posted Saturday, July 28th 2007 by
None of the Above
I’ve been playing Rome: Total War lately and it’s got me thinking on the topic of mass combat in D&D. I don’t doubt that there must be a half-dozen mass-combat systems for the game, but several of them have to be rubbish, overcomplicated, or both. Your average Dungeon Master will probably only run the occasional large-scale combat, and so any solution must be quick and simple.
Combat systems involving entire armies (e.g., Warhammer) have traditionally made squads of troops the smallest division handled in the game, and it wasn’t until computer games that complex systems going down to the individual soldier were able to be made simple. In a D20 system, modelling combats between hundreds of soldiers on an individual level is ridiculous, so the solution is to effectively treat each unit as its own creature, not unlike the swarm template.
What I’m thinking, then, is that a unit of troops is considered to have the offensive ability of an individual member, but has hit points equal to the total hit points among the unit. A unit of twenty kobolds would thus have an AC of 15 and a melee attack bonus of +1, but 80 hit points. Should a player character decide to attack a unit of kobolds solo, he is effectively fighting one kobold with eighty hit points – at least, until the unit takes enough losses that it loses morale and flees, requiring a basic morale system.
This simple method has two limitations. First, there’s no penalty in place for being outnumbered. If we suppose they don’t break formation the kobold unit can make three melee attacks against the human. What about twenty kobolds fighting twenty humans, or thirty humans? Logically, each member of one row of a unit can attack his opposing counterpart once, but even five attacks per unit begins to get silly. Units tend to fight other units rather than individuals, and a row of people attacking each other twenty times a round is going to wind up dealing fistfuls of dice in damage.
Ideally, then, you might want to abstract this even further, by declaring each unit to have one attack or set of attacks each round, and simply granting attack bonuses or penalties depending on the relative size of each unit. This would probably require some tweaking to get just right. Here, there are two issues. Since each unit’s attack represents the attacks of several individuals, we must work out how the damage dealt translates into attacks. Secondly, we have the perhaps unlikely situation where a unit can fail to cause any injuries in one round, but slay several soldiers the next. It seems the situation needs more work.
Alright, that’s my rambling done.