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.
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.
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.