1 Lord vs. 100 Orcs

So, as you probably know, I’ve been tinkering with mass combat as of late, and thinking about how it might best be approached for my own campaign (and ADD). I’m particularly drawn to the basic idea of the old Swords and Spells supplement (the last supplement published for 0E, unless you count it as a game unto itself, which is at least implied by the booklet itself). The concept is to simply “scale up” the D&D combat system, using the averages and probabilities to determine damage without rolling dice. There is nothing to say this concept wouldn’t work exactly as well with the AD&D combat system.

For example, take the D&D equivalent of the Stamford Bridge; 1 lord (let’s call him 10th level, AC 0, 50 hit points, with a long sword +2) facing off against 100 orcs. If you go by the averages, the 10th level fighter loses that battle.

The orcs hit 5% of the time (20 on a d20), and let’s be kind and say only 3 of them can attack the lord at any given time. The lord hits 80% of the time (4 or better vs. AC 6). The orcs do an average of 5 hp when they hit, while the lord pretty much kills what he’s aiming at. So, he kills 8 orcs per turn, while the orcs do 8 hp per turn. Bearing in mind that it’s a little fuzzy because of fractions and such (and doubtless eyes are already glazing over with all the numbers as it is), the orcs will eventually kill their man on turn 7, while the lord will run out of orcs to kill on turn 13. (There are only about a third of the orcs left, an impressive tally to be sure, but that’s more than enough left to make a drinking cup out of the lord’s skull to present to their chief.)

Nothing says you couldn’t apply these principles across the board. Voilà! You have a scalable version of AD&D combat, with a meaningful way of measuring damage between vastly different scaled forces. If the combat tables are built properly, you can even build in the weapon vs. armor type adjustments without having to resort to a separate table. The hard part is working up those average damage tables, and that’s not all that hard, really.

Now, what about lower-level characters? I’ve got something for them, too, that gives them meaningful input into large-scale battles without being given make-work jobs as scouts, monster-killers, or off on their own “defending the one critical hill that will mean victory or defeat for the entire army”. But that will come in good time.

Written by 

Wargamer and RPG'er since the 1970's, author of Adventures Dark and Deep, Castle of the Mad Archmage, and other things, and proprietor of the Greyhawk Grognard blog.

8 thoughts on “1 Lord vs. 100 Orcs

  1. I'm toying with something that might need a simple but robust mass combat system that doesn't require minatures.

    So could you finish this up by Monday for me and make sure it's compatible with Labyrinth Lord?

    Thanks. 🙂

  2. What about assigning each fighting unit a level and HP value? Then conducting the combat according to the normal tables?

    A fresh unit of draftees would be like a 1st level fighter with 8 HP. Versus a seasoned unit of battle-tested veterans being a 10th level fighter with 50 HP.

    Loss of unit HP represents tiredness, falling morale, breaking discipline. Loss of all HP means the unit breaks, d100% of the unit is killed outright, the rest on the run.

    For relatively small scale field pieces, units could be defined as groups of 10, for larger conflicts, units could be defined as groups of 100.

  3. How does the power of higher level characters effect morale and what is morale's effect on a unit's performance?

  4. The problem with working strictly from averages is that you do not get the variability that the AD&D system provides. That is to say, you get the average, not the outlying probabilities, making combat very predictable, as with Swords & Spells. This is something I have been wrestling with for the prospective OSRIC supplement, War & Battle, and probably lies behind the different tact taken with Battle System.

  5. Im confused about how the orcs do 8 points of damage? The only way I can see them coming close to 8 pts per turn is if you allow ranged attacks, 3 orcs per turn with 5 percent doing 1-8 (per mm) doesnt add up to 8 average per turn does it?
    Nonetheless, I agree with the need for random chance.

  6. panzerleader: 1 turn = 10 rounds. So, if you have 3 orcs making 10 attacks per turn each, at 5% that's an average of 1.5 hits per turn. Each orc does an average of a 5 points of damage per hit, so it comes out to (roughly) 8 points per turn.

    michael: compatible with LL, absolutely. Finished by Monday? Errr….

    darnizhaan: the orcs might win quicker, but the adjudication of the battle itself would never end!

    red: no influence on damage done or absorbed, but morale does affect whether or not the unit breaks once it has taken damage.

    matthew: AFAIK, no D&D-aimed battle rules have gone the straight-percentages route since Swords and Spells, which is one reason I'm inclined to use it for ADD. Thanks for the pointer to your own effort; I hadn't heard about it before!

  7. Have you gotten a chance to playtest this in a group? If so, I'd be curious to know how your players felt about it. I once devised something similar (based on Fantasy Wargaming by Bruce Galloway) but when I introduced it in actual play, the consensus was that there's probably a reason why no one has tried such a system since the old days.

Comments are closed.