D20 – Mass Combat Made Simple

English: http://www.mfr.usmc.mil/4thmardiv/4th...

Yes, Lizard Men would be great at this, wouldn’t they?

A common complaint in d20 games is that there’s no mass combat system.

Fortunately, that’s actually pretty easily fixed – although, as usual, the first step is in figuring out what cases your rules actually need to cover.

  • If the PC’s are not involved in the battle you don’t need any rules. You simply narrate whatever result seems reasonable – perhaps modified with the result of a few die rolls to see if something unlikely happens.
  • If the PC’s are running one side or the other from a command position, but are not getting involved directly, you can have them make a few skill checks, let those results modify your notion of what seems reasonable and narrate the results. If you want to get elaborate you can give the players a few decision points – when to advance, when to retreat, and some basic tactics to pick from – and base your narration on that. Once again, in this case you don’t need any rules. It’s not like they’ll really be able to micromanage anyway – and if they CAN, we no longer have “they are not getting involved directly”.
  • If the PC’s are operating as special forces against small groups of opponents… the standard combat system handles that very nicely indeed. That’s what it’s for. You don’t need any mass combat rules here either.
  • If the PC’s are in direct battle with – or beside – mass-battle sized groups of near-equal, equal, or superior individuals… Then you don’t need rules. Their options are basically limited to 1) run away, 2) cash in a plot coupon, 3) come up with something so incredibly clever that the GM gives it to them, or 4) dying – heroically or not at their option. You can just narrate the result again.

So; the only time you actually need “mass battle” rules is when the player characters are up against large numbers of much weaker creatures that are organized enough to still be threatening. (If they’re not organized you can just use the Swarm rules…).

So lets reach back, back beyond d20, back beyond AD&D, back beyond the original edition… back, in fact, all the way to one of the older editions of Chainmail and a little page of fantasy units in the back of the booklet.

Hm. It looks like heroes and wizards and such count as military units. Their mighty heroism and magical power makes them equivalent to sizeable groups of normal soldiers, capable of competing directly against military units on the field of battle. Of course current RPG’s tend to focus on the individual heroes, start them off well before “name level” – and forget all about that “equivalent to military units” stuff. (Except for the occasional threads about “Can an army of 10,000 peasants and a midlevel warlord take down the 20’th level wizard in his tower? And no sending out the Iron Golems!”.)

So; there are your rules. Powerful heroes are equivalent to military units. Ergo, for combat purposes, Military Units can be reasonably represented… as powerful individuals.

OK. We’ll give them a few special rules;

  • They are disrupted – and effectively vanish – when they hit zero hit points, just like summoned creatures. There will be lots of broken survivors who will run away. Actually “killing” them will require chasing down the majority of the individual fleeing creatures. It’s usually not worth the bother.
  • Looting them gets you lots of lesser gear, rather than the higher-level equivalent items that they combine to represent.
  • The scale is bigger. How much bigger? It really doesn’t matter much; the player characters can simply be presumed to be moving about on a larger scale, spending time picking out good targets from among the mass instead of just blasting away, and a few characters can effectively man that city wall. Time and distance are stretched out proportionately – and so don’t actually change anything. The only major effect here is that – if you want to add mounts or supplies to your military group out of your personal resources – you’re going to need a lot of them.

If you must guess the CR – instead of just making it reasonable for the group (remember, you don’t need rules for “an easy victory” or “too strong to fight”) – divide by five or so. Groups just aren’t as well organized as individuals.

So you have a peasant militia with 120 CR 1/2 members being organized by a sixth level fighter?

OK: that gives us… three wings of 40 guys each. Divide by five. 8 CR 1/2 characters is… a fifth level equivalent.

So; build them as three fifth level characters – probably fighters. They’ve been taught to dash in and out? Mobility feat. One wing was taught to strike mighty blows? Power attack for that one. One wing includes a bunch of novices from the temple? Build that one as a cleric; the novices massed efforts can approximate a few higher level spells. They include some creatures with weird abilities? Give the units you’re building some. That’s easy in Eclipse, but there are ways to do it in most d20 systems.

You’re modeling a swarm of demons? Use the statistics for a few more powerful ones and simply describe the seething mass of lesser creatures as they combine their powers to launch a few more powerful attacks.

The nigh-invincible United Armies of the Hundred Cities might be built as a quartet of eighteenth level characters. Sure, there are things out there that can take them out – but their well-trained massed forces of the dozen cities that actually contribute much, with all their minor priests, magicians, and mystics, and their field fortifications, catapults, and other defenses, say that it isn’t going to be easy unless you’re a high epic level type yourself.

This also has a subtle advantage; you can use masses of lower-level opponents quickly and easily to oppose those high-level PC’s – rather than having to have massively powerful creatures and opponents lurking around every corner. That way you don’t have to answer questions like “where were all these guys when we were low level?”, or “how do the normal peasants survive?” or “how can the world still function when it’s full of people who can warp it, twist it, and overthrow it at whim?”.

Now, if a player wants to command a military unit, or the services of a temple full of novices and underlings, or some such… let them take Leadership and apply the same principle. Use the statistics of a single, higher-level, character to represent the massed efforts of many lower-level ones.

No, this isn’t a perfect simulation of a mass battle – but it’s quick, simple, workable, and works in the game. If it still worries you, just remember; d20 is full of high-order abstractions already. What will one more hurt?

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One Response

  1. […] Military PC’s and Fantasy Armies: Functional fantasy-style military groups for PC’s, to go with Mass Combat Made Simple. […]

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