D&D 5E World Building: Army building

Oh, if you want something unrealistically big, use Xerxes invasion of Greece. At one point he turns an armada into a bridge for his million-strong army.

For truly over the top and full of magic, look at the Indian Vedas. I have only read a few summaries but flying ships, nuclear arrows and all manner of "anime wishes it was this cool" stuff.

Edit: autocorrect doesn't know about anime...
 

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Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Instead, I think it best to treat it like rings. The innermost ring is the main settlements of the local area, the proverbial "starting town" as it were, or any place the party sets up as "home base." Such places will be interacted with frequently and often to a pretty deep degree, so they require more flesh on the bones.
The problem I've found with this approach is the conflict between a) trying to get this stuff done before play begins and b) not knowing whether the PCs will stay put in-around the starting town or take off to somewhere else after the first adventure.

One thing I have learned, though: even if they start in a small town, put some detail into the biggest city or cities in the region 'cause it's ironclad sure that's where they'll end up at some point be it for research, item commissioning, training, recruiting, treasury liquidation, or whatever.
One might name them such:
1: Local
2: Regional
3: Peripheral
4: Far, Far Away
5: Terra Incognita

Apportion appropriate world-building to each. Local is your top priority, the details matter there. Regional, details might matter, so it's usually good to be prepared, and stay flexible. Peripheral will matter some of the time, but you probably don't need a ton of depth--just make sure it passes a smell test. Far, Far Away is distant enough that you can keep it vague and probably not have any problems. Anything further than that, don't bother--if it comes up, you'll have the freedom to do as you like and patch up any gaps later.
You're not wrong here, but I also recommend having a vague world-level or at least continent-level view of things right from the start in order to keep the smaller-scale stuff consistent with itself.

A very simple example: if you want the starting town to be a stereotypical medieval-European farming village, that already says your village is in temperate latitudes, has year-round available water from river, rain, or both, and probably indicates the world has a tilted axis to give seasons; all of which means you can't really place a Sahara-desert-set adventure ten miles down the road without building in some serious hows and whys.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
If you want to get really into it, you can use standard 5E combat. Just change the number of characters a single stat block represents. Use the largest common denominator for one side and match the other to that. You have 500 soldiers and 1000 orcs? Okay, so that’s 1 soldier stat block representing 500 soldiers vs 2 orc stat blocks representing 500 orcs each. Divide the total number of NPCs the stat blocks represent by the total number of HP they have. For each HP of damage, that’s how many soldiers drop.

If you really want PCs involved in warfare, then including the PCs should be done as side quests and Seal Team Six style missions and heavy use of skill challenges. Take and hold this chokepoint. Rescue this important NPC who was captured. Bring these reinforcements to this location by this time. Etc.
Which is fine until-unless one of two things occurs:

(Some of) the PCs are acting as generals in charge of an army, or
(Some of) the PCs want to get involved in the ground fighting.

If they're acting as generals then you've really not much choice but to play out the battle somehow, as that's the only way they can have any general-level input on tactics etc. as the battle progresses. If they want to (or have no choice but) get involved in the ground fighting then you pretty much have to track at least the units they're in.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
You know who sold a lot more books than Tolkien? Agatha Christie. And you know how she worked? She started with the solution to the crime, then worked backwards, only creating characters and locations as the plot required them. If something wasn't needed she didn't spend time creating it.
Agatha Christie had the rather large advantage of not having to design her base setting, however, as she set her books in real-world Earth.

Tolkein was starting from scratch.
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
Which is fine until-unless one of two things occurs:

(Some of) the PCs are acting as generals in charge of an army, or
(Some of) the PCs want to get involved in the ground fighting.

If they're acting as generals then you've really not much choice but to play out the battle somehow, as that's the only way they can have any general-level input on tactics etc. as the battle progresses. If they want to (or have no choice but) get involved in the ground fighting then you pretty much have to track at least the units they're in.
Absolutely. Hence my second paragraph.

The trouble with PCs as front-line generals is the same as armies vs dragons. One volley of arrows and you’ve got at least one dead PC, if not several.
 

EzekielRaiden

Follower of the Way
The problem I've found with this approach is the conflict between a) trying to get this stuff done before play begins and b) not knowing whether the PCs will stay put in-around the starting town or take off to somewhere else after the first adventure.

One thing I have learned, though: even if they start in a small town, put some detail into the biggest city or cities in the region 'cause it's ironclad sure that's where they'll end up at some point be it for research, item commissioning, training, recruiting, treasury liquidation, or whatever.

You're not wrong here, but I also recommend having a vague world-level or at least continent-level view of things right from the start in order to keep the smaller-scale stuff consistent with itself.

A very simple example: if you want the starting town to be a stereotypical medieval-European farming village, that already says your village is in temperate latitudes, has year-round available water from river, rain, or both, and probably indicates the world has a tilted axis to give seasons; all of which means you can't really place a Sahara-desert-set adventure ten miles down the road without building in some serious hows and whys.
Sure you can. Firstly, because climate is a lot more complex than that. Keep in mind, the Sahara is all of like 500 miles from southern Italy, and hardcore dunes as far as the eye can see are no more than a thousand miles from the Aegean. There's an sea between, to be fair, but it just goes to show that you can have sharp changes in climate over relatively small distances. (Or, to use my home state, the Willamette Valley is notoriously rainy, but just cross the Cascade Mountains and you get the rich farmland and arid/badland/desert conditions of eastern Oregon and Washington.) It doesn't actually require much.

Further, what exactly did you think I meant by "peripheral"? Things like "there is a desert to the east" should pass a smell test, like "there is a reason why we have temperate forest here and desert there."

In my own case, the reason is that the Tarrakhuna has a combination of magical influences, mountain ranges, and distance from jetstream-type sources of water. It is also not particularly large (roughly the size of Morocco, but more rectangular), making it sort of a hybrid of the Sahara and Atacama (which, notably, is also extremely close to tropical climes!)
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Sure you can. Firstly, because climate is a lot more complex than that.
I'm a weather geek, so you're preaching to the choir here. :)
Keep in mind, the Sahara is all of like 500 miles from southern Italy, and hardcore dunes as far as the eye can see are no more than a thousand miles from the Aegean. There's an sea between, to be fair, but it just goes to show that you can have sharp changes in climate over relatively small distances. (Or, to use my home state, the Willamette Valley is notoriously rainy, but just cross the Cascade Mountains and you get the rich farmland and arid/badland/desert conditions of eastern Oregon and Washington.) It doesn't actually require much.
Well, it does require crossing a fairly significant mountain range.

I mean, where I am we have microclimates as well thanks to the rainshadow provided by the Olympic mountains; but even then the differences within just a few tens of miles are far more dictated by altitude than anything else.
Further, what exactly did you think I meant by "peripheral"? Things like "there is a desert to the east" should pass a smell test, like "there is a reason why we have temperate forest here and desert there."
Depends how far east. A few hundred miles with a big mountain range in between*? Sure. Ten miles down the road? Not so sure.

* - assuming the weather generally comes from the west, as it does in Earth's temperate latitudes (as opposed to the sub-tropics where it often comes from the east - just look at the common path of Atlantic hurricanes to see what I mean).
In my own case, the reason is that the Tarrakhuna has a combination of magical influences, mountain ranges, and distance from jetstream-type sources of water. It is also not particularly large (roughly the size of Morocco, but more rectangular), making it sort of a hybrid of the Sahara and Atacama (which, notably, is also extremely close to tropical climes!)
The big desert in my setting is to the east of a massive mountain range as well.

One thing to note about the Atacama is that while it it close to tropical climes those climes are in the lowlands while the Atacama is at high altitude. Climatologically, it's a strange place.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Absolutely. Hence my second paragraph.

The trouble with PCs as front-line generals is the same as armies vs dragons. One volley of arrows and you’ve got at least one dead PC, if not several.
If that's the case then why wasn't every front-line general killed during real-world battles?
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
If that's the case then why wasn't every front-line general killed during real-world battles?
Because the real-world doesn't work on the 5E game mechanics, whereas these fights would. In the real-world, arrow volleys were more like AoE than a single-target attack. Fire a mass of arrows vaguely over there and hope a lot of enemy soldiers get hit.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Because the real-world doesn't work on the 5E game mechanics, whereas these fights would. In the real-world, arrow volleys were more like AoE than a single-target attack. Fire a mass of arrows vaguely over there and hope a lot of enemy soldiers get hit.
Then that's how arrow volleys should work in the game as well. Unless there's a big target for everyone to shoot at e.g. a dragon or giant, treat volleys as AoE damage spread out among one or more units, and give any PCs in those units a save to see if they specifically happen to get hit this time.
 

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