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Need GMing advice: Massive Battles


I have a "great idea" for my campaign which involves the party getting into a properly large battle. I have the PC's working out of a fortified hamlet in rebellion from their ruling city, and I want an army to show up to put down the rebellion. It's small scale on battle terms, but far larger than an intended pathfinder encounter.

What tips and tricks do you recommend for running a party through events that occur during a large and evolving battle to keep things real but not bog down the game?

The party is largish, with 6 regular players that will be 4th level for this. The town is a hamlet with about 60 people in it that can fight with pitchforks. There is a cleric order with 3 NPCs with class levels levels and some acolytes. The town is fortified with wooden stakes and low dirt walls.
The invading army will be hellknights. I was thinking about 30-40 warrior level 1 foot soldiers, 10-20 or more 3rd level fighter cavalry, and one or two 6th level knights and a 6th level signifier or two.
I figure that the knights are going to roll over the town, which I would prefer for plot reasons, but they could get repelled too.
I was thinking of having one of the NPCs part way through the battle grab the PCs and beg them to escort the children out the back.
I want to motivate them to stay together and not get slaughtered by cavalry, but don't want to overtly railroad them.

Also, what tactics would you have the two sides use to seem realistic in pathfinder? What spells should the signifier have, etc?

Any advice is appreciated.

..consider buying the PDF of adventure path #35 for the Mass Combat rules pgs 54 to 59

I think that your party is too low level for this.

I think you should tell me more, john. why? what is a good level? where is the danger?

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This can be a difficult sort of thing to run using Pathfinder rules. I once created a full set of battle rules for situations like this and they worked pretty well, but it took the group from a role playing perspective into a wargame perspective.

So what I typically do now if I want the party to be involved in a large battle is I "segmentize" the battle so that the party deals with a very specific encounter that is within the context of the larger battle, and has a pivotal role in the outcome of the battle, but which allows the normal PF rules to be used to run the encounter, while I provide commentary and status of how the battle is raging around them.

In my mind I already have an idea of how the battle will go based on the party's results in the encounter. Certain events in the encounter can drive different activities in the larger battle. For example, freeing a key prisoner can allow that prisoner to escape which will provide a morale boost to the party's side and tilt the battle in the party's favor.

It is a difficult line to walk to present the situation as fluid, chaotic and unpredictable while still making the party's role be the key activity which eventually drives the outcome of the battle itself.

It is important in this situation to always leave a way for the party to escape destruction even if they do not achieve the goal and the battle starts to turn against them.

I have run a few of these type battles when DMing a homebrew campaign. I just decide ahead of time what dice each side will roll based on relative strengths and what is the range for all NPC fighters. For example, one side might roll 1d6 for 10 people in striking range and the result would be hold many people fall from NPC fighting and the other side might roll 1d4 for having ten in striking range. It really depends on what kind of numbers you want to run and how fast you want the battle over. I have done this with 100s of people on each side including normal stated people attacking in waves, lieutenants, and generals. I try to force the PCs to take out the lieutenants and generals.

I think I want to do the Adamantine Dragon Approach with PC encounters buried within an external battle. That sounds like the best approach for what I want to accomplish. AD, do you have any specific advice on how you would run the scenario I set up?

You could go the route of the Dynasty Warriors video game. The PCs run from group to group helping to kill the enemy and thus raising the overall morale of the army.

Depending on how quickly they take out the squad leaders the morale bonus increases or decreases.

Also the joon brazer enterprises book of the river nations has mass combat rules as well as kingdom building and i believe it is fairly cheap for the pdf. Great product.

The Exchange

The way I run it is I also segmentize it.

Each segment has a benefit if it is won. Depending on the military prowess of the players, I give them a rough guide to the parity of the troops - for example 3 hamlet peasants are about equal to one of those invading orc ragers.

I make up special rules about morale, and effects like was done in the original chainmail.

I come prepared having allocated all my troops to the various segments.
The players get to allocate their troops.

If no players participate int he segment its a simple die roll or two to resolve the segment.

If players participate - we go to combat... That takes a lot longer.

To start, just clump initiative roles. All the level 1 invaders go at the same time, all the peasants go at the same time, the only individual roles are the important ones (4+ HD). When it comes to recording hitpoints, if they have 1 HD just assume they drop to -1 after 1 hit, and -Con Mod after the second hit. This saves you a lot of time. Give the PC's a way to deal some AoE damage, like alchemic fire, kegs of gunpowder, or a scroll of Fireball (CL5) to quickly remove a large number of canon-fodder enemies (make sure to do this for the enemy too, you don't want the fight to be completely one sided!)

Other things like having enemies retreat or flee if the see their commanding officers killed or loosing a significant number of troops in one round (again, applies for both sides) will make things much more manageable.

Liberty's Edge

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Campaign Setting, Companion, Modules, Roleplaying Game Subscriber

I agree with Adamantine Dragon and have used the same strategy. I have used push pins and a large map mounted on foam board to show how the battle was going in different areas. You can have the PCs play out segments of the battle and then update the other areas to indicate progress on other fronts. This really worked for us and I used a simple system to show how the skirmishes in other areas resolved, allowing decisions by the PCs to modify those results.

You might also consider taking a look at Heroes of Battle (3.5 material). While it was geared towards full fledged military campaigns, it has a pretty effective set of guidelines for outlining the crux points of the battle and adjudicating the outcome if the party intervenes (or fails to) at key points.

All you really need is an if -> then diagram of course. Designate three events important to the outcome. Bury those in colorful prose that includes a number of red herrings (things that will engage the party and make them feel like heroes but don't actually change anything). If they bite on the right things, the town is saved. If not, the town is overrun. Add dice rolling and you're done.

As AD wrote, segmentize your battle into a single street, with features the PC's can use like barriers, windows, improvise-able traps, raised ground, etc.

Consider the DYNAMIC of your scene; where do the players NEED to go, and in what time period?

"It looks like the knights have broken through the lines up ahead. You're going to have to think fast, as they'll be here in just two rounds. Which way do you go?"

"A few skirmishers have gotten back this far and it looks like they're looking for loot and potential slaves, or worse. They don't look like much. Do you take them out?"

Yeah the segments are a great idea. If you have the opportunity watch 13th Warrior. Basically a small group of Vikings help a small settlement deal with a tribe trying to wipe them out.

When I ran an a group of encounters like what you are talking about I had the party move to sections of the city where the defenders were failing. They held a ridge outside one of the gates to as people outside the walls were running to saftey. They then went to a spot where the walls were breached.

The warpath supplement is excellent, and I'm looking forward to using it on my players.

And it's available on this here website!

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