The First to Leave
(Prequel to ‘What Happened Outside Astiano’, a Battle Report)
Trantio, early Autumn IC2402
On almost any other occasion what they were doing would be considered reckless, culpably so – to ride so fast, even at a gallop, through the city, especially when the streets were at their most crowded. But they had orders from the duke himself specifying haste, and they would not wish to disappoint their employer. With the duke’s own officers observing their passage, a leisurely ride would not do. They had a reputation to maintain.
Besides, it was fun.
Today the streets were busier than usual: jammed with every cart, coach and wagon the city possessed, as well as all those that could be taken from the surrounding farms and villages, along with the mules, oxen, donkeys and asses. All were to be loaded with goods and possessions, and if not already packed, then they were piled around with goods yet to be hefted. More and more was being dragged from the houses and shops by every two-legged servant the city state had to offer.
As Gillvas and his comrades clattered along, their mounts’ hooves throwing up sparks from the stones, the cluttered narrowness of the way meant umpteen citizens were forced to throw themselves against walls, dodge hastily into doorways, or even duck beneath their wagons. Whereas normally they might gasp and gawp at such riders, what with elves being a rarity on any Tilean street – certainly armoured elves upon snow-white horses – now, however, there was little time for such curiosity. The pressing need to avoid being trampled was foremost in most people’s minds.
It was a shame, thought Gillvas, for he knew his company was a sight to behold – finer than any gaudily bedecked Tilean knight, sweating and grunting beneath ornate, heavy plate; more skillful and nimble than even the very best of human horsemen. The mercenary Sharlian Riders favoured green for cloaks and shirts, and their scaled coats and horse barding were lacquered to match. Although the rest of their garb and trappings were of more muted, natural hues, the flawlessly white hides and manes of their mighty mounts gave them a brightness that more than matched any red, blue or purple surcoat and shield.
Gillvas held his finely carved lance aloft and, like his companions, had eyes suitably keen and wits sufficiently quick to ensure he always dipped it just in time whenever he rode beneath a laundry line or balcony. The only thing marking him out from the other riders was that he wore a hood, a habit that had brought laughter from his blonde-haired companions the day they realised he did so because of his black hair. As Phraan had pointed out, it was a dilemma – for to hide that which made him different he had to make himself look different. To which Ruven riposted it was only a dilemma because Gillvas refused to wear a yellow periwig.
Gillvas noticed several onlookers frowning or scowling as his company rode by. He doubted this was because their thundering passage was troublesome, or merely that they were elves, nor even due to them serving Trantio’s recent conqueror, Duke Guidobaldo of Pavona. No, it was surely because their unusually rapid progress gave the distinct impression that they were attempting to escape the city before everyone else.
He couldn’t help smiling at the thought, for it was partly true. They were indeed leaving, although it was not an escape, it was obedience. While everyone else was to travel south to find refuge in Astiano, the Sharlian Riders were to travel north, carrying orders to the Duke’s son, Lord Silvano, after which they were to join him as reinforcements for his own little force in the service of the Holy Army of Morr.
As they rounded a bend in the street onto the stretch that led to the Ponte Grande and the city’s eastern gate, Ruven, riding a little behind Gillvas, shouted to him:
“Have a care, Gillvas. Those mules can give a nasty kick.”
Nearly all Ruven’s utterances were jests, which before battle could be a welcome thing, and was thoroughly entertaining when carousing in a tavern. The rest of the time it could be bothersome to have to weigh each comment to determine whether it was based on some truth or merely a humorous fancy. When he glanced at the mules in question, he could see they were pulling away from the galloping horses – no threat at all.
Then something upon the other side of the street caught Gillvas’ eye. Two children, hurtling down an alley, now stumbling and halting in surprise at the sight before them.
Ragamuffin boys come to see the fey riders, their eyes wide and their heads filled with whatever nonsense some uncle or grandfather had told them concerning elf-kind. Better they consider what they have heard about ogres, thought Gillvas, and be about packing or carrying or whatever else their mothers and masters had told them to do. He himself knew that ogres were always-hungry brutes, who might well see such children as nothing but morsels of meat. He felt a pang of guilt, then sorrow, but it was soon diminished when he reminded himself that the population was leaving and so the boys stood at least a chance of surviving.
A little ahead of Gillvas, outpaced only by the company’s pennant-bearer, was Captain Presrae upon his ‘unicorn’. It was that beast that drew the most stares, and was most probably responsible for the two boys’ sudden awe. Humans will fall for almost anything, thought Gillvas, if the subterfuge is subtle, the legerdemain apparently legitimate. And not just children, but full-grown men too. Only the youngest of elves would look at the captain’s mount and think it anything other than a wild-maned stallion sporting a false horn of oversized proportions.
Amongst men, however, it was an easy deception.
‘You can look, but do not approach too close,’ Captain Presrae would say. ‘Moondown is proud and fierce, allowing only a few to touch him.’
One young Reman had spent more than three weeks in the painting of the horse, and sold the likeness for a considerable sum, paying the agreed proportion to Presrae, of course. Not once had the captain divulged his secret, or let slip the slightest remark to give the game away. Only his own men knew the truth, as well as how to mix the necessary glue so well that not once had the huge horn dislodged itself. Even now Presrae rode Moondown in all apparent earnestness, needing no saddle nor harness nor bridle, like some legendary hero. It was an act that paid dividends. How many other mercenaries in Tilea had lords tumbling over each other to contract them? Duke Guidobaldo himself was so taken by Moondown, and the rest of the company, that he paid ridiculously well to hire them, as well as recompensing the arch-lector the full amount in gold which he had originally paid to hire them. The Sharlian Riders had come to Trantio merely to escort a priestly emissary with complaints about the War of the Princes, and they were supposed to return to Remas. But who says no when a duke offers to pay twice for you?
“There’s our noble commander that was,” shouted Ruven, pointing towards the wizard Belastra, acting governor of Trantio. “I still say we are not the strange ones here.”
“We’ll have real Tilean nobility ordering us soon enough,” said Gillvas.
“True. Although t’would be better it were a man and not a boy.”
Belastra had an armoured guard by him, bearing a plume that showed him to be a Pavonan state army captain. He himself carried a wooden staff and wore loose robes of a somewhat arabyan fashion. Unusually for a wizard, he had become lieutenant-governor of the city while the new Gonfaloniere ‘for life’ Lord Silvano was away.
Perhaps he had relished the prospect of ruling an entire city state? thought Gillvas. If so, then receiving Duke Guidobaldo’s orders to strip the city bare of all wealth, supplies, livestock and people, and flee, must have come as quite the disappointment to him. Still, as he had to do it all so quickly, before the ogres arrived, it was unlikely he had had much time to brood over the vagaries of fortune. The Pavonan duke wanted to deny the ogres what they most desired – pillaging and looting, cruel sports and tortures, feasting and drinking. It just so happened that in the process he had also denied Belastra whatever sports, cruel or otherwise, he himself had been looking forward to.
Of course, there was no scowl from the wizard as they passed. He knew exactly where the riders were going and why, for it was him who had passed on the orders. Instead there was something else writ in his expression – either trepidation or fear. Gillvas found it hard to be certain, however, for human faces were not easy to read, twisted as they were so often into grotesque distortions of a kind rarely employed by elves. It was most likely to be fear, he decided, for the Sharlian Riders would have made a vast difference to the martial escort of such a train as was about to leave Trantio. There were very few, if any, could compare to them for outriders and scouts, and as horse-soldiers they packed a lot more punch than any Border Princes stradiot or Estalian jinette, whilst outmanoeuvring any Tilean, mounted man-at-arms with ease. (None of which, it so happened, were available to Belastra.)
Soon to command a city-sized rabble of refugees, Belastra must surely have regretted having to send the elves away.
Just beyond the wizard was a bunch of mercenary crossbowmen, perhaps acting as his guards during such troubled times. It was no easy thing to make the entire populace of a city the size of Trantio abandon their homes and livelihoods. Although some were willing enough, for fear of what was coming, many believed it would be better to defend the city, and of those a significant number went beyond thinking, to voicing their opinion, shouting their disagreement, perhaps even swinging a fist to make their point somewhat more forcefully. No surprise then to find the man tasked with ensuring their obedience so guarded.
The crossbowmen were the last surviving fragment of the once large Tilean Compagnia del Sole mercenary company. Their comrades had all either perished during the War of the Princes or afterwards during the furore over the death of a priestly ambassador carrying important letters from the arch-lector requiring immediate cessation of that war. These men, one of two large companies of crossbowmen who had been defending Trantio’s walls, had somehow negotiated the tricky path from being enemies to allies. In fact, they had done so so successfully that they had now been paid twice! Ruven had laughed for an hour after seeing Captain Presrae’s face upon hearing the news. The Sharlian Riders had similarly been paid for twice, but they themselves received only one of the payments, the other going to the arch-lector, their previous employer, as compensation for his loss. The crossbowmen, formally enemies of Pavona, and hated ones at that, had received both payments: the first to contract them as a standing force for the city, serving to guard the duke’s newly won realm from both unrest within and enemies without; the second only a few months later when their contract was re-negotiated entirely to make them a part of the Pavonan marching army. For half an hour Ruven’s merriment derived from his description of the captain’s immediate reaction to the news, then for the next half hour it was fueled by his lyrical exploration of Presrae’s subsequent thoughts as he wondered how he might do the same. Only Ruven could turn several moment’s silent expression into a tumbling, comedic wordplay lasting an hour.
One of the crossbowmen’s sergeants stood upon the flank gesturing towards the riders with a quarrel. Perhaps he too, thought Gillvas, was waxing lyrical about the very same topic? What else do such mercenaries concern themselves with, if not money? Maybe wine and wenches, but foremost comes money, for it is that which makes the wine more accessible (and better) and the women more amenable (and better).
It was with that thought in mind that he glanced to the other side of the street and saw three Trantian maids watching from the doorway of a mean looking house. One glance and he knew they were exactly the type known to the crossbowmen.
One stood in front, hands on hips, yellow bodice pulled tight, a wry smile on her face as if what she knew amused her. The others were clutching ducks, which made Gillvas smile. The people of Trantio were even taking their poultry with them! If the ogres did not hurry they would find not one tiny morsel of flesh, fish or fowl; not one egg, olive nor even a grain of wheat remaining. And that would hurt, what with them having the sort of appetite that took whole hogs to satisfy, and a thirst requiring gallons of wine and not just a few cups. It almost made him feel sorry for the ogres.
Then he spotted a grey priest lurking close to the wenches. An ugly sort of man (although there were few men that elves did not think in some way disagreeable in appearance), with a tonsured pate and garbed in a coarse, woollen cassock and sandals.
Gillvas was not surprised – one could go nowhere in Trantio these days without meeting a Morrite cleric or four. Luckily for him and his comrades, the priests had no desire to preach to elves. He had already learned that Remas was an overly pious sort of place, swarming with devout followers of Morr wailing about the dead, but then he discovered the Pavonans had their own kind of Morrite faith, claiming it to be the most perfect form, which was even more onerous. The Pavonan Morrites demanded that one’s every thought must be pure, not simply one’s actions; and that each failing in this regard required some sacrifice or penance. What with Trantio having been, according to Pavonan propaganda, under the rule of a cruel and tainted tyrant prince, then as soon as the soldiers had captured it a swarm of lesser Morrite clergy followed to begin the work of admonishing, instructing, correcting. The Trantians had not exactly been overjoyed at this holier-than-thou guidance. And right now, they must be wondering why they put up with it at all if they were going to lose all they had anyway.
Such disgruntlement probably explained why the priest skulking in the alleyway had a Pavonan handgunner by his side.
“Think of your death, Gillvas,” shouted Ruven. “There’s a jolly priest watching us.”
Gillvas could not help but laugh, for only the night before Ruven had regaled the company with a cruelly rhetorical discourse comparing how the Reman priests of Morr had marched north to face armies of walking dead in battle, while their brethren, these Pavonan clergy, battled bravely each and every day to teach the Trantians how not to slur the words of their prayers, and the proper penance for picking their noses.
Still, thought Gillvas, it mattered not whether the people resented their reformation or were happy with their new lord – if they wanted to live, then they had to leave as ordered. Whether they would all go where they had been told to, carrying burdens for their Pavonan conquerors and mercenary guards, remained yet to be seen.
At the head of the company flew their pennant of green silk, bearing a white branch.
Towards the gate and bridge beyond they rode, and what with the wagons already queuing there it was going to be perilous for both elves and men if they kept their present pace.
As he approached the crowded portal leading to the ancient highway, Gillvas glanced at the city walls. He wondered if Belastra would burn the city, for if he was so thoroughly removing everything else, why leave the ogres any shelter?
What with destruction wrought by vampires and ogres, and now the Tileans razing their own settlements, it seemed possible that the whole northern half of the peninsula would soon be in ruins.
It was not the happiest of thoughts to have when setting out to ride further north!
What Happened Outside Astiano (Adding Injury to Insult)
Battle Report, Part One
The boys had found a place to talk where they would not be disturbed. As the city was so crowded with newly arrived soldiers and the survivors from Trantio (although not at all as crowded as it might have been if things had turned out differently) there were few places left where they could meet without being overheard or, more annoyingly, without someone telling them they ought to be elsewhere, doing something else. Surely, in a dank, unused ante-cellar, beneath the buildings that had replaced the ruins of the city’s ancient amphitheatre, they would be alone?
It was cold and cave-like, and certainly no-one would choose to sleep there, for not only was it damp and noisome, the latter due to the foul waters that seeped in from street-gutters of the city above, it was also exactly the kind of place the old stories populated with the vile uomini ratto. If more refugees had made it from Trantio, then it would likely have been occupied, for want of other dwelling places in the besieged city. And if the enemy outside were employing mortars and cannons to pound the city, then there would certainly have been people down here simply for the relative safety it might provide.
Just now, it was bearable for an hour’s talk, during the day at least, when light came through the ancient windows in the high-roof. Most importantly, it was private.
As always, Tommi had been the first to enter and Vitty the last. This was not because they were, respectively, the oldest and the youngest, but because Tommi wanted his friends to believe he was scared of nothing, while Vitty was scared of almost everything, and could not hide the fact. Aldo, his head still reeling with all that he had witnessed, hadn’t noticed, except that Fran went in beside him. Not that he cared either way – not like Tommi and Vitty. Once in, he began pacing, too agitated to sit. After the walk under the bright blue sky in the fresh air, his eyes and nose took a few moments to adjust.
Tommi had pushed a rotting plank of timber out of the way to make a clear patch of ground, while Vitty, since crossing the threshold, had several times repeated, “Is it alright?”
Finally, Fran said, “Yeah, Vitty. S’fine. And anyway, we’ll keep an eye out for trouble.”
As soon as they had all agreed that this was a good place to talk, Tommi, the burliest of the boys, turned to Aldo.
“You can’t have seen it all,” he said, continuing the line of enquiry he had pursued ineffectively on the walk there. “It makes no sense. You weren’t outside and you weren’t on the wall.”
Aldo smiled knowingly. It wasn’t that he was feeling cock-sure, rather that he had always corrected Tommi with that smile and he did so now unthinkingly.
“You’re right,” he said. “I wasn’t. I was in the gate tower, an’ I had a window all to myself.”
“That can’t be right,” said Fran. “There was a cannon on that tower which burned up bad. I saw it the next day. If you were there, the fire would’ve got you.”
“They wouldn’t let you stay there, anyway,” added Tommi.
“They didn’t know I was there, ‘cos whenever anyone came through, going up or down or across, I hid in a pile of sacks. I stood in an empty one, see, and whenever I heard anyone coming, I stooped down and closed it over me. Just another sack in the pile.”
“So why aren’t you burned?” asked Fran. “Sack cloth burns, so you should’ve.”
“Did you run away before it blew up?” added Tommi, in a mocking tone. “Or were you in a soggy sack?”
“Shut up, Tommi. You don’t know anything. The cannon was up on top, with a stone roof between me and it. I heard it, every time it fired, as well as the last time.” Aldo hesitated. “I looked up afterwards, when it went quiet.”
The others stared at him with bated breath. He fell silent, his eyes suddenly seeming to lose sight of his friends, as if he was looking at something else.
“What’ya see?” asked Vitty.
“Was it dead bodies?” added Fran.
Aldo frowned as his eyes focused on his friends again.
“Yeah. But it wasn’t the worst thing I saw.”
The others just waited now. Aldo knew he was supposed to tell them about the battle – why else had they all come here? But now, just as it was expected of him, he wondered if he could. Then, surprising himself, he suddenly realised he had already begun talking.
“The soldiers from Trantio arrived first – all footmen, no horses. There were two lots of crossbowmen and a crazy looking engine like a bunch of big handguns all bound together.
Behind them – some way off, was a train of wagons, and lots of people: grown-ups and kids.
I thought the soldiers would stop outside the walls, to make sure the people and the wagons got in. But they didn’t. They had two grey haired men with them, in robes and carrying fancy staffs – wizards, real ones – who shouted at them, telling them to march through the gate right away. Then I had to become a sack again because the soldiers came up onto the wall, passing right through the room. They went both ways out onto the wall, until one lot was on one side and the rest on the other. I thought the engine would come in through the gate too – there was a grate in the floor I could look down through. But one of the wizards was shouting that there wasn’t time to bring it in, and so it stayed just in front of the gate.
“Then I heard screaming outside, so I looked through the window. The men, loads of them, had come away from the crowd with the wagons. It was the women and children who were screaming, and I thought the men were going to run through the gate like the soldiers had done leaving the others behind. But they didn’t. Instead they all came together, right past the gate, marching like soldiers beside the wall, with some big fella shouting orders.
“They weren’t soldiers. When they passed by pretty under my window I saw they had no swords, no armour; just sticks, pitchforks, clubs, scythes. Sharp and nasty stuff, but not proper weapons.”
“Where were our militia?” demanded Fran. “They mustered, I know it ‘cos I saw them a-marching through the streets, flag up front. They’ve got proper weapons – pikes – so they must have gone out to fight.”
“I saw them alright,” said Aldo. “Marched right up to the gate. But they didn’t go out. One of them wizards shouted ‘Hold!’ and they stopped. I heard him clear ‘cos he was just on the other side of the door to me.”
“That can’t be right,” said Fran. “What with them Trantians outside being chased. The militia must have gone out to help them.”
“No,” said Aldo, going pale. He sniffed. “I wish they had. I didn’t know it then, but now I wish they had. They just stayed on the inside of the gate. I thought it might be some kind of trick.”
The other boys already had an idea why Aldo was upset – there were rumours all over the city. Right now, they were beginning to get an inkling that the truth might be even more horrible than people were saying.
“There was a lot of banging and clattering up above, where the cannon was,” continued Aldo. “And a feller shouting ‘Make her ready’. I heard that a few times later on, in between the bangs. The voice got quieter, I think, but my ears were ringing, so maybe it was just them playing up?
“Then someone else cried the same words and I looked out the window. Down below the war engine that came from Trantio was being cranked and three iron balls were rolled into it from a plank they had been sitting on. The gunners were Pavonans, blue and white – like the men on the cannon up top.”
Aldo had wondered at the time why the soldiers had made so much effort to get that to Astiano first, before the wagons and the poor folk of Trantio, but he didn’t mention that now.
“It was a complicated thing, that engine – a mess of levers and gears. I couldn’t make much sense of it. I looked out across the field to the wagons, and saw they were crammed with stuff, piled high. The horses pulling them looked to be in a bad way. There was no room left on them for people, so the crowd came alongside them.”
The other three boys looked at each other. They already knew the deadly fate of that crowd, just not the whys and wherefores.
“Why didn’t they just come in with the crossbowmen?” asked Tommi. “Why’d they lag behind like they did?”
Aldo frowned. “I think they were going as fast as they could. A lot of ’em were old, or little ‘uns. And the mothers amongst them were carrying even smaller ones. And all of them had bags and other burdens. I think when the men marched off they left all their stuff behind making more of a burden.”
Now it was Vitty’s turn to frown. “Why’d the men do that?”
“Oh, I don’t think they left to run away. They were still trying to look after them. I think they went off so that they could try to hinder the brutes.”
“Did you see the brutes?” asked Vitty.
“My uncle told me that it ain’t even all of them,” said Tommi. “That Razger’s got two armies and the other one is still busy looting Trantio.”
Aldo stifled a laugh. Not a happy sort of laugh, but the nervous sort that can turn into sobs.
“There were plenty enough. When they came I thought they were nearer than they really were, ‘cos they were all so big. Their skins were grey, and they wore nothing but breeches and plates of armour, and carried blades the size of doors. There were monsters in amongst them, like giant, hairy bulls, with more brutes on their backs. I was expecting them to be a bit like the caravan guards that visit the city, except more wild and ragged – screaming and wailing and cavorting about. But they weren’t. They came on in a long line, like the militia on parade, all neat and tidy and in step. Some were shouting with voices louder than horns. I think that’s what kept them in line.”
“They didn’t stay so neat, though. I reckon they saw that some of the Trantians had already got in, and that there was no-one apart from a little company of hand-gunners and the Trantine mob between them and the walls, so they started running, which made the ground thunder.
“Someone on the walls kept shouting, ‘Steady, steady,’ over and over.”
What follows are the scenario rules I made up then modified in consultation with the players on the day:
Forces (being the monitored lists the players had present at the location)
Ogres = 2600 points not including the ruler lord.
Pavona = 750 Empire troops, 350 points of Astiano standing force (Empire) + a ‘free’ mob of Trantians, guarding 3 wagons (each worth half a campaign supply point in loot) + crowd of women & children (worth half a campaign supply point in loot).
To enter the city the Pavonan wagons must make contact with the gate.
The ogres must contact the wagons to count as taking them. Ogres cannot overrun wagons, but halt before the wagon to count as securing the loot. They can then move from there next turn, dragging the wagon (or crowd) with them if they wish.
But … this is a campaign game. The players might have different motives. Maybe destruction? Maybe damaging the enemy’s fighting strength in the hope that a later battle will be easier? And although the players might try for the above objectives if they wish, their priority might well be the survival of an effective fighting force, again for next or subsequent turns. Who am I as GM to dictate what they are trying to do? I just adjudicate the game, take the pictures, write the battle report, and gamesmaster the campaign turns, etc.
The Ogre deploys in the far corner from the gate section. If there is insufficient space then the remaining units can arrive in the second or subsequent turns.
The Pavonan fighting forces can deploy anywhere on their half of the table, but as either side’s units are placed, no-one can deploy within 12” of an enemy unit. (First deployment could thus be important – forcing either side back.)
The wagons can be deployed in whatever manner the player likes, behind the 19” (from the gate) line. This means that one, maybe two, could reach the gate in turn 5, and one, perhaps two in turn 6. As soon as they touch the gate they are removed (counted as having passed through to safety).
The draught horses can be whipped to make them move faster. GM to come up with charts in-game. (See later.) And yes, they were whipped.
The women and children can march move, and are also removed if they touch the gate. Their move rate is 3” (old women, young women burdened with babes and possessions, children, old men). This mob also starts anywhere behind the 19” line.
The ogres cannot besiege the city walls as they have been pelting here at full speed and have not made any ladders to do so. (If they do decide to besiege that would be in the next campaign season turn.)
All other ideas and tactics would be GM’d on the day.
Casualties are recovered as per the ‘drawing armies’ rules. Either side is too focused on the loot to worry about chasing after the enemy, and both sides have lots of opportunities to avoid further fighting (either the defenders getting into the city by another gate or the attackers wandering off to look elsewhere for loot and grub). These rules (see below) mean that the Pavonan player can keep his baggage simply by not letting the ogres capture or destroy it – he does not need to get to the gate. If the ogres haven’t captured it by the end of turn 6, it will be presumed to have got away and gone through some other city gate. Also, any refugees or soldiers who are still alive outside the walls will escape back to the city too.
Lifted from the campaign rules …
Drawing armies (i.e. who agree to cease hostilities or cannot fight on for other reasons)
All troops on the table survive. Regain all troops who routed off the table, plus one third of all casualties on the table (rounding down). Lose all casualties from Destroyed units. Dead heroes are recovered on 5+ roll, unless they were “over-killed”. On D6 roll of 5+ recovered characters roll on the Character Injury Chart. Only lose baggage if it was destroyed or captured during the battle.
What Happened Outside Astiano
Battle Report, Part Two
(Turns 1 and 2)
“Outside they were whipping the draft horses something rotten,” said Aldo. “I could hear the beasts squealing and groaning. Some moved a bit more quickly but others foundered, so the wagons got strung out a bit. The women near them had stopped their screaming, but I could still hear the children crying. Then came the first bang and the room filled with dust. My ears went funny, but I my eyes were working and I saw one of the hairy monsters was rearing up. I reckon the shot had landed right in front of it, maybe even clipped it.”
“It didn’t slow down though, and I don’t think the rest of the brutes even noticed.”
“Anyone would notice a cannon shooting at them,” said Fran. “You don’t miss a thing like that. We could hear it from the Via Strogsi.”
Aldo was shaking his head. “You didn’t see the brutes. They had cannons themselves, loads of ’em. Not on carriages – they were just carrying them.
“There were two gangs hefting them. Think about it – if you’re brute enough to carry a cannon into battle, d’you think you’d flinch ‘cos another one fired from hundreds of yards away?”
Fran said nothing. Aldo knew that all the boys had seen ogres before, even in the city: not just caravan guards, but warehouse guards, bodyguards, and even performers in the annual spettacolo. They knew full well the feats of strength brutes were capable of, even the sort of civilised ogre who lived among men. Boulderguts’ army was made of the real thing, however, as brutal as they get, from the wild east and beyond. They were surely stronger, tougher and meaner, as well as cruel beyond human measure.
“When the brutes used their cannons it was like thunder rumbling in the distance. I think they killed some of the hand-gunners behind the wall near the hut, but it was hard to tell which ones were just hiding and which had fallen. The Trantian mob kept marching on, and I thought maybe they’re just going to march off to another gate, ‘cos they were getting really far away from the wagons. The soldiers on the walls were shouting at them, angry words, so I wasn’t the only one who wondered what they were doing.
“Then I saw something bright out of the corner of my eye. When I turned to look it was coming right at me, a burning ball as big as the sun at midday, and getting bigger.
“I ducked down as quick as I could to put the stone wall between me and it, and I still felt the heat wash over my back. It didn’t burn me, ‘cos I don’t think it was coming at the window – it was aimed at the battlement above.”
Tommi was agitated. “That’s when the cannon blew up?”
Aldo shook his head. “No, not then.”
“You just said it was,” insisted Tommi.
“No, I didn’t,” denied Aldo. “I just said there was a ball of fire. It hurt the cannon crew – I know, ‘cos one of them was screaming. But another was shouting: ‘Cover the budge barrel’ and ‘Douse the carriage’. Then the screaming stopped and the voice said, ‘Make her ready’.
“When the smoke had cleared a bit, I looked out the window again. The wagons were slowing down now, the horses stumbling. Some women and old men had fallen and were being dragged along by the others. I could hear a strange chanting from the wall at the side of the chamber, then another voice almost the same from the other side, and it made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. It was the wizards, it had to be. They were conjuring up magic and it made me feel dizzy, but I had the windowsill to hold onto so I watched to see what would happen.
“When the chanting stopped, at first there was nothing. Then I saw it. The giant bull monsters, which had got ahead of the rest of the brutes, were moving much slower, so that the brutes on foot were catching up to them. I knew it was the magic that had done it because the riders on their backs were thrashing the reins and beating the beasts’ heads, but the beasts were stumbling as bad as the horses on the wagons, and not just the one that had reared up at the roundshot, but all three of them.
“Then, just when I thought they might really be running away, the Trantian mob turned, swinging around to face the enemy. I think they’d gone that far out so that they could get at the brutes from the side, or maybe lure them away from the wagons and the womenfolk.
“Way up ahead the little line of hand-gunners fired again, but the sound of it was nothing compared to the blast of the brutes’ hand-cannons.”
“It really looked like the wagons had a chance now, if the horses could be kept on their feet and pulling …
“… but they were so slow it was horrible to watch. When the gun above me went off again it made my head feel like bursting and it started my ears a-ringing something rotten. I rubbed my eyes to make them work and saw one of the monstrous-bulls on the ground.”
Fran was nodding. “Yes, yes! They killed it. I saw it from the wall when I took wine up to the men after the battle, umpteen crows feasting on it.”
“It was the cannon,” agreed Aldo. “I thought the crew would start cheering but I couldn’t hear a thing. Maybe they did cheer? Maybe they couldn’t even hear it themselves? I went back to watching and I saw the hand-gunners running away. They weren’t cowards, no way – they’d been up closer than anyone else – I reckon they just knew staying there was stupid.
“But they’d left it too late ‘cos a bunch of brutes in the middle of the line, the closest to them, were running too and they came on much faster. When the brutes caught up with the men they just ran right on, right over them, and the hand-gunners disappeared underneath. Then the brutes stopped, like they wanted to take a breath or two and have a look around.
“Those ones looked meaner than all the others. They had the biggest weapons, swords as big as the sails on a windmill, and a hammer that looked like it could smash the city walls down.”
“Could it?” asked Vitty, tears welling in his eyes.
Aldo expected to hear Tommi or Fran laugh but they didn’t. They were looking at him just as intently as Vitty.
“I don’t know,” said Aldo. “Maybe? But the brute carrying it would get stuck with hundred bolts if he tried.”
This seemed to reassure Vitty somewhat.
“The rest of brutes were someway behind this front lot now, all bunched up, getting in each other’s way.
“The Trantian mob were now the closest to the brutes. They didn’t charge though, they just stood there, waving their pitchforks and scythes about. They didn’t have a flag to wave; they didn’t have drums to beat; but they were doing their best to look like they meant business. They had to be brave men, ‘cos there were four brutes right in front of them carrying those cannon barrels …
“… and they hadn’t fired ’em yet!”
Game Notes (end of turn 2)
When the Pavonan player whipped the draught horses, I made up a quick D6 chart favouring an increase in speed but with the possibility of hurting the horses too much. Two wagons went 2” faster, one went 1” slower. I had warned the player that next turn there would be another chart to reflect the consequences of this potentially cruel treatment, and that if the whipping continued there would be an even more potentially harmful chart. When the whipping stopped second turn, the player nevertheless rolled badly for all three wagons and they moved 2” instead of 4”. Overall, he had gained nothing, in fact one had fallen behind where it would otherwise have been.
In turn one, when the Firebelly ogre cast his fireball spell at the cannon, he miscast and went down to level one, losing the spell in question. (This was a sign of things to come.)
In turn two I got really excited when the Mournfang unit failed its first panic test, but it passed its second test (being 12” from the army standard) and the drama was not to be.
What Happened Outside Astiano
Battle Report, Part Three
“The Trantian mob now went straight towards the brutes with the cannons. Not running, just walking. A big fella was shouting but he was too far away for me to know what he was saying, even if my ears hadn’t been ringing so bad. They kept together, packed tight, and there were so many of them I thought maybe they could beat the brutes.
“The women were close to the gate now – a few more steps and they’d be through. There was a fat Morrite priest leading them, and a Shallyan priestess. Some soldiers on the wall were shouting, ‘Hurry up,’ and stuff like that. I wondered if there was a prayer I could say to help them, but all I could think of was my Morrite prayers and it didn’t seem right praying for their souls like they were about to die. Then I heard a clackety sound – the Pavonans below the window were cranking the weird engine. One of the crew poured powder into a funnel and another blew ashes off a matchcord on a linstock. They were going to shoot it.
“I wondered if it would be louder than the cannon, what with all them barrels, but it was outside not overhead, and besides my ears were already ringing so bad I doubted it could hurt them much more. The wagoneers were whipping more cruelly than ever– there was blood on the horses’ hides.
“Another boom sent my head a-spinning again. When I looked out to see if it was the engine below there was no smoke and the crew were hopping about, agitated. I think it was broken, ‘cos they hefted it up and dragged it towards the gate, getting in the women’s way. The boom must’ve come from the cannon on top, but when I looked I couldn’t see where their shot had gone.
“The ogres were really close now …
“… and the ones near the Trantian mob laid into them …
… It was horrible. I saw two men hurled through the air like nothing more than dolls. They hit the ground and didn’t move after that. One of the cannons went off right in their midst, which send more spinning out the back, and others staggering out like they were drunk. None of the brutes fell, and in a moment the Trantians were running. The brutes went after them, their blood up. If it weren’t for their heavy iron burdens they would’ve caught them and killed more, but the Trantians outran them back towards the wall.
“The hairy bull monsters were close too. They had umpteen horns on their heads and their mouths looked like the gargoyles on the Church of Santo Anredo the Furtive. If my ears had been working I bet I could have heard them snorting. The brutes on their backs were riding so high I wondered what tricks they used to get up there.”
“Then it happened,” said Aldo, before going silent. He covered his face with his hands, and even though that meant they could not see it, the other boys knew he was scrunching it up.
Vitty put his hand on Aldo’s shoulder. “It’s alright,” he said. “You don’t have to tell us if you don’t want to.”
“No,” said Tommi. “He does have to tell us. He said he would.”
Aldo wasn’t really listening to the boys, but he did notice they had stopped talking. He steeled himself and somehow the words came out.
“There was smoke coming up from under the window. I thought maybe the weird engine was on fire, but I was wrong. The smoke was coming from the crowd of Trantian women and children. It was as if someone had dug a fire pit all around them, set it alight and then dumped damp straw on it to make thick, white, heavy smoke. They stopped, wide eyed, like they didn’t know what to do. It all happened fast, I know that now, but it felt horribly drawn out. Sparks flickered in the smoke, then changed into flashing veins.
“I think the soldiers on the walls were shouting again, because some of the children looked up. One of them saw me. He didn’t look frightened, just bewildered. He waved at me! Before I could wave back the smoke itself burst into flames, becoming a wall of fire. Even at the window it felt like a torch being held a foot from my face, but I had to keep looking. If I’d been down on the ground it would have been bad enough, knowing the women were inside that burning wall. Being above them, I could see them all. A few of those on the outside began screaming, batting and patting at the flames on their skirts and cloaks, or on other people’s clothes, and this made the others push inwards, forcing themselves backwards even though some fell underneath their feet. They were crammed together, trying to push past each other. I don’t think they knew the fire was all around, not just on one side.
“Next to them, the Pavonan gunners pulling the engine just carried on. They were right beside the horror, yet just kept dragging their burden, even when some of the women tried to run through the flames and came out ablaze, collapsing at the soldiers’ feet. Then the gun disappeared under the window, through the outer gate, so I went over to the grate on the murder hole and looked down to see it below. I could hear the sounds coming up through the hole in the stone, even with my bad ears. Someone shouted, ‘It’s in!’ and then I heard the clang of the outer gates shutting.” (Aldo was shaking his head as he spoke.) “I couldn’t get my head around it. The wagons were still outside, the women and children, and so close. I thought it had to be some clever trick. But it wasn’t, and I knew it because the walls went quiet, and the men down below the hole stopped moving altogether. None of the soldiers were shouting any more. They’d closed the gates and weren’t planning on opening them again.”
Fran’s face screwed into an angry frown. “So, they decided to save the gun and not the people?”
Aldo nodded. “The Trantians were frantic, umpteen were already trampled, then they lurched, all of a sudden, to one side, which turned into a running leap through the fire and out the other side, where they fell, writhing and burning. Only two got past the mess of dying folk, another boy and a man with his arm in a sling. I don’t know why they were so lucky.
“Outside the brutes had caught up with the wagons.
“They swatted the wagoners aside and even though the cannon sent a ball right into them and the crossbowmen on the walls showered bolts down, felling three of them …
… they just turned the wagons around and began lugging them away, as if they cared nothing for the shooting. I saw one who was dragging a dead wagoner by the leg turn around to come back and grab one of the dead women by the hair. He dragged them both away, the bodies jolting along behind him, the woman smoking, with three bolts hanging from his back and another in his belly.
“The smell was bad, like burning hair. Then I could smell another stink, like brimstone, and flames curled through the window from above. A burning man fell right past, without a sound. I knew something bad was happening, and I wanted to get out the tower, but as soon as I went towards the steps there was a massive boom, maybe more than one, and the whole tower shook, and it knocked me to the floor. I don’t know how long I was down, but when I got back up I went to over the window. It was like a dream, like a nightmare. I couldn’t hear a thing by then, but I could see. Outside the brutes were moving away, but one of them stopped and turned. He was covered in paint, or tattoos, and he had some sort of mask on his face. He was dancing, his arms up in the air, and then he suddenly jerked to one side and … disappeared! He was gone, like he had jumped through a door. But there was no door.”
The other boys were all staring intently at Aldo. Vitty’s mouth was hanging open, while Tommi had his hands locked behind his head like he was holding it in place. Talking about it brought back the crazy feeling Aldo had felt at the time, and he now had to stifle a giddy sort of sob. He did not entirely succeed.
“That’s when I went up to see what had happened to the cannon. Like I said, it was like a dream and everything felt unreal. The cannon was there, all burned, and the crew were there, still burning, and the smell was worse than ever. So, I said sorry, and went back down again. Back at the window I could see that the brutes who weren’t stealing the Trantian wagons were standing their ground, shooting handgun sized pistols and their carriage-less cannons at the walls.
“Shots pinged at the stone around the window time and again. The flecks of stone kept stinging me.” As he spoke Vitty reached out at touched one of the tiny scratches upon his cheek. Aldo didn’t notice.
“They shot again and again,” he continued, “and the men on the walls sent crossbow bolts raining back at them. Twice I saw flaming balls streak out from the wall and splash into the brutes.
“And then all of a sudden the brutes just upped and left. I couldn’t hear what was going on on the walls but then one of the soldiers appeared at the door. He looked right at me, so I jumped over to the stairs and ran down.”
“Did he chase you?” asked Vitty.
“No. He was too busy,” said Aldo.
“What’ya mean, ‘busy’?”
“Spewing his guts up!” answered Aldo.
Game Notes for End of Game
Three times ‘Pit of Shades’ was cast on the ogre Tyrant and his unit. Twice it was dispelled but once it was successful. If the player (Jamie) had failed his test his own player character (Razger Boulderguts himself) would have been lost. The death of a player’s own PC always causes difficulties in my campaigns, in that the player then usually ends up getting a new character, who isn’t necessarily in charge, or, if they are, has a bunch of problems to contend with as a consequence of the previous character dying. The exact nature of the problems and difficulties to overcome depends on the circumstances and all sorts. (NB: The boy Aldo, our NPC eyewitness in the story, didn’t notice the failed Pit of Shade spells (of course), but nor did he notice the successful one either – when that one occurred he was going up the steps to see what had happened to the cannon up top.)
The description of the burning crowd of Trantian women was my ‘take’ on the fulminating flame cage spell the firebelly ogre wizard was using. I know the 8th ed. book describes rods of fire shooting out and forming a cage, but (and I do know it is daft to say this) that sounded silly to me! So, I turned it into a wreath of smoke manifesting around the unit which then transformed into fire – which just happened to fit the photo of the cotton wool we used to represent the spell on the table-top.
And yes, it does sound very cruel of the Pavonans to close the gate on the Trantian civilians and let all that horrible stuff happen to them but … the player (Matt) had his competition wargame campaign head on, filled with considerations of points and strategies etc. He always looks at the game this way, which is why his game-world alter ego seems aloof and heartless, which is why I describe him as aloof and heartless. The Trantian women were worth 0.5 Supply Points to him, a value which could be turned into 100 pts of troops. BUT, the helblaster was worth more. So when it misfired he cut his losses and had it dragged in. Then he closed the gate to ensure that there was no way this game would turn into an invasion into the city by the ogres. If they got in that would likely mean he would immediately lose the whole city plus all his forces within.
You might wonder why he played things in such a way that the wagons and men didn’t even have much of a chance to get in. He chose to place virtually all his fighting strength inside the walls (bar the hand-gunners, technically a detachment but house-ruled as allowed to be out at the hut, and the Trantian mob). The Trantian mob, however, cost him nothing – they weren’t part of his forces, and they weren’t carrying any Supply Points (unlike the crowd of women), and he couldn’t use them as soldiers at any other time, so he used them disposably. The wagons were worth 1.5 Supply Points altogether, but if he tried to protect them by having troops outside the walls the potential losses to his own forces would be much more expensive. Why save 2 Supply Points of loot (etc) from Trantio by losing more than 2 Supply Points worth of troops?
I think the following summary information should shed some light on who came out of this squabble best.
After calculating recovery of troops according to the campaign rules the Pavonan player had lost their 2 Supply Points (worth 400 points of troops) as well as 230 points of troops. So, 630 points down on the start of the game. The ogres had gained 1.5 Supply Points (worth 300 points of troops) but had lost about 500 points doing so (including their Firebelly wizard and one of their Mournfangs). So they were technically 200 points down on the start of the game.
BUT the ogres are a long way from home, and they cannot turn the 1.5 Supply Points into reinforcements unless it is at one of their settlements. They can consume it as ‘upkeep’ (a game mechanic to keep troops existing supplied in the field) but their field strength is effectively down by 500 points, whereas the Pavonan player managed to save the bulk of his Trantian garrison soldiers (crossbow, two wizards, helblaster) and still has the Astianan pike militia. He also still has Astiano.
Who would now gain the upper hand really depended on what happened next, and upon the proximity of reinforcements and relief, as well as other strategic considerations. Razger Boulderguts’ force had been noticeably weakened, and his mercenaries ‘Mangler’s Band’ whereabouts were unknown (well, to everyone else, possibly not to him, and definitely not to me, the GM). If one does not count the loss of Trantio (which was possibly un-saveable) the Pavonans had lost only a cannon, 6 handgunners and 6 crossbowmen, and the first two of those were part of a standing force and so could not have served in a field army.
So, tactically, sacrificing the wagons and women while chipping at the ogres’ fighting strength could have been a sensible move. However, Matt was going to have to employ considerable political and diplomatic savvy if he did not want the Pavonans to gain a reputation for being cruel and heartless. I suppose he was lucky that his own player character, Duke Guidobaldo, was not present. Then again, it was possible Matt did not care whether he gained such a reputation – fear can be a useful strategic weapon!
Next Installment: Part 12