Epic Ideas: Tides of War

I’m on a string of higher level write ups lately, and that is mostly due to my own personal campaign reaching level 18 (plus mythic 8)! The story is bigger than before and the characters are getting ready to go to war with some form of dragon-lich-demigod by the name of Adraxa. They’re expecting to face down an army of drow armed to the teeth. They don’t know the surprises they’re in for yet; but everything about the campaign has lead up to this point.

It’s time for war, and I have a new idea on how to handle it. I’ll be using it in my Wednesday night campaign and I will call it the…

Tides of War

The name itself holds a lot of meaning. It represents the waves of armies clashing against one another. Back and forth the battle goes, like the tides, pushing and falling back with time. Eventually one side runs out of resources or power and has to concede or be overrun. In essence that is exactly what this mechanic is. We don’t need special numbers stats or anything really. I want it to be used at any level, that way players can always take part of it; and it will always have a big sense of scale. I will most likely use dice to represent the tide of battle at our game table. You don’t have to use anything as long as you keep notes on the outcome of things.

The first thing we need to do is look at the scale of battle. Are we looking at hundreds, thousands, or more in army size? Are their siege weapons? What about magical offense or defense? How about massive creatures and the likes?

We’re gonna need a scale to go by. I’ll stick to the tried and true 1-10 scale. For my army we’re talking massive scale. 10 out of 10. There are going to be beasts, and weapons, and magic, and more. I’m cranking it all the way up. My players are level 18, mythic 8 in Pathfinder. Just two away on either side from max level. Each blast from their magic is going to make their eyes spin in experience points. But what about for your system and campaign? What if you only have a level 4 group?

Since things are 10 out of 10 in my army, I’m looking at player level and seeing that they’re 18 out of 20. So I can just drop that down to 8 out of 10 on their side. They don’t know exactly what they are up against, they’re outnumbered, and more. So that’s a fair assessment to me. After all, we’re just guessing here.

In that same regard, your group is 4 out of whatever levels away. So right off the bat we may be looking at 4 out of 10 or 2 out of 10 depending how you’re looking at things. What about the army they face? You will want to make sure it feels overwhelming. So why not just double it?

Say, your players represent 2-10. They are helping out an army that is also 2-10. They are now 4-10 together. They seek to go against the odds, their army is 8-10.

Okay, so I’m throwing meaningless numbers around. Let’s give them meaning.

For each thing the players do against the opposing army, it decreases the opposition by one rating. For each thing they do to help their side, their rating goes up by one. Same thing on the enemy side.

Before they go to war, the players seek to do some espionage and succeed. The enemy goes down by 1. They try and get support and more people on their side, their side goes up by 1. So on and so forth.

The goal is simple. Reduce the enemy side to 1. At one, you can decide what happens. Ask them what they want to do, capture the enemy leader? Go one on one against the leader, wipe them out? There’s all kinds of things.

All in all, it’s a very fast and easy to build off of system. I’ll give you an example of full play.

The GM has prepared his army. (8/10) Hundreds of Goblins are lead by Hobgoblins from the mountains. They’ve been marching for some time through the swamplands to the west. They threaten the kingdom. They bring warhounds, witches and shamans, crudely constructed seige weapons.

He has noted; the party level is 3, and they want to help a small town that stands between the goblin army and the border of the kingdom. The king’s men will not arrive in time to save the town. So right now, the party is 3/10.

GM“The goblin army is now days away. The smoke of their fires can be seen on the evening Horizon. The few that survived their most recent attack have warned you of the beasts they bring. The headhunters and witches that travel alongside them. Their war drums echo vile magic into the air… What do you do?”

Paladin: I seek to round up anyone who volunteers. These people need to know that their town will be decimated if they don’t put up a fight. The goblins are evil, they will spare no one. They will not simply pass by!

Rogue: I want to see about getting some trappers together and going out to set the traps. If anything it will delay the first bit of them.

Cleric: I want to go ahead and set up some sort of triage. Even if we can fight, there will be injuries. I also want to offer services of prayer to provide some morale.

Wizard: I’m going to scribe a few scrolls of my area spells and hand them out to guards who know how to use them. Any extra damage against them will be good. In spare time I want to cast some protection magic and see if any other adepts in magic can get some alarms further out.

GM: Alright. Paladin, please give me a diplomacy or intimidate check. Rogue, give me a sleight of hand, enhanced by your Charisma; since you’re getting some help there. Cleric, a diplomacy check. Wizard, make a spellcraft check for each scroll your able to prepare.

The rolls are made across the table and the players call their numbers out. All seem to have succeeded.

GM: The Paladin talks some sense into the local townsfolk and many of them temporarly enlist themselves to help the guard. The rogue made it back with a day to spare, setting any spare hunting traps the town had. There is now a triage and prayer service set up in the town church thanks to the Cleric. The Wizard was able to make five scrolls, and talked several dabblers in magic to setup alarm spells in strategic locations.

The GM made some notes behind the screen. These were all somewhat small things to stand up to such an overwhelming army. So they aren’t worth a full point each, but he thinks about how their actions effect the impending fight. The Cleric and Wizard acted defensively. That will work  to boost their army to 4/10. The Paladin and Rogue worked offensively, setting traps and building a force. So that can reduce the other army by one 7/10. (You can just do 5/10 and keep the enemy 8/10 but I feel that dropping the enemy by one helps the players’ cause a bit better) 

GM: Alarms sound in the woods to the west, the army is here and their ambush is ruined by the sound of the alarms. War drums fill the air. Guards shout that the traps seem to have helped some, the initial numbers are lower than thought. The your hearts sink as you hear the word “Giant” from several of the torch and sword wielding villagers…

This gives the players something to focus on. In larger scale battles, it’s hard to show how things are when a fight really breaks out. It’s better to let the players focus on fights that make sense in their perspective, and let the armies clash in the background. In this case, defeat the giant and it raises their side by 1. If it gets past the players, their side falls by one. Let the players figure out how to reduce enemy numbers… Once one side hits 1, that’s it, the battle is over.

As always, check out the poll below. Bacon is the new bacon. ~ Vexar

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