11 thoughts on “Hello! Can someone point me to good rules for mass combat for DW? Thanks in advance!”

  1. Hmm. Well AD&D had a great mass combat ruleset back in the day (Battlesystem). For mid level skirmishing m y favorite rules are (by far) Ganesha Games’ stupendous “Song of Blades and Heroes.” With it you can use any mini you own.

  2. The Large Battle rules in A Red and Pleasant Land aren’t too bad, IMO, although they’re less mass combat rules than they are a method to track successive combat encounters in the thick of a larger melee.

  3. The fundamental problem with “mass combat rules” is that they IMMEDIATELY start taking focus away from the point of an RPG – namely the characters.

    If I were to to do something in Dungeon World where the PCs were participating in a massive battle of some sort, I’d do it like this:

    #1:  Run a series of scenes that take place during the battle, where the PCs have an opportunity to influence some critical event. Each scene needs a victory or loss condition (“The enemy crests the wall!” is a loss condition, “Bring down the Oliphaunt!” is a win condition.) but shouldn’t have both. The idea is that you can clearly tell whether a scene has been ‘won’ or ‘lost’.

    #2: The PCs participate in each scene, which play out like any other – no fancy special rules here unless you REALLY want to create a move for commanding troops (I’m not a fan).  At the end of the scene, note whether it was won or lost.

    #3: Once a fair number of scenes have occurred, tally up how many wins and losses the PCs have. Whichever they have more of, is the way the battle is going. Now put together a climactic scene based on the flow of the battle and run that.  Maybe the PCs can still turn things around, or maybe they’ll just have to cut their losses and run.

    Optional: Not all of the scenes necessarily need to be during the battle – you could easily have them scouting enemy positions, or planning stuff around the sand table or whatever.  These scenes, too, can be “won” or “lost” and count towards the tally.

    This keeps the focus on the PCs and what they are doing rather than the value of a block of pikemen against three squads of halfling javelin skirmishers.

  4. Mike Pureka nailed the issue on the head – spotlight the players’ characters, and don’t let them get lost in the scope of the larger war.  

    The reason you’re telling THIS story, about THESE characters, is that they were pivotal to the outcome of the war, for better or worse, right?  Otherwise we would have been looking at those other heroes….  DW already provides a the mechanism to throw characters into big scenes, and make them heroes: fronts and dangers.

    The war or battle is a Front, with belligerent forces meeting on a field.  Each force is an opposing Danger, and grim portents outline what happens as each gains success and, achieves an opportunity, or in their desperation escalates their aggression (goes nuclear!).  As you advance grim portents, that can reflect telling the players of a cavalry charge turned back, or boiling oil poured on an allied infantry, or the demons ripping through a force of archers.  No dice rolls are needed – decide what is appropriate to advance the narrative in relation to the characters’ success or failure, or to set the stage and urgency for a subsequent scene.

    Impending doom sets the victory condition or result for each Danger/faction. Each faction is fighting for something – that is the doom they promise.  Keep in mind that this language has negative connotations, but the grim portents and impending dooms for allied fronts in this context may be desired by the player characters – war is ugly, but we are willing to fight to see our brand of ugliness triumph!

    Dangers could also be a band of mercenaries that might switch sides at the critical moment, or a third party that would jump into the battle unexpectedly.

    Most importantly, fronts and dangers are collections of brief notes – it should take very little time to write them, once you’ve thought them out.  They should be brief to allow them to change to reflect the characters’ actions.  This ensures the fiction is heavily revolved around them – they are essential to the unfolding narrative.

    Once you have the front(s) and danger(s), lay out the scene.  What actions are each faction taking to advance their Grim Portents?  

    When you sit with the players, give them appropriate exposition to the scope of the battle, but then use your GM moves and the grim portents to drive their focus to some critical moment in the conflict.  Depending on how they do there, advance grim portents as appropriate.  If they are successful, the Dangers/factions they support gain momentum.  If they fail, opposing Dangers/factions gain momentum.

    And most importantly, the conclusion of the war or battle is not certain when you settle down.  if it was, the players weren’t required.  The conclusion of the conflict needs to have been shaped by the players, and the war-ravaged world left in its wake could be fun to explore regardless of who won.

  5. What Mike Pureka​​​​ said.

    If the outcome of the battle is uncertain, I let them roll+buff where buff= -2 to +3 based on the fictional odds. The characters have an oppottunity to influence those odds during the battle, exactly as described above.

    On 10+ the pc’s side has a resounding victory, with minimal casualties. On 7-9 it is a victory but with heavy (40%) casualties and complications. On a fail it is defeat with 60%+ casualties plus hard moves against the players.

    But this comes only after you’ve done what Mike Pureka​​​ said.

    I have a version if this move for boarding a ship in my Pirates! sourcebook (on RPGnow,) and it is also in my Cowboy World hack that we are alpha playtesting right now.

  6. So our last gaming session ended in a battle with two pirate ships approaching us with intentions to board.  The timing of you asking this question is alarming! D:

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