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Let’s Get Ready To Ruuuuumbleee!

Written by Krystal - Published on April 21, 2010

Mass combat can often times be the enemy of entertainment in our DnD games, there is a lot of rolling involved for the DM, a lot of keeping track of numbers, kills, death tolls, and so on. I have a few ways to spice up mass combat as this can be a big factor in some games, and it doesn’t have to be dull and boring. And if you never used Mass Combat, perhaps you should look into it! What’s Mass Combat you ask? Mass Combat is anything that involves large armies, involves multiple units, or probably an amount of 50-100 or more in a single battle.

Mass Combat can be calculated many ways, often times we take percentiles or a collection of D20’s according the number of NPC’s we have, and roll them, depending on the number that shows up determines how many units die on either side (excluding the PC’s as that would be entirely unfair.) — this is a nice way to speed up mass combat, and this can also be done while players are trying to decide what to do on their turns, and you can tell them results on the bad guys turns if that so permits them to know. In Mass Combat it should be rather easy to allow the players to “play a big part”, by that I mean give them their own units to control, allow them to be squad leaders in a sense or to feel like a big part of the team. Consider this to be almost like normal combat, only instead you are describing it in a larger scale, this will help everyone feel more comfortable and have more fun. If they feel like they are just worthless extra units, it’s not going to be any fun. Even if you don’t allow them to play a big part such as controlling their own squad then make sure they feel like they have special opportunities, or find a way to make each moment epic feeling! (Remember, music is also a good touch for these types of things!)

Another thing to do is run each players turn and throw a few enemies at them at a time, then once they deal with those a few more, and make sure you continue to give the units more flavors, more details, and continue to describe turns in detail otherwise it can get rather monotonous very quickly. Make constant outside things factors, perhaps you can add some sort of flying units to be attacking from above, that will get them to move! Keep them on the move or constantly involved in battles, imagine the large scale of armies you see constantly clash in movies or in books, try and re-imagine those things and center in on one part of the army so that way you can help the group feel like they are part of something bigger.

Constantly communicate the condition of battle like what’s going on around them and the world around them, don’t blurt out exact statistics like “Oh many they just killed twenty.” give them vague ideas while still keeping them entranced in the root of battle. And perhaps from their point of view it looks like the enemy is winning when they’re really not, your players are just in a bad spot or visa versus. The eye of the PC’s can be an illusion of what’s happening around them or a near accurate description of the actual events. If someone has a good view and can see pretty much exactly what is going on do not give them exact numbers, give them ranges and rounded estimations. If they kill twenty men then tell them 15-30 or something, or tell them a handful or depending on how much of the army that knocks out give them ratios, don’t give exact numbers.

Mass Combat can have a lot of elements of smaller scaled combat, including the idea that terrain can be weapons, high ground, details, and other things. It can even be more important sometimes in Mass Combat, because everyone knows high ground is where you want to be!

What kind of experiences have you had with this? Please tell us here using the comment form! We’d like to hear what you guys have to say about Mass Combat!

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Written by Krystal

At a young age, my mother opened up her own gaming store. We had two game rooms, an office, and the front area which had a ton of miniatures and books. I helped manage that store for several years, my mother teaching me the ropes and treating me like an adult so I could learn. Even beyond that she played games at stores like Haster Hobbies and several other places. In fact, my parents met gaming! DnD kind of runs in my blood, as well as any other gaming you can think of. I’m simply a gamer at heart, an artist, and a jack of all trades. I love to write and that’s why I’m here at Dungeon Mastering! I’m going to be going to school for Video Game Design, and my bf is going to school so he can publish Core Rule Sets. In the short few years I’ve been with him I’ve learned all about how to create my own rule system and create a game from the ground up! But my expertise is not limited to DnD alone. I’ve ventured far into Call of Cthullu, and beyond to games like Shadowrun and some White Wolf games..though I’m not a big fan of dice pools. :)

Anyways! Gaming is my passion and my life. I game constantly, go to conventions, and so much more! Maybe I’ll see you there! Happy Gaming!

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4 Responses to “Let’s Get Ready To Ruuuuumbleee!”
  1. JR says:

    I found Matt Colville’s system for mass combat to be a really intriguing way to run a set of quests leading up to a battle, and then give the players a dramatic payoff of getting to participate in the battle. I would finish it up with letting the players fight hand-to-hand with the general’s champion and his vanguard, for a nice dramatic/cinematic ending… or have them pursue the officer corps over the course of the next day or so, rounding up the routed enemies.

  2. Argent says:

    I ran a battle for my players last year as part of my ongoing campaign. It involved them defending a small town from a humanoid attack. I found some rules for handling episodes in a battle as a skill challenge on Critical Hits which gave me loads of ideas.

    The party had to organise the defenders, overcome political obstacles, uncover a traitor and, conduct a dangerous reconnaisance before the battle started. In the battle they had to take out a dragon before it laid waste to the town and the troops morale, defend a ford, capture the enemies magical standard, withstand an assault on the castle and then as reinforcements arrived lead the counter attack.

    By making the battle element a skill challenge the bookkeeping was minimised and the players felt directly involved in the combat. I mixed in actual combat encounters – a dragon, the hobgoblin standard bearer to mix things up and I think my players got a real kick out of the adventure.

  3. Elderon Analas says:

    @Argent
    YAY DRAGONS!! Though if I was there. I would help, not hinder. But, I would be on the PC’s side. (If thay didn’t go and try and stab me the moment I show up like all you typical overzelus adventurers do.) All in all, it would be a great day for death and distruction. And after all the fighting is over. I GET ALL THE SHINEYS!! War is a great way for a dragon to effortlessly increase their hoard. But, Argent if your players were there, I might let them have something, get whatever they wanted, just as long as they left the bodies. (War also provides great feasts.)

    May your travels be safe and your wealth hearty.

    Your Friendly Brass Dragon,
    Elderon Analas

  4. Darren says:

    Who needs to roll dice to decide who’s winning? As DM, continously evaluate how each side is doing, but very simply. (For example, two armies of equal numbers and training are 50/50 in ratio of power, but if the party wizard casts Mass Bull’s Strength on some, the ratio may shift to 50/60 for a while.

    In the mêlée of combat the characters wouldn’t notice much of the casualties, as they’re bsuy concentrating on battle. Decide how many die, are injured, etc, and give a few colourful descriptions of the small bits of their allies’ action that they CAN see.

    Nothing like describing a few nearby allied soldiers butchering enemies to give the players hope, despite an overall bad situation.

    A few other suggestions, some better than others:

    – Split the battle into several zones. The different factions will have different power ratios, of course. Some zones will have less fighters, or worse fighters. Of course, only you know how this works, as DM, and the players are deep in the mêlée.

    – To reinforce in yourself the idea of leading the combat in a mêlée (you may take me for a bit of a wierdo here) play Mount and Blade, a big battle, whilst turning off all notifications of troops dying or being knocked out. Before you know it, you’ll have won or lost the battle and won’t have a clue about how your side is doing, as you’re concentrating too hard on YOUR portion of the combat.

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