Mechanics for a board game: tactical level D&D minus the D&D

This started as a comment left over at Rumors of War, but I feel it bears saving and posting here for posterity, as well, with some additions and (a little) polish.

As anyone who follows here knows, I’m a big fan of the old hex & chit wargames.  And Dither was pondering over the idea of characters as the stats of a party.  So I got to thinking about how each chit in a wargame breaks down the necessary values of a unit into the simplest bits of information that can be plugged into a combat resolution engine.

So, here’s what I’ve come up with:

All parties can be represented by a piece with the following values: (w)X-Y-Z

w = Skirmish/archery value
X = Melee value
Y = Magic value
Z = Defense/Morale value

w = number of rogues/archers in the party; attacks and damage resolved in a skirmish round
X = number of Fighters; Melee attack rating
Y = number of mages & clerics; Magic attack/defense rating
Z = number of fighters + 1/2 number of non-fighters; defensive/morale value.

So, each party member would act as a component of the unit, adding to the whole it’s value as follows:

Melee Fighter = (0)1-0-1
Ranged Fighter = (1)0-0-1
Thief/Rogue = (1)0-0-1/2
Cleric = 0-1-1/2
Mage = 0-1-1/2

Now, this is HIGHLY simplified, but that’s kind of the point.

A party with a Fighter, a Ranger, a Magic User, and a Cleric would be
(1)1 – 2 – 3.  Originally, I’d considered having a ranger add to both skirmish and melee, but I decided that would kind of ‘break’ the ranger, making the ranged fighter the most powerful single individual.  He does, however, add more to the Defense/Morale value than a rogue/thief would.

Combat would occur after the movement step and in 4 phases.  Phase 1 is the attacker skirmish phase. Phase 2 is attacker melee phase. Phase 3 is the optional defender counterattack phase.  Phase 4 is resolution, where units retreat and are assigned negative (-) markers.

The following negative markers can be assigned (-1) -0 -0 -1, (-0)-1, -0, -1, and (-0) -0, -1, -1.

Skirmish – roll 1d8; if the roll is equal to or lower than the attacker’s skirmish value, the attack is considered successful

Melee – roll 1d8; if the roll is equal to or lower than the attacker’s melee value, the attack is considered successful

Magic – If attacker’s magic is higher than defenders, subtract the difference from EITHER the Melee or Skirmish roll. If the defender’s magic is higher than the attacker’s, add the difference to both the Melee and Skirmish roll.

If no attack was successful – roll 1d8; if the roll is lower than the unit’s defense score, the defender may make a counter-attack using it’s skirmish value.
If a skirmish attack was successful, but no melee attack was made or successful against defending unit – roll 1d8; if the roll is lower than the unit’s defense score, the unit may retreat or stand its ground. If the roll is equal to or above the defending unit’s defense score, the unit must retreat and you must choose and place (-) marker on the unit.
If a melee attack was successful, but no skirmish attack was made or successful against defending unit – roll 1d8; if the roll is lower than the unit’s defense score, the unit may retreat or it may stand its ground and you must  place a (-0) -1 -0 -1 marker on the unit. If the roll is equal to or greater than the defending unit’s defense score, the unit must retreat and you must choose and place a (-)  marker on the unit.
If both a skirmish and a melee attack are successful – roll 1d8; if the roll is lower than the unit’s defense score, the unit must retreat and you must choose to place  a (-) marker on the unit. If the roll is equal to or greater than the defending unit’s defense score, the unit must retreat and the attacking player may choose place two (-) markers on the unit.

A (-1) -0 -0 -1 marker may only be placed on a unit whose skirmish value is greater than 0.

A (-0)-1 -0 -1 marker may only be placed on a unit whose melee value is greater than 0.

A (-0)-0 -1 -1 marker may only be placed on a unit whose magic value is greater than 0.

A unit whose defense score is 0 is eliminated.

If a unit is not threatened by an adjacent unit, and has a magic value greater than 0, it may recover on its owner’s turn by removing a single (-) marker.

No hex may have a combined unit defense value greater than 8. No unit may be formed with a defense value greater than 8.

Scaling combat for Dungeons & Dragons. Scores are fixed for Heroes while monsters are scaled against the heroes’ average level.

Level 1, 1-0-1 would represent a single 1HD monster. 5-0-5 would represent 5HD worth of monsters

Level 2, 1-0-1 would represent a single 2HD monster or 2 1HD monsters. 5-0-5 would represent 5 2HD monsters or 10 1HD monsters.

Level 5, 1-0-1 would represent a single 5HD monster, a 1HD monster and a 4HD monster, a 2HD and a 3HD monster, 2 2HD and 1 1HD monster.

I know it’s a lot to ask to cram your HD worth of monsters into the ascribed value(s), but it’s a small sacrifice to make for doing some heavy-duty tactical stuff using a simplified combat system.

Actual monster deaths and character injuries can be adjudicated based on remaining defense values after the tactical scenario has concluded.

10 responses to “Mechanics for a board game: tactical level D&D minus the D&D

  1. Maybe it’s because I’m reading this at the end of a long work day, but everything is going clear over my head. Skimming to the end brought me to monsters, and raises the question in my mind about how to use this (or a similar method) to model encounters where the number of monsters or PCs is variable…

    …And includes meta-creatures like Minions/Mooks (“One Hit Point Wonders”), “Elite” monsters (Miniboss), and “Solos” (Boss Fight).

    I’ll have to try reading this post again this evening or tomorrow morning.


    • Well, the truth is, it’s not good for modeling encounters on the same level as what you’re working on. What it’s better for is modeling large scale encounters, such as the scenario I described in my posts on the Keep on the Borderland in which a large number of level 1 NPCs and a handful of leveled ‘leaders’ would take the field against a large number of monsters from the Caves of Chaos.

      Metacreatures, such as minions, would not be represented on this scale. I’ve considered that various action cards with modifiers could be incorporated to represent those individuals or damage/defense spells, but I hadn’t gotten that far. As for “Elite” monsters, as I’ve said, the unit strength is determined by a ratio of hit dice to whatever base level you’ve selected. For instance, the 4 HD minotaur from the Keep on the Borderlands would probably be represented by a single (0)4-0-4 chit against the level 1 party I described’s (1)1-2-3 chit.

      This system could be used for the following things:
      -a small tactical scenario involving 3 or more parties of heroes against a number of enemies of comparable strength and size
      -a large battle in which heroes are leading a medium-to-large number of troops against an opposing large number of troops. (a unit that is (2)2-1-4 could represent the level 6 cleric from the Keep leading a force of 24 of the keep’s heavy-crossbow infantry (equipped with crossbows & swords, so their skirmish/melee value would/could be split across the stat)
      -a very large battle where no ‘heroes’ are present and each strength point could represent anywhere from 50 to 100 soldiers; in this case, a hero’s presence might be represented in the form of an extra action card or something.

      This system could not be used for:
      -dungeon crawls
      -single party wilderness encounters (unless you were playing with a large party, such as 8-12 high level characters with leveled followers/hirelings/mercenaries going up against a large number of foes)
      -single party vs. large single entity monster/boss encounters

      Honestly, this system would probably work better as a game on its own with Dungeons & Dragons’ mechanical limitations and expectations wholly stripped out, but this was the best I could do in terms of game design given 1 and a half manic hours of typing.

    • Also, I realize that I’ve subconsciously incorporated a lot of the tactical elements from Sword of Aragon. In Sword, units had a ‘unit weight’ and hit point strength that was weighted against the unit’s property. You could stack more ‘men’ of a light force than of a heavy force in a single hex. Men could have hit points, but hit points were not men. For instance, 4 hit points in damage against a group of goblin light infantry meant you killed 20 or something goblins (who could be stacked something like 200-400 goblins to a hex), while 4 hit points against heavy cavalry would mean that 1 out of your 40 cavalrymen (who were maxed out 40 to a hex) had been injured but not killed. Heroes were treated as very high hit-point per ‘man’ units who could stack with other units while only adding one man (adjusted for equipment & steed) worth of ‘weight’ against the hex’s maximum occupancy.

      I guess anyway where I was going with this was that given the differences in strengths, one strength point could represent from 1 individual to any number of opponents based on their comparable strengths.

  2. “After some rest, you feel better.”

    This is making a lot more sense now that I’m not staring at it all bleary-eyed. With the force multipliers stuff I’ve been working on, this kind of system could feasibly be used to represent the kind of larger-scale combat that D&D has always been rather bad at.

    No, it wouldn’t necessarily be good for dungeon-crawling… unless we’re talking about that (uh, Dragonshard?) game where you were managing an army and running an adventuring party at the same time.

    I might have to ask you at some point if I can borrow this or modify it for use in sieges and other battles.

    Any thoughts about incorporating mounts and chariots? If they were ever going to be of use to anyone, they’d be useful in this kind of situation.

    I have to admit my wargame-fu is weak, even in an RTS context.


    • Definitely, borrow away! I’m probably not going to do a whole lot with it myself.

      And yes, one could conceive of alternate rules for mounts & chariots.
      Unmounted, normal moving units would be treated as [x] infantry with a 4 hex movement (pretty standard for board game infantry and syncs well with the 40′ movement), mounted units or fast units would be treated as [/] cavalry, and would probably have some option like using melee strength for skirmish on top of an additional 2 hex movement. To add further complexity, one could use individual magic users & siege units as [*] artillery with longer ranged attacks, and add special rules for large single entity monsters as [o] tanks. I’d also say that units with ONLY magic could engage in a skirmish phase, using 0 as the base with the roll modified by any difference in magic value, but could not engage in melee with a 0 melee value.

      • Is it possible to represent mobility with another stat instead of modifying movement rate? What if a mage could cast “Mass Haste” or “Fly,” effectively transforming a phalanx of soldiers into light cavalry or a unit of crossbowmen into an air force?


      • Apologies if this gets double-posted.

        Is it possible to represent mobility with another stat instead of modifying movement rate? What if a mage could cast “Mass Haste” or “Fly,” effectively transforming a phalanx of soldiers into light cavalry or a unit of crossbowmen into an air force?


      • Again, I’d think that would be something best handled with situational ‘cards’ that could be played prior to a combat round, giving specifics. There WERE some very simplified magic systems in a couple SPI Middle Earth games I played, such as Sauron being able to cast “Darkness” which meant that all orcs operated with their frenzy rules normally reserved for the night turns. I could see working in a few similar spells and effects. Other mobility rules can be incorporated for particular unit types. For instance, again in the SPI Middle earth board games, Elves mobility was represented by the ability to ignore enemy zones of control while moving. Basically what this post contains is the most basic system needed to assign values to troops and a system to adjudicate combat. The beauty of simple systems is it’s easy to incorporate a lot of variable rules depending on what you want to do with the system. Several of the SPI tactical games I’ve played use a simple stat system similar to the one I describe [(missile attack)Melee Attack – Armor – Morale], and have a few tables to calculate what hits what and what happens when a hit occurs, but the different games have a whole slew of different variations pertaining to movement, retreat rules, leaders, magic, even ‘facing’ rules.

        Just for fun, below I’m copying the first presented set of “rules” for how to deal with and quickly (snicker) adjudicate large-scale combat in Dungeons & Dragons.

        How It Works
        …The entire system has four basic steps:
        1. Calculate the basic force ruling (BFR) of the
        2. Find the troop class.
        3. Calculate the battle rating (BR).
        4. Determine and apply combat results.
        Steps 1,2, and 3 are handled when a force is
        hired and outfitted. Step 4 is used when a battle
        occurs. Throughout the system, the person or
        creature commanding a force is called the leader.
        Others, called officers, help the leader to control
        the force. The fighting persons in a force are
        called troops.
        In the calculations, round all fractions up unless
        the instructions say otherwise.
        Step 1: Calculate the basic
        force rating
        The basic force rating is the total of four factors: leadership, experience, training, and equipment. A fifth factor applies if the force is special: elves, dwarves, or powerful monsters.
        Leadership Factor: Find the experience level of the leader of the force. Modify it by all the leader’s adjustments for Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma scores. Then add a + 2 bonus for each 1 % of the force that is of Name level (9th level or above) characters (PCs or NPCs). Leader’s experience level + Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma adjustments + 2 per 1 % of force that is Name level___ = Leadership Factor

        Experience Factor: Find the average experience level of the officers in the force (not counting the leader), and multiply it by 3. For nonhuman troops, the officer level is the average Hit Dice, plus one. Note: A force must have at least one officer for every 40 troops, or this part of the experience factor is zero. Find the average level of the troops (not including the leader or officers), double it, and add that to the officer rating. Add 1 to the total for every victory the force has won in the last ten years (+10 maximum), and subtract 1 for every time the force has been routed in that time (- 10 maximum).

        ([Total levels of officers] / [Number of officers]) X 3 + ([Total level of troops] / [Number of troops]) x 2 + 1 per victory (up to + 10) – 1 per rout (up to – 10)___________ = Experience Factor

        Training Factor: Score 1 point for every week spent in training (maximum 20 per year). Add 1 for each week that the leader spends with them (maximum 20), and add 1 for each month that the troops remain together and are not off in
        their homes or towns (maximum 12 per year).

        Costs: Use the “Mercenary” pay rates from Chapter 11. Training time costs double the standard amounts shown in that chapter. + 1 per week trained (up to 20) + 1 per week leader trained with them (up to 20) + 1 per month troops on duty (up to 12) = Training Factor

        Equipment Factor: The base value is 5, 10, or 15, depending on the quality of the weapons. Use 5 if the weapons are “average” (the normal cost). All troops are assumed to have average weapons unless others are specified). Use 10 if the weapons are “good” (double normal cost), or 15 if “excellent” (triple normal cost). Add 5 if the troops are armed with a second weapon of the same quality as the first. Add 5 more points if the average armor class of the troops is 5 or better.

        Costs: Troops hired at the cost for mercenaries come with their own gear, and that gear will be of average quality. If the leader of the force wants to buy them superior weapons or armor, the cost comes out of his own pocket. + 5, 10, or 15 (based on quality of weapon) + 5 (if carry a second weapon of equal quality) + 5 (if AC = 5 or better)___________ = Equipment Factor

        Special Troop Factor: If the troops are all either elves or dwarves, this factor is 15. Note that dwarves and elves are never in the same force. If some monster troops have two or more asterisks listed with their Hit Dice, they are “Special.” For each 1% of the force that is “Special,” score 2 points for this factor. For example, in a force of 290 ghouls and 10 spectres, 4% of the force (the spectres) has two asterisks, for a special factor of +8.

        Add It All Up: Basic Force Rating (BFR)
        Add all these factors to find the basic force rating (BFR) of the force. Record this number for future reference.
        + Experience
        + Training
        + Equipment
        + Special Troop_________________
        = Basic Force Factor

        Step 2: Find the troop class
        Troop class is a measure of the overall quality of a force. Once you know the BFR of the force, use the table below to find the troop class. Keep a record of both the BFR and the troop class.

        Step 3: Calculate the battle rating (BR)
        Divide the BFR of the force by 10, rounding up. The result is the bonus to use in all the following calculations. Examine the following statements and their explanations, and then add the bonus to the BFR every time one of the statements is true. (For example, if statement “a” is true and statement “b” is true, you add the bonus twice.) Since this could be done up to 12 times, the total bonus could be more than the original BFR. The total BR is the original BFR plus all bonuses. Note the BR with the troop class and the BFR.

        a. 20% or more of the force is mounted,
        b. 50% or more of the force is mounted.
        Troop Class Table
        0-20 = Untrained
        21-35 = Poor
        36-55 = Below Average
        56-70 = Fair
        71-80 = Average
        81-100 = Good
        101-125 = Excellent
        126 + = Elite

        c. 20% or more of the force can use missile fire.
        d. 20% or more of the force has a missile fire
        range of 100′ or more.
        e. 1% or more of the force is equipped with
        magical abilities.
        f. 20% or more of the force is equipped with
        magical abilities.
        g. 100% of the force is equipped with magical
        h. 5% or more of the force can cast spells.
        i. 30% or more of the force can cast spells.
        j. 1 % or more of the force can fly.
        k. 20% or more of the force can fly.
        1. The force has an average movement rate of 100′ per turn (or more).
        Mounted applies to any “steed,” including horses, dire wolves, griffons, dragons, etc.
        Missiles includes bows, crossbows, slings, and others (giant-thrown boulders, manticore spikes, etc.).
        Magical includes magical weapons (sword +1,arrow +2, et al.), breath weapons, any poison,magical defenses, regeneration, energy drain,wands and other devices, etc.
        Spells includes only spells memorized, cast from scrolls, or spell-like natural abilities (such as a spirit’s).
        Flying includes normal and magical forms,but nor mere levitation. It applies to flying steeds as well (such as pegasi).
        Speed should be calculated with a creature’sfastest mode of movement. For example, flying creatures should be used at their flying rate, not their walking rate.
        Example: An elven prince has a force of 500 elves, all 2nd level and equipped with bows and longswords. The BFR is 96, and troop class is “Good.” One hundred of his elves are mounted on pegasi, and all the elves can cast spells. However, only 12 elves have magical items. The bonus is 10% of 96: 9.6, which rounds up to 10. The prince adds 10 to the BFR eight times:
        for a. (20% are mounted), c. and d. (more than 20% can fire missiles, and the maximum range is greater than 100′), h. and i. (the entire force can cast spells), j. and k. (20% of the force can fly), and 1. (the average movement rate is well over 100′ per turn). The total bonus of +80, added to the BFR, gives a total BR of 176.

        I think mine might be more fun.

      • Mentzer’s “War Machine” rules were one of those perfect examples of “If you’re in a situation where you actually need to be looking for these sorts of rules, maybe you should be playing some other game besides Dungeons & Dragons.” Then again, that’s how I feel about pretty much everything in Mentzer’s BECMI edition.

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