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The Variscan War

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Imperial debacles, heroic last stands, the valiant defence of an island, arduous desert crossings and a deadly hunt with the PCs as prey, not predator can all be found in The Variscan War, a mini-campaign (25-40hrs) for medium-high level characters.

Introduction
This is a mini-campaign suitable for a medium-high level who enjoy combat but also like diplomacy and using their head - they won’t be able to just hack their way through. It is divided in to four main “acts” and, in total, would probably take about 25-40hrs of playing time. It could be used as the culmination of a full campaign or as a stand-alone mini-campaign.

As this is a mini-campaign, each act is not fleshed out in the same detail that I would use for an individual plot - instead, the area, general aims, organisations and goals that will be involved are described, along with a number of hooks that the GM can use or not as they wish.

Act I: Scouting the Way
(Excerpt from a report to the Triune Empire prior to the Imperial invasion of the Scahanian Peninsular, 313PC)

The Scahanian Peninsular is a primitive region, consisting of various city states. There is no large-scale organisation – few rulers’ authority extends much beyond three days journey from their capital town. The major city states are the trade-city of Autigen in the far south-east; Laetoli in the north, close to the Moldan marshes on the banks of the Golbardis; Ludens and Hovius in the centre and the two port towns: Bouma in the north and Orcad in the south.

The inhabitants are, in general, more primitive than those of Avalonia: though the major city states have achieved some degree of sophistication, there are many regions which are less civilised. The inhabitants of the Moldan marshes are savages, and those of the Gorenfells and the Forest of Ludenec little better. Even in the city states, the true potential of magic is not appreciated, and our armies should be able to overwhelm their primitive forces with ease, even if we are outnumbered. It is unlikely that the city states will have the cohesion to unite against us.

The entire peninsular is only 120 leagues from east to west at the widest part, and 140 leagues from north to south. It is isolated from the main part of Laurentia by the Scahanian mountain range, which runs from east to west across the entire neck of the peninsular. A priority in subduing the peninsular should be to fortify any passes in the Scahanian mountains that would be large enough to permit an army passage: should this be done, the peninsular should fall in to our hands with ease.

The PCs are members of the Triune Empire, a large and powerful nation that occupies most of the continent of Avalonia. The Triune Empire is planning to invade the Scahanian peninsular on the continent of Laurentia (about 2months sea voyage to the east). It wishes to do so to increase its own power, for economic gain and because it is generally in favour of territorial expansion. The specific spark is that the Scahanian peninsular has restricted foreigners to the port of Autigen in the SE: this is greatly restricting trade and has become “intolerable”.

The PCs task is to scout the peninsular. Their main goal is to locate any passes in the Scahanian range that could allow an army passage - this will allow the Triune Empire to strike and hold these in the invasion, preventing any aid coming through from the main part of Laurentia which is believed to be occupied by a powerful nation, the Variscan Imperium. Of course, any information that the PCs pick up, other than about the passes, will be valuable. (NB: There are two main passes, the Pass of Froude and the Pass of Jeril).

The PCs will face the following challenges:
- Getting in to and out of Autigen. It is guarded quite heavily by the Scahanians to prevent foreigners leaving.
- Disguising the fact that they are foreigners. Presumably some at least will speak the language, but in appearance and accent they will be different. Some people won’t care, but others may. They could pretend to be from Varisca, but that would bring its own complications (i.e. if they meet someone who has been there).
- Just the fact that they are alone, with no support, in a potentially hostile region. They must not draw the attention of suspicious nobles, yet must look formidable enough to scare away bandits. They have nowhere to run for shelter if trouble erupts.

Possible encounters/plot devices
- It is a rougher and wilder land than the Triune Empire. Encounters with bandits or wild beasts such as wyverns are a strong possibility.
- A local lord recognises them as foreigners and uses this to pressure them in to working for him in a border dispute with a neighbour.
- They suspect that a lord may well be amenable to changing sides and supporting the Triune’s in an invasion. Do they risk telling him to gain his support, despite the risks that he will galvanise resistance if they have misjudged?
- The Moldan marshes are the location of the Monastery of Moldan. The PCs here a lot about this and may wish to go there, after completing their mission.
- Crossing the Moldan marshes or the Gorenfells will avoid potentially dangerous human contact; however, the terrain is very harsh and wild beasts and savage tribes abound.
- Maybe in one of the passes they find an evil mage who is up to no good.
- Maybe a dragon has taken up residence in one of the passes. Do they attempt to kill it, or do they leave it there?
- Maybe one of the passes appears to have collapsed in an avalanche. Ideally they should explore down it, to check that it can’t actually be easily cleared if an army came; however, this might be difficult and dangerous; after all, another avalanche might occur.

Interlude
Their mission completed, the Triune invasion takes place successfully and according to plan. The peninsular is conquered by early summer, though some areas are not fully subdued. The PCs may wish to visit the Monastery of Moldan to obtain weapons (which can be role-played); if not, give them some vacation time in the newly conquered territory.

Act II: Debacle
Autumn, 315PC: A great host of Varisca sweeps down from the north and assaults The Pass of Froude. Their banners blacken the sky with their numbers. Rank after rank of troops pour in to the pass, yet this is no uncivilised hoard: their magic is on a par with that of the Empire, and their troops as well trained and well-disciplined. Yet it is not numbers alone that confront the Triune Empire’s armies. Marching alongside the armies of Varisca are two forces of great power and evil: the Black Knights, a dark order of warrior clerics of great skill, whose prowess in combat was matched only by their dark magic and the Mergebeasts, hideous blends of man and beast of unparalleled strength, quickness and ferocity.

The armies of Varisca smashed through the defences of The Pass of Froude and poured in to the southlands. Outnumbered more than 20 to 1, the Imperial Expeditionary Force was crushed, driven back as fast as they could run. The last stand at Autigen was one of the quickest and most hopeless in history. In less than a month, the entirety of the Scahanian Peninsular lay beneath the banner of the Variscan Imperium, that dark empire which now controlled the entirety of the continent of Laurentia. It would not remain confined to Laurentia for long.

The PCs, emerging from the Moldan marshes (this is why it’s good if the PCs go to the Monastery) or from the sleepy area in which they have been taking much needed rest, find the Variscan invasion almost complete. The bulk of the peninsular has fallen; only two cities (Autigen and Orcad) remain under Triune control and these are under siege. Furthermore, the Black Knights, masters of dark magic, are tracking down any Triune people that they can and killing them. As person’s of relatively senior rank within the Triune Empire, the PCs are prime targets. To escape, they must make a mad dash through deadly peril to reach the coast - they must make it to Orcad or Autigen before they fall.

This time, speed is of the essence. The Black Knights will pursue them with every means at their disposal. They are likely to summon demons against them. The PCs can also expect mental attacks - the weak-willed amongst them may be mind-controlled in their sleep and forced to attack their companions; their dreams will be manipulated until they are half mad with fear. The PCs will probably need to set ethereal wards or guards to try to deal with this. In an encounter with the Black Knights, the Knights will be formidable foes. They are deadly mounted warriors; in addition, their combat magic makes much use of fear, slowing and deadening reactions and sometimes even freezing the weak-willed in place, even as they are cut down.

If they approach anyone for help, some of the population will be sympathetic to them for the Variscans are hardly well-loved. However, many people see the Triune Empire as just as bad, if not worse than the Variscans, meaning that the party would be wise to disguise their identity and ultimate goal even whilst requesting help.

General notes
- Let the party plan their own route, by river, by road, through settled terrain or through wilderness. Different routes will provide different challenges and opportunities; however, in general, the faster the better.
- Clever ideas to throw the Black Knights off their track should be rewarded. Disguises (e.g. if they killed some Knights and took their armour) would not help against the Knights (as they use mental techniques); however, it might well confuse ordinary Variscan soldiers. The ordinary soldiers of Varisca are terrified of the Knights.
- There aren’t all that many Knights (around 1000 in the peninsular). Therefore, most actual combat encounters are more likely to be against minions: ordinary soldiers, mergebeasts and demons.
- Crossing the lines of the siege will not be easy.

Act III: The Defence of Krinth-Turon
Each noble envies his neighbour and struggles against him, trusting none, yet this rivalry pales before the hatred and jealousy that exists still between Krinth and Turon. No leader exists who could make us bury our rivalry and unite us; I fear that our island is doomed.
Baron Gramadi of Visean, Krinth-Turon

Fleeing from the debacle of the Scahanian peninsular, the PCs land in Krinth-Turon, a vassal state of the Triune Empire. Krinth-Turon accepted vassalage about 80 years ago, when the then rulers of Krinth and Turon asked for Imperial arbitration to end one of the many wars that the two nations had fought. Now, though nominally united, there is still much bad blood between the two nations.

The island is around 80 leagues from west to east and 50 from north to south. Krinth occupies the SW and Turon the NE. The Falani river runs along the border of the two nations reaching the sea in the middle of the southern part of the island; in the middle of the island it forks, the Upper Falani being in Turon and the lower Falani in Krinth. North of here, on the border, lies the city of Murchisoni and the Moraldan Mines. Murchisoni is the capital of the whole island and is a free city, neither in Krinth nore Turon. Continuing on from the Upper Falani, the Aradha mountains continue on from here to the NE coast, meaning the eastern third (i.e. 2/3 of Turon) is separated from the rest of the island by mountains or river. Forest covers most of southern Krinth.

Principal cities include:
Murchisoni (already discussed)
Stephanian (capital of Turon; SE on the coast, port)
Waes (Turon, east coast port)
Lingula (Turon, inland)
Micraster (Turon, in the Pass of Aradha)
Cadari River (principal city of northern Turon)
Daranen (northern Krinth; captital of Krinth).
Gilathi (port, west coast of Krinth).
Lundgreni (SW Krinth)
Epifaun (in the forests of southern Krinth)
Falani Lowland (on the Krinth side of the Falani river).

When the PCs arrive, the Triune governor-general of Krinth-Turon (a civilian), seeing that Krinth and Turon will not unite against the Variscan threat, invokes a clause in Krinth-Turon’s vassalage that says that, in times of emergency, the Triune Empire may take command of the Krinth-Turon armies. As the highest ranking quasi-military Triune people on the island (who have experience of combat and of the Variscans), the PCs are placed in command of defending the island. The Variscan fleet is at most a week behind them; they must organise the defence of the island until reinforcements arrive from the Triune Empire (20-30 days).

Note that this is intended to be a role-playing session, with the emphasis on getting the nobles of Krinth-Turon to work together and grand strategy. How you decide the battles is irrelevant, whether by detailed computer simulation or by rolling a single d20 for each battle: what counts is that the PCs efforts (or failures) in getting troops together (and any clever overall strategies they think up) should be rewarded.

It should be made clear that the PCs are not expected to succesffully hold the whole island as they will be outnumbered and outmatched; however, they are meant to hold as much as possible.

Major challenges
- No-one will like submitting to foreign leadership. However, the PCs can at least take comfort that most Turoni would rather take orders from them than from a Krinthian general and vice-versa.
- The Krinth-Turon hatred. The Variscans are going to land first in Turon. The Krinthians are not going to want to send their soldiers to die in defence of Turon - but if they don’t, the Turoni will be slaughtered.
- The Turoni will be singularly unimpressed by any strategic withdrawals and may simply disobey commands to withdraw - it is their homeland, after all.
- Nobles will not want to leave their lands undefended to contribute to a common army - the land has too much of a history of warfare and treachery.
- Morale - there may be desertions, especially with the Black Knights’ influence.
- Most of the Krinth-Turon troops are poorly trained and equipped compared to the Variscan forces. They will also be outnumbered. If your setting uses magic on the battlefield, the Krinth-Turoni will be outmatched here, too.
- Rivalry between nobles, e.g. whose troops get the place of honour on the battle field.
- Any advisers will be sure to give contradictory advice.
- Some people may wish to make peace and argue for this.
- Treachery: a good plot device is to have a senior Krinthian noble turn traitor. Clues can be given to the PCs by the fact that his levies have “been delayed - he will send them soon.”
- Assassins may target the PCs (or senior Krinth-Turoni nobles).

What follows is a description of the forces on both sides. Unless you are running the campaign at the moment, you may want to skip this section and go straight to Act 4.

THE FORCES AVAILABLE
VARISCANS (Total 50,000 men)
150 ships.
50 000 mean (not including sailors), consisting of:
- 350 Black Knights
- 3000 Mergebeasts
- 2000 Light cavalry/scouts
- 50 Engineers
- 600 Wizards, clerics, etc.
- 500 Non-combatants (e.g. blacksmiths, fletchers, etc.)
- 40000 Heavy infantry: swordsmen (15 000), pikemen (5000), spearmen (8000), axemen (2000), archers (3000), crossbowmen (7000).
- 3500 “Gauntlets of Lightning.” These are special forces which are transported in to battle on tarath (huge herbivorous flying creatures that are harmless but can transport 20-30 men each). They can be devastating in a battle and could also, e.g., fly to aid a rebel. Their nature should be unknown to the PCs (the tarath are unique to Laurentia) until revealed.

The Variscans will land at Visean on the east coast and then go inland. They will probably split in two, half going north to Micraster (a good place for a siege) and half heading south to Stephanian and then to the Falani river.

FRIENDLY FORCES (Total 53,100 men)

Bear in mind that these are scattered over the whole island, that the Variscans are arriving in 5 days and the island must hold for 20-30 days.

City militias (well trained light infantry; 50% swordsmen, 25% javeliners, 25% crossbowmen). The nobles in charge of each city will not take kindly to their garrisons being stripped.
TOTAL = 15500
Murchisoni: 3000
Stephanian: 2000
Daranen: 2000
Micraster: 1500
Epifaun: 1500
Gilathi: 1500
Lundgreni: 500
Falani Lowland: 1000
Cadari River: 1000
Visean: 1000
Epifaun: 1000

Regular Army (well trained, lightly armoured troops, 50% swordsmen, 20% light cavalry, 30% archers).
TOTAL=6000
Turon: 2000 men at Lingular, 1000 men at Stephanian.
Krinth: 2000 men at Falani Lowland; 1000 men at Daranen.

The Muster. These are the troops raised by the nobles from their estates. The full muster will take 15days, though troops will start coming in well before then.
The maximum muster consists of:
5000 knights (highly trained and armoured)
25000 peasants (ill-disciplined and unarmoured; 40% spearmen, 30% archers, 20% pikemen, 10% quarterstaffmen).
The nobles are going to be very unwilling to call a full muster and leave their estates undefended: the PCs will have to convince them to raise as much as possible.

Triune Empire forces
Total: 1100
3rd Legion (heavy infantry, well trained, well equipped).
500 legionaries in Murchisoni, 250 in Stephanian, 250 in Daranen.
Imperial Pathfinders (elite special forces: scouts, commandos, spies).
50 at Cadari River; 50 at Lundgreni.

Miscellaneous
- Gryphons (400 total). A group of gryphons lives in the mountains near Micraster. Perhaps they could be persuaded to give aid, though they do not usually interfere in the wars of men. The presence of the Black Knights and mergebeasts might help to persuade them.
- The Knights of Balance (100 total). A militant order of Order Knights, these might also be persuaded to play a part. They would do wonders in countering the Dark Knights.

Act IV: A Desperate Gamble
“This bloody stalemate cannot be allowed to continue much longer. Every day, our soldiers, valiant citizens all, are dying in their hundreds on the fields of Krinth-Turon. The resources of the Variscans appear endless: unlike us, they seem to have no compunction about spending the lives of their men like water. Only our best mages can match the power of the Black Knights and our finest soldiers are like children before the wrath of the mergebeasts. We must face the facts: we are losing this war.”
Excerpt from a speech by Lord Chamonderry to the Triune parliament

The war is dragging on in Krinth-Turon and the Triune Empire is slowly but surely losing. In some quarters, peace is spoken of but most will not countenance the thought: surrender will only delay the struggle. Varisca will not be content with Krinth-Turon and, in a decade or two, the Triune Empire would be fighting on its own shores. A plan is hatched: it has been discovered that the Variscans use a great machine, artifacts from an earlier age, to create the mergebeasts. If the machines were destroyed, the explosion would likely be catastrophic.

The machine is kept in the Inner City in Turriculatus, the dark capital of Varisca. In the same building complex is the chief chapter house of the Black Knights who essentially govern Varisca. A catastrophic explosion would, therefore, eliminate both the mergebeasts as a factor and simultaneously kill most of the leadership of the Variscans. This might well end the Variscan will to fight, as well as their capability to do so. Naturally, those chosen for the tast are the PCs.

Turriculatus is in the heart of Varisca. The best way to get there will be to land in Atavus, a small city on the edge of the Great Western Desert and then to cross the desert. Landing in Atavus should be easy - it is isolated enough the normally heavy hand of the Variscan Imperium is very light. However, to cross the Great Western Desert will be a great challenge - none cross the heart of the desert, though many travel near its edge. Once across, however, the PCs will be only a week’s travel from Turriculatus and will be so far in to Varisca that they may well be unchallenged. Crossing the desert is the first main challenge.

Some plot hooks for crossing the desert:
- The PCs will need to buy maps of oases or possibly hire a guide. However, figuring out which maps/guides are genuine and which are just trying to swindle them is a different matter.
- They get to an oases and it is dry. Water rations may run very short before they reach the next.
- Around the edge of the desert there may be problems with bandits.
- Sandstorms, scaling sanddunes and cliffs which collapse, burying them in sand are all challenges that might be faced.
- Maybe the desert is home to fell beasts: giant sand worms or carvitons - land sharks may attack them.

Once across the desert, the party will have to find and enter Turriculatus. This should not be too challenging, providing they keep a low profile and don’t go too heavily armed. Turriculatus itself is like any large city; however, an aura of fear hangs in the air (the Black Knights will take citizens to use as sacrifices in their evil rites) and their is much oppression (curfews, poverty, etc.). However, entering the Inner City is much harder.

The Inner City is a walled complex of the city about half a mile on each side. Only the Black Knights and their servants and slaves, all of whom are marked with a tattoo (the type varying with the servant’s or slave’s position), are allowed in. The gates are very heavily guarded and guards patrol the walls.

To get in the PCs might be able to use stealth (though this will be very challenging) or might be able to disguise themselves, either as a servant or as a Black Knight. A tattooist would be very much afraid of forging one of these tattoos, though he might be bribed or threatened in to doing so. A Black Knight would pass the gates without much inspection - if he was confident enough and looked the part - but once inside could be quickly exposed as they use mental communication to talk to each other.

At some point around here, it should start becoming apparent to the PCs, if it hasn’t before, that this is a one-way mission. This should cause them some qualms and result in some roleplaying, though hopefully they will still decide to continue.

Once inside the Inner City, they must get as close as possible to the building containing the Machine before being discovered. The building itself is sealed and guarded - they are almost certain to have to break in and slay the guards to gain entry. At this point it is a race against time.

The Machine itself is a large (20ft on each side) cube, intricately carved with ancient script. It has a long arm sticking out from it, on the end of which is a depression, large enough to contain a large bear. Essentially it works like this: a (sedated) human is put on the arm. They get sucked inside. Then a (sedated) beast is put on. It gets sucked inside. Then they are magically merged and a (sedated) merge beast appears on the arm. In order to do all of this, various buttons, symbols and so forth must be pressed on the machine (i.e. a certain combination to such it in, a certain combination to start the merge, etc.). This is a sort of puzzle - the PCs have to figure out how it works whilst simultaneously fighting off the Variscan onslaught (see below) - i.e. some players will not be able to fight and the others will have to defend them.

The Machine is essentially impervious to all external force, whether mundane or magical. There are two possible ways to destroy it. The first is to place large amounts of flammable or explosive substances (for example naptha, oil and so on) on to the arm and take it in to the machine. Also put on fire. Let them merge. The other method is similar. This would rely on a person (a wizard) going inside. Once inside, large fireballs and other such spells could destroy it, causing it to explode.

Whilst this is going on, the party will be fighting off an ever increasing onslaught. Preceptor Karathnar, the leader of the Black Knights, will likely lead the attack (he lives immediately above): he is a fell mage and a deadly warrior. Once he is defeated, however, there will be no respite as ever greater numbers of Knights, mergebeasts and ordinary soldiers, crossbowmen and so forth assault the PCs. It is a race against time - can the Machine be destroyed before the PCs succumb?

If the PCs are successful, the Machine is destroyed and a cataclysmic explosion destroys the Inner City, including of course the PCs, though you as GM may wish to take them up to heaven in fiery chariots or other similarly suitable heroic finale.



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Comments ( 6 )
Commenters gain extra XP from Author votes.

Voted Cheka Man
November 13, 2005, 9:10
0xp
I like it and I like the time you put into it too.
Voted ephemeralstability
November 14, 2005, 6:44
0xp
5/5 for sheer scope and breadth. +1 for the ending.

ephe!
Voted Murometz
March 8, 2006, 21:23
Only voted
Murometz
June 22, 2006, 19:09
0xp
WOW! Truly impressive! And what ephe said too!
Voted CaptainPenguin
June 22, 2006, 23:41
Only voted
Voted Chaosmark
July 14, 2007, 18:24
0xp
Daaaaaaaang. Very nicely done.


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