Saturday, April 2, 2011

B is For Besieged

The city is often a place for characters to unwind. There are numerous forms of entertainment, different locations to visit, different items and equipment to buy, rumors and gossip to catch up on, and otherwise, outside of the odd encounter by say, assassins, feel save.

But what if the city itself is in danger?

When I read Bernard Cornwell's Agincourt, a large part of the book dealt not necessarily with that particular battle itself, but with the besieging of the city, Harfleur, before it.

The work of being Besieged is also famous in fantasy thanks to the Lord of the Rings movies and the siege not only of the citadel in the second movie, but of the city proper in the third movie.

Even gaming fiction doesn't escape the use of the siege as Gortex, a massively squat and powerful drawf that seeks death throguh the time honored art of being a Troll Slayer, has been engaged in one in the far north. While gaming modules themselves don't often use the siege, WoTC's Red Hand of Doom has a scenario where the party is in a city when it comes under attack.

When doing the city under attack bit, there needs to be a few realizations of the party's role in things before hand. For example, is the party part of the local militia or national army? Are they part of some special forces? If they are just some random wandering mercenaries, the chances of them staying to fight if the have the means to easily escape, and let's face it, most such characters by the time they're 8th+ generally have a means of hitting the road.

Then you have to think of the opposition. The Lord of the Rings movies are good for this in one way. These are essentially classic sieges. Sure, there's a massive battering ram that has its own lore behind it. Sure, there are troops in there ranging from trolls and warg riders to elephants. Sure, there is a Nazgul attack there. But compared to a traditional fantasy kitchen sink game? That's purely standard troops in action. We don't see magic involved in the fighting on either side. We don't see a repeat of the use of explosives that we saw at Helm's Hold. We don't see armies of Giant Spiders and Giant Eagles and other fantastic monsters that wouldn't be offput by walls for example.

When preparing to siege a city, as the GM, you have to decide have fantastical you want the elements.

In the Gortex example, when a Chaos army is trying to take over the city, Gortex and Felix, his bard noble comrade who must document his life, act in many ways like special forces, going out and destroying cannons and other dangerous targets, allowing the city defenders to do what they need to do without fear of the big guns.

In the Lord of the Rings, the king of the Nazgul doesn't fall to arrows, but to a specific target that would probably be a player character in a game.

It might be best when running a siege, not to have the players have to fight the armies one on one, but to meet and break certain goals. In the siege on Helms Deep for example, in the movie when Strider throws his drawf comrade and them leaps across to hold the bridge on the outside, would be an example of a specific mission.

To tie it into Appendix N, let's look at the carton movie The Clone Wars. The movie has Anakin and Oobie in a city holding back the 'bots or clunkers as they're often called when the 'bots use a force field to protect their army. The 'bot army starts its advancement on the clones and cannot be attacked through the force field. The player's goal? Shut down that force field. In fact, much of the main character's work and deeds throughout the Clone Wars series that follows, are special missions.

Set up scenarios and goals for the players that will challenge them as a party instead of a slog to only drain their resoruces. Of course if draining their resoruces is the whole point of the siege...

For counter example, if you've been running a little fast and loose with the funds and magic items and the players don't always carry those things with them, if their in some pit uncovering more loot and come back and find the city they stayed at under enemy flag or in the midsts of a siege, making it difficult to get back to... well, their wealth and non-carried items might have new owners.

But don't be surprised if the city is only under siege that they don't either sneak into the city, or outright join the army doing the besieging on the condition that their own items within the city are untouched. Players are a funny and often unpredicitable lot.