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According to the rules on Savage Worlds Deluxe (p92), playing characters can affect the outcome of a mass battle by using their Fighting, their Shooting, or their arcane skills.

The heroes of your campaign aren’t likely to sit idly by while war rages around them. Fighters may want to charge the gates, wizards unleash fireballs into the masses, and a gallant knight may ride his trusty warhorse directly into the enemy formations. Those who want to get involved can dramatically affect the results of the battle. Have each character make a Fighting, Shooting, or arcane skill roll (their choice) each action and consult the Character Results below.

The rule is similar to skill challenges in DnD. The character makes a roll. If they succeed, they help their side; they take damage representing wounds from the battle; the more they succeed the more they help and the less damage they receive. The rules are simple and abstract, but allow characters to have an influence in battle and maybe die.

I wonder why Fighting, Shooting, and arcane skills are the only skills allowed. I think there are many other skills that could make a difference in a big battle without any change at all to the rules as they are (i.e. modifiers to skill roll, influence on Battle roll, damage received):

  • Boating: the playing character (PC) takes responsibility of moving one of the ships to the space where it is more effective
  • Climbing: the PC climbs the mountain by herself, then helps a small faction climb up with ropes, and then they flank the enemy from an unexpected angle
  • Driving: the PC steals a truck with additional ammo and brings it crossing enemy lines
  • Healing: the PC heals and patches up comrades in the middle of battle, not just in the rear
  • Intimidation: the PC's words and gestures lead the main attack against the elite troops of the enemy
  • Persuasion: the PC has managed to cross enemy lines and get a new ally or organise a rebellion at the enemies' backyard
  • Piloting: the PC's fighter causes many casualties
  • Repair: the PC fixes tools, weapons, and machines in the middle of battle, not just in the rear, reducing turnaround time
  • Stealth: the PC slides through the enemy's defenses and explodes a bomb
  • Swimming: the PC swims to the enemy's mothership and sets it on fire
  • Taunt: the PC's words keep morale high making fun of the enemy's faults

Of course, not all skills make sense in all battles. The setting and the GM determine what makes sense and what does not. Driving does not make much sense if you are fighting against Julius Caesar but Fighting does not make much sense either if you are fighting alongside Admiral Ackbar against the Executor and the second Death Star.

I have looked at the official forums but I have not found anything. I also know there is something called the Ultimate Mass Battle Guide but I do not have it, so I do not know if this question is covered there.

Edit (small clarification): I know I can house-rule this, but I am interested in any official source that deviates from SWD and/or the motives behind this design decision.

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2 Answers 2

Officially, only Fighting, Shooting, and arcane skills may be used.

But Savage Worlds is not a game that forcefully expects you to play the rules as written when changing them makes more sense and represents the in-game events better. So, yes, allow the PCs to use whatever skills you as GM want to allow them to.

Even if you found an official answer, it will likely just repeat what the rules already clearly say: Fighting, Shooting, and arcane skills. The spirit of the game rules though is that they're yours to hack and it's often necessary to "hack" them to use them RAW at all, since they're made to be flexible and useful for any genre, not just the ones represented in the core rules. The rules intrinsically expect you to change them as needed, so you don't need permission to make these skills useful – you already have permission to change them when you need to model something the rules didn't anticipate being important at your table.

Your list of examples sounds good. Do that. Make sure that the fictional actions are declared first and it should be fine; just make sure you don't get players picking the skill first and then trying to weakly justify its use in battle – cut that off with prejudice, or you'll get a lot of "uh, I'm going to roll Boating because its my best skill. How? Um... maybe I find a boat and... uh... use it to... um... is there a river near here?"

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Thanks. I know the rules are flexible, and the #1 rule in any game is "the GM makes the rules if they are not good enough", but I was curious about the design motives behind the decision (in case anyone knows). –  sergut Jul 2 '13 at 15:18
    
Also, I don't think post-hoc skill-maximising is such a problem in Savage Worlds. Usually Fighting, Shooting, and Spellcasting/Faith/Psionics get maximised well before any other skill. –  sergut Jul 2 '13 at 15:20
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@sergut That's a good point. Even with those three it's important to require "pre-hoc" reasons for using the skill. Or rather, you don't have to, but the mass battle rules are pretty boring when it's just rolling a bunch of dice and weakly-imagined descriptions of why they're relevant. –  SevenSidedDie Jul 2 '13 at 15:23
    
Yeah, the key to MB's is the narrative, which is driven by both the GM and players. Otherwise they are very dull and anti-climactic –  Phil Jul 2 '13 at 16:09
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In a standard Mass Battle, only combat skills (i.e. Fighting, Shooting, arcane skill roll) are permitted in order to keep things fast, furious, and fun. The idea is that everything else is narrative. If you want to climb up a mountain and then stab the enemies at the top, then you just say so narratively and make a Fighting roll to see how effective you were when you got to the top.

However, the Fantasy Companion includes rules for a Siege, which expands the Mass Battle rules. In addition to choosing a Combat Action (where they fight as per the standard Mass Battle rules), characters have the option to perform:

  • A Clandestine Action where they perform Stealth, Streetwise, or Survival (e.g. poison the well, burn a supply tent, recruit members of the resistance)
  • An Instigation Action whether they can roll Intimidation, Persuasion, or Taunt (e.g. rally friendly forces, demoralize enemies)

This provides some variety and if you're interested in it, you might check it out. Although it's designed for medieval sieges, it could be adapted into any suitably complex battle.

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+1 for helpful pointer. –  sergut Jul 2 '13 at 17:24
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