Friday, February 17, 2017

New Dawn Session 6: Orcs are Jerks

Precis: The Resistance infiltrates an orc castle and wackiness ensues.

I ran the sixth session of New Dawn, my GURPS Fantasy Mass Combat game, last night. This session was went back to the game's root in Midnight, since the PCs were operating covertly in orc territory. It was a very fun session, and a little silly, as we got to see the full powers of a nymph diplomat in action. We also got to use my rules for finding people covertly, though that only made up a small part of the session.

Cast of Characters

New Dawn is a troupe style game, with each player having two characters. One team primarily does military stuff; the other team has been doing delving and diplomacy. This session focused on the diplomacy team.

Otern county, and the major villages, towns, orc strongholds, and the fortress of Hortskink.

"Aisling gets +5 to reactions from trees."

The session started in early April, game time. Finbar Gullvan, the Old Man of the Resistance, got regular intelligence drops from Resistance cells in Otern, an orc controlled county to the north. His contact Kyell had missed the last two meetings. Finbar wanted the PCs to sneak into Otern and find either Kyell or someone who knew him and figure out what was going on.

The PCs hurried up to the first large village. Correctly figuring that Kyell had probably been captured by orcs, they started searching for him as soon as they got into town, even though it was late in the day. They also sacrificed stealth for an easier time of finding Kyell, which somewhat surprised me because they weren't particularly good at stealth. As such, a lot of Luck was used and Destiny points spent to avoid being exposed to the orcs. They managed to determine that though the local villagers knew of Kyell, they didn't know him well and only knew that he came from someplace to the north and maybe had a Resistance contact named Kara. As most of Otern was north of them, and Kara was a common name, this wasn't much to go on.

The next day they moved to up the road to the village of Lelund and did another conspicuous search. Luck was with them, in a way - a critical success on the search roll found Kara, the leader of the Otern Resistance. They also managed to blow the Stealth roll.

Now at this point I misread my notes - as I usually do when I end running stuff on the fly like this. Kara was supposed to be hiding in Lelund, but I placed her in the open as a bartender. No huge harm done, but Kara in hiding made more sense. At any rate, Kara sent the PCs to the nearby farm village of Aliaberg to talk with Kyell's wife.

On the way to Aliaberg, they ran across a detachment of orcs taking a break during a road march. The PCs were traveling cross country in a hurry. In the towns, Attivi had been using a magic spell to disguise Michael, but it was too fatiguing to keep up while hiking so the orcs got a good look at Michael's unusual height, slender build, and strange orange eyes. The PCs managed to break contact before the orcs could get up and chase them, but now the orcs knew of at least one Squallite moving around Otern - in short, the orcs were alerted to the PCs' presence.

When they arrived in Aliaberg, I started making reaction rolls for the peasants. Aisling is a nymph, and has charisma +5, universal transcendent beauty, and a lovely cultured voice, netting her +12 in reaction bonuses from most intelligent things, and as Kevin pointed out, substantial bonuses even against trees. I rolled a natural 18 for a total of 30, giving her a supernaturally excellent reaction, to the point where people were so eager to be helpful that it was something of a problem.

Kyell's wife confirmed that he'd been captured by orcs, and sent the PCs to a witness of the event, Yonus. Yonus proceeded to lie to Aisling, claiming that he was in the Resistance and had tracked the orcs after they took Kyell. Unfortunately for him, Nesta, Attivi, and Aisling are all good at detecting lies, and all of them realized he was lying. They immediately assumed he was a collaborator, grabbed him, and threatened to start hurting him. He confessed to his lies, and the PCs decided he wasn't a collaborator, just a braggart trying to get in good with the supernaturally pretty woman. They got some more information, and decided that the orcs had taken Kyell to their fortress of Hortskink. The PCs headed north, making plans to climb the walls and rescue Kyell.

"Hortskink is a fortress... we need a new plan."

I pulled up the map of Hortskink castle that I'd prepared for this eventuality. With a 15-20' wide moat, 40' tall walls, multiple towers, and a single gate, Hortskink was a serious castle. It was meant to hold over a thousand orcs at a time, though the current garrison was only a hundred or so. The PCs immediately decided that a raid wasn't going to work at all, and they'd have to get sneaky.
Hortskink castle

They knew from Kara that the messengers from the south had arrived at Hortskink, and the orcs knew about the rebellion in Engenstut county and were bringing in supplies and starting to train more extensively to bring their force up to full strength and ability. That also meant that peasants were bringing in supply wagons into at least the lower bailey.

The PCs crafted a plan: Aisling would convince some peasants to loan her their wagon, and then Attivi and Nesta would hide everyone's weapons in it. Attivi would use magic to disguise Michael as donkey, and Nesta would drive the wagon into the castle while Nayla led Michael. Once inside, Nayla, Nesta, Michael, and Attivi would hide, while Aisling pretended to be a collaborator. She'd gain access to the orc leadership and then magic would happen. I was dubious about some of the details, but it was a plan, and they'd come up with it on their own with minimal prompting from me, so I didn't try to damp down their enthusiasms.

Aisling easily charmed the peasants, everyone else hid their gear, and they moved into the castle. Inside the gate, Aisling flashed some coin to establish her status as a collaborator and said she had some information. The orc knight supervising the unloading of supplies was impressed by her story and took her to Captain Grunak, flirting with her on the way. Meanwhile, everyone else noticed that the doors to the south barracks were padlocked and a baby was crying intermittently from inside.

I split up the action at this point. Everyone but Nesta went into the storehouse, waited until the kobold workers weren't around, and then hid. Except for Michael, who was disguised as a donkey and couldn't wander off as easily. This actually caused some confusion, because now the kobolds were looking for the humans who owned the donkey, but those same humans had gone into hiding. Things didn't get any better when Attivi disguised himself as an orc and scared the kobolds.

Meanwhile, Aisling went and talked to Captain Grunak. He was inclined to be suspicious, but a little luck and a large dose of supernatural charm and beauty got past his defenses. He acknowledged that the orcs were looking for a Squallite among a party of a half dozen humans, but Aisling reported that Trahaern and Hloomawl were leading a substantial army up the road from Dons. This didn't work as well as she'd hoped, mainly because the orc military intelligence was terrible and the only resistance leader they'd identified at this point was Skyler. Regardless, Aisling managed to con him into believing that a weak human army was approaching, so he sent out orders to put most of Hortskink's garrison on a march to deal with them.

Aisling used more charm to convince the orcs to let her stay while they prepared, but they firmly put her and her donkey outside the castle when they left. Meanwhile, the other PCs stayed hidden in the storehouse until dark. Attivi desperately held onto Michael's disguise spell for several hours before passing out.

As an aside, the orcs were constantly making Perception and IQ rolls to see through the PCs' thin disguises and improbable plans. Sadly, the orcs aren't very smart, and luck was consistently against them, so they failed every time and never quite realized the PCs had disappeared or found their weapons when they searched the weapons or whatever else might have helped.

"I think it's time for the 'Chewie, put these cuffs on' stage of the plan."

After dusk, Aisling grabbed Michael, now back in his natural Squallite form, and took him back to the castle. After a bit of shouting, she woke up one of the orcs that was supposed to be on watch, charmed him with her supernatural charisma and beauty, and convinced him to open up the gates and take Michael prisoner. The orcs did that, and then Aisling convinced them that since the roads were dangerous - after all, there were Squallites out there - she should be allowed to sleep in the mostly empty stables. Michael was thrown into the barracks with the other prisoners.

Michael doesn't have Aisling's supernatural charisma, so his fellow prisoners weren't particularly impressed by him. He told them that he was with the Resistance and that his friends would rescue them soon, but they didn't really believe him. On the plus side, Michael finally did make contact with Kyell, but the Resistance messenger had been tortured by the orcs and wasn't really able to contribute.

Nayla and Nesta sneaked out of the storehouse, grabbed their weapons from the cart, and started making plans for violence. Nayla waited for orcs to shoot, while Nesta climbed up the walls and eventually sneaked
up onto the southeast tower and rushed the orc on watch there. Violence ensued, drawing the attention of the orcs, and then Nayla began sniping at them. Between Heroic Archer, a balanced composite bow, Night Vision 5, and the Guided Weapon imbuement, she didn't have any particular problem making headshots at 70+ yards against moving orcs partially hidden by the castle ramparts, even in the dark. She dropped two out right, and wounded a third before the remainder managed to flee into the towers.

"Man, orcs are jerks!"

Aisling had improvised a set of lock picks out of the files and whatnot in the saddlery room at the stables, and confidently set off to free Michael and the other prisoners. She's smart, and has the Cat Burglar talent, so what could go wrong? Apparently Kevin forgot to buy the actual lockpick skill, so she was working off a poor default. Still, a lucky critical success got the doors open, and Aisling slipped inside.

These prisoners were scheduled to be executed in a few days, as a grand show of orc might and determination, but Aisling was going to rally them, lead them to the nearby smithy and arm them, and then have them defeat the orcs. Except these supposed "Resistance leaders" were a collection of elderly men and women, three children, and a baby. The only people of fighting age were Kyell, who'd been worked over extensively, and the baby's mother. The PCs were dismayed and disgusted at the laziness and cruelty of the orcs - there were several shouts of "man, orcs are jerks," which is one of the game's themes. Nayla showed up with Michael's bow and then headed north to hold the gate between the two courtyards.

Michael stepped into the courtyard and spotted the orc lieutenant in charge of the fortress heading for the east tower. He went for a headshot, but the orc had his helmet on and the steel plate protected him.

At this point, it was really late and I ended the game.

Evaluation of Play

This was a fun session. I messed up a couple of things, but I mostly managed to keep things moving. The group voluntarily split up, and that made things a little confusing, but I think I handled it pretty well. One thing I tried to do, and mostly succeeded, was handle the least risky parts of the plan first. So the PCs in the storehouse had to decide what they were going to do without knowing how Aisling's part of the plan was going to work. I don't know if really upped the dramatic tension, but I think it helped a bit.

The players were mostly focused this time. There was some confusion and hesitation at first when they were trying to find Kyell, but they were pretty decisive as soon as they meant Kara and had obvious leads to pursue. The plan for dealing with the fortress kept changing as they got new information, but reasonably so: first they wanted to do a combat raid, then they decided to sneak in, then they wanted to rally the prisoners but that clearly isn't going to work, so now they're talking about killing the remaining dozen or so orcs in the garrison and burning the place. I pointed out that I'd specifically described the fortress of being made of stone, with brick buildings with clay tile roofs to make it hard to burn, but they're sticking with that for now.

Aisling's charisma and beauty really came into play in this session. It's actually been fairly important in other sessions when they've been recruiting their army, but it was much more obvious this time through. I'm pretty happy about that, as Kevin has played a nymph in one of my Dungeon Fantasy games before, and all those points in charisma and beauty didn't do much to affect the game. This time, they really mattered and mostly for the better.

What Next?

At this time, I'm not really sure what the PC's plan is for the next session. I think they're going to have a brief combat with the orcs in Hortskink, which could go either way: a half dozen orcs in full plate backed by a half dozen orcs with crossbows is no joke, especially since the PCs don't have much in the way of similarly high quality armor. Then I think they're going to evacuate the prisoners and disable as much of Hortskink as they can.

One possibility that Kevin mentioned is recruiting an army and trying to defend Hortskink. Otern, unlike the PC's home county of Engenstut, doesn't have much of a Resistance tradition and any hurriedly raised militia troops would be pretty low quality. They would also only have a day or two to recruit before the orcs came back. They know there was a company of orcs stationed at Hortskink, and two or three more companies at other strongholds in the area. A massive fortress gives a big edge in Mass Combat terms, but quality infantry and bowmen backed by magic can counter a lot of that. It's a possibility, especially since Aisling is a pretty good commander, but it's a pretty risky play. Hopefully, the PCs will decide what to do early in the week and I'll be able to make plans.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Covert Social Engineering

Precis: A review of the rules for finding a specific criminal, and coming up some rules for doing that while evading authority.

The next session of New Dawn will involve the PCs going into orc controlled territory and trying to find out what happened to the local Resistance movement. I need to go over the rules for that.

Finding Criminals...

Fortunately, GURPS has at least some mechanics in the core rules for finding people, and Social Engineering provides some more details. Finding a particular criminal is a straightforward roll against Streetwise, modified by the size of the search area (its harder to find a specific person in a big city) and the distinctiveness of the person sought. Each attempt takes a day. On a success, you either find the person, or if the person isn't in your search area, determine that. Failure wastes time but the search can be repeated at no penalty.

...While Hiding From the Authorities

New Dawn adds the complication that the PCs are effectively wanted criminals by the local law enforcement, and thus need to keep their heads down. The GURPS rules for hiding from the authority while doing stuff aren't as straightforward, but they can be teased out from the basic set and Action: Exploits. The skill to hide in a crowd is Shadowing (or Stealth, in my games, since I feel Shadowing is a skill tax and roll all its functions into Stealth) and the skill to to detect people doing bad stuff and to detect oncoming guards is Observation. The question is how do they all work together?

I'm going to say that that any PC searching for an informant, and any PC aiding with a complementary skill, needs to make a Stealth roll to avoid being found by the orcs. Stealth rolls are modified by any Holdout penalty for the PC's armor and any Distinctive Features quirks or Forgettable Face perks. Also, any PC can act as a look-out, and provide a complementary bonus to Stealth with an Observation roll. They can also pursue their inquiries more aggressively or circumspectly, trading -2 penalties to Stealth for +1 bonuses to Streetwise or -2 penalties to Streetwise for +1 bonuses to Stealth.

In Summary

Each day, the PCs can search some of the villages and towns for a Resistance Contact. They choose how much area to search:
  • A single farm village (100 people; +3)
  • A small market village and surrounding farm villages (800 people; +2)
  • A single small or large market village (less than 500 people; +2)
  • A large market village and surrounding villages (3000 people; +1)
  • The town of Flostrund (2500 people; +1)
  • The town and the surrounding villages (8000 people: 0)
 Once per day spent searching, a single PC may roll Streetwise to attempt to contact the local Resistance in the search area. The following modifiers apply:
  • Complementary bonuses for any other PC using an Influence skill
  • +1 per -2 penalty to the following Stealth roll
  • -2 per +1 bonus on the following Stealth roll
  • The search area modifier
On success, the PCs find a contact in the local Resistance, if there is one in the area, or determine that there isn't one. On failure, they don't find anyone but can try again. Critical failure means contacting a collaborator who betrays them to the orcs.

Each PC involved in the Streetwise roll, either directly, providing a complementary bonus, or acting as a look-out, must also roll Stealth. The following modifiers apply
  • Complementary bonuses from any PC acting as a lookout with an Observation check. Lookouts can aid in the Streetwise test, but are at -2 on both rolls because they have to split their attention
  • The bonus or penalty from the Streetwise roll as above
  • Any Holdout penalty from the PC's armor (a successful Holdout roll halves the penalty, round down) and for any large weapons
  • Any modifiers from the PC's Distinctive Features, Forgettable Face, or Size Modifiers or other physical traits
  • Half of the search area modifier, as a penalty
  • A -3 penalty if the orcs are on alert.
The first failure puts the orcs on alert; the second failure causes an orc patrol to investigate. Multiple failures on the same day only count as one failure.

If the PCs succeed on a Streetwise check on the same day that a Stealth failure causes the orcs to investigate, the PCs make contact first if their Margin of Success is more than the absolute value of their Margin of Failure and otherwise they make contact after dealing with the orc patrol.

What's the Point

Hopefully, this will be at least a mildly interesting mini-game that will keep all the PCs somewhat involved. They need to decide where to search: smaller areas produce more definite results, but can produce a lot of negative results, which uses up time. Smaller areas are also riskier to search, especially since repeated searches increase the iterative chance of Stealth failure. They also need to decide who conducts the searches, who acts as look-outs, and who is left hiding away from the villages because that PC is too distinctive to be useful. They've already sent Hloomawl off with the army rather than try to have a 8' tall, 600 lb minotaur try to infiltrate orc territory, and they may have to make similar decisions with some of the other PCs.

These rules are a fairly tailored to my game, but they're just an expansion of the existing rules from the Basic Set and Social Engineering. They could be repurposed for other games where the PCs need to find some one while evading the authorities.

Friday, February 10, 2017

New Dawn Session 5: A Trope Subverted

Precis: The Resistance army rescues a smaller force, recruits more troops, does a little delving, and defeats the orcs to liberate Namdalside.

I ran the fifth session of New Dawn, my GURPS Fantasy Mass Combat game last night. A lot was accomplished, in a session with a bit of role-playing, a little bit of delving, and a couple of big battles.

Cast of Characters

New Dawn is a troupe style game, with each player having two characters. One team primarily does military stuff; the other team has been doing delving and diplomacy. The players know that the non-military team will be making contact with the Resistance in orc occupied territory next session, so there was some rearrangement of teams here.

The War Leaders

  • +Uhuk of the Guard's Hloomawl, a minotaur princeling and mighty warrior.
  • +Eric Schmidt's Trahaern ab Owen, a human master strategist.
  • +Eilmyn Davidson's Skyler Therris, a human reprobate, warrior, and general.
  • +Kevin Smyth's Ariana Rees, a human blacksmith and minor saint.
  • Kiara Schmidt's Greex "Wrongway", a cowardly kobold spymaster. 
 As usual, Kevin wrote a session report from the player's perspective.

Taking Stock

The previous session ended with the Resistance army conquering the orc stronghold of Swartun, and the displaced orcs fleeing to the west. The war leaders wanted to take a few days to reorganize, so I declared there had been a week of rain. That brought us through the beginning of April in game time, which was also tax time, and they had a lot of money to spend. They set aside their most experienced troops for training and conversion from short term levies to long term soldiers and recruited more troops. Kevin decided Aisling, being a faerie ambassador, would be more useful with the non-military team, and swapped in Ariana for this session so he could play Aisling next session.

So the session started off a little slowly, with some paperwork, but things started rolling within fifteen minutes or so. The Resistance army began moving west on April 3rd, in game time, but the orcs had long fled and all of Engenstut, the starting territory, was effectively liberated. This was a big thing for the PCs, since they got a big chunk of CP for doing that.

Moving Out, Making Decisions

As they crossed into the next orc territoy, Namdalside, their scouts brought them a member of the local resistance. Suvven (not of Nein, though all the players made that joke repeatedly) was part of a Resistance group under General Vaipnesterk. The Namdalside Resistance had risen up and chased the understrength local garrison out of Fort Scrite, but a reinforced orc company was coming up from the south and would overrun the Fort in a day or so. The Resistance's wizard had a prophecy that help would come out of the west, since Vaipnesterk was refusing to retreat and planned to die at the walls if necessary. Suvven had been sent to make contact with that help, and he did, and would the PCs please come save them?

Skyler was suspicious, thinking it was some kind of trap, but Greex and Hloomawl thought Suvven was being honest and Trahaern and Ariana immediately started arranging for a forced march. There was a bit of role-playing between Skyler and Arianna, as Skyler doesn't believe in magic and Arianna is a low key but actual priestess of a forgotten god. As an aside, this kind of minor prophecy is the sort of thing I really like in fantasy games. It's not much work, but it reminds people that magic is real and can influence events.

The Resistance army made it to the next major village where they met Beyorn, a member of the northern Namdalside Resistance. He reported that multiple orc forces were converging on their fortress of Costvud in the north, but if the army hurried, it could reach Costvud first and assault while there were only 100 or so orcs there. This put the PCs in a dilemma, since their available forces could easily beat a company of orcs, even behind castle walls, but three or four hundred orcs in a castle would be a tough nut to crack. On the other hand, abandoning the Resistance at Fort Scrite to their fate wasn't a pleasant idea.

In the end, they decided to go to Fort Scrite. They arrived there a few hours before dark, while the reinforced orc company was coming up from the south.

The Battle of Fort Scrite

The PCs first obstacle was dealing with General Vaipnesterk. They had already figured that he was a general in Skyler's mode, but without Skyler's touch of genius that makes all-out charges work. He was also touchy and arrogant, and didn't want to let the western Resistance forces into Fort Scrite if it meant he'd no longer be in charge of the battle. After some quick discussion, Trahaern agreed to let Vaipnesterk stay in command - though they were already plotting to disable him somehow.

Things didn't get any better after they got inside. Vaipnesterk's plan of battle was an All-Out Defense of the walls, and it was already obvious that the orcs weren't going to attack until after dark, when their infravision would give them a substantial edge over the combined force. Arianna gave an inspiring speech and convinced several elements of the garrison to turn against Vaipnesterk, and the PCs took him out. I had warned them that an assault of on the Namdalside Resistance's leader would cause problems, but they figured those problems couldn't be as bad as having Vaipnesterk in charge.
Trahearn outflanks the orcs for massive casualties while Skyler grinds them down.

Trahaern and Skyler took charge and led an immediate assault on the orcs outside the walls. Giving up the substantial advantage of the fortifications was a loss, especially since they were taking additional penalties in the upcoming strategy contest for integrating the Namdalside troops into their own forces, but it was considered much better than fighting the orcs in the dark. At any rate, the orcish right managed to rebuff Skyler's all-out assault with moderate losses on their side, but Trahaern's flanking attack into the orcish left's "give no ground" defense was enormously successful, causing 80% casualties in the first thirty minutes. The orcs desperately reinforced their left flank, which didn't substantially change the odds against Trahaern but did leave them with insufficient forces to resist Skyler's assault. As the sun set, Trahaern demolished the left flank (with 85% of the participating orcs killed) and Skyler's force ground up the right flank with few losses on his side. The remaining 40 or so orcs fled into the night, but most didn't make it very far.

Not All Rumors Pan Out

Since the PCs figured they'd lost the race for Costvud, they spent a couple more days in the vicinity of Fort Scrite, recruiting troops and reorganizing. Then they headed north. On the way, their scouts brought them another intriguing rumor. At this point, I also pointed out that their scouts were always bringing them intriguing rumors, but in the interest of play time, I wasn't dealing with the ones that didn't pan out in any way. At any rate, Yunnah claimed to be descended from the aristocrats who lived in Costvud before the Empire of Night. Family lore was that they had fled through an escape tunnel that led to some caves about 3/4 of a mile away from the castle. There were three problems with using these caves to bypass Costvud's defenses: they were in bear country, they were definitely haunted as Yunnuh's uncles had died exploring them, and there was some confused family lore about some kind of guardian.

So we had a micro-dungeon delving experience. Trahaern confirmed they were in bear country and that they could expect bears waking up from hibernation and being hungry. The PCs still pressed in, and soon found a room with a trio of cave bears sleeping in it. Ariana also spotted something weird about the shadows in the room - they were moving independently of the lights, and thanks to the burnt books she'd recovered from the crypt at Camp Liberty, she thought they were some kind of shadow monster that would be hard to kill without weapons that they did not have. All this prompted a discussion about the merits of acquiring bearskin rugs versus getting killed by hostile shadow monsters with unknown capabilities, strengths, and weaknesses. In the end, they decided to sneak past them.

They eventually found the escape tunnel - a narrow, 4' wide, 5' tall passage cut through the rock - but it led to a cave-in with a bunch of skeletons and pieces of moldy armor scattered around. There was also a 15' tall statue bizarrely built into the wall, and I don't think any of the players were surprised when it's eyes glowed red and it's one free arm started reaching for a boulder. Hloomawl yanked Yunnah forward, hoping that the Guardian was friendly, and Trahaern and Arianna started trying to talk to it.

As it turned out, the Guardian was missing most of its jaw and was pretty hard to understand. Kevin pointed out that it was weird that a magic statue wouldn't be able to talk just because it's jaw was missing, given that it wasn't like it had flexible lips or lungs or anything, but I said that magic works in weird ways. Arianna quickly called upon the forge god and carved something of a replacement, and while it didn't make the Guardian completely understandable, it was at least intelligible with effort now.

The Guardian wanted to fight the orcs, but it couldn't free itself from the collapsed ceiling. And even if it could, the passage was way too small for it to pass through. The PCs would need to come back with miners and shoring beams and whatnot, which they promised to do, but it turned out this rumor was something of a dead end in the short term.

Assault the Castle? Not yet

The PCs evaluated the enemy troop strength at Costvud. It looked like the orcs had rough parity with the Resistance forces, before counting the massive +9 Defense Bonus the castle would give the orcs. It might be possible to take the place, but it would hard. They briefly discussed surrounding the place and starving the orcs out, but realized the orcs would sally forth at night when their infravision gave them a substantial edge.

In the end, the Resistance fell back to Fort Scrite, which had a substantial village and a large town nearby, and started recruiting like crazy.

The Battle of Trevya

One of the orcs more impetuous company commanders, the imfamous Captain Erigash, decided that since the humans had retreated, that meant they were weak. He took about half the Costvud garrison and headed south to assault the humans.

Greex once again had better intelligence and recon forces, and orcs were ambushed on the road. This was a short, sharp battle: all the orcs might have had rough parity with the Resistance forces, but half the orcs were outmatched two to one in total troop strength and each individual special class, and being ambushed never helps. Within an hour, a couple of goblin wolf-riders and Captain Erigash and his bodyguards were fleeing north.

The Battle of Costvud

The Resistance reorganized and headed back up to Costvud. This was the final battle of the night, and was another overwhelming victory for the PCs. With their reinforcements, they had a huge edge in numbers (something like 2000 to 130 or so). Colonel Gulm handled Trahaern a little roughly and actually beat him in the first round, but Skyler's all-out assault against Captain Erigash carried the wall and inflicted a lot of casualties on the orcs. Once again, the orcs reinforced the losing flank, and once again, they managed to critically weaken their strong position in exchange for not materially improving their odds on the weak flank.

Arianna convinced Trahaern to let Captain Erigash flee, figuring that he much more of a threat to the orcs than he was to the Resistance, and we closed up the game with a great victory.
Resistance Movement in Blue, Orc Movement in Red.

Evaluation of Play

This was a pretty good session, all told. There were plenty of opportunities for role-playing, and there was some tension in the decision to go straight to Costvud or save the allies at Fort Scrite. I had planned with having two battles, and stretching it to accommodate a third through the pacing a little off, but I think it worked okay anyway.

I wouldn't have minded if the PCs had decided to attack the cave bears, even though it would probably have taken up the rest of the session, but I was also okay with the PCs sneaking past the bears. In a pure Dungeon Fantasy game, I would have probably forced the combat, or at least extracted more of a price for avoiding it. But this is a Fantasy Mass combat game, not a DF game, and I don't feel the same need to make every potential combat into a combat.

I think the players were disappointed that they didn't find a hidden passage inside the garrison. It's such an expected trope that if the GM offers it as bait, the players expect the pay-off. It was interesting, from the GM's perspective, to subvert that trope. And it's not like the PCs could really complain about their time being wasted - getting a Giant unit will do a lot make future combats easier.

One thing that may not have come through the write-up was that, although a lot was accomplished in just four hours of play, this was also a long session in game-time. A week passed with just a hand-wave, but there was still another twelve days of active campaigning that consumed half of April. I'm pretty happy with that, as it means the orcs are getting more time to prepare and get organized themselves. The Resistance forces are now overwhelmingly powerful against any lone orc company that they fight, so for this to stay interesting, the orcs are going to have to start banding together and getting reinforcements. Of course, the Resistance will start getting better troops, now that they can train and recruit openly and aren't just relying on hastily cobbled together formations of militia.

Technical Notes

Uhuk had some microphone troubles. Hloomawl also initially failed the Stealth roll to sneak past the cave bears right at the time the microphone cut out, and the PCs were almost forced into that combat because I couldn't hear Uhuk saying she wanted to use her Luck to reroll. We wasted a couple of minutes on that.

I'm continuing to refine the Mass Combat army tracker spreadsheet. The latest improvement is that each subcommand (currently Skyler's force, Trahaern's force, the garrison force, and the training force) has its own page, and there is a separate page that lists all the combined forces. Each page keeps track of the troops assigned to its page, and the unassigned troops of the same type listed on the combined forces page. This makes it a lot easier to split forces up since you can see at a glance what is available, and you can also easily record casualties on a subcommand's page and then see which ones need to be reduced on the combined forces page. I still need to make some more improvements and play with it some more, but I hope to release it to the wider GURPS community sometime this spring.

What Next

Next week, we'll focus on the other characters and their attempt to make contact with the Resistance in Otern. I have some vague ideas about what should happen, but I need to work out all the details and get everything prepared.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Giants throwing boulders in GURPS

Precis: I play with the math of the GURPS throwing rules for very strong combatants, and come up with a better solution using the slam rules.

While doing some prep work for New Dawn, I once again ran into the weirdness that are the GURPS throwing rules. This also came up in Mecha Against the Giants, but I don't remember doing much about it then.

The basic issue is that the throwing damage rules are scaled for human sized fighters with non-cinematic strength, and the assumption is that if you're throwing something that doesn't weigh very much compared to the amount you can lift, it must not weigh very much at all. Which is maybe acceptable when you're dealing with an average guy throwing a one pound rock at someone a dozen yards away, but falls to pieces when you're dealing with a giant, stronger than an elephant, throwing 100 pound boulders. Or when you deal with that giant's big brother, who is four times as strong, but throws those same boulders three times as far for the same damage.

I like charts and tables, so here's a table going into more detail on how far, and for how much damage, various ST levels can throw things under the standard GURPS rules

ST50 lb100 lb200 lb400 lb800 lb
603d @ 210 yds5d @ 150 yds7d @ 70 yds9d @ 50 yds7d @ 35 yds
904d+2 @ 315 yds4d+2 @ 315 yds4d+2 @ 225 yds7d+1 @ 135 yds10d @ 90 yds
1206d-3 @ 420 yds6d-3 @ 420 yds6d-3 @ 420 yds9d+2 @ 300 yds13d @ 145 yds
1507d-1 @ 525 yds7d-1 @ 525 yds7d-1 @ 525 yds7d-1 @ 525 yds11d+3 @ 300 yds

This table is nicely demonstrative. A ST 120 giant is four times as strong as a ST 60 giant, but the ST 120 giant throws 100 lb and 200 lbs for the same or less damage at the ST 60 giant, even though he can throw them three or six times as far.

The damage amounts are also unsatisfying. A ST 120 giant throws a 50 lb rock farther than a ballista can, but for half the damage, and the same with a 200 lb rock.

Slam Damage to the Rescue?

I was talking about this on the GURPS Discord chat channel last night, and mused that these boulders would do a lot more damage if they slammed into people. A 50 lb boulder has 29 HP, and does 1d of damage in a slam for every 3 yards per second of velocity. Presumably a giant who can throw a rock 210 yards can throw it faster than 10 yards per second.

Actually, if you do the math from the physics, an object thrown in a perfect 45 degree arc for maximum distance travels at the square root of 10 times the distance, in yards per second. If you calculate the slam damage for rocks moving at that speed, you get a damage table that looks like this:

ST50 lb100 lb200 lb400 lb800 lb
6013d+1 @
210 yds
14d+1 @ 150 yds12d+2 @ 70 yds12d+3 @ 50 yds14d @ 35 yds
9016d+1 @
315 yds
20d+2 @ 315 yds22d+1 @ 225 yds22d+2 @ 135 yds22d+1 @ 90 yds
12018d+2 @
420 yds
23d+3 @ 420 yds30d-1 @ 420 yds32d+1 @ 300 yds28d @ 145 yds
15021d @ 525 yds26d+2 @ 525 yds34d @ 525 yds42d+2 @ 525 yds40d+2 @ 300 yds

To me, this is a much more satisfying table. Stronger giants throw big rocks for farther, and much harder, than weaker giants. The optimum rock for damage varies with the strength of the giant, in somewhat reasonable ways.

The only problem is that calculating this damage in play requires performing an ugly square root. That's not necessarily a huge issue for me, because I can write a spreadsheet to do the math, but here's a simple table that pre-calculates it:

Max RangeSpeed
10 yds or less10
30 yds or less15
100 yds or less30
300 yds or less50
1000 yds or less100

Just for grins, let's compare this table with it's breakpoints to the table above:

ST50 lb100 lb200 lb400 lb800 lb
6014d+2 @
210 yds
18d+2 @ 150 yds14d+1 @ 70 yds17d+3 @ 50 yds22d+1 @ 35 yds
9029d @
315 yds
37d @ 315 yds23d+2 @ 225 yds29d+2 @ 135 yds22d+1 @ 90 yds
12029 @
420 yds
37d @ 420 yds47d @ 420 yds29d+2 @ 300 yds37d @ 145 yds
15029d @ 525 yds37d @ 525 yds47d @ 525 yds59d @ 525 yds37d @ 300 yds

Generally, all the damage got a bump, of around 25 to 50%. That's not great, but some things are going to have to be sacrificed for speed of play.

Calculating it In Play

So now I want to see how this works in play, both using the standard rules and these houserules.

The situation is a bunch of delvers are fighting a 18' tall giant with ST 75. He grabs a 270 lb boulder - a rock about 16" in diameter -   and then throws it at a delver.

Standard Rules

The giant has BL (75 * 75 / 5) or 1125. 270 lbs / 1125 is just under 0.25, so his throw distance multiplier is 1.2 for 90 yards of range and thrust damage at -1 per die. If the giant chucks the boulder and hits, the target can expect to take 8d+2 -8 or 8d-6 damage, averaging about 22 points.

House Rules

The giant can throw the boulder 90 yards, so the boulder's speed is 30 yards per second. The boulder has about 50 HP (Campaigns p 558). 50*30 / 100 is 25d, for an average of 87 cr damage on a hit. That delver had better dodge!


Strong giants, or strong superheroes, throwing big rocks can do a lot of damage under these rules, perhaps too much. I don't mind large objects moving fast (30 yards per second is 60 miles per hour) doing a fair bit of damage, but people aren't routinely killed by being hit by a motorcycle at 60 miles per hour, though it's certainly a concern.

I'm not sure what the correct answer is. I like these rules better than I like the standard GURPS rules, but the damage is probably too high. I think that's an artifact of the slam damage rules, especially the extra HP for unliving and homogeonous objects compared to people of the same weight. Reducing the damage by half for unliving objects and to a quarter for homogeneous objects would do a lot to bring things under control while still smoothing out breakpoints. It'd also get rid of a minor weakness, where throwing a living creature (like a knight) does much less damage than throwing a boulder for the same weight.

Actually, what I really recommend is doubling damage for living targets and halving damage for homogeneous objects. If you do that, the ST 75 giant throwing a 270 lb rock does 12d+2 cr, which is a lot, while if he throws a ST 16 knight (weighing 270 lbs with gear), he does 2*16*30/100, or 9d+2, which is still a lot but fairly reasonable.

I think, in play, these rules wouldn't be any worse than the standard GURPS rules and they feel slightly more reasonable to me.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Some More Experiences With Technical Grappling

Precis: I evaluate my group's experience with Technical Grappling, and conclude that the minor permanent increase in complexity sometimes pays off but its very borderline.

Doug Cole noted that Peter Dell'Orto had been using Technical Grappling in Peter's Dungeon Fantasy game, and Peter wrote a post about his group's experience with it.

My online group has also been using Technical Grappling, for at least two years, in a variety of games: +Uhuk of the Guard's Dungeon Fantasy game, my Mecha Against the Giants, my Castle of Horrors, and now in my New Dawn game. Along the way, I've had to ask questions once or twice to get clarification on how things work in Technical Grappling. I wouldn't say I have a great grasp of Technical Grappling, but I've certainly used it.

Peter gives a great overview of the relative complexity of Technical Grappling versus the standard GURPS system, and there's nothing in there that I really disagree with. Technical Grappling is a little more book keeping, but not much more, and is sometimes a little more confusing than the standard rules, but it does let you do more.

The difficult question is whether Technical Grappling's complexity is worth it? To me, it's very much a borderline answer. In my experience, there's basically two instances when grappling occurs:

  1. A specialized grappler initiates grappling, with the intent of turning the victim into a pretzel or wearing them as a hat or whatever
  2. Someone initiates a grapple as the least bad option out of handle of bad options, like when someone is disarmed and goes for a grapple because it at least keeps them in a combat

In both cases, the target of the grapple has very little incentive to counter-grapple. In the first case, the target is almost certainly worse at grappling than the grappler is, and struggling with the grapple is probably a worse plan than counter-attacking with a melee weapon or going into an all-out defense and hoping allies can get rid of the grappler. In the second case, whatever the target had been doing was apparently working just fine, and there's little reason to switch tactics just because the guy who was getting the worse of the exchange tried to change the game.

This can work for the PCs, of course. +Kevin Smyth had a barbarian beetle man wrestler in Uhuk's Chaos Scar game, and he used his ridiculous lifting ST, multiple arms, and mastery of wrestling to turn kobolds inside out and once pinned a dragon and broke its back while said dragon flailed away uselessly. But there was very little that Technical Grappling actually enabled; just about everything that Kevin's character did could have been done in a slightly more binary fashion with just the core rules.

My conclusion would be that Technical Grappling slightly increases the complexity and book keeping of grappling in play in 100% of the time when someone grapples, and that complexity pays off with an interesting new result in maybe 10% of the time when someone grapples. The complexity and book keeping load is just low enough that its worth it for those 10% occasions, but I could see how a different group would find the permanent complexity not worth the infrequent pay-off.

Friday, February 3, 2017

New Dawn Session 4: On the Misapplication of Forces

Precis: The Resistance Leaders at Camp Liberty fight a horrible monster, while the Resistance army conquers the orc stronghold of Swartun but lets the orc field army get away.

Last night was the fourth session of my GURPS Mass Combat Fantasy game New Dawn. It was a good session, with a fair bit of accomplishment and some humor and surprises.

Cast of Characters

New Dawn is a troupe style game, with each player having two characters. One team primarily does military stuff; the other team has been doing delving and diplomacy.

The Delvers

The War Leaders

Uhuk had to drop out before we switched focus to the War Leaders, so her character wasn't present.

We Don't Want To Fight That!

The session started where the last one ended: the Delvers were in the crypt of a ruined temple at Camp Liberty. They had killed a bunch of ghouls, but the exit to the room had been blockaded. Presumably the ghouls had put up the blockade, since it was clumsily assembled from charred wood. Ariana and Hloomawl had cleared, and smelled something awful in the next room.

The group assembled in a pretty lousy formation in front of the door. I'd told them to discuss their plans and then assemble, but they just assembled, so the archers were at the very back but otherwise exposed and Ariana and Hloomawl were up front. Hloomawl checked to see if the door was locked, and since it wasn't, opened it.

In the next room was a terrifying abomination of bodies, welded together by some unholy magic. The main mass was a 15' across pile of bones and gore, but there were two "arms" made of torsos, each about 12' long, and four skulls raising above the pile on spinal columns. Each skull was covered in rotting eyes. The eyes had been waiting for the door to open, and each one looked at a PC. The PCs had to make HT-5 rolls or take 1d of irresistible toxic damage. Since most of the PCs had a HT of 11, they took damage. Everyone also had to make Fright checks at a penalty, and some people had to spend Destiny to succeed.

At this point, there was quite a bit of chatter. Ariana wanted to retreat and come back with alchemical fire and burn the thing out, but everyone else had spotted charred books in the room and weren't sure that employing fire was a great idea. On the other hand, everyone agreed that fighting that monster wasn't a great plan, so Ariana closed the door.

The monster immediately began slamming into the door, trying to open it. Fortunately, Hloomawl and Ariana were just strong enough to brace the doors while Michael, Nayla, and Nesta frantically piled up the debris to make the blockade again. Eventually the doors were blocked again and everyone backed off, applied first aid, and contemplated what to do next.

Fighting the Abomination Try 2

The delvers wanted those books, since they might contain hints about how magic worked. They rigged the blockade so that Hloomawl and Ariana could dismantle it using ropes from behind cover, and Nesta got out an alchemical fire grenade to use when the monster made it into the room. Nayla retreated back into the crypts to get herself some cover, and Michael took a position to the side of the main door, but in Nayla's line of fire and in clear sight of the monster if it came into the room. I asked Eilmyn about that twice, but she was happy with the position.

Ariana and Hloomawl pulled the blockade away, the monster beat down the doors, and the fight was on! It started by moving into the room, almost running Hloomawl over, whaling at Ariana and Hloomawl with it's arms, and zapping people with the eyes of death. Nayla began calmly putting arrows into the eyes, disabling them. Ariana tossed a glass of holy water, but missed badly, while Nesta's alchemical fire mostly went behind the monster and failed to be very effective. Michael ineffectually peppered the main body with arrows, while Hloomawl smashed it with his flail.

After it got into the main room, it suddenly expanded the main body, throwing Ariana and Nesta back. Hloomawl was so big and heavy that he managed to stay on his feet and prevented it from even hitting Michael. But now that it was so close, Michael dropped his bow in favor of an oversized falchion and began chopping away. One of the arms got a good grip on Ariana and tried to choke her, but her ultimate armor protected her. Nesta cut it off a couple of seconds later.
Nayla has shot out two of the eyestalks, but the arms are flailing at Hloomawl and Ariana.
Nesta has been knocked back by the pfft effect.

The eyes continued to zap people, and everyone took at least a little damage, but Nayla won that particular archery duel. With only one arm left, and Ariana, Michael, and Hloomawl vigorously laying into it, it went down pretty quick.

The delvers investigated the rest of the crypt, which appeared to have been some kind of religious sanctuary before the orcs defaced it. Still, the ruined books were salvaged, and gave some hints about religion and magic - enough to give anyone who read through them a Dabbler perk or two in any combination of Theology, Religious Ritual, Occultism, or Thaumotology. Normally, that wouldn't be interesting stuff, but the way New Dawn is set up, that was actually pretty useful treasure.

At this point, Uhuk had to sign off for the night.

We're Off to Meet the Squallites

Finbar wanted the Resistance to make contact with the Squallite nomads living as refugees in the Virten Forest, and figured that since Michael was a Squallite from the Virten, he'd be an ideal guide. Unfortunately, Michael was under orders to not take anyone to visit the Squallites, so it was up to Nayla to track the Squallites.

I looked it up in the rules - tracking a large group of people, after a week, is a tracking roll at -4. Nayla is not a great tracker and just failed. The delving group didn't have any place to be, so they kept trying and failing. After two days of this, Michael had a change of heart and decided to go against his orders and take everyone to the Squallites. Fortunately, he did know the way and that took two days.

A Squallite Elder came down from a tree top refuge and talked to the PCs. I named him Gabriel, because I figured that Squallites had Hebrew names, based on the sample of one that I had. Eilmyn thought that hilariously, because apparently Michael's name is anomalous, especially for Squallites, and there's some other naming scheme. I didn't know, because she hadn't written that up in the character's background.

At any rate, Elder Gabriel laid out the Squallites' position: go away and stop bothering us. Everyone began pleading with him for more Squallite magical reinforcements, but he was unmoved. Finally, they badgered him into a bargaining position: if the humans abandoned the entire south half of Cape Har, the Squallites would permit the Resistance to recruit ten Squallite druids per month, though the Resistance would still be responsible for outfitting them and paying them.

This put the PCs in quite a quandary: they really needed to be able to recruit more wizards, and Squallite druids had a better training quality than what the few priests and wizards the Resistance could recruit from the human peasantry. So they really wanted the Squallite Druids. On the other hand, the Squallites were demanding that they displace several tens of thousands of people, including people the Resistance couldn't really speak for yet, in a move that would cripple the Resistance's tax base and ability to recruit armies.

At this point, Michael piped up, pointing out that the Squallites really did need to contribute more to the Resistance or it would lose and the vengeful orcs would overrun the Virten. As the GM, I don't think that would actually happen, but having his man on the spot argue against him quite cut the wind out of Elder Gabriel's sails. Nesta and Ariana proposed an alternate allocation of land that gave the Squallites control of most of the Virten and some open land south of the forest, and Hloomawl managed to win the diplomacy contest thanks to some hefty bonuses from Michael's argument and complementary bonuses from everyone else.

Eilmyn suddenly realized that the entire point of this negotiation was to get magical support from the Squallites, and she pointed out that in her original conception of the Squallites, they weren't a magical people. That was a surprising revelation, especially that late in the game. I overruled her and we moved on.

The delvers spent the rest of the day working out the details, and then went back to Camp Liberty. At this point, we switched focus to the War Leaders in the north.

Cracking a Walnut with a Sledgehammer

When we'd left the War Leaders, there had been some confusion due to the massive effectiveness of wizards. That had been ret-conned, and the Resistance armies were in the liberated town of Harbuck, with the displaced remnants of the orcish company on the road north of them. The Resistance armies, at that point, consisted of about 700 light and medium infantry, a couple of companies of pikeman, a platoon or so archers, two platoons of kobold sappers, a squad of Squallite druids, and a light artillery piece. Reports put about 40-90 orcs on the road, with about a third of that cavalry, and smaller forces at the orcish fortress of Swartun and at a nameless orc stronghold in the northeast.

Aisling proposed splitting up: she'd take some forces and finish off the orc remnants, while Skyler and Trahaern took Swartun. She grabbed some units, including the druids, and headed north. Skyler, Trahaern, and Greex went east and arrived at Swartun at the end of day's march.

Slightly after the Resistance force arrived from the west round, a squad of orcish infantry and a squad of orcish archers came down the north road. They were the garrison from the nameless stronghold in the northeast, evacuating an untenable position for the security of Swartun. Unfortunately for them, Greex's scouts spotted them coming and the Resistance ambushed them. With 1 to 20 odds in numbers against them, while facing a super general with artillery and archery supremacy, the orcs didn't have a chance and were wiped out before they recovered.
The Siege of Swartun. Skyler and Trahaern overrun the fortress from the southwest, while Aisling grinds
down an orc force to the northwest.

The next day, Skyler and Trahaern stormed Swartun. This went slightly better for the orcs, as they had a massive fortress, but they still only had twenty guys defending it and numbers count for a lot in mass combat.

Cracking a Vault with a Tack Hammer

Aisling went after the orc field force, but they headed east across the fields to pick up the Dons-Swartun road. They weren't faster than she was, but they weren't slower, either, and they managed to keep ahead of her until the second day when she used a forced march to catch up with them. She had enough light infantry to win the Reconaissance contest, and there was a meeting engagement within sight of Swartun's walls, but the orcs were surprised again.

Unfortunately for Aisling, she hadn't brought nearly enough forces to fight these orcs. They had cavalry, archery, artillery, and troop strength advantage and a slightly better general. Aisling had enough Gifted Commander advantages to almost offset the orc advantages, but her edge was slight. She raided them in the first round and attacked in the second, but her margins of victory were pretty minimal and the second round was a tie. The orcs retreated on the third round, and actually managed to beat Aisling, so they didn't suffer any more casualties. Aisling had still inflicted 20% losses on them before they fled, and that meant another orcish infantry squad died. Aisling again managed to reduce her losses to 0, but only at the cost of not pursuing the orcs any farther
The Liberation land is in white, while the new Squallite territory is orange on the lower right corner.
The remnants of the orc company are on the road to Rora. Grid is 2 miles to the hex.

The orcs fled cross-country, sliding around Swartun and ending up on the road to the last orcish stronghold in Engenstut Country. The Resistance armies reunited in Swartun and contemplated their next moves.

Review of Play

Like I said at the start, this was a pretty good session. I'm not saying it was perfect, but there it was entertaining and progressed the game's plot. Still, there was a bit of weirdness.

First off, I have no idea why the delvers, many of whom were run by veteran players, were so unprepared for the idea that the monster beyond the barricade would be dangerous. Most of them accepted that it was a boss monster and should be dangerous, but they were surprised by it anyway. I think they didn't expect the monster to be waiting for them to open the door, even though clearing the barricade wouldn't have been quiet. And certainly having everyone get tagged by the death rays woke them up to the danger!

The second attack was only slightly better executed that then first. Kiara was clever to hide back in the crypts, limited the damage she took from the death rays while using her range and accuracy to best advantage. Kevin, Uhuk,and Eilmyn were all over the place: I don't think Eilmyn ever realized that shooting the Unliving and armored bone pile with arrows was a waste of time, despite my emphasizing how little her arrows were penetrating, and I don't think she got that her sword was more effective against the arms than Ariana and Hloomawl's crushing weapons, even though I played that up in the descriptions of their blows, too. The use of grenades was a fiasco, too: neither Ariana nor Nesta hit, and they had enough grenades that they could have set up mini-mines for Nayla or Michael to detonate with arrows.

The monster, for what it's worth, was effectively four Eyes of Death, two modified Slughorns, and most of a Undead Ooze (all from Dungeon Fantasy: Monsters 1) all glommed together into one boss monster. I kept track of each element of the thing separately. The Undead Ooze lost it's Diffuse quality, because none of the PCs really had area attacks. The intent was that Nayla and Michael could shoot out the eyes, while Nesta could cut up the arms and Ariana and Hloomawl could smash the main body. My plan sort of worked.

Possibly the section that I was most disappointed with was the Squallites. This was supposed to be a fun little role-playing bit, with Michael hopefully deliberately leading the group in circles until they confronted him about how he wasn't actually taking them to the Squallites. It would have put the spotlight on Eilmyn. Unfortunately, the GM can set up an opportunity for a player, but the GM can't make them embrace it. Still, negotiations are usually interesting and it worked out. It just could have been better.

The battles went fairly well. I handwaved the ambush of the orc squads, which was the right decision, and only played out one round of the siege of Swartun to get a sense of how much the PCs outmatched their opposition. That still took longer to play out than I expected, and then the inconclusive fight between Aisling and the orc remnants dragged out a bit. Integrating Mass Combat elements into a well-paced session continues to be a challenge.

What Next

Aisling's little adventure has demonstrated that while the Resistance can defeat isolated companies of orcs, they pretty much need all their forces together to do that. That's something of a problem for them, because they need to garrison their west flank while they move east, and they'd also like to take some of their better troops and retrain and refit them. My feeling is that they should just summon as much militia as they can and not worry about the damage to their tax base, but I don't know what they'll do.

My current concern is figuring out ways to pace this campaign and provide interesting things to do without having the battles overrun everything. Obviously, the battles should be a focus of the campaign, but what I think I'd like to see is a climatic battle every session, with adventuring and role-playing interludes building up to that. I think about military fiction that I enjoy, especially Taylor Anderson's Destroyermen, and that's roughly how he paces his story. It's a good model to try to emulate.

I've got a possible role-playing twist for the War Leaders in next session, depending on when they do it, but I need to prepare it some more. For the Delvers, I think Finbar is going to send them into Orcish territory to make contact with the northern Resistance, and there's lots of possibilities there. Of course, I can only set up opportunities for the players to do stuff - it's up to them do take advantage of them.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Defense Strategies in Mass Combat

Precis: A quick review of the ways to get a Defense Bonus in Mass Combat

In my Mass Combat game, there's been some confusion about when a force can benefit from a Defense Bonus and when it can use the various defense strategies. I was pretty confused myself, and when I went back and rechecked the rules, I realized I was confused because the conditions are pretty confusing. So I want to write about all the conditions and what they require.

Mass Combat distinguishes between pitched and encounter battles, and mobile, encamped, and bunkered forces. As an additional complication, a force can be surprised or ambushed. How does all that effect available battle strategies?

Battle TypeForce ConditionAvailable StrategiesDefense BonusHouse Rule Defense Bonus
EncounterMobileAny but Deliberate Attack or Deliberate Retreat
No defenses except Mobile Defense on 1st round;
No retreat strategies on 1st round
EncounterEncampedAny but Deliberate Attack or Deliberate RetreatCan't get DBYes
EncounterBunkeredAny but Deliberate Attack or Deliberate RetreatCan get DBYes
PitchedMobileAny; can't choose Deliberate Defense after 1st round or at all without a DBCan get DB with initiativeWith iniative
PitchedEncampedAny; can't choose Deliberate Defense after 1st round or at all without a DBCan get DB with initiativeYes
PitchedBunkeredAny; can't choose Deliberate Defense after 1st round or at all without a DBCan't win initiative so can't get DBYes
PitchedMobile AmbusherAny but DefensiveGets DB even without a defense strategyYes
PitchedMobile AmbusheeMust Rally until confusion is cleared or Full Retreat; can't choose Deliberate AttackLost initiative so doesn't get DBNo
PitchedEncamped or Bunkered AmbusheeMust Rally until confusion is cleared or Full Retreat; can't choose Deliberate AttackLost initiative so doesn't get DBYes
PitchedBesiegedAny Defense except Rally, or RaidCan't win initiative so can't get DBYes

This actually turned out to be more confusing than I intended. Bunkered forces can never win initiative in the Recon contest (Mass Combat 29) but that means they can never win the initiative contest and can only get a Defense Bonus if they're lucky enough to have a mobile force trip over them in a forced encounter battle. Encamped forces can win initiative and force an encounter battle, but if they do, they don't get any Defense Bonus. This makes very little sense.

I double checked the Mass Combat errata and this is apparently how the system is supposed to work, unless I'm missing something.

I think the easiest and most understandable house rule is to rule that encamped forces always get a defense bonus unless they have the No Security posture.