Monday, October 17, 2011

Mass Combat Part 1

In my most recent S&W session we had a battle of about 40 ghouls vs about 30+ soldiers and a couple of PCs. As I wasn't yet 'fluent' in the S&W mass combat rules and thought I'd like to see the battle play out in 'real scale' we started rolling the dice. It actually worked out pretty well and didn't take too long, though we still have to finish the battle in the next session.


I don't think I would run something like that again as a straight combat. So it was off to explore the S&W Mass Combat rules.

I ran through the same combat, minus the PCs, on my own to see how it would turn out compared the actual combat. Using the Swords & Wizardry mass combat rules the Ghouls pretty much overwhelmed the soldiers. Perhaps that is what would really happen? Ghouls are pretty vicious creatures and with forces of equal number on both sides the ghouls would still have the advantage.

For those unfamiliar with the Swords & Wizardry Mass Combat rules, they are part of the Core Rules and only take up two pages. The rules are quite simple, as they should be. Soldiers and monsters are grouped in units of 5 or 10, hit points added for a unit's total and you roll on the regular charts to determine out come. If a hit is scored, the unit is not destroyed (1 in 6 chance) but could be 'broken' and unable to fight until moral (d%) is made. That's just a broad stroke and if you are more interested in reading the details you can download the free version of the rules and look it over yourself.

A number of questions come up using these rules as is, and who says you have to use the rules as is?

Ghouls normally get 3 attacks per round, would this hold true in Mass Combat? Thus three chances to 'wound' a unit and roll a d6 for reaction results? That would seem pretty extreme but perhaps true to the monster. Perhaps just one attack with a d6 damage would be fine. For other monsters as well? How would you handle the paralyzing effect of their attacks?

How are PC's handled? That's not really handled much in the rules. A unit attacking a PC does half damage to the PC which could still be pretty vicious and deadly. In this case, would Ghouls still get their 3 attacks? How would the PC's presence affect the ally unit's moral on breaking?

I know the Mass Combat Rules are a very broad stroke to handle a situation like this and maybe works fine for larger scale battles but groups of about 10-50 combatants on each side should be handled by this rule as well as taking the PC abilities into account. So maybe what I'm looking for isn't mass combat but something in-between?

This week I'll be exploring this Mass Combat system and tweaking things and hopefully come up with some useful additions. I want to keep it simple and don't want to break out of the RPG and into a totally different (war) game. I'm looking to make or add some supplemental tweaks to make a combat such as this flow better within the scope of a table top RPG and make it fun, exciting and have the outcome be 'realistic' in terms of the outcome of standard melee combat.

If anyone has any thoughts on this I'd love to hear from them. I'd want to keep things pretty quick and simple using the Mass Combat rules but tweaked a bit to make it a bit more scaled to a large group of combatants and not so much an army.


  1. There are some simple rules in the Kingmaker Ap from Paizo. I know thats not old school, but its very simplified and gives units basic Challenge Ratings, you compare the two numbers and roll a d20, thats it, pretty simple. Theres an 'expanded' version of rules: Book of the River Nations: Mass Combat (PFRPG) PDF, with sample armies and all that. Still the same basic idea though. I also have a Warpath which is for Pathfinder Mass Combat. it shows how to build out a unit and find its strength, average damage, special attacks/defenses, HP, etc. , the basics are pretty simple and unit combat runs a lot like regular combat, more or less. Its actually pretty good. I'll let you borrow it sometime!

  2. I posted my Easy Button version of mass combat here:

  3. I tried your situation (30 soldier vs 40 ghoul) in the hungarian D20 retroclone: Sord and Magic and the result was similar.
    Ghouls could paralize all of soldiers, but before the soldiers killed 20 (2 units) ghouls. So half of the monsters were slayed.

    Each unit involved 10 soldiers/ghouls. In this system the HP is added in a unit pool. The ghoul units had 80(10*2D8) hp the soldiers(as lvl2 warrior) had 140(10*2D8+2). Tha damage must be multiplied with the number of the members of the unit. So the ghouls had 10*D3+paralize (Medium12 Difficulty against d20+1; +1 came from the bonus of the soldiers and the duration of the paralize is 2D6 round). The damage of the soldiers was 10*d8+3. So they had a chance to slay an entire ghoul unit. In the first round the quickiest Solder unit did it, so with the first attack they equalized the number of the opponents. But it wasn't eough, because paralizing won the combat and soldiers were killed.
    In the combat against the paralized unit the attack was automaticly succesful, but it would be better automaticly critical.

  4. Thanks for all your suggestions, I'm looking into all those options.

  5. I highly recommend checking out Kings of War by Mantic Games (free miniatures rules). They are very simple rules, so they are good for a noob like me. They cover pretty much all the basic fantasy types, and certain units have some pretty neat but simple powers.

    I plan to just find suitable hero types in the army lists for the PCs to use, and adjust them as necessary.

    I needed a rules set to resolve the situation when the party "completed" Death Frost Doom, and I found this to fit the bill. We haven't played it out yet, but I am very much looking forward to it.