Turns 3.5 – 6
Although it was some time before he would know it, Volker’s earlier musings concerning the possibility of a relief force proved to be partially correct. A company of light horse, the Black Gulf Road Wardens, a band of mostly Arabyan mercenaries who patrolled the VMC’s protectorate realm, now galloped onto the field of battle close to the Sartosans’ baggage and their left-most piece of ordnance. There were not enough of them to swing the advantage of numbers, nor realistically to increase the Alcentian’s chances of victory, but their presence near the gun, and especially the baggage, was a very worrying development for the pirates.
Certainly, the gunners and those men tasked with guarding the baggage were alarmed. The first made extra haste in the reloading of their piece with chain-shot, while the second commenced a heated debate concerning whether they should form a body to fight or hide amongst the baggage to better their chances against arrows. The loudest was shouting that the enemy must have intended this all the time, and that the village’s defence was a merely ruse to draw the army into a fight while the baggage was taken. Louder still was the answer from an old, one-legged sea-dog,
“Aye, I reckon you’re right. Now catch up and help us decide what to do about it!”
Being near the village and in the front rank of his marching crewmen, Volker attention was held by what was going on ahead of him. Farq’s goblins had already poured over the defences, cut down the last of the crossbowmen and crashed pell-mell into the armoured men at arms awaiting beyond. They would have their work cut out for them, thought Volker, as the enemy they now faced were obviously not militia but professional mercenaries, carapaced in steel.
The goblins might just find their rust-ridden, ill-sharpened blades would struggle to penetrate such armour. Still, Volker thought, if Farq can hold the enemy back just long enough, he and his own lads could get at the swordsmen. Suddenly, as he belatedly realised they were bound to do, the swordsmen charged into Farq’s flank.
Now it would take divine help for Farq’s scurvied scallywags to stand their ground for any time at all.
The remnant of the pike body to Volker’s left were clearly no longer in a fit state to assist anyone effectively, and even if the goblins held long enough for his own men to join the fight by charging the swordsmen, that would give the enemy halberdiers an opportunity to flank charge him! What resulted would be right, royal mayhem, and possibly exactly what the defenders had been planning.
He needed a moment to think.
So he took that moment, while his lads watched the goblins’ fate with sick fascination.
Game Note: My campaign players are each effectively roleplaying just one character. If they die, they are out of the campaign, until we can work out who they can be and how to get them back in! Establishing their new character can be a long, hard struggle. Jamie is Admiral Volker, and commander of the Sartosans. He was once Razger Boulderguts the ogre tyrant, who left Tilea with a huge haul of loot after his chevauchee. Now Jamie is Admiral Volker, which is not so different as he is after loot yet again. But he has to stay be alive to enjoy it!
As the butchery began in the village, with nearly four times as many goblins falling as men, the horse archers in the rear loosed a flight of arrows at the gunners, killing one, even as the gunners hauled the piece about to face them. Staring down the muzzle, more than one of the riders felt their stomachs knot in fear as they reached for a second arrow – they knew the gun would fire before they could shoot again.
With eleven goblins killed, and large enemy bodies assailing from two sides …
… Farq and his boys did what everyone else knew they did well. They ran away. The men at arms stood their ground, but the militia swordsmen, rage momentarily getting the better of them, pushed forwards a good few steps before their captain could halt them.
The goblins hurtled through the enclosure towards Captain Garique’s handgunners, leaving an only slightly disrupted enemy line behind them.
Farq later swore that Garique’s lads presented their pieces at his goblins, to which the captain answered that no such thought ever crossed his mind. Only those involved knew the truth of it, and they stuck to their stories. For whatever reason, the goblins halted and reformed to face the enemy. The consensus amongst the rest of the army was that it would have taken just such an event to stop the goblins’ flight. Farq himself claimed that he when he heard Volker’s command, he simply and obediently did what he was told.
Volker had decided the enemy needed a touch more softening up before he committed his own boys to the fight, and so while the blunderbusses and dwarfs continued their long march towards the orchard on the flank, he ordered his own men to move a little to the right, clearing a line of fire for the gun behind.
Vedus now headed off alone towards the horsemen. The pikemen were only too glad to see him leave. He could have commanded them to go with him, so not to expose himself to too much to harm, but in light of his previous, dreadful mishandling of the etheric winds, he decided he had put them through quite enough and ought not endanger them anymore. It also meant he could be less concerned about any spellcasting missteps.
Fixing his eyes, indeed his whole mind, upon the riders, and happy to see they had to get too close to the baggage or the gun, he nervously wove what little magical breeze was available to generate and loose a flurry of fireballs. Three horses and their riders perished in the conjured conflagration, while the rest were singed by the heat. Yet they did not falter or flee.
He cursed, silently, for it had seemed to him that he had missed his chance at redemption. Then watched as a fourth rider crumpled to the ground, both horse and man horribly torn by the chain-shot fired by the cannon before them, and yet the riders still did not flee. Vedus cursed again, for as they spurred their horses and began to level their spears, he knew they were not going to try archery again. He could see from the surviving gunner’s wide eyes that they too had the measure of what was coming their way!
The other gun, a way cleared before it to reveal the recently victorious men at arms …
… now blasted chain-shot. Armour proved insufficient against such a missile, and five of the mercenaries perished most bloodily. Rather than panic them, the event seemed merely to act as some sort of sign. In good order, they moved into the building behind them. Volker assumed at first that they were seeking somewhere to shelter, but then changed his mind for their calmness made that seem unlikely. They moved with precision, entirely unlike hard-pressed men looking for somewhere to hide. What new trickery was this?
His line of thought was broken, however, as the swordsmen charged Farq’s mob yet again. After a brief but messy fight, in which the goblins hurriedly fired counter-shot and famous ineptness with powder killed two of their own to add to those cut down by the foe, Farq and his boys broke and fled right through Garique’s handgunners, this time failing to notice whether any muzzles pointed their way!
This left the swordsmen somewhat exposed, especially as the halberdiers had about faced like the men at arms and were now marching off towards the city. That settled it for Volker – he knew what the enemy had surely intended all the time. The enemy had never expected to win, but only to delay and wound him, before returning to the city to man the walls, where they would face his army in a weakened state, or perhaps bolstered by a relief force now given just enough time to arrive?
If he had known what was happening to the rear, it would only have bolstered his theory, for the horsemen had cut down the gun’s remaining crew. Several of them quickly dismounted to work out how they might disable the gun permanently. They knew a spike would be only temporary, for it could be drilled out, and so now argued whether to attempt to drag the gun away or blow it up with its own powder.
The baggage close by, heavily weighted with loot, seemed of no interest to them. They were surely operating under orders, as part of some desperate strategy and were only interesting in disabling of stealing the gun.
(Game Note: My players and I have had to come up with some campaign house-rules to cover the ‘recovery’ of cannons that have not exploded but just lost their crew. It is easy enough for the BRB to say the crew models indicate the remaining number of wounds, but when it comes to campaign casualty recovery, more thought is required!)
As Farq once again managed to halt his goblins, this time from a position of safety in the rear of the fighting line, Volker gave a simple command,
“Have at them!”
And led his crews over the hedge into the swordsmen.
The fight was brutal, just as Volker knew it would be. His men might not have armour and shields, but they were festooned with blades and pistols, and he and van Baas were famously skilled in the art of applying both. Arcabar the wizard cast the spell Flaming Sword to further improve the Sartosan’s deadliness, just before he himself was wounded. Several of the enemy had gone for him in particular, at the cost of letting down their guard to the other pirates. Here too was a sign that they were acting on orders to weaken Volker’s army, not to save the village.
Arcabar’s pain meant he failed to notice a sudden flare in the etheric breeze. Vedus, his apprentice, had summoned up fireballs to fell another pair of horsemen, but yet again, perhaps catalysed by the continued discombobulation of his mind caused by his previous failure, he had lost control of the conjuration and the energies he had failed to bind now seared his mind. Staggering dizzily, he clutched at his temples, temporarily robbed of his senses. Moment’s later, as the sights and sounds of his surroundings began to reappear, he knew something was badly wrong. And part of what was wrong was that for some time he could not for the life of him work out what it was.
(Game Note: Another Miscast, ‘Power Drain’. He lost two levels and all his spells, now becoming level zero. You might have guessed this was coming, but my players and I have now had to come up with some campaign house-rules concerning the ‘recovery’ of wizard’s magic levels. It is easy enough for the BRB to say the wizard’s level is ‘permanently’ reduced, but that is in terms of the tabletop game, one battle, not an ongoing campaign. Some considerable debate ensued, and I had to do a bit of haggling. I try not to be a tyrannical GM!)
Indeed, so befuddled were Vedus’ wits in that moment, that he failed to notice that the last surviving gun and the swivels in the central trees (the latter yet to contribute to the battle at all) between them now killed four more of the riders. The last survivors, spattered by the blood of their dead and dying comrades and their horses, abandoned their now fruitless efforts to drag the gun away and fled the field. They would not stop galloping until they reached the city walls. Nor did their mounts complain, being only too happy to put the fires and bullets ever further behind!
At the little enclosure before the village, a queue was forming! The Sartosans were stacking up in a column with the goblins at the rear and Volker’s men at the front.
The main body of Sartosans had cut down a veritable swathe of the swordsmen. Unsurprisingly, the Alcentians turned and fled, running right through the halberdiers behind.
But even this did not break the defenders’ will, as both the halberdiers reformed to face the foe, as did the swordsmen to the rear!
Another jump been made in this deadly game of leapfrog, with more surely yet to come. Volker knew exactly what the enemy were up to. Each time he assaulted them, his wizard Arcabar was carried into the fray. If the Sartosans halted to allow the wizard to leave, then the enemy would do the charging.
Volker had not expected such bravery and stubbornness. And Arcabar had not expected to be wounded in the melee.
(Vedus, on the other hand, had forgotten what he had expected, along with pretty much all that he had done that day. It would take him some time to realise he has forgotten all his incantations too! )
So it was, as the sky began to darken that Volker and his men had to fight and break the halberdiers, then fight the swordsmen yet again!
The day was won, bar the last bout of fighting. None of the swordsmen would ever leave Sersale. Volker learned later that it was their village, and thus unlike the rest of their force, they had never intended to leave.
At what cost, though, this victory? Volker asked himself. The city lay before him, but it would be defended, and not only by the men at arms who snuck so cleverly away, but by whatever other forces had been obtained or raised while the battle here was fought. He had begun the day with three pieces of ordnance. Now he had only one. Two wizards had marched here with his army. Now one of them was a mere shell of a man, emptied of all magical powers. Volker’s mauled regiments were mostly intact, especially as his army could now tend the wounded, but he was far from home and there would be no reinforcements for him before he attacked the city.
Meanwhile the Alcentians not only could recruit and hire from the eastern parts of their realm, or the city itself, or even by way of the sea, for lack of manpower meant his fleet was unable to blockade the city. His ships had skeleton crews, for most of his mariners were here with him.
All this fighting, and he had yet to face the VMC’s actual army! Of course, the army’s absence was the very reason he had come, but he had now been in the realm of Alcente so long now that it could conceivably arrive any day. The reports had said they were far to the north, but reports could be wrong.
Perhaps, even with a famously rich city so close, it was time take what he had, plus what his lads could loot from Sersale, and return to Sartosa? Surely that was enough to sate his army?
He had more thinking to do!
Thank you Jamie and David for your patience during this week-long pay by e-mail battle. Now I have the last campaign map moves etc of the season to make, and 6 long (private) reports to write!