The Battle For Trueford
No, dear reader, you are not mistaken. Previously I did write about the battle of Trueford when I posted the overview for the adventure, "Urvantan's Tower" in the Smoking Ruins and other Adventures book for Runequest: Roleplaying in Glorantha. However, while discussing the post with a few people online, I realized that was more detail I wanted to give about the big battle at the end of the adventure I wanted elaborate on. I had initially expected to post this a few weeks after the first, but I've been busy with work, and it took some time to get my thoughts together.
You can find the previous post about the Urvantan's Tower by following this link here.
The Battle of Trueford - How to Run a Large-Scale Battle (Easy Mode)
In the Battle of Trueford section, it reads, "If desired, rather than delve into a round-by-round battle where every single combatant is tracked. The gamemaster is encouraged to make this fray more visceral than specific, using narrative description where possible to keep the pressure and intensity driving, and breaking combat into short, brief, and brutal encounters."
I'm sure, like me, many GMs have never run large battle set pieces, or if they have come close to it - it was done like normal combat but with waves of combatants. Each combatant was tracked individually or in groups, and every attack and parry rolled so that the players slowly but surely played through the whole thing. We all have been there, slogging through combat round after round, and how unfun that can be. So the advice the adventure gives the GM is above and beyond the best advice an adventure can provide. As much as anyone can decide not to run the whole battle in rounds, it is one thing to decide for yourself and another to be permitted to do it. As much as Roleplaying games are a unique form of entertainment, they are a game nonetheless, and we often feel that we need to use the rules that come with the game to play the game. But if that game tells you to ignore the standard procedure and to do this other thing instead to make it easier and less stressful for the GM, all the better.
Unfortunately, the adventure doesn't give much advice on "make this fray more visceral than specific, using narrative description where possible." So that's what I hope to do with this post. Give some guidance on how to set up the battle for your game to make it easy to run and enjoyable from a gameplay perspective while still being more thematic than a slog full of moving pieces.
I suggest that a GM breaks the battle into several manageable chunks. Some are marked as Narrative Scenes. These scenes reflect the passage of time and inform the players about significant shifts in the battle overall. The adventure gives you a few of these, so the GM won't need to create all of them out of whole cloth.
The First narrative scene and how combat starts has a fantastic narrative description within the adventure's text. There are also two more similar scenes described in the adventure that shift the story and the battle's direction and momentum. Both of these are near the end, but the GM will need maybe one of two more similar scenes placed between the start of the battle and the end of the battle. Below I'll give you an idea of the narrative scenes I came up with for this battle.
The other chunks are actionable scenes placed between narrative scenes. These scenes use Combat Rounds but don't have to be specifically about combat actions, and I'll give examples for these scenes that I wrote up for my game down below as well. Urvantan's Tower does provide the GM with two of these actionable scenes in the adventure. In one of the actionable scenes, the heroes must get to the Town Hall and free some important NPC hostages. The second actionable scene that the adventure gives is the one that will end the battle one way or another.
Playing my RuneQuest game online had a few advantages. First and foremost, I could set up all my combat scenes beforehand. I could also have lighting effects and even animated fire, which I took full advantage of.
Breaking Combat Down Into Chunks
When I sat down and broke the battle into groups, I listed simple phrases for each scene using bullet points to create an easy-to-follow order. The other goal I had when designing each scene was that I wanted them to be more than just combat by adding elements to the scene that gave the heroes more non-combat actions they could take. A lot more happens in a battle than just individuals fighting, especially when all the fighting is happening throughout a town. Logically, you would have non-combatants trying to escape, people who are injured and in need of help, wagons being overturned and used as cover and barriers, etc. The GM's goal is to have a broad vision of what shape the battle takes and how to reflect the passage of time. But also paring that with keeping the game from feeling like a slog.
For ease of tracking which is a narrative Scene and which is an Actionable Scene, I use Letters for Narrative Scenes and Numbers for Actionable Scenes below.
A: Urvantan appears. The battle starts.
1: Players, Save the Hostages in the Town Hall.
B: The hostages spread out to help free other villagers or pick up weapons and fight. The Local Ernalda Priestess requires the players to defend her so she can get to the earth temple. The Temple is locked.
2: Defend the Ernalda Prirestess. Find a way to unlock the earth Temple so the Priestess can get inside.
C: The Ernalda Priestess unleashes the Temple Guardian once the Temple is unlocked, and she has access to it again. the Overall battle continues.
3: a section of the town is on fire. The Heroes need to either help put out the fire, help heal the injured, or defend the firefighters, healers, and injured townsfolk.
D: Fighting continues. Three Centaurs appear and run through the town, attacking any hero or townfolk they can reach.
4: Fight or defend against the Centaurs' attacks while villagers flee to safety.
E: The Leader of the Company of the Manticore challenges one hero to a duel; the winner takes all.
5:One Hero duels the Leader of the Company of the Manticore for control of the region.
F: Describe the end of the duel and what happens after whoever wins.
About half my players are none combat-focused heroes, so when determining what actionable scenes I wanted to make, I wanted to ensure these heroes had moments to shine. I choose to have the next actionable scene happen outside the Earth Temple instead of during the move from the Town Hall to the Earth Temple to avoid the scene's focus being just combat-based. I felt that one gave the heroes more actions that they could take than the other. Same as why I have the heroes choose whether they help put out the fires, heal the injured or defend.
From the image above, you can see how I set each actionable scene in Roll20 as its own battle map/stage. The images don't show the effects I added to these scenes either. For instance, Each battle map uses Dynamic Lighting so that the players can only see what is in line of sight of their Pc's token on the map. On the map with the fire, the fire was also animated, which added to the scene's tension.
I'll give you a breakdown for each scene I have listed above; this way, you can either steal them or use these as a springboard to develop your own.
A) Urvantan has appeared in Trueford and starts attacking the soldiers of the Company of the Manticore. The adventure gives the GM an excellent visual description of the Sorceror's sudden appearance in the village and the hell that breaks loose from there. The only element I added to this scene that wasn't in the adventure was to narrate how the heroes and their allies rush forward to take advantage of the confusion sweeping through the soldiers. During this confusion, the heroes make their way to the Town Hall to free the hostages. This scene ends with describing what the heroes see outside the Town Hall, setting up the next scene.
1) This scene is our first round of combat once the battle has begun. You can see from the battle map above the number of enemies the heroes were to face at this stage. I used the map of Trueford from the adventure as the battle map for the Actionable Scenes. The adventure tells the GM the number of enemies stationed in the village and their deployment. The Mercenaries are a well-trained and battle-tested group who have seen better days. Their equipment needs repairs, and some of them have old wounds that are still healing. The enemy is running on fumes, making them easier to fight against than if they were fresh. I took this also to mean that none of the common - unnamed NPCs have any Rune points left, which gives the heroes an advantage over them.
However, they are well trained, so when the players encounter the group outside the Town Hall, they are in a formation that makes them difficult to overcome. We have the classic Wall of Shields with ranged attackers from behind. The biggest and strongest target is the Minotaur, who will enter melee if the heroes can break past the shield wall.
There is a Satyr inside the Town Hall whose job is to keep the Ernaldian High Priestess asleep. The GM can also have the Satyr come out and fight if they think the combat is too easy for the heroes. The GM can also have Urvantan appear behind the enemy if the heroes are doing poorly.
The mercenaries have controlled this town long enough to create choke points for defense throughout the village. Not shown on the map, I also have simple alarm systems strung up in crucial areas. String with bells placed low to the ground that a character might trip while sneaking if they don't notice them. Based on the size of the village and the number of villagers captured compared to the number of mercenaries in the village, I figured that the mercenaries would have ways to minimize the gaps in their watches to prevent hostages from escaping and rescuers from sneaking in at night. I love the Tenchu Stealth Assassin games; these simple devices come straight from there.
B) This scene describes the freed hostages in the town hall. If the Satyr is still around, they would probably be fine with becoming a hostage. I told how the heroes undid the bidding on the hostages that were tied up and had to find some way to wake the sleeping Ernalda High Priestess. Once awake, so she can use her power to assist in the battle, she tells the heroes to accompany her to the Temple. Along with the High Priestess is the Babeester Gor Cultist, who is the Priestess' main bodyguard. But when Heroes get to the Temple, it appears the Company of the Manticore has used magical binding to lock the temple doors.
2) In this scene, the heroes need to defend the High Priestess while she or another hero finds a way to break the magic that keeps the Temple locked. Here we have more overturned wagons acting as defensive points for the enemy. The heroes and the Priestess at the Temple are fully exposed on three sides, making this a difficult position to defend. Most of the mercenaries have both ranged and melee options. Once the High Priestess can get inside the Temple, she can use what Rune points she has left to summon the Temple Guardian, which ends this scene and moves the battle into the next narrative scene.
C) The GM should describe the Temple Guard rushing the enemy forces, freeing the heroes from the need to defend and allowing them freedom of movement. The GM should describe the battle's progress before switching to the next actionable scene. Between Urvantan and the enemy, there are several spots throughout the town where fire has spread. One such area is also near where many of the wounded from the battle have gathered.
3) In this scene, the heroes can help the village battle the fire, heal the wounded, and defend both groups from the onslaught of the enemy.
When playing through this battle, I ended up skipping scene three. My players had been running low on MP and Rune Points by the time the Ernalda Priestess was able to enter the Temple. I skipped this scene and moved on to the next, blending the description of Scenes C and D. However, it's always possible the situation could be different for your group. It comes down to what kind of party of characters you have in your group.
D) Here, we have the Centaur Leader and his honor guard rush into the battle. I figure they all have Mobility cast on themselves to get to the village as fast as possible. A hostage is carried on the Leader's hindquarters unless the heroes' previous actions have removed this possibility from the adventure.
4) Here we have the Heroes who need to defend against this sudden attack while trying to get villagers to safety.
E) The Leader of the Company of the Manticore changes a single Heroes to duel them for the fate of the Lost Valley. Even though he is an enemy, he has honor, and this is just a job for him. Though he knows that if he loses here, this is the company's end.
5) One Hero and the Leader of the enemy forces duel each other. The duel ended pretty quickly in our game between a Humakti and the Leader.
Anyway, I hope you found this helpful and insightful in running the Battle of Trueford during the Urvantan's Tower adventure. Until the next time: I Fought, We Won, and May Your Glorantha Vary.