Thursday, June 26, 2014

Running Small Battles in Oldish D&D

That D&D has its roots in wargaming is an old story. Thirty years down the road support for running battles larger than party-sized remains surprisingly and woefully uneven. A small not terribly spectacular range of compatible miniature and abstract large battle rules exist.

But holes stubbornly persist. The biggest gap I have encountered time and time again in the campaign is the lack of simple and fun ways to run battles that are larger than the standard kind involving the party and also too small scale or tactical to run with a wholly abstract system say like the Warmachine rules from the D&D Companion set.

What follows is the first part of what I tongue in cheek am calling By this Poleaxe, an adaption and extension of pen and paper small battle rules Deep Evan and I have been using in the Feudal Anarchy playtests into a more oldish D&D format. I plan on testing them in the heat of battle in the nasty brutish border war currently brewing in the Hill Cantons.

It's intended to allow a GM to run small-scale battles or skirmishes involving 15-120 combatants on each side in a hour or so without miniatures.  (If you want or need battle rules for miniatures you might want to check out By this Axe rules).  

If you would like to see the rest of the draft (this first part to give readers a sense of where this is going) give me a holler at my email address or on good ole Google Plus.
By this Poleaxe: Pen and Paper Oldish D&D Small Battle Rules
Each “squad” is made up of up to 5 combatants. A squad is represented by a single figure in a miniatures game and will generally be part of a battle or conroy (a larger unit) in battles involving more than 100 combatants. A squad must be at full strength (five combatants) if possible.

Squads have five attributes: Attack Value, Defense Value, Morale Value, Hits to Kill and Movement.

Squad Attributes
Attack Value (AV)
The measure of the squad's ability to hit on a d10. Total Hit Dice and divide by 5.
Base AV
0-level Human, monster under 1 HD
Man at Arms-1st level, up to 1+1 HD
2-3 HD
4-7 HD
8-10 HD
11+ HD
Mounted +1
Crappy weapon (dagger, club, hoe) -1
Two-handed weapon +1
Fighter or Trained Leader over 6th level/HD “stacked” in unit +1
Attacking from the flank, rear or from surprise +1
Minor Special Offensive Ability +1
Medium Special +2
Major Special +3

Defense Value (DV)
The measure of the squad's ability to shrug off hits, used as a savings throw. Average the AC of the party.
Base DV
1 Unarmored (AC 9 or 10)
2 Light AC (AC 7-8)
3 Medium AC (AC 4-6)
4 High AC (AC 1-3)
5 Very High AC (AC 0 and lower)
hard cover +2
soft cover +1
Minor Special Defensive Ability +1
Medium Special +2
Major Special +3

Morale (MV)
The measure of a squads ability to not break and run.
Typical Base MV
Peasant levy, kobold, rabble
Average soldiery, orc
Veteran, hobgoblin, white ape
Knight or other elite
Fanatic, berserker
+1 in a “secure position” (behind cover, in a pike phalanx, bless spell etc)
+1 leader CHA 15-17 (non-stackable)
+2 leader CHA 18 (non-stackable)

Hits to Kill (HTK)
The number of hits the squad can take before being Out of the Fight.
Human levy or half hit dice
1 HD or Man-at-Arms
2-3 HD
4-5 HD
6-7 HD
7-8 HD
9-10 HD`
-1 if squad has 4 members.
-2 if squad has 3 members.

Movement (M)
The number of abstract “move spaces” that a squad can move per combat turn. Movement is with the by-the-book standard rates if a map grid is is in use.
60 feet or less
90 feet
120 feet
150 feet or more


  1. So when are we gonna playtest this with miniatures :)

    Not sure about how to calculate the defensive value--I don't think you get those values in your table by totaling the AC and dividing by five.

    1. I could definitely use some help running the "offstage" battles. And oops a vestigial mistake from Feudal Anarchy that should read (and now does) "average the AC for the squad."

  2. Hey, nice. This is something I want to adapt for my 40 Families setting and maybe for my Pirates setting.