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.

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