View Full Version : Mass Battles - "Dragonlance: Shadow of the Dragon Queen" approach

12-28-2023, 11:46 AM
WotC has mostly shied away from creating a Mass Battle system. They tried in one Unearthed Arcana, but that never went very far. Their latest attempt at bringing clashing armies to D&D was in Dragonlance: Shadow of the Dragon Queen.

The approach is very "light", meaning there are no additional rules for building an army, or to give stats to troops, or even a system to have those troops fight each other.

What's there is the concept of Fray, and a series of Battlefield Events to give the players the "feel" they're in a mass battle. And I think this is quite fine by me.

In 20+ years of playing this game, I realized that you need a very specific kind of player to "buy in" the army building / mass battle mini-games, and not everyone is interested in them. Sometimes when I took out the Birthright cards to play a battle, or even when I started passing around Warmachine stats, I could see the cringe appearing on some of my players' faces.

A lot of modern Birthright players are coming from their love of Game of Thrones, and what they really want to know when there's a Mass Battle is "did I shoot the dragon? did I defeat the opposing army general?"

So in my most recent campaigns I've used the "light" approach, with a few changes to suit my campaigns. I will go into details in the next post. I hope you can find something to use, and give me some feedback on how to make it better.

12-28-2023, 11:50 AM
Battlefield Encounters during Crisis Points

During these scenes, the wider battle is abstracted, allowing the characters focus on specific, tide-turning conflicts.

When the text below calls for a saving throw, an ability check, or mentions damage, use the following Table.


The Fray

At the edge of each mapped battlefield encounter and beyond is a region called the Fray. The Fray is an interpretation of the dangers of combat, from clashing combatants to deadly spells. It is also the source of additional threats. Each battlefield encounter explains the Frayís effects and presents additional dangers that might occur at the end of each round of combat. A battlefield encounter ends when noted in the text.

Example Fray

The 15-foot-wide area at the edge of the battlefield map represents dozens of clashing combatants. This area and the battlefield beyond the map are difficult terrain. A creature that enters the Fray for the first time on a turn or starts its turn there must succeed on a Dexterity saving throw or take slashing damage from opportunistic foes. The Fray canít be damaged and remains until the battle ends.

Battlefield Events

During Crisis Points, roll on the Battlefield Events table each round at initiative count 0. Also consider rolling on the table if a character enters the Fray or otherwise tries to leave the battlefield.

The Battlefield Events table is populated by events related to the battle being fought, the type of troops present, landscape, fortifications, etc. Instead of a table, these events could be represented by a deck of cards that you draw from randomly.

In order to populate the deck of events, each PC chooses one Battlefield event for the list available (Heroes Battle Orders, Troops Battle Orders, Battle Magic), and the DM chooses an amount of Battlefield events equal to the number of PCs.

12-28-2023, 11:52 AM
Heroes Battle Orders
To be able to issue these orders, a Scion must be Proficient in the related Skill and conscious.

Tactician (History) The scion targets one ally they can see an that can hear them. If the target can see or hear the scion, the target can make one melee weapon attack using its reaction, if available, and has advantage on the attack roll

Leadership (Persuasion) The scion can a special command or warning. Whenever an ally that it can see within 30 feet of it makes an attack roll or a saving throw, that ally can add a d4 to its roll provided it can hear and understand the scion. A creature can benefit from only one Leadership die at a time. This effect ends on initiative count 0 on the next round.

Frighten Foe (Intimidation) The scion targets one creature it can see within 30 feet of it. If the target can see and hear it, the target must succeed on a Wisdom saving throw or be frightened until the end of scion's next turn.

Rallying Cry (Performance) The scion ends the frightened condition on one ally they can see an that can hear them.

Feint (Deception) The scion fools one target into lowering his defenses. The first attack against that target has advantage.

Troops Battle Orders
To be able to issue these orders, the right troops must be present on the battlefield.

Give them a volley! (Artillery) A rain of arrows falls on the battlefield. Target a 40ft-by-40ft area within the battlefield. All creatures in that area must make Dexterity saving throw. The targets takes piercing damage on a failed save, or half as much damage on a successful one.

Charge! (Cavalry) Knights charge through the battlefield. Target a 20ft-by-60ft area within the battlefield. All creatures in that area must make a Dexterity saving throw. On a failed save, a creature takes bludgeoning damage and is knocked prone. On a successful save, the creature takes half as much damage and isn't knocked prone.

Raise Shields! (Infantry) All attacks against one ally the scion can see have disadvantage. This effect ends on initiative count 0 on the next round.

Unleash Hell! (Artillery [siege]) A ballista bolt or a catapult shot crashes on the battlefield. Target a 20ft-by-20ft area within the battlefield. All creatures in that area must make Dexterity saving throw. The targets takes double normal bludgeoning damage on a failed save, or half as much damage on a successful one.

Bombardement! (Aerial) Aerial units drops alchemist fire on the battlefield. Select a 10ft-by-120ft area on the battlefield. All creatures in that area must make Dexterity saving throw. The targets take fire damage on a failed save, or half as much damage on a successful one. On a failed save, the atarget is also on fire, taking half damage at the start of each of its turns. A creature can end this damage by using its action to make a Dexterity save to extinguish the flames.

Battle Magic
To be able to issue these orders, the Scion must have access to the right kind of magic.

Shadow (shadow magic) One creature the scion can see on the battlefield must each succeed on a Constitution saving throw or take necrotic damage. Negative energy then infuses the battlefield until initiative count 0 on the next round. While the infusion lasts, that creature can't regain hit points.

Tempest (storm magic). A strong wind blows around the scion. All enemies of the scion's choice within 60 feet of the scion must succeed on a Strength saving throw or be pushed 15 feet away from the scion and knocked prone.

Celestial (celestial magic). The scion chooses a point it can see within 60ft. Gleaming sunlight radiates from that point to fill a 10-foot-radius sphere with dim light. All enemies of the scion's choice in that area when the light appears must succeed on a Dexterity saving throw or take radiant damage and be outlined in the glow. Attack rolls made against an outlined creature have advantage, and the creature can't hide or benefit from being invisible. The starlight and the glow around any creature fades on initiative count 0 on the next round.

Nature (nature magic) Grasping roots and vines erupt in a 20-foot radius centered on a point on the ground that the scion can see within 120 feet of it. That area becomes difficult terrain, and all creatures of the scion's choice there must succeed on a Strength saving throw or be restrained by the roots and vines. A creature can be freed if it or another creature takes an action to make a Strength (Athletics) check and succeeds. The roots and vines wilt away on initiative count 0 on the next round.

12-28-2023, 11:52 AM
Example Battlefield Event Table

The party is composed by four PCs: a Cleric, a Fighter, a Rogue and a Wizard. The Cleric, who is proficient in Persuasion, selects the Leadership order. The Fighter, who is proficient in Intimidation, selects the Frighten Foe option. The Rogue decides to take advantage of the archers present on the battlefield, and selects the Give them a volley! option. The Wizard, who has several necromancy spells at his disposal, selects the Shadow option.

The DM can now choose four events (equal to the number of PCs), taking into consideration the resources fielded by the oppsoing army. The enemy is fielding several worg riders, supported by Harpies, and their army is lead by a skilled hobgoblin tactician and his shamanic advisor. the DM selects the following options: Tactician, Charge!, Bombardement, and Nature.

The order of events is not important, since the events will be determined randomly every round. Make sure to distinguish between those events that are favourable to the party (PC) and those that are favourable to their adversaries (Enemy)

In this example, The Battlefield Event Table will look like this:


12-28-2023, 01:05 PM
Interesting approaches. One of the distinct differences between different systems can be the role of battlefield position in the tactics and actions. The rules you presented talk about the battlefield but never explain how military units are positioned or moved on the field. Are there different terrain elements, like forests vs plains vs waterways? Can you use the BR warcards for this?


12-28-2023, 02:11 PM
The position of troops doesnít really matter in this system. This just zeroes in on the Heroes, and the heroic thing they do while the battle rages around them.

The landscape matters when you describe the battlefield (or when you draw it, if youíre using minis, I guess).

I use the Battlecards as inspiration for statting out the opposition, but this system is not concerned with tactical movement of large numbers on a grid.

Itís definitely not for those that actually enjoy wargaming.

12-28-2023, 08:41 PM
Sounds a lot like the everything is a dungeon game theory, I think. I understand it as battles are like dungeons, you may move inside areas which contains traps, enemies and dangers just like rooms in a dungeon. I always wanted to try to create a similar concept in my adventures but seems really difficult to me, even more so than a regular dungeon because I think there should be some kind of dynamic evolution making it a small sandbox per se.

Also, my players love mass battles, they always evolve into great cinematics and are a refreshing change in terms of combat, but I'll have to try at least once one day.

12-29-2023, 02:08 AM
If the positions don't matter, then why do some of the rules define area of affect for some actions?

12-29-2023, 10:12 AM
The position of the the Troops doesnít matter, the position of the PCs in this zeroed in mini battlefield does.

While armies clash around around (and outside) of the Fray, the PCs fight against the Villains the DM has deemed important for this battle.

In the example above, the fight would probably be PCs versus the Warlord, his Shaman, and maybe a few worgs+riders.