DBD&D?

This will probably be my longest post to date; I am sort of thinking out loud here!

I’m always hoping to use a wargame to resolve a mass battle in D&D. The problem is our campaigns tend to be low-level and fizzle out before we ever get to the point we’re commanding troops or whole armies. Sigh. Things may go differently now, though, as the C&C game we’re playing has been going pretty solid for several months and we aim to play once a week rather than every other week, and the DM is very happy with the rules and scenario and PCs for a change, and the setting does lend itself to epic confrontations, because there are many evil wizards with hordes of minions on the island, as well as goblin king, and we haven’t even explored more than a tiny corner so far. So the problem will be, what rules to use?

I recently found a copy of the old Chainmail rules (Perrin & Gygax, not the WotC collectible miniatures game), but honestly it does not really suit large battles with the fantasy supplement. As “Delta” points out (this post and others) the Chainmail fantasy supplement is actually a 1:1 scale set of rules.

I also have Battlesystem 2nd edition, which was designed for AD&D battles, but frankly it seems almost as complicated as normal AD&D.

Warhammer is out, as it takes forever to roll all those dice, and similarly I never really mastered Grenadier’s Fantasy Warriors either. Both are probably nice wargames but would consume an entire session and possibly two.

So I think De Bellis Antiquitatis and Hordes of the Things would probably be the best bets. HOTT is actually designed for fantasy, although I do like some of the element types in DBA too. So I think I’d probably adapt HOTT by adding a few DBA elements (like light troops), but the question remains how to incorporate characters into HOTT (do I just use the Heros, Wizards, Clerics, etc. as-is?) and how to scale actual numbers of troops to HOTT elements. I’m tempted to follow something like the DBA scale, but use HD for number of men.

DBA suggests a range of values for the men represented by an “element” (generally 2-6 figures on a base of a standard width and varying depths; for example four spearmen, three knights, two skirmishers, or a single elephant may be on a base). For close order (4 to a base) troops, there would be about 1000 men per element; for looser orders (3, 5, or 6 to base, as the 5&6 figure elements are much deeper) maybe 750; for light troops ; for chariots and artillery, 50, and for elephants, 25.

This jibes with historical armies being around 10,000 men, give or take. I have seen estimates of the armies at the Battle of Hastings each being about 7,000-10,000 men. (In antiquity armies were sometimes much larger, as they were in later periods. It is always a matter of logistics.)

The armies of Greyhawk can stand as benchmarks for what might be raised in a D&D campaign. The Great Kingdom is said to be able to field 15,000 men (calling up many levies) and up to 60,000 if all the kingdom’s resources were to be fielded. This is fairly large but not out of bounds. We may assume smaller armies are common as well, just as they were in the real Dark Ages and Middle Ages. The occasional reports of events in Greyhawk in Dragon Magazines (#57 is the only one that springs to mind) describe actions involving a few thousand to a maximum of about 40,000 for the truly huge host of Herzog Chelor. DBA uses 12-elements to a normal army (but allows up to 36 in a massive battle); HOTT uses points but could reasonably range from 10-20 elements in a normal army and 30+ in a massive battle). So far so good.

HOTT gives no solid numbers for scales and insists that if there is a difference in the quality of the troops, this is accounted for by a smaller number of troops of higher quality (so maybe mercenary crossbowmen and High Elf longbowmen are both “Shooters” but an element of elves is just a lot fewer guys than the human mercenaries).

If we take these numbers of men to be equivalent to HD, a Spear element could be 1000 HD worth of of monsters. But Men in AD&D were 1-6 HP, which is less than one HD (d8). So we’ll look at HP equivalences. 1000 men are thus 3500 HP worth of troops. Divide 3500 by the number of average HP for a creature type and we get an interesting conversion ratio. We may need to tweak things a little for creatures with significant abilities. So a Spear element would be 1000 men, or 777 (rounded to 800) 1HD elves, or 636 (round to 650) 1+1 HD Hobgoblins, or 388 (round to 400) 2HD Cavemen, etc. If you drilled Fire Giants (11 HD + 2-5 hp) and armed them with spears, it would take but 3500/53 = 66 (round to 70) of them to compose a Spear unit. (Obviously, Giants would not be Spear elements though — more likely “Behemoths,” the HOTT equivalent of Elephants.

An element of 25 elephants is up to 250 HD (not counting riders/crew), or 1125 hp. I suppose we could increase this by assuming 1 mahout and three crew per elephant (4 x 25 = 100 men, or 350 more hp; if there is also an escort of light troops, as we see in historical armies, probably fewer elephants would be needed, as DBA states “up to 25” elephants per element). For simplicity let’s ignore the crew though. 1125 hp/53 = 21 (round off to 20) Fire Giants for a Behemoth element, or 34 6+6 HD Trolls. These are fairly big numbers — bigger than I expected.

For the heroes and special troops (which would typically represent the PCs and big baddies) I think a much smaller number of creatures per element makes more sense. One wizard with a few apprentices, a hero with a handful of followers, or a single dragon seems more in line with a fantasy battle, and is indeed how HOTT describes these elements. Maybe just 25 or 50 HD/levels to equal one of these, but each needs to be 10+ HD/Level, so two 13 HD Pit Fiends = 1 Arial Hero?

To make that owrk, maybe we should cut all the elements down a bit. After all, a normal Goblin lair only has up to 400 goblins, which is not even enough for one Horde (750 Goblins = 1 Horde, as Hordes are 5-6 figures on a base). It would be even better if any given monster type’s maximum number appearing would enough to make an element!

If we cut all the troop numbers above in half, it becomes slightly easier to swallow the idea of a single hero and his retinue being able to defeat a Horde in a battle (as they almost certainly and inevitably will in HOTT).

So close order foot will be 1750 hp equivalent; loose order foot 1300 hp; light troops 800 hp; special trops (Behemoths, Heros, etc.) 250 hp. After all, their is a “God” element in HOTT, and DDG generally gives gods in the 200-400 hp range. 🙂

Ultimately, since every situation will be different, I don’t think any strict scale for numbers of creatures per element can be adhered to. As soon as the number of combatants exceeds what you think can reasonably be played out in normal D&D rules, you’ll want to convert the forces to elements to speed things up, and a an element might be a dozen or a thousand men, depending on the total forces on each side. But working out a sample scale (and now I’m leaning toward using about 1/2 the lowest numbers from DBA, so an army of Orcs might be twelve Orc hordes (12 x 300 = 3600 orc warriors), one warband (150 bodyguard and leader types), and one Behemoth (18 or so Trolls). At that scale if we further divide by two for Hero types, a fighter and some followers could equal a Hero element if they total around 250-280 hp, which would be say a 10th level fighter (55 hp) and seven fifth-level fighters (27.5 x 7 = 192.5 hp). I’m tempted o further credit PCs with the hp of their mounts, or apply some modifier for magic items and other special abilities. Actually I’d also apply a modifier for regular troops, as 1/2 HD Pixies should count for a lot more given their magic (invisibility etc.). Come to think of it maybe XP (values for monsters/troops, totals for PCs?) might be more useful than hp. Hmm.

Once I work out a decent table with some more examples and guidelines for PCs, I’ll post a link to it here.

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Published in: on February 2, 2010 at 2:25 am  Comments (5)  
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  1. Give the battle system of 2e another look. There is also some 3rd edition large scale battle rules I will do a search for them. Battle system would be complex but I think we could C&C it.

    But as for scale. I think 1″=10yds with a 1″=30ft/5ft per man for close order. So 1(sqin) = 36 infantry and 18 cavlry or 9 giants. Therefore your 25mm x 50mm = 72 men/goblin/orcs and a horde of goblins would be about 5 stands. We could use missile weapon range right of AD&D

    • Ack, I’ll do it. And this after I made a nice little spread sheet with the number of creatures needed for each element type, by HD, from 1/2 to 15!

      The problem is always going to be how to make PCs effectual without making them battle-changers like in Warhammer 3rd ed. I’ll look over Battlesystem again but I ‘m thinking it may take too long to play out. I KNOW HOTT/DBA can be settled in an hour & half max!

      • You forget that I am much much better at wargames than you guys and I would have to throw all the battles JK

  2. I have to admit, I have never even thought of large scale battles like this in a d&d style game before. This has been pretty interesting.

    • Well, I don’t see it happening in Tom’s game for a while! The last time we had PCs take part in a big battle was several years ago, with a party mostly around 8th level as I remember it.
      But Chainmail’s “Heroes” and “Superheroes” were equivalent to 4th and 8th level fighters, according to the original D&D rules and level titles. So I’ve been thinking that by 4th level there should be some role for characters in battles — if I ever run a game, it willbe around that level that the party’s fighters start being asked to help out in the local army!


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