Monday, July 12, 2010

Done With That!

Seems like this is the time to end things.  The explanation point in the title is not for ending the online campaign, which I've only just done this morning.  Rather, it is to commemorate the ending of the player's mass combat battle, that started in February and has ended this last Saturday, a total of TEN runnings.

The battle ended with most of the party within one or two blows of being killed.  The 9th level druid was killed.  Very nearly also were the 6th level illusionist and the 5th level bard.  But the illusionist was able to use his wand of paralyzation against the drow Queen (a 9th level fighter/magic user) - the second blast got past the Queen's magic resistance and she blew her saving throw.  The road not taken was that if the second blast had failed, the Queen would have gotten a hold of the paralyzation wand, would have used it generally against the party and things would have gotten very bad.  She ventured out to get the wand once she had ascertained that the illusionist possessed it - and rather than use her wand of fire to destroy the illusionist (which might have ruined the wand of paralyzation), she exposed herself.  If not for the on-the-spot arrival of the 5th level paladin on her warhorse (moving awfully fast), the illusionist would have died.

It was all downhill from there.  The 9th level fighter, who had joined from the other fiefdom (and who broke his arm during the combat) was able to sustain the West Gate, and kill off the drow 6th level fighter enjoying the benefits of a haste spell.  The party at the southeast gate finally broke through, and flooded the map with fresh fighters, who wrapped up the small combats quickly.

Surprisingly, the total time for the whole combat was 35 rounds.  As I said, the combatants were about 225 friendlies against 450 unfriendlies ... but that didn't lengthen the combat time very much.  Ballistas in the enemy hands did prove their worth, but the reload time was so slow that I'm thinking about changing that - even if its illogical, a faster reload time would make seige weapons more worthy of the cost and effort.  To match believable movement rates, rounds are 12 seconds long; the reload time for a catapult was set at 6 minutes and a ballista at 4 minutes (times suggested by source materials).  But that's obviously way too long.  I would lower them each to once every six to eight rounds if I were ever to do this again.

I really don't know if I would.  It took up a lot of campaign time, five months of my D&D running career (I'm not going to live forever).  The party seemed to enjoy it ... and they were certainly happy about the final result.

What follows is primarily for the party's benefit, and for posterity (so I can look at this some years from now).  Here was the fallout.

There were six players in the game.

Kat began the combat as a 1st level assassin, Lorell.  As I was giving experience out for damage done and damage taken at the end of each night, she had made it to 2nd level assassin by the end of the 9th session.  She was given 1/32nd share of the treasure, commensurate with her level, but because she had no henchmen to share it with, she was able to keep all of it for herself.  This amounted to 18,000 experience, making her quite comfortably 5th level.

Melissa began the combat as a 1st level mage, Falcon.  She, too, was able to rise to 2nd level, and she, too, got the share that Kat got.  She also jumped to 5th level.

The justification for both those players to increase so much wasn't contested by the party; they had both managed to survive in the thick of the action in spite of being first level, which meant good playing and avoiding a quick and rapid death, which could have hit either of them at any time.  It was only through smart play that they lived.  And since I feel that in real life, a huge amount of experience is gained by surviving through such an ordeal, I didn't have a problem with it.  This is a game, after all.  I know that many in the past on this blog and elsewhere have bitched and rowed about why they shouldn't be entitled to go up more than one level ... I don't really care about those people.  Both girls, playing in their first campaign, were very happy.  And after all, just because they're fifth now, doesn't guarantee they'll survive their next combat.

The next lowest level of the party was Chris, who has had a 6th level monk (Shalar) for what seems forever, along with a 6th level cleric (Widda) as henchman.  The cleric goes up levels much faster than the monk; so while Shalar was at 59,000 X.P. at the start of the combat, Widda at half that, just over 29,000, was the same level.  Chris' characters received 7/32 of the treasure, which was enough to bounce the monk Shalar up to 90,000 X.P, and Widda to 47,000 (distribution was 2:1).  Unfortunately, neither character went up a level - which was highly unusual.  However, this was appeased somewhat by Widda finding a potion of longevity, which reduced her age from 63 to 53 - enough to kick her strength and constitution up by 1 point each.  Since this increased Widda's strength from 17+1+1 to 18+1+2, and her constitution up to 16 (giving the character six more permanent hit points from bonuses), Chris was happy enough.  And both characters should go up soon.

For anyone who has played a monk, they know that 7th level is the Holy Grail: 2 attacks per round, a better fighting table, the first time the open hand damage exceeds a normal weapon average (6, as opposed to a halberd's 5.5).  Chris is champing somewhat at the bit, now being only 8,000 X.P. away.

My Wife also got a 7/32nd share.  Her 8th level mage, Garalzapan, and her 5th level paladin, Neema, both went up a level; her 4th level fighter, Hig, fell 3,000 X.P. short of 5th (distribution was 4:2:1).  My Wife is deliriously happy.  She also found out just how close she came to dying throughout the whole battle.

Jumping the whole campaign to six weeks after the combat, so that the magic could be identified and therefore distributed rationally, she learned that the drow Queen had been carrying an arrow of slaying designed to kill magic users.  Only chance meant that my Wife had never happened to cast any spell where the Queen could see her do it; the arrow of slaying has no saving throw, and a 9th level drow fighter would have hit Garalzapan's AC on a 4 in 20.  This is information I have been sitting on for six months, ever since I rolled the item and put it in the Queen's possession, without ever breathing a word of it ... wondering every session if this was going to be the one where my Wife's mage was to die.

Sometimes it is hard to be a DM.

My daughter's characters got 8/32nds of the treasure.  This was enough to boost her 7th level ranger, Falun, to 8th level, her 4th level thief, Ariana, to 5th, and her 2nd level mage/thief, Frederick, to 3rd - but her 6th level illusionist, Pen, did not go up a level ... a cruel act of fate, since Pen ultimately saved everyone, including himself.  He was given a +2 ring of protection in compensation.  My daughter was of course adamant that we roll up the ranger's followers RIGHT THEN AND THERE, though it was past 1 a.m. - so we did.  The most interesting result was two werebears, which are going to prove very interesting in the future.

And finally, Kevin received the same treasure as my daughter.  This jumped his 9th level druid (revived by a death's door spell); Pikel, to 10th level; his 5th level bard, Lyrial, to 6th; and finally, his 1st level fighter, Urlgel, to 3rd.  I'm fairly certain that his 6th level thief, Ivan, did not go up to 7th, but I'll have to ask.

More than anyone, Kevin took the hardest hit in the combat, though he acquitted himself very well.  He did lose a low level henchman, Dinin, during the combat.  Though his main character went up a level, Pikel is in the doldrums as far as a druid going up levels (I don't play the rule where druids must fight other druids), since the spells aren't that much of an improvement, and getting stronger is just a process of a few more hit points each level.  And the worst moment of the night was when Urlgen rolled his 2d10 for increased hit points, and rolled two's back to back.  Total increase, adding constitution: 8.  There was much gnashing of teeth.

So, all told, 15 levels gained.  Four characters are entitled to new henchmen: Lorell, Falcon, Garalzapan and Ariana.  Pikel is entitled to a henchman to replace Dinin, who died.  His druid Pikel is entitled to another animal friend, to join his wolf, bear and sabre-toothed tiger.

Thus, a massive haul.  The final total for X.P. was in the neighborhood of 576,000 total ... which matched with a trade system treasure algorithm I've been working on, based on the strength of the defeated enemy as a percentage of the total strength of all persons accounted for in that trading zone.  No single player got more than 32,000 X.P., which was Garalzapan - who received most of the arms and equipment because, technically, the battle was fought on land for which she is the fief lord.  She doesn't know it yet (not being that steeped in D&D detail), but as she has reached 9th level, that is name level for mages, and her character is about to be made a Landgraf of Transylvania ... that is, lesser nobility.

(it's a Holy Roman title, but I can't find the equivalent in Transylvania so that title will do; I'm sure my Wife won't mind)

32000 was more than two thirds the total she needed to go from 90,000 to 135,000 ... but it's a short level for a mage.  I compare it with giving a 2nd level thief (another short level) a mere 900 X.P. for a single encounter.  Considering that it took ten runnings to play out the battle, I find the final totals fair, reasonable and encouraging for the players.

A last note: there are so many changes in the party, so many new people and so many increases in levels that I find myself pressed to manage all the changes.  The fief that needs developing, the things the party will wish to buy with their sudden wealth, the need to rewrite spell levels for druids, bards and mages (spells need to be updated for how they work in my campaign, and I haven't done the spells the party has just climbed up into), plus an enormity of other details.

Funny, I could have been doing this for the previous six months.  But it never seems important at the time ...


Zak S said...

I've read the previous posts about it but I am still interested in the "experiential" nitty gritty of this epic fight. i.e. where the detail and variety cam from in the midst of weeks after weeks of one long battle.

(Obviously, if your players are happy, that detail and variety WAS there, I just would like to kinda know where, mostly.)

Like, for an individual PC, were the choices like "Ok, nobody can see me from here, should I go here or here, should I operate this device or that device" or was it mostly "to hit" rolls and choosing targets?

Did the players just sort of point to the computer screen and say where they were going?

How split up were the party?

Did everyone have some control over the overall strategic situation or was that mostly the province of the higher-level PCs?


dhowarth333 said...

I'm sorry...what?! You spent five months playing out a battle? One that you could have adjudicated in 30 minutes? Wow, now that is....something

The Hex Master said...

Now that you've played out mass combat with the standard combat rules, I'm curious how you'll resolve future mass encounters. Do you plan on using Battlesystem, another rule set or will you create your own system?

Also, how did you handle things that aren't in the standard combat rules, like fog of war type limitations such as restricting commands to written orders, etc. Or, did you allow the players to coordinate actions and share information between rounds?

Alexis said...


I did have people hiding in shadows and slipping up into towers to ‘take them’ single-handedly; this was done by both Ivan the thief and Shalar the monk. There were other tactical attacks, such as Falun the ranger assaulting the middle of the fort by mastodon, then holding her ground until reinforcements followed her through the hole in the wall she’d made. Yes, there was slogging, but by playing out every round of the combat in normal D&D style meant huge amounts of “individual” achievement was possible, especially for the spellcasters.

We did accept that the whole map was in view, since I displayed it via monitor ... but there were limitations on what the party could do, since I argued it was impossible to know who was in trouble or what was going on in another part of the map. There were actually few problems with this.

The party was enormously split up. At one point, in five different groups, operating individually. Most of the player characters (and with henchmen, that’s a lot of player characters) did not see each other through most of the combat. There were many zero level humans (armed with glaives, called ‘glaivers’ throughout the combat) as well as a contingent of elves ... so individual players were supported by NPCs throughout.

It was impossible initially to see how the strategic success would arrive. As it happened, I played the Queen so that she would ‘shore up’ whatever side was weakest – that proved to be the North Gate, where the most on both sides died. Killing the Queen was the key to victory, so she had to be drawn out into the open; the use of the paralyzation wand was the single factor that could do that. The wand was used because the Queen summoned monsters, which turned out to be ghouls, which compelled the Illusionist to use the wand to reverse the paralysis effects of the ghouls (I ruled the wand could be used that way).

The situation was extremely tense; the Queen was pounding the hell out of the Illusionist, and the Bard used a spell of my own creation called ‘Forte’ based on musical resonance. The spell creates a shock wave that throws back people in a 120-degree radius. The Bard used it to throw back the Illusionist and not the Queen (by cutting the 120-degree line between them), separating the two so that the Queen could then be momentarily distracted and the Illusionist could recover from the beating and use the wand. If not for the Paladin arriving at just that moment, and sopping up some damage from the Queen, the tactic wouldn’t have worked ... but it did work and the battle was more or less over from that point. It was just mopping up the little people after that.

There’s no way that this mix of events could be guessed at by anyone prior. If the ghouls had not been summoned, the wand wouldn’t have been used in the open, the Queen would not have tried to get the wand and the battle would have been resolved in some other way.

Alexis said...


Yes, and the party hated it so much that of six players, no one missed a single one of those ten runnings, while everyone was very encouraging about how exciting and tense the entire experience was.

Alexis said...

Hex Master,

I have no idea. As I said, I wouldn’t want to go through the whole thing again, I’d like to find a faster way to do it ... but any ‘fast-track’ mass combat system would ruin the tension that went on with the combat, making it stale and uninteresting.

I think what I’d rather do would be to allow some players to run other players by proxy, and compress the number of sessions into a shorter period of time. That is, rather than running every two weeks, have the combat occur over the internet, by my posting the map, giving a day or two for either the primary player or the proxy player to give that character’s action, then roll all the combat rolls myself while impinging on no one’s time but mine.

I am not the ‘written order’ type, though I’ve played plenty of games that used that system – learned at the knee of Diplomacy back in high school.

I am DEFINITELY a fan of doing it all out, with no shortcuts in the actual game ... it is just the moving and rolling time that is annoying. No matter how I tried to shave time off, by computer or die rolling, the continuous rules checking and evaluation simply spun the time out enormously. My original plan to have the computer do much of the rolling failed because of the considerable variables involved. But I learned from the experience and I will think of short cuts in the future.

For clarity’s sake, let me make my position clear: I regret nothing. If another mass combat occurs, I will do it without a mass combat system.

But i don’t want to anytime soon.

PatrickW said...

Kudos to you and your players!

Closest I've ever done was switching over to Warhammer Fantasy Battle (2nd Edition IIRC) from Fantasy Hero. It let us run a mass combat or three over a day, in some cases a very long day. I remember the thrill of completing the battle and my character living through it.

Kudos again to you and yours!