Game Spotlights

May 15, 2021

Jess C.

Gen Con 1994’s Battle of the Five Armies

The Battle of the Five Armies

A pile of riches so large no one could count it all in a lifetime. Gold piled high and gems mixed with it strewn across the halls of an ancient dwarven city, long abandoned. The very definition of a treasure trove buried in a mountain thought impenetrable, and the only thing that had once stood between you and taking it is now gone. The opportunity of a lifetime stands before you and all you need do is get to it before anyone else can take it from you…

…Somehow those other armies don’t seem quite as intimidating as the dragon did.

The death of Smaug was easily the most climactic scene in J.R.R. Tolkein’s the Hobbit. It signaled the ending of an age, but the fight over his hoard is a conflict whose size and power ranks in the history of Middle Earth alongside the battle of Helm’s Deep and the Siege of Minas Tirith. One could even argue it is one of the single greatest conflicts in the history of Middle Earth.

To even try to recreate a battle of such scale seems like a fool’s errand. The sheer volume of troops alone would pale the face of even prolific painters. The crafting of terrain to fit all of those miniatures on, while maintaining the quality and feel of the encounter, would turn away even seasoned veterans. All of that, without even stopping to consider how one might apply rules and moderate such a colossal conflict. The whole idea is madness from the word go.

So naturally, it was only a matter of time before someone did it.

The Iconic Gen Con

The place: Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The year: 1994. The Event: Gen Con ’94.

A determined group of gamers from the PAW gaming group, with sponsorship from TSR, took on the epic challenge of staging this tremendous conflict in 15mm scale, using primarily Ral Patha’s line of 15mm AD&D Battlesystem miniatures. The results were nothing short of phenomenal.

By this point in Gen Con’s history, the convention had grown to over 20,000 attendees. Having outgrown its original home in Gary Gygax’s home town of Lake Geneva (hence the name “Gen Con”) convention goers now flocked to the larger grounds in Milwaukee to play games and see the sights, including this monumental and unforgettable display.

A new little game called Magic the Gathering had just been revealed at Gen Con the prior year, giving birth to what would become a genre of its own, Collectible Card Games. Little did they know, Magic’s publisher, Wizards of the Coast, would later grow to take a pivotal role in the development of Gen Con, but also that of Dungeons & Dragons. TSR wanted a showstopper to keep eyes on their products as a central staple of the Con, and this incredible battlefield certainly turned heads!

Bringing the scene to life

At its widest point, the battlefield is almost 20 feet long, while the center stands over 10 feet deep leaving a playable surface of hundreds of square feet to place the armies upon. In the center, the peak of the Lonely Mountain looms at a height of over a foot above the battlefield, giving the players a clear perspective of just how tiny the individual fighters were, and just how massive the battle was.

While the individual figures may be small, there is nothing tiny about what they bring to this scenario. Over 2500 fifteen millimeter miniatures are included representing the dwarves, goblins, humans, and elves that clashed in this monumental conflict. The figures are all skillfully painted, individually based, and look gorgeous when placed on the terrain. Most of the figures used for this endeavor were furnished by TSR and come from the Ral Partha’s BattleSystem line, but others were acquired from other sources to suit the need.

25 years later 

Many years later, this incredible and unique collection was acquired by Noble Knight Games. To establish its completion and provide images to show the scope of the display, many hours were spent setting it up in our private gaming room. Even with a number of 7 foot long tables pushed together, the entire piece didn’t fully fit in the room, but we were able to show most of it.

Sadly, not all of the figures from the original game were kept with the display. Individual fighters from the various armies were misplaced and some have deteriorated with time. Most notably, the named characters such as Thorin Oakenshield and company, as well as Bilbo, Gandalf, Beorn, and the Giant Eagles were separated from the rest, and given to TSR employees as mementos.

To this end, we have included professionally painted substitutes to preserve the integrity of the display. These figures are shown in the included pictures and are clearly separated from the original figures. Due to the haphazard nature of the records, we cannot ensure that what we are able to offer replicates the scenario exactly as it was played, however it does keep the visual impact of the item when displayed up to the awe-inspiring level it deserves to be.

Fortunately, another integral part of this epic event that would have been totally irreplaceable has been preserved. The original unit statistics, terrain diagrams, and GenCon registration paperwork that verify that this was the actual equipment, as used at the world-renowned game fair in 1994. Among these documents are also a copy of the judge’s information packet from 1994 and some unused prize vouchers. Additionally, a small amount of paperwork for another event run by the same gaming club is included.

The game was structured so that multiple people could participate in the scenario on the side of each faction at the same time. Based upon these records, the event was run 6 times over the course of the convention’s 4 day span with the largest version of the scenario including 18 people. Twelve sheets of unit statistics remain, though the exact way they were deployed or utilized in the scenario is unknown. Based upon the information available, it appears that the battle was fought using TSR’s Battlesystem ruleset, though the individual unit statistics were clearly home-designed.

Complete Contents of this breathtaking display include:

  • 1200+ Skillfully Painted Orc & Goblin Infantry
  • 90+ Skillfully Painted Orc & Goblin Cavalry
  • 700+ Skillfully Painted Dwarf Infantry
  • 250+ Skillfully Painted Human Infantry
  • 90+ Skillfully Painted Human Cavalry
  • 140+ Skillfully Painted Elven Infantry
  • 30+ Skillfully Painted Elven Cavalry
  • 6 Custom-Painted Giant Eagles
  • 17 Additional Custom-Painted Figures to Represent Named Characters
  • Over 250 Pieces of Painted Foam & Latex Terrain, Some Custom Molded
  • 17 pages of GenCon Registration Paperwork
  • 14 GenCon Prize Vouchers
  • 6 Pre-Addressed GenCon Correspondence Envelopes
  • 19 Pages of Handwritten Scenario Notes

A one of a kind collector’s piece

There is no risk of overstatement in saying that this item is a truly unique piece that will be available once and only once. Others might attempt to capture the grandeur and scale of this conflict, but none can truly be a successor to this moment in gaming history. Whether it serves as a way to see the climax of a beloved book, or a window back into a historical moment in gaming matters not. What does matter is that you are faced with an opportunity to make this incomparable item your own, and that once you do, you will be unrivaled in the splendor of your collection.


 

If you enjoyed this article, check out our feature on the War of the Ring: Collector’s Edition for an in-depth look at the limited run exclusive!