Running an Invasion


In Long Term Planning stages for a campaign. I want to run an invasion. Specifically, the PCs will be residents of a mining colony in an otherwise unsettled northern region. The colony, and its outliers, periodically experience barbarian raids and the occasional problems with monsters. Recently, however, that activity is on the rise. It soon turns into a full blown invasion of barbarian groups that usually do not work together but have been united under a common leader. Whether they are land based barbarian tribes or viking type raiders(which was my initial thought) I haven't decided.

Now, I have all kinds of books that might be of use: WotC's book about war, Red Hand of Doom. My main questions to you are:

-have you ever run an invasion?
-what were the challanges you faced as a DM?
-what recommendations do you have?
-Is it better to give the PCs clear objectives, or let them make their own way?
-Have you ever played such a scenario from the PCs POV?
-IF so what suggestions do you have for a GM?

BTW - I don't really care if the city stands or falls, so long as its a consequence of the PCs actions.

Oh, and the reason for the invasion? A dragon is rampaging across the north and has driven them from their lands. Something else the PCs will have to deal with should they survive the invasion.

1) Game expectation issue: if it is a surprise invasion you might upset the people who were expecting a nice quiet mining game (no idea how this could happen in Pathfinder but you never know) This of course is the question on when you're springing your event.

2) Scale: the "Can we kill it" question. That relies on the how long is this event going to last in your campaign. Conversely don't let the event just get crushed by some lucky boulder to the barbarian chieftain. That being said, if it looks unbeatable players can lose forwards momentum.

Yes, I've run something akin to what you're talking about.
Specifically, I had the players as very new adventurers from a small village right on the borderlands inhabited by various tribes and small nations of humanoids. Some decade and a half ago, a half-fiend orc was born who had just now started his meteoric rise to power and uniting the tribes. This sort of rising happens every century or two and is the civilized lands' nightmare.
As to whether you should script the objectives or let the players decide, that's totally up to you. If you let the players decide you're firmly in simulationist territory, which is foreign to most GMs. If the latter, you're in more familiar gamist/narrativist land. My take is that the simulationist way is ultimately more fun for everyone concerned, but that's a religious debate really.
In either case though, make like a 5 year plan for whoever the chief antagonist/BBEG is. What does he want and how does he plan to get it? What are his options for when things go badly or sideways?

I did an invasion once...

Goblinoid army attacked...PC's were 1st level. Initially their mission was to avoid the army and survive long enough to get back and report the invasion (border guards overrun). Climax was a fight vs. a few goblin scouts.

Next the party was sent "away" from invasion to carry a message to a nearby town...and runs afoul of a spy network of half-orcs.

When they returned, the goblinoids had defeated the kingdom forces, everyone was forced to retreat from that border towards the capital. PC's helped their Wizard patron move his tower via wagon, while fighting off goblin wolf riders and flyers. About this time they came across a fleeing human soldier, dying of wounds, who carried an important message. They then had to carry the message across hostile territory, evading what they could and killing the rest.

This continued for some time, as the PC's gained levels they fought more and the end they were fighting with the 2nd human army, flying in to attack the goblin leaders (killing them, and routing the goblin army).Until the end, they never actually fought the main goblin army, but it was a constant boogie man they greatly feared.

Ultimately, they became knights and the campaign ended...

A few thoughts...

Other posters have the right of it. Obviously your characters can't take on the entire army, but there are lots of roles they can play and smaller 'side missions' they can perform. Messages run through enemy territory, tracking and rooting out scouts as refugees flee, perhaps at some point being captured and then escaping, having learned the true force driving the invasion.

And there should be something like that, something bigger that they can go after to disrupt or end the war while everyone else is fighting on the lines. It really depends on how big you want it to be - it can be a nice way to burn through a few levels, or you can look to campaigns like dragonlance for inspiration of something much bigger.

All in all a great campaign idea and one not used enough in my opinion.

Silver Crusade

Red Hand was one of the better written adventures I've ever run and a superb model for crafting the role of a small party in affecting an invasion. Accounting for the effects of "side missions" on the final invasion itself and having the group run from hot spot to hot spot in town, captures the feel of being a part. Since RHOD does take into account the possibility of the land falling if the party fails (or for some odd reason does nothing), great ideas to take from it.

I'd second M P 433's suggestion of looking at the red Hand of Doom module. Although some of the scene to scene events require some absence of conceive-ability.

Pitting a group vs an actual army (>100) is not really plausible. Where groups overcome the single BBEG via the action economy, it is more so when 6-8 face 100. The army can just use swarm tactics and overwhelm the individuals.

RHoD breaks down the campaign with small quests to stymie the advancing army. The success or failure provides campaign points to determine the success or failure of the the overall war.
There are climactic battles and scenes of the party vs the bad guys, but in the overall scheme of things its the battles (points) that determine the war; not some unrealistic premise of the one-on-one face off of the generals of the two opposing armies (ala Gladiator).

The problem is the definitive time frame of the module. It establishes the advance of the Horde, with some potential slow down options, but leaves the PC's with little down time for personal events; crafting, research, etc...

I found and used a wide range of teasers to expand the cookie cutter feel of the module in the pages. Facing potential evil cults, thieves guild and local politics, commerce/ trade, etc...

I think invasions work really well as sandbox events. I've run a couple. The first step is to detail the command structure of the army and the logistical information on how the army runs.

If you have that information, then figuring out what the army is doing at any given time is easy: so easy in fact that the players should be able to figure it out or predict it so long as their is some basic logic involved.

If the army has any odd units or groups of people, detail them a little as well.

For example, in my last dragon lance game, the party basically beat the red dragon army before they ever got to Solace. They recognized that Verminard was hiring all the barbarian tribes and promising to pay them at the end of the season (little plunder in the area as far as gold or real wealth) so the party sunk his treasure ship to the bottom of the sea, making it impossible to pay them. They also (in DL style) turned a number of the red dragons against each other, basically causing a massive split in the army and making it impossible to govern. Then, when they were a little stronger they found Verminard and killed him.

It depends on how you and your PCs want to handle it. Do you want them to take leadership positions, either directing defenses of the city or leading troops into battle, or do you/they want then to be small cogs in a larger machine trying to be like special forces?

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