Review: D&D Mass Battle Rules


We’re doing something a bit different today.  Instead of a hook, we’ll be looking at the recently released D&D Mass Battle rules released as part of Unearthed Arcana.  These rules are intended to give GMs a rules-light approach for handling massive battles.  So for our review we’re going to play through a sample battle between two forces to get a feel for how the rules work.
A warband of goblinoids headed by a core of hobgoblins is on the march. In their way is a small human settlement protected by a larger force. Our sample forces find each other on the road to a human settlement.
I wanted to keep this example fairly simple. The objective is to get a feel for how the new D&D mass combat rules work strictly from a game perspective. To that end, I’ve not included any leaders or named characters that might complicate matters and kept the forces at roughly the same Battle Rating (BR).
Human Force
– 60 Human Warriors (Based on MM p350 Tribal Warrior) – BR 3
– 30 Human Archers (Based on MM p349 Scout) – BR 3
– 10 Human Knights (Based on MM p347 Knight) – BR 30
Total BR: 36
The humans rely on their archers to keep the goblins pinned down while the knights act as shock troops. As the knights proceed through the goblin flanks, the larger group of warriors will intercept from the benefit of cover.
Goblinoid Force
– 2 x 100 Goblin Warriors (MM p166) – BR 10
– 50 Goblin Archers (MM p166) – BR 5DnD_Mass_Battle_Demo_Deployment.jpg
– 50 Hobgoblins (MM p186) – BR 10
Total BR: 35
The goblin approach is to advance steadily, shielding their archers to whittle away at the human forces. A more role-play accurate deployment might split off a group of goblins to shield the archers and hobgoblins, but I wanted something more in keeping with standard wargame tactics.
Turn 1
The first thing that jumps out is that movement is fast. 10x your base movement is a pretty good clip across a battlefield. In our test, we’re playing on a space that’s roughly 7200’x7200′ (or about 1.3mi x 1.3mi). The humans go first, with the knights and warriors both advancing at their full movement, using the woods for cover and using the guard action. The archers fire at the hobgoblins (just within the 600′ longbow range) for an opposed attack roll of:
1d20+3 (archers) vs 1d20+10(hobgoblins)
Before I even roll, the odds look pretty darned good for those hobgoblins which I’m not sure makes sense. It seems like 30 archers ought to be more effective. Playing it out, the archers get 16 + 3 = 19 vs 3 + 10 = 13 for the hobgoblins. A really good roll, that results in an attacker win by 10 or less, reduing the BR of the hobgoblins to 8. I’m not sure how I feel about the static reduction of BR, though I totally see how it would streamline combat.
The goblinoids (with the exception of the archers) move straight ahead, eager for battle. Another oddity of this system is there’s no provision for cover when moving, so both forces cut through the woods like clear ground. I think this might be an area where GMs are going to want to modify things a bit.
The human warriors’ guard triggers first:
1d20 + 10 (warriors) vs 1d20 + 3 (goblins)
Things go poorly and the goblins meet the charge handily: 5 + 3 = 8 vs 10 + 10 = 20 so no damage for the humans. And then the goblins get to execute their charge.
1d20 + 10 (goblins) vs 1d20 + 3 (warriors)
The dice get rolled and come up with 9 + 10 = 19 vs 19 + 3 = 22, meaning no damage inflicted.
The archers choose to fire at the group of warriors, who get advantage due to cover.
1d20+5(archers) vs 1d20+3(warriors) w/advantage
The archers ended up with a 12 + 5 = 17 vs 8 + 3 = 11 for the warriors (their advantage roll was a 3). Again, we apply a straight redution of 2 to the warrior’s BR. Since this is more than half their starting BR, the warriors have to make a DC 15 morale check – they roll a 16 and hold fast! Note that if they’d failed the check, they would have been totally eliminated – not routed, eliminated. This is incredibly harsh in my opinion, though it definitely speeds things up.
So at the end of the turn, both sides have bled a bit, but no major swings have happened.
Turn 2
Given the battle has set into the middle of the field, our knights will simply guard and meet the charging goblins. The archers continue to fire a the oncoming hobgoblins:
1d20+3 (archers) vs 1d20+8(hobgoblins)
Remember that our hobgoblins are at a reduced BR from the previous attack. Rolling yields 6 + 3 =9 vs 19 + 8 = 27, meaning that our hobgoblins manage to get their shields in place and shrug off the arrows. Our warriors are already stuck in so they’ll go ahead and attack:
1d20 + 3 (humans) vs 1d20 + 10 (goblins)
Rolling gives 12 + 3 = 15 vs 12 + 10 = 22. A win for the goblins but no impact to either force. This seems a bit odd as well. Two forces in melee should probably have some deleterious effect on each other even if there isn’t a clear winner.
On the goblinoid side, our archers seem to be running out of targets, so they move to take the center of the field while the hobgoblins continue their charge. The goblins on the right flank engage the knights, while those on the left flank continue the fight.
1d20 + 10 (goblins) vs 1d20 + 3 (warriors)
The goblins get 8 + 10 =18 vs 5 + 3 = 8 for the humans. This is really close to the magic 11 needed to up the damage but not quite there. This reduces the BR of the humans to a 1, forcing a morale check. The warriors roll an 11, failing the check and are eliminated completely.
One element I like is the guard action which is triggered by the assault of the goblins on the right flank.
1d20 + 30 (knights) vs 1d20 + 10 (goblins)
Just looking at the numbers, I don’t see how this ends well for the goblins… The knights get 18 + 30 = 48 vs 16 + 10 = 26 for the goblins. And there’s the massive loss we were looking for. So the goblins’ BR is reduced by 5 to 5 and they immediately make a DC 10 morale check, which they pass with a 12. But because they were also reduced to 50% of their starting force, they have to take the standard DC 15 morale check as well. And that’s the one they fail with a 10. 10 knights just slaughtered enough goblins in one minute to drive off the 100-strong force. Right off the bat I’m finding this system to be a little “swingy” and it really looks like a single, strong unit can run all over an opposing force
Turn 3
Since the human archers fired at range last turn, they don’t get a guard action and have to spend this turn either attacking or disengaging. Since innocents are on the line, they’ll stand their ground. Brave, brave archers…
1d20 + 3 (archers) vs 1d20 + 8 (hobgoblins)
The archers get a 10 + 3 = 13 vs the 14 + 8 = 22 of the hobogblins, so no damage is incurred. Now for the interesting assault – the knights:
1d20 + 30 (knights) vs 1d20 + 5 (goblin archers)
This goes even worse than expected. The knights roll a 20 + 30 = 50 vs 6 + 5 = 11! This totally wipes out the goblins – 50 goblins slaughtered in a single minute by 10 knights! Actually, this isn’t terribly implausible, but still feels a bit swingy.
Now its the goblins’ turn. Things aren’t really looking great, but these are the brave sort of goblin, so they’ll be fighting to the last man….er…goblin.
Starting with the hobgoblins:
1d20 + 10 (hobgoblins) vs 1d20 + 3 (archers)
Unsurprisingly, the hobgoblins manhandle (goblinhandle?) the archers with 16 + 10 = 26 vs 9 + 3 = 12. That’s enough BR loss to eliminate the human archers altogether. Our remaining group of goblins will bravely charge the knights to avenge their fallen comrades.
1d20 + 10 (goblins) vs 1d20 + 30 (knights)
The goblins actually have a fighting chance, but things don’t work out: 14 + 10 = 24 vs 19 + 30 = 49 so no damage.
Turn 4
The knights turn to face their new opponent more fully and unleash their full fury!
1d20 + 30 (knights) vs 1d20 + 10 (goblins)
I’m pretty sure this spells the end for these goblins… 14 + 30 = 44 vs 6 + 10 = 16. That’s a reduction in BR to 5 for the goblins, forcing two morale checks – one at DC 15 and on at DC 10. They fail the first one with an 11 and are eliminated.
It’s worth noting that every time a unit is eliminated, each friendly unit within 500′ has to take a DC 10 morale check or forfeit their next action. So far these checks have been pretty meaningless. Here it changed. The hobgoblins roll an 8, failing their check.
Turn 5
The knights sense blood and charge.
1d20 + 30 (knights) vs 1d20 + 8 (hobgoblins)
The knights roll low, but so do the hobgoblins, 8 + 30 = 38 vs 11 + 8 = 19 for another major success. The hobgoblins’ BR drops to 3 and they fail the first morale check with a 3. The town is saved!
The new D&D mass battle rules definitely aren’t going to threaten Games Workshop any time soon. They are pretty fast and easy to manage, though I still feel they’re very swingy. They also seem to definitely favor stronger units in a way that we typically don’t see in miniature game rules. Overall, I’d be happy to give these a shot in a real game with characters, although I’d probably apply more modifiers for elements like terrain.

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