I've been creating my own campaign loosely basses on the Eberron campaign setting (as in very loosely, I've only been using the names of countries & cities to create my own map). I was planning on having the races go into a war for the continent, but I don't know how to set up a battle in this format. I don't want my group to be just some insignificant soldiers, but I also don't want them to feel that they are completely in control (as they are only level 2). It is a small party, (3 characters including mine) and none of them are a rogue. One is an orc fighter, another is a human cleric, and my character is a human ranger. How should I set up encounters so that they feel like they're fighting in a war but they don't feel like their doing nothing?

  • \$\begingroup\$ The Heroes of Battle 3.5 supplement includes rules for roleplaying PCs in a battle, plus ideas for a number of battlefield scenarios. \$\endgroup\$
    – RobertF
    Jan 16, 2015 at 14:34
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    \$\begingroup\$ Somehow the way this was asked just resulted in a potentially-infinite list of subjective ideas rather than a small set of best practices advice. Unfortunately questions soliciting big lists of ideas are off topic, so I've closed this. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 10, 2016 at 5:39

5 Answers 5


There are several possible solutions and it most likely depends on what you have in mind. War isn't all about "stick them with the pointy end" after all. Try to figure out what your team is good at or would like to do. There are many things they could do to aid the war, without having to even think of it as a war setting.

Perhaps they could negotiate an alliance with the tribe of mountain goblins near the war for extra aid to swing the battle?

Perhaps there is an ancient mausoleum located roughly underneath the central valley where it is said an army waits entombed to serve?

Infiltrate the enemy camp and assassinate some of their leaders and poison their supplies?

If, however, you prefer to have them fill out some sort of combat role, you could have them fighting in skirmish fights to the side of the battle where they can prevent the enemy from gaining a foothold. Have them defend a bridge or try to breach a poorly defended fortress.

Hell, if you want to spice up your gaming format you could even try a solution outside of 3.5. There are a lot of tabletop wargames, if your players would like a try at something simplified like that you could play out the battle and have their characters as heroes in the 'minigame'.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Basically, dont put them in the battle at all, give them missions to help the battle \$\endgroup\$
    – Nemenia
    Feb 10, 2016 at 17:06

Give them a strategically significant mission with no or limited backup, possibly behind enemy lines.

In that way, they have control over their particular battles and might even have limited communications with their superiors. Their actions are significant in that it has strategic relevance, but not decisive to the whole war and they certainly aren't in control of the whole war even if their part becomes decisive.

For examples, consider a mission to steal an artifact, destroy a significant building (perhaps a storehouse for grain), or if you are willing to go darker a strategic strike to kill a particularly important person on the other side.

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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 for missions, but don't forget kidnapping hostages! (Bonus points for setting up a moral dilemma for the PCs when they are told to capture an innocent, such as the general's son) \$\endgroup\$
    – Dakeyras
    Feb 18, 2014 at 17:26
  • \$\begingroup\$ It would be nice for them to have a moral dilemma, but one of them is an Orc, and they are fighting for orcs \$\endgroup\$ Feb 18, 2014 at 18:02
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    \$\begingroup\$ Expanding on missions, stealing battle plans is a hugely significant ordeal that can turn the battle but not necessarily make it slam dunk (especially if the plans are false plans planted to be stolen!) \$\endgroup\$
    – Ben-Jamin
    Feb 19, 2014 at 20:56

I would draw some inspiration from the way AEG does mass combat in L5R and 7th Sea. Even if the characters are authoritative in some way, they could just be handling one leg of the battle, and thus their victory is small scale and preserves the lives of their side even if the over arcing battle itself is a loss. Their actual system streamlines things to a degree that is less conducive to the d20 system however the bit I think you'll find most useful goes like this:

Each mass combat round, each PC has the chance for what's called a "Heroic Opportunity". These are things like:

  • Being told by their commander to hold the long against an enemy charge
  • Finding and defeating the enemy's standard bearer and taking the banner
  • Picking up your side's own banner after the standard bearer falls
  • Seeing an enemy officer and challenging him to a duel
  • (In L5r 3e only) Finding a squad of foot soldiers and taking them down

This isn't by any means the exhaustive list of things that could happen but it's not all stand and fight in a meat grinder. PC's could team up or take challenges singly although these games were more individually enabling than the d20 system so be careful when implementing.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Bad form, but adventurers aren't soldiers, so why challenge an officer to a fair dual? Surround officer in melee and ranger pelt him from range! (Just a thought) \$\endgroup\$
    – Ben-Jamin
    Feb 19, 2014 at 21:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ I was just showing examples from the game itself. Not even good aligned characters just stand and fight, haha \$\endgroup\$
    – CatLord
    Feb 20, 2014 at 3:58

Our group has the following setup whenever there would be a large scale war:

Our characters meet and discuss strategy and thats what will most likely be going on in the background as long as it doesnt require our direct interference (an assassination or sabotage would be direct and we would play those encounters out first). When battle time comes, while the war is raging around us, the DM sets up quick encounters for each of us, a heroic time to shine. The DM's job in this scenario is to provide the proper amount of tension and drama as the battle goes on, adjusting difficulty on the fly.

In general, it boils down to how every movie with a war ends up. Yes there is chaos all around but the camera focuses on a couple of the main "players" with occasional cuts to the larger picture. The players are the main "heroes" of the game. As a DM, try and set that feeling up for them so they truly feel like they are part of something epic.


I like all of the suggestions so far. Maybe a couple more ideas?

  • Use the team as scouts. Maybe the ranger gets the assignment, but can pick 2-3 other people to go along. They have random encounters, plus they can:

    • discover that the enemy army (or an unexpected other army) is about to
      hit the friendly army in a surprise attack. The party fights their way back to warn the general just in time, then leads a blocking force to hold off the attack.
    • discover that the enemy army has an unguarded flank through an unknown track through the woods or over a pass. Party notifies general, then leads part of the army around in a flanking attack, gets some fighting in, and wins the day. (Or not.)
  • Instead of capturing someone from the other side, maybe rescuing someone the other side has captured? Other side is holding the son/ sister/whatever of an important sub-commander, and the sub-commander will not do his/her best while a loved one is in danger. Rescuing the kidnap victim enthuses the troops and our heroes are honored at the end.


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