D&D General D&D and War


For pitched battles I’d use something like Dragon Rampant, rather than working with the modern D&D chassis which wants way too much detailed resolution per unit. The logistical/diplomatic questions of “getting a large group of forces from one place to another without starvation, plague, or mutiny” I’d give a pretty lightweight framework (some basic hexcrawling rules plus some spreadsheets for rations consumption or something, and some random tables) and rely more on interesting places and NPCs for juicy open-ended problems.

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I have run war as a backdrop with the PCs participating, taking on specific missions as part of the war effort, etc.

Though I like the war machine and similar rules for running mass battles, I find my players do not want to play that type of game. They want to control their PCs, not regiments of soldiers.


It depends how you want to resolve this in the game.

If you look at shows like the Sharpe series you get many examples of how a small squad of characters or unit can impact a much larger war. That to me is a much better way to make an interesting war campaign than abstracting troop movements in a wargame fashion.

I think war can be a great background for tangentially related individual heroism. Look at anime like Last Exile or Howl’s Moving Castle for how war can be a backdrop - without the PCs being military assets.

I recall Dragon/Dungeon magazine doing a special in the naughties set with the backdrop of a Gith invasion (topical) which looked quite good fun. Also the Paizo AP Ironfang invasion is set against the backdrop of a war.

Good D&D war campaigns are out there.

Let's remember the war is not only strategy in the batlefield but also the logistics. Napoleon's army suffered the first defeat in the battle of Bailen because they hadn't enough water for summer in South Spain and they were too loaded with the war loot. Then Spanish guerrilla discovered the weak point was attacking in the supply lines.

An army needs food, medicines, beds, clothing, armors and armours..

Maybe Hasbro dreams with a wargame franchise as Warhammer, but I am afraid today the best days for RTS ended. Today a lot of people have played Warhammer: Total War, and there are free-to-play strategy videogames in mobiles, tablets an social nets. More gamers means more players with enough experience to find all possible weak points in the power balance. For example the necromancer ruling an undead army could discover his magic attacks are useless against elemental or constructs monsters, or magical diseases and poisons can't work in the same way against plant creatures (with a different biology).

I don't remembe wargames mixing miniatures and cards enoughly popular in the current market.
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I don't believe in the no-win scenario
The primary focus of D&D is a micro view of war. Taking the war game down to the commando unit level. Over the decades that style of play has gotten a vast treatment of rulesets. Scaling back up to war, has been more of a supplement level that doesnt seem to have garnered the popularity to make it a dedicated thing.

I do like Birthright in that it reminds me of Diplomacy. I prefer my war much more on the abstract than in any detail. YMMV

The primary focus of D&D is a micro view of war. Taking the war game down to the commando unit level.
Certainly the roots of the game, and I’m a big fan of this app over murder hobos.

“The Last Kingdom”, “13th Warrior”, “Lord of the Rings” are my taste in D&Dish stuff, heavy on the warfare.

I think of stuff like “Critical Role” as too self-referentially D&D, but it’s presumably closer to 5e era player expectations.


I've had a lot of games that in some point have had a war brewing in the background, coming into the fore in the later levels - when the PCs are the at levels to lead or otherwise have a dramatic effect on the battlefield.

I've used a variety of systems, some homebrew as well as the official rules for various versions (BECMI Warmachine, Battlesystem, Birthright's system, 3E's Miniature's handbook, 5E's mob rules, L5R cinematic rules, Warhammer Fantasy). I've never quite found a system that clicks with all players nor have quite satisfied me entirely.

I like the idea of a mass combat system and having a war-based story, but I've found over the years I'm a bad general when it comes to detailed systems/rank & file games. But, I find I need those detailed system to more accurately give me an idea of how the battle would go so I can design around the player's involvement and "wing it" without having to make them run with the same detail. If I could, I'd run the detailed minis game ahead of time with someone who'd be interested, and just run a "heroic intervention" variant for the players so it'd just hit the highlights


B/X Known World
Also, I do not own the new Dragonlance book or board game. How is war handled in those?
In the module, it's an incredibly boring "take damage if you move to the edge of the map." That's it. The boardgame is more about completing missions than actually conducting the war. PCs as special ops completing quests to aid the war effort.
Do you like war as a back drop to a D&D campaign, either as an ongoing problem or an imminent threat?
I generally do, yes. It gives things a sense of immediacy and verisimilitude that I enjoy. I very much agree with Matt Colville's take on war in RPGs.
How do you feel about incorporating war, mechanically, into your campaign? Do mass battles and other aspects of war come up in play? If so, do you determine outcomes through actual play or use some proxy or just narrate the results?
I do like for there to be mechanics determining the outcome, even if it's super-light and behind the scenes. Give each side a % chance to win and roll to see who does. It works, but as you say, it's not very satisfying. I prefer to keep the conduct of the war as opt-in elements of play. Some players have zero interest in that, others love the idea. So at worst it will be an afternoon of small group play or a text/email exchange to resolve things.

Using 5E's combat rules only changing the statblocks to represent more than one individual also works great. Use the mob rules.


About half of my D&D games are the classic "Band of Adventurers" wandering the land.

The other half....I have used the BECMI Dominion Campaign and War rules forever. The game play goes from wandering "wilderness" adventures, to making a dominion, ruling a dominion, massive wars, Masters of Reality, and the Path to Immortality.

I use the Ur Classic War Machine, Sea Machine, the couple additions, all the Bruce Hearld stuff, and bits from the ancient Castle Guide, The Book of Battle and other stuff along the way.

I've had some success with B/X, scaling it to 1 miniature = 20 troops and using Phil Barker's rules as the template for troop types, flanking, reaction etc. - the morale system and speed of resolution in B/X lends itself to easy adaptation. Heroes and big monsters can be represented in the main battle on a 1:1 basis using this, or the heroes' actions can be tracked concurrently with the main battle in a separate, regular 1:1 combat which then feeds back into the main conflict.

In other iterations of the game, I've winged it and have had myself and the players make sweeping, arbitrary judgements based on the mythic logic of the situation.

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