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D&D 5E Mass Combat in 5E

ComradeGnull

First Post
I'd be interested to eventually see something, but I don't see it being part of the 'core' game. You are talking about combat on a fundamentally different scale than what the basic rules have to cover, which pushes things pretty solidly in the 'module' direction. Mass combat seems like one of those things that- given that you are going to need a different set of stats, mechanics, etc.- can easily be bolted on later, or even ported over from something that was designed from the ground up as a larger-scale wargame.

If they do include mass combat at some point, I hope that they will take a slightly different route than they did with Heroes of Battle. I don't see myself as a player or DM making use of feats and class options that really only help in mass combat situations. I don't want to have to pick between orienting a (N)PC as a mass combat performer or an individual- if Bonko the Bard is the greatest bard in the land, he shouldn't need an extra feat to have his performance trigger a moral check- mass combat utility should be baked into the core character.

Honestly, I would want a domain management ruleset before mass combat. Unless the troops actually belong to the PCs, I don't see myself using mass combat as anything other than a scripted background. If a battle is going to turn on the actions of the PC's, it will be because they hunted down and killed the enemy commander in single combat or executed some other smart small-group tactic, not because the 132nd Illithid Cavalry company rolled poorly on its attack.
 

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Li Shenron

Legend
I've never tried to run a mass battle, but it would certainly be an interesting (occasional) addition to a campaign.

From my point of view, I would expect a mass battle ruleset to provide me the ability to cover the following scenarios:

A- the PCs participate into large-scale battle: they are soldiers or perhaps elite soldiers depending on their character level and their social status in the campaign; the players are playing their characters more or less in a similar way as in a regular adventure but are now immersed into a long and chaotic battle, they can directly affect the battle around them but not the battle as a whole (although they can provide some indirect effects to that)

B- the PCs lead the large-scale battle: they are the commanders of the battle so they can affect the entire battle both by preparing/organizing the troops before it starts and by directing the tactics during the fight; presumably the characters are not only high in social ranks (to be in charge) but also are high level enough so that you can presume they won't easily be killed in action and therefore the players actually do not "run" their characters individually (even if they are present on the battlefield) but instead play a different game of controlling army units and choosing/changing battle-scale tactics during the battle; it might still happen an occasional duel in the middle of the large battle, against a similar elite member of the enemy army, in which case the player(s) resume playing her PC as normal and such mini-battle is handled with normal combat rules

I think new rules are definitely needed for scenario B, but scenario A might just be handled with modified combat rules.

What I don't want is rules that reduce a mass battle into one (or a few) dice roll done by the DM. If I ever run a mass battle in D&D, I want the players to be engaged into actually doing something, and it cannot not be just rolling, it has to be making tactical decisions that will affect the outcome... just like a regular combat with rounds, but between units (and obviously longer rounds, or turns, although it should probably better work simultaneously, not with an initiative-like sequence). I want the players to have to decide things such as "let our archers shoot a first volley while the pikers in the front ready against charge" or "move the cavalry to the flank side of the battle" or "twenty knights with my Paladin will now focus on the enemy leader Ogre riding that dire elephant". This is essentially the scenario B.

For scenario A, the best would be if how well the players play their "local" combat within the mass battle can have an effect on the whole battle's results, but this is not easy at all to design! First of all, it should be almost certain that the PCs won't all die in the battle (PCs death should probably have the same frequency of occurrence as in a regular adventure after all). This means you cannot just state that if the PCs survive then the war is won, if they get TPK then the was is lost. Other outcomes are possible, maybe one side retreats, maybe the PCs survive but their side is losing and so on. You might just as well let the DM predetermine the outcome and use no rules at all when the PCs are too low level. This is IMHO tricky and requires very good guidelines rather than hard-written rules.

[bottom line] Overall, those rules should still be simple, at least in line with the average 5e complexity... roughly and fairly realistic but not simulationists. Since the rules for scenario B would be mostly detatched to the regular combat rules for single characters, a gaming group that wants a simulationist approach to mass battles can just find such rules in other games which already do a great job at that and use them in a D&D campaign with little problems.
 
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Li Shenron

Legend
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.

Totally understandable, but doesn't match what I prefer...

I am not enough interested in a wargame, but if I was, I would probably just play a wargame, like you say.

OTOH I would never use a wargame inside a D&D campaign, unless all my players wanted such change of pace. What I prefer instead, is to have an occasional mass-battle in the campaign, and being able to run the battle (instead of totally predetermining the outcome for story reasons) but doing so with the input of the players. In fact what I want is that the player are responsible for their side of the battle, while I run the monsters' side as usual.

But in order for this to work, I need exactly a half-baked subsystem :p because anything too complicated would lead the game too far away from what the players expect (and handle) from a game of D&D.

I certainly need a mass-battle to take up at most one session of gaming, not more because I would hate having to "save" and resume on another day, but this is still too much generally. If an average regular PC combat is going to take up e.g. 30 minutes, I would say that a mass-battle should take up either the same amount or maybe twice as much if it includes a combat scene at local level with the PCs. Some length is good because it also delivers the feel that this was a large scale battle that takes a lot of real-time, but not too much.

I've had the BECMI books for a while but I still haven't read the mass combat rules, and since I don't have them here right now anyway, I just checked the retroclone Dark Dungeons from the web, although I'm not sure they are exactly the same... and I think these are fairly simple rules, so I think it can be done!
 

Totally understandable, but doesn't match what I prefer...

I am not enough interested in a wargame, but if I was, I would probably just play a wargame, like you say.

OTOH I would never use a wargame inside a D&D campaign, unless all my players wanted such change of pace. What I prefer instead, is to have an occasional mass-battle in the campaign, and being able to run the battle (instead of totally predetermining the outcome for story reasons) but doing so with the input of the players. In fact what I want is that the player are responsible for their side of the battle, while I run the monsters' side as usual.

But in order for this to work, I need exactly a half-baked subsystem :p because anything too complicated would lead the game too far away from what the players expect (and handle) from a game of D&D.

I certainly need a mass-battle to take up at most one session of gaming, not more because I would hate having to "save" and resume on another day, but this is still too much generally. If an average regular PC combat is going to take up e.g. 30 minutes, I would say that a mass-battle should take up either the same amount or maybe twice as much if it includes a combat scene at local level with the PCs. Some length is good because it also delivers the feel that this was a large scale battle that takes a lot of real-time, but not too much.

I've had the BECMI books for a while but I still haven't read the mass combat rules, and since I don't have them here right now anyway, I just checked the retroclone Dark Dungeons from the web, although I'm not sure they are exactly the same... and I think these are fairly simple rules, so I think it can be done!
Right. I've had various battle scenes in different campaigns. My best experience is using the 4e Skill Challenge system as a framework. Mike Mearls wrote a pretty good article in his SC series a couple years back where he designed an SC with the PCs defending a fort against an army. It was pretty well done. I know other people have done similar things. Basically figure out the overall scenario and allow for the PCs to do various things or assume various roles in the battle. They can pick different tactics or strategies to attempt, or do other things. It provides a pretty good framework that is abstract enough that you don't have to get bogged down in the minutia of an actual mass combat system, but you can still roll some dice and make interesting choices. Some standard combat can also be embedded in the scenario, say if the party decides to go try to assassinate the enemy commander, that sort of thing. You can extend this concept to a whole campaign.

I think this sort of stuff is really ideally suited to something like DDI. A lot of page count can be spent on elaborating different ideas and scenarios, but it is stuff that MOST DMs will only use very rarely. It is nice to have but hard to really justify page count in a printed book for. I think DDI really is underdeveloped so far, because sadly WotC hasn't figured out that CURATING the collection of stuff they have is really more important than generating reams of new articles. It is hard to find specific things you want.
 

Agamon

Adventurer
I went searching for something to add to my new sandbox game, and figured that since Adventurer Conqueror King is OSR, it's system would fit on nicely.

And it looks as though it would. However, I was so impressed by the system, I'm just going to use it.

If you want you D&D to play as adventurer -> ruler, ACKS is built for it, and very well, I might add. And if you're put off by the B/X version of D&D it's built on, filing off the numbers and using it as a DDN "module" looks very easy to do.
 

I think a mass combat module is needed, though I'm not hard over about it being in the core books. The BECMI rules were OK, but to date none of the D&D mass combat rules have done a great job. Most important is that the rules work.

I'd like to see rules that are similar to the base D&D combat system (no completely different mechanics), and ones that can have PC skills and abilities influence the outcome of battles as "leaders".
 

Lord Zardoz

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

As far as domain management, I think an optimal starting point for this would be the Birthright Ruleset. Start from that and modify the mechanics to better fit the d20 mechanics of 3rd / 4th / 5th edition. The only difficult part would be coming up with balanced target DC's.

As for the mass combat, working with something reasonably scalable that would also work well on a typical combat grid with the miniatures used for D&D combat is probably going to be an exercise in frustration. Given the attempt at a flatter AC vs To Hit scale for 5th edition, you could probably just scale it out as a collective HP pool and damage output. Have the formations suffer penalties or outright dispersal if the hp pool is dropped by half and things should work in a plausible manner.

END COMMUNICATION
 

yeah, the trick is more making it interesting and tactical. It is easy enough to come up with basic attack and damage mechanics. Picking the right scales for time, unit size, distance, etc is one key. Having interesting and engaging mechanics for initiative, morale, fog of war, command and control, etc is another.
 

I wouldn't mind seeing a "domain management" system which gave me some rules for conflict, but I'd not be interested in a set of mass battle rules. Partly because I think they'd be badly done compared to the wargames rules that are written by wargame designers rather than RPG designers.
 


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