Sunday, 20 March 2022

Universal Battle and War Framework

War, battles. Everyone has their own system for running them. Here’s my attempt. Whenever two forces meet in a contested space and the resultant conflict would be too large to game with standard OSR combat rules, this framework can be used. The framework allows for any scale of conflict to be simply fought - from a large skirmish to a year long siege to an entire front of an industrial war to a clash across the solar system by two opposing star-fleets. As such it eschews the granularity of individual troop movements, numbers and statistics. While the framework is a fully structured and ruled minigame; representing such breadth and variety of conflict requires a more narrative and abstract approach. This post was inspired by this document by an anonymous author. For much of this post, I will refer to these conflicts as battles as it is more likely that is what the framework will commonly be used for.

The framework is reasonably simple and quick with most of the battle prep performed during the session. There is no particularly demanding number crunching involved. The system also allows for opportunities for player intervention to be played out using your normal game system. All players equally command a front of a battle or theatre of a war. If the narrative of your campaign does not support this, allow the players to assume to role of commanders during the battle and their own player characters during battlefield interventions. There are additional rules and suggestions at the end of this post to expand upon the framework. The most important is a guide that allows different classes play the framework’s battle minigame differently like in ‘Do Not Let Us Die In The Dark Night Of This Cold Winter’.

This framework requires a rather large quantity of d20’s and d12’s, three tokens or cards per player and an equal number of sets for the DM (each of the three tokens should be labelled assault, defend and manoeuvre) as well as a quantity of gems or glass beads, anything to represent attrition. The minigame is best suited for parties of 3 or more players.

To summarize the system; battles are fought on the strengths and advantages each respective army has over the other. These advantages - numbers, morale, supply, defensive terrain, magic, technology anything - are represented by pools of d20’s (dubbed battle dice). These battle dice pools denote an army’s overall fighting ability. These dice pools are divided amongst the players who each command their own front of the battle. Once the battle dice are divided into each player’s front, the battle begins. Each opposing front does battle by rolling their pools of battle dice against each other. The results of the roll can lead to effects such as eliminating an enemy battle dice, dealing out attrition, or even creating a flashpoint for the PC’s to intervene and turn the tide of battle. These opposed rolls are further modified by the orders given by the PC’s. A canny order can seriously disadvantage the enemy.

Conflicts are fought in this order. Each stage will be detailed with guidance and examples throughout this post. The bold stages repeat in descending order until the battle is concluded.
  • Prebattle roleplay
  • Planning stage
  • Weigh-In Stage
  • Orders stage
  • Battle stage
  • Morale stage

Prebattle Roleplay
This is your regular character driven game with the players roleplaying their various efforts in preparation for the conflict; moving their army, deciding on the location of the battle, bolstering the own army with allies, sabotaging and spying on the enemy – anything. All this will inform the next several stages of the battle minigame. Once the player’s and enemy’s armies are committed to fight move on to the next stage.

Planning Stage
This stage represents the meeting of the player commanders ahead of the battle to plan their strategy. Armies are only effective if their commanders understand how to best utilise them. As a team, the PC's consult on the strengths of their army and the advantages they have over their enemy. These advantages and strengths are the ones the player character commanders will press in the upcoming battle. These advantages can take any form and will likely be different depending on the context of each battle the army fights. It rewards knowledge of military tactics, of the player’s own army and of the enemy army. If an advantage is not selected by the players it is not an advantage the commanders will press in the battle. Each PC selects their one strength/advantage and the party moves into the army weigh-in stage.

Weigh-In Stage
This is the armchair general stage in which the relative strengths of each army (decided upon in the planning stage) are argued. At the start of this stage, both the PC and NPC armies are assigned a number of battle dice (d20’s) equal to the number of players present. Both sides want to increase the amount of battle dice their army can field and they will do so by leveraging the advantages and strengths of their respective armies. Begin with the PC’s arguments first. One at a time, each player will state the advantage that they had decided upon and make any arguments as to the strength of this advantage.

If there are 3-5 players, assign 1, 2 or 3 battle dice to the army’s dice pool depending on the strength of the argument. Assign in greater numbers if the player count is higher. The DM may state that the NPC army has a means to counter or weaken an advantage put forth by the players. This counter can reduce (or in some rare cases, cancel out) any awarded battle dice. Once the players have presented their advantages, it is the DM’s turn. The players can likewise provide counter arguments as the DM did to theirs. Keep this stage pacey, fair and consistent.

Once both sides have made their cases and amassed a pool of battle dice, share the battle dice equally among the players

For an example, a party has 4 players. They are leading a futuristic force against a primitive horde of monstrous humanoids and their tamed beasts:
  • The first player states that their army’s weaponry and armour vastly outmatch their enemy’s - power-armour and laser-rifles vs furs and clubs. This is a clear advantage and a strong argument, so the DM assigns 3 additional battle dice to the player’s army.
  • The next player states that their army is positioned along a clearly defensive range of hills and valleys and holds the high ground. The DM responds by saying that the enemy have a large contingent of huge burrowing worms that could weaken this advantage. This player's argument is rated good, and the party's army is given 2 additional battle dice.
  • The third player is rather cocky and says that their character is so good at fighting they are their own advantage - the DM gives 1 battle die for this argument.
  • The fourth player says they are fighting at night and that their army have night-vision goggles while the enemy rely on torch-light, a clever argument that earns 3 additional battle dice.
The party's total pool of battle dice = 13 dice. These 13 dice are divided among the 4 players for each player’s front.
The enemy has their turn to make arguments. The NPC army put forth their advantages and make the same number of arguments as the players. They start with the same number of battle dice as the player's do - four. Here are the arguments:
  • The enemy troops are troll-like, much larger and stronger than the humans in the player's army. A player responds saying brute strength does not matter when shot with a laser-rifle. The DM agrees and assigns 1 battle dice to the enemy army.
  • The enemy army vastly more numerous than the player’s army. A player responds saying that his army possesses area denial weapons such as flamethrowers and mortars and hold defensive passes and hills. A resounding argument so the DM downgrades the 3 battle dice he would have given to the enemy to 1 battle dice instead.
  • The enemy has expert knowledge of the land and terrain so they can travel hidden at speed to surround the player’s army. A player suggests that his army has the technology to survey and analyse the landscape to prevent this but is reminded by the DM that they did not order any recon to be done when they were preparing for the battle during the prebattle roleplay of the normal game other than finding the biggest set of hills to position their army on. The DM assigns 2 battle dice.
  • The enemy has a small number of captured laser rifles. 1 battle dice is assigned.
Enemy army total battle dice = 9 dice. These 9 dice are divided into 4 fronts to oppose the 4 player’s fronts.

Orders Stage
Each player (and each NPC commander controlled by the DM) is given a set of three tokens or cards labelled assault, defend and manoeuvre. Before rolling their battle dice, each player and the DM selects one of these tokens (the DM selects one token for each front). Each represents a particular tactic a commander can order their force to engage in. On the count of 3, all players and the DM will flip over or reveal their chosen order tokens and compare their order with the opposing front’s order.
  • Assault beats Manoeuvre
  • Manoeuvre beats Defend
  • Defend beats Assault
Whichever front loses rolls d12’s instead of d20’s for their battle dice during the Battle Stage, if both sides draw then both fronts roll d20's…

Battle Stage
Now, all along the battlefield is violence and destruction. Each front, both player and DM rolls their pool of battle dice. Some fronts roll d12’s and other d20’s depending on the success of their tactics in the order’s stage. 
For each front, from each rolled pool of battle dice, the highest die is selected. This highest die is compared with the opposing front’s highest rolled die. The difference between these two highest dice determines the outcome of that front’s battle stage.
  • If one front’s highest die is lower in value than the opposing fronts (but is not less than half value) that low rolling front gains one point of attrition - i.e., 8 vs 15. Give the losing front a bead to represent this point of attrition.
  • If one front’s highest die is double the value of the opposing fronts, the lesser die is wiped out and removed from play and the losing front gains 1 point of attrition. – i.e., 16 vs 8.
  • If the dice match, then there is an opportunity for the players to intervene. I.e., 16 vs 16. There is a section detailing the player interventions at the end of the post.
Attrition represents the grind of battle that consumes casualties, supplies and morale. On all subsequent battle stages, for each bead of attrition a front has suffered, it receives a cumulative -1 to future battle rolls. Attrition is also important during the upcoming morale stage.

Once all fronts have resolved their battle rolls move onto the Morale Stage.

Ensure the battle remains exciting by providing descriptive commentary of the battle. How attacks are repulsed and units wiped out by the whims of the dice. Allow the players to chime in with what is happening on the battlefield.

Morale Stage
Reeling back from the combat your forces must steel their resolve or withdraw the field. A front rolls its remaining battle dice (using d20’s) against the amount of attrition it has accrued in battle stages. Any dice that is lower than the amount of attrition withdraws from the battle. At this stage the players review the overall state of their army and decide whether to continue fighting. Should they wish to continue, then move back onto the Orders stage. The amount of attrition and battle dice a front possesses does not change in returning to the Orders stage and will continue to be worn down over the course of the battle as each stage repeats itself.

The enemy army should have some predetermined threshold of losses at which they route perhaps linked to the morale save of their chiefest commander or the elimination of 50 or 75 percent of their total battle dice.

Player Intervention
During the Battle Stage, if the two highest opposing battle dice match it represents that crucial moment where heroic PC intervention could turn the tide of the fight.  

An easy method for generating a scenario is to place one or several landmarks or key features within each player’s front such as a ruined keep atop a hill, a cave-pocked cliff face or crashed space-station. When the opportunity for PC intervention arises, place one of the opposing force’s strengths into this landmark for the PC’s to deal with. A cabal of fireball casting wizards could be placed into the ruined keep, enemy snipers could be ensconced into the cavernous cliffs, or the crashed space-station could be blown up to destroy a huge horde of enemy rad-zombies. Just like running a one-shot dungeon, rarely should player characters be expected to travel a great distance to reach the battlefield flashpoint - keep it pacey. 

Should the PC’s successfully deal with the situation the enemy front's matching enemy battle dice is wiped out and all enemy fronts gain 1 additional point of attrition. There can only be 1 player character intervention per battle stage

Other Rules to Consider:

The DM should inform the players of the time scale over which the battle will be fought. The battle stage could take 10 minutes for a small engagement, an hour for a large battle or a whole month if simulating an entire low-intensity guerrilla war.

Class Commanders
Different classes engage in the battle minigame differently. While the roles are loosely class based, a player may select which role bests fits their character.
  • Healing classes can deal with attrition. During a Healers morale roll, for each of the d20's that roll a result of 20 or equal to the amount of attrition their front has accrued, decrease that front's attrition total by 1.
  • Sneaking classes can swap their order with another player who has lost after orders have been revealed, this can be done a number of times per battle equal to the player count.
  • Arcane classes are better suited to commanding the weird and the magical. Arcane classes gain an extra argument during the Planning and subsequent Weigh-In stages. This argument must pertain to some fantastic advantage within the player’s forces but cannot provide more than 2 additional battle dice.
  • Fighting classes: select a speciality order and get +4 to their battle dice whenever that order is used. A Fighting commander who is specialized in defensive tactics would get a +4 on their battle dice whenever they give the Defend order.
Enemy Leadership
Genius or blundering enemy leadership may have +1/-1 arguments than the players during the weigh-in stage.

Enemy Supplies
A well or under supplied army starts with more or less battle dice before arguments are made during the weigh-in stage. This allows players to sabotage enemy supplies before the battle even begins.

Predictable Enemies
Elves might prefer manoeuvre orders, Dwarves may favour Defend orders and Orcs are suited to Assault orders. 

The Killer:
Killer assets possessed by an army such as gigantic death-rays, summoned gods, titans, Achilles style warriors are represented with a d4 rather than a d20. The Killer (and the killer dice) is attached to a front. When that front's battle dice are rolled, also roll that front’s killer die. When compared to the opposing front's dice, any one die that is under the number rolled on the killer die is wiped out (but no attrition is gained). This is in addition to any dice that are doubled. If the killer die matches with a battle die. It allows the players to intervene and attempt to slay/disable the Killer asset and remove the killer die from play. However, there can only be 1 party intervention per battle stage.

The side that is defending in a siege style scenario gets a free argument relating to their defences and preparedness. Battle dice are assigned according to the quality of the defences vs the attacker’s means of dealing with those defences

Different Styles of Warfare
Assault, defend and manoeuvre. These words can be changed into anything to better fit the style of warfare in your campaign, for example, Volley, Skirmish, Flank March for a more Napoleonic style, or Charge, Shield-Wall and Harass for something more medieval. Likewise Front should be altered to better fit the scale and period of the conflict, Theatre could be used for a continental conflict, Sector for science-fiction combat or even District for urban warfare or revolutions.

Fearless Foes
Fearless armies, such as the undead do not roll morale but still take the negative modifiers associated with attrition. Truly fearless armies are rare, even undead armies will have sentient commanders, such armies would have bonuses to their morale rolls instead.

Front Positioning
For simplicity's sake, assume that the player’s fronts are situated along the battlefield according to where they are sitting at the table. Gareth is sitting to the right of Lucy so his barbarian player character is leading his front to the right of her dwarf character's front.

Sending Reinforcements
To reinforce an allied front a battle dice may be transferred to an adjacent player at the end of the Morale stage. Battle dice can only be transferred to players whose fronts are next to one another. Only one battle die can be moved this was per player. A front's attrition remains the same despite reinforcements.

the system is largely writing for the theatre of the mind. That said providing a map of the battlefield greatly helps players to situate themselves and their individual fronts. Counters representing different units are not needed but a map showing the terrain and landmarks helps greatly. Assault, Defend and Manoeuvre orders suggest the movement of troops across the battlefield map.

Front Destruction and 2 Fronts Attacking 1 Front
If a front is completely destroyed or routed, the surviving opposed front joins an adjacent commander in battling a surviving enemy front. Multiple fronts may fight a single surviving front once they have defeated their direct opposing front. During the Orders stage one order is given for both fronts. In the battle stage, both fronts roll their own battle dice pools separately, comparing both the highest dice they roll with the single front's 2 highest dice. Therefore, two fronts fighting one front could wipe out two battle dice, inflict 2 points of attrition, are twice as likely to result in player intervention or any combination of these three result. However, the single front can only battle 1 front enemy front at a time, even if its highest dice doubles both enemy fronts it can only harm one of them. If a second front comes to the aid of the lone front then all 4 fronts pair off in opposition as they would in normal play.  

Player Front Destruction
When a wise player's front is reduced to a single battle dice they should combine with an adjacent player's front. If a player's front is destroyed the player(s) must decide to fight or flee. If they elect to stay and fight a last stand they should roll their HD, taking the result as damage - if they survive they inflict a point of attrition on the enemy flank, after this they may choose to flee, surrender or try and fight again until slain. If fleeing, save vs paralysis. If successful the player has escaped and moves to an adjacent player's front, if unsuccessful they are at the mercy of the enemy and will likely taken prisoner.       

Battlefield events 
I haven't thought much about this but during a battle roll if a d20 rolls a 1 (or perhaps equal to the commanders level during a Morale Stage) the commanding player roll on a random table and experience a battlefield event such as being wounded or getting shell-shock. I might be a later post if  people seem interested.   

1 comment:

  1. This is really interesting. It reminds me vaguely of Twilight Imperium, while having these zoom in moments (Flashpoints) for PCs to shine (or fall). I will definitely keep this in mind.

    Thanks for the post!