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I am running Princes of the Apocalypse for my group and have determined that the next session will be

the Ice Shield Orcs side quest.

In this scenario, our heroes meet up with about twenty some odd NPCs who are anticipating an orc raid on their ranch. The description of the ranch mentions that they've built defenses, dug trenches, constructed mounds, and that sort of thing. The overhead view map suggests palisades with a few gates. An invading force of many orcs arrive and attack in waves, beginning with javelins, but eventually working their way up to melee weapons. They even start lighting fires at one point.

My question is this: although there are a few suggested ways of dealing with such large numbers in battle, there is no information provided about how to deal with the actual physical defenses! I'm new to managing what essentially amounts to a siege, but I'm very eager to do it. I just want to feel comfortable running a battle of this magnitude, and I want it to be awesome for my players!

I've considered a few options, but I'd love to hear recommendations from more experienced DMs.

1. The weak points of the palisades are the gates, so invading forces will look to overwhelm them. 2. The palisades can potentially be broken, it's a matter of time and of palisade HP, although how I'd determine either, I don't know... that didn't seem to be on the table I found for breaking objects (yes, it's wood, but it's part of a larger structure...).
3. Treat the palisades as essentially impervious. The orcs can attempt to climb the barriers. They make the appropriate checks and are targets while they try.

I can improvise much of this, but would greatly appreciate any insight from people who've run this or similar scenarios.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ For #2, do the orcs have siege weapons? (I'm not familiar with the adventure.) \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Mar 21 '17 at 17:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ No, they don't. In a way, that would be easier as I found the appropriate info for siege warfare in the DMG. \$\endgroup\$ – David Robinson Mar 21 '17 at 17:47
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    \$\begingroup\$ Are you looking for mechanics to run the siege, or tactical advice? \$\endgroup\$ – Szega Mar 21 '17 at 17:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ This might be a situation where conversation, rather than Q&A, might be helpful. I invite you to drop into Role-playing Games Chat where can almost-always be found lots of experience and interesting perspectives. \$\endgroup\$ – nitsua60 Mar 21 '17 at 17:55
  • \$\begingroup\$ related: rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/58542/… \$\endgroup\$ – eimyr Mar 21 '17 at 18:27
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I don't have a specific RAW reference that would solve all of your problems, but I have run through a similar situation as a player. This can be done with standard ability checks on the part of the attacking orcs.

From my experience:

Orcs attacked a walled town, with only one gate/drawbridge as a focal point. They were able to keep the drawbridge down (crossing a water-filled moat), but most were not able to cross due to the oil and fire we lit on it.

The orcs came supplied with grapnels and rope. As an action, an orc would toss a grapnel at the top of the wall. As a player, I wasn't aware of the DC needed to secure it, but that's a DM call regardless. Once they secured it, it took them approximately 2 rounds to climb to the top (1 to cross the moat, 1 to get to the top of the wall with a STR climb check - DC unknown).

Once at the top, they dropped to the ground (10'-15' drop) and took fall damage. They were inside the walls at that point.

So - storming a wall / palisade is something that can be done within the standard rules for ability checks. If they don't have grapnels, they can probably cobble together a lasso or something to hook the top of one of the poles making up the palisade. Again, this is something the DM will have to determine. If they know they are attacking a wall / palisade and this isn't a spur of the moment deal, would they bring the tools they need to bypass/overcome the obstacles?

To summarize: Ability check to grapnel / lasso the top of the wall (DM call on type of ability check and DC). Ability check to climb (DM call on DC)

Further speculation:

In your instance, there doesn't seem to be a moat. If the orcs know that there is a gate, they could well come prepared with some sort of ram and use an assisted strength check against the gate. A portable ram adds +4 for STR checks - a DM can extrapolate from there for a full size one (or a tree trunk - we are talking orcs), and set a DC for breaking the gate.

Alternatively, the DMG has rules for object damage (pg 246-247). You can set a damage resistance and pool of hit points for the gate, based off of how sturdy it is. Axes, a ram, whatever the orcs throw at it, would slowly chip away at the HP if an attack can overcome the damage resistance. at some point, it's broken open. You can assign the HP pool to the gate only (assume the gate is put together by planks/logs and rope/chain - how many hp will it take to break enough ropes/chain or damage enough of the planks/logs to cause the gate to collapse in sections).

Hope this is helpful. I realize most of this is covered in the list in the OP, simply expanded upon.

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I have been through this exact battle, but only as a player. In our game, the DM had the orcs go over the palisade in teams of three: two boosted their buddy to the top with a rope, and the one then dropped to the ground on the inside, pulling one of the others to the top, and the other climbed the rope on a subsequent round. This was probably more cinematic than realistic, but it seemed okay for D&D, and made the players suitably worried when a dozen teams did this all around the perimeter.

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