What do NPCs do when they’re off-stage?
Tetsukichi recently allowed his cousin/henchman Golfo (and Golfo’s lovely wife Phi Phong) to go off on a dangerous mission without him. The cousins had both accepted the mission which was to “Go to the Southwest Border Region and find Gwinch.” But then Tetsukichi decided he had more important immediate priorities, leaving Golfo to continue the mission as part of a smaller, much weaker party.
It would be easy enough to just have it that Tetsukichi never hears of Golfo again, but I decided it would be more satisfying, at least for me, to “know” what happened to him. So I used the rules for Songs of Blades and Heroes, and played out a crucial encounter.
The Southwest Border Region is dangerous, and especially dangerous when you openly announce that you are friends of Gwinch, the foreign-born sohei who recently tore up the slaver’s stockade from the inside out and so upset the balance of power in the region. Golthar, a sorcerer, was a chief ally or associate of the slavers, and had a strong motivation to seek revenge on Gwinch either directly or by way of his friends. And perhaps capture some new slaves in the process.
For the purposes of SBH, all you need to know is this: Side one is hiding in a thick jungle, waiting to ambush side two. Side two is on horseback, following a narrow trail that cuts through the jungle. Side one wins by capturing the non-combatant (i.e. Phi Phong if you like flavor text). Side one wins by getting everyone, and especially the non-combatant away to relative safety (off the board).
I’ve done this enough times that it’s not hard to convert D&D character types to SBH rules. For first level fighters, I use an activation score of 3 and a combat add of 1. I think this is lower than what the rules provide for in the case of a “grunt” human infantry, but it gives room for level progression. Golfo, at 5th level, is the highest level guy in the fight and is at 3 (activation) and 3 (combat add). For Golthar, I used the SBH magic rules and also gave him the ability to fly on a successful activation.
Here are the rules as provided to the other players . . .
Everything off the path is thick, nearly impassable jungle.
1. Unless they are running away, figures move through jungle at half-speed.
2. In order to avoid becoming lost, figures must be part of a chain of other friendly figures that leads back to a square that is next to the path.
3. Lost figures move only one square.
4. EXCEPTION—Scouts move at normal speed through the forest, and do not become lost.
All of the good guys, except for the scouts, are riding horses.
1. Horses move 12 squares.
2. In melee combat, a rider on a horse gets a +1 vs. someone not on a horse.
3. Horses cannot go off the path or into the jungle.
4. If a figure on a horse is forced to run away, they must run away on the path. If they run into a bad guy before finishing their retreat, they must dismount and retreat into the jungle.
5. It costs one “success” for a horse to pass one or more other horses on the path.
6. If two horses are next to each other on the path, no other horse can pass by; pedestrians must use a “success” to get around them.
7. Riders can spend one “success” to get off a horse or to get back on.
8. If a horse does not have a rider, either side can use one “success” to drive that horse 12 squares or until it runs into another horse.
Winning: Capturing the non-combatant
One of the good guys is a non-combatant.
1. If the non-combatant is knocked down, a bad guy can use a “success” to capture the non-combatant.
2. If the non-combatant is forced to run away and crashes into a bad guy, the non-combatant is captured.
3. Once captured, a bad guy can move the non-combatant at 4 squares.
4. If a bad guy moves the non-combatant off the map, the bad guys win.
5. If a bad guy moves the non-combatant into jungle and at least five squares away from the path or any good guys, the bad guys win.
6. If the non-combatant moves off the map freely, and using the path, then the good guys win.
One of the bad guys can fly. Jungle is no obstacle. As his altitude varies, he becomes very hard to shoot.
The forces on each side . . .
Side one (bad guys)
Golthar (human mage, flying)
Cleric (3 activation, +2 add)
5 medium infantry
Side two (good guys)
Phi Phong ("non-combatant" actually a 3 activation and +1 add)
1 mounted archer (Tsao Ho: activation 4, +3)
4 light cavalry (other monks: activation 4, +2)
3 scouts/thieves (villagers: activation 3, +0, special move through jungle)
AND HERE’S WHAT HAPPENED . . .
The good guys (or side two) had a single archer who traded shots with a flying Golthar. The archer had one good shot and that was enough. Not enough to kill Golthar but— according to SBH rules— enough to make him flee one full move. And because he was flying that meant “off the board and out of the game.”
Despite this major setback, the attackers did a good job of blocking either end of the path, and because of their superior numbers, it looked likely that Phi Phong would be captured. The good guys started dismounting so that they could get up to where the fight was happening. It was only after the scout’s leader was killed that the scouts had the idea of helping her escape by moving through the forest.
After Phi Phong escaped, the players decided to play out the battle. Golfo ran back to help two of the monks who had been “knocked-down” (SBH rules, temporarily incapacitated and capable of rallying, especially with help.) Instead, Golfo himself also fell to Golthar's minions.