Mass Combat Rules

By Shamus
on Mar 13, 2008
Filed under:
Tabletop Games

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:

  1. Allow large numbers of forces to fight without too much paperwork.
  2. Allow for interesting and varied strategy.
  3. 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.

The Basics

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:

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.

Merging Forces

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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20208Feeling chatty? There are 48 comments.

From the Archives:

  1. Hal says:

    I don’t see anything about range. How far can a Ranged battalion shoot? What about Magic?

  2. Craig says:

    Darn it, I needed this like a week ago. I avoided army to army combat by having the players and around 20 soldiers go up against 20 orcs who I deemed a splinter group trying to hit a flank of the army, and I rolled each attack. It went surprisingly well, but wasn’t as cool as large scale combat.

  3. Matt says:

    I’ll definitely need to try this out the next time we’ve got a huge battle. I’ve never really been comfortable dragging out the mass combat rules just for one fight, which then turns into me rolling dice the entire session without real results.
    The only change I’d make (for my own group of players) is allow for more of their own capabilities shine through. They’ve spent a long time with these characters, know their strengths and weaknesses, general strategies, and enjoy the hell out of kicking ass and taking names (and they’re all out of names). I just know if I take away their individuality just at the moment they have this huge opportunity, they’ll begrudge me about it for a while.
    But that’s just because I know my players; other than that, great, simple system, although as mentioned, what about range?

  4. Henebry says:

    Shamus, this is great but I have one significant objection: the leader’s str should have nothing to do with the battle’s outcome.

    Given that leaders are expected to be highly experienced and lead their troops by force of example, it would make more sense to me that the leader’s Character Level or maybe Base Atk Bonus function as a bonus. Perhaps Character Level – 10 in a campaign with high-level heroes; Character Level -5 in a lower-level campaign.

    I’d also recommend giving an additional bonus to leaders with the Leadership feat, since that feat is underutilized in D&D. Alternatively, if characters were doing this a lot, you might allow them to take Battlefield Tactician as a feat (yes, I just made that feat up).

    For PC leaders overrun by an opposing force, it seems to me that situation necessitates an on-the-spot change of scale: “You find yourself surrounded by the enemy. You’re down to your personal bodyguard of five (set them at 1/2 the leader’s character level) and all of you are at around 1/2 hp due to battlefield injuries. But then you glimpse a weak spot in the encircling forces. You can make a break for it, or surrender.”

    Worth noting that a significant number of combat losses either surrender or run away. Not all losses should be assumed to be deaths. When in doubt, take PCs captive and use it as a start point for further adventuring.

  5. Blackbird71 says:

    Wow. Simple it may be, but it looks like a lot of thought went into this. Thanks for sharing, this can be incredibly useful. As far as terrain, etc, I can definetely see my old Battle Masters mat and pieces coming in handy.

    Just one question for clarification (other than the range issue already raised): On your defense table, could you please specify which side is attacker and which is defender? I didn’t think it made a difference until I noticed that “Their Ranged” vs “Your Melee” is d6 while “Your Ranged” vs “Their Melee” is d4. Or are the stats intended to differ based on players’ side vs. enemies? Thanks!

  6. Kanthalion says:

    I would think that this would also be a perfect time to make use of the much neglected Charisma Modifier.

    Also echoing questions of range.

  7. Strangepork says:

    As henebry and Kanthalion mentioned, I think the leaders charisma would be a better stat to use as modifier, at least for melee, it seems more fitting as something which could inspire bravery and a sense of trust in the troops.

  8. Devon says:

    It depends, I suppose, on whether the Leader’s effect on the outcome is based on personal participation in the carnage, or astute tactical guidance (or perhaps both).

    Someone with the Leadership feat might be able to substitute their CHA modifier for the STR modifier to affect the outcome of the battle, or simply add their CHA modifier to the appropriate stat, per GM’s preference, depending on troop type (melee, ranged or magic).

    The GM may end up adding a small group of “Mass Combat” feats to support this combat system, such as:

    Lead From the Front (Mass Combat): this feat allows a leader to combine their CHA and STR bonuses when determining their effect on the outcome of their unit; this only works with Melee combat units.

  9. Olly says:

    I think that the idea of range is covered in that ranged units do not take damage whilst attacking, thus as I read it only adjacent units may attack eachother.

    The recommendation to use poker chips or similar in order to represent unit size is fantastic in the simplicity and effectiveness, love it Shamus.

    (Also, though it is fairly self explanatory I think the defence table would benefit from having ‘Your guys’ replaced with ‘defenders’ and ‘their guys’ with ‘attackers’. Nothing really important it just makes it more instantly understandable)

  10. Hal says:

    I think it depends on the hero/leader unit that is in charge as to what stat is used for their bonus.

    Brilliant tactician? Intelligence.
    Epic bard? Charisma.
    Huge, beefy warrior? Strength (he “inspires” the men by his presence).

    Other archetypical characters might need some justification to use Wisdom or Dexterity to modify things. I suppose you could always just use your highest stat modifier and justify it afterwards.

  11. Kanthalion says:

    I like the feat idea, Devon. Also, I was thinking about merging of units. I can totally see the ranged and melee units merging across with no modification, but for the magic units, I was thinking that if a magic unit merges into a melee unit, they add their bodies to be killed and a smaller d per 10, perhaps even only 1 point. If they merge into a ranged unit, they would add only their bodies to be killed (ranged weapons take more training to use effectively in mass combat) and if either a melee or ranged unit merges into a magic unit, all they add is their bodies to be counted, as they act as meat shields for the casters. For purposes of loss in the case of a merged unit, a melee or ranged unit would have a 50/50 on each body lost if it was a former mage or one of their original members, but in a merged magic unit, all the losses will be non-mage until they are all dead (to represent the non-mage bodies doing their best to protect the casters, seeing as they can’t help cast)

  12. scragar says:

    wouldn’t magic and ranged units both be able to take losses from ranged/magic forces?

    I would also like to add that if your enemie is twice as strong as your alies could you simply half thenumber of alies for comparison, then if you need to know numbers after battle just double them again.

    Oh, and would range be affected by terrain? after all it’s easier to fire a bow long distance if your stood atop a hill.

  13. Shamus says:

    Info on range added. It’s probably the part of the system most open to experimentation.

  14. Shamus says:

    Scragar asks, “wouldn’t magic and ranged units both be able to take losses from ranged/magic forces?”

    If archers A fire on archers B, there is no way for A to take losses, no matter how madly they miss / roll / are outnumbered. They just miss. Now, when B’s turn comes around, it might elect to fire back at A, at which point A will indeed be open to damage.

  15. Kanthalion says:

    Howabout archers 5 hex range, wizards 3? perhaps then give the melee an option to take up defensive stance (set shields) to minimize (Halve?) damage on a single turn from ranged attack.

    scragar, I don’t think greater range (bows are, after all, muscle powered) but perhaps a greater hit chance/higher die? something like that?

  16. Taellosse says:

    to Blackbird71:

    “You” in that table is the defending group, while “they” is the attacking group, regardless of who’s on which side. At least, that’s how it seems to work to me.

  17. Kanthalion says:

    Taellosse, that is how I understood it too. Shamus did say that the attacker always rolled a d8.

    I’m having fun with this. Perhaps my attempts at “improvement” may start to complicate it too much though. What can I say? I cut my gaming teeth, not on D&D, but on Avalon Hill wargames.

  18. Kanthalion says:

    Ooo. and Marshalls! this is just the sort of thing that class was meant for. I am gonna have something to think about at work tonight.

  19. Deoxy says:

    2 points:

    Peasants with sticks vs Orc army: count peasants as 1/2 each, and max peasant stacks at effective 50. tada.

    Melee auto-losses: Bad. 100 fierce warriors attacking 10 low level mages in combat… sure, the mages all die, but 10 warriors also die… ? Of course, 50 fierce warriors would also easily kill all 10 mages, but they would only lose 5 warriors… ?!?!? I would suggest instead that melee groups lose 1 automatically for each DEFENSE die rolled, and that the defender lose a minimum of 1 for each attack die rolled – it makes no sense that a melee group attacking a group of archers automatically lose warriors no matter what, but the archers might roll well enough to avoid any casualties.

    Otherwise, a pretty nifty system. I’ll keep the idea around (as it’s really more an idea than a fully-fleshed out rule set).

    Oh, and Henebry’s comments about “sudden change of scale” and “Not all combat losses are deaths” are not spot on.

    (Actually, the rules in Warhammer 40K, which I don’t have time or money to play, unfortunately, are fairly explicit about that point, noting, for instance, that a unit that is over-run when fleeing is removed from the battle, even if it unit that over-runs it doesn’t have any weapons capable of harming the unit members – the unit is simply scattered beyond all combat usefulness, even if the members themselves all survive.)

    Edit: one more thought.

    Increase the range of both magic and archers a little… but then, allow melee units to enter enemy unit spaces and “lock” them in to melee combat (afterall, once my swordsman are engaging your archers in close combat, are they going to idly sit back and let the archers pull away and shoot at them again?!? Only if thy have a deathwish.). Leaving melee counts as being attacked by the force you are moving away from (even on your own turn) with their most favorable attack type.

  20. Shamus says:

    Deoxy: I really like what you suggested for auto-losses.

    I might refine our system as such:

    Any time you’re in a melee fight (the attacher is a melee group) then each side auto-loses 1 unit for every die the OTHER side rolls. So, if I’m rolling 6 die and the other guy is rolling 10, I lose 10 and he loses six, and THEN we add up the dice and count the losses.

  21. Cadamar says:

    My friend and I (mostly my friend but I helped) put together a d20 skirmish system for having large scale battles in our D&D games. We demonstrated it at the Origins convention two years ago and it was pretty well received. It was designed to simulated battles between forces of dozens or hundreds on a side and allowed the PCs to be scaled down to “hero” figures that could either run free (like say if you were a super-powerful paladin/cavalier) or group up and aid a unit of solders (like say if you were a rouge and the battlefield really isn’t your bag). We spent an entire campaign play testing and it ended with a huge battle between the forces of good led by our party of epic level characters and a horde of undead lead by Nightmare riding Death Nights and Draco-liches. It covered two folding tables placed side-by-side and took 12-14 hours to play through, but it was awesome. We had even built out a point system and rules to play tournament style set point battles that could be played out in less then a half hour. He was thinking about trying to actually produce it and sell it, but if there is enough interest maybe I can talk to him about doing something with it again.

  22. Davesnot says:

    I only have one comment… not being a rules lawyer (though I suppose I could be..).. and knowing that the DM is always right.. whatever DM says is how it works is fine with me..

    So.. my comment..

    Not poker chips.. stackable.. yes.. but round.. nice old-fashioned battle maps have rectangular or square units..

    That said.. I don’t know of any nice, bright-colored, stackable things that would be readily available.. so poker chips sounds good.. but.. you could use .. hmm.. *looks around the desk*.. CD Jewel cases?? those seem big enough to take up the space of a big hunk of people.. and cut some construction paper squares .. or.. post-its for whose side they’re on…

    Then you have nice big stacks you can push around the table like some fancy general.. rather than a guy at the craps table.. (nothing against pushing stacks of chips around a craps table)..

    Hell.. then you could show if your hero is leading the group.. or hiding at the back with the fodder in front.. but that’s starting to get complicated… hmm.. and with square units you could have facing advantages.. oops.. getting complicated again..

  23. kanthalion says:

    Lol, Davesnot. That sounds cool, but I think you would start to need a gym floor to contain the battle. But that would be sooo cool too.

  24. guy says:

    the D&D minis with proxy counters could work for small-scale battles and battles you really care an awful lot about the exact details of battles

  25. Jeff says:

    This is really nice, but I was kind of hoping you’d have worked in the Lanchester’s Laws with regards to the magic units, heh.

  26. robert says:

    This system looks ripe for a PC implementation…hmmmm…I’ve been looking for a small .NET/c# project to sharpen my skills.

    Mind if I work on an application to attempt to implement this?

    Edit: Imagine, at least an ability to record the battle for real-time playback later.

  27. kanthalion says:

    Hmm. Multiple types of magic units?

  28. Telas says:

    Neat system; you can tell a lot of thought went into it. Had I not seen the Savage Worlds mass-combat rules recently, I’d consider this to be the best one I’ve seen. (Warning: comment not based on actual testing of the rules.) As it is, this is different from the Savage Worlds rules because it’s a ‘tactical simulation’ instead of an abstract set of rules that never sees a battle mat.

    I imagine that it will allow for a great segue like, “OK, your troops have crushed the BBEG’s minions here and here, but suffered great losses. The BBEG appears at this gap here, with a few of his closest allies, and challenges you in face-to-face combat.” Perfect for the transition between wargaming and roleplaying…

    Speaking of, please do check out the Savage Worlds mass-combat stuff. Entire battles statted up, fought, and resolved in 10 minutes, complete with opportunities for important characters to affect (and be affected by) the outcome.


  29. Bruce says:

    I like this idea as it has simplicity with depth. Here’s some of the thoughts it provoked in me.

    Problem with magic users is that it is hard to treat them differently from ranged troops and they sometimes just seem like archers with different ammo. I would see the ranged and melee troops as polar opposites with the magic users somewhere in the middle.

    I see from your table you’ve tried to balance things out with each side getting a d4, d6 and d8 against somebody. However, would archers really take less damage from arrows than heavier armoured melee troops. I would have the defence against ranged attacks be D4 for both Melee and Ranged (greater armour vs less packed formation perhaps) with Magic at D6 (access to some sort of shield spells)

    Archers advantage is striking from a distance and their foes not getting to retaliate, but once the distance closes they tend to get slaughtered. Once they are engaged how about they cannot attack at all, just defend until rescued or killed. They should have the longest range, perhaps 2-4 squares, but if the enemy is in the adjoining square, no ranged attack is possible.

    Melee troops are always going to take the most casualties and should really make up the bulk of an army, but once it gets to hand to hand, they should be in their element. If attacked by Melee Troops, how about both Ranged and Magic units only get a D4 defence. Melee troops also get to pin troops down once they engage them. This means any further attacks a pinned unit makes can only be against them.

    Magic users are the jack of all trades. Their selection of spells means they can fight up close if they have to and can deal death from afar (much more preferable). I would give them a range of 1-3 squares and their targets defence roll of D6 (I’m tempted to even go for a D4, but I think it would make them too powerful). Unlike Ranged units though, when attacked by Melee troops they still get to fight back.

    Lets see, that would make it:

    Melee Unit vs Melee Attack D8; vs Magic Attack D6; vs Ranged Attack D4
    (Melee Unit Ability – Pins troops when adjacent)
    Ranged Unit vs Melee Attack D4; vs Magic Attack D6; vs Ranged Attack D4
    (Range Unit Ability – Range 2-4, cannot attack when pinned)
    Magic Unit vs Melee Attack D4; vs Magic Attack D8; vs Ranged Attack D6 (Range 1-3)

    I also think the leader of a stack should take some hit point damage from combat, perhaps 1 per unit lost.

  30. ArchU says:

    Neat-o, especially when the suggested revision on auto-losses. I’ll try that in my Cyberpunk game, should it come down to large-scale gang battles (sans magic users, of course).

  31. LemmingLord says:

    Wow…if this these are *simple* rules, I really don’t want to see the real ones. Glad I’m playing Paranoia.
    I’m going to pimp Paranoia until someone notices.
    Carry on.

  32. Cory Pfister says:

    This is a bit off topic, but have you ever played Heroes of Might and Magic II? The combat system in that game seems very similar to the one you are using here, only with more unit types (everything from boars to halflings to titans) and lower numbers. The units are divided up into stacks with others of the same type, so that a stack of 30 elves would be represented by one elf on the screen with a little number next to it telling how many there are. There are melee units and ranged forces (which are limited to a certain number of shots), just like in your example, but also flying units, which can traverse the battlefield easily but are exposed to attack once they get there.

    It even has a hero system like the one you mentioned, where you recruit a hero to lead an army composed of five stacks into battle against another hero. Your hero can cast spells and gives a bonus to the troops based on its attack and defense ability. The heroes, naturally, can level up as they do more battles.

    I bring it up because A) it seemed similar to your system and I thought you might like to try it and B) because it is possibly my favorite game of all time and I pimp it any chance I get. The game system is simple enough to pick up easily but has all sorts of neat RPGish elements (like artifacts that buff up your hero) to give it lots of depth. It also has a wonderful demo that really lets you get a feel for the game (be sure to get the real demo, which lets you play on one huge stage for as long as you want, not another one that has popped up which sets a time limit). The demo can be found here and you can buy the full game here.

    Note that I haven’t used either of those sites before. I did a web search to try and find something suspicious, but can’t otherwise vouch for them.

  33. Annon says:

    Damned internet explorer ate my post… *grumble* *grumble*…

    I really like this idea. There are just a few things I would chage:

    First, I think archers are underpowered. The have the same range and movement as mages, but they do less damage. They should have one extra range or one extra movement to make up for it, I think.

    Second, wouldit make things too complicated to say an enemy stack must enter another stack’s space to attack in melee? It makes no sense for a squad of 100 fighters to collectively attack another squad of a hundred fights from a neightboring 50’x 50′ space. Instead, say you enter their square to engage in melee and you stay there until one side wins or one side withdraws (which will cost the withdrawers d6 troops or something)

    Third, make a standard defense stat that applies no matter hat unit type is defending. I’m partial to constitution myself.

    Fourth, I would change it so that the defenders’ dice are always the same and the attackers’ dice change depending on who they attacking. To me, it seems more intuitive to say that some units are better at killing other than it is to say that some units are better at living through the attacks of others. Further, if you change defense dice to d4 and switch d8s for d4 in the table you have above, you not only keep the same average advantag between all the units, you also reduce the spread of the probability distribution of the rolls. I like this, because I think massive combat should intrinsically be more predictable than regular combat. One final effect this would have is to make the leaders of the battalion more significant–again, I think this is the way it should be. To me, there is nothing in a battlemore important than good leadership.

    Additionally, switching the dice makes implementing a mixed battalion easier. Again, it makes no sense to have discrete homogenous melee and homgenous ranged units that can’t occupy the same space. If we agre right now to use poker chips as markers, it would be easy to make mixed stacks by color-coding them. Red chips are melee, blue areranged, white are magic, or something similar. To make a mixed unit, each unit spends a moves, you pick up one stack of chips and place it on the, and you pick a leader.

    Rule for mixed units: They still have a single leader, whose stats still determine the bonus for each individual type separately. For example, a half-orc with a strength of 20 and a dexterity of 12 add +5 to melee rolls and +1 to ranged rolls. Leaders who don’t cast spells add their charisma modifiers for magic units.

    Mixed units have a speed of two. You can make any sort of attack with a part of mixed unit that you could normally make with a homogeneous unit–though the enitre unit still only get one single collective attack. When you make an attack, roll whatever dice correspond with the units attacking, and add the appropriate modifier. All units may engage in melee, but ranged and magic units take a -1 penalty per die roll if they do so. Only melee units count for auto-loss purposes.

    In the case of a mixed unit attack another mixed unit at a range, the attacker may choose to target a specific unit type, which will determine what dice they will roll. In the case of two mixed units fighting in melee, all attacks must be directed at the melee units until there are none left, at which point the attacker regains his finesse over who he wants to attack. Regardless of what unit type is target, the defender gets 1d4 defense dice

    For example, if your half-orc (Str 20, Dex 12, Con 14) has a squad of 30 archers and 70 melee units. He attack another squad lead by a human (Str 14, Dex 12, Con 14, Cha 12)that has 30 mages, 30 archer, and 40 melee fighters at a range, rolling 3d6+1 for damage (the melee units here are superfluous because they cannot attack at range). The defender rolls 10d4+2, and greatly exceed the half-orc’s attack.

    The defender then moves in on the half-orc and attacks him in melee. Since he has to attack the half-orc’s melee fighters first, he rolls 4d4+2 + 3d8-2 + 3d8-2 against the half-orc’s 10d4+1 (+2 from Con on melees and archers each, -3 for having three archers). The attack wins by 6. The human group will therefore lose 7 melee units (one for each of the half-orc’s melee), and the half orc will lose 10 (6 for losing the roll and 4 for the human’s 40 melee units).

    Hrm…looking at that, it seems to add more complexity than I meant to…Though I think it would be less complicated in practice than it is on paper. I know the system you made wasn’t designed for realism, but those things just nag at me too much…

  34. Annon says:

    The more I think about it, the more I think I can cobble together a fun independent turn-based strategy system from this. Would you mind if I did so and gave it a run in an online format? I would give you credit for the original idea, of course, and give you a link to the game.

  35. Shamus says:

    To everyone who asked, “Would you mind if I took this system and…”

    Please do. Help yourself. That’s why I put it up here.

  36. Blackbird71 says:

    I hate to suggest anything for this system, as its beauty is in its simplicity, but I had a thought about another unit type taht may be considered: clerics.

    Now, you probably wouldn’t have a stack of 100 clerics running around on the battlefield (unless maybe it was some sort of holy war), I envision them being more like hero units that can be grouped with a stack. The benefit of having a cleric in the stack would reduce the casualties taken in combat, say for example a stack with a cleric takes 1d4 fewer losses each time they defend.

    Anyway, just a thought. Like I said though, I really feel that the more you add to this system, the more complex it gets and the more it detracts from the ease and functionality of gameplay. I can see some changes/additions adding to the fun of the game, but I’d be careful not to bog it down with too many rules.

  37. Patrick the Malcontent says:

    As creator of these rules I shall explain…

    Kanthalion: The charisma modifier WAS used. Whenever a battalion had a 75,65,45 or whatever number that was not easily rounded either up or down, the battalion whose leader had the higher charisma decided whether a 75 became a 70 or 80, thus whether the die rolled was 7 or 8. This came up several times and proved more than a little influencial.

    Deoxy: You are in fact correct. the amount of units lost was decided by number of dice rolled by the DEFENDER, not by the attacker (for mele units auto-lossed) as my brother so inaccurately and clumsily mistyped.

    Magic: This is where the GM has the most influence, and has to be the most careful when deciding things lest he TPK.

    Each spell must be adapted to these rules using DM discretion. For example the simple spell ‘cure moderate wounds’ was used. I called that the spell can be cast, and that the following roll would add the total roll to that battalions NEXT roll, whether it be a defend or attack roll. So in this situation a mele unit added a 19 to its next attack roll. I explained this as you cannot have a battalion with a unit strength of 70 now become a battalion of 89 (70+19) because that would be a resurrect spell. And since even though it has a strength of 70, not all 70 of those guys are untouched, some are probably beat up and some close to death. this would fix them all up slightly so that the next roll would be more in their favor.

    Same with magic missile. You could argue that a battalion of wizards with a unit strength of 82 should roll, technically, 82d4 instead of 8d8, since missile always hits. However I allowed for the fact that it isn’t 82 wizards standing equally apart in a straight line shooting at X amount of enemies also standing in a straight line equally spaced apart. So basically the front guys in the defending group get pummeled with more than enough to end their life while the forces in the back don’t get hit at all.

    Basically, each spell has to be looked at and modified to meet the system. As we ran a rather low magic system and placed more emphasis on battle creativity and outside the box thinking when it came to battle, this wasn’t a problem for OUR GROUP, but some magic heavy power gamers probably wouldn’t like it so much.

    Ranged and magic units could in fact ‘move and fire’. while each battalion type only had 2 points ( move and fire, move twice) a battalion could elect to move twice and fire in the same round, but would roll half as many attack die.

    There was a few more things I has in there, but I honestly can’t remeber and I don’t feel like opening the file to look. Use it wisely. Or don’t. Whatever…


  38. Bruce says:

    Then in the expansion set we could introduce rules for terrain, Cavalry and Flying Units… !;o)

  39. Iron Sky says:

    The system I have used for mass combat is to take each unit (group of monsters) and treat them as one unit, with a counter for the number of creatures in the unit.

    The unit rolls its attacks as normal, with all the creatures in it using the same roll. Damage is rolled as normal, then multiplied by the number of creatures. Divide the total by the number of hitpoints the target unit’s creatures have and you have the number of target creatures that died (rounding down).

    Example: A group of 10 level 1 barbarians fighting a group of 50 goblins. The barbarians’ turn is up and they roll their attack, hitting the goblin’s AC. The barbarians roll 6 damage x 10 barbarians = 60 damage. The goblins have 4 hp each, so 60/4 = 15 goblins die.

    Players attatched to a unit roll their attack(s) after their unit goes and add them to the unit’s damage. If their unit is targeted, I roll an attack from one creature in the attacking unit against the character before rolling against the unit the PC is in.

    Example: Cordak the Barbarian is attatched to the 10 barbarians and rolls his three attacks, hitting with two and missing with one. He does a total of 15 damage and adds it to his units total, bringing it up to 75 damage. 75/4 = 18.75, rounding down to 18 goblins killed.

    The goblins counter, one goblin rolling his attack first against Cordak, hitting, and doing 3 damage. Cordak records the damage, then the goblins make their roll against the barbarians, hitting and doing 4 damage. There are 32 goblins left, so they do 32×4 = 128 damage. The barbarians have 12hp each so 128/12 = 10.6, rounding down to all 10 barbarians killed.

    Players unattatched targetted by a unit are rolled against normally, with the attacking creature’s damage result multiplied by 1d8 (the number of creatures that were able to surround the character), with damage that takes them below 0 hp putting them at -1, so other players have a chance to rescue them/so they have a chance to stabalize.

    Example: Cordak is now all alone and, on their next turn, the goblins attack him. They roll a crit, doing 7 damage. The DM then rolls a d8 and gets a 7, meaning Cordak takes 49 damage. He only had 21 hp left, so is dropped to -1.

    Works pretty well, crits representing overwhelming assaults and critical fumbles having results like routing/undead getting confused and attacking each other/etc… I’d suggest splitting each side into at least 3-4 units(even if they are all the same type) to prevent some orcs with greataxes rolling a crit and killing all the human soldiers in one round and to give the combat a little more dynamic action.

    If area affect attacks (such as fireballs) do more damage than the creature’s have hitpoints, make an estimated die roll, depending on the area the spell and what they are fighting, and have that many creatures die.

    Example: Coming to Cordak’s aid, Jorbo the Wizard casts a fireball at the goblins. The DM makes the goblins’ save, they fail, and take 35 damage each. Since the goblins only have 4 hp and the fireball has a radius of 20, the DM figures it’ll hit 5d6 goblins. The player rolls 21 and so 21 goblins die.

    On the goblins’ turn, the DM rolls their counter-attack, critically fumbles, decides the goblins have had enough and that they run screaming and smoking from the field.

    Can do it with a cheap handheld calculator, doesn’t take much more time than regular combat(sometimes less).

    Oh, FYI, I stayed up till 5 am and laughed harder than I have in months reading through DM of the Rings last night. Awesome work with it and the game write-up.

  40. Greg says:

    That’s quite cool :D I think I’ll try and make use of it in my game.

    The only thing I’m going to change is the stat bonuses leaders provide in combat. People like their characters and the things that make their characters unique, so I figure I can grab their character sheets and provide them with a little card each showing what effects their hero has. Perhaps each one offers a base bonus and some special ability.

    We played a mass combat in a fallout roleplaying game and our DM did that, it added a lot to the game. My character was a sneaky sniper type so he added to damamge his unit did at its max range and could leave the unit at any time (since he snuck off rather than ordering them to hold when he ran) Laser Doc Shooty McFriends provided a firepower bonus, but automatically killed one of his unit when he did so (He earned his name for an impressive array of fumbled shots into allies) Abraham had lived in the area of the battlefield for a couple of decades, so any unit he was with could cover the ground faster. Stuff like that – I think personalising bonuses for characters helped that game a lot and I see no reason not to apply it to this system.

  41. Greg says:

    LemmingLord: The paranoia rules are at least as bad as this – it’s just that the players aren’t allowed to know them and the DM never enforces them ;)

  42. […] an interesting discussion about mass combat rules on Shamus Young’s Twenty-Sided […]

  43. Anonymous Bosch says:

    I just have the players fight on the front lines as normal combat, and settle ‘who wins’ with a die roll, unless the players do something spectacular like kill the enemy leaders. ‘Simulation’ systems usually end up with people fighting it out to the bitter end, but historically speaking there would be melee for a few hours and then one side would withdraw to a better defensive position.

  44. Boobah says:

    Wait. Does your world employ really good foot soldiers or really weak mages? Most of the time its suggested that regular foot soldiers are around level one or lower. War mages tend to be much higher. It’d make more sense (to me, anyway) to have your mage groups max out at ten troops per unit. Each of those count for most purposes like ten of the others. Mages should be powerful and relatively rare, compared to regular foot troopers, and similarly units of them are relatively fragile.

    It’s important to point out that the units don’t need to be balanced directly with each other. You’re setting up a quick-and-dirty simulation, not making an actual wargame. Any balance you need you can get from setting up the victory conditions and the overall composition of the forces.

  45. […] Twenty Sided » Blog Archive » Mass Combat Rules 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 (tags: rpg rpg/d&d reference blogs) […]

  46. Andrew says:

    Yes Cory!! Glad to see there are still Heros of might and magic 2 nerds out there. I’d like to see rules for Clerics who could heal some of the wounded, not whole battalions running around but just a few tagging along with a larger group, maybe every five clerics would reduce the damage by 1 each time, (like DR in dnd) but they wouldn’t be able to attack. They wouldn’t be actually raising any one from the dead, just healling otherwise mortal wounds before the soldiers died. I’d rule that they could only prevent up to half to the total damage dealt and you would roll to determine randomly how many clerics died in each attack. And they would double damage against undead or something like that. Also I’d like to see rules for mixed groups, say you had 40 melee protecting 40 mages who in turn buffed the melee fighters, but maybe that’s getting to complicated.

  47. Gabe says:

    Great system, but I have one problem. I think there should be some sort of bonus for flanking an enemy, such as by having the defenders face a specific direction, as leaders cannot focus their attention in every direction, shown by a plus 1 bonus to attacks from the side and a plus 2 bonus from behind, possibly worsened if the defenders are a small enough force to be 1 person wide. Other than that, this seems like a great system that I will use with my strategy-loving friend. Unfortunately, I only have 2 friends who still play dnd, and one of them can be very annoying.

2 Trackbacks

  1. By D&D Monday morning speedlinking on Mon Mar 24, 2008 at 12:32 am

    […] an interesting discussion about mass combat rules on Shamus Young’s Twenty-Sided […]

  2. By links for 2008-07-01 at James A. Arconati on Tue Jul 1, 2008 at 1:34 am

    […] Twenty Sided » Blog Archive » Mass Combat Rules 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 (tags: rpg rpg/d&d reference blogs) […]

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