The Battle of Yando Falls

I'm trying to use elements from Domains at War (D@W) in my latest campaign (called Age of Autarchs). I figured other referees might find some of my thoughts useful. This first post relates to my kickoff session which I called "The Battle of Yando Falls".

I wanted to have an introductory session to teach the players how the D@W Campaign rules work. The intent is to create an assymetric "setpiece" battle which is initially tilted in the favour of the opposition. However, the odds can be improved relatively easily by player action.

The adventure featured the PCs as lieutenants in a mercenary company (the Black Thorns) who are tasked to reinforce a fort which has suddenly found itself blockaded by enemy forces.

I created a scenario where the fort commander was too inexperienced and mediocre to adequately deploy his defences. (In game terms, his Leadership Ability was too low to command all the troops.) With the PCs support, he could succesfully deploy all his units and sucessfully defend the Fort.

The Fort at Yando Falls:

I modelled Fort Yando off of the map of Fort Suskiskyn from the D&D Module B10 "Night's Dark Terror". The map features a few stone towers with several wood buildings and a wooden palisade for defense. In my game, the river was actually much larger (I replaced the river bridge with a dock) and I assumed that the animal pens were fenced in (rather than a palisade wall).

Taking a rough count of the buildings and palisades from the map, I figure that the stronghold is worth about 22,500gp. Since most of the defenses are wooden, this represents only 1000 SHP. Nonethless, it should be able to support about 8 units.

A Problem of Scale:

I've run into a problem when using the D@W rules - I can't reconcile the scale. At the Company scale, Fort Yando should support around 960 troops, which seems absolutely ridiculous for a fort of this size. I can totally believe that it could hold 240 soldiers, though, which is the "Platoon" scale value.

Since the PCs are only mid-level, I'm using the "Platoon" scale anyways (30 infantry per unit). I've gotten so used to this scale that I often forget that the default scale is Company (120 infantry per unit), so I'm going to assume that everything is scaled for "Platoon" numbers and not worry about the discrepancy.

Pre-Battle Gameplay:

The session started with the PCs setting off towards Fort Yando. None of the players requested additional troops from their mercenary commander (I would have provided an additional unit if they asked). Fort Yando was under blockade from an unknown force, and I allowed a Strategem check for the PCs to determine the enemy forces.

During play, this was treated as a scouting expedition by the "sneaky" PCs. They were able to find scores of orcs concealed in the scrublands surrounding Fort Yando. One of the players tried to track down and assasinate the orcish commander before reaching Yando. The orc leadership was too well defended to make an attempt, but he did spot lieutenants from his own mercenary company (the Black Thorns) meeting with the orc commander.

Defence at Yando:

After scouting against the orcs, the PCs reached Fort Yando and convinced the commander that they should help take command of the troops. (In game terms, the commander allowed the PCs to lead divisions of the Yando forces.) This meant that Yando no longer suffered from the "overwhelmed commander" penalty (D@W Campaigns p.70), and that each PC was now a Commander for Yando (with henches as Lieutenants).

The PCs decided on a heroic foray, bidding 2.5 BR - in this case, a small force of PCs acted as "bait" and challenged the orc chief to one-on-one combat. The chief - along with his "elite" forces - charged towards the PCs.

(At this point I also revealed that the orcs were working for a neighbouring Wizard-Duke. During the foray, the Wizard approached the fort under the effects of an invisibility spell and cast earth's excrescence, shifting the eart to create a breach in the wooden palisade.)

The heroes were able to defeat the chief and repel the elite orcs. I was surprised how quickly we were able to do the Heroic Foray - it only took a few minute before the orcs' morale broke.

Next we rolled for the actual assault on Yando.  I had the players roll dice for their troops, and I rolled for the orcs. Again I was surprised how fast this played out - the whole battle was over in a few minutes of game time. In fact, I was expecting this adventure to take two sessions - but we wrapped up in one evening with time to spare.

(Speaking of time to spare, this post has gotten a lot longer than I intended and I'm out of time. I'll stop here and add more of my thoughts later, if there is interest...)

Attacking Forces:

The orc attackers consisted of 9 units, plus a catapult, led by an Orc chief:

1 unit of "elite" orcs (BR 2.5) led by Orc chief
2 orc heavy infantry (2*1.5 = BR 3)
2 orc heavy infantry (2*1.5 = BR 3)
2 orc crossbowmen (2*2 = BR 4) 
2 orc crossbowmen (2*2 = BR 4)
1 medium catapult (treated as BR 0.5)

That's a total of BR 17 for the Orcs. (The Orcs' Wizard-Duke ally acted only during the Heroic Foray.) Normally, only 8 units would have been able to assault the Fort, but since the Wizard-Duke opened a breach during the heroic foray I allowed all the orc units to participate in battle.

Defending Forces:

The Yando Defenders consisted of 8 units, plus some light ballistae, led by Commander Nasser:

2 light infantry (2*1 = BR 2)
2 heavy infantry (2*2 = BR 4)
3 bowmen (3*1.5 = BR 4.5)
1 unit of conscripts (BR 0.5)
2 light ballistae (treated as BR 1)

That's a total of BR 12 for the defenders, increased to BR 16 when inside the fort (see D@W Campaigns, p.83). As an overwhelmed commander, Nasser would only get BR 13 without PC assistance. With the PCs available to each command a division, they were able to deploy all the forces effectively.

Not knowing the full breakdown of the fort I won't opine yet, but I've usually operated under the impression there's a gulf between a fully-defended-for-siege population and the normal-everyday-working population of any given fortress - if there is, say, 1.5 units for every 100' of wall, that's 180 men on 100 feet of wall, or less than 1 ft per man.

Not everybody's on the wall; and they're crowded around available to back up breaches, replace the fallen, etc - which helps in a siege to apply maximum defensive force. I'd have to look through the book to see what sort of effective penalties there are for being understrength, but I feel like there'd be a couple of rounds of delay getting forces to where they're needed most, if the fortress is also being attacked by a force less than needed.

Normal-everyday population probably looks a little more like some ratio based on what used to be the upkeep cost for strongholds and whatever Wandering Into War from Axioms might? say about numbers needed for scouting, but, not sure. Haveta cogitate on it if it's not something fully defined. I kinda feel like we've approached this before somewhere in the forums, though...

My own party - in a similar situation but with about half as many troops - didn't even bother defending from the fort and rode out, so it never really came up.

cast earth's excrescence, shifting the eart to create a breach in the wooden palisade.

Ah, cool, I allowed my PCs to break a bit of a palisade doing the same spell. 

And please, continue laying it out. 



Gunpowder in Battle:

This was my first session in the Age of Autarchs campaign, and the first time I've used D@W. One of the players expressed an interest in Dwarven Machinists, but I didn't really want to include them as a major campaign element. In return, I suggested that maybe we could try out the gunpowder rules from Guns of War. But I wasn't sure if all the players would be on board with this.

I decided that the Dwarves in my campaign had developed gunpowder technology, but it had never spread beyond their enclaves - kind of like early gunpowder use by China in or own history. I presented the players with an NPC Alchemist who was really pushing his vision that gunpowder would change the battlefield forever. He had the personality of a used-car salesmen, and probably stole the technology from the Dwarves. He was offering gunpowder weapons for use at Yando "for really cheap" to prove their use in war. The problem was that the PCs would need to haul all the equipment to the Fort, slowing them down. And of course although the initial sale was discounted, the Alchemist would charge an ongoing "service fee" (they would realize later just how much Alchemical gunpowder costs).

The PCs could ignore him (getting to the Fort faster, but delaying the adoption of firearms in the campaign world), or take him up on his offer (if the guns were successful, then they'd be introduced to the game).

In the end, the PCs agreed to his terms and I now have gunpowder in my campaign.

What I Wish I Did vs. What I Actually Did:

I didn't fully think through how to use gunpowder before I ran the session. I was focused on personal firearms, so the Alchemist's shipment consisted of arquebuses and gunpowder. What I should have done was use gunpowder artillery. (If I had gone this route, then I would also remove the ballistae from the defending forces.)

However, in the actual game the Alchemist was peddling arquebuses instead. To reflect this, I allowed the infantry defending Fort Yando to make their initial attack with the firearms. (I figured that since they weren't drilled in their use that they wouldn't be able to reload quickly enough for repeated use.) I treated this as +0.5 BR for their first attack (or +2 BR in the first battle round), plus the attacking orcs would need to make morale checks.

In any case, the Battle of Yando Falls ended up being the first time in the recorded history of my campaign that firearms were openly used in war. The success of the defenders led to the adoption of gunpowder by other forces in later years.

(dupe, will delete later)

As far as less-advanced handheld guns go, handgonnes were discussed here:

...but I think aside from cost there's not a lot of difference?

My gunpowder-game had a few historically inaccurate things available, I'd mentioned several times the availability of small-bore artillery, but they never bit on it. The band of brigands they eventually pissed off enough to earn a siege did bring one (smallest gun); and it fired twice, the last point-blank at a giant demon-spider their reckless necromancer summoned. So that was kinda cool.

As a brief note on man-to-man scale: one of the henchmen had a pair of pistols, and he basically saved the party crit'ing a manticore in the face. I'd never underestimate the power of the weapons even as a single-shot effort.


What did your PCs think of the overall D@W process? I've had some... rough experiences where not everyone in the party is jazzed about switching to Wargame mode.

I warned them prior to the campaign kickoff and ran the first session using pre-gen characters with enough "hooks" into wargame rules - the one with Leadership & Command, the one with a high Military Strategy, the "Hijinks" guy, a cavalry lancer, and the wilderness scout. Each player was able to contribute in some way, and we were able to figure out some of the fiddly bits in the rules together.

When they got to making their own PCs in the following session, they had ideas about what they wanted to accomplish.

Oh - and they were really jazzed about leading dozens of troops each (we're playing still at the platoon scale). It's a big jump up from one or two henchmen.

Koewn is correct on the thinking about stronghold garrisons - mathematically, it's based on the fact that a unit is 120 men organized 20 wide and 6 deep, at 3' per man yielding 60' width.  

That said, it is possible to design strongholds that are correct rules-as-written but can yield garrisons sizes that are totally implausible. The classic example would be: a rectangular courtyard with a 60' long length and 10' width. This would yield a unit capacity of 2 units, one for each 60' length of wall. But in fact a 60' x 10' area isn't even enough to fit a single unit! 

If a fort is exceptionally cramped with layers of walls and buildings in close proximity, it will have more unit capacity than it should. As Judge its important to do a sanity check to make sure the stronghold's unit capacity is plausible.


To Alex's point, I finally looked at the map from B10.

If I was doing it, I'd consider the main house and stone tower portion of the complex the main stronghold, with everything else being outbuildings manned only for the initial part of the conflict. I might just consider the length of the building walls that join up to the palisade as "wall" and use that for the capacity rather than the actual building area if that's less.

I'd also consider investing in stone walls for at least the remainder of the main house-tower-complex, starting with external-facing. Maybe open of a ditch to get river on both sides of the castle, and turn that solid bridge into a drawbridge.