This system complements last week’s idea. It’s heavily influenced by the various unit-based battle systems designed over the years, the most recent of which I can remember are from Ultimate Campaign, A Song of Ice and Fire RPG, and a (now-apparently-missing) post Squaremans did about D&D battles.
Unlike all of those systems, however, this system isn’t really meant to be a strategic/tactical simulator. It uses very simple numbers that you just add up, with a few minor tactical choices just to give a small level of fun, kinesthetic interactivity. What it’s really meant to do is to put numbers to a story-based war story. The focus is on following quest goals to accumulate as many squads and heroes as possible to form a bulwark against an oncoming enemy horde. When the armies actually meet, your only real questions are whether you have enough units to defeat them, whether you can hold them off until reinforcements arrive, and whether you’ll manage to keep enough of your army through the casualties to face the next threat.
A squad is a unit of soldiers of similar level, class, gear, and other fighting capabilities. The basic understanding is that they’re of a typical size for a squad: around a dozen individuals. If the squad is made of monsters, it might instead be 3-4 large creatures, 1-2 huge creatures, or 1 even bigger creature.
Past a skirmish of a few hundred combatants, the system could get inundated with cards and adding. If you want to simulate larger battles on a regular basis, have your units represent larger groups of troops to taste. The trick is just making sure all groups are basically equally sized; the system won’t make sense if you have a squad on one side matched to a century on the other.
A unit has five elements:
- Name is just to distinguish it more easily. If you have multiple units of the same type, give them each individual designations.
- Type is Infantry, Cavalry, or Ranged. Those designations are explained in more detail below.
- CR is a direct link to the individual CRs of the squad members. A squad of typical Ogres is CR 3, because that’s the CR of Ogres. Count a CR under 1 as 0: levies of NPC classes or just very low level characters can have a CR 0.
- Morale is equal to its CR plus a bonus of 0-20 depending on how well its members are treated and how naturally engaged they are. This number may change often over the course of a war. Morale is CR + 10 for most troops that are not especially well or poorly treated.
- Power is equal to its CR plus a gear bonus of 0-7 (which may represent natural offensive advantages for monsters):
- 0 – Unit is using whatever odds and ends it can get ahold of
- 1 – Unit is equipped with a bare minimum of functional gear
- 2 – Unit is equipped with good gear, possibly including masterwork gear
- 3 – Unit has all masterwork gear with some magical or special materials gear
- 4 – Unit has all magical or special gear, with some +2 equivalent or better
- 5 – Unit has mostly +3-equivalent gear
- 6 – Unit has mostly +4-equivalent gear
- 7 – Unit has mostly +5-equivalent gear
You can attach one of your heroes (see last week) to command/support a unit. Simply place the hero card on the unit card like this. When a hero is attached:
- Add the hero’s Cha bonus to the unit’s Morale for all purposes.
- Add the hero’s Level to the unit’s Power for all purposes.
Effectively, a theoretical CR 20 unit with maxed gear and morale attached to a high-Charisma 20th level hero would have Morale and Power 47 or so.
Battles happen in turns that often take an hour or two. These are heavily story driven, and may take longer in different conditions. Additionally, civilized armies may only fight a few turns a day before retreating for the night. All these factors are important because, after the initial meeting, it may become quickly obvious that one side needs to consider retreating or trying to hold out for reinforcements, and the longer time frame makes that more reasonable.
Based on the terrain and other advantages, the GM can assess either side a global bonus to the Power total (e.g., +20 to the final Power tally) or individual unit Morale (e.g., +2 to each unit’s Morale).
A battle turn follows a number of steps:
- Each side places all ranged units in the back, away from the front lines.
- Each side takes all infantry units into hand. (Usually one side will be the GM and the other will be whatever player the PCs are letting act as general.)
- Surprise and flanking are decided: if one side starts the turn at such a disadvantage, its general has to place down a card first (and may have to place down more than one card before the other side places any).
- After the initial infantry unit(s) is placed, the other general places an infantry unit faced against one of the unoccupied infantry cards on the other side (basically, you have to match card to card and cannot have two cards to one card unless you have a major numbers advantage).
- Each side takes turns placing infantry in a “snake draft” style. For example, GM – Player – Player – GM – GM – etc. Getting to choose which card to match with one of yours is a big advantage, so this method spreads out the advantage.
- If one side still has infantry cards while the other side has all infantry cards faced, that side can either double-up cards on the infantry line (i.e., reinforce one infantry unit with another so an enemy unit has two-on-one) or place an infantry unit against an unoccupied enemy ranged unit.
- Once all infantry cards are placed, the sides take all cavalry cards into hand.
- Take turns (in the same snake draft order) replacing your side’s infantry units with cavalry units or placing cavalry against unoccupied ranged units. Essentially, the cavalry is fast enough to hit the enemy at weak points. Put all replaced infantry units to the side.
- Finally, repeat steps 2-6 with the displaced infantry units.
Now compare all units that are facing an enemy unit. If the enemy unit’s Power is greater than your unit’s Morale, put a counter on the card to show that it has Broken (both units can break simultaneously if they have high Power but low Morale). This indicates that the unit has taken enough casualties to turn tale and flee after this turn. You’ll still use that unit’s Power for this turn, but will set it to the side after the turn. If a unit has two-on-one, treat the two units as a single unit (i.e., add its Morale and Power together for purposes of Breaking). Ranged units treat their Morale as half for purposes of Breaking.
Total up the Power on both sides. Whichever side has the higher total is winning the battle for the turn. The loser has to Rout a number of units based on the difference in Power totals. You can’t Rout units that have Broken. Remove units of your choice until the total Morale of Routed units equals or exceeds the difference. For example, if you had a total Power of 300 and the enemy had a total Power of 340, you’d have to Rout 40 Morale worth of units.
After a turn, each side should have one pile of Broken units and one pile of Routed units. At this point, your options are:
- Continue Fighting: If you’re still relatively evenly matched, you might decide to go to another turn of battle.
- Sue for Peace: If you took heavy losses against a civilized foe, you might offer terms to the opponent rather than risk a massacre.
- Retreat: You can choose to retreat after any turn, to buy time or lure the enemy into a stronger battlefield.
- Realize You’re Destroyed: If all your units are Broken or Routed, you have lost.
Once you’ve picked an option other than Continue Fighting:
- If you won or sued for peace successfully: Recover all Broken units, Broken heroes, and Routed heroes. Recover half (your choice) of the Routed units (the rest took too many losses to continue to meaningfully contribute).
- If you retreated or were destroyed: Recover all Broken heroes and half (your choice) Broken units and Routed heroes. All Routed units are lost. Some of the broken units scattered never to return and your routed units weren’t able to be saved.
The GM may choose to award advancement to units and heroes that survived, increasing their level/CR. Morale of each unit is also highly likely to be affected by anything other than a narrow win/loss.