You are here

Mass Combat Made Easy

Most combat is carried out one-on-one, with each set of stats (HP, AC, combat bonuses, etc) applying to a single character or creature.

It can be extended by adding in Combat Scale. This takes the basic combat mechanics and uses them to apply to anything from Tactical Units to Destroyer-Class starships.

Combat Scale is a multiplier that shows the size of the unit relative to the norm. It is only applied to damage in combat between units of different size. Hit Points, AC and all other stats remain the same.

For example, a unit of 20 Goblin warriors will have CSx5 as per the table below. The combat stats are still HD1d8+1 (5hp), AC15, Morningstar +2 (1d6) or Javelin +3 (1d4). Against anything with the same Combat Scale (for example, a unit of 15 Elves), combat is resolved normally as if it was one goblin against one elf.

Number	Combat
in Unit	Scale
2-5	x3
6-10	x4
11-20	x5
21-40	x6
41-80	x7
81-160	x8
161-320	x9
321-640	x10

Combat Scale comes into play when battling against forces of a different size. It acts as a multiplier for damage taken, and also divides any damage given.

If the battle started between units of different CS, reduce the size of the Combat Scale as Hit Points as lost. For example, if the twenty Goblins above are reduced to 2hp, they have lost over half their unit, so are now CSx4. When down to just 1hp, they are CSx3 with just 5 goblins remaining.

If the Combat Scale becomes the same for all opponents, resolve combat normally; the playing field is now level.

[h2]Sci-Fi combat and more[/h2]

The same system can be used to implement large scale science fiction battles where Combat Scale is used to reflect the widely different scale between starships.

Ship            Combat    Example
Type            Scale
One-man Fighter	x5        Tie Fighter, X-Wing
Starship	x10       Moya, Serenity
Cruiser	        x20       Enterprise, Mecha Dropship
Destroyer       x40       Imperial Star Destroyer

For multiple ships, add the Combat Scale for the size of the ship to the CS from the number of Units. For example, 100 Fighters will be CSx13 (x5 + x8).

It’s possible to use existing monster stats to create Fighters, Starships and even Destroyer-class behemoths with little difficulty. Simply select an appropriate creature from the Monster List and give it a type. Replace it’s ranged weapon with a suitably sci-fi sounding name (or use the RandomSciFiWeaponGenerator), and you’re done.

Ship Examples

  • Goblin-class Fighter: HD1d8+1 (5hp), AC15, +1 Pulse Canon (1d6), CSx5
  • Troll-class Cruiser: HD6d8+36 (63hp), AC16, +9 Distruptor Beam Torpedo (1d6+6), CSx20 (includes Fast Auto-Repair system)
  • Goblin-class Starship: HD1d8+1 (5hp), AC15, +1 Meson Canon (1d6), CSx10

[h2]Calculating EL[/h2]

Experience is gained from taking part in a battle equal to the HD of the opponent, +1 for each CS higher than your own. For example, a member of the 20-strong Grey Company (CSx5) will earn 3EL in a battle against 35 Gnolls (a 2HD creature, CSx6).

[h2]Combat Examples[/h2]

[h3]Orcs vs Elves[/h3]

Twenty orcs enter a forest glade where they are beset upon by 15 elven archers. As their CS is the same, it’s treated as a straight single combat. The elven archers fire their longbows (+3, 1d8), hitting for 3 points of damage. The Orcish unit is down to 2hp. As the combat started with both opponents having the same Combat Scale, there’s no change to CS and combat continues. The Orcs rally and snarl, preparing to flush out the Elves with their barbed falchions. They charge into the bushes.

The elves calmly fire another volley, hitting for more 4 more hp - more than the Orcish unit can take. Silence falls in the clearing as orcish blood soaks into the grass…………

[h3]Goblins vs lone warrior[/h3]

Twenty goblins ambush a lone 5th level Fighter. Their CS is x5, so any damage dealt is multiplied by five before it’s applied against his Hit Points. Similarly, any damage he does is divided by five. In the first round he hits well for 10 damage. That’s divided by 5, to 2hp lost by the Goblin unit; They’re down to 3hp - if they lose another hp they will drop down to CSx4 as they’ve lost more than half their hit points.

In reply, the Goblins hit, attacking with their Morningstars en masse. The Fighter is hit for 4hp, x5 due to their numbers. He takes 20hp of damage. Good luck to him!

[h3]Knights vs Red Dragon[/h3]

The 500-strong Order of the Purple Flame stand ready against the Red Dragon. They are CSx10, while the Dragon - a single critter - is just CSx1, though formidable.

  • 500 Knights: HD2d8+4 (14hp), AC18, Lance +7 (1d10+4) or Longsword +6 (1d8+2), CSx10
  • Red Dragon: HD13x12+39 (123hp), AC21, Bite +20 (2d6+7) or Breath 10d10 DC24

The Dragon flies high above and breathes flame across their phalanx for 46hp damage. The knights dive for cover beneath their shields (phys+DEX to dodge DC24. They roll 25, barely making it). They take 1/2 damage - 23hp, divided by CSx10 for 2hp. The Knights are down to 12hp.

They ready their horses to charge as the Dragon lands, the thunder of 2,000 hooves causing the young Red to pause. They hit (rolled 18+7 = 25 vs. AC21), scoring 11 damage, CSx10 for a massive 110hp damage. The Red is down to 13hp against the small army, bleeding from the impact of many lances. It roars and lunges in anger, biting savagely. It hits easily (rolled 6+20 = 26 vs. AC18) for 17 damage, divided by 10 = 2hp. The Knights are down to 10hp. If they fall below 7hp they will be at half their numbers and down to CSx9.

They draw their Longswords and surround the downed Dragon, though their weapons to little more than scratch the drake’s hide (6 + 8 = 14, a miss). The Dragon turns to bite again, and rolls a Natural 20. It’s a critical, so the Knights take 19hp damage, CSx10 so 2hp lost. They’re down to 8hp after watching a few more of their number be gobbled up.

Their longswords bit true (18 +6 = 24 vs. AC21), for 6hp damage, CSx10 for a total of 60hp against the drake. It’s down, finally, though the Knights have lost 143 (500x4/14) of their number in the battle. The commend their souls in valour.

[h3]Knights vs Gnolls[/h3]

The Knights of the Purple Flame, bolstered by their successes and reinforcements decide to tackle the Gnoll threat to the South. They ride out at full strength against the 300 Gnolls of Ghakak Khan.

  • 500 Knights: HD2d8+4 (14hp), AC18, Lance +7 (1d10+4) or Longsword +6 (1d8+2), CSx10
  • 300 Gnolls: HD2d8+2 (11hp), AC15, Battleaxe +3 (1d8+2) or shortbow +1 (1d6), CSx9

The Knights charge the Gnolls as the Gnolls fire shortbows into their midst. The Gnolls roll well (18+1 = 19) for 5 damage. 9/10th of it applies, which still rounds up to 5hp. The Knights are at 9hp as riders fall from their mounts.

The next round, the Knights hit hard (roll 14+7+2 (from the charge) = 23, easily beating AC15) for 9hp, multiplied by 10/9th for 10hp. This leaves the Gnolls with just 2hp. Just 54 Gnolls remain standing (300x11/2). The Gnolls route and the Knights are victorious!

[h3]Fighters vs Starship[/h3]

A lone Griffon-class Starship, the “Verdant Princess” is plying the spacelanes when it is attacked by pirates. They ambush from around an asteroid, 10 Stirge-class Fighters. The captain of the Starship, an Half-elven Merchant by the name of Kithillien Mahadrascapore has little choice but to turn and fight.

  • Griffon-class Starship: HD7d10+21 (59hp), AC17, +11 Beam Laser (2d6+4), CSx10
  • 10 Stirge-class Fighters, HD1d10 (5hp), AC16, +7 Breach and lock-on, CSx9

Kith instructs her 5 crewmembers to prepare for boarders. Stirge-class Fighters attack by attaching to the hull of their opponent, using cutting gear to inflict a point of damage each round. When 5hp of damage is done, there’s a hole large enough to allow the pirates to board.

The Striges strike first, rolling poorly (4+7=11 vs AC17) and Kith’s maneuvering has avoided them. She replies by cutting across them with her Beam Laser, easily catching them all in the blast (12+11=32 vs AC16) for 11hp x 10/9 = 12hp damage. All that remains of the tiny Fighters is space-dust and Kith breathes a sigh of relief…..

…..which stops midgasp as a Hellhound-class Starship comes around the asteroid, it’s markings clearly showing it belongs to Caleb Duo’nith, famed Drow Pirate - and her half-brother.



It takes some wrapping the head a bit, but I think I could get used to this. Thanks!

-- Chgowiz
If you're in the [b]dark[/b], beware the [i]grue[/i]!

It's one of those concepts that's harder to explain that it is to run in play.

It's fun to be able to handle 1,000 screaming barbarians (HD1d8+1 (5hp), AC15, +1 Axe (1d6), CSx11) coming over the hillside as Just Another Combat Encounter :)

I know what's been bugging me about this - the ability to have mixed combat attacks. If in your example of elves vs. orcs - some wanted to throw spells instead of using bows. I'm trying to think of how to adjudicate that. Or if 150 goblins besiege the party - they're probably going to want to use their own powers vs. try to come up with an 'average' HD/atk stat.

OK, we *could* split up the 150 goblins, but but I am also thinking that this could get messy in a hurry.

Just some stuff to chew on.

-- Chgowiz
If you're in the [b]dark[/b], beware the [i]grue[/i]!

Short answer: it doesn't really matter.

Longer answer: it doesn't really matter because in the heat of battle, a spell or an arrow does pretty much the same thing. What matters is how many hit and how much damage they do, and that should be covered just fine by one roll against the most common attack type (say, the bow in your example) and rolling for damage. If you decribe it as a volley of arrows arced by lightning and fireballs, all the better! :)

True, but bear with me a minute whilst I fumble to what I'm thinking.

So the PCs crest the hill and find that about 40 goblins are encamped on the other side. Being the braves stalwart *coughbloodthirstythievescough* heroes that they are, they engage.

Now in this case, I could separate the goblins into groups and have each PC vs. a group, or I could make it "simple" and somehow factor in the combined spells and firepower of the group.

The other thing is that I'm probably confusing when mass combat rules are effective and when they don't work so well. If the PCs are people who want to express their character's uniqueness through combat, lumping together a common attack probably isn't going to be much fun to them. Kinda like Gandalf & co facing the many goblins in Moria - they had a skirmish that ended up being a brawl of many goblins vs. a few characters.

I'm going to have to chew on this a wee bit more, but thanks for giving me the feedback.

-- Chgowiz
If you're in the [b]dark[/b], beware the [i]grue[/i]!

Just play it like the 40 Goblins are one big monster that all of the PCs are attacking at the same time. For example, if the Goblin Encampment has stats of

Goblin Encampment, HD1d8+1 (5 hp), AC 15, Morningstar +2 (1d6) or javelin +3 (1d4), CSx6

Then any attack on them by the PCs will be divided by 6. When the hp total reaches 2, they've halved in number (20 goblins) so will be CSx5. At 1hp, there's just 5 gobbers left for CSx3.

Similarly, multiply their damage by their Combat Scale if they hit. I suggest sharing the damage among any PCs whose AC is beaten by the to-hit roll. For example, if the 40 Goblins roll 18 (16+2) with their Morningstar and that's enough to hit 3 out of 4PCs then roll 1d6x6 and share it among those three - say, 1d6x2 each. Ouch. A Goblin Horde just ran over them :)

Thus spake the experienced DM. That's great! Thank you!

-- Chgowiz
If you're in the [b]dark[/b], beware the [i]grue[/i]!

Minor nitpick:
"The Dragon flies high above and breathes flame across their phalanx for 56hp damage. The knights dive for cover beneath their shields (phys+DEX to dodge DC24. They roll 25, barely making it). They take 1/2 damage - 23hp, divided by CSx10 for 2hp. The Knights are down to 12hp."

56/2 = 28 instead of 23, so that example had me a bit confused :)

Nitpick away and well spotted! I'll correct it.

This seems like a great idea to me. I'm considering a refinement and was wondering what folks might think of it. This has 2 parts:

1) Don't reduce the number of individuals in a unit until HP reach 0, then cut number in half and re-set HP (and re-calc CS).

2) When this happens, call for a Morale check (Will save), DC 15 (adjusted for circumstances)

Obviously item 1 will make units much more robust, but item 2 will cause them to retreat/flee before being completely destroyed.

This complicates things some, of course, but I think it gives a good feel of morale/command without adding too much bookkeeping. Opinions?

Idea for splitting up large forces using different attacks.

Lets take the above example of Gnolls & Knights.
500 Knights: HD2d8+4 (14hp), AC18, Lance +7 (1d10+4) or Longsword +6 (1d8+2), CSx10
300 Gnolls: HD2d8+2 (11hp), AC15, Battleaxe +3 (1d8+2) or shortbow +1 (1d6), CSx9

Perhaps not all of the Gnolls use their shortbows. Some may rush the knights with battleaxes while backed by archers. On the flip side; maybe most of the knights charge but the rest dismount and stand ready to flank once the melee has ensued.

200 Gnoll Axemurderers: HD2d8_2 (11hp), AC15, Battleaxe +3 (1d8+2), CSx9
100 Gnole Archers: HD2d8+2 (11hp), AC15, Shortbow +1 (1d6), CSx8


400 Knight Calvary: HD2d8+4 (14hp), AC18, Lance +7 (1d10+4), CSx10
100 Knight Swordsmen: HD2d8+4 (14hp), AC18, Longsword +6 (1d8+2), CSx8

Now it's essentially a 2vs2 mass combat instead of a 1vs1.

Combat Scale is a multiplier that shows the size of the unit relative to the norm.