A few weeks back, some of my friends and I watched a favorite movie of mine - The 13th Warrior.
It's a classic version of the "defend the village" scenario - one used over and over again in films and as I recall correctly, every single episode of The A-Team. It's a formula that works.
I've used that scenario a number of times in games. The old "defend the village" game works really well in RPGs. Naturally it has shown up in games, too - the Dungeon magazine adventure Grakhirt's Lair let low-level PCs come in the aftermath of a "Defend the Village!" situation. There is a village to defend against bandits in The Book of Lairs. The Battlesystem module H1 Bloodstone Pass featured this on a battlefield scale.*
This is because there is so much to do:
- organize the fighters
- build some defenses
- deal with some internal strife (there is always some internal strife)
- consult an old person for advice
- rescue the people outside the walls
- and then do at least one of these: whittle down the bad guys until there are none left, kill the leader, destroy the source of the enemy, or just hold for time (either your reinforcements, or the enemy is on a time table)
It's also a scenario that is crystal-clear to the players. They've seen at least one of The 13th Warrior, the Seven Samurai, the Magnificent Seven, Zulu (the Rorke's Drift battle, not Isandlwana), or variations of them. Maybe they've played those Sunday Drivers scenarios with the cycle gang coming to town. Whatever. It's shared background.
On top of that, it works well with different approaches:
- The Cadre. The PCs provide stiffening for an existing force. They can't win it without the locals, but the locals can't win without them.
- The Shock Troops. The PCs add some expendable forces to the locals, and can engage in activities the locals can't scrape up the manpower or just power to do - such as scouting, acting as a reserve, or taking the offensive. This works if you want to have a larger conflict - army versus army - or offload leadership because it doesn't suit the PCs or players.
- The Late Arrivals. The battle is over, the village is safe - but you need to go exterminate the source of evil, and the locals are too battered to provide much help . . . and can't survive a renewed assault.
- The Only Hope. There really aren't a lot of locals to organize. Maybe it's a convent full of nuns, a hospital full of sick people, or a tiny farmstead or shrine that can't be moved.
The defeat parameters for the enemy can be as simple, visceral, and just plain enjoyable to the players as the tally list (kill them all, you win) or something more complex. If the enemies are werewolves a vampire and his vampire-spawn, maybe you have to hold overnight. If they're a military unit exceeding their orders, maybe you have to hold until someone else shows up to order them off. If they're hellspawn that spew from a gate, maybe you have to seal the gate once you've headed off a few raids and forced them back . . . revealing their origin.
This is a scenario I've had a lot of fun with. I expect I'll use it again sometime in the future.
*It also featured playable characters who broke AD&D's rules over and over again. Sigh.