View Full Version : Helms-Deep-esque battle

2012-11-28, 09:09 PM
So, have ya ever been in just in a large scale battle? How'd it work out Mechanically? And how much fun did you have with it?

2012-11-28, 11:09 PM
Actually the last session I played was almost eerily similar to Helm's Deep. I even rolled for weather during the siege, and it was raining :D.

I'm DMing a game where the players have been swept up in a war between the monsters of the mountains (Pakefiends, in this campaign), and a Scandinavia-esque country.

I basically tell them anything that would stand out in a battle, and the tell me what they do.

Combat-wise, I just have them fight whatever might be in their way. Specific to the session though, these events took place:

-They watched the lord of the city absolutely annihilating some orcs
-They defended a wall from bat-men mounted on giant spiders
-The parties barbarian was thrown from said wall by a giant spider
-The barbarian caught the edge of the wall, and the spellcaster saved the barbarian with a strength check to pull him back up. Yea, you heard right. A spellcaster succeeded a strength check a barbarian wouldn't

If the spellcaster hadn't saved him, the barbarian would have been instantly killed.

Mark Hall
2012-11-29, 12:06 AM
My preferred method is the "cinematic" method... basically, the party takes part in the battle by acting at certain important points. Note that the text below was written for Palladium Fantasy, not for D&D.


Cinematic conflicts are very easy to run, because they take place essentially like normal adventuring sessions, with the players acting only for themselves. This works best when the players themselves are not in charge of the force, as dealing with their strategy on the fly would make things nearly impossible on all but the best improvisational Game Masters. Besides, generals rarely do the important actions in a battle… they order them.

To run a battle in cinematic style, a Game Master divides the battle into several scenes. In each scene, the players must accomplish a certain goal. Failure to accomplish that goal will lead to one scene, success to another, while a partial success might lead to yet another. Eventually, the battle is won or lost based on the actions of the characters.

Of course, these battles require several things from the Game Master. First of all, the Game Master needs a good plan of how likely it is that the player's army can actually win. After all, if they are facing 600 orcish raiders with a militia made up of 20 gnomes, their first failure will likely be their last, and any successes are going to be amazingly difficult. Secondly, they need to determine several scenes, covering a wide range of possibilities, or be able to improvise them quickly. Perhaps most importantly, they require a lot of stock characters, as any battle is going to result in a lot of dead on either side, possibly with many of them being killed by player characters.

As an example, let us look at the Battle of Gersidi Pass. This is a historic battle, in which the forces under Anton Gersidi denied this strategic pass to a massive army of humanoids sweeping down out of the Old Kingdom. The players are on the side of Anton Gersidi. They are sorely outnumbered, but the narrowness of the pass keeps the humanoids from attacking all at once, lightening their burden, somewhat. However, the Gersidi forces have no magic-users unless one of the players is one… these were simply garrison troops, not expecting combat.

Before the first scene ever happens, the Game Master decides that Anton Gersidi has planned to fall back to a certain bridge, collapse that bridge, then hold the humanoids from building a new one. Due to the numbers of the enemy, more than one failed scene will result in the annihilation of the Gersidi forces. Since the players are rear guard, the GM decides on the following order of scenes:

Scene 1: The players must fight several humanoids for at least 10 rounds, so the rest of the army can make it to the bridge, and not forget to retreat some themselves. If more than 5 of these humanoids make it through their line to the rest of the army, they have failed, and the Game Master takes them to scene 1a. If they manage to hold them off, he goes to scene 2.

1a) The players must now fight the same opponents, but twice as many of them, and the players themselves are surrounded. Failure is either death or failing to kill all of their opponents in 10 more rounds. If they succeed, they go to scene 2. If they fail (and survive) they are captured, and the army of humanoids pours out onto the plains of Timiro.

Scene 2: However the players got here, they now have to deny the bridge to the humanoids. The bridge is made of wood with metal fittings, and is 100 feet long by 15 feet wide (enough for one wagon to cross), and so requires 3 warriors to block it. Their job is to protect the 4 engineers working to collapse the bridge, who will be fired on by archers (10 of them), and stop the humanoids from crossing to their side. If any engineer is hit more than twice, he will die of his wounds. If more than two engineers are killed, the bridge must be collapsed some other way. It will take 5 rounds for them to finish the bridge, and they are -5 to dodge. The problem is, the winds are blowing towards the characters. This means that any fog or cloud spells will be blown back on the engineers, making their jobs impossible (if not putting them to sleep), and the range of missiles is cut in half. In addition, since the bridge is going to fall, the characters are likely going to be reluctant to engage the armies in melee (which would leave them trapped on the other side). If the characters fail, move them to scene 2a. If they succeed, move them on to scene 3.

2a) In this scene, the players must both hold off the monsters at the head of the bridge while simultaneously finding some way to destroy it. There are three supports (weighing 200 pounds each) on the character's side that would need to be destroyed for the bridge to collapse, unless one of the players has a better idea. Failure happens when more than 5 humanoids break through the player's line, or everyone is dead. If the humanoids break through, the characters will be overwhelmed, captured, and ransomed (or cooked). If they succeed, then they move to Scene 3.

Scene 3: This scene will likely blend into the background of the game. The Game Master determines that the humanoids will make try to cross that the players will be able to stop (they will make several more, but all off-stage, stopped by NPCs).

In the first, the players will have to find and destroy a rope that will allow the humanoids to cross. If the players miss two perception checks (one at difficulty 20 to notice that one of many arrows is trailing a line, the second at 15- 10 if they have nightvision of at least 50 feet- to notice someone crossing hand-over-hand), they will be faced with an increasing number of humanoids on their side… a new one every 3 rounds until they cut the rope. Success happens when they cut the rope. Failure happens when the PCs are outnumbered by humanoids, and results in the loss of the battle. If the players succeed, the humanoids will be held to the other side of the pass, and the battle is one.

As you can see, this plays much like a normal game. The players have goals to achieve, and do so using their own characters. A Game Master using this system needs to be fairly inventive, as a clever player can come up with all sorts of way to make this battle quiet easy, especially with magic (though the conflict is somewhat stacked against Air Warlocks), and a low-level Earth Warlock with the right spells could stop this combat quickly. The cinematic method is perhaps the easiest method to use with low-level characters, as they will rarely be leading the force and will face more danger with these sorts of combats than a higher-level party.

2012-11-29, 12:22 AM
I DM'd one where the PCs had to defend a Fort at lv7 (I believe) with 50 War3 and 4-5 lv4 lieutenants, against 20 Ogres plus 4-5 others with class levels, and 4-5 level-appropriate villains.

In the end, it was a 15 round fight that took all session (6h+), was real nice for the first 20 minutes, then reaaaaaaaaal long.

However, a long time ago, I played in one where the PCs just arrived at a city that was under attack. We ran through the battlefield, and only cared about what WE did, not what happened around us. Sometimes, the DM went "a group of 5 hobgoblins come towards you", or other times "after you finish the last enemy, you see two situations: on your left is a group of goblins setting up a catapult, and right in front of you is a human in robes levitating towards the fort, staff in hand."

One thing to keep in mind is that if you want to make it epic, focus on the epic parts.

2012-11-29, 07:40 AM
See this post from SilverClawShift's Campaign Journals: Has a pretty good description of a large-scale battle.


2012-11-29, 08:37 AM
If you are going to have a mass combat, make it a cast of thousands. Any less than that, and PCs will go in with the idea that they personally are supposed to grind through every last mook. That way lies madness (and not the fun kind).

Instead, concentrate on what actions the PCs take. This takes two key forms:

* Pre-battle intelligence gathering and camp sabotage. This, done right, will affect the NPC vs. NPC mass combat.
* In-battle fights that affect them personally. This should primarily be against level-appropriate targets, where they exist in the battle. If the enemy army has no level-appropriate enemies, tell the PCs to cross off a dozen or so hp and call it good.

The actual NPC vs. NPC battle should be done as a single die roll. the BECMI / Rules Cyclopedia / Dark Dungeons mass combat rules work very well for this.

Jay R
2012-11-29, 08:40 AM
You handle it the same way you handle being in town. What most of the level-0 people are doing can be more-or-less assumed in the mass.

D&D grew out of miniatures battles, in which a single figure represents a complete unit. Let the battle can work its way out slowly, while your spellcasters go after their spellcasters. (There's a lot of counterspelling.) Your warriors of various stripes lead charges, engage their monsters, etc.

Oh, and re-think every item and every spell you have in terms of its effect on a mass battle. Recently, our cavalry wanted to charge their archery units. My wizard put all the archery but the first rank in a Wall of Fog, to greatly reduce archery fire while letting the cavalry see their target. A shield wall is a great target for a Lightning Bolt. I also use Ventriloquism behind enemy lines to give false orders.

2012-11-29, 09:07 AM
I've posted this a few times and my group has used it for many large scale battles. It allows you to have the battle happening in the background while not removing the focus from the group. Depending on what they do (or don't do) the battle can be won or lost.
Enworld Warfare for Beginners (http://www.enworld.org/forum/local_links.php?catid=2&linkid=1)

It uses a Victory Point system where you set the value for total victory (say 20 points) and both sides start at say 5 or 10 points. The PCs take missions to complete to try to assist their side in winning the war. Then depending on the missions outcome, the different sides can gain/lose points. It even has stuff in there for daily events, like weather change, reinforcements and others.

As soon as I introduced this to the group, they abandoned all other methods of large scale battle in favor of this. It really works out well. It's begun to spread to other groups too.

2012-11-29, 11:07 AM
One of the later 3.x adventure modules (and probably one of the supplements too) had a very good system for mass combat and warfare. It basically boiled down to not having the PC's fight the battle itself, but setting up the battle and identifying things that they can do that will earn them "points" towards success, such as cutting a critical bridge, throwing the enemy camps into dissaray with a night raid, etc. Earn enough points, and you've tipped the balance in favor of your side and you get to win the battle. Fail to earn enough, and you're overrun.

2012-11-29, 12:15 PM
I've posted this a few times and my group has used it for many large scale battles. It allows you to have the battle happening in the background while not removing the focus from the group. Depending on what they do (or don't do) the battle can be won or lost.
Enworld Warfare for Beginners (http://www.enworld.org/forum/local_links.php?catid=2&linkid=1)

Wow, this is great. Iīm surely going to use it. The approach is pretty similar to the 3.5 book "Heroes of Battle" but itīs simpler and more elegant. I really like it.

2012-11-29, 12:37 PM
Wow, this is great. Iīm surely going to use it. The approach is pretty similar to the 3.5 book "Heroes of Battle" but itīs simpler and more elegant. I really like it.

That is precisely why we started using it. Heroes of Battle is good (and what Hamlet is referring to, I believe) but that document makes it so much easier on the DM and players to really get into a large scale war. And the best part is, I found it by accident.

Our DM ran a war once that required us to gain 100pts for victory, we started at 10pts. That war's outcome was what setup the rest of the campaign. We didn't know that at the time and only found out later but it was glorious. The war itself lasted about 5 gaming sessions (we used to play for 12 hours every saturday, sometimes longer).

2012-11-29, 02:04 PM
Ok, that Enworld link is fantastic for low level players!

I've always steered away from getting low levels involved in mass combat, cause I usually stat out the average professional soldier at level 2. This offers a way to let them affect the battle without changing the meaning of "Level 2" or "Professional Soldier".

For high level players, I usually make heavy use of Excel, which makes it really easy to line up 100 monsters and thier stats, and make attack rolls for them all. For battles larger than that, I pack them together into units, using more or less the swarm rules.instead of 25 tiny things making one medium swarm, you get 25 medium soldiers forming a Huge squad, with 8 attacks in a given direction.

2012-11-29, 03:44 PM
Green Ronin released rules for large-scale combats in their Testament and Trojan War books. I use the Trojan War rules. Every 100 men join together to create a sort of swarm monster. In practice this means the PCs avoid fighting the squads and instead duke it out with the opposing generals. That's pretty much what I wanted anyways, so it works well for my campaign.

2012-12-09, 09:32 AM
I just recently wrote a class (the Officer) designed especially for these sorts of battles. Check it out in Homebrew!