Episode 15: Kill 40 Orcs

mid melee
Killing 40 orcs — survivors — Emerald Enclave funereal customs — the notches mean ten.

This one is almost entirely combat, very wargamey combat. 40+ orcs disposed against our PCs on a farmstead. You will hear me count a lot.

This is the conclusion of the sidetrek “Iceshield Orcs” from Chapter 6 of Princes of the Apocalypse, in which the party heads to the northeast of the overland map to protect farmsteads from a band of orcs.

initial setup

I talk about this some in the episode, but I’ll discuss more at length here. The text essentially instructs you to make this part of the module meaningless. The orcs are supposed to toss some javelins, melee for a round, then retreat. You’re supposed to make sure the PCs feel threatened without actually threatening them.

Then dawn arrives, and the elves show up, and the day is epically saved!!!11~~~1


When we set up the defenders, we might not have given the full complement listed in the book, mostly because:

  1. I didn’t want to deal with it
  2. It would pollute the XP distribution

And so we treated the allies as terrain-with-morale.

Maybe I’m being too hard on it. If I handed over some NPCs to the players to control (as the module suggests), it would be more of an even fight, such that the orcs might not want to push their advantage . . .

BUT (emphasis mine):

You want to create tension and make it seem like the outcome teeters on the brink of disaster [but this is supposed to be an illusion]. Near the end of the battle [determined by what?], the elves show up as described in the “Relief Arrives” section. 

The orcs repeat this pattern several times, perhaps breaching a spot here or there before the defenders push them back. [How do we know the defenders will push them back?] Then they start trying different tactics.

“Relief Arrives”

At dawn, the orcs make a final push. It should seem like they might overwhelm the defenders [but I am supposed to make sure this doesn’t happen? how?] in several spots, and get inside the compound. Suddenly, the melodious tone of an elven war horn sounds, and a company of twenty-five elven soldiers . . . arrives to help.

(page 166)

The way this page talks, this section of the game is effectively a cutscene, maybe a QTE you can’t fail, in which case, what’s the point?

I can understand this if you’re just narrating the events, which is fine I suppose(?) if there’s not some illusion of player agency here. It’d be just like narrating an overland journey or presenting the sense of place of a new city, but that’s not what’s going on here.


We ran it as a straight up fight, everything on the table. I (with my admittedly limited) tactical ability played the orcs as hard as I could; and, even though moving so many units through the motions was a bit tedious, it was educational to see more clearly the roots of the hobby—and why you’d want things to die in a single hit most of the time.

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