My Own Battle System


Tomorrow my players are going to experience a big battle.

This is actually a version of the Goldenfields battle from Storm King's Thunder. But in my campaign it takes place in the dwarven city of Hundlestone. There are about 440 dwarven scouts, 60 guards, the PCs plus the NPCs from STK preparing to defend the city from 480 goblins, 90 ogres, 90 bug bears, and 48 hill giants.

I'm not enamored of any of the official attempts at making rules for mass combat. And my players may not do it at all. If they prefer, they can just play their characters taking a particular hill or defending a particular part of the wall. But I thought it would be fun to at least give them the opportunity to fight the battle too.

My homebrew battle system is pretty easy. There is no initiative. The goblins, bugbears and even ogres get divided up into units of 10, so do the dwarven scouts and guards. Each unit has all the hit points of hits members and their AC. A successful to hit roll does the average damage of the unit times the number of members of the unit. When a unit loses 10% of its original hit points, it loses a member.

So a unit of 10 goblins (70 hp, AC 7) attacks a unit of 10 dwarven scouts (160 hp, AC 16). Goblins get +4 to hit and do 50 hit points on the first attack (effectively killing 3 dwarves). The dwarf scouts get +4 and do 50 hit points on the first attack (killing 7 goblins). Assuming both hit, the next round the goblins would do just 15 points and the dwarves would do 35 points.

That's not pretty for the goblins. So imagine the bugbears instead. A unit of 10 bugbears (270 hp, AC 16) goes up against those dwarf scouts. Bugbears get +4 to hit and do 110 point of damage (killing 8 on their first successful hit). The dwarf scout gets +4 and does 50 points (killing 3). Dwarves are gonna get pummeled. Fortunately, they have 3/4 cover behind their wall.

It's pretty simple. I wanted to not have to create new stats so I just used existing AC, hp, etc. I guess we'll see how it works tomorrow.


My suggestion for mass battle is to use a new monster subtype: squad or troop. It would work like swarm monsters, but a group of creatures fighting like only one. It could be humanoid soldiers, or a pack of war beasts.


Sounds fairly simple and effective. It is essentially the swarms approach, with a twist. The question for a more compete system is how to handle units with ranged attacks and magic or other special abilities.


I tend to have mass combat take place off-stage. If the PCs are fighting in the middle of a swarm of bad guys and have groups of good guys around them, I may roll once for a group not affecting the PCs. If I roll high I may place a chip next to one or two good guys or bad guys showing they a 'bloodied' or half dead. It gives the players a sense of seeing how the battle is going and gives them a chance to affect the other groups.

I tend to have an idea on how the overall fight is going to go and the PCs group can affect the overall outcome. They may engage some leader-type groups and if they win, the battle sways to their side, but if they flee or avoid those groups, the battle may sway away from them. I tend to make several encounters that the PCs can go to and help. There may be a fight on the wall or the front gate where swarms of troops come. They may go to a moving siege tower coming at the castle, or sneak to the leader tent. There may be calls for assistance to pull back to the keep due to shock troops teleporting in or a wall breaking that needs support. The PCs are able to make choices on where to go and who to help, but the overall battle may hinge on their choices.

I also like to describe the choices like if they go to the gate and not the wall. The wall may fall ,but the gate holds.


We ended up not using my ad hoc battle system anyway. I wanted it to be ready in case the players just wanted to have their characters in the thick of the battle. But they opted for a commando raid on a crucial hill the giants were using to signal their troops.

I set it up as a kind of battle sandbox. My players decided they wanted to somehow cripple the enemies lines of communication and figured out where the signal forces were based. So they counted a raid on the place. One rogue used disguise self to appear like a bugbear, the wizard made herself and another invisible. Meanwhile, the cleric hid nearby to provide back-up if needed. Oh, and he had Felgolos in halfing form with him. Two fighters were stationed far above in the castle of a friendly Cloud Giant, ready to drop into the fight as needed.

They were needed and got to do a High-Altitude Low-Feather Fall drop right into the battle.

The signal outpost was manned by 20 goblins, 4 bugbears, 2 ogres, and 2 hill giants. The cleric got taken out when he joined the fight. Felgolos fled after being reduced to 50 hit points fighting with the hill giants. The wizard nearly went down too. But in the end the party was victorious and took the hill.

From that hill the party watched as the dwarven forces clashed with the humanoids. But since the humanoids were undirected, the dwarves won out and routed those who had besieged the city.

The party is now The Heroes of Hundlestone (my stand in for Goldenfields) and preparing to return to the road northward, guarding Master Paddywinkle's caravan to Bryn Shander.