I’ve already written some about how Classic D&D’s gameplay evolves as the players climb the level ladder. Starting out as naive hicks off the farm, our heroes might eventually reach the heights of 9th level and be awarded title and lands to go with their burgeoning egos fame. From there, they steadily carve their own empires, and that usually means only one thing – WAR!
I’ll say this just once – the War Machine rules in the D&D Rules Cyclopedia are worth the price of entry alone. It’s a standalone mechanism that can be used with any other system out there (I’ve used it to great success in GURPS, 3e D&D and even Mutants & Masterminds), and quite simply one of the best, funnest ways to handle a huge-scale combat at the gaming table – and this coming from someone who comes from the De Bellis Antiquitatis world of old school (really old school!) wargaming.
Compared to the rest of the Rules Cyclopedia which has a wing-it-on-your-ass free-wheeling style, War Machine Mass Combat system is rather damned crunchy, requiring ploughing through a Worksheet for each force to get a Battle Rating. This is then modified according to Environment, Troop Morale, Terrain, etc. Then it’s just a matter of rolling d100, adding the modified Battle Rating and comparing the results. That’s a day of battle done. The highest roller has won the day (but not the war!) and casualties, fatigue and changes in location are noted for each side.
In other words, it’s kinda like regular D&D combat, only with d100s instead of d20s, each turn lasts a day and the players are responsible for hundreds or thousands of troops instead of one single PC. Add in a few more options such as the effect of Tactics, Character actions, Heroism, Troop Movement & Supplies and the whole system can be as detailed or fast’n'light as you want.
We’ve used the War Machine rules on their own for entire sessions, and also used them as background colour to show the effect of the player’s actions as they attempt to turn the tide of battle. War Machine is also pretty fun played solo when there’s no other gamers around!
Here’s a quick example of War Machine in action. But first, we need two armies. If you want to follow along, I’m basing this on the Battle of Hattin, an actual battle from 1187 that took place near an extinct volcano and turned the tide of war in Saladin’s favour for years to come. Because battles near extinct volcanoes are feckin’ cool, that’s why.
In the white-and-red corner there Guy de Lusignan’s Crusaders – a 20,000-strong force which includes 15,000 infantry, 1,200 knights and 500 turcopoles (mounted archers). With him are three other heroes – Raymond III of Tripoli, Gerard de Rideford and Balian of Ibelin – all of whom are 9th level or above. The Troops are all excellently trained with good equipment, but most don’t have much field experience. The average Officer level is 5th, and the average Troop level is 2nd.
Working out the numbers, the Basic Force Rating for the force is 110; their Troop Class is Excellent. No surprises there. If the Crusaders had more mounted troops, spell-casters or substantial missile support this would modify the number further, but they don’t, so it doesn’t.
Against him is Saladin, who (for the sake of keepin’ things Fantasy-themed) is a powerful leader of the Desert Elves. He’s powerfully charismatic and leads 20,000 mounted Elven troops into battle against the usurpers. They are armed with horsebows and scimitars. As Elves, the Troops are 1HD foes.
The Basic Force Rating for these guys is 91, and they’re classed as Good. Their final modified Battle Rating (taking into account their horses and wicked elven archery skillz) is 118. It’s going to be a close fight!
The Battle Rating only needs to be calculated once for each army, so once it’s done it’ll only change if anything that affects it alters (such as a change in Leadership). On to Day One of the battle……..
Guy’s troops have beaten this foe before, but they’re in an unfavourable environment. That’s a -15 modifier so Guy’s player rolls d100+110-15, for a total of 158.
Saladin’s Elves are on their home turf and are well suited to the environment. That’s a net +35. Ouch. Rolling d100+118+35, the player gets 195.
That’s a win for Saladin on Day One, with a difference of 37. Guy takes 40% casualties a so he’s down to 12,000 fit-to-fight troops, while Saladin takes 20%, so he’s down to 16,000 troops. Worse yet, Guy’s army is Seriously fatigued after the first clash, while Saladin’s is only Moderately fatigued. It was a close-fought, hard won first day, and both sides withdraw to lick their wounds and recover from the clash.
Two rolls, one day and 12,000 casualties.
Dude, it’s like a war out there.
Next: The Known World!