Last time, our heroes devised a plan to attack the slavers on the neighboring island, capture their ship, and sail away from the Dragon Islands. They spent the entire day preparing; now, the time to strike has come...

Read the first part of this campaign log here.

Day 36

Our heroes rise before dawn and set out in their rowboat to the slavers’ island. As planned, they land on the western shore and proceed further on foot so that they can approach the cove from a covered position. I've copied in a map of the island below.

Slavers' Island

As the players had hoped, there is a thick fog out today. Moving as silently as they can, our heroes descend the mountain’s eastern slope and slip past the watchtower towards the cove inlet. Luckily, the crashing of waves on the beach drowns any sound they make, while the fog conceals them from prying eyes.

In the cove, our heroes find a large, single-masted ship moored to a crude jetty. Close to the jetty, a group of seven qarim (including one armor-clad chieftain) sit around a fire; they are talking and making music, obviously unaware of the players.

Our heroes try to sneak up on the qarim slavers, but Razvan stumbles and makes a sound, causing the qarim to notice them. Battle is joined!

Battle details (beware: super-rant)

This was an interesting battle. First, the players were up against a grand total of 13 qarim bandits, six of whom were deployed at the outset; the other seven were aboard the ship and joined the fray at a rate of between 1 and 6 per round (I rolled a die to see how many would show up). Second, there was the qarim bandit chieftain, who was quite a heavyweight.

The qarim slavers had 500 Character Points each. They only had a single combat skill above level 1 (Ranged Combat at 2, but they had crappy weapons); as such, they were not too difficult to take on. However, they were numerous and the initial distance between them and the players allowed them to use their bows to maximum effect. The qarim chieftain had 960 Character Points with no direct combat skills above level 2. However, he had Intimidate skill level 3 and several of the Intimidate power tree’s power, including Intimidating Stance (see Core Rulebook, page 99) and Bring It On (see Core Rulebook, page 80), which gave him a nice edge.

The players had about 640 Character Points each. There were five of them. They were helped by Captain Jannovic (640 Character Points, but no combat skills above level 1) and his two sailors (500 Character points, but no combat skills above level 1).

The battle opened with a stretch of about 10 cubes (100 meters) between the opposing groups. Since the qarim had bows, this was to their advantage. There were barrels and crates positioned along the inlet that the players could use as cover while they advanced, and most of them withstood the attacks fairly well: Erdan had his armor; Razvan used Apportation spells to raise his Hit Difficulty, and Cipran dodged. One of the sailors, unfortunately, took an arrow to the knee and fell behind (he has since applied for a position as guard in Whiterun, Skyrim).

It was interesting to see how much combat dynamics have changed since the introduction of defensive spells and powers and the alterations to the mechanics relating to armor and parrying. It used to be that in a situation like this, the players were most likely to spend so much AP dodging arrows that there would no AP left to advance, let alone attack; the qarim would have had the upper hand and--despite their lesser abilities--might have won. Now, the new defensive abilities (and some players’ better understanding of them) made the advance under a hail of arrows tricky, but not impossible. Which is better, I think.

When the players closed on the huddled qarim, Zikan began making use of his Covering Fire power (see Core Rulebook, page 83). This power allows him to set the Hit Difficulty for an ally in range of his weapon with a Ranged Combat (attack) skill check. Zikan’s player used this power on Cipran, who is a serious damage dealer and who was aided by not having to spend any AP to dodge attacks.

I was happy with how this power worked out. However, some players called for a limitation to its effects, since they considered it too powerful (Cipran was virtually invulnerable). Having thought about it some, I think it is good as it is, for the following reasons:

  • The circumstances for using the power were ideal, i.e. against a mass of low-level adversaries. Had there been a qarim of the same make as the others but with one more level in a combat skill (e.g. Ranged Combat skill level 3 instead of 2), then it would have been possible for him to hit Cipran. Had the qarim had an even higher combat skill (e.g. Ranged Combat skill level 4) or a better weapon, then the odds of hitting Cipran would have even been considerable.
  • Zikan is good at what he does: he has Ranged Combat skill level 3 and a +1d bonus because he chose the Janissary background. That means he has a dice pool of 4d (without any bonuses from his weapon). He’s good, so powers that he uses with his primary combat skill should be successful.
  • The power needs an incentive for use; it is a support power (the effects benefit a party member) and if its cost would increase to, say, 3 AP, then I believe most players who would qualify to use it (i.e. competent ranged combatants) would prefer to attack three times (1 AP per attack) and potentially kill one or two adversaries instead. After all, foregoing an attack with a high probability to hit or even kill for the sake of supporting an ally is not something most players easily do. This power’s cost left Zikan with 1 AP per round to do something else to feel useful (even if it was mainly reloading) so as not to have the feeling his entire turn has been handed in to let another have the glory.

However, I do consider raising the ammunition cost (if only for realism’s sake: 12 qarim being unable to hit with their bows because of one musket ball seems a little dramatic).

This battle also saw the effective use of healing through Infusion magic. Since this group is not heavily magic-oriented, a little bit of magic every now and then is great! I was happy to see it worked and the Infusion magic packed enough of a healing punch to save the lives of one of the player characters.

The final thing I want to talk about is the takedown of the slaver chief. As I said, he had some powers that aided him, but he was handled quite expertly by Razvan and Cipran. Razvan, who specializes in the Brawl skill, grappled with the chieftain (see Core Rulebook, page 46) to keep him occupied. On the Stage, grappling means you can do nothing else but grapple: you make an opposed check every round, and the winner decides where to take the grapple (do damage, release/escape, do nothing). While the grappling rules need some work (e.g. it costs 3 AP to engage in a grapple, which means you can never go to an opponent and engage the grapple in the same turn), they are a lot smoother now than they were in previous iterations of the Stage.

Razvan pinned the chief to the floor and Cipran ran him through with his sword while he was so pinned. I liked it: teaming up made easy work of guy who would have been a serious threat when faced alone, which touches again on the importance of teamwork and focused action on the Stage.

When the qarim see that the battle has gone ill, three of them surrender. Cipran kills them all, offering no quarter. Unfortunately, Jannovic and one of the sailors have fallen in combat, while the other sailor has an arrow in his knee. Since the players have no idea how to sail, that might be a problem...

It was a good session! I was especially pleased with the battle, which went smoothly and rules-wise really showed some of the more fun aspects of the Stage’s game mechanics. The players received 80 Character Points, bringing most of them to about 720 Character Points total.

Lessons learned

  • The Brawl (grapple) skill needs some work, especially regarding engaging in grapples, but the foundation is now good.
  • The ammunition cost for the Covering Fire power may need to be increased.
  • Enchantments may need some extra balancing: enchanted items can rarely be used by players, even when their effects are pretty weak.

Read about session 4 here!