Friday, January 13, 2017

New Dawn Session 1

Precis: In the first session of the New Dawn campaign, the PCs ambushed an orc patrol, recruited a small army, and had an overwhelming victory in their first Mass Battles combat.

Cast of Characters

  • +Uhuk of the Guard's Hloomawl, a minotaur princeling and mighty warrior.
  • +Eric Schmidt's Nesta Bowen, a human master spy with a grudge against the orcs.
  • +Eric Schmidt's Trahaern ab Owen, a human master strategist.
  • +Eilmyn Davidson's Michael Jones, a Squallite archer.
  • +Eilmyn Davidson's Skyler Therris, a human reprobate, warrior, and general.
  • +Kevin Smyth's Aisling Mhic Muiris, a Nymph ambassador from the Fae court.
  • +Kevin Smyth's Ariana Rees, a human blacksmith and minor saint.
  • Kiara Schmidt's Greex "Wrongway", a cowardly kobold spymaster.
  • Kiara Schmidt's Nayla, a supernaturally skilled archer.
  • Finbar Gullvan, the old man of the Resistance 
Kevin recapped this session, too, for a view from a player's side.

Orcish Introductions

One of my favorite video games is Shadows of Mordor. You spend a lot of time fighting common orcs in that game, but at times a orcish captain will join the fray. When you start fighting the captain, there's a sudden cut-scene where the captain taunts you while all the orcs chant his name, and you might see a list of some of the awful and dangerous deeds he's done. I don't have the video or audio skills to do that, but one of things I'm doing with New Dawn is introducing each orcish leader with a little tagline. If the PCs have done any research on him, I'll probably tell them more about the leader but so far it hasn't come up.

I will almost certainly regret doing this, as coming up with the taglines is hard, but so far it amuses me. Each orc and his tagline will follow the header for the battle that he's in.

An Ambush

Sir Brolo - "Greatness comes from humble beginnings"
I like to start my games with an action scene, to get things going immediately. In this case, the Resistance of Engenstut County - essentially the PCs plus some NPC spear-throwers - were ambushing a patrol of orcs. The ambush had many purposes: acquire some metal weapons and armor instead of stone and leather; demonstrate to the countryside that the Resistance had what it took to defeat orcs; commit a provocation that would encourage the orcs to leave their stronghold. The Resistance were set up on either side of a steep-sided path through two hills, with the intention of attacking the orcs when their mounted leader made it into a bend in the pass. The orcs were on a routine patrol that they weren't taking seriously, with almost none of them wearing their helmets and the infantry not wearing their arm armor or gauntlets. This turned out to be significant.

The PCs' forces were strung out on either side of the path, and not set up super well. They had a nice ambush with their better archers covering the bend, but the melee fighters were set up too far up the pass. They had some of their melee fighters close to the mouth of the pass, but ironically those fighters were too close to the action and easy to spot.

As it turned out, the ambush almost failed when the orc leader spotted Aisling. People tensed up, but trusted the nymph to talk her way out of it, which she did. She Fast-Talked the orcs with a story about a bunch of kobolds attacking her and claimed the kobolds were just around the bend. The orcs formed up, but foolishly neglected to put on their helmets (overconfidence was a crippling disadvantage for the orcs) and charged up the pass. It was possibly something of a net loss for the PCs, since though the orcs were still surprised by the subsequent ambush, they were much less surprised and responded quicker.

At any rate, as the orc knight made it around the bend, Nayla put an arrow in his face. Even with HP 17 and HT 12, he still took a major wound and fell off his horse, unconscious. The rest of the orcs were surprised by this turn of events (IQ 9 and no Combat Reflexes) and things just degenerated for them from there. Ariana and Aisling slipped to the back of the orcish column and began clobbering the goblin wolf-rider archers from behind while Nesta, Traeharn, Hloomawl, Skyler, and Greex frantically repositioned themselves closer to the orcish infantry. Michael got off some shots of varying effectiveness: I think he nailed one orc in the face, but another shot mostly bowed off a DR7 steel breastplate. Nayla was much more effective, using her Guided Shot and Scattershot imbuments to telling effect: her first blast of shrapnel got a lucky cripple on one of the orc infantry's hands, effectively taking him out of the fight, and she put a shot into one of the wolves' face at 30 yards, dropping him and preventing the goblins from fleeing the fight.

Arianna caught a lot of attention from the orcs for a bit: a wolf jumped her but she blocked and retreated, then a goblin just missed her with a bow, and finally she took a crossbow bolt that penetrated her shield and heavy leather gloves to stick into her arm. She survived and continued to lay about on the orcs, but even a couple of hard hits to the face weren't always enough to knock the orcs down.

Back at the front of the column, Hloomawl closed the distance with a horn slam. The orc in question blocked with his shield, but Hloomawl penetrated the shield and the unarmored arm, knocking him down. Hloomawl's horns also got stuck, leading to the amusing image of 9' minotaur, bent over double at the waist, muttering, "Don't worry, I got this," as he tried to unstick himself. Immediately behind him, Skyler ran up and threw a hand axe into the back of an orc's skull, dropping him and rendering the orcs' attempts to fight back to back futile.

On the next round, Hloomawl freed his horns by trying to wrench the orc's arm off. He did a pretty good job, but not quite enough to cripple the orc. The PCs were quite impressed with the hardiness of the orcs. Skyler stepped forward and brained the orc with his barbed wire bat, Lucille.
Skyler and Hloomawl beat down the orcish infantry as Arianna and Aisling cut
off their retreat and Nayla, Michael, and the generic Resistance force rain down missiles.

The combat pretty much petered out at this point, with the surviving goblins surrendering. Two of the orcs were still conscious, but both were wounded and on their backs with Skyler, Hloomawl, and Arianna closing in while Michael and Nayla provided covering fire.


At this point, the PCs split into two groups. Hloomawl, Traehern, Skyler, Aisling, and Greex went off to recruit an army, while the other PCs went off to do something else. The logic was that whoever did the recruiting would also have to fight in the first battle, so the PCs stacked that team with their best leaders and persuaders.

My mechanic for recruiting was pretty simple: it took 3 hours to give a rousing speech in a village square, and success on a contest of Public Speaking versus average peasant Will resulted in 1 + MoS elements of levy medium infantry showing up. Anyone could use an Influence skill to give a complementary bonus, or people could work the crowd with an Influence skill and recruit 1 element of levy medium infantry +1 per 2 MoS. I mostly set it up that way because Aisling's Public Speaking skill is unreal and if the only option had been to perform complementary work with her, it would have been the Aisling and her backup band show. As it was, each of the PCs got their own chance to recruit: Greex rallied some kobolds, Skyler won some drinking contests, Hloomawl convinced people they could stand behind him and watch him kill orcs, and Trahaern made some appeals to patriotism. Aisling actually gave a reasonably ineffective speech (she's Intolerant of loggers, and the village of Trones is a logging community) but an ineffective speech by a nymph is still a massive success. Within a few hours, the PCs had recruited most of the people they could in Trones. I offered to let them go at it again, at -4 on all rolls, but they chose to move to another village and try again. Rolls were even better there, and since it was a smaller village, they recruited everyone they could ("except for the Mayor, the bitter drunk, and three guys that absolutely needed to stay behind to run businesses" as we eventually decided).

That was the first day after the battle. They could have spent another day recruiting, but they decided to spend it organizing their forces since they had 30 elements of Medium Infantry (with Poor equipment and Poor quality). I told them they could set up as much of their forces as they liked as Light Infantry (again, Poor/Poor) or a quarter of them as Pikemen in the form of a bunch of guys holding sharpened tree branches (Poor/Inferior quality). They had could have 1 Unit of Poor/Poor Bowmen using some of the captured orc weapons and the Resistance stockpile. As a houserule, I'd already said that a PC attached to an element could raise the troop quality for a single battle with a Leadership roll. Aisling took charge of the Resistance's lone light artillery (dubbed "Finbar's Folly" but it actually turned out pretty useful), Skyler led the Bowmen element, and Hloomawl had a bodyguard of Pikemen. Greex didn't have any Leadership skills and Trahaern was too busy commanding the overall battle. They had 7 elements of Pikemen, 8 or so elements of Light Infantry, and a mass of Medium Infantry.

The Battle of Trones

Captain Hugrash - "He's bad, and he's an ass, but is he a bad-ass?" 
Lieutenant Bruurt - "A calm head can still be lost in a disasater"

On the morning of the third day, some of the Resistance scouts put the heads of the orc patrol up on stakes in view of the orc stronghold. Captain Hugrash ordered his troops to armor up and prepared to sally forth to crush the insolent humans.

I had something of a personality in mind for Hugrash. He's a minor orc commander of an inferior regiment that was left behind to guard the countryside when the rest of the orcish forces left to fight the battle at the capitol. He's arrogant and not particularly skilled (Intelligence Analysis-8, Tactics-11, Leadership-12, Overconfidence 9 or less, no useful mass combat Perks or Advantages). His forces, generally a collection of Average troops with Good equipment, were penalized by being in Low Supply for reasons of economy and had half the TS they normally would.

Trones campaign theater, showing the
titular village, the orc stronghold, the town
of Harbuck, and the orc fortress of Swartun.

This was everyone's first experience with GURPS Mass Combat, and justifying my purchase of Mass Combat is the point of the campaign, so we went through the whole deal. First step was the Reconnaissance Contest. The PC's had a 2:1 edge in Recon Strength (mostly through overwhelming numbers) and had friendly locals. Kiara rolled for Greex and succeeded by 12. Hugrash, on the other hand, had unfriendly locals and wasn't taking basic route security options, so he was rolling at -6 and failed by 5 or so. Long story short, the Resistance trivially ambushed the orcs.

In the rest of the campaign, each PC commander will have their own fronts and there will be multiple mass combats going on at once, but for the first one, I just wanted to get through the rules with as little confusion as possible. Trahaern took command, and put his Gifted Commander: Slow and Steady advantage to best use by ordering a Deliberate Attack. The orcs, ambushed, were forced to Rally. The humans had a troop strength advantage, but the orcs had better class specials: the human pikes and artillery neutralized or countered their cavalry and (magic) artillery, but they still had more archers for a Fire bonus and mages for C3I bonus. Numbers and skill triumph over confusion, and the Resistance won the first round by 15 or so, inflicting 35% casualties on the orcs and gaining a superior position.

In the second round, Trahaern moved for a double envelopment (an Indirect Attack to take some advantage of his Gifted Commander: Cunning Commander advantage, though it conflicts some with being Slow and Sure) while the orcs went for a general attack. Trahaern gambled big, but won big with something like +17 on the initial contest and double that after his Indirect Attack, for another 40% casualties and more position bonuses. Captain Hugrash had taken injuries in the first round (Misfortunes of War are likely if you risk big and lose big) which had been described as Hloomawl getting close enough to beat on him a bit in a Significant Action. Hugrash took injuries again this round, as Skyler beat him unconscious in another Significant Action.

Orcish Lieutenant Bruurt stepped up, but the orcish position was untenable. He correctly predicted that Trahaern was going to order an All-Out Attack, and surprised Trahaern by ordering a Full Retreat, but Bruurt's net success by 1 was not sufficient to keep the orcs from being overrun by the humans who succeeded by 12 or so. Trahaern's roll was pretty bad this round, but +8 in positional bonuses and no casualties will make up for some bad rolls. The orcs took another 30% casualties, accumulating at 110%, and were wiped out.

We did some of the post battle accounting and ended the session on a high note. 55 of the orcs were killed on the field of battle, with another 34 successfully fleeing. Most of those survivors would be killed by Resistance sympathizers among the peasantry, but a handful (mostly goblin wolf-riders and a knight or two) would survive the 40 mile journey to the orc fortress of Swartun. Meanwhile, the Resistance got $240,000 in loot, including a couple of suits of Fine plate harness from the orcish officers.

Review of Play

So this session started out a little slow. 5 players, most with 2 PCs, a horde of allied NPCs that the GM had to run, and a mass of enemies makes for a long battle. That was somewhat helped by a lot of the orcs being stunned, either from surprise or via damage, and not doing much. I was a little sad about that: I wanted an orc or two to recover and rampage through the PC's lines, demonstrating just how dangerous an orc was. Ariana took some hits, but there was never anything really impressive. Still, the awful endurance of the orcs who sometimes took multiple hits to the face without stopping did impress the PCs.

All in all, the starting ambush took two and half hours to play through. That didn't leave much time for the recruitment and mass combat, but it did come in just under the clock so no harm dead. I had an optional encounter in my notes, where the orcs would send out a second patrol and the PCs would ambush it again, but this time with they'd have their captured orcish metal weapons and armor. I didn't run that, because the initial ambush was such a success that there wouldn't have been much contrast in the second, and because it would have taken up too much time. Oh, well.

As another minor note on tactics, I expected the PCs to station Hloomawl much closer to the mouth of the pass, and have him enter the fight by jumping off the hillside and landing on an orc's shoulders. It would have been amazing, and I actually looked up the rules for it. But Uhuk wasn't feeling so well and didn't think of that.

The recruiting section went well. I was surprised that the PC's stopped early, but they were right that they had sufficient forces.

The battle actually went very smoothly. There were a few rules look-ups and a couple of minor mishaps (Trahaern ordered a Deliberate Defense on the first round, which isn't legal for ambushers, but it wouldn't have made a difference in the outcome) but things mostly went pretty well. I'm going to need to experiment more with maptools to see if I can make tracking some things easier, as there was a little confusion about modifiers at various points. Still, it went well, and it was a massive victory for the PCs at the very end of the session, so things ended on a high note.

Much like I anticipated yesterday, the PCs are already becoming pretty potent. They have a lot of money and a fair amount of high quality armor. Skyler potentially has a magic weapon. Common orcs are still going to be a threat, but if everyone has DR7 or DR8 armor then fights are going to have a differnt quality than if only one side is wearing DR2 leather.

What Next?

The Resistance has a lot of things to do, and hopefully people will decide what do to do over email. They'd probably do best to continue the current military campaign with their current forces, and try to overrun the the undersupplied and spread out Orc garrison companies while they can. Sooner or later the orcs are going to start retraining for war and consolidating their forces. The orcs can theoretically field over 10,000 troops in Hanist alone, so a force of 300 militia is not going to cut it. The PCs will need to balance liberating the countryside with recruiting new troops and sending old troops back to re-equipped and retrained with looted weapons.

That's on the Mass Combat side. This game is also supposed to involve some delving and diplomacy. Currently, there's not a lot of good options for that, but I'll try to think of something and present it. Delving may not show up until the fourth or fifth session, though.

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