Friday, November 4, 2016

New Dawn: A Mass Battles Campaign Concept

I'm not dead. I just haven't managed to write anything for a while.

I'm still running Nu World. I'll write up the many sessions that I've run sooner or later. It's been a fun game, though sometimes frustrating.

Today, I want to jot down some thoughts about the next campaign I'd like to run. I don't know if I will run it, but I'd like to.

New Dawn

Some time in the early noughts, there was a D&D setting (called the Midnight) that was basically Middle Earth, but only if Sauron had won. The concept was that the PCs would be the resistance, striking back against the orcish oppressors. It was a neat concept, but it didn't mesh very well with D&D3e mechanics and never really went anywhere. It's something that could work pretty well in GURPS, I think.

Another thing that's been on my mind recently is GURPS Mass Combat. It's one of the neater yet more useless supplements for GURPS: a reasonably playable system for conducting large scale battles in GURPS, determining the outcomes, and finding out how they affect the PCs. It's mechanically interesting, well researched, and probably pretty playable, but I've never had a GURPS campaign where it would be useful. I'd like to justify my purchase of that book, so obviously I need to come up with a campaign concept that centers around mass battles.

The Pitch

Centuries ago, valiant heroes strove to defeat the Dark Lord. They failed, and his dread empire conquered the civilized lands. Hundreds of uprisings and rebellions have been launched against the Dark Lord, but he and his minions have triumphed over them and launched savage reprisals. These days, the Resistance consists of little more than scattered cells, training in secret and hoarding their last few weapons of war.

Rumors speak of great events: turmoil in the capitol, including the death of the Dark Lord himself at the hands of his lieutenants. It is said that brave souls in the Isenmarch have successfully slain the governor there, and once again free men administer their own lands. If the Resistance has succeeded once, it may succeed again. You and your comrades are brave, cunning, and determined. Can you overthrow the Shadow and make a new dawn for freedom?

Character Roles

New Dawn supports 5 niches:
  • The General: High levels of Leadership, Strategy, and Tactics, probably some Luck and Charisma, and stuff like that. The overall battlefield commander of the Resistance forces and the PC that has to understand the Mass Combat rules the most.
  • The Spymaster: High levels of Intelligence Analysis. Does Intelligence Analysis stuff in the Mass Combat minigame and is probably some kind of Face, Assassin, or Archer in personal combat.
  • The Spellcaster: Every adventuring party needs someone who does magic. Probably doesn't directly contribute to the Mass Combat minigame.
  • The Champion: The best melee fighter of the adventuring band. Contributes to Mass Combat through individual heroic action.
  • The Scout: The best ranged fighter and sneaky observer of the adventuring band. Contributes to Mass Combat through individual heroic action during the Reconnaissance phase.
There's another specialty, the Quartermaster, which could be picked up by anyone because it's pretty boring.

Depending on people's preferences, the Scout and the Spymaster could be consolidated together, as could the General and the Champion. It might also be possible to have two Spellcasters with different specialties.

The Funnel

I'm considering starting with a funnel: each players creates 4 or so characters worth 60-150 points (exact level to be determined), equips them with leather armor and wooden farming implements, and then goes and ambushes a half dozen orcs in heavy mail with battle axes. The most memorable survivors get promoted to one of the above niches. I think it could be fun, but it could be really grim.

Even if I don't do the funnel, starting characters are going to have pretty minimal equipment: no metal items, all weapons converted from farming equipment, stuff like that.


I don't know if this is how I'd like to handle magic in the game, but this is how I'd like to do it:
There's a distinction between arcane magic and divine magic, but not it terms of what they can do. Arcane mages can heal, divine mages can blast people with fireballs. The difference is in how they learn and how often they can do stuff: arcane casters learn from books and reliably cast many small effects each day, while divine casters simply pray and unreliably do a few large effects each day.

Basically, arcane casters use College Ritual Book magic or something like it, while divine casters use Divine Favor (but probably can't get Learned Prayers. Maybe. Still thinking about it).

There are two gotchas in the magic scheme. First, the Resistance doesn't know the names, rituals, or theology of any friendly deities, so there aren't any Divine casters in the Resistance until people quest for that information. Obviously, Team Evil has its own deities that provide Divine Favor. Second, using arcane magic to directly or indirectly harm someone* causes corruption, so Resistance Wizards either need to be buffers and supporters or accept that they're going to slowly go crazy. I think it's a neat idea, and something I've tried in other games, but my experience is that players hate that.

* I'd probably expand that to violations of any of the 7 laws of magic from the Dresden Books: No harming people, shapechanging, reading or control minds, necromancy, time travel, or demon summoning.

Basic Plot

This is a rough outline for the first few sessions:
  1. Ambush the patrol orc: The Resistance kills some orcs to get some steel weapons
  2. Defeat the Local Garrison: The Resistance recruits farmers from the nearby villages, and then fights 100 or so orcs. This is the first Mass Combat.
  3. Expansion: The Resistance improves its troops, suborns villages that are farther away, etc. At some point a larger orc army shows up and has to be defeated.
From then on, the game shifts between individual action around diplomacy to get new allies, quests to find rare artifacts, and that kind of stuff; and mass battles when orc armies attack or are attacked. At some point, someone in the Dark Lord's capitol is going to get their act together enough to send a large, prepared army out to destroy the Resistance.

Open Issues

This is still a work in progress. Things I need to figure out below.
  • Multiple commanders and multiple fights? Having one guy, the General, make all the decisions in Mass Combat might be annoying for the other players. On the other hand, maybe only one or two people even want to deal with the Mass Combat system, so that might be a virtue. If several people want to make Mass Combat decisions, the best thing to do might be to split up the forces into one front per player and then split up the enemy forces. Mass Combat assumes fixed forces through the length of a battle, so I'd have to make up some rules for reassigning forces between fronts and stuff like that. 
  • Point levels and templates. This is another one of those situations when Dungeon Fantasy is a good inspiration, but can't be used without modifications. I'm thinking 125-150 point base templates plus a 75-50 point lens to make the Resistance leaders 200 points to start, but more or less might be appropriate.
  • Magic: I like rare magic, but people might feel otherwise. On the other hand, in the Castle of Horrors game, there was overwhelming support for rare but interesting magic instead of common magic.
  • Races: My vague thought is to limit the initial Resistance members of humans, halflings, half-orcs, and half-elves, and then make everything else unlockable through quests. I'm not sure how useful that is in an RPG - you can't exactly decide to stop being the human General and switch to an Elf Spymaster halfway through the campaign.
  • 5 Niches, four of which doesn't really do much in Mass Combat, is maybe not so good for a game focused on Mass Combat. This goes back to the question of how many people actually want to be picking Strategies and calculating Troop Strength? It'd be great if there was a good way to distinguish two Generals, for instance. Maybe something could be done with Higher Purpose? "Higher Purpose: Hold the Line" would give a +1 on Defense Strategies, while "Higher Purpose: Cavalry Commander: gives the bonus for Mobile Defense, Raid, Skirmish, and Indirect Attack. That might work.
  • A map. Usually I kind of fudge the map details, figuring they can be developed in play, but if you're part of an expanding empire that stuff needs to be known in advance.

Campaign Wiki

I've started a campaign wiki for Empire Of Night: New Dawn. I don't know if I'll run this game but it doesn't hurt to be prepared.


  1. I would LOVE to play in this game if it ever made its way from cool idea to actual play. Here are a couple of things reading your writeup made me think about, in no particular order:

    - It would be awesome if there were also a logistical layer to this, both for verisimilitude and as another layer for tactics and strategy. How do I recruit more troops? How do I control or interact with towns, villages, settlements and the like? How do I pay my troops, equip and train them for a long campaign, and avoid having my structure for doing so smashed by the enemy? Conversely, since this is likely to be large part guerilla warfare, can I disrupt my enemy's resource structure?

    - This might be a nightmare to run, but one solution to the problem posed by the General is for the players to agree he has overall command and is responsible for both unified tactics and strategy, but when it comes down to actual battles, he only has direct control over 20/100/1,000 men (depending on the scale you want to go with here), while the other PCs have direct control over their own wings of 20/100/1,000 men (perhaps smaller than the General). For best results, force communication between captains (including the General) to take place asynchronously and with a chance of failure (runners carrying letters).

    - Multiple sides? Just because we all hate the orcs doesn't mean we're banding together. Maybe we're loosely allied, but ultimately have different goals, or maybe we're at each other's throats, too.

    Glad to see you've not given up on this space.

    1. Logistics
      There's a couple of things to address here. For the first few session, troops are either equipped with Poor gear (leather and converted wooden tools) or Fine gear (metal armor looted from the orcs) - and so obviously the PCs can't have more troops with Fine gear than the number of orcs they've defeated. At some point, the PCs get their own forges up and running/make an alliance with dwarves, and then I'm not sure. Mass Combat has rules for the cost of raising and maintaining troops, and I think those tie into the City rules somehow, so I'd probably extrapolate from there.
      One thing I'm sure of, I want to focus on the military and the diplomacy, and not on tax policy. So while the liberated cities may provide a budget, the PCs don't have much say in how large that budget is - just how it is spent.
      I hadn't thought about guerilla warfare, and I'd honestly rather focus on more straightforward fighting. The orcs probably conduct pretty savage reprisals, so it might be safer for the non-orcs to focus on either fully liberating an area or leaving it alone.

      Multiple Forces
      If it comes up, I'll just let the players divide up their forces however they like and then have the enemy divide up their forces into a similar number of commands/fronts. That's easy enough and picking 3-5 strategies for Team Evil isn't that much harder than choosing 1. The big question is how to handle moving troops between fronts, and my tentative answer is you can't as long as there there are enemy troops on that front. How to handle the results of smashing all the enemy troops on your front and then wanting to merge your troops with another allied front are something I'm still noodling on. ... Most likely the enemy will need to move troops the to PC's front, and take a horrible PB penalty and penalties on their other fronts, since the goal is to make sure a player that wants to command always has something to do.

      Multiple Sides
      All the PCs should be on the same side, at least to start. All of the Resistances and anti-orc races are clearly not on the same side: Isenmarch and wherever the PCs are from are historic rivals, which is why the PCs want to free their own lands and not wait for Isenmarch's forces to show up. And obviously the Dwarfs and the Elfs and whomever else the Resistance allies with are not necessarily in complete alignment with the Resistance's goals.