Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Lost Colonies Session 44

This session saw the first major battle of the campaign as the party took part in eradicating the undead horde that they unleashed upon the elf lands. Unfortunately, I am not familiar with any kind of macro-battle system that works to my liking (not that I have had any burning desire or need to look very hard) and my group wasn't very much into the idea of running a large scale battle against the ghouls. What to do?

We began the session with a review of the situation for those who had missed one or more sessions. I then let the players plan, interact with NPCs, answered any questions and provided guidance as to what was available to them in terms of troops, equipment and terrain. The plan that they came up with was actually quite ingenious.

Their objective was to lure the ghouls along some cliffs (a major geological feature of the area) and then pummel them from above using both elven archers and boulder-throwing cloud giants. Ground troops could then encircle to cut off escape and take care of any stragglers.

In such cases, what I try to do in order to make the players feel like they had a role in the larger picture without having to resort to playing out that bigger picture is to remove one or more major pieces of their desired outcome. It is then up to the players to get those pieces back on the board. In this case, their plan relied heavily on the presence of cloud giants. Therefore, the session involved the party making sure that those giants could make it to the battle.

It turned out that the reason that Yellow Face and his charmed ogres and half-giants were able to so easily overrun the castle of the cloud giant king was that there was a traitor inside and that it was grossly undermanned. When the king disappeared, he took his personal guard with him. On top of that, the traitor convinced the queen to send out search parties.

By interviewing Ornak the Half-giant, the party learned that the search party going north was likely wiped out by another tribe of half-giants led by another spell casting Yellow Face. This group was most likely going to arrive at the undermanned castle prior to the undead horde.

The party, therefore, had to defend the castle and find one or more of the remaining search parties in order to be able to have any cloud giants available for the final battle against the ghouls. To my players' credit, they did both with aplomb and careful planning. As a result, I ruled that the battle went off as planned, although Dn. Swibish was certain that their had been around 2000 ghouls when they unleashed the undead horde but he estimated that the battle saw the demise of only about 1800. The party assumed the missing ghouls were due to the efforts of the former Winter King, which he had promised to the Summer Court before mysteriously disappearing.

I have to admit that this whetted my appetite for more larger scale battles — especially since the party is getting up in level and therefore is beginning to think in terms of building strongholds (indeed, the session ended with Dn. Goram and Dn. Swibish pooling their resources to build the first church in the elf lands and to commission an illuminated text of scripture translated into elvish). At some point I am going to want to give the party the opportunity to head up armies and not just a handful of henchman and followers.

Thus, I will end with a series of questions:

Have you ever run a big battle in your campaign? If so, what system did you use and why? How'd it work out?


  1. I haven't run or participated in a big battle in a D&D campaign, but you might want to check out Book of War by Delta or By This Axe I Rule by ckutalik.

  2. I did something similar to you when the party faced a large-scale battle: let them undertake a specific task crucial to the battle's outcome. In my case, it was an infiltration of a besieged city to ensure the gates would be open when the assault came. This made the fight more personal for the players and avoided lots of abstract dice-rolling.

    Regarding mass-combat systems, Blackrazor's B/X Companion (review: )has a simple system. I think there's one also in Mentzer's "Companion" rules, reprinted in the Cyclopedia.

  3. Zak had a pair of posts in September that might be of interest: Mass Battle Ideas From A Pendragon Hack and Experimental Samurai Battle. I haven't tried this myself.