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Scorpio Rising

Sieging a Heortling Hill-Fort

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Spoiler warning: In the incredibly unlikely event that you might be playing in one of my games at this year's u-con, please avoid this thread.

First-time poster here, long-time Glorantha reader and excited to be running my first two Gloranthan games - a pair of one-shots at a gaming con this fall.

For my Heroquest: Glorantha one-shot I will be running the last night of the siege of Road End, one of the forts that King Tarkalor, Troll-Killer created on the road he built to Whitewall to protect the land and travelers from the depradations of the Kitori half-Trolls.  According to the Heroquest Dragon Pass book, the fort was besieged and eventually conquered by an army of mercenaries from Volsaxiland led by Baron Sanuel.

I think I know a little bit about bronze age siege warfare and what that would be like, but I'm still wrapping my head around how to think about Gloranthan magic and particularly its tactical, militaristic use.  What kinds of magic would a besieging army use?  And what kinds of magic would the defenders have access to?  Ideally, I'd like the defenders to have been able to hold out for several weeks or even months of siege so the two should be somewhat balanced.  I think there's precedent for that since eg. Boldhome held out against the Imperial Army for a much more extended time than that.

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2 hours ago, Scorpio Rising said:

I think there's precedent for that since eg. Boldhome held out against the Imperial Army for a much more extended time than that.

Boldhome fell pretty quickly.  It was Whitewall that held out for some time.

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Boldhome is less defensible than Whitewall and has three times the population. 

Whitewall (from the guide): An impregnable fortress built atop solid rock, it is surrounded by high gleaming white stone walls some 50 feet high and 30 feet thick, and the city is well-provided with granaries and wells. 

I think even with magic the basic rules apply. Sieges are massively expensive undertakings, far more than seasonal warfare. I recall someplace that an advantage of 4:1 is required for a successful siege (although that related to the Italian Wars). As the attacker your job is to cut off the food supply and hope their morale breaks before help arrives or you run out of money and have to leave.Laying siege to an ancillary fort is slightly different in that all you need to do is keep them occupied until the main job (Whitewall) is accomplished. Who's to say that Sanuel overstepped his mark by pillaging the fort.

As the defender your main job is keeping the water clean (hunting and destroying disease spirits), managing food reserves, preventing fires (water elementals), shoring up defences (earth elements), keeping up morale (both with fort elders and commoners) and maintaining communication with the outside (knowing the state for play with Whitewall is key for keeping morale). And there is the occasional sortie to harass the attackers vulnerable spots. Lots to keep enterprising players happy. Remember too that the fate of the fort is determined, so the most the PC's can hope for is minimising casualties. 

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2 hours ago, Scorpio Rising said:

Thanks for the correction.  But to my question, how come?

That's mainly Tatius delaying decisive action in order to have as big a magical build-up as possible, sacrificing troops over and over again in a parallel to the Carmanian Seven Year Build-up in their war against the Dara Happans where the Carmanians sacrificed an army and the brother of the Shah for a decisive magical advantage.

59 minutes ago, Psullie said:

Boldhome is less defensible than Whitewall and has three times the population.

Not quite true. Boldhome saw the full might of the empire, including a (capable) mask of the Emperor, and Jar-eel leading Lunar priestesses down impossible cliffs using a Lunar magic that caused the Red Moon to receive scars when defenders of Boldhome launched themselves into the air to stop or at least delay them.

The Empire then called up magical ramps of moonlight within days after the arrival in Killard Vale and the dragon intercepting the Crimson Bat. They sent up dragonewt warrior mercenaries for the suicidal initial charge.

 

59 minutes ago, Psullie said:

Whitewall (from the guide): An impregnable fortress built atop solid rock, it is surrounded by high gleaming white stone walls some 50 feet high and 30 feet thick, and the city is well-provided with granaries and wells. 

Not just solid rock, but steeply rising solid rock. @Jeff used to compare Whitewall to Masada in terms of defensibility.

 

59 minutes ago, Psullie said:

I think even with magic the basic rules apply. Sieges are massively expensive undertakings, far more than seasonal warfare. I recall someplace that an advantage of 4:1 is required for a successful siege (although that related to the Italian Wars). 4

The Edwardian castles held off several hundred Welsh warriors with as few as 13 or 19 defenders at Conway and Caernarfon for weeks, allowing support to arrive via the sea, so the ratio on a really good defensible fortress could be a lot higher.

59 minutes ago, Psullie said:

As the attacker your job is to cut off the food supply and hope their morale breaks before help arrives or you run out of money and have to leave.Laying siege to an ancillary fort is slightly different in that all you need to do is keep them occupied until the main job (Whitewall) is accomplished. Who's to say that Sanuel overstepped his mark by pillaging the fort.

Most sieges end in disease, famine, treachery or settlements. Sieges may be lifted by relief forces attacking. Alesia is fairly unique in forcing the relief forces to lay a siege on the besieging forces.

Pillaging the besieged object is the normal course of warfare, and it takes extremely disciplined troops to obey the command not to pillage. A credit to the professional forces under Sor-eel's command in the Cradle scenario or Fazzur's forces at Karse 1619. Unheard of in the case of mercenary forces (except dragonewts).

 

Sanuel would have had greater logistical problems at Roadend than the defenders, even with bleeding the surrounding lands (kin of the defenders) white. His contract with the Lunars might help getting supplies delivered, but only subject to availability and priority. Sanuel was lucky that Fazzur still was in command of the overall campaign.

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To attempt to answer the original question:

Most battle magic (or what you neophytes (:)) call Spirit Magic) is oriented toward just that, battle, as in melee.  However, a little imagination can go a long way.  Offensively, Firearrow or Ignite could be used to set flammables afire, Fanaticism could be used to push raiders to be more, umm, fanatical in a sally, Invisibility and/or Silence (or the Rune magic spell Concealment) to hide them, Demoralize to work on individual defenders who are in line of sight, etc.  Defensively, Countermagic, Dispel Magic, Extinguish, and Repair could all have their uses depending on the application, Warding (Rune magic) could protect areas from intrusion, and the above-named offensive spells could be used by the defenders.  There are also a number of informational spells that might apply for either side:  various Detects, Detection Blank to try to counter them, Farsee, Mindspeech/Mind Link, and Vision (the last two being Rune magic).  Cult-specific Rune or Battle magic could also apply, but the spells are far too numerous to deal with individually, and this is by no means an exhaustive list anyway.

As for access, that depends primarily on the people and cults involved.  (Given the time usually involved in a siege, enterprising defenders might even have time to teach appropriate spells to their allies in the interim.)

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On 10/24/2017 at 6:55 AM, Joerg said:

Most sieges end in disease, famine, treachery or settlements.

This is what my game is all about.  The pitch I submitted reads

Quote

Everyone knows that tomorrow Roadend fort will fall to the besieging Lunar army.

I'm interested in that final moment of breakdown when the writing is on the wall and the end is clearly nigh.  The players will generate their own agendas for their PCs and explain what they're doing in Road End to begin with and then we'll just crank into play until the whole thing comes tumbling down.

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As you are using HeroQuest, the magic is going to work differently from the time limits of RQs magic. Also it depends what the Lunars are going to bring with them in the way of magical support. If any units of the College of Magic are present, that will change the approach. See HeroQuest Glorantha for details on them. For me the balance will be about are their enough lunars to overrun the defences. Given enough soldiers and a path to the objective - they will get in at a cost, a forlorn hope (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Forlorn_hope) operation, but possible if the enemy want the objective. Versus the story inside the siege - what the players do. My players would certainly want to break the siege in some way of their own devising or save the inhabitants and get away cleanly under the Lunars noses, like Whitewall - empty when the Lunars got in. Magical escape is much more likely.

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Come to think of it, if we're talking Kerofinela, then you also have to decide how prevalent and effective Orlanthi flying and jumping magic are, in your Glorantha.  Gnomes and flight are both potentially huge game changers for sieges, depending how you interpret them.

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On 24/10/2017 at 4:06 AM, Scorpio Rising said:

I think I know a little bit about bronze age siege warfare and what that would be like, but I'm still wrapping my head around how to think about Gloranthan magic and particularly its tactical, militaristic use.  What kinds of magic would a besieging army use?  And what kinds of magic would the defenders have access to?  Ideally, I'd like the defenders to have been able to hold out for several weeks or even months of siege so the two should be somewhat balanced.  I think there's precedent for that since eg. Boldhome held out against the Imperial Army for a much more extended time than that.

There are two types of magic to consider: immediate and ritual.

Immediate magic is the kind of personal augment that HQ has an initiate using via an affinity, and even a feat used by a devotee who has heroformed. Immediate magic makes you a more effective fighter, more accurate, more deadly, etc. and will certainly be used to augment shock troops trying to break a siege or defenders trying to hold a line. it doesn't really change the nature of conflict though.

Of course if you are looking at the Trajan War as a model, you might decide that the defenders don't simply sit behind their walls, they may sally forth and fight battles of champions or massed forces. Bronze Age warfare has a lot less seige equipment availble, beyond scaling ladders or rams, and so there are fewer decisive weapons for the siege (unless dwarf made) Immediate magic is going to allow the more enhanced heroes to triumph there.

The Eleven Lights has a discussion of that kind of warfare, derived from Thunder Rebels and Gathering Thunder.

Ritual magic takes time, but of course in a seige both sides have time. Ritual magic can weave far greater effects than personal magic as it is priests working in concert, particularly with something like the Lunar College of Magic. Ritual Magic may well make a difference to a siege by creating area attacks that attack combatants or fortifications. One way to improvise this is to think about anachronisitc weapons from the medieval or even later period, and imagine how magic might be able to create a similar effect: siege ramps or tunnels, siege towers, battering rams, flaming oil etc. Don't make the creation to obvious, think about the effects of medieveal siege weaponry and have a ritual that achieves a similar effect, otherwise not possible for a bronze age culture.

The Cradle. from the old RQ Pavis example is a great example of attackers and defenders of  a 'fortification;.

In The Eleven Lights we do also include details of the Liberation of Red Cow Fort, but more specifically The Freedom Battle, which will give you an idea of how Gloranthan battles can be influenced by magic.

 

 

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On ‎10‎/‎24‎/‎2017 at 4:06 AM, Scorpio Rising said:

I think I know a little bit about bronze age siege warfare and what that would be like, but I'm still wrapping my head around how to think about Gloranthan magic and particularly its tactical, militaristic use.  What kinds of magic would a besieging army use?  And what kinds of magic would the defenders have access to? 

The first necessary question is: Who are the besieging army?

At the beginning of the Hero Wars the Lunars are the only force with access to magical regiments such as the Crater Makers (who can bombard an enemy fortification with meteors from the Moon) or the Seven of Vistur (who created massive siege ramps to permit entry into Whitewall - and were later themselves devoured in the Dragonrise).

Other powerful magics are available to some priests and sorcerers, and many forms of magic may be suitable for breaching, shaking down or shattering fortifications (an Earth Elemental can attempt to undermine walls, a Fire Elemental can attempt to crack stones with heat, or set fire to the wood used in many hill-fort walls) etc.

The second necessary question is: who or what are they besieging?

Obviously, any significant fortification is going to have some defenses against magical attack (Whitewall is an ancient sacred temple-fortress), Runegate has shrines at its entrances to Humakt to ward off undead, and if you have a copy of Sun County, that has several pages about the defenses of a temple site. Many hill-forts in Sartar are built upon truly ancient foundations, going back to Vingkotling times and may have inherited some of the ancient magical defenses, though probably weakened over Time. The defending wyter, whilst probably limited in offensive actions, probably has some for defense of its home.

It is unlikely that a mere hill-fort would be the target for major magical regiments. However, a contingent of priests or sorcerers (regimental or temple based) might be sent to support an attack.

The third question is - how tied to the terrestrial Bronze Age do you want to be? And where?

Gloranthan military capabilities are in places fairly rooted in our Bronze Age, in others, not so much. The Lunars, for example use things such as circumvallation, in a lengthy siege, a strategy we can only date back to Classical Greek and Roman times. There was also a wide spread of technologies in our Bronze Age, and hill-forts weren't built to withstand siege engines, and didn't when the Romans arrived. I believe one of the skeletons unearthed at Maiden Castle still had the head of a Roman ballista bolt embedded in their spine... The Lunars appear to have roughly Assyrian technologies available to them (and if the Assyrians had been present in Bronze Age Europe they'd have had the capability to take almost any hill-fort...) And we know there are ballista and other bolt throwing devices (the Dara Happans have some mounted on chariots - but they need a lot of effort to keep them working...) The definition of the Bronze Age differs significantly between regions (Europe roughly 3200–600 BC, Near East roughly 3300–1200 BC) and Glorantha can't be mapped onto a single time or place. Ballista are firmly Iron Age in our world, but are available to some armies (and navies) in Glorantha...

There's considerable debate about siege warfare in the Mycenaean/Anatolian region. Peter Connolly's The Legend of Odysseus includes the suggestion that the Trojan Horse was in fact a siege engine, possibly a raised ram or borer.

So you can be fairly certain that the besiegers will have battering rams, and might even have other siege engines - but these are expensive, and difficult and slow to transport.

Below are some images of Assyrian siege engines, mostly from around 700-600 BC. The painting by Peter Connolly might be taken as a Dara Happan attack on a city in Saird...

 

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0d6c33c7ebde5401b07e698a429bf5a8.jpg

68741455cec89e5c99346a69d5f20f2f (3).jpg

Edited by M Helsdon
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Peter Connolly's reconstruction of the Trojan Horse as a Bronze Age ram. His The Legend of Odysseus is a children's book, but something anyone interested in Bronze Age warfare should have.

Trojan Horse.png

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2 hours ago, M Helsdon said:

 

0d6c33c7ebde5401b07e698a429bf5a8.jpg

Obviously a Dalek! ;)  

In Gloranthan terms, clearly a dwarf assault vehicle, perhaps used in the attack on the Clanking City (or perhaps still guarding it).

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1 hour ago, M Helsdon said:

Angus McBride's version of an Assyrian siege. I doubt anyone would invest a hill-fort using such engines.

The little dome on top is suggestive of a device designed in Yuthuppa.

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6 hours ago, M Helsdon said:

Angus McBride's version of an Assyrian siege. I doubt anyone would invest a hill-fort using such engines.

 

mcbride siege.jpg

The Siege of Nochet perhaps? A Lunar Collegiate Magician/Dara Happan Priest of Yelm prepares to fire 'Orogeria's Bow'/'The Sun-Bow of Yelm's Displeasure'.

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12 hours ago, jajagappa said:

The little dome on top is suggestive of a device designed in Yuthuppa.

I wonder why it is a hemisphere? The siege engine has a prefabricated look to it - transported to the battlefield in pieces and assembled there. I would of thought that a dome was more difficult than say a square based pyramid or an angled roof to make.

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8 hours ago, Brian McReynolds said:

The Siege of Nochet perhaps? A Lunar Collegiate Magician/Dara Happan Priest of Yelm prepares to fire 'Orogeria's Bow'/'The Sun-Bow of Yelm's Displeasure'.

Or maybe Whitewall?

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5 hours ago, David Scott said:

I wonder why it is a hemisphere? The siege engine has a prefabricated look to it - transported to the battlefield in pieces and assembled there. I would of thought that a dome was more difficult than say a square based pyramid or an angled roof to make.

Given that it does seem more difficult to make a dome, it would imply that there was a special reason for having a hemispherical roof, i.e. it wasn't just about practicality/protection. Perhaps there was a religious/ritual significance to the dome? Perhaps calling on the gods to help protect those inside?

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10 hours ago, David Scott said:

I wonder why it is a hemisphere? The siege engine has a prefabricated look to it - transported to the battlefield in pieces and assembled there. I would of thought that a dome was more difficult than say a square based pyramid or an angled roof to make.

Given the source, which provides very little detail, I suspect the dome is hide stretched over a frame. The Assyrians may well have prefabricated some of their siege engines.

Having spent several hours over many years wandering the Assyrian galleries at the British Museum, I've always felt that the artisans carved with a fair degree of accuracy things they had seen for themselves (soldiers, chariots, cavalry) but things they hadn't seen for themselves were always a bit 'off'. This siege engine looks like something described to the artists, but which they hadn't seen for themselves. There are similar issues with the warships and ships shown sailing from Tyre...

Connolly and McBride were both superb artists, but their reconstructions of the siege engine differ in scale and in detail, which is telling.

Edited by M Helsdon
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16 hours ago, M Helsdon said:

Given the source, which provides very little detail, I suspect the dome is hide stretched over a frame.

I can certainly understand that, however that is a bit mystifying as well - surely arrow would go through?

16 hours ago, M Helsdon said:

Having spent several hours over many years wandering the Assyrian galleries at the British Museum, I've always felt that the artisans carved with a fair degree of accuracy things they had seen for themselves (soldiers, chariots, cavalry) but things they hadn't seen for themselves were always a bit 'off'. This siege engine looks like something described to the artists, but which they hadn't seen for themselves. There are similar issues with the warships and ships shown sailing from Tyre...

Connolly and McBride were both superb artists, but their reconstructions of the siege engine differ in scale and in detail, which is telling.

That makes complete sense. These is another picture of a similar siege engine that has a spiked prisoner on top of it. The prisoner is part of a different scene and the spikes are on small domes, the small dome looks like its on the siege engine, but is clearly part of the other section. This gives the engine a different turret top. I wonder if this isn't a case of copy error:

http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/collection_online/collection_object_details/collection_image_gallery.aspx?assetId=111886001&objectId=369052&partId=1

top of the engine / spike bottoms

http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/collection_online/collection_object_details/collection_image_gallery.aspx?partid=1&assetid=359774001&objectid=369052

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