DovahQueen: Bend the Knee
Since 2015, the DovahQueen has been taking your questions and giving advice to improve your games. Now the tables are turned in this DovahQueen series; Loren is asking the questions and a panel of three guests—an RPG-industry veteran, a Know Direction network staff member, and a fan—answers. It’s time to Bend the Knee!
First, let’s meet today’s guests.
RPG Industry Veteran: Sean K Reynolds aka seankreynolds
I’m a designer and developer for Monte Cook Games, working on Numenera and the Cypher System. I’ve also worked as a designer at Paizo, Interplay, Wizards of the Coast, and TSR, and have written for Pathfinder and D&D (2E, 3E, and 5E). I’ve been a GM and player since the early ‘80s, and I generally run freeform-style adventures with little prep and a lot of improv. I have many cats, and my hobbies include drawing, cooking, singing, and home repair.
Know Direction Network Staff Member: Andrew Sturtevant aka Harrowed Wizard
I’ve been playing tabletop RPGs since about 2001, when my Dad introduced me to D&D 2nd Edition, and then we fell headfirst into 3.X systems. I have recently started writing Starfinder focused articles this January, first for the Intrepid Heroes Network and now Know Direction. I have two bachelor’s degrees: one in psychology and another in computer science.
Fan: Aaron Scholl aka Aaron the Paisley
I started playing tabletop RPGs in college in the 90’s. My first group rotated games every week, and played D&D 2nd, Space 1889, West End Games Star Wars, and Traveler among others. After transferring schools, I joined a group that played Rifts/Palladium exclusively. After college, I stopped gaming for about 10 years until a friend found out that I “used to game.” He told me that was the saddest thing he’d ever heard anyone say and got me back into gaming. That was not too long after Pathfinder came out and his group had just transitioned from 3.5. In the years since, I have become the main GM for my group, with my wife running short campaigns when burn-out starts to creep in. Outside of gaming I do woodworking and carpentry. You can see some of my work @SchollWoodworks on Instagram. (Loren, feel free to remove the shameless plug.)
“King Rivervain has died. The Rivervain lands weren’t particularly large or noteworthy, but it did have a medium-sized castle, and its people were happy and well-fed. But now, it’s your turn. As the only child of King Rivervain, it falls on you to continue to lead these lands further into prosperity. Unfortunately, Ipenstar, a larger and more aggressive kingdom, has heard the news of your father’s death and intends to forcibly claim the Rivervain lands as their own. Your advisors, wizards, and clerics have opened up the coffers and prepared a number of resources for you to use in the defense of the kingdom however you see fit. You can spend these resources on anything you’d like. Fortifications, training soldiers, hiring specialist mercenaries, capturing magical beasts to use at war, etc… But, Ipenstar will spend exactly twice the resources you spend on a tradition fantasy army. It’ll be composed of foot soldiers, spearmen, and archers, supported by knights on horseback. Behind their lines will be catapults designed to bring down your walls. Your diviners and spies both determine via their own methods that the Ipenstar battle strategy will be to directly siege your castle and engage your army in the open field. And now, your council looks to you to direct the Rivervain war effort. How will you spend your resources? What tactics will you employ to beat an army that outnumbers you two to one?“
You’ve been given a castle and X resources to build a fantasy army. There’s another army coming to take your lands but they had twice the resources you did and spent it all on a traditional army. They’ll also be using a very straightforward strategy. How do you plan to defend your people?
Sean: If my opponents are relying on a traditional army, that means I don’t have to deal with flying mages, weird summoned monsters, teleportation, and invisibility; I’m just dealing with mundane soldiers, archers, and cavalry, which means having a castle gives me a huge advantage.
Even on Earth, castle and city walls eventually became durable enough that siege warfare became futile, so I’d spend much of my resources on fortifying the walls, improving the defenses on the walls (like cauldrons of oil, wax, or water that can be spilled on enemies outside), and training soldiers how to defend in a siege. Then it becomes a matter of withstanding the siege until the Ipenstarians give up or fail due to attrition.
To keep my defenders safe and healthy, I spend resources on long-lasting food staples and potable water, with a few doctors and magical healers to minimize the spread of disease (and perhaps augment and maintain the food and water supplies).
I’d get a few flying mounts like hippogriffs or griffons so my people can scout the opposition (and perhaps drop stones or buckets of… material… from our latrines on the enemy from a safe height, both to demoralize my opponents and inflict small casualties). Heck, drop some propaganda on them, too, and garbage or the remains of food animals (occasional pig skeletons dropping out of the sky onto your tents is bad for morale).
A few really sneaky scouts or some low-level wizards with invisibility could do a lot of subtle sabotage in the enemy camps without drawing too much attention or risk to themselves (unlike trying to assassinate the enemy officers or anything like that). You don’t need big magic to defeat the enemy army, small magic used in clever ways can accomplish a lot (even something as “special ops” characters communicating instantaneously with messaging spells or using darkvision gives my side an advantage over the opposition).
Overall, because I’m outnumbered and outspent, I have to be smart and use my resources in precise ways that have a disproportionate impact. I don’t even have to kill the enemy, I just have to break their morale. Spoil their rum rations and their best food so they’re all eating onion soup and stale bread. Cast minor curses on their leaders so they always talk in a ridiculous singsong voice. Use illusions to make strange sounds and images at night so the land seems haunted. Armies are expensive, and eventually Ipenstar will realize it’s too expensive to besiege Rivervain.
(BTW, a really good example of a small group of low-level spellcasters causing major setbacks to an invading army is shown in The Unwilling Warlord, a fantasy novel by Lawrence Watt-Evans. For example, they use a weak explosive trap spell, various closeable items, and they use minor telekinesis to weaken the tension-bearing parts of enemy catapults so they shatter when used. The protagonists don’t have the resources to put traps on everything or weaken every catapult, but they’re able to do enough that the enemy army has to spend extra time, effort, and resources to make sure that its equipment is safe to use.)
Andrew: This prompt could not have been more timely for me. I just finished a cybersecurity course, and one of the things discussed was defense in layers. They specifically reference a castle’s typical defense that relies on many different layers to stay defended. Let’s borrow a term from Ultimate Campaign and say that I have 1000 Build Points (BP) to create my defenses.
My first move would be to spend roughly 400 BP on flying defenders. Being more specific, I would say that 100 BP would get me a flight of 10 wyvern-riders equipped with ranged weaponry, so this would net me around 40 riders total. Air superiority is something that I strongly believe separates a traditional army and a high fantasy defense. Another 300 BP would be spent on a traditional fantasy army. These units will be used to defend the castle wall, dropping pitch on invaders and pushing back any ladders that might be placed. For more specificity, if 1 BP is one traditional unit, I would ensure about 115 pikemen, 115 archers and 70 swordsmen were recruited. With 300 BP remaining, I am going to spend around half of that on siege weaponry. These trebuchets, catapults and ballista would be used to soften and harass the invading army as they construct their own siege engines. A trebuchet could be around 50 BP, a traditional catapult & ballista might be 30 BP. I would ensure my castle had about 3 trebuchets, 3 catapults and 2 ballistae to defend my walls from a distance. My final 150 BP would be spent on a specialist team. This team would be my troubleshooting unit made up of stronger and more capable beings to assist in any task that needs doing right away. These are the adventurers that I’ve hired! Adventurers are hard to pin down the BP cost for, but possibly a mid-career adventurer costs around 30 BP for the duration of my siege (assume 5-7th level, and patriotic enough to defend my castle) then a party of 5 heroes can wreck plenty of havoc on an enemy! Early in the siege, these adventurers would be sent as forerunners to disrupt the enemies supply lines and cause chaos and confusion amongst the enemy leadership (if we assume the enemy leadership is Evil, maybe removing some of those leaders from their mortal coil).
Overall, this defense strategy relies heavily on weakening the enemy well before they ever consider breaching my walls by siccing the adventurers on them first, harrying them with my wyvern riders, and then smashing them with my siege engines. My traditional defenders will be bolstered by my more specialized defenders should it reach the walls of my castle.
Aaron: I have a couple of solutions. The first takes the spirit of the issue; the second one takes advantage of a loophole (as many players are wont to do). I would summon all of the kingdom’s magic users to the palace and prepare for the siege by, for lack of a better word, paving the siege area with Wall of Stone. When the army of Ipenstar is in place, the wizards and sorcerers would cast Stone to Mud, then after the enemy forces are mired to their knees, cast Mud to Stone. The archers and calvary of Rivervain would then make a full assault, destroying Ipenstar and bringing much glory to Rivervain.
The second (exploitative) solution is rather simple and uses the fact that the army of Ipenstar is using exactly twice what Rivervain spends. Two high-level archers shooting from the ramparts should be able to easily take out a small squad of foot soldiers.
I’ve heard from my guest writers; now I want to hear from you. How would you prepare for an overwhelming force at your castle walls? Leave a comment below, on our Discord, or on Know Direction’s Facebook page.
Each Bend the Knee features three guest writers. One is from the RPG industry. Another is from the Know Direction network. The third guest could be you! Leave a comment on Know Direction’s Facebook, Discord, or Twitter, or you can send an email to DearDovahQueen@gmail.com for your chance to be featured on the next Bend the Knee or Dear DovahQueen.
Art belongs to Yuri_B on Pixabay. https://pixabay.com/illustrations/ork-fantasy-warrior-troll-monster-4692683/