So in my last entry I promised to tell everyone about a lengthy battle scene that a friend of mine ran recently. I was an observer, as I had recently dropped from the game due to a combination of an extremely busy schedule and already feeling like there were too many people at the table. That said, I still spend a decent amount of time paying attention to the game, since it’s still hosted where I live.
A little background. The current GM (We’ll call her Ran) has been a part of the group for almost two years now. She started as a player in one of my more successful games and has been running her own game for several months now. The gaming group is huge, with seven players of varying experience levels, and at one point there were as many as nine (myself included). The game started as a run of the “Wrath of the Righteous” adventure path but quickly became its own beast, the general theme of fighting the demons is still core to the story. The players were level 12 with five mythic tiers (for those unfamiliar, they were using Pathfinder’s Mythic Handbook rules, which basically allow players to do really clownshoes stuff).
In the game, the players have set up something like a base of operations in a mountain fortress whose name I forget. The players ended up finding their city besieged by a massive demon army, and what I like to call “the huddle” began. The huddle is where the players, supposedly as a free action, start discussing in-depth strategies and tactics while the battle remains frozen around them. As an observer (and a player sometimes) I tend to zone out during this stage of the game because the plan rarely survives first contact with the enemy anyway. In a situation like this, though, it is very important that the GM be paying attention to their plan because it will tell them what the players are picking out as the important details of the scene.
So in this case, the players picked out that they had two goals: mitigate the amount of damage that could be done by the army at large, and kill the mythic Balor Lord that was leading the army. One of the PCs dropped down onto the fortresses bridge, using his reach and mythic combat reflexes to hold the line and cut down any troops that tried to make it by. The wizard used polymorph and illusion magic to take the form of a silver dragon with a flight of other dragons behind him and kept a large part of the army busy while the rest of the party engaged the Balor.
Things went roughly at the start. Balor’s have vorpal weaponry and, on a particularly lucky strike, can take a person’s had clean off. So one particularly lucky strike later, the party’s decapitated Paladin was on the ground and it looked like things might go sideways. The players rallied, though, and managed to take down the Balor AND survive its death throes which demoralized the enemy army. In what may have been a moment of indecision, or just a ploy to put the player character’s on edge though, Ran said “The thing is, now the other demons see how hurt you are. And they all know that if they take you out, it will be a huge victory.”
Of course, she didn’t make them fight the rest of the army and the players were able to score a victory, though it was not without casualties. While I summed this all up in about a page of text, it’s important to point out that the event itself took the entire night, something like five hours of play. A lot of that was discussion and strategy.
Later, when I asked Ran what she had expected the players to do she had described it as being totally dependent on the players. This is a good philosophy when running games in general, but for large scale situations it’s integral to keeping things on track. I don’t know exactly how much of it she had planned out, but it went a lot better than most attempts at putting together a massive combat.
So what’s really the purpose of talking about this scenario? Well, I talked a lot about how frustrating massive combats can be, but I didn’t describe how rewarding it can be. There was a lot of excitement and tension at the table, and I think Ran was more excited even than the players. Things were big and even though they fought a single Balor and some fodder, they got the pride of beating back an entire army which is always a triumphant feeling. So yeah, big fights can be rough and complicated and really, really stressful to run, but if there’s one thing gamers have known for a long time it’s this: just because it’s difficult, that doesn’t mean it sucks.
And as always, it’s good to be back.