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D&D 5E Military Units as Monsters - A New Take

Stalker0

Legend
I've seen a lot of mass combat which tries to create a large group of soldiers as a special statblock with pooled hitpoints. One thing has always bothered me in that I think area effects are handwaved a bit too much. They often do "double damage" and the like. But if you consider just how many people a fireball can hit, the damage is usually woefully low compared to what the same spell can do if you actually tracked the units individually. I wanted to try and bridge the gap, offer some mechanics that were a bit more "realistic", at the expense of some additional complexity. No model is perfect, its easy to get too complex or too simple, but I tried to find a good middle ground. See what you all think.

Infantry Platoon
Gargantuan Humanoid (Unit)
1600107732419.png


Armor Class 16 (Ring Mail + Shield)
Hit Points 500
Speed 20 ft
1600107735607.png

STRDEXCONINTWISCHA
12 (+1)10 (+0)10 (+0)10 (+0)10 (+0)10 (+0)
1600107736666.png

Savings Throws Str +3, Con +2
Condition Immunities see Multi-bodied
Senses Passive Perception 10
Languages Common
Challenge 13
1600107738028.png

Unit: The unit can occupy another creature's space and vice versa, and can move through any opening large enough for a medium humanoid. The unit can't regain Hitpoints or gain Temporary Hitpoints.

Unit Resistance: A single attack cannot deal more than 10 damage to this creature. Conditions applied to the Unit instead deal 5 damage for every target affected.

Multi-bodied: The unit is immune from conditions. Conditions applied to the unit instead deal 5 damage for every target affected. For every 10 damage the unit receives (after resistances), treat it as if one creature went down to 0 hp, for the purpose of any effects.

Area Attack Weakness: Effects that deal damage and/or conditions in an area ignore the Unit Resistance trait and do not generate saving throws. Area effects deal special damage depending on the area, see notes below. Area effects that only inflict conditions instead deal half of the damage listed below.
  • Sphere / Cylinder: 2d6 per 1 ft Radius. If Radius >= 15 ft, maximize the result.
  • Line: 4d6 per 1 ft width. Roll a d20, +1 for every 10 feet of length. Less than 20, halve the damage. Otherwise, double the damage.
  • Cone: 1d6 per 1 ft cone. If Cone >= 35, maximize the result.
  • Cube: 2d6 per 1 ft. If Cube >= 35, maximize the result.
Overwhelming Assault: The infantry platoon has advantage on all attacks roll against non-unit creatures within its area.

Unit Destroyer: Attacks ignore the Unit Resistance trait. When using Multiattack, it can choose the same unit multiple times as a target for its attacks.

Bloodied: When an Infantry Platoon has 250 hp or less, its attacks deal half damage, and it has resistance against damage from Area Attacks. At the start of its turn, if engaged in combat, it must make a Wisdom Saving Throw DC 10 or lose 50 hp.

Formation: The unit has the benefit of a formation action, which also changes its size. This benefit lasts until another formation action is taken. If the unit is in reach of any creature, either before or after the formation action, that creature receives an Opportunity Attack.

ACTIONS
Multiattack.
The infantry platoon chooses 4 different creatures within 5ft or within its area. Each creature takes 3 sword attacks.

Sword. Melee Weapon Attack: +3 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 16 (3d8+3) slashing damage.

Standard Formation: Infantry platoon has a space of 35 ft by 35 ft.

Shield Wall Formation: Infantry platoon has a space of 20 ft by 20 ft. It gains a +5 to AC, but gains vulnerability against area attack damage.

Scattered Formation: Infantry platoon has a space of 50 ft by 50 ft. It has resistance against area attack damage, but has disadvantage on attack rolls.

So the highlight is the Area Attack Weakness. Ultimately for the vast majority of area effects, they do enough damage to straight up kill basic soldiers, so its less about the spell's damage and more how many targets we can hit.

What I did was look at the actual areas of various damage spells in the game (everything from Thunderwave to a big dragon breath weapon), and tried to look at how many targets they would actually get, if we assume 1 target per 5 ft. Now in reality, targets would probably be even more packed, but at the same time we assume that militaries in magical world would have experience minimizing damage from big area effects, so a bit of a wash there. I then tried to give some reasonable damage numbers that approximate the true damage of these area effects. Ultimately, these numbers still assume that the area attacks are not hitting a maximum amount of targets, but a high number each time. Because areas do not scale linearly, no simple linear math will work for all of the scenarios, so I used maximization as a compensation. While there is a little bit of math, I tried to keep it simple, and once you have figured out the damage for a spell, you just use that number from then on until the end of time....with no saves to slow down the combat. Its literally fire and forget!

Line areas were the trickiest, as they are super dependent on how the unit is organized. If the unit is spread out in a line, a sideways line attack could be the most damaging area you could do. Conversely in a strong block formation, lines do much less than other types. So I put in a random component to account for that, lines either fizzle out or deal some big damage. In general this makes lines better than they probably should be "on average", but I think lines get shafted compared to other areas most of the time so we give them a little nudge here.

So quick examples to show how it works:
  • Fireball: That's 20 ft radius = 2d6 x 20 = 40d6, maximized (because its 15 or greater), for 240 damage, about half the unit.
  • Thunderwave: 15 foot cube = 30d6 damage, average 105 damage.
  • Hypnotic Pattern: 30 foot cube = 60d6 damage, average 210 damage. Since its condition only, we half that to 105.
  • Lightning Bolt: 5 ft width line, so 4d6x5 = 20d6, average 70. We roll a d20 + 10 (for 100 ft of length). So get a 21, so damage is doubled to 140.
  • Aganazzar's Scorcher: 5 ft width line, so 4d6x5 = 20d6, average 70. We roll a d20 +3 (30 ft of length). We get a 15, damage is halved to 35.
  • Adult Red Dragon Breath Weapon!: 60 foot cone = 60d6, maximized (because its 35 or greater), for 360 damage.
Feedback is welcome!
 

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Stalker0

Legend
Now Option 2, I had considered a more "category" based system that puts various spells into "buckets" which determine their damage. This is a bit more abstract but has a little less math, so curious to see what people like better.

Area Attack Weakness (Version 2): Effects that deal damage and/or conditions in an area ignore the Unit Resistance trait and do not generate saving throws. Area Effects are treated as Minor, Major, or Devastating, which determines their overall damage. Effects that only deal conditions deal half this damage.

Minor: 2d6x10 damage, Major: 6d6x10 damage, Devastating: 10d6x10 damage.

Sphere / Cylinder: (Based on radius), 5-10 (Minor), 15 (Major), 20+ (Devastating)
Cone: (Based on cone length), 5-20 (Minor), 25-35 (Major), 40+ (Devastating)
Cube: (Based on cube length), 5-15 (Minor), 20-25 (Major), 30+ (Devastating)
Line: Roll a d20 + 1 per 10 ft length. 1-19 (Minor), 20-24 (Major), 25+ (Devastating)
 
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Looks good!

I'd consider making the Unit Resitance trait work only against ranged attacks. The reasoning is that melee attacks in D&D don't represent just a single blow but a series of strikes, feints, jabs etc. A powerful warrior should be able to cut down many lesser soldiers by chopping left and right.
A single ranged attack is still just a single arrow though.

I'd also think about toning down the Area Attack Weakness a bit. It seems a bit improbable that dense infantry formations would ever get popular if they were this vulnerable to area effects, unless war magic is extremely rare in the world. You can rationalize it as the front ranks blocking some of the effect from reaching the ranks behind, which doesn't happen in regular combat where everyon is spaced at least 5 feet apart.
 

Stalker0

Legend
Looks good!

I'd consider making the Unit Resitance trait work only against ranged attacks. The reasoning is that melee attacks in D&D don't represent just a single blow but a series of strikes, feints, jabs etc. A powerful warrior should be able to cut down many lesser soldiers by chopping left and right.
A single ranged attack is still just a single arrow though.

I'd also think about toning down the Area Attack Weakness a bit. It seems a bit improbable that dense infantry formations would ever get popular if they were this vulnerable to area effects, unless war magic is extremely rare in the world. You can rationalize it as the front ranks blocking some of the effect from reaching the ranks behind, which doesn't happen in regular combat where everyon is spaced at least 5 feet apart.
Thank you for the feedback!

So my goal with this design is to create a unit that mimics as close as reasonable possible to the "normal" encounter, but far faster and simpler.

Put another way, if a GM was to put 50 people on a board and then did another encounter using this unit, there would be a reasonably similar experience.

So for unit resistance, it mirrors what would happen if the frontline fighters were fighting 50 people. Doesn't matter if you do 50 damage on a swing, you still kill 1 guy an attack. However, I also added in the Multi-bodied trait to ensure fighters got to use bonuses from things like Great Weapon Master (aka cleave).


For area attacks, 50 people don't get cover from a fireball in a normal combat (and those spreads intentionally move around corners and stuff so they can't be blocked), so I didn't want to do that in mine either. However, your point about the strength of area attack stands. The million dollar question is... how would armies dealing with magical "artillery" organize themselves? I mean 1 person per 5 ft square is already pretty open, but if your doing a square formation a fireball can literally hit every single person....should it be 1 person per 10 feet? At that point each member of your platoon can get swarmed by more condensed forces, so you can lose there pretty big. I tried to mimic the concept a bit with my "Scattered Formation", the idea that a squad could enlarge their area and spread out to take reduced damage from area attacks....but is that sufficient.....I'm not sure.
 


Minigiant

Legend
Cool Idea.

For my mass combat rules for condition, a unit takes damage equal to dice equal number of 5x5 squares effected. The dice are chosen by the spell level basically by going up by 2 dice sizes per level. This wayit is quick and dirty math.
 

I'm taking a walk and using my cell phone, but when I get home I could pull up the work I did for the Zeitgeist adventures. In there, the basic rule was that you would do double damage if you could affect two squares of the unit, triple damage if you could get the whole unit in an area attack.

And then below a certain hit point threshold, the unit would go from getting four attacks to two attacks.
 


NotAYakk

Legend
I say embrace the square.

Gangs have HP/square. This lets you handle fireball and the ability for weapon damage to clear a path.

There is no need to make them creatures. Mass combat just needs to be simple and compatible.
 

Stalker0

Legend
I'm taking a walk and using my cell phone, but when I get home I could pull up the work I did for the Zeitgeist adventures. In there, the basic rule was that you would do double damage if you could affect two squares of the unit, triple damage if you could get the whole unit in an area attack.

And then below a certain hit point threshold, the unit would go from getting four attacks to two attacks.
So if we go back to our fireball example. The juicy x3 fireball does 84 damage. Sounds impressive, but in terms of context of what the damage means it actually hits about 8. To get such low kill numbers, the unit would have to be spread out in a single file line (no doubling up).

Your mechanic is not wrong by any means, as I said in the OP everyone has a line between simplicity and exactness. Your system is extremely easy to use and will work for many groups. I tried to add in a bit more complexity to gain more exactness. If I had 50 people in any kind of formation on the board, and a fireball only hit 8 of them when it was cast smack in the middle of them....that would be a very weak fireball. So my system tries to model that more accurately, but with a payment in complexity. Neither is wrong, its just do people think I accomplished my goal?

But an attack is not a single stab of a sword, right? A fighter who makes one attack against a unit might slice several times and take down several people.
Again if we go back to the 50 people example. If I wanted to model a military platoon using standard dnd combat, I would need 50 minis on the board. And though dnd combat always assume an "attack" is not just a single stab, for mechanics purposes it is. You target 1 creature and deal X damage. In this scenario, a fighter could probably easily kill 1 person per hit....but he still only gets maybe 1-2 attacks, he's not killing 10 guys a round or anything.
 

So if we go back to our fireball example. The juicy x3 fireball does 84 damage. Sounds impressive, but in terms of context of what the damage means it actually hits about 8. To get such low kill numbers, the unit would have to be spread out in a single file line (no doubling up).

Your mechanic is not wrong by any means, as I said in the OP everyone has a line between simplicity and exactness. Your system is extremely easy to use and will work for many groups. I tried to add in a bit more complexity to gain more exactness. If I had 50 people in any kind of formation on the board, and a fireball only hit 8 of them when it was cast smack in the middle of them....that would be a very weak fireball. So my system tries to model that more accurately, but with a payment in complexity. Neither is wrong, its just do people think I accomplished my goal?


Again if we go back to the 50 people example. If I wanted to model a military platoon using standard dnd combat, I would need 50 minis on the board. And though dnd combat always assume an "attack" is not just a single stab, for mechanics purposes it is. You target 1 creature and deal X damage. In this scenario, a fighter could probably easily kill 1 person per hit....but he still only gets maybe 1-2 attacks, he's not killing 10 guys a round or anything.
Except a big fireball wouldn't kill the whole squad. They'd see the ball coming, some folks would scatter out of the area, others would take cover, etc etc.

If anything, treating a big crowd of people as static individuals who all die simultaneously is unrealistic. The game doesn't handle reactions that well.

All that said, I set up a squad of 10 police officers as a large unit with 50 hp, and a troop of 25 soldiers as a huge unit with 125 hp. A fireball is still plenty devastating. It just might not kill everyone, simply cause the unit cohesion to break and survivors to lose the will to keep fighting.
 

Stalker0

Legend
Except a big fireball wouldn't kill the whole squad. They'd see the ball coming, some folks would scatter out of the area, others would take cover, etc etc.
So I actually tried to highlight this through the "Scattered Formation" ability. It represents a squad who is more focused on protecting themselves from area attacks. They are more spread out and are more "dodgy", which is represented by resistance to area attack damage. However, they also have disadvantage on all attacks, as effectively they are not as committed to offense and some of its members are "readying to dodge or take cover" as opposed to attacking.

Let me know if you think this mechanic works for my unit and if mirrors well enough what you are speaking about. Perhaps it would make more sense if we consider area attacks a "default" in dnd war if I made that the standard unit stats, and formations could create tighter by more vulnerable units.
 



Iry

Hero
I don't remember this being the case in 5e. Do you have a reference?
189 has this "A typical combat encounter is a clash between two sides, a flurry of weapon swings, feints, parries, footwork, and spellcasting."
I suppose they could be describing one attack per character as a flurry, and the help action as a feint, missing an attack roll as a parry, etc... but I think the intent is cinematic/realistic combat with the die rolls only representing the mechanical outcome.
 

Multiple weapon swings per attacks is one of those things that they like to toss into the fluff, but that breaks down as soon as the rules come into play and don't make a lot of sense anymore. Do dragons try to bite at you multiple times? Do hill giants swing that massive club several times? And there was the ammunition example. I mean, it doesn't break anything to imagine that you are swinging your sword multiple times per attack, but in my opinion it doesn't harmonize well with anything else in the game, and just makes Small and Medium sized creatures fighting in melee be completely different than any other form of actions during rounds.
 

Iry

Hero
Do dragons try to bite at you multiple times? Do hill giants swing that massive club several times? And there was the ammunition example. I mean, it doesn't break anything to imagine that you are swinging your sword multiple times per attack, but in my opinion it doesn't harmonize well with anything else in the game, and just makes Small and Medium sized creatures fighting in melee be completely different than any other form of actions during rounds.
Yes. Yes. Monster ammunition is arbitrary; they have as much as the DM wants. Howso? (Honest question)
 


Multiple weapon swings per attacks is one of those things that they like to toss into the fluff, but that breaks down as soon as the rules come into play and don't make a lot of sense anymore. Do dragons try to bite at you multiple times? Do hill giants swing that massive club several times? And there was the ammunition example. I mean, it doesn't break anything to imagine that you are swinging your sword multiple times per attack, but in my opinion it doesn't harmonize well with anything else in the game, and just makes Small and Medium sized creatures fighting in melee be completely different than any other form of actions during rounds.
A lot can happen in six seconds in a real fight. Whatever the rules are, it makes no sense that combatants would be standing around and taking turns making one strike every 6 seconds. The "fluff" is what the combat rules are actually trying to represent, but highly simplified.
 

Have you ever fenced? Try just making one attack in 6 seconds. It will feel really weird.

Yes. Yes. Monster ammunition is arbitrary; they have as much as the DM wants. Howso? (Honest question)

A lot can happen in six seconds in a real fight. Whatever the rules are, it makes no sense that combatants would be standing around and taking turns making one strike every 6 seconds. The "fluff" is what the combat rules are actually trying to represent, but highly simplified.

What I'm trying to get at is the "one attack actually means several deployments of your weapon" only works for certain types of attack scenarios. It doesn't work for weapons that require ammunition, because you use 1 piece of ammunition per attack. It doesn't make a lot of sense that a gargantuan dragon is actually attempting to bite you multiple times. It certainly doesn't make sense that you are parrying most of those bites.

It works fine to visualize it like that for typical PC-sized characters wielding melee weapons (or fighting unarmed) against similar opponents...and that's about it. No other situation in the game works that way. Having the default concept of what's going on be something that can only support one subset of the broad range of attack rolls that the game includes seems like a bad way of going about it.

A better way might be to assume those 6-second rounds are really wibbly-wobbly time-wimey 6-second rounds. When you have to track effects, they are mechanically 6 seconds. In the fiction they are relatively brief moments.
 

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