Monday, May 28, 2012

Mass Combat in Blood & Treasure

I want to start this off by wishing folks a happy Memorial Day, especially those who are serving in the armed forces, have served, or lose a loved one who served. Though my family doesn't have a massive history of military service, I can point to my father Rick, who served in the USAF and spent some time overseas in Thailand, my grandfather John ("Pa") who was a doctor in the US Army and helped take care of folks after the bombing of Hiroshima, and several uncles.

And since I'm thinking of the military and mass combat (and need an easy blog post for the day), why not take a look at the mass combat system for Blood & Treasure. The system is easy to run and essentially works off the games normal combat rules, so don't expect anything earth shattering. The idea behind Blood & Treasure isn't to break new ground in gaming, but provide a platform in between the different editions. Anyhow ...


When a lord or lady finds it necessary to place themselves and their followers on the field of battle against another large force, the normal rules for combat may become untenable. For this reason, you can instead use these rules for mass combat. In most respects, they use the same basic rules as normal combat, but adjust those rules to take into account the larger numbers of combatants involved.

To keep things simple, groups of combatants are divided into squadrons of 10. The squadron is the basic unit for fighting, and in mass combat a squadron attacks as though it were a single creature. Thus, a squadron of dwarves would make a single weapon attack on its turn, while a squadron of lizardmen could make a weapon and bite attack.

A squadron has as many hit points as its collective members have Hit Dice. Thus, a squadron of 10 dwarves, who have one HD each, has 10 hp. For mass combat, 0 HD troops are counted as ½ HD.

Squadrons of Large creatures (and mounted troops are considered to be the same size as their mounts) have only five members, while huge creatures and siege engines are treated as units in and of themselves.

Squadrons can be grouped into larger units, as follows: A company consists of 2 squadrons (and thus makes double the normal amount of attacks), a battalion consists of four squadrons and a regiment consists of eight squadrons.

Each squadron is assumed to form a single rank of troops on the battlefield. A squadron of men-at-arms would therefore consist of 10 men-at-arms standing in a row. A company of men-at-arms could either consist of 20 men-at-arms standing in a row or two ranks of ten. With each unit, it is necessary to note its number of ranks.

Note that only the front rank of troops can attack unless the troops are armed with pole arms or spears (in which case the second rank can attack), pikes (in which case the second and third ranks can attack), or ranged weapons (in which every rank can attack).

Typical units of soldiers might be as follows (note, the number in parentheses represents the number of squadrons and then the number of creatures):

Squadron of Ogres (1/5): Ranks 1; HD 4; hp 20; AC 16; Atk 1 greatclub (2d8) or javelins (30 ft., 1d8); Move 30; Save Fort 10, Ref 14, Will 15. Leather armor, greatclubs and javelins (1).

Company of Halberdiers (2/20): Ranks 2; HD 1; hp 20; AC 15; Atk 2 halberd (1d10); Move 30; Save Fort 13, Ref 15, Will 15. Chainmail, halberd.

Battalion of Halfling Slingers (4/40): Ranks 1; HD 0; hp 20; AC 15; Atk 4 sling (50 ft., 1d4) or 4 short sword (1d6); Move 20; Save Fort 13, Ref 16, Will 16. Padded armor, sling, short sword; halfling special abilities.

Regiment of Orcs (8/80): Ranks 4; HD 1; hp 80; AC 13; Atk 2 falchion (2d4) or 8 javelin (50 ft., 1d4); Move 30; Save Fort 13, Ref 15, Will 16. Studded leather armor, falchion, javelins (1).

Mass combat uses the following order of play:

1) Orders Phase
2) Missile Phase I
3) Movement Phase
4) Melee Phase
5) Magic Phase
6) Missile Phase II

After the second Missile Phase, play returns to the Orders Phase.

Orders Phase: In the orders phase, each unit is given its orders. Once these orders are given, they cannot be changed, though they can be disrupted by events on the battlefield. In other words, once the command has been given for a company of orcs to march up a hill, they cannot change their mind when a company of knights gets there first. Naturally, orders are given without each commander knowing what commands his opponent is giving to his soldiers.

Missile Phase: There are two missile phases during each round of mass combat. During a missile phase, groups of missile armed troops can cast their missiles if they did not move during the movement phase. The rate of fire of various ranged weapons is very important during mass combat missile phases. Some ranged weapons can attack in both missile phases, others in only one.

Blowguns, bows, javelins, darts and slings can attack in each missile phase.

Crossbows, muskets and pistols can attack in one missile phase.

Siege engines can attack in one missile phase.

Movement Phase: During this phase, units move in the direction and at the speed they have been ordered. Units within 10 yards of an enemy unit cannot move at faster than combat speed (i.e. half normal speed). Movement of troops is simultaneous.

Melee Phase: Enemy units that have come into contact (i.e. within 1 yard of one another) must participate in a round of melee combat.

Magic Phase: During this phase, spellcasters on the field of battle can discharge spells. Remember that rounds in mass combat are one minute long, so spell durations may be altered.

As mentioned above, each squadron in a game can attack as though it were a single creature of the same type using the same attack rules as used in normal combat (see above). Combat rounds in mass combat are measured in minutes, rather than six second intervals. Each successful attack by a squadron, by spell or weapon, rolls normal hit point damage against its target unit.

A unit can sustain no more hit point damage than it exposes in its first rank. Thus, a unit with five normal humans (1 HD each) in its first rank can sustain no more than 5 points of damage. If that unit is being attacked by spears or pole arms, double this total. If it is being attacked by pikes, triple this total. If it is being attacked by ranged weapons, it can suffer as much damage as the attackers can dish out.

Units can also “bull rush” an opposing unit in combat, making a normal attack with a +1 bonus for every additional rank it has over the opposing unit. If successful, it pushes the opposing unit back 10 yards, but scores no damage.

Three events can force a unit to check morale.

1) When a unit has lost half or more of its hit points, or takes damage when at less than half its normal hit points.
2) When its commander has been killed.
3) When it is subjected to a magic fear effect.

When a unit must make a morale check, it rolls a Will saving throw using either its own Will save value or its leaders.
If a unit succeeds on this save, it keeps on fighting. Otherwise, it flees from enemy troops at running speed. If it was engaged with another unit, that unit gets a free set of attacks against it with a tactical advantage bonus.

Each round, the unit commander, if one remains, can attempt to rally the troops with a new Will saving throw modified by his or her Charisma modifier. If successful, the unit spends one minute reforming itself and can then move and attack on the next round. After two full rounds of fleeing, the unit disintegrates into its constituent parts and effectively ceases to exist.

Siege engines are large weapons, temporary structures, or pieces of equipment traditionally used in besieging a castle or fortress.

Catapult, Heavy: A heavy catapult, or trebuchet, is a massive engine capable of throwing rocks or heavy objects with great force. Because the catapult throws its payload in a high arc, it can hit things out of its line of sight.

To fire a heavy catapult, the crew chief makes a ranged attack modified by Intelligence rather than Dexterity. If the attack succeeds, the catapult stone hits the place the catapult was aimed at and deals the indicated damage. Characters that succeed on a Reflex saving throw take half damage. Once a catapult stone hits, subsequent shots hit the same spot unless the catapult is re-aimed or the wind changes direction or speed.

If a catapult stone misses, roll 1d8 to determine where it lands. This determines the misdirection of the throw, with 1 being back toward the catapult and 2 through 8 counting clockwise around the target square. Then, count 3 squares away from the target square for every range increment of the attack.

Loading a catapult requires one minute to reload and another minute to re-aim (if necessary). A heavy catapult takes up a space 15 feet across. It is operated by a crew of no less than 6.

Catapult, Light: This is a smaller, lighter version of the catapult. It functions as the heavy catapult. It takes up a space 10 feet across. Some examples are the onager and mangonel. It is operated by a crew of no less than 3.

Ballista: A ballista is essentially a huge crossbow. It takes a creature smaller than large two rounds to reload the ballista after firing. A ballista takes up a space 5 feet across. It is operated by a crew of no less than 2.

Cannon: Early cannons were cast in bronze and were quite large. They throw the same kind of ammunition as catapults, but do so in the manner of a ballista. A heavy cannon takes up a space 10 feet across and has a crew of no less than 6. A light cannon takes up a space 5 feet across and has a crew of no less than 3. A natural ”1” rolled to hit with a cannon means the engine has exploded, dealing 3d6 points of damage to everyone within 10 feet.

Ram: This heavy pole is sometimes suspended from a movable scaffold that allows the crew to swing it back and forth against objects. The character closest to the front of the ram makes an attack roll against the AC of the construction. In addition to the damage given on Table: Siege Engines, up to nine other characters holding the ram can add their strength modifiers to the ram’s damage. It takes at least one huge creature, two large creatures, four medium creatures, or eight small creatures to swing a ram. Tiny creatures cannot use a ram. A ram is typically 30 feet long.

Siege Tower: This device is a massive wooden tower on wheels or rollers that can be rolled up against a wall to allow attackers to scale the tower and thus to get to the top of the wall with cover. The wooden walls are usually 1 foot thick.

A typical siege tower takes up a space 15 feet across. The creatures inside the tower push it at a speed of 10 feet. The eight creatures pushing on the ground floor have cover against missiles.

Table: Siege Engines

Catapult, heavy - 800 gp - 6d6 - 1,000 ft. (100 ft. min.) - 4
Catapult, light -  550 gp - 4d6 - 500 ft. (100 ft. min.) - 2
Ballista - 500 gp - 3d8 - 200 ft. - 1
Cannon, Light - 1,000 gp - 5d6 - 500 ft. - 3
Cannon, Heavy - 2,000 gp - 10d6 - 1,000 ft. - 5
Ram - 1,000 gp - 3d8 - — - 10
Siege tower -  2,000 gp - — - — - 20

10-ft. thick stone walls have an AC of 18 and can withstand 500 points of damage on a 10-ft. x 10-ft. section before crumbling. 5-ft. thick stone walls can withstand 250 points of damage on a 10-ft. x 10-ft. section before crumbling.

[The one thing I'm thinking about changing is the whole siege engine bit. I'm thinking about something that doesn't involve tracking the hit points of a wall section. Something like ...

A wall has a damage threshold based on the material (wood, stone, etc.) and the thickness of the wall. If the siege engine damage roll (no hit roll - the damage roll is considered part of the "does it hit the right spot" thing) passes the threshold, it has a percentage chance of toppling the wall, perhaps equal to the amount the damage exceeds the threshold. Maybe there's also a roll to determine how high up the wall is struck. The type of weapon would also determine the size of the hole created. So - no damage to track, still takes (most likely) many hits to topple a wall.

Let me think out loud for a moment. We'll say a stone wall has a damage threshold of 20 + 5 per 10 feet of wall. A 20-ft thick stone wall, then, has a damage threshold of 30.

A ballista has no hope of getting through the wall - which is probably right.

A light catapult does 4d6 - so an average of 14, max of 24. That means a light catapult doesn't have a chance of breaching the wall either.

A heavy catapult does 6d6 - so an average of 21, max of 36. On a max. damage roll, each heavy crossbow has a 6% chance of breaching a wall.

A light cannon does 5d6 - so an average of 18, max of 30. No chance of breaching that wall.

A heavy cannon does 10d6 - so an average of 35 (5% of wall breach), max of 60 (30% chance of wall breach). Heavy cannon are going to knock down most walls, probably in a relatively short time. That's also pretty accurate.

In all, I think a system like this can work, but I probably need to adjust the numbers a bit.


Status update, by the way. The only things left to write for the game are some embellishments to the chapter on dungeons, wilderness and cities, and ship combat (which will be a distillation of the ship combat rules I published way back in NOD 2.) The monster chapter is being edited (thanks Tanner), so the end is nigh.

Have some new undead critters coming later today on the blog ... see ya then.


  1. Do you keep forgetting the magic items? Haha

    1. Or has that section been completed?

    2. I'm working on them ... have to keep feeding the beast (i.e. the blog), though.


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