D&D Mass Combat System, Part 2

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Orders and Other Actions

Most units in the battle are assumed to be led by captains that don’t take a lot of their own initiative. Others are led by PCs or named NPCs. The battle as a whole has a battle leader (likely a general or high lord for larger conflicts) who is the primary author of tactics.

Each round, the battle leader can issue a number of orders equal to his or her Leadership score (as generated for followers using the Leadership feat). If the battle leader is also embedded in a unit, he or she can also selectively control that unit (gaining a free order as a Hero leader). At the GM’s option, particularly unruly or green units may require additional orders to be spent to get them to comply. Additionally, if the unit is far from the leader (without some method of fast communication), it may cost extra orders to get a command through. For example, a battle leader at the rear of the army tries to command his unit of barbarian savages and spends 4 total Orders for each command (2 for uncooperativeness and 1 for distance).

If a Hero is embedded with a unit, that character can issue a single order to his or her own unit each turn (with no penalty for unruliness), from a limited subset of orders. If the Hero gives an order on the same round as the battle leader, the battle leader pays an additional order to get the unit to comply. Typically, battle leaders trust their Hero captains to handle simple changes in the fortune of battle, only giving them orders for more wide-ranging tactical decisions.

A unit will carry out the same order on subsequent rounds until it suffers a morale failure, can no longer pursue the order (in which case it automatically uses the Hold order), or receives a different order.

  • Heros and Battle Leaders:
    • Engage: Move to attack a declared, visible target. Continue attacking and following the target until it is defeated. For archers, the unit needs only move to effective range; archers will typically not fire into melee unless deliberately given an order to Engage with a target already in melee.
    • Hold: Stay in your current position and ready an attack on anyone that engages you in melee. For archers, stay in your current position unless pursued; in that case, try to stay out of range of the pursuers.
    • Retreat: If in melee with an enemy unit, take a five-foot step toward the back lines. If not in melee, take a normal move toward the back lines but try to remain facing the enemy. In either case, ready an action to attack any targets that pursue back into melee.
    • Rally: Remove the Retreat or Break order. If Retreat was issued as an actual order, as opposed to a Morale failure, this is automatic. If either was caused due to Morale, the leader issuing the order must also succeed at a Charisma check with the same DC as the failed save. If the leader fails, but not by five or more, a Break is at least turned into a Retreat.
  • Battle Leaders only:
    • Advance: Move toward a given tactical objective. Engage with any enemies that attempt to stop you but do not pursue them if they retreat. Secure the objective if you get there.
    • Flank: Engage with the target, but attempt to do so by moving opposite an already engaged ally unit or by attacking it from behind.
    • Position: Move to a designated space and then Hold.
    • Reinforce: Move adjacent to a designated unit and Aid Another on that unit’s attacks. Engage the target if the unit retreats, breaks, or is defeated.

A unit may also give itself the Break order if it fails a Morale save. In this case, the unit turns its back to the enemy and attempts to flee from the battle at full speed. This provokes at least one Attack of Opportunity. If a unit fails a Morale save, the battle leader or the embedded Hero can attempt to Rally the unit.

PCs and Magic

As noted, a PC embedded in a unit counts as a Hero for purposes of morale and orders.

When a PC is embedded in a lower level unit, the GM should eyeball how many of the enemy soldiers in a unit that PC could fell in a round (e.g., a PC with one iterative attack, cleave, and a high damage can probably take out 2-4 low level targets each round). Add that number times the level of the targets and deal that much damage to the enemy each round that the PC’s unit is attacking, in addition to the normal round’s attack. For example, a character that can reasonably be expected to defeat two 3rd level warriors each round deals 6 bonus damage each round to that unit (to represent defeating twenty enemies a minute purely by himself).

If a unit fails a morale check and won’t Rally, a PC may disengage from the unit and begin interacting as if part of a normal combat. Similarly, game events may happen that temporarily focus the mass battle on individual combat rounds (such as the PC’s unit engaging with a unit led by an important NPC that he wants to fight). Play these out in normal rounds as long as you are comfortable, remembering to do another battle round if the fight lasts more than 10 regular rounds.

A spellcaster embedded in a unit can cast one spell per battle round (it’s assumed it takes that long to get good line of sight, out of melee with enemies, etc., keeping the caster from firing 10 spells per round). Single-target spells typically have limited impact on a battle unless they’re buffs that increase a PC’s damage bonus by making him kill faster. AoEs deal their full effect if they can cover most of the units in a 50 foot space (comparatively less if they can affect less, at the GM’s discretion). Truly large AoEs might hit multiple units. For example, a Bless spell increases the unit’s attack rolls and Morale saves by +1, while a seventh level fireball does 7d6 (save for half) to the enemy unit.

HP, Defeat, and Casualties

As in its normal use, HP of a unit is abstract. The unit is fully effective (save for Morale penalties) until reduced to 0 HP. After the battle, the damage to a unit is assessed based on how the battle went:

HP Damage Landslide Win Solid Win Close Win/Loss Solid Loss Tragic Loss
1-10% 0 1d10 2d10-1 2d10+1 3d10-1
11-25% 1d10 2d10-1 2d10+1 3d10-1 3d10+1
26-50% 2d10 3d10-1 3d10+1 4d10 5d10
51-90% 3d10 4d10 5d10 6d10 7d10
91-99% 4d10 5d10 6d10 7d10 8d10
Defeated 5d10 6d10 8d10 9d10 10d10

The result is the number of deaths in the unit. Divide the result by 2 for Archers and by 5 for Cavalry. If the result is greater than the percentage lost (i.e., if you roll high on the upper right side of the chart), cap it out at the percentage lost (e.g., a roll of 31 for a 25% loss of infantry is actually only 25 deaths).

Reduce the maximum HP of the unit accordingly until replacements can be found. The rest of the unit’s HP heal at the normal rate of 10 per unit level per day (i.e., 10 times the normal non-magical rate). For magic healing, divide single-target heals by 10. AoE heals restore their full amount to the unit.

Serial Numbers Filed Off: Sins of the All Father

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D&D: Thor’s Legacy

Asgardians, I know you have questions. You came here seeking Odin, the All-Father, missing from Asgard these many years. You took the Rainbow Bridge and found yourself here. It is not any of the realms you know. Odin made it, a pocket realm on a far-flung branch of Yggdrasil. He hoped what he learned here would provide a defense against Ragnarok, until he was betrayed. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

When he made this world, he did not make it alone. He created two young godlings, mighty Thor and wise Loki. Your powers are reduced here, as far as you are from the heart of the World Tree, but the three of them together were able to shape and direct this world. The people here are strange, but perhaps the denizens of the other realms were similarly strange in the first years after they were formed by the gods. Odin did not know exactly what he sought here, but the runes had told him to build, and so he did. Under the gaze of Odin, the protection of Thor, and the cunning of Loki, the people of this world were forged into a mighty society in an eyeblink of mortal terms.

Then, something miraculous happened. Some of the denizens in the second generation were born as Valkyrja, blessed by death. The All Father believed that they were the secret that he had been sent to discover: for in the oncoming death of the gods, what greater allies than choosers of the slain? Yet on that day of celebration, as all the new Valkyrja assembled, Loki revealed his true colors. He believed that this world was proof against Ragnarok, and was content to rule it himself. In a master stroke he defeated Thor, drove Odin out into the wilderness, and began to purge the Valkyrja.

We have been on the run ever since. Loki cannot contend with the guile of the All Father, but he controls the only access to the Rainbow Bridge. And now you are trapped here as well. Were you back in Asgard, you could harness your might and smash any threat in this world like a bug. But, here, your only advantage is fighting skill and rune magic beyond the capabilities of the natives.

My name is Hela, and I am the last of the Valkyrja. I can take you to Odin, though the way is hard. We must assemble what allies we can, break Loki’s power base as best we are able, and, ultimately, fight our way to the Bridge. The death of the gods is growing ever closer, and if your race is to have any chance of survival, you must escape and take me with you. Together, we can defeat inevitability itself. But only after we first defeat the god of deceit.

D&D Mass Combat System, Part 1


I know, I know: the world needs another mass combat system like [insert something abundant and cliched here]. Nonetheless, the systems muse wants what the systems muse wants. This concept draws a lot of inspiration from the Song of Ice and Fire RPG battle system and a system posted on squaremans.com sometime between his latest archive purge and whenever archive.org stopped updated his site (so I can’t link to it presently).

Core Concept

Battle takes place in rounds of one minute and in spaces of 50 feet. I’m inclined to use hexes for mass combat, but it probably works fine in a square grid.

Units are represented by their average member, with some additional rules. If you have an infantry unit of 2nd level Warriors with longspears and studded armor, you basically treat that unit as a single 2nd level Warrior with a longspear and studded leather. Derive attack, AC, damage, saves, and anything else you need (except HP) from that concept.

Combat takes place like normal D&D combat (with some additional rules to make it feel more like a mass battle), with individual units moving around the map, engaging, and defeating foes.


Units are assumed to be composed of characters of similar class, level, and equipment such that an “average member” of the unit can be determined. They are assumed to have the following numbers:

  • Infantry: 100
  • Cavalry: 20
  • Archers: 50

If a unit is composed of fewer members than this, assess a -1 attack and damage penalty per 10% reduction (so an infantry unit with only 50 members has -5 attack and damage). This is not meant to be assessed as HP decrease during combat, but simply when the squad is composed (and might apply once casualties are assessed after the battle); it is primarily meant to avoid players splitting units to gain more attacks.

Each unit is treated as having the stats of an average member, as discussed above. Its attack, damage, AC, saves, feats, and other rules effects (except HP) are simply those of the average soldier in the unit.

The HP of a unit is equal to the number of soldiers in the unit, multiplied by level, divided by 10 (divided by 5 for cavalry to account for attacks that hit the horses). Thus, unit HP are typically equal to:

  • Infantry: 10 per level/hit die
  • Cavalry: 4 per level/hit die
  • Archers: 5 per level/hit die

You might want to increase the HP of a unit of Barbarians or other creatures with d12 hit dice by 10-20%. Similarly, if the unit uses a d6 hit die, reduce by 10-20%. Commoner levies with d4 hit dice could be reduced by 20-30% or more if desired.

Embedding “hero” characters in the unit affects morale, orders, and gives other bonuses, but does not change the core stats directly. The HP of these characters is tracked separately (i.e., they are assumed to take superficial damage while their unit is still together, but they may find themselves in normal-round scale skirmishes during the battle that deal damage normally).

Hexes, Movement, and Facing

Units can move a number of hexes per round equal to the normal number of five foot squares they can move in standard combat (i.e., the rounds and spaces are both 10 times as big).

Unlike normal movement:

  • Without turning, the unit can only move forward along its front at full speed. A unit can step backward at half speed.
  • Turning uses up movement. Each hex face rotated uses of one hex of movement (e.g., a 180 degree turn uses up 3 spaces of movement). Rotating in melee provokes an Attack of Opportunity as if moving through a threatened area.
  • A full move does not allow the target to escape melee without taking an Attack of Opportunity.
  • A “five-foot step” still escapes an Attack of Opportunity. The unit moves into any empty adjacent space and preserves its current facing, or rotates one space worth of movement toward a foe.

Units can only attack at full strength across their front. The two edges adjacent to the front impose a -1 attack penalty. The two adjacent to the back impose a -2 attack penalty. Attacks to the rear impose a -4 penalty. Conversely, an attacker gains a +1, +2, or +4 attack bonus against the target (two targets engaged across similarly disadvantageous spaces cancel out). If the attacking unit has Sneak Attack or a similar attack that relies on Flanking, attacking from the rear three sides of the target also counts as Flanking (in addition to catching the unit between you and an ally).


Each unit has a Morale save. This score is equal to the unit’s Will save plus the Charisma bonus of its leader (use the average character’s score if no named and statted leader is embedded). Units gain a +2 bonus to Morale rolls if they have won a similar battle before (i.e., veteran units). It also receives a bonus from any effects that protect against Fear.

Compare total number of units on each side of the battle, and assess a +1 circumstance bonus to Morale per extra unit if this unit’s side has more, and a -1 circumstance penalty per extra unit if this unit’s side has less (e.g., a battle between Army A with 10 units and Army B with 5 units would result in a +5 bonus to Army A’s Morale and a -5 penalty to Army B’s). This bonus or penalty should be reassessed throughout the battle as units are defeated.

Units must make a Morale save whenever bad things happen to see if the unit breaks:

  • DC 5: The unit takes damage the first time
  • DC 10: The unit is attacked from behind
  • DC 10: The unit is given an order to attack an apparently superior unit (without any other units to assist)
  • DC 15: The unit is reduced to half HP or less
  • DC 10: A nearby and visible other allied unit Retreats
  • DC 15: A nearby and visible other allied unit Breaks
  • DC 20: A nearby and visible other allied unit is Defeated

If the unit fails the Morale save, it Retreats (as per the order, next week). If it fails the save by 5 or more, it Breaks (see next week).

(To be Continued next week)

Serial Numbers Filed Off: After Earth

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Any system with High Tech rules: The Bulwark

Hey, you, kids. I don’t know how you got in here, but it’s your lucky day that you did. Maybe you thought you were squatting in an abandoned construction project… but you were actually stowing away on Earth’s last space station.

Humans didn’t get off Earth in time. We defunded the space program, convinced ourselves that FTL was impossible, and decided it wasn’t worth the bother to try to colonize other worlds. Centuries of fabulous technology never brought us any closer to getting all of our eggs out of one planetary basket. And then the apocalypse came.

I don’t know what happened. If you look out the window, you’ll see what’s left of Earth: a slowly drifting arc of asteroids. It doesn’t seem physically possible for something to just tear it into chunks in place like that, especially without reducing everything on it to dust first, but there it is. Maybe it had something to do with the companies trying to stabilize the major fault lines. Maybe we mined out too much of the guts holding everything together. Maybe somebody set off a doomsday weapon. We may never know.

My grandfather built this station. It’s designed to be self-sustaining for decades, solar powered, armored against meteors, and fit living space for a couple hundred folks. It was also so heavy, everyone laughed at granddad about the impossibility of ever lifting it into space. Turns out that gets a lot easier when the very chunk of ground you’re sitting on is suddenly free of the planet and has negligible escape velocity. Still can’t figure on how the structure, much less us, is still standing.

If the apocalypse down there was gentle enough in places that we survived, maybe some other people did, too. Other shielded facilities like this likely have scientists and technology. We’ve got some short range spaceships here, including one that can tow the best pieces back. We’ve got micro-manufacturing plants that could turn newly exposed chunks of metallic core into more machines. We could turn this little station floating just a bit closer to the sun than the rest of what’s left into a new bulwark of society. At least for a while.

See, that’s the real plan: now that we can’t just sit on our butts and allow the universe to pass us by, maybe we can once again start looking up at the stars. Humanity has one last chance to escape into the galaxy, and nothing left to lose if we take it. All we need is to gather together enough resources to make it possible.

You kids up for it?

Transmission: Atlanta Arcology, part 2

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A lot of the stats borrow heavily from the Twin Cities transmission, and the PDF has a couple of minor but weird artifacts, but you can download the Atlanta Arcology transmission as a PDF now.

Serial Numbers Filed Off: Inking a Ghost Story’s Memento

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Any Game System: The Twist at the End

All of those television people that claim they can talk to the dead are liars. No, I’m not saying there’s no such things as ghosts, or people that can talk to them. It’s that each of those TV scammers like to tell you about what your dead relatives have been doing since they died. But it doesn’t work like that. Ghosts exist backwards.

Yeah, it’s weird. When you die, you go to the spirit world, and time there moves in the opposite direction of time here. Maybe it’s because our universe does actually have enough mass to eventually reverse physics and rewinds as it pulls back in. Maybe it’s God giving dead souls a chance to make sense of their lives before moving on. Whatever the case, ghosts get to watch the world in reverse.

Not that the well adjusted ghosts do much watching. There’s a whole society of spirits out there that have moved on, and don’t need to relive their pasts. It’s only the ones still wrapped up in their lives that tend to watch the tape again. And it’s only the really messed up ones that try to do anything about it.

Yeah, some hauntings are real. An angry enough ghost can affect the world in a moment of stress, at least a little bit. The funniest thing is that most genuine hauntings are you haunting yourself. Ever notice that peoples’ lives tend to be terrible around the time of a haunting? And the stress of the ghost just makes things that much worse? Ever hear of self-fulfilling prophecies. You freak your living self out trying to warn him, and only make the thing you’re warning him about even more tragic.

And that would be where we are: ghosts powerless to affect the world except to make it a little scarier. But there are real mediums out there, and they can play merry hell with our futures.

You see, being able to talk to ghosts (and actually have a conversation when everything is moving backwards: it’s a really complicated talent) is exactly like being able to predict the future. A lot of mediums tend to trade favors with ghosts: they’ll attempt to stop some tragedy in the past in exchange for useful information about the future. Then they trade those favors with the living, or take care of stopping the tragedy themselves, and reap the benefit of the prediction.

As you can imagine, there are quite a lot of spirits that hate this. In places where mediums are active, from the perspective of the spirit world the timelines are completely shredded. Things from their past don’t stay happened. Imagine a ghost that lived a long life, died when he was 90, and has been active for 70 years on the other side… only to suddenly find that someone changed something that resulted in him dying as a young man.

So for every desperate living person over here trying to track down a medium to change the future, there’s a dead soul mostly happy with his life trying to make sure no ghosts talk to mediums and ruin everything.

And we’ll never really know which side is winning until we die.

Players alternate (or two groups compete) between two sets of characters: the living and the dead.

The living characters exist in forward time, and are each driven by a need to improve their circumstances by getting a leg up on fate. They are in contact with a medium that can offer them insights into how to improve their lives… if they can accomplish seemingly unrelated tasks to meet the requirements of the medium’s spiritual allies.

The dead characters exist in a staggered backward pace. They are aware of the future as it was meant to be, for it is their past. Every time the living group changes something, the dead group snaps (for them) back in time, Memento-style: they now have to proceed from a different series of assumptions about their own past. They have a limited time to track down the hungry ghost that spoke to a medium and changed things, and keep him from talking. If they succeed, suddenly the living players’ sure prediction of useful events falls through, and they’re back to helping out the medium for the next favor…

It will likely get very weird, very fast…

Transmission: Atlanta Arcology, part 1


Technoir is out. It’s cool. I got to run it yesterday. It was fun. I made a transmission to make sure I understood how they work. It is below. My WordPress theme breaks transparent pngs and gifs. I don’t know why.

Atlanta Arcology

A Technoir Transmission



Atlanta had always been something of a bubble: an urban nexus crouching in the rural South. Several factors conspired to make this metaphor literal. The number of commuters finally overwhelmed the capacity of the roadways, resulting in hours of total gridlock daily and record smog. Tornadoes and hurricanes became more prevalent, channeling their force through the skyline and dealing millions in damage yearly. At the public outcry, the city invested in a massive experiment: the entire city within the perimeter was placed underneath a dome. The roadways were replaced with an extensive public transport network. The city had become the largest arcology of its day.


It didn’t take long for the dome to start breaking down. Rain falls in spouts through broken segments of the glass. It proved impossible to catch all the polluters, from major factories down to barrel fires, so pockets of smog are trapped in by the dome. The areas to the northeast of the city, already the homes of the affluent, found themselves in the lee of the dome, the massive structure protecting them from the weather without worry of its restrictions. A realm of wealth now clutches like a parasite on the shoulder of the arcology.


Perhaps the greatest reason for the failure of the experiment was that it hedged out the homes of the rich while locking in the inner city. Few that could afford luxury had lived within the perimeter for decades. The rich commute in during the day, but are sure to be safely home after dark. When night falls, a multitude of gangs ply the streets of the city, their territories shifting wildly based on which of the MARTA transit lines are currently under repair. All of these factors have, however, solidified Atlanta’s role in the world stage: it is the foremost exporter of urban music and culture in the US, and there are few “street” celebrities that can claim the name without a stint running in the city.

Master Table

1 2 3
1 Connections Omar Ong Lotus Jones Malcolm Priest
2 Events Plane Crash Hurricane Mala MARTA Freeze
3 Factions The Vigil Cox-Turner Consolidated Westside Runners
4 Locations Five Points Station Buckhead Alpha Sector
5 Objects Stealth Bike The Body Explosives
6 Threats ATL Security Vandals Local Sports Team
4 5 6
1 Connections Zan Song Xian McCabe Kalista Cox
2 Events 400-Gate Explosion New Coke Midnight Concert
3 Factions Phoenix Records Terminus Association CCFL Industries
4 Locations Grady Memorial Airport Gate CDC
5 Objects Ghayda’s Gun Train Brain ePaint Can
6 Threats The Trainman Gangbangers Rapid Response SWAT


  • Omar Ong
    • Westside Runners Lieutenant
    • Favors: Deal, Fence, Fix (Guns, Weapons, Armor)
  • Lotus Jones
    • Upcoming Interface Singer/Dancer
    • Favors: Date, Deal, Shark
  • Malcolm Priest
    • Alpha Sector Pawnshop Manager
    • Favors: Chop, Fence, Fix (Armor, Gear, External Computing), Ride
  • Zan Song
    • Maniacal Gang Doctor
    • Favors: Fix (Cybernetics, Drones), Splice
  • Xian McCabe
    • Gang-respected record producer
    • Favors: Date, Deal, Shark
  • Kalista Cox
    • Heiress to Cox-Turner Consolidated
    • Favors: Date, Ride, Shark


  • Plane Crash: A plane misses the airport and crashes through the SW corner of the dome.
  • Hurricane Mala: A particularly intense hurricane blasts the dome, breaking glass and surging through holes.
  • MARTA Freeze: The entire public transit system goes into an unexpected maintenance freeze.
  • 400-Gate Explosion: The primary exit from the dome into Alpha Sector is hit by an explosion during rush hour.
  • New Coke: The CCFL corp announces a taste testing of their new soda now that denatured Coca leaves cannot be obtained.
  • Midnight Concert: A world famous pop act stages a concert downtown well after dark, attracting citizens that would normally be outside by then.


  • The Vigil: A secretive organization that has long manipulated events in the city to keep it from destruction
  • Cox-Turner Consolidated: The foremost media conglomerate in the Southeast
  • Westside Runners: Currently the most powerful gang in the arcology, centered in the west
  • Phoenix Records: A major label for urban entertainment, holding the contracts of most local stars
  • Terminus Association: The transit authority for the city, controlling most of the local infrastructure
  • CCFL Industries: A local snack food and beverage conglomerate with a long history in the city


  • Five Points Station: The massive central nexus for most of the city’s MARTA lines
  • Buckhead: Still the most happening and dangerous area of local nightlife
  • Alpha Sector: An upscale neighborhood immediately to the north of the city outside the 400-Gate
  • Grady Memorial: Many victims of gang violence wind up at this enormous, centrally located hospital
  • Airport Gate: Weather difficulties frequently strand travelers at hotels inside this southwest gate
  • CDC: The Centers for Disease Control still have a massive complex in the city


  • Stealth Bike: A switchblade bike built to navigate pedestrian terrain and automatically hack and block all cameras and tracking routines
  • The Body: The body of a martyred ganger/Interface star… though some say he was infected with something after breaking into the CDC
  • Explosives: A stash of high-powered explosives taken from a nearby military base
  • Ghayda’s Gun: The archaic 45 of a historic singer stolen from a museum: unhackable, untraceable, and still able to kill
  • Train Brain: The stolen core processing circuits from a MARTA switchboard: could be hacked to cause havoc in the city
  • ePaint Can: A prototype device that creates difficult-to-unhack augmented reality graffiti


  • ATL Security: Heavily armed bodyguards and security contracted to most major corporations and corporate VIPs
  • Vandals: A gang/cult primarily dedicated to causing chaos and breaking down local infrastructure
  • Local Sports Team: Pro sports players sometimes contract out as muscle for different factions, their fame putting them above reprisal
  • The Trainman: A local assassin rumored to pose as a homeless man and strike when you’re ignoring him on the train
  • Gangbangers: Armed members of a local gang
  • Rapid Response SWAT: Helicopter-dropped enforcement for major crimes

I hope to have stats for everything next week in part 2.

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