Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Upon the Eve of Battle

This is what I'm aiming for.
This is it. The day before the (hopefully) grand finale session of my current D&D campaign. We decided to change things up from our usual short evening sessions and take advantage of the Fourth of July holiday to run a longer daytime game.

If planning is any indication, this last session is shaping up to be pretty epic. I'll be running my first ever battlefield adventure using the "think big, play small" rules described in Heroes of Battle. I've run large scale combats in my game before, but it usually involves my players and a limited number of allies against large collections of enemies. This is the first time where the battle will become more setting than action, and the dynamism implied in a spiky, armor clad dungeon of humanity and carnage has me a bit anxious. There are so many moving parts, I fear that they could just as easily go flying off into oblivion as lock up entirely in a giant, stagnant brick.

This game has been going since February of 2009! That's four and a half years! Seven players, lots of adventures, but one adventure arc! I bit off more than I anticipated when dreaming up the story for this campaign, and I'm honestly amazed that it has held together as well as this. But tomorrow I will need to earn the ending. It needs to be exciting and epic. A deserving climax to almost half a decade and 10 levels of play. For most sessions, I plan for the best, but if they fall flat, it's okay. Not this time. This time has to go well. It has to be exciting, and challenging, and memorable because there is no next time for this particular story.

Now, don't get me wrong, I have discussed the "what's next" with my players and most of them would like to continue with their characters in this world, tying up loose ends, moving on to bigger and better adventures. But the battle against the blight that has torn the Kingdom of Cydon asunder ends tomorrow. It needs to end well.

My brain is full of one of my favorite descriptions of the eve of battle. The calm before the storm. I leave you with the words of the Chorus from Shakespeare's Henry V IV i.

Now entertain conjecture of a time
When creeping murmur and the poring dark
Fills the wide vessel of the universe.
From camp to camp through the foul womb of night
The hum of either army stilly sounds,
That the fixed sentinels almost receive
The secret whispers of each other's watch:
Fire answers fire, and through their paly flames
Each battle sees the other's umber'd face;
Steed threatens steed, in high and boastful neighs
Piercing the night's dull ear, and from the tents
The armourers, accomplishing the knights,
With busy hammers closing rivets up,
Give dreadful note of preparation:
The country cocks do crow, the clocks do toll,
And the third hour of drowsy morning name.
Proud of their numbers and secure in soul,
The confident and over-lusty French
Do the low-rated English play at dice;
And chide the cripple tardy-gaited night
Who, like a foul and ugly witch, doth limp
So tediously away. The poor condemned English,
Like sacrifices, by their watchful fires
Sit patiently and inly ruminate
The morning's danger, and their gesture sad
Investing lank-lean; cheeks and war-worn coats
Presenteth them unto the gazing moon
So many horrid ghosts. O now, who will behold
The royal captain of this ruin'd band
Walking from watch to watch, from tent to tent,
Let him cry 'Praise and glory on his head!'
For forth he goes and visits all his host.
Bids them good morrow with a modest smile
And calls them brothers, friends and countrymen.
Upon his royal face there is no note
How dread an army hath enrounded him;
Nor doth he dedicate one jot of colour
Unto the weary and all-watched night,
But freshly looks and over-bears attaint
With cheerful semblance and sweet majesty;
That every wretch, pining and pale before,
Beholding him, plucks comfort from his looks:
A largess universal like the sun
His liberal eye doth give to every one,
Thawing cold fear, that mean and gentle all,
Behold, as may unworthiness define,
A little touch of Harry in the night.
And so our scene must to the battle fly;
Where—O for pity!—we shall much disgrace
With four or five most vile and ragged foils,
Right ill-disposed in brawl ridiculous,
The name of Agincourt. Yet sit and see,
Minding true things by what their mockeries be.

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