Saturday, August 31, 2013

Mass Combat

So, predictably, I got sidetracked. Currently, I'm working out a system for determining politics inside-out and backwards (literally - I want to figure out how to realistically model power structures but still be able to improvise new ones in play). Of course, as Clausewitz points out, the necessary corollary to politics is war.

The biggest hurdle I see in mass combat is that it presents as, basically, a completely different game. You trade the creature-to-creature brutality of regular fighting for the clinical precision of a battlemap, and you learn new things like facing, movement rates, morale, and discipline. D&D is a first-person game, and you want to retain the ability to slide into your character's head, dump the cowardly peasant battle line, and kill that giant like you know you can. But that doesn't comport with normal mass combat rules.

It doesn't help that clinical precision is itself ahistorical, and also prevents some of the more interesting battle scenarios that tended to happen. In real battles, confused and exhausted soldiers mistook returning scouts for whole new armies, or misinterpreted enemy reinforcements as friendly units, or impulsively charged directly into obvious traps. Nothing like carefully adjudicating facing, distance, and range. Also, nothing like the tedium of tracking precise casualties at each step of the battle. Again, real battles were decided primarily by breaking the enemy's ranks or minds, not physically destroying every opposing combatant. The latter role is, of course, where cavalry actually excelled - as any close-packed infantry line could repulse a cavalry charge, spears or no, so long as it didn't break and flee.

Luckily, real-world generals tended to fight battles in a manner similar to how a D&D player would ideally wish to do the same. They commanded their units ad-hoc, in between leading a charge and forgoing a command perspective in order to get to grips with the enemy. The information they could process was limited and fairly general - and so a mass combat system should be the same.There's no real need to track the precise location of a multitude of different units when historical commanders worried only about the left, flank, the right flank, and the center.

Furthermore, the mass combat system should, as much as possible, stick to the mechanics and statistics used in the basic game. What do we really need to know about our units - and, more importantly, how can we transmit this information along the channels players are already familiar with?

Strength: In my game, I've done away with splitting the melee and ranged AB's, so Strength translates directly to how hard you can hit. So, it means the same for a whole armed unit.

Constitution: Again, in my game, Constitution provides bonuses both hit point gain and the Will save. The latter is more important for a unit - since the intent of battle is to induce the opposing force to rout, Constitution indicates resistance to routing. The unit's discipline is its staying power on the battlefield, just as constitution is the same for the individual.

Dexterity: Dexterity connotes tactile adaptability and the fine manipulation of parts. It also means a defensive bonus in any D&D style game. In battle, the unit's formation determines its resistance to damage, and ability to change formations rapidly reduces the opportunity for catching it off-guard. A dexterous formation presents its toughest face against any attack - much like a dexterous hero taking blows on the hardest parts of her armor. In my system, Dexterity also relates to how many actions you can complete per combat round. Therefore, Dexterity means both defense and mobility, as it does for the normal combat system.

Defense: I replaced AC with "defense" in my own system, modelling armor as damage reduction. It's the same thing here.

Morale: This is the first "independent" stat. It's directly affected by Charisma, and similar to the idea of morale for monsters and henchmen, but I want it to behave differently in battle. The main objective of mass combat is wearing down enemy morale so they'll break and stay broken, rather than enacting a disciplined withdrawal. A unit's morale score thus modifies the results of failed Constitution checks, and is tracked per flank, rather than per unit.

Stamina: In my game, fatigue is treated as additional encumbrance. Since encumbrance is a non-issue in battle (you drop everything at the start, then you either win and everything's safe or you lose and nobody drags along massive bags of gold while being pursued by a bloodthirsty army) it has to be treated substantially differently in mass combat. The difference, and the fact that "higher Fatigue" sounds bad but is good, means I'll call it Stamina. Stamina scores modify a unit's Strength and Dexterity.

And that's basically it. Everything else can basically be added as special rules - cavalry units get the special ability to rapidly redeploy between flanks, heavy armor is a modifer to Dexterity that increases damage resistance but reduces mobility, ranged attacks are given a "near" range and a "far" range, with separate Strengths for each.

Units attack by rolling a d20, adding their Strength modifier, trying to beat enemy Defense. Damage is not directly tracked - at least not now. A hit instead reduces Stamina by one. A critical hit means an officer is killed or ferocious warriors scythe through some significant portion of the enemy line. Reduce Stamina by one and make a Constitution check.

The CON check is 1d20 roll-under. If you fail, roll 2d6 and apply morale modifiers:

2: Destroyed. Deprived of discipline, a significant portion of the unit is destroyed and the rest flee for safety or are simply absorbed by neighboring units. 
3-5: Broken. The unit's will to fight leaves them and they immediately attempt to disengage and leave the battlefield. Move the unit to Reserves and reduce its Stamina by 1d4. Next turn, roll another CON check - if successful, it rallies as a combat unit, and if failed, it leaves the battlefield entirely.
6-8: Retreating. The unit pulls itself out of the battle line and moves to Reserves. Reduce Stamina by 1d4. The unit may return to the front line next turn as normal.
9-11: Shaken. Through hard fighting, the unit manages to reform, though it is now disorganized and exhausted. Reduce Stamina by 1d4. The unit will automatically fail any CON checks it is forced to make next turn. 
12: Counterattack - The unit fights back with such ferocity that it turns the tables! Reduce both units' Stamina by 1d4. 

Whenever a unit is forced out of the battle line, any adjacent units must also roll CON checks, in order to close the gap that is created. Passed checks, obviously, close the gap, while failed ones roll on the above table. Shaken results close the gap, while Counterattacks close it at the cost of 1 stamina, inflicting nothing upon the enemy. 

Tactically withdrawing units also requires CON checks for adjacent units according to the above procedure. The withdrawing unit itself is placed directly into reserves, no rolls required. 

Gaps allow your opponent to commit reserves to gang up on your units. Each unit absent from the line allows two enemy units to enter the gap and roll extra attacks on your units, starting with those on the immediate edges of the gap. Units exploiting holes in the line roll criticals on a 19-20.

You can close gaps by committing extra reserves to engage the excess enemy units, or by opening gaps in the enemy battle line. If you can open two gaps, and engage most of the units in between, you've isolated that segment of the enemy army - your forces can continue ganging up on them even if the enemy plugs the line. They have to be rescued.

Each turn, any flank that has a unit which has failed a CON check must make a 1d20 roll-under Morale check. Pass, and no effect. Fail, reduce Morale by one. Every time an enemy unit is Broken or Annihilated, roll another Morale check - add 1 Morale if passed.

I'm still working on exact rules for positioning, forming up, etc. but the principles are here. Most of the stats are ability-score style, with modifiers. Therefore, the average flank might start with a Morale of 12,  providing no bonuses or penalties. But if four morale checks are failed, and you're knocked back to Morale 8, then the retreats table lurches towards the "annihilated" end. Similarly, a fresh, well-trained unit might have STR 13 and 13 Stamina, which gives a +2 to attack bonuses. Lose 5 Stamina to hard fighting and it's +0. Yes, the Stamina rules mean that armed units have a practically unlimited capacity to slaughter helpless innocents.

The idea is you want to be able to run the battle in the background and give it its own personality. For the most part, it'll be a pretty inconclusive slog, where you slowwly wear down your enemy with little to show. But now and then something interesting happens - with the potential to create devastating cascade effects. Do you commit now? Or do you wait, knowing how dangerous it is to withdraw units?

Of course, the PC's can always dive in and create criticals - assassinating officers, or killing a lot of soldiers. The latter really does have to be a lot - units are considered to be 1,000 men, so you need to get them all to notice for it to count.