War Machine, revised: Mass Combat for 4e part 2

Gentlemen (and ladies) we have Strongholds and Henchmen. We have an army. Now, to war! Here are the Mass Combat rules from the Classic D&D Rules Cyclopedia, converted to 4e D&D. Onwards!

Last time we looked at how to calculate an army’s Battle Force Rating. This time around we are going to look at what modifiers affect it both on the field of battle and off, and show how to run through a simple large-scale conflict.

Battle Rating
The Battle Force Rating is adjusted by +10% for each of the following statements that are true. This gives the final Battle Rating:

  1. At least 20% mounted troops
  2. At least 50% mounted troops
  3. At least 20% possess a ranged At-Will attack
  4. At least 20% possess a Range 20 or better At-Will attack
  5. At least 1% possess non-Martial Powers
  6. At least 20% possess non-Martial Powers
  7. 100% possess non-Martial Powers
  8. At least 1% can fly
  9. At last 20% can fly
  10. Force has a movement rate of Speed 10 or more

Example: Gerrick’s Guards have a BFR of 72 and are classed as Average Troops. They are split into three divisions – 250 Infantry, 250 Cavalry, and 250 Longbowmen led by three Warlords and supported by ten Field Clerics. Statements 1, 3, 4 and 5 are true in the list above. This nets them a bonus of 4 x 7 = +28 for a total Battle Rating of 100.  

Example: Ugruk’s Swinehammerers are a band of roving Orcish and Goblinoid raiders with a BFR of 60. They are Fair Troops. There are 300 Warg Riders and 300 Warriors, all of uncertain parentage. Ugruk is the sole Warlord though he is supported by six Goblin Shamans (Shamen?). Statements 1, 2 and 5 are true. That’s 3 x 6 = +18 and a final Battle Rating of 78.

To battle!
A battle is fought with just two rolls of a dice. Both sides roll d100 simultaneously and add their force’s Battle Rating & situational modifiers. These are listed in the D&D Rules Cyclopedia page 119. Rather than repeat them as-is, here’s a simplified version:

  • +15 if you outnumber opponent by 2:1 (+30 if you outnumber opponent by 3:1, etc.)
  • +10 in your home dominion
  • +10 if you have previously defeated this foe
  • +10 if Troop Class is two higher that opponent
  • +25 in favourable environment
  • -25 in very unfavourable environment
  • +20 night battle and your force has low-light vision or better
  • +20 you have the high ground
  • -10 on shifting ground (snow, sand, marsh, mud – unless trained in this terrain)
  • -10 moderately fatigued
  • -30 seriously fatigued

For defender only:

  • +10 if holding
  • +50 defending a narrow pass
  • +40 if attacker must cross deep water
  • +20 behind a wall or other suitable cover
  • +50 in a stronghold

Example: The Battle of Chadmere Pass
Gerrick’s Guards are at Chadmere Pass, a valley that divides the Ogrwyn Mountains inside Garrick’s home dominion. Orc Scouts have been sighted in the area so they have set up an encampment in a small wooden fort and several soldiers stand watch.

At night, Ugruk’s Swinehammerers launch the attack!

Gerrick’s Guards are in their home dominion, have a Troop Class two higher, are holding and are behind a wall – a total modifier of +50. Their player rolls d100 + 100 + 50 for a total of 212.

Ugruk’s Swinehammerers are fighting a night battle and they have low-light vision – a mere +20 modifier. They roll d100 + 68 + 20 – a total of 170.

Battle outcome
The highest roller is the victor, though both forces are likely to have suffered loss during the conflict. Subtract the highest roll from the lowest and check the result on the War Machine Combat Results Table on page 120 of the D&D Rules Cyclopedia. This will give a percentage losses, fatigue and location changes (retreat, rout, etc) for each side.

Example: 212 – 170 = 42 and a victory for Gerrick’s Guards! Checking the table they can boast of no losses during the battle whilst Ugruk has lost a full 30% of his troops and the remainder are Seriously Fatigued and forced back two whole terrain units (at this scale, probably two miles) before they can regroup. That’ll teach him not to mess with a superior force when they’re hunkered inside a cozy fort!

Fourth Edition Options
One major option built inside the Classic D&D War Machine rules is the ability for Player Characters to seriously alter the tide of battle. Their actions both before and during the conflict can grant modifiers to the Battle Roll depending on their success (and, in some cases, failure). In 4e terms this can translate to a simple Skill Challenge (if before) or Encounter (if during) which is played out prior to the Battle Roll.

Example Skill Challenges

  • Reconnaissance (Easy or Standard)
  • Spying
  • Uncover a Traitor
  • Plant misinformation
  • Set up a surprise attack
  • Sabotage
  • Capture the Leader
  • Assassination (Hard)

I suggest granting a +10 bonus for an Easy Encounter or Skill Challenge, +20 for Standard and +50 for Hard. If the heroes are aware of the upcoming battle, allow one Skill Challenge before it takes place, and as many Encounters during the battle as you see fit – perhaps ending with a Hard Encounter against the War Leader himself! Be warned –  failed Hard Skill Challenge or Encounter carries a -20 Battle Roll penalty. There is a price to be paid for such risk in battle.

There’s much more to the War Machine rules, including a whole range of tactical wrinkles, troop movement rules, siege warfare, and full naval, underwater & aerial combat. Not bad for a handful of pages in a twenty year old rulebook, eh?

Till next time!

6 Comments on “War Machine, revised: Mass Combat for 4e part 2”

  1. I’m so thrilled to read this. I’m already drafting up some ideas for my players to take part in battle, and have the chance to direct the attack themselves.

  2. @Rook I agree it’s unlikely to get much use at the table, but if it gets those cogs turning about how you could run a mass battle in 4e then my work is done :D

    @Enchelion That’s great! I’d love to read a write-up of the battle if you manage to make it happen.

  3. Wow, I missed you posting this part greywulf. Good thing @newbiedm brought it up on Twitter today and @deadorcs mentioned this post!

    This is a nice addition. I’m still trying to think of a way PC powers can be worked into the format though. Adding in Skill Challenges is good, but there has to be a way for powers to get in there, I know it!

    I just don’t want to overshadow/bore any of the players with simple dice rolls, but having a mass battle mechanic beyond the 4e idea of “just make it a skill challenge” is a godsend.

    Perhaps their powers/spells can target an average AC/NAD of the opposing force, and if it hits provides a significant bonus to the Battle Rating (maybe total damage gets added to BR?) Or maybe a PC leads a unit of forces with the same abilities and that unit can attack with the same power in unison to whittle opposing numbers?

    Sorry, just brainstorming, but does anyone have any ideas in that vein?

  4. @AlioTheFool Thanks for the kind words! When it comes to using Powers in Mass Combat, I’d much rather zoom in, and let the PCs play through a pivotal encounter in the midst of the battle. If they win, that grants a bonus to the Battle Roll as they help turn the tide in their favour. That keeps things personal, but still makes the players feel like they’re playing a direct part in the action.

    Hope that helps!

  5. That makes a lot sense actually. That would serve to make up that gap I see between running a full-scale army vs. army and allowing the PCs to be the heroes and relevant to the outcome.

    Perhaps the PCs could choose to attack a unit of minions, or a unit of brutes, or sneak around the back and target the general, or spot the opposition’s dragon in the back and go after that game-changing solo. All of these could have vastly different effects on the outcome of the battle (reflected in different effects on BR.)

    How would you approach which player makes the roll for the “good guys?” I’m thinking maybe each player can roll for a unit and I’d just make multiple rolls, or maybe all the players roll a d20 and add their score together and I could roll once. I just don’t ever want someone to feel like they were left out of the action.

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