Wednesday, June 19, 2013

K08 - Warmongering into Mirkwood

In this session, we're shifting the campaign to another group of characters. The Ardacer is a military Attack (a kind of unit containing some 350 dwarves). Their task is to open the way and improve the road to Khazad-dum such that the main force will be able to transit when they set out 30 days later. 

The Characters

There are four PCs in the Ardacer storyline. Drolf  ( +Justin Aquino ) is a wealthy dwarf from Iron Hill who has cultivated his personal legend as a hero of war for his whole life. His last feat was to convince the King of Erebor that he was the man to open the march to Khazad-dum at the head of dwarf mercenaries that he himself had bankrolled and outfitted. The first shoe has dropped for Drolf as he got his wish and is now  leading the Ardacer into Mirkwood. Kalin  ( +Alex Safatli ) is an erudite, master crafstman and staunch chauvinist. He has lived his life in the shadows of his brother Gimli and father Gloin. To appease the contingent from Aglarond, Thorin III has granted Kalin the Title of Lot-Herd of Ice: one of the better units of the Ardacer. Khazek Strongmoss is a PC that participated in the previous storyline. Khazek ( +Jason Woollard ) is a young and impetuous dwarf from Aglarond. His demeanor and incredible luck in matter of social interaction has made him a favourite of King Thorin III. As a result, he landed the gig of master trainer for a crack unit of open-sky dwarf rangers (Khazek, unlike Jason, is no teacher yet). Finally, Vadek is +Arne Jamtgaard secondary character in this storyline. Vadek is a straight-laced professional soldier at the head of the Axmens of the Ice Lot, this puts him in charge of 7 guards and overall some 49 dwarves. His main duty is to protect Drolf. Vadek is no politician, he has no sense of humor and functions strictly on a need to know basis.

First Blood

The first hint of trouble in Mirkwood emerged on the 25th of Gwirith (April) when the scouts from the Ark Lot reported a footpath heading North toward Mirkwood mountains. The path seemed to be used regularly by small parties of orcs. Khazek reported the findings to Drolf and proposed to follow the path to probe for trouble. The attitude in the command tent was not as Khazek expected. Neither Drolf nor Kalin showed interest in splitting the unit on a wild goose chase. Kalin, in particular, was particularly displeased by the fact that a lot of the Ardacer's INTEL information came from the elf hunters of Thranduil halls. Khazek was allowed to take a detachment of 14 rangers for a probe. 

Khazek and his dwarves proceeded North and into the thick foothills of Mirkwood mountains. Along the orcs' trail, they followed a brook uphill for half a day and found evidence of recent passage. Khazek determined that the orcs were travelling in small parties and were burdened by heavy encumbrance. They briefly met with the elves who reported that they found a site of a battle between giant spiders and orcs to the East of their locations. Khazek marched his rangers back to the old forest road where the Ardacer was slowly slugging through the overgrown ancient roadway.

The Ark Lot next made contact with orcs at the crossing of a river running North-South and across the old forest road. The ancient bridge was now long gone, but walls from buildings still stood on either side. Across the river, they spotted a number of defensive positions manned by orcs. They counted at least 50, maybe twice as many orcs engaging in defensive preparations. No fords were detected in the vicinity. The leader of the Ark Lot sent Khazek back to the main force to report. 

Back at the command post, Drolf immediately ordered the halt of the march and the preparation of defensive positions. Drolf insisted to avoid an assault across the river. Instead, he ordered the Ark Lot to lure the orcs to march into the main body of the Ardacer. The orcs, once roused, shot some arrows across the river but showed no interest in leaving their defensive positions. The day ran its course and night fell. Maximum security was ordered and the Ardacer's 5km long train was shrunk to a mere 2 km. Only the Gate Lot was left behind to complete their road improvement work on the following day.

 At first morning light, Drolf ordered his two best Lots to probe to the North and South of the orc positions. The Ice Lot, under Kalin was sent North while the Fire Lot was sent south. Meanwhile, the main body was to proceed forward while the Ark Lot was to maintain contact and keep the orcs buttonned down across the river. 

Kalin pushed North in the thick forest for about 5000m until they found a North-South path that lead to a ford across the river. Kalin sent some element North to determine whether the near side of the river was secure. The scouts came back without making contact. Kalin marched his dwarves across the ford. This move put the Ice Lot to the North of the known orc's positions. His forward elements ran into orc scouts and a cat and mouse game played out in the blue shadows of tall trees. More through sheer luck, the Ice Lot got the upper-hand on battlefield awareness. Seeing that the Ice Lot was in a position to overrun the scouts, Kalin lead personally the charge through the forest and scattered the scouts in a few minutes of savage running (and probably unnecessary howling by the dwarves).  The attack left a few orcs lying on the ground, but most importantly got them to fly Southward. The flight allowed the Ice Lot to follow until they made contact with the entrenched orcs at the bridge. This victory provided a position bonus for the dwarves of +2. A few of the Ice Lot dwarves reported cuts and bruises, one got grazed by an arrow and couldn't fight for the rest of the day. 

Once visual contact was made, Drolf send another Lot, the Slammer Lot, to cross to the North and link with the Ice Lot. By the time that Slammer got in position, Drolf and Kalin estimated that the dwarves had the upperhand in the event of an assault. However, the orcs were waiting in well prepared positions. Drolf ordered a deliberate attack. This implied marching methodically to neutralize the orcs' positions, one at the time. The slow advance gave a chance for the orcs to react, maybe even retreat, but they stood fast against overwhelming odds. Vladek acquitted himself of his duties as if he was running through a textbook example (No effective heroic action). Drolf, anticipating that the thick of the action would be in the wrong place, made more noise than rose whelps. Kalin stole the show by climbing atop of wall section and started hurling rocks and insults while his dwarves laughed and cheered on (Heroic action effective, and in fact upgraded the outcome by one increment). 

The orcs showed a stubborn resistance to retreat to the South of the old forest road and were holding on to some of their defensive positions. The outcome of the battle was no longer in doubt at this point. But maybe there was more to this than to kill them all... 


I think that the story reads well, but running it wasn't as exciting as I would have like it to be. I want to break mass combat into mini encounters to play out the heroic actions, and then translate the outcomes into modifier for the battle checks. I have ideas on using "misfortune of war" check as penalties on tactics check in order to determine how difficult each heroic encounter are going to be (I may write a post just on what I have in mind). Running a game at two zoom levels is new to me: abstract mass combat and tactical engagement. I think that big picture battle, played well, will provide lots of setting for entertaining battles in the future. At the very least, I need to have a strategic map (check), and an operational map with the units explicitly placed (each Lot, at least). I can do that. Generating tactical maps on the fly is quite another story.

The second issue is that running a game on a virtual space doesn't come naturally to me: I like to pull a bunch of blocks together and make scenes on the fly. Get a handful of dowels and call them orcs, or walruses and fly with this. I find Roll20 to dictate that each scene has to be prepared ahead of time, and thus promotes railroading a bit more than I'd like. I'll try to figure things out before the next session. 


  1. Wish I could have been there! Khazek would have loved to have thrown rocks with his uncle!

    1. I forgot to roll for Khazek's heroic actions. I just made a combat template document which is going to help me to keep track of everything.