Sunday, June 28, 2020

Updating my preferred Mass Combat rules (weird Dungeon World-Into the Odd-etc. hack)

 Regular readers will know I've been chewing on simple domain and mass-combat rules lately. I've had a "Mass Combat rules Powered by the Apocalypse" blog post due for some time; as sometimes happens, however, actual life went faster than typing, and experiences at the gaming table, testing out my thoughts, plus reading some excellent ideas by others, have brought me to a slightly different place than the one I expected to write about next. :-) 

With significant influence from Into the Odd, Dungeon World, Apocalypse World, Macchiato Monsters, and blog posts from Jeremy Strandberg's Spouting Lore and at "Enthusiastic Skeleton Boys," I've arrived at a second draft of how I (think I) want to handle mass combat in my current campaign. That campaign basically runs on Dungeon World, but even if you're an OSR 'purist,' you might find something thought-provoking here. Comments and critiques welcome. What follows was written primarily to myself, as part of an ongoing interior conversation, but I hope it is clear enough to follow!

[One quick proactive comment: at this stage in the process, you should feel free to say whatever seems helpful in the comments, but I'm less interested in checking out brand-new systems and more interested in critiques to hone this system or its influences. Thanks!]. 


This system complements, but also moves just a little beyond, the normal PbtA game-flow. Individual Units can act like discrete individuals on the battlefield. When a PC commands a Unit, the player may direct the Unit as if it were a second PC, rather than resolving all the Unit’s actions only in connection with the PC’s own dice rolls. This keeps the actual rolls ‘player-facing,’ but it allows a larger array of Units to function meaningfully on the battlefield, without limiting the PCs’ own individual actions. It also prevents weird edge cases in which a PC’s STATS are used to determine Unit outcomes in ways that make little sense.

Normally, dice modifiers for Units attempting actions will be very low.
Green Quality Units: -1
Normal Quality Units: +0
Veteran Quality Units: +1
Elite Quality Units: +2

On a case-by-case basis, the GM may break down a Unit’s Quality bonuses in a few categories:
When Fighting…
When Maneuvering…
When Standing Fast…

(For example – Forest Skirmishers: Fighting +0, Maneuvering +1, Standing Fast -1).
…but normally the basic one-STAT list given above should be adequate.


For its combat statistics, a Unit uses the statistics of one of its average members. So, for example, a Large Unit of 100 Green peasant spearmen might have the following stats:

Peasant Spearmen (Large Unit). 3 HP, 0 Armor. Damage 1d8. Green Quality: -1. 

Whereas a smaller band of Brigands might look much tougher:

Brigand Band (Small Unit). 7 HP, 1 Armor. Damage 1d8. Normal Quality: +0. 

...even though the Brigands are only two steps from oblivion (see below), as opposed to four downgrades left for the much larger group of peasants. 

A Unit fights as if it were a single character, with various bonuses and penalties reflecting the size differences among rival units. 

Individuals (that's you, PCs) fighting Units can only roll 1d4 as their damage die, max, but this die-result may be increased by normal damage modifiers (spending ‘Mettle’, ‘Melee’ ability bonus, magic weapon damage bonuses, etc.). If an individual’s attack has the Area tag, then it may deal damage as normal and is not limited to the 1d4 attack die (for example, fireball spells or alchemical bombs are not limited to dealing 1d4 base damage).

The Mass Combat Unit Hierarchy:

Tiny Units (10+)
Small Units (25+)
Medium Units (50+)
Large units (100+)

Each step up the Unit hierarchy gives a larger Unit +1 Damage, and +1 Armor. [EDIT: Moreover, when a Unit fights against an Individual, the unit inflicts +1d6 Damage instead of +1 Damage for each step up the size hierarchy, so that (for example) a Small Unit of Archers (bows, 1d6 damage) inflicts 1d6 +2d6 Damage when attacking an Individual]. 

Creatures with the Huge tag in combat with a Unit count as Units, not Individuals (but Huge creatures do count as Individuals when in combat with Individuals). Use a Huge creature’s Hit Point number as an equivalent to the number of men when calculating the creature’s nominal Unit size.

When a Unit reaches 0 HP, it automatically loses a step, downgrading to a Unit of the size below it, and tests Morale to avoid routing. Tiny Units that reach 0 HP are destroyed.

Overflow Damage does not ‘roll over’ when a Unit downgrades; a Unit will only downgrade one step from any single attack – for example, a fireball attack on a Medium Unit can only downgrade it to a Small Unit, even if the total damage is not exhausted by the first downgrade.

Proximity – a PC may join in Proximity with a unit. When in Proximity:
-       a PC benefits from the Size Armor bonus (if any) of the Unit;
-       a PC may try to restrain the Unit to prevent a rout (after failing a morale test)
-       a PC also takes damage along with the unit whenever it suffers harm.

TESTING UNIT MORALE - at 0 hp, downgrade the Unit, then roll 2d6 + Nothing.
On 8+, the Unit holds and doesn’t rout (yet). On 7-, the Unit routs, unless a PC in Proximity passes a Hold Unit check.
·      Modifiers:
-1 if the unit is Green/Frightened,
+1 for Veterans,
+2 for Elites.
(Can treat Large creatures as +1, Huge creatures as +2, or even forego the roll at all for Huge creatures, and maybe Large too, and Brave combatants, on a case-by-case basis).

NPC Commanders of note may grant bonuses as they try to rally their troops, too.

Hold Unit: When a unit routs, a PC in Proximity to the Unit may roll +CHA to try to hold them in place with a rousing speech. It had better be a good speech.
·      10+, the unit holds instead of routing.
·      7-9, the unit holds instead of routing, but choose one:
o   They’re in bad shape, and lose 1d4 further hit points, unmodified by Armor,
o   OR the enemy capitalizes on your little speech to advance further on the field of battle,
o   OR the GM chooses something (which might be one of those two options).
·      6-: the unit breaks, and your feeble attempt to hold them un-nerves other troops - all allied Units in LOS of the breaking unit must test morale, too!


  1. This is great, been waiting for this one. Thanks!

    I think I'm going to end up using something pretty similar, but have engaged units just roll their damage, and the unit battlefield moves / maneuvers be effectively competitions for enhanced damage similar to Ito.

    1. That would definitely work too! Personally, however, I've found that "Enhanced" damage becomes a little too flat for my tastes, because the 1d12 sometimes results in a big scary opponent rolling a 1 or 2 for damage, and because a really big unit should have much *more enhanced* damage than a smaller unit. But your mileage - and tastes - will vary!

    2. Indeed. That's why I've also hacked that to be a pool.

      Huge bummer for the player to take additional risks, succeed and not be rewarded for it, due to poor dice roll.

  2. A note to highlight an edit I just made - when a Unit fights against another Unit, the larger Unit inflicts +1 Damage per step up the size hierarchy, but (here's the edit) when a Unit fights against an Individual, the Unit gets +1d6 Damage (not just +1 Damage) for each step above "Individual" size. This way, a Unit of 90 archers isn't going to somehow just inflict 5 damage (or has very little chance of doing so) against an Individual foolhardy enough to stand in their path.

  3. I tried these rules out last night in play, and liked them.

  4. Hola, late to the party, but digging these rules. Question - when a unit is downgraded does its HP reset? Thanks!


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