Wednesday 19 July 2023

Mass Combat

Into the Odd and Electric Bastionland both have mass combat systems, but Mythic Bastionland is the game where I expect mass battles to be an increasingly common feature of the game as the Knights grow in glory. 

Here's what the Oddpocrypha section has to say. 


The company lead an army sieging a small fortress. They have four warbands: 2 men-at-arms, 1 archers, and 1 cavalry with javelins. They also have 2 stone throwers. 

Ref: Okay, it’s just after sunrise and you’re all set up, facing off against the fortress. You can see hurried movement along the ramparts, defenders hurrying about. 

Moss: Well I guess we ruined the element of surprise when we let those scouts get away. 

Ref: Yeah, in fact you see the main gate swing open, 2 Warbands emerging. Looks like a band of archers and a horde of aggressive looking fighters, carrying an axe or blade in each hand. Remember you were told to expect the enemy’s mercenaries to arrive some time this morning. Actually…

Ref very roughly sketches out the battlefield, noting a bog and a small forest.

Ref: Okay so… wait, one minute.

Ref tears up some small paper rectangles and uses them to show the locations of each Warband, coloured dice showing the Knights.

Ref: Right, what’s the plan?

Tal: I mean we could just sit back and use the stone thrower to break down the gate.

Moss: Remember the Mercenaries? We heard they might have heavy cavalry, which would be tough to deal with. I think we need to be more decisive.

Tal: Well we outnumber the enemy right now. I think send the cavalry to deal with the archers and everybody else piles into that other warband (Tal pushes some of the paper warbands around on the map).

Moss: Okay, let’s do it.

Ref: Right, so as you advance on the enemy your archers exchange fire with each other.

Ref rolls an attack for the enemy archers, Moss for the allied archers. The enemy are especially effective, Wounding the allied archer warband.  

Ref: The enemy definitely get the better of the exchange, your archers crying out as they take casualties, but holding steady for now. 


Mass combat can be handled similarly to personal combat, but with warbands as the primary unit, rather than individuals.

Much of the guidance I’d give here is similar to that of the Dynamic Combat entry, but it can be difficult to remember when faced with the concept of a full-on battle with hundreds of soldiers. Even though the scale is larger, most of the same principles apply. Here we see a battle with a built in time limit, the impending arrival of enemy mercenaries, which goes a long way to make the battle feel dynamic. As well as this, Ref makes sure to describe what the players can see, from the bustling defenders on the ramparts to the lay of the land in front of them.

This might sound obvious, but this scale-shift can sometimes intimidate Referees, who find themselves trying to keep things as simple as possible to the detriment of the actual game. The ever-present risk that things deteriorate into a numbers game without adequate description of the present situation. 

Drawing out a map, like Ref does here, isn’t part of the rules, but it can be useful when dealing with larger battles involving multiple warband types, even if it’s just keeping track of who’s fighting whom. 

Ref places a forest and a bog on the battlefield, but the combat system doesn’t explicitly have rules for how warbands behave in different terrain types. This is one of those “it doesn’t matter until it matters” situations. Perhaps the players could lay an ambush in the woods, or set up behind the bog to dampen an incoming heavy cavalry charge. These things aren’t detailed in the rules, but they provide vital leverage for both players and referee to perform certain actions that would otherwise be implausible.

I’d like to see Ref asking the players where the Knights themselves are. Are they leading specific Warbands, or hanging back on their own? In a big battle like this, especially when you introduce a map and pieces, it’s easy to lose track of the personal experience of the knights. Battles can feel big and sweeping, but we should always be aware of what the Knights are personally doing. 


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