D&D 5E Mass Combat in 5E

CleverNickName

Limit Break Dancing (He/They)
The D&D Companion Rules and the D&D Rules Cyclopedia had game mechanics, rules, and tactics for mass combat: you know, one army against another army. These rules were quite rudimentary--they were not nearly as advanced as other mass combat systems like Warhammer or Chainmail, they didn't need minis or a battle mat, and they didn't account for a very wide variety of soldiers, creatures, or terrain--but they worked, and they were quite fun. Best of all, they were in the DM rulebook and they fit on less than 10 pages...everything I needed was right there, I didn't need to buy a new game or book.

I remember running the "CM-1: Test of the Warlords" module for nearly a year, with the players building a dominion and defending it against invading armies of orcs and frost giants. Twenty years later, my brother and I still talk about how his army of 300 elves routed a force of 200 frost giants.

But the mass combat rules were more useful to us in other situations of the game where large groups of monsters battled other large groups of monsters...not necessarily "armies," per se. Like when pirates boarded the party's ship, or when a platoon of goblins ambushed a crowded market, that sort of thing. Nobody wants to roll initiative 50 times a round. The BECM mass combat rules allowed me to quickly (and fairly) resolve these battles in just a few minutes, to the satisfaction of all involved.

I would like to see something like this in the 5E core set...even if it is just a basic set of rules printed on 10 pages. I don't necessarily need a whole separate game; there are already plenty of them out there to choose from if I decide to go into full-bore wargaming mode. But a rules-lite version of mass combat rules in the 5E core would be a major selling point for me.
 

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Mass combat rules are important to me, but I don't particularly care if they're in the core set. That would be nice, but what I care about is that they be available, released relatively quickly (say, first six months or year) after the release of the core, and that they be real mass combat rules, not just rules for including PCs in a battle. To me, the value of mass combat rules is precisely in determining which side wins and whether the PCs army (or whatever) is capable of beating the other side's army.

I also think that mass combat rules are tightly linked to domain rules--sure, each is useful without the other, but not for nothing did the old Companion set include both. So I'd be very happy if they released a domains and mass combat module, and I'd be happy to buy that separately from the core.
 


KidSnide

Adventurer
I would LOVE a good mass combat and domain management system in 5e. LOVE LOVE LOVE it.

I'm in complete agreement. I'm even in ALL CAPS AGREEMENT.

I should note, however, that mass combat is a little tricky, because it's actually three different things. In order of scale (not importance):

1) Adding "units" to standard D&D combat. If 9th level PCs go into combat with 20 allies against 100 foes, you want the ability to track enemies as groups as opposed to as individual monsters. This could be a more robust version of 4e's swarm mechanic.

2) Tactical battle simulation. Some groups want to break out the tactical war game to resolve some big battles, Bloodstone-Pass-style. You want to allow PCs of sufficient level to have a significant impact on the battle, but this differs from standard D&D combat in that the composition and positioning of the troops on each side have a dominant impact on the outcome of the battle (even if the personal effort of the PCs tips the balance in their favor).

(Notably, the 3.5 miniatures handbook fell down on this, as it was difficult to scale significantly beyond what regular D&D could handle. You could do a battle with a few hundred people on each side, but it was unwieldy for a "Helm's Deep" battle.)

3) War simulation. Like the Companion rules, this is a strategic game that focuses more on raising troops and getting them to the right location, than on tactical control of the battles themselves. I would expect this type of mass combat system to be heavily tied to a domain management system.

Obviously, these three scales play well with each other, as anyone doing a war simulation might want to play out the climatic battle with a battle system. Likewise, someone playing a battle might want to play out particular key sub-engagements with standard D&D rules (in the style of Heroes of Battle).

Personally, I'm willing to wait a year or two for these sub-systems to come out, but I'd like to be an important early priority rather than a late product cycle add-on. Individually, this subsystems can be very specific, but together they enable a wide range of campaign styles. As Lord of the Rings aptly demonstrates, epic fantasy battles are a staple part of the genre and should be supported by a game like D&D. Even traditional adventure-focused campaigns can benefit from allowing the PCs to participate role in the great battles.

-KS
 

CleverNickName

Limit Break Dancing (He/They)
I also think that mass combat rules are tightly linked to domain rules--sure, each is useful without the other, but not for nothing did the old Companion set include both. So I'd be very happy if they released a domains and mass combat module, and I'd be happy to buy that separately from the core.
It doesn't necessarily have to be an either-or situation. It would be amazing if they had 10 pages or so of a rules-lite mass combat rules system, ala the BECM rules, and then release a mass combat module that expands upon them a few months later. Sort of like how the 3.5 DMG included a few basic stats and rules for watercraft and naval combat, and then expanded on them later in books like "Stormwrack."
 

It doesn't necessarily have to be an either-or situation. It would be amazing if they had 10 pages or so of a rules-lite mass combat rules system, ala the BECM rules, and then release a mass combat module that expands upon them a few months later. Sort of like how the 3.5 DMG included a few basic stats and rules for watercraft and naval combat, and then expanded on them later in books like "Stormwrack."

Yes, they can expand a simplistic rules module later on. I'd prefer a simple solution for mass battles in the core rules, those 10 pages sound about right.

Even so I can't remember when we actually did mass battles. But I think it would be neat to have a simple version in the core rules, just because I don't want to buy a new book just for mass combat.
 

Jeff Carlsen

Adventurer
It would be wise to include some basic mass combat rules in the DMG.

Eventually, though, I'd want to see a book like Heroes of Battle. It was one of my favorite 3.5 books, presenting a complex challenge model I use for many things throughout many different game systems.

But, Heroes of Battle is lacking if you want support for tactical and strategic rules for war. I'd love to see it expanded to include that, and perhaps essays on actual combat strategies in a D&D setting. You know, really go all out in providing support for a particular game style.
 

Minigiant

Legend
Supporter
I would not mind 2-10 pages on mass combat in the core books. They expand it more later.

That way my army of armored bears didn't get restless.
 

Dannyalcatraz

Schmoderator
Staff member
Supporter
I've yet to see a mass-combat system for a game primarily played at the individual unit level that I really liked...except maybe Federation & Empire.

I think It would be best to simply design a wargame along the line of the old computer game, Warlords, in which special units- dragons, wizards, heroes, undead, griffins, pegasai, etc.- had special abilities that affected combat. For ALL the MM critters. And as the game aged, each subsequent "creature catalog" would include wargame stats for the new creatures.
 

Yeah, I could care less. I've had little to no traction with mass combat in most D&D campaigns. I have some wargamers in some of my campaigns, but mass combat apparently is pretty much utterly uninteresting in its details to anyone else. Honestly I haven't found any of the mass combat systems that came as part of or as adjuncts to D&D or other RPGs to be very good games anyway. Chainmail was pretty decent, not much since then has really been worth bothering with.

I'd as soon that 5e left mass combat as a topic for how to use large battles as backdrop or otherwise work them into adventures. If I want to fight out a big battle with some of my wargamer friends we'll use a decent set of rules and if we want to work that into our game, well, we'll manage that. I don't see much value in half-baked subsystems.
 

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