Mass Combat Basics (Redux) | New Rules for Fifth Edition

The Battle of Dragard Mine introduces new rules for mass combat in Fifth Edition. These rules can be added into your game with very little modification on your part.

The system itself doesn’t change how combat works with the exception of adding in two new actions, commands and rally. The Command action allows leaders (described below) to use their action to direct units in combat and the Rally action allows a leader to stop broken units from fleeing.

Morale, an optional rule in Fifth Edition, is also implemented in this system to add a necessary dynamic to large scale battles.

In addition to commands and morale, the system introduces units, which act similar to the same way that swarms do with a few additional mechanics. Units make it easier for the GM to manage multiple enemies and NPCs at once.

 

Leaders

A leader is any non-unit creature that can command a unit. Typically, leaders are the players’ characters plus any important NPCs that the GM has deemed worthy of leading. A leader can join a unit by moving into the same space as the unit. Once the leader joins a unit, it cannot move or take actions of its own unless it chooses to remove itself from the unit by moving out of the unit’s space. However, it can move the unit and have the unit take actions on the leader’s initiative count without the unit counting towards the total number of units that it can command. The unit uses the leader’s Wisdom saving throw for morale checks in place of its own. A leader that is part of a unit cannot be directly targeted by attacks, spells, or other effects that target one target or one creature.

 

Units

A unit is a single, cohesive group of soldiers or monsters comprised of 5-10 creatures of Large size or smaller. Units function similarly to swarms in that they move and attack as one, and are immune to conditions that would otherwise affect an individual creature. If a unit is hit by an area of effect spell or effect that completely envelops the unit, such as a fireball spell or a white dragon’s ice breath, the unit takes double the normal damage if it has more than half its hit points remaining. In addition, a unit that has more than half of its hit points that misses a creature with a melee attack still deals half damage against the target.

A unit obeys the commands of a leader as best as it can. It takes its turn on its leader’s initiative, though it does not move or take an action unless commanded to (see Commands below). On its turn, a leader can verbally command the unit where to move (no action required by the leader). A leader can use its action to command it to take the Attack, Dash, Disengage, Dodge, or Help action. Once a unit follows the commands of one leader it cannot be commanded again until the next round begins.

In the absence of commands, the unit acts on its own, focusing on protecting itself. The unit never requires a leader’s command to use its reaction, such as when making an opportunity attack.

Optional Rule. If you are using flanking rules in your game, you may give a unit advantage on melee attacks that it makes against creatures in the same space as the unit.

 

New Actions

The two actions described below are available to leaders to use during combat in addition to those normally offered.

Command Action

In combat, a character or leader NPC can use its action to command a number of units equal to its proficiency bonus within 30 feet of it. With this action, the leader commands the unit to take the Attack, Dash, Disengage, Dodge, or Help action.

Rally Action

When a unit flees due to a failed morale check (see Morale below), a leader can use its action to Rally the unit. The unit makes another DC 10 Wisdom saving throw but adds the leader’s Charisma modifier to the saving throw.

 

Morale

Units might run away when a fight turns against them.  The following circumstances trigger a morale check for units:

  • The unit is surprised.
  • The unit is reduced to half its hit points or fewer for the first time in the battle.
  • The unit has no way to harm the opposing side on its turn.
  • A leader within 30 feet of the unit is reduced to 0 hit points, incapacitated, taken prisoner, or removed from battle and there are no other leaders within 30 feet.

To determine whether the unit flees, make a DC 10 Wisdom saving throw for the unit or the unit’s leader. On a failed save, the unit flees by the most expeditious route, using the Dash action if possible, at the end of each round of combat. If escape is impossible, the unit surrenders. If a unit that surrenders is attacked by its conquerors, the battle might resume, and it’s unlikely that further attempts to flee or surrender will be made.

If a leader is part of a unit that is fleeing, the leader can decide to stay with the unit and flee with them or leave the unit. Otherwise, a leader cannot join a unit that is fleeing.

A leader can use the Rally action to force a unit to make another DC 10 Wisdom saving throw.

Optional Rule. If a unit flees from the edge of the map or battlefield, the unit is considered “destroyed” and cannot be rallied.

 

Sample Units

The following units are examples of common units in the mass combat system.

Guard Unit

Huge unit of 10 Medium humanoids (human), lawful neutral


Armor Class 16 (chains shirts, shields)

Hit Points 110

Speed 30 ft.


Abilities Str 21 (+5), Dex 12 (+1), Con 12 (+1), Int 10 (+0), Wis 11 (+0), Cha 10 (+0)


Skills Perception +6

Condition Immunities charmed, frightened, grappled, paralyzed, petrified, prone, restrained, stunned

Senses passive Perception 16

Languages Common

Challenge 5 (1,800 XP)


Unit. The unit can occupy a Medium or smaller creature’s space and vice versa, and the unit can move through any opening large enough for a Medium human. If the unit is targeted by an area of effect spell or effect that completely encloses the unit and the unit has more than half its hit points remaining, the unit takes double damage from the effect. The unit can’t regain hit points or gain temporary hit points.


Actions

Spears. Melee Weapon Attacks: +8 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target within reach or one target in the same space as the unit. Hit: 40 (10d6 + 5) piercing damage, or half as much damage on a miss. Or, the unit deals 22 (5d6 + 5) piercing damage on a hit and no damage on a miss if the unit has half its hit points or fewer.

Volley of Spears. The unit hurls its spears at a point that it can see within 60 feet of it. Each creature in a 15-foot cube centered on that point must make a DC 16 Dexterity saving throw, taking 21 (6d6) piercing damage on a failed saving throw, or half as much damage on a successful one. If the unit has half its hit points or fewer, the target instead takes 10 (3d6) piercing damage on a failed saving throw, and zero damage on a successful one.

 

Zombie Unit

Huge unit of 10 Medium undead (human), neutral evil


Armor Class 8

Hit Points 220

Speed 30 ft.


Abilities Str 21 (+5), Dex 6 (-2), Con 16 (+3), Int 3 (-4), Wis 6 (-2), Cha 5 (-3)


Saving Throws Wis +1

Skills Perception +4

Damage Immunities poison

Condition Immunities charmed, frightened, grappled, paralyzed, petrified, poisoned, prone, restrained, stunned

Senses darkvision 60 ft., passive Perception 14

Languages understands the languages it knew in life but can’t speak

Challenge 7 (2,900 XP)


Unit. The unit can occupy a Medium or smaller creature’s space and vice versa, and the unit can move through any opening large enough for a Medium zombie. If the unit is targeted by an area of effect spell or effect that completely encloses the unit and the unit has more than half its hit points remaining, the unit takes double damage from the effect. The unit can’t regain hit points or gain temporary hit points.

Undead Fortitude. Whenever the zombie unit takes damage, it must make a Constitution saving throw with a DC of 5 + the damage taken, unless the damage is radiant or from a critical hit. On a success, the unit does not take damage.

 


Actions

Slams. Melee Weapon Attacks: +8 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target within reach or one target in the same space as the unit. Hit: 40 (10d6 + 5) bludgeoning damage, or half as much damage on a miss. Or, the unit deals 22 (5d6 + 5) bludgeoning damage on a hit and no damage on a miss if the unit has half its hit points or fewer.


Reactions

Rend. If a Medium or smaller creature ends its turn in the same space as the zombie unit, the zombie unit can use its reaction to make a slams attack against the creature.

 

Mass Combat Feats

If your campaign focuses heavily only on battles and wars, you may wish to include new options for characters. These feat options are available to characters if you are using the optional feat rules.

Charge Leader

When a unit that you are a part of uses its action to Dash, the unit can use its bonus action to make one melee weapon attack. If the unit moves at least 10 feet in a straight line immediately before taking this bonus action and the attack hits, the unit scores a critical hit against the target.

Commander

Prerequisite: Charisma 13 or higher

You have the ability to inspire and lead great throngs of soldiers into combat. You gain the following benefits:

  • Increase your Charisma score by 1, to a maximum of 20.
  • Units within 30 feet of you automatically pass Wisdom saving throws to check for morale when surprised.
  • Units within 30 feet of you gain a bonus to their Wisdom saving throws equal to your Charisma modifier.

Mounted Leader

Prerequisite: Mounted Combatant feat

When you are mounted and part of a mounted unit, you and the unit gain the following advantages:

  • You and the unit’s speed increases by 10 feet.
  • You and your unit has advantage on melee attack rolls against any unmounted creature or unit that is smaller than the unit.
  • When the unit makes a melee attack against a creature or unit, it doesn’t provoke opportunity attacks from that creature for the rest of the turn, whether the unit hit or not.

 

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