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Sieges in Glorantha


Kargzant

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I was wondering if anyone on this board knows about how a group of warriors holed up in a tower or keep would fight against a siege. I assume that bows and javelins are a given, but what about boiling oil or trapped moats? Is all of that stuff too Medieval? I only know so much about siege warfare and I'm wondering what would be appropriate for a relatively Classical world.

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For ancient analysis I like "A collection of unmitigated pedantry" historical blog, and he has a series on fortifications, titled "The besiegers playbook"

Actually the ancients were more advanced than the Middle Ages in many aspects in sieges. The main factor is the tower itself, how ready it is and if they have time to improve it. Magic also adds an extra dimension. Spirits can ignore the fortification. Orlanthi may fly in, unless the tower is "flier-proof". An earth elemental may demolish the building. 

The defenders have limited resources, unless they can smuggle resources from outside. therefore it may be important to audit the number of projectiles, food and water. Depending on the state of the tower, the buiding itself can be used as a projectile. Hot or burning oil is impressive, but it is a one use trick. It might be better to use the oil for signaling, and to safeguard against surprise attacks at night. 

Who are the besiegers? May they build siege weapons? Build a contravallation? 

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Boiling oil seems to be an invention of over-active cinematic imagination, on par with flame arrows in field battles.

Dropped rocks and tossed ones figure even in the battles around Troy - IIRC one of the Ajaxes did a mighty toss.

The Assyrian siege-craft may not have been quite at the level of Caesar's engineers at Alesia, but between them and Alexander at Tyre doesn't seem to be an insurmountable gap on the attackers' side.

Glorantha can do better than molotovs, it has fire elementals, and other similarly powerful entities fairly easily summoned into siege warfare.

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Telling how it is excessive verbis

 

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2 hours ago, Joerg said:

Boiling oil seems to be an invention of over-active cinematic imagination, on par with flame arrows in field battles.

Dropped rocks and tossed ones figure even in the battles around Troy - IIRC one of the Ajaxes did a mighty toss.

Thank you for the info! I know that Runequest is a fantasy game, but I'd rather pull from Homer than Hollywood in this case.

3 hours ago, JRE said:

The defenders have limited resources, unless they can smuggle resources from outside. therefore it may be important to audit the number of projectiles, food and water. Depending on the state of the tower, the buiding itself can be used as a projectile. Hot or burning oil is impressive, but it is a one use trick. It might be better to use the oil for signaling, and to safeguard against surprise attacks at night. 

Who are the besiegers? May they build siege weapons? Build a contravallation? 

I'm going to be running a Borderlands campaign, so I have a few spoilers for a couple of the scenarios in here.

Spoiler

The third scenario involves an attack on a tower that used to belong to a vampire but is now being held by Tusk Riders. The stones are mildly enchanted but mostly for illusionary purposes. I was thinking that they could have an undercroft with fresh water and supplies and could perhaps have traps outside that are sensitive to mounts other than Tuskers. I would also like to have multiple ways for the party to get inside the tower. The module suggests climbing, but Perhaps tunneling, flight, and elemental summoning would work.

There's an assault on a major water temple later in the campaign, but I feel that that is a topic for a completely different topic.

 

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16 minutes ago, Kargzant said:

I'm going to be running a Borderlands campaign, so I have a few spoilers for a couple of the scenarios in here.

Spoiler

I would also like to have multiple ways for the party to get inside the tower.

The module suggests climbing, but Perhaps tunneling, flight, and elemental summoning would work.

When our group completed scenario 3 recently:

Spoiler

Several climbed the tower.  One went all the way to the top, one went in via a window.

My character, a SIZ 19 Humakti, bashed down the front door.  He augmented the roll with a successful Craft (carpentry) to find its weak spots if I recall correctly.  Our GM was probably generous, but it was MGF that way.

Earth elementals would probably work well there, too, although much of the ground around was rocky, so would be difficult to summon them.

 

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Glorantha - The Clanking City has a terrific description of a magical siege, God Learner sorcerers maintaining defences against EWF warriors riding dragons. Might be a bit high powered for a group of third age adventurers, though who knows - the hero wars contain events which dwarf the magic of even the second age.

Edited by EricW
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8 hours ago, Kargzant said:

I was wondering if anyone on this board knows about how a group of warriors holed up in a tower or keep would fight against a siege. I assume that bows and javelins are a given, but what about boiling oil or trapped moats? Is all of that stuff too Medieval? I only know so much about siege warfare and I'm wondering what would be appropriate for a relatively Classical world.

There are a few things that happen in siege warfare, but much depends on the fact that the people in the structure aren't keen about facing the people outside in open warfare.  This makes the guys outside very grumpy as they think it is most unfair and unsporting.

Now the more civilized parts of Glorantha probably can make catapults and ballistae, but they take plenty of effort and are unlikely to bring down walls.  Battering rams against gates are going to be reliable, but the primary siege tool for assaults will be the ladder.  Assyrians had combined battering ram/siege tower tank like things, but while they are legit bronze age tech, I doubt that any Gloranthans have them.

The main ways to win a siege are: (a) direct assault, but it is costly in manpower (b) sapping, but it takes quite a while, and may well be detected and a counter-sap dug (c) subterfuge, but it involves your paid traitor not getting caught while opening the gate (d) infiltration, but it requires a weak point to infiltrate (e) Starvation and disease, but this can affect the besiegers every bit as much as the besieged, and often more-so.

The besiegers will try to get messages out to their friends to relieve them, and sometimes they will sneak out or "sally" to smash the besiegers' plans and equipment.  Getting fresh supplies in, if possible, is a large victory for the besieged.

Historically, most sieges failed to take the fortification if it was at all substantial, but this see-sawed depending on the territory and the period.  Romans, for example were experts at smashing Celtic hill forts, while there are records of some forts in the Middle East never falling largely due to their position.  It is also crucial to recall the actual purpose of fortifications, which is that they are places where a force can retreat to, and if left to stand, will allow them to threaten the besieging army's rear, potentially threatening their supplies.  Besiegers often failed due to disease, as they had no germ theory, and their personal hygiene and toilet habits became increasingly dangerous over time.

The main difference with Glorantha is the availability of magic.  Besieged towns will go to trouble to ward their settlement against enemy magic, and their magical specialists will be in high demand.  There isn't much you can do if a flood of spirits attack, as they are not stopped by thick walls.  By the same token, besiegers are likely to be under-defended against spirit attacks as the besieged.  Some cults such as Maran Gor, Orlanth, Sorcerers (Lunar and Otherwise), and so-forth may have ways of magically circumventing walls, or bombarding the defenders into submission.

As a GM I enjoy running my players and their characters in such situations.  Crucial issues include the speed with which players are able to drop the opposition.  If you aren't able to slay the enemy before you, you will soon face 2, then 3.  If you can slay them quickly, the battle may rapidly turn in your favor.  Fighting on battlements is restricted in terms of how many people can fight at any given time, and will almost always become a struggle to either push ladders down or keep ladders up.  Fighting underground in saps makes swinging weapons worthless, and spears suffer if there are any turns in the tunnel.   These fights will generally degenerate into dirty dagger brawls in the dark.  The issue of supplies becomes one of talking about how the food supply is gradually restricted and the meals get worse, requiring the characters to try to find ways of getting enough to eat as a form of "treasure".  Consider the scenario of breaking into someone's house to steal their fabled wheel of cheese, a perfectly ordinary wheel of hard cheese that happens to be the last cheese in the city, and food that should have been turned in to the siege provisioners.  Will the party turn in this contraband or will they subsist on the precious protein in secret?

 

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10 hours ago, Kargzant said:

I was wondering if anyone on this board knows about how a group of warriors holed up in a tower or keep would fight against a siege. I assume that bows and javelins are a given, but what about boiling oil or trapped moats? Is all of that stuff too Medieval? I only know so much about siege warfare and I'm wondering what would be appropriate for a relatively Classical world.

There's a chapter on fortifications and siege warfare in The Armies & Enemies of Dragon Pass.

https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/296535/The-Armies-and-Enemies-of-Dragon-Pass?src=hottest_filtered

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The main factor in a skirmish level siege is surprise. Climbing when the people on top of the wall are ready is suicide, unless you have strong magical protection, unless you can put more ladders / climbers than there are defenders.

Magic is also more critical in small scale fights, as a good flying warrior / Air elemental can clear the battlement of enemies and allow their companions to reach the top without facing a 20 kg stone in the face. 

Gates usually are reinforced and, in a well designed fortification, accesible from murder holes if it cannot be struck from the battlements.

In case of attack, most defenders will be in the battlements, except for a small reserve, for a sortie or in case the enemy breaches the wall or the gate. At this scale siege machinery is not significant, except for a small ram to use against the gate, or an earth elemental that may play the same role. Missile superiority may force the defenders in the battlement to take cover, so they cannot interfere with climbers. Due to the speed of climb and the likely presence of obstacles in the wall, most assults use ladders, which may be much easier to build on site in Dragon Pass than Prax. 

Discorporated shamans, spirits and some animals can be used for recon, and in the case of a strong shaman they could storm the fortress on their own.

If the defenders are magic savvy, they should have countermeasures to most of this options. Bound ghosts and other spirit options against spirit spies. Netting reinforced with metal and bells to keep fliers away from the battlements. Circles of light and guard dogs against invisible or dark walking infiltrators. Glass or clay shards in potential handholds on the wall to make climbing more difficult, iand negative slopes before the top.

I do not expect the defenders in your case to have access to most of that, except possibly bound spirits, as that is one of their specialties. 

 

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I'd think molten lead wasn't that common either - lead isn't cheap and you need a lot of combustible to melt it.

the 'boiling stuff' of choice was simple water - and more often than not sewer water as it saves the defender's drinkable water. Sand has been used too in the 'nasty hot stuff that infiltrates under armor' role

Edited by Manunancy
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I'd like to know the locations where those lead traces were found - I'd expect them to be in or near  silver mining area - and in sentivie parts of the fortification such as a gathouse's murder holes rather than outer machilations.

Basically in situations where the need for something really nasty justifies the cost - lead being 'premium' compared to 'regular' water

 

 

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11 hours ago, Manunancy said:

I'd like to know the locations where those lead traces were found - I'd expect them to be in or near  silver mining area - and in sentivie parts of the fortification such as a gathouse's murder holes rather than outer machilations.

 

I am afraid I cannot remember precisely, since it dates from touring castles 40 years ago.  There were also many purely lead mining areas as well, so I wouldn't expect it to be localised to that extent.  As you say, it was at gatehouses.

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14 hours ago, Ironwall said:

Even if it wasn't common in the real world considering the existence of the heat metal spell I could see it being used in glorantha

We've got a nice big range of lead near Sartar in the Lead Hills.  Of course, the trolls of the Shadow Plateau will take greatest advantage of it, but humans (and dwarfs) will want to get some of the share too.

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Trolls would not normally melt lead, at least not with heat. So I would expect only the dwarves could afford molten lead, and in most cases it is more efficient and clean to use steam or dwarf fire (like Greek fire, but in Glorantha), or if surprised, shrapnel bombs, so damage to the stonework is low.. 

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1 hour ago, JRE said:

So I would expect only the dwarves could afford molten lead, and in most cases it is more efficient and clean to use steam or dwarf fire (like Greek fire, but in Glorantha), or if surprised, shrapnel bombs, so damage to the stonework is low

I imagine gustbran cultist would have access to heat metal spell so any place with a forge is liable to be able to utalize molten metal in general

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I played an Argan Argar priest-king who commanded the defense of a settlement through a siege, during Storm Season of 1627.  A brief one, because we sallied out early and forced a conclusion to the affair.  Here is how that went:

Spoiler

The defending force was a heterogenous collection of peoples from across Dragon Pass: Old Tarshite axe-women, Sartarite Orlanthi (both locals and allies come from  neighboring Colymar lands), dark trolls and trollkin, a few aldryami, Grazelander riders (led by my character's siblings-in-law), and a war-pack of Telmori.

The attacking force was a combination of three mercenary bands sent by the king of Tarsh: the Company of the Manticore from The Smoking Ruin, a band made up primarily of Thanatari Tusk Riders, and a company of Cacodemon-worshiping ogres supported by summoned and magically controlled Chaos horrors.

Our settlement lay on a plateau, at the southern end of an old mountain trade trail that rolls north past Wintertop into the heart of Tarsh.  The invaders set out as soon as the passes were sufficiently clear of snow, during a warm week of mid-Storm Season.  Our settlement was on good terms with the Shaker Temple and the Old Tarshites, and through them we got some advance warning of the enemy marching south.  Each side numbered in the hundreds at most: significant forces by the standards of Third Age Glorantha, but only barely 'armies' as such.  Our preparations took a few forms.

We prepared considerable earthworks.  We dug trenches and pits, filled with sharpened stakes and hundreds of live snakes from our earth temple, disguised by rapid growth of grass and shrubs courtesy of our aldryami, to better control where the invaders could reliably launch attacks.

Our disparate forces spent significant time training to coordinate together.  As just one example, the Grazelander horse warriors spent many nights in the weeks before the siege practicing riding over our prepared fighting ground in the dark of night, to ready them and their mounts for maneuvering under the cover of Darkness magic like Affix Darkness and Create Shadow.

We offered worship and sacrifices to the oreiad of the mountains neighboring our settlement, through which the enemy would have to pass.  When the enemy was a week out we called on her to bring about a landslide across the path of their march, considerably slowing the enemy's approach, stretching their supplies and giving us extra time to prepare.  We had to swear an oath to the mountain spirit to repair her trails when the fighting was done, of course.

We made two attempts at diplomacy, once while the enemy was still far off and once just before the final confrontation.  They refused all attempts to dissuade them from attacking, and so we began operations against them.  I based my strategy on accounts of troll warfare from Second Age Glorantha: a campaign of guerilla skirmishing and sabotage, bleeding and immiserating the enemy for as long as possible in preparation for final, decisive counterattack at a place of our choosing--in this case, the foot of our plateau.

We began harassing the enemy well before they reached our settlement.  Our Telmori, troll and Orlanthi elements lured the mercenaries' scouts and vanguard into ambushes in the favorable terrain of the mountains, taking prisoners and denying them the freedom to forage on their march.  Our troll magicians summoned insects to foul the invaders' supplies and inflict general misery in their camp.  The enemy were known to be consorting with Chaos, while our settlement's founding myth was the Unity Battle that defeated the last Chaos horde of the Gods War--with a peaceful resolution off the table, very few rules of war were observed by either side, and invaders captured in this preliminary stage were given to our settlement's Kyger Litor and Zorak Zoran cults for sacrifice.

My character and our community's wyter (an arachnid spirit with serpentine characteristics) were both highly skilled spirit combatants.  We kept our preparations secret from discorporate eyes by carefully trapping and devouring spirit spies sent by the invaders.

When the enemy finally reached striking distance of our settlement we mustered most of our defense in the valley below our plateau, behind our earthworks.  My Argan Argar priest-king cast Affix Darkness over the part of the earthworks where we'd built a ramp to facilitate a sudden, devastating downhill charge by the Grazelanders, shrouding the weakest point of our field fortifications in midnight darkness.  The Thanatari and the Company of the Manticore met us in the valley, while the ogres relied on their sheer brawn and the cover of their flying Chaos monsters to attempt an assault up the side of the plateau with mountaineering equipment.

In the valley, before general fighting commenced, the Thanatari sent forward a champion to challenge our best to personal combat: a Chaos-tainted great troll wielding a two-handed sword, with the animate severed head of a vanquished Humakti affixed to his shoulder by a bronze spike run through the Chaotic troll's flesh.  Our best was an Esrolian Babeester Gor initiate, who stepped out of the shroud of Affix Darkness to face the troll.  She beheaded the troll with her axe in the first exchange of blows, chopped the Humakti's head free of the troll's corpse for good measure, and withdrew back into the darkness with both heads without saying a word.

The Thanatari captain rode forward then and attempted to dispel the Affixed Darkness with the stolen magic of his animated heads, but he failed to overcome our magic.  Frustrated, he began a great sorcerous shaping to smite the patch of darkness (we learned later it was a high-MP Moonfire spell, which could've caused devastation), but we answered with volleys of lead slingstones from our trollkin, and a lone fire arrow my character's Yelornan sister-in-law, to disrupt his casting.  The moment his casting failed we finally charged out of the darkness, Grazelander cavalry and were-form Telmori first, with the troll, trollkin and human infantry close behind.  The warriors from our settlement took on the Thanatari while our allies from Clearwine engaged the Company of the Manticore on the other side of the field, shieldwall to shieldwall.

The ogre mercenaries, meanwhile, had to contend with an hasty gathering of our townsfolk simply dropping rocks down the side of the plateau on them as they climbed.  Our settlement was an only recently restored ruin; between new building materials and old debris, there was plenty of masonry to drop.  Supporting the human townsfolk were our aldryami contingent, firing with their elf bows at the ogres' flying monsters and climbing soldiers.  Those ogres who actually reached the top were met by a huge Earth elemental summoned by our settlement's Ernalda priestess.  The day went poorly for them, in spite of their monsters and their leader's cruel magic, which summoned enslaved spirits to attack and possess our people.

On the valley floor, the Thanatari company wavered while the Company of the Manticore held firm.  The Thanatari performed a Chaos-corrupted invocation to the Bloody Tusk, conjuring a rush of acidic blood onto the battlefield, but our Kyger Litor cultists used the power of our earlier sacrifices to summon the ghost of a great Mistress Race ancestress, who neutralized the Chaotic magic with her own power.  My character, stalking the battlefield under the cloak of Dark Walk through the shadows created by our storm-worshipers' manipulation of the weather, commanding through song and the telepathy of the community's wyter, managed to slay the Thanatari captain's tusker with his braced fighting lance, then clobbered them unconscious with a heavy mace as they struggled to free themselves from the weight of their mount's corpse.

The centaur commander of the Company of the Manticore fought the leader of our allies, Annstad of Dunstop (fighting nude under a coat of woad), in an honor duel that ended only when Annstad's sword was ruined.  The Company of the Manticore threw back the Colymar forces and charged our settlement's contingent, but by then they were simply too few and exhausted.  Their defeat was sealed when we called up our last reserve: out of the caves beneath our settlement rushed Zorak Zoran trolls and animated dead they'd made from the prisoners captured in the mountains.  The Company fought until their commander was finally brought down (unconscious) by my character's lance and the lightning of a duck weaponthane. 

With their commander defeated the rest of the Company of the Manticore surrendered, and as the only contingent of the invaders who were not direct Chaos worshipers we took them as prisoners under honorable terms.  The ogres fled into the trackless mountains, while the Thanatari attempted to retrace the invaders' steps back up the northward trail.  A sudden avalanche swept down over the Thanatari as they fled, annihilating the last of them and their tuskers in a matter of seconds--a second, unasked-for gift from the oreiad of our mountains. 

The survivors of the Company of the Manticore we ransomed back to their respective homelands, and between those and the mercenary companies'  captured paychests  and baggage our young settlement was suddenly flush with wealth.  The Thanatari and ogres we didn't kill were offered to Arachne Solara in that year's Sacred Time rites just a few weeks later, including the Thanatari commander, and all the animated heads of their past victims were ceremonially smashed and cleansed with the assistance of the Colymar Lhankor Mhy cult.

 

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1 hour ago, JRE said:

Trolls would not normally melt lead, at least not with heat.

There is a cult of trollish sorcerer-smiths in the HeroQuest book Unspoken Word: Uz.  They are regarded as bizarre, dangerous tricksters by all right-thinking trolls for their willingness to work with flame and heated metal, but I'm sure they're capable of all sorts of horrific siege engineering when it comes to applications of boiling lead.

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If I remember right there's also some Zorak-zoran worshiping smiths that play that game too - though it might be that same group's way to gain some official standing with other trolls. Zorak Zoranis aren't peculiar when it comes to improving their fighting abilities. - if it's not chaotic and it works, it's fair game. forging soem cool war toys for other zorak-zoranis sounds like a good way to get a bunch of figthy friends in case of need.

Edited by Manunancy
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In Troll Gods for RQ3, troll smiths are presented as usually spirit cult worshippers of Lodril, who can use the Heat Metal spell to melt lead without fire if necessary. I think in RQG this would be Gustbran instead, Lodril son and the patron of forges and kilns and those who use them (though trolls do have a relationship with Lodril). Troll smiths also sometimes use fire, though ones that generate mostly heat rather than light - and other trolls think of them as suspicious magicians because of it. 

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