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5E Need help on how to handle a huge fight

Hatox

Explorer
Hey everyone,

I am soon to run a session where my party will (probably) be part of a clash of armies, and would like some advice.

The setup:
I have 5 players, all at level 15 (Two rogues, a ranger, a wizard and a bard).
A huge army (~1000 units, orcs, hobgoblins, ogers etc.) which is led by two ancient Dragons is attacking a city defended by a few hundred (~300-400, mostly humans and dwarfs).

How would you handle this?

In the past I´ve reskinned units to make fights more interessting (e.g. my party fought a medium sized squad of about 30 orcs, but since those orcs would just die to a fireball or two, I took 9 orcs and made them into a "squad of orcs" that just used the stats of a hill giant).

If there are a lot of NPC´s involved (allied leaders, squads of fighters) how do I keep my players interested while theres a lot of turns going on that they dont control? Should I let my players control the NPC´s to keep them involved?

Has anybody tried the UA for big battles? Is it any good?

Or would you suggest just giving my players the chance to isolate the dragon(s) and make the army retreat if they manage to kill them?

TLDR:
How do I handle a clash of armies where my players are involved without boring them and making single target combatants useless when compared to AoE casters.
 

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Don't roll or take time for fights that the PCs are not involved in. Decide on the flow or battle beforehand and just adjudicate the effects the PC's actions have on it.

Break down the battle around the PCs into some "encounters" where the PCs could intervene to change thhe flow of the battle rather than run the whole thing round-by-round. A break in the defensive line that the PCs might be able to hold until the reserves arrive. Discovering the location of an enemy commander and trying to sally forth and punch through to kill them. Etc.
You could even have several opportunities present themselves and the players would decide which opportunities they take, and which they don't.

AoE casters will be effective, but they don't have that many AoE spells compared to the number of opponents, particularly if those opponents have seen AoE effects like dragonbreath and so don't bunch up too much. A single target combatant like a Fighter could hold a choke point for a long time, which is probably more tactically useful than just chucking a fireball at an approaching unit.
Casters would probably be more effective with wall spells, communication, and transport for targeted sallies.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
For facing large groups I use the mob rules from the DMG. But most of the times in these scenarios I have the PCs be special forces. A sudden weakness in the defenses that needs to be temporarily shored up? Enemy siege engine causing problems? Someone trying to tunnel in through the sewers? Special enemy combatants getting brought in by magical means? Sleeper agents disguised as normal citizens? Someone needs to sally (or sneak) forth and attempt to assassinate the enemy's leaders? PCs to the rescue!

So depending on how long you want this to take you can take a multi-pronged approach. In one encounter there might be a large group that broke through and is wreaking havoc, the group needs to stop them or slow them down long enough for reinforcements or repairs. The enemy has their own version of special forces (higher level monsters) the PCs have to deal with.

Basically unless you want to shift focus of the game the PCs are not leading armies, they're helping out with small, intense hot spots. You can also give them choices on which fight they want to take on and give them options to summon reinforcements, just make sure you're clear on the risk and the reward. I like to make the PCs pivotal and able to sway the course of battle. But if they decide to take the easy fight every time or call for reinforcements needed elsewhere too often then things may not go well.

One last thought on this, real attempts to take over cities often took days, weeks or even months. Oh, and have fun!
 

dave2008

Legend
I would focus on the PCs. They should be like a tactical seal team with a specific mission or missions. The results of which should have an effect on the battle. Run it like a skill challenge from 4e with some of the "skills" being combat. Have the effect of the their challenges (whether succeed, fail, or partially one way or the other) already prepared so you can describe the ebb and flow of the battle and how it changes do to the PC's actions.

I think that will be more satisfying than run a "battlesystem" type scenario, unless your players are expecting that and want to play it.
 

Quartz

Adventurer
How much flying magic do the PCs have? Is the city fortified? Can the PCs fight the dragons?Because if so then it's just going to be PCs versus the dragons with the rest of the battle as a backdrop. Defenders have a huge advantage, of course. One thing you could do is determine the state of the flow of battle according to how long it takes the PCs to defeat - not necessarily kill - the dragons. For example, perhaps the orcs breach the walls after 10 rounds and are on the ramparts after 7.
 

"Zoom in" on the players and have several individual combats, the result of which affects the overall battle. Or... BattleSystem!
This is one of the ways I've handled mass combats in the past.; combat encounters involve a couple of the stronger opponents either focusing on the PCs or being focused upon / targeted by the PCs; while I include occasional descriptions of battle raging between combatants outside the PCs' immediate area. Background effects like flights of arrowfire, allies intervening, or enemy reinforcements occur like a sort of lair effect. Occasionally I'll treat a small squad of tightly-packed melee enemies as a single foe (like a swarm).
 

Hatox

Explorer
Thanks for all the replies, these ideas are great! Since my PC´s were technically "hired" to help out, I can definetly see the dwarfen general holding them back and then being like "ok they orcs are on the walls, help out there" or "the dragon flew into town, take it out" or telling them about a few critical spots and letting the players decide where to help, this sounds WAY better than just having one huge combat with a lot of parts where the players are not directly involved.
 

dnd4vr

Tactical Studies Rules - The Original Game Wizards
Hey everyone,

I am soon to run a session where my party will (probably) be part of a clash of armies, and would like some advice.

The setup:
I have 5 players, all at level 15 (Two rogues, a ranger, a wizard and a bard).
A huge army (~1000 units, orcs, hobgoblins, ogers etc.) which is led by two ancient Dragons is attacking a city defended by a few hundred (~300-400, mostly humans and dwarfs).

How would you handle this?

In the past I´ve reskinned units to make fights more interessting (e.g. my party fought a medium sized squad of about 30 orcs, but since those orcs would just die to a fireball or two, I took 9 orcs and made them into a "squad of orcs" that just used the stats of a hill giant).

If there are a lot of NPC´s involved (allied leaders, squads of fighters) how do I keep my players interested while theres a lot of turns going on that they dont control? Should I let my players control the NPC´s to keep them involved?

Has anybody tried the UA for big battles? Is it any good?

Or would you suggest just giving my players the chance to isolate the dragon(s) and make the army retreat if they manage to kill them?

TLDR:
How do I handle a clash of armies where my players are involved without boring them and making single target combatants useless when compared to AoE casters.
Interesting, but it seems like the focus of the PCs will be the two dragons. I would only worry about that and for the rest of the battle, roll a d20 each round for both sides and keep a running total. The first side to reach a certain total, 100, maybe 200, or something, wins the battle. This is assuming the city is defensible against the army.

If the PCs can't handle the dragons, you might as well just narrate it because the city will be lost in all likelihood.
 

Hatox

Explorer
The dragons are actually the PC´s targets, but 1 session ago they thought it will only be one of them. So the endgame will probably be them fighting the dragons, if possible one after the other, but I dont think the PCs can just run into the enemies army and fight the dragons while being utterly surrounded, so they will probably take part in a few skirmishes before an opportunity arises, maybe one of the dragons grows impatiant and just flies into the city to wreak havok while his army is still at the gates, maybe the PCs manage to lure one of the dragons away.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
When it comes to dragons - if you have a world where dragons are at least somewhat common I think it only makes sense that there will be countermeasures. It's one of the base assumptions of 5E that even dragons are not immune to mundane fighters.

Maybe the defenders have ballista on gimbals, perhaps with special chain link nets or similar. That doesn't mean the defenders don't need help with the dragons, just that in most cases dragons are not completely unstoppable without divine (or PC) intervention. Nearly all tactics of war have counters unless you're talking about world-shaking powers. In general dragons are incredibly dangerous but not unstoppable. If they were unstoppable it would be Dungeons and Dragons it would be Dragons and Slaves.

On the other hand if the normal crew is taken out, it might be a fun interlude to have to repair/man/fire the ballista to get the dragons down to where the PCs can actually fight them.
 

Quartz

Adventurer
Bounded Accuracy means that even the oldest dragons are toast against large numbers of archers. The dragon's breath weapon has a far shorter range than a bow.
 

Hatox

Explorer
Yes, technically if you have about 200 archers, they should kill even an ancient dragon in about 1-2 turns, thats why the dragons brought backup...lots of backup^^
 

dave2008

Legend
Bounded Accuracy means that even the oldest dragons are toast against large numbers of archers. The dragon's breath weapon has a far shorter range than a bow.
I have started giving ancient and older dragons a damage threshold like a ship. That takes care of common archers, without nerfing the PCs. I also allow them to strafe: adding there movement to the range of their breath weapon (but not the width).

So an ancient red dragon has a damage threshold of 5 (b,p,s) and can have a breath range of 170 feet when flying (actually 240 ft. in may game as I give them a longer range and faster flying speed too).
 

dnd4vr

Tactical Studies Rules - The Original Game Wizards
Yes, technically if you have about 200 archers, they should kill even an ancient dragon in about 1-2 turns, thats why the dragons brought backup...lots of backup^^
Not really. Most of those archers will have to roll 17+ to hit your average ancient dragon, and likely have disadvantage due to frightful presence and/or distance (making the probability of hitting only 3.5%). The dragon can fly 80 ft with 90'+ breaths, so easily keep at longer range (the distance factor) in many rounds. Also, even on made saves the archers are dead and the area of effect of the breath will kill many. With roughly 400 HP, it will take nearly 100 successful hits. After the breath is over it can fly out of range until the breath recharges.

This isn't even considering possible spell use... and the morale checks those archers would likely fail.

A single ancient dragon would destroy 200 archers before even half its HP were gone.

FYI we are talking common "guard" archers, not the archer monster-type.
 


Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
Not really. Most of those archers will have to roll 17+ to hit your average ancient dragon, and likely have disadvantage due to frightful presence and/or distance (making the probability of hitting only 3.5%). The dragon can fly 80 ft with 90'+ breaths, so easily keep at longer range (the distance factor) in many rounds. Also, even on made saves the archers are dead and the area of effect of the breath will kill many. With roughly 400 HP, it will take nearly 100 successful hits. After the breath is over it can fly out of range until the breath recharges.

This isn't even considering possible spell use... and the morale checks those archers would likely fail.

A single ancient dragon would destroy 200 archers before even half its HP were gone.

FYI we are talking common "guard" archers, not the archer monster-type.
I don't disagree, but the short range for an archer is 150, the dragon's fear aura is 120. May not make a huge difference and it depends on how prepared the defenses are but that first (readied) volley could do quite a bit of damage.

A lot of it depends on campaign. Even adult dragons are not exactly a dime-a-dozen in my campaign, there are probably only 2-3 ancient dragons (if that) of each color in my entire campaign world. There are old dragons, there are bold dragons, there are no old, bold dragons.

So in my campaign they wouldn't fight fair. Think acting as high altitude bombers, having someone turn them invisible if they can't do it themselves or having multiple illusory dragons. They would only attack if they were pretty darn sure of victory and had a practically guaranteed escape route. Again, depends on campaign and what's going to be fun.
 

dnd4vr

Tactical Studies Rules - The Original Game Wizards
Just a quick clarification: an Ancient Red Dragon has 546 HP.
Sure, but I don't know its red. Other ancient dragons have much fewer, so I was going on the lower end to play it safe. The ancient red has AC 24, meaning a nat 20 would be needed to hit (throw in disadvantage, and only 1 in 400 arrows would even hit). So, I assumed a more modest AC 21. :)
 

Weiley31

Adventurer
Don't forget that during the cutscene where the dragon is first introduced, it wipes put half the archers while the rest ran away in fear or they made a tactical judgment that it was not the best moment to fight that dragon....only for the SECOND dragon to come dive bombing in and taking out another score of archers.

The Dread Commando NPC probably stayed behind but stealths it to better plan an approach to the dragons.
 
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dnd4vr

Tactical Studies Rules - The Original Game Wizards
I don't disagree, but the short range for an archer is 150, the dragon's fear aura is 120. May not make a huge difference and it depends on how prepared the defenses are but that first (readied) volley could do quite a bit of damage.

A lot of it depends on campaign. Even adult dragons are not exactly a dime-a-dozen in my campaign, there are probably only 2-3 ancient dragons (if that) of each color in my entire campaign world. There are old dragons, there are bold dragons, there are no old, bold dragons.

So in my campaign they wouldn't fight fair. Think acting as high altitude bombers, having someone turn them invisible if they can't do it themselves or having multiple illusory dragons. They would only attack if they were pretty darn sure of victory and had a practically guaranteed escape route. Again, depends on campaign and what's going to be fun.
Agree completely. We don't have dragons as that common at either at our table.

While the normal range is 150, due the the dragon's movement it can move in 40 feet, breath on some at least, invoke fear, and then pull back. Remember, when frightened the creature cannot move closer, so those afraid could not move into normal range.

BA is good for making hordes a factor, but I did the math once again an ancient red and it was somewhere closer to 2000! to defeat it, not 200-400. Of course tons depends on groupings, tactics, terrain, weather, etc. Make the attack at night, and suddenly nearly every bowshot is with disadvantage if there is not a VERY bright moon out. ;)
 

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