doubtful the Druj will be able to hold the mine against a concerted Imperial attack - assuming that the Empire can conquer enough of the rocky coast to threaten the mine.

Hope and Freedom

The situation in the Barrens is not straightforward, however, and that blunts the Imperial advance. The Imperial Synod has made it clear that there is more at stake in the Barrens than mere conquest. They have decried the idea of the Barrens as a prize to be taken, and instead urged virtuous citizens to focus on rallying the septs and the subject tribes who labour under the oppressive tyranny of the Druj. At first it seems this urging might not sit well with the Dawnish armies spear-heading the campaign in the Barrens - the nation's ambitions there are common knowledge and have been for centuries - yet to the surprise of many the troubadours of Dawn have agreed with the Synod. Indeed, they have embraced the idea of proving to the inhabitants of the Barrens that they will do all they can to free them.

This commitment to trying to make contact with the orcs (and handful of humans) who chafe under the yoke of the Druj has cost the Empire. Without it, they might have come very close to conquering the entire Bitter Strand. Instead they have been able to resist the Druj attempt to break the Steel Causeway, but have made little progress in extending the amount of land they control. Yet they have made it clear - as clear as it can be - that they are not just here as conquerors, not just here to replace the dominion of the Druj with a tyranny of their own. There are many orcs in Bitter Strand, forced into servitude at the Fangs. There are warriors among the Black Wind who have no love for the monsters of the Mallum. There are scattered pockets of Great Forest Orcs, left behind in the Barrens when the majority of their sept fled south into Therunin. While the Imperial armies hold against the Druj, emissaries and scouts deliver a message of hope as best they can. The Druj can be beaten. The Empire are not the enemy.

The Empire speaks... it remains to be seen if any of the Barrens orcs are listening.

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Every drop of water, a drop of blood.

Blood and Death

So the Steel Causeway holds, despite the Druj effort to try and overrun it. The Empire has established a foothold in Bitter Shore, but little more than that. The Druj still control the Barrens, and it is clear that their strategy has been cautious. Likely shaken by their losses in Zenith, they have been testing the Empire's defences. If they had come in force – if they had shown the disregard for their own lives that has characterised many conflicts over the last few years - then the situation might have been very different. Not only would the Empire have made little progress in expanding the Steel Causeway, it's likely that the Druj would have begun to dismantle it - had they come in force.

As it is, when the butcher's bill is tallied, the Empire's losses are sobering indeed. Six thousand Imperial lives ended in the Barrens in the space of a season, ended by Druj arrows, by deadfalls and traps, by poisoned spears, by the festering rot that comes from the Spring curse. If the Empire had not favoured its own cautious advance, the losses would have been even worse.

It's impossible to be certain how many Druj have died, but surely they must have paid at least as steep a price as the Empire? The Varushkans in particular speak of mounds of dead orcs put to the torch along the margins of the Steel Causeway, and the columns of greasy black smoke that accompany them are visible across most of the northern Barrens.

Game Information : The Barrens

The Empire still holds Carmine Fields and Hope's Rest, and is perhaps a fifth of the way towards capturing Bitter Strand. A combination of careful strategy, and the influence of the Synod, have greatly reduced the Empire's ability to claim territory in the Barrens. Imperial armies have a one-fifth penalty to conquering territory in the Barrens, with the exception of Urizen and Varushka. Thanks to their own mandate, the Dawnish armies have a three-tenths penalty instead. This reduction applies only to victory points for taking territory, not to casualties dealt or suffered.

The residual effects of the recent magical storm have been observed first-hand by Imperial Scouts – the eastern region of Saltmarsh no longer has the Marsh quality (meaning it is not a suitable target for Twisted Echoes of the Fen), but rather counts as Coastal until at least the start of the Summer Solstice.

There are two Cruel armies in the Barrens – the Iron Helms, and the Black Wind both possess this quality. Neither has engaged in a Merciless Onslaught this season.

Major Conjunctions

There are two major conjunctions to the Barrens during the Winter Solstice, allowing for two potential battle opportunities. Both take place on the Staturday; the Imperial Military Council will choose between them during the muster on Friday evening. There are also three smaller conjunctions that may be exploited, providing opportunities to take the fight to the Druj.

You can find full details of the battle in the Two silhouettes Wind of War.

Participation : The Barrens

Any draughir character whose military unit was engaged in the Barrens this season may have fought alongside the Wolves of Sorin. These potent heralds of the Winter eternal have a particular fascination for those with draughir blood – and exert a peculiar influence over them. If you choose to have fought alongside them, you experience a lingering roleplaying effect: your innate pack mentality is greatly strengthened, making you extremely protective and jealously possessive of family and friends, but with a strong tendency to view strangers and acquaintances as threats, rivals, and even enemies. You feel an urge to exert dominance over those you view as “owing fealty” to you, and find it easy to demand that those you protect treat you with reverence.

This roleplaying effect will have faded by the end of the Winter Solstice, but as long as you continue to engage in the roleplaying, you gain an additional hero point, even if you do not normally have hero points.

The Rivers Run Red curse that lies over the Barrens has significantly increased casualties on both sides. Any character whose military unit has been engaged in the Barrens this season, and the generals of each of the armies deployed there, will find a lingering traumatic wound in their pack at the start of the event. These represent persistent injuries sustained during the campaign, worsened by the effect of the Spring curse. They are entirely opt in - intended to allow players to reinforce the savagery of the fighting in the Barrens - and if you don't wish to have a lingering injury, you are free to discard the traumatic wound.