It has been some time since I have talked about Dungeons & Dragons here so I figure I’m about due. My mini adventure, Something Sinister in Cespius, is coming along but isn’t ready for public yet, so I thought I would share another idea I’ve been cooking up for possible use in my home campaign: a battle mechanic to simulate large-scale conflicts.
One of the paradoxes of D&D is that it was born from tabletop tactical war-games, but when it comes to simulating large-scale conflicts, the 5 member adventuring party model falls flat, especially if you’re trying to recreate a grand battle between armies of 10,000 soldiers. How can the players stand out in such a massive army? More importantly, how can 5 adventurers make a difference against an enemy 10,000 strong?
There are several very important things to remember.
- The PCs don’t need to kill the entire enemy force single-handedly. It might seem obvious, but in a game built around balanced encounters, players and DM alike get used to the players vanquishing entire teams of monsters.
- Large battles are fought by smaller teams with specialized jobs. Treat the adventuring party as an elite strike-force. This is what my battle mechanic is based on.
- The PCs are heroes. Don’t forget that the PCs are probably the most powerful people on the battlefield. Let them feel that way. Make sure they feel like they’re having a significant impact on the course of the battle. One hero can change the course of history; the adventuring party has 5.
Keeping all this in mind, we can start to think about how the battle will look. The PCs will participate in 3 out of 5 possible battles. In the beginning they will be presented with 4 options of where to focus their attentions on the battlefield leading up to the climactic encounter with the enemy commander. Each scenario carries with it a possible bonus or penalty that will have an impact on the final encounter with the enemy commander. After completing two encounters on the field, the PCs come up against the leader of the enemy forces, aided by the choices they made or hindered by the battles left unfought.
The Front Line – The front line is beginning to cave. The PCs could choose to focus their attention here to beat back the enemy and re-form the line, saving the lives of hundreds of allies who would otherwise be routed. This should be the most visceral of the combats. The PCs are heroically wading into the enemy, swords and spells flashing, driving back the relentless onslaught. Use minions in abundance to create that large-scale combat feel. Don’t forget to give the PCs some minion allies also. There should be about 5 enemy minions to each PC, then sprinkle in enemy and ally minions 1 for 1. Successfully beating back the minions grants the PCs minion allies of their own in the final battle. When the PCs confront the enemy commander, give them each 1 minion ally to control on their initiative count.