This encounter is intended for five PCs of 3rd or 6th level using the most recent D&D 5th Edition statistics as of July 2
I was really fond of the Lord of the Rings console games that popped up in the mid 00’s. I mean sure, these weren’t the best beat-um-ups on the market, but they hit home by leveraging a franchise that I was obsessed with at the time. Given that one of my earliest memories is of playing Golden Axe with my father while propped up on a stool in front of an arcade cabinet – loving a co-op beat-um-up is never hard for me to do.
A particular gem from those games was the “Minas Tirith Courtyard” level. In essence, it was a siege scenario in which you had to hold off endless hordes of increasingly difficult opponents, while making way for a flood of civilians to escape. The level ended once two-hundred villagers (all women, as I recall. Hence why this level became “save the ladies!” In common parlance) escaped to the safety of an inner wall. It was a grueling task, and a perfect complement for the scenes of devastation and warfare it was meant to invoke.
This encounter attempts to capture the feel of that scenario with a satisfying set-piece battle.
The PCs have agreed to help defend a community (castle, city, fortress, whatever is appropriate) from an invading army. While regular troops man the walls, the party is overseeing an evacuation. Civilian refugees may be fleeing the city out of a postern gate, falling back to an inner defensive ring, or breaking for the harbor to board boats that will take them out of the conflict. Regardless of the particulars, citizens have no choice but to rush through a warzone to reach safety. When the scenario begins, enemies have breached the defenses and the PCs will need to earn their keep covering the refugee’s flight.
At your discretion, some of the soldiers defending the walls may come down to lend the PCs a hand. Assign no more than one soldier per player, and bump the number of monsters in each wave up by one to compensate.
The party will face endless waves of opponents in this encounter. Their goal is to hold out until all refugees have made it through the exit gate in the southern corner of the map, before themselves pulling back to safety. Depending on the difficulty you intend, the number of total civilians can be adjusted up or down. As an alternate way of working the scenario, the parties goal might be to stand their ground until a prescribed number of refugees makes it through the gate (in this case, consider deducting the EXP value of slain refugees from the party’s total EXP).
•Each round, 1d4 refugees arrives at the eastern edge of the map (Labelled “Refugee Entry” with eligible squares shaded in blue).
•Every refugee that successfully escapes through the gate grants its EXP value to the party in the same way a defeated enemy would.
•Number of refugees: Easy – 10; Moderate – 20; Difficult – 30
When monsters enter the battle, roll 1d4: that monsters arrives in the corresponding entry point on the map (Labelled “Monster Entry”) and takes its turn. Monsters that arrive through entrance 4 will almost always make for the exit gate to cut off any refugees that get past their brethren.
Features of the Area
Rubble: Walls broken by siege equipment, burning wagons, overturned market stalls, or even piles of corpses. Areas of rubble require 10 feet of movement to pass through.
Barricade: These stacked barrells, crates, and debris grant half cover.
Tower: This watchtower is positioned to overlook a great deal of the courtyard. The room is 25 feet up and features an arrow slit that grants Superior Cover, but does not allow the shooter to see anything east of the fountain. The advantage of being able to snipe from the safety of the tower are obvious, but not being on the ground to draw enemies away from the fleeing refugees is a serious disadvantage.
Porch: This adjoined patio area has a sturdy stone railing all around it that can grant half cover if someone inside crouches. Leaping over the railing is easy enough to do, but requires 10 feet of movement.
Fountain: The fountain in the middle of this battlefield grants half cover, or full cover if the attacker is on the other side of the large statue in the middle. Enterprising or vicious PCs will find it deep enough to drown orcs in.
Stone Structures: The low stone buildings might compirse homes, gatehouses, customs offices, or storage. Though their slate roves aren’t especially steep, a 15 foot climb is still required to get to the top, where a PC could enjoy an elevated vantage point. Some of these building have missing walls, destroyed by siege weaponry, creating a path for the city’s invaders to stream into the courtyard.
—Level 3 encounter: One wave every other round
Wave 1: 10 Goblins (Pg. 49)
Wave 2: 10 Hobgoblins (Pg. 55)
Wave 3: 1 Hobgoblin Leader (Pg. 55), 2 Hobgoblins
Wave 4: 1 Ogre (Pg. 69)
Continuous Waves: 1d4+1 Hobgoblins
—Level 6 encounter: One wave every other round
Wave 1: 10 Orcs (Pg. 70)
Wave 2: 7 Oorogs (Pg. 71)
Wave 3: 1 Orc Leader (Pg. 70), 2 Oorogs
Wave 4: 1 Hill Giant (Pg. 46)
Continuous Waves: 1d4+1 Oorogs
•For the civilian refugees, use the stats for: Human Commoner (Pg. 57) [And for the record, the civilians comprise both men, women, and children, not just ladies! All the same, don’t NOT save the ladies – that isn’t very feminist either.]
•For allied soldiers (if you choose to provide them), use the stats for: Human Warrior (Pg. 58 – Replace armor with “Ringmail” and bump AC to 14)
The attackers (be they orc or hobgoblin) are in the thick of city fighting now, and much of their discipline is fading in the chaos of battle. Use the following guidelines in determining an enemy’s targeting priorities:
1. If a PC is within 10 feet of an enemy, it will attempt to attack the PC
2. Enemies will otherwise attack the nearest opponent, whether they are a civilian, soldier, or PC
3. Enemies will switch targets to the last target that attacked them, thus allowing your players to “pull” the horde off of a civilian
4. Enemies who come out of entrance 4 will make for the exit gate, to block the passage of those fleeing
Though based on a video game, the best part of tabletop RPGs is their infinite mutability. These rules of engagement make for an interesting tactical encounter, but as always, use your judgement. Smart players will find ways to draw enemies away from the fleeing refugees. And likewise, a moment of dramatic ramping-up in which a foe purposefully ignores the players to slay the defenseless civilians might be just what the story needs.
Similarly you can follow a set of guidelines for the behavior of the fleeing refugees:
1. A refugee will always avoid provoking attacks of opportunity when possible (unless ordered by a PC)
2. Refugees always attempt to move toward the exit gate at best possible speed, allaying this only for reasons of safety
3. If within reach of an opponent, a refugee will use the Disengage action
4. If in reach of an opponent and unable to move closer to the gate, a refugee will use the Dodge action
5. Refugees consider PCs and soldier allies and can move through their space unhindered
If you opt to provide the players with back-up in the form of additional soldiers, consider letting the PCs give orders to the troops. They are in control of where the soldiers move to and how they form up, and can even order them to attack particular targets. If you wish to make this more complicated, perhaps an Easy Charisma roll is needed to clearly explain orders over the din and confusion of battle. In this case, PCs might only be able to give vague directions (“Stand left of the gate” or “form up on my right”) rather than letting the players choose which precise square for each soldier to stand in (the more tactical option).