June 13, 2014
Running Large Scale Battles
In almost every long-running campaign, no matter what setting or genre, you are likely going to find the threat of war looming over you at some point. Often, it is up to the player character to try and prevent this from happening, though sometimes it can be the fault of the player characters that it does. When this happens, the game tends to shift gears and become a much more militaristic and strategy-focused game than before. When done well, a war-centered campaign can be a very powerful storytelling opportunity, as there are many aspects to fighting a war and few of them are pleasant. However, like many other subjects, war can be one of those topics that might hit a little too close to home for some players – so, as with any mature subject matter, be sure to discuss it with any players you feel might be uncomfortable with it before you progress into such a campaign arc.
Where running such a campaign gets challenging is in finding game rules that will work for you. Many games have rules for large-scale conflicts and all-out war, though few of them that I have found have been all that intuitive. Anima: Beyond Fantasy has mass combat and group battles, but this tends to be more about how your super-powered player characters takes on a large group — or even a whole army — of opponents by themselves. Dungeons & Dragons 3.5 had a whole book dedicated to warfare, but honestly I found it to be a tad overcomplicated to easily be introduced into a campaign midway through. While it would likely work for a whole campaign based around war, there were too many aspects of it that would leave the characters at a serious disadvantage. Many other games discuss how you can run such events without actually giving you a great deal of information about what rules to include, as they simply admit that the game was not designed with open warfare in mind.
However, one game that I have found runs war and massive battles incredibly well is The Lord of the Rings Role-playing Game. As war is a huge part of the mythos of Tolkien’s work, it comes as no surprise that war is a huge part of the RPG as well. Where the game benefits is that it uses what players have already when determining what they are able to do in large-scale battles. There is no need to build exclusively for mass battles, as you might have to in other games. The rules are simple and intuitive, using simple mechanics to simulate very complex ideas. Best of all, the game offers two different systems for running a large-scale battle. There is the large-scale tactical style, where you allow your players to make decisions before the conflict begins, like a general before the eve of battle, or a slightly smaller-scale option where your players are active participants in smaller-scale battles that influence the overall conflict as a whole. These two systems can, (and are encouraged to) be used together to give players a real sense of importance and impact during a war.
I have used that system for other games as well, including it in an Anima game a friend of mine was running when he was trying to figure out how to implement a large-scale battle in which our characters were trying to defend a village from an army of invading barbarians from the North.
If you are going to include war in your campaign and intend on making it a major element, than I advise that you find a system of rules for it that you are both comfortable with and able to teach your players very quickly. It can be very easy for players to feel as though their characters are getting lost when things evolve to this level of conflict, and that is something you want to avoid. Even when the fate of entire nations — or even worlds or realities — hang in the balance, it is important to remember that the game is meant to be about your players. Do not let them get lost in the scuffle. Whatever set of rules you intend to use, make sure to keep the focus of the game where it belongs.
As always, thanks for reading and I wish you all good gaming.
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