Thursday, 24 September 2009

Handling a Major Battle in 4e Part 4

In this final post on handling a major battle I've posted the summary of the battle session. The previous post covers the set up and campaign background. The earlier posts looked at the elements making up a large battle and the mechanics behind battle skill challenges.

The characters in the party are,

Perral - Elven Avenger
Rikka - Elven Rogue
Foxley - Human Invoker
Freya - Half Elf Barbarian
Osric - Half Elf Bard


As the PCs watched the enemy form and move forward Perral spotted a huge shape swooping down out of the sky. Moments later a blast of fire erupted from the beast's mouth and the roof of the Great Hall burst into flames. The Vicomte turned to the PCs and ordered them to "Attack the dragon, kill it, destroy it - but whatever happens don't let it fly off."

Rushing out of the castle the PCs rushed to the town market where the dragon could be seen breathing on building after building. Aware that the beast was vain, largely immune to fire and equipped with a vicious tail attack the party planned accordingly. Reaching the main square the party faced the monster - as it saw them the dragon charged, breathed again and assaulted Freya with two powerful claw attacks wounding her badly. Perral struck back unleashing several devastinging strikes - blows that hurt the dragon. More attacks and spells were thrown at the dragon but with limited effect. Osric was partially successful with a major spell and as a result each hit upon the beast heartened his allies. The dragon reared back and unleashed a terrifying roar, stunning everyone bar Freya who once more reeled from a claw attack. Slowly the party recovered from the roar, rattled but firm. Blow after blow was traded and with careful manoeuvering flanks were established and the odd attack began to hit home. The dragon breathed regularly but fortified against its weapon through potions and other items this had limited effect. Gradually the dragon was penned in, and the party gained the upper hand. The dragon roared as it was hit once more and breathed in anger before launching itself into the air.

Reacting quickly Foxley call upon the power of Pelor before denigrating the dragon, its parents and the whole of dragonkind. Rikka and Freya grabbed ropes and grappling hooks left nearby and attempted to hook them onto the beast. Whilst Rikka's throw was wild, Freya hooked a wing. The dragon quickly bit through the rope but it bough the party time. Perral shouted up to it, mocking it's power, fleeing before puny humankind and with that insult ringing in its ears the dragon dived onto Foxley.

Buoyed by this success the party returned to the fight, Freya and Perral leading the way. Rikka fired in dagger attack after attack, Osric still trying to shake off the terror was struggling to hit the beast. More flames erupted ineffectively from the dragon and as its strength dwindled its attacks became less effective. It snapped and clawed at the party, now virtually surrounded as spell and blade cut and rent its flesh before falling fatally wounded. Gasping for breath but elated the PCs stood proudly round the body of the dragon, recovering their breath, knowing that the battle had only just begun.

Holding the Axen Ford

The PCs barely had time to recover from the battle with the dragon before they were summoned with great urgency to support the troops defending the ford. As they arrived a knight, an oldish man walked quickly towards you. "Hail dragonslayers!!" he beams. "I could do with your help, and a little of your luck as you can see we are outnumbered somewhat!!"

A quick discussion took place and a strategy formed. Using the Geating troops they would fall back luring their enemy into battle, sucking the hobgoblins over the ford before revealing the hidden Deirian forces and destroying them. Freya and Rikka took charge of the Geating troops whilst the others took command of the Deirians.

The plan began well and the Geating troops fell back, whatever confusion there seemed was all manufactured and a mob of goblins gleefully followed them across the ford. A second retreat northwards was also undertaken effectively and the goblins pursued eagerly. The hobgoblins sensing early victory poured across the river - the plan had worked!

The Deirians leapt from their hiding places and quickly formed up. The hobgoblin advance bumped into the Deirian battleline and bounced, held in place by the determined militiamen.

The Geatings, however, got a taste of their own medicine when the goblins used a ruse to fall back before attacking strongly. Their pride dented and ranks a little thinner the Geatings reformed. The Deirians attacked, advancing on the hobgoblins, and pushed them back blocking the ford and preventing any more enemy troops from crossing.

Freya led the Geating's in a great charge, unleashing a brutal attack and driving the goblins back. The hobgoblins and Deirian militia exchanged fierce blows - and while the militia held firm they took casualties. The battle was still very much in the balance.

However a goblin counterattack against the Geatings failed and the remaining goblins fled. The Geatings reformed their lines and with a great cry charged back into battle hitting the hobgoblin flank and driving a wedge between their troops. Disrupted by this assault the hobgoblins gave way as the militia pushed forward once again driving the remaining troops into the river.

The ford was secure and first blood in the battle was to the defenders of Hannon. Taking stock the party left the Deiran militia to hold the ford and to keep the two remaining mobs of hobgoblins out of the battle, whilst they took the unit of Geating infantry and returned to the castle.

Humanoid Inflitrators

The Geating troops were ordered to take up a position in reserve behind the main battleline, whilst the PCs were summoned to the castle where the Vicomte was watching the enemy deploy. On arrival at the castle gates though it was apparent something was wrong. The two guards by the gate were missing as were the guards on the nearby parapet. Drawing their weapons the party rushed in.

The Great Hall still burned brightly illuminating the area. No guards could be seen but in the gloom two orcs were spotted sneaking toward the tower guarding the approach to the motte. They quickly stopped and loosed arrows at the party. More arrows came from beside the granary this time from goblins. Freya rushed to battle the goblins, whilst Perral and Osric positioned themselves to take on the orcs. Foxley sniped from the gateway whilst Rikka moved into the cover provided by the Vicomte's living quarters.

The party quickly found themselves on the back foot. Freya found herself fighting a bugbear and two goblins that quickly surrounded her. Rikka was discomforted when three more goblins rounded the building and piled in to attack her. The orcs ditched their bows and charged into battle.

Foxley and Osric struck back to extricate Rikka from the surrounding goblins. Rikka attacked and hit home. Perral fought the orcs, whilst Freya struck at her attackers. The battle swung to and fro for several rounds - an orc was dispatched, several goblins killed. Freya was grabbed by the Bugbear but struggled free and was grabbed again and strangled.

Perral moved round to assist Freya whilst the others took down the remaining enemies. Perral attacked the bugbear only to find that it shielded itself from attack by holding Freya in front of it resulting in Perral's blow striking his friend. Strangled more Freya was bloodied but with only the bugbear and a goblin still standing it was quickly over.

The party quickly moved on to the motte just in time to see the defenders despatch the last of a group or orcs and goblins. The Vicomte and castellian were both sweating and breathing hard when the PCs joined them but they were all alive.

The Hobgoblin Battle Standard

Climbing to the top of the motte tower the Vicomte and the PCs had the perfect view over the battlefield. The humanoid troops north of the castle had taken longer to get into position than those at the ford but battle had now been joined. The hobgoblin regiments with serried ranks of ordered troops formed the rear of the humanoid battle line. In front facing off against and engaging the defenders of Hannon were three orc battle clans. Goblin wolfriders were held in reserve.

However what attracted most attention was a hobgoblin battle standard. It was paraded back and forth for a few minutes and then brought forward as the orcs in the centre of the line pushed forward. They hit the Ammand infantry just beyond the castle with great ferocity and pushed them back much to everyone's surprise. The Vicomte turned to the PCs, "That battle standard will be the key to the battle. Take control of the centre and capture that standard. I'll look after the flanks - but do whatever you have to do to get hold of that thing. The hobgoblins will do whatever it takes to retrieve it."

With that the PCs left to enter the battle once more. The battle would be tough and brutal. Standing between the party and the standard was a unit of orcs, another of hobgoblins, some goblin wolf riders and the standard bearer and his defenders. The PCs took control of the Ammand infantry and the Ammand cavalry, the best soldiers Hannon could muster.

The Ammand infantry began the attack, pushing the orcs back. Driving the cavalry forward they were countered by the goblin wolf riders. A spirited charge pushed the wolf riders back, before a cunning feigned retreat scattered the remaining goblin cavalry. However the orcs pushed back and the Ammand infantry reeled from the fierceness of the attack. Calling upon the reserve the Geating infantry were rushed forward and into battle once more. A punishing charge routed the orcs and cleared the way to attack the hobgoblin infantry.

The hobgoblins though represented the toughest opponents yet and in several rounds of combat both sides took heavy losses, with both Geating and cavalry forces weakened. But with a supreme effort the hogoblin unit was fully engaged and an opening created. The PCs seized the moment and charged the battle standard.

Taking the Standard

The hobgoblin standard party attacked immediately with the warriors charging forward. The initial attacks absorbed the party sidestepped their enemy and concentrated their attacks on the hobgoblin warcaster. The hobgoblin sub chief reordered his battle line pulling his warriors back to defend the warcaster but it couldn't prevent attack after attack landing on the mage. In a brutal series of attacks he was killed.

Foxley and Osric were both able to make area attacks count whilst Rikka and Perral chose their targets. Freya waded in heaving her axe to great effect. Although able to regroup and strike back the hobgoblins were clearly outmatched. Trading blows for several rounds their numbers were quickly whittled down beofre finally the standard bearer fell and the standard was captured.

The Battle for the Castle

Grabbing the standard the PCs retreated to their own lines as two outraged hobgoblin units manoeuvered to attack. Although victorious the centre of the Hannon battleline was ragged and weak. Facing no other choice a retreat was ordered. The centre falling back to the castle the two flanks retreating towards the town keeping the orcs occupied. The PCs fell back towards the castle. The battered Ammand infantry held the enemy back whilst the Geatings and the Ammand cavalry retreated inside the walls.

Once the Ammands were all safely inside the gate was thrown closed in the face of a hobgoblin assault. Freya led the PCs as they threw their weight against the gate, just managing to hold it closed. As hobgoblin soldiers hacked at the gate Rikka led those troops pouring missiles into their ranks whilst Freya organised the defenders in breaking apart some of the castle buildings to reinforce the gate. It was a tough race but the party prevailed and the gate held.

Foxley and Osric toured the bailey where many of the wounded from the battle had gathered. Assisting the healers they were able to gather more men for the walls.

Freya, Rikka and Perral toured the walls inspiring the troops. They paraded the captured standard and mocked the hobgoblins provoking them into an assault which was easily defeated. However undeterred the hobgoblins surrounded the castle and prepared to launch their asaults. Perral was instrumental in detecting the point of impact whilst Freya and Rikka led troops from one part of the castle to another in order to beat back the assaults.

The Ammand cavalry sallied forth in an attempt to disrupt the attacks but were badly mauled by a hobgoblin counter attack. Renewed the hobgoblins charged the walls again and again, and whilst ultimately unsuccessful they depleted the ranks of the defenders before pulling back exhausted, mustering only half the troops they started the assault with.

The Duc and the Final Battle

Dawn was fast approaching as the humanoids fell back. The battle remained finely poised. The ford was no longer uncrossable and while this gave the defenders another unit to throw into the battleline, one of the goblin mobs had made the long walk back to join the main enemy force. Both sides were exhausted and close to breaking - the next encounter would determine the fate of the entire battle. Crucially for the defenders reinforcements had arrived. The Duc D'Emerick arrived on the rising tide, bringing with him his mounted bodyguard.

The PCs were sent down to greet him by the Vicomte and agree a battleplan whilst the Vicomte ordered his forces and prepared for the fight. The party found the Duc in an angry mood, surprised and annoyed to find himself in the midst of battle on what he believed was a family visit. The PCs were able to calm him somewhat and quickly explained the situation to him. Whilst initially dismissive of the humanoid forces facing him he was pursuaded that this was no ordinary assault and not to press ahead recklessly. It was agreed his forces would attack the hobgoblins whilst the Hannon forces held the battle line.

The final battle was no less brutal for the exhaustion felt by both sides. It began badly for the defenders when the Ammand infantry were broken chasing a goblin feint. However the PCs led their troops in a fight back. The Deirian militia pushed a unit of orcs back. The Geatings hammered the goblins, before the Duc's forces hit the hobgoblins. The humanoids hit back, the Geatings were thrown back and the Duc's cavalry failed to ride down some hobgoblin infantry. With the battle in the balance the PCs led a unit of Deirian troops forward. Attacking the last formed hobgoblin unit they fought hand to hand until at the crucial moment the hobgoblins broke.

The battle was won. The humanoids retreated, but hurt and exhausted, the defenders of Hannon were in no condition to pursue. The Duc's cavalry merely shadowed the enemy off the field, whilst the other units rested where they stood too tired to do anything else. A victory but at a great cost - perhaps 300 of Hannon's defenders, more than 10% of the townsfolk were dead.


I really got a kick out of running this adventure. My players got really involved and in the final encounter, with the last check determining victory or defeat, were scrambling for every single point to boost their roll, searching utility powers, looking for immediate interupts - anything to increase the roll. The skill challenges were some of the most satisfying I've run and the sessions felt fresh and exciting. Give it a go!