Last night saw the end of the PC’s role as the Heroes of Redhold, an Avvarian settlement in the Frostback Mountains of Ferelden, and it ended on a kick ass note that truly showed how much stunts can turn the tide of battle in the Dragon Age RPG.  First, a quick recap, and be warned, there are spoilers here for the “Where Eagles Lair” adventure from the Blood in Ferelden supplement.

The party was tasked with defending the settlement from a horde of Darkspawn, in exchange for information about a kidnapped noble’s daughter.  The siege was designed as a series of three phases, with the first phase having them face three times as many genlocks as PCs before  moving on the to the following phase.  You can read about that here.

Last night’s game saw the PCs involved in phases two and three of the siege.  Here’s a quick recap of how it went, and what I took from it.

Phase two began about twenty minutes after the first phase ended.  I felt generous and decided that the PCs would have a chance to regroup and bring themselves back up to full health to face the coming assault.  And a dangerous assault it was.  The encounter called for the players to have to kill 12 darkspawn (3 times the number of PCs) before they could move on to the next phase.  The darkspawn came over the wall at a rate of 1d6 every 2 rounds.  The players had the option of toppling ladders with a Strength test (TN 13), leading to the automatic death of the darkspawn on the ladder.  As you could probably tell, it’s a tough encounter with the possibility of the party quickly facing tough odds.

Our party is made up of a Ferelden Freeman Warrior, an Avaarian Warrior, a City Elf Warrior and a Dalish Elf Mage.  The combination of poor rolling on Strength checks and good rolling by me quickly escalated the situation out of control.  I had to decide at that moment between going by the encounter as written, or deciding what would be cool, cinematic and fun for the players.  Instead of having to destroy 12 darkspawns, I changed it to 10.  The reason I did this is because there was a disproportionate number of darkspawn on the wall versus the players, and because if what I was hoping would happen, happened, it would end the encounter in a cool way.  I essentially took a gamble that paid off.  Here’s how it went down…

The party faced waves of Darkspawn, and up to about the 10th round of combat, held their own rather well, but then one of the warriors dropped, then another.  Under the death rules in Dragon Age, each had 5 rounds to lay there dying before they truly expired, so they had a bit of time.  The two remaining PC’s did their best to hold of the onslaught, and at the last minute, when the 10th darkspawn was taking some, but not a lot of damage, the mage cast his  Heal on the first PC that had gone down.  His “death” countdown die showed this was his last round, so he was raised just in time… but then the mage got stunt points!  So he cast Heal again on the other PC!  So with both PCs back up, and the last darkspawn that had to die not too hurt, the stunts came into play again.  One of the healed warriors attacked, and generated stunt points!  The encounter has special siege stunts available, and we used “Bring the Rain” which plays out as if the PC were calling for the archers to unleash a storm of arrows on the battlefield, and can either cause 3d6 damage to three enemies, or instantly kill one.  They chose to kill the darkspawn and with this the 2nd phase of combat ended.  The remaining darkspawn pulled back and retreated, for now… But you can imagine how awesome this played out in the player’s heads… Two warriors dying, the wall overrun with darkspawn, the mage pulls out a last-minute Heal for both warriors, who rise and one of them inspires the archers to bring it!  It was cinematic, exciting, and really showed the PCs just how dangerous this game can be.  It was exactly what I wanted to happen.

The next encounter happens about an hour later.  It involves the darkspawn returning with a siege engine of sorts… a dreaded blight-tainted bear, a Bereskarn!

A 15-foot blight tainted bear.

Now this encounter I tweaked a bit, and also ran it completely off the grid.  It worked out perfectly.  Here’s how this one played out:

The encounter calls for the Bereskarn to approach the main gates of the wall, led by 5 darkspawn controlling it with chains.  The other darkspawn stay away due to the feral nature of the beast. In fact, the bear ate one of its handlers as it approached the gates.  The encounter began outside the gates, and since it was an hour after the second encounter, I gave the PCs max health.  The battlefield was laid out with the bear in front of the gates, and a darkspawn holding a chain attached to the beast’s limbs, while another one was behind it.

I gave the players the option of attacking the darkspawn in the front so that they’d let go of the chains and make the creature a possible victim of the bear’s random and unpredictable attacks.  The bear would slam the gate and in 8 rounds, would topple it, allowing the awaiting horde entrance to the hold.

So we had a timed encounter at play.  The players were nervous.  I also looked at their stats, their abilities, and decided to raise the ante.  I jacked up the bear’s hitpoints a bit.  This was going to be a hard fight.

In the end, due to lucky rolls, stunts, and brute strength, the players defeated the bear with enough time.  He got some good claw attacks in there, and stunted a few times allowing him to follow-up the claws with a bite.  He wasn’t an easy opponent by any means, but I felt that the encounter was a bit underwhelming for it being the third and final phase of the siege.

The gridless combat worked well because there wasn’t much movement.  Basically, two PCs stayed at range, the mage and a warrior with a crossbow.  The two other PCs were at melee with the bear, and I’d roll a d6 to randomly select a victim of the bear’s attacks.  If the ranged PC’s attacked a darkspawn, he’d let go of the chains and become part of the bear’s possible victims, possibly giving the PC’s a damage-free round.

Once again, a stunt killed the bear, with another “Bring the Rain” unleashing hell on the bear as the keep gates almost come off the hinges.  The horde retreated, and the PCs lived to fight another day, becoming heroes and possible being future recruits for Grey Wardens to look into.  Stopping a darkspawn horde is something that would certainly grab their attention after all…

Again, it was a wonderful night of Dragon Age.  We are loving the game, the speed of combats, and the different feel it has when compared to D&D.  Have you guys run this adventure?  I’d love to read your comments about it.