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D&D General War! What is it Good For (in your campaigns)?


He / Him
War pops up a lot in the genre of fantasy, but I've never found a satisfying way to tie it into a campaign.

How have wars been important in your games?

I figure there are a few different ways for wars to interact with a campaign:

Lore: wars are often important parts of the history of a campaign setting, and can explain things like the motivations of NPCs

Setting: wars might be fought during adventures, changing the landscape. Roads might be closed, cities might be under siege, and dungeons might be difficult to access because of raging battles.

Participation: the characters might be participating in war, as soldiers or leaders. The players might be playing as units in a battle.

Here are some issues I've had with putting wars in my campaign:

Timing: wars can take years, and adventures and campaigns happen over days, weeks, and months.

Adventurers are Individuals: it's a little weird to have, say, a Warlock of the Deep throwing on a uniform or fighting on the front lines.

Wars Don't Happen in Dungeons: a lot of time is spent in dungeons. Wars don't happen there.

So how have you used wars in your campaigns? Did the characters participate? Was it happening during adventures? What worked? What didn't?

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Victoria Rules
Despite the fact that I've got these homebrew battle-system rules I've been itching to try out for decades now, I've found the best place for wars is in the background. They cause disruption and chaos, they sometimes provide plot hooks or reasons for adventuring, and a martial-type PC with nothing to do for a while can always do a quick tour on the front lines and gain some xp - or get killed, or both. :)

"Adventures and campaigns happen over days, weeks, and months" is at best a tangential issue, and (if not running an adventure path as the campaign) can very easily be solved by the DM simply slowing the pace down.


There will be different opinions on war in RPGs, but I tend to look at war in my D&D flavor RPGS like The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. In that film, three characters come across info that leads to treasure. It just so happens a war is happening right in the middle of their path. The war happens around them, but they are not really participating in it one way or another. It's a back drop, that the PCs can use in whatever way they need to.

Star Wars is similar in that Luke and Han are tossed in and have varying opinions. They participate in a major battle due to circumstances, but they are not leading troops or really any extensive part of the rebel military. Even later, when they are part of the rebel leadership, the focus isn't on basic training or fighting hill battles extensively.

I do like faction play, so I wouldnt mind doing a game where the PCs have to decide which side, if any, they want to back. I'd likely stick to having them as special forces or part of a clandestine unit so war would still likely be a backdrop. If I wanted to do a houses type of thing where each player is a faction id look at Birthright again.

Its good to remember that D&D came about to get away from a macro wargame. Nothing wrong taking back there either, I just think most folks dont think massive battles when they sit down to roll D&D type RPGs.


I had a campaign in 3e where there was a war going on and the PCs were part of it. At low-levels they were part of a side unit and sent on patrols probing locations in the early part of the war. I had some down time where they pulled back for a few weeks between some of the levels to allow for the war going on around them to develop. Eventually, they were noticed for the power and given some more important missions to raid a stronghold that needed to be sneaked into or diplomacy with a lich that controlled a secret mountain pass that each side could use the circle the other forces. The big fight at the end with the PCs defending a castle was not as great as it could have been. It was some staged encounters that they could choose from on where to go and each choice counted towards the overall side. So, if they went after the ogre catapults and not the undead wraiths, then the wraiths would take out some of the good guys and the ogres would be stopped from launching the goblin grenades.

I did have a side quest with a group of NPCs that the players used for one night. It was kind of like the Star Wars movie Rogue1 with them all dying, but managed to learn the location of the secret to taking out the BBEG. I was able to TPK and the players learned something .


Hobbit on Quest (he/him)
Oh, my, yes. We've done war. Quite a bit of it actually. My first winter break when I went to college, I came home, and we played D&D pretty much every day - and we played a major war campaign. There were opposing coalitions of good vs evil and the scope was large enough that we played with multiple PCs each - some off on this mission, some off on that mission. It was pretty awesome, actually. One of the final confrontations ended up as a castle defense with a high level druid summoning a hurricane to disrupt the attacking armies. Some high stakes stuff.

Then a few years later, the way things settled in the previous war generated another, smaller scale one. In that series of campaign events, we were all playing characters that were some variety of fighter or ranger, some single class, some multiclass. But the hook was we had all joined a rag-tag mercenary company, the Border Rats, and got thrown into various events including the Defense of Fort Kaul and the Battle of Tunwilly Downs. One of the cool things we were able to do was come up with alternative rewards since money wasn't a major goal. So we got combat decorations and, of course, prestige with the court.

This was also all with 1st edition AD&D.


In the last campaign I ran (Ghosts of Saltmarsh), the campaign was building up to two wars. The party managed to avert one, and became an infiltration team acting behind enemy lines while the land/sea battle was underway (I tried to set it up dramatically like the Return of the Jedi Endor battle, in fact).

Other times, I’ve used war as lore to explain why things were the way they were, and have had several campaign games that were set “on the eve” of war, where a misstep by PCs or NPCs could tip things closer (or further) from a state of war.


I am working on a new setting in which past wars are hugely important to the current situation, and also the reasons why there aren't really any big wars around anymore.
In the setting's history, there hss been only a single time where one leader managed to conquer a majority of the land. The resulting empire is not remember fondly by anyone, and the huge civil war that followed the emperor's death was even worse. Now the idea of conquering empires has become hugely unpopular and associated with evil tyrants, and any ruler who manges to gain support from his population to expand calls down the combined anger of all neighbors, who are united in their fear what comes next. This generally settles most conflicts quite early, and with the Shatterd Empire being so thoroughly fractured, the forces anyone can field are quite modest.
Raiding and border skirmishes still happen, but they don't really do much to reshape the current constellation of power.


Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
The PCs are part of special forces units and strike forces. If they are part of a larger battle they're given a specific task such as "guard this section of the wall". As far as how long wars last, I generally have a significant amount of downtime between mini-arcs of the story. So the war rages on, people are doing their best to support with various downtime activities and then all heck breaks loose or they have to go on a special mission.


Moderator Emeritus
My "Out of the Frying Pan" campaign began with the premise that the PCs should have a reason to want to avoid conscription as a major war erupting in the setting and thus sign up to go do some adventuring "on the frontier."


My "Out of the Frying Pan" campaign began with the premise that the PCs should have a reason to want to avoid conscription as a major war erupting in the setting and thus sign up to go do some adventuring "on the frontier."
is "I really don't wanna go to war" a good reason? :p


One of my campaign ideas would have the PCs as members of a specialized squad in an army or larger mercenary group. The PCs would get assigned missions - catered by me to the skillsets pf the characters.

So, I don't have many answers or thoughts beyond that, but I'm keenly interested in the conversation.
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Moderator Emeritus
is "I really don't wanna go to war" a good reason? :p

It was at least one PC's reason!
  • One was a dwarf, who as part of a minority community in a majority human nation did not want to fight for a nation that treated him as a second class citizen.
  • Two were exiles from another country and were just trying to avoid getting swept up in the schemes over-eager and unscrupulous recruiters who used the local constabulary to effectively press-gang folks
  • One was originally from the enemy nation and despite his role in the clergy, realized he would be in prison at best and under house arrest at worst for however long the war lasted.
  • One was a woman who could not be conscripted, but joined up with the adventurers because she had her own reason to leave town.

    Others included someone who was part of a fishing village who were hiding all their eligible young men for their own labor reasons, but he slipped away to bring a note to a betrothed and ended up snapped up by the authorities - so he joined up on this option in hopes of getting back sooner and in one piece.

    And so on. . .


I use an imperial succession war backdrop in my homebrew mashup campaign setting. Mostly the religious civil war multi faction aspects of Ptolus, Eberron's war, and the Freeport continental wars but making them current.

This provides a full magic D&D world but most areas are stripped of soldiers and powerful people for the war effort so anything that is going on locally is less likely to be dealt with by the government or the powerful imperial church or local power people as they are off fighting or dealing with the war, leaving more room and need for adventurers/local heroes.

This also allows me to have big powerful cool setting NPCs for lore purposes but natural reasons they are not involved in what the party is.


I have played in a Wrath of the Righteous adventure path where we led troops into battle and a Red Hand of Doom campaign where the whole plot is an invasion war.

I've used wars as background, PCs as an elite unit, and with PCs leading an army. Background generally works best at lower levels, as leading an army really requires the party to be strong enough to have an army. Being an elite unit might be cool for a while, but I don't think it would be interesting enough to hold for an entire campaign.

Wars Don't Happen in Dungeons: a lot of time is spent in dungeons. Wars don't happen there.
Then you aren't doing it right! The kobolds could be encroaching on goblin territory, while both have to give tribute to drow or face extermination. Intelligent underground monsters can go to war with each other just like those on the surface.

David Howery

I can only remember using a war scenario once in the campaigns I DMd, and the PCs were basically on the fringes of it, carrying out commando raids and the like. I only did a couple of mass battles, one of which was a sorta replay of Rorke's Drift (with goblins standing in for the Zulus)....

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