In part 1 of this series I outlined the options available to a DM when looking to run a major battle during a rpg adventure. In part 2 I went in to greater detail on how the battle skill challenges could be handled. Now here in part 3 I'll outline the lead up to the battle that my players fought during my 4e campaign, before completing the series with the battle itself in part 4.
I'm running a low fantasy, points of light game, with strong overtones of Dark Age Britain. The ruling elite are called Ammands and invaded and conquered the island of Deira 30 years ago. They are militaristic and renowned for their cavalry. The main inhabitants of Deira are the Deirans, solid folk who have lived on the island for hundreds of years. The third group are the Geatings, who normally inhabit the wilderness in fierce independent tribes but who in more recent years have been forced towards towns and civilisation by growing threats. The failure of the current monarch to effectively control the distant areas of his kingdom have left the country on the brink of civil war.
The campaign began in the town of Hannon on the western side of Deira, historically a bit of a backwater place, but safe enough, with only an annual humanoid raid to worry about. The PCs were guarding the castle on the night of the Autumn solstice whilst the everyone else celebrated the start of the harvest. They foiled an assassination of the lady of the castle, tracked the assassins and killed them, before finding the attack was part of a dark cult's plan. Frustrating another attack the PCs had sufficient clues to discover the cult was led by the town miller. Assaulting the mill they managed to kill the cultists but found a letter on the body of the miller indicating that more support would shortly arrive in Hannon and that there was a traitor at the castle.
Preparing the Defence and Uncovering a Traitor
At the start of the adventure I ran two very complicated skill challenges at the same time. The party had two tasks, firstly to determine the threats facing the town and plan how to deal with them and secondly to uncover the traitor. I used the Vicomte of Hannon to outline the parameters of the skill challenge so it seemed less stilted and kept the game flowing. Two hours of great roleplaying followed
The challenge resulted in agreement that
The humanoids presented the most urgent threat
The cult and traitor the most serious.
Civil war whilst terrible was unlikely to erupt or reach the town any time soon.
A long discussion ensued on how to best protect the town. Each council member had their own agenda or issue. Each success in the skill challenge found a way around an objection, and made a check or challenge later in the battle easier. My players really got into this challenge and there were several brilliant moments including a merchant's objections to providing supplies (free) overcome by hinting that he would be considered favourably when the (now vacant) mill contract was reviewed. I granted automatic successes when the PCs came up with these great in game solutions.
With some more work they were also able to identify the traitor. They did this successfully and without arousing his suspicion. He was left in place so that he could later be used to pass on false information.
They then undertook a dangerous scouting mission in the wilderness to uncover the extent of the humanoid threat. This mission nearly cost the party their lives as several battles with orcs and hobgoblins pushed them to the brink. However they were able to reconnoitre the enemy forces and discover that the cult that they had destroyed in back in town had gripped the humanoid tribes and that united for the first time in centuries over two thousand goblins, orcs, bugbears and hobgoblins, including a battle standard party, were descending on Hannon. Cryptic warnings that "she" was coming and Hannon would burn, were ominous and worrying. Exhausted and bloodied the party were chased back to town by pursuing humanoids in a desperate battle of stealth and speed.
Arriving safely back in Hannon the players were thrown straight into planning the battle.
Again using the knowledge and influence of the Vicomte, as well as a quick skill challenge, to guide them I provided the players with the capabilities both sides.
The players would be controlling an army composed of
1 unit of Ammand Heavy Inf
3 units of Deiran Militia Inf
1 unit of Geating Light Inf
1 unit of Ammand Cavalry
Each unit of infantry would be composed of 3 figures, the cavalry of 2.
Full image of their type and capabilities can be seen here.
The enemy they were facing was composed of
4 units of Hobgoblin Heavy Inf
3 units of Orc Inf
4 mobs of Goblin Inf
1 unit of Goblin wolf riders
Each unit of infantry would be composed of 4 figures, the wolf riders of 2.
Full image of their type and capabilities can be seen here.
This meant the defenders of Hannon would be outnumbered by 42 figures to 17 - it helped to focus minds!
The battle planning session lasted about an hour and was essentially a free form roleplaying session as the players quizzed the Vicomte, made the occasional skill check but essentially used their own experience to form a battle plan. I provided a map for them to use and explained the importance and effects of various key features. I used the Vicomte as a way of controlling the more extreme player ideas - running away was not an option! - as well as being a sounding board.
Through questioning they discovered the key to victory would be their ability to destroy the hobgoblin units. The orcs and goblins whilst formidable foes and present in large numbers, would not be able to overcome organised resistance - their unit cohesion would quickly break down as scavengers and opportunists sought loot from the town or nearby dead bodies. Only the hobgoblins with their regimentation would be able to keep solid battle lines and coerce the other units into following a plan and staying in the fight.
The players quickly eliminated a seaborne attack as a threat and understood that the large Dorren Hill protected their left flank, whilst the tidal River Axen helped to protect their right flank. The river was both a strength and a weakness. It was fordable when the tide was low, although only at one specific point, and would need to be defended for 5 hours. However it meant that any enemy would have to fight 1 on 1 to cross and the superior Humanoid numbers would not count. If the enemy could be persuaded to send a large number of troops to attack the ford and the ford held then the main battle might just be a little easier.
The plan was formed. They planned to Bluff the traitor into believing the ford would be lightly defended, by the Geating Light Inf as they expected the main attack to focus on the castle. However they intended to hide another unit of troops in the houses and buildings nearby. If the enemy took the bait, they would lure them over the river and then unleash the trap, eliminating several enemy units and isolating others miles from the main battle. Any spare troops would then be rushed back to the main fight to act as a reserve. The remaining units were placed in a battle line covering the approach to the town. It was a risky strategy but it just might work.
In another skill challenge they persuaded the traitor to accept the plan and ensured he passed it on before he was removed and executed.
That night as the humanoids approached the enemy had swallowed the bait.
A larger map can be seen here.
The Battle Begins
As the PCs watched the enemy form and move forward from atop the tallest castle tower they 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 shouted to them, "Attack the dragon! Kill it! Destroy it! Don't let it fly off, or escape it will burn the whole town down."
In the final part of this series of posts I'll run through the actual battle itself, give some information on the skill challenges and the combat encounters I managed to drop into the battle.