So, my players threw me for a loop last weekend when they decided to go a little off-script at the end of our session. Normally I’m pretty good at rolling with changes, but this one has me a little flummoxed trying to prepare for next weekend’s session. Hoping some of the more experienced GMs here can throw me some pointers regarding how to mechanically run interesting “battle” encounters.
So here’s what’s going on:
The PCs have gotten themselves involved in a war (as PCs are wont to do), the climactic battle of which will begin with our session this coming weekend. No problem, I thought. I’ve run big battles before and usually run them as a series of decisive encounters, the result of which effect the next encounter and what’s going on “off stage” (so, for instance, the PC group may start the battle helping to hold the center of the infantry, and how well they do in their small encounter will be the tipping point on whether the center hold, which will in-turn affect what the next encounter will be and how the battle is faring in general).
And the PCs were all set to follow that kind of model…until a war council in the last minutes of our last session. During the discussion, the players (through solid roleplaying and some very lucky die rolls) convinced the NPC commanders of the army that rather than fighting together as a group, they should split up and help in different parts of the battle. So, the melee-focused knight character is helping defend a keep while the mage leads a group of soldiers to ambush the enemy and the wilderness scout is riding with the cavalry.
And that’s all well and good. The players are having fun and it was really gratifying to see them come up with a plan on their own and roleplay (and roll play) convincing these leaders to follow their plan. They feel like they have huge agency in the world and that’s great.
But from a MECHANICAL level, I’m just not sure how to smoothly run what will likely be a fairly lengthy battle with all the PCs in different places, with their own allies and followers, facing different opponents, on different timetables. Like, we’re not using minis so it’s not a TABLE SPACE issue. It’s just that I don’t know a fun, interesting way to keep everyone engaged and just constantly going back and forth after each round of combat seems like a very sub-optimal solution.
I’m hoping that one of you may have a better idea or a go-to system you use for running larger battles like this where the party isn’t really in a position where “normal” combat encounters would be much fun.
NOTE: I’m running a Rifts game using a heavily homebrewed mod of the Palladium system. But I’m not necessarily looking for a Palladium-specific solution. While I would of course welcome Palladium solutions, if you can describe the system you would suggest, I’m sure I can adapt it to my system.