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Saturday, November 19, 2011

You know what could be fun...

...For the next campaign, the one I want to do with the chivalrous knights? Make the object of their ultimate quest be really far away, so it turns into an epic journey through exotic lands too. I was thinking if we start of in our alt-England, as good Christian cognate Knights (or Squires, I am getting a whole Pendragon vibe from this idea too) we send them all over the Feudal Alt-European world and have encounters with the Fairy realm too. Then we throw them into a really hostile environment like, an alt-Muslim world they have to travel through, maybe with an alt-Crusade or Jihad in progress. Then I can use all of those cool things from middle eastern myth and legend for a while, and all the stuff that medieval Europeans thought about the lands of the Saracens. Then, if they survive all of that, make the object of their quest be someplace REALLY exotic, like an alt-Indian sub-continent, with all the cool stuff from there, exotic thoroughly Pagan culture, Nagas, Rakshasas, Yetis. I guess the object of their quest would have to be like the "Legendary Crown of alt-Alexander the Great" or something like that, an artifact that will unite all the nations of alt-Christendom under one true King maybe? Maybe that's the only way they stand a chance to hold back the combined onslaught of the Heathen alt-Saxon horde and the alt-Muslim Jihad?

The other thing is that I am going to go deliberately anachronistic with this, take a setting that is essentially 5-6th century and dress it in the clothes and attitudes of the high medieval period, but romanticized; so it's more Morte D'Arthur than historical. That way I can have tournaments and heraldry and all that AND get all the fun of migration era invasions. Well, that and I'll be adding in magic, miracles and fairies. I am also about 95% sure I am going to adapt the "birth sign" table from "Fantasy Wargaming" to AD&D too, it's been a while since I looked at it, but as I recall it shouldn't be too difficult.

I also had a thought that I could wargame this out, as a referee, with another group using the Warmachine rules and a hex-map, like the module X10: Red Arrow, Black Shield did in The Known World. I would set them up as two teams and then let the PCs in my AD&D game live in the living world at war being created by people other than me. I think that could be cool, because I, as DM, really wouldn't know how the war was going to end, where battles would be fought, what unholy alliances might be forged, there are a lot of possibilities there.

If this group was really interested, we could fight pivotal battles out using Battle System too, I certainly have enough miniatures for it. I have both AD&D versions of Battle System too, and 2nd edition's Battle System Skirmishes; I've never really had a chance to play any of them, does anyone have a recommendation of which is better? The only time I ever had an opportunity to run a really epic miniature battle in an AD&D campaign I was running I was a senior in high school. 1st edition AD&D Battle System was out then, but I didn't have it. There's actually a pretty epic story associated with that.

My buddy Darryl and I spent a couple of days "dumbing down" the AD&D rules to make them suitable for mass combat, and a few more days making counters because we realized the size of the force the PCs had recruited was vastly greater than the number of miniatures that we as a group had, even scaling them at 20:1. We also lacked variety of unit and monster types, so counters it was; several hundred on construction paper, 3/4" square, hand written in pen, color-coded to type. I saved them for years. They got used once. I don't have the mass battle rules we came up with anymore either, they were probably a victim of my mother's purging of everything I owned and cared about but didn't take with me when I went away to college; I don't know what her criteria were, but it was a pretty brutal purge, gaming stuff, comics, books, magazines, Star Wars & Battlestar Galactica cards, they all got tossed pretty much at random. In one particularly bizarre case, my copy of Avalon Hill's Gladiator- she tossed out all of the counters and playing pieces, but left the rules, game board and gladiator sheets. Fortunately, I was young and didn't have that much yet.

Anyway, I ran the bad guy forces and the PCs and Darryl, who was not a regular member of that D&D group but was a pretty avid wargamer as well as being a regular D&D player in another group, ran the good guy forces. The PC Barbarian, Osric*, had used his "Summon Horde" ability, which was part of the reason there were so damned many troops on the field. For weeks leading up to the assault on the main BBEG's castle the party had been traveling around and calling in favors and hiring mercenaries, including a fair number of humanoids and giants. They had pulled together an alliance of all the petty squabbling lords in the vicinity and those lords had called out their militias in addition to their household troops.

The weeks of set up leading to a climactic assault should have gone really well as an epic end to the campaign, but there were a few things I didn't plan on. First, Darryl was staying over at my house for the weekend, and we were playing the battle out in my parent's basement- I know, D&D players in the basement sounds pretty clich├ęd, but it was where we had room for the 4'x8' table to set the battle up on. Oh, yes, I forgot to mention us spending the time to faithfully draw the entire castle and it's surrounding terrain out on a 1" graph sheet overlay for that 4'x8' table, that we also had to draw. To be clear, we took large sheets of cardboard and drew 1" square graph onto it, so that we could then use it to draw the entire prospective battlefield. I suspect that this kind of effort was why Darryl was so invested in seeing through to the end a battle in an AD&D campaign in which he was not a regular participant.

All in all, I thought it went well, although the assault ended in defeat for the PCs and their army, I figure that's the breaks in any battle, there's always a chance of defeat. I don't subscribe to the theory of D&D as a tactical miniature battle game that I, as DM, am expected to lose week after week. Smart adversaries will fight to the best of my ability, within the limits of fairness. Luck sometimes turns bad for the good guys (PCs), sometimes it goes the other way too. The regular players were pretty pissed about the outcome of the battle, and I guess I should have seen that coming. Darryl and I were seniors in High School, the regular players were all younger, the oldest was Lance, who was a year behind Darryl and I. Over the course of the evening, the battle took so long to set up we were barely starting when the youngest players started having to go home. Maybe we should have started earlier, I don't know why we didn't, it probably had something to do with my parent's going to church, they are Seventh Day Adventists, honestly I was lucky to be having the game at their house at all.

The PCs had a pretty solid plan, they had hired on a bunch of giants, at enormous cost, to be living siege engines and batter the walls of the castle from all sides while simultaneously maintaining a fairly constant rain of arrows and magic down on the defenders of the walls. They had calculated that they would make several breaches in the wall simultaneously, and then they would concentrate on assaulting those breaches and taking those sections of the outer wall. This might have worked, but Lord Evil Bad-Ass had his henchman, Evil Demon Summoner, Gate in a Type VI Demon, who convinced the Chaotic Evil Giants (Frost & Hill) to switch sides to a man, and they were more numerous than the rest of the Giants on the field (Stone & Cloud, plus one lone Storm Giant, the party had botched negotiations with the Fire Giants), this led to some serious Giant on Giant violence and then a few Giants rampaging their way through the allied army towards the hills. I don't remember if any of them made it. Evil Demon Summoner, for his troubles, got hit the next round with two Fireballs and a Flamestrike, it wasn't pretty.

At this point, as I recall, pretty much every regular member of the D&D group had to leave and we considered calling it a night, but Darryl convinced Lance and me that he had the situation under control and could still pull this out. I was young and still game for more action, so I didn't bother to listen to the little voice in my head that told me that the regular players might be disappointed if they aren't there for their final victory or pissed off if he loses the battle for them. So away we went and we duked it out until dawn. He did manage to inflict massive casualties on the evil forces, but at the cost of nearly the entire allied army. However, the entire Barbarian horde that Osric summoned was destroyed, almost to a man, simply forcing their way into the outer gatehouse under heavy fire, Osric died there. They took the outer gatehouse and were on their way to taking the entire outer wall, but then I gambled and lowered a drawbridge and charged across and forced the good guys back and out. Darryl made a few tactical errors, he kept certain troops in reserve because he didn't trust their reliability after the Giants turned coat; in one case because I refused him access to a Monster Manual and he couldn't remember if Lizard Men were Chaotic Evil or not, and didn't want to lose them to the Demon, in another case because he was meta-gaming and knew that a trusted party NPC was actually an Assassin sent to spy on the party. He had helped me design the rules for this shindig, and he had helped me make all the counters, so he knew what she was, but the party had assigned her command of a fairly important unit that he refused to commit to battle after they left because he was sure that she would betray them and take her troops with her, which was kind of unrealistically paranoid. As it happened, in her "character arc", her loyalties had already switched to the party and she was acting as a double agent, but Darryl didn't know that part because it wasn't necessary for game mechanics. When it was all said and done though, I can't say that the actual party would have done any better than he did. He tried to keep casualties, particularly PC casualties, to a minimum, it's just that assaulting fortifications isn't easy. He was downright heroic in trying to make sure he recovered every single PCs body if they dropped. I just should have waited and let the players from that game play the battle out themselves; if I had, then win, lose or draw, they'd have had no one to blame but themselves.

In the end, I don't remember how many PCs died there and how many Henchmen, but it was pretty epic, all of the PCs, except for Osric, got resurrected and the campaign continued, along a different course. I do remember that I spent at least a couple of Physics classes writing a long poem about the heroic death of Osric. That battle altered the entire game world forever, the PCs had to leave their homeland as hunted fugitives and all the formerly free peoples cursed their names for forcing that bloody, horrific battle. They moved to the more civilized and decadent south where they tried, more or less successfully over time, to rebuild their reputations as heroes and repair the damage they had done as best they could and to prepare the south for the coming of this growing tide of evil.

*Osric had originally been named Conor, but the other players mocked him mercilessly for being "Conor the Barbarian", so after months of play he got his name changed to Osric, which I had suggested as an Anglo-Saxon Barbarian name, and thus free of Conan association. The other players still called him Conor all the time though, just to piss him off. I actually rather liked the name Conor too.