Saturday, October 14, 2017

Storming Mobrai Castle

I finally got to run something I've been longing to run for a very long time--a wargame scenario in my D&D game using the old Master of Magic rules (Master of Magic being a 1994 Microprose 4X game set in the two fantasy planes of Arcanus and Myrror).

I played a lot of MoM (Master of Magic ... Master of Orion was MoO), and I loved it, and I showed it to a few friends who also loved it, and it was always terribly frustrating that the game is single-player only. We had to play Heroes of Might and Magic to get a multiplayer game going, but it to me it was nothing compared to MoM. I always wanted to run something like MoM with my friends, paper and pencil style, and this afternoon I finally got that chance:

Clark the fighter and Allen the cleric (the long-running characters of my buddy Josh) along with Grimalf, human follower of Galtzak the Tiger-Faced Halfling (characters of another good friend, Renee, who was not present but gave her sanction to the wargame), hired a small army of mercenaries and stormed the rival stronghold of Mobrai Castle, several hexes upriver from Galtzak's castle in Galtshire.

The Background
Several years ago, Galtzak got his hands on a ruined castle in a swamp that had been overrun by lizardmen. He semi-cleared it by slaying the slaad that dwelled in the basement, but so overawed the lizardmen that they stayed on as "guests"/servants (he had to let their leader lick his eyes, because I explained that eye-licking was a sign of friendship between lizardmen, who can't blink ...). Possession of this castle jumpstarted a domain game, and the castle became the new home for a group of about 200 halflings who moved in once Galtzak (and company) cleared away some monsters and cleared some of the forest and got the castle repaired.

Fast forward a few years, and I've got a new group running in the setting (my wife and two of her brothers); they reach high enough level for me to suggest a run-through of I2: Tomb of the Lizard King (1982). I reworked the module--being about a lizard king, lizardmen, and set in a swampy jungle, it's perfect to drop into the jungle south of Galtzak's castle and have the lizard king's return threaten Galtzak's new shire (and I also rewrote N1: Against the Reptile God and dropped it in for good measure). (they did defeat the lizard king and have since returned to the main dungeon, leaving Galtzak to fend for himself once again)

Altogether, I also wrote a whole wilderness around Galtzak's castle that I'd never had the time nor impetus to write before. This wilderness included another castle slightly upriver from Galtshire--Mobrai Castle, the last castle of the County of Eor, erstwhile foes of the Lizard King, but ultimately cut off from other human realms and in civilizational decline/decay. There's only one castle left, with a handful of villagers, and I wrote a hook that the villagers hated their lord, Arkenbrand III. Mobrai, for not doing enough to push back the lizardmen (also, his priest was the priest helping Sakatha in the Tomb).

My wife and bros never found the castle nor took the hook, but when in Boise over the summer, I got together with Renee and Josh, and the peasants of Mobrai Castle sent a delegation to Galtzak seeking his aid in overthrowing Arkenbrand III. and placing some other more effective leader in his stead. Galtzak agreed; a screwball assassination attempt failed (ending merely with the abduction of Arkenbrand III.'s daughter's cat), and that was the situation when I left Boise to return home.

But I got permission from Renee to run a little wargame around the two castles; and Josh came into town yesterday; so today Clark and Allen, with Grimalf's help, assaulted Mobrai castle with a force of human mercenaries and lizardman and halfling levies from Galtshire.

The Setup
I allotted "unit" sizes based on the number of figures in a MoM unit, which is generally six figures per unit, depending on certain factors. This makes for some pretty small-scale war, which was completely appropriate for play today (Arkenbrand III. had maybe 50 men-at-arms in his castle at most), but could probably scaled up by factors of 5 or 10 for bigger battles and still retain the ruleset.

"Galtzak's" Forces
48 lizardmen armed with spears (6 units of 8 figures each)
12 human swordsmen-at-arms (2 units of 6 each)
48 halfling settler-levies (6 units of 8)
16 halfling slingers (2 units representing Galtzak's name-level followers)
Clark (human "paladin", a LG fighter who through religious vows can lay on hands)
Allen (human cleric, LG, Clark's follower)
Grimalf (human fighter, C, Galtzak's right hand man)
plus the mercenaries Clark hired on Galtzak's behalf:
12 longbowmen (2 units of 6)
12 heavy cavalry (3 units of 4)

So that's a little over 150 men sent to take this Mobrai Castle. Josh split his forces up with an interesting plan: he sent Clark, Allen, and the human fighters upriver first, and made it clear that they were setting up siege outside Mobrai Castle (and the castle's watchers saw them and returned with word of the assault to the castle); meanwhile, the halflings and lizardmen, led by Grimalf, left on another set of boats and landed further upriver from the castle at night, and then made their way through the hills to the western side of the castle (where was previously established a gap in the wall, through which the abortive assassination attempt was staged). I rolled two dice, and the castle defenders neither noticed the sneaking lizardman/halfling force, nor had the gap filled in (they didn't know about it).

Ultimately, Josh hoped to draw Arkenbrand III. Mobrai's men into battle below the castle, while the halflings and lizardmen filed in through the gap to take it from behind (and he hoped to capture Arkenbrand III. in the keep, assuming he would lead from the rear).

Well, Arkenbrand III. was ready for battle, and he did exactly what Josh hoped, leading his forces out in a sortie to crush the invaders, leaving a garrison of bowmen and spearmen to control the castle from the walls. Also, he had hired a pair of stone giants from the hills around his castle, which rather spooked Josh with their appearance.

Arkenbrand III. Mobrai's Forces
12 light cavalry (3 units of 4 figures)
24 human swordsmen (4 units of 6)
48 peasant spearman levies (6 units of 8)
12 bowmen (2 units of 6)
2 stone giants (each being its own figure, like a hero)
and Arkenbrand III. Mobrai himself (high level human fighter)

So, altogether about 100 men-at-arms defending the castle, half of them of poor morale, plus two giants. Yes, the odds were heavily skewed for Josh--but I'd written the castle's defenders long before, and that's just what Arkenbrand III. had (other than the newly hired giants). But that's war for you--often battles are heavily skewed one way or the other.

The Battle
Arkenbrand III. set up with his cavalry out front, himself behind to charge with them, with the giants slightly behind as "living siege engines" (they can throw a couple rocks per battle before closing to melee), flanked by wings of spearmen and swordsmen. He kept his bowmen in the castle towers in reserve, along with other spearmen (also with some intent to make sure the castle wasn't overrun by disgruntled peasants in his absence ...).

Josh/Clark set his troops up with cavalry up front, heroes and swordsmen just behind, and longbowmen off on the right flank. The halflings and lizardmen were going to start entering the castle through the gap in the wall two units per turn, and I would roll a d6 per turn of combat for the men inside the castle to notice, starting with a 1 in 6 notice, then a 2 in 6 next turn, then 3 in 6, etc.

The cavalry basically charged each other, while the giants and the longbowmen picked targets (and the bowmen on the walls were outside of range to do anything substantial). The giants' first volley, one boulder against Clark, one against a unit of his cavalry, both resulted doing no damage because of successful defense rolls. Then the cavalry meleed each other, and we began to roll dice in earnest.

After the first exchange, Clark's cavalry was suffering, because one unit had taken attacks from two opponents. Allen the cleric cast healing on this injured unit (for this scenario I used the MoM spell rather than D&D cure spells). Then Clark's cavalry replied in earnest, all three units attacking Mobrai's three cavalry, and Mobrai's horse was devastated. The longbowmen, meanwhile, nearly destroyed one of Mobrai's swordsmen units, which was marching forward with the other infantry in a slower line behind the cavalry.

On the next round, Arkenbrand III. Mobrai joined his cavalry against Clark's; though his cavalry ended up getting killed in their melees, Mobrai destroyed an entire unit single-handedly; then, over the course of the next round, destroyed a second unit of cavalry. The man was clearly a bad-ass, wrecking 4-man units of horsemen at a time, calling for Clark to stop being a coward and come fight me! But Clark signaled for his longbowmen to pincushion poor Mobrai; and as Mobrai took enough hits that I had him retreat, he ended up getting shot in the back with arrows (and ultimately dying).

The giants were marching forward by this time, each having thrown their complement of boulders--and Clark wisely sought to buy them off, rather than fight them directly, and with a called offer of piles of gold and herds of sheep, the giants looked at dead Lord Mobrai and decided to call the battle off. With their defection, the other soldiers threw down their arms.

Unfortunately, those on the castle did not immediately surrender--rather, they were engaged in a kind of ineffectual battle with the lizardmen infiltrating into the keep. See, Josh had sent his lizardmen up the walls to attack the bowmen and spearmen of Mobrai's reserve (and the halflings were going to go seize the keep, where Josh assumed Arkenbrand III. was). As the reserves noticed the lizardmen sneaking up on them (on the second turn), they turned and began to fight--and even after their comrades on the field below had surrendered, they continued to fight for several turns, terrified of the lizards' advance. But ultimately, they too surrendered, after three or four rounds in which neither side eliminated any unit completely.

Thus was Mobrai Castle stormed and claimed by Clark in the name of Galtzak the Tiger-Faced. The peasant levies were relieved of duty and sent back to the countryside to rebuild their farms, and Mobrai's men-at-arms were sent downriver to be held by Galtzak until he figures out what to do with them.

The Rules
A quick aside about the MoM rules: the game was based on 10% chance increments, base chance of landing a hit 30%, base chance of shrugging off a hit 30%, modified up or down by 10% for every +1 or -1 (so +1 to hit is 40% or 1-4 on a d10, etc.). I find this unique among wargames, though perhaps I'm not well versed with them. Most wargames I'm familiar with use d6s (because they're readily available in large numbers and easy to read quickly), but MoM was a computer game first, and so could do large amounts of math quickly (like, we were rolling 16 or 20 d10s at a time, picking out rolls of 1-3, and it took us a few rounds before we were doing it smoothly).

Also, every melee gives both units a chance to attack, at the attack strength of their figures at the beginning of the melee--casualties are only taken after both sides have rolled their attacks and defense. And defense was a weird roll to figure out; I gave Josh the benefit of rolling all his defense dice for his cavalry against the giant's first throw, but then thought that seemed wrong with the first cavalry melee. Sure enough, the example in the MoM rule book shows going through a unit figure by figure, and once we started doing that, melees started looking more like the MoM battles I remembered (enormously frustrating and satisfying almost simultaneously!).

... The basilisk has a melee attack strength of 15 (i.e., it has 15 sword icons on its statistics). Thus, the computer makes 15 die rolls for it, each with a base 30% chance to hit. With a little luck, the basilisk scores 5 hits from among those die rolls. The elven lords, in response, have a defense strength of four each (each figure has four shield icons among its statistics). So, the first elven lord figure steps up to defend against the basilisk’s 5 incoming hits. The computer rolls four dice (one for each shield), each with a base 30% to negate a single hit. Unfortunately, it completely misses and all five hits are scored against that elven figure. Since each elven lord figure only has three hits (i.e., three heart symbols on its statistics), it is killed and the two remaining hits are applied against the next elven lord figure. That figure gets to use its full complement of shield icons, making four rolls against the same 30% chance to stop a hit. With better luck than the last figure, it manages to block one hit, and so suffers the other. Thus, after this melee exchange, two [sic., should read three because "elven lords" have four figures to start] elven lord figures remain standing in this unit, the foremost of which has taken a single hit (one of his three heart symbols is darkened). ... (p. 94, Master of Magic Manual, 1994, pdf)

The Aftermath
Inside the keep of Mobrai Castle was Arkenbrand III.'s daughter, Loara Mobrai, who was older than the players had earlier suspected (i.e. 20's, not a child). As he liberated the castle and learned of her presence, Josh asked me if I still had my old infatuation random tables; I do ... percentile dice were rolled to see if any hero liked her, and if she liked any hero, and it turned out that Grimalf was infatuated with Loara, but Loara was infatuated with Clark (and Clark had no particular interest for her one way or the other). Loara therefore suggested a marriage between herself and Clark, to retain legitimacy of his lordship (she being the rightful heir), and Clark agreed (sorry, Grimalf--you have two wives already, both foisted on you by Galtzak to cover up his indiscretions!). A wedding was thrown, using 4500 gp donated to a Lawful cause to earn Allen and Clark some extra xps (a lordly wedding is definitely Lawful).

Other local notables were Johann Hatch, a leader of the peasants rebelling against Arkenbrand III., and who warily trusts Clark to be a good lord, fingers crossed; and Kol Giant-Teaser, a peasant who hates giants and was dismayed to see Clark let them go, but whose "reactions roll" of 12 indicated he thinks Clark is a badass hero regardless (and he smiles and nods when Clark tells him that there will be no killing of giants unless the giants start something ... right, "start" something, he repeats, a glint in his eyes).

According to his promise to the giants, Clark sends downriver (to civilization) to buy four riverboats and 400 sheep, and arranges for the sheep to be transported upriver to appease the giants (besides also giving the two 1000 gold each). They seem content with this for the moment.

And as for Galtshire, the lumber profits for the month are nixed as the lumber usually sold downriver from Galtshire is instead sent upriver to help the peasants rebuild their homesteads and farms, which were earlier ravaged by raiding bandits and lizardmen from the Tomb of the Lizard King.

So a second PC is now in control of a castle (at level 8, too early to have followers, and he owes a portion of his income to the other PC as his liege, but still, another domain!), and the threats to Galtshire from lizards and from other human lords jealous of their ancient status as Counts of Eor have been dealt with--but many other threats still lurk in the swamps and hill around Galtshire, even as 250 more halfling settlers come boating in to set up homes around the castle of Galtzak (and who knows what might happen settler-wise with Clark at Mobrai Castle!).

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