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Mass Combat


cawatrooper
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First time DM here, starting a new campaign in a few months.

 

I've developed a sort of mass combat system, with these goals in mind:

 

-Speed: Even with tons of units on the board, roughly 75% of gameplay should ideally be on player turns. The players obviously aren't there to see NPCs fighting each other, so my philosophy on this is that action should always be centered on the PCs.  The other figures still matter, but quick wholescale calculations should be used on each of their turns, rather than tediously dividing them into small groups (or worse, each figure getting an individual turn).

 

-Choice: Give the heroes tons of objectives to organically complete in the battle, outside of "kill all the baddies".  For one possible battle, I have optional objectives like defending certain points, sallying out to the river and beseeching a local spirit guardian's assistance in sinking enemy ships, assassinating the enemy commander, sabotaging enemy siege engines, and climbing a massive tower (unfortunately outside of the barricade's range) and lighting signal fires, among others. Some objectives are better achieved with the heroes alone, some would be much easier working along with a unit of soldiers. Each contributes to the battle in their own way, but the heroes only would be able to engage in a limited number of these activities during the battle's course.

 

-Simplicity for players: I have complex rules for morale, but I want to keep it hidden, with the players discovering it on their own. Like, they should discover on their own that being flanked can be dangerous, or that they can trigger a massive enemy routing by targeting weaker groups first.

 

I'm actually pretty happy with the system that I have currently, but I'm curious what other ideas you might have.  I can post my rules here later, but first I wanted to get some general tips that might be totally different than my thoughts, rather than feedback on what I already have.

 

Also, I am planning on sometime running a one shot using these rules before our campaign, just to make sure it's actually fair and fun.  Something simple, like goblins vs people.

 

So, any thoughts?

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I'm a big believer of not reinventing the wheel if you don't have to and not making things more complicated than they have to be. 

I like using GW's old Warmaster 10mm tabletop mini rules for mass combats in my campaigns.  That game is based upon heroes issuing orders to units, then maneuvering the units.  While technically for 10mm minis, I've played it several times with nothing more than cardboard counters to represent the unit stands.   Each PC hero will have a unit or three, and I'll play the opposition. 

 

Since heroes in Warmaster only have a couple stats, and can only be considered a casualty under very the specific circumstances of a unit they're attached to being overrun and destroyed, it's easy to convert PCs to Warmaster heroes. Basically give them a leadership value, and pick a couple abilities that correspond to the PC's RPG abilities, such as a spell or a way to bolster a unit's abilities. IF a PC ends up being a casualty in the Warmaster game, most RPGS have critical hit charts/rules you can apply to represent that at the end of the game. 

Occasionally you'll have a situation come up in game where a PC led unit comes up against an NPC led unit.  In those cases, it's usually easy enough to pause the WM game for a second, and fight out the PC vs NPC with the RPG rules, and then use the results of that combat to influence the WM game when you go back to it. 

Warmaster is out of print, but I believe the rules are still available on the web somewhere.  At one point you could freely download them straight from GW, but I don't think that's true any more. 

 

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I'm with @kristof65, at least as far as not reinventing the wheel. I would at least look at Fantasy Rules! or Song of Blades and Heroes (or whatever else seemed best at the time) first. Only if they didn't work and couldn't be tweaked to work easily would I start to write my own game.

 

Unless what I really wanted was an excuse to write my own game. ::D:

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15 hours ago, kristof65 said:

I'm a big believer of not reinventing the wheel if you don't have to and not making things more complicated than they have to be. 

 I like using GW's old Warmaster 10mm tabletop mini rules for mass combats in my campaigns.  That game is based upon heroes issuing orders to units, then maneuvering the units.  While technically for 10mm minis, I've played it several times with nothing more than cardboard counters to represent the unit stands.   Each PC hero will have a unit or three, and I'll play the opposition. 

 

I do the same, except use HoTT (Hordes of the Things) instead of WM. HoTT is still in print (I even think there might be an edition on POD) AFAIK, the rules are very simple & abstract, & uses one of the more common basing schemes in the wargames world. I get figures from Splintered Light (which does lines that are very much D&D inspired). Unlike its historical counterpart DBA, HoTT uses a points based system with some very simple rules, & the difference between troops is very abstract. That stand of Warband? Could be orcs, barbarians, gnolls, etc. That other stand of Behemoths? Trolls or frost giants. Riders? Goblin wolf riders or bow armed desert nomads. And Blades? Well armed hobgoblins or the King's Royal guard. You get the idea...

 

It is very abstract though, with magic being far moreso. One of the downsides to games like this is that it can be hard to get players out of their D&D mindset, who want an accounting of every fireball or magic missile cast, every potion drunk, or what their fighter's body count ends up being. But OTOH this level of abstraction means that any of the game mechanics can be hand-waived. Your Wizard has the enemy cleric Ensorcelled? Obviously a magical duel, right?

 

Damon.

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@Lars Porsenna - what scale do you use HoTT in? 

I had the same problem with players not getting into the abstraction when I tried other games, like WFB or SoBH, because I was using 28mm figures.   With WM, the 10mm figures mixed with the players regular PC minis to denote their positions on the battlefield, plus stating each turn was an hour long really helped to get players out of the mind set. Especially when I occasionally allow them to use a D&D spell or ability within the game that makes sense - for example, I once allowed a PC spell caster to use move earth to create temporary fortifications in the middle of a battle. 

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30 minutes ago, kristof65 said:

@Lars Porsenna - what scale do you use HoTT in? 

 

Sorry, probably should have mentioned. I use 15mm figures. There's no reason you couldn't use 28mm figures, except you'd have to use the "Warrior" basing system instead of DBx (80mm multi-base instead of 60mm, which was designed more for true 25mm figures), & obviously significantly more expensive. Since HoTT ground scale is nowhere near the same as D&D, I think it helps to play in 15mm to get the players divorced from the D&D mindset. Also means I can field multiple different armies for any scenarios that come up, without breaking the bank.

 

Damon.

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2 minutes ago, Lars Porsenna said:

I think it helps to play in 15mm to get the players divorced from the D&D mindset.

So you found the same thing I did then.  The smaller scale allows larger units and armies, and helps change the player's perceptions. 

 

The first couple of times I used WM this way, I did use 10mm hero figures.  But then I had a battle where I didn't have enough/appropriate ones, and so I was using the 10mm minis for the units, but just had the players use their 28mm PC minis for the heroes (since it's really just a marker for the location on the battlefield for issuing orders).  That helped break the D&D mindset even further, because of the obvious scale mismatch. Looks a little funny, but it works. 

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11 minutes ago, kristof65 said:

So you found the same thing I did then.  The smaller scale allows larger units and armies, and helps change the player's perceptions. 

 

 

Also makes certain armies much more practical. FREX, in our current campaign we made an "alliance" with a bunch of Fire Giants. There is the potential of using this alliance in a battle. An army of Behemoths (in HoTT terms) would be a really cool & impressive army to do, but completely impractical in 28mm (though the Bones giants makes it a little easier). back at the end of 2e D&D we did the Liberation of Geoff adventure, which was a sequel/soft reboot of the Against the Giants series. The DM had to handwaive some of the battles, but it would have been cool to game that out. 15mm makes that practical. 10mm moreso, although my impression is that there isn't nearly as much out there in that scale compared to 15mm. Also going smallscale allows you to do more oddball armies (I have a halfling army FREX, a big investment in 28mm for a marginally effective army, but the 15mm SL minis are characterful & not silly). HoTT is a fine game to play on its own too. 

 

Damon.

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1 minute ago, Lars Porsenna said:

15mm makes that practical. 10mm moreso, although my impression is that there isn't nearly as much out there in that scale compared to 15mm.

i started out my fantasy armies in the early 90s by getting into WFB along with my best friend.  GW games were pretty much all we played.  After WM came out and I bought into that, he and I had several conversations of "you know, we really should have bought 15mm to play WFB with."    We could have had huge armies for what we spent on WFB figures in the 90s. 

At this point, I have far too much invested in 28mm and 10mm to move to 15mm, though it is really tempting.  Should something happen to my current collection, I'll probably just do 15mm exclusively. 

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2 hours ago, Lars Porsenna said:

 

Sorry, probably should have mentioned. I use 15mm figures. There's no reason you couldn't use 28mm figures, except you'd have to use the "Warrior" basing system instead of DBx (80mm multi-base instead of 60mm, which was designed more for true 25mm figures), & obviously significantly more expensive. Since HoTT ground scale is nowhere near the same as D&D, I think it helps to play in 15mm to get the players divorced from the D&D mindset. Also means I can field multiple different armies for any scenarios that come up, without breaking the bank.

 

Damon.


15mm figures are inexpensive to buy, relatively quick to paint, and since there's not much difference between historical ancients and medievals and many fantasy figures, really easy to find (by mail, anyway). And if you go with mostly historical figures, you can use most of the same bases for both and open up a completely new set of opponents.

 

I'll note that Fantasy Rules! uses the same basing conventions and much the same combat system as DBX and is much more customizable with more flavorful magic. It's also really hard to find these days, though you might be able to get it direct from Chipco.

 

I never liked HotT or DBF because they really don't feel much like fantasy to me. Richard and Phil kind of mailed in the design of HotT, IMO.

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