View Full Version : Army battles in D&D using BattleLore or other games...

06-15-2009, 01:02 PM
I just wanted to check who else, in the course of running a game of D&D, has seen fit to use another game altogether in order to simulate full army-scaled conflict within their D&D campaign. Obviously, one is tempted to think that the prime choices would lbe among the miniature war game favorites, but I don't own any of them. They also tend to be expensive. So, what might the alternatives be?

On two occasions and with mixed-to-successful results, as I now plan to report to you, I have used Richard Borg's boardgame BattleLore to adjudicate the outcome of war-scaled battles in context of a D&D game. I'm not sure if anyone else here is familiar with the game (actually I'm sure many are), but suffice to say that for a while I liked to play BattleLore as much as any other game, including rpgs. And I wouldn't recommend it here for this purpose unless I thought it was a really fun game in its own right.

Of course, how successfully a boardgame like BL integrates with D&D is another matter. The first time I tried a hybrid D&D-BL campaign, it really didn't work as well as planned. In retrospect, I think mainly because the simulated battle was over too quickly, and I had no clear plan as a GM as to how the outcome would effect the characters individually--aside from advancing the storyline. In any case, I can say that we had fun playing it; but it didn't really "add" much to the experience that D&D wasn't capable of on its own. And this was the general consensus at the table.

More recently though, to give an example of a more successful integration of the two games, the players had thrown their lot in with a noble Chieftain who had united several tribal militias with the purpose of defending against an enemy army made up of mostly humans but also some drow archers and goblin mercenaries. It was predetermined that, while none of the PCs could be killed outright, depending on the outcome of the battle, the players might have to make a skill checks to 1). see if they were injured (possibly permanently) during the loss or had items taken from them as bounty, or else suffered some humiliation with undetermined consequences; or 2). see if they, as individuals, demonstrated heroics (magical or martial) during the battle that might gain them acclaim within the Duchy and access to many future resources. So it was agreed. And before the meeting to conduct the battle, I carefully plotted out various outcomes that might connect directly to goals that the player's had already set for their characters. For example, one hoped to to get rich; another hoped to redeem herself in the eyes of her clan; and another hoped to wreak vengeance on the drow. Hence, the battle provided a narrative conceit to address all of these goals, to varying degrees of sucess, simultaneously.

To simulate the general course of the battle, I used an "epic-adventures" (double-board) scenario called Agincourt Revisited, which is one of the BL scenariosthat is included in the Hundred Year's War expansion supplement. In retrospect, I think it would have been possible to use any number of the official BL scenarios, or had more time allowed, even to make up my own (using an army draft-system included in another BL expansion). This time, I felt the epic-scaled Agincourt scenario had the right vibe, considering that one army would be pitted as an invader and another as a defender. Additionally, we used the double-board BL configuration in order to better represent the scale of a battle that was supposed to involve thousands of combatants on either side.

So, the outcome: We split into two teams, with me and one other player (representing the invaders) against the three remaining players, and we spent the entirety of the next day engaged in an epic-scaled BattleLore session, but with D&D-stakes attached to the outcome. I feel that despite the fact that the player who was playing on my side had a vested interest in NOT winning the battle, he nevertheless gave his all in our attempt to defeat his fellow players, fairly and squarely. Ultimately, the GM's side (my side) lost, and the PC's army captured the day much to their great cheer.

When we returned to the next "chapter", as it were, in the D&D game proper, it truly felt like weeks had rushed by in game-time during which the PCs felt as if they had really undergone a separate ordeal--had really been engaged as combatants in a giant battle to determine the fate of an entire people. Largely because of this I believe, and even though no role-playing whatsoever took place during the BattleLore confrontation, the quality of the role-playing improved for the rest of the campaign. Was there a connection?

I think so. I've tried different versions of home-brew and D&D-based supplemental rules designed for pretty much this same purpose, to enact warfare as a separate but integrable feature of running a larger campaign; but, I am now convinced that using a different game altogether somehow captured the "otherness" of warfare that modified versions of D&D have missed for me in the past.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that BattleLore is the best game to match with D&D for this purpose, but it does seem capable. Are there maybe better games for similar purposes? For example, I've heard elsewhere of people using the game Diplomacy to resolve political intrigue in D&D.

Anything related to share that might optimize hybrid-gaming such as this?

Arch Lich Thoth-Amon
06-15-2009, 01:37 PM
Did it with a hybrid Warhammer Fantasy Battle, and Warhammer LOTR.

06-15-2009, 02:44 PM
Did it with a hybrid Warhammer Fantasy Battle, and Warhammer LOTR.

Hey. Cool. Did it work? Isn't WHFRPG set up to do just that, alternate between the two systems? (I've not played either the miniatures game or the rpg...)

06-15-2009, 02:59 PM
When i was in England, i saw a lot of DnD blended with Warhammer myself.

Arch Lich Thoth-Amon
06-15-2009, 03:57 PM
It worked very well. It covered both individual combat as well as mass combat, with all the dark and gritty flavoring one expects in dark horror fantasy.

06-15-2009, 05:13 PM
Actually, I have a method I use for d20 and having the party just be one squad in a war. It was originally a setting for d20 Modern called Blood and Guts, but many of the principles work for any d20 based game regardless of time period.

06-15-2009, 11:44 PM
I apologize for the tangential reply, but since it crosses editions, I figure it might fall into the spirit of the question.

When I was playing pre-4th edition D&D, I used to employ D&D Battlesystem for tactical combat and D&D Warmachine for strategic combat. For anyone not familiar with this, Battlesystem was a stand-alone boxed set of official (TSR at the time) rules combatible with D&D and AD&D. Each game piece in Battlesystem represented one to ten monsters or NPCs, depending on their level or hit dice, and rank, and were grouped into "units" of a few dozen entities. Warmachine wasn't a product, but was rather a section of the D&D Masters Rulebook, republished in the D&D Rules Cyclopedia. In Warmachine, you tallied up the strength and special qualities of the entire army to calculate its rating, and the difference between the two opposing ratings, plus some random hocus-pocus, would let you determine who carried the day in any given battle, and how badly hurt each side wound up. If you wanted to pit an army of wraiths, specters, and nightwalkers against fifty clerics of mixed levels 14 through 20 and a hundred invisible stalkers, and you needed to know what happened in a hurry, this was the way to go.

Now that I'm playing the 4th edition, I think I'll keep Warmachine for those battles where I haven't already determined the outcome, assuming no PC intervention. Battlesystem was just too cumbersome. When we played out fights with Battlesystem, it would take the entire length of an extra-long session, and use up an entire room's worth of floorspace.

Within a battle where PCs are involved, I would listen to their plans (assuming they knew the battle was coming) and draw up some events and encounters with an eye to letting them influence the overall course of the fight, if reasonably possible. I would definitely also make use of the 4th Edition skill challenge system. Potentially lethal situations would be handled as regular encounters within the environment of a battle. So, I suppose these days, I have to say that I wouldn't involve the players in a non-D&D tactical game to decide the outcome of a battle unless they agitated for such a thing, themselves.

My main out-of-game source of inspiration is 16th century cinematic samurai flicks, which provide a lot of examples as to how PC-like individuals and small groups can face off within the clash of armies. The presence of brand new technology to the region, such as rifle squads, within that particular era and setting have also given me some ideas for handling magical and other fantastic effects in a battle.