Monday 27 March 2023

Trollopulous Adjusted Session 11 (Machodor #3); TWO MASS BATTLES!


This session was a really great one, but one of the things that made it possible was the use of 1 to 1 time  between sessions, since the calendar caught up with these PCs two weeks previously. During the downtime some of the players were training, but the others could, and did, move about the area gathering clues and tidying up loose ends.  So much happened that I've thought about doing a downtime session report. Anyway, when we started the session everyone was on the same page with what they wanted to do and where they needed to go.

Timekeeping (Aus)

This session took place on 24/Mar/2023 and the PCs adventured for 3 days.

Player Characters Present

Godleve (Level 5 Cleric of Machodor)

Giuseppe (Level 4 Paladin from Rome, Brovenloft)

Sever (Level 3 Ranger of Machodor)

Shamus (Level 2 Irish Fighter from Brovenloft)

Slippery Pete (Level 1 Thief of unknown provenance) broke a tooth in thief training and could not go

Leopold (Level 1 Fighter of unknown provenance, rescued from under Castle Von Necro)

Downtime Summary

Last session revealed that a group of Pilgrims were, in reality, Birdmen (aka Kenku) and that they were behind so much of the mischief that the PCs had been cleaning up. During downtime they worked out the likely location of the Birdman lair and the birdman they had captured (who had transformed himself to look and sound just like Slippery Pete) agreed to lead the party there. An army of Irishmen from Brovenloft had lost their leader and needed the party's guidance to rescue him. Not incidentally, a nearly fatal random encounter in downtime revealed the terrible reality of the Red Dragon "Lord Inferno".

Session Report

A new day dawned clear and bright over Schloss Ragnar. The party formed up with their Irish troops. There was a bit of talk about obtaining heavier mounts, but none were available in the dwarven stronghold. The group went north east to a approximately the centre of the bandit mountains and camped in a defensible valley near their destination. Nothing bothered the well defended force and the next morning also greeted them with clear weather.

Because I had such a good idea of what the players wanted to do, I could indulge in a bit of boxed text:

"At last you reach the face of the precipice itself, and find yourselves looking into the mouth of a dark tunnel at the foot of the vast wall of rock that forms the lip of the volcano, and which at this point towers up precipitously above you for fifteen hundred or two thousand feet. Out of this tunnel flows a considerable stream of water, and the channel was clearly deliberately carved to allow the water to flow next to a roadway about 8 feet wide.

The Birdman halts and says, "From here the way narrows considerably, and there are many stairs. Horses cannot follow."

There was some talk of leaving the Irish light cavalry behind to guard the baggage train, but, as they could fight on foot using their lances as spears, they were too valuable in a fight to leave behind. I'm not sure if any of the players caught the hint at this stage that they were going to need every last one of the Irish to face what lay ahead. The birdman assured them that his people rarely used the stairs, since they could fly, and that there was enough space in the tunnel for it to be a defensible position for the baggage train and the horses.

It did occur to everyone at this point that with the kenku having shown an ability to take on the forms of the party, more operational security was needed. They chose a password that I'm certain no one would ever think of.

After an hour or so they reached the top of the stairs and the path lead out through a pass in which the stone on either side had been carved to resemble rope hanging vertically. The Birdman warned them to be careful of a long fall ahead, and that also they were approaching an area the kenku used to get in and out of the mountain. Amazingly the path lead them up to a chunk of mountain shaped just like Mel Gibson's head (they had been standing in the mullet). What dark significance this could have had for the inhabitants of the area was unknown. 

not to scale

The path led them around to the front of the head, up the chin, and into the mouth. Giuseppe tried to detect evil but found none. They travelled through the mouth and found...  oh let's have some more boxed text:

"As anticipated, you have passed right through the precipice, and are now on the farther side, at the top of a slope which leads onto a glacier covered plain, several miles in diameter, surrounded on all sides by shear walls that extend a further 1000' into the thinning air. Light from outside somehow passes through Mel Gibson's head to relieve the gloom of the place, but no real heat is contained in this light. Out on the distant walls, there are other pinpricks of light which may indicate other similar apertures.

It is brutally cold.

Here, on a hellishly ancient table-land fully 1500 feet high, and in a climate deadly to habitation, there stretched to your vision's limit a tangle of huge orderly stone structures which only the desperation of mental self-defence could possibly attribute to any but conscious and artificial cause.

The effect of the monstrous sight is indescribable, for some fiendish violation of known natural law seems certain at the outset.

You can hear the murmurs of the Irish, they too are unnerved."

While the humans gathered their courage in the face of something completely alien to them, the birdman gave no indication that the city of cyclopean blocks bothered it in any way; but he did tell them they must not tarry outside due to the cold, and that the under levels where he must lead them were warmer; due to the still extant features of the city which make use of the heat from the deep in the earth.

The party agreed and soon they were travelling through a maze of labyrinthine complexity, involving curiously irregular difference in floor levels, and they blazed their trail in the sandstone blocks that were the main building material of the place. Giuseppe again tried to detect evil, but with no result. It was warmer though, so they began to feel a bit more confident, and as they travelled the lower levels the carvings and proportions began to conform more closely to human experience.

Many of the carvings had been destroyed by what they could easily guess to be large bird beaks getting sharpened, but in places they could make out enough to assemble of sort of history of the place; the previous inhabitants over used a fire source beneath the earth, depleting a very large reservoir which stretches underground for miles to the north, and that attracted the attention of a giant flying creature which lived at the other end of the passage; which came and destroyed them. Clearly metaphorical, the party speculated that it was a reference to climate change.

At last they reached their destination, a stupendously large chamber, with a ceiling over 30 feet high. The main feature of the area were row upon row of pillars of fire running from the floor to the ceiling. The birdman told them this was the place, and that his people were even now preparing themselves. He reminded them of their bargain, but it was pointed out that they had agreed to free him only when they had freed the VIPs the kenku were holding (a detail I didn't remember, I hope they weren't pulling a fast one).

Soon everyone could hear the sounds of wings flapping and a wall of screeching approaching rapidly, they had to get ready and decide; how would they fight this battle?


(The method of applying AD&D rules to a mass battle is covered here.)

I showed them a copy of the Irish details so everyone could understand what they were working with; 200 swordsmen, 100 dismounted light horse lancers, and 100 longbowmen. Here was where the Irish were going to fight and die with the tactics the party chose.

The formation the party settled on 

The PCs also nominated which units they would fight with. Although I had my cheat sheet to refer to, I didn't want the players to be thinking in terms of squares and such, I wanted them to be using their minds so it would be a really vivid battle to remember.

As the screeching and wing beating reached a crescendo, the Irish began their battle hymn:

Armed for the battle
Kneel we before Thee,
Bless Thou our banners,
God of the brave
Ireland is living!
Shout we triumphant,
Ireland is waking!
Hands grasp the sword.
Who fights for Ireland
God guides his blows home,
Who dies for Ireland
God give him peace.
Knowing our cause just
March we victorious
Giving our heart’s blood
Ireland to free.

The spirit of freedom
Floats in the ether;
Souls of our heroes
March by our side,
Connor is our battle cry,
McGregor inspires us,
Those who for freedom fall
Never shall die.
Kenku are breaking
Shout we exultant
Kenku are beaten,
Ireland is free.
Charge for the old cause,
Down with the old foe,
Living or dying
Ireland to free.

A great cloud of the birdman creatures descended upon the front ranks, who had set their spears for just this tactic. One volley of longbow fire met the enemy before they reached the Irish lines, and between bow and spear many kenku sank to the ground to rise no more. Now the players added their attacks, and we found that the PCs' contribution, even at 1 to 20 scale, can be significant; another square of kenku was shattered. However, the ones that reached the Irish lines and survived their spears delivered terrible blows with beak and claw, destroying a square of spearmen and wounding Sever, who bravely joined surviving spearmen nearby. 

All that in one round of combat! 

The next round the bowmen no longer had a clear target, but enough of the front line had fallen to put them at risk; so Leopold charged into the breach, calling on swordsmen from the left flank to join him. The right flank joined the melee as well, resulting in several attacks with a flanking bonus. The birdmen rallied and seized the initiative; they fought with a frenzy, determined to give as good as the got, and another square of Irish spearmen were destroyed. Again Sever was in the destroyed square, and this time so was Leopold. I rounded the damage down from 5.5 to 5hp, at the time not thinking much of it but I think I heard later that Leopold only had 6 HP in total.

Now more birdmen fell to the blades of the Irish, and the heavier weapons of the PCs; another square was lost, and with it went their morale. Next round they turned and fled, but not 1 in 10 got away.

The Irish and the players let out a cheer, they had defeated their hated foe.

But their day was just getting started (you guessed it, more boxed text):

"The flame pillars around you pulse ever faster, and the entire cavern seems to shudder as though to give birth to some new horror. The entire ceiling gracefully moves up an away, letting you for the first time see the sky; and in it, dominating your view, is a vast silver city gradually gaining altitude."

It's huge, basically a flying Minas Mandalf

Nearby they could make out large groups of other creatures, not kenku, on the ground milling about, but their efforts to identify these were interrupted by a vision projected into their minds;  "King Vultan", a large barrel chested man with the wings of a hawk, wearing a golden helmet and sporting a long dark beard, and squatting on a silver perch in the midst of a sky palace they somehow understood to be the floating city above them.

He had with him everyone that the party knew had gone missing previously: including two women from Grindlewald they had thought stolen by Lord Inferno, and the missing Irish leader Connor McGregor; also some people they didn't know were missing: including Ron Ragnar and two Orcs. The latter four had been placed on strange metal discs floating in the centre of the sky city.

I put on my best Brian Blessed impersonation and subjected the players to a villain monologue, in short:

  • He congratulated his brave hawk men on their sacrifice (and something about them being reborn)
  • Back on the ground, besides the Irish, there were Ron Ragnar's dwarves and two separate bands of Orcs. To get their hostages back each army simply had to beat the other three.
  • It was time for the hunter to become the hunted!

    There was a lot of angst at the thought that in order to rescue Connor McGregor the party would have to take on their friends the dwarves, but soon they had to worry about the Orcs headed their way, hundreds of them. The Irish formed up again, lances were redistributed among the surviving swordsmen and other tactics were being considered.


    The Orcs formed up just out of longbow range and started working themselves up into a frenzy, the players took the opportunity to size up their numbers and weapons, they could see polearms, short bows and light cross bows; and to come up with a plan. They decided to use a similar box formation again, with lances at the front, bows in the middle, and swordsmen at the back, but this time they broke off a contingent of swordsmen with an idea to circle the enemy and go after the huge orcish banner planted proudly in the rear rank.

    It felt like this moment.

    The Orcs now moved forward in a controlled advance that brought their missile units into long range, while still being as far away from the Irish longbowmen as possible. They fired their mix of bows and crossbows into the spearmen, but the Irish shields held and no damage was taken.

    In contrast to the orcs, the return fire from the longbow men hit home and removed a square of crossbows. The next round I think initiative was tied, but the main thing happening was over 200 orcs charging at the front lines. The Irish longbowmen got them with indirect fire (which in hindsight I should have applied a penalty to) and the discord dice bot smiled upon them; as 80 out of 100 arrows hit their targets. The orcs' missiles smacked into the Irish spearmen with much greater effect this time, and then the orcs second rank played their trick move; halting and throwing javelins at their enemy. However, the manoeuvre was not an easy one, starting at 150 yards they could only close to 60 yards in one round; meaning their javelins were thrown at maximum range. Even so, they did add to the running total of damage and a square of Irish collapsed as the Orcish charge reached their enemy.

    Here a big error on my part cost the orcs dearly, I had decided that their polearms were 8' long Bardiches, but the Irish had 10' spears; so the Irish attacks went first! (I really should have given the orcs pikes or extra long spears). By the end of the round the entire front rank of 120 Orcs was down. Both sides closed in the next round and the indirect fire from each did more damage. The second rank of orcs, with its banner flying and giving their attacks a +1 bonus, removed several squares of Irish, but fortunately only those without PCs in them.

    Lead by Sever and Shaemus, the flanking swordsman unit swept around to the right and closed on the depleted unit protecting the left flank of the main orc body, but then the longbowmen wiped out the remainder of the orc unit, allowing the swordsmen to fall upon the rear of the orc main line. The PCs made a run at the orc leader, who did not see this coming, and Sever smote him with his two handed sword; causing the orc to drop the banner. Even with this the orcs' morale held for another round; but when their leader was felled by another PC (not sure who) the remainder cracked and fled for their lives. They did not make it far.

    The Irish let out another victory cheer and reformed, facing the approaching Dwarf unit (who had just defeated an orc army of their own) wearily. Neither side wanted to start anything, but both wanted their leaders back. Now their vision of the Sky City showed Connor McGregor challenging King Vultan to let him personally duel Ron Ragnar; which the King was minded to refuse, until a courtier pointed out that such a challenge was in accordance with the law. The huge human faced off against the stocky dwarf, and maybe I should have played through a few rounds of hand to hand combat, with PCs rolling for each fighter; but, time was up for King Vultan. Unknown to him, by launching his Sky City he had exhausted the magic fire source, in a manner similar to that depicted in the stone carvings. From that moment his doom, in the shape of Lord Inferno, was sealed. 

    "Tell that fellow we don't need his impression of a legendary dragon right now, I'm having too much fun!"

    The kenku king mistook the approaching giant winged red monster as one of his own kenku in disguise. The party saw all of this happening, but then their mental connection was abruptly terminated in dragon fire. The very city appeared to shake under the wrath of the dragon, who finally reappeared draped in the magical flame, and disappeared as fast as he had arrived; while the city, bereft of its power source, sank down and crashed into the inner wall of the volcano.

    The Irish and the Dwarfs were astonished, and they came together to discuss what just happened. Both sides were happy they did not have to fight the other, they started swapping stories about how they had come to this weird volcano. Then something new approached that grabbed their attention.

    It was Connor McGregor on a hawk man "rocket cycle"!

    Somehow the Irish leader had escaped the destruction of the Sky City, and with him were Ron Ragnar and all the hostages. The Dwarf kissed the ground.

    "That damn bird got all me belongings, mental! That Sky City place gives me the willies, I'll never go there again; you are welcome to the stuff, if you can find it." And a new adventure hook was born.

    They gathered up all the loot lying about, and it was time to head back to Schloss Ragnar. Sever spent time on the way talking up the contributions of Leopold and Sheamus to the Irish and Dwarf soldiers, it he thinking about recruiting them?

    Last word

    This already feels like a very long write up, but I can't finish without saying it really was pretty easy to run two such big battles in an AD&D session using AD&D rules. I highly recommend it, and can't wait to do it again!

    Treasure and XP

    9500 ep, 1000 gp, 400 pp, Gems (7): 10 gp Banded Agate, 10 gp Moss Agate, 100 gp Eye Agate, 1000 gp Emerald, 35 gp Moss Agate, 50 gp Rhodochrosite, 65 gp Rhodochrosite. 
    Total Value: 9020gp

    1 Cap (as Hat of Disguise but with 12 to 14 charges 500xp)
    1 Spell Scroll (Cleric: Speak With Dead, Heal, Heroes' Feast, Hold Person, Aerial Servant) 2300xp (to a cleric)
    5 Javelins (unknown)
    1 Potion of Undead Control (Wight 700xp) 
    3 Jars of Unguent (Keoghtom's Ointment 500xp)

    "Drew's Muscleblade" Longsword +1 
    Intelligence 12 (semi empathy)
    Lawful Neutral

    This magical blade can, once per day, and when lifted with the proper form, cast Strength (upon the wielder only) as though by a 16th level magic user.

    In the final washup:

    Leopold  913  XP
    Sheamus  1191 XP
    Sever    1717 XP
    Giuseppe 1717 XP
    Godleve  2945 XP

    Today's location was brought to you by H. Rider Haggard, H.P. Lovecraft, Flash Gordon, and Lethal Weapon

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