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 guests answers. It’s time to Bend the Knee!
First, let’s meet today’s guests.
Guests – Rane Zero & DaftProdigy of To Have And To Roll
We met through podcasting about 10 years ago and got into tabletop roleplaying games about 4 years ago. Daft was originally interested in Critical Role and Rane joined in because it was a great way to spend 4 hours with Daft. We have been married for two and a half years, and we are currently living together in Connecticut, where Rane works in the solar industry and Daft teaches at Yale.
After working in a lot of large-format podcasts and big-table games, we both had a desire to try something a little more intimate (insert eyebrow waggling here). Streaming the Pathfinder: Kingmaker CRPG had been a great bonding experience for us, so we each picked a couple adventure paths to look at to see if we could work backwards and translate that experience to the tabletop game. Ultimately, Curse of the Crimson Throne had the most personal resonance for us. So, we set about the task of building an actual play where one player (Daft) controls an entire 4 person adventuring party, thus giving us the intimacy of a one-on-one game without all that pesky having-to-rebalance-every-encounter-so-everyone-doesn’t die work. This concept then solidified into To Have And To Roll, our main point of connection with the actual play community!
“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?
I love a good old fashioned math problem. And luckily this scenario leaves us with a rather simple formula; we have X resources at our disposal, and we must defeat an army with 2X resources. The kicker here is that the enemy army will be spending this on a “traditional army” and we have access to the unlimited power of the cosmos. Or at least… what would be available to a “medium sized castle”. Lucky for us, I’m coming at this as a Pathfinder GM. So all we need to do is find magical items or creatures of value X that cannot possibly be defeated by a number of hired soldiers whose combined pay equals 2X. So let’s turn to my favorite system and define some variables to see if we can find a solution.
Our kingdom is listed as having a “medium sized castle”. Which to me says we should be looking at settlement rules. We could go into kingdom building, but… we would be here for a while.
A medium-sized settlement that could contain a castle in Pathfinder would be a Large Town. This also gives us two important stats: base value and purchase limit. Base value determines what items will be available in town. If the item is equal to or less than the base value, we have a 75% chance of finding it in town. The purchase limit is how much a shop in our town can spend on a given item.
Your average large town has a base value of 2000 and a purchase limit of 10000. So the most money we can spend on any given item is 10000 gold. So how powerful of a magical beast can you “buy” with 10000 gold?
Great question, me! If we look at the treasure per encounter, 10000 gold is equivalent to the reward for a CR 14 encounter on the slow track, a CR 12 encounter on medium track, or a CR 10 encounter on the fast track. So what creature between CR 10 and 14 could we “buy” that cannot possibly be hit by a group of rank-and-file soldiers or knights?
I could do the math, find a creature whose AC exceeds their to-hit bonus, and hope they don’t crit. Alternatively, I could find a creature that just can’t be hurt by mundane weapons. In this case, the Banshee. Banshees are incorporeal, meaning they can’t be hit by the nonmagical weapons that a standard knight or foot soldier is carrying. A given banshee can wail once per minute, forcing all creatures within 40 feet to make a DC 23 fortitude save or take 140 points of damage. A few may make their saves… but we can do this all night, and they only have to fail once.
10000 gold can also buy you an army of 500 fighters. So if we buy 1 banshee, the enemy will be attacking with 1000 soldiers. Assuming those soldiers are indeed rank and file, we can probably maximize our death toll by targeting full clusters of soldiers. Conservatively speaking, this comes out to 150 deaths per minute per banshee, giving our 1000 soldiers a projected lifespan of 6.66 minutes from when the screaming starts to when the last man dies. We will also be attacking at night, so that their poor human eyes won’t even know what hit them.
As the sun rises, dozens of unmanned catapults protrude from a sea of corpses. We curl up on the throne with a wand of silence we picked up earlier, deafened to the cries of our dying enemies and screaming banshees as they flee into the woods or burn in the sunlight. Our kingdom is saved in one night of terror. Then we use any remaining funds to hire adventures to kill X number of banshees.
Now that Rane has done an awesome job making a practical and effective plan, let’s do something completely different.
From the setup, it sounds like our holdings are mostly fields. This suggests we don’t have much by way of natural choke points to funnel a large army into a kill zone. But would a traditional army be prepared for a choke point that exists only within their own minds? Would they be prepared for a foe so devious, so difficult to kill, and so annoyingly persistent that they would have no choice but to acquiesce to its demands?
I present to you the imp and its power of suggestion.
The imp, a weak devil from the Pathfinder bestiary, is ridiculously cost-effective. It flies, it stings, it has damage resistance, it has fast healing, it can become invisible…and most importantly, it can cast Suggestion once a day.
We also need a few other things: a set of signposts, a well-demarcated road, a few hirelings, a couple of spell scrolls, and two booths.
Our border is patrolled by groups of flying, invisible imps. Upon seeing the enemy, they converge for the singular purpose of stealthily compelling its army, by casting Suggestion on its leaders and artillerists, to go to a choke point that doesn’t exist…yet.
Their Suggestion? “You have to pay at the toll booth before entering the kingdom.” Surely it’s only polite to make sure that the kingdom you’re invading can maintain its infrastructure! And luckily for the officers, there are some conveniently-placed signposts pointing them to the toll road.
The rest of the army (save a few intrepid mutineers who can be picked off by rank-and-file soldiers of our own) should follow their leaders where they’re compelled–a change in course should hardly be worth questioning. Or at least they should follow the catapults, begging their artillerists to please come back, we need you to break the castle walls.
And so the army is led to a fenced road leading into the kingdom, with a toll booth and a line of hirelings with nerves of steel being paid to take their sweet time getting through.
(In my mind, the hirelings in line and the toll booth operator are all played by Bugs Bunny.)
Suggestion lasts for hours. The army could wait here for quite a while, being completely lulled into the particular daze that comes from standing in line. And for anyone who’d managed to succeed on their Will saves the whole time…well, it’d just be awkward to leave now, wouldn’t it?
Eventually, the soldiers begin filing in: Pay the toll, pass through the toll booth. Make a Will save to realize you’re now walking through a small illusion of an open field. Get sneak-attack-killed by a couple of hidden rogues in an area of Silence on the other side of the booth.
And then the imps start stinging people at the back of the line.
In the combined chaos of the people at the front slowly realizing no one is coming out the other side of the booth but still being compelled to go through themselves, and the people at the back struggling to hurt a swarm of flying enemies with Fast Healing 2, DR 5/good or silver, and immunity to fire, we set up our second booth. This one is for hiring people into OUR army, funded by the money given at the toll booth by the now-dead frontliners.
I’m sure we can pay the remaining mercenaries better than whatever they’re getting to stand in a line full of imps.
I’ve heard from my guests; now I want to hear from you. What’s your style? Leave a comment below, on our Discord, or on Know Direction’s Facebook page.