I have mentioned the background on the Blackstone Campaign a few places but this is my first post-adventure update.
Which needs more background.
This group, which we call Blackstone 1, has been playing for about 4 years, or about 120 individual sessions. The group is relatively high level for a number of meta-reasons. It consists of:
Doomsman, a 10th level Fighter. A fairly realistic take on the barbarian, he is less like a raving berzerker and much more like an actual barbarian. Using the advanced weapon mastery and style mastery skills of Player's Option: Combat and Tactics he is a Master of the two-handed sword with 2 combat styles from the campaign - combined with a girdle of giant strength, a good armor class, and a magic two-hander he is a fierce hand-to-hand foe.
Darkwalk, an 8th/8th Cleric/Magic-user. Since I use spell points (from PO: Spells and Magic) he casts about 100 spells a day. OK, that is an exaggeration, but Darkwalk is fine example of a cleric/magic-user and their flexibility.
Stardust, a 13th level Thief. Stardust is the character of the oldest and most experienced player in the group and is very good at the role of scout. She has worked to maximize her skills and items but is, frankly, about to the upper limit of what a thief can do (more about what I think is 'high level' in another post)
Mournglow, a 10th level Magic-user. The player has focused Mournglow on the 'generalist with a lot of academic skills' mold and it is working. Very fond of using Polymorph Other to change foes into innocuous creatures, especially beavers and cows.
Ember, a 10th level Fire Elementalist. Used the Skills and Powers rules so that he can fight with a short sword. The only spell the character likes more than Fireball is another Fireball. Ended the adventure Steading of the Hill Giant Chief about 8 rounds into the game when he caught the log fortress on fire with his 3rd or 4th Fireball.
The party is very familiar with each other and is, frankly, fun to DM for.
The Setup: About a game year ago the Grey Elven Kingdom to the East collapsed under the weight of a certain revelation and a Drow attack, greatly weakening the Eastern Elven Alliance. About 4 game months ago the party rescued a High Elven princess from the (rather modified) Hall of the Fire Giant King and sent her to her home with an escort of NPCs. About 2 game weeks ago the party received an urgent letter from the Princess informing them that 1) Her father and brothers were either missing or dead, leaving her in charge, 2) the Evil Eye Orcs were marching on her eastern border and 3) the remaining forces of the EEA had no hope of stopping the Orcs.
The Previous Session: The party raced East on their hippogriffs and barely arrived in time. The session was a struggle to revent the Orcs from crossing the river border of the Elflands and, essentially, only delaying it. They were successful in wiping out a lot of the (leveled) leadership of the Orcs including the head Orc scout (a leveled thief), the Orc's chief Shaman (with levels in Cleric) and a number of other orcs.
There was also a setup where Doomsman faced the champion of the Orcs, a half-orc with fighter levels, weapon mastery, and a sword of Human slaying. Although the toughest fight of his career, Doomsman prevailed and, as per the rules of the duel, the Ogre and Orog allies of the Orcs departed and the actual battle was set up for the next morning near the river banks.
This Session: In between sessions the players had been a bit nervous because the Elves were outnumbered by 50% and the Orcs had used the time of the duel to set themselves up on a hill with the river at the back and left flank and a wood on their right while the elves would be forced to advance over an open field. During session setup Stardust discovered that the Orcs had also secretly hidden reserves in that same wood - the Elves were actually outnumbered over 2:1! Ember and Doomsman got the Elves into formation and began their advance while Stardust and Mournglow approached the enemy while invisible and flying. The general idea was that Stardust and Mournglow would target enemy spell casters and leaders while Ember provided battlefield spells, Darkwalk supported the troops and Doomsman fought in the front line.
With his divinations Mournglow quickly realized the main Orcish leaders were within a Globe of Invulnerability and that the missing Elven king and prince were shacked to the Orcish banner right next to them, so he shifted his focus to the reserves. His engagement with the reserves resulted in his own Minor Globe being dispelled (!) but he was able to summon 3 Brown Puddings to engage the reserve forces and then fly away. Stardust left to see what she could do against the leaders and Mournglow looked for more targets.
Ember began sending Fireballs against Orcish heavy crossbowmen while Darkwalk cast Bless, Prayer, Recitation, etc. over the Elven troops. Even with their help the Elven front line of swordsmen quickly went down as they hit the Orcish pikes. As the second line Elven Heavy Spearmen engaged the Pikes the Light Spearmen on the flanks prepared to be encircled by Orcish Spearmen. It was looking pretty grim when Doomsman, Darkwalk, and Ember all decided to do what they do best.
Doomsman simply hacked his way through the Orcish Pikes to their rear as Ember put up a Wall of Fire on the Elven right flank and Darkwalk called down a Flame Strike on the Orcs menacing the left flank.
About this time the invisible silent Stardust landed behind the Orc leaders and began to surreptitiously free the Elven prisoners while the Orcs were busy watching and directing the battle. During this process she realized that the Orcish banner seemed to incorporate some sort of holy relic.
Ember slpped another Wall of Fire on the other Elven flank as Darkwalk kept using spells to assist the Elves. About this time Mournglow decide to Polymorph the Orc who had dispelled his Minor Globe into a - Ki-rin.
This was interesting since the new Ki-rin 'lost his mind' and became a Ki-rin. I soon decided the Ki-rin would help, but not by crassly impaling orcs - the party watched as the Ki-rin flew up and away into the clouds.
About this time Doomsman blew his Horn of Valhalla and 3 Einherjar joined him as he charged up the hill toward the Orc King.
In the battle of armies the Elves superior skill and armor was beginning to tell and Darkwalk's spells were starting to really swing the fight, although the match was still against the Elves.
The reserves soon finished off the puddings and started to form back up to join the fight, prompting Mournglow to head back towards them.
Whew! We took a break at this point and gathered ourselves.
Once back at it Doomsman and 2 of the Einherjar cut their way through the Orcish infantry behind the Pikes and continued up the hill. Ember started Fireballing Orcish shortbowmen, Mournglow began to start dropping spells into the reserves, and the Elves brought down the Pikes and resumed their advance, this time against the Orcish infantry.
Meanwhile Stardust freed the Elven prince and began to free the Elven king.
The Elves engaged the infantry but now had the reserves threatening their left flank. Mournglow was doing his best to slow the reserves but was struggling a bit. Doomsman was down to 1 Einherjar but was almost through the last troops before the Orc King's bodyguards. Stardust was rushing to free the Elf king before she was spotted by those same bodyguards. Ember was doing well but was actually running low on Fireballs, which is weird.
About this time the party as a whole noticed that a storm was brewing very suddenly and Stardust realized the Orc king was occasionally casting spells, seemingly on his own troops!
Mournglow attempted an attack on the leaders (he was still flying) and was hit twice by the Orc king's spear for his efforts. The Orc king's spear returned when thrown and Mournglow quickly learned it was a Wounding weapon, prompting him to return to slow the reserves.
Doomsman and the last Einherjar engaged the main group of bodyguards in a fight that soon turned into a cuisinart. While he was taking damage a bit he was dropping a bodyguard per blow and was hitting 3 times a round! The Einherjar was keeping the bodyguards off his back but was fading fast.
Ember shifted his focus to the reserves using the last of his Fireballs on them as Mournglow also returned to hitting them. The elves were starting to overwhelm the infantry but still had the reserves approaching their flank and had taken pretty severe losses.
Doomsman finally cut his way through the first group of bodyguards, although he had taken two hits from the Orc king's spear of wounding (which had been thrown from the hilltop). The Einherjar finally went down as Doomsman charged the second group of boyguards around the King. The Ki-rin finally had enough clouds and did a Call Lightning on the reserves as Mournglow and Ember also continued hitting them. Stardust got the elf king free and began cutting down the Orc banner, hoping this would drop the Globe of Invulnerability and allow Mournglow to assault the leaders with magic.
Although greatly slowed and weakened the Orcish reserves had still drawn to within moments of engaging the Elven flank and rear. Ember was almost out of spells and was contemplating drawing his own sword and joining the line. Darkwalk was out of attack spells and was tending the wounded and also preparing for the worst. Mournglow had a spell or two in reserve in case the Globe went down but was also largely out. Stardust was hopeful she could bring down the Globe but was very isolated.
The Orc king shouted an order and his bodyguards allowed Doomsman direct access for the king and Doomsman to duel. Doomsman was not just hurt but the Wounding effect meant he was losing more h.p. each round while the Orc king was fresh and had Prayer, etc. active on himself.
The duel was a lot of fun to DM simply because the party felt that the battle was riding on it. The previous day's duel had been the closest Doomsman had ever come to losing such a fight, and he had been fresh then. Being wounded and Wounded there was a bit more tension during combat!
It was still over in just two rounds! Doomsman's player rolled well and hit hard and was able to parry each of the two blows that would have otherwise hit. As the Orc king died he uttered a curse on Doomsman.
With the death of the Orc king his spells ended (he had the War sphere, granting him access to spells like Courage and Rally) - this, combined with the shock of the last of their high leaders dying, broke the Orcish units that could see the duel which led to a cascade and, within 3 rounds, the Orcs were in a panicked retreat.
Soon the Elves were gathered up and being cared for by their own healers and Darkwalk, their king and prince were returned, and the Ki-rin harried the retreating Orcs with his Call Lightning. Darkwalk had memorized Remove Curse for just such an emergency, so Doomsman received that before all his wounds were bound.
Of the Elven force of almost 900 less than 430 survived the battle and many of the survivors were wounded. They lost no leaders and no spell casters.
Of the Orcish force of about 2,100 less than 900 survived the battle and retreat. They lost all top leaders, most of their spell casters, the majority of their tough bodyguards, and even a large number of 'sergeants'.
The party received the following treasure as a reward;
-Each received a cloak pin that grants them a +2 on reaction rolls with Good elves from the continent and a +2 on saves vs. Cold.
-2,000 g.p. in various gem stones.
-Doomsman was granted the boon of being allowed to court the Elf king's daughter.
General Notes from this Adventure: These are both my own insights and what the players shared after the two sessions.
1) Unless prepared for it, even a high level party can really struggle against an army of more than small size. As Mournglow put it 'they can't really hurt us unless we are really foolish, but every encounter that slows us down means other units get through.' Even against really tightly-packed formations a Fireball can affect no more than about 60 targets. Since even the Pike walls weren't 40' deep Ember's Fireballs were affecting between 36 (pikes) and 12 (heavy crossbowmen) Orcs at a time.
The orcish army was in three columns, each heading for a different river crossing. Even with hippogriffs it was difficult to even find the Orcs since they typically travelled at night and used trees for cover as much as they could during the day.
2) Siege weapons are very vulnerable to PCs. A Flaming Sphere can wreck a catapult very fast. Fireballs tend to do it faster.
3) Some combat spells work great on the battlefield; but most combat spells don't. Fireball and Wall of Fire had an impact on the battlefield as a whole. Almost no other combat spell (in this battle) had that level of impact.
4) Clerics can be more important on the battlefield than mages. The War sphere spells of the Orc king had a huge effect, preventing three of his units from breaking and allowing another to fight more effectively. Without those spells the Elves might have suffered far fewer casualties and, perhaps, even won without the support of the PCs.
On the other hand, Darkwalk's use of Bless, Prayer, Recitation and similar spells had a major impact on the battlefield, especially along the front line. Let me show you why with raw numbers;
Orc = 1 HD and A.C. 6
Elf - 1+1 HD and A.C. 5
Right away we see that the average Elf will hit the average Orc 55% of the time and only be hit 45% of the time. Combined with an average of 6 h.p. vs. an average of 5 h.p. the Elves have a quality edge to begin with.
Now, let's get the front line of Elves under a Bless spell;
Orc = still has a 45% chance to hit
Elf = now has a 60% chance to hit and makes Morale checks at +1
Ok, that is a nice boost, especially since mass combat is a game of numbers. Now, let's look at the same situation if the Elves were under Prayer
Orc = 40% chance to hit, -1 damage
Elf = 60% chance to hit, +1 damage
Even better, right? Now let's look at just Recitation;
Orc = 35% chance to hit, -2 damage
Elf = 65% chance to hit, +2 damage
Wow, this is a major change! Here's the thing, though - these three spells stack their bonuses! The Elven front line were longswordsmen (who get a +1 to hit from being Elves) and were under all three spells at the same time, meaning that at the initial shock of impact the forces looked like this;
Orc = 25% chance to hit, -3 damage
Elf = 80% chance to hit, +3 damage
The spells alone provide a 40% change in the battle odds! Add in the Elven long sword bonus and the damage shift and this is why a force of 100 Elven swordsmen were able to devastate 400 Orcish pikemen before they went down. Even with the fact the pikemen were making 3 attacks before the elves were able to respond with one the huge difference in ability to hit and the damage shifts made all the difference in the world. In the battle above if Darkwalk and not prepared the front line with the spells he did (which was a major impact on his spell ability) the Elven front line would almost certainly have simply been cut down in the initial shock while doing effectively no damage to the pikes. Instead while the swordsmen did fall to the pikes it took 3 times as long and they wiped out half of the pikes doing so.
Imagine if the Orcs had simply put 3 low-level clerics along the back rank of the Pikes, all casting the spell Chant spell before and during the battle - AND Darkwalk wasn't there - this would have made the Orcs equal to the Elves!
Suddenly the Chant spell makes a lot more sense, doesn't it? Low-level clerics man the walls of besieged castles chanting for hours at a time; the monks in the cathedral aren't just singing in the choir - it is a continuous Chant to help protect the sacred space; etc.
Now the players are back to the West and where their Dwarven hirelings are still working on their combined stronghold!