Sunday, 10 June 2012

Seawell: battle is joined

A table with paintpots and pens showing the layout of the bandit camp, dried seed pods showing undergrowth, and tokens indicating the characters.

The amazingly sophisticated setup I used to illustrate the battle. The pens show the wall of the wreckers' camp, and the paintpots are structures inside. The dried seed pods are the underbrush surrounding it. Home-made tokens show the PCs and their allies (later on, wrecker tokens appeared too). It's just to give an idea of how things are laid out.

  The diplomats, flushed with success, begin the journey back to the wreckers’ camp. Their new allies are shy, but seem cheerful; their names turn out to be Two-Rocks-Lying-Parallel, Impending-Laughter and To-Glisten-Under-Sun. Most of the journey passes in tactical discussion, though there are frequent diversions into cultural differences, such as proper etiquette during moulting, the construction of woven huts, and not calling people Small Human. The Professor’s rather classical Draconic is the source of some confusion and not a little amusement. Hurrying along, they reach the area of the camp well into the evening, about an hour before they planned to attack. It is dark now, but the sky is clear, with bright starlight and a waxing moon. The wreckers seem not to be manning their tower tonight – perhaps thinking that in such fine conditions, they’re more likely to attract suspicion that catch any victims.

  While the others travelled, Elefthenea and her guards have been watching the camp closely, hidden in the scrub nearby. The three wreckers they met have not returned, and there’s a certain amount of bustle that might be consternation. She gets the feeling that the wreckers are alarmed by the recent disturbances to their work. Preparations seem to be underway for departure in the morning – boxes are being organised as though for packing, and the wreckers have been checking their pack-mules and horses. After a while, Elefthenea notices a small figure striding amongst them. It’s impossible to make out much at this distance, even for an elf, but it seems to be another gnome like the Professor. Perhaps there’s another wizard with the wreckers? They’d best be careful. There seem to be at least two sentries watching the camp, from a raised rampart inside the walls.

  With a large area cleared around the camp, it’s impossible to sneak up to the walls without risking being seen. Very few of them have scouting experience, and they don’t want to be caught in the open. Instead, they decide to try and silence the guards first. Peering through the bushes, the Professor examines the area carefully, but regretfully concludes it’s too far for his more impressive spells to have much effect. Even a ghost sound wouldn’t be loud enough unless he stood in the middle of the clearing, which is out of the question. Raylin, however, is seized with inspiration. She got a fairly good look at the wrecker patrol earlier, and assures the others that she can take on one of their forms for long enough to distract the guard. Her plan is to tell the sentry they’ve been attacked, and lure them into the open where the others can ambush them. Hopefully, they’ll have time to break into the camp before the rest of the wreckers can wake up.

  The Professor tentatively raises the possibility of the lizardfolk leading the attack. To their dismay, they learn the lizardfolk can’t see in the dark any better than the humans.

  “It’s too cold at night to go outside,” explains Impending-Laughter, looking puzzled. “We don’t usually hunt in the dark. Why would we need to see?”

  For the attack, they decide to form into groups of three with complementary strengths. Two of the lizardfolk will guard the Professor, who can see in the dark and communicate with them. The third will go with Raylin and Fhastina. Morgan, Lawson, Elefthenea and Mr. Barky form the third group, and will lead the charge on the camp.

The battle

  Midnight approaches. Under the pale light of the stars, Raylin closes her eyes in supplication to her Goddess and focuses on the wrecker she spoke to earlier. To the surprise of the lizardfolk, and the pleased approval of the other heroes, her form seems to shift gently, and in seconds they are staring at a tough-looking man.

  “How do I look?” comes Raylin’s voice.

  “Um... you look fine, but you still sound like yourself,” points out Elefthenea.

  “Yes, I know. Professor Godalming, can you supply a suitable voice?” she asks. The gnome looks mildly affronted.

  “It should be exceedingly simple.”

  The disguise won’t last for long, so Raylin turns and hurries into the clearing, near where the guards are standing. It’s not until she’s thirty feet into the open, under the startled eyes of two sentries with crossbows, that she realises she doesn’t know the name of the body she’s wearing.

  “Over here, quickly!” comes from somewhere nearby, and she works her mouth in approximate time to the sounds, wishing she’d had time to practice this. Luckily it’s pretty dark, and the voice that comes out is a good approximation of what they heard earlier. One of the sentries leans down.

  “Nale, that you? Where are the others?”

  Nale. Thank the Goddess. Turning things to best advantage is exactly where Raylin’s comfortable, though ideally crossbows would not be playing a major role.

  “Ran into a pack of those curst lizards. Been running for hours, but we shook them off. The others are hurt, about a mile back here. Come on, before anything finds them!” She turns before they can reply, feeling the disguise starting to fray, and heads back towards the trees.

  “Hoy, wait up there! Nale!” One of the sentries vaults down the fence, obviously trying to catch up. He’s winded for a moment by the fall, and Raylin puts on a bit of speed. The other turns towards the camp, and the watching adventurers silently groan to themselves. This was exactly what they hoped to avoid. Fhastina claps a hand to her hip pocket, and whispers a word of power. The magical pearl lying within pulses with warmth, and a sense of confidence rushes through the group.

  “Wake up, you laggards! We got wounded here! Look lively!” The voice rises through the night air, above the chirping of insects and the chittering of bats, full of alarm.

  Recovering from his jump, the sprightly sentry manages ten steps away from the wall before Morgan’s crossbow bolt whips past his nose and buries itself in the wall with a thrumming noise. His eyes widen and he’s midway through a turn when the Professor sends a second bolt straight through his shoulder and sends him reeling with a squeal of pain and fright.

  The alarm in the voice of his mate becomes rather more pronounced.

  Just as he reaches the wall, a fire-hardened javelin punches through his neck, pinning the corpse to the wooden wall. Two-Rocks-Lying-Parallel lets out a gleeful hiss and plucks its second javelin out of the ground. The other sentry ducks down below the palisade.

  Faint sounds of movement come from inside the camp. Now that the alarm’s raised, stealth is useless, and the heroes rush out towards the walls while there’s nobody to shoot at them.

  “I’m going over the top!” calls Morgan, stowing his weapon as he runs. “Let’s get that gate open!”

  He charges full-force at the wall, leaping up and planting his feet against the wooden stakes as he throws his arms up. Midway through the jump, his determined expression alters to one of concern as he realises he’s misjudged it, and the wood slams jarringly into his ribs. Only his outstretched arms keep him from falling. Elefthenea grabs his feet and boosts him over, and he lands in a crouch on the other side. A second later, something thuds against the wall, and Lawson’s bronze-clad form drops next to him, shield raised. They start moving towards the gate, keeping low to avoid attention. It’s dark in the camp, with only starlight to guide them. Nevertheless, a lucky crossbow bolt tears a line across Morgan’s armoured shoulder, sending him staggering. Mr. Barky comes sailing over the wall and vanishes into the shadows, seeking enemies.

  Outside the wall, the Professor strokes his chin for a moment, then gestures along the palisade, mouthing silently. As he gestures, a gruff voice erupts somewhere ahead.

  “I’m over the wall, boys! Get in here behind me! Start the summoning!”

  Somewhere inside the camp, shadowy figures start moving towards the apparent source of the noise.

  Ignoring the erratic fire of the sleepy bandits, Morgan and Lawson lay hold of the bar and wrench it free, heaving it aside and leaving the gate free to open. Elefthenea immediately slips inside and looks around, her acute elven vision taking in the scene at a glance. Seeing a group of wreckers emerging from tents, she summons up her magic and sends a pulse of power through the ground. With a creaking sound, the rough grass bursts into uproarious life, twining wildly around everything in reach, and pinning several wreckers where they stand. Startled shouts echo around the camp.

  “These bandits are very disorganised,” comments the Professor. “They’re literally letting the grass grow under their feet.”

  He turns to his bodyguards and gestures encouragingly.

  “Quick, while they’re distracted! Just watch out for the magic grass.”

  Seeing the plan apparently successful, and heartened by this exhibition of shamanly power, the lizardfolk squawk fiercely and rush into the camp. The Professor follows at a more sedate pace.

  Raylin hovers on the outskirts of the fight, crossbow in hand. The grass-bound wreckers are tempting targets, though the darkness makes it hard to draw a bead. Nevertheless, occasional cries of pain suggest that her aim isn’t too far wrong. Fhastina rushes past, kama in hand, and starts raining blows on a startled wrecker who fends her off desperately with the stock of his crossbow.

  An angry, chanting voice rises above the melée from somewhere amidst the grass, and a tingle of magic ripples across the camp. Mr. Barky and Impending-Laughter slow and crumple to the floor, unmoving. Elefthenea cries out in alarm, but there’s nothing she can do right now.

  Morgan, Lawson and Fhastina are soon embroiled in a vicious fight near the gate. From somewhere in the shadows, a dagger comes flying out towards Morgan, but glances off harmlessly. The Professor frowns and conjures light with a snap of his fingers. A glowing human figure erupts from the ground, spilling harsh white light across the battlefield. One of his bodyguards, seeing this as an invitation from the spirits, rushes forwards to join the fight.

  The remaining lizardfolk, out of javelins, plunges off towards the trapped wreckers, hissing battle-cries. A wrecker deflects two strokes with a curving hook-hand, but the third drops her. From somewhere nearby, lightning flashes out across the battlefield, searing the ground and narrowly missing Lawson. One of the wreckers manages to wrench himself free of the weeds and moves to confront the lizardfolk. Seeing that the wreckers have a spellcaster, Raylin backs off and calls for the Goddess’ protection.

  Trying to avoid hitting any of her allies, Fhastina mistimes an attack and gets a crossbow slammed painfully into her shoulder. Annoyed by the mistake, she switches stance and pulls off a perfect pattern than even her mentors would have approved, striking the unfortunate wrecker eleven times with fists, feet, weapons and knees. The force of the blows lifts him a good five feet into the air, dead before his freshly-mutilated body hits the ground. Somewhere nearby, astonishingly, snores still rise from one of the tents.

  Something slams into Lawson’s spine with a metallic clack, bruising him, but doesn’t quite make it through his chainmail. A stocky, bearded creature has appeared behind him, swathed in smoky grey gear, and gripping a long knife. Watching the fight from behind a tent, the Professor recognises it immediately: no decent gnome, but a grim, untrustworthy dwarf! A few dwarven artisans work for the nobles, but it’s the first he’s heard of one in such a benighted place. He’s momentarily startled, but not too startled to send a blast of raw magic hurtling towards the treacherous creature, eliciting a shout of pain. The spell stuns it long enough for Lawson to recover, turn around, and cleave the wretch’s head from his shoulders with a lucky strike. Beside him, Morgan and the remaining lizardfolk finish off the last of their opponents.

  Off in the dark far corner of the camp, the lone lizardfolk faces off against the last two wreckers. The wreckers land a couple of nasty blows, but the wounded hunter refuses to give any ground, and the demoralised wreckers fall beneath its spear. Seeing the melée by the gate is over, the sorceress begins chanting again. A great desire for sleep washes over the invaders, and the lizardfolk crumples, but the others remain firm. Calmly reloading his crossbow from his position by the wall, the Professor settles it into his shoulder, draws careful aim on the gesturing sorceress, and lets fly. There’s a gentle thud, and she crumples. The fight is over.

  From a single tent near the gate, amidst a heap of bodies and the overwhelming scent of strong liquor, rises the snoring of someone utterly and blissfully unaware of the sudden and comprehensive doom that has arrived.

1 comment:

  1. I don't usually use props for Pathfinder, though I sometimes draw very scrappy hand-sketched maps to show roughly how things are laid out. I decided, with the size and complexity of the battle, that it'd be sensible to have some kind of prop so that we didn't all end up with different mental pictures of the battle and talking at cross-purposes.

    The idea was to provide a feel for the layout and relative positions of things, not a scale model. The coloured tokens I used are printouts from various PC and monster illustrations, lovingly sized and printed, and covered with scrap laminate from work (we get tons of scrap laminate). I created loads of these (literally hundreds) for use in my old 4E campaign, where miniatures are basically essential; I found it easier having roughly correct tokens for each monster, rather than using-as all the time. Also, I have to admit, there's a load of beautiful and fascinating art out there, and the process of finding art, then setting up, printing and laminating the tokens pushed my compulsive buttons. Not sure they'll ever repay even a fraction of the effort, but... I still think they're kinda cool.