The PCs: Corporal Scratch, Rag, Ghost, and Cranes.
NPCs: Foul, Shank, Cardshark, and Little Horse.
Location: Fort Pine, along the Great Tragic River, in the Great Forest, north of the Barrowlands.
The thaw has arrived with a vengeance. The ground is a muddy morass, fire
It's a week after the southern trip (last session). Injuries have healed, but bellies are still near empty as the Nightstalkers and the Imperial Garrison are all on quarter-rations disguised as half-rations by adding lots of water to the soup.
The hunting which the Nightstalkers had used to supplement their pots has ended with the thaw, and the ensuing cordon the natives have thrown around the Fort. It's a bad time for the Nightstalkers, morale is low.
Morale is lower among the Imperial Garrison. Not allowed to forage (Major Rasp's effort to stave off desertion), their ranks are crippled by the bloody flux.
The group is mustered out by the sharply dressed Lt Preen. Even he can't keep the mud off his boots and cloak-hem. Time to go meet the honchos. On the way a couple spot-checks reveal no visible figures along the northern wall. Investigation seems in order. Scratch divides the squad into halves to search the wall, and sends Little Horse back to muster out the Battalion. Ghost finds the dead guard, an Imperial with a stab wound in his chest, with no sign of struggle. Like many forced to stand guard on cold nights the Imperial had left his armour behind, knowing his officers wouldn't check late at night.
Further investigation shows that someone crossed the wall, whether in or out isn't known.
Preen organizes a muster parade and a search.
Late for the meeting, the squad hustle up to the Tower.
All the Battalion's Sergeants are gathered around a large table with Commander Ironhand and the chilling mage Ghoul. A hand-drawn map of the area is spread out across it. Ironhand begins the briefing. Faced with no resupply, and a tightening cordon, Ironhand plans to strike out. The Battalion will head north towards the Warriors' Way, a long ravine that allows easy access up the Escarpment that cuts the Northern Tribes from the Southern Tribes. Then it will dog-leg east and force march to Cho-hattuk village, which Ghoul's magic* has revealed is being used to supply the substantial number of Northern Tribe warriors gathering in the Southern Tribes' region.
At the dog-leg, Omelet's platoon will escort Scratch's Squad to the base of the Escarpment. Here Ironhand deferred to Ghoul.
Ghoul began explaining that each spring young shaman apprentices gather in the Heart of the Forest, a region sacred to the tribes, for a month (lunar cycle) of fasting and ritual. They spend much of the time fasting in isolated locations. It's was Scratch's Squad's job to kill them. Without shamen the tribes have difficulty co-operating, this blow could have long term effects in the Great Forest.
Finally, Rag is ordered to follow Ghoul up to his workshop. It's a grisly scene involving a flayed native maintained by magic. Rag's blood is added into a ritual. Ghoul presents Rag with a rune-engraved tibia. Breaking it will activate a spell that will guard versus scrying, that will last about a day.**
Drills and prep follow. After some hot "soup" the Battalion deploys scouts and marches out before dawn. The going is tough, very muddy, and the scout report almost continual tribal sightings. On the second night scouts report larger-scale movement. The tribes are gathering for battle.
Here the role-playing ends and the war-gaming begins. Each player was assigned a company of 96 Nightstalkers (4 squads of 8, 3 platoons of 32). Ironhand's Heavy Infantry Veterans (5th level warriors). Ash's Heavy Infantry Trained+ (3rd lvl warriors). Omelet's Light Infantry (Sword and Bow) Trained+ (3rd level warriors), and Catnap's Light Infantry Trained+ (3rd level warriors).
Across the forest-scattered meadows are 5 128-man bands of young un-blooded tribesmen (2nd lvl warriors), 4 128-man bands of seasoned tribesmen (3rd level warriors), and one 128-man band of "Shaman's Guard (5th lvl warriors)." The Nightstalkers are outnumbered by over 3 to 1!
A lot of Command rolls later, and the young warriors begin to move forward quickly, the seasoned warriors lagging back. There is no discipline in their approach, the woods shred the barbarians' battle lines, and they approach in a serried front. Concentrated arrow fire manages to shake, then break one of the young bands. Then the swamp arrives. Ironhand's company combines Set vs Charge and their veteran status witgh lethal efficiency. The young bands literaly explode on contact, and allow Catnip's company to harrass additional units with fire. Ash's and Omelet's flank doesn't do so well. Omelet uses the Advantage and rolls an 8 and a 9. Not impressive. Both companies take injuries, and during the course of the combat Omelet's company starts to shake, then breaks. Given "cover" by Ash's company Omelet's company has a chance to reform.
The seasoned warriors flood in. On the left Ironhand continues to shatter the enemy (using the advantage he rolled double 18s), and with the help of Catnap's missile fire and "Charge" Command feat the entire flank is cleared. Ash's company holds it's own (it "misses" twice, rolling 1s). Omelet's company takes a fourth injury and is broken again. It's looking like a whole company will be lost! After slogging away through the mud and the blood, Ironhand's company flanks and destroys a seasoned band, freeing Ash's company to rescue Omelet's company.
Catnip's company chases the retiring Shaman's band, peppering them with missile fire. Injuring them a number of times they cannot prevent them from retiring in good order.
Now the mop-up begins. Catnip and Ironhand took 10% (minimum) casualties, Omelet and Ash took 30% casualties. With the tribal warband shattered the Battalion dog-leg towards the village begins, and Omelet strings together a platoon to watch wounded, a platoon to escort Scratch's battered squad, and the secret mission waits for next game...
*Ghoul's magical interrogation of a prisoner.
**Alternate rules for duration. Alternate rules for "lynch-pins" on spells, not really an embed as the bone is destroyed on completion. Really just a GM's Fiat "Freedom vs Scrying/Detection" for 1 day.