How to give the players more felt impact on the “Battle of the Silkwiesen”?

Today I started playing "The Year of the griffon" with my DSA (TDE on German) group (after about 4 or 5 sessions to teach rules, make characters, learn a bit about the pre-orc-invasion Griffon March). I use the DSA 4 re-release of the old DSA 3 adventure and the 4.1 rules, but that does not change it significantly. While the players did like the epic part of the tale, the chance to be able to take part in the biggest battle since the first demon battle1, they did correctly note that the tale dragged on:

They had little chance to do anything impactful for most of the battle, and true, they are just 5 soldiers in a body of ca. 15000 soldiers. Yet, in the 15-page long chapter dedicated to the battle, they were supposed to act inside of the constraints of a conscripted milita unit.

Even as they helped at saving Prince Brin by blasting a bunch of Orcs with flash spells (Blitz dich Find in German), making the retreat of him probably much easier, even as they were part of the final strike against the shaman raising the dead of the battle as undead, they felt like being pushed over the battlefield by forces beyond them (their commanders as proxies, the surpreme fieldmarshall Helme Haffax in person and thus (by proxy) Prince Brin himself), and true, they were.

They had large eyes about the ‘life is cheap’ attitude of the battle as I descriebed how some of their buddies died right next to them, even if I didn’t drag out the training too much (there are 2 pages dedicated to how to narrate out the training in detail and who each of those people were) but glossed over quite some of it. Mostly I was giving small ‘flashbacks’ on the training that were previously not mentioned as they saw the soldiers die – which turned out to be just as impactful as playing a whole evening to make them like the expendable NPCs.

In the end, after achieving all the optional plot goals and reducing the casulties quite some by the right choices at the right times, they cried out (with good reason) that for very very large parts it became rather boring to listen to the constant rush of high battle.

When they HAD good chance to act, then they discussed over each other what to do at all, trying to gaugue what might even have an impact and what was expected from them by the author while I clearly told them "This book has a solution for almost anything you come up with, and no, you very most likely won’t die in the prologue". I did tell them after the adventure part they had total plot armor in that battle alone, and they facepalmed: One mentioned "I could have been more reckless?!" – I did however reward that they had not been reckless.

All in all, the 15 pages translated to about 5-hourincluding interrupts, player actions and one rolled out skirmishof gaming… and gave me a rather dull feeling about playing this battle ever again, possibly using the shorcut of just summarizing the battle and its results (yes, that IS an option given!) if I ever do it again. But I did at least want to try.

Annotations

1 – The Ogre battle of 1003 BF would qualify for the biggest battle of their lifetime before the Silkwiesen. They don’t know about that battle as players. They DO know though about the Battle in front of Gareth – the first Demon Battle – that happened 1556 years ago right next to the Silkwiesen.

While page-long narratives are not uncommon to TDE and several pages of mainly narrative battle happen (ca 5 pages of interrupted narrative in the Ogre battle), The Battle on the Silkwiesen in The Year of the Griffon is probably the worst offender after the Year of the Fire, which does somewhat interrupt its massive battle with playercentric action. These battle-narratives are an exception in the bulk though: of about 200 adventures/campaigns only maybe 10 do have these large scale battles.

All in all the book is – including all handouts, index and pictures – 185 pages long. The Battle on the Silkwiesen does contain maybe 6 pages of condensed narrative with almost no player freedon if all GM info are struck. Abbreviation takes… the lines below

Battle on the Silkwiesen & Year of the Griffon abbreviated

The "Battle on the Silkwiesen" is the prologue/intro to the adventure campaign "The Year of the Griffon". It’s basically a single scripted scene with some player interaction with the surroundings. About 10000-15000 orcs clash against the same amount of mass recruits, militia, and every trained soldier the empire has available, some quarter to half of them veterans, professionals, and noble knights. In the end, 3000 soldiers and the same amount of orcs lie dead, another 3000 soldiers are wounded severely, but the orc army is in disarray and retreats back. A Pyrrhic victory, as neither side can muster enough reserves to make a strike for the following weeks…

Question

Are there situations in the battle on the Silkwiesen where players could be given more playground, even as it is a scripted 15 pages piece of narrative?