Epic Ideas: War Rules

While exploring options for my next campaign, I wanted to look at how to run war in fifth edition. This article is non-system specific though, so it should work for any edition and Pathfinder. I wanted to make fighting on the front line feel spectacular and move along at a pace that won’t take too much time to complete.

In movies like The Lord of the Rings you see the heroes downing hordes of enemies like it’s nothing. My new campaign starts off at level 15. Developing a whole new set of options and rules would be insane to try and balance that late in the game. When I came across the optional rule for massive damage in the fifth edition dungeon master’s guide, it hit me. I could use massive damage rules during big battles.All I need to do is modify the ‘system shock’ rules to suit my needs. This speeds up the pace of the game, while making the pit of battle feel awesome at the same time. Since most creatures in a war are going to be much lower level, massive damage works great. And, when the players run into a nasty siege creature massive damage is still balanced. (See, Legolas downing a war mammoth.)

So, massive damage is super simple. If a creature suffers damage equal to half its maximum hit points, it must make a con save. In fifth edition it’s a DC15, in other systems you will want to tweak it appropriately. If it succeeds it continues on, hurt, but able to keep fighting. If it fails, it must roll on the system shock table. (Page 273 in the 5e DMG). That table is a little slow for our purposes of epic war battles though. So instead, I’m making a “shock of war” table. On a failure, roll 1d10

Shock of War

  • 1 The creature has disadvantage on all non damage rolls until the end of its next turn. (Must roll two dice and take the lowest).
  • 4-5 The creature is stunned until the end of its next turn.
  • 6 – 9 The target drops to 0 hit points.
  • 10 The target drops to 0 hit points. You may use a bonus action to attack another enemy within range of you.

In this table, things have been greatly simplified for battle. If a grunt has 10 hit points and takes five or more damage, it rolls. If it fails, it rolls on the table and that’s that. It’s still a bad blow even on a 1 so it shows how well the players do. Now, when a captain comes along with 30 hit points and takes 15 or more in one hit, it may survive another turn. But as you work up in damage and ranks, the chance of using this table falls lower and lower. This is specifically meant to make hacking and slashing through the flood of enemies more fun and rewarding to the players.

I look forward to using it in my future campaign, which is still mostly ideas at this point in time. If you would like to see me write about something or need help playing, or game mastering, leave a comment or email me at adventamp@gmail.com!

Till next time,


4 thoughts on “Epic Ideas: War Rules

    1. I’ve always liked to throw them into the thick of things. It’s nice to not feel forced to throw them to the side of things like “Capture this point” and go through a series of encounters to said point.

      In this way, there is a more direct impact on the front lines. I can’t wait to see it in action.

  1. I like it! I’ve tried to run large-scale warfare before (and I’m about to try it again soon once I get my mid-week group going again) and it always feels like it falls short. I mean, I hate relegating characters to commander roles, but that always seemed like the best solution before. I never thought about going all Legolas on it!

    Now, let’s see how those guys like Kingmaker with this thrown in, eh?

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