Dark Days of Qaarra, Session 3: Defense of Dustcrag Oasis
We played the third session of our fantasy campaign this past week, and the evening was dominated by one big 4-player game for Karl, Tim, Josh and me. The scenario was a continuation of the narrative established during Josh's ill-fated attempt at raiding the desert caravan in our last session. His battered warband retreated into the ancient, sand-pitted hulk of Dustcrag Oasis, located on the western edge of the great Agamin desert, to rest and heal his wounds.
Josh’s position, though, is threatened by the Black Crown’s servants (Karl's warband) and the Peak’s Top kobolds (Tim's warband), which have made temporary alliance. Only a desperate missive to Brynwulf’s dwarves (Pat's warband), encamped a few short leagues away, may stave off the impending slaughter at Dustcrag Oasis. As the cold-hearted raiders close in on the fortress, the dwarves rush aid the brave defenders...
So that lays it all out -- we played a fortress siege featuring two 700-point attacking warbands versus two 500-point defending warbands. Both of the attackers started in the rocky canyon in the center of the table, while Josh's resolute defenders took up positions in the fortress. I included a scenario handout detailing victory conditions and a handful of special rules, including rules for ladders, boiling oil, and two mountain passes that just might offer a back door to the besieged fortress.
Here's how the game looked at the outset, with Karl's chaos raiders and Tim's sneaky kobolds mustering in the canyon. My dwarves are arrayed atop the rocky cliffs in the foreground, while Josh's forces peer over the battlements of the fortress in the background.
Here's a closer look at the left flank, featuring Karl's chaos knights and warriors.
And here's the right flank, currently swarming with kobolds. That huge thing on the right is an undead samurai giant. Yes, it's part of Tim's warband. Yes, it can see over the fortress walls.
And here's what Josh saw from his position on the parapets of the fortress. The fountain in the foreground is the eponymous oasis from which this locale draws its name. Over the years, travelers erected stout stone walls to protect this vital water supply from raiders and brigands.
After a few minutes' discussion of the rules, we got underway! As attackers, Karl and Tim took the first turn, and they wasted little time sending their warriors surging toward the fortress. Karl's chaos warriors sought a path across the bridge toward the main gate, and Tim's kobolds made a beeline for one of the potential canyon passes that we had identified in the scenario rules.
My dwarves weren't technically on the battlefield at this point, but they arrived en masse on turn one. Here is the scene that greeted them as they appeared on the bluffs overlooking the valley.
So much evil contained in one valley! How can the forces of Good hope to stand against such a display of savagery? Grimly hefting their axes, the dwarves prepared to march down into the valley and meet the invaders in single combat. In fact, due to the vagaries of single-figure activation in SBH, combat was joined quite a bit sooner than I had anticipated, because one of my dwarves was caught out in the open, unsupported by his comrades, when my turn unexpectedly ended. Tim's kobolds, supported by a retinue of crocodile-men, fell upon this hapless dwarf.
Thankfully, the stout fighter beat back this assault and was soon joined by his comrades. By this point, Tim's kobolds were advancing through the valley toward the canyon pass, hoping to sneak around behind the defenders.
On the left flank, Karl's chaos warriors were making good progress toward the walls. Here are a couple photos showing how his men leapfrogged one another in their haste to get to the walls. His figures are carrying ladders, which will figure heavily into the remainder of the game.
Hoist the ladder! In fact, look closely and you can see that one warrior has already gained the battlements and is engaged in hand-to-hand combat atop the walls. That's so metal!
Up on the parapets, Josh's warband watched the attack unfold with a sense of grim fatalism. His team was extremely good at shooting, and he put these skills to good use throughout the first half of the game. Here's what he saw.
Gandarf the wizard directed the defense from the fortified gatehouse.
Back in the canyon, my dwarves were harrying the flanks of the attackers. Karl and Tim had both left behind a rearguard force that was making life quite difficult for the dwarves, though. It was about this time that Tim began a string of bad-luck dice rolls that effectively put him out of the game for three consecutive turns. It took the pressure off my dwarves and allowed them to advance into Karl's backfield, threatening his advancing chaos warriors.
Upon the walls, the fighting was savage and bloodthirsty. Chaos warriors clambered up the ladders and met the blackpowder pistols of Josh's warband, not to mention the fearsome magic of Gandarf the wizard.
Near the base of the castle walls, chaos knights mustered alongside Tim's great purple worm in an attempt to batter down the gates. The scenario rules allowed both attackers and defenders to "stack" figures against the main gate by pooling their Combat scores. If at any point the attackers' collective Combat score exceeded the defenders', then the gate would come crashing down. It took some careful maneuvering, but within a few turns the attackers managed to smash open the gates and jeopardize Josh's entire strategy.
By the time the gates gave way, however, the game was nearing its turn limit. Tim's kobolds had successfully exploited the hidden canyon pass and were racing around behind the fortress. Karl's chaos knights, bloodied and reeling from their headlong charge, rallied for another assault on the thinly defended gatehouse. My dwarves reached the edges of the main battle and began to carve through the kobold rearguard. The last few turns were tense indeed!
In the end, the defenders were able to hold out for a full 10 turns against the overwhelming onslaught, so Josh and I achieved victory! Given slightly more favorable dice rolls for Tim and Karl, the game could have easily gone against the defenders. As it was, Karl quipped that this was the most fun he's had getting his butt kicked in quite a long time! The game was fun and we agreed that the scenario was pretty good, with just a few tweaks needed if we decide to play it again.
From a narrative point of view, it was neat to create some flavor and backstory for the Dustcrag Oasis, which up until now had just been an icon on our campaign map. Now it will be remembered as the site of a great battle between the forces of Good and the tides of Evil!
-- Patrick, Chicago Skirmish Wargames club member