Kyburn’s Mass Combat – 1.9

Kyburn’s Mass Combat [1.9]


  • 1.0: Initial Release

  • 1.1: Add Battle Points, Pictures

  • 1.2: Add Civilian and Pillaging Rules

  • 1.3: Update Non-animal formation balance, Update Effect Scale, Add Overflow Scale

  • 1.4: Add Summary and Cheat Sheet, Add Spells

  • 1.5: Add Healing

  • 1.6: Add Fatality Points, Rename Scaled Damage to Control Damage

  • 1.7: Add hero-commander support, fork Stalwart from Inspiring Leader for balance.

  • 1.8: Clarify hero-commanders

  • 1.9: Update to reflect changes to API script.


When hundreds of units take to the field, it is impossible to run a game of 5th Edition D&D normally, and so a new layer of abstraction is required.  We call them Formations, Metaformations, and Heroes.  Additionally, Mass Combat plays out on 100-foot hexes and is fought on longer timescales than normal combat due to the need to position large numbers of troops.  One round is one minute.  Any character directing the movement and actions of one or more formations is said to be a general (or other more specific term as might apply in your campaign).

I’ve tried to minimize math as much as possible while still having an engaging game, but there is some that remains.  If you’re playing on Roll20 like I am, I created an API script that does most of the math for you.

Prior Art

Both Wizards of the Coast and MCDM have taken stabs at this in their work in Unearthed Arcana and Strongholds and Followers.  Both, I believe, contained valuable insight and ideas, but neither quite fulfilled what I wanted.  Nevertheless, I've taken inspiration from both to create something new, and I think, better.

Unearthed Arcana

My favorite feature here was the presence of hero units.  It is true that a single wizard isn’t likely to alter the whole course of a battle by eradicating an army of thousands with Meteor Swarm, but a well-placed Fireball can scatter troops and create an opening to unzip a formation.  By choosing to focus on the player characters in epic moments, this system allows players to feel impactful and still turn the tide.  I also love that the units are constructed from ordinary creatures in the game, meaning you can dive into traditional combat to play out specific scenes easily as a DM.

My biggest gripe is that the system doesn’t seem to do a good job of actually running mass combat, in my opinion.  Battle Rating is weird and doesn’t scale sensibly, leading to strange and exploitable edge cases.  It is a simple rule set, and for a DM that just wants a single battle to be able to play out, I think it’s sufficient, but I wanted my campaign to feature a war, so this didn’t cut it.

Strongholds and Followers

This approaches combat from the other direction and is built with the design philosophy of “Individuals Don't Matter.”  I believe the resulting minigame can be fun, but it also removes the player characters entirely.  Yes, the players are controlling the units fighting for them, but they're not playing Dungeons and Dragons anymore.  There’s no allowance here for diving into epic moments and playing them out.  The units provided here do not map easily to standard NPC stat blocks.  

Unless I'm much mistaken, it doesn't even map to a number of soldiers!  For small human levies, that's 9.9 copper a day for a whole unit.  And then there's the whole thing where you can buy a heavy armor unit for cheaper than a suit of armor for yourself.

This pricing makes no sense.  I know 5e isn't exactly known for economic realism, but at least you have to dig a little to make it fall apart.  This system collapses the moment you look at it.

In a similarly strange way, this system lacks any sort of assigned troop movements, meaning any fight is just a numerical slugfest.

I do believe this book contains a lot of good insight on running warfare, but the mechanical implementation is lacking.  It tries too hard to make individuals not matter and ends up ceasing to be Dungeons and Dragons.  It was this fact that ultimately led to me creating this system.  Matt said he was open to revisions and seems accepting of criticism, so I look forward to future editions.


  • Entertaining Mass Combat: the mass combat system must be a fun minigame in its own right.

  • Hero Units: players must maintain the ability to impact the battle with their characters.  One wizard can't win a war by himself, but a well-placed spell should tweak the odds.

  • Direct Conversion: formations must be convertible to hordes of conventional enemies.

  • Easy Zoom-Out: after a zoomed-in hero battle occurs, it should not be math heavy to return to the normal mass battle.

  • Spell Abstraction: spells and area of effect abilities should have a scaling system where they can deal extra damage without diving into conventional encounters.

  • Useful Unit Types: there should be multiple units and they should have unique abilities, encouraging a mix.

  • Economic Costs: there should be costs to maintaining an army that scale sensibly with the established hireling prices.

Summary of Changes

While by no means the whole story, this is a brief summary of the big changes presented in this document so you know what to expect.

  1. Formations: like units are merged together into formations, which in turn can be temporarily formed into meta-formations.  Formations can be one of a number of types such as Infantry or Cavalry, which confer unique benefits.

  2. Diminished: You really want to avoid your forces being Diminished.  This most frequently happens due to dropping below 50% hp.

  3. Chaos Points: The hp of a formation is more than just the hp of its members; it measures integrity of the lines as well.  Chaos Points are a means of measuring how much of the damage dealt to a formation is structural.  A weakened formation can expend Chaos Points to reform its ranks and ready itself for battle once more.

  4. Morale & Leadership Checks: Lots of things can inspire Leadership checks, which are heavily modified by Morale.  You can even end up with a cascading series of checks that lead to your entire line unzipping and an army being routed (naturally, there are ways to mitigate this).

  5. Flanking & Crits: Flanking and Critical Hits are both very strong in this ruleset, largely due to their interactions with Morale.

  6. Formation vs Formation: Normal formation combat

  7. Hero vs Hero: Normal D&D combat

  8. Formation vs Hero: Special rules for area of effect spells apply.

  9. Scaling Cost: Cost scales linearly with CR.  Generally speaking, each mercenary must be paid its CR in gold each day.

  10. Creature Types: Undead are immune to Leadership checks and are nearly free to maintain, making them a powerful force on the battlefield.  Constructs and plants are similar, but more expensive and less evil.


For massed enemies, use formations.  A formation occupies a 100 foot hex on a battlemap.  A formation should be all one type of creature, and that creature is called its “prototype.”  A mixed army is possible, but at this level of abstraction, a human-and-elf formation is mechanically the same as whichever species is more common throughout.  A formation has a maximum of 1000 Unit Slots that are filled based upon the sizes of creatures in question.

  • Medium or Smaller Sized: 1 slot per prototype, max 1000

  • Large: 4 slots per prototype, max 250

  • Huge: 9 slots per prototype, max 111

  • Gargantuan: 16 slots per prototype, max 62


Creatures can be mounted, in which case you should treat the mounted creatures as a combined creature.  Add their health together, grant it multiple attacks from each of its constituent creatures, and average their AC, rounding down.  Use the initiative of the mount.  See the example at the end for how to handle cases like Mounted Knights riding warhorses with plate armor.  Both the creature and its mount consume Unit Slots.


Morale ranges from -10 to +10, depending on the situation.  Most units start between -2 and +2, depending on the conditions under which they were acquired.  For each factor that improves morale, add one, and for each that worsens it, subtract one.  Unless a particularly critical event happens in the middle of a battle, only change morale at the end of a long rest.

Morale Ratings




Openly rebellious

















Example Morale Factors

The following are the default list of morale factors (and are integrated into the API script).

  • Rest: For every successive day without sleep or with combat, subtract one morale point.  Each day that does not subtract a morale point, add 1 until you return to 0.  This will never be positive.

  • Food & Drink: For every successive day without food or water, subtract one morale point.  Each day that does not subtract a morale point, add 1 until you return to 0.  This will probably never be positive. 

  • Equipment: Adjust based on gear quality

    • Crude: -2

    • Mediocre: -1

    • Standard: +0

    • Fine: +1

    • Masterwork: +2

  • Compensation: If the formations are not being sufficiently paid, subtract 1 for each week without pay.  For every week with pay, add 1 until you return to zero.  Evil formations may receive a temporary bonus here if they are allowed to loot and pillage.

  • Personal Stake: There may be other options as well, so use the following as guidance.

    • No Meaning: -1

    • Minimal Meaning: 0

    • Righteous Cause: +1

    • Defense of Bonds: +3

    • Cornered Last Stand: +5 and advantage

  • Prototype Might: Consider how the prototypes of the formation compare to the others in the war.

    • Drones: -1

    • Main Battle Troops: +0

    • Elite Troops: +1

  • Commander Preparedness: Consider how prepared the commanders and generals are for this battle.

    • Unprepared: -1

    • Moderately Prepared: +0

    • Master Plan: +1

  • Treatment by Commander: Think about how the commander and the general treat the troops.

    • Disrespect: -1

    • Respect: +0

    • Utmost Respect: +1

  • Camaraderie: Consider how the formation behaves as a unit off the battlefield and any conflicts between its troops or between this formation and another one.  Subtract 1 if this formation has serious interpersonal conflicts.

  • Terrain: Consider the positioning of the armies and who has the terrain advantage.

    • Enemy has Advantage: -1

    • Neutral: +0

    • Allied Army has Advantage: +1

  • Weather: Weather can have a huge impact on the psychology of soldiers.  Include any global effects that affect both armies here.

    • Extreme Weather: -3 for things like hurricanes, earthquakes, tornadoes, and other extreme events.

    • Severe Weather: -2 for high temperatures, sub-freezing temperatures, or thunderstorms

    • Moderate Weather: -1 for chilly weather or persistent precipitation

    • Mild Weather: +0 for good conditions


A formation is led by a Commander, and a commander can lead only one formation.  A commander is seldom a hero unit, though is likely to follow the advice of a hero if one appears.  For the purposes of this scale of battle, commanders do not attack or count toward the formation’s health.

A commander is more than just a person giving commands to minions.  The commander’s duty includes not only knowing which soldiers can deliver orders or tactically implement a battleplan, but also many aspects outside of combat involving caring for their troops.  This day-to-day minutiae is largely beneath the concern of heroes, however if a player does deign to involve themselves deeply with a formation, they must spend one week with them.  Until that time, the player may function as the commander and lead them in battle, but they have disadvantage on attack rolls and leadership checks.  Hero-commanders are considered attached heroe and count their attacks and health as their own rather than part of the formation.

In the interest of player agency, give players control of the NPC commanders of their army so that they can each play a larger part in its victory (or defeat).  Over time, you may wish to develop the personalities of the NPCs, but there is likely little need for each commander to be named.

Leadership Checks

A commander may be forced to make Leadership checks throughout a battle.  For a leadership check, roll a d20, add the morale bonus, and then add the commander’s Charisma modifier.

While a hero unit is attached to a formation, the formation is participating in a cornered last stand to save their bonds, or the constituent creatures have the Brave trait, Leadership checks are made with advantage.  Formations of Undead or Constructs automatically succeed on all Leadership checks.

  • Casualties: After taking damage that leaves a formation below half health, its commander must succeed on a DC 15 Leadership check or have her formation routed.

  • Blindsided:  If an enemy critically hits with a weapon it is proficient with on a Formation Attack roll or surprises their target, the leader of the attacked formation must immediately succeed on a DC 15 Leadership check or his formation is routed.  It is possible that a single attack could impose two checks on the same target if a critical hit reduces a formation below 50%, and on a failure of both, trigger an automatic rallying failure (see below).

  • Hero Death: If a hero is attached to a formation and perishes, the commander must succeed on a Leadership check with a DC equal to twice the level (or CR) of the downed hero or her formation is routed.

  • Friendly Casualties: If an adjacent allied formation is routed, a commander must succeed on a DC 10 Leadership check.  If an adjacent allied formation is entirely destroyed, the DC is instead 15.  A given formation only makes a single friendly casualties route check in response to a given attack.

  • Unsupplied: After a week without upkeep or food for a formation, the commander must succeed on a DC 5 Leadership check.  On a failure, the unit disbands and quits the field.  Every successive unsupplied week increases the DC by 1, and the DC does not reset until one month has passed in which the formation had sufficient supplies.  Commanders of mercenary units have disadvantage on this check.

  • Sacrifice: if you order a formation to engage an enemy in melee combat that is composed of creatures with a challenge rating at least 5 higher than the members of your unit, your forces may grow hesitant.  The commander must succeed on a Leadership check with a DC of 5 plus the difference in CR (rounded up) or the troops are too hesitant to properly attack, and so gain disadvantage on the attack roll.

A GM is free to require checks under other circumstances as necessary such as when a fleeing enemy army dumps their gear to try to seem less of a threat and distract pursuers with loot.  For such checks, consider the battle weariness of the armies, any animosity towards the individuals in the fleeing army, the value of what they leave behind, and the value of what the victors already have.

Chain of Command

Commanders can be assassinated (and resurrected, if resources allow).  A non-hero commander only dies if their formation is annihilated or if they are assassinated by a hero unit.

If a commander is incapacitated, the formation becomes uncontrollable, automatically failing leadership checks.  Depending on the situation and the formation’s morale, they may repeat their last received command, attack the nearest hostile force, defend themselves, flee, or something else at the DM’s discretion.

If a formation has an established chain of command when the old commander is incapacitated, the new commander must succeed on a DC 10 charisma plus morale check or have her formation be uncontrollable.  On a failure, the new commander may repeat the check at the beginning of each turn.  

If there is not an established chain of command, at the start of each of the formation's turns, have a prototype make a DC 20 charisma plus morale check as a member of the formation attempts to take the reins.

Due to the dangers of battle, it is possible in some settings that commanders may not even be physically present, instead interacting with their troops through magic.  Commanders that are not physically present have disadvantage on leadership checks.


A formation inherits its statistics from its constituent units, multiplied by the number of units, though a few things change.  These are stipulated below.

Hit Points

In simple terms, formation health is a measure both of the vitality of its constituent members and also their holistic ordered behaviors that allow them to operate as a cohesive unit.  A formation reduced to 0 quits the field.  There may be survivors, and perhaps they can one day be rounded up, but they are lost for this battle.

Maximum Hit Points = creature max hp x creature count x formation type modifier

Chaos Points

As a formation is assaulted, its members weary, their straight lines bend, and weaknesses appear.  When a formation takes Chaos damage, add the removed hit points to its Chaos Point total.  When a formation takes Battle damage, add half the removed hit points to its Chaos Point total.  These can then later be spent to regenerate the health of a formation.

Fatality Points

When a formation is attacked, some units have the misfortune of permanent injury or death.  When a formation takes Battle Damage, add one quarter of the removed hit points to its Fatality Points.  These assist in tracking attrition over several battles.

Attack Rolls

For each attack a creature in a formation would make on a turn were it in normal combat, make an attack roll.  If it has several it can take on a turn, they need not all be targeted at the same formation.

Formation Attack Roll = d20 + commander intelligence modifier (minimum 0) + prototype to-hit bonus

Formation Attack Roll (Optional Simplified) = d20 + 3 + prototype to-hit bonus

Formation Armor Class = prototype AC

Cover rules apply as normal.

When you succeed on an attack roll, you deal normal formation damage.  Note that this is a massed battle, however, so partial damage is possible.  If you fail on the attack roll by 5 or less, you deal Diminished formation damage.  If you fail by a greater amount, your formation’s attack is rebuffed and does not inflict meaningful casualties.

The critical hit range of a formation is the same as that of its prototype.  Getting a critical hit doubles the damage dealt.


When you make a formation attack against an adjacent formation, you are considered to be flanking them if on the opposite side of the targeted formation there is an adjacent formation that is allied to you, is not routed, and is aware of your presence.  

Alternatively, if there are two allied formations that are not routed and aware of your presence and together the three of you form an equilateral triangle around the targeted formation, you are also said to be flanking.

Flanking attacks are made with advantage and deal double damage, replacing the normal combat flanking rule for creatures.

High Ground

When a formation makes a ranged attack from high ground, critical hit range increases.  For every 100 feet away (rounded up) the target is, there must be an elevation drop of at least 20 feet to gain a +1 bonus to this.  A 40 foot drop per 100 feet is instead +2, and 60 feet of drop in the same distance is +3.  

Critical range cannot increase to more than +3 due to high ground.


Like health, damage is scaled by formation type.  Unlike individual units, damage is a pre-computed value and is not rolled.  (It’s also, frankly, rather silly how hard 400d6 converges, so it’s not worth the effort to roll that.)

Formation Damage = prototype averaged damage roll x prototype count x formation modifier x 2

If a formation is reduced to less than half its maximum hit points, it deals Diminished damage instead.

If damage dealt to a formation drops it below 0 hit points, the extra damage is instead dealt to Chaos Points and fully added to Fatality Points.

Damage Types

Battle Damage

All conventional damage (bludgeoning, piercing, fire, cold, radiant, force, etc) is considered Battle Damage.  When a formation receives this, compute traditional modifiers such as vulnerabilities as normal.

Chaos Damage

It is also possible to directly damage the structure of a formation itself.  This is called Chaos Damage.  Many spells by hero units that do not damage individual creatures are computed in mass battle scenarios as Chaos Damage to the formations.

Fatality Damage

Some of the most dreaded effects in the world can directly slay creatures en masse, reduce maximum hit points, or otherwise remove soldiers entirely from the battlefield.  When a formation receives Fatality Damage, subtract that number from its current hit points and add it to its Fatality Points.

Diminished Damage

When a formation deals with a struggle on the battlefield such as fighting through a choke point, it cannot bring its full force to bear, and deals only 50% of its normal damage.  If a force is diminished from multiple sources, this effect does not stack with itself.


The speed of a formation is 10 times the lowest speed among the units in it.  For mounted creatures, use the speed of the mounts.  A formation must stop moving if it moves adjacent to an enemy formation unless it uses the Disengage action that turn.

Difficult Terrain

Difficult Terrain only affects a formation if half or more if of a hex is difficult Terrain.  For spells that generate it, only consider it as applying to the whole formation if the Effect Scale is at least 12.

Choke Points

A narrow bridge, a ladder leading up an embattled wall, or a narrow pass through the mountains.  Every foot of movement through a choke point costs 2 feet of movement, and if a given hex has a tactically-useful choke point, the whole hex is said to be a choke point.

When a formation attacks another formation occupying a choke point, the damage is Diminished.  Choke points are also liable to have cover for the defenders or be difficult terrain, making them even more challenging for attackers to handle.  

For instance, most population centers will be choke points and grant all Formations in them ? cover against each other as the urban fighting slows progress.


Flying units can be of any formation type.  Guarded melee attacks can attack flyers, but otherwise only ranged attacks can hit flying creatures.  In water battles, creatures that swim below the surface may take advantage of this as well.


When a formation is subjected to magical healing, it cannot be healed by more than the difference between its current hit points plus its chaos points plus its death points and its maximum health.


Formation initiative can be precomputed and constant or randomized at the DM’s discretion.  If you wish to randomize it, simply add a d20 to the below formula.

Formation Initiative = 10 + unit morale rating + commander’s Charisma modifier


A formation may move up to its speed on its turn and may make one action which may be taken at any point along its movement.


See the above rules for attacking as a formation.  If the ability is one that ordinarily recharges on a d6 die roll, assume it is always up at the start of the formation’s turn as the constituent creatures would have had 10 chances to get it back.

If the “attack” is actually an ability or spell that compels a saving throw, have a prototype creature of the target formation make the roll and use that to represent the formation as a whole.


A formation that dashes increases its speed for its current turn by its speed.


A formation focuses on building a shield wall or otherwise making itself harder to hurt.  Until the beginning of its next turn, attacks against it have disadvantage and damage to it is Diminished.  Only Infantry may take the Defend action.


When utilizing Disengage, you can select an enemy formation you are adjacent to.  On this turn, you can move despite your adjacency to that formation.  If there are other enemy formations you wish to move past, your commander must succeed on a DC 10 Leadership check in each case or have their movement arrested beside the formation they failed to make the check for.


A formation that guards prepares to attack oncoming enemies.  When an enemy moves within range of you before the beginning of your next turn, you may choose to immediately attack them.  After choosing to attack an enemy, this effect ends.


By hiding, a formation attempts to drop off the map.  Have a prototypical unit make a stealth check and apply that to the entire formation.  A formation cannot hide unless they can lose line of sight with any hostile forces nearby.  A hiding formation is automatically spotted if the passive Perception of a hostile formation exceeds the stealth check made by the formation.


When you order a formation to Recover, until the beginning of your next turn, you focus on tasks such as reforming ranks or performing first-aid on the wounded to bring them back into fighting shape.  While you do so, attacks against your formation have advantage.  At the beginning of your next turn, your formation regenerates hit points equal to its current Chaos Point total.  Then, set your Chaos Point total to 0.


When a formation searches, it makes a perception check with advantage.  If the prototypical creatures of the formation had access to Keen Senses of any sort, any improved senses used for perception checks have double advantage.


When you Metaform a formation, select an existing friendly formation to merge with, creating a metaformation.  To do so, any intervening space between the formations must not be occupied by hostile forces.  If the target formation is already part of a metaformation, this formation joins that one rather than creating a new one.


If a formation goes more than 24 hours without an 8-hour long rest, it receives a level of Exhaustion as normal.  Completing a long rest removes one level of Exhaustion as normal.

When a formation completes a long rest, first convert any Chaos Points to Hit Points and set its Chaos Points to zero.  Restore half of its remaining missing health to represent healing and treatment and recovery of its members.  Finally, set its maximum hit points to its current hit points to symbolize the death of members and record the percentage loss of max hp and apply that same reduction to all its damaging abilities and attacks.


At the beginning of a routed formation’s turn, it immediately takes Chaos Damage equal to 10% of its maximum health as its members begin to scatter.  While routed, a formation can only Disengage, loses any existing benefits from having taken the Defend or Guard actions, and must spend its full movement attempting to flee the battle.  At the end of each of the formation’s turns, its commander attempts a DC 15 Leadership check to Rally the remaining forces.  

After three failures to rally a routed formation, it breaks apart entirely and quits the field.  If a routed formation is successfully attacked by another formation, it automatically adds one failure to this count.

Unit Types

The following unit types exist for mass combat.  As with all other aspects here, they are simplified.  If you have a type of formation that does not fit cleanly into one of these categories, work with your DM to find one that most closely matches it (or create a new one!).

Unit Type

Health Modifier

Damage Modifier

Special Abilities




Defend Action




Cavalry Charge




Attack at Range, Full damage to choke points




Attack while disengaging




3x damage on first attack after rest




Home Advantage, Riot


Infantry can hold ground better than any other type of unit and can attempt to move safely across the battlefield with Defend.


When a Cavalry formation moves toward an enemy formation and then makes one or more attacks against it on the same turn, the attack has advantage and deals double damage.  This is known as Charging.  The cavalry formation cannot charge if it would make the attack from difficult terrain or the target is occupying a choke point.  Ranged and area effect abilities such as dragonfire do not benefit from charging.

When a cavalry formation is charging toward a target formation, any formations that took the Guard action and attempt to attack the cavalry formation are Diminished.

Note: Flying or swimming creatures that do not qualify as hero units will usually count as cavalry.


Archers have the unique ability of being able to target creatures they cannot physically reach.  An archer formation may target another formation up to its extended range, though it does so with disadvantage if it is not adjacent to it.  When attacking a choke point, archers do not suffer from Diminished damage unless it is provided by another source.  On a turn when Archers Disengage, they may only move half their movement.

Catapult siege engines of all kinds (trebuchet, mangonel, ballista, cannon, etc) count as archer units.


Although not necessarily mounted, scouts are often quick and able to engage and disengage swiftly.  Most commonly, they take the form of mounted archers using shortbows.  Scouts make ranged attacks against enemy formations they are adjacent to.  On a turn when scouts use Disengage, they may also make a single attack (even if they normally have multiple) with disadvantage.

Note: If you are on a mount that is large enough that you can use a longbow, you’re probably a hero unit.


A mage corps should not include mages with access to spell slots of 5th level or higher.  Mages above that point have access to battlefield-altering magic and should instead be treated as heroes.  For the sake of abstraction, a mage formation does not use spell slots, instead simply dealing triple damage on the first attack (based upon its highest-damage cantrip) it makes after a short rest and its attacks are ranged attacks with a range of 200 feet.


When a population center is besieged or attacked, treat its populace as a leaderless formation.  This populace cannot be routed or take any action other than Hide.  Civilians have the Home Advantage trait, receiving a +10 to all attempts at Stealth while in the population center.  When a civilian population receives Battle Damage, it gains an extra 25% of the damage received as Chaos Points.

A population center with its civilians reduced to 0 Hit Points with Chaos Points remaining surrenders.  If no Chaos Points remain, it is exterminated.

When a population center with no occupying friendly formation is attacked, a prominent local leader may attempt a DC 15 Leadership check to assemble the 10% of the populace into a mob, a particular kind of Infantry that retains the Home Advantage feature, but has disadvantage on all further Leadership checks.  

Rolling higher than the DC of 15 adds the difference to the morale of the new formation.  If the leadership check to create a mob succeeds by 5 or more, 25% of the populace joins the mob.  If the check succeeds by 10 or more, 50% of the populace joins the mob, which begins to Riot.

A population center in Riot cannot be pillaged.  Additionally, the mob gains advantage on all attacks against hostile creatures within the population center and cannot be made to deal Diminished damage by any means.

Mobs can briefly follow expelled hostile forces out of a population center, but carry no supplies with them beyond the clothes on their backs and improvised weapons.  They disband as soon as the threat to their homes has passed.


A metaformation is a cluster of existing formations that have banded together to move about as one.  A formation within a metaformation surrenders its ordinary position in the initiative order. A metaformation inherits its initiative in the turn order from its lowest-initiative member formation.

While metaformed, except in the ways specified in this document, the constituent formations behave as normal.



This metaformation merges with another formation or metaformation, per the same rules as individual formations metaforming.


All constituent formations that have not yet acted this round take their turns.  The sequence is chosen by the commanders and does not reflect the original initiative rankings.


The metaformation disbands.  Any constituent formations that have not yet taken a turn this round immediately take their turns in an order determined by the commanders.  On the following initiative round, all constituent formations resume their normal initiative positions.


The most powerful allied and enemy units will be treated as hero units.  These are beings that can single-handedly affect the fate of formations, battles, or even entire wars.  Sometimes, they may act only indirectly as generals, but others personally wade into the conflict, slaying legions of their foes.

In the interest of maintaining player agency, unless the players truly are the rank-and-file members of an army, it is recommended they be hero units.

Constructs such as ships or enormous monsters usually qualify as hero units.  Do not expect hero units to deal more damage than formations.  Formations will still do the bulk of the work, but heroes can be applied tactically to turn the tide of a battle.

Attached and Wandering Heroes

A hero in mass combat may be Attached or Wandering.  Heroes begin as Wandering unless they are not surprised by the combat and choose to be otherwise.  As an action on a hero’s turn, he may attach himself to a formation, moving and acting thereafter on the formation’s turn.  A hero, even when attached, is not part of a formation and has her own turn.  A hero may leave a formation at any time on his turn as a free action.  While attached, a hero cannot be directly targeted by formation attacks.

Heroic Intervention

While a hero is attached to a formation, the hero receives no damage from effects targeting the formation unless the hero wishes to intervene.  A hero may intervene any time his formation is damaged, redirecting half of the damage it receives to himself before resistances are applied.

Hero Combat

Hero vs Hero

When hero units engage each other, they use standard encounter rules of D&D.

Hero vs Formation

When a Hero has more than a passing interaction with a formation, dive into normal combat against that formation’s creatures.  If you wish to not dive too deeply into it, a hero takes 10 actions on their turn.  

Note: a simple way to resolve this if a hero takes no limited resource actions is to have them take a normal turn and then multiply damage dealt by 10.

Heroic Resistance

Heroes receive only half of the battle damage inflicted by formations, such as the damage received by Heroic Intervention.

This does not apply to damage dealt by individuals in a formation during a zoomed in part of the battle.

Magic Against Formations

In mass combat, spells that target areas become incredibly useful, able to knock down enemies quickly.  If the spell calls for a saving throw, have a prototypical unit in the formation perform the saving throw.  On a success, all are said to have succeeded.  On a failure, all are said to have failed.

Effect Scale

To calculate the efficacy of AoE magic that does not target a finite number of creatures, calculate its Scale.  Round down.  If an ability has multiple areas of effect, calculate each one as below and sum together all areas targeting the same formation.

  • Sphere Scale = 2 + diameter / 10

  • Line Scale = 2 + width / 10

  • Cone Scale = 2 + length / 10

  • Cube Scale = 2 + side / 10

An Effect Scale from a single source cannot exceed 10.  If it would exceed this, determine in what way the effect would spill out into surrounding hexes and apply the Overflow Effect Scale as below:

  • Overflow Sphere Scale = (diameter – 100) / 10

  • Overflow Line Scale = (width  – 100) / 10

  • Overflow Cone Scale = (length  – 100) / 10

  • Overflow Cube Scale = (side  – 100) / 10

For example, Fireball has a scale of 6.  Alternatively, a Meteor Swarm aiming two meteors at one formation and one at another would have a scale of 12 (not 20) against the first and 10 against the second.  Otiluke’s Freezing Sphere would have a scale of 12 against the targeted formation and a scale of 1 against all surrounding formations.

Control Damage

Control damage is a quick way of handling how zone control effects can harm a formation when they do not have a discrete damage value.  As with other damage, control damage is typed as Battle, Chaos, or Fatality.

Hit Point Loss = effect scale x 5% x maximum hit points

Damage or Healing

Damage or healing dealt to a formation by an AoE is multiplied by the effect’s Scale.

Crowd Control

Crowd Control effects that target creatures rather than areas do not have a meaningful impact on formations.  For AoE crowd control, however, many negative statuses are combined for the purposes of mass combat, while others function differently or not at all.

Formations are Immune
  • Grappled

  • Off-Center

  • Prone

Functions Normally
  • Invisible

Functions Specially
  • Exhausted: if a formation receives exhaustion through starvation, sleep deprivation, or other similar means it takes effect as normal.  Spells that trigger levels of it deal Control Chaos damage.

  • Frightened: the formation commander must succeed on a Leadership check with a DC of 8 + the effect scale or have her formation routed.

  • Petrified: deal Control Fatality Damage

Rolled into Disorganized
  • Blinded

  • Charmed

  • Deafened

  • Incapacitated

  • Paralyzed

  • Poisoned

  • Restrained

  • Stunned

  • Turned

  • Unconscious


When a formation is subjected to the Disorganized status, many of its members are only a hair’s-breadth away from death.  When Disorganized is applied, deal Control Chaos Damage.  If the formation is then attacked by another formation while Disorganized persists, remove the Chaos Points added from the Control Chaos Damage, effectively retroactively turning it into Fatality Damage.

Impassable Barriers

Spells that create impassable barriers such as wall spells or terrain altering magic are to be placed at the edges of hexes.  When present, these barriers block a formation from traveling from one side of it to the other.


Unit Creation

Raising the troops in the first place is not free, not to mention the value of a good commander.  Creating a new formation consequently costs a fair amount of gold to establish it, which is why many lords turn to mercenaries, which do not have this cost.

Recruit Soldier Cost (in gold) = (equipment + prototype CR + mount cost + mount CR) x prototype count

Creating a formation of sufficiently trained individuals takes two weeks.  In the case of levies, you must not conscript more than 10% of your population, or else risk severe economic problems for your fiefdom, to be determined at the DM’s discretion.

Unit Maintenance

Raising and then keeping an army around is extremely expensive.  Fortunately for kings and lords, their soldiers are mostly levied.  This means that a proper wage is not required for most troops.  You mainly need to feed them and provide them with shelter and equipment.  The base maintenance cost for a creature scales with its size.  Below, you will find these values in gold.

Size Cost

  • Tiny: 0.01 

  • Small: 0.03

  • Medium: 0.1

  • Large: 0.3

  • Huge: 1

  • Gargantuan: 3

Levied Formation Daily Upkeep (in gold) = (prototype size cost + prototype CR + mount size cost + mount CR) x prototype count / 2

Mercenary Formation Daily Upkeep (in gold) = (prototype size cost + prototype CR + mount size cost + mount CR) x prototype count

Non-Animal Soldiers

Undead, Constructs, and Plants calculate maintenance costs differently and have Active and Inactive states.  While active (moving about the battlefield, attacking, etc), they incur their maintenance rate, but do not incur one while inactive.  Switching from Active to Inactive or vice versa takes 24 hours, during which upkeep is charged as if active.


Undead soldiers require essentially no maintenance except minor repairs.  Undead are also evil, so while they are the most efficient troops, most lords avoid them.

Undead Creation Cost = (equipment + (prototype CR x 20) ) x prototype count 

Undead Maintenance Cost = prototype CR x prototype count / 10


More expensive than undead, but cheaper than meat sacks to maintain and without the ethical qualms of defiling dead bodies!

Construct Creation Cost = (equipment + (prototype CR x 50) ) x prototype count

Construct Maintenance Cost = construct CR x prototype count / 5


Plants cannot be inactive when in a biome they cannot take root in and gain nutrients from the soil.

Plant Recruitment Cost = (equipment + prototype CR) x prototype count 

Plant Maintenance = prototype CR x prototype count / 5


As campaigns wear on, formations take casualties in battle, and you acquire new troops.  Sometimes you may wish to split one formation into two or merge two into one.  When a formation is reorganized in any fashion, it suffers a one-point morale penalty until the end of its next battle or 1 month, whichever comes first.  

Reorganizing a formation takes 1 day.  If it fights during this time, the reorganization is aborted and must be restarted.


Splitting one unit into two is relatively expensive as you will need to replicate some logistical networks and find a new commander.  Doing so costs 500gp.


Merging one unit into another returns resources to you as you can now operate your forces more efficiently.  Doing so grants you 100gp.


Soldiers die.  It’s a natural part of warfare.  To replenish your forces, simply pay the soldier recruitment cost above.


Soldiers that you train up to greater levels are loyal to you and do not require wages as high as those procured already at that level.  Using NPC Training, you may increase the level (which shall be interpreted as CR here) of the formation.  Use the below calculation to replace the default value of the Prototype CR in the upkeep costs above.

Upgraded Soldier Cost CR = (new CR – original CR) / 2 + original CR

Recovering Lost Formations

If a formation is reduced to 0 hit points in battle but has chaos points remaining, over the course of the next short rest, its commander may attempt a DC 15 Leadership check to use the Recover action, restoring the formation to functioning order on a success and converting any chaos points into hit points.  On a failure, the formation disbands entirely as its members scatter to the winds.

Pillaging (Optional Rule)

To save on upkeep, you may order a formation to pillage the surrounding subjugated area for food and supplies.  When you spend a day doing this to a a one-mile hex, you receive food and supplies for your formation.  While you have this pillaged food, you need only pay half the normal upkeep cost for your formations.  (This food does not count toward upkeep for undead or constructs.)

Pillaging and Morale

When evil formations get their first chance to pillage in a while, their morale improves.  Conversely, when good formations see their army forced to pillage, their morale declines.  For obvious reasons, pillaging tends to turn the commoners in the area vehemently against you, but can be used as a threat or fear tactic to keep subjects in line.

Pillaging Table

See the table below for how much or little food your forces can acquire.  You may only pillage a given area once a week.  Every successive time a location is pillaged, reduce the size of the die used by one size (d20 -> d12 -> d10 -> d8 -> d6 -> d4).  A location takes 1 year to recover from a given level of pillaging, thereby moving its pillaging die back up one size.



Other Resources

Metropolis or Trade Hub

1000d20gp of food



500d20gp of food



100d20gp of food



50d20gp of food



10d20gp of food


Untamed Forest

5d20gp of food



1d20gp of food





Hero Upkeep

Hero units do not have a standardized upkeep cost and usually work for favors rather than gold.

Victory and Defeat (GMs-Only)

Like many other aspects of Dungeons and Dragons, the precise termination of a battle is not always a preordained affair.  When to end mass combat initiative is up to the DM's discretion, but there are many ways to end a battle.

Example End Conditions

Army Retreats

The most common way for an intelligent commander to end a battle she is losing is to withdraw to fight another day. The destruction of your entire army opens your territory to all manner of vultures, even those you were not fighting before that may want to pick at the scraps of your kingdom.  Fighting to the last man may sound dramatic, but doing so is almost always a strategic loss.  True, there are some suicide missions in war that must succeed against all odds, but those are fewer than the number of battles you must retreat from.

Forces Capture

If you manage to capture the highest ranking officer, you may manage to bring about a surrender, but it is also possible that their subordinates will continue fighting now or later.  If you wish to decapitate an army, you should capture or kill both the general and his command staff.

Bear in mind that in campaigns with more magic, it is unlikely a general losing a battle will stay behind, instead opting to flee with flight or teleportation.  In other cases, the general could be using magic to direct his troops and is not even present.

If you do manage to capture officers or other wealthy nobles, the best option is usually not to just hold them prisoner or kill them.  Instead, ransom them back to their families!  It’s much easier to take the moral high ground when you spare lives, something that may help in post-war negotiations.  

Here are some example ransoms, though you may scale them as is appropriate for your table’s economy and country sizes:

  1. Emperor: 100,000gp

  2. King: 10,000gp

  3. Duke: 5,000gp

  4. Count: 1,000gp

  5. Viscount: 500gp

  6. Baron: 100gp

Structure Captured

If you were trying to capture a fort, then if you capture the fort, you’re probably done.  I won’t go into much detail here other than to say be careful how much damage you do to a castle if you'd like to live in it since it’s likely the buddies of whoever you just killed to take it will want to avenge him.


Sieges aren’t exactly a traditional win condition, but if you can fight your enemy back so that he must hide behind his walls, you have won a victory, albeit a limited one.  From there, it’s a matter of starving each other out or using other means to break the siege.  Historically, few sieges were broken by actually plowing through the walls, especially the most defensible cities.  Instead, the best way was to get a traitor inside to let you in through a secret entrance.  These are unlikely to be actual doorways in a fantasy world with teleportation, but they might be able to smuggle you some teleportation circle runes.

McGuffin Grabbed

Sometimes, there’s just something you’ve just got to get your hands on.  It might be the Ring of Power or an Orb of Annihilation or Vecna’s Hand.  In any event, your army must get the item.  If the fate of the entire world is at stake, you may even be willing to throw away lives by the thousands to get it.  But if you can get the kryptonite to stop Nega-Superman, you win.

Army Annihilated

And finally we get to the one everyone thinks of first: totally eradicating your enemies.  The fact of the matter is, total annihilation is hard.  When an army is clearly losing, its troops scatter to the winds.  If they're obviously different species from the locals, hiding might be harder, but you’ll be stuck with clean-up duty for weeks (if not longer).  For most adventures, you don’t need to worry about clean-up.  Let the existing powers that be do that.  The heroes dealt a major blow against the Dark Lord.  Let that be enough for them so they can move onto their next quest.  (Unless you have an awesome idea for how the mop-up can be spectacular, of course.)

What if the Players Lose?

If the players win, they get medals, lands, titles, and money.  Those sorts of things.  But if they lose a battle or even a whole war?  Well, things get more complicated.

As with most D&D encounters, players are generally expected to win.  There will be some fights that are beyond them, but this should be broadcast to them.  Trusted NPCs should warn them.  Don’t let the players get into a situation where they pick a fight they cannot win.  But what if they do or if the dice turn against them?

Retreat.  In real war, rather than tiny skirmishes, retreat is a very valid option.  Fight another day when you have more men, when you have a terrain advantage, when the enemy is less prepared.  Find more allies.  Go after enemy food stores rather than the army itself.  Cripple their massive force so it is less effective.  Think laterally.

But even then, what if the players (or Gygax-forbid, the DM) make a mistake so terrible that the players are hopelessly surrounded by a million Pit Fiends?  There’s a few things to do.


Sometimes, the enemy is the same species you are.  Just loot a corpse as quickly as you can and run into enemy ranks.  Try to blend in.  If you’re in a besieged city, try to look like the populace.  Look like anything other than the Phandalin Phantoms, famed adventuring party.

Flee with Magic

If you have Teleportation Circle, now would be the time to use that.  Your allies you leave behind may look on sadly, but promise you’ll come back for them, that you’ll free them one day.

Let them Lose

Sometimes, you really can just kill the party.  If they were growing tired of their characters or the campaign, just… stop.  Let them die as heroes, the last atop a hill as their beloved NPCs stand beside them, being struck down one at a time, until at last the final stroke falls and the party is no more.

Other times, you may have a bit more flexibility.  The party could be ransomed to whatever kingdom they are from.  Surely, they have rendered valuable services to King Galanodel, says the ambassador.  Wouldn’t it be such a shame if they couldn’t return home?  For a mere 30,000 gold pieces, they can be returned safely to the kingdom they have worked so hard to protect.

But what if the army isn’t interested in money?  Perhaps the players are enslaved and their gear is taken from them.  If the party’s foes are a proud warrior society, maybe they could be convinced to let the rest of the party go if one of them puts up an honorable fight to the death against the chief, a being that the sacrificial player knows he cannot hope to defeat.  Let that player have their character be blessed with the most glorious and spectacular death of your campaign, having sacrificed his life for his companions.

Players are sad when their characters die, true, but how a party member dies is remembered.  If a player character’s death is a willing sacrifice to save her friends, I think many players would be amenable to having their character go out on such good terms as that.

Deus ex Machina

I list this last because you should avoid it, but there are certain rare circumstances where it might be okay.  Overdo this and you lose all drama at your table.  Perhaps you terminate the session there that day, with the allied army surrounded and hopeless.  Over the next couple sessions, run a little mini-quest with your players from the perspective of servants of that Elf Lord that almost chose to add his troops to the battle, but decided to stay neutral.  Let the NPC change his mind and play through the campaign from a different perspective as his own forces converge on the rear of the Orc army and rescue the party.

Tactical & Strategic Magic (Optional Rule)

Below you will find several spells I use at my table for large-scale magic.

[5] Blizzard [New]

School: Evocation

Casting Time: 1 Action

Range: 200 feet

Components: V, S, M (a snowball with a rock in the middle)

Duration: Concentration, up to 1 minute.

Details: a whirling, freezing Blizzard appears as a 60 foot radius column with a height of 40 feet centered on a point you can see within range.  The effects of this spell extend around corners, but not through solid barriers.

     A very strong (40 mph) wind appears and disperses all gas and vapor cloud effects, including a Black Dragon's breath and spells like Cloudkill, but does not force air back into magically evacuated spaces such as by Banish Air.  The wind also extinguishes all exposed natural flame and magical flame of Third level or below.

     The ground is covered in icy snow, rendering it difficult terrain.  Any creature that ends its turn within the column must make a Constitution save or receive 6d6 Cold damage, half on success.

Higher Levels: for each level higher, damage increases by 1d6.

Classes: Druid, Sorcerer, Wizard

[5] Grand Blessing [New]

School: Transmutation

Casting Time: 1 Action

Range: Self (50-foot radius)

Components: V, S

Duration: Concentration, up to 8 hours

Details: You begin to glow a brilliant golden-white, shedding bright light for 20 feet and dim light for 20 feet beyond that.  

     Waves of power radiate from you for the duration, affecting all friendly creatures within 50 feet for as long as they remain within range.  Any affected creature begins to shed dim light out to 5 feet.  Additionally, select one of the following benefits to confer on creatures within range.

  • +1 to hit with attack rolls

  • +1 to AC

  • +1 to critical range

  • +10 to movement speed

  • +1 to Morale

Higher Levels: For each slot higher than 5th, select another effect from the list to simultaneously apply to the targets of this spell.  You may select the same benefit more than once, stacking its effects.

Classes: Cleric, Shaman

[5] Reposition [New]

School: Conjuration

Casting Time: 1 Minute

Range: 200 feet

Components: V, S

Duration: Instantaneous

Details: You and all willing creatures within 50 feet of you are teleported to a target point within range, your relative positions to each other remaining the same.  If a creature would find its position filled, it is safely shunted to the nearest open space.

Higher Levels: For each slot higher than 5th, the teleport and target acquisition ranges of this spell both increase by 100 feet.

Classes: Bard, Sorcerer, Wizard

[5] Shifting Seasons [New]

School: Conjuration

Casting Time: 1 Action

Range: Self, 150-foot radius

Components: V, S

Duration: Concentration, up to 1 hour

Details: When you cast this spell, select a season.  You magically alter the surrounding area to comply with the effects of the spell.  The effect zone moves with you and spreads around corners, but does not penetrate structures that have windows and doors closed unless those structures have gaping holes.

  • Spring: Heavy rains and fog pour down, removing gas clouds, lightly obscuring things beyond 20 feet and heavily obscuring things beyond 60 feet.  Immediately when you cast the spell and then again at the start of each of your turns, each creature in the radius regains 1 hit point.  A given creature may not benefit from more than 10 recovered hit points from this spell in a 24-hour period.

  • Summer: The entire radius is lit with bright light, banishing all shadows.  Creatures that enter the radius for the first time on their turn or begin their turn inside it receive 1 point of fire damage.  This damage does not impose Concentration checks on you.

  • Autumn: Huge piles of leaves manifest on the ground.  Creatures of size Medium and smaller may use a bonus action to Hide while in the area.  Additionally, creatures within the zone do not benefit from magical healing.

  • Winter: The landscape is blanketed in snow banks.  The entire zone becomes difficult terrain and each creature that enters the zone for the first time on its turn or begins its turn there receives 1 point of cold damage.  This damage does not impose Concentration checks on you.

     In mass combat, this spell continues to target individual creatures if the spell fully envelops the formation.

Higher Levels: For each slot level higher this spell is cast at, the radius increases by 50 feet.

Classes: Druid, Shaman, Sorcerer, Wizard

[5] Sterilize [New]

School: Evocation

Casting Time: 1 Action

Range: Self (100-foot radius)

Components: V, S, M (A stone that was in the radius of Arcane Annihilation)

Duration: Instantaneous

Details: A brilliant green wave of necrotic energy sweeps out from you that penetrates all physical matter, dealing 3 points of damage to all creatures and plants other than you in the radius, even parasites and possessors that would otherwise be protected from damage.  All non-magical pathogens in the radius are instantly destroyed and tiny nonmagical plants in the radius wither and die.  

     Constructs and undead are not affected by this spell.  Additionally, affected creatures with reproductive organs must make a Constitution saving throw.  On a 10 or higher, the creature suffers no further effects.  On a 5 – 9, the creature is sterile for 1 week then recovers.  Below a 5, the creature is sterile for 1 month and may attempt this saving throw again at the end of the month.

     In mass combat, this continues to directly affect creatures if a formation is fully enveloped by the radius.

Higher Levels: For each slot higher than 5th, the radius increases by 50 feet.

Classes: Artificer, Cleric, Shaman, Sorcerer, Wizard

[6] Arcane Artillery [New]

School: Evocation

Casting Time: 1 Action

Range: 1200 feet

Components: V, S, M (three red diamonds worth 100gp each)

Duration: 1 Round

Details: You launch three brilliant spheres of light into the sky that streak toward three points on the ground or faces of structures or on top of structures that you can see.  The spheres arc through the air and land at the end of your next turn.  As they fly, they provide bright light within 1000 feet and dim light within another 1000.  Each sphere deals 8d6 fire damage to all entities within a 15 foot radius on a failed dexterity saving throw; a creature receives half damage on success.  A creature does not receive additional damage if it is within the area of multiple spheres.

A creature that can see the orbs flying can predict their destination on a bonus action intelligence check.  If the creature uses its action instead to make the check, it has advantage.

  • Check at least 25: the creature can identify the target point of one orb.

  • Check at least 20: creature becomes convinced the target of one orb is near a random point within 30 feet of the actual target.  Use 1d8 for the direction and a d6*5 for magnitude.

  • Check at least 15: creature becomes convinced the target of one orb is roughly near a random point within 100 feet of the actual target.  Use 1d8 for the direction and a d20*5 for magnitude

  • Check less than 15 or No Check: creature cannot reasonably identify a landing zone, but can determine the general heading.

If the orbs are targeted with antimagic, they must be targeted separately.

Mass Combat: When used in Mass Combat, this spell is not capped by at an Effect Scale of 12 against a single Formation.

Higher Levels: For each level above 6, another orb is created.

Classes: Sorcerer, Wizard

[6] Flash Flood [New]

School: Conjuration

Casting Time: 1 Action

Range: 600 feet

Components: V, S, M (a water reed)

Duration: Concentration, up to 1 minute

Details: You summon torrential rains from the sky to inundate a 150 foot radius column centered on a point you can see within range. Nonmagical flames in the column are extinguished and vapor clouds such as Fog Cloud or Cloudkill are harmlessly dispersed. Magma within the radius solidifies and the surface of the ground becomes flooded in 6 feet of water, compelling large or smaller creatures to swim.  When a huge or larger walking creature or a flying creature without the Hover feature either enters the column or begins its turn there, it is immediately soaked and must make a strength saving throw.  On a failure, walking creatures fall prone and flying creatures drop 40 feet.

     After the spell ends, such as through Dispel Magic, duration expiration, or broken concentration, the area is rendered difficult terrain by the leftover muck.

Classes: Druid, Shaman, Wizard

[9] Arcane Annihilation [New]

School: Evocation

Casting Time: 1 Action

Range: 1 mile

Components: V, S, M (an object that has been harmed by a teleportation accident)

Duration: Concentration, up to 1 minute

Details: You point to a spot on the ground you can see, and a thin beam of light shoots from there into the sky above.  Ten miles up, a blinding light appears, providing bright light for a 20 mile radius and dim light for 20 miles beyond.  On your following turns, you can use your action to defer the attack.  At the completion of your first turn on which you do not defer the attack, a brilliant pillar of arcane energy screams down upon the target point, immediately sundering any non-magical structures in the way and dealing 2d100 Force damage to everything within a 20 foot radius column, automatically breaking any Walls of Force.  Creatures destroyed by this spell area are destroyed utterly, leaving no trace.  Magical items of quality Rare and below are destroyed by this spell and similarly leave no trace.

     This spell's destructive power burrows into the ground, creating a deep, narrow crater.  Every 20 points of damage allows digging through 5 feet of dirt.  Stone requires 50 points per five feet. Metal requires 70 points per five feet.  This spell boils away water without consuming burrowing distance.  Damage dealt to anything above the target point does not consume burrowing distance.

     Magical barriers of ninth level such as Prismatic Wall will merely have the section of the wall in the column's path destroyed.  For each time you defer the spell, its damage is increased by 1d100 Force damage.

Plants are unable to grow on the ground within 100 feet of the epicenter for the next 2d20 decades.

     Creatures within five miles of the charging sphere of light that look upon it are blinded on a failed Constitution saving throw. Creatures within one mile of it are automatically blinded. Creatures within the charging light's twenty foot radius receive 10d20 Radiant damage at the start of each of their turns.

     This spell cannot target a location underground or a location on a plane that does not extend at least 10 miles above it, but it can target spaces inside buildings. In such cases, the bolt streaks up through the roof, igniting flammable material along the way.

Higher Levels: Initial damage increases by 1d100 at tenth level.

Classes: Sorcerer, Wizard

[9] Perimeter Shield [New]

School: Abjuration

Casting Time: 1 Minute

Range: Touch (1-mile radius)

Duration: 8 hours

Details: You weave together a colossal spherical shield covered in glowing blue hexagons to protect a town, city, or other strategic location, centered on the place you stand when you cast this spell.  Once this spell is complete, nothing may pass from one side of the shield to the other except harmless levels of light and sound, allowing communication through the barrier.  Telepathy is possible from one side of the barrier to the other, but translocation via anything less than a Gate spell is not.  Each 10-foot hex of the shield has 40 hit points and regenerates 10 hit points per round as long as it survives.  If a hex has all its hit points and its adjacent hex has been destroyed, it will donate half its health to restore its neighbor to half health.

Higher Levels: the hexagons become immune to nonmagical weapons, magic of first level, and first grade cantrips.

Classes: Artificer, Sorcerer, Wizard

[9] Theren's Realm Lock [New]

School: Abjuration

Casting Time: 1 Hour

Range: Touch

Components: S, M (A diamond worth at least 10,000gp and up to 10 other gems worth at least 500gp each)

Duration: Until Dispelled

Details: You cast this spell on the gems provided for it and speak two words.  The first becomes the activation word, the second becomes the deactivation word.  If you later speak the words in the presence of the diamond, the effects of this spell activate or deactivate respectively.  While active, translocation within fifty miles of a diamond by magical means is impossible and such spells immediately fails.  Use of magic detection while the effect is active reveals waves of Abjuration magic radiating in great waves from the lesser gems and discrete packets of Abjuration magic heading toward the lesser gems.

     If a lesser gem is on a different plane from the core diamond, it does not project the effect around itself.  To dispel the effect, the central diamond must be targeted with antimagic.  Placing a lesser gem in an antimagic field causes it to have its normal effects outside the field.

Classes: Artificer, Cleric, Sorcerer, Wizard

Battle Points (Optional Rule)

After a battle, armies gain battle points that the general may then use to improve his individual formation commanders.  At the DM’s discretion, additional battle points may be distributed to commanders whose formations achieve incredible feats.

Earning Battle Points

The number of battle points is ultimately in large part up to the DM.  It is my recommendation that if players achieve something particularly difficult or sometimes if a particular formation achieves an extremely unlikely roll result, that a battle point may be given to a particular commander.  In the table below, the data is formatted as Win/Loss.

This is to be considered a general guide, not strict rules.  Many outcomes in war are not clear-cut.  A force may take the objective, but lose so many soldiers as to be unable to win the next battle.

Combat Difficulty (Allied Total BR : Enemy Total BR)

Small Encounter (<6 allied formations)

Medium Encounter (<16 allied formations)

Large Encounter

Trivial (2:1)




Easy (3:2)




Even (1:1)




Outnumbered (2:3)




Overwhelmed (1:2)




Battle Point Upgrades

The following upgrades for commanders have the associated battle point costs.


Point Cost


+1 Stat


Increases an ability score on the commander by 1, to a maximum of 20.  (NPC Commanders only.)



Once per week, can change a leadership check fail to a success.

Efficient Command


Formation upkeep reduced by 5%

Resilient Lines


When receiving Chaos points, immediately convert 10% back to health.

Quick Step


Formation moves twice as fast on roadways and through cities.

Hasty Retreat


When disengaging, you may choose to increase the speed of a formation by 100, but doing so causes all attacks against them to have advantage until the beginning of its next turn.

Unbreakable Line (Infantry only)


Once per week, turn a hit against this formation into a total miss.

Line Cycle (Infantry only)


Once per week, target an adjacent and willing ally formation.  As an action, you may swap places with them, even if enemies are nearby, consuming all of your movement, but not the targeted allied formation’s.

Phalanx (Infantry-only)


If the formation is equipped with reach weapons, when taking the defend action, when attacked by a melee foe, you may make a single attack with the reach weapons.  If it is charging cavalry, your damage is not diminished by the act of the cavalry charging.

Ambush Expertise (Cavalry only)


Once per week, when emerging from cover, the speed of the formation is increased by 100.

Suppressing Fire (Archery only)


An enemy fully hit by an attack finds itself under the influence of difficult terrain until the end of its next turn.

Nighttime Raider (Scouts only)


Can grant formation advantage once per week on a stealth check at night.

Arcane Barrage (Mage only)


The amplified attack after a rest has a range of 600 feet instead of the standard.

Well of the Arcane (Mage only)


The amplified attack may be used one additional time per day in addition to the existing once per short or long rest

Biome Specialization (1 Biome only)


Select a biome from the Druid circle of the land.  While there, your formation ignores natural difficult terrain and has advantage on stealth checks.

Ravenous Raids


The first time your forces pillage a town or larger, you may choose to receive double the resources, but in that case, the pillaging die goes down by two sizes.

Terror Tactics


After pillaging a settlement that is a town or larger, you gain advantage on all intimidation checks with the leadership of that settlement for 1 month.

Hero Slayer


When attacking hero units, the creatures in the formation receive a to-hit bonus equal to the commander’s intelligence modifier.

Dauntless Courage


Should the commander possessing this fall unconscious or perish, all benefits to his formation continue to be in effect for 24 hours, possibly being complemented by the bonuses of an auxiliary commander.  Likewise, if an attached hero unit falls, no leadership check is required.

Running Mass Combat

Running a battle can seem daunting, as can the mere prospect of even setting up for it.  Here, I'll detail how to go about this.

Setup & Strategy

CR Expectations

First, begin with creatures of an appropriate challenge rating.  For humanoids…

  • <1: in training or no training

  • 1: Low end

  • 2: Middle of the road

  • 3: Veteran

  • 5: Skilled and Veteran

  • 7. Elite

  • 9: Super-Elite

Levies should be CR 1 and below.  Mercenaries should be CR 2 if poor, 3 if standard or 5 if particularly skilled.  Elite shock troops should be 7.  9 and above are probably better thought of as hero units in most settings, but are possible if the conflict is cosmic in scale.

Combat Difficulty & Battle Rating

For a simple means of regulating combat difficulty, I’ve created the Battle Rating macro.  In the event you are not using roll20, here’s how it works: it is simply a sum of the experience granted by the individual creatures in a formation multiplied by the number of creatures in the formation.  Sum that value for all formations.  

As these numbers get very large very quickly, I prefer scientific notation (and use that in the output of the API script). 

Creating a Formation

Knowing this, create a prototype creature stat block if you do not already have one.  Then duplicate that, converting the formation stat block to be scaled up for the appropriate number of units.

If on Roll20, you should treat player-owned forces as individuals and should track their health over time (or better yet, have the players that order them around in combat do it).  For “NPC formations” (ie random formations from the Dark Lord's seemingly endless army of undead), it's okay to not track them over time.  After all, these are essentially minion monsters, and just like with normal monsters, unless a formation is named or has a special reason to be, it does not need to have its health tracked long-term.


It is strongly recommended that you use a macro for this if on Roll20.  Make general assumptions about the state of the NPC army’s morale.  Assume the charisma modifier of the leader is half the CR of the formation's prototypes.  For formations with special story features, consider granting them Stalwart or other feats from the battle point upgrades table.


There are plenty of guides historically for how to fight with a real army, and while not everything transfers smoothly, most do in some capacity.  Flanking, defeat in detail, logistics destruction, etc.  Be creative with magic, but also be careful of implications.

In the interest of not just parroting Sun Tzu, I'll instead focus on some simple use cases that result from these rules that might not be readily apparent to everyone.


Thanks to their increased health and reduced damage, infantry are best for shaping the battlefield, rather than directly attacking enemies.  Use them to trigger flanking for your other forces, especially cavalry and mages.


Cavalry are best when charging, especially when the enemy is flanked.  After an attack run, the targeted formation may retaliate or may continue attacking whatever is on the other side of it.  On your next turn, disengage your cavalry and move away.  On your target's next turn, they must disengage your army and so not fight, or they will continue slugging it out.  Take advantage of this and bring your cavalry back in for a second charge.  This will end most units.

In the event of an enemy retreat, you may use cavalry to turn a mundane retreat for your foes into a devastating loss.


Archers deal high damage from range, so use them for that.  Give them the high ground and let them fire down on enemies below.  Only move to engage and remove disadvantage if you must.  Harry your enemies as long as possible.  For massive zone control, have them guard.


Run up, attack, run away. Some enemies may catch you, but it will wear them down much faster than you.  Beware guarding archers.


Be very careful with these.  They do not support extended combat, but they can crush flanked enemies instantly.  Keep these in reserve and on guard until the moment is right.


One of the biggest risks in combat is being flanked.  By establishing metaformations before the battle, you can ensure your troops move as one.  This will slow them down, but it also makes your more vulnerable units safer as you join battle on your terms.  Once battle begins in earnest, you will usually want to disband them.



  • Brave: make Leadership checks with advantage

  • Flanking: flanking attacks are made with advantage and deal double damage.

  • Vs Recovering: attacks against recovering foes are made with advantage

  • Searching: formation searches have advantage.  Keen Senses = Double Advantage

  • Charge: cavalry charges have advantage on attack rolls and deal double damage

  • Riot: While rioting, a mob has advantage on attack rolls

  • Vs Hasty Retreat: When targeting a formation using the Hasty Retreat BPU, attacks have advantage

  • Nighttime Raider: 1/wk advantage on Stealth at night

  • Biome Spec: Advantage on Stealth and immunity to mundane Difficult Terrain in biome

  • Post-Pillage: After pillaging, gain advantage on Intimidation checks vs the populace for 1 month

  • Hero Morale: While a hero is attached, Leadership checks are made with advantage


  • Unsupplied Mercenaries: mercenaries make the Unsupplied Leadership check with disadvantage

  • Sacrifice: On a failure of a Sacrifice Leadership check, the attack is made with disadvantage

  • Remote Command: Commanders not present make Leadership checks with disadvantage

  • Vs Defending: Attacks on Defending enemies are made with disadvantage and are diminished

  • Vollies: Archer attacks against non-adjacent enemies have disadvantage

  • Harass: Scouts can make a SINGLE attack with disadvantage when Disengaging

  • Mob Leadership: Leadership checks of mobs are made with disadvantage.

2x Damage

  •  Charge: Cavalry charges deal double damage and have advantage

  •  Critical: Crits deal double damage

  •  Flanking: flanking attacks deal double damage and are made with advantage.

Diminished Damage

  • <50% HP: While <50%, a formation is Diminished.

  • Partial Hit: Miss attack by 5 or less for Diminished damage.

  • Vs Choke Points: Attacks against a formation occupying a choke point are Diminished, unless Archer

  • Vs Defending: Attacks on Defending enemies are Diminished and have disadvantage

  • Guarding Vs Charge: Attacks made by Guarding infantry vs charging cavalry is Diminished, unless Phalanx

  • Riot's Immunity: Rioting mobs are immune to all sources of being Diminished


Roll20 API Script

While I’ve endeavored to minimize math here, I’m still lazy and want my games to run as smoothly as possible.  Consequently, I've made a companion script for Roll20, specifically for the OGL character sheet.  If someone else wishes to add support elsewhere (such as the 5e-Shaped sheet), you have my blessing, but adding compatibility with other formats is time consuming.


Roll20 API Thread

How to Set Up

  1. Create a macro button for !mc -overview called something like [Mass Combat].

  2. For each formation, start with a basic NPC creature’s character sheet and duplicate it.

  3. Drag a token of the duplicate onto the board and select it.

  4. Press your [Mass Combat] macro button.  A menu will appear in the log (see thread for details of each function).

  5. At the bottom of the menu, you’ll find a button named [Make Formation].  Press it and fill out the popups.

  6. Wait a few seconds as the script transforms the duplicate into a brand new character sheet for a formation.  You will be presented with status messages along the way.




The following are some of the playtests I’ve run (though by no means all of them).

Useful Macros

I have created macros for the attacks and actions for my formations, as well as the basic combat events such as damage and routing.

Overview Macro

Ultimately, the only API command you need to know from the Mass Combat Companion Script is… 

!mc -overview

That command will bring up a menu where you can access all other implemented features.

VTT Enhancement Suite

I cannot recommend this Chrome extension enough.  The most useful features to me are sheet exports, auto-generating token action buttons, and the ability to edit the default token from a new tab on the character sheet.


I use token-mod to quickly tint large numbers of forces to determine factions and control.

!token-mod –set tint_color|?{Color Tint}


I use tampermonkey to get the dark theme you see in the screenshots.

Group Initiative

This is just something to have in any event, but with large numbers of formations, this is essential.


Automatically highlights tokens that drop below 50% hit points.  This is useful for quickly ascertaining which tokens should be Diminished.  It is worth noting that the companion script for mass combat does this automatically when damage is dealt using its commands rather than directly editing the fields of the tokens.

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