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D&D 3.5 – Wars: Mass Combat Rules


D&D Wars – Front Cover

[There is an updated version of these rules available here: D&D Wars ]

Download these mass combat rules here (free): WAR

D&D Wars is a supplement to third edition Dungeons & Dragons that provides a set of mass combat rules for conducting battles with units as small as one to armies numbering in the thousands. D&D Wars are not simply armies making battle with each other. It is armies intermixed with monsters and NPCs. Added to this mix is a group of PC heroes doing what they can to change the tide of the war.

–My goals in creating these rules —

– The rules must be compatible with Dungeons and Dragons version 3.5.

– There must be rules for creating armies comprised of units of various sizes and compositions.

– It must have consistent rules for scaling the battle from a small group of villagers with torches and pitchforks all the way up to epic battles with thousands of soldiers on both sides.

– The rules must accommodate individual monsters wandering across the battlefield as well as other NPCs and PCs that are not part of the units.

– It must use standard combat rules without modification as far as possible.

– To this end:

  • It uses a standard 6 second combat round.
  • Creatures occupy the standard amount of space. The size represented by a 1” square is larger than the standard 5 ft (15 ft. being typical). Thus accommodating larger size armies.
  • Movement, Armor Class, Hit Points and Attacks/Damage for individual creatures that are not a part of a unit remain unchanged.
  • Movement, Armor Class, Hit Points and Attacks/Damage for one counter (representing several creatures that cover 1 square as part of a unit) will be the same as for a single standard creature. That way when counters of one unit attack counters of another unit, standard combat rules apply with very few exceptions.
  • Individual creatures that are not in a unit can attack, and be attacked by, the creatures in a unit. In either case it will be creatures attacking creatures. A simple conversion is done to calculate the amount of damage.
  • To speed up play, because of the potentially large number of units, monsters, NPCs, siege weapons, and PCs involved, each of them is restricted to only one action (move, attack or defense) each round. Also creatures with multiple attacks each round (except for PCs) will get only one attack action.
  • Then of course there must be special morale rules and rules for how to handle magic spells cast by or against units.
  • Throw in some rules for siege engines and I’m done.

Before creating these rules, I tried to find out if someone else had already done this, and I found several who had.

First, there are several excellent wargame systems. A mass combat system for an RPG and a wargame are not the same thing. Excellent wargames don’t necessarily deliver as RPG mass combat systems so I passed on them.

Second, I found several homebrew systems. Most of these are of the “treat a unit as a really large monster” variety. These all work for their games, of course, but most fall short of what I was looking for.

Third, there are a few serious, published attempts at creating RPG mass combat rules.

The best of these are described below in no particular order.


Adamant Entertainment’s “Warpath

This is a Pathfinder supplement.

Even though it is not specifically for v3.5 it is close enough with only minor adjustments.

What I like:

It is an excellent, well thought out system. It uses a clever idea of making each 1” square represent 10 feet and each unit be represented by a 3”x6” index card.

It also contains information on the upkeep of an army, mustering armies, supplying an army and siege warfare. There is an alternate way to quickly resolve mass combat in only a few rolls of the dice.

It uses a standard 6 second combat round.

It is well presented and I got a lot of good information from here.

Why I didn’t use it:

It assumes that the PCs are commanders of the army, or at least unit leaders. There are no good rules to allow a PC to act independently from the unit (other than being a solo unit).

There are no rules to deal with units in combat against individual monsters or heroes.

It doesn’t scale well for different size battles. The rules for larger battles are unsatisfactory. It simply recommends that you use larger unit cards and to “be sure you have the space available” for all of the additional space it will take up on the battle matt.


Mongoose Publishing’s “Mass Combat

This is a supplement to Conan The Roleplaying Game which is v3.5 compatible.

What I like:

This is one of the best set of rules that I found. It does a good job of integrating v3.5 rules into a set of mass combat rules.

They have good rules for resolving magic use against units and for war machines.

It treats units as a group of counters, with each counter representing a number of individuals.

It uses a standard 6 second combat round.

Why I didn’t use it:

It relies heavily on unit formations, unit faces and a special “surge” attack. I wanted to avoid having facing rules. D&D 3.5 has no facing rules for creatures, so I didn’t want to introduce this into my mass combat system.

It is a little vague on how much space a counter covers.

Units do not make saving throws, but always take the average amount of damage they would have received if each individual had made a separate saving throw.

There are no rules to deal with units in combat against individual monsters or heroes.


Wizards of the Coast’s “Complete Warrior

This official D&D accessory contains a chapter on Fantasy Warfare.

What I like:

It has a very good overview of how one can integrate warfare into a standard D&D campaign.

It has a good list of ways PCs can tern the tide of battle, with a table of possible missions and mission complications.

It would be good to use if the war is simply going on around the PCs.

Why I didn’t use it:

It doesn’t have any mass combat rules.


Udo’s D20 Mass Combat

This is a small (5 pages) document that attempts to bring mass combat to d20 games.

What I like:

It scales up nicely. One 1 inch square can represent a 5, 25 or 100 ft. square.

It uses standard rules for the most part.

Why I didn’t use it:

It uses a 0-10 scale for health and attack damage, rather than standard hit points.

Any monster or character would have to be converted to the 0-10 FSP (Force Strength Points) system for both hit points and attack damage.

The system, although workable, is a little too rules light for my taste.


Races of War’s Mass Combat Minigame

A 3.5e Sourcebook

“It’s a mini-game inside regular 3.5e that has been designed for simplicity and a minimum of bookkeeping.”

What I like:

It introduces a morale score (similar to Hit Points). When the unit’s morale score reaches 0, the unit flees form the battlefield.

Why I didn’t use it:

It uses squares that represent 50’ x 50’. This is workable, but I wanted more flexibility for larger or smaller armies.

It doesn’t use a simple initiative order, but each army acts in an order depending on its position and type of attack.

The rules for attacking a unit with spells (other than damage causing spells) are turned into damage causing spells or have no effect.

It has no rules for anything other than units or PCs (No rules for monsters or siege weapons for example).


16 responses to “D&D 3.5 – Wars: Mass Combat Rules

  1. Travis Labreque July 3, 2013 at 9:47 pm

    Hey, mein Name ist Jesaja. Momentan lerne ich JavaScript und andere Web-Entwicklung Sprachen. Ich kam zu diesem Forum, um mein Wissen über neue Sachen und Wissenschaft erweitern und möglicherweise helfen, einige andere Leute, wenn ich kann. Ich spiele keine Spiele mehr viel, aber ich war wirklich in Minecraft eine Weile her, so ziemlich non-stop von der frühen Alpha bis zur vollständigen Freistellung, wenn mein Interesse zu verblassen begann. Oh, und Dwarf Fortress, kann nicht darüber vergessen …. Das Spiel ist … Spaß. Nun, es gibt ein paar Dinge über mich selbst nehme ich an. Cheers!


    • Ronny July 4, 2013 at 8:01 am

      Post in English please! I do not speak Germin.


      • V March 31, 2014 at 10:04 am

        Just saw this but I don’t think it matters at this point. Here’s what they said:

        Hey, my name is Jesaja. Right now I’m learning Javascript and other Web
        Development languages. I came here to increase my knowledge about this stuff and possibly help other people if I can. I don’t play games very much but I played a lot of Minecraft starting with Minecraft Alpha and that’s how I became interest in programming. Oh and Dwarf Fortress! Don’t forget about that that. That game is….fun. Now there are a couple of things I can do myself.

        I’m not sure what that was for. Thanks for posting the wargame stuff. It was a huge help!


      • Ronny March 31, 2014 at 11:05 pm

        Thanks for the translation V,
        If you have used any of this wargaming stuff, I would love it if you could share some information about your gaming experiences with it. What was the game plot? What was the size and composition of the units? But mostly, was it fun? Regarding the rules, what worked and what didn’t? I am thinking of re-writing these when 5.0 is released so the more feedback I can get, the better.


  2. Walt August 1, 2013 at 7:06 pm

    I like this a lot. This could be a big help to me, I have a campaign on the brink of a major war in which the party will participate, so I’m glad one of my players stumbled upon this and pointed it out to me. Thanks for your hard work!

    I do have one thing I’d like to clear up though. Your example unit’s hit points don’t seem to match the description of how to calculate them. The unit has 10 counters composed of 12-HP fighters. By the text, 10 counters * 12 hp = 120 HP for the unit, and each counter would have 120 hp / 10 counters = 12 hp each. But the example statblock has 1200 hp for the unit and 120 for each counter. Which is correct?


    • Ronny August 2, 2013 at 8:25 am

      THE EXAMPLE UNIT IS WRONG. Thank you very much for pointing this out. The counter hit point should be 12 and the unit hit point should be 120. I will correct this and re-post the document when I gat a chance.

      The example is a holdover from an earlier version of the rules. In that version, you added together all of the hit points from all of the creatures in the unit to get the units total hit points. I changed it to make the math easier and the game run faster.

      The idea now is that any “full” counter will have the same number of hit points that one typical creature in that unit has. These will of course be reduced as the unit takes damage. That way when units fight other units you can also use the typical creature’s stats with very few changes, so one counter vs. one counter would play almost the same as a standard D&D combat. Most of the rules in “D&D Wars” are for how this works with multiple counters in each unit. This also allows unit vs. single creature (or PC) encounters. This is why all damage a single creature inflicts on a unit is divided by the number of creatures in a counter.

      Please let me know if you have any other questions or problems with these rules. I would very much like to know how this works in your game. Please share your experiences with it (good or bad).


      • Walt August 2, 2013 at 4:31 pm

        Thanks for the clarification. I’ll let you know how it goes, though I suspect it won’t happen until next winter sometime.


  3. Walt August 12, 2013 at 6:50 pm

    I have been testing these rules out with some of my players. So far we’ve only done a couple small fights with fairly ordinary troops (elves and humans vs. goblins, hobgoblins and orcs, with no spellcasters, monsters, NPC’s or PC’s). So far it has worked fairly well. We had a small glitch with morale when the last three counters of the routed hobgoblin heavy footmen (last of the evil forces on the field) suddenly rallied and turned about to face off against the 39 counters of humans and elves. But I think a little judicious DM ruling can take care of that sort of thing. Maybe there should be a morale modifier for being greatly outnumbered.

    One thing that wasn’t well received was the rule under missile fire that limits damage to the number of counters in the smaller unit. The players felt that in cases where a large number of counters were firing on a small number, there should be at least a little concentration of fire possible. I’m not so sure myself, I think they’re looking at it more in terms of rifle fire than mortar fire, combined with the fact that they were running the big battalions, but it’s a data point, I guess.

    In looking more closely at the morale rules, the ability for a PC to use their charisma bonus to increase morale seems fine, but I would expect NPC’s to be able to do the same. After all, the troops couldn’t tell which leaders were PC’s and which were NPC’s.

    I’m also not quite sure about using the creature’s charisma modifier for base morale bonus. I see charisma as being a measure of how much a character can influence others, and I guess I view morale as a more internal matter. Would wisdom make more sense? Wisdom is a measure of willpower, and the ability to resist compulsions and fear spells, among other things, so it might be a good measure of their courage.

    Another question on the same line might be how creature toughness could influence morale. Using charisma bonus alone, a hill giant (CHA 7) has no better morale than an orc (CHA 6). I’m not sure that’s reasonable, but on the other hand I’m not quite sure how to fix it without adding a lot of complexity.

    I’ll finish with a positive note – the battles went fairly quickly, and mostly made sense. The side with the long-range missile weapons prevailed, just as expected. So we’ve got a sound base.

    My players and I plan to do further testing after Gencon with more complex scenarios. I’ll let you know how it goes.


    • Ronny August 13, 2013 at 11:53 am

      Thanks a lot for the feedback. This needs a lot more playtesting.

      Of course the DM should not allow units to rally in certain situations. However, if you decide to allow a rallying attempt, I see nothing wrong with a small group rallying to continue a fight against overwhelming odds.

      As far as missile fire is concerned, I could be persuaded to allow more damage by the larger units, but the rules will be more complicated. You can allow the damage to be calculated this way – “Subtract the number of counters in the attacking unit that have direct line of site to the other unit before comparing the unit sizes. Take the smaller of the two (adjusted) unit sizes and then add back in the number of counters with direct like of site.” Using this system allows for all of the shooters that can see the targets to hit and the others are all simply firing in that same general direction. Don’t forget that will also work against the PC’s when they are in the smaller units.

      Regarding morale:

      I intended to include a morale modifier based on the relative size of the opposing armies (not units). Something like -1 for every doubling of size. I never worked it out exactly. What do you think?

      I don’t know how you could calculate a creatures “toughness”. I agree that using charisma is not appropriate. Morale bonuses give characters bonuses to Will saving throws, which are Wisdom based. Therefore the opposite should also be true. So, instead of using the creature’s charisma modifier as their base morale bonus we should use the creature’s will saving throw bonus instead. Using your example, this will give the Hill Giant’s a +4 and the Orc’s a -2 base morale bonus.

      A leader with high charisma can inspire courage and improve morale in others. So, if a unit has an NPC leader imbedded in it, that unit should receive a bonus to its morale bonus equal to that leader’s charisma bonus (if any). Only if that leader is a PC should that PC’s charisma modifier be used. You might also allow an additional +2 to the unit’s modifier if the leader has an ”inspire courage” ability such as a higher level paladin might have.

      Please continue to let me know about your games. It is much appreciated!


      • Walt August 13, 2013 at 7:04 pm

        I had toyed with ideas for the missile fire question too. One that occurred to me was to allow a maximum damage multiplier be the number of attacking counters or twice the number of defenders (rounded down), whichever is less. What do you think?

        I love the idea of using the unit’s will save for its base morale bonus. That factors in hit dice as well, which covers the toughness question.


      • Ronny August 13, 2013 at 10:42 pm

        It looks like you have hit on a good compromise. I like that it still limits the damage if the attacking unit massively outnumbers the defenders. What I like best about it is that it is a simple rule. One nitpick, there is no need to round down. When you double a whole number there is never a fraction that needs rounding. Perhaps a simpler way to state the same rule would be: “The damage multiplier will be the number of attacking counters, not to exceed twice the number of counters in the defending unit.” Don’t forget that all counters in a unit are not required to target the same unit. This rule may even encourage a large unit to consider having different groups of counters target different units.

        I understand that your group hasn’t gotten into it yet, but you will still need different rules for targeting individual monsters or NPCs that are alone on the battlefield and not part of a unit. In this case, I think that I would limit the damage multiplier to 1 (a single counter). In other words; if your unit of archers attacks a lone monster that has a size of 5 ft. and each square on your battlemat represents 15ft. then, if it hits, it will do damage equal to the amount of damage that one attacking creature would do multiplied by the number of creatures represented by one counter. I might allow a “to hit” bonus on the attack roll. Something like +4. Or simply allow an automatic hit, barring any unusual circumstances.

        When you get a chance to play some of this out, be sure to ask your players their opinions. I am curious about the best number of counters in each unit. I am thinking that have been recommending units that are too small. Perhaps units with 20 counters would be more fun. That might allow more flexibility in unit formations. What do you think?


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  7. Pilpock February 1, 2018 at 12:27 pm

    Tremendous work here Ronny. I’ve been looking for an effective mass combat rule set for a long time. My current campaign group started out in 1.0 and eventually moved to 3.5 (going on more than 30 years now), but never made the jump to Next/5.0. We’ve used your rule set for a couple of scenarios the last couple of years and they have worked out really well. I wanted to know if you would be willing to share a word doc version of the 3.5 rules. We wanted to make a few modifications for use in our campaign and it would be terrific if we could incorporate the changes in the actual document along with several of the suggestions from comments above. Specifically we are considering:

    * adding open vs. closed formation concept similar to the old AD&D battlesystems in order to mitigate some of the volatile swings in tides of battle caused by morale failures. A unit in closed formation gains +1 to attack and morale. Can only move over normal terrain in closed formation. If a morale check is failed in closed formation, unit automatically shifts to open formation. Open formation required to move over difficult terrain. When in open formation, units gain a +1 to reflex saves.

    * Reach weapon concept. Considering allowing attackers with reach weapons attack from an additional 1 counter distance away.

    * Charge scenarios. When two opponents are charging the current rules sometimes result in unexpected and volatile outcomes, driven largely by initiative order and range estimating. We are considering allowing a unit to “ready” a charge if an opponent comes within 2″. While in 3.5 you normally can’t ready an action to charge, we are considering allowing it in this case.

    Really appreciate your work. Its been an incredible find.


    • Ronny February 1, 2018 at 5:03 pm

      I think that it is terrific that you have been able to use this in your games. As you probably know, I am no longer doing updates to the 3.5 version, but some of your suggested changes would probably improve the Fifth edition version as well.
      To answer you question, yes I would be glad to share the Word version with you, however it is over 12 megabytes in size and too large for me to upload here. If you look in the “Legal” tab at the top of this page you can find my email address. Send me an email to that address and I will reply to it with the word (DOCX) file attached. Be sure to tell me who you are and what you want.
      If you would like to share, send me a copy of your revised document. A list of what you changed would also be helpful. I will be glad to make it available here and will give you all of the credit.


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