07 March 2011

Clash in Helgath Sea

Our first clash between two large fleets, the Dwarven Admiral Redhammer in His Admiral's Ship with seven squadrons met the Elven Sea Lord Kelven at a small group of islands in the Helgath Sea.  Each fleet's strength was just shy of 1000 points, but having four hours late on a Sunday night to play, both players looked forward to resolving their largest sea battle to date.  We placed the 3x5 board on the kitchen counter so we could stand or sit on stools rather than crouch over the coffee table in the living room where we usually play.  The terrain was placed using the MATS method which was new to us and created some random placement of large and small islands.  The smallest island in the center, where only a pair of palm trees grow from an exposed sand bar, is home to a hermit long ago shipwrecked; he was, at first, excited to see ships on the horizon and the prospect of rescue, but joy soon turned to dismay at the sound of the boom of Dwarven cannon shot and the crack of Elven lightning bolt.

The Sea Lord Kelven had assembled this fleet to avenge the loss of his brother, Lord of the Blue commanding the Moutain Fury Spirit Fleet, a force which had been destroyed over a series of actions the previous month in waters to the south.  Sea Lord Kelven came prepared with a battleship in addition to his recently christened flagship, Coral Daemon, a new battle class of ship which does not rely on sails but, rather, magical orbs for propulsion, seen on the left flank in the paint scheme of its namesake creature.  Also with the fleet was a squadron of fast, orb-propelled destroyers on the left flank, along with the traditional squadrons of frigates, destroyers, and heavy cruisers.  A green dragon named Annulment accompanied the fleet. 
Sea Lord Kelven was taking tea beneath a linen canopy on the poop deck when a watch-elf at the crow's nest of a frigate ahead of the main fleet cried, "Smoke on the Horizon!  Black smoke of Dwarven furnaces ahead on the port bow!"  The Sea Lord's hearing was acute enough to hear the elf's cry even at several cable lengths.  Finishing the last swallow of tea he handed the china cup and saucer to his attendent, stood and barked commands at the signal leftenant standing at ease beside the helms-elf.  "Immediately signal to the destroyer squadron:  Turn to port and take a flanking position against the enemy to the north of the islands ahead."  The signal officer strode to the port railing, raising two coloured fans which he spread open and began gesturing with arms outstretched, communicating the order to the squadron of Crow Destroyers which soon turned two points to port and increased speed, leaving narrow wakes in the water.
Despite heading into the wind, Sea Lord Kelven felt posessed the initiative to take the battle to the opposing Dwarven fleet, and he gave additional commands to the signal officer and sent his attendent to fetch the Ship's Mage.  A plump and elderly elf in flowing robes of red velvet and a gold miter on his head ascended the ladder from belowdecks and pulled himself up to stand beside the Sea Lord.  Kelven waited for the mage to catch his breath.  "This elf is a sorry excuse for a warrior," he reminded himself, under his breath, "But I have seen him call down lightning from the heavens and turn spice wine into the Water of Life."  The Sea Lord stepped forward to grasp the fore railing in both hands, watching the ships off the starboard bow line up in attack formation as ordered, the Phoenix Frigate Squadron, under command of his nephew, recent graduate of Anumtoylia Naval Academy and with the temporary title of Commodore, circling ahead to screen the turning of the battleship Rock Tortoise.
At that moment, as the Dwarven ships began to come around the main island ahead, Your Humble Narrator's spouse interrupted the game to bring a friendly message from the White Talking Mouse.
The Sea Lord smelled the exhaust of the Bellows Airships, as they were upwind of the Elven Fleet, ascending above the trees on the main island.  He had a command sent to his nephew, and the Commodore executed a perfect maneuver to synchronize fire from all four frigates, green flashes of light arcing to the lead airship and sending a shudder through the frame of the gas bag.  It was one thing to trust a dragon circling above the fleet, the Sea Lord thought to himself, a creature that has a will of it's own, but quite another thing to trust a mere machine in the sky, filled with explosive gases.  He turned to the Ship's Mage.  The old elf in Red & Gold attire stood with his arms folded, eyes closed, clearly concentrating his mystical energies.  The Sea Lord returned his attention to the action ahead, confident he could win this battle against stinking machines without the aid of magic.  "At the least you could petition the spirits of the air," he muttered, not expecting the Mage to respond, "to change the course of the wind in our favour."  But at least half the fleet, including his new flagship, could sail in any direction despite the wind.  And he smiled with the confidence that this would prove an advantage the Dwarven admiral would underestimate.
The Dwarven Admiral Redhammer cocked his elbows over the handles of the periscope on the command deck inside his flagship as it came around the south side of the main island separating the two fleets.  He saw the Elven fleet had turned to battle line and were firing broadsides of lightning canon against the pair of airships flying over the island.  But he had a trick up his sleeve:  his best squadron of cruisers turned to firing positions off the port bow of the Admiral's ship and fired three full broadsides against the lead ship in the Elven frigate squadron.  The frigate didn't stand a chance against Dwarven weight of lead, even at long range, and the ship went up in a blast of flame and splinters, raining carnage down on the other frigates, throwing the squadron into disarray.  Redhammer grinnned at the flash of the explosion.  He knew the frigates would no longer be a threat in the battle.

The Elven destroyers had already come about and added the fire of their bolt guns against the Dwarven Airbags.  Every elf in the fleet had orders to destroy the enemy airpower before all else, but the frigate explosion and the loss of half that squadron on the starboard flank shook everyone, including Sea Lord Kelven who wondered if his nephew would retain his courage there in the rearmost frigate.

The Ship's Mage stood at the Lord's elbow, saying, "Sea Lord, the Dragon Annulment has communicated with me by our mystic connection that strange ripples break the surface of the water between ourselves and the enemy airships, surely a sign of submerged infernal engines of war."  Kelven shivered at the thought of a mechanical creature rising from the deep like a cetus to ram one of his heavy cruisers, smashing the hull below the waterline and leaving it to sink without a shot fired or cutlass swung.  Just as he pondered the strange machines of war employed by the Dwarves, a screeching sound of metal scraping against metal emerged from the starboard side of the Coral Daemon.  The Sea Lord turned to see the machine, but all he saw was the churning waters of bubbles and foam where the thing sank again below the waves, leaving only gashes in the wooden planking of the heavy cruiser Eagle Eye.  The captain of that ship was on the poop deck but keeping his wits and giving orders for a detachment of marines to plug the gaps and stop any leaks from the nearly disasterous ram.  From his position on the flagship Kelven could see the damage was only superficial, and he ordered the signal officer to reassure the captain of the Eagle Eye.  "Better to keep those marines on deck," he muttered, "just in case any one of those Dwarven destroyers approaching through the gap in the main cluster of islands attempted to grapple and board."
The Dwarven gunners aboard the veteran cruisers knew their business.  Rolling only six dice against the last remaining frigate, 11 hits were scored, and additional rolls for the exploding sixes resulted in a total of 15 hits against the poor ship which had already been damaged by the explosion only minutes before.  The Sea Lord's nephew didn't stand a chance as the frigate was riddled with solid shot and splintered into a cloud of sawdust, only a tattered pennant drooping from a shredded mast as it sank beneath the blue waters.
As one Dwarven airbag deflated among the trees on the main island the other was the victim of a ferocious attack by the dragon.  Somehow enough of the airship crew pick themselves up after the bridge had been raked by the claws and gnawed by the teeth of the mighty dragon, and the bombardier pulls the lever which releases the half tonne bomb into the water below to explode and damage the Elven ships clustered in the area.  Back on the right flank where the veteran cruisers had destroyed a squadron of frigates, now a pair of Elven Assault Destroyers launched the boats to ram and board the lead Dwarven cruiser.  Elven marines armed with cutlass and pike swarmed aboard the casemate cruiser, but the Dwarven crew inside refused to fight, slamming shut the hatches and gun ports.
It was too late once the marines understood why the Dwarven crew had sealed themselves inside the casemate.  The Admiral's flagship came about and opened up with a full broadside, destroying the first assault boat still half loaded with marines waiting for their chance to board, metal shot richocheting along the angled armour plating of the cruiser to obliterate the Elven marines clinging to the sides.  In mere moments only a handfull of marines remained on board the enemy cruiser, and then the Dwarves inside opened the hatches to emerge and properly engage in a boarding action, now that the odds have been reversed.
One remaining Assault Destroyer remaining intact, the crew witness to the slaughter of all the marines aboard the red veteran cruiser, the commander gave the order to turn hard to port and set all sail to escape from this part of the ocean tinged red with Elven blood.  Sea Lord Kelven, in the flagship to the south of the islands, realized his mistake in taking the fight to the enemy frigate and destroyer squadrons in the narrows while the enemy flagship and cruisers tore apart the frigates and destroyers on his flank.  He ordered all propulsion ceased and anchor dropped, allowing the gun leftenants to unleash yet another broadside against the Dwarven frigates hammered among the rocks.  Overhead the dragon gave another war cry and rammed the Bellows airship, killing itself in the collision as a propellor blade caught and severed an artery in the dragon's neck, the winged creature dropping into the water below.  Fortunately the battleship Rock Tortoise, not far behind the flagship, was able to fire a salvo which tore through the envelope of the airship and sent the collapsing frame down into the water.

The squadron of new Elven destroyers, able to move directly into the wind and charging through the enemy fleet to engage Redhammer's fleet at point blank range, managed to shake the confidence of the enemy crews, not to mention put some holes in Dwarven ships.  Two Crow Destroyers were quickly sunk, but the third was able to turn with a parting broadside and retreat around the lighthouse rock to ram one of the last remaining Dwarven destroyers.  Unfortunately the ram caused more damage to the Elven craft than the metal Dwarven one, and the ship went down quickly while a few Elven marines attempted to scramble aboard the enemy ship but were cut down by Dwarven blunderbusses discharged in their faces.

Kelven ordered anchor up, but the ship wasn't moving, and the executive officer reported the propulsion system damaged from a salvo fired by the enemy flagship.  The Sea Lord cursed, ordering a daring maneuver with the junior officer was reluctant to carry out.  After all, wasn't this Sea Lord a yacht racing winner rather than a battle hardened admiral?  But the officer scurried below deck, too scared to cross any Sea Lord.  The ship began to move and turn to starboard, bringing the bolt canons in line with the enemy flagship to exchange broadsides.  Kelven turned to the Ship's Mage.  "Now is the time," he shouted, "Time to call upon the mystical spirits of the river of time and light to turn the tide of battle.  Now!"  The mage's eyes opened, he glared at the Sea Lord, then he raised both arms to the heavens, chanting, and dark thunderclouds gathered above the enemy ships.  "Now!"  Lightning clashed on all sides, striking palm trees and the lighthouse, but when the cracking echoed into the distance the Sea Lord stood at the starboard railing and observed none of the enemy ships damaged, not even scorched.  He dismissed the Ship's Mage with a wave of one hand.  That gesture was enough to condemn the aging and spent mage to a few remaining days shakled to the keel of the ship before a court trial in the capital and inevitable stripping of title, robes, and miter, leaving the elf only the choice of a dignified suicide.
More broadsides were exchanged between the battle lines drawn up of capital ships as the few remaining frigates and destroyers still afloat retired to respective safety to determine extent of damage and make necessary repairs.  The Sea Lord knew, at this point in turn 6, that he could not win anything more than a stalemate here, and after seeing the black flag run up the signal mast of H.A.S. Redhammer, he ordered his signal officer to wave a black flag at the Dwarven battle line.

The signals of black flags allowed each admiral to retire his fleet to safety rather than press on for complete mutual destruction of both fleets.  Although the Dwarven fleet carried more guns afloat than their opposites, many of the cruisers were damaged or too short of crew to work all available guns.  The H.A.S. Bayonet, an armoured cruiser on the starboard side, had lost all executive officers to a direct hit on the bridge, and the Admiral feared to press his luck without any airships or capable escorts, especially against two powerful capital ships of the Elven navy, one of which was of a new class he did not entirely know the true capabilities and limitations.  As the sun began to set below the horizon and twilight warned of approaching night, the Admiral grinned with the satisfaction of giving as good as they had taken, and felt confident he would draw up line of battle against this Elven Sea Lord again in this waters, next time, gods willing, in conditions which would favour the Dwarven cause.