D&D 5E World Building: Army building

So, D&D isn't a true wargame where you're supposed to emulate real-world warfare.
agreed, in fact I would say it doesn't simulate real world anything.
Generally, if a war is happening and it doesn't directly influence the main focus that the party is going through, it gets handwaved in a sentence or two. "The Ilustian army is in war with the Crote army." At that point, its minor worldbuilding.
my thing is I want my players to feel like they have agency in effecting the odds, and an understanding of said odds. I don't want them to make choices blind I want them to be informed.

To go with my Star Gate concept, I want them to understand why a GHoul war ship showing up over earth is a disaster in season 1 or 2, but a fight in season 7 or 8 and you might feel sorry for that ship if Atlantis is cloaked in the san fran bay. However that same ship showing up to Talona is never a threat... and if it is that is a clue something is VERY wrong. Can the Asgaurd beat the Ghoul, yup if they send there forces, but then they will lose the war with the repilicators back home.
My own theory: in a world with DnD-style spellcasters, they replace heavy cavalry as the core of the armies of the world. Whoever can bring the most wizards to the fight usually wins, so each kingdom is always looking for ways to get wizards (or other full casters) on their side.
I think I have heard way back in the 50's gary called them artillary like a big gun.
The easiest way is to just pay them a lot of money and not bother them when you don't need them for warfare.
yes having mercenaries is a big boon. Especially if adventuring parties aren't limited to PCs... "Oh wait that side has 4 or 5 groups of weird people with levels and creative minds... that could be a problem"
Over time there's be a lot of overlap between the nobility and wizards - magical bloodlines would drift upwards, and nobles' children would be sent to magic school.
MAgeocracy happen for a reason.
 

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In my world.

There are warmages, and these aren't only sorcerers with light armor, but their spells are "techniquest", like martial maneuvers, reloaded after a Concentration check.

Catapults throw stones with runes for summoning spells, and these create swarms over enemy artillery.

Illusory magic for smoke-grenade effects and decoys.

Chivalry has to worry when enemy use war charriots moved with a "motor".

Teletransporation magic can be used to send food and arrows in a castle siege, or to evacuate the civil population.

Even low-level clerics can get great effects in the temple within the stonghold, and the help by the congregation. This help for example to heal or to create food and water.

Some constructs are used not to fight but to carry tower shields.

Some beasts can be trained to fight in the battlefield, and "remote-control" thanks special telepatic links with trainers/tamers. Some gnomes are very good as monster riders.

Some humans or humanoids accept to become plantouched humanoids to fight undeads or infectious abominations.

Elite knights enjoy special help, a mixture of construct monster ally+armor. Sentient powered exosuits.

Necromancy to reanimate dead is a war crime, but when these are the corpses of no-sentient creatures.
 

I agree that wizard-type spell casters would show up by themselves but I think they'd be much more likely the ones with the expectations with demand for the resources to secure their own protection. That protection also might need to be tough and, in whatever way, mobile.
I'm visualizing a troop of medium cavalry to fend off enemy units, a few roguish types to scout and maybe gank specific enemies, several other class-level-having peeps, and a bunch of camp followers so the wizard can live in comfort. Just because it's a war is no reason to not have a bath ready, after all.
 

my thing is I want my players to feel like they have agency in effecting the odds, and an understanding of said odds.
The typical way of handling this is to have stat blocks for a subgroup of the enemy forces (because there is a limit to the number of units table top DM can reasonably handle). The party fight them, whilst the rest of the battle goes on around in a "fog of war". Depending on how well they do, it influences the outcome of the battle. There is a battle structured like this in one of the online adventures that comes with Dragon of Icespire Peak starter set. I think Dragonlance does this too if you don't have the boardgame (I don't own either).

Alternatively, it has been known for players to use different game systems or computer games to resolve massed battles.
 
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D&D warfare would have more similarity to modern warfare than warfare in Medieval or Ancient times due to the potential for AoE magic. The similarity of AoEs to the effects of cannon fire, and bombs would mean that close formations of troops would present a serious risk. Phalanx formations would not happen.
oh boy is that a can of worms, maybe wyrms. I have had friends argue about castle design and military tactics and how they evolved irl and how magic would effect it. We have all agreed it is more like a modern war.
D&D warfare is one where there are certainly cannons, only the cannons may be made of glass and opposing sides may try to take them out as quickly as possible.

On propaganda, see my thread Skywrite: a weapon of mass communication/coordination. Armies are lied to and an information war could may also take place.
oh I am going there now
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
When your games involve wars and kingdoms forces how do you build them?
The answer to most of these questions will be "you don't need to prep something until it comes up in game."

The PCs will likely never directly fight an army, so their stats don't matter. You want to have one army fight another, decide who wins. If that's not satisfying, come up with some way to measure the relative strengths and weaknesses of each army and make a roll to see who wins.
However I then worry when is too much too much?
It's too much when you spend time worrying about things that either won't come up in the game or don't matter, like the precise stats for the armies.
As I am typing this I wonder how much can be hand waved. Like I can call an army of paladins an army of paladins the players don't need to know if they have smite or lay on hands unless they are part of an encounter, and at least at low level those encounters need to be small or it will TPK.
Don't worry about balance. If the PCs are stupid enough to try to take on an entire army, they deserve the TPK. They've earned it. Don't wreck the verisimilitude of the world to curate the experience for the PCs. The strength of the NPCs should in no way be tied to the strength of the PCs. Fighting an ancient dragon at 1st level should be suicide. The players should know that.
Then I am wondering, do I just story point who wins if I have 2 NPC armies fight, or should I 'roll it out' in between games to be able to tell the players it was 'fair'
Players don't tend to care about things unless it directly affects them.
I also have seen many times here and elsewhere online that enough commoners can take down a dragon. How much do I need to worry about army sizes?
Only as much as you think it matters. You don't need to have a perfectly complete world before you start. Even Matt Mercer is still filling out Exandria as they're nearing a decade of livestreams. Write down a number that sounds right.
If I want to throw numbers around as intelligence about 1 feudal lord or another what are sane numbers? Like if someone owns 3 towns and 2 castle/keeps and a bunch of farm land and the DM told me they can field 200,000 troops I would be highly skeptical, but if they have 20,000 is that too much? What about 10,000?
Look at history. A village has up to 1000 people, according to the DMG. A town has up to 6000 people, according to the DMG. A city has up to 25,000 people, according to the DMG. How much of the population does the local lord mobilize? Those numbers include women and children.

You need between 1/2 and 1 full acre of farmland to feed one person for one year, depending on the time and technology. In D&D-like faux-medieval times, it's likely 1 full acre...assuming no magic farming. So that village of 1000 people would need 1000 acres of farmland just to feed the people there. The town 6000 acres and the city 25,000 acres. You get things like taxes when you have more food that absolutely necessary to feed the people working the land. The lord takes taxes in the form of excess foodstuffs or the equivalent value in coin.

Historically, kingdoms campaigned in the off season so they could mobilize the farmers to fight. Farmers tended to be not great at fighting, hence professional soldiers becoming a thing, and the farmers would leave the fight to go home and tend their crops. Look at the cost of food in the PHB. Farmers and nobles selling their grain for coin would earn that much (but ignoring the costs to grow and harvest that grain), you'd need to sell a lot of grain to buy one sword. Now what about armor and a shield? What about a spear and food to last the campaign? Etc.

So "the kingdom has 3 towns and a castle, so they can field 20,000 fully armed and armored, well-trained fighting men in good health" is way more fantastical than having dragons and spellcasters.
How does caster change this? Like If 1 lord can field 5,000 spear men and 2,000 archers with 500 light cavalry and a dozen siege weapons, but there enemy can bring 400 spear men, 100 archers, 50 light cavalry and 60 level 5+ wizards and 100 level 3-4 wizards and that side has 30 clerics/healers it seems like the casters are a major force multiplier.
Yep. If casters were a thing they'd literally take over the world in short order. That noble with the castle is great and all, but a 1st-level caster with charm person would be the king in a few days' time. To say nothing of things like attack cantrips. A 1st-level caster with fire bolt and light would be worth several dozen archers. Anything approaching coherent worldbuilding quickly falls apart once you include things that are possible because of the fantasy elements of D&D.
Also monsters. Like if one side has ogres and the other side has goblins that skews things too.
Another good example. It's really easy to become bogged down in the infinite details and never get anything done. Skip it. It honestly doesn't matter. As long as you're in the ballpark of probably, you're close enough.
 

I could go into a long description of what choices I've made about levels and demographics, but that wouldn't I think the details would be particularly useful.
I would love to hear some examples just to give some insight, but you don't have to post all your info.
The important thing is that my choices are designed to make NPCs competent but not heroic and they are not focused as some demographics are on stopping high level PCs from dominating the environment. As a result, PC and NPC lords can recruit competent and effective armies, but those armies won't be filled with campaign changing heroes. No units of 10th level fighters or entire companies of youthful willing patriotic 5th level wizards.
yeah, I have to think that through.
Generally, it depends on the culture and need, but with a typical medieval economy standing professional armies tend to be less than 1 combatant per 1000 population. Levied armies that can be mustered for a season tend to be about 10 times larger than that, but after a few months they have to go home. At Hastings in 1066, the future of the 2+ million inhabitants of England was being determined by about 10,000 defenders - about 0.5 combatants per 100. Note that "barbarian" cultures typically have lower population but can muster warbands that approach 100% of the fighting age male population owing to the lack of need to take care of farms to sustain their population.
okay that is great. I assume it's all true or at least to the best of your ability true, but even if it's not that is a great short hand that atleast will feel right. THANK YOU SO MUCH!!
Fantasy cultures tend to have standing professional armies approaching the size of modern professional standing armies in terms of percentage of population owing to the fact that most people don't care about yield of wheat per acre and other detailed simulation when writing a story. I personally tend to use 0.8 combatants per 100 population, and 8 combatants per 100 population for levied troops.
again good numbers. I figure if I am keeping the non soldiers at starvation but survivable levels and letting the rest go to the military it will incentivize large standing armies...
If you don't give some thought to this you might want to consider a world where warfare as we understand it doesn't exist, because if fighters are tier 7 combatants that don't even do fighting well, then it's likely armies consists of monks (if no weapons are just as good as weapons, monks are much cheaper to field than fighters) and spellcasters (if casting spells is more powerful than martial attacks, then armies of casters are better than armies of martials). My biggest problem with that is that the less like the real world your fantasy world is, the harder it will be to imagine it and make it consistent.
yes that is the needle I need to thread.
 

You need between 1/2 and 1 full acre of farmland to feed one person for one year, depending on the time and technology. In D&D-like faux-medieval times, it's likely 1 full acre...assuming no magic farming. So that village of 1000 people would need 1000 acres of farmland just to feed the people there. The town 6000 acres and the city 25,000 acres. You get things like taxes when you have more food that absolutely necessary to feed the people working the land. The lord takes taxes in the form of excess foodstuffs or the equivalent value in coin.

Historically, kingdoms campaigned in the off season so they could mobilize the farmers to fight. Farmers tended to be not great at fighting, hence professional soldiers becoming a thing, and the farmers would leave the fight to go home and tend their crops. Look at the cost of food in the PHB. Farmers and nobles selling their grain for coin would earn that much (but ignoring the costs to grow and harvest that grain), you'd need to sell a lot of grain to buy one sword. Now what about armor and a shield? What about a spear and food to last the campaign? Etc.
first all of this is great thank you so much!!!

However it also gives me an idea how and why druids as a class would be important in a war like evil feudal kingdom, so for that BIG THANK YOU!!!
Yep. If casters were a thing they'd literally take over the world in short order. That noble with the castle is great and all, but a 1st-level caster with charm person would be the king in a few days' time. To say nothing of things like attack cantrips. A 1st-level caster with fire bolt and light would be worth several dozen archers. Anything approaching coherent worldbuilding quickly falls apart once you include things that are possible because of the fantasy elements of D&D.
yeah Luke skywalker uses suggestion and mage hand a lot, and some combat buffs and a real nice magic sword (real nice) and he could have taken whole castles with a little help from his friends... if Qugan and Obiwan were not lone jedi... and they had even more powers and control as luke, an evil or even just active jedi order would be super scary
Another good example. It's really easy to become bogged down in the infinite details and never get anything done. Skip it. It honestly doesn't matter. As long as you're in the ballpark of probably, you're close enough.
 

You have to decide are you discussing raiders of 50-1,000 troops, realistic armies of 5,000 - 50,000 (think Ceasar's armies in Gaul), or "mythic armies" of 500,000-1,000,000 (Xerxes reported invasion of Greece)

5e magic is highly impactful on raiders. It can be impactful on realistic armies when used tactically. It might not do anything noticeable to a mythic army unless you have hundreds of casters or think strategically because that army will cover dozens, if not hundreds, of square miles.

Given the low daily uses of magic, I think dnd is closer to 19th century warfare, with casters on par with cannons and bombards. Let's face it, even 20th level casters are down to cantrips after 5 minutes of steady casting. And even 9th level spells have a non-trivial chance of being shut down by a 5th level caster with Dispel or Counterspell.
 


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