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KnotKnormal
2016-03-29, 09:17 AM
I've held a game like this in the past, and I plan on doing it again soon, I was just wondering if I was the only one, and what kinds of things have you done to make them realize they are fighting a war they are fighting a war they can't win, or having them win the battle but know the will probably lose the war.

Let me know if you have any ideas as well. I'm looking for some fresh ideas, as I've done a lot with this style of game already.

Thanks ahead of time.

hymer
2016-03-29, 09:30 AM
I was just wondering if I was the only one, and what kinds of things have you done to make them realize they are fighting a war they are fighting a war they can't win

The campaign I'm running, the one with the link in my signature, had a one-shot with different, pre-generated PCs, which basically dealt with the fall of a mighty city to an orcish horde. The players then mitigated the disaster as best they could, stalling the invaders while evacuation was done, and they did as much scorched earth damage to the invaders as they could. Surviving PCs later showed up as fugitive NPCs in the main campaign, founding a new settlement.
It's not entirely a given that this war is unwinnable, however, at least not these two or three campaign seasons. But the current leader of the war effort has made it clear to the PCs that he is planning many lines of defence, and the last of them is so deep in allied territory, that if it falls, the war is lost then and there. One of the PCs reacted with disgust and rage, because his barony is considered a useful battleground and not worth fighting hard over once the invaders get across the river there.
In the near future, I intend the PCs to come across an NPC commander they know well, when he is close to despair due to the fall of his city. He's already lost his wife and father to the war.

Geddy2112
2016-03-29, 09:40 AM
I would probably never run a game where the PC's are destined to be on the losing side of a war no matter what they do.

If I did, I would telegraph obvious hints that the PC's are outmatched, like when any party gets in over their head or debates doing something suicidal.

"The dragon appears to be very old, and has probably slain entire armies with a single gout of flame"

"There appears to be tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of soldiers on the horizon. Short of deific intervention, it appears the army will take the city"

"This stranger has single items that are worth more gold than you have seen in your entire life, and appears to be very experienced in the arcane arts"

Somewhat related-In a war setting, focus on smaller efforts that a party of 3-6 PC's can make a difference in. In a battle of 10,000 per side, all but the highest powered magic users will blend into the background. Have the PC's act as special forces, or focus on smaller parts of the battle instead of giant hordes of thousands(most ttRPG's are not really designed to handle this kind of combat anyways)

hymer
2016-03-29, 09:45 AM
I would probably never run a game where the PC's are destined to be on the losing side of a war no matter what they do.

I took the OP to imply that the war can't be won by military means, like the War of the Ring. Survival, or even victory, may be achieved elsewise.

KnotKnormal
2016-03-29, 10:07 AM
I would probably never run a game where the PC's are destined to be on the losing side of a war no matter what they do.

Somewhat related-In a war setting, focus on smaller efforts that a party of 3-6 PC's can make a difference in. In a battle of 10,000 per side, all but the highest powered magic users will blend into the background. Have the PC's act as special forces, or focus on smaller parts of the battle instead of giant hordes of thousands(most ttRPG's are not really designed to handle this kind of combat anyways)

The idea is to keep up their hope while slowly pushing them back or as hymer stated have the war by some other means, not immediately known. obviously at some point during the war there would be some sort of a flipping point.

I guess what I'm asking, is how would you make your player fail, with out it feeling like a complete loss.

Geddy2112
2016-03-29, 10:27 AM
The idea is to keep up their hope while slowly pushing them back or as hymer stated have the war by some other means, not immediately known. obviously at some point during the war there would be some sort of a flipping point.

I guess what I'm asking, is how would you make your player fail, with out it feeling like a complete loss.
Make sure they always have a glimmer of hope. Keeping with the LOTR theme, so long as the fellowship has the ring, there is a chance. They lose battle after battle, encounter setbacks, but they always have something driving them forwards. Ancient prophecy, plot item, or simply living to fight another day.

Let it be known that while the battle was lost, because of the actions of the PC's, there will be a tomorrow, and not all hope is lost. They might not have won, but because of what they did, there is still something to fight for. Maybe the city burns, but they save the villagers. Maybe the temple is destroyed, but they got the relic just in time. Maybe the battle was lost, but the damage done to the enemy is so severe they will have time to regroup. Don't make your players fail-make their minor successes the only thing keeping hope alive.

Takewo
2016-03-29, 03:11 PM
The idea is to keep up their hope while slowly pushing them back or as hymer stated have the war by some other means, not immediately known. obviously at some point during the war there would be some sort of a flipping point.

I guess what I'm asking, is how would you make your player fail, with out it feeling like a complete loss.

I wouldn't. Giving them hope to win while fudging* the campaign so that they lose is simply dishonest. My advice is that, if you want a game in which the characters lose, make sure that the players know it, either by telling them it straight away in real life or by choosing a setting, like Midnight, in which it is assumed that evil will triumph.

* By fudging I don't necessarily mean cheating or changing dice rolls. I also include twisting events or making the challenges simply impossible. And although it is not "fudging" in the proper sense of the word, I would also include here making the part that the characters play in the story irrelevant (e.gr. by making the events that decide the unfolding of the war outside of their scope), bringing in unknown facts that make their victories irrelevant, or, in general, any kind of GM action that brings forth a failure that is impossible to avoid and to the character's fault.


Now, however, I must say that I understand from what you say that you want a campaign the end of which (that the players should lose) is already decided from the beginning, without your players knowing it (on the contrary, while giving them hopes of victory up to a certain point in the campaign).

If my understanding is correct, this normally brings frustration and even a sense of betrayal. So I wouldn't go that way.

But, if what you mean is to have such a campaign but have the players know all along that they are going to lose, I think you've had a good piece of advice in the previous posts.

Thrudd
2016-03-29, 04:11 PM
I've held a game like this in the past, and I plan on doing it again soon, I was just wondering if I was the only one, and what kinds of things have you done to make them realize they are fighting a war they are fighting a war they can't win, or having them win the battle but know the will probably lose the war.

Let me know if you have any ideas as well. I'm looking for some fresh ideas, as I've done a lot with this style of game already.

Thanks ahead of time.

It depends. Are their characters supposed to know that the war is unwinnable? If so, then make sure the players have the same information the characters would have, such as what numbers and capabilities their enemies have versus what their allies have. Give the players information about the game world that their characters would have, and then let them make their own decision about whether the war is winnable or not. If they want to keep fighting until the bitter end, that is their decision.

awa
2016-03-29, 04:35 PM
best way to do it is have the battle progress while their doing stuff bad guys head towards multiple objectives if the pcs stop them at one all the others are taken and since they will have spent a lot of resources stopping the first and the others look just as tough they should soon realize they canít win.

If the party tries to stop and rest or use wands of lesser vigor don't have the baddies politely stop and wait have them keep going killing allies.

Tell the party what they see how they are in danger of being flanked how allies are being wiped out, if they have good int / wis tell them what their characters can predict happening their characters are their they see hear and smell more things than you can describe not to mention they likely have fought in more wars then the people playing them.

For example the party are on the wall let them slaughter a few orcs showing how huge an advantage the wall is killing guys trying to climb a ladder attacks of opportunity watching arrows miss due to improved cover ect. Then have a bunch of siege towers roll up the party fights the level appropriate number of ogres in the tower while the npcs fight the ladder orcs off screen. But all the other towers those ogres are slaughtering the wall defenders with reach and great cleave and have made a beach head now the guards don't have the wall and are getting attacked on three sides and overwhelmed worse orcs are swarming off the wall into the town below. A commander yells the walls are lost. If the party wants to stay and fight point out that they fought X ogres if they stay on the wall they will have to fight X2 ogres without the benefit of a choke point with them already flanking and fighting waves of orcs at the same time while the citizens are getting slaughtered. If they still want to duke it while then this is not the right kind of game for them.

Which reminds me make sure none of the players are playing knightly types who will never surrender or retreat even if it means getting everyone around them killed and losing the war (unless they are happy dying and making a new character some people enjoy weird things).

eru001
2016-03-29, 06:10 PM
Show it through changes in the appearance / demeanor of NPC's on the PC's side.

When the army sets off, there should be fanfare, an air of confidence. The people think this war will be short and glorious.

The first battle should be pitched, about even numbers on each side, with a hard fought but definitive victory for the PC's side.

The next battle they are outnumbered. Through even harder fighting they manage a bloody but still clear victory.

Then the enemy comes again with more troops, fresh troops. The best the PC's can hope for in the third battle is that their army remains intact as a force.

Let them see drastic changes each time they visit the army encampment.

That dashing young cavalry commander whom the PC's befriended when the army first marched, who looked so excited at the prospect of glory. Have them meet up with him after one or two battles. His once immaculate uniform now mostly muddy rags. An eye patch where his left eye used to be. Have him tell them about how his unit has fallen below half strength.

The High cleric and his retinue who accompanied the army as healers. Make the PC's walk through the field hospital and see him passed out from the shear exhaustion of channeling that much healing magic. Make them watch as a subordinate wakes him up to tell him that more wounded are incoming and he is needed in the OR (or equivalent), have him nod, try and fail to stand, and then have the subordinate half carry half drag him there. If the PC's follow, make them watch him try and fail to summon healing magic, because he is just that tired.

Have supplies run out. Make the players watch as the few surviving cavalry butcher and eat their own horses because there is no other food.

Have tangible evidence of the manpower shortage. If the PC's enter the general's tend make them watch him agonize over whether or not to bolster the army by pulling troops from a local garrison even though that will ensure the fall of that city, but the army must have more troops.

Change up what types of missions the players are being sent on. In the beginning they should act as shock troops or an elite strike force. as time goes on the general cant afford to use them in this role, because it is too important that they, some of the only well trained combat effectives left, be sent to find more food and healing supplies.

To make things worse, have winter set in. Make the players watch starving beaten troops succumb to frostbite and hypothermia. (read up on Napoleon's march back from Moscow and Washington's army at Valley Forge for ideas)

Let there always be just barely enough hope that the army holds together. Perhaps the army knows that their allies are coming, a huge force of friendly troops are just a few weeks away and all they have to do is hold out. And when those friendlies arrive, make the players watch as the enemy horde overwhelms them.

when they hit their lowest point, have one of the few remaining friendly commander offer a hair brained Hail-Mary play that just might turn things around. Send the players off knowing that what's left of the army will hold the line for as long as possible. Make it clear in no uncertain terms that this is going to mean two to three weeks at most. and make the players keep track of how much time is passing as they carry out this last desperate attempt, not to win the war, but to force a draw.

Kelb_Panthera
2016-03-29, 10:12 PM
If I was going to put the players in a war that was unwinnable by direct military campaigning, like Dragonlance's third dragonwar, then I'd make it very clear up front that the war has been ongoing long before the players come along and, unless one of them wanted to play a brilliant tactician, that they're not going to be able to push the enemy back with traditional means.

If they want to give it a game try, I'll setup the military campaign with things slanted heavily toward the enemy and let them try.

Otherwise the war itself would be more of a background feature to give them a sense of pressure and urgency to the more classical adventure they'd be undertaking.

The important thing for me, as a gamist DM, would be to have the game run honestly by the rules framework I have. No fudging dice rolls, ever, and no predetermined outcomes for any particular engagement. I'm a pretty solid strategist though, if I do say so myself, and my players would have a dog of a time playing war against me. :smallcool:

BootStrapTommy
2016-03-30, 04:34 AM
Currently running a reverse dungeon campaign. Definitely a war of attrition. I make that clear by ruthlessly attempting to murder my players.

And doing what I can to ensure their followers don't live long.

Quertus
2016-03-30, 04:07 PM
About the only time I would accept such a foregone conclusion would be if the gods were fighting, then the first level PCs probably cannot change the outcome. Probably. Or if, you know, time travel, and the outcome of this war is a fixed point in time (but, at that point, you aren't really playing D&D). :smallwink:

I remember playing in a one shot scenario where a city was being overrun. Most people probably would have played that as a "save as many as you can" scenario. Boy did we I mess that up. Instead of sneaking elite and/or noble units out, or getting everyone to band together to hold off the foes while the civilians attempted to escape, I chose a different path. I got two of the most powerful factions to kill each other, convinced the city guards to die to a man, and convinced the civilians to pick up the dead guards' weapons and stand and fight, too. It was glorious!

Another time, a large force of barbarian raiders on horseback came to invade a small town. I was playing 2 characters. The first, a non combatant, preemptively looted the town. My second character, an archer, picked a good vantage point from which to watch the enemy approach. He picked out the leader, and then picked off the leader. Watched who took charge in the ensuing chaos, and picked them off, too. The third in command screamed "burn it to the ground" as he ducked around a corner and fled for his life. No real chance of saving the village, but a very memorable encounter.


The important thing for me, as a gamist DM, would be to have the game run honestly by the rules framework I have. No fudging dice rolls, ever, and no predetermined outcomes for any particular engagement. I'm a pretty solid strategist though, if I do say so myself, and my players would have a dog of a time playing war against me. :smallcool:

Like the no fudging. Like the no predetermined, although I often do, "if the PCs do nothing, X will happen". Have you considered not having your players play against you? Of, for example, having your little brother, some uninvolved less skilled friend, or even some random movie dictate the enemy military strategy? In case, you know, you want to give them a chance of having a chance? :smallwink:

Kelb_Panthera
2016-03-30, 04:35 PM
Like the no fudging. Like the no predetermined, although I often do, "if the PCs do nothing, X will happen". Have you considered not having your players play against you? Of, for example, having your little brother, some uninvolved less skilled friend, or even some random movie dictate the enemy military strategy? In case, you know, you want to give them a chance of having a chance? :smallwink:

That was with the caveat that we're keeping to the OP's idea of an 'unwinnable' war. In most cases, if I'm doing a military campaign, things are more even between the opposing sides and even then I -do- occasionally pull my punches since it's inevitable that -I- will have knowledge of the PC's strategies while the enemy NPC's may or may not have such intel and the PC's won't have such intel unless they're smart enough to seek it, though I may hint a bit to get them thinking along that line.

I'm no military genius but I've studied the arts of war, especially medieval warfare, since I was a kid so I have a bit of an edge over many players in that regard. Combined with a force that also has strategic and resource advantages, it makes overcoming a war that they're "supposed to" lose through military campaigning.... difficult. A good DM takes the players desire into account so I'm more than willing to let them try anyway. If they lose the war (likely) then we move on to the next phase of the game's campaign: trying to organize a revolution against the occupying victors.

RazorChain
2016-03-30, 08:50 PM
I've held a game like this in the past, and I plan on doing it again soon, I was just wondering if I was the only one, and what kinds of things have you done to make them realize they are fighting a war they are fighting a war they can't win, or having them win the battle but know the will probably lose the war.

Let me know if you have any ideas as well. I'm looking for some fresh ideas, as I've done a lot with this style of game already.

Thanks ahead of time.


Well I have run games where the heroes know they are going to lose. But you know what that is exactly what defines a hero. It's not about who they have slain or how powerful they are. True heroes are the ones that stand up when they get knocked down but keep on fighting even in the face of overwhelming adversity.

Like my game, the heroes had died again and again to their enemy, the serpent, and always got reborn. Until in the apocalypsic future, when the gods had abandoned earth and only the Lord of the nine hells remained the heroes made a last effort to save earth from becoming part of hell. So they invaded hell in power armors with a magically infused thermo nuclear bomb. The goal was to reach the nexus of the 9th hell and detonate.


As they reached the 9th layer of Hell, the Knight was running out of oxygen as his oxygen tank was leaking and the Magican had spent all his power opening portals between. So the Knight and the Magican made a final last stand on the fiery bridge that spanned the abyss that led to the nexus. They held back the hordes of hell while their 3 companions made it across. The knight who was wielding the Blade of Winter used his last gasp to shatter his blade and the fiery bridge, buying his companions time.

The players had always had a prophesy about them read in tarot cards, those who had sacrificed themselves were the Knight and the Magican. One was always represented as Death, other as the Tower which meant Ruin and the third one by the Devil and was the Betrayer. The Betrayer had made a pact eons ago with the Lord of Hell and was always doomed to betray the group, which he did again and again. And the PC's had always been told to remember who they were.

So when they entered the nexus with the bomb they knew the triggering device was busted, but they did not worry because the Betrayer could manipulate technology. As they prepared to set down the bomb and get ready to blow the place up the Lord of Hell materializes in front of them and starts to gloat "Who do you think you are puny mortals? Think that your bomb can ruin Hell and kill me, you don't even realize the futility of your actions, Mwuhahahaha". The players looked utterly dismayed until one of them gets it...he's still holding the bomb with his friend and he says "I am Ruin" and the other one gets it too and says "I am Death". Now it is the Lord of Hell's turn to be dismayed and the PC's can see the fear in his eyes. The third one smiles and is about too detonate the bomb when the Lord of Hell orders him "STOP, you are my servant, kneel before me, you are the betrayer I named you myself". The Betrayer is forced down on his knees but still he smiles and says "Yes I am the betrayer, you named me yourself and now I chose to betray you" and he detonates the bomb.

One of the most epic ending to my campaigns ever.

KnotKnormal
2016-04-01, 07:11 AM
thanks for the responses guys, gals, and goos. I look forward to throwing some of these new ideas at my players.

Happy Gaming.

Storm_Of_Snow
2016-04-01, 08:52 AM
Assuming there's still time to add things, another possible way of showing things going from bad to worse to awful to seriously messed up is with their supplies - at the start, everything they could want is potentially available as normal, then things start to fall off the lists, or become expensive, difficult to find or only available on the black market. Say, food items become restricted to only those locally produced and are only available in small amounts, the rest going to the army, things like arrows become completely unavailable unless you make them yourself, metal and leather are taken by the state for use in making armour and weapons, every cart is commandeered for the war effort and so on.

And the soldiers marching off to war would give a good indication as well - idealised volunteers (young healthy male adults) to start with, then conscripts, then convicts, then women and the too young/too old, before finally anyone who can conceivably hold a weapon. Describe whole villages left near or actually completely abandoned, with everything of conceivable use stripped out, and towns populated by only the elderly, infirm and infants.

Might be an idea to have a world map, and slowly start to push the characters back across it - especially if they go through some places on the way out, and back through them in their depleted states on their way back. Carefully (as in don't over do it) hype up certain defensive locations and have them overun easily, or certain military units of reknown that get curbstomped without the enemy seeming to slow down, while the local ruler exhorts the populace to stand strong, even though his family is being evacuated and he's got a fast horse waiting to go and join them (and he might be a coward, or he might want to stay and fight, but his advisors are trying to get him to leave in order to keep something of the country alive to rally around and retake the land later).

Have the PCs side (and the PCs themselves) have to do terrible things themselves just to try and stem the tide - for instance, if the enemy are undead, they'd have to ensure their own casualties couldn't be raised to fight against them. Or maybe they have to destroy a bridge, trapping hundreds of refugees, because there's insufficient time to get them across before the enemy arrive, and if the bridge falls, the war is all but lost.