Michael Garcia returns with another tale from his Exploration of Isenwald campaign.
Having defeated the Eaters-of-the-Dead after an extended campaign, the party then won control of the Cloister Mine by legal means, namely by out-producing their rival Varyag claimants (envision Russians) in the span of one month. During that time, a third party of claimants attacked, but the party defeated them too. Finally, now in control of the mine, the party learned that the leader of the Varyag claimants was none other than the corrupt Orthodox Bishop of the nearby town of Arianport. Unwilling to yield the mine, but always eager to keep his hands clean, this bishop, or Yepiskop, dispatched a group of mounted thugs, the Oprichniki, to take the mine by force.
FROM THE DM:
This was our largest battle to date in this campaign (roughly 60 to 30). It was also the first time that the party saw specific spells that they often used cast against them. The PCs had to develop larger-scale battle tactics while contending with rain and challenging terrain (a muddy field surrounded by hills, plus the mine entrance). I also learned that a carefully crafted NPC might perish with a single roll of the dice. Creating that NPC was an hour of my life that I’ll never get back, but it made the player feel like a demigod. Lastly, the fate of the party’s spell caster at the end gave us a good laugh (the player role-played it perfectly too). The following write-up also gave one character (Sir Tomo) his nickname for the rest of the campaign. Don’t underestimate the effect of a decent write-up.
CAST OF CHARACTERS:
Diego de Vargas: Fighter and party leader
Simi Longblade: Fighter, Diego’s right-hand man
Sir Tomo Daegun: Fighter, Diego’s noble friend
Fr. Terjon: Cleric of Jodon, Diego’s chaplain
Gabriel Lucien: Thief, Diego’s spymaster
Darocles Soterion: Magic User, Diego’s salvage master
Gunther: Fighter, Sir Tomo’s squire
Thus began the Battle of the Muddy Field: Diego formed his men into a rough battle line that stretched north and south, its northern end secured to the mine entrance, the troops facing west. Harrison, the mine’s chief engineer, badly wounded and unable to walk, lay near the mine entrance. Coughing, he pulled himself into a sitting position and gripped two daggers with white knuckles, unwilling to go down without a fight. Darocles stood with him at the far northern end of the allied line. Just south of them was a mixed band of 13 mercenaries commanded by Lucien, its four archers in the rear. In the center, commanded by Diego, was a small column of horsemen comprised of Sir Tomo, Simi, and the three mercenary cavalrymen. To the south was a block of 13 mixed mercenaries commanded by Gunther, its five archers in the rear. A floating reserve, comprised of four brother-sergeants of Moragiel and their remaining Lukopole, Batu (Subotai was still missing), stood behind the allied army.
The Oprichniki, clad in their long black caftans and tall fur hats, sitting tall atop their mounts, held a position about 200 feet across the field. They formed into four main lines, each about 15 men, stirrup to stirrup. Two of these lines were further back. A third line stretched north to south, facing Diego’s men, and the fourth ran east to west, covering the Oprichniki’s far left flank.
As the rain continued to fall, Diego’s archers voiced concerns that their bows would soon be useless because the dampness loosened the strings. “Do what you can” was the answer. Some drove arrows into the muddy ground beside them to help with fast reloading. Others kept their gloves under their armpits for as long as possible to keep their fingers dry. Many shifted from one foot to the other, the muddy grass squishing beneath their mud-splattered boots.
Then it happened. The front line of riders began to move forward. Then their flanking column advanced. One of the riders gave a sharp grunt, causing all to draw their curved sabers and hold them aloft. Diego turned and signaled to Lucien and Gunther on the flanks, and they in turn ordered their archers to open fire. Bowstrings snapped, and a volley of arrows zipped into the gray sky, only to vanish from sight in the steady rain. The Oprichniki riders then charged the field. The ground rumbled at their approach. In response, Lucien and Gunther moved their infantry forward to repulse the charge, while their archers shifted their fire into the Oprichniki’s rear ranks. In the center, Diego ordered a countercharge. He, Tomo, and Simi spearheaded the mounted assault, riding headlong into the enemy ranks. Horses reared and crashed together, neighing wildly while some riders clung to the reins and others fell to the soaked ground. The clash of steel rang out across the field, punctuated by shouts, curses, screams, and the rhythmic snapping of bowstrings.
After a few moments of wild thrashing, steel against steel, the enemy center broke first, especially before Sir Tomo on his heavy barded charger. Like an iron-skinned centaur, he cleaved his way through the clutter of enemy riders. Once he broke into the open, he spurred his mount toward a flank and crashed headlong into an unsuspecting rider, knocking him from the saddle and snapping ribs. He hewed a second rider after that, but while wheeling his mount around for yet another charge, he felt the hot sting of numerous arrows, striking him at once. Grinding his teeth at the pain, he noticed that no arrows protruded from his body, and yet the searing pain lingered in his armpits, near his waist, and near his neck. Was he on fire, he wondered? What in the Hell?
As the battle raged around him, he caught sight of a strange spectacle in the rear of the enemy lines. Mounted on a horse with the other Oprichniki sat a man dressed in an orange robe and wearing a gold skullcap. Despite the distance, Tomo knew that the man’s gaze was locked on him. Then it happened again. For an instant, bright pulsing embers seemed to whirl about the man and then disappear into the wind, only to appear a moment later near Tomo. The burning cinders coalesced and dove into his armor like red-hot needles, hissing as they singed him. What devilry was this?
On the left flank, Lucien’s archers fell back as the enemy pressed forward, trampling over the bodies of the fallen. On the right, the riders drove Gunther’s mercenaries back, killing a few and overrunning others. Just as the riders came close to breaking the allied line, the soldier-monks hurled themselves into the fray, hacking furiously with their longswords at both enemy riders and mounts. Their momentum stalled the Oprichniki charge and rallied Gunther’s men.
In the center, the Oprichniki engulfed Diego’s small force. Though their companions fell before the onslaught, Diego and Simi stubbornly held the line. The bodies of horses and men began to pile up around them, and the remaining Oprichniki in the center grew hesitant to press the attack. When fresh riders peeled off from the flanks to bring down Diego and Simi, they foundered amid the mud and butchered corpses. By themselves, the two companions remained solid, holding the center of the field.
Just as the situation stabilized on all fronts, the sky itself seemed to enter the battle. The rain fell irregularly for a moment, letting up, falling sideways, and then whirling about in random directions. The gloom turned to an eerie darkness, and a light wind became a roaring gust that threw rain, sleet, and dust particles in all directions. The whole phenomenon took perhaps three seconds. Then a virtual river of dark, roaring wind, driving rain, and swirling dust covered the left side of the field, blanketing Lucien’s men and knocking a few of the Oprichniki from their saddles. Darocles himself was caught on the edge of this strange storm, which he knew very well. So it was true, then, he thought. The one in the orange robes and gold skullcap was indeed an Aurelian Sage, like his mentor, far to the south in the imperial city of Perfugium. He had heard rumors that the Sages were up north, but had seen little evidence until now. In any case, it was the first time that Darocles had been on the receiving end of such sorcery, and only his intimate familiarity with the phenomenon kept him from panic.
Just as he pulled himself clear of the torrent, Darocles’ padded gambeson erupted into flame. The subtle enchantment that he had cast on himself before the battle kept the heat off his skin, but his mind raced as he watched the flames grow unnaturally fast to engulf him. Cool-headed as always and trusting his own enchantment to protect him, he leaped into action, drawing his sword and running across the field toward the enemy rear, right toward the orange-robed figure. For just an instant, dozens of warriors paused to view the streaking orange flame that raced passed them. It was enough to cause the orange-robed figure and a few other Oprichniki to wheel their horses about and retreat.
In the center, Diego twisted in the saddle to survey the scene. Though wounded and gasping for breath, he and Simi still held the center, despite all odds. On the right, the brother-sergeants and Gunther’s men were holding. The left was a chaotic mess of whirling winds, panicked horses, dust clouds, and sleet, but the enemy seemed just as disoriented as Lucien’s men. Then Diego’s attention was ripped away by the sight of a lone Oprichnik galloping straight for him, saber raised high to strike. Adrenaline pumping, Diego stood in the stirrups and delivered the mightiest blow he could muster as the rider passed. His blade ripped through iron, chain, and bone, caving in the rider’s skull. His body crumpled and fell from the saddle like a rag doll. Diego muttered, “Compliments of the Triton Company, you son of a bitch.” While no one heard Diego’s remark, many saw the rider fall.
Diego again surveyed the situation. Despite the stability of his lines, he realized that the enemy had yet to commit half its troops, while all of his men were engaged and growing tired, most were wounded, and many were down. A fresh enemy charge could spell disaster. Strangely, the charge never came. Instead, almost unbelievably, the enemy’s reserve force of about 30 riders retired from the field, leaving the stragglers that were still engaged to fend for themselves. The squadron galloped off to the east, finally disappearing over the ridge.
Only then did Diego notice the wail of the wounded. A pungent coppery scent of blood hung heavy in the air. The violent winds had dissipated, and once again a light rain fell with an eerie stillness. Many riderless horses ran free across the field, some clearly panicked. Simi, his grim face and dented helm splattered with gore, ordered some men to seize two wounded Oprichniki and keep them alive for questioning. When Diego caught sight of Darocles, he wasn’t sure whether to laugh or grow concerned. All of the salvage master’s clothes were charred black and gaping with holes, while his skin was covered with soot and mud. He looked positively ridiculous, but strangely uninjured. Seeing the situation in hand, Darocles then added to the absurdity by excusing himself and wandering the battlefield, looking for a few valuables that he lost when the fire consumed his clothes.