Recently, Ken Baumann asked about huge battles on Google+. Was it fun, how did it work?
How big is a huge battle? I regularly have fights with dozens of participants on each side. The party alone is usually a dozen characters and a dozen dogs, raptors, war bears and more.
How often? I use big battles every now and then, maybe once a year in each campaign. That is, there will be one or two sessions for “the big battle”. Often there will be many sessions before the actual battle where people try to find allies, make peace, sabotage the enemy and all that. It’s a whole campaign arc.
As for the Rules: For up to maybe 100 individuals per side, I just use lots of d20s, with groups of 10 or 20 doing this or that and resolving the rounds as we go.
Example: Yesterday was the first session of a siege and I just wrote up a session report.
Mass Combat: For more than that, I split them into units of “about 100 each” and resolve combat as if each unit was a single monster. I’ve tried various methods, and I’ve tried each of them exactly once.
My first mass combat session used Mass Combat Made Easy by Robin Stacey which he wrote for M20. I used them when we still played D&D 3.5 and they work well. As combat scale is proportional to the number of individuals in a unit, those need to be recalculated after every hit, which needs a calculator person at the table.
Next I tried the mass combat rules in the B/X Companion by Running Beagle Games and they were OK. Basically you add up all the hit points and deal automatic damage based on your to-hit roll. This means that each unit has hundreds of hit points and you still need a calculator person at the table.
Next I tried the mass combat rules An Echo Resounding by Sine Nomine Publishing and they worked well. The only issue I had was that I didn’t like the domain level management required to pay for upkeep and related stuff. It worked very well as at the table, but if and only if all the units are “about 100 each” or if you can translate a monster into an equivalent “unit” – it’s easy if you’re fighting orcs and goblins but what about ogres and dragons if you don’t have units of 100 each? You need to translate them into “warbeasts” and similar units, which is where you need to improvise.
Other Options: Other options which I haven’t tried but I’d be interested in hearing how it went at the table:
Domains at War by Autarch, but since their Adventure Conqueror King System seemed to offer more detail than An Echo Resounding, I didn’t look at it.
By this Poleaxe by the Hydra Cooperative for “small-scale battles or skirmishes involving 15-120 combatants on each side”… I’d be interested to hear comparisons!
Book of War by Daniel R. ‘Delta’ Collins is based on OD&D numbers, so I didn’t look at it.
Rules Cyclopedia has The War Machine section with rules that tell you how to compute a battle rating for each side and resolving it using a single d100 roll per side. It’s short, but it seems more appropriate for multiple engagements in a longer warfare campaign. I don’t think a single engagement would be a satisfying conclusion for a campaign arc.