Welcome Back to the Labyrinth

"We have been away far too long, my friends," Ashoka declared, his face lit by the eldritch green glow of his staff. "But we have finally returned to the labyrinth whence our adventures first began."

"Just imagine the treasures that lie within," said Yun Tai, flexing his mighty muscles. "Wealth enough to live in luxury the rest of our days."

"And arcane artifacts of great power," added Ashoka his words dripping with avarice. "All ours for the taking!"

"Umm...guys?" Nysa interrupted. "Do you hear something dripping?"

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Art of Dungeoneering: Chapter II, Waging War

This is quite a long post because I've chosen to cover all of Chapter 2 at once.  This is quite a short chapter and is focussed upon the necessity of acting quickly to gain swift victory, which is necessary to maintain morale and ensure that supplies do not run out prematurely.

1. Generally, operations of war require one thousand fast four-horse chariots, one thousand four-horse wagons covered in leather, and one hundred thousand mailed troops.

Clearly, such requirements are fluid and depend upon circumstances, but whatever man-power your expedition requires don't forget the logistics to support them.  Each hireling in your party will also need to be fed, so be sure to bring enough food and drink to see them through the trip.  This will add up to a lot of provender for even a medium-sized expedition for  just a couple of weeks, so you may need to invest in a wagon train to carry food and equipment (not to mention transporting all your loot back to town) and the horses or mules will also need food and water.

2. When provisions are transported for a thousand li expenditures at home and in the field, stipends for the entertainment of advisers and visitors, the cost of materials such as glue and lacquer, and of chariots and armour, will amount to one thousand pieces of gold a day.  After this money is in hand, one hundred thousand troops may be raised.

Suffice it to say that there can a significant expense in properly equipping and outfitting an expedition, which might be beyond the means of low level adventurers to front.  At first level most characters don't even have enough cash to properly equip themselves with the weapons and armour they want, let alone hiring and equipping NPCs.  In a lot of cases, low level characters either forgo the proper preparations and tackle the dungeon with their own limited resources, or take a few odd jobs to raise cash before undertaking a dungeon expedition.  My current campaign began this way, with the characters checking the bounty board at the Flaming Faggot and rounding up notorious bandits for the reward money.  But if you're eager to hit the dungeon there is no reason to let limited funds delay the expedition.  Consider soliciting wealthy investors to supply the capital for the trip.  As expensive as outfitting an expedition is, it pales in comparison to the potential rewards and if you have a solid plan of attack there is no reason why a well-organized party couldn't convince wealthy patrons to front them the cash in exchange for a share in the profits.

3. Victory is the main object in war.  If this is long delayed, weapons are blunted and morale depressed.  When troops attack cities, their strength will be exhausted.

Delays in a campaign can certainly result in decreased morale as troops become bored and restless.  In military campaigns one's force can also suffer attrition due to sickness - how many soldier's died on Salisbury Plain while waiting around to be shipped to Europe?

But over and above considerations of morale, speed can be a valuable offensive tool.  Moving quickly can keep the opposition off balance, forcing them to attempt to react to your actions rather than giving them time to mount a counter-offensive of their own.  "Dungeon blitzing" is a strategy that I found to be especially effective in tournament play when time is also a factor.

While a dungeon blitz is a very effective offensive strategy there is a risk that your reach can overextend your grasp and it is important to keep an eye on your resources lest you find yourself pushing too far and leaving yourself vulnerable.  I am reminded of games of Risk when I went on huge offensives, conquering half the world in a turn, only to lose all of my gains the following turn when my opponent got reinforcements then rampaged through my strung-out army.  Likewise, rampaging through the Death Star, chasing stormtroopers worked really well for Han Solo until the stormtroopers turned around and realized that he was all alone.

Perhaps the best way to execute a dungeon blitz is to launch a limited fast assault on an area of the dungeon then consolidate your victory by resting and securing the area before commencing the next blitz.

4. When the army engages in protracted campaigns the resources of the state will not suffice.

Eventually, even the best-equipped party is going to need to resupply, and the bigger the dungeon, the more often supply runs will need to be made.  For this reason it is important to loot some treasure troves early on so that sufficient funds will be available to resupply and keep the expedition moving forward.

It is important to keep pressure on the dungeon denizens to prevent them from repopulating the areas that you've already cleared, so you may want to consider employing hirelings simply for the purpose of delivering supplies from town at a regular interval.  A supply line of food and ammunition can help you keep the offensive going and clear that level without having to reconquer previously held territory.

Sooner or later, though, the hirelings and probably even the PCs are going to want to hit town for some well-deserved R&R.  You may want to consider rotating the hirelings by giving some of them "leave" to go to town and unwind.  This is actually to your benefit.  Once a hireling gets gold in his purse, perhaps more money than he's ever had in his life, he might start to wonder if perhaps it's time to call it quits and retire with his riches.  Allowing your hirelings regular opportunities to gamble, drink, and whore will ensure that they will be back once they've blown their swag on the irresistible vices that towns have to offer.

5. When your weapons are dulled and ardour damped, your strength exhausted and treasure spent, neighbouring rulers will take advantage of your distress to act.  And even though you have wise counsellors, none will be able to lay good plans for the future.

Quit while you're ahead because the bad guys will always kick you when you're down.

6. Thus, while we have heard of blundering swiftness in war, we have not yet seen a clever operation that was prolonged.

Further to point 2.3, a bad plan that is swiftly and audaciously expedited will trump a brilliant scheme that never gets off the ground.

7. For there has never been a protracted war from which a country has benefited.

8. Thus those unable to understand the dangers inherent in employing troops are equally unable to understand the advantageous ways of doing so.

9. Those adept in waging war do not require a second levy of conscripts nor more than one provisioning.

I think this is Sun Tzu's way of re-emphasizing the need to plan ahead and bring everything you need for your campaign, then not waste your resources by dithering and delaying when action is called for.

10. They carry equipment from the homeland; they rely for provisions on the enemy.  Thus the army is plentifully provided with food.

I've never seen an adventuring party yet that didn't help themselves to the dungeon's armoury for resupplying themselves, nor break open the ubiquitous wine or beer casks that are invariably scattered around dungeons.  One does tend to shy away from the questionable provisions that orcs eat, but other than that using the dungeon itself to resupply your expedition is very efficient.  Your investors will applaud your frugality.

11. When a country is impoverished by military operations it is due to distant transportation; carriage of supplies for great distances renders the people destitute.

Clearly, the further your dungeon is from a town, settlement, or keep, the more difficult it will be to resupply.  For adventuring in remote locales it may be worth dedicating a party of hirelings solely to hunting and gathering food.

12. Where the army is, prices are high; when prices rise the wealth of the people is exhausted.  When wealth is exhausted the peasantry will be afflicted with urgent extractions.

Dungeon delving often results in economic inflation, particularly if a famous set of ruins or dungeons is drawing many groups of explorers.  Just like in gold rush towns in the 19th century where prospectors might expect to pay $1 for a single egg, the massive influx of treasure can wreak havoc on the local economy as merchants raise their prices to suit.  Not only must adventurers be prepared for inflated prices, but they might also be subject to hostility and resentment from the local populace who are no longer able to afford the inevitable price increases.  On the up side this might make it easier to recruit hirelings from among the locals, who have no other way of earning the kind of money they now need to live.

13. With strength thus depleted and wealth consumed the households in the central plains will be utterly impoverished and seven tenths of their wealth dissipated.

A small town can only support large numbers of dungeon expeditions for so long before the economy collapses entirely, destroying the settlement as effectively as a band of marauding orcs.  When the dungeon is finally cleared and the adventuring bands all move on they will leave nothing but a ghost town in their wake.

This is actually an intriguing idea and the aftermath of dungeoneering might make for some interesting spin off adventures.  What happens when large bands of hirelings are paid off at the end of the quest and have nothing left to return to but an impoverished and destitute community with no jobs.  Does the area now become infested with lawless bands of dungeon-hardened veterans turned road agents, bandits and highwaymen?

14. As to government expenditures, those due to broken-down chariots, worn out horses, armour and helmets, arrows and crossbows, lances, hand and body shields, draft animals and supply wagons will amount to sixty percent of the total.

15. Hence the wise general sees to it that his troops feed on the enemy, for one bushel of the enemy's provisions is equivalent to twenty of his; one hundredweight of enemy fodder to twenty hundredweight of his.

Once inflation afflicts the base town it might, indeed, be cheaper and easier to rely upon enemy provisions for resupply.

16. The reason troops slay the enemy is because they are enraged.

This statement seems out of place with the rest of the chapter and doesn't seem to belong.  Nonetheless, this advice could be used in two different ways.  When the morale of the hirelings is waning and they've lost the will to fight, arrange for the enemy to perform some sort of atrocity, such as the desecration of the corpses of their friends, that will inflame the men with the will to fight.

Likewise, if you wish to avoid prematurely provoking attack by enemies, be careful not to do anything to enrage them and make such a fight inevitable - don't go looting shrines unless you want to fight its guardians.  Conversely, if you wish to draw an enemy out to fight when and where you wish, consider performing some atrocity that will force them to act, preferably recklessly and without thought.

17. They take booty from the enemy because they desire wealth.

As previously discussed, the promise of loot, and the prospect of gaining even more loot, is the key to inspiring hirelings to fight.  Allow your hirelings to loot the bodies of the enemies that they slay - this will encourage them to fight all the harder in order to win more bonus loot.

18. Therefore, when in chariot fighting more than ten chariots are captured, reward those who take the first.  Replace the enemies flags and banners with your own, mix the captured chariots with yours, and mount them.

"Yeah, incentives are important.  I learned that in rehab."  - Captain Ron

Consider offering bonuses to hirelings for exemplary performance, such as whoever makes the first kill, whoever kills the most enemies, whoever finds the first trap, locates the secret treasure trove, etc.  This turns each and every hired hand into an active participant doing his very best instead of standing around with his thumb up his butt waiting to collect  his daily pay.

19. Treat captives well, and care for them.

This is something that I've seldom seen adventurers do.  I've seen captives threatened, bullied, tortured, and executed, but never treated well.  Doing so can pay dividends.  It may be possible to turn intelligent captives to your side, thereby gaining additional followers with insider knowledge.  Failing that it may be possible to exchange them for captives taken from your party members.

20. This is called 'winning a battle and becoming stronger.'

21. Hence what is essential in war is victory, not prolonged operations.  And therefore the general who understands war is the minister of the people's fate and arbiter of the nation's destiny.

This last statement nicely sums up the the major points of this chapter: execute your campaign expeditiously and gain swift victory.  Little can be gained by indecisiveness and delay.  It is almost always better to do something; doing anything, even if it is the wrong thing is better than doing nothing.  This way the enemy is forced to react to you rather than have leisure to make his own plans.

Next: Chapter III - Offensive Strategy.  So far we've talked broadly about the need to achieve victory.  Now we will begin to discuss how win that victory.


A Paladin In Citadel said...

I wonder if that section on the troops becoming enraged is a translation error? It does seem out of place. I was trying to stitch it in with the rest of the missives, but there's something not quite right about that sentence.

This is good advice for the DM as well. GIve the players a break by awarding them surprise, if they are acting swiftly, even if the plan is half-baked.

Sean Robson said...

I'm pretty certain that was transcription error, possibly copied from a different part of the original scrolls.

Good idea about awarding surprise to half-baked plans swiftly executed. Chances are the plan will be so off-the-wall no one could have predicted it. If it boggles the DM, chances are the orcs are stunned.

The corollary is that in the past few sessions of my game, I've seen a couple of brilliant plans go down the tube because they weren't carried out quickly, but rather, delayed until it became too late.