Dramatis Personæ

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Wherein a Battle is Fought .. and Won..

Leaving behind the fallen orcs, the adventurers press on despite having already marched through the night. Rather than press their luck and attempt to ford the swamp once more, it is decided that they will swing west around it; this will add, at the minimum, a half day of travel, but all agree that it is likely necessary. By the time night begins to fall, they are all thoroughly exhausted and camp is set with an eye toward concealment while maximizing comfort. That night, the keen-eyed among them can see distant torches to the east, likely on the other side of the swamp. The orc raiding party is on the march.

The next two days are uneventful if exhausting, with surprisingly good weather, but on the third evening, after the adventurers have managed to get around the swamp, Finn realizes that the torches of the orcs have drawn closer. He realizes immediately that this raiding party appears to be continuing through the night! After a moment of consideration, he wakes everyone else – they have to press on now if they mean to beat the orcs. Zistral is sent on ahead to warn Defiant as he’s the fastest of them all; for him, the castle is a mere three hours away.

He reaches Defiant without difficulty where he promptly notes that the nearby Galentown appears abandoned; upon entry into the castle, though, he realizes why: all of the commoners are inside the walls. While reporting to the officer of the watch, Zistral also notes a dark mood hanging over the castle and learns of Ser Dane’s death as well concerns about a missing family. The Delaneys, who consist of three adults and two children, vanished the same day that Ser Dane and the soldier Morgan were slain by vile necromancy. While Zistral greatly wishes to investigate the missing family personally, he is too exhausted by his long run so instead, he finds somewhere to rest.

Several hours later, the rest of the adventurers reach Defiant. During their forced march, they noted that the orcs appear to have split into two groups, though there is no immediate tactical benefit to this that Finn can discern. By the time of their arrival, all are filthy, sweaty and want nothing more than to find a bed. Unfortunately, as they enter, there is a great clamor and shouts of excitement. Finn initially thinks nothing of this and begins reporting to Ser Malfoy about the approaching orcs, and the knight listens with a strange expression on his face before asking to speak with young Sardock privately. His use of ‘milord’ should have been a hint of what is about to related, but Finn is exhausted and thinks nothing of it … until Malfoy draws his apart and reveals that Ser Dane is dead. Finn is visibly affected by this – and everyone who is looking at him can see this – but he wrestles his emotions under control. There is no time for grief, he says. They must focus on the orcs for now.

As he attempts to focus on planning for the attack, Finn notes how concerned the soldiers are when they glance in his direction, which is no surprise as he’s always been bad at hiding what he is thinking or feeling. Realizing he must assuage their worries or the coming battle will go ill, he finds an elevated place and makes a speech: “Men of Defiant, harken to me! I know your fears. There are many of them and few of us. Our greatest war captain is slain by treachery and only his son, the least of the Sardocks, stands in his place. Has the blood of Caithness bred so thin that a mere fist of orcs frighten us? We, who are descended from greatness, from the heroes who threw off the yoke of tyranny from the greatest empire known to man, from the crusaders who threw back the Vasar in their places of power before marching from those very battlefields to once more hold firm against those who would force them to bend knee once more. This is our home now. We run from no one. This is Defiant. We are Defiant. And here. We. Stand.

The speech goes over well and soon, the soldiers and commoners alike are calling out his name: Sardock! Finn tries not to think about his father and instead, buries himself in work as a distraction. He coordinates with Ser Malfoy regarding the defensive plan, urges everyone to get some rest, and in general, tries to be the best war-time commander he can be.

As most of his fellow adventurers find places to bed down to recover from their forced march, Zistral, with “Lord” Finn’s permission, exists the castle and ventures to to the Delaney house where he looks around. Though it takes some time, his search turns up the barest hints of orc tracks. This bodes ill for the family and he returns to inform the war council of his findings. Meanwhile, the deployed scouts have returned with word that the first group of orcs has arrived and are setting up a camp some distance away. At first, everyone worries that the attack will come immediately, but eventually, it occurs to most that the orcs also conducted a forced march and are likely resting to recover. With nothing else to do, Finn finally retires for the evening.

Upon the following morning, the orc warband appears. The second group has rejoined the first, bringing with it a pair of giants which is bad enough, but the sight of the still alive Delaneys strapped to wide shields under which a detachment crouches is far, far worse. Ilanna is the first to realize that the orcs are literally using human shields but word quickly spreads. Only the shield-bearers close toward the walls, marching in a disciplined manner that is far from standard with orcs and their intent is ruthlessly logical: none of the Defiant archers are willing to loose arrows at the orcs for fear of striking the Delaneys! Horrified at the thought that she might have to shoot an innocent, Ilanna instead looses a shaft at the nearest of the giants and her aim is true; the arrow strikes him in the eye and he topples backward, unconscious or dead no one can tell. A great cheer goes up from the Defiant defenders, but then, the battle is on.

The orcs skirmish forward, relying on range and cover to protect them, and thanks to their living human shields, they inflict some casualties upon the defenders. Seeing that the orcs are using flags to issue commands, Zistral exits the castle through a sally port, then flanks wide and runs down the flag-bearers. His speed and the surprise of his attack results in him emerging unscathed, though he is chased back into the woods by a salvo of arrows. Thorn, while upon the ramparts and covering with a bow, ensures that several orcs who were about to strike the centaur instead take arrow shafts themselves.

Suddenly, the orcish commander blows a horn and the gates of Defiant begin to open which results in the entire enemy force charge forward madly! Finn realizes that there are invisible foes inside the gates and calls out a warning in his ringing voice, and Arn reacts immediately by hurling a powerful and explosive fireball at the gates, which hurls one of the saboteurs outside. As one of the invisible orcs is pincushioned by Defiant archers, the other staggers to his feet just in time to get walloped by Haruki who is rushing to slam the gates closed. The gigantic Sahudi rōnin is able to easily slam the gates shut and bar it again moments before the orcs strike. Not expecting the gates to be closed, the orcs slam into it, their momentum abruptly arrested.

In the mad melee, Zistral (who is still outside the walls) lunges forward to free the Delaneys and get them to safety, which is a great moral victory. Thorn, looses an arrow at the giant, striking him in the elbow so he drops the boulder he was about to hurl, and then, Haruki, seeing a momentary opportunity as the giant’s follow-up charge causes a gap in the gates, thrusts his spear forward and up, blinding the creature in one of it’s eyes. As the orcs clamber up the walls, Lily Ballyhithe (who is possibly pregnant with his child) races up the ramparts for … reasons; he seizes her, gives her a deep, swooning kiss, then hurls her back off the wall and into a convenient wagon of hay before spinning to stab a climbing orc in the face. Arn simply hurls additional explosive fireballs that hurl burning orcs backward.

Seeing that the crippling failure of the orc charge as well as the stout defense and the significant actions of the heroes has put the attackers’ in a bad position, the orc commander sounds the retreat. As they fall back, Finn initially wants to charge forward in an all-out attack, but Ser Malfoy wisely points out that this is a bad idea as not only will it mean abandoning the walls and leave them open to a counter-attack once the orcs have gotten clear, but this might be something of a feint. Noting the wisdom in this, Finn orders the defenders to hold and continue using their ranged weapons upon the retreating orcs. As the attackers withdraw, the scarred orc commander thrusts his spear into the air, though it is unclear whether this is intended as a salute to a worthy foe or a threat. Finn returns the gesture with his naginata, but his is clearly meant to be a warning, especially as he bellows, Here we stand!

The defenders of Defiant cheer their victory, though two of the soldiers have been slain and no one else has escaped injury. Someone – probably Thorn – starts up a chant: Sardock! Sardock! Sardock! And soon everyone within the castle has taken it up. For Finn, it is a heady moment – he has led men to victory against terrible odds … just like his father – tinged by deep regret that Ser Dane is gone. For the moment, he buries these thoughts and instead focuses on interacting with the survivors, congratulating them for their personal heroism and great deeds.

Some hours later, as the warriors and citizens of Defiant finally begin to relax since it appears that the orcs have truly retreated, Ser Toby Kname returns, accompanied by Sloth and a handful of elves. Finn takes Thorn out to greet them, gesturing to the many orc bodies and informing them that they’d missed the excitement. The elf, who identifies himself as Nialdor, reveals that his liege has instructed him to reside in Defiant for a time to determine the feasibility of an actual alliance. Finn offers his hand and welcomes Nialdor to Defiant.

In the wake of the battle, Haruki seeks out Finn and asks to serve the younger Sardock, effectively requesting that Finn become his master so Nakasato would no longer be rōnin. Not quite understanding what Haruki is asking (since he doesn’t quite understand Sahudese culture), Finn accepts.

Player Notes:

  • We’ve started Live Streaming our gaming sessions. If you’re interested in watching during gametime, that’s on Saturdays, 6:00 PM Eastern on Ronnke’s Twitch channel. This stream is also on YouTube, although that doesn’t go up until some time later.
  • This marks the end of this particular run of Banestorm and it goes on hiatus. We’ll pick it up again … sometime.
  • The actual battle for Defiant was, as expected, a Mass Combat, but we really noticed how badly those super abstract rules gimp combat monsters. Case in point: both Haruki and Zistral were drastically less effective using the Mass Combat rules than they would be if we’d used normal tactical combat. I’m not sure how to actually resolve this sort of thing in the future apart from maybe running a tactical combat during it to reflect a “Significant Action” but that could definitely be problematic as well.
  • Once again, we’ve discovered that the placement of Significant Actions in Mass Combat really needs to come after the Choose Battle Strategy, because otherwise it just doesn’t make any sense. If you declare that your PC is charging a flag-bearer and killing him with a single, mighty blow, but then, the battle strategy chosen by your allied commander is Full Retreat which inflicts no casualties at all on the enemy, this doesn’t make sense. I think, in the future, when I run a Mass Combat, I’m going to swap those around so battle strategy comes before significant actions.
  • I think, in light of the above issues where some PCs are less effective in mass combat, I would have considered doing this battle differently. Using the Battle of Helm’s Deep from “The Two Towers” movie, if I’d been the GM, I’d have had the orcs have beaten the PCs back to the castle and the attack already be underway, so the PCs could be cast in the Gandalf and Eomer roles, arriving to smash into the flanks of the orcish attackers and hit their vulnerable (and hopefully surprised) commander. In fact, I’d actually planned on doing something very much like that in my final Casus Belli run, but the PCs decided to take a completely different approach, which forced me to throw that plan out the window.
  • As a result of these events, Finn is basically “in charge” of the barony now (so he’s sort of a stand-in “Lord Defiant”) though we’ll see how long that lasts. I’ve already stated that he is going to constantly be reminding everyone that Lord Kerin is the actual liege of Defiant, but I think it’d be amusing if no one pays attention to that which could lead to … interesting times when/if Kerin actually joins us down the road.