# Thread: [Any] How many people can attack one target in melee?

1. ## [Any] How many people can attack one target in melee?

Realistically, how many human-sized melee fighters can attack one human-sized target at the same time?

In D&D 3rd/4th ed, the answer is 8 (at least if you're playing on a grid). This is kind of high. In actual combat, with all the confusion and chaos and people moving and blocking each other, you'd expect most of those guys to be either getting in each other's way or risking hitting their allies.

So what's a more realistic number? Assume the following:

• All participants are human-sized.
• All participants are using non-reach weapons (nothing longer than a one-handed sword).
• The attackers care about their allies (they won't attack if there's a good chance they'll stab their buddy or cause them to get stabbed by blocking their movement).
• It's a brawl/skirmish rather than everyone fighting in neat formation.

2. ## Re: [Any] How many people can attack one target in melee?

Actually it's not 8, if I recall. It's Much, much higher.

42 by my count.

Keeping in mind there are melee weapons with a 15' reach.

So 8 at 5' range.
16 more at 10' range.
20 at a 15' range.

So you got 42 melee attackers mobbing up one guy in your example. Least RAW and RAI if you consider polearm wall tactics being assumed.

Problem is more realistically it depends on weapon type. You can cram people stabbing with spears a lot closer than you can people swinging danish axes.

3. ## Re: [Any] How many people can attack one target in melee?

And that's only on a 2d plane. In 3.5, at least, adding Flight into the equation adds more potential attackers.

4. ## Re: [Any] How many people can attack one target in melee?

Riddle of Steel, which is a pretty realistic system when it comes to combat, allows three opponents to attack an idividual characters at the same time. Of course, a round of combat takes a second in that system, so there's a bit of a difference there.

5. ## Re: [Any] How many people can attack one target in melee?

From my personal experiences, I'd say if the opponent is standing and mobile, a max of 3 attackers before they start getting in each other's way (with each additional attacker exponentially decreasing the effectiveness of all attackers). If the opponent is prone on the ground, and the attackers are standing, then you can probably increase the number of attackers to 6-8 before they start getting in each other's way.

6. ## Re: [Any] How many people can attack one target in melee?

Interesting thought on how to model this in a dice pool system.

Each weapon deals damage (possibly randomly, but whatever). Each attacker rolls dice, but the total number of dice rolled is capped, so some players will have to discard dice (and once you commit to an attack, you must roll at least one die). So, until you hit the cap, it's better to pile on attackers. But once you surpass it, it becomes a gamble. All the attackers become less effective, but you have the chance to pile on extra damage.

7. ## Re: [Any] How many people can attack one target in melee?

So you're thinking about 3 people? That was actually my initial guess (I could see an argument for four, but only in very open ground).

Though when I've fought in LARPS/mock battles, as soon as a second person flanks the target they tend to go down so fast that there isn't time for anyone else to join the fight anyway.

8. ## Re: [Any] How many people can attack one target in melee?

Originally Posted by ArcturusV
Problem is more realistically it depends on weapon type. You can cram people stabbing with spears a lot closer than you can people swinging danish axes.
This is the first thing that came to my mind, as well. Piercing weapons are a LOT better for cramped combat, such as ganging up on a single target, than slashing or bludgeoning weapons.

Originally Posted by Saph
So you're thinking about 3 people? That was actually my initial guess (I could see an argument for four, but only in very open ground).
This seems about right for weapons that require swinging. It seems low for piercing/thrusting weapons (even if your spears are only 5 feet long). It seems like you could get at least six or so people around one target with those, in open terrain.

Of course, realistically it doesn't end up being relevant, because ...
Though when I've fought in LARPS/mock battles, as soon as a second person flanks the target they tend to go down so fast that there isn't time for anyone else to join the fight anyway.
... right.

9. ## Re: [Any] How many people can attack one target in melee?

Originally Posted by Draz74
This seems about right for weapons that require swinging. It seems low for piercing/thrusting weapons (even if your spears are only 5 feet long). It seems like you could get at least six or so people around one target with those, in open terrain.
The reason I was asking is that I'm most of the way through designing a modern-day RPG system that won't use grids. I'd already decided that ganging up on a target in melee would give bonuses, but hadn't decided how many people to cap it at. Modifying the number based on type of weapon would be more realistic but REALLY boring to do in practice, and quite frankly I don't think most people would care.

I suppose I could just leave it up to the GM but it seems like the kind of thing where just having one (slightly arbitrary) number would be more efficient.

10. ## Re: [Any] How many people can attack one target in melee?

Well, really, hugely depends on weapons, armors, skills, coordination between attackers, and so on.

In most cases, it will be probably best for multiple attackers to grapple - if one guy strikes at the victim, even just to have their attention, two others tackle him, and others grab him by the arm/whatever and control - options of resistance are quickly disappearing.

11. ## Re: [Any] How many people can attack one target in melee?

Three at a time sounds about right for how many armed attackers can usefully menance a person at a time without getting in each others' way, but grappling and overbearing would probably kick that up to six or eight.

12. ## Re: [Any] How many people can attack one target in melee?

Originally Posted by Lapak
Three at a time sounds about right for how many armed attackers can usefully menance a person at a time without getting in each others' way, but grappling and overbearing would probably kick that up to six or eight.
Unless you're talking about something like a rugby scrum, wouldn't grappling decrease how many people could effectively fight? I mean, unless you're just trying to swarm and pile on the other person.

13. ## Re: [Any] How many people can attack one target in melee?

Originally Posted by Saph
So you're thinking about 3 people? That was actually my initial guess (I could see an argument for four, but only in very open ground).

Though when I've fought in LARPS/mock battles, as soon as a second person flanks the target they tend to go down so fast that there isn't time for anyone else to join the fight anyway.
In larp though (assuming a larp that uses D&D like stats like hit points and weapons dealing a set damage dice per hit) Theres no rounds, combat flows in real time. If two people are stabbing you it's 1 attack per second at least, which almost always hits from behind, unless they missed or your really skilled at blocking from behind. Also your pvc pipe weighs much less then any real weapon, allowing you to spam your attacks.
And yeah usually it's hard to cope with 2 people stabbing you unless you have a shield or are able to block the attacks and are likely to drop quickly, unless you have a healer backpacking you.

In D&D You only get 1 attack every 6 seconds, unless your higher level, or duel wielding, or other means to increase your attacks per round.

14. ## Re: [Any] How many people can attack one target in melee?

For ganging up it would depend on the weapons. about 2 or three for swung weapons. For things like rapiers and short spears, start at 6-7 for loose formation, lack of prior teamwork and work up from there, the top probably being around 20ish for a highly coordinated group pressing with mixed arms.

15. ## Re: [Any] How many people can attack one target in melee?

Originally Posted by CarpeGuitarrem
Unless you're talking about something like a rugby scrum, wouldn't grappling decrease how many people could effectively fight? I mean, unless you're just trying to swarm and pile on the other person.
It was close to a rugby scrum I was thinking of, actually, which is why I said grappling and overbearing; the image I had in mind was American Football, where the effort to stop and bring down a single ball-carrier can result in a clinging mob of five or six guys. Admittedly it only takes that many because they're only allowed to use certain kinds of force, but the fact remains that you CAN fit six or so guys into a grapple against a single opponent in order to immobilize him - concentrating your efforts on one leg doesn't put you in the way of the guy wrenching at his neck like stepping into the line of three guys trying to stab him with spears does.

16. ## Re: [Any] How many people can attack one target in melee?

Originally Posted by Saph
Modifying the number based on type of weapon would be more realistic but REALLY boring to do in practice, and quite frankly I don't think most people would care.
I would disagree. It would be really easy to have rules as follow:
- There's a limit of 3 melee attackers on the same target.
- Certain weapons (axes, hammers and the like, which you have to swing all around your head) make you use up 2 slots. (and you put that in the weapon description)
- Certain weapons (spears and other long piercing weapons) make you use up only half a spot. (and you put that in the weapon description)

There you go!

However, if you're going to put a rule like that, I think you should allow two allies to fight side to side to limit how many enemies could attack them (by making an ally "use up" one of your attacker slots, for example).

17. ## Re: [Any] How many people can attack one target in melee?

Originally Posted by yougi
I would disagree. It would be really easy to have rules as follow:
- There's a limit of 3 melee attackers on the same target.
- Certain weapons (axes, hammers and the like, which you have to swing all around your head) make you use up 2 slots. (and you put that in the weapon description)
- Certain weapons (spears and other long piercing weapons) make you use up only half a spot. (and you put that in the weapon description)

There you go!

However, if you're going to put a rule like that, I think you should allow two allies to fight side to side to limit how many enemies could attack them (by making an ally "use up" one of your attacker slots, for example).
Issue with this being that it'll make it really hard to balance weapon types. If you keep it this simple, then no one will use an axe if it does similar damage to a sword, and if piercing is just as damaging it becomes incredibly viable in group combat and groups of 3+ will always rely on spears.

You can make quick hacks with an axe or swift blows with a hammer. Something like a maul, yeah that should take up 2 slots. I'd go with 2 hand weapons taking up 1 1/2 slots, and lower damage dice weapons (daggers, rapiers) taking up a half a slot.

Reach weapons would be another issue. I'd say let them take up 1 slot, but for each person in the melee besides the reach, raise the cap a bit.

e.g.
2 people in melee with 1 opponent, all using 2 handers, the cap of 3 is reached. If we're capping at 3, no other 1 handers can join in. However, lets say we up the limit by 1/2 for each person in melee, but with this increase ONLY applying for "reach" weapons. In this scenario you can now throw a spear man into the mix to help the 2-handed fighters. He takes up the 1 slot provided for reach by the 2 combatants, and provides no further increase himself.

Fluff: Two handers require big swinging room, and cannot gang up as easily. Small, quick weapons will be used with more maneuvering, jumping in and out of range allowing more to be involved as it's a very active fighting style. Reach weapons aren't really any different than other weapons without someone to fight behind, you just choke up and pretend your longspear is a shortspear, your halberd is an axe. Given cover, though, and you can fight over the people in front of you.

Adjust damage for each weapon until something resembling balance is reached.

18. ## Re: [Any] How many people can attack one target in melee?

3 is the bottom minimum. You'll never (without terrain issues) end up in a situation where adjusting slightly won't enable 3. Its also the point where you stop getting a tactical edge from adding people. Non-swung weapons end up varying by stance width (in fact longspears generally are less able to 'fit' then things like rapiers do to how the stance works) and the presence of shields (namely they are bulky and take up space). And generally thin stances do less damage overall.

19. ## Re: [Any] How many people can attack one target in melee?

"Realistically, how many human-sized melee fighters can attack one human-sized target at the same time?"

Two.

This is from SCA battle experience. Ya, SCA does not scale with a lot of real life battlefield experiences, but, it is realistic in a few aspects. Certainly in how many can realistically attack you optimally.

This is also my knowledge from Musashi.

I can say for almost certain, and realistically, only about 2 people can attack you (fully, and realistically.) Anything else, and the attackers slow their attack speed and have to time it with their allies. In which case it is a lot easier to defend.

Edit: Sorry, I should have said...this is assuming you are not surrounded. If you are surrounded...well then it doesn't really matter honestly. If I had to guess (while surrounded) then maybe 4 attackers at once. But honestly it doesn't matter, no matter how good you are you die no matter what. You'd littterally have to be super human.

20. ## Re: [Any] How many people can attack one target in melee?

Originally Posted by randomhero00

Edit: Sorry, I should have said...this is assuming you are not surrounded. If you are surrounded...well then it doesn't really matter honestly. If I had to guess (while surrounded) then maybe 4 attackers at once. But honestly it doesn't matter, no matter how good you are you die no matter what. You'd littterally have to be super human.
You mean like any PC above 5th level or so?

21. ## Re: [Any] How many people can attack one target in melee?

When dealing with a spear line formation, you have three people you can attack, and the guys on either side of you have three people (at least from the LARPs I've seen). So that suggests that when dealing with spears at least, you can have three people attacking one target from a single direction. You can at least double that, although how you end up with such a formation would be odd. Anyway, I figure when dealing with spears, 8 sounds about right when you include the other two sides.

22. ## Re: [Any] How many people can attack one target in melee?

Now, as far as an open brawl? I'd typically say 5 on 1 would be about the right number. Include 2-3 more if you got the guy on the ground. Course as I say this I'm just thinking of fistfights I've been in or witnessed, rather than swinging around battleaxes and long swords. But typically they're giving out hooks, crosses, and haymakers, kicks, etc, so it's not like they're all crammed together jabbing, etc.

23. ## Re: [Any] How many people can attack one target in melee?

In lightsaber battles with my friends in middle/high school we could get 3 people attacking one person, but at that point the lone person is basically surrounded. The three attackers wouldn't try to time their attacks with each other at all, it was just a scenario where this happens:
Attacker 1: Grr, I can't beat you on my own, curse your week long fencing camp two summers ago.
Defender: Muhahaha
Attacker 2: I'll help you [begins trying to flank which results in the defender constantly moving to keep both attackers on one side]
Attacker 3: Oooh, we're ganging up on Steve again? I'm in.
Defender: Crap on a stick, I only have two lightsabers and there are 3-6 being swung at me at once. [dies within 10 seconds of Attacker 3 joining]

Based on this experience, I would say 3 is the most, because there just isn't time for a fourth person to surround them. If you planned a special ambush, you could probably get 4, but that would be getting crowded for the attackers.

24. ## Re: [Any] How many people can attack one target in melee?

I'm inclined to think a ridiculous surplus of skill on the defending side would prevent the "fight ends in 10s" outcomes mentioned, so capping at 4, or perhaps even 5, attackers seems not unreasonable.

25. ## Re: [Any] How many people can attack one target in melee?

Pretty much skipped through however I would say 5 at most, 6 if skilled and wielding a weapon. more than that and they are pretty much taking turns when the other guys back it turned.
Any more than 5 without longish non reach weapons, and your not so much fighting so much as doing a group stacks on.

26. ## Re: [Any] How many people can attack one target in melee?

Originally Posted by Jacob.Tyr
Issue with this being that it'll make it really hard to balance weapon types. If you keep it this simple, then no one will use an axe if it does similar damage to a sword, and if piercing is just as damaging it becomes incredibly viable in group combat and groups of 3+ will always rely on spears.
So then you have to make sure swords don't do similar damage to an axe.

I could also see (depending on the type of game you're making) the equivalent of 3.5 feats or magical effects to use up less place when fighting, or to allow less people to be attacking you.

27. ## Re: [Any] How many people can attack one target in melee?

Originally Posted by ArcturusV
Actually it's not 8, if I recall. It's Much, much higher.

42 by my count.

Keeping in mind there are melee weapons with a 15' reach.

So 8 at 5' range.
16 more at 10' range.
20 at a 15' range.

So you got 42 melee attackers mobbing up one guy in your example. Least RAW and RAI if you consider polearm wall tactics being assumed.

Problem is more realistically it depends on weapon type. You can cram people stabbing with spears a lot closer than you can people swinging danish axes.
The one person per square rule is only for medium sized creatures. You can fit a lot more people in a square if they are smaller than medium sized. The 8 squares surrounding a target could be filled with 100 fine sized creatures each for example.

28. ## Re: [Any] How many people can attack one target in melee?

Well, one of the games fencers play sometimes as a warmup is basically a free-for-all with foils. So from the times I've done that, I'd say that people's estimates for how many can attack at once with a stabbing weapon are a bit high; I'd guesstimate somewhere in the 4-6 range. Above that, you've got too many rapidly-moving shiny metal things, and you'll end up parrying the wrong blades.

29. ## Re: [Any] How many people can attack one target in melee?

In 3.5, characters can move through spaces occupied by allies, but not end their movement there. Clever maneuvering allows you to get 16 hitting a guy in one round, by having 8 smack him, then they all pull back for the next 8 to replace them and hit the guy again in the same round. 5x5ft is actually quite a bit of space, and it's quite reasonable to move past an ally with that much room. If they have means of free movement like Travel Devotion, you could potentially get 24 Standard action hits in.

Is there any way to pack multiple Medium sized creatures into the same space during combats? Like a teamwork feat or something?

Of course, after a point you're really better off applying the DMG2 Mob template and just using the massive Grapple modifier to dogpile him while he takes Trample damage.

30. ## Re: [Any] How many people can attack one target in melee?

I agree it depends on the weapon type. Spears in RPGs often do less damage than axes or swords. I can't imagine more than 4 swordsmen attacking at once in a useful way, and 3 sounds more like it. I can totally imagine 6 or 7 spearmen at once, though I've never actually faced multiple spearmen. Anyway, spears were pretty common for use in mass formation, so making things like spears and short swords better for use in tightly packed groups doesn't seem like it should be a problem.

Of course, in real life if attacked by multiple opponents, you pivot with your footwork, you use attacks or blocks that move one opponent, you use terrain, you do what it takes to not be in a neat ring with opponents on every side. That requires your opponents to be below you in skill, but that was obviously necessary if you were going to defeat 3 or 4 at once. But RPGs don't simulate well the ways that skill allows you to block, threaten, and move multiple opponents all in a single action.

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