In this week’s Unearthed Arcana, we see a shift from character options to another look at mass combat rules for DMs, based on previous survey feedback. The last time we saw mass combat was back in March 2015. We also get a request to complete and a survey for the Wizard and Warlock options.

The week on the Campaign Trail, I wanted to take a quick look at this PDF and talk about my experience with mass combat in 5e.

A Quick Look at the Mass Combat PDF

This is what you’ll find in the 5 page PDF.

  • Battle Rating – uses CR to calculate the BR value of each creature in a unit ranging from 1 to 50
  • Creating Units – rules for creating units that fight together as a cohesive group to determine its size, BR Total and more
  • Morale Rating – used for making checks to see if a unit is mutinous or acting as an unbreakable force led by a strong commander
  • Running Battles – combat rules, similar to those found in the PHB – but for units rather than individual creatures.
  • Characters in Mass Combat – what options are available to PCs and key NPCs?
    • Character-Scale Combat
    • Characters in Units
    • Critical Events

Download the Mass Combat Rules

Running Mass Combats

Last year for my current campaign, I ran a mass combat with the Iron Circle trying to take over the Nentir Vale‘s Harkenwold based on 4e’s Reavers of Harkenwold adventure. There were dwarves, rebels, treants and the level 4 PCs on one side against a large ragtag group of invading mercenaries. I had every intention of using the last version of these mass combat rules to run the battle. Based on feedback from a couple of the players before the session, I ended up going with narrative combat, more in the style of a skill challenge with combat skirmishes thrown in over a large spread out battle. My players we not interested in commanding units and preferred to run around and take care of hot spots on their own. I focused the battle on a bridge that they needed to hold. When the players were successful the morale of their side went up and their position on the overall map advanced and the opposite when things went against them. The battle went well for the good guys, partly due to the players completing 3 of the 4 conditions to make the battle easier. Without these conditions being met they would not have had the dwarves, treants or late arriving elves as allies.

The last version of the mass combat rules was more of a full battle system, focused on players joining units as commanders. After a survey and almost 2 years to sit on these rules, we get a better version (but still not ready) which appears (with my quick look) to be faster, less complicated and more dramatic (for a full detailed breakdown, read Brandes’ post on this UA Release).

In this latest version of the rules, commanding a unit is just one thing a PC can do in the big battle and this is an improvement. I think their update on how to handle morale works well and is great way to track how things are going overall for units. The updated rules have added Critical Events, which are closer to what the players in my group would want to do during a mass combat and give PCs who just are commander material something to do, such as sneaking around. I would have liked to see them keep the Victory Points from the previous version, which worked really well for my mass combat with objectives being worth something towards a victory score. You could even set out tasks leading up to the battle making the mass combat harder or easier, like I did, which could lower the total victory points needed to get a win.

When most DMs dream of running mass combat, they want to run something like the Battle of Helm’s Deep, where heroes are running around doing key things while the masses fight each other. I think these rules give DMs some tools and ideas to run a great mass combat, but think about what will work for your group. I recommend trying out a mass combat at least once if you can.


Warlock and Wizard Survey

Now that you’ve had a chance to read and ponder the warlock and wizard options from a few weeks ago, we’re ready for you to give us your feedback about them.

Complete the Survey