Armies are in motion. Soon, the hoards of evil will clash with the armies of the free people. Thousands will battle across a huge field to determine the fate of your world…and the game master is panicking over how he or she will keep track of the massive numbers of soldiers.
But not to fear. Wizards of the Coast has your back with their new mass combat system for D&D 5E, designed to make integrating large battles into your campaign easy, while keeping player characters in the mix and having an effect on the overall story. Still in the testing phases (and taking feedback from the community), the D&D mass combat system helps give structure to sorting out the chaos on the battlefield.
Utilizing either miniatures or markers, units are placed on a hexagonal or square grid where each space represents approximately 100 feet. Every unit comprises of a certain number of creatures or people, depending on how large they are. (The larger the creatures, the fewer of them can be in the unit.) The creatures or people in the unit each have a “battle rating” which is based on their challenge rating, as described in the Monster Manual of Dungeons & Dragons. So a unit of trolls will have fewer actual creatures in them than a unit of orcs because they’re larger; but because each troll’s challenge rating is much higher than each orc, the overall battle rating of the troll unit will be higher than the battle rating of the orc unit.
The DM or players also add special characters, magic items, or anything else they want into the unit, and rather than having to keep track of each individual item, they simply raise the battle rating of the unit based on the additional personnel or equipment.
Leaders are handled slightly differently. Each unit has a morale rating, and that morale rating raises or lowers based on the charisma of the leader. So even if the commander has a high combat rating, their biggest contribution will be toward keeping the army from fleeing the field as their morale bonus will be more noticeable than the addition to the battle rating.
Leadership also affects initiative, granting units with his or her command ratings an earlier spot on the initiative track than those with lower ones, giving another advantage to good leaders over heroes embedded into units.
A lot of the specifics of combat are embedded within the battle ratings system. Rather than rolling against a unit’s armor class, units simply do an opposed roll against their opponent’s battle rating. Units then gain “advantage” or “disadvantage” from the fifth edition rules based on circumstances. So if a unit has the high ground or is attacking on a flank, they get advantage, (and thus, the best of two rolls.) If a unit is vastly outnumbered, they get disadvantage, (and thus, the worst of two rolls.)
Because this system deals with such large numbers and huge areas, each turn is considered a longer period of time; one minute per turn rather than six seconds. As such, if characters are integrated into armies, they get ten turns worth of actions during each single army turn. When they get involved in combat, they can either simply count their characters’ abilities toward their unit’s battle rating, or play out the combat themselves.
When they play out their own combat, (which is encouraged by the designers,) they create terrain appropriate to their area of the battlefield. Their pieces are placed, along with a number of opponents appropriate to their part of the battlefield. They then play ten turns of combat, the results of which are used on the larger battlefield. This way their actions affect the overall battle, and the battle can be seen in action without slowing down the important central story.
Also, by seeing what’s important to the overall battle, players and the game master can decide what specific actions will have the greatest impact, and they can create smaller scale scenarios within the battle that will affect the outcome. An example would be killing the enemy commander so its charisma rating won’t keep its army fighting, or destroying a bridge so the reinforcements don’t arrive, etc.
As an RPG game master and a miniature wargamer myself, I’m excited to see this brought into D&D. I’ve always liked seeing how the actions of my players affect the bigger picture. Now you can have those epic Lord of the Rings style battles in your game without slowing it down too severely. So far, the systems is simplified to the point where it keeps things moving quickly, but there’s not a lot of flavor or difference between units. But it’s in its early phases, and it’s flexible enough that these elements can easily be placed into a game using a lot of what is provided in fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons.
What would you like to see in a mass combat D&D system? Comment below!
Featured Image Credit: Wizards of the Coast
Other Image Credit: Command Combat Battle Reports