The Rules Cyclopedia is (I think) the only iteration of DnD which makes a stab at a flavourful, quick and comprehensive mass battle system in its core rules. This has always been relevant to my interests, because I was always as much into Warhammer Fantasy Battle and Warhammer 40,000 as much as I was a role player, and I am to this day something of a wargame geek (incidentally, if any of the readers of this blog play Steel Panthers: World at War, I'm always available for a PBEM game).
The War Machine, as it is known, is a noble attempt, and ultimately a success - because, although the rules are simplistic, efficiency is art, and it clearly strikes the right balance between simplicity and flexibility. Let's run ourselves through a battle and find out why. Because almost nobody commented on it and it sank into the murky waters of the blogosphere with nary a trace, I'll randomly generate two samurai armies from my random feudal Japanese army generator to duke it out.
To be fair, we'll keep both armies roughly the same size [Force Size C on my generator, for those following along], but keep composition different. And, through the wonderful mystery of dice rolling, here's what we come up with:
Lord Bakayaro's Army (490 men)
49 light cavalry (0-level keikihei; unit contains 2 1st level warriors)
49 medium cavalry (1-level chukihei; unit contains 2 2nd level warriors)
122 heavy infantry (1-level foot samurai; unit contains 4 2nd level warriors)
74 archers (0-level medium archers; unit contains 2 1st level warriors)
196 light infantry (1-level foot samurai; unit contains 4 2nd level warriors)
Lord Bakayaro is level 5. He is a paladin.
The BFR for this force is 63, assuming 20 weeks of training with their general, and including bonus for having an average AC of 5 or better. This means their Troop Class is 'fair'. Their BR is 77 (63, +7 for having 20% mounted troops, +7 for speed).
Lord Do-Aho-s Army (390 men)
39 light cavalry (1-level keikihei; unit contains 1 2nd level warrior)
39 heavy cavalry (1-level mounted samurai; unit contains 1 2nd level warrior)
39 heavy infantry (1-level foot samurai; unit contains 1 2nd level warrior)
195 light infantry (1-level foot samurai; unit contains 5 2nd level warriors)
39 archers (0-level light archers; unit contains 1 1st level warrior)
39 no-dachi samurai (1-level foot samurai; unit contains 1 2nd level warrior)
Lord Do-Aho is level 9. He is a magic-user.
The BFR for this force is also, interestingly, 63, applying the same bonuses as above - giving a BR of 70 (+7 for speed).
Let's also assume that no other bonuses apply - the troops are meeting on an open field in neutral territory on a bright autumnal evening.
Now, combat results: both armies advance forwards, fanning out across the plain - a standard meeting engagement. Both players roll a d100 and add their BR: Lord Bakayaro gets 68 + 77, resulting in 145. Lord Do-Aho gets 37 + 70, resulting in 107. Lord Bakayaro's force drives Lord Do-Aho's backwards, winning by 38; examining the results table to find out what this means, we discover there is great slaughter on both sides - 20% of Bakayaro's men are casualties, compared to 40% of Do-Aho's, and after the day is done both forces are understandably fatigued (Bakayaro's moderately, Do-Aho's seriously) and retreat from the field.
Casualties are spread equally across all units, with a 50/50 split between dead and wounded, leaving Bakayaro with 402 men able to fight the next day if necessary, and Do-Aho with a mere 234. Bakayaro has 49 wounded men on his hands; Do-Aho, 78 - both sides were able to retreat in good order and save their injured.
I was able to complete the above battle in about half an hour while I was making dinner, including generating both sides. It would be a bit more complicated in other scenarios - if I was taking into account terrain, who was defending and who was attacking, that sort of thing - and magical or special monstrous troops through additional factors into the mix. But still, most battles can be worked out in 45 minutes or less. This makes it a robust and sexy little system for generating battle results.
There are two key complaints I suppose could be made:
- Figures for dead and wounded. In most medieval battles, indeed in the entire history of human conflict, the wounded always far, far outweigh the dead. However, by the same token, the injured in pre-20th century battles would frequently die afterwards from their wounds and often from disease, and arguably therefore the 50/50 split makes sense (the "50% killed" figure could refer to the total number of dead during the fighting and after).
- Bonuses are applied to the entire force - either the whole army is defending or attacking, the whole army is on higher ground, the entire army is in the woods, etc. This is a fairer criticism, although it is difficult to imagine how it can be resolved without recourse to counters and maps; and the beauty of the system is that you don't need either of those things.