The Battle for Minatou, Part 2 – Actual play report

The last post was about setting up the Battle of Minatou. This one is about how it all went down.

Day 1: The day after we captured the Diplodocobra for Vrenn Larr, one of her teratorn-mounted scouts reported a huge wooden box about 5 miles out to sea, drifting in the sluggish current that runs west-to-east across the top of the archipelago. Our party rode teratorns out to investigate. We found a huge ark, 800 feet long and 200 feet wide, with 8 little cabins regularly spaced across the otherwise flat and featureless top deck. The cabins turned out to be air shafts – we descended through one and found that the ark was full of dinosaurs, pterosaurs, and warriors in a magical sleep. We knew they were from Zelzennak Soth because the animals were all wearing mind-control harnesses.

Whilst skulking about the ship we ran into a sentry. We killed him, but not before he sounded the alarm. We skedaddled back to our teratorns and fought a running sky-battle with half a dozen Quetzalcoatlus and their archer/riders that launched from the back of the ark. We made it back to Vrenn Larr’s camp safely. We figured we had a about a day, maybe a day and a half at most before the ark drifted ashore on Minatou.

Day 2: We spent the morning helping Vrenn Larr’s Neanderthals prepare for the coming assault: showing them where to build defensive walls and fortifications, arranging the overall battle strategy, and, in particular, showing them how to build ballistae – a skill that Vaskin and Flint picked up before the first T. rex fight, back on Zaton.

In the afternoon, we got word from a teratorn scout that the invasion ark had drifted ashore by the northern forest. (We figured this out by dividing the western and northern coast into 12 segments and rolling 2d6.) Also, the invaders had brought close to 100 Quetzalcoatlus out onto the top deck of the ark and appeared to be getting ready for a massive aerial attack. We got together all of the teratorns and flying scouts that the Neanderthals could spare and set out to stop or at least slow down the Quetzalcoatlus assault. There followed a mass air combat involving the 6 PCs and 74 Neanderthals on teratorns versus 97 Quetzalcoatlus-mounted archers (the original 100 minus the 3 we’d killed on our scouting mission the day before). Thanks to some inspired teamwork – and some lucky die rolls for the Neanderthals in the early rounds of the battle – we were able to utterly destroy the invading aerial force while only losing about a third of our own.

Day 3: The Neanderthal forces were divided, with three-fourths in the main camp and the rest in east and west camps elsewhere on the island. We sent our Neanderthal hirelings to the east camp to guard the high passes and keep the enemy from outflanking Vrenn Larr’s main force on the eastern side. Our party went to the west camp, with the plan to hide with their mammoths in a high valley and wait for the main body of the enemy troops to go past us toward Vrenn’s Larr’s camp. Once the battle was properly joined there, we would come down out of our valley, wheel around to the east and hit the enemy from behind. We shamelessly stole this strategy from the Robert E. Howard Conan story, “Black Colossus”, which I’d recently reread and which I had London read before the battle.

At dawn we were all in place, and as the sun came up we saw a huge column of smoke going up from the north coast. The invaders had burned their ark. They knew there was no way back for them: this would a battle of complete extermination. Their army came marching out of the northern forest, and as it approached the foothills three side forces branched off. One went far to the east – our hireling Neanderthals and the force from the east camp would handle them. One went directly uphill, intending to outflank the Neanderthal forces in the valley – Neanderthals on the ridgeline would have to use a rain of boulders and spears to break that advance.

The third came right up our valley, the first one to the west of the big valley where the main camp was located. We’d have to engage and destroy this scout force before we’d have the opportunity to execute our planned attack on the main body. I had London roll 1d4 to see what we’d face first from the battle encounter table.

Allosaurs with riders

London rolled a 3 so our first fight was against 8 Deinonychus plus their Berserker controller. A few of us got side-tracked fighting individual Deinonychus that made it close enough to attack us, but most of concentrated longbow fire on the Berserker. In the second turn, Gustav, our resident axe-wielding barbarian, went out mano-a-mano against the Berserker and cut him down. Most of the Deinonychus fled at that point, since they were no longer being directed by the Berserker’s mind-control helmet, but a few had their blood up because they were already engaged. In the mass battle rules we were using, the first encounter of the battle is crucial, since it sets both the number of subsequent encounters and their difficulty. We came so close to having it finished in two rounds, but the last Deinonychus survived into the start of Round 3 with a single hit point. Therefore we would have 3 more encounters in this part of the battle. Next up were the two allosaurs shown above. We handled them with dispatch, knocking them out in two rounds.

Gustav sizes up Shunosaurus

Next up was a Shunosaurus carrying three archers. One thing I did to keep it tactically interesting was to plunk down the next foe before any of us had a chance to move from our last positions, so wherever your mini was on the table at the end of the last fight was where you started the next fight. Gustav, being his usual badass dinosaur-killing self, had waded right in and fatally wounded the second allosaur with his greataxe, so he had a front-row seat for the approach of the Shunosaurus. He promptly stalked toward its back end and lopped off half of its tail, to keep it from bringing its tail-club into play. He got drenched with blood from the tail-stump and had to make a save versus confusion, but he passed. The rest of us arrowed the Shunosaurus mahout into the next life and the uncontrolled sauropod ran off into the forest, carrying its two helpless archers out of the fight.

Gustav vs ceratosaurs

The fourth and final encounter in the valley skirmish, against 3 Ceratosaurus plus their riders, was even more the Gustav Show. In the very first turn he strode up to the nearest Ceratosaurus, swung his greataxe, and rolled a natural 20 critical hit, killing the theropod in a single blow. Right before the battle Gustav had leveled up, so he now got two attacks per turn. With the second attack he hit and slew the rider. BAM! One guy, one turn, 580 XP of bad guys dead in the dirt.

Ceratosaurus biting Alethra

Meanwhile, Alethra got bitten by another ceratosaur. She still managed to stab it in the face three times with her shortsword. The rest of the party correctly inferred that Gustav would be fine on his own and put enough arrows into that Ceratosaurus to kill it. The rider rolled free, but Alethra cut him down. Thanks to her armor and her high HP total she didn’t suffer any lasting ill effects.

Once all the ceratosaurs were dead, we gathered our Neanderthal compatriots, mounted up on mammoths, and rode around to join the main fight.

Bad mammoth

We don’t have any decent mammoth minis so these green dinos stood in for mammoths. Also, we couldn’t balance our PC minis on top, so the groups of people standing to the side of each “mammoth” are supposed to be riding them. Anyway, for our first encounter with the main enemy column we could have gone left to fight a turtle tank, or right to take on this group of hyenas and their controller. We went right – one of the enemy Diplodocobras was stomping the neanderthal fortifications on the west side the main valley, and the fastest path to stop it went through they hyena pack. The mammoths should have been stomp-stomp-stomping the hyenas out of existence, but there was a problem: the archers on the turtle tank and the hyena controller both concentrated their arrows on our Neanderthal mahouts, hoping to make us lose control of our mammoths. It’s a solid strategy – we use it all the time against enemies using mind-control helmets.

Anyway, the mammoth carrying Alethra, Flint, and Aelar was pretty quickly mahout-less. None of our characters has a very good Animal Handling skill, but Alethra sucks the least, so she got to try to get the mammoth back under control. Mechanically, we played it like this: each turn, Alethra rolled a DC 10 Animal Handling check. On a success, the mammoth at least continued moving in the right direction, and she could try again to encourage the mammoth to make an attack. On a fail, we rolled a d12 and used the resulting clock direction to determine where the mammoth wandered. In the photo above, it’s headed off at 7:00 from its previous course.

That was a simply, goofy mechanic, but it was great for ratcheting up the tension in this second part of the battle. We could never know when one of the mammoths was going to off-mission (the second mahout bit it pretty shortly thereafter). And when that happened, we had to decide whether to dismount and continue on foot, or tie up one of our warriors, who could otherwise be raining arrows down on the enemy, with mammoth-corralling attempts that failed as often as they succeeded.

Big Diplodocobra battle

Still, after the hyenas we fought past a pair of stegosaurs and a trio of sabertooths before we ran up against this Diplodocobra, which had a low-level mage for a mahout, plus 5 pretty good archers on its back. As you can see from the photo, by this point Alethra had her mammoth under control, but the rest of the party had dismounted from the second mammoth.

This was a great, tough fight. The Diplodocobra struck Wilvias first and knocked his hit points way down. Then it got Flint, and took him to the brink of death. Meanwhile, the archers had Vaskin down to zero hit points as well. So our two healers were out of the fight. The rest of the party did manage to bring down the Diplodocobra and all of its riders, but it was a near thing.

At this point the party was just about spent, so of course I had to throw one more encounter at them: a Triceratops carrying archers. Our survivors hunkered down behind the neck of the Diplodocobra, which made a good berm, and arrowed the riders into oblivion. We rolled to see what the Triceratops would do once it wasn’t being goaded forward by mind-control, and it trotted off to greener pastures.

All in all, a super-fun, super-tough day of fighting. From start to finish, our PCs earned as much XP in this battle as they had getting from a standing start to Level 4. And so their legends grow.

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4 Responses to The Battle for Minatou, Part 2 – Actual play report

  1. Mike Taylor says:

    Surely you could have sunk the ark before all its inhabitant had an opportunity to land, revive and deploy.

  2. Mike Taylor says:

    “We couldn’t balance our PC minis on top, so the groups of people standing to the side of each “mammoth” are supposed to be riding them.”

    What, no blutack?

  3. Mike Taylor says:

    So an actual question. What XP would you have awarded for successfully sinking an ark carrying (say) 100,000 XP worth of enchanted-sleeping monsters?

  4. Matt Wedel says:

    Oh, that’s easy: 100,000 XP. Part of the old school ethos to which I subscribe is that the XP for a given monster represents the challenge involved in overcoming that monster, but does not specify how the PCs overcome that challenge. So the PCs earn the same XP load for the monsters by engaging them in I-hit-you-then-you-hit-me combat, or engineering an avalanche or rock slide to crush them, or even by figuring out a way to get past them without killing them, like buying them off or negotiating with them (for sufficiently intelligent monsters).

    In this case, if a group of six 3rd through 5th level characters came up with a way of sinking a 200×800-foot invasion ark patrolled by Quetzalcoatlus-riding sentries, then heck yeah, they should get the 100,000 XP. It’s the only way to be fair in a combat-as-war scenario.

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