Heretical Playtest: Group 3 gets dogpiled by orcs

I’m tired. so this will be a quick summary. I was joined by +Erik Tenkar , +Tim Shorts , and +Rob Conley in the first session for “Group 3,” one of the playtest campaigns I’m running for the Heretical RPG.

The characters were two rangers with chain shirts and longbows, both with one or two short swords, plus a dwarven cleric with the life domain. Light crossbow, scale mail, and a warhammer.

We chatted for a long, long time, and then finished up characters.

They started in one of the main cities as a jumping-off point, and investigated. They found two primary leads. The merchant guild reported that one of their caravans went missing; similarly, a cleric visiting from the majority-dwarven settlement up the coast reported the same deal – a missing caravan, no traces.

At the end of the dwarven plot fork was the same ogre as last time, but this time, two of them, with two ogrillions for backup. I was planning on having one ogre and an ogrillion come at the team from the cave mouth, and then if they investigated, the second pair would try and nab them.

That’s not the fork they took, though. And the other one led to a troop of about a dozen orc bandits. Now, my ambush was laid out for a group of 4-6 characters, and the team only showed up with 3, though two rangers and a cleric might be a reasonable force.

Turned out . . . nope.

They did some investigating and found that the orc band had scaled the protective wall that led between two major population centers, laid an ambush, and nabbed a caravan, taking the goods but not the carts back over the wall with them.

The team tracked them back to their lair, and they did some recon, and lo, there were 12 of them, widely dispersed around a campsite. One very sleepy guard.

They decided to attack, after briefly considering the fact that by locating the fate of the caravan, they’d earned their 130gp reward.

They fired at the guard from surprise, but two terrible rolls and one good one left the orc hurt but not impaired, but he made his morale and constitution checks, and was still up.

Technically, I biffed this one; mooks like the orc automatically fail the constitution checks, and so he should have been injured, and thus impaired, rather than feeling frisky.

His shout roused the rest of the camp. 

The second round had our heroes firing again, but this time, the target was able to bring his shield to bear.

Holy crap, if I wanted to improve the value of shields in the Heretical game, it worked. It may have worked too well. Our orc guard was able to basically hide behind the shield, brushing arrows out of the air with near impunity. His friends and neighbors got closer and closer. The horde approached.

Ultimately, the bowmen were too stymied by the shields to do much good, and there were too many orcs. At least one of our heroes was reduced to no defensive ability, and had to take on a level of exhaustion to top up. Armor is working nicely and making potentially fight-ending blows into threats, but not game-enders. So that’s still good.

We called it with one player surrounded (or nearly so) by orcs, two nearby but withdrawing, and one orc KO’d, and that’s about it.

Lessons learned.

  • +Peter V. Dell’Orto was right. Many weak foes is way, way nastier than one tough foe. 
  • Shields are ridiculously good. +Rob Conley has re-enactor experience, and he was not in disbelief that that was, in fact, exactly right. We did talk about tweaking the stats, though. The benefits given to shields are large, and very much nullify ranged weapon attacks from the front arc.
  • Prior playtesting showed that pelting foes with no shields with ranged weapons was dreadfully and totally effective, though.
  • The shield was good, but not great, in melee. It would probably turn a few blows from a decent fighter, and then shatter. Arrows? Not enough damage to cause that effect. Again, not unrealistic, but was a surprise.
  • We decided to add an “Aim” action option, which will give advantage when attacking. 

Ultimately, I think what happened here was “there are 12 of them, and three of us. Let’s attack!” and that worked out about as well as it should.

In D&D5, the bows would likely have been more telling. Orcs only have AC 13, and my guys were shooting at 1d20+5 or 1d20+6, so would hit about 2/3 of the time for 4-12 points per hit. Should have felled one orc per round. There were still a whole lotta orcs, though. 

I dunno. I set up a very lopsided encounter, and the result was what you would expect. They tried main strength, and were losing badly. They got dogpiled, had no escape route, and probably would have all been killed.

We’re going to reset the board next time, and see if their original plan, which was to pick off one or two of them at a time, from stealth, might work. Also, maybe we can add the fourth (or fifth?) player who was supposed to be present. Having a defender for the archers would make a huge difference. Hell, I dangled the option of hiring a pair of fighters in front of the team early on, but they didn’t bite.

Again – unfair encounter went unfairly. I can’t help the feeling that I might have learned more with fewer bandits. Attacking into 4:1 odds with first level characters is probably not a high-percentage plan.

5 thoughts on “Heretical Playtest: Group 3 gets dogpiled by orcs

  1. "+Peter V. Dell'Orto was right."

    Your blog has needed a tag line for a while. Now you've found one.


    It might be fun to let the results stand, let the trio roll up new guys (even if quite the same kind of kind), and have the ambush worked into the setting. Makes for a lot of fun when the book examples and setting vignettes and so on are layered on top of dead PCs. 😀

    1. I'll ask the group if they want to do that. As Group 2 and Group 3 have been readjusting game times/days, things might shake up anyway. I think the thing was that with an aware target, you have a 5% chance or so to put an arrow past an aware foe with a shield. Might need to think about how many arrows per round you can brush aside, but honestly, even 6 is one per second.

      I worry about the feel of it. "We can't shoot arrows at them; they have shields." That just felt like a fact of life last night, and gamers will have to be OK with that, or else frustration level will be high.

  2. My ranger's in ability to hit due to the shields made sense to me. I thought the combat made sense. There is a learning curve to combat tactics and the reason I pushed an unwinnable situation. Normally I would have high tailed it out of there. But I wanted to see how combat worked. Shields proved to be highly effective against arrows, and it would have helped if we had actually hit.

    However I think there should be a 'surprise' factor available. The orc guard would have been able to use his shield to black arrows in that initial round. That said, I rolled so bad I don't think I even hit air.

    1. Good grief, I must be drunk. I meant to say, I think in a surprise situation the victim shouldn't gain the benefit of using a shield. And like a weapon, needs to be readied to use. I hope that made more sense.

    2. Definitely going to add the Aim action, which bonus will more or less counteract the +4 for the shield from a Threat DC perspective, but it'll be less effective (but still better) for bypassing the shield and just striking the armor.

      Not being able to use the shield to block unless you can perceive the attack is straight outta GURPS, and works both narratively and mechanically, so that'll work out well.

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