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.

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