Sunday, January 22, 2012

Age of Conan: Session Eighteen

Last session we played saw the heroes make it back to King Cneph Coalhair's ringfort with the horn in hand.  As they made their way to his throne room, they were ambushed by Vanir raiders who had infiltrated the fort.  These stole the horn and took off running.  The PCs gave chase, eventually capturing the thief just as he made it over the walls and outside.  They had the horn in hand, only to discover themselves face to face with a small Vanir army who had come to challenge the fort for the horn.

Trapped outside, a few of the PCs fought valiantly as King Coalhair's men hacked and slashed their way to the rescue.  In the end, the Vanir were sent running and the horn presented to Coalhair.

The next day, however, grave news came to the fort: Rorik Hodderson, one of the Vanir leaders, had captured Irda, a revered holy woman of Ymir who was said to be gifted with prophecy, and was threatening her death if the Aesir did not turn over the horn. Knowing full well that Rorik had sealed his own fate with this gambit--priests and priestesses of Ymir are off limits to both sides and come and go between the Nordheimr as they please--Coalhair entreated the PCs to track Rorik and rescue the priestess.

En route, the party encountered Irda's bodyguard, a mentally challenged giant of a man named Fist, who had been overcome by Hodderson's men when Irda was kidnapped, and Fist joined their quest.

They made it to Hodderson's camp at the ruin of an ancient Hyperborean tower, and managed to infiltrate the place to get a handle on the layout.  They then staged an ambush that allowed them to take on the Vanir while Merhotep slipped into the tower to rescue the priestess.

At the climax, an epic battle took place between Hrogar and Fist, and Rorik Hodderson  Halfway through the fight, Fist had a sudden epileptic fit and fell to the ground, convulsing, leaving a weakened Hrogar to face the enraged Vanir warrior alone.  Hrogar emerged victorious, but only barely.

Unfortunately, as the group made preparations to head back to the ringfort, the ancient battlefield upon which they stood erupted with the now all-too-animate bodies of the putrid undead.  Merhotep shouted, "quickly, into the tower!"

And that's where we left off.  Tonight's game will pick up at that point.

The game tonight includes an undead siege, which I had originally intended to run with Chainmail, but not everyone in the group is an experienced miniatures player, and I am certainly not experienced at refereeing miniatures battle games.  I much prefer a narrative approach to mass combat, and so I have waffled for weeks about this--even putting off the game last week to give me one more week to explore my options.  In the end, the Betrayer of Asgard game contains a narrative system for handling this particular siege, and I think that I will adapt it for use with my OD&D hack--all that will really be required is reducing target numbers by four to account for the difference in average between a d20 (11.5) and 2d6 (7).  What's nice about this particular system is that it allows me to grant situational bonuses to the Aesir and zombies based (a) upon preparations the PCs and Aesir make before the battle, and (b) actions that the PCs decide to take during the battle.  Combining this with the Victory Point system already inherent in the adventure makes for what I think will be a pretty slick narrative mass battle which I think I can use to create a lot more excitement and mood than would a simple Chainmail miniatures battle.

Plus, I don't have to figure out how to build the ringfort and surrounding woods with the crap I have laying around the house.

I guess I'm just a narrative combat kind of guy.  I've never really been a fan of tactical miniatures-based combat in role playing games, and while I'd still love to play Chainmail at some point, I think for my Age of Conan game I'm going to stick with quick-and-dirty, fast resolution, and purely narrative scenarios. I think they serve far better to paint a picture in the minds of the players, build tension, and keep the game flowing and exciting than would breaking everything down to move tokens around on a table and playing a purely tactical game.

What is actually quite exciting is that the narrative combat in this scenario could be pretty easily adapted to almost any mass combat, just by changing the victory conditions for each battle, and altering the specifics of the PC encounters during the melee.

How it works is thus: the PCs have been racking up "Victory Points" during each stage of this adventure; these VPs are applied in various ways as bonuses or penalties to climactic acts at the end of the stages. In this case they will apply as bonuses to the mass combat rolls of the Aesir against their opponents. 

The mass combat rolls are simply a die roll, adding a bonus representing the strength of each side, the victory points of the characters, and situational bonuses.  Compare the rolls, and the higher score wins the round.  Player characters can choose to take heroic actions during the round to bolster their side and gain further bonuses if they choose (of course, failing can result in penalties).

Depending on the degree to which the Aesir win or are beaten for the round, they and their opponents suffer variable gains and losses in strength scores, representing both casualties taken and the fighting spirit of each side.  Battle continues until one of several victory conditions are met.

I like this approach.  I've seen a lot of mass combat systems, some that worked better than others, but most of them have the commonality that even the narrative ones get too bogged down in tracking morale, casualties, battle conditions, etc, and lose sight of the fast-and-loose elegance needed for a true narrative system.  This one is pure elegance, and I may just have to adapt it as an option in my forthcoming Hyborian bestiary. 

Hm, now there's a thought...narrative combat for OD&D using the 2d6 combat system.  Gary and Dave's heads would explode.


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