Now Taking Odds For The Assault on The Fortress of Crows
The Set Up After several days of dungeoncrawling through vampires, wererats, flail snails and the laboratories of a mad alchemist (which I may detail later at some point--things got very complicated once Frankie decided she wanted to get bit by a vampire), the PCs find a lightwell. They crawl up and crawl out and find themselves in the back alleys of an unfamiliar urban maze.
This is the city built inside the Fortress of Crows.
I figured it was sort of like a modern military town--a fort that essentially, over time, becomes a city in itself. Like Carcassone but moreso.
Naturally, its main export is plot hooks:
First, it's surrounded by an army of the undead. This is part of the same army of the undead left over from when Mandy ran Death Frost Doom. It's been slowly moving south.
The fortress has been surrounded by skeletons on hungry horses for about a month and is running low on supplies. Being a fortress, it's well-stocked, so it's still acting kind of like a city.
Defending the city are clerics and paladins of two separate gods, I imagine them, in their cloaks and dented armor, as being basically like these guys. (Thanks, Palmer.)
Grimly they gaze downward into the impassive faces of the unmoving, silent, patient, skeletons--who seem to simply be waiting for the defenders to starve to death.
Meanwhile: seemingly unconcerned by the siege, bearded, be-ringed, Fat Balto walks the streets, eager to wheel and to deal, Brother Thrown and his parade of zealots rails against any and all outsiders every night, and lots of other NPCs wait around ready to do stuff at the first sign that the party gives a shit about them.
What They Did With It
Having spent most of the last session bumping around in the dark basically just trying to figure out what was going on in the dungeon, the players, upon finding themselves in the fortress, yearned for clarity and simplicity.
So: fight the skeletons. After a lot of preliminaries and marshalling of forces (and KK acidentally drinking a kleptomania potion thinking it'd give her the strength of 10,000 bats) the party ended last session by sketching out a battle plan for the beginning of next session.
When putting together the fortress, it was hard to know where to concentrate my efforts, since you never know which direction will catch the PCs fancy or, indeed whether they wouldn't just rather abandon the fortress and its doomed inhabitants and head back into the dungeon. Next session will be a lot easier since I know what's coming: a big fight with lots of skeletons.
Running The Siege
A lot of ink has been spilled trying to figure out how to do mass battles in DnD, however, I think maybe attempts to do so are built on the fallacy that there should be a way to do mass battles--that is, that there should be a system. I mean, a mass battle happens only maybe every dozen sessions at most so why not treat each one as its own thing? The idea that dungeons should always work the same way or that there should be a system for creating puzzles makes no sense, so perhaps one way to do mass battles is to treat each one like it's its own separate mini-game with all new rules.
Specifically--I'm thinking I'll run this one a bit like video games I've played:
Star Wars Battlefront, Samurai Warriors 2 Empires, and a lot of other strategy games use the concept of "command points" or "bases"--key positions. Take all the key positions and you usually win.
They also use the idea that the player controls one individual and uses that person to hack stuff up and mostly the idea is the player's character is pivotal if for no other reason that it's the only thing on the board not being run by an AI. Depending on the game, the actual player has varying degrees of control over friendly NPCs' strategy (take that base, retreat, etc).
Depending on what kind of command and control networks the PCs set up, it seems like I could run the invasion of the Fortress of Crows like this kind of strategy/first person-chopper mashup game. The PCs go and fight--as usual--whatever bony foes are in front of them and, once in a while, they will get alerts from messengers telling them that this or that key position has been taken and that they might wanna do something about it.
The Fortress of Crows is composed of a series of towers linked by bridges and causeways. The skeletons have already overtaken one of the towers and stand in overwhelming odds at the foot of all the others.
I'm going to assume that the mazey streets, alleys and bridges are narrow enough that the PCs (five to eight humanoids) and their foes take up enough space that anyone wanting to take territory which they occupy will have to get though them. That is, if the skeletons are trying to cross bridge B and the PCs are on bridge B then how well the PCs do pretty much determines who gets bridge B (this is not to say that the enemy only has to send five to eight soldiers to fight the PCs, they can send as many as they want).
As for the battles for "off-screen" command points, I think I can rig it like this:
-decide that getting from the ground (where the invading army starts) to any given command point takes a certain number of steps--say five
-each round I roll dice to see if the enemy forces have managed to advance one of those steps. i.e.: if all the dice rolls went their way and the PCs did nothing to interfere, the enemy will have swamped all the outer perimeter command points in five rounds.
The next trick is to figure out how to weight the die roll. Since there are four hundred defenders (five hundred if you count some of the citizens as soldiers) and a thousand attackers, you could weight the odds just based on those numbers, 2 to 1 against the defenders.
However, everybody knows that defending is easier than attacking, especially if what you are defending is a big-ass multi-tiered stone fortress. I'm not sure what the final odds will be (and I don't want to give them away because I'm dictating this to Mandy and she's typing it up for me) but I suspect--in most cases--I'll end up weighing it close to 50-50.
So far, here's how it'd work:
-The PCs have an ordinary combat round, then I roll dice to see the skeletal armies progress toward each tower/command point, and mark it in a little box (one of five per command point).
-If at any point all five boxes for any tower get filled, someone will run down the line telling everybody that position has fallen and the battle lines will move.
The first complicating factor is that neither I nor the esteemed death knights leading the skeleton army are idiots, so the skeletons, rather than applying equal pressure all the way up the line, will probably want to concentrate different amounts of force in different areas. This means that the odds for taking any given position will have to change depending on how many skeletons I send.
Since 1,000 is a nice round number and I'm going to assume casualties will be roughly equal--percentagewise--on both sides, I don't think this will be too hard. They get a +2 here, they get a -2 there, whatever. I can write up the battle plan in advance.
The second complicating factor is figuring out what to do when the PCs move or if they split up or if they use any sort of clever tactic that should by rights produce a mass effect. This will take some on-the-spot house-ruling, but I'm reasonably sure that keeping everything in multiples of ten should keep it fairly clean.
Overall, the idea is that the two armies are just two big monsters, they each have a certain number of hit dice and the damage of their attacks is proportional to these hit dice. If the PCs manage to do something (like say, catapult a boulder into the enemy forces) then this will weaken the enemy offensively and defensively in proportion to how effective the tactic is.
Place Your Bets
I want to do this with the gloves completely off. I want to act as though I am the skeleton army's commander and have all the wisdom of the dead and am trying earnestly and with every resource at my disposal to take the fortress.
The rub is: I've read Clausewitz, I've read Napoleon, I've read Sun Tzu, I've read Shelby Foote's three volumes on the Civil War. My players haven't. More to the point: I've played a lot more Warhammer 40K than they have (though Mandy has almost beat me a couple times). I'm not entirely certain if there's any genuine reason to suspect they've got half a chance.
However, they do have concrete advantages: They have the fortress--a fine defensive position-- they have the initiative (the skeletons were just planning to hang out and wait for the city to starve), and they have all the resources (both obvious and hidden) of a whole city at their disposal, whereas the skeletons have only what they are carrying--all of which is plain to see.
So the PCs have some of the advantages of both the defender and the prepared attacker and, of course, the PCs--being PCs--always have the option to cut and run.
If anyone cares to lay odds, post them in the comments.