Saturday, June 24, 2017

New Dawn Sessions 17-20: The Liberation of Hanist

Precis: Two new players are introduced as the PCs in my Fantasy Mass Combat game finally liberate their home nation by defeating two massive orc armies.

I've been running my GURPS Fantasy Mass Combat game New Dawn for the last six months. There's been some changes in the player roster, but we're mostly settled down again and having a good time.

The last four sessions have focused on the final elimination of the orc threat from Hanist, which has taken a surprisingly long time. I thought it would take two sessions, but it's been four and could go to five.

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 but is branching out into military raids as the PCs become Mass Combat units in their own right.

The Army Team is usually
  • +Uhuk of the Guard's Attivi Valar - A budding sorcerer who's got tired of passive resistance.
  • +Eric Schmidt's Trahaern ab Owen - A war leader and brewer who has been waiting for his chance to kill orcs.
  • +Kevin Smyth's Aisling Mhic Muiris - A Sidhe war-leader and diplomat sent by the Fae Court to aid the Resistance.
    • Gharza Brokentooth - An orc sergeant and leader of some routed orcs
    • Rigar Gloomfang - An orc colonel and leader of other routed orcs
  • Kiara Schmidt's Greex "Wrongway" - Kobold spymaster and thief determined to lead his people to freedom.
    • Greex "Toadstool" and Brula "Bignose" - Two kobolds seeking justice
The army team only has 4 members because the new players haven't created their second set of characters.

The Covert Action/Delving/Diplomacy/Direct Action team is usually
Both teams were present in these sessions, switching in and out as we focused on various things.

In session 20, Ben Zittere joined us and played some of the NPCs. I was not certain that having someone else play some of my PCs was going to work, but it turned out to be really fun.

Resting Up, Making Plans

After the previous sessions, the players decided that they would take a break until the end of May in-game. This would allow them to give their tired armies a break, reorganize them, and let the first batch of new recruits finish training and report for duty. I warned them that the orcs would take the opportunity to do some movement of their own, but they said they were fine with that.

By this point in the game, I was beginning to feel that the PCs weren't being challenged enough fighting a couple of orc garrison companies at a time. My original notes for the game had a very vague plan of having the PCs fight partial companies, then lone companies, then groups of companies, then regiments, then legions as they worked their way up the Sorting Algorithm of Evil. For some reason, I decided that was a a bad plan and skipped past the regiments step to groups of regiments.

I started by creating a new map of the entire western theater of the war. The new map was at a large enough scale that individual villages and orc strongholds disappeared: all that mattered were counties and orc fortresses. Then I plotted out some movement for the orcs: about 2000 orcs in the northern half of the country moved to northern citadel of Landzby, while 3500 orcs in the south moved into the fortress of Rundbord. I generated commanders for the orcs - the northern orcs under Colonel Rolg were cursed with a Megalomaniac Lazy Bully with so-so strategic skills, while the southern orcs under Colonel Prulo had a mostly sane and defensive minded commander. The northern orcs had access to better roads and learned about the PCs' takeover of the capitol first, so even though their commander was lazy, they assembled first and were ready to move out on June 1st; the southern orcs weren't assembled until the 7th and didn't move out until the 11th.

The great thing about doing all this was that the orcs had plans that were established before I knew what the PCs were going to do. They weren't necessarily good plans, but they were plans. The northern orcs were going to make a leisurely march down to Ravenrock, which was still in orcish hands at the time, and cross the river on June 5th, besiege Elverum, and wipe out the Resistance. On the 11th, the southern orcs were going to leave Rundbord, besiege Grimstut on the 13th, and move up to Kristinsund by the 15th, with plans to hold there. If the northern orcs had wiped out the Resistance, the rebellion would be over, and if not, the southern orcs would hopefully be able to defend the Elverum-Kristinsund bridge, with heavy casualties. If the Resistance moved to fast and had forces in Grimstut, the orcs would fortify south of Grimstut and let the PCs attack them across that river instead.

My assumption was that the PCs would defeat the northern orcs at the Ravenrock bridge, and then get caught in a siege against superior forces at Grimstut. Looking for an out, they would use the flying boat and the covert action team (which at this point was roughly equal to an orc company by themselves, but with much better leadership) to raise Resistance forces in Mortilbaser, Buctun, and Rundbord, and cut the orc supply lines and starve them out. The orcs would counter and it would all be very exciting. Of course, the PCs didn't do that.

Establishing A Government

We started session 17 with a big role-playing scene: establishing the government. It has always been an ironclad rule of the game that it is very PC centric, and the PCs are the movers and shakers that everyone reacts to. The PCs are the de facto rulers of the Liberated Lands, whatever form of government there is, and they don't have to report to anyone. But it's also been a rule that NPCs are allowed to bitch, moan, and politic for their preferred positions, and at my prompting, the PCs finally decided to set down some rules.

There was a pretty interesting discussion about the pros and cons of monarchy versus a dictatorship versus some kind of junta, but apparently democracy was entirely off the table. It was all going back and forth when suddenly everyone agreed that Trahaern should be appointed Consul and made top dog. A ruling council was established, and various people were suggested for various roles before they arrived on this structure:
  • Consul Trahaern, absolute ruler for the duration of the Rebellion.
  • Ruling Council of Counts and other advisors, generally the heads of Resistance organizations in each county. Attivi got promoted to Count Duzen Iken. Ariana was made High Priestess. Hloomawl, as the most approachable of the main PCs who wasn't a general, became Tribune of the Army and representative of the enlisted soldier. Greex got the title of Speaker of Kobolds to represent kobold interests.
  • Aisling and Mikael were observers on the Ruling Council, as they were both representatives of allied nations.
  • Nesta and Nayla declined any promotions and continued to serve as individuals, but as the sister of the Consul and a suspected demi-god they probably still had a lot of clout.
After a couple of hours of this, we moved on to the orc menace.

The Orcs Move Out

On June 2nd, the PCs at Elverum received word that the orcs had moved south out of Landzby. They immediately made a forced march of the entire army to the Ravenrock bridge and began setting up fortifications. The covert operation team staged an aerial siege of Ravenrock Castle the next day, and mostly dispersed the orcs in a confused fight. Unfortunately for them, while they could beat 80 orcs in a castle, they would have gotten wiped out by 2000 orcs assaulting the same castle, so they did what damage they could to the Castle and retreated back over the river. The orcs, arriving at Ravenrock Castle that evening, were confused and spent an extra day sitting around doing nothing.

The Liberation Army waited on the east side of the bridge, recovering from their forced march and waiting for the orcs.

Army movement for Session 17: PCs in blue, orc gathering in orange, orc army movement in red.
White indicates the borders of liberated territory.

Ambush at Ravenrock Bridge

Colonel Rolg, who apparently was not very good at paying attention to current events, decided that despite the destruction of the Ravenrock garrison, his forces were undetected by the Resistance. He proceeded to have a parade across the bridge on June 5th. The Liberation Army was waiting on the other side, behind concealed fortifications.

In GURPS Mass Combat, assaulting across a bridge is hard: most troops lose half their effective strength for doing so. That was enough to put the orc army at close to parity in force strength with the Liberation Army, and Trahaern was a ridiculously better general with a ridiculously better intelligence chief. The orcs were badly slaughtered in the first round but managed to rally; they made a tentative attack on the second round and took another 40% casualties. At that point, Colonel Prulo would have need a critical success to Trahaern's critical failure to eke out enough of a victory to have his shattered forces retreat without being destroyed. He did not get one and 65% of the orcs were killed in the battle and the remaining 35% dispersed.

Of course, 35% of 2000 is still close to 800 troops. Most of the Orc survivors fled north, back to Landzby, but significant forces fled to Vartop and Avvinsee instead. The PCs decided to hold off on pursuit and shifted focus to their southern flank. They took the Flying Boat and did a long range scouting run on the orcs at Rundbord and discovered that army was even larger than the one they had just defeated. We ended the session with the PCs' army moving south to Elvby.

Changing Plans

The 18th session was the first one when we had Chris as a player. I made him play Himmel or Mikael, so if things didn't work out, he wouldn't disrupt the game by adding and then dropping a character. Fortunately, it worked out.

The PCs had originally planned to move their army south, hold the city of Grimstut, and face down the southern orc horde there. At the start of this session, they got a wild hair and decided to do clever and tricky stuff instead. The direct action team of Aisling, Himmel, Hloomawl, Nayla, and Nesta was certainly capable of conquering an orc held castle, and they figured they could use this to their advantage. The direct action team would raise a rebellion around Avvinsee and conquer the fortress but let some orcs escape to Rundbord. Then, in the PCs' minds, the orcs would march to deal with upstarts. Meanwhile, Trahaern's army would march southwest to Avvinsee and ambush the orcs from inside the castle.

What with one thing and another, this took longer to arrange than intended, and the PCs didn't make it to the area around Avvinsee until the 9th. They spent the day recruiting, and then marched their new army of 330 poorly armed peasants toward the castle on the 10th. They also spotted a group of orcs, routed at Ravenrock, getting lost in the hills around Avvinsee.

Aisling took Hloomawl and the flying boat to meet up with the orcs and convince them to switch sides. It was a bit difficult, even for her, but she succeeded and the PCs got a new army of disloyal and unequipped orcs. Militarily, they're not very useful, but they've set up a lot of role-playing fodder so that's worked out.

Meanwhile, Himmel made a forced march to reach Avvinsee, and the overconfident orcs came out to meet him. But without Hloomawl, the PCs weren't nearly as capable as they expected, and Himmel's habit of using high risk, high casualty All-Out Attacks didn't work out very well. The human army and the orc army took roughly equal casualties and Himmel failed both his Misfortunes of War checks in the first two rounds and was knocked unconscious. The leader of the Avvinsee Resistance stepped up to replace him and started using cautious, defensive tactics, but the situation was pretty bad and night had fallen. Fortunately for the PCs, the orc leader wasn't doing well on his Misfortunes of War rolls either, and he decided to break contact with 50% casualties on his force and 2 HP remaining. The human leader let the orcs flee and recovered their casualties.

Two days later, Trahaern showed up with 1200 troops and a masterful spy master. He rolled over the orcs in Avvinsee and got into a big argument with Aisling over her recruiting the orcs. There was a bunch of shouting but it was eventually resolved with the orcs not being immediately executed.
Army movement for Session 18: PC army in blue, flying boat movement in light blue, orc army movement in red.
White indicates the borders of liberated territory.

"Man, You Can't Trust Orcs For Anything!"

The PCs then tried to salvage the remnants of their clever plans. Trahaern's army started concealing themselves in Avvinsee and Aisling decided to use her secret identity as an orc collaborator to prod the Rundbord orcs into action.

At Rundbord, Aisling discovered that most of the orcs had left for Grimstut the day before. The remaining commander was about as lazy as an orc got, and although he was interested in the report that a bunch of rebels were besieging Avvinsee, he wasn't so interested as to actually do anything. Aisling eventually begged him for the loan of a wolf courier, and she took a terrifying overnight ride to meet up with the orcs.

On the way to Grimstut, Aisling encounter Colonel Prulo's forces of 3300 orcs. She told him of the siege of Avvinsee, but she couldn't convince him to turn his army around. Instead, he sent Colonels Rigar and Krag and their regiments (~1300 troops) back to clear the rebels out while his main force continued to Grimstut. Frustrated, Aisling slunk off . Then she realized that while she could magically broadcast her location to the Resistance and have them send the Flying Boat to pick her up, she couldn't encode the message or prevent the orc wizards from overhearing. She ended up spending the next day or two hiking to get away from the orcs and safely arrange a pickup.

The Brief Second Siege of Avvinsee

Colonels Rigar and Krag raced their forces up to Avvinsee, where they saw human rebels besieging the orc fortress. They immediately charged to the relief, at which point the hidden Resistance forces popped up from behind the walls and began letting loose on the orcs. Trahaern and Greex firmly had the battle in hand and the orcs failed to recover from the ambush on the first turn. Some 800 Orc troops survived to flee back to Rundbord, broken and abandoning their equipment. Trahaern elected not to pursue.

That was the end of the 18th session.

A Matter of Justice

We started the 19th session with a big role-playing scene. Another new player, Raven, had joined us and was playing Mikael while Chris was switching over to his permanent character of Sven.

A pair of kobolds timidly approached Mikael on the night of the 14th, after the Second Siege was over. They were new recruits to the logistics force after the Battle of Ravenrock Bridge, and had marched south with the orcs from Bergen. They had also recognized a pair of orcs from Aisling's new army as the orcs that had robbed and murdered their half-sister, and they wanted justice.

Mikael took the issue to Trahaern, Greex, and Hloomawl, and they collected Aisling and went to confront Sergeant Gharza. Sergeant Gharza was a new NPC, the highest ranking survivor of Ravenrock Bridge in this particular batch of orcs. Aisling wanted to make an example of how justice was going to be handled in her new army.

The kobolds identified Parz, Gharza's assistant, as the orc that had robbed their half-sister and Erigor, another orc, as the one who had actually done the murder. Aisling demanded Parz' punishment and Erigor's execution. Gharza attempted to defend the orcs in a fairly incompetent manner, at first disbelieving that anyone would care about kobolds and moving on to calling the kobolds liars and claiming there was no proof that anything had happened or that the kobolds had any claim to justice. Hloomawl and Trahaern got progressively angrier and eventually Gharza shut up. Aisling paid the kobolds out of her own pocket and Parz and Erigor got punished.

"How Was I Supposed to Know!"

The PCs were settling down to watch Erigor's execution when a herd of pegasii (Kevin swears this is the correct Greek plural of Pegasus) flew up to the castle and started circling around. Alarms were sounded, weapons were readied, and Greex had to defend himself against charges of being a bad spymaster. In his defense, the pegasii could fly 100+ miles a day, and it wasn't really reasonable to expect him to know about forces moving around behind orc lines.

In short, Sven was introduced: a brash rebel from the northern plains. He had rescued a bunch of pegasii from an Orc breeding farm, and was riding the biggest and most impressive of the studs. Magnus, the pegasus champion, was also introduced at this time, and I'm afraid I rather stole the show from Chris. As I played him, Magnus was vain, slightly dimwitted, indiscreet, and inadvertently hilarious. He insulted all the other PCs as a bunch of "piebald ragmuffins," though he acknowledged the red-haired nymph Aisling as "the good looking roan," called Sven a "sack of onions in the saddle" (rather unfairly, as Sven is an excellent rider), and was generally disdainful. He was gracious when he was invited to the Council of War, though.

Anyway, introductions were made and the PCs decided to use their new air support to keep track of the orcs. Trahaern reversed his army, heading back to Elvby with plans to move south to Grimstut. Himmel held Avvinsee with the militia against any orc movement to the north, and the direct action team loaded up the Flying Boat with plans to fly southeast and cut the orc supply lines by conquering Buctun, Mortilbaser, and the citadel of Soroverstine.

The Champion Meets the Smith

The morning of the 15th, the direct action team was armoring up and getting ready. Magnus ogled Hloomawl's expertly crafted armor, apologized to the prince of minotaurs for snubbing him the night before, and asked where he got it. On learning that Ariana had made it, Magnus dispatched Sven to acquire some for him, because it was beneath Magnus' dignity to talk to the "help". Sven protested the non-egalitarian attitude but decided to avoid a horsey snit-fit by talking to Ariana. She, in turn, was encouraged by her kobold assistants to turn out something in a hurry. Magnus was impressed by his new very fine chest barding, but whined that it would look better on him in black to properly set up the color contrast against his shining white hair. Ariana spontaneously learned how to cosmetically control metal and walked over and tapped the barding with her hammer, turning it black. Magnus was pleased and all the players were rolling on the floor with laughter.

Freedom for Cape Sood

The PCs put their plan to free southwest Hanist into motion by flying to Buctun and meeting up with an 80 strong army of Resistance fighters who had trained in the wood and were armed and armored with smuggled weapons. They spent a day marching their army to Buctun and then assaulted the fortress. Sven showed his chops as a command, forcing the orcs to retreat north (where, as it turned out, they got ambushed by the next bunch of Resistance fighters).

Army movement for Session 19: PC army in blue, flying boat movement in light blue, orc army movement in red.
Green indicates the arrival of Sven's forces and light green for the pegasii movements.
White indicates the borders of liberated territory.

The next day, the PCs made an effort to get started early. They assaulted Mortilbaser by themselves, dispersed the orcs, and hurried on to Soroverstine. They weren't as interested in taking control of this territory as they were in breaking the orc control; they were going to leave it to the local Resistance to secure the citadels. There was no chance that would come back to haunt them. At any rate, Sven was an amazing strategist and the orc commanders at the two fortresses were subpar; the direct action team easily defeated them.

The Failure of Cavalry

Colonel Prulo had conquered Grimstut and was moving toward Kristensund, sweeping the meager Liberation militia forces out of his way, when he learned about Colonel Rigar's and Krag's defeat at Avvinsee. Prulo immediately went back to Grimstut and began fortifying the castle there. He also began taxing everything in sight and started using the money to maintain his troops and start enslaving the militia survivors as living shields in his own army. Finally, he dispatched his last subordinate, Colonel Kilar, with all of their cavalry to take the unfortified city of Kristensund. Krilar also had orders to fall back if the Liberation army approached from the north, unless he could hold them at the Kristinsund-Elverum bridge.

When Trahaern's army showed up northwest of Kristinsud, with Sven's new light cavalry leading the scouting forces, I checked Krilar's abilities. He was another overconfident, offense minded, megalomaniac, and he failed his common sense roll to not tangle with Sven's cavalry. As Sven's cavalry was backed by Sven's skilled heavy cavalry, his Pegasii flying heavy cavalry, and eventually the entirety of Trahaern's infantry army, Krilar soon found outmatched, outnumbered, and surrounded. Krilar attempted a general retreat which turned into a rout, and of the 500 cavalry attacked Sven's forces, less than 200 survived to return to Grimstut. Krilar made it back but was immediately executed.

Balancing Act

The PCs noticed that there were 800 broken orcs at Rundbord, and after the direct action team finished conquering Groanridder castle to the west, they decided to do something about that. Aisling, Himmel, the Avvinsee militia, and the direct action team met up at Rundbord and started negotiating. The terms were generous: surrender and serve the Liberation with pay, or resist and be destroyed at Rundbord. After some hemming and hawing, Colonel Rigar surrendered. About half the orcs decided to join the army, and the rest are prisoners of war that the PCs don't know what to do with yet.

By this point, it was 9:10 my time. It was too late to run the battle with Prulo at Grimstut, but I didn't quite want to end the session. I quickly checked with the existing players if they liked Raven. The response was positive and I made sure that Raven wanted to continuing playing. That response was also positive. Raven had spent the week coming up with a new character, Zarathras the young dragon, so I decided to introduce him immediately.

Colonel Rigar took the PCs into his basement dungeon and showed them his most awesome prisoner: a baby dragon, muzzled and enchained. Hloomawl immediately freed Zarathras and there was a short introduction. That filled the remainder of the time, and we ended the 19th session there.

"Are you Monster, or a Man Eating Monster?"

The session started with more reaction to Zarathras. He was willing to join the Resistance, but the others PCs were wary of him. When Zarathras said that he wanted to kill and eat the orcs that had abused him, that didn't help matters. After a fair bit of discussion, Zarathras agreed that getting identified as a "man eating monster" would not do much for his desire to improve human-dragon relations. He then wanted to personally murder those orcs, but was talked down to just having them executed.

A Question of Conscience

On the morning of June 21, Zarathras and rest of the direct action team flew to meet up with the army that was marching on Grimstut. I had already told them via email between games that the Orcs were enslaving humans, arming them, and mixing them among their own troops. An all-out assault on the fortress would get those humans killed in large numbers, and since many of them were members of the Grimstut militia that had been overwhelmed by the massive Orc army, the PCs were reluctant to kill them.

True to form, my players had briefly debated what to do, failed to come to any decisions, and pretty much dropped the issue. So when it came up again in play, they still didn't have any plans. I said they could not use their archers against the Orcs, and that would reduce casualties, but it would also give the orcs a significant advantage in a siege that was only narrowly going for the PCs to start. The PCs didn't like that, and had a desultory conversation about what they could do. Short on ideas, they eventually decided to try to parley and get the orcs to surrender, or at least leave Hanist.
Army movement for Session 20: PC army in blue, flying boat movement in light blue, orc army movement in red.
White indicates the borders of liberated territory.

"Come, humans! Show me your strength again!"

Ben had asked to lurk on the game and offered to play some NPC parts if I thought that would help. I decided to let him play Colonel Prulo in the upcoming negotiations and gave him a quick sketch of the orc leader: convinced he was destined to win, certain of the strength of his defenses, and scared of Murzush, the fanatic orc commander of the garrison at Stinecrice who wanted revenge on the PCs. Ben happily stepped up to the task.

The negotiations didn't go well. The PCs didn't have much to offer Prulo except surrender on terms and exile from his country; Prulo wasn't interested. Aisling had been left been with the orcs at Rundbord, so the PCs didn't have a dedicated negotiator and their Intimidation skills weren't really all that high. Eventually the PCs turned away, but Nayla decided to break the parley and try to assassinate Prulo with a Guided arrow the eye.

Unfortunately, Prulo was expecting an attack and had two bodyguards; three shields snapped up and intercepted the arrow. Prulo immediately commanded all the orc crossbowmen on the walls to counterfire, and though the PCs ran for a couple of seconds, they were still well within range when 10 orcs fired at each of them. Ariana and Hloomawl managed to get their shields up, and Hloomawl even managed to block for Nayla, but Trahaern took a couple of bolts that penetrated armor and Zarathras, who had joined the negotiations in his human form (and without armor!) got perforated with three and almost forced into a death check. Hloomawl picked him up and the PCs fled as the orcs reloaded, and they managed to make it to a rough trenchline before the orcs reloaded, aimed, and fired.

Ben had Prulo taunt the PCs as they fled, which was a nice touch that I wouldn't have thought of and didn't have time to do anyway. Having Ben play Prulo really improved that entire scenario, as he was much more clever with his insults and bragging that I was, and it meant that I could spend more time with Murzush and his crazy rants. All that, and I didn't have to talk to myself when the NPCs argued!

Slow Learner

Trahaern decided to assault the castle at dawn the next day. Ariana took the time to summon a bunch of fellow worshipers of the Forge-God Volundr and have a big, long prayer to save the enslaved humans. With time and help, Ariana easily made the petition roll, and with the lives of many people depending on a miracle, she even managed to get a Good result on the reaction roll. Volundr assured her that the least of his works would not harm those pledged to his care, and (after recovering from her shock at unambiguously getting an answer, however cryptic it might have been) she went and told Trahaern that he could safely deploy his archers.

Zarathras had pretty good night vision, so he decided to overflow the castle and do some scouting at night. Of course, orcs and goblins have infravision, and could easily see the fiery hot dragon. I asked Raven how high Zarathras was flying, and he said 150 yards - beyond of half-damage range of most orc crossbows when fired at a high angle, but not beyond all of them. I had told him that were 300-400 orc crossbowmen, but he was confident in his armor and his speed.

Orc crossbowmen are pretty skilled, with accurate bows. 120 of them fired at an effective 300 yards after aiming for the maximum amount of time, and it worked out that about a third of them hit. Only 10 of them were in full damage range, and could potentially damage the dragon - but all of them were using bodkin heads. Half of the bolts penetrated his armor, nearly knocking him unconscious. Zarathras climbed 50 yards while they reloaded, and weathered the next volley easily, but he decided that scouting was for the birds and limped back to the Resistance lines.

A Short Sharp Shock

Murzush was one of the first player created NPCs in the game: Kevin had mentioned him as a particularly viscious orc with a magic weapon in an wiki article on example magic weapons for Enchantment Through Deeds, and I'd been meaning and forgetting to use him since then. He was originally the commander of the garrison at Duzen Iken, but I forget to use him and moved him to Stinecrice, where I forgot about him again. Then he was going to feature in the orcs in Session 17, but got busy and forgot again. So I decided to have a couple of rounds of personal scale combat at the start of the battle so Murzush could menace people properly. This maybe wasn't the best idea I've ever had, as it was already getting late and personal combat can be slow, but I figured I'd give it a try.

The scenario was that the PCs were leading the charge when the gates were breached, which was pretty reasonable given their Risk Modifiers and general tendencies. The orc commanders were on the other side, and a short range melee broke out (though orc sharpshooters on the walls were firing down intermittently on the PCs).
Murzush and his goons wrap around Ariana, while Sven and Hloomawl defeat Prulo.
Trahaern used his magic staff to jump over and behind the orc line and
Nayla stands well behind the PC line to provide fire support.

The combat was short, but not particularly quick. Blows were exchanged, people defended, and then Chris rolled double critical hits for his attacks on Colonel Prulo. Prulo burnt Destiny points to cancel one of the criticals, but the second caused a hit that rolled maximum damage on the dice (normal damage on the critical hit, go figure) and Sven managed to stab through Prulo's armor with a mighty blow. Sven's sword was also enchanted to explode for 1d cr ex as a follow-up, and Chris rolled maximum damage on that, too, x3 for an internal explosion. Prulo went from unwounded to nearly dead in a single blow, and fell unconscious immediately.

That was basically round two of the fight. I really wanted to resolve the Mass Combat and it was already 9:15 my time, so I ended the combat at the end of that round and moved back to the Mass Combat.

Trahaern the Ever Victorious

Trahaern launched an All-Out Assault on the castle walls into Prulo's defense. Prulo rolled well, and Trahaern didn't, but Prulo was Strategy-15 to Trahaern's Strategy-24 and Trahaern had a larger and better army. In the end, Trahaern edged out a victory at a high cost in casualties in the first round.
In the second round, Trahaern went for a Indirect Attack (ie, a feigned retreat to draw some of the orcs out) while Prulo defended again. This time, Trahaern won by 10, doubled to 20 for successful Indirect Attempt, and massacred the orcs to a total of 60% casualties at no losses. We didn't play out the last rounds, but Trahaern was at +11 over his starting point at this point and even the mixed result he got on the first round would have been an overwhelming massacre of the orcs with that much extra bonus. Trahaern put the surviving orcs to the sword, most of the human militia survived, and we ended the game.

After liberating Grimstut (again), I declared that Hanist was effectively liberated. There were still over a thousand orcs still in the country, but if they weren't capable of defeating a smaller PC army in with 2400 orcs, 12 fights against 100 orcs wouldn't be a problem against a much larger PC army (new recruits had been completing training and joining the army all through June). That was worth a lot of CP for each PC, so they'll hopefully even be more capable for the next set of challenges.

Review of Play

So this was a long four sessions, but each session was generally really good. There was a lot of role-playing and a fair bit of mass combat, and if the individual combat and dungeon delving was a little neglected, I consoled myself with the thought that Stinecrice had been three sessions in a row of that. My balance of gaming experiences on a per session basis is kind of wonky, but over the course of the campaign it's been pretty good.

The 17th session went pretty much how I expected, and the 18th session went off-script. Which is fine, because gaming is a collaborative experience and there's no reason to put the game on rails. The PCs did stuff that I didn't expect, and I rolled with it. It had the effect of splitting up Colonel Prulo's overwhelming force into three bite-sized chunks, which is what I expected in the end. They just took a different route.

The 19th session didn't advance the plot very much, but it was super enjoyable, and that's what's really important in a social and entertainment activity. I had pretty much written up Magnus on my own because Chris wasn't working fast enough for me, and I really got into the role of the slightly dim but very vain pegasus. Chris is an engaged and engaging role-player in his own right, and I felt bad for overshadowing him with his own horse, but he was a very good sport about it.

The 20th session was just a bit too much for four hours. I don't think it had to be that way: if the PCs had came in with a plan to deal with the humans enslaved at Grimstut, we could have done everything I tried to do in the session. Instead, there was a bit of dead time as they brainstormed. I was disappointed, but I can only provide opportunities for a great game: the players have to meet me part of the way. Sometimes they exceed that requirement and drive the game with little input from me, and sometimes they do a bit less and parts of the session are flabby. It's gaming. It will still a good session, just a little too packed and badly paced.

The 20th session was a good example of the emergent nature of the narrative in the game. In my planning for these sessions, I knew that Prulo was a defensive general, but I didn't know he was going to enslave the humans and cause problems by doing that. But after Aisling tricked him into sending half his army into defeat, he knew he wanted to fort up in a castle. And then he realized that he would need reinforcements, and since there was no reasonable source of Orc reinforcements at hand, he started enslaving humans. That, in turn, made the final battle for the Liberation of Hanist into a proper and challenging climax, as opposed to Trahaern just walking up with his army and knocking the place over. I was really pleased with how that worked out.

In four sessions, the group added two new players and a very active observer. Adding new players is always a challenge: even if they're the nicest people in the world, there's differences in expectations and social contract from their previous experiences. It worked out in the end, but there were a couple of rough patches.

"Is the character creation system ... as rigid as it seems?"

Both new players thought the character creation rules were restrictive. It was a difficult question to answer: on the one hand, PCs have to conform to a template, and there's only 6 major roles and maybe 7-8 minor roles that are any good, so there's only space for ~50 unique character combinations. And some people feel that working with any template on a freeform system like GURPS is too restrictive. On the other, I've edited the game world to support PC requests (Minotaurs were originally on the side of the Empire, while Tzavarim and the Fae weren't even on the map until the players requested them) and I'm pretty flexible about players going off template to achieve things that I hadn't thought of. So it was a combination of yes and no.

It worked out in the end. Chris got a rabble-rousing cavalryman on a flying steed (he dithered on riding bears for a while, which would have been differently awesome) and Raven got his dragon spellcaster. I am firmly of the opinion that if you're playing a generic fantasy game and the GM allows you to play a dragon, character creation isn't too rigid.

"Isn't Himmel supposed to be a good general?"

The other problem we had was that I started the new players on some old PCs. I did this because I wasn't sure the group would like them or that they would like the group. I think the group is fabulous but I get that we're not to everyone's tastes. I wanted new players to have a chance to test the waters and back out without changing the game world, so Chris played Himmel and Raven played Mikael.

The problem with Himmel is that while he has a big, easily defined personality of "lecherous braggart daredevil warleader," his character sheet was very unoptimized. Chris threw himself into the role with gusto, and everyone appreciated his role-playing, but his abilities as a general were subpar and he lost what should have been an easy fight. I apologized to Chris and optimized the character after the game, but the damage was done. At least I learned from my mistake, and I made sure Mikael was optimized.

Of course, Mikael had the opposite problem: even optimized, his personality was pretty undefined. "Secretive", "Snarky in combat", and "Soldier's Code of Honor" are not enough to role-play a new character. I'd asked Raven to go ahead and edit the character, but he didn't. So while Raven is a good role-player, he didn't have much to work with and his version of Mikael didn't contribute much to the game. That was one of the reasons I wanted to throw Zarathras in as soon as I could: I figured with a better character, Raven would make a better impression and enjoy the game more. That worked out okay.

Observer? Adversary?

Ben had seen the posting for new players and responded after we were full, but I mentioned we allowed observers and invited him to lurk. He responded by offering to play any minor or major NPCs. I've never had an Adversary player before, and I was dubious at first, but decided to give it a try. Which worked out really well, as Ben threw himself into his roles and really brought a lot to the game. I really appreciated having a second person who could speak as an NPC, because it meant two NPCs could have a conversation without it just being the GM talking to himself. I know I've mentioned that already, but it was really incredible from my side of the screen.

I've invited Ben to continue as an Adversary player, and possibly a co-GM if he wants it. I'm too used to having the final say in rule decisions to be really comfortable with a co-GM, but I am also very committed to letting the players have editorial control of the world and it would be unnatural to not let the Adversary in on the fun. Ben is mulling the offer, but at a minimum, he's going to continue playing minor NPCs. Which will require a little more work on my part, but the payout will justify the effort.

What's Next?

Next session is going to be some role-playing and some Mass Combat to chase the last of the orcs out of Hanist. I'm looking for a good next delve: one of the problems with the game, as I've set it up, is that most delve sites should have been looted by the enemy decades ago. I think I have a partial solution for that, but it's definitely a hole in the campaign set-up that I didn't realize until I got farther in.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

GURPS Mass Combat: Positional Warfare

Precis: Reducing casualties in GURPS Mass Combat should increase the value of Position Bonus, making for more interesting choices but slowing down battle resolution.

I've been running my GURPS Fantasy Mass Combat game for about six months, and although I generally like GURPS Mass Combat as a quick and simple way to resolve large scale battles and get on to the role-playing, there are some issues.

One that is particularly bothering me is Position Bonus and casualties. Position Bonus (PB) is an abstract value that a force using attack strategies can earn by winning a round of battle. PB improves Strategy rolls on subsequent rounds of battle. Casualties are losses to a force, inflicted in varying amounts to both the winner and loser of a battle round in varying amounts depending on the scope of the victory. Casualties penalize Strategy rolls on subsequent rounds of battle.

The way that the Mass Combat rules read, commanders are supposed to be paying attention to PB, attempting strategies to reduce the enemy PB and striking harder when they have the advantage. In practice, PB increases by 2-3 for a significant victory and by 4 for a decisive victory, while the relative shifts for casualties increase by 2-4 for a significant victory and 8 or more for a decisive victory. In practice, the bonus an attacking force gains from PB is rarely as much as, and often much less than, the bonus the victorious force gets from causing casualties.

It's a bit of a shame that PB doesn't play a larger roll in Mass Combat rules. The following is a house rule that attempts to make casualties less important and PB more important. As a side effect, it should reduce overall casualties for Mass Combat forces to closer to historical norms. More battles should end with a Fighting Withdrawal or Full Retreat after the enemy achieves a sustained (+6 or more) PB bonus, instead of ending when the losing side is wiped out.

Positional Warfare

Resolve the battle as normal on pages 32-38 of Mass Combat. The only change is calculating casualties (p 37). Take the casualty numbers from the Combat Results Table (p 36) and divide them by 5 if the inflicting force used an attack strategy or by 3 otherwise. Round down to the nearest whole number.

Casualties continue to cause a -1 to Basic Strategy Modifier for every full 5% casualties suffered.

Special casualty increases or decreases from battle strategy (winning all-out attack or deliberate defense, fighting a mobile defense or skirmish) are not changed. Nor is the bonus casualties inflicted or save by pursuing a retreating enemy or holding the field.

Example: Using the same base skills and die rolls as the Battle of Drake's Cross from the book, the situation changes. On the first round, Sir Richard's defensive victory inflicts 5% casualties on Strykland's force, while Strykland failed attack only inflicts 2% casualties on Sir Richard.
For the second round, Strykland is still suffering a net -1 skill due to casualties, and will again tie Sir Richard. As both sides are attacking and tied, casualties are minimal, with only 2% inflicted on each side, bringing the total to 7% for Strykland and 4% for Sir Richard.
On the third round, Sir Richard's attack is a win by 10-14. Strykland's loosing defense inflicts another 2% casualties, while Sir Richard's overwhelming attack only inflicts 10% casualties but nets him another +3 in PB.
At the start of the fourth round, Sir Richard is at -1 for casualties and +3 for PB, giving him an effective strategy skill of 15. Strykland is at -3 for casualties and +0 for PB, reducing his effective strategy from 12 to 9. (Though not stated in MC, the numbers for the start of the fourth round would have by -5 casualties, +3 PB for Sir Richard; and -11 casualties for Strykland, or 11 versus a 1). Sir Richard would get another +2 for an all-out attack, while Strykland would have been at a net 0 for a failed Parley (converted into a Defense at -1; Defense normally gives +1 to strategy). An average result on both die rolls would result in a margin 8 victory for Sir Richard. He would gain another +2 PB and inflict another 10% casualties on Strykland's force; Strykland's defense would only inflict 3% casualties (5% on the table, doubled for taking any casualties in all-out attack, and divided by 3 for Strykland's defense strategy).
In the book example, at this point, Strykland's force is supposed to have been wiped out but have actually only taken 80% casualties. Under Positional Warfare, Sir Richard has +5 PB and 9% casualties. Strykland has no PB and has taken 27% casualties. With his position untenable, Strykland attempts a Full Retreat while Sir Richard continues to ride him down with another All-Out Attack. Effective skills are 15 for Strykland and 19 for Sir Richard. Another average set of rolls see Strykland retreating with 0 additional casualties and no more losses for Sir Richard. The good knight now has to decide whether to hold the field (halving his casualties and reducing them by 5% will net him 0 overall for the battle) or pursue Strykland and inflict another 5% casualties for a total of 32% casualties but taking 5% casualties for his own force.


Positional Warfare changes Mass Combat a lot. Battles go on for longer and are more inconclusive: instead of being wiped out in the fourth round, Strykland successfully retreats with  more than two-thirds of his force intact. Attacks are also riskier: a minimal win results in few casualties and little PB gain, while a successful defense by the opponent results in higher casualties for the attacking side for no gain. Both sides have incentive to take Defense strategies, which convert to Skirmish if they both do, making battles even more inconclusive.

Strategically, the fact that most battles are resolved with the losing force retreating in good order, instead of being routed with 50% of the force permanently dead and the rest dispersed, means that the operational/campaign level struggle is also more inconclusive. Losing forces are not destroyed, but instead can retreat and regroup.

Overall, I think Positional Warfare improves Mass Combat, but it does slow at the cost of slowing down play and making battles less decisive. Standard Mass Combat has an advantage that if one force is clearly superior to the other, it can expect to destroy the enemy completely in 3 rounds of combat. Doing so takes a tolerable amount of time in play. Shifting that so that a superior force chases off an inferior force in 6 rounds, only to have to track them down and repeat the process two or three times until they're fully destroyed, might be intolerable in play.

I'd like to experiment more with Positional Warfare, but it's such a style change for my current game that I think the players would hate it. Everyone has gotten used to destroying the enemy in 2-3 rounds and resolving the struggle; switching rules to make combat less decisive would not be popular.

Monday, June 12, 2017

GURPS Mass Combat: Fragile Feature

Precis: In GURPS Mass Combat, Fragile troops are helpful as long as you're winning - but they cause problems when you start to lose.

This is a new unit feature for troops in GURPS Mass Combat. It's come up in my New Dawn game and I thought I would share it.

Fragile  GM-Assigned

The element is composed of troops who perform poorly under heavy stress. As long as they are part of a winning army, whether on the offense or defense, they act as their training and experience dictate. Should they find themselves losing, they behave much worse than their training and experience would suggest, refusing to move from safe positions on the offense and refusing to fall back from compromised positions on the defense.

If a force contains at least 20% fragile elements (by percentage of total elements or total TS), then the force commander has an additional -2 penalty to Battle Strategy rolls when choosing the Rally strategy or when rolling after losing the previous round of battle. The penalty is not cumulative.
This feature is characteristic of fatalistic warriors, braggarts, some monsters, and troops that have been reformed after being defeated. It is compatible with Impetuous, and many Impetuous elements should also have Fragile.

Fragile came up in play after the PCs started defeating large formations of orcs: even with 100% or more nominal battlefield losses, 30-50% of the enemy force would flee without their equipment (Mass Combat p38). That wasn't a big deal when the PCs were fighting 100-200 orcs at a time, but defeating 1600 orcs meant there were still upwards of 600 dispersed fighters. It seemed reasonable that people would want to gather those survivors up, refit and re-equip them, but it also seemed reasonable that those broken survivors would permanently be less capable. The Fragile trait is a way to mark such units of formerly defeated soldiers, but it's also useful for modeling the tendency of some historical armies to do well as long as they're winning and then fall apart very quickly at the first setback.

Friday, May 26, 2017

New Dawn Session 14 - 16: The Secrets of Stinecrice

Precis: The Resistance visits a mysterious stone circle. There they fight their way through several strangle battles and muddle their way through confusing puzzles. In the end, mysteries are revealed.

I've been running New Dawn on a more or less weekly basis for the past several months, and not writing up the sessions because I'm been lazy. However, the last month has been really good, interesting, and weird, and several subtle clues that have been in the game since the beginning finally paid off and I'm excited about that. I'm also ambivalent about some things.

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.
Eilmyn had to leave the game after the fifteen session. Her former characters got renamed and will become NPCs or temporary characters for players who want to try the game out for a session or two.

The Secrets of Stinecrice

The sessions started a little after the previous session. With all the local orcs defeated and the Flying Boat repaired, it was time to deal with some prophetic visions that Ariana had been experiencing: she felt the need to go to Stinecrice, a mysterious stone circle (like Stonehenge) nearly 100 miles deep into orc controlled territory. She'd also been having visions of extreme danger, death by a dozen different elemental hazards, so everyone stocked up on elemental resistance potions. Then they piled into the Flying Boat and headed upriver.

The magic of the boat only works for four hours a day. To maximize visibility and simplify navigation, they flew about the boat's maximum altitude of 100 yards, but that also made it easy for orc garrisons to spot them and they saw goblin wolfrider couriers being dispatched from hostile strongholds as they passed. As long as the boat was working, it was trivial for the PCs to outrun the couriers and the patrols they spawned, but they realized that those patrols might become a problem when they stopped for the night. In the end, they had just enough range to reach Stinecrice before the boat stopped flying, and that's what they did. I just laughed silently and wondered what they were going to do to leave the area.

Stinecrice itself was protected by some lightning throwers and a company of elite orcs: these orcs were both skilled in battle and not insane. Around ten orcs were in the immediate vicinity, with another ten close at hand as reinforcements, and both groups attacked the PCs as soon as they emerged from the nearby swamp.

The resulting battle was marked by some pretty poor tactics by the PCs but eventual victory anyway. Nayla and Mikael each attacked a different orc knight that was galloping toward them, but the combination of range and solid defenses meant they mostly shot up the knights' shields. Nayla did spend a couple of seconds laying waste to any orc priest or crossbowman that she saw, and those guys and the orc infantry were pretty ineffectual. The knights finally closed to lance range, but Ariana and Hloomawl defended against their lances and then the archers finished them off. The remaining orc infantry were quickly defeated.

At the magical stone circle itself, the team carefully worked their way past the defenses. When they got close, they were sucked into the weird glowing colors in the center of the circle and things got weird.

The Test of Faith

The PCs found themselves in a 30' wide, 30' corridor, made from an unknown smooth gray stone and uniformly lit by unknown light sources. Ahead of them, they saw a 30' wide pit with a 30' wide chimney above it and some glowing letters.

When they got closer, they could read the letters which said "The Divine are real yet ineffable. To accept the Divine wisdom requires a leap of faith." While they were puzzling that out, I privately told Kiara that Nayla could see a solid stone bridge across the pit, which she immediately walked across. Ariana and Nesta tried to follow her, but they could neither see or nor touch the bridge, and backed off. After some discussion, Ariana volunteered to jump across the pit and everyone else waited to see what would happen. Unfortunately for that plan, I told them that the nature of the place required each of them to choose before any of them saw the results. Mikael and Nesta, unsure of their ability to make the leap, each took a narrow ledge that allowed a safe crossing of the pit, while Hloomawl elected to jump. Ariana and Hloomawl easily crossed the pit and then everyone saw a flash of white.

The Trial of Metal and Wood

When I actually ran the game, I missed a step in my notes. I did run this next little bit later, and it works okay where I ran it, but I'd rather record it how it was supposed to happen.

The PCs found themselves in a 30' wide, 30' corridor, made from an unknown smooth gray stone and uniformly lit by unknown light sources. Ahead of them, they saw a 30' wide pit with a 30' wide chimney above it.

When they got closer, they saw five figures walk up the far wall of the pit - a big minotaur, a tall tzavarim, a large armored human, and two humans in mail. The figures were standing on the wall as though it was the floor. Then one of the humans walked vertically up the air, crossing the hall on the other side of the pit. The armored human and the minotaur then jumped up the wall while the other two edged up along a lip in the far wall. The PCs quickly realized they were watching themselves perform the Test of Faith, but they were too boggled to do much. When the Test of Faith completed, there was another flash of white light.

This time, the PCs found themselves in a 60' cubic room. They were standing on the floor. On each of the four walls, there was a metallic, demonic figure with a kusari, standing on the wall as though it was a floor. On the ceiling, there were four monsters made of vines, also standing on the ceiling as though it was a floor.

Obviously, this was incredibly confusing to map out. It would have been somewhat easy in a face-to-face game, because I could have used miniatures and flight stands and just put the figures at the right height. Using MapTools, which really only wants to have a single 2D map at a time, was much harder. What I ended up doing was drawing three maps: the floor/ceiling, the east wall/west wall, and the north wall/south wall. Each monster had three tokens representing its position on each of three maps, so the demon standing on the east wall had a token just off the east edge of the floor/ceiling map, in the middle of the east/west wall map, and just off the east edge of the north/south wall map. It took a little explaining, but pretty soon every got what was going on.

The map, midway through the fight. Most of the vinemen are unconscious on the ceiling and most of the demons are on the floor, but Nesta and desmon and dueling on the east wall.

The biggest downside to the maps was that I had use squares, instead of hexes, to get everything to line up consistently. As it turned out, adopting GURPS tactical combat rules to squares on the fly was probably more confusing that the 3D set-up.

The monsters were obviously hostile, and combat started. The vine monsters threw enormous barbed darts that could penetrate Ariana's armor and were near certain death for Nesta, Nayla, or Mikael. The demon's chains were magically agile and fast, and they could attack and defend with them. The demons tried to beat on people, but mostly the PCs dodged or defended and counterattacked. Ariana's magic shield destroyed any inanimate object that she blocked, so several of the demons lost their weapons pretty quick.

At some point, Nayla used an Imbuement. All the demons immediately freaked out and started concentrating fire on her, screaming "Not her! Not yet! The ward holds! Destroy her!" Hloomawl and Ariana did their best to protect her, but at some point Nayla got separated from them and knocked down. The demons didn't let up and she took a couple more hits, though at least one vine man on the ceiling managed to splatter one of the other demons by missing a shot at Nayla and hitting the demon instead.

Eventually, Ariana and Hloomawl managed to force the demons away from Nayla and pour some healing potions on her. Nesta had jumped onto one of the walls and ran up onto the ceiling. Her magic sword was perpetually coated in a dangerous poison, and while it was entirely ineffectual against the demons, it did a number of the vine men. They could regenerate 2 HP/turn, but she was doing 70+ damage per second to them, and they just couldn't keep up. We handwaved the rest of the battle because Demons of Old and Trolls (the DF Monsters 1 entries that I'd based these particular foes on) are not hard to defeat once they're down, they're tedious to defeat once they're down and I had more weirdness to get to.

With the monsters eventually defeated, medium large emerald and pearl appeared floating 4' above the ground in the middle of the room. Nayla tried to grab one but couldn't touch it. Nesta grabbed the pearl and Mikael grabbed the emerald and the whole room disappeared in a flash of light.

The Test of Purpose

The PCs found themselves again in the wide corridor, without the precious stones or any evidence of their hard fight in the previous room. Ahead of them were a pair of wide wooden doors and the glowing words To be a servant of the gods is to be the tool, not the work. Expect to be valued accordingly." The door opened to Ariana's touch. Beyond the door was a huge room filled with stuff: weapons, shields, tools, and various nick-nacks and items including a quill, a set of dice, and some hand mirrors. On the far side of the room, there was a dais and an altar, with a faded fresco behind it. As Nayla entered the room, she teleported onto the dais and didn't feel like leaving it.

The other PCs could approach the dais but when they got close, they felt like there was something else they needed to do and they stepped away. Nayla examined the fresco: much of it was hard to make it out, but it seemed to show an epic battle. Only two figures were clearly visible: a figure in black armor with seven spikes on the helm, and an armored cavalryman (or possibly woman) carrying a white asymmetric bow. As part of Nayla's unpublished backstory is that she briefly owned a mysterious white asymmetric bow named South Wind, and that she started being able to perform her uncanny feats of archery at that tie, this was extremely curious.

Hloomawl declared that he wasn't going to touch anything, and then he felt a gentle compulsion to join Nayla on the dais. Ariana observed that not only were there a lot of things, that there were three copies of each thing: one copy made of precious metals and adorned with gems, one copy made of steel or wood and well used but well maintained, and a third copy that was rusty, decrepit, and abused. After some hesitation, Araina took a set of damaged forge tools up onto the altar. Nesta picked up a set of well-worn surveyor's tools, and Mikael finally selected a well-worn gardening shovel. When they reached the dais, the room disappeared in a flash of light.

The Trial of Fire and Water

The PCs again appeared in a large room. This one was checkerboarded with 20' squares of ice and 20' patches of fire, with the PCs standing in the middle of one of the patches of ice. It was freezing cold where they were. In the adjacent fire tiles, they could see weird portals in the floor that seemed to lead to the diagonally adjacent ice tiles. A strange sluglike monster, armored in ice, stood by each portal in the ice square. In each corner of the room, in the fire tiles, stood a flame lord (as the DF Monsters 1 entry). There were weird distortions in the air by each flamelord, which turned out to be one way portals that opened near the flame lords and exited near the PCs.

While they were evaluating all that, the flame lords started throwing fireballs through the portals, at the PCs. The PCs immediately split up: Mikael charged northwest, Hloomawl charged northwest, Ariana charged southwest, and Nesta tripped on the ice. Nayla tried to fire an arrow through a one-way portal, but it didn't go through and hit the wall instead.

The ice slugs surged to attack, growing 12' long pseudopods. Much to Ariana and Hloomawl's annoyance, their icy armor not only regrew as it was damaged, it also fastened on to anything that touched them. Although the pseudopod's attack was weak, it was obvious that meleeing these ice monsters was a good way to get bound up in ice.

End of the session leaves the PCs in separate duels against ice slugs while the flame lords in the corners toss fiery doom at Nayla in the center. 
Nayla used an imbuement to try to hit one of the ice slugs, and once again, all the demons went nuts and started focusing fire on her. She got hit by a couple of fireballs but they were fortunately at a long enough range that the damage was diminished. Everyone else struggled with the ice slugs, and that's where we stopped play.

Over the break, people strategized and batted around some ideas for a bit. At the start of the sixteenth session, all that paid off. Hloomawl released his flail, pulled out a potion of Alchemical Fire, and set the slug he was fighting on fire. The ice holding him at bay quickly melted and he hurried over to give Nayla his potion of fire resistance. At the same time, Nayla tried to free Ariana by firing an arrow at the slug the priestess was fighting, but missed at hit Ariana instead. Gravely wounded, Ariana dropped her Fireproof prayer for Divine Might, growing huge and strong, which also made her strong enough to ignore the slug's attempts to shift her. Counting on her armor to protect her, Ariana pulled the slug through the portal into a fire square and quickly finished it off.

All the while, the flame lords kept lobbing fire at Nayla. She dodged and jinked and used her allies as cover  - sadly, Ariana got set on fire by a particularly potent fireball and jumped back through the portal to use the ice to put it out but fell unconscious. Mikael helped kill a couple of ice slugs and then launched scores of arrows into the flame lords. The flame lords had super-instant regeneration and were unkillable as long as they were in fire, but that didn't help much when they were taking 50+ damage a turn and they all fell to the ground. One last slug strove valiantly to kill Nayla but died slowly from fire damage from her magic bow.

Nesta had been protected by a Fire Resistance potion from the start. She finally reached a flame lord, picked him up, and dumped him into the ice. With his regeneration nullified, it was trivial to kill him. With the ice slugs dead and the flame lords easily nullified, I handwaved the rest of the fight.

When the monsters died, a ruby and a black opal appeared in the middle of the room. Ariana picked them both up, and the room disappeared in a flash of white light.

The Ultimate Test

The PCs appeared, unwounded, in a 30' hallway, without any of gems they'd retrieved. Ahead of them were four mudmen armed with great axes. Above the mudmen where the words "Blessed is he who lays down his life in the service of Divinity." The mudmen charged forward, all-out attacking with intent to decapitate with their axes for 6d+18 (2) damage. Only Nayla was spared.

Ariana, Nesta, and Mikael ably defended themselves, and the mudmen exploded into nothingness after attacking. Hloomawl alone gritted his teeth and took the hits. Surprisingly, and somewhat annoyingly, he was only dropped to -3xHP and change, and made every HT roll to avoid death, knockdown, or stunning despite taking over 100 HP in damage. His attacker, too, disappeared, and the hallway disappeared in a flash of white light.

The Trial of Air

The PCs found themselves - alive and unwounded - in a square chamber, devoid of air, but filled with a yellow poisonous gas. A 20' tall spire stood in the center of room, topped by a glowing yellow gem. Just below the gem was a sign reading "Fight your way through this, you meddling round-eared vermin. -K" Uhuk acidly pointed out that Hloomawl doesn't actually have round ears.

All of the PCs immediately began holding their breaths. As Mikael is a tall but very skinny guy and Hloomawl is a tall but very strong guy, it was trivial for Hloomawl to boost Mikael over his head, enough that Mikael could easily grab the gem. As soon as the touched it, the room disappeared in a flash of white light.

Judgment, Revelation, and New Mysteries

The PCs found themselves in a huge doomed chamber of white marble, laced with veins of gold and decorated in precious gemstones. An uncountable, unknownable, and shifting number of alcoves lines the walls, each filled with a divine power. The Gods spoke as one, and the power of the voices drove the PCs to their knees.

Each of Hloomawl, Nesta, Mikael, and Ariana were judged and found wanting: Nesta and Mikael lacked faith and were unwilling to make the ultimate sacrifice; Ariana had faith but misunderstood her role and was unwilling make the ultimate sacrifice; and Hloomawl, though possessing faith and willing to sacrifice, had refused to make himself a servant. There was some scowls and sniffing, but no one really disputed the judgment.

The PCs were then told, "The Usurper can not be truly defeated without the Hope. The Usurper has locked the Gods and the Hope away behind these five wards.You have destroyed one of the wards, but to to truly liberate your lands, you must liberate the gods and liberate the Hope. You must destroy the other wards." As they heard those words, they knew the location of the other wards.

Finally, Nayla was addressed individually. "Harbinger, Battle Maiden, Mistress of South Wind: You have failed before, and darkness has benighted the land. You have been given another chance. Free the Hope, defeat the Usurper, and bring a new dawn of freedom to the lands."

With that, there was a final flash of white light and they appeared, whole and unharmed, without the gems but with all the items they had used in Stinecrice, back on the surface inside the stone circle.

"I don't understand what just happened!"

As Ariana has Guilt Complex, Kevin decided that she went into despondency on learning that she'd failed her god. She dropped her magic hammer and started trudging off into the swamp. Hloomawl, a bit more sanguine, picked up the hammer and trotted after her. Nayla followed, complaining that she had no idea about what had just happened, why she'd been singled out, or how or when she had failed before.

The rest of the Stinecrice garrison was soon on the PCs' heels. The flying boat was no longer capable of flying, but it still floated, so Hloomawl improvised a pole and took it deeper into the marshes. The PCs spent the rest of the day dodging the orcs, occasionally battling groups of orcs, and restraining Ariana's suicidal urges to charge the orcs and end it all. The next day, they flew back to the army at the fortress of Hortskink and had a council of war.

They quickly realized that although they had a mission from the gods to destroy the other wards, there were severe difficulties in doing so. The closest ward was in the dwarf lands, which is an active war zone between the Empire and the last of the dwarves. Two of the other wards were on the far side of the continent. The fifth ward was possibly the closest, but it was in the middle of the Dodenrike, the lands of the dead where nothing lives. In the end, they elected to continue their plan to liberate the country of Hanist and move north to aid the dwarves.

After some prodding, Hloomawl recalled the legends of the Incarnate Hope: a group of demi-gods made flesh that had fought against Dread Emperor Karsen at the founding of the Empire and lost. As Karsen is generally depicted as a man in black armor with a crown of seven black spikes, and because of various other clues, Kevin and Eric figured it out: Nayla was the first of the Incarnate Hope to have been reincarnated, and she was charged to gather the others and strike down Karsen. It seems likely that all the PCs are potential demigods.

I felt this realization was a good place to stop the session, so even though it was a little early, that's when we stopped.

Review of Play

There's so much to say that I'm not even sure where to start. At the end, I think and then I'll work backwards.

Last things first: I'm very excited, but also a little ambivalent, about the fact that the game is embracing its epicness, and the scale of the epicness is revealed. It was always my intent that the PCs would become demi-gods, and though they aren't even there yet, that outcome is now openly on the table. I put clues about that into the backstory from the start, but I didn't play them up very much. The events at Stinecrice where the first time when those clues were really pointed out to the players, and they picked them up and figured them out pretty quickly. So that was a big pay-off and I feel really proud of them, for figuring it out, and myself, for threading that fine needle between "so obscure that you have to tell them outright" and "so obvious that there's no moment of frission when they put everything together."

The reason I'm a little ambivalent is because I feel like there might have been a bit of bait and switch involved. I'm not sure how true that is - it it really bait and switch to go from a very loose pastiche of Tolkien to an even looser pastiche of an obscure alternate setting for Legends of the Five Rings? That's what I'm doing, basically. I've been hinting for a while that I've been okay with the PCs becoming fantasy super-heroes. I don't think that fantasy super heroes was really in the original campaign precis, since originally the game was "justify Mark's purchase of GURPS Mass Combat" but I don't think that anyone feels betrayed by the change in emphasis.

Next I'm going to work backwards through the trials and testings, and doing the testings first. My concept for what was going to happen in Stinecrice evolved as I thought about it, but one thing settled out pretty early on: Stinecrice was both a challenge to defeat Karsen's defenses and a mechanism for the God's to find new priests. The challenge part settled out pretty quickly, but the search mechanism wandered around for a bit. I was on the GURPS Discord channel and saw a chance remark about tests that didn't test the PCs' ability, but instead testing their intentions. That really crystallized what I needed to do: come up with a bunch of tests that weren't so much about the numbers on the sheet or even the cleverness of the players, but on their willingness to do things. I didn't want to make them too easy and I really didn't want to make them too hard: I knew that at lot of them would possibly come off as pixel-bitching. The end result were fairly simple tests, with somewhat cryptic instructions written in glowing letters.

The last test was the ultimate sacrifice. I deliberately set it up as a combat situation, with an initiative count and a hex map, to lure the PCs into familiar thinking. Uhuk commented afterwards that she knew something was up, because the straightforward combat encounters didn't have glowing instructions and the weird tests did. I was a little surprised that Kevn didn't make the same leap. Overall, I thought this was a pretty straightforward and fair test: the instructions were fairly straightforward, and it only required the a player to be willing to let his character die to pass.

The middle test was probably the most obscure, but I love the Bujold quote that was the basis for the instructions so much that I couldn't pass it by. It also had elements of the chalice choosing scene from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, so I felt I was on pretty good territory, difficulty wise. Uhuk missed that session, so I'd asked her ahead of time what Hloomawl would do in that situation, and it turned out fairly well.

The first test was the easiest and most obvious. I wouldn't say it was directly lifted from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, but the basic concept was from that. My biggest problem was handling Nayla: I loved the idea of the personal bridge that only she could see and interact with, but since no one knew that Nayla was a demi-god at that point, it got confusing and a couple of people almost stepped off to their deaths. I probably should have just teleported her across the room.

I was sad that none of the PCs passed all the trials. That might be a sign that the puzzles were too obscure, but I talked it over with the players afterwards. They all mostly agreed that I'd given adequate clues, but they'd just overthought the puzzles. They couldn't believe that the answers were as obvious as as they seemed to be, and then after they completed each one, they said "no, that's exactly what it was." So for those puzzles, I didn't do as good as job on threading the needle between obscure and obvious.

The trials were meant to be hard, and weird. Peter Dell'Orto has said that a good rule for stocking a dungeon is use the cool things as early as possible, because you can't guarantee the players will make it to the secret lair in the eleventh floor on the dungoen but you can expet they'll make it to the third or fourth room. This was something of the same principle: I thought it would be cool to have fights with weird gravity like the ones in Dr. Strange or with portals like in Portal. Stinecrice was a good opportunity to have weird stuff happen and reinforce the idea that they were in another plane of existence. So that worked out well together.

The trial of air was a nothing-burger. I figured that the combination of poison air, a climbing challenge, and the lack of visible enemies would make it a good change of pace from the previous trials and also challenging. I forgot/did not plan for the fact that Uhuk's characters tend to be big and very strong and that Mikael was tall, so it was pretty trivial for Hloomawl to boost Mikael and for him to grab the stone. Not every challenge can be challenging and at least it moved quickly.

The trial of ice and fire was interesting. We started it at the end of session 15 and finished it in the next session, and as designed it was possibly a little too tough. Kevin was convinced it was a nigh-unwinnable total party kill, whereas I always thought it was a breeze if the PCs just had 5 potions of Fire Resistance: drink potions, ignore the attacks of the flame lords, wrestle the slugs into the fire areas, beat them to death, then go chase down the flame lords. As it turned out, the PCs mostly used alchemical fire to defeat the ice slugs, but I maintain that they weren't necessary. The flame lords, despite their superfast regeneration, turned out to be very vulnerable to arrows. I had planned for an exciting chase and wrestle as the PCs had to drag each fire lord into the ice to kill him, but as it turned out, even regenerating their full HP every turn wasn't sufficient. The actual portals didn't have much effect in the game, but Kevin used one a couple of times to tactically transition between ice and fire in a hurry, so they did have some effect.

The trial of metal and wood was just strange. That was the plan, so good, but I still feel I may have bit off more than I could chew on that one. I had thought that the 3-D projection of the walls was fairly clear, and I guess it was no less clear than any other way I could have done it, but it was still confusing. The trolls that I used for the vinemen were terrible: regenerating 1-2 HP/turn, in a GURPS combat, is just not a useful ability. I had to retroactively give them Homogeneous and recalculate the damage they'd take to prevent them from just dying to arrow storms, and even then, they were clearly a secondary threat. As soon as Nesta got up among them with her sword of massive poisoning, they just dropped so far into the negatives that they weren't a threat. Nayla was almost killed, but mostly because of poor PC tactics: she moved out of the reach of the two guys with Shield Wall Parry and got knocked prone and subjected to a couple of rounds of fire from the vinemen. The melee guys then beat on the demons ineffectually instead of standing over her, providing cover and shield blocks against incoming attacks, which would have done a lot more to reduce the risk.

Like I said, I had always intended for the PCs to become demi-gods, though the exact details of how that will work are still unknown to the PCs. The process and meaning is complicated, for a variety of reasons, including my hatred of inheritance as a source of power and the need to be able to swap PCs in and out of the game as players leave or characters die. Nayla as the first demi-god to emerge was mostly a matter of happenstance: Kiara had chosen the default Imbuement package for her, and that meant she had Imbuement without the Magic or Divine modifiers. Since she was clearly doing supernatural things with her arrows, in my mind that meant her cosmic nature was leaking through. But obviously it had to be a secret to the player and the character until things were revealed. Kiara was charmingly flustered every time Nayla got a pass on a testing or got confusing information from the gods, so that worked very well and was entertaining.

The battle at the surface of Stinecrice was another mixed bag. Kevin and Uhuk correctly figured out that they needed to block for Mikael and Nayla, but the archers couldn't figure out that they correct way to handle charging horses is to shoot out the horses' legs, not bounce arrows of armor. They also each kept shooting at a different orc knight, lettting them use their blocks effectively. If they'd concentrated fire, so that the same orc had to block two different attacks, they would have done much better.

Anyway, all in all, these were an excellent trio of sessions. Mysteries were revealed and clues put into context, but there are new mysteries and clues in their place. The weird battles were weird, but (mostly) enjoyable, and reminded everyone that the game involves a lot of magic.

What Next?

I need to do a lot of maps and stuff that I've been neglected. The PCs have pretty much conquered the entirety of southern Hanist, the starting campaign area, and I need campaign maps for the rest of Hanist and the surrounding countries. There's still some debate as to whether they're going to west and clear out a border, east and try to make contact with the minotaurs, lizardmen, and fae, or north to get to the dwarves and the second God Ward quicker. No matter what, I'll need to prepare and make maps.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

New Dawn Session 8: The Going Gets Tough

Precis: The Resistance goes to explore an evil sorcerer-general's castle, and finds outs to their dismay that evil sorcerers-general can teleport home in a hurry when they need to.

I ran the eighth session of New Dawn last Thursday night. It was a good session, though my prep work for it was a little rushed. Fundamentally, from the GM's perspective, it had the disadvantage of being something of a filler session. That's not completely accurate, as it was more of session to set-up of some revelations. It should pay-off pretty quickly, and it had merit on its own, but it wasn't as great as it could be.

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. This session focused on the diplomacy team.

GM Difficulties

Like I said in the write-up for the seventh session, my initial plan for this session was horrible. The PCs needed to complete a pair of minor battles to liberate Cape Har and earn a lot of character points, which they needed, but two minor battles is not a sufficient narrative thread to hang a session on. I mostly dealt with this problem by ignoring it, which was a bad decision, and finally around Tuesday I confessed to the players that while I wanted the climax for the liberation of Cape Har, it wasn't going to happen narratively and did they mind if we just skipped that and moved on? They were okay with it, so we did.

By scrapping a weak plot, I got to replace it with a stronger plot: the investigation of the mysterious Black Library. The Library is a repository of books on magic in southwest Hanist, believed to be owned by a sorcerer-general named Arcane who left Hanist to fight in the civil war at the capitol. All that is the rumor, anyway, but the Empire's sorcerer-generals deliberate cultivate an aura of mystery so parts of that are not actually true.

Crossing the River

The PCs head south, fighting battles at the
ford and again at Duzen Iken.
The game started with the PCs figuring out which characters were going to accompany the army south. I didn't have a strong care, though I thought it made sense for both of the magic focused characters to go, they needed someone who could lead the troops, and it would be helpful if they had an intelligence analyst, a scout, and a strong guy. Kevin was a little perturbed when he realized that meant leaving the leadership to Skyler, who has a tendency to only do all-out attacks and take huge casualties against skilled enemies. But Eilmyn promised to be sensible, and Kevin played Ariana instead of Aisling.

Skyler led the field army (reinforced by some recently trained heavy infantry and the stone golem they'd found beneath Costvud) down to the ferry and crossed. There was an orc garrison company on the other side of the ferry, but excellent reconnaissance and Intelligence Analysis on Nesta's part meant that the PC's managed to surprise them. Skyler launched three all-out attacks, and the orcs didn't manage to rally until after the second one, after they'd already taken 85% casualties while delivering none in return. The orc commander was actually especially skilled at attacking, and relatively skilled at Strategy, but was had something like a -13 skill penalty to Skyler's +19 skill bonus when the orc finally got his troops organized to attack. So that didn't work.

A pair of wolf-riders managed to flee the battle. The PCs could have sent the golem and their fairly incompetent heavy cavalry after them, but I warned them that they didn't know where any other orc forces might be in the vicinity. They decided not to risk their golem in a possible ambush, but instead made a forced march on Duzen Iken, the castle guarding the Black Library, to limit the orcs' ability to bring in reinforcements.

The Battles at Duzen Iken

Duzen Iken was held by a company of the Pale Hands. Unlike the Red Swords the PCs had fought at the ferry, the Pale Hands were well supplied, well led, well trained, and reinforced by a squad of ogres and some extra wizards. They actually had more troop strength than the PCs' forces, though the PCs had the advantage in special classes, especially armor and engineering, courtesy of a giant stone golem. Nesta managed to learn they were in for a hard fight before the battle, but she didn't immediately learn that the orc commander, Major Kong, was a master of siege warfare.

Skyler, being Skyler, launched an all-out assault on the walls as soon as the PCs arrived. And being Skyler, he managed to win that round, delivering 30% casualties to the orcs and only taking 10% in return while managing to breach at least some of the walls. Doing so took until dark, and the orcs' infravision gave them an advantage at night - or at least reduced their relative disadvantage.

Eilmyn decided to be sensible for a change, and initiated a deliberate assault over the next two rounds. This reduced the value of the fortress and reduced the risk that Skyler's troops would take substantial casualties, and Eilmyn continued to roll well and grind the orcs down. By the next evening, the orcs were down to 10% effectives in one last tower, but Resistance scouts reported three more companies of orcs approaching Duzen Iken. Skyler launched one all-out assault, slaughtered the last of the Pale Hands, and started organizing his troops to defend the castle they had just taken.

We didn't actually play out the orc assault. The orcs in question, another three companies of Red Hands, were in low supply and had lazy leadership that didn't try to arrive at the castle quickly. The three of them combined actually had less effective troop strength than the single company of Pale Hands. Since Skyler had already beaten a more powerful with a better general and superior defensive position, I handwaved the fight against the Red Hands. The most likely result was Skyler all-out defending the castle against some slow orc assaults, and then charging out to finish off the wounded. I didn't want to play through all that because I had other things I wanted to accomplish in this session.

The Mesa and the Black Library

One thing that was very weird about Duzen Iken was the small mesa in the center of it. There was a roughly 80' tall, 300' wide mesa within the castle walls, and there was a small forest on the top of the mesa. There was a narrow path spiraling up the side of the mesa.

I emphasized to the PCs that southwest Hanist was a land of rolling hills, forests, and coastal plains, and giant mesas were not part of the normal environment. They all agreed that it was weird and needed investigation.

Brute Force and Ignorant Trapfinding

At the base of the path was a minimal gate and a warning not to pass. After some jockeying for position, Arianna and Skyler decided to walk up the path. I immediately had them roll Hearing at a penalty, and when they both succeeded, I told them they heard twangs and saw a pair of crossbow bolts fly out of the side of the mesa, aimed for them. Both of them failed their defenses and while Arianna's amazing plate harness bounced the bolt, the damage roll (3d+5) was pretty decent for Skyler.

We immediately had a discussion about what kind of armor Skyler was wearing. When Skyler was first created, he was wearing DR 1 leather armor ("a bomber jacket and leather dance pants" as I described it). Despite several opportunities since then, he hadn't upgraded his armor since despite the availability of high quality, orc plate scavenged from the battlefield. After some discussion, he ended up in some of that armor and only took a grave wound. He and Arianna retreated, Arianna used her new Lay on Hands prayer to heal him, and then used Flesh Wounds to heal herself up from the transferred damage. The PCs heard some clicking and muffled thuds from the area near the crossbows, but ignored them.

Arianna and Skyler proceeded up the path again, and what do you know, but they got shot by crossbows again. Arianna managed to block with her new metal shield, but the arrow went right through it - but without enough force to also penetrate her armor. Skyler got lucky this time and his armor bounced the bolt. Skyler fell back, and Arianna moved forward, and Nesta ran up to get next to Arianna while the crosbows reloaded.

Finally Arianna just walked up to the crossbows and covered them with her shield while everyone else walked forward. So that's how the PCs got past the crossbow trap. After that, Nesta started checking the path for traps, though she didn't find any.

The Black Library

At the top of the mesa, hidden behind the trees, was a nice villa with boarded windows and padlocked doors. This was probably Arcane's house. There was some discussion about breaking in through the windows, but they followed a trail to a pair of double doors. After Nesta checked for traps, Arianna smashed the lock with her magic hammer that does extra damage to inanimate objects and opened the doors.

The doors opened onto a large room with bookshelves, magical circles, alchemical knicknacks, and an ugly altar to dark gods. Most important, though, was a 7' tall crystal statue of a man that charged forward to attack.

The resulting fight was pretty ugly. The golem was fast, nigh invulnerable, strong, skilled, and backed up by three more that trickled in over the next couple of rounds. Attivi managed to daze one with a lucky magic spell, and Arianna crippled another with a solid hit to the knee, but most of the PC's attacks were parried or bounced against strong armor. Nayla's bow, for instance, wasn't doing much. One of the golems managed to do a maximum critical hit punch to Attivi, sending the sorceror flying and leaving him 1 HP away from a death check.

Things Get Worse

Arcane arrives. Attivi lies on the ground after being
smashed by a crystal golem.
When Arianna had destroyed the padlock, Attivi alone had heard a weird magical peal. It was both nearby, and strangely far away. No one was really sure what it meant.

They found out when they heard a clap of thunder, and saw Arcane teleport in. She said something chiding like, "What, when the cat is away the mice will play?" and initially assumed that the PCs were orcs since Skyler and Nesta were in full orc plate. But Arianna looked different, so Arcane said "Who are you? Don't bother answering, that's just a rhetorical question. I'll find out myself." She then cast her Mass Mind Read/Mind Probe spell (with stun as a linked effect, because Arcane hates it when people she's trying to interrogate interfere). Since just about every PC had a Will of 11, they were not particularly successful in resisting a high IQ/high Sorcery talent super sorcerer and had their brains peeled.

At this point, I ended the session. It was late, Emily was tired, and I am a firm believer in ending sessions on cliffhangers whenever possible.

Review of Play

Like I said, this session was a lot of set-up. Mostly, it set up the arrival of Arcane, which is a pay-off all of its own. If the PCs can defeat Arcane, there are going to be other pay-offs as they learn more about the nature of the sorcerer-generals of the Empire of Night.

This session featured several wake-up call bosses. The improved quality of the Pale Hands compared to most of the orc riff-raff the PCs have dealt with up to this point was certainly noticeable, and the PCs handled it well. The crystal golems, in contrast, were a horror show from the PC perspective. Kevin thought they were doing okay, but from my side of the GM's screen, they were losing badly and having Attivi nearly get killed just reinforced that fact. And obviously, Arcane is an entire different level of threat than anything the PCs have fought to this point. I have a good idea of her abilities, and she is meant to be a challenge to a group of delvers and will deliver.

A large part of the problem is that the PCs, although they've earned a fair number of CP, mundane equipment upgrades, and magical equipment, have mostly not optimized themselves at all. As far as I know, Arianna is the only PC who has spent all her earned CP, upgraded all her equipment, and maximized her magical gear. Attivi and Skyler have spent parts of their CP but don't have impressive magical gear yet (and Eilmyn needed to be reminded to upgrade Skyler's armor during the sesssion!), and Nesta and Nayla are pretty close to being the same characters they started as.

I have sent out some emails, encouraging the PCs to upgrade their characters and reminding them of the available resources. Even though I generally don't let people upgrade in mid-combat, I'm going to make an exception in this case. I don't know if they will actually do so, but I'm okay with Arcane killing some Resistance leaders to emphasize the idea that scary people are scary.

What Next?

Next session is obviously going to deal with Arcane. It should be a good fight, assumign the PCs gear up appropriately.