Hooks: Forest Patrol

September 8, 2012

Part 3 of 3 in the series Plot Hooks

“Sergeant!” shouted Lord Scina Dariune.

“Yes, m’lord?” replied his dour Sergeant-at-Arms Gareth Hawke.

“Where in the Pit are we?!”

“As far as I can tell, m’lord, we’re about four leagues north-east of camp” the tall ex-Thardan legionary replied calmly. However, his attitude didn’t assuage Lord Scina one little bit.

“I can’t see more than fifty feet in any direction!” He slapped his gloves on his saddle in frustration. “How are we supposed to bring the Taelda barbarians to heel if we cannot even find them?” he demanded.

Gareth sighed, mentally casting a prayer for patience towards Valon, the realm of the goddess Peoni. The young lord needed a serious attitude adjustment if he was to lead troops into battle, and it was Gareth’s job to to that without breaking his spirit. So he had been charged by Scina’s father, the powerful Earl of Balim, Exchequer Royal of Kaldor and trusted advisor to King Miginath.

He was about to reply when something, that innate sixth sense experienced professional soldiers develop, caused him to pause and look beyond the young lord’s left shoulder. After a heartbeat, a crude arrow whizzed from the deep underbrush towards Scina’s back.

“Down!” shouted Hawke, dragging at Scina’s sholder. He followed this immediately by shouting “Ambush! Dismount and form a skirmish line.”

This command was directed at the eight members of the patrol. They struggled to obey but a storm of arrows from all around them interfered with their unit cohesion. A man’s scream signaled the first casualty of the engagement. A quick glance told Gareth it was a minor wound but disabling, in the man’s calf muscle. Fortunately, the rest of the crude arrows bounced or broke on the soldiers’ armour.

The horses began to panic, rolling white eyes. Another arrow storm and they broke, racing away from the biting, stinging arrows that nicked and pierced their hides. A man who had been slower than others in dismounting still had a foot in his stirrup when his horse bolted. He was flipped around, his leg breaking with a sickening crack. His foot still stuck in the stirrup, his screams faded as his horse dragging him off through the bushes.

The remaining soldiers gathered in a tight group, facing all directions with shields raised against another arrow storm, the injured man at their center leaning on his spear and groaning in pain.

A short, barking sound came from outside their perimeter and furry bodies hurled themselves at the Kaldoran patrol.

“Filthy gargun!” said Lord Scina.

And battle was joined.

#

There are many kinds of wilderness surrounding the settled areas of all the kingdoms of Harn, but thick, primordial temperate forest is surely the most difficult to secure effectively. The sight lines for your archers is very restricted and the uncertain footing, with all those roots, holes hidden by leaf mulch, and fallen branches, is very dangerous terrain for a medieval soldier. Barbarian tribesmen and gargun who live in the forest would be able to move with a lot less trouble than a soldier used to open fields and meadows.

If you were running a campaign that included the need to patrol a heavily wooded area, wha kinds of things might you need to take into account, especially when it came to the effectiveness of standoff weapons like arrows? You’ll need to determine how thick the forest actually is, how far each side can see, how experienced the two commanders are, especially how experienced they are fighting in this terrain. There are other factors too; geology might tell you how many rock piles, hillocks, cave systems, and other defensible areas there are available. Conversely, how many streams and rivulets, sinkholes, ravines and cliffs might interfere with movement are additional considerations. How close the two sides can get to one another without alerting the others, and whether there are suitable ambush sites…these can all be considered by a GM setting up a scenario similar to the one above.

Other terrain will have other elements, of course. Bogs and standing water in heathland, sand dunes and wind near the shoreline, and buildings and people in settled areas, all can create opportunities or obstacles for the opposing forces. In essence, the GM needs to consider what elements of the environment help or hinder each of the sides in a conflict, large or small. A little careful consideration can mean your battles have a sense of realism and depth, and they’ll probably flow a little better as well.

Hooks: Deliverance

February 13, 2011

Part 2 of 3 in the series Plot Hooks

Kelan looked up at the sound of the cart and was momentarily sweat blinded. He wiped his eyes in time to see Jessa jump down from the driver’s seat.

“Ho!” she cried with a grin.

“Greetings” replied Kelan sourly. “You took your sweet time getting back.”

“Is that fair?” she said with her fists on her hips. “After all, it was your lousy planning that made the trip back to Tashal necessary!”

Kelan sighed. “You’re right, of course. I’m sorry. It’s been a very long, very hot day, and I’m not thinking straight.”

He walked across the the cart, a massive four wheeled affair pulled by six sturdy oxen. He peered under the canvas cover sheet.

“So, did you manage to get everything we…I mean I…forgot?”

Jessa came up to his side and put her hand on his shoulder.

“No” she said softly. “There simply wasn’t enough money to buy it all. I saved where I could by buying used and old equipment, some of which we’ll have to fix ourselves. I was able to save quite a bit that way, but there were some things that just were so expensive that we could not afford them. I’m sorry.”

Kelan turn to Jessa urgently. “You did get the items I said were critical, though, didn’t you?”

She shook her head sadly. “Not all of them, Kelan. They simply were not available…at any price.”

Kelan groaned. “If we don’t have all of those things, it will be years before this manor will be financially independent. We may not survive the winter.”

Jessa looked up into Kelan’s stricken face and said “Yes we will, my brother. You and I, and all the people we convinced to come with us, we will survive and we will prosper. You’ll think of a way. You always do!”

Her tone was full of pride, and her face shone with affection and confidence, but Kelan didn’t…couldn’t feel that way.

#

Establishing a new manor, especially one that is cut from wilderness is a dauntling exercise, and an enterprise worthy of inclusion into a campaign. It could be the starting point of the campaign, or even its focus. Alternatively, it could be just a sidebar to an ongoing campaign; a reward for services rendered to a noble of high station, say.

But what kinds of things would a GM have to consider when planning such a campaign piece? After all, it’s not like any of us have any pioneering experience, even if our lineage includes such people. Of course, we can always conduct research and I think that would be vital to the success of any such campaign. But just by applying some common sense to the question, we might be able to have a fair stab at answering the following question:

“What equipment and skills would be needed to establish a new manor in the wilderness, say, on the western bank of the Kald River?”

Hooks: Are We There Yet?

January 2, 2011

Part 1 of 3 in the series Plot Hooks

Haldur grimaced and shifted his weight in the saddle again, trying to find a spot that didn’t feel like it had been pummeled with grain flails. Surely they were close to the falls by now. They had been a dull roar in the distance for some time, but didn’t appear to be getting any closer. He turned to the rider at his side.

“Are we there yet?”

The tall man smiled wryly and shook his head. “No, Master Haldur. We will soon reach the last of the dry land and will need to make our base camp before those of us going on enter the marshes tomorrow. Only late on the morrow will we reach the river proper, and we shall need the pindars before then.”

He was referring to the two craft being hauled by ox-drawn wagons. They had slowed the entire journey, but the man had insisted they were necessary. Well, he was the king’s representative in the Tuleme Marshes, and was reputed to know them like the back of his hand. Best to bow to his knowledge, Haldur thought. With a last glance back over the column of horses, wagons and men that made up his construction crew, Haldur turned his attention to the path ahead. He knew the greater challenges lay beyond today, but was confident he and his crew would get the job of building the first pier on Tuleme Island above the falls done on time.

If the stories he’d heard about Tuleme were just that…stories.

* * *

Let’s assume for a moment that Kaldor as a kingdom has decided that Tuleme Island is the only practical alternative location to build a port capable of servicing ocean-going vessels, and that the Crown has commissioned a master engineer to commence construction.

What kind of things would the engineer have to consider? What difficulties would the construction crew have to overcome? What techniques might they employ to overcome those problems? And would this be a suitable hook for a campaign…or at least a part of a larger campaign?

Look for the discussion in the HârnForum.