5E good rules for PCs vs army units?

Frankie1969

Explorer
The party is 15th level, and it's time to put them up against a couple hundred soldiers in platoons. What's a good way to make this tactically interesting and take about an hour?

We had a previous battle using standard 5E combat with dozens of individual tokens and it was a tedious slog. I've read that the UA Mass Combat system works best for army vs army with PC support, but not for lopsided PCs vs army.
 

dave2008

Hero
The party is 15th level, and it's time to put them up against a couple hundred soldiers in platoons. What's a good way to make this tactically interesting and take about an hour?

We had a previous battle using standard 5E combat with dozens of individual tokens and it was a tedious slog. I've read that the UA Mass Combat system works best for army vs army with PC support, but not for lopsided PCs vs army.
I would suggest using swarms. The enemy units are swarms. Something like what I did for a Vargouille Swarm: Vargouille Swarm

VarSwarm.JPG

I think this works well. You can design different units based on monsters or NPC stat blocks.
 

MNblockhead

A Title Much Cooler Than Anything on the Old Site
An hour‽

My best advice is to look into Matt Coleville's Warfare rules. These are heavily abstracted rules for large-scale battles. It is included in the Strongholds & Followers book but he made this section open content and you can get the open content Warfare rules here:

https://www.dropbox.com/s/l300e96pe8s9pvz/warfare.pdf?dl=0

One issue with these rules for you may be that "individuals don't matter."

If you truly want to have your player's handful of powerful PCs against an army, I would just use the "Handling Mobs" rules in the Dungeon Master's Guide (DMG 250).

Basically, you determine the d20 roll each group needs to hit each PC and there is a simple table that tells you how many hit each round.

The example in the books is eight orcs surround a fighter. The orc's attack bonus is +5 and the fighters AC is 19. The orcs need a 14 or higher to hit the fighter. So if 3 orcs mob the player their is one auto hit.

For PCs they attack as normal. Casters with AOE spells are going to really be important, unless you are giving the other characters access to anti-siege weapons.

For ranged attacks I have no problem saying, well, there are 100 archers with long bows. They have a +6 attack bonus. The fighter as an AC of 21, the cleric has an AC of 19, the Wizard with Mage Armor has an AC of 15, the rogue has an AC of 16. So the to-hit the archers need for each is 15, 13, 9, and 10. According to the chart at DMG 250 that means for every four attackers that hit the fighter, one will hit. 3 attackers for 1 to hit the cleric. 2 for 1 hit on the wizard or the rogue. I would have all the arches go on the same initiative.

I might have them focus fire on the wizard and cleric first to take them out before their AOE spells decimate them.

For melee, however, my players are going to cry foul. I would just go by the rule that (assuming the PCs are medium creatures), 8 creatures can fit in a 5-foot radius around another one.

This will mean that very weak fighters will not be able to scratch a highly armored character. E.g. a commoner would need a 19 to hit, meaning you need 10 commoners to make one hit. What I might rule, however, is that if you have a huge mob of pitchfork wielding commoners, you still get the auto hits as long as 10 or more are surrounding you. Think of it like getting a flanking advantage or morale boost. This allows for a swarm of weak enemies to overtake even the strongest PC if he just wades into the sea of attackers for a melee fight. If the player cries foul, ask them if they'd rather you roll 8 times and apply any crits. Most would accept the trade off of auto hits and a faster combat.
 

77IM

Explorer!!!
Welllll... you could do something similar to the swarm rules, but for non-tiny creatures. I think I've seen these called "mob" rules in other games (maybe in 4E?). In a military context, I'd call this creature a "unit." Here's how I'd turn a creature into a unit in 5E:

Unit Template
A unit is a group of 16 medium or small creatures with identical statistics, which moves and fights together as a coordinated force.
Size: Increase the creature's size to Gargantuan.
Hit Points: Multiply the creature's hit dice and hit points by 8. For example, if the creature normally has 11 (2d8 + 2) hit points, a unit of them would have 88 (16d8 + 16) hit points.
Damage Vulnerability: Area effects.
Condition Immunity: Any effect that only targets or affects a single creature.
Unit Movement: The unit can move through any opening large enough for a medium-sized creature.
Unit Health: A unit that has less than half its hit points remaining can't regain lost hit points. When the unit is reduced to 0 hit points, it routs; its members scatter and flee. (If it's important, about half the members of the unit are alive and fleeing, and the rest are unconscious or dead.)
Attacks: Double the creature's normal number of attacks; when the unit has less than half its hit points remaining, don't double its attacks.
Damage: Quadruple the damage of the creature's attacks. For example, if the creature can normally attack with a longsword for 6 (1d8 + 2) damage, then a unit of such creatures would attack for 26 (4d8 + 8) damage.
Challenge: Increase by 4.​

Hmmm, that may be too complex, since I just pulled it out of my ass. But I think you get the idea. You could create stat blocks for such units ahead of the game, and then the party is only fighting about a dozen creatures instead of hundreds. A dozen creatures is still a lot, but should be few enough for you to manage, while still FEELING like a lot.
 

dave2008

Hero
An hour‽

My best advice is to look into Matt Coleville's Warfare rules. These are heavily abstracted rules for large-scale battles. It is included in the Strongholds & Followers book but he made this section open content and you can get the open content Warfare rules here:

https://www.dropbox.com/s/l300e96pe8s9pvz/warfare.pdf?dl=0

One issue with these rules for you may be that "individuals don't matter."

If you truly want to have your player's handful of powerful PCs against an army, I would just use the "Handling Mobs" rules in the Dungeon Master's Guide (DMG 250).

Basically, you determine the d20 roll each group needs to hit each PC and there is a simple table that tells you how many hit each round.

The example in the books is eight orcs surround a fighter. The orc's attack bonus is +5 and the fighters AC is 19. The orcs need a 14 or higher to hit the fighter. So if 3 orcs mob the player their is one auto hit.

For PCs they attack as normal. Casters with AOE spells are going to really be important, unless you are giving the other characters access to anti-siege weapons.

For ranged attacks I have no problem saying, well, there are 100 archers with long bows. They have a +6 attack bonus. The fighter as an AC of 21, the cleric has an AC of 19, the Wizard with Mage Armor has an AC of 15, the rogue has an AC of 16. So the to-hit the archers need for each is 15, 13, 9, and 10. According to the chart at DMG 250 that means for every four attackers that hit the fighter, one will hit. 3 attackers for 1 to hit the cleric. 2 for 1 hit on the wizard or the rogue. I would have all the arches go on the same initiative.

I might have them focus fire on the wizard and cleric first to take them out before their AOE spells decimate them.

For melee, however, my players are going to cry foul. I would just go by the rule that (assuming the PCs are medium creatures), 8 creatures can fit in a 5-foot radius around another one.

This will mean that very weak fighters will not be able to scratch a highly armored character. E.g. a commoner would need a 19 to hit, meaning you need 10 commoners to make one hit. What I might rule, however, is that if you have a huge mob of pitchfork wielding commoners, you still get the auto hits as long as 10 or more are surrounding you. Think of it like getting a flanking advantage or morale boost. This allows for a swarm of weak enemies to overtake even the strongest PC if he just wades into the sea of attackers for a melee fight. If the player cries foul, ask them if they'd rather you roll 8 times and apply any crits. Most would accept the trade off of auto hits and a faster combat.
Thank you for sharing - I was interested in the warfare rules and didn't realize they are free content. I also forgot about the MOB rules. However, that being said I am not sure either of those rules do what the OP asked. I think some version of swarm/unit rules would work the best.
 

dave2008

Hero
Welllll... you could do something similar to the swarm rules, but for non-tiny creatures. I think I've seen these called "mob" rules in other games (maybe in 4E?). In a military context, I'd call this creature a "unit." Here's how I'd turn a creature into a unit in 5E:

Unit Template
A unit is a group of 16 medium or small creatures with identical statistics, which moves and fights together as a coordinated force.
Size: Increase the creature's size to Gargantuan.
Hit Points: Multiply the creature's hit dice and hit points by 8. For example, if the creature normally has 11 (2d8 + 2) hit points, a unit of them would have 88 (16d8 + 16) hit points.
Damage Vulnerability: Area effects.
Condition Immunity: Any effect that only targets or affects a single creature.
Unit Movement: The unit can move through any opening large enough for a medium-sized creature.
Unit Health: A unit that has less than half its hit points remaining can't regain lost hit points. When the unit is reduced to 0 hit points, it routs; its members scatter and flee. (If it's important, about half the members of the unit are alive and fleeing, and the rest are unconscious or dead.)
Attacks: Double the creature's normal number of attacks; when the unit has less than half its hit points remaining, don't double its attacks.
Damage: Quadruple the damage of the creature's attacks. For example, if the creature can normally attack with a longsword for 6 (1d8 + 2) damage, then a unit of such creatures would attack for 26 (4d8 + 8) damage.
Challenge: Increase by 4.​

Hmmm, that may be too complex, since I just pulled it out of my ass. But I think you get the idea. You could create stat blocks for such units ahead of the game, and then the party is only fighting about a dozen creatures instead of hundreds. A dozen creatures is still a lot, but should be few enough for you to manage, while still FEELING like a lot.
That is the basic idea behind my swarm version. Though I agree that calling it a unit for an army works better. I have created demon "hordes" and devil "legions" with this swarm concept. They seem to work well. One thing I like about this concept is that at some point they break down into individual monsters / soldiers (which is a good time for them to run away) and the use of "legendary" actions simulates multiple initiatives without having to roll and track it several times.
 
The party is 15th level, and it's time to put them up against a couple hundred soldiers in platoons. What's a good way to make this tactically interesting and take about an hour?
Tactical complexity is at odds with brevity. You can sacrifice one for the other, but you can't have both.

The more tactical choices presented to players/DMs, the longer rounds take. That's why you have very abstracted mass combat rules in BD&D – the emphasis there was not on tactics but on troop composition, the objective being arriving at a resolution reasonably quickly.

We had a previous battle using standard 5E combat with dozens of individual tokens and it was a tedious slog. I've read that the UA Mass Combat system works best for army vs army with PC support, but not for lopsided PCs vs army.
I ran a roughly 3-hour long fight with the PCs (and aarakocra allies) facing off against 21 gargoyles. The PCs had very limited access to magic weapons. It could easily have been a slog.

However, despite the length, it turned out to be one of the most gripping intense sessions we've had. One player commented that he could envision the whole scene taking place like a Lord of the Rings film or fantasy anime.

I accomplished this with a couple steps:
  1. I was well-organized with all the stats/notes/abbreviated tactics I'd need on just 2-3 printed pages.
  2. I also took specific notes on potential random actions for the gargoyles. See below.
  3. I framed the scene vividly. Aarakocra summoning an air elemental while their leader performed a ritual. At night, one of the PCs noticed the moonlight coming through clouds glinting off stony form of many gargoyles on the wing. A brief volley of longbows and other long-range attacks, and then the battle as rain and winds pelted the cliffside aarakocra settlement the PCs were defending. Many choices of the PCs came from how I framed this scene.
  4. I created a table of developments/twists that I rolled on every even round. I've pasted this below. Doing this kept the fight fresh & helped up the tension.
  5. Lastly, I incorporated Dungeon World GM moves as a table of "complications" – I rolled when players failed key checks, when players dawdled, when players tried to “brute force” a challenge (rather than engaging with the narrative & playing smart), or when play presented a golden opportunity. This also helped keep the fight fresh and make failure interesting.

GARGOYLE RANDOM ACTIONS (d6)
  1. Attack & terrorize the weak.
  2. (aarakocra young, Na, unconscious characters, pets/familiars).
  3. Desecrate the Cleansing Chamber.
  4. Disrupt the air elemental summoning of the monks.
  5. Grapple a dangerous foe in pairs, then drop that foe off the cliffs.
  6. Hunt down Mwaxanaré to abduct her.
  7. Raid Asharra’s library or the scavenger’s market, stealing valuables.

DEVELOPMENTS (d8 on even rounds)
  1. Na is missing! Is he trapped? Hiding? Taken by gargoyles? Trying to help?
  2. Mwaxanaré – not heeding Asharra’s warnings – goes to use a golden egg.
  3. Plummeting dead gargoyle breaks a 15-foot stretch of walkway.
  4. The air elemental is destroyed! Any gargoyles it was facing enter Kir Sabal.
  5. Wounded aarakocra is falling to death unless PC uses reaction to intervene.
  6. Building crumbles from magic missiles, 4d6 bludgeoning, dust, and cover.
  7. A RANDOM NPC/PC (d12) is overwhelmed and needs help!
  8. An aarakocra youngling brings arrows or a healing potion in the nick of time, but needs a window to escape to safety.

Regardless of the particular mechanics you settle on, I'd consider incorporating aspects of my approach.
 

Stalker0

Adventurer
For quick and easy, I think mobs work best. If you want casters do them in smaller units (like 4-5). Keep in mind that in 5e mass units beat strong units. Armies are very scary with 5e mechanics.


If you want to go "nuts", what I did for my last 20th level super adventure, is I put it all in excel. At one point I literally had the party face 400 archers. I just put every archer as a random roll on the excel sheet, put in the damage. And then I would assign each party (whose AC I knew...also factored in advantage and disadvantage as pertinent) a certain number of attacks. And the sheet would tell me how much damage they took. The nice thing about that was it was "true damage", crits, misses, random damage rolls, the whole shebang. And of course I reduce the archers as damage was applied.

I wouldn't recommend that for normal fare, but if you are trying to make it special that is one option. And once you make the sheet you can recycle it for other entries and the like.


I will also say that I did a similar thing to what QuickLeaf mentioned. I had a random roll every round for some special traps in the area that would go off, and that keeps it fresh. I think that's very important to keep long fights interesting.
 

aco175

Explorer
I have run large encounters where the little people only need one hit, especially if the PCs are level 15. Fireball can take out groups at a time and make the casters feel powerful. The fighter slogs around killing 2-3 little monsters each round and that starts to become boring. Introduce several big monsters where they are captains of the littles. I had the PCs focusing on the giant and not on the goblins that they were getting shot each round once or twice so eventually the PCs needed to pull back.

You can speed up slogs by having the players roll to hits on themselves or other PCs. I find that the players like to attack each other when they can say that it is the monster actually attacking.
 
When I run large scale battles, I divide the battlefield into sections. The players only one part of the battle. I roll, or determine ahead of time the outcome of the other sections of the battle.

Example. You are defending a city wall and there are 5 weak points. 4 to start but a 5th will open up because of sappers. I roll to see how the defenders do at each weak point and determine if they hold and, if not, how long it will be before the weak section falls.

Then I run an encounter for the PCs with piles of people fighting all around as a backdrop. I’ll have lots of NPCs h loping or hindering. Depending how they fare, they might fail to hold a section and fall back to another point. Or they might succeed on routing an enemy then leave it to some NPCs to defend and they’ll go help another section of the city. The sappers might be a set piece or complication.

In short, I run it as a series of the encounters with the here success or failure effects the entire battle.
 

Scott Graves

Villager
I steal from Fantasy Flight Games Star Wars Role Playing System. I make them "minions" in groups of 5 to 10 depending on the challenge you need. Each group gets one roll to hit with a +1 per extra creature in the group above one. For every two or three they beat the AC of the PC by they get an extra hit. If they get a Critical Hit then only one attack gets doubled dice. They get the +1 per extra unit for saves and such as well. Damage is not divided over all the creatures but to one creature at a time decreasing the combat efficiency of the group. Excess damage that takes out one member is lost unless it is an area effect weapon. Then you are rolling to hit for each squad, saving for each squad and losing members of a squad. Squads attack each PC doing damage to that PC. I would break into 5 man squads if competent baddies like Orcs or 10 man units if Kobolds. If Ogres maybe 3 man units. So for a Company of Orcs you only have 2 teams of 5 per squad, thus eight per platoon and thus thirty two for the company. Have the leader be a separate unit and his death gives all groups a -1 to all their hits, saves etc.. Better 32 rolls than 160. I'd even use Excel to do up sets of rolls in advance.
 

ART!

Explorer
Tactical complexity is at odds with brevity. You can sacrifice one for the other, but you can't have both.

The more tactical choices presented to players/DMs, the longer rounds take. That's why you have very abstracted mass combat rules in BD&D – the emphasis there was not on tactics but on troop composition, the objective being arriving at a resolution reasonably quickly.



I ran a roughly 3-hour long fight with the PCs (and aarakocra allies) facing off against 21 gargoyles. The PCs had very limited access to magic weapons. It could easily have been a slog.

However, despite the length, it turned out to be one of the most gripping intense sessions we've had. One player commented that he could envision the whole scene taking place like a Lord of the Rings film or fantasy anime.

I accomplished this with a couple steps:
  1. I was well-organized with all the stats/notes/abbreviated tactics I'd need on just 2-3 printed pages.
  2. I also took specific notes on potential random actions for the gargoyles. See below.
  3. I framed the scene vividly. Aarakocra summoning an air elemental while their leader performed a ritual. At night, one of the PCs noticed the moonlight coming through clouds glinting off stony form of many gargoyles on the wing. A brief volley of longbows and other long-range attacks, and then the battle as rain and winds pelted the cliffside aarakocra settlement the PCs were defending. Many choices of the PCs came from how I framed this scene.
  4. I created a table of developments/twists that I rolled on every even round. I've pasted this below. Doing this kept the fight fresh & helped up the tension.
  5. Lastly, I incorporated Dungeon World GM moves as a table of "complications" – I rolled when players failed key checks, when players dawdled, when players tried to “brute force” a challenge (rather than engaging with the narrative & playing smart), or when play presented a golden opportunity. This also helped keep the fight fresh and make failure interesting.

GARGOYLE RANDOM ACTIONS (d6)
  1. Attack & terrorize the weak.
  2. (aarakocra young, Na, unconscious characters, pets/familiars).
  3. Desecrate the Cleansing Chamber.
  4. Disrupt the air elemental summoning of the monks.
  5. Grapple a dangerous foe in pairs, then drop that foe off the cliffs.
  6. Hunt down Mwaxanaré to abduct her.
  7. Raid Asharra’s library or the scavenger’s market, stealing valuables.

DEVELOPMENTS (d8 on even rounds)
  1. Na is missing! Is he trapped? Hiding? Taken by gargoyles? Trying to help?
  2. Mwaxanaré – not heeding Asharra’s warnings – goes to use a golden egg.
  3. Plummeting dead gargoyle breaks a 15-foot stretch of walkway.
  4. The air elemental is destroyed! Any gargoyles it was facing enter Kir Sabal.
  5. Wounded aarakocra is falling to death unless PC uses reaction to intervene.
  6. Building crumbles from magic missiles, 4d6 bludgeoning, dust, and cover.
  7. A RANDOM NPC/PC (d12) is overwhelmed and needs help!
  8. An aarakocra youngling brings arrows or a healing potion in the nick of time, but needs a window to escape to safety.

Regardless of the particular mechanics you settle on, I'd consider incorporating aspects of my approach.
I admire your work and commitment here, Quickleaf!

I can vouch for the insanity of running mobs as individual NPCs...unless...

If the minions are likely to be taken out by one attack from a PC, and the PCs are high enough level that they have more than one attack most turns or have area effect attacks that can take out multiple NPCs in one turn, and there are 4 or more PCs, and there's no more than 100 minions - then I say run the minions as individuals. Mowing down minions for a several rounds can be very satisfying for the players, abut still be threatening. As a DM, use some mob rules so you're not rolling for every single minion attack.

I recommend having a good reference map as a DM - separate from the tactical map for minis, if you use them, with all the NPC/mosnetr stats, threat, treasure, etc. written on it. That way you aren't shuffling papers around.
 
Just have the army run away at the start of the encounter due to morale failure. While the commander may think that they can eventually overwhelm the PCs with their huge numbers, no soldier wants to be the first in line in a fight against an opponent they have no hope of beating one-vs-one.
 

Frankie1969

Explorer
Thanks for all the ideas.

I'm designing the platoons as swarms or mobs.
Their actions are area effects (aura for melee, rectangle for ranged) that automatically deal a bunch of damage minus the target's AC, which streamlines combat without negating the value of armor.
[MENTION=20323]Quickleaf[/MENTION]'s idea about complications could work. The battlefield does have some unusual features that ccould pop up to the advantage or disadvantage of either side.

Dividing the battle into sections won't work, because there are no other sections or other defenders. It's strictly army vs party. The PCs have wiped out every team of high-level specialists that the BBEGs could send, so now they're trying battalions and warships instead. And the PCs already took out one of the warships.
 

S'mon

Legend
The party is 15th level, and it's time to put them up against a couple hundred soldiers in platoons. What's a good way to make this tactically interesting and take about an hour?
One thought that occurs to me is that the circumstances will be crucial. A 15th level party in a fortified defence with some AoE magic should be easily able to massacre 200 regular enemy soldiers, while in an ambush situation they could be TPK'd with one volley of arrows.

I think if I wanted this to be tactically interesting I'd use a large battlemat and be prepared to spend a few hours on it. I'd use card cut-outs for squads of enemy soldiers in formation, eg 10 men in a 4x4 area works ok for skirmishers or troops advancing; a 5x2 area for close formation infantry in line.

If this is a group sent to kill the 15th level PCs then they presumably won't be a bunch of 200 11 hp Guards; there should be squads of elite strike units, supporting spell casters and such. Ability to soak AoE damage will be a priority so MM NPCs like Veterans, Knights & Berserkers seem appropriate. If I'm the NPC commander I'll want some disposable Berserkers soaking up the fireballs while I get a team of Assassins into position to gank the casters. :D

My general expectation would be that against any serious military threat the PCs will withdraw at least to a defensible location. They likely have superior mobility to the attackers, and the ability to decide where to fight. They're going to want to fight from castle walls or in a dungeon etc where numbers don't tell so well.
 
Just have the army run away at the start of the encounter due to morale failure. While the commander may think that they can eventually overwhelm the PCs with their huge numbers, no soldier wants to be the first in line in a fight against an opponent they have no hope of beating one-vs-one.
Whilst realistic, it's not exactly the Lord of the Rings...
 

Tormyr

Adventurer
The Mad Kings Banquet has the 8th-level heroes lead a group of allied soldiers in holding the line against a few waves of enemy soldiers. The 3.5 version had 30+ enemies in a wave and 16+ allies. The 5e version uses squads representing 4 soldiers in a cohesive unit. It turns something like this:

GALLO SOLDIER
Medium humanoid (dwarf), lawful neutral

Armor Class 18 (half plate, shield)
Hit Points 37 (5d8 + 15)
Speed 25 ft.

STR DEX CON INT WIS CHA
15 (+2) 13 (+1) 16 (+3) 10 (+0) 12 (+1) 6 (-2)


Damage Resistances poison
Senses darkvision 60 ft., passive Perception 10
Languages Common, Dwarvish
Challenge 1 (200 XP)


Dwarven Resilience. The dwarf has advantage on saving throws against poison.

ACTIONS
Multiattack.
The soldier makes two melee attacks.
Battleaxe. Melee Weapon Attack: +4 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 6 (1d8 + 2) slashing damage, or 7 (1d10 + 2) slashing damage if used with two hands.
Bohemian Earspoon. Melee Weapon Attack: +4 to hit, reach 10 ft., one target. Hit: 7 (2d4 + 2) piercing damage.
Heavy Crossbow. Ranged Weapon Attack: +3 to hit, range 100/400 ft., one target. Hit: 6 (1d10 + 1) piercing damage.

Into this:

SQUAD OF GALLO SOLDIERS
Huge squad of Medium humanoids (dwarf), lawful neutral


Armor Class 18 (half plate, shield)
Hit Points 76 (8d12 + 24)
Speed 25 ft.


STR DEX CON INT WIS CHA
15 (+2) 13 (+1) 16 (+3) 10 (+0) 12 (+1) 6 (-2)


Damage Resistances poison; bludgeoning, slashing, piercing
Condition Immunities charmed, frightened, grappled, paralyzed, petrified, prone, restrained, stunned
Senses darkvision 60 ft., passive Perception 11
Languages Common, Dwarvish
Challenge 5 (1,800 XP)


Dwarven Resilience. The squad has advantage on saving throws against poison.
Squad. The squad can occupy another creature’s space and vice versa, and the squad can move through any opening large enough for a Medium humanoid. The squad can’t regain hit points or gain temporary hit points, and it has advantage on saving throws if the area affected does not cover at least half of the squad’s space.

ACTIONS
Flails. Melee Weapon Attack: +4 to hit, reach 0 ft., one target in the squad’s space. Hit: 36 (8d8) bludgeoning damage, or 18 (4d8) bludgeoning damage if the squad has half of its hit points or fewer.
Bohemian Earspoons. Melee Weapon Attack: +4 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 40 (16d4) piercing damage, or 20 (8d4) piercing damage if the squad has half of its hit points or fewer. The squad has disadvantage when attacking a target within its space.

Bohemian earspoons are pole arm weapons that turns a hit into a critical hit if the creature readies an action to attack an enemy that comes into range. The squad represents 4 soldiers, but the hit points are only twice that of a normal creature because of the damage resistances. The damage of all 4 soldiers attacks are rolled into a single attack. This can make things very dangerous when they hit, especially against a 9th-level PC.

In practice, moving the scenario to squads for the 5e version made the battlefield encounters manageable, but the heroes still had to rely on their allied squads (like the one above) to absorb the damage because a direct confrontation with one or more of the enemy squads was really risky. The enemy waves also had single-unit "heroes" for the PCs to fight, and the PCs could also reinforce parts of the line that buckled.

For your scenario, 3 of the above squads per PC (or ally) would make for a deadly encounter that used up almost all of the daily XP budget for the PCs. If you took the squad concept for the PCs to hold off hundreds of units, you just say that each squad represents 200 soldiers / # of squads = # of soldiers per squad. Other squads such as knights or archers (with an AoE volley attack) will keep all of the units from seeming the same. Having waves will help you gauge how much the heroes can take at a time without overwhelming the heroes instantly.

This will still not be enough to make it a super fast encounter, but it is essentially vanilla D&D and can be spiced up with the great suggestions in the thread, and it has a decent chance of pushing the PCs to their limits..
 
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Quartz

Explorer
The party is 15th level, and it's time to put them up against a couple hundred soldiers in platoons. What's a good way to make this tactically interesting and take about an hour?

Should be fun. If they let the soldiers get to close range, the PCs are toast.
 

ParanoydStyle

Peace Among Worlds
My suggestion would be to not use swarms but instead to treat the enemies as 100 individual units...with 1 hp each. In other words, use 4E's "Minion" rule. Stat everything else as you would what you consider level appropriate for soldiers in this army. Since only so many soldiers can attack the PCs at once, you'll only need to make maybe 20-30 attack rolls per round at most, which is how many you might be making for like 6 high level monsters considering multiattack exists. For the rest of the army just abstract it and describe what it's doing. Also if the PCs fight smart and have a chance to choose their terrain well they'll create some kind of "Hot Gates" (Thermopylae) or bottleneck only letting a few enemies reach the frontline fighters at a time which should majorly cut down the number of attack rolls you have to make. Since fireball is not just a thing, but an archetemplate for a wide variety of area effect spells, I very much doubt this will take more than an hour.

Missed "15th Level". At that level, the 1 hp thing does not feel appropriate. Good thing lots of other people have responded lol.
 

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