View Full Version : [3.5] An army vs my PC's, how do I handle it?

2009-01-22, 10:03 AM
So a long time ago I ran a castle defense game, unfortunately I gave my PCs the change to design the castle and the took so long the game never started. Now much to the anger of the players of the last game I had to stop DMing(to little time) I want to out some work into designing a new on shot game(an hour on the weekend and such).
So after looking at the 6ft poster for 300 in my basement, I think I will do a 'stop the army' game. Here is what will happen; ten or so high level PCs(along with their underlings) will try to defend a pass through any means necessary. My problem is that i am unsure of how too handle the large number of NPC's involved, I have some ideas from 'Heroes of Battle' but I want to see what suggestion people here have.

2009-01-22, 10:58 AM
Well, you have Heroes of Battle, which provides a lot of material.

Against level 10 characters, the enemy had better have a nice setup, with flying groups, casters and so on. Ensure that they make use of things like concentrated volleys to hit the players. Divide the army up into units and treat them that way - groups of 19 archers with a commander, grouped under a higher level commander, benefitting from the command auras.

Counterspelling is a possibly reasonable tactic for the enemy casters - they may well predict the PCs spell lists if they have intelligence on them. If not, a specialised abjurer or two for counterspelling would make a lot of sense for an army - you can't plan for everything, but if you can stop the big spell from wiping out your command structure you're doing well.

In a campaign I'm playing in we're facing an army that is pretty strong, with a dragon at the head - and we're only 9th level. Yet other than the dragon, I feel bad for the army. The casters are the real threat - melee versus an army is pointless, but it's what a caster (especially a druid or similar) excels at.

That's a very real risk in running this; the spotlight will be on casters most probably. Wading into melee or trading arrows wth that many enemies is asking for death - the melee/ranged guys may do well savaging a supply train, or taking out scouts, but you risk the sessions hanging too much on the casters. In the campaign in which we face this army I'd have spent time destroying the army while they crawled through the woods, but the DM pulled me aside and explained that while I had some great plans, the others would be sitting and twiddling their thumbs. It's a team game, and everyone should feel like they play a part. Make sure that there are some things that are designed to let each player shine - an aerial battle in which the archer takes out flying casters who are countering the PC caster's spells? Some big nasty thing with SR that is ripping through the PC's lines, which the melee boys have to deal with (while the casters are trying to stop something else?), etc.

Emperor Tippy
2009-01-22, 12:07 PM
What do you consider high level? Level 20? Level 17? Level 15? Level 13?

It matters a great deal.

And what is the average CR of a monster or solider in your army?

Now let's say you go with 5 level 20 pc's (wizard, cleric, and 3 others), a 500 foot wide pass, and an enemy army made up of CR 10 creatures.

The Wizard casts 7 Prismatic Wall spells (1 right next to the other) in a line across the pass (fewer castings are needed if the wizards CL is higher). He then gates in a Solar and has it use it's Permanency SLA to make 3 of those Prismatic Walls permanent and it's Wish SLA for a scroll of gate (repeat until all walls are permanent).

In a little under a miniute the wizard can make it so that no ground force can make it through the pass, leaving only the flying enemies.

PC's vs. armies isn't a real challenge in D&D if the PC's are high enough level.

2009-01-22, 12:07 PM
Well, before the invention of machine guns, most troops would march in formation. In a magic-heavy warfare, you should draw inspiration from modern tactics and combat formations.

A battle plan suggestion:
Start with offensive casters
Attack with light cavalry and other replenishable troops to get stuck in keeping as many as possible of the players in melee
Advance with your elite swordsmen to soften the players
Withdraw under supportive fire
Send in some troops again
Teleport in a smal detachment of heavy chivalry and a smal detachment of heavy armed fighters behind the pcs
Attack them from 2 sides
Send in assassins with invisibility to get to the player characters later, when they are off guard. Their target are spell casters, especially healers

General tactics:

Use offensive spells cleverly:
maximize as many spells as you can
area effect spells that would be active in several rounds and give dmg even on passed st (remember, whoever you'll send in into the pass will die quickly any way, but draining the players fro 5 hp each round for a day will kill them to.
any spells that give the group minuses for a long time, like desecrate, would have a good long term effect.
if you have to choose when to cast spells: don't support your charges with spells. Support your withdrawals. After all, that's when the players are on their weakest.
touch spells are wasted, as you put the caster at risk.

Protect your troops:
use protective spells like invulnerability to magical weapons, spell resistance and element immunity to protect your troops from being slaughtered
animate Undead is a good way to get cheap recruits

Use your numbers to your advantage
keep the pcs on allert, so they can't rest and replenish their spells
circulate your troops, since all can't get through the pass you should always send in fresh, magically protected troops and let the beaten ones that have used up their magical buffs get healed in the meantime

Remember spell durations:
pull back your troops when their buffs are about to go out
let the duration of the pcs buffs be used up on waiting o your attack rather than in the time they fight you
buff your troops right before attack, so you get the most out of the spell duration.

Fight dirty:
have "commandos" (fighter/rogues or something) to sneak in, flank the cleric and kill him
use poisoned weapons
any weapon breaking weapons are nice
target casters and clerics, try to avoid fighters in close combat
if you have anything big that draws attention, use it as a distraction
teleporting in behind enemy lines, using invisibility and improved invisibility will let you attack from behind

2009-01-22, 12:19 PM
A question that I feel should be asked, just to make sure: 3.5e or 4e? I know you said Heroes of Battle, but "got some ideas from" doesn't necessarily mean "use directly".

This is an important distinction because things would be much different in the two versions. 3.5e would be...well, as Tippy illustrated. 4e would be more capable of handling a Horatius at the Bridge scenario.

2009-01-22, 05:35 PM
I think E6 (http://www.enworld.org/forum/general-rpg-discussion/206323-e6-game-inside-d-d.html) would help here.

2009-01-22, 05:50 PM
For the army, I would recommend a dozen or two 6th or 7th level cavalry if they can catch the PCs in a large area. A handful of abjurers standing by to counterspell the party casters, then the cavalry ride in.
They're enough of a threat to give the melee something to do, but they won't kill a party which has suddenly gotten a significant portion of its power negated.
Plus fighting a mounted charger is a real pain, everytime it's your turn, he's 70 feet away, so they don't need to be as high a level to be a challenge as they would normally.
(Tauric creature + mounted combat + leap attack)

2009-01-22, 06:30 PM
I'm currently running a battle with my PCs leading a small platoon of soldiers against a castle full of hobgoblins. Sadly, it's never probably going to finish due to stupid schedules, but I was making use of Heroes of Battle material.

The biggest problem with a 300-style scenario is that it might quickly degrade into PCs smashing hordes of low-level grunts and getting bored. A lot of times, 1st-level warriors aren't going to hurt PCs at all.

Heroes of Battle deals with this by suggesting that most of the grunt fighting is done by allied mooks, while the PCs themselves go after more meaningful missions like "take that bridge" or "destroy that trebuchet" or even "kill the commander." The PCs earn "victory points" by dealing with such encounters, and the amount of victory points they earn is going to affect the outcome of the battle. You can even decide the general outcome of the battle, with the victory points deciding how good of a good ending it is (or how bad of a bad ending). Do they end up with a pyrrhic victory, or is it an overwhelming success? Things like that.

Another important suggestion is to break down the battle by time and space. Throwing wave after wave works (see Red Hand of Doom), but it only really works if it's a truly decisive battle and not merely a "chewing through the grunts" exercise. The PCs could still move around the battlefield and take out strategic targets, which of course makes them affect the battle's outcome significantly.

In any case, this is what's happened in my campaign so far.
The party consists of:
-Aasimar Paladin 7/Crusader 3
-Wood Elf Ranger 6/Scout 2/Swordsage 2
-Half-Elf Rogue 6/Swordsage 4
-Human Cleric 10 of Kelemvor
-Moon Elf Wizard 10.

-Infiltrated the castle using invisibility and seeming, and set the barracks on fire.

-Killed one of the hobgoblin commanders on the castle gate. They raised the gate, allowing allied forces to enter. It was a lot tougher than they thought it would be, since the commander was a 9th level Crusader and had a Bugbear monk who almost strangled the cleric to death.

-They then had to deal with a Bluespawn Godslayer and two Bluespawn Burrowers. This encounter was incredibly nasty and almost got the cleric and the paladin killed (again).

-Next, they attacked the inner wall. A group of archers was on the inner gate, and used a couple of concentrated volleys on the paladin. It had almost no effect. (Heroes of Battle has rules for arrow volleys so that you don't have to roll every single mook's shot. This group consisted of 10 1st-level warriors against a 10th-level party.) The ranger, after receiving an invisibility spell from the wizard, started climbing up the wall. An ogre captain (Skullcrusher ogre, so it's smarter than usual) was on top of the wall, brandishing an enormous ranseur. With him were two female hobgoblin warblades (TWFing handaxes), and a hobgoblin warcaster with extra wizard levels.

To make a long story short, the paladin and the rogue got nailed with solid fog and couldn't get up to the wall quickly enough to help the ranger, who almost got killed. The wizard wasted too much effort on the archers, who proved to be no threat at all, while the others were a lot tougher. For the most part, it was only the ranger, wizard and rogue who did anything. The paladin only got up the wall after everything was done.

Their next encounter is against a squad of skullcrusher ogres on the roof of the castle who serve as artillery (rock-throwing FTW), and a small crack team of hobgoblin commandos rappelling from the roof, using skirmish to deal extra damage from above.

2009-01-22, 08:39 PM
You could also do something like dynasty warriors. Hordes of mooks led by fairly powerful liutenents.

2009-01-22, 09:42 PM
So far I am thinking a 100ft gap(the mouth of a cave), to the right a cliff to the left a deadly drop to the see. For support 500 (low level but above mook) soldiers + any of their followers.

ps: I am thinking 10th to 15th level.

2009-01-22, 09:58 PM
Think of the following points. They're for 10th to 12th level caster PCs

Range. A 10th level caster using fireball has a range of 800 feet, well beyond the capabilities of most armies. Now, enlarge that to 1600 feet and remember that a 10th level sorceror can cast 7 fireballs and 13 enlarged fireballs. Assuming ~20 victims per fireball against massed mooks or 10 victims against loose formations, you're looking at hundreds of enemy deaths in only two minutes.

Creatures: The average 6 HD outsider has enough DR to utterly ignore standard arrows and up to medium weapons from human units with average stats. The average shadow or allip not only is utterly immune to nonmagical attacks but could make a new subordinate with every single kill. Finally, a single undead or outsider with fear aura can wreck any enemy charge.

Barriers: A hardened wall of stone has hardness 16 and lots of HP. It could ignore any normal army units except siege. More dangerous is a wall of fire that is invulnerable to all but cold and dispels. Add a permancy and no massed army can pass without severe burns. Wind wall renders ranged weaponry useless and Move Earth/Disintegrate could dig virtually impassable ditches.

Special stuff: Cloudkill and Spike Stones are very effective against armies. Defencively, Repulsion is a powerful short-term barrier. But the most dangerous of all is, perhaps, Hallow. A permanent sanctuary where all allied creatures are continiously invisible or all enemies are affected by darkness can make a castle or chokepoint into a killing zone.