20 Things to See During a Siege

Walled towns, cities and castles are often besieged, during wars or border incursions. Such engagements are characterised by brief bouts of fighting punctuating long periods of watching and waiting. That doesn’t mean, however, that nothing’s happening…

By Paul Daly

Use the table below, to generate minor events of interest to the defenders during a siege. Remember to modify each event to better fit the general flow of events.

  1. A servant rushes passed. He bears a wooden pole over his shoulders from which hang two buckets filled with water. Several pewter drinking cups also hang from the pole. As he hurries off, he slops water onto the floor.
  2. A guard atop the wall leans against the parapet looking out over the battlements. (A perceptive PC notices the guard does not move; he could be asleep or dead—the victim of a spy or assassin creeping over the wall).
  3. Two guards huddle atop the wall, deep in conversation. They seem to be paying almost no attention to what lies beyond the battlements.
  4. Two children sit huddled against a wall. Wrapped in cut-down thick cloaks, they sob quietly. Nearby squats an obviously worried-looking man clad in ragged leather armour. He clutches a spear and has a grim look of determination on his face.
  5. The jingle of armour and the tread of heavy feet heralds the approach of a four-man patrol of men-at-arms. (A perceptive PC notices the men-at-arms have worried looks on their faces). They search any obvious hiding places in the immediate vicinity, before continuing their patrol.
  6. The sudden harsh clamour of blade on blade nearby shatters the relative peace. (Investigations reveal, two man-at-arms practising their swordplay—enemies are not within the walls).
  7. A sudden wind picks up, blowing the stench of the enemies’ camp over the fortress’ walls. Snatches of sound also reaches the defender’s ears.
  8. Suddenly an arrow arcs over the wall. It narrowly misses a man-at-arms, who instinctively ducks as it shatters against a nearby wall.
  9. A small group of peasants stand in a loose circle. An angry murmur rises above the group as one of the burlier men expounds upon some point. A single alert, man-at-arms stands nearby observing the group with a concerned look upon his face. Several of the women in the group cast dark looks in his direction.
  10. With a scream, one of the guards atop the wall suddenly throws his hands into the air before falling backwards off the walkway, an arrow in his throat. (PCs rushing to his aid discover he is already dead).
  11. A young teenage boy wearing a rusting suit of chainmail and a comically over-sized helmet staggers passed. He nervously clutches a spear and looks terrified.
  12. Suddenly, a wildly struck alarm bell shatters the relative calm. Immediately, defenders grab their weapons and rush to man the walls. (This could be a false alarm or the start of a proper attack).
  13. Deep drumming sounds from somewhere in the enemy camp. It begins suddenly and goes on for hours.
  14. Heavy rain lashes both attackers and defenders. Visibility is reduced and the ground outside the wall quickly turns to mud. Whoever can do so, seeks shelter. The rain lasts for several hours before slowly petering out.
  15. A particularly large bird circles high above the walls. Several of the defenders mutter among themselves and several shoot at the bird, but to no avail. (Perceptive PCs even note one of the shots seems to hit the bird, but bounces off!)
  16. Tears running down his face, a small child wanders about. He has lost his mother and cannot find her. If he—Aldorn—is returned to his mother—Shel—she is tremendously grateful as he has been missing for hours. (Later, if the enemy breach the walls, Shel seeks the party out for protection; Aldorn—at an impressionable age—begins to hero worship one of the PCs).
  17. Hysterical screaming alerts everyone nearby to a terrible event. Investigations reveal a man-at-arms dead with a dagger in his back. Was the death the result of an argument, or has a spy snuck into the fortress?
  18. A commotion without the walls reveals the arrival of reinforcements to bolster the attacker’s force. Several covered wagons hint at the arrival of extra supplies—or perhaps even a dismantled siege engine (and its ammunition).
  19. A man-at-arms, clearly drunk almost beyond words—lies slumped against a wall. The man is insensible; he is found by an officer and hauled away. The next day, he is hung from the walls as an example to others.
  20. The enemy camp is suspiciously quiet all day. Suspicions rise, they are planning a major attack.

The events detailed above could serve as nothing more than descriptive filler to aid the GM describing the passing time between bouts of fighting. Alternatively, they could serve as springboards for interesting role-playing opportunities with the other defenders. Finally, some could serve as a hook for some minor adventure or side trek.

In My Campaign

I used this table in my Shattered Star campaign recently (sessions 80 – 83) to add moments of interest to a siege. The party were helping defend a border town from an undead incursion and I wanted to spice up proceedings a little bit and add an element of randomness into the sessions.

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This article appears in 20 Things #15: War-Ravaged Land. For more free 20 Things lists, check out our Free Resources page.

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2 thoughts on “20 Things to See During a Siege

  1. awesome.

    there’s an area in the sandbox planescape game i’m running that the players haven’t picked up yet. a nervous Xorn sits in the corner of the tavern chewing on cobblestones from a bucket that the barkeep brought in. the players have not yet tried to deeply communicate with it. the Xorn is a military courier from the elemental plane of earth where a war between stone giants and an incursion of an army of mud elementals has been raging for centuries. but the Xorn is also something of a coward ever since two of his comrades were recently slain in battle. if the players ever do communicate with him he’ll try to get them to deliver his battle-changing strategic message to a stone giant captain pinned down under flanking crossfire.

    i think i’ll be able to modify some of the ideas presented here quite nicely if the players ever pick up that hook and run with it.