Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Wonder: Piège à Loup lantern



 

Wonders

Wonders is a catchall term I’m using for what are often called magic items in other systems and settings. Wonders artifacts, relics, and all the various objects described in part V: Mysteries, Horrors, and Wonders in the Honor+Intrigue rulebook such as the creations of Alchemists, Apothecaries, Magicians, the inventions and contraptions of genius Craftsmen and Scholars, the dark castings of Sorcerers, and any other special objects that inventive GMs may decide to create and include in their campaigns. In my campaign I include relics like the Sword of Solomon, the bones of Saints, and nails from the True Cross. Just like in the real Early Modern world there are also fakes, frauds, and hoaxes to fool the gullible. 

To inaugurate this category I've included a wonder that the PCs have encountered and used in my own campaign. 


Wonder: “Piège à Loup” lantern


Legend says that a werewolf can be trapped or held by means of the “Piège à Loup”. 

Illustration of a Piège à Loup being used to trap a werewolf hung from a gallows

A Piège à Loup (English: Wolf Cage or Wolf Trap) is a lantern of unusual baroque designed. If the lantern is lit with a blessed candle, then no lycanthrope within the illumination of the lamp will be able to exit the illumination of the lamp. They are trapped as if in a cage of light. 


Two lanterns are known to exist. One is in the collection of objects in the museum-like Wunderkammer room in Amsterdam, Holland. The other is in the vaults beneath the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris.


Game Mechanics: A lycanthrope in beast or semi-beast form must succeed in three Daring rolls (or Flair) to exit the circle of illumination: Daring, Daring-2, and Daring-4. Each success moves the creature closer to the edge. The GM may describe this with the light forming chains, bars, or bonds and the creature howling and fighting to get free. If in their normal human form, the creature need only succeed in an easy roll of Daring+1 to exit the area of illumination, but a keen observer may notice a hesitation even on the part of a human form lycanthrope who succeeds in their Daring Roll.

In my H+I campaign I added a reference to a Piège à Loup in the Discours des Sorceirs.

Monday, January 30, 2017

What I am reading: On Stranger Tides by Tim Powers


"This dark fantasy tale will appeal not just to pirate fans but also to anyone who appreciates Powers's talent for blending the most unlikely elements into a brilliantly cohesive whole." 
-- Publishers Weekly (Starred Reviews)

The reviewer nailed it. On Stranger Tides (1987) by Tim Powers is an entertaining swashbuckling pirate story. And it's a secret history that, among other things, explains 
  • How Caribbean pirates were so successful at thwarting Spanish, English, French, and Dutch naval forces; 
  • Why Stede Bonnet, "The Gentleman Pirate," left the life of a wealthy landowner to turn to a life of crime;
  • The real, i.e. has to do with magic, reason that Blackbeard had lit slow matches tied into his hair and beard;
  • What was really behind Blackbeard's May 1718 blockade of Charleston, South Carolina and what he did with his treasure before he died.


Powers does have a talent for "secret history" historical fiction. Years before reading anything by Dan Brown I read Anubis Gate by Powers. (I much prefer Powers' story telling.) Anubis Gate is a time travel story set mostly in 1810, featuring a brainwashed Lord Byron, magic, Egyptian gods and a werewolf. What's not to like?

Typically, Powers strictly adheres to established historical fact. In a Powells interview regarding his 2000 novel Declare, he stated,

"I made it an ironclad rule that I could not change or disregard any of the recorded facts, nor rearrange any days of the calendar – and then I tried to figure out what momentous but unrecorded fact could explain them all."

One nice bit is that Powers tells us what magic in this world smells like -- hot metal like an overheated gun that's been fired too many times in succession. That makes me think that I've spent way too little time and effort deciding and describing the sensory effects of magic.

The characters are entertaining. I liked the protagonist. In fact he reminded me a bit of Will Turner in the first Pirates of the Caribbean film. Jack Shandy starts out naive and out of his element, though still  possessed of a few useful talents - who would think that being a puppeteer would help you in a sword fight? But we see him learn and grow and change as he comes to terms with the strange environment into which he has been thrown. The love interest, while likeable, is somewhat 2-dimensional, but she is the object not the subject of the quest. And the pirate captain Phillip Davies is delightful.
"One of the pirates stepped forward and sprang up the companion ladder to the poop deck so lithely that Chandagnac was surprised, when the man turned and tilted back his three-cornered hat, to see the deep lines of his dark cheeks and the quantity of gray in his tangled black hair. He scanned the men below him and grinned, narrowing his eyes and baring a lot of teeth."
Sound like any pirate captains who you might have later seen elsewhere?

Disney optioned the novel for the third (2011) Pirates of the Caribbean film On Stranger Tides. But, without getting into two many spoilers, with the exception of the title, there are at least as many elements of the book in the first movie in the franchise as there are in the second. And like most movies inspired by books, the book is better. 

Captain Davis is frequently drinking, but then so are virtually all the pirates in the book so it doesn't stand out as irritatingly unusual in the way I sometimes find Depp's Captain Jack Sparrow. Phil Davis often steals the reader's interest from both the hero and the villains of the tale. He's a good, interesting character with plausible virtues and vices. Davies has a wry sense of humor. He's a keen observer of the human condition and he is honest about himself. I like his description cum metaphor of the honest and good-hearted Jack as a wooden choirboy Christmas ornament that was knocked of the shelf is a unique and quirky and it tells the reader why he likes and helps Jack.

I enjoyed On Stranger Tides a lot. I give it 3.5 stars.




Friday, January 27, 2017

Fiction Friday - Vol 7 Tales of Vengeance, Bk III: Full Moon, Ch 1 & 2




Volume 7: Tales of Magic
and Mayhem


 Book III: Full Moon


Chapter 1: Return to Soissons

The report Father Signoret had written about the hunt for the werewolf of Soissons had alarmed Pére Joseph and he, in turn, had spoken to and alarmed Cardinal Richelieu. The Cardinal decided that this was information that should not become widely known amongst the people lest social disorder, loss of faith, anarchy, and chaos be the result. The Cardinal decided that he needed to take action to ensure that the werewolf problem in Soissons was truly solved and, at the same time just in case Gaston was infected or cursed by the loup garou, he needed to get Captain Gaston Thibeault out of Paris before the next full moon. Therefore the Cardinal assigned Gaston to lead the survivors of the first mission back to Soissons to verify that the loup garou was truly dead and to make certain that no new Loup Garou would appear. 


Unknown to Gaston, Pére Joseph had also sent his trusted agent, the Baron Simon Ile-de-Batz, to Soissons. The Baron’s job was to watch Gaston and to observe events. If the Captain needed help in destroying another werewolf and ending the curse in Soissons, then the Baron would help. And if he learned that Gaston was subject to the curse or had transformed into a Loup Garou, then if necessary the Baron would destroy Gaston and as many as necessary to ensure that if such an event should occur it did not subtract from the reputation of the Cardinal or of his new Red Guards.


Before they left Paris, Captain-Lieutenant Gaston Thibeault had ordered that each of the men on the mission should be issued with either special silver ammunition or weapons in quantities equal to 6 silver pistol balls, 4 musket balls, two silver tipped quarrels, or a single silver tipped half pike. Since pistol and musket balls were of different sizes they were not interchangeable. In addition, the Cardinal had given Gaston the gift of a silver inlaid dagger to replace the silverware he had used to kill the first werewolf. In addition to himself, the hunting party consisted of Father Signoret, Gaston’s giant cousin Norbert, Jacques Dlancey, and the other five surviving Red Guards who had accompanied them on the first werewolf hunt in Soissons.


Father Signoret had personally blessed each silver weapon. The Jesuit too carried blessed silver bullets for his pistol. In addition, he carried the Wolf Trap Lantern that he had found in the vaults beneath the Cathedral of Notre Dame and the silver. Inside it had a beeswax candle that he had taken from the Cathedral. He also carried the Silver Nail of St. Hubertus which was essential for performing the ritual that could prevent someone wounded by a loup garou from being tainted by the curse of lycanthropy. 


Gaston was determined that if there was another Loup Garou that they would eliminate in such a way so as not to detract from their previous success. The party left at the beginning of the last week of February. The next full moon would not occur until the fifth of March, which should allow them plenty of time to travel to Soissons and begin their investigations.


The first day’s travel was fairly uneventful. Patches of sunshine shone through the clouds and the weather was much warmer than it had been on their first visit to Soissons. Even the delay when one of their horses threw a shoe was minor. The next day was even warmer and they traveled long hurrying to reach an inn for the night. But the sun was setting behind the trees leaving the wooded path on which they rode in a dim twilight. Just around a bend in the road they only just noticed in time a rope strung between two trees on opposite sides of the road. The rope was just high enough to catch a mounted rider in the neck or upper chest. They quickly reacted to what was probably an ambush. But the ambush had not been aimed at them. They found a horse, still saddled grazing nearby and blood smeared on a nearby tree. They scouted the area and Father Signoret found the dead body of a man that had been tossed in some bushes. The body had been stripped of its boots or shoes and outer garments. Signoret also found a narrow game trail that it looked like the ambushers had used to make their getaway. The trail headed in the direct of what, from the chimney smoke, must be a nearby village. Not far from the body, Signoret a dead body narrow game trail that the ambushers had used. 


While the Jesuit followed the trail, Gaston led the others at the trot to the village. Signoret was able to find tracks leading to a home on the outskirts of the village and judicious questioning allowed the heroes to uncover the two brigands who lived there. It was possible that the villagers were aware of or even complicit with the brigands, so Gaston decided they should either hang them now or take them to Soissons. He was persuaded to do the latter and he ordered the two brigands under guard and that the villagers should collect the body of the victim of the ambush and give it a proper burial. They victim’s horse would be used to transport the prisoners. 


The next day they left the village with their two prisoners under guard. Travel that day was uneventful as was the day after. The only noticeable event a coach heading to Paris from the north stopped at lunchtime at the same roadside in as the hunting party. The passengers of the coach were foreigners traveling to Paris. They were curious about the unusual, red uniforms of the Guards and seemed especially interested in the unusual sight of giant riding a great horse and clad in the incarnadine red of the Cardinal’s new Guard.


They reached the town of Soissons before dark. While Father Signoret made arrangements to stay with Brother Crispin, his friend and correspondent, Gaston and the other Red Guards took rooms at the now familiar Two Saints Tavern. Several other guests from out of town were staying there. One was a mysterious noble from Paris[i] who they never saw as he seemed to spend the entire time in his room, though they often saw his two attendants either in the common room or walking about town. One named Duclos was French and the other named Alemany was Spanish. Both clearly appeared to be like soldiers and swordsmen and neither looked anything like a servant or a valet. In regards to their noble companion the two maintained a discrete silence. 


The last guest was Maurice Pépin, a card player from Paris. Pepin said that he was in the country for his health. “Country air is very bracing. Especially when one has won altogether too much money from a very poor loser. The first thing Norbert saw when he entered the Two Saints Tavern was Old Naudin, a one legged former soldier and who now lived off the charity he found in Soissons, especially in the flower market or at the Two Saints Tavern. Before Norbert could say anything the beggar began to berate Norbert, then warned him to stay away from Yvette the flower seller. “Poor girl hasn’t had a decent night’s sleep after what you put her through.” Naudin continued to warn and complain about Norbert’s treatment of Yvette. He clearly didn’t like the giant, but he seemed sincere in his desire to look out for the young flower seller.

Chapter 2: Hunting for Answers


The party asked questions of the citizens of Soissons and the Town Governor, Bertin de Labrousse. Based on the answers they received as well as their prior mission to Soissons and knowledge of the Governor, they were very suspicious of de Labrousse and they became convinced that he was hiding his brother Armand somewhere, probably inside the Governor’s Mansion. Father Signoret confirmed that the night of March the 5th was a full moon and, based on his research, he told them that the new loup garou would be most likely to transform or manifest that night. 


Gaston had them prepare to surreptitiously enter the mansion. They obtained a small boat to cross the moat and rope and grapples to get over the wall. On the night of March 5th they waited by the boat as they waited for the full moon to rise. While they waited, Gaston repeated his instructions to the men.


“Our mission is to find Armand de Labrousse and to learn if he or anyone else in the mansion has become a loup garou. And any loup garou we find, we send back to hell. Remember these guards are not your enemies. They are soldiers of France who are just doing their duty. Try not to hurt them and don’t kill anyone unless you absolutely have to do so.


“No gunshots. We can’t afford to alert the garrison before our mission is done. So no firing until I give the order. All pistols are to be kept unwound and unlocked until I give the command. If we can, we will depart the same way we got in. If we get back out without alerting the garrison, then so much the better. If not, then we get the gate open any way we can and hold it until all of us get out. No one, dead or alive, is to be left behind. 


“Our rendezvous is the big tree to the left of the road to Compèigne where Claude will be waiting with our horses already saddled.”


[i] Unknown to the heroes, the noble is Baron Simon Ile-de-Batz who was there to observe Gaston and kill him if he turned into a Loup Garou.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Leadership and Military Ability for Early Modern France

Battle of Rocroi Spanish Tercio vs. French Cavalry

Honor+Intrigue House Rule

I want to be able to include army and fleet level military actions in my H+I campaign. This was a feature of the Siege of Bergen op Zoom campaign arc and it is likely to again occur in the current Face of Treason campaign arc that I am running. Barbarians of Lemuria and Honor+Intrigue both use Careers - specifically the Soldier, Mercenary, Sailor, and Pirate Careers as a proxy for generalship or military ability. Savvy or Flair also do and should figure into the capabilities for Army Generals and Flee Admirals. But I'd like to have more variety than simply using Careers and I want some of the qualities to matter when commanding troops.

At a high level I want to include three aspects to commanding troops. First is military ability which includes tactics, strategy, ability to assess the ground or field of battle, create and use surprise, and so forth. Second is leadership which I see as the ability to get men to follow you into battle and for subordinates to execute your orders and the qualities of charisma and natural leadership that effect morale. Third is daring or resolution. This includes the willingness to act without complete information and in the fog of war, to hold a position against the odds, or to charge the enemy. In this time period leaders are still near or at the front, witness the death of Gustavus Adolphus at the Battle of Lützen.

Military Ability (MA)

So for military ability I chose to use the combination of Career and the Savvy. 

MA = Career+Savvy *


The relevant careers are Soldier or Mercenary for army combat and Sailor or Pirate for fleet combat.

* -1 if the commander does not possess a relevant Career.

Leadership (L)

One thing I've noticed in reading about French armies in the Early Modern period is that senior and even lower levels of military leadership were frequently provided by or even identical to the nobles of France. This was true even when the noble in question was not the most competent nor even a minimally competent commander. (This problem is by no means limited to the French. The purchase of Army commissions in Britain for example was infamous well into the Enlightenment or later.) So one question is - why did the kings and ministers allow, enable, and even foster this? 

One answer is that military rank like most offices were for sale and this was a significant source of revenue to the crown. Another answer is that high social rank was necessary for an army commander to control the tendency of lower ranking officers of higher social ranks to engage in independent action. The army needed a high noble in charge otherwise nobles of a higher social rank would feel entitled and even justified in ignoring the orders and instructions of a general of a lower social rank. 

There were two tools that kings and ministers could use to manage this issue. First, a good tactician could be provided as a staff or supporting officer to advise the socially high ranking but militarily not so competent commander. This had mixed success since socially high ranking French nobles were not well known for heeding the advice of their social inferiors and often seemed to have an inflated sense ego and sense of their own importance and competence. (As should be especially obvious of late, this too is not a problem limited to the French.)

A second tool used by the king to manage this problem and to place a good tactician in command armies was to promote that person to the title of Marshal of France. This would give them a sufficiently high social rank to keep all but nobles of the highest social rank, e.g. the Grands, in line.

I'd like to reflect this historical reality. Since I've added Social Rank as a house rule to my campaign that seems like it would make good proxy. But I wanted to limit this to noble rank and not allow things like wealth or holding a church, club, or bureaucratic office that add to Social Rank to effect military Leadership.


L= Modifier for Title + Flair


I created a Title table to list the modifiers.




Daring and Resolution (D)


Daring adds to Leaderhip to Attack with less than Overwhelming odds**, Rally, or Defend against odds. Daring or resolution is the simplest command aspect to model. For this I chose to simply use the H+I Quality of Daring.


D= Daring


** Note the H+I rules section Mass Combat (p 110) lists the following Army Sizes: Not Larger, Moderately Larger, Much Larger, and Overwhelming.

Examples

For examples I'll use three of the player characters in my campaign. 

Guy de Bourges (SR 9) is a minor noble who was inducted into the noble Order of the Holy Ghost making him a Chevalier. He has Daring 2, Savvy 3, Flair 3, and no relevant Careers.
  • Guy: MA=2 (-1+3), L=3 (0+3), D=2.

Gaston Thibeault (SR 9) is a commoner, his social rank is due to his military rank and post at the Captain-Lieutenant of the Cardinal's Guard. He has Daring 3, Savvy 2, Flair 3, Soldier 3. He has the Boon: Laughs in the Face of Danger which gives him a bonus die for most rolls involving Daring.
  • Gaston: MA=5 (3+2), L=0 (-1+1), D=3+

Hippolyte de Bouchard the Foul Corsair is a commoner. He has Daring 2, Savvy -1, Flair 1, Pirate 2. 
  • Corsair: MA=1 (2-1), L=0 (-1+1), D=2.

I determine NPC Careers as part of the creation process and for nameless or generic leaders I can easily decide how good a Soldier or Sailor they are based on the concept and history of the NPC. But for Leadership and Daring I created a couple of tables for randomly determining L and D for generic NPC commanders.








 

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Fast Combat: Musketry

In Honor+Intrigue unless Pawns gang up they usually have little chance to hit or damage the Heroes. Grouping Pawns is handy for the GM since it cuts down on the number of 2d6 rolls that need to be made by the GM. But if there are large numbers of Pawns the GM may still end up rolling multiple 2d6 rolls. One trick I've found takes advantage of one of the quirks of 2d6 odds. If the chance to succeed is 10+ then there is a 6/36 or 1/6 chance to succeed. This means that instead of having to make multiple 2d6 rolls, the GM can just roll 1d6 for each Pawn or group of Pawns that succeed on 10+. 

This tends to work best with Ranged Combat, in part because there is much less that a PC can do that will change the odds of success than there is in Melee Combat. Whereas the ranges beyond Short all have negative modifiers. By grouping the number of shooters so that each group hits on 10+ the GM can simplify the shooting by simply rolling 1d6 with a 6 = Hit.

With no bonuses or penalties, 9+ is a success in H+I. So 10+ is needed for success whenever there is a -1 penalty. Range penalties based on distance are listed in the table below. Each additional Pawn attacking the same target gives a +1 to hit. So the far right column indicates the number of Pawns needed to for the group to succeed on 10+. In the first two rows the number of the Pawns needed is still only 1 and so instead of # of Pawns the table lists the 2d6 roll needed to succeed. 




 


Example 1: A militia platoon of 24 musketeers are firing at 3 Heroes. the range is Distant. For simplicity I assume that the musketeers will target all three of the Heroes. The militia are not good shots, but they aren't terrible, so I assume their base Ranged Attack +0. The range gives a penalty of -4. Looking at the table I see that a group of four musketeers firing need a 10+ to succeed.  The militia are in two rows so half fire the first round and half the next and then it will be a few rounds before they can reload.  There are 12 musketeers in each row so each row has 3 groups of for, so one for each Hero. Since each group succeeds on a 10+ I can just roll 1d6 with a 6=Hit for each of the groups. 

Example 2: As above but we'll assume the Heroes are charging and the second row holds their fire until the Heroes are at medium range.  Now each musketeer succeeds on 10+. So just grab a handful of d6s, roll them all, count the 6s and distribute the hits amongst the Heroes. You might notice that this could be really fatal. Mordieu, but I hope each of your Heroes have the Fortune Points to turn their hit into a Close Call.

Example 3: As above but the Heroes are at Extreme range. (Maybe the militia is nervous and they don't hold their fire). Now we need six musketeers in each group, so there are only 2 groups firing each round. Figure out who is the lucky Hero who doesn't get shot at.

Example 4: As in the second example but we'll assume that the 12 musketeers hold their fire until the Heroes are at point blank range. (Personally I doubt the militias would do that normally so I'd make them roll morale e.g. Daring to hold their fire that long, but we'll ignore that for now.) Now each militia man hits on an 8+. So I can either roll 2d6 twelve times (tedious) or I can group the militia and adjust the odds. I'll still have to roll 2d6 but instead of 12 times I'll just roll once for each Hero. There are 4 militia men for each Hero so that gives the group +3 to succeed so they will score a hit on a 5+.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Types of Sieges and Their Use for RPG Adventures

Siege of La Rochelle, with nearby Île de Ré, by G.Orlandi, 1627.



An important, perhaps to the participants even the key, feature of Early Modern were sieges. It is true in all times and all places that soldiers spend very little of there actual time engaged in battle, especially big, clash of armies battles. Hence the aphorism that war is -

Months of boredom punctuated by moments of extreme terror.

A lot of a soldier's time is spent waiting and trying to stave off the boredom of having to wait. And in early modern warfare some significant time periods were spent waiting on one side or the other of a siege line. Sieges could last for years: 


  • Ostend (1601–04)
  • Breda (1624 – 1625)
  • La Rochelle (1627–1628)
  • Mantua (1629–30)
  • Casale Monferrato (1629–31)
  • Candia (Crete) (1648–69) Yeah that’s right that's  twice as long as the legendary 10 year siege of Troy.
  • Waterford (1649-1650)
  • Copenhagen (1658–1659)
  • Fort Zeelandia (1661–1662)      
  • Ceuta (1694–1727) - 33 years! Claimed as the longest siege in history.
 

Our post Blitzkrieg, post Shock & Awe modern military viewpoint has a lot of difficulty comprehending the importance and focus that siege warfare and fortification design held on 17th century military and political thinkers and decision makers. Indeed we have a lot of trouble understanding the thought processes of the General Staff on either side in the First World War or the French over reliance on the Maginot line that followed it.



Capturing strong points was important to the way political and military leaders conceptualized war and its aims. And for the noble classes who provided most of the officers in the armies of the period, war was a way to gain glory and renown. And with the exception of a one army smashing into another sort of big battle - which only happened rarely in that or most periods, a successful conducted siege - whether as the besieger or the defender was likely to result in glory and promotions for some of the officers. And for the besiegers there might even be the bonus of a chance to loot the town.

The original inspiration for my post was an article I read about a year ago on the English Civil War blog Siege types of the English Civil War by David Flintham, a military historian specialising in 17th century sieges and fortifications. Flintham says,

"The origins of the great transformations of the 18th and 19th centuries (the Enlightenment, and the Agricultural and Industrial Revolutions) are firmly in the 17th century. The transformation on the battlefield was no less dramatic – military engineering which was regarded as an ‘art’ during the 16th century was very much a science by the end of the 17th ..." 

Siege warfare with on one side the immense precisely designed star-shaped fortifications on the one  side and the geometric traceries of multiple circumvallations connected by parallel communication trenches on the other is the aspect of warfare most amenable to the new fascination with reason and science. And the acknowledged master of the period was Vauban.



Later Flintham divides sieges into four types.
"Civil War sieges fall into four types:

  • The coup de main, where surprise was used (such as Alexander Leslie’s capture of Edinburgh Castle in 1639).
  • The ‘smash and grab', where an assault was launched after a preliminary bombardment, a preferred tactic of the New Model Army (and on at least one occasion, at Dartmouth Castle in 1646, the assault was launched without any bombardment). Here, just the threat of the assault was often enough to persuade the garrison to surrender.
  • The blockade, which was a longer-lasting affair, and the besieger invested the place of strength, preventing communication and offensive activities by the garrison. This was the preferred option by an attacker unwilling (or unable) to attempt an assault and was used (without much success) by the Royalists at Gloucester, Plymouth and Lyme Regis.
  • Finally, and quite uncommon was the complete investiture, where a circumvallation of rampart and ditch, fort and battery would be constructed around the entire town, in so doing cutting it off from the outside world. Examples of this are few: Newark (1645-6), Oxford (1646) and Colchester (1648)."

  Cardinal Richelieu at the Siege of La Rochelle, Henri Motte, 1881.

These same categories are prevalent in nearly all military periods. Any of these types could be rich fodder for an RPG. Note that here I am not contemplating an RPG where the players are running the characters who are commanding the opposing armies or major units. That situation is closer to the typical wargaming session than it is to the typical RPG session. And if all the players are up for that the appeal should be obvious. Instead lets look at the more common situation where the PCs do not control major military units. So how does the GM use these situations? Let's look at them one by one.
  • The traditional OD&D dungeon crawl is an example of a coup de main. And it points the way towards how to use the PCs. Obviously they, with their mad skillz and willingness to take insane risks at the drop of a gold piece are invaluable for a surprise assault.
  • The 'smash and grab' also sounds like a traditional dungeon crawl, but arguably the preliminary bombardment may differentiate the two. Though clearly these two categories overlap as Flintham acknowledges when he mentions that the assault on Dartmouth Castle was launched without any bombardment. And presumably the assault on Dartmouth came as a surprise to defenders who, once the saw the besieging army march on up to their walls, were probably expecting the traditional bombardment prior to an assault. The PCs are perfect for the quintessentially forlorn hope that leads the assault. And if your game is one that features powerful magic users (like many versions of D&D) why your PCs are also the artillery for the initial bombardment of the 'smash and grab.' And don't forget the defenders. Most fortifications have a few key areas and a few key vulnerabilities. Put the PCs there defending the important redoubt or holding the gateway once the ram has battered it down.
  • The blockade is probably the least used type for RPGs, with the possible exception of  naval and sci-fi based RPGs. The blockade and on its other side the blockade runner (you know that ship that we see at the beginning of A New Hope and the end of Rogue One). In part I suspect that is because blockade duty, like a complete investiture, is boring most of the time, but it lacks the fun of siege engines and the pageantry of one army staring at the other across their fortress walls and encircling  circumvallations. As mentioned, crashing the blockade is probably the easiest and most natural use for PCs. For naval blockades it does require that the PCs have a ship and for land blockades they should be mounted rather than infantry. 
  • The complete investiture has some of the same aspects as the blockade. We may see the defenders sending for help like we see, unsuccessfully, in Last of the Mohicans. PCs are perfect for this role. Otherwise I think that the investiture is best used as a backdrop. It may be the starting point for an assault or escalade (ascent by rope or ladders) which defaults to either the coup de main for, say a night escalade, or to the 'smash and grab' for an attack on a breach in the wall or a day time assault under covering fire. Another way to use the full investiture type of siege is assign the PCs to special forces or commando roles. They may be tasked to special missions to: sabotage an enemy battery, capture or kill an enemy leader, poison the water supply, blow up the ammo dump, set fires, drop the drawbridge and jam the portcullis, etc. I used several of the special missions during an arc where I set the PCs inside the town of Bergen-op-Zoom during the Spanish siege. Their roles included counter espionage, foiling attempts to blow up the towns powder magazine or to poison wells, stopping terror attacks aimed at destroying civilian will, holding important strong points against vigorous assault, and launching harassing raids to sabotage enemy guns or destroy the attackers morale.
  • Flintham left out one more way to take a fortress - treason. This too is good fodder for the PCs and it allows more scope for the more talkative and intellectual PCs and players beyond simply killing everything in their path. Figuring out how to find a weak defender who is susceptible to bribery or threats on the one hand or, for the defender, trying to catch the attacker's saboteurs and agents provocateur before they can strike on the other.