The PCs were a second-level party of four, including a fighter, a ranger, a wizard, and a warlord. While on their way back to the village of Bridenford from a nearby ruin they’d been exploring, they happened across an orcish scouting party. Defeating the orcs, they found a message speaking of battle plans — Bridenford was in danger! Swiftly, they returned to warn the villagers.
The villagers were mostly untrained for war, of course, but they were rugged folk, used to wresting a living from the rather poor land and from the forest nearby. Many weren’t a bad shot with the bow, and some turned the tools of their trades into weapons, using axes or improvised polearms. (+5 to the DC for sub-par melee weapons and lack of useful armor.) Furthermore, they had leadership in the form of Daros Whitebeard, formerly a marshal of the king’s legions. Now he was a bent and lame old man, but his mind remained as keen as ever. (Overall leadership bonus: +5 — +4 Int, +1 for Daros’ level 6.)
Bridenford was a small village, with no wall, but the characters bought the villagers enough time to prepare. They managed to fell a few trees and drag them across the roads, providing a little bit of cover for their bowmen. Heavy gravel-filled barrels were placed at other points. (-2 to the DC for basic improvised cover.)
Whitebeard placed the PCs to the east of the village, where the initial fighting was expected to be heaviest, as part of a force of 50 men. Their leader was Kalan Rowan, a half-elf woodman respected by the villagers. (Immediate leadership bonus: +2 for Kalan’s wisdom.)
The orcs were under the leadership of Gundar Halfhand, a war-chief of uncommon vision. (Orc leadership bonus: +4 for Gundar’s wisdom and level, which translates to a -4 for the players.) The orcs under him were nothing special, but they were experienced raiders, averaging level 3. (+3 to the DC.)
The war began with a skirmish: A group of wolf-riders armed with bows loosed a volley or two at the PCs’ position, testing the villagers’ resolve. The wolf-riders were led by a typical orc, which led to a +0 leadership bonus. (The difference in leadership was therefore +3 in the PCs’ favor, or -3 to the DC.) The hunters returned fire. There were only 35 wolf-riders, compared to the PCs’ 50 men, so the PCs earned a numbers bonus on this exchange (-1 DC). Most chose to Strive for Survival, this early into the battle, but the ranger decided to show off, since archery was his field of expertise: he Strove for Glory.
(The target DC in this case is 12. PCs rolled d20 + level / 2, with results: Fighter – 14; ranger – 18 (used a daily power for the +5), 11, 10; wizard – 12; warlord – 2; DM (for the villagers) – 12.)
The villagers racked up four successes and two failures, meaning their return fire was enough to bloody the orcs and drive them back, while taking only a few minor injuries in turn. The ranger’s gambit didn’t pay off; he acquitted himself pretty well at first, but in chasing after a bit of fame, he managed to attract some extra fire, taking a minor wound. A couple of arrows also found the warlord.
Had the orcs sent a skirmishing party that night, the ranger would have had to fight them off without his daily power. However, the villagers’ victory was sufficient that the orcs stayed their hand, planning their next assault.
That next assault came just after dawn. This time, two forces, each 60 strong, came down upon the village from opposite directions. The PCs lost their numbers bonus, but I ruled that 60 to 50 wasn’t a significant enough difference of numbers to grant a penalty. The villagers chose to Strive for Survival, but the heroes let the dice roll.
(Rolls against a target DC of 13: Fighter – 12, 13, 11, 13; ranger – 10, 13 (spent a daily power), 20, 6; wizard – 11, 6, 11, 12; warlord – 11, 21, 12, 14 (spent a daily power); DM – 11, 11)
The second day of battle brought 7 successes and 12 failures — a victory for the orcs at the east side of the village! (I could have rolled at the west side, too, but I decided to narrate based on the PCs’ performance.) I ruled that the fighting was fierce, with the initial volleys doing little to break the orc charge — and once the orcs got to the villagers, the difference in their melee arms and armor began to tell. Serious injuries were inflicted among the villagers, and ten lost their lives. The PCs didn’t fare much better; all of them lost at least two healing surges, with the poor wizard down four.
As it was beginning to look like the orcs would overrun the village, Daros Whitebeard took a hand. He and a few other noncombatants led a desperate assault to push back the orcs. Heartened, the villagers managed the task, but at great cost: Daros himself was struck down in the fighting, left on the brink of death.
Possibly worse still, a portly blowhard named Gregor Fisk elbowed his way into the leadership. The PCs knew this man well: While he thought very highly of his own abilities, he was in fact quite lacking in skill or talent. His average wisdom and low level would give the PCs a +0 leadership bonus — and if Kalan followed his plans, then their immediate leadership would also be lost, since Kalan couldn’t grant more than a +0! With a leadership difference of +4 in the orcs’ favor, the PCs would be rolling against a DC of 17…
I’d planned for a decisive heavy battle the following day, but the characters realized something had to be done to save the villagers from Fisk’s foolishness. They first tried quietly convincing Kalan to mount an assault (skill challenge!) — they failed, but they did manage to convince a couple of the healthier woodsmen to see things their way. They then hatched a plan to take out Halfhand, hoping to demoralize and scatter the orc band. Lacking a couple of daily powers and some healing surges, it was even more of a challenge than it would normally be, but with a little bit of luck and the near-death of the fighter, who held off several orcs by himself for a couple of rounds and got beaten unconscious for his trouble, they pulled it off.
The system? After playing with it, I think the concept is a solid one. I’m not entirely sure the current numbers are where they need to be, though. I’d have to test some more, including at higher levels. Healing surge losses may need an adjustment somehow, too; they work out okay when I transition into more-standard adventuring afterward, like the assault on the orc camp, but when they’re just recovered overnight? Perhaps a change so that some of the surges are a long-term loss, such as some diseases inflict — but I’d have to come up with a way to determine how many are longer-term.
I’m pretty sure I can make this work for me, though.
If you’d like something a little crunchier, I might recommend Campaign Mastery’s This Means War! series (link is to part 1), which presents a more mathematical approach to determining the outcome of a large-scale battle.
- A Harvest of Men (II)
- A Harvest of Men (III)
- War Week: A Harvest of Men
- Zero Level
- Fox Magic: Martial Feats
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