The First to Leave
(Prequel to The Fight Outside Astiano)
Trantio, early Autumn IC2402
On almost any other occasion what they were doing would be considered reckless, culpably so – to ride so fast, almost a gallop, through the city, especially as it was done in the middle of the day when the streets were at their most crowded. But they had orders from the duke himself specifying their haste, and they would not wish to disappoint their employer. What with the duke’s own officers watching their passage, a leisurely ride would not do. They had a reputation to maintain. And besides, it was fun.
Today the streets were even busier than usual, jammed with every cart, coach and carriage the city possessed, all those that could be taken from the surrounding farms and villages, as well as mules, oxen, donkeys, asses and two-legged servants. All were to be loaded with goods and possessions, and if not already packed, then they had goods piled about them yet to be hefted, whilst more still were dragged from every house. As Gillvas and his comrades clattered along, their mounts’ hooves throwing up sparks from the stone paving, the cluttered narrowness of the way meant umpteen citizens had to throw themselves against walls, dodge hastily into doorways or even duck beneath the wagons. Whereas normally they might gasp and gawp at such riders, elves being a rarity on Tilean streets (certainly armoured elves upon snow-white horses) now, however, there was little time for such curiosity, what with the pressing need to avoid being trampled at the forefront of most people’s minds.
It was a shame, thought Gillvas, for he knew that his company was a sight to behold – finer than any gaudily bedecked Tilean knight sweating and grunting beneath heavy plate, more skilful and nimble than all but the very best of human light horseman. The mercenary Sharlian Riders favoured green for cloaks and barding, and even their scaled skirts 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 which more than matched any red, blue or purple surcoat or 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 they 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 – 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 how several onlookers frowned or scowled as they rode by. He doubted that 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 because their unusually rapid progress gave every impression that they were leaving the city hurriedly, as if to escape 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 elsewhere in the Duke’s realms, the Sharlian Riders were to travel north, carrying orders to the Duke’s only surviving son, Lord Silvano, then to serve him as reinforcements for his own little army.
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 upon Gillvas’ right, 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 some 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 mere fancy. When he glanced at the mules in question 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 elvenkind. Better they consider what they have heard about ogres, thought Gillvas, and be about packing or carrying or whatever else their mothers or masters have told them to do. He knew only too much about ogres. Children like that were nothing but morsels of meat to a hungry brute. He felt a pang of guilt, or sorrow, or both, 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.
Outpaced only by the company’s pennant-bearer, and a little ahead of Gillvas, Captain Presrae rode his ‘unicorn’. It was that beast which caught most eyes, and most probably was 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 any other than a wild-mained 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 a proud and fierce mount who allows 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 some 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, 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 only come to Trantio to escort a priestly emissary with complaints about the War of the Princes, and were supposed then to return to Remas. But who says no when a duke offers to pay twice for you?
“There’s our noble commander that was,” said 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 Polcario was away. Perhaps he had relished the prospect of ruling an entire city state? If so, then receiving Duke Guidobaldo’s orders to strip the city bare of all wealth, supplies, livestock and people, then flee, must have come as a disappointment to him. He had to do so quickly, however, before the ogres arrived, so it was unlikely he had much time to brood over the vagaries of fortune. The Pavonan duke wanted to deny the ogres all that they desired – pillaging and looting, cruel sports and tortures. It just so happened that in the process he had also denied Belastra whatever sports, cruel or otherwise, he had been looking forward to.
Of course, there was no scowl from the wizard as they passed. He knew exactly where the riders where going and why, for it was him who had passed on the orders. Instead there was something else writ in his stare – trepidation, perhaps even fear. Gillvas found it hard to be certain, human faces were not easy for elves to read, twisted as they were so often into grotesque distortions of a kind rarely employed by elves. It was 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 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.
Beside the wizard was a bunch of mercenary crossbowmen, no doubt acting as his guards during such troubled times. It is 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 a little 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 certain Reman 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 between being enemies and 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 Reman arch-lector, their previous employer. 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 came 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 fuelled by his lyrical exploration of Ruven’s subsequent thoughts as he no doubt 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 apart from others, hands on hips, yellow bodice pulled tight, a wry smile on her face as if what she knew amused her. The others were clutching hens, which made Gillvas smile. The people of Trantio were even taking the poultry with them! If the ogres did not hurry they would find not one 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 thirsts requiring gallons of wine rather than cups. It almost made him feel sorry for them.
Then he spotted a grey priest lurking close to the wenches, watching from the semi-concealment of a little alleyway. An ugly sort of man (although there were few men that elves did not think somewhat disagreeable in appearance), with a tonsured pate and garbed in a coarse, woollen cassock and sandals. Gyllvas was not surprised – one could go nowhere in Trantio these days without meeting a Morrite cleric or two. Luckily for him and his comrades, the priests had no desire to preach to elves. He had thought Remas an overly pious sort of place, swarming with devout followers of Morr wailing about the dead, until he discovered the Pavonans had their own kind of Morrite faith, which they claimed to be the most perfect form, which was even more onerous. The Pavonan Morrites expected 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, 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 sentiments probably explained why the priest skulking in the alleyway had a Pavonan handgunner by his side.
“Think of your death, Gyllvas,” shouted Ruven. “There’s a jolly priest watching us.”
Gyllvas could not help but laugh, for only the night before Ruven had regaled the company with a cruelly rhetorical discourse concerning how the Reman priests of Morr had marched north into a land of walking dead to face legions in battle, while their brethren, these Pavonan clergy, bravely battled daily to teach the Trantians not to slur the words of their prayers and the proper penance for picking their noses. Still, it did not matter whether the people enjoyed their reformation, or were happy with their new lords, if they wanted to live at then they had to leave as ordered. Whether they would then all go where they have been told to, carrying burdens for their Pavonan conquerors and mercenary guards, remained to be seen.
At the head of the riders flew their pennant of green silk, bearing a white branch.
Over the bridge (no mean feat what with the wagons clustered at either end) and out through the gate they rode. As he emerged onto the ancient highway Gyllvas glanced back at the walls. He wondered if Belastra would burn the city. 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 the whole northern half of the peninsula would soon be in ruins.
It was not the happiest of thoughts to have while riding northwards.
What Happened Outside Astiano
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 (though nowhere near as crowded as it might have been if things had turned out differently) there were few places left where the boys could talk without being overheard or, more annoyingly, someone telling them they ought to be doing something else. Here in a damp anti-cellar beneath the last remaining ruins of the ancient amphitheatre they would not be disturbed. It was hardly habitable, and certainly no-one would think to sleep there (what with the abundant stories of ratto uomo lurking there) but it seemed fine for an hour’s talk, during the day.
Tommi had been the first to go in and Vitty was the last, as always. Aldo, his head still reeling with all that he had seen, hadn’t noticed if Fran went in before or after him. Not that he cared either way – not like Tommi or Vitty. Once in he sat down straight away. He was not sure what on, only that it was hard. Tommi lifted some rubbish out of the way to clear a little area, while Vitty repeated “Is it alright?” several times. 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 the place to talk, Tommi, the biggest of the boys, turned to Aldo. “You can’t have seen it all,” he said. “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 so he did unintentionally. “You’re right,” he said. “I wasn’t in any of those places. I was in the gate tower, and I had a window all to myself.”
“You’re lying,” said Fran. “There was a cannon mounted on that tower which burned up bad. If you were there then why aren’t you burned?”
“And why would they let you stay there?” asked Tommi.
“They didn’t know I was there, because whenever anyone passed through, up or down and either side, I hid in a pile of sacks. I climbed in one, see, and when I heard anything close I closed it over me. Just one more sack in the pile.”
“So why aren’t you burned?” asked Vitty.
“Did you run away before it blew up?” added Tommi in a mocking tone. “Or was the sack a soggy one?”
“Shut up, Tommi. You don’t know anything. The cannon was up above me, a stone roof between me and it. I heard it, felt it.” He hesitated. “I looked up afterwards, when it went quiet.”
The others stared at him with bated breath. He said nothing, his own eyes suddenly seeming to lose sight of his friends, as if he could see something else.
“What did you see?” said Vitty. “Was it horrible?”
Aldo frowned as his eyes unfocused. “Yes. It was. But it wasn’t the worst thing I saw.”
The others just waited now. Aldo knew he was going to tell them about the battle – why else had they 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 started talking.
“The soldiers from Trantio arrived first – all foot and no horse. There were two lots of crossbowmen and a crazy looking engine that looked like a barrel of handguns tipped on its side. Behind them – some way off, was a train of wagons, and lots of people: men and women and kids too. 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 staffs – wizards, real ones – who shouted them in, so they marched straight through the gate. Then I had to become a sack again because they came up onto the wall and passed right through the chamber. They went both ways out onto the wall until one lot was on one side and the other was on the other. I thought the engine would come in through the gate too, but one of the wizards shouted there was no time – no time to mount it he said – and so it halted just outside 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, marching like soldiers beside the wall, with some big fella shouting orders.
“But they weren’t soldiers. They passed close under my window. They had no swords, no armour; just sticks, pitchforks, clubs, scythes. Sharp and nasty stuff, but not soldiers’ weapons.”
“Where were our militia?” demanded Fran. “They mustered, I know it ‘cos I saw them a-marching through the streets, flag held high. 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 they did. But they didn’t go out. One of them wizards shouted ‘Hold!’ and they stopped. I heard him clear ‘cos he was only on the other side of the door to me.”
“That can’t be right,” said Vitty. “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 – I just wondered what was going on. But now I wish they had. They stood on the inside of the gate, and close. I thought it might be some sort of trick.”
The other boys already had an idea why Aldo was upset – there were rumours all over the city. Just now, however, they were beginning to get an inkling that the truth might be more horrible.
“There was a lot of banging and clattering up above, where the cannon was” continued Aldo. “And someone 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 on 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.
“Complicated it was, that engine, a mess of levers and gears. I couldn’t make much sense of it so I looked out across the field to the wagons. They were crammed with stuff, piled high, and the horses pulling them looked to be in a bad way. There was no room left for people on them, so a little 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 of what happened.
“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. Lots of them 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 their stuff with them.”
Now it was Vitty’s turn to frown. “Why would 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 stop the brutes.”
“You saw the brutes then?” asked Vitty.
Aldo stifled a laugh. Not a happy sort of laugh, but the nervous sort that can turn into sobs. “When they came I thought they were nearer than they were, ‘cos they were all so big. Grey skinned, wearing nothing but breeches and plates of armour, and carrying blades the size of doors. And there were monsters in amongst them, like giant, hairy bulls, with more brutes on their backs. I always thought they’d be a bit like the brute caravan guards, except more wild and ragged, all screams and wailing and cavorting about, but they weren’t. They came on in a great long line, like the militia on parade, neat and tidy and in step; and some were shouting with voices like drums, or horns pretending to be drums. I think that’s what kept them in line.”
“They didn’t stay so neat, though, lined and ready for a battle. I reckon they saw that some of the of Trantians were already in, and that there was no-one apart from a little company of handgunners and the Trantio mob between them and the walls, so they broke into a run, which made the ground thunder. Everyone 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)
“They were whipping the draft horses something rotten,” said Aldo. “I could hear the beasts braying. Some moved a bit more quickly but others foundered so the wagons got strung out a bit. The women close by 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 managed to get my eyes to work again and 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 other 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 them. Not on carriages with wheels – they were just carrying them. There were two gangs hefting them. Think about it, if you’re brute enough to carry cannons into battle, d’you think you’d flinch because one fired from hundreds of yards away?”
Fran said nothing. Aldo knew that all the boys had seen ogres before, even in the city: warehouse guards, bodyguards, and performers in the annual spettacolo. They knew full well the feats of strength the brutes were capable of, even the sort of domesticated 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, meaner and 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 handgunners behind the wall around 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 away, 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 I saw 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 between me and it, and I still felt the heat wash over my back. It didn’t burn me, ‘cos it wasn’t really coming at the window – it was aimed at the battlement.”
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 that ‘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 up 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 window to hold onto so I watched to see what would happen.
“When the chanting stopped, at first nothing seemed to happen. Then I saw it. The giant bull monsters, which had moved ahead of the other brutes, were going much slowing, 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 at the heads, but the breasts were stumbling as bad as the horses on the wagons; not just the one that had reared up at the roundshot, but all three of them.
“Just when I thought they really were leaving to save themselves, the Trantian mob turned, swinging around to face the enemy. I think they were trying to get at the brutes from the side, maybe to lure them away from the wagons and the womenfolk. Way up ahead the little line of handgunners fired again, but the sound of it was nothing compared to the blast of the brute’s handcannons.
“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. I had to rub my eyes hard to make them work this time, and now I saw one of the monstrous-bulls on the ground.”
Vitty was nodding. “Yes, yes! They killed it. I saw its corpse from the wall after the battle when I took wine up to the men on the wall, umpteen crows a-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? And maybe they couldn’t even hear it themselves? I went back to watching and I saw the handgunners running away. They weren’t cowards, no way – they’d been up closer than anyone else – 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 so much faster than the men. When the brutes caught up with them they just ran right on, right over them, the handgunners disappearing 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 dunno,” 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 in front of them carrying those cannon barrels …
“… and they hadn’t fired them 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. That 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. 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 right 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 drunk men. 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, and 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. It took them a moment for them to realise 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, a small 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, and then there was 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 – I’m not sure I knew what I was doing. It was like a dream. 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 has 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 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 above 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 [i](and I do know it is daft to say this)[/i] 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 tabletop.
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 lost the whole city plus all his forces there, and right now.
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 handgunners, 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 now gains the upper hand really does depend on what happens next, and upon the proximity of reinforcements and relief, as well as other strategic considerations. Razger Boulderguts’ force has been noticeably weakened, and his mercenaries ‘Mangler’s Band’ whereabouts are unknown (well, to everyone else, possibly not to him, and definitely not to me, the GM). Whereas if you don’t count the loss of Trantio (which was possibly un-saveable) the Pavonans have 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 is going to have to employ considerable political and diplomatic savvy if he doesn’t want the Pavonans to get a reputation for being cruel and heartless. I suppose he is lucky that his own player character, Duke Guidobaldo, was not present. Then again, it is possible he doesn’t care about gaining such a reputation – fear can be a useful strategic weapon too!
Next Installment: Part 12