The Palantir Question

This is a multi-player game, ideally for five players. It is set in the world of Tolkien's Middle-Earth, but could be adapted for other fantasy settings.

Set up

The table is rectangular, and not too large. In 25mm scale, it shouldn't be over 6' by 4'. The forces of The West will enter from one short end of the table. About a fifth of the way in from the other end of the table is a formation of standing stones, or other piece of terrain marking a sacred spot - perhaps a raised dais or altar. The rest of the table has a scattering of wilderness terrain on it.

The Forces

On one side, three players control high elves, men, and dwarves respectively. On the other, two players (or one or three if you prefer) control a force of goblins and orcs. The three forces of The West should be equal in strength. The high elves, men, and dwarves should each have about sixteen figures, all infantry. I gave each a leader, a champion, some archers (or crossbowmen for the dwarves), and one or two types of melee specialist. Most of their troops were a bit above average, but nothing special.

The forces of The East I used were orcs for one player and goblins for the other. The orcs had about twenty figures, including a leader, a champion, "retinue" (about as good as their foes), and axemen, halberdiers and archers of quality slightly below average, but still decent.

The goblin player had a leader (who for fairness also had magical powers, but perhaps one magic user on the evil side is better), and forty points to spend on his forces, where archers, spearmen and swordsmen were one point, and warg (dire wolf) riders were two points. None of the goblins was tough, and they tended to drop like flies in close melee. The archers had decent skill with their bows, and they were fast on their feet. The warg riders were pretty decent, and they and the swordsmen were also armed with darts.

Brief for Peoples of The West.

The Ring has been destroyed, and Sauron is apparently no longer co-ordinating the forces of Mordor and The East. Middle-Earth is still not at peace, however. Even now The Shire is being scourged, and the massive armies of orcs and goblins that lived and prospered from destruction are still on the rampage. To the south, war has broken out between Gondor and men once allied to Sauron. Wild men of the hills are fighting in Rohan. Has the spirit of Sauron been destroyed? No one really knows.

There has been another council of the Free Peoples, and opinions varied sharply as to what priorities men, elves and dwarves should have. You are part of a faction that sees it as vital that the Palantir be destroyed. These were the seeing stones that Sauron was able to use to corrupt the mind of Sauroman. They were lost in the Second Age, and not all recovered. Sauron must have had at least one, and with this perhaps he or allies of his could return to power. The Council did not rule in your favour, but you and your allies have taken action without this sanction, though you would have preferred to have had the Council's consent and backing. The wood elves had declared that they would oppose any proposal that involved dealing with the Palantir, and your convictions have prompted swift action.

Two weeks ago you and your allies struck in a well-planned series of raids, and you captured the three known Palantir in allied Western hands. You then journeyed far to the northeast, to the Plateau of Innach Thune. There you know of a place where they can be destroyed. The workings of the Palantir are not properly understood, but it is known that if any is destroyed, this can be detected by all of the others, and at the moment of destruction foul abominations from the realm of darkness can appear through the rent in the world that is the broken Palantir. In this one place in Innach Thune, however, there lies a formation of stones long ago aligned with the Palantir. From research in the libraries of Minas Tirith, you have learned that the Palantir can be destroyed there and the rents in the world contained.

During the journey, though all were told never to look at the Palantir, one dwarf looked, and discovered that he could with one Palantir detect the near presence of the other two. The stones were intended for long-distance communication, and seem to behave differently when brought close together. The honest and resolute dwarf announced his discovery and this was shared with all.

The stones are heavy, and take two men to lift and move. They are hidden in barrels and crates, which make them easier to carry, and shield the carriers from their baleful influence. The temptation to look into the stones is palpable, and five of the allied force were driven mad by this desire and sent away. Destroying them is a matter of putting them on something hard within the sacred standing stones, incanting some words, and them thwacking them with something like a hammer. They can be destroyed outside the formation of sacred stones, and this would be preferable to their falling into enemy hands, but it is safer to break them within the sacred place.

To get to the plateau has been a terrific journey. Crossing marshes and climbing steep cliffs has robbed you of all your cavalry, and now the three forces, all that could be supplied for journey, have arrived, tired and hungry, only to find that enemies have seen their path and arrived on the plateau ahead of them. You must get to the far end of the table and destroy as many of the Palantir seeing-stones as you can.

Since the enemy is clearly intent on robbing you of your precious cargo, you may use a ruse to deceive him. Though each of the three forces started with one stone, none fully trusting the other two (this partly explains why all forces are of equal strength), it is possible for you to distribute the stones between you as you wish. The enemy has long watched you from afar carrying the stones as you have been, so knows what to look for. You could, however, choose to put two Palantir in one container, and have others carry a container weighted with rubble for effect as a decoy.

Brief for the players of orcs and goblins

The Ring has been destroyed, and Sauron is apparently no longer co-ordinating the forces of Mordor and The East. Middle-Earth is still not at peace, however. Even now The Shire is being scourged, and the massive armies of orcs and goblins that lived and prospered from destruction are still on the rampage. To the south, war has broken out between Gondor and men once allied to Sauron. Wild men of the hills are fighting in Rohan. Has the spirit of Sauron been destroyed? No one really knows.

You were once servants of Sauron. Having no corporeal form, he needed those like you to do much of his work. You had one of the Palantir, the seeing stones that were lost in the Second Age. You know that these stones can not just communicate with one another, but can also be used to find one another. The nearer one stone is to another, the easier it is to see in one where the other is. If you can get your Palantir within 20" of another Palantir, you can detect its presence by rolling the number of inches you are away from it or greater on 1d20.

Your forces have been observing a band of enemy troops journeying to the northeast. They have seen and reported that the enemy band is carrying one or more Palantir in heavy containers. The enemy groups have been falling out among themselves, but still seem to have a unity of purpose. They have come to the Plateau of Innach Thune by a hard route, and harassment from your forces, together with their internal strife and the adverse terrain have much weakened their numbers. You have been able to arrive there before them, and can make your attempt to grab the Palantir which will bring you untold power. Once you have a Palantir in your possession, carry it off the table and away to safety (or use it to detect others just as above).

Your leader is able to cast a spell that makes anyone in the area of effect (one foot diameter circle) move as if in bad terrain, and unable to dodge. The plants in the area grab at the feet of anyone there, and the earth parts around their feet trapping their feet in holes. Troops entering the area of effect after the spell is cast are unaffected. You need line of sight to the centre of the area to cast the spell, and the chance of success is 1d20 to beat the number of inches to the centre. You must be stationary for the whole turn in which you cast the spell. To keep the spell in effect, make the roll each second turn at a cumulative +2 (so first roll after success = number of inches +2 to beat).

Extra rules

To carry a Palantir takes two figures, and this slows them down by one inch. While carrying a Palantir, these figures cannot fight, but they are allowed to drop the Palantir and draw weapons. To smash a Palantir takes two figures, and two actions both of which must succeed. The first is to place the stone and chant the words; the second is to smash it while the chant is still in effect. Each has a one in two (50%) chance of success, and if either fails the first must be tried again. The Palantir can be smashed outside the sacred area, and this can be done in a single action with a one in three (33%) chance of success, but the side effect is that an abomination from another realm is summoned on the spot. I had a figure for a "plague elemental" standing by in case any player tried this, and the stats I had for it made it pretty nasty. All wounds inflicted by it were fatal.

To make things a little more interesting, I gave the dwarves a few specialist masons who had massive hammers and who had a better than normal chance of smashing a Palantir. The snag was that the dwarves were also the slowest movers.

Your rules should ideally have some mechanism by which unengaged figures away from the fray can move faster. Perhaps you might allow double moves to figures whose moves never take them within a certain distance of enemy fighters. Perhaps you might use an initiative system that makes such things possible.


The three forces of The West should do what they can to confuse the enemy as to their intentions and which crates/barrels have the Palantir in. Note that the forces of The East are not told in their brief that their foes are intent on destroying the seeing stones, nor that they have three of them. Also note that the forces of The West do not know about their enemy's ability to detect Palantir stones, and the first time their enemy casts the spell that slows them down should be a surprise.

The forces of the West are likely to cluster around their stones in order to protect them from marauding orcs and fleet-footed goblins. However, this renders them vulnerable to the magic spell of the orcish leader. If they then split up into three groups, each group might be slowed down by the spell and attacked by darting goblins who can't be caught, but while this is going on, the other two western forces could be speeding towards the sacred site. However, if the good guys leave one of their three races to be destroyed piecemeal, the enemy will probably capture a Palantir (but perhaps an empty decoy crate).

The evil forces should realise that they have very different forces with very different strengths. The goblins are excellent for slowing down the enemy, and harassing him, and for exploiting the fact that an enemy cannot move quickly (so they could use bows and darts from very close range against foes with magically hampered feet, and gang up on stragglers), but very poor in close combat. They should co-operate with their forces rather than just divide up the table between them and each take on the enemy forces in one area. This didn't happen in play-test, though, because players seldom think through strategy as rationally as that. In play-test, the goblin player on one side of the table rushed into combat in the naive assumption that a fairly balanced scenario meant that his forces must be capable of doing this and winning. His archers and warg riders did some damage, but he took horrendous casualties.

Victory Conditions

  • Evil side ends up with 4 Palantir: crushing defeat for The West.
  • Evil side ends up with 3 Palantir: defeat for The West.
  • Evil side ends up with 2 Palantir: draw.
  • Evil side ends up with 1 Palantir: victory for The West.
  • Evil side ends up with no Palantir: major victory for The West.
  • Good player loses over three-quarters of his force: that player scores one grade of result worse.

The game will end when all Palantir are either off-table or destroyed. You may also be using morale rules that might precipitate a faster end to the game, but so desperate is the situation, that a fight to the death, with no entire forces running away, will also work.


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