Thursday, July 15, 2021

The Felltower Orc Palisade

Since some discussion has come up about the orc camp in my comments on my blog, here is some edited details of the route to the orc palisade in Felltower.

Session 119, Felltower 90 - Into the Orc Hole V

Once down the orc hole - essentially a hole in the dungeon floor going down a twisting, steep climb down, and then a cliff up to a cavern area - leads eventually to the "orc tunnel." "It was about a mile in that Galen, scouting ahead, found a barricade across the 9" wide tunnel. Beyond it was a 6-7 yard circular cave [. . . ]

They kept going - eventually another two miles, hearing more and more howling and yowling and growls ahead as they kept going. Finally they found the exit - a tunnel mouth out to the bright sunlight of the day. Highlighted in the light were about a dozen devil wolves. The group decided Galen should shoot a couple and lure the rest into the tunnel where they could be killed. So they set up, and Galen shot and killed two. But the wolves retreated instead - the PCs couldn't determine why (they failed the relevant PER rolls I made for them to detect anything.)

The PCs advanced to see outside. They saw a wooden palisade, about 15-20' high, embedded in a solid stone embankment - clearly Earth to Stone was used if not Shape Stone. The palisade had many orcs on it, and two sturdy gates to the left and the right. Beyond them, separate from the palisade, were two covered towers with movable shutters and a tarp covering them - clearing artillery platforms. Orcs in the scores - maybe hundreds - were organizing and they heard owlbears and ogres, too. And goblins, of course."

So that's the palisade. It's a semi-circle of wooden wall embedded in a solid stone base - rounded and smooth, not angular and carved or laid down mortared stone. The semi-circle encloses the tunnel exit from the dungeon at a short distance - I didn't specify in the blog post but it's roughly 20-30 yards out at its furthest.

That doesn't leave any space for sheltered and sniping. It's completely cleared of cover of any kind. Any spot there is subject to direct and enfilade missile attacks. Getting over the wall means climbing 15-20' of wooden palisade embedded in a smooth-based stone embankment also 10' or so high. Or going through the gates, which aren't very advanced but still have towers to provide enfilading fire and plunging fire at anyone at the base.

The orc camp is largely obscured beyond it, but there are places from which orcs can see over the wall - towers on the far side of the valley, the covered towers within. It's a smart bet that something in those towers is aimed at dealing with foes coming from the dungeon.

So as much as siege equipment might sound useful . . . it's not clear how it would be trucked so far through dungeon corridors, down stairs, down more stairs, down a hole, up a wall, and miles across tunnels . . . and then assembled in plain short-range sight of the enemy. Sure, Galen can stand there with his Cornucopia quivers and shoot up the orcs, but math says eventually someone will critically hit a PC with Missile Shield and that Galen will critically fail and potentially break a bowstring. Meanwhile, the orcs have other non-missile options to annoy the PCs. It's not a non-starter for the PCs to stand around at the entrance and slug it out with the orcs at range, but it's not likely to be a decisive fight or a valuable one for them. It is a non-starter for them to essentially conduct a planned siege assault - they lack the ability to bring the tools to the site, the materials on site, and the skills to do so well. There is almost certainly a way to deal with the orcs violently, but the defenses make it a lot tricker than laying a partial siege from within a killing ground.

Why are the orcs so organized about dealing with threats from the dungeon? Is is only the PCs who keep massacring orcs within the dungeon? Or something else? It's not clear, and the PCs haven't really found out (and asking in town sure won't help.) But this is why it's not such an easy solution of applying tried-and-true anti-fortification technology to the orc wall conundrum.


  1. Also, at this point, the orcs have mostly retreated from the dungeon haven't they? I mean sure, the PCs can go killin greenskins for funsies, that's why the Good God put them there right? But they aren't an impediment to the PCs and are quite likely (at this point) acting as a "containment" or "hassle" for something else, whatever they've set up the fortifications for.

    Not only is it difficult (without finding an overland route or using magic to carve a new tunnel exit) to go orc raiding, it's not exactly within the parameters of "delve into Felltower". Which isn't a strict requirement, but this feels like maybe begging for trouble for trouble's sake.

  2. Aha.

    So randomly going off to hexcrawl in the hope the Galen eventually crits enough to locate the orc camp is extremely not fun.

    I could see building a stealth focused party, and getting a small number of people over the wall at night, to sneak through the camp, leave, then map their way back to base. My guess is that this would entail getting two or three characters from 250 to 300 for lenses, and hence is also a plan that doesn't fit this game.

    1. "So randomly going off to hexcrawl in the hope the Galen eventually crits enough to locate the orc camp is extremely not fun."

      Oh, Galen's found the camp. They could get there if they really wanted to - but it's an overland trek to an overland assault against a large fortified encampment with a few hundred orcs in an open-field fight. Doable but it's maximizing the orc's advantages (numbers, preparation) and minimizing the PC's advantages (man-for-man power advantage.)

    2. But should not the king (or the duke, or anybody, who is ruling Stericksburg and surrounding area) do something about a fortified camp with a few hundred orcs in it, situated near borders of his realm? This is a threat to a dukedom at least, if not to a kingdom. It is time to summon knights and footmen and go to war, and the PCs should be perfect guides and stormtroopers.

      If I remember correctly, at the begining of the campaign there was some war at the south, so king's army was busy fighting. But now this war may end (or at least there can be a truce), so some soldiers are returning to home, ready to a new crusade.

    3. From an in-game perspective, why should the local rulers care about the orcs? It's a difficult trip - either through a dungeon, or overland through tangled forested hills and low mountains to get to the orc's ravine/valley camp. It'll be costly in men, treasure, and time. And your opponent are a large group of orcs who aren't bothering Stericksburg in any significant way and who are a potential, but not actual, military threat only if you provoke them. Skirmishes happened here and there in the years past, but nothing major and mostly with people who went up to Felltower or too far into the unclaimed woods to the north. And if you win . . . you get a place that's difficult to hold and doesn't come with much value. So why organize an army?

      From an in-game PC perspective, why would you want an army to help? If they come and help and leave, they've done nothing but cut your treasure share to very little. If they come and help and stay, they've done that plus Felltower is now surrounded by the ruler's controlled lands. That ruler might extend his rule into Felltower, at least in name, and thus legitimately ask for taxes or tithes of loot and claim particular things . . . or require tasks by social and legal force. Why get them involved?

      From an out-of-game perspective, why have NPCs do stuff for the PCs when the PCs find it hard?

      That last one is why I set it up so the first two paragraphs are the situation. I made it a problem no army is going to come solve so the PCs have to do it.

    4. If your PCs are too timid, than command from the local ruler to go to war can give them extra motivaton to attack orcs. Some extra help in logistic, building seige equipment and manpower also could make the task of defeating orcs more doable. It does not mean, that NPCs shoul do PCs work, such as scouting, spellcasting and actual fighting. There are many reasons, why brave knights should sit in siege camp, when PCs are storming the walls.

      From the in-game perspective, maybe there is a rumor, that this orcs became allies with enemies of the Kingdom. Or local duke did not conquer any glory during the last war, and now wants to get some easy, but glorious victory. Or orcs kidnapped duke's mistress, while raiding some village. Or something else.

      From the PCs perspective, why should duke ask them? But if he wants to be nice, he could offer PCs to become his vassals and get the orcish camp as a fief (and a convinient base for future explaration of Felltower and surrounding wilderness).

      Mostly, I thing, that a crusade against orcs would be more interesting for your players (and definetly for your readers), then anover dozen sessions of explorind safe parts of the Cold Fens with minor scirmishes and no loot.

    5. "I made it a problem no army is going to come solve so the PCs have to do it."

      It goes without saying (for you and your players at least, a few readers as well) but that's also "if they even care to". The point of Felltower is 'get in, get out, hopefully with as much treasure as can be hauled'.

      Staging a military move against orcs who //aren't even in the way// doesn't seem like a winning move. Sure, eventually the Orcs will have licked their wounds and fortified enough that they'll be going back into the dungeon for whatever reason they have, so it might be wise to strike them now and lengthen how long that will take... but then again, the PCs have won pretty much every skirmish in the dungeon with the orcs, where the terrain favors 1:1 fighting which puts most of the advantages on PCs side. AS long as the PCs keep them from becoming a power as Gatekeepers again, leaving the Orcs alone is the 'winning strategy' right now.

      And has been mentioned in another recent set of followup comments Ulf is "one run away" from being able to get everyone through the water entrance, so they could "more easily" make runs against more lucrative targets.

      I also agree with more exploration, I have a feeling that there is a lot the group has missed "just past the really explored" parts. Like it keeps feeling like they are passing up unexplored side halls and tunnels because their focus is somewhere else. Or maybe that's just the semi-vague "the audience can't see the map" nature of the blog, those places were explored, and I'm just forgetting.

    6. You have to think of it this way: I don't care if they go fight the orcs or not. So I don't feel the need to motivate them to do so.

      I do feel the need for them to explore more of the dungeon and take on more risk, so I based loot on exploration and treasure, and I modified the XP thresholds so they need to risk more to earn it.

      The orcs are a problem for them to solve or not solve. I don't care either way. I'm just saying it's something they occasionally list as a "to do." Partly because I think they see it as a safe way to get some easy loot. It's not so easy anymore but that's their concern.

      Mine is motivating risk so the levels below don't stay unexplored for another 10 years.

  3. Could they get a siege tower into position overland instead of through the dungeon? Possibly they could hire laborers or Create Servants to help fell trees, level ground, and build a road for the siege tower

    1. It wouldn't be easy, but it's at least possible. Probably cost more money and time than it's worth but it's doable.


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