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I'm re-writing the "Battle of Albridge" encounters from The DM-kit's Reavers of Harkenwold. As supplied they are mostly just a rehash of earlier fight-to-the-death skirmishes on re-used maps. Instead my party wants to plan an ambush at the bridge. Dramatically, I think that should be the second encounter in this milestone, and the first should be a delaying action fought south of town (to give the villagers more time to prepare (wait for the morning fog to lift, etc.)

I've added more forces to the bad-guys, and prepared a nice choke point along the Kings Road that you can see here: Delay at The Battle of Albridge

Here's an excerpt from my read-aloud text:

"Keep as few Iron Circle forces from reaching the bridge before we're ready [RR rounds], that's the longest we can afford to have you away from the bridge. Return after MM minutes, no matter what! Do the best you can, but be sure to return, even if they overrun you quickly."

The number of enemy troops that get off the north (top) end of the map in the allotted time will determine the success of the encounter (XP and starting forces in the next encounter). In effect, this is a combat (instead of skill) challenge.

I've never run a 4e delaying-action combat before so I need advice - What should RR and MM be above?

Let's say that the characters are facing a force that is 2x the normal XP budget for their level. Is there an example of something published somewhere I can look at? I have access to a lot of 3e books and a DDI subscription...

If you've run something like this before, did you learn anything that might help me run this?

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I love the concept, please let us know how it runs after you run it! –  C. Ross May 31 '11 at 10:57
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I've just started to run this adventure. Please follow this up somehow. –  Adriano Varoli Piazza May 31 '11 at 13:29
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I love the idea of the combat challenge. Let me know how it goes, I've wanted to implement something like that for the longest time in my 4E game! –  GPierce May 31 '11 at 14:50
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I'd love to incorporate this into my own campaign, so I'll chime in with another "please let us know how this goes"! –  Kromey May 31 '11 at 17:02
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so, how did it go? –  psr Mar 7 '12 at 21:49
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up vote 6 down vote accepted

A random smattering of thoughts that are too big to fit as a comment, even though this isn't really a great answer on its own:

  • If you can, use a very long battle map. On one end is where the enemy army is approaching from, and the choke point should be very near to this edge; the other end features the bridge and, ideally, a road coming from one (or both) sides. On the road is a column of refugees that each round move further along the road, across the bridge, and off that edge of the map. On the bridge have a couple of soldiers guarding the engineers who will drop the bridge; the trigger to do so is when the soldiers are engaged by non-minion enemy troops, or when one is dropped by minions. Having the engineers and the refugees in play should increase the intensity of the encounter, giving the players something concrete to protect instead of the less-so "there is a bridge somewhere behind you". Makes it more like an escort mission than a tactical exercise, but it does provide a sense of urgency for the players. XP payout could be based on the number of refugees that escape before the bridge gets blown. (As a bonus, this scenario may give you a Stage Two: If the PCs didn't get across the bridge, they now must escape themselves as they are trapped between the river and the oncoming army!) You can of course substitute other objectives (e.g. supply wagons) for the refugees, or alternate routes (e.g. a narrow mountain path that the engineers will block with an avalanche) if that fits better.
  • The battle itself could be an escalating one. The army is lead by a line or two of skirmishers, represented by minions with the occasional lurker (obviously out of his element here, putting him at a severe disadvantage and keeping the early rounds easy for the PCs). Eventually the mainline troops (i.e. soldiers with the occasional brute) arrive, and not far behind them is the artillery. Soon you'll start getting HQ elements (elites/leaders) reaching the front lines as well. In this manner you can reward your party for conserving their resources early on, while presenting a believable reason for why they'd want to do that. (Probably a good idea to throw in a grizzled ol' veteran NPC on their side who basically explains what's going to happen and why they shouldn't just go nova on the first few ranks.)
  • Think about enemy morale. If a unit suffers severe casualties, they may very well turn and flee, causing chaos in the other units and generally giving the PCs a little respite. Not all units should do this, though -- it'd mostly be green troops, especially conscripts who lack the training and discipline of professional soldiers. This gives the PCs an alternative strategy to simply "kill as many bad guys as you can": All they have to do is inflict enough casualties to "convince" a unit to flee; a little bit of Intimidate in here could boost this effect. Diplomacy might also work, but it would have to be a higher DC to reflect just how dang hard it is to speak eloquently during the heat of battle. Of course, this might not work depending on the flavor of your enemy army -- undead hordes probably won't flee, and similarly an army composed entirely of battle-hardened veterans will be quite stubborn opponents.
  • You've already got this one it seems, but let your PCs use the terrain. The easiest route should be a narrow one that robs the enemy of much of the advantage of their numbers. However, don't have the enemy just mindlessly funnel themselves to their own doom -- intelligent commanders will order their units through more difficult terrain to try and flank the PCs, while skirmishers/lurkers will likewise try to do the same thing. The bulk of the army should go straight for that funnel, but have a few enemies take the more difficult paths around the choke point (but try to do so on the map so the PCs can deal with them, as opposed to suddenly having troops appear on the sides).
  • Encourage the PCs to think outside the box -- a hay-filled barn with flimsy doors provides a very tempting alternate route to the bad guys, once they bash down those doors, but as they near the other side a PC (or even an NPC) yanks a cord that topples a lit lantern into the dry hay, immediately stirring up an inferno that engulfs the troops inside while creating a very effective barrier against others who might have followed. Depending on the prevailing winds (perhaps magically altered), the smoke might blow over the enemy army, reducing the effectiveness of their ranged attacks (or it might drift over the PCs, doing the same to them!). Or, in a similar vein, if there's a wood mill nearby the PCs could gather up sawdust, then use magical winds to whip them up as the wizard ignites it with Burning Hands or a Fireball, resulting in a huge inferno well beyond what the wizard could accomplish on his own! These and other ideas can delay and confuse an enemy army without forcing the PCs to use up much of their own resources.
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Fascinating question. Take a look at some of the questions I've posted on alternate tactics for some thoughts...

On this question though, I don't think that hard limits are the way to go. Have the NPCs tell the players: "We'll drop the bridge when there are enemies on it. Try to delay them for as long as possible for [tactical reason]. Good luck."

This kind of forlorn hope suggests a compelling tactical reason like refugees. A large part of the encounter should be what amount to "minion spawners" that spawn a minion every round. Budget wise, they should be costed as exactly one minion. (That's how other adventures handle spawning minions). It's also a great way to capture the feeling of "OMG, hordes!" and a heroic last stand before the bridge with quite literally mounds of corpses. For extra realism, have the corpses start mounding up on the board, creating difficult terrain that grows into hindering terrain as the enemies struggle up a wall of their dead. Every 2 rounds or so spawn artillery, or a controller. By having the "real" monsters back behind "enemy lines" the arty can do its traditional job and really force the heroes back. Every 5 rounds or so spawn an elite big bad brute that just charges in and plows through the windrows of bodies.

This way, there's no need for a timer, as the players will (or should) naturally retreat. If they're facing an army, they cannot win, and so are buying time for evacuees or whatever they're buying time for. They are then presented with a choice of: how long do we hold out to let those last fleeing refugees through? Do we dare risk them blowing the bridge while we're on this side? Who forgot their healing potions?"

If you'd like, I'd be happy to test this with you over in The Back Room.

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OOh. Your "no time limit" thoughts inspire a change to my idea: Have the XP payout based on how many rounds they hold them off, not a fixed amount of time. And maybe the trigger to leave is when N have escaped off the north edge?? I'm liking that. Lets see what others have to suggest. –  F. Randall Farmer May 31 '11 at 13:13
    
Could you post links to the relevant questions/answers you've provided here in the comments for the casual (google-based) readers that come here? –  F. Randall Farmer May 31 '11 at 13:15
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Re rounds held off: make sure that there are supply wagons or a refugee stream to make the choice compelling, rather than a simple competition for "high score." –  Brian Ballsun-Stanton May 31 '11 at 13:26
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As requested, here's how I ran the encounter. I incorporated several of the suggestions given here into my final session. Here's a photo of round 2 of the encounter: Delaying the Enemy to Albridge

The Battle of Albridge: Buying Time

[A replacement encounter for The Reavers of Harkenwold B2]

Just before dawn, Dar Gramath calls you to his stables at the north end of town.... "It seems the Iron Circle is using the morning fog to cover their strength and approach only a few miles south of town! - Curse that devil Redthorn! We're not completely ready yet. We need another half hour for the fog to clear and the Reedfoot boatmen to arrive! You need to slow them down before they get to our new defenses at the bridge. You've got just enough time to ride to the crossroads south of town. We only need a few extra minutes!

Keep as few Iron Circle forces from reaching the bridge before we're ready. Return after 10 minutes [rounds], no matter what! Do the best you can, but be sure to return, even if they overrun you quickly."

Encounter ending conditions:

  • 10 rounds have elapsed. [Win]
    • This is unlikely, given the tactics (and non-stop minion spawning) below.
    • Leaving any later deprives the heroes of the short rest needed before the next encounter - This should be explained to the players.
  • The heroes are defeated. [Lose]
  • At least 5 Iron Circle Units exit the north edge of the battle map [Partial]
    • Ends encounter immediately after the current group completes actions.
    • XP based on rounds before this condition exists minus a large penalty for each escapee
    • Reduced preparedness has knock-on effects to next encounter

Environmental effects: When the encounter begins, fog has reduced visibility to 5 squares. It will increase by one square at the end of each round.

Enemy forces: As described in the module's encounter description - An Elite Brute commander, a Artillery, and 10 Minion Brutes(*).

(*)The Unending Waves: During the Minion's action round, if there are less than 10 Minions on the board, spawn enough anywhere along the south edge of the map to bring the total back up to 10.

Tactics: As per the module with the following addition: On round 5 of the Iron Circle commander's action, she will order the Minions to bypass the PCs and make for the city. Rather than attack, they will start using their standard actions to double-move.

XP: 100XP per round that the Enemy does not meet their victory condition plus standard HP for enemies eliminated minus 100xp per enemy escaping. Note that kill XP can add up quickly with an unending supply of minions at 31xp each.

In my case, they eliminated 23 enemy, leaving in round 7 just after the first Iron Circle exited the board but just before at least 4 more were going to exit. A very good score.

Note: One of my players was reluctant to leave before all of the units on the board were eliminated, despite both narrative and DM-to-player instructions were made clear at least twice: "You do not have to kill all enemies to succeed at this encounter." If you run an encounter like this, remind them of this fact several times during the fight.

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It's interesting to me that this is a delaying action but the players only managed to delay the attackers for 42 seconds (7 rnds x 6 seconds per round - unless rounds are longer in 4e). Even the win condition means delaying the attackers only a minute! I suppose this directly relates to the fact the 4e was designed around a certain expected length of combat though so strung out battles are hard to simulate. –  mirv120 Jun 20 '11 at 18:20
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Yeah. I scaled each round delayed having the effect of delaying at least a minute. I keep repeating to myself "4e is not simulationist." The players had no problem with this whatsoever. –  F. Randall Farmer Jun 20 '11 at 23:40
    
BTW, I referred to this (in the original question) as a Combat Challenge - not a standard combat encounter. This is something I'm continuing to explore and have enjoyed thus far... –  F. Randall Farmer Jun 22 '11 at 3:15
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Kind of a hybrid, that makes sense. The point that 4e is not simulationist is one I gotta remember too. Timing in rounds is one of those odds things that throws me off. It seems to be tied very concretely to the real-world in a game where most things are not so much! –  mirv120 Jun 22 '11 at 13:49
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