Monday, June 17, 2019

A War Over Battles

Mass combats tend to be a sticking point for most table top games. A percentage of people want the gritty detail and moving the units around the board, but many others find this level of detail boring. I love wargaming, but I do not want it mixed in with my role-playing games. I am more concerned with what the characters are doing in the battle and how they are making a difference. I think the Battle of Helms Deep in the LotR movie is a great example of how a battle can go. The battle is happening, and we get a glimpse of it from a macro view, but most of the time it is the heroes trying to handle different situations that are arising in the battle. This is what I am trying to recreate with these rules; something quick and easy for the GM and players to use and which creates a type of narrative for the battle. 
RPG's roots is a wargame.

Battle Rules

      First, we need to determine the overall tide of battle and how the armies as a whole are operating. Much of this is going to be GM’s fiat, but I find that a simple roll with a few modifiers would do in this circumstance. We will roll a check each Battle Turn, which, for our purposes, is 30 minutes of combat. Each side in the battle rolls a D20 and adds any of the applicable modifiers from below. The side with the highest total scores a Victory Point. At that point, a Push/Pull mechanic ensues. Each side is trying to accumulate three Victory Points to achieve a Total Victory in the battle. If the losing side scores a Victory Point, it first removes points from the opposition, before gaining its own Victory Points. In the case of a tied number, no points are scored by either side.

·         +2 Currently Winning the Battle (Has the most Victory Points)
·         +1 Won the Last Battle Round
·         +1 Larger Forces
·         -3 to +3 Army Leader’s Competency (DM determined)
·         +1 to +3 for Superior Magical Ability
·         +1 to +3 for Superior Troops
·         +1 to +3 for Superior Equipment
·         +1 for each Fortified Position or Terrain Piece
·         +1 for Defeating an Enemy Champion in previous Battle Turn
·         -1 allied Champion refused a FIGHT
·         -5 Commander Killed
·         DM’s Discretion for any other factor

Note: If one side’s battle roll is 10 more than the opponent, two Victory Points are scored.

Example: Army A has two Victory Points and is one Victory Point away from a Total Victory. Army B is currently losing quite badly. Both armies total their modifiers for the round and roll a D20. Army A, with modifiers, rolls a 15, while Army B, with modifiers, scores a 17. This now changes the Victory Points. Army A has 1 Victory Point, and Army B is still losing, but they have pulled themselves back from the edge of Total Victory. Army A now needs to win two more rounds in a row to win, and Army B needs to win 4 more rounds in a row to win. 

Optional Rules

The Curve - Some might find the randomness of a D20 too much for their taste. I might recommend using the same modifiers, but rolling 3D6 instead. This should give more of a Bell Curve result, and less variation.

Overwhelming Forces – If an army is more than double the numbers of an opposing force, roll 2D20 and take the best result for the Battle Roll. If using the optional rule, The Curve, roll 4D6 and take the best three numbers.

Variable Morale – Using the first to 3 Victory Point rule is good for a standard battle, but different army's morale/training can vary. You can have a harden force of knights defending their final keep, or you can have an unruly mob of goblins and kobolds that are as likely to fight themselves as the enemy. To reflect this, you can set different break points for the armies. The knights might fight until the enemy gets four Victory Points, maybe even five. The hoard army might break after just one or two victory points against them. This is as always up to GMs discretion.

An attempt at mass battle rules.

Characters in Battle

This is what most players want to know about in a battle: what is my character doing? I have modified an older Legend of the Five Rings Battle System to be reasonably system neutral. It will allow each character, or small groups of characters to act on the battlefield, make a reputation for themselves, and possibly help sway the battle. I am hoping the combined two systems will make something that is both satisfying for the players and GM and reasonably quick to complete.
Refer to the Character Battle Chart (below) when examining these rules. Each Battle Turn a player, or group of players, decides how engaged they will be. They will have 5 options Reserves, Disengaged, Engaged, Heavily Engaged, or Retire from the Field. Depending on how well the character’s army is performing, and their engagement status, will determine the row that will be rolled on. The character will then roll a D20 and add his Base Attack Bonus (Do not include pluses for weapons or any attribute) this will determine the row that the character is on this Battle Turn. Where the row and column meet is the result for that character. This can also be done as a group. Each player will roll and take the best result, but for each additional character, shift the row down one step. The more people in a group, the more likely people will take damage, and the less Reputation to go around. When looking at the result, you have how much damage your character takes from the fight, calculated in dice. You also have how much reputation is earned for their actions on the field. Lastly, you could hit a special event, FIGHT or Heroic Gambit, which is expanded upon below. Players may resolve their rolls in any order they choose.

Optional Rule 

Wizard/Arcane Spellcasters -  Characters may expend a spell slot to add the level of the spell to their Base Attack Bonus for the Battle Turn. Dropping Fireballs on the battlefield is helpful, but it also attracts a lot of attention.

Damage and Reputation

The damage is purposely vague so that the GM can determine what is best for their game. If you are using low level characters, you might want to use a d4, higher level characters possibly a d8 or even a d10. Armor should be taken into account. I advise, if using an Ascending Armor Class System, each point above 10 should reduce the damage by 1 point. If using a Descending Armor Class System, each point below 9 should reduce the damage by 1 point. Damage can never be reduced below 1 point of damage. In a battle, you are going to get fatigued and banged up. Groups of characters suffer full damage dice to each character in the group. At the start of any round, a character may choose to Retire from the Field, which effectively removes them from the rest of the battle.
Reputation is there for the GMs to use as a measure of the people in both armies seeing the actions of the players. If the characters roll a space that does not have a special event, have the player/s tell you what they are doing to earn that reputation. If the character lands on a space that has a special event, the reputation should be tied to that event. Reputation does not have a tangible mechanic tied to it, but I would encourage the GM to award special accommodations from the General of the Army, or maybe the king themselves for large amounts of reputation earned on the battlefield. You could tie some form of XP to the reputation for the battle, maybe 10 – 50 XP per point depending on the experience curve of your game. Reputation in a battle may never go below zero. If a group of characters gains Reputation, the Reputation is split among them, with remainders dropping off. If a character chooses to Retire from the Field, they lose half the Reputation they gained in the battle and the GM can rule that this causes a dip in morale. This should be especially true with characters that have already gained high levels of Reputation in the battle as their leaving will be noticed.

Another attempt at creating mass battle rules.

Special Events

                FIGHT occurs when two or more champions from both sides of the battle find each other and clash. The GM is encouraged to come up with a few champions for the battle before the session. These champions should range in ability and class, and could even be war machines or monsters. The player characters may turn down the FIGHT, but it will result in a -1 on the Battle Roll next round. The character/s will lose all Reputation gained up to that point, and is forced to Reserves the following Battle Round. I cannot stress enough that these should be quick engagement. If you are breaking out the battle mat, you might be taking it too far. It seems thematically interesting to have like type FIGHT like type. An example of what I mean is a Wizard Duel, or two Rival Clerics squaring off in a battle to see whose god is mightier. If the characters are acting in a group, the GM can have multiple combatants, or one larger combatant versus the group. XP and items should be awarded to the characters for defeating the enemy champions.
                Heroic Gambits are interesting things that happen on the battlefield that give the players a moment to shine. Each will have its own premise, and outcome. All are optional and characters can refuse to attempt them. Below I have given some examples for the GM to pick from, but feel free to make up your own that fit your scenario, genre, and gaming group. Many of these are easily re-skinned into any RPG.

The Banner Has Fallen
Your character has the opportunity to pick up the fallen war banner. While he has the banner he gets +1 reputation each turn, but has a -1 to his Character Battle Chart roll each turn.

Come With Me
The Army’s commander has lost/separated from their honor guard. They want your character to join them in the battle. While you are with the commander, they (GM) gets to determine your level of engagement. You will receive a +1 Reputation each Battle Round you are with them, and other possible in game rewards.

Have Our Battle In The Shade
Enemy arrows are blotting out the sun and the character has found a route deep into enemy lines to strike at the archers. It is a highly dangerous opportunity. If the characters choose to attack the archers, they suffer double dice damage this round, but receive double the Reputation for fighting all the way to the archers. The next round, the character is automatically Highly Engaged. If still alive at the end of that round, the archers are defeated and the enemy has a permanent -1 on the Battle Roll.

An opening in the lines has revealed a route to an enemy spellcaster. Removing the spellcaster would be a great boon for the character’s army. If the character chooses to attack the spellcaster, have them make an appropriate saving throw, or take triple damage dice that round, making it to the spellcaster but gain double the Reputation. The next round they are automatically Highly Engaged, an if still alive at the end of that turn the enemy has a permanent -1 to the Battle Roll, and the character/s gain a magic item.

Here And No Further
The character is ordered to hold this position, the character may not change your Engagement at the start of next turn. Roll a Basic Attack Bonus roll on a 15+ add two additional Reputation, 20+ add four additional Reputation, 25+ add six additional Reputation.

Break On Through To The Other Side
Your character is ordered to break through the enemy lines. Next round the character has -3 to his Character Battle Chart, but gains three additional Reputation.

The Perfect Shot
The character has a perfect shot at an enemy champion. Provided the character has a ranged weapon, allow them to make a ranged attack. If successful, count it as defeating an enemy champion.

Lure The Hoard
The character has been given an order to pull the enemy line out of position in order to make a gap. Next round your character is considered to be Heavily Engaged and gains two additional Reputation.

A Savior Unto Thee
Your character sees an ally fall on the battlefield and you manage to make it to them. No matter how grievous an injury, the character manages to stabilize the ally. For the next two rounds the character is considered Heavily Engaged as they battle their way with the ally back behind friendly lines. The character receives an additional two Reputation each Battle Turn, and the GM is encouraged to reward the character for their effort.

Help In The Unlikeliest Place
Your character sees a wounded enemy calling out for help. The character can choose to ignore the plea, and will not suffer for it. If the character chooses to help, follow the rules above, except no additional Reputation is gained. At the end of the battle it is encourage that the GM reward the player with a new retainer with increased loyalty.

Where’s Sarge?
Your character is now the highest ranking person in his area. The character gains 1D3+2 warriors to lead for the rest of the battle. While these warriors are alive and with the character, they gain 1 extra Reputation per Battle Turn.

Battle Fury
The character is struck with a rush of energy from the battle. They can choose to heal two damage dice of damage or have a +2 to the next Character Battle Chart roll.

Magical Gift
An allied spellcaster has cast a beneficial spell on the character. The GM will determine the effects.

Capture The Flag
Your character sees an opportunity to capture the enemy’s battle standard. Once your character has the banner they may only move one step towards the reserves every turn. This draws plenty of enemy attention and your character is at a -4 to their Character Battle Chart Roll until the banner is secured in the allied reserves. Each turn you spend with the banner you gain three additional Reputation, upon getting the standard into reserves it counts the next round as a champion defeated for the enemy.

That Was Close
An ally of the character moves them out of the way to avoid damage. For this round the character does not suffer damage dice. The character possibly owes a favor to the ally in the future.

Support The Engineers
Your character has been asked to defend a group of military engineers trying to fortify a forward position. Your character cannot change his engagement status for the next two Battle Turns, and you must subtract -1 from the Character Battle Chart. If the character is alive at the end of two Battle Turns, your side gains a Fortified Position Advantage.

Your character is needed to escort a unit of sappers to an enemy fortification. Your character cannot change his engagement status for the next two Battle Turns, and you must subtract -1 from the Character Battle Chart. If the character is alive at the end of two Battle Turns, your enemy loses a Fortified Position Advantage.

Be Prepared to Dig Two Graves
Your character sees an ally cut down by a champion from the enemy army. The ally has no chance to be saved, but your character can seek revenge. The character may spend the rest of the entire battle seeking revenge. At the end of each Battle Turn, your character may choose to move horizontally or vertically on the Character Battle Chart to an entry that has a FIGHT in order to defeat the champion.

An Army Which Carries The Ark Before It Is Invincible (Cleric/Divine Only)
Your character has a relic of their faith, and is escorting it to the Battlefield. As long as the character is on the field with the relic, they must be Engaged or Heavily Engaged. While on the field the relic inspires the character’s allies and there morale increases, thus it will take one additional Victory Point to defeat the army. In a standard battle this will be four victory points. While the relic is on the battlefield, it is the target of enemy aggression and the character/s must roll their Character Battle Roll at a -3 penalty. The character can at the start of any Battle Turn move into reserves and safely store the relic away, and all associated bonuses are removed. If the character dies/goes down, the enemy recovers the relic, and the associated bonus is removed from the allies and granted to the opponents. A character completing this action gets an additional Reputation each Battle Turn. If the character loses the relic, the character loses all Reputation and cannot gain any until the relic is recovered. This Gambit can only be attempted once per battle.

I Aim To Misbehave (Thief/Rouge Only)
The character comes up with a plan that is so unusual, it just might work. Or it could completely blow up in their face. The character rounds up a group of Special Forces and disappears into the chaos of the battle. The character will not participate in the next Battle Roll as they are sneaking and getting into the perfect position. The following round they are automatically considered Heavily Engaged. The character will then roll a D8 and get a result. The GM will roll a D3, and subtract that from the result. If the number is positive, the plan went off and that number is added to the Battle Roll next turn. If the result is negative, the plan went south and the number is subtracted from the Battle Roll next turn. This Gambit can only be attempted once per battle. If multiple Thief/Rouges attempt the mission, roll multiple D8s and take the best result. There is no additional Reputation, because the characters are so stealthy they were unnoticed.

Cut The Head From The Serpent
The enemy general is exposed and your character has an opportunity to rush in and attack. This choice should be reserved for at least several Turns into the battle. The general will be guarded by his honor guard, and the GM is encouraged to create an appropriate level challenge for this combat. If the character/s win, the enemy army suffers a permanent -5 to Battle Rolls, the character's allied army immediately earn one Victory Point, and the character gets triple the Reputation.

These rules owe a lot to this book.

I hope people try these rules and that they work out well. Thanks for reading and if you liked this please remember to follow and share.

If you are interested in Legends of the Five Rings click HERE.

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  1. This looks quite interesting. I may try this in a sci-fi setting in the future. Thanks for posting.

  2. I like what you have done here. I am starting a new Greyhawk campaign and is the characters live long enough, once they reach sufficient level to make this fun, I plan on getting them into battles either from their own keeps or for local kingdoms where they are located. Thank you.

    1. That sounds like fun, and thank you for the compliment.

  3. Appreciate the effort, but way too involved for me. I'll stick with the BECMI War Machine, supplemented with heroic combat for my PCs. That framework has always worked for us.

    On a slightly related topic I find the continued inability of the various creators of L5R to devise a mechanically smooth system amazing. Their mechanics just keep getting worse.

  4. Very impressive! I published a MUCH less detailed system in Burgs & Bailiffs: Warfare Too. I agree the important part is how the PCs participate. My group has enjoyed a bit of simple wargaming (Hordes of the Things mainly) but I have found it to be a mistake to try to combine RPGing with set piece war games.
    Next time I'm DMing I'll definitely steal some of this. :)