[Archive] Campaigning with Phoenixes


The following is some food for thought, much more on background than actual tabletop rules. Rather than listed as originally envisioned, the fantasy possbilities presented by such things as magical elemental Phoenixes are illustrated in a background and story section intended for a WIP homebrew fantasy world of mine and my brother. Quickwritten just before Christmas, based on a discussion with my brother. Take away any ideas you want to.

Feel free to discuss the fantastical subject of magical creatures, magic and fantasy war campaigns in general opened up by the existence of such things as dragons, great eagles, phoenixes, fire demons and so on in a fictive world.

The Phoenix Warfare of Prince Faendros

Lay of the Land: Faendros Ildeancaron, known as Catseye, was the ninth son of the ancient Elven king Gilweon I, founder and ruler for three millennia of the archiplegagic kingdom Nistul, situated in and between the warm Hyancaron and cold Heldran seas. The realm of Gilweon I consisted mainly of a maze of fair islands large and small, isles standing alone or lying clustered together in dense groups, some of which lay sprinkled within short reach of each other whilst many others dots of lands amid the waves were flung far and wide across the raging turqoise and grey seas.

The Elven monarchy of Nistul was populated by a branch of the southerly Kandilvi tribe with a tongue completely foreign to their Naldir, Jildoar and Feltarosi tribal neighbours. What had begun as a small folk of rough shoredwellers and simple yet skilled sailors in small vessels blossomed in time into a prosperous and industrious seafaring culture blessed with numbers; plenty of islands with verdant soils; rich fishing waters; pearls aplenty; and learning both arcane and natural, and as generations rolled past the old ruler Gilweon I saw his people and family grow numerous and strong. The Nistuli were not short of traders and explorers, yet they did lack for iron and stilwran mineral desposits of their own to mine, a drawback in strategic resources mirrored by a scarcity in gold and silver ore for the sake of luxury, none of which their copper mines on the Ylwindril isles made up for.

The Nistuli came to thirst for lands to settle and rich mines to work, and the shores and rivers on the small mainland continents all around came under the shadow of this Elven people’s cursed desire to keep their pearls yet still have the gemstones of others. The Nistuli drive for expansion dragged on for centuries upon centuries, beset by setbacks and disasters, yet still clawing itself back against fierce resistance, sometimes scattering the opposition before it, sometimes bending and breaking in fledging colonies where savages or sophisticates assailed the scattered holdings of Nistul. Most Nistuli colonies where thin strips of land at the coast, centered on a fort or walled city, yet at some places the armed settlers would manage to push on into lowlands and up river valleys, carving out small mainland realms away from the motherland. Occassionally such succesful colonies would break loose from the grasp of Gilweon I, declaring their independence, and sometimes such dominions would thwart Nistuli reconquest and tread their own paths of fate wherever destiny would lead them, striding toward golden plenty or bloody ruin.

And ruin there was, for the ugly head of devastation and warfare reared itself time and time again in ancient times as savage tribes and civilized states waged wars beyond counting, fighting each other to death and oblivion in an endless tug-of-war for land, power and blood. Vengeance was had at the tip of a sword, and great works were toppled, awash in the blood of their makers, as new masters and new desolators and new builders took the land for themselves, tilling it or torching it as empires rose and fell. Such was the maelstrom of mortal existence harrowing the Nistuli frontier in the time of Faendros Catseye Ildeancaron.

Conquest Through Cunning: Prince Faendros was the ninth son of the elder king Gilweon I, a strapping man much like his father yet lacking in the finer arts of court etiquette, diplomacy and poetry. While he did have some artistic skills at painting and the playing of musical instruments, it was apparent from very early years that the martial arts were his calling for life, and so it was that sword and horse and bow became as one the prince. Though a skilled young warrior enthralled with tales of brave heroes and great deeds of myth from early years, the true talent of Faendros Ildeancaron would prove to be in tactics, strategy and outright cunning. His father’s tutors had high hopes that the best examples of past generals would be mimicked by the budding warlord, yet Faendros soon went past and beyond the tricks and manoeuvre warfare of his predecessors, to the dismay of the hostile enemies of Nistul which surrounded its fragile colonial empire on all sides. And they named him Catseye for his sharp wits in war.

It was said that were most saw a wall, Faendros saw cracks and climbing points and nooks for grappling hooks and easy prey for eagle beaks. It was said that were most saw a fortress, Faendros saw a cage and a pit to trap its defenders inside and swiftly destroy them with. It was said that were most saw an overwhelming threat and little else, Faendros saw opportunities and struck out for them. It was said that were most were blind, Faendros saw.

The prince’s most inventive warfare involved the majestic elementals of the sky, the Phoenixes of fire and ice. Much has been told about his ridiculed mad quest far beyond the holdings of Nistul into the far north of Angladrak and into the Isles Aflame to attain several of these legendary creatures as his companions, and likewise much has been told of their fury on the battlefield and their terrifying charge from above, yet his use of them outside of actual fighting is what marks Faendros out as a tactical genius. His deeds turned civilized Elven warfare more intensely into a use of nature, magic and trickery to turn enemy efforts on its head. Below follow some of the most revealing cases, regarding the use of elemental Phoenixes.

The Field of Fire:
During the ravages of the Orcish hordes of Gnobluk the Pillager in the flat region of Tael Mandros, prince Faendros deployed his small army out in the middle of a vast plain of swaying grass, with no hills, rivers or swamps to anchor his flanks. Encouraged by such foolishness, Gnobluk arrayed his tribes in a vast, sweeping crescent to completely encircle his foe, as opposed to the deep massed ranks, with reserve warbands held in check behind the ranks, which had been his usual winning ploy. The ends of the crescent swooped forward long before even dawn broke, intent on surrounding the Elven host beyond sight and swallow its camp whole before closing in for the kill from all directions, thereby trapping any potential flanking forces of light cavalry and shattering all hopes of escape. Leading his elite guard in the centre, Gnobluk roared at daybreak, and his whole horde marched forward with a thunder of feet and paws. The small Elven army seemed doomed from the onset.

Instead, prince Faendros waited for a while, then sent his fire Phoenixes onward at his flanks. Orcish shamans and captive monsters were readied for the elemental onslaught, yet the titanic avians turned in front of Gnobluk’s cast army, diving low and blazing out across the grass plains. Flames hissing, the Phoenixes spent their energies at torching long stretches of the dry plain in front of the Orcish host, thereby creating screens of spreading wildfire on each flank, which shielded the exposed sides of the Nistuli army and threw Gnobluk’s plan into disarray. Much of their fire was spent for weeks onward in such a task, and the Phoenixes withdrew without even having touched the enemy. With the plains igniting and a roaring inferno billowing on both sides, prince Faendros led his infantry hard and fast into the centre of the Orcish horde, charging into it with phalanxes and tight lines of swordsmen while archers poured arrows in an arc into the enemy ranks.

The Orcish centre wavered, but ultimately held firm against the foot assault, and Gnobluk soon set to to slaughter Elves all about him, encouraging his underlings to do the same and trample the feeble longhairs into the mud. The long Orcish flanks of the crescent, however, fared less well. With much of the plain in front of them torched into quickly spreading fire, many warbands faltered. Some spotted gaps in the Phoenixes’ firescreen and rushed through before they closed, while others simply waited for the fire to die down. Other warbands tried to strangle the fire with dirt, yet mainly succeeded with fanning the flames. Still others began marching in an ever wider arc to circumnavigate the wildfire, and were hoplessly belated in the process. Much of Gnobluk’s army came out of touch with their commander and the battle proper, and disarray and poor discipline set in with lethargy, hesitation, rash actions, cowardice and foolishness holding sway according to the personality of ever local Orc and Goblin warleader.

Into this bewilderment charged the Phoenix Knights beyond the extreme ends of the Elves battlemen. They were cavalrymen on fine horses who were shielded from the searing heat of the flames from Phoenixforged armour and enchantments. They were few in number, but their impact was horrendous. The bare sight of the tall riders charging through the flames was sufficient to send Orcs and Goblins alike running in panic, and few warbands thus beset held firm against their gleaming steel. Terror reigned, and swathes of the lethal horde melted away in flight, gaps opening everywhere in their battleline. With the flanks of the Orcish center thus left exposed, the Phoenix Knights wheeled their steeds around, and charged into the warbands under Gnobluk’s personal control. Faced with the pressure of the Elven infantry and the trampling impact of elite cavalry at its sides, the elite core of Gnobluk the Pillager’s hitherto victorious host collapsed in utter panic. Gnobluk himself was later found trampled by Trolls, and hundreds of Orcs were crushed to death in the fearful rush of fleeing bodies. Many thousands more were cut down in the rout, yet Faendros Ildeancaron did not allow his army to hunt down every last Orc of the broken centre. Most of the rabble were allowed to escape.

Instead, he dispatched the Phoenix Knights back behind the firescreens to hunt for enemies who made it past the flaming curtains and charge yet more unknowing warbands. Meanwhile, light cavalry scouts and Great Eagles were sent out towards both ends of the originally horn-shaped Orcish battlelines, to report on enemy movements. Knowing that crucial strength in battle could be lost if be split his small main force, Catseye led his entire infantry and light cavalry around one horn of the firewall to confront the remaining Orcish warbands scattered there, and managed to overcome their great numbers before they could gather enough resistance. The slaughter was complete.

On the other end of the crescent, the Orcs were allowed to regroup under new leaders, and many of them were spoiling for a fight after being tricked away from the battle by the fire. It took the rest of the day for those remnants of Gnobluk’s horde to band together and unite amid all the chaos, yet they were not allowed to face their enemies anew come next dawn, and neither were they allowed to retreat and pillage yet more of the countryside in their escape to the mountains. Instead, the Nistuli army was marched ragged through the dark of the night while the flames of the plains slowly guttered out. Special orders were sent to the bagage train remaining in camp, and the few camp followers set to work.

The prince’s army had found the bulk of the Orcish remnants camping in the blackened midst of a dead fire, a sound move since no new wildfire could reach their exhausted spot. Shortly before dawn could break upon the ashen landscape of Tael Mandos, the winded Nistuli Elves lit three hastily prepared eagle effigies of woven branches and dry grass, and the scouts of the Orcs and Goblins shrieked in terror as it seemed the fire Phoenixes had returned, this time to consume them all. Panic began spreading through the awakening rowdy camp, and Faendros gave his opposing warleaders no time to quench it, for his Elven host charged into the midst of the camp, torching and slaying everywhere, while the light cavalry circled around the camp, riding down or picking off the fleeing survivors of the massacre with their silvern bows. The destruction of Gnobluk the Pillager’s horde was complete.

The multitude of Orcish corpses and wounded were burnt in a grand pyre. The smoke could be seen many leagues away.

The Scorched Land: Nistuli settlers had set their sights on the breadbasket landscape of Laenkor, going by another name in the tongue of its Human inhabitants, of the Fölgir tribe. Yet Human resistance had been ferocious, and their clan leaders had united in a confederation behind the chosen warrior king Eleushötilgr. Under his leadership, the feuding towns and villages had sunken their differences and closed rank against the common foe. Thus vastly outnumbering the Elven invaders, the hardy Humans had thwarted every previous attempt at offensive, and their clan warriors grew more hardened still. Faced with these difficulties, king Gilweon I called on his ninth son to drive the Humans from their conquered land, and conquer Laenkor for Elves in turn. Upon reviewing scout reports on Laenkor, prince Faendros Catseye Ildeancaron concluded that the Human numbers could be turned against them until numbers dropped, and called on his fiery Phoenix companions, peltasts and light cavalry to burn Laenkor to the ground.

The light infantry and fast cavalry sneaked into Laenkor through forests and hills, avoiding humans if at all possible. Following orders, they emerged at the appointed day in the midst of drought, and torched fields and homesteads as far as they could reach, and retreated into shrubbery and forests while the Humans frantically tried to stop the fires from speading. Then the light troops struck again, and again in the same day. This was repeated for weeks on end, and the Humans of Laenkor grew furious. Yet their attempts to catch the Elven arsonists consistently failed, and only a few fell into their cruel and vengeful hands. Such displays of astonishing torture as followed could not dismay the skirmishers of Faendros, however, and soon despair cloaked the Fölgir settlements and threatened to choke the people, for the arsonists on foot and horse were now joined by Phoenixes sweeping in low, spreading flames and destruction everywhere. Eagle-mounted archers with flaming arrows completed the devastation, searching out remaining fields and torching as many as they could. The Elven destroyers melted away into the landscape and vanished almost completely from Laenkor, leaving behind ashes where fields ready for harvest should be. The Fölgir prayers, sacrifices and sorcery stood to no avail against the catastrophy.

It was said, that the fey Elves moved with shadows and touched with flames.

The baleful starvation that followed ripped the heart out of the Fölgir Humans of Laenkor, and their numbers plummeted. King Eleushötilgr and the hollow-cheeked remnants of his once glorious army was vanquished the following year, to minimal Elven casualties.

The Ford of Ice: The breakup of the Fölgir confederation did not go smoothly. Most surviving clan groups were intent on fleeing as far away from the realms of the devilish Nistuli as they could, and so they did, migrating away into yet more hardship and struggle. Yet a group of young champions wished to avenge the death of their homeland, and their fanatical drive for vengeance swept through the homeless people. Several chieftains and petty kings fell to the wrath of the crowd or the swords of the champions to pave way for their ascendancy, and within months considerable parts of the surviving Fölgir population were under the sway of these avengers. Those Fölgir which did not fear the Elves beyond their wits, would now in turn invade the nearby Nistuli colonies.

This ragtag horde of lost Laenkor was whipped into a fury by its leaders while hunger clawed at its guts, and sickness, exhaustion and death marked its every step. Desperation drove these vengeful remnants of the Fölgir as they fell into the Nistuli colony of Neandros, and Elven settlers fled in terror at the blood-soaked approach of the Human horde. Several hundred Elves did not escape in time, including many local militiamen who wished to buy time for their families and village communities to escape, and the Humans turned the demise of these Nistuli settlers into a grisly display. Prince Faendros Catseye Ildeancaron was not late in responding to this invasion, however. Instead of waiting for the full colonial army of Neandros to muster, Faendros took his standing army on a quick campaign to break the spine of the defiant Fölgir. Captured Human scouts had taunted the prince for his meagre forces, and had spat threats and curses into his face. Acting upon this information, Catseye ordered his forces to play a grand charade upon the invaders.

At the hillocks of Tyr Megral, the army of prince Faendros grew visibly anxious at the approach of the Fölgir horde, and the Elves fled with shrieks and horror a the charge of the frenzied rabble, dropping weapons and banners. The Human warriors lay in hot pursuit, hunting the quicker Elves down to the Fords of Caeldron, where the Elven army made its escape, intact but shamed. The Human vanguard celebrated with copious amounts of wine from the captured Nistuli camp, and the drinking and feasting spread as the stragglers of the Fölgir horde poured into its camp. The Humans found maps in the Elven command tent which clearly marked the Fords of Caeldron to be the only spot where the river Handril could be forded between source and mouth, and their scouts confirmed that no river fleet nor sign of rafts or ferries could be found downrider. Believing themselves safe after this first victory in the field, the avengers of Laenkor feasted day and night in the captured Elven camp.

On the other side of the wide and deep river Handril, however, prince Faendros Catseye assembled his army out of sight from Human eyes, marching upriver. At dusk, he let a trio of ice Phoenixes sweep in, circling a patch of the river, diving into and out of it, spending much of their cold for weeks to come on freezing the surface of the river into solid ice. When the ice was deemed thick enough for an army to pass across, the small host of Catseye marched across it under the glow of a full moon, using swords and spears to gain purchase on the slippery ice as river water flowed over the icy surface under the weight of the Elven hundreds and their horses. Safely across, the army marched hard downriver, encircling their abandoned camp and falling upon the Fölgir survivors with battlecries and torches and Elven steel. Woken from drunken stupor in the dead of the night, the Fölgir resistance was overcome, and the avengers descended into bestial panic. The shimmering host of prince Faendros drove the Humans, man, woman and child, into the river Handril, and there was a great drowning of men as the flames of the Fölgir were extinguished.

The Firefight: During a territorial dispute over the Rendalm Heights, the Elven realm of Nistul came into open warfare with the malevolent Dwarven colony of Ur-Zhulkrakimbatul. The famous prince Faendros Catseye Ildeancaron were dispatched with a minor army to put off the land claims of the infernal Dwarven fire-worshippers, with the court expecting another phenomenal victory and peace negotiations to occur shortly. Catseye, however, had little experience of fighting this foe, wishing to gather more knowledge of what he would face, and some of his hesitation must have shown, because his subordinate general Drandeliot Hawkwing openly taunted the warlord for being afraid of fire. Angered, prince Faendros retorted that he would fight fire with fire, and marched into battle the very next day. At the forefront of the advance of the Elven phalanxes was placed general Drandeliot Hawkwing, chosen for his eagerness for battle. The forces of Ur-Zhulkrakimbatul arrayed themselves in shieldwalls across a gathering of hilltops, placing their artillery in fine firing positions and summoning fiery spirits to do their bidding in ensorcelled shackles.

With an arousing speech, Catseye ordered his host to advance, straight into the teeth of the evil Dwarves. In response, Ur-Zhulkrakimbatul’s warlord Ghazurkan Flayfist sent forth a wave of lowly slaves in chains to soak up the Elven archery. Thinking to panic the rabble and spread fear among the ranks of the Dwarven soldiers, prince Faendros then sent forth a pair of fiery Phoenixes into the masses of slaves, and their flames scorched thralls and sent them fleeing in stark terror. Yet the malignant Dwarven masters cared nought for the plight of their slaves. The Phoenixes continued onward, sweeping over the infernal Dwarven ranks, yet their searing flames did little damage to their ensorcelled armour. Likewise, the enslaved fire Demons proved pathetic against the fire Phoenixes, yet they managed to anger the proud elementals enough to bind them in a long bout of personal combat with the shackled Demons, where fire lashed at fire with little apparent might.

And at the end of the day the lone surviving, wounded fire Phoenix limped back across the sky, leaving behind the scattered and defeated remnants of prince Faendros Catseye’s small army. Among the corpses on the battlefield lay general Drandeliot Hawkwing, maimed and torn where he had fallen. Catseye commented that Drandeliot reaped the fruits in action sown by his own words, and dismissively left the Rendalm Heights to the city-state of Ur-Zhulkrakimbatul.

Prince Faendros’ attempt at Phoenix warfare had backfired against the fire-worshippers, proving the limits of such grandiose tactics and the sheer mastery needed to perfect them. The warlord lived a long and eventful life, and not every battle of his was fought with succesful brilliance. Sometimes his cunning overreached itself, and other times he had to fight battles on the enemy’s terms without an ace up his sleeve, but more often than not the Catseye’s wits and risky gambling with fate carried the day with victorious arms.

The Battle on Ice: Prince Faendros Catseye Ildeancaron’s most renowned victory was an unlikely triumph. The Nistuli colony of Neandros once found itself raided by a strong fleet of slavehunting Elves from the dreaded Malceri tribe, which lived in opulent spire cities and rural mansion far away on a distant continent. The bulk of Neandros’ colonial fleet set sail to thwart the reported pirate vessels, and sailed into a trap set in the Kvardnos Straights by the Malceri fleet. In the ensuing naval battle saw Neandro’s fleet crushed and boarded. Not a single ship made it back to port to report of what had transpired, and thus the Malceri raiders disguised themselves as sailors and soldiers of Neandros and sailed aboard captured ships into the harbour of Neandros at dusk, spearheading the great Malceri raid and capturing the city and the ships at port. Much of the fair city of Neandros was looted and burnt down, and tens of thousands of Nistuli were led away into slavery. What parts of the city did resist conquest and pillage, did so with militias manning gates to the minor inner-city walls which divided Neandros into several defensible sections behind the large city walls proper.

Knowing that Nistuli naval power was broken in the region, the Malceri fleet withdrew back to the Kvardnos Straights to set up a base of operations for further piracy and conquest. This, however, doomed them. The Kvardnos Straights lay between three small islands, close by a reef, virtually within sight from the coast of the colony of Neandros. And locked on the shores of Neandros stood the host of prince Faendros Catseye, returning from a long year of campaigning in the Laenkor highlands against Goblins and Humans, and finding themselves without ships to return to Nistul. After some quick Great Eagle scouting, Catseye decided upon a rash course of action. All seven of his ice Phoenixes were sent low over the tossing waves to freeze the sea surface solid, eventually sweeping into the anchorage of the Malceri fleet in the dark of the night. The raiders could scarcely believe their eyes as the temperature dropped and the sea turned into pack ice. Quarrels and arrows and spells hailed at the ice Phoenixes, but it was too late.

At the heels of the exhaustive freezing of the elemental avians came the army of Catseye, marching across the open sea with salt water splashing in across the ice from the waves. The ice was deemed thick, but not secure enough for safe passage. Prince Faendros risked passage anyway, marching his army across the ice. The Elven gods willed him safe passage, for only two hundred Elves drowned when an entire phalanx formation broke through the cracked ice and descended fully armoured into the watery depths. The stilwran armour of the Elven cavalry and the elite infantry proved vital, for it reduced weight and kept the Elven warriors light enough for them to make it across the ice alive. Thus it was that the veteran army of prince Faendros Catseye Ildeancaron marched into the Kvardnos Straights, while ice Phoenixes circled the water surface and froze the sea ever more solid.

The Malceri lifted anchor and set sails, yet the ice was all around them and locked their vessels in place. Seeing the Nistuli host marching onto them, the Malceri abandoned their efforts at slaying the flying menace and breaking the ice. Instead their horns and trumpets sounded bleakly across the Kvardnos Straights, with a heavy ring of doom in their sound. The Malceri raiders rushed up from below deck, armed and ready to defend their ships to the last Elf. So they did, for the most part.

The spent ice Phoenixes practically collapsed on the nearby petty isles from exhaustion, when the next part of Catseye’s plan fell into place. Blazing across the sky came four fire Phoenixes, diving among the masts and rigging of dozens of Malceri vessels, setting many ablaze. Following them came a wave of Great Eagles, some carrying Elven windriders armed with javelins, bows, lassoos, nets and swords. These eagles and their riders fell upon the topmost Malceri warriors up in their crow’s nests and riggings, slaying sharpshooters and scouts while the infantry boarded the stranded ships with grappling hooks. Siege ladders had been dismissed out of hand as putting too great a point stress upon the fresh ice. A fierce duel with steel and magic ensued, yet in the end the Malceri were doomed by their way of facing the challenge of the ice. Most Malceri captains stayed on their ships, supporting their comrades with archery as if the vessels were close-lying forts. This allowed prince Faendros Catseye to pick off their isolated ships one by one, concentrating the fire of his archers on the nearby supporting ships as his warriors swarmed onto the decks of the Malceri raiders.

Too late in the dark of the night did the Malceri admiral realize that his forces were fighting a losing battle, and when almost the full might of the Malceri raiding fleet arrayed itself in ranked regiments upon the ice, the course of the battle had already been decided. Decimated and bewildered, the Malceri fought a land battle out on sea, with the terms dictated by their enemy. When the battle had raged for a while, Catseye executed the coupe de grace. The flaming Phoenixes dived into the Malceri ranks, burning brightly as they melted the ice. The Nistuli warriors withdrew quickly as the valiant Malceri set upon the elementals with steel, yet their shouts of triumph over such monsters turned into dismay as the cracked and molten ice beneath their feet gave way under the weight of their regiments. Thousands of Malceri raiders drowned there and then in the holes in the ice, and the survivors who did not drown where for the main part slaughtered by the vengeful victors.

Thus it was that prince Faendros Catseye Ildeancaron won his first great battle out at sea and captured the enemy fleet, freeing the citizens of Neandros from shackles of iron by his Phoenixes’ hold over the Malceri ships with shackles of ice.