GURPS: Casus Belli

2x07, Up In Smoke

Act I: The Siege of Fort Nowhere

  • 7 September, 457 Anno Domini Nostru Iesu. It has been an interesting four months since Gwynedd opted to join the war to unseat High King Vortigern for his perceived treachery in wedding Rowena, the daughter of the Saecsen usurper, Hengist. There were many early victories, with the unified forces of the four kings – Gwent, Gwynedd, Powys and Rheged – easily defeating Dumnonia troops in several engagements, which has prompted many to suspect that the hearts of those warriors are not wholly engaged, as if they too are greatly displeased at this turn of events and are doing the bare minimum necessary their duty requires before retreating. The many Dumnonia soldiers captured seem to lend credence to this theory as more than a few swap allegiance once they learn the purpose of this war.
  • Three solid months of campaigning has paid dividends for the many. The warbands of Gwion, Marcus and Meadhbh have all drastically improved in terms of quality, having upgraded their equipment from salvaged spoils and learned many new tricks that make them far more formidible on the battlefield. Angus’ “little hawks” have improved drastically as well, turning into an extremely lethal force, and even Aedán has drawn some capable engineers and miners, though they are available less frequently than the others. Bradán doubles the size of his warband as his reputation draws more warriors who wish to march under his banner.
  • As the king bringing the largest number of troops onto the field (as well as the likely next high king once they depose his grandfather, Vortigern, Cadell of Powys has emerged as the public face of the four kings, despite his relative youth in comparison (he is only ~26). He is brash and overconfident, as well as a fairweather Christian (in that he pays lip service but is not truly devout or anything. Unlike Owain, he has an eye for the ladies and immediately hit on Meadhbh but has stopped upon learning she’s betrothed.
  • The king of Rheged – Meirchion the Lean – is clearly more accustomed to dealing with Picts than Saecsens. He is gruff and tolerates no fools. His nickname comes from his youth when he was thin and lean. In regards to religion, he is a apathetic to all religions as anyone can be and still be alive.
  • Muerig of Gwent is the new king of the region that the PCs grew up in and for some reason, he does not like them, especially Bradán for whatever reason. Like his father, Tewdrig, who had abdicated the throne many years ago to become a monk (thus precipitating so much of the trouble in Gwent), Meurig is a devout Christian … a fanatic, in fact, and even Marcus has trouble being in his presence for too long.
  • This leaves Cunedda as the most experienced of the kings in terms of war. He is deferred to in most things combat-related, which might be why the campaign has gone as well as it has.
  • In mid-August, just as the war seemed about to conclude, King Vortigern fled with his new wife to the east and his Saecsen allies. Much debate occurred between the kings as to whether this should be considered a victory, with the high king essentially abdicating, but Muerig of Gwent’s arguments won the day and the allied army pursued him. This, as it would turn out, was a mistake.
  • The Saecsens did not roll over like the Dumnonia troops did and casualties among the allied army grew. King Cunedda was badly wounded during a battle and forced to be evacuated; this would not be learned by much of the Gwynedd forces until later, by which time it was already too late.
  • During this entire campaign, Owain has been wounded numerous times – the man is just unlucky – and was recently rotated back from the front, along with many of the Rhos warriors & nobles. The general effectiveness in combat of Lord Bradán and his retinue is likely the reasons they have been kept in the field…
  • Six days ago, just as August rolled into September, the allied army met the Saecsens at a place called Crecganford (Crayford) … and it was a slaughter. Your army was caught out of place and flanked, and the baggage train with its supplies were captured and looted, and the Saecsens fell upon the panicking men with great fervour. Hundreds and hundreds of your countrymen fell as your battle lines fell apart. The Welsh routed in all directions, though most fled to Londinium. During the battle, Marcus was startled when an unfamiliar Welshman abruptly attacked him; he killed the man quickly enough, but he was unable to learn more due to collapse of the shield wall.
  • Bradán and his retinue did not. Instead, they retreated back toward Powys, alone save for their warriors. In the chaos, they were lucky they managed to rally their own troops and, for the entire six days, they were actively pursued by a large force of Saecsens. With no idea where Angus or Meadhbh are, they have set a grueling pace, intent on finding a more defensible location.
  • And finally, they find it: a long abandoned hillfort nestled atop a rocky hill. Here, they can hold … and hold they must as soon after they have reached the fort, the Saecsen host arrives and charges up the hill. There they meet a fierce resistance and are eventually repulsed, leaving behind dozens of their number dead or dying. Now that the more exuberant of the Saecsen warriors are downed, their commander settles in for an actual siege.

Act II: Arrows in the Night

  • As the Saecsens setup camp, the defenders turn to preparing the fort to hold against them. Marcus sets his warriors to assembling an internal wall that is only intended to slow any breachers, while Aedán turns toward rigging up as many traps as he can manage. Gwion, unsure of what to accomplish, opts to help Marcus with his construction. During this, Bradán studies the battlefield for any insight into the Saecsen commander; though the man is too distant to make out, it is clear that the commander is doing the same.
  • Heddwyn, however, opts to take another route. Relying on his eidetic memory, he constructs a [nithing pole], ensuring that it looks like there is a horse head atop it (even though there isn’t.) Climbing to the rickety walls of the old fort, he bellows out a generic curse in the Saecsen tongue before casting a quick spell that causes the pole to erupt in flames. The attackers are visibly perturbed by this action which Heddwyn considers satisfactory.
  • Night falls as the Saecsen continue to range around the fort and with so little food available to the defenders, Bradán decides they will conduct a commando raid instead of just starving. He spends a bit of time studying the various campsites before selecting their target; knowing that Aedán is noisy, he leaves the smith behind and instead takes one of Gwion’s archers in his place. The team stealth forward until they have visual of the camp and the reason this one was selected: the Saecsens here have not unhooked their horse from the wago.
  • Heddwyn softly announces that he will handle the horse before closing his eyes; a moment later, the horse jerks awake and begins dragging the wagon out of the camp. This causes some confusion from the Saecsens who are awake, including a pair who are currently roasting a squirrel over their fire. Echo, smelling the meat and being quite hungry himself, bolts forward, abandoning any attempts at stealth. His sudden appearance startles the warriors even more and mostly distracts them from the approach of the warriors, but the Saecsen file leader hears something and half-turns where he sees Bradán.
  • The fight is over almost before it begins. Marcus darts forward, Fragarach out, as Gwion feathers one of the warriors who is then felled by a charging Bradán. When the file leader swings wildly at Marcus, the former Roman retaliates with a swing that takes the man’s arm off completely. The third man, upon seeing two of his allies felled in but a matter of seconds, turns to flee but is even more discouraged when he sees an archer lurking there (who promptly feathers him.)
  • Meanwhile, two of the Saecsens are confused and startled by Echo’s charge to snatch the squirrel away before he darts into the bushes to consume his tasty meal. One of these men darts for a spear, his attention wholly focused on Echo, while the other turns to investigate the noise from the file leader; what he finds are three corpses … and as he opens his mouth to shout, Gwion feathers him. He collapses, just as the horse controlled by Heddwyn stumbles through a tent, rolling over a Saecsen who is just now rousing. The man screams in agony as his legs are broken, which most definitely rouses the rest of the camp and draws the attention of the last man fully awake who turns … and discovers his friend dead of an arrow to the heart.
  • The chaos this attack causes confuses the Saecsens long enough for the team to get the wagon back to the fort where they discover it does have food (although not as much as they would like.) Knowing that their enemy will attack in the morning, they ready themselves … and are waiting when the now discouraged Saecsens launch their hesitant attack. It is met by stiff resistance and is thrown back in disarray.
  • Having taken significant casualties, the Saecsen opt to retreat but Bradán is unable to contain the defenders from surging forward and conducting an all-out attack. The Saecsens are clearly caught by surprise, obviously not expecting the Welsh to abandon the hillfort, and are utterly destroyed as a military force in the course of the battle. Victory is once again Lord Bradán’s.
  • After spending a day to loot the battlefield and attend their wounded, the warriors continue toward the planned rally point near the border of Powys. There, the discover Angus and Meadhbh arguing with Prince Einion about conducting a potential rescue mission for the missing lord of Caerhun. Here, they also learn that the alliance between the four kings has thoroughly fractured – all four are furious and blame one another for the catastrophe at Crecganford.
  • King Cunedda has officially released his lords to return home, particularly since Autumn is coming and with it, Winter. By this point, Bradán and his retinue are the only Rhos force still in the field, with the rest having started back days earlier. From their current location, they are looking at twenty days on foot to reach Rhos.

GM Notes:

  • Was down two players for the session. No Angus or Meadhbh. Interestingly enough, by this point, Meadhbh is about 2 months pregnant…
  • Was pretty satisfied with this session although I had not intended on the entire session dealing with the siege. The commando raid threw more for a loop briefly, but it turned out very nicely. Since the PCs basically neutralized a Mass Combat “Unit,” I assigned an additional casualty percentage to the Saecsens. I also gave them a -1 penalty (initially) for the really cool nithing pole thing that Heddwyn mocked up and then, after the commando raid, increased this penalty to -2.
  • I am a little concerned at how utterly the PCs have destroyed their enemies during Mass Combat. This is the second session involving them being outnumbered 2:1 and taking 5% casualties while inflicting 100%. At this point, these enemies almost look like a paper tiger … although to be fair, the Impetuous trait the enemies have are lethal because it pretty much requires them to Attack in the first round, even when they shouldn’t. The PCs have retrained their own troops to remove this trait because of this.
  • The Battle of Crecganford is a historical event where the Welsh got their butts handed to them. As noted above, with the PCs winning their battles by inflicting 100% casualties, I have to figure out a way to actually make the Saecsens a real challenging threat.

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RigilKent

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