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D&D 5E War Machine for 5e

Lyxen

Great Old One
Following a discussion in another thread, here is some information on the War Machine, the system from BECMI (actually the Companion Set, later improved in the Master Set), that I have ported to every single edition of the game except 4e.

I have a file about in the Homebrewery, but unfortunately, the original war machine is still under copyright, see below. That being said, for personal use, I can share things like the excel workbook that I use for computations, etc. contact me privately.

"This is an attempt to refresh the only mass combat system that worked for me throughout all the editions of D&D. It first came out with the Companion Set and was then developed in further expansions of the BECMI rules. It is a fairly abstract system, which - amongst its many advantages - does not require any investment in map space and figurines, it can absolutely be played using Theater of the Mind (TotM). It also scales extremely well, from skirmishes to battles involving thousands of troops on each side. Last. but not least, it gives a large part to PCs who can not only lead troops and choose tactics, but greatly influence the results of the battle by proper planning, spying, and doing heroic actions on the battlefield."

"Due to copyright, I will include the bare minimum from the original text to understand the intent, but if you want to read and understand it fully, you can get the rules either from the original expert set or from the D&D Rules Cyclopedia (which I recommend as it is more complete and updated and also contains some expansions in particular for Siege, but not the naval one - which also works for Spelljammer, by the way) in particular from DRiveThruRPG, here:"

A few more words from a post on another forum:

This system is absolutely brilliant, basically from a few elements about the type of troop that you have in units, you compute a Basic Force Rating (a bit like in Unearthed Arcana), and this never changes for a given unit. You find the Troop Class (from Untrained to Elite). You then add a modifiers (mounted troops, flying troops, magic or magical support) to get your Battle Rating. You then take into account the ratio , morale, environment, terrain, immunities, fatigue, etc. and (and this is brilliant) a tactics modifier, you roll d20 for each force and add the total and it gives you who wins, and how many troops you lose.

To give you some example:

Example: An elven prince has a force of 500 elves, all 2nd level and equipped with bows and longswords. The BFR is 96, and troop class is "Good." One hundred of his elves are mounted on pegasi, and all the elves can cast spells. However, only 12 elves have magical items. The bonus is 10% of 96: 9.6, which rounds up to 10. The prince adds 10 to the BFR eight times: for a. (20% are mounted), c. and d. (more than 20% can fire missiles, and the maximum range is greater than 100'), h. and i. (the entire force can cast spells), j. and k. (20% of the force can fly), and 1. (the average movement rate is well over 100' per turn). The total bonus of +80, added to the BFR, gives a total BR of 176.

Where it is brilliant is the small bit about tactics, because you can choose your tactic and so does the opponent, and when they are revealed, you get bonuses:

Attack + = forceful attack to overrun
Attack = close and combat
Envelop = attempt to encircle foe
Trap = lure foe to an ambush
Hold = stand fast at all costs
Withdraw = retreat rather than fight

There are also other optional factors about whether you want to be merciful, whether the PCs have an impact or not, surprise, effect of the loss of a leader (probably due to PC actions).

It also works really well for sieges, as well as for naval battles. I actually remember a huge campaign in D&D "Into the Maelstrom" where my players managed huge fleets and their tactics at the empire level. Absolutely brilliant, and really simple. I am planning to resurrect it for 5e for Descent into Avernus to manage the battles in Avernus, so happy to discuss further if you are interested.
 

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Uni-the-Unicorn!

Adventurer
I am familiar with the war machine, but never had a chance to use it.

One question: do make a BFR for a whole army, or smaller portions, or can you do it either way?

it would seem a little anti-climactic if a huge battle was decided by a single die roll.
 

Lyxen

Great Old One
I am familiar with the war machine, but never had a chance to use it.

One question: do make a BFR for a whole army, or smaller portions, or can you do it either way?

You do it per force, but after that nothing prevents you from splitting that force. For example, in our upcoming Avernus battles, there is a large force of 6000 lemures with a very low BFR and BR (usually even the BR does not change that much), but it will probably be split up.

For example, if the elf force in my original post encounters orcs and goblins, let's say 100 orcs and 200 goblins, the elven prince might split up his force of 500 elves equally, or he might allocate 300 to the orcs which are much more dangerous and only 200 to the goblins. The BFR and BR stay the same, which makes it much easier for computations.

it would seem a little anti-climactic if a huge battle was decided by a single die roll.

It's not, here is a quick roster of the forces that might come into play in the next phase of the campaign, for example, there will be many dice rolls as, for example depending on their mobility and performance in battle, some forces might have to split up.

PCs77th Blizzard StrikeInfantry
236​
58​
600​
77th Infantry - Herlekins with Bearded Devil Officers and Barbed Devil Commander
Sappers
34​
96​
200​
77th Sappers - Ice Stalkers with Bearded Devil Officers and Barbed Devil Commander
Cavalry
15​
175​
800​
77th Cavalry - Light War Machine Units (Tormentors / Bearded / Barbed)
Profanator
1​
187​
60​
Raggadragga - Heavy War Machines Unit (Demon Grinder / Wereboars / Wereboars)
AlliesMaggie'sMadcaps
200​
69​
600​
Mad Maggie's - Madcaps with Redcap Officers and Nighthag Commander
Raggadragga'sGoreguts
120​
75​
400​
Goreguts - Wererats with Wereboar Officers and Wereboar Commander
Bitter Breath'sMarauders
500​
92​
2500​
Bitter Breath's Marauders - Hobgoblins with Hobgoblins Captains Officers and Horned Devil Commander
Crushers
12​
191​
800​
Bitter Breath's Crushers - Light War Machine Units (Tormentors / Hobgoblins / Hobgoblins Captains )
ZarielInfantryLemures
6000​
27​
6000​
Lemures with Bearded Devil Officers and Barbed Devil Commander
713thInfantryNupperibos
1500​
42​
2500​
Nupperibos with Bearded Devil Officers and Barbed Devil Commander
345thScoutsImps
250​
84​
1000​
Imps with Spined Devil Officers and White Abishai Commander
698thHeavy InfantryMerregons
100​
166​
4000​
Merregons with Boned Devils Officers and Horned Devil Commander
349thSkirmishersSkirmishers
100​
106​
650​
Light War Machine Units (Devil's Ride / Bearded / Barbed)
285thLight CavalryLight Cavalry
10​
175​
500​
Light War Machine Units (Tormentors / Bearded / Barbed)2
193thHeavy CavalryHeavy Cavalry
10​
272​
1500​
Heavy War Machines Unit (Demon Grinder / Merregons / Bone Devil)
BelInfantryLemures
4000​
27​
4000​
Lemures with Bearded Devil Officers and Barbed Devil Commander
375thInfantryNupperibos
1500​
42​
2500​
Nupperibos with Bearded Devil Officers and Barbed Devil Commander
398thScoutsImps
250​
84​
1000​
Imps with Spined Devil Officers and White Abishai Commander
165thHeavy InfantryBearded Devils
600​
95​
3000​
Bearded Devils with Barbed Devils Officers and Bone Devil Commander
487thSkirmishersSkirmishers
50​
106​
350​
Light War Machine Units (Devil's Ride / Bearded / Barbed)
865thLight CavalryLight Cavalry
30​
175​
1500​
Light War Machine Units (Tormentors / Bearded / Barbed)2
124thHeavy CavalryHeavy Cavalry
5​
272​
500​
Heavy War Machines Unit (Demon Grinder / Merregons / Bone Devil)
49thHeavy InfantryHeavy Infantry
160​
107​
1000​
Buerozas with Barbed Devils Officers and Bone Devil Commander
Special ForcesAssassins
10​
222​
1000​
Dogais with Dogai Officers and Dogai Commander
Graz'ztInfantryDretches
10000​
25​
10000​
Dretches with Rutterkin Officers and Babau Commander
InfantryRutterkins
3000​
42​
5000​
Rutterkins with Bulezeau Officers and Babau Commander
InfantryBulezeaus
500​
68​
1500​
Bulezeaus with Babaus Officers and Shadow Demon Commander
InfantryBabaus
350​
101​
2000​
Babaus with Shadow Demon Officers and Glabrezu Commander
Heavy InfantryBarlgura
400​
107​
2500​
Barlguras with Armanite Officers and Glabrezu Commander
Heavy CalvaryArmanites
150​
145​
3000​
Armanites with Shadow Demon Officers and Glabrezu Nalfeshnee Commander
NeutralFeonor'sGolden Gloom
300​
109​
2000​
Feonor's Golden Gloom - Ghouls with Ghast Officers and Archmage Commander
Princeps'KovikEight Remnant
2300​
28​
2300​
Princeps Kovik's Eight Remnant - Lemures with Bearded Devil Officers and Chain Devil Commander
Big Chief DemoneaterDemoneaters
800​
44​
1500​
Big Chief Demoneater - Ogres with Hill Giant Officers and Commander
The Court of FilthCranium Rat Pods
300​
137​
5000​
The Court of Filth - Cranium Rats
ShemeshkaLight Infantry
180​
124​
1800​
Mezzoloths with Nycaloth Officers and Arcanaloth Commander
Heavy Infantry
90​
143​
1700​
Dhergoloths with Nycaloth Officers and Arcanaloth Commander
 

S'mon

Legend
I am familiar with the war machine, but never had a chance to use it.

One question: do make a BFR for a whole army, or smaller portions, or can you do it either way?

it would seem a little anti-climactic if a huge battle was decided by a single die roll.

For a big on-screen battle I find BECMI War Machine works best to split the forces up into detachments, eg left flank centre & right flank. On the march those would typically be vanguard, centre and rearguard. You might also have a reserve force that can plug a gap if one of those three gives way.

If you are rolling for an off-screen battle just use one force per side.
 

Lyxen

Great Old One
For a big on-screen battle I find BECMI War Machine works best to split the forces up into detachments, eg left flank centre & right flank. On the march those would typically be vanguard, centre and rearguard. You might also have a reserve force that can plug a gap if one of those three gives way.

If you are rolling for an off-screen battle just use one force per side.

Yes, it's really interesting to see that even though it's what, 40 years old, you can still play it completely in the spirit of 5e, with few high level rolls if you just have a large off-screen battle, but that you can also create complex order of battle, splitting forces, and arranging them properly, including the role of scouts, cavalry, sappers, reserves, etc.

Yesterday, as a test of their fledgeling coalition of Avernus Warlords, they have defeated a large force (800) of Fiendish Ogres and Hill Giants with an assortment of various forces, splitting the giants after drawing them out in a chasm, engaging with various units in turn, and them smashing the fleeing ogres with their infernal war machines.
 

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