Wednesday, August 12, 2015

The Siege of Amimono no Toshi

This Friday, if my PCs get to it - and they probably will - we will begin the siege of Amimono no Toshi. For those wondering, the name translates to the City of Webs (literally woven things), and it is coming under siege of a large army of shadowlands forces.

I mentioned on Monday that I am re-writing the battle table for this event. Today I thought I would touch on how I am doing that to try and make things go fast but still be dramatic. With luck it will be something you can use. With more luck, you may even have ideas for me.

The Battle Table
Before I can begin, you need to understand something. L5R has a mass battle system. How it works is a player chooses their level of engagement (from reserves to front line) and then rolls on the battle opportunity table. They then get everything from automatic wounds, to glory, to honor, to heroic opportunities and duels. The heroic opportunities are little skirmish like events that play out and give the player character a chance to have a major impact on the battle. This is the table that I plan to use for the siege, but it has to be changed. Why? For one, I want the siege to go faster (in the rounds we do it) so I can hop around the city to all the PCs. For two, because a siege and a battle are very different.

What Is A Siege?
A siege is, at its simplest, when an army surrounds a stronghold and goes for a long term strategy of keeping the inside bottled up. The idea is that a sieging army can win multiple ways. They can outlast the supplies of the defenders. They can break down the walls. They can kill the defenders. Or the defenders can surrender. On the other side the only real ways for the defenders to win is to somehow outlast the army outside them (usually until help arrives) or somehow rout the enemy.

The key difference to a siege and a battle is that sieges take longer and involve a lot more boring waiting. Even when they are full of action it is less the kind of combat people are used to. Volleys of arrows are exchanged. Siege engines fire. Ladders and people trying to scale the walls have to be dealt with. Gates have to be held. It is less a combat and more a series of environmental challenges and hazards.

What Threats Does A Siege Present?
Physical harm is one of the big threats a siege presents. However, the other threat comes from fatigue and mental stress. The pressure of running out of food/water, of having to keep alert for enemies constantly. The drain not of hacking through foes all day, but spending a day going from high alert to low alert, and also pushing over ladders while dodging siege fire.

This can all be presented with damage on a character. That's the easy part. The hard part is showing what is going on.

Siege Level of Engagement
The first change I'm making is I've ditched the book levels of engagement and changed them with the areas of engagement for a siege. The players can choose to be in the reserves, on the walls, holding the gates, or in the area of the city just behind the walls. These areas do not directly correspond to levels of engagement in the book. They have parallels, but what matches against what changes depending on how the battle is going. For example, if the PCs are winning the overall battle the gates are less dangerous than if the PCs are losing the battle - where the gates are liable to be breaking down at any moment.

Breaking from the other levels lets me move things around while still taking cues for automatic damage (it is a mass battle after all) and glory levels. Then I can pepper the chart with the 'heroic' opportunities. Or as I'm calling them.

Siege Opportunities
Hold the line, charge their back line, and show me your stance are all great heroic opportunities in L5R but have little place in a siege. They also don't show the danger to the city and other things like that. To reflect this I am changing out the vast majority of heroic opportunities with other opportunities. The design behind these events follows the following criteria:

  • It must have more than one response
  • It can be handled in 1-4 die rolls and no more
By doing this I hope to move the siege along quickly (at least OOC) while leaving the problems open for interpretation and creative solutions. It lets the PCs choose their level of engagement for the siege, and that in turn will have consequences for the siege itself.

For example, a player in the city district could find a blazing fire spreading across the city coupled with some minor shadowlands creatures that rode whatever made the fire over the wall. They could choose to engage the monsters, keeping the fire crews safe. They could choose to take control of the situation and direct people around to handle both. They could choose to fight the fires. Or they could go and do something else entirely. Either way we handle it in a few dice rolls, hand out some consequences and fatigue (damage) and keep going.

The Point?
By doing this I hope to be able to roll through a potentially multi-day siege with numerous engagements and activities going on as fast as I could a 4-5 turn battle while still allowing for the siege to feel dynamic and to transition to a position where either the city can hold out until reinforcements arrive (if they're even on the way) or we transition to the gates/walls falling and the city falling back to the inner city where we either reset/repeat or see what the players choose to do.

Either way, I want to empower my players to have fun while presenting the dangerous siege in the light it deserves. I'll know after we run it how well I succeed.


  1. Sounds challenging, but will likely be a lot of fun. Sounds particularly challenging if the PCs are split up.

    Particularly like that each area will be different depending on how the battle is going. Is the result of the battle tracked mechanically on a scale of some kind?

    What about one possible result of being in the reserves is having a chance of discovering or being ambushed by a sneak attack via a small tunnel under the wall. The attack represents great danger, but if the PCs beat back the threat the tunnel turns out to be an ancient catacomb that holds some kind of loot from warriors of old.

    For being on the wall, one result could be an aerial attack of some kind, which could be a lot of fun. There's probably some Shadowlands creature that can fly - or else create one. Perhaps one result of being in the reserves or behind the wall is dealing with horses that've broken free, offering a bounty of Animal Handling or Horsemanship Check opportunities.

    Divination Skill and/or Battle Skill could be featured for glimpsing the enemies next move. Investigation (Notice) used to notice the sneak attack. If the sneak attack is noticed, perhaps a difficult Stealth (Ambush) Check to surprise their sneaking foes. A successful Lore (Architecture) Check might provide a bonus to the Investigation (Notice) to discover the tunnel mouth prior to being ambushed or, alternatively, the Lore (Architecture) might determine finding a hidden cache of ancient weapons in the tunnel. Sailing (Intelligence) Check to navigate through, if the tunnel is actually tunnels. Intimidation (Bullying) might have application in holding the gates, if the foes are just a few feet away on the other side of the gate. In the absence of Engineering, a much harder Commerce (Mathematics) might facilitate using leverage to hold the gate, rather than just brute force. If using brute force, samurai with Athletics Skill will be better than those without. There would seem to be a possible plethora of Craft Skill opportunities in an ongoing siege - good chance to reward well rounded samurai. Holding the gate could spotlight Spear & Polearm equipped samurai, which allows attacking foes through holes in the gate with a bit of distance. Kyujutsu from atop the walls is a no-brainer. As shugenja consider how to be useful, perhaps Sellcraft (Importune) comes into play. There should probably be multiple opportunities for Battle, Lore (Shadowlands) & Engineering Skill to grab the spotlight in the scene you've described. Perhaps Games Skill could come into play with troop morale building, in gleaning information or taking the troops temperature. Might be fun to have Lore (Omens) come into play while waiting for an attack.

    Looking forward to hearing hour it goes.

  2. Sieges are a challenge because they are primarily resource management (which some people do not enjoy) until the besiegers attack in some fashion or the defenders try some clever trick. Good luck and I hope it plays out well.