Fast Playing Skirmishes

Arabs Skirmishing in the Mountains, 1863 by Eugène Delacroix
Arabs Skirmishing in the Mountains, 1863 by Eugène Delacroix

Recently the tide turned in the ongoing war between the elves of the Western forest, and the orcs who had settled in the ruins there. A series of defeats has forced the orcs into retreat. Rather than flee North into dwarven lands, or South where they would likely be subjugated by the Lich, they began migrating East, and established three settlements in the north of the Plains of Nalew. No one holds a true claim on this land, though there is a small human settlement, named Overton, at the confluence of the River Nalew and the Drall River.

The humans of Overton have obviously been distressed by this development. They appealed to the elves for aide, but the elves say they have enough orcs to worry about in their own lands, and are not interested in risking lives in solving human problems. To make matters worse, the orcs have recently erected a fourth settlement. This one south of the River Nalew, a day’s ride from Overton itself, and very clearly an encroachment on human territory.

Fortunately, the local adventuring party returned to town about this time. The mayor begged them for help, and they agreed to do what they could to get rid of the orc problem. Unwilling to take such a large force head-on, the players devised a more cunning plan. First, they did some recruiting around town, and found 10 able-bodied adults willing to join them in battle. Second, they approached the elves again, and laid out a plan which would minimize the risk to elven lives. They also reminded the elves that orcs breed fast, and allowing them to settle so close to elven territory would given them the opportunity to re-invade within 10-20 years. The elves agreed to lend the players 30 archers; but only on the condition that the only real risk be to the players.

The lynchpin of the plan was Betsie, the minotauress PC. For the most part, this has been a humans-only campaign, but I allowed one of the players to take control of Betsie when her paladin died and Betsie was the only friendly NPC around. The players figured that the Orcs, as fellow monstrous humanoids, may be inclined to trust Betsie more than they would trust a human. The plan was that Betsie would tell the orcs that the forest west of Nalew had ruins similar to those the orcs had occupied in the Eastern forest, and that ever since the tribe of Gnolls she’d been in charge of had been killed by humans, there was no one there to occupy the territory. (All of this was pretty much true). Further, Betsie would claim, the ruins were filled with treasure, which she would prove with a massive 5000gp diamond the players had recovered from the area.

The player’s hope was that the Orcs would agree, and she could lead each of the four colonies (one by one) into a bottleneck between a large hill and a river, where they’d be ambushed by the humans, elves, and the rest of the party. It was a solid plan. Or, rather, it was an insane plan, but one which met the minimum standard for logical thinking which constitutes a good plan in D&D. Shortly after the plan was made, one of our players had to leave, and we decided to play board games for the rest of the evening.

That was a month ago. I had that long to figure out how to handle the player’s plan. It’s a good enough plan that I didn’t want to simply have it blow up in their faces; at least not by fiat. Assuming that the reaction dice didn’t cause the orcs to attack her on sight, and the player made her case well enough, I figured the plan would go off. (Though no way were the orcs going to be dumb enough to go in one at a time. They were gonna get together with the other three camps, and march in there 100 warriors strong).

So how do I run this scenario? 100 orcs, 30 elves, 10 humans, and 5 PCs. Obviously I don’t want to model a battle with 140 NPCs at the table, because that would take a week and be immensely boring. I do want it to be random though, because that will create a more interesting scenario than one I’ve scripted. Given the small number of forces on each side of the engagement, I do want to track how many die, but I don’t want a battle between NPCs to take up too much of my time. It has to be about the players, and their actions during the combat. Those actions of the players should also have some bearing on the fight’s outcome, though, even if it’s small.

What I eventually came up with was based on the dice chain mechanic of DCC RPG. The chain I used was 1d4, 1d6, 1d8, 1d10, 1d12, 1d14, 1d16, 1d20, 1d24, 1d30. Each round, each of the factions would roll one of these dice against the other factions, killing that many members.

Assuming nothing went wrong with the player’s plan, the first round of combat would be a surprise round from the elves. I assumed they’d have plenty of time to line up their shots, so the opening volley from the elves killed 3d6 + 12 orcs. So most of the elves would make kill shots, but it wouldn’t be able to exceed the actual number of elves participating.

The PC who was in charge of the 10 humans had chosen a position a little removed from the bottleneck, and I told him it would take 1 full round of charging before he could get into position to attack. Once they were able to engage, I figured the humans could kill 1d10 – 2 orcs each round (as these are not trained warriors), and the orcs could kill 1d10 humans each round.

Starting on the second round (after the surprise) the orcs could kill 1d4-2 elves each round, with a result of 0 or less meaning they still had not spotted any elves. While the elves, now dealing with the chaos of battle rather than a well timed ambush, would be able to kill 1d30 each round.

While all of this was going on, the players would be in the thick of the battle. Each round they faced off against several different orcs (I invented 6-8 variant orcs to keep things interesting). These death-rolls would be be made openly between each round of combat, so the players could see how the battle was progressing around them.

The majority of play time during the battle was focused on the players, with brief interludes between each round while I rolled to see which combatants on each side had died. As the battle progressed, the ‘kill dice’ I rolled were modified by several factors:

  • No faction can ever roll a die with a potential to result in more kills than there are attackers. For example, the elves can continue to roll a d30 for as long as there are 30 elves, but once an elf dies, they move down 1 space on the die chain, to 1d24.
  • Once the orcs score their first kill against the elves, they’ve figured out how to spot the elves and jump up to a full 1d4 on the die chain.
  • Each round, as the elven positioning is further revealed, the orcs roll a die which is one higher up on the die chain.
  • Each orc the players kill will be matched by the elves, who gain a +1 on their kill roll. The result cannot exceed the number of remaining attackers.
  • Any PC knocked to 0HP or lower, or who flees from the fight, will give give the orcs a boost of 1 extra step up the die chain.
  • If the PCs successfully kill 5 orcs in a single round, the elves will rally and receive a +10 to their kill roll.
  • Once any of the 3 factions is reduced below 20 members standing, roll a 1d20 morale check each round. If the result is equal to or lower than the number of fighters standing, the faction will press on. If the result is higher, then the faction will break and flee from the battlefield.

These rules only took me about 20 minutes to come up with, but it seemed like a solid method of running a skirmish like this. And it did work pretty well in play, though I did end up straying from the plan a few times when I lost track of what had happened. The players did succeed in slaying the orcs, though with only 10 elves left alive they may want to watch their back if they ever venture into the Western forest again.

Any of my readers have a better method of running a battle like this one?

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

2 thoughts on “Fast Playing Skirmishes”

  1. The closest I’ve gotten to a large battle was when, in my AD&D game, the players were ambushed by 27 lizardfolk. I initially divided the Lizardfolk into 9 groups of 3. The party ran away after two rounds of combat so anything further wasn’t necessary.

  2. I like the way “An Echo, Resounding” does things. It basically considers each unit much like a single monster, with HP, AC, etc. There are a few other mods, such as allowing high level characters to fight as an entire unit, but the whole system looks pretty slick. It also contains some nice simple domain mechanics.

Comments are closed.