5 Ways to Handle Larger Battles in Tabletop RPGs

With the hordes of low level 15mm monsters I have been painting lately I thought I would stop and take a minute to talk about an issue that has long plagued GM's: Hosting large combat sessions.

One of the inherent problems with tabletop RPG's (D&D in particular) is that the more combatants you have on the table, the slower things get. There is more paper work, more dice rolling and things can become a bit of a logistical nightmare.

So here are 5 ways that I have, and have seen others handle large combat situations.

1. Grouping

When I have a combat situation involving, lets say no more than 50 participants, I normally group them. I let each player take their own initiative rolls, and then divide any NPC's or Monsters into different groups of 3-5. Each group gets its own initiate roll, and attacks and moves as a group. Obviously with higher numbers of enemies, this can get quite dangerous for your players so make sure they are strong enough to cope with that many attacks.

This method isn't pretty, but it is a quick way to handle a larger skirmish sized battle with ease. And it is what I do most of the time.

2. Dice

Another way to deal with larger groups of combatants is to use dice on the field. This method requires you to have miniatures, and a ton of small d6's or other appropriate dice to place beside each figure after they have been rolled.

This allows you to tell everyone's initiative order just by looking at them. The down side is that dice can get separated from the figure they were supposed to represent. Which can lead to some confusion, especially if there are a ton of figures on the table.

3. Sampling

For Dave's Campaign The Conquest of Frey, he wanted us to attack the town of Bellwick. He envisioned this being a fairly large fight around 200-400 participants all in. This was not the sort of thing using Dice or even Grouping could handle with any efficiency.

So Dave looked to the D&D forums, and found this idea, which I have called Sampling. To whoever created this idea, I am sorry, no one here remembers exactly where the idea came from. But it works as follows.

Figure out the numbers on each side of the battle, and the general plan of attack. You then follow your player characters as they lead the attack. We only ever see a small chunk of the fighting, including only what is immediately going on around the characters. As DM, set up several encounters for them to work through until the finale of the battle.

How well your characters do in each encounter will determine how the battle will progress. If players on the right are taking damage, then the Right flank is also taking a beating. If your players are crushing enemies, so is their army. Etc., etc. You can even get as detailed as to figure out a system for tallying losses, unit moral, and anything else that comes up in the blur of melee combat.

I quite like this system as it lets you host a War sized battle with only a handful of minis on the field. and some really cool maps, like our plan outlined above for the Battle of Bellwick.

4. Battle Systems

For those who remember or have done any searching into AD&D you will know that for 1st and 2nd edition TSR released Battle Systems. Modules that let you fight large scale fantasy battles with miniatures, and included rules to add your player characters into the game. I know there are similar systems for the old school Traveller RPG games, and a few others.

Please note that I have never used these, and they usualy only have around 5.5/10 on RPG/Board Game Geek. So these might be terrible, but for rules junkies like me, I have to get them!

5. Extreme Preparation

A tad on the obvious side I know, but if you are incredibly prepared, then combat can be quite easy. If you have a Mini for each guy, well constructed Initiative sheets, or even a bash script (for those with the know how) this will make large fights easier to handle as half the work will already have been done.

So those are 5 ways I have seen it done. What have you guys seen?

Written by: Andrew Gregory
5 Ways to Handle Larger Battles in Tabletop RPGs 5 Ways to Handle Larger Battles in Tabletop RPGs Reviewed by JADE Gaming on 1/06/2016 02:05:00 pm Rating: 5

1 comment:

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