6 Things to Consider About the Military in Dungeons and Dragons


One of my favourite D&D memories stems from the very first game I ever hosted. We were about 17 when Jeff and our good buddy Tom had just finished making their first characters in D&D 3.5 (It was basically brand new at that point), and I had made a small town for them to wander around and stir up some trouble in.

Immediately - like literally immediately - they started plotting to raise an army and were asking me about leading armies against one another. Keep in mind these are two level 1 characters with maybe 15 gp between them. Even as a first time DM I realized that it was a laughable goal for their first adventure. The logistics of raising  (let alone maintaining control over ) a host of men is a monumental task. And as they could both tell you today: one does not simply raise an army. It is a very complicated process.

But for those of you who haven't thought about it, here are six things to consider before you - or your players - raise an army in a D&D game.


1. Do Your Research

The first and most important fact to understand is that while there are several points in history where kingdoms and nations maintained a government-funded standing army, for the most part this wasn't the case. Even Rome's legions were largely funded by a Lord's private wealth. So the idea of a standing army, police force, etc. wasn't a common sight.

So what does this mean for your D&D world? Think of it this way: Town Guards and soldiers are likely going to be more loyal to the person who pays them then the ideals they claim to uphold. Mercenaries will be a common profession in war-torn lands, and if you want to raise your own army -and keep them loyal - you had better have some coin in the first place.

In short, looking up how armies functioned in the past will give you a good sense of how one would function in your current time period - and what you need to do in game to make it work.

These guys don't fight for free.

2. Equipping Your Army.

Since there is no real government funding, that means that any standardized equipment will have to come from your own pocket. So aside from some bulk weaponry that you might be able to buy in the market for your men, your soldiers will likely need to bring their own equipment. Riders will need their own horses, swordsman their own blades, etc. etc.

In the end this means that your army will mainly be comprised of lightly-armoured and armed people; a far cry from the knights in shining armour that we all dream of riding with. Most of your force will be poorer people who feel they have little to loose. Sure, they may have a pitch fork or something similar, but to make them an effective fighting force, you will likely need to equip them yourself. So as mentioned above, a good supply of bulk weapons is ideal. Spears, axes, bows and arrows, and other cheap weapons are a great way to arm your forces without breaking the bank.

For more skilled and well equipped troops you may want to look to mercenaries. They are usually much more expensive, but they will often come with their own equipment and will usually be better fighters than your usual irregular recruits.

Sometimes knives and pitchforks is alls ya haves.

3. Who Can Raise An Army?

Ok, so you have enough money to fund your private army, access to craftsman ready to make weapons in the quantities you need to arm your force, and a group of mercenaries acting as your lieutenants and general badasses. Now you just need your general infantry. But hold on a second, you can't just start going from village to village and asking for volunteers.

Lords and local governments aren't going to be too keen on you calling their citizens to arms without their approval. People who do this are usually labelled as bandits or rebels, so if you want to be legitimate, you had best gain the favour of a local lord, Mayor, King or what have you. They may even help with the financial backing!

Of course, you can just start recruiting if you want without anyone's permission, but be prepared to get labelled an outlaw by some angry lord who feels you abducted their citizens.

The amount of people who will join your cause will likely be based on your reputation - which we will get to in a bit.

No one raises an army like this guy.

4. The Economics

Raising an army is one thing. Keeping your army is going to be a whole other matter. We have been talking about money a whole lot in this article: What it takes to arm your force, convince people to join, etc. This all costs gold, and the need for money never stops as long as your army stands. So you will need to decide how you are going to pay them.

The first way is to pay your men a salary. I know for a fact that the 2nd ed DM's guide contains a list of what you will need to pay each soldier, and you can find similar tables online to give you some ideas of what you owe your men each week/month.

The second way you can pay your army is through loot. You can allow them to sack and plunder from the cities, towns and villages in your path. This has the advantage of not costing you out of pocket, but the downside is that your wave of destruction is likely to piss someone off.

I actually recommend a mixture of both. Pay your troops. It will make them less brutish and more professional. However, let them loot every now and then. Treat looting like a bonus for your soldiers and it will keep them in your favour.

Nothing beats a good plunderin'.

5.  Fighting a Battle

You have your cash, equipment, men, and business plan. Now it the time to use your army for what it was meant for: Fighting a battle. Now, the fact you needed to look up ways to handle an army probably means that you were thinking of having a battle a little larger than D&D is really designed for. Some time ago we looked at 5 Ways to Handle Larger Battles in Tabletop RPGs, which is definitely worth a look at in this context. But I want to look at the fourth Entry in that article, the Advanced Battle System.

Designed for 1st and another for 2nd Ed Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, the Advanced Battle System was a miniatures game that came with rules to add your player characters into a fantasy table top battle. This allowed you to actually play through a giant battle on the table as you would play say a game of Warhammer 40k.

In my opinion, this is the best way to handle a large battle. You get to play out every aspect of the fight, and how cool is it that this battle becomes a part of your campaign! However, tabletop games take practice and planning before you get good at them. So it is probably best to engage a few smaller opponents to get the hang of the system before you run off to the castle.

And don't feel limited to using the Advanced Battle System. With a little bit of experimentation, you could probably work your characters into almost any system.... The Advanced Battle System just has the advantage of having worked this out for you already.

Looks pretty advanced.

6. The Big Picture

Once you have won a few battles, it is time to start thinking about the big picture. Training your troops, setting up supply lines, building your renown as a fighter; all of these will start to matter more and more as your army travels further from home - and wins more battles.

In terms of training and upgrading your troops, the battle system does provide some answers, but it is best to work out a system with your DM. How far can your troops advance? Do they have levels or veteran states? Do they gain xp? These are just a few of the questions you should consider and talk about as a group.

Setting up supplies to make sure your forces stay fed will become a problem as your army grows in size. So make sure before you travel too far that you have a method of delivering food and supplies. And of course remember that your army will likely not march in the winter so you will need a place (with a regular supply of food) for them to stay over this season. This is called wintering.

There are a few metrics you can use to measure your renown and watch it grow. The first is simply your character xp/level. The higher it is, the more renown you are said to have - and the more followers you will attract.

Another way of measuring renown is by using an honour system where your honour increases for winning battles - and decreases for losses. I personally prefer using an honour system for this sort of metric. I think of it more as a reputation stat, and that way you can easily increase or decrease this stat depending on your player's actions.

So take a minute to consider the big picture before you march your army to the ends of the earth. There's a lot more you'll need to think about: troop morale, how are you making camp, mapping out your route, etc. etc. I'd start making a list.

Winter is coming...
All of these - and many more - are things that players will need to manage if they want to lead an army. It is not a simple task, and not for the disorganized players. But hopefully these few points will help keep you on track, and your army moving for at least a little while.

How do you handle the military in your games? Let us know in the comments!


Written by: Andrew Gregory


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6 Things to Consider About the Military in Dungeons and Dragons 6 Things to Consider About the Military in Dungeons and Dragons Reviewed by JADE Gaming on 5/03/2019 11:14:00 am Rating: 5

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