A few weeks ago I mentioned the homebrew mass combat rules we used in our gaming session. Several people expressed an interest in seeing them, and I’ve finally gotten around to obliging. Here it is, for the curious.
This system is designed around the idea that the armies are of relatively equal level and ability. If you have Orcish Warriors with great axes vs. Peasants with semi-sharp sticks, you need to either accept that the peasants are going to equal to the Orcs or you need a more complex rules system. This one is built for simplicity, not wargaming simulationists.
The goals of the system are:
- Allow large numbers of forces to fight without too much paperwork.
- Allow for interesting and varied strategy.
- Allow heroes to shape the battle by mildly boosting the performance of their troops, without overshadowing them.
This system is designed for a group of players who like fast, uncomplicated combat, and is thus not hardened against rules-lawyering weenies. If one of your players argues that his army of Wizards should be able to cast Mage Armor on themselves, turn invisible, and then fly all over the battlefield, raining down death with impunity, then realize that if you give in you will be defeating the purpose of using this system. Pretty soon everyone will be arguing for more complexity in a way that favors their heroes. (Or your weenie player will be overshadowing them with his uber forces.) Do make sure your players are comfortable with these approximations and simplifications.
If they start dragging their epic gear and supernatural abilities into it, then it’s time to brew some coffee and grab a big fat rulebook of established, playtested mass combat rules, because using this system is going to ruin your friendship.
Each unit on the field is a battalion. Each battalion can have up to 100 units, or 100 “hit points”. For every 10 units a battalion may roll 1 die. All units will be rounded to the nearest even ten. So, a force of 82 guys will be allowed to roll 8 die when attacking or defending.
There are three types of battalions: Melee, Ranged, and Magic. For the purposes of mass combat, we don’t need to know more than that. What weapons they are using or what spells they are casting is up to the players and the DM as a matter of flavor.
On the map, I suggest using a stack of poker chips with the hero miniature on top on the stack, giving the group 1 chip for every 10 units in the group. This lets you see the approximate size of the various forces at a glance. In our game we just had a label on the underside of the miniature. We spent a lot of time picking them up and checking this number as we tried to get a sense of what we’d be seeing on the battlefield. Every time the battalion lost some units, we had to flip the mini over and re-write the number. This was kind of annoying. If you don’t have poker chips, anything small and stackable will do. (Quarters, legos, Playstation One Memory cards, you know, whatever you got.)
The grid can be anything reasonable. We used a hex battle grid, with the size of each hex being “whatever size you need to hold 100 guys.”
Each battalion may have a hero – either NPC or PC – in command. This hero will tilt the die rolls depending on their attributes and the type of battalion they lead.
When rolling, the group uses the leader’s related attribute modifier. So, when a melee battalion rolls, they add the hero’s STR bonus onto their total. For ranged, the DEX modifier. For magic, use whatever attribute the leader uses for casting.
So if a battalion of 37 ranged units makes an attack, they would roll 4 dice and add the DEX modifier of the battalion commander / hero. Note that this means that the hero has a larger and larger effect on the outcome as the battalion gets smaller.
Attacks are always a d8. So if a battalion has 60 units remaining, he would roll 6d8 as his attack roll and add the hero’s modifier. (If any.)
Melee forces will lose at least one unit for each die rolled. Regardless of how the rolls goes otherwise, a melee attacker should subtract these units before making any other calculations. This only applies to melee units. By contrast, Ranged and Magic groups cannot lose units if they are attacking.
For archers and wizards, the allowed ranged is arguable. We gave them a range of three spaces, which seemed to work well. Increasing or decreasing this value will have a large impact on gameplay. I wouldn’t suggest making it less than three. Making it five spaces would make things more strategic, as you can really swing a battle by maneuvering your ranged units well. On the downside, the attrition to the melee units is going to be pretty brutal.
When being attacked, you roll dice based on the type of force is attacking you. The attacker always rolls d8, and the defender rolls dice based on this chart:
Attackers Ranged Melee Magic D e f e n d e r s Ranged d8 d4 d6 Melee d6 d8 d4 Magic d6 d4 d8
So, if 50 melee units attacked a battalion of 60 wizards, the attacker would roll 5d8+Hero’s STR modifier, and the defender would roll 6d4+Hero’s INT modifier.
These totals are added up. Subtract the lower number from the higher. This will be the losses inflicted on the loser. (Whoever rolled the smaller number.) Again, Ranged and Magic groups cannot lose units if they are attacking. If for some reason a Melee force rolls higher than an attacking group of magic users, then no losses will be suffered on either side.
In the above example of 50 melee attacking 60 wizards – assuming average rolls and comparable heroes – the melee force will probably roll about 8 higher than the magic force. The attacker will lose 5 units (because melee units lose 1 unit for every die they roll when attacking) and the defender will lose 8 units. (Because they rolled 8 under the attacker’s roll.)
Melee groups get 3 moves per turn, one of which can be an attack. So, the group can move 2 spaces and attack, or attack and move 2 spaces, or simply move 3 spaces. Ranged and Magic battalions only get two such moves.
No two forces may occupy the same hex / square, not even if they are allies. No, they can’t pass through one another. Stop trying to make this difficult.
Two separate forces may spend their turn merging their forces instead of moving, as long as merging the two groups would not take them above the 100 unit limit. If the two forces are of different types (Ranged merging with Melee) the GM may choose to allow or forbid the merger. You can imagine a few melee guys joining a larger group of archers, picking up bows dropped by their fallen comrades. You can imagine a group of crossbowmen holstering their crossbows and whipping out their swords. But it’s kind of hard to picture a bunch of wizards putting up their dukes and joining some soldiers. Again, GM’s discretion.
When two forces merge, pick one of the two heroes to lead the new group. The other hero will become just another soldier.
It is up to the GM what happens to the leader of a defeated force, based on how badly they were defeated, how individually powerful they are, and how much it would suck if they snuffed it. If a force of 100 soldiers wipes out a force of 10 wizards, then the head wizard should probably die. But if the combat is very nearly even, you can argue that the hero should escape (injured) and may flee or join another group on their next turn.
Don’t murder the PC’s needlessly, but also don’t let them personally turn the tide of the battle with their little supermen.
Note that you could probably scale the system up or down as needed so you’d have groups of thousands instead of groups of hundreds.
I’d also suggest doing something with the terrain. Our battle was fought on a flat wasteland. If we had another battle I’d like to see spots that were impassible but allowed ranged attacks – such as open crevices, rivers, or swampy spots. Other spots could be impassible and block ranged attacks – such as buildings. This would make fighting for position that much more important.
There it is. We had a blast with it. I hope you find it useful. Barring that, I hope you find it interesting.
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