I'd like to run a large melee in a mid-sized village for my players. There'd be several demons and devils running around both snatching villagers and dragging them off in to the darkness and also engaging any defenders in combat. In addition to the PCs there are a number of other adventuring types present.

What are good ways to run a massed combat like the above in 5e that do not rely on some kind of narrative resolution?

What are successful and interesting ways that you have run mass combats of any sort in D&D 5e?

I'd like to have the PCs able to rally others to them and then guide the course of the fight by picking which demons\devils to attack in what order. While at the same time having the demons\devils fighting in the background against the other NPC defenders. And I'd like to be able to do all of that without having a lot more turns and rolling.

I've considered just having all the PCs roll multiple times simultaneously for all the NPCs they've rallied. So they might each roll 3d20 and land 3 different attacks.

Or pre-rolling\generating a bunch of results to avoid rolling all together.

So in addition to the specific question of how to run a fight featuring multiple different engagements and NPCs on both sides there are the general questions of:

What are good ways to run a massed combat like the above in 5e that do not rely on some kind of narrative resolution?

What are successful and interesting ways that you have run mass combats of any sort in D&D 5e?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Did you take a look at the Unearthed Arcana about mass combat ? (dnd.wizards.com/articles/unearthed-arcana/…) \$\endgroup\$ – Yotus Oct 4 '16 at 8:30
  • \$\begingroup\$ Demons and Devils and not slaughtering each other, are they in competition with the souls of the village or are you aware of the Blood War? \$\endgroup\$ – Slagmoth Oct 4 '16 at 12:44
  • \$\begingroup\$ Missed my edit window, to clarify, this sounds at first blush as though there will be two fronts because Demons don't understand truces and neither will work with the other. So this would be a mass combat with 3 parties. \$\endgroup\$ – Slagmoth Oct 4 '16 at 12:53
  • \$\begingroup\$ The Demons and Devils are both working for (enslaved\dominated by) the same folks. They are not cooperating and only happen to be appearing in conjunction. The Devils are in charge of the victim gathering and the Demons are mostly there to cause havoc to cover the victim snatching. \$\endgroup\$ – Tom Bombasadil Oct 4 '16 at 16:52
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    \$\begingroup\$ I have NOT look at that Unearthed Arcana, thank you! :) \$\endgroup\$ – Tom Bombasadil Oct 4 '16 at 16:52

I have not run this type of encounter before as a GM. But from being a player in these types of encounters and discussing with our GM and other players what could have done to improve them here is what we came up with.


To avoid too many turns I would set a turn limit. Given that a round is approximately six seconds in DnD and that most fights last less than a minute we can use this as a reference.

By the sounds you are looking at a small skirmish maybe 50 combatants on each side. If they splinter of into groups of say four to seven you are considering about 10 seperate fights. These won't be exactly simultaneous though as everybody is running around trying to get into or avoid a fight and distance would be a factor.

So figure out how many rounds it would take to get from one end of the village to the other plus a few extra to accommodate a sub-optimal route. Then add 10 (a good fight laats about a minute) you got your time limit.

This might seem like a lot but it is the maxium to run it for.

Combat resolution

I would add a weight to each combat group. What I mean by this is give each NPC combatant a score of 1. If they are a good fighter give them a 2 and if they are an important piece in the fight a three. Then when they run into each other allow the fight to go on for a number of rounds 2 or 3 and award victory to the highest weight group.

If the group has a PC then run the encounter for the same lenght and subtract the deaths from the total and have the loosing side route.

Also allow the PCs to make non combat actions that might buff their allys and debuff the enemies (rousing speaches, terrifying battle cries, clever cantrips)

This could keep the rolls to a minimum while keeping them meaningful at the same time.

Dealing with the players

Needless to say that they should be the center of attention. Let them take command of the NPCs and even make a few rolls on their behalf. Let them in on the weighting system aswell either in the meta game, or through a skill roll. Give them a high ground or way to see what is happening on the battlefield.

I would give them a specific goal aswell like holding a strategic point or being the spear head of the attack, pushing through to confront the big bad leading the demonic assault.

Also have a plan B if the demons over run the village. I have never known a group to quit a fight (despite previous TPKs). So give them a reason to retreat e.g: protecting the innocents or have a second balanced encounter planned where a challenge is issued by a solo or a command group that party has a chance of winning and overturning the result.

Wraping up

Have either side achieve their goal. The party could have broken the back of the demons or killed their commander so they retreat. Or the demons got what they came for and make a break for it.

If the turn limit is reached add up the remaining weights and get the loosing side to flee. Make this as cinematic as possible and still give the PCs something do.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Answers that involve homebrew or house rules are expected to have been playtested by the answerer. Have you playtested these ideas at all? Your opening statement indicates that you have not. \$\endgroup\$ – LegendaryDude Oct 4 '16 at 13:16
  • \$\begingroup\$ @LegendaryDude: though I have not ran this type of encounter personally I have been in such encounters that have failed and these were the suggestions made by the players to improve them in the future. Hence why I thought I would post. But thanks for the heads up. Still getting use to the do's and don'ts of the site so I'll keep it in mind. \$\endgroup\$ – Kalcipher23 Oct 4 '16 at 13:22
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Kalcipher23 the background you mention in that last comment might be worth mentioning in your lede. "Ideas born of failed experience" might not carry as much weight as "experience doing this," but are definitely better than "here are some ideas" (which is a little bit what it reads like now). \$\endgroup\$ – nitsua60 Oct 4 '16 at 14:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Nitsua60 thanks for the advice. Made a quick edit to reflect this information. Thanks. \$\endgroup\$ – Kalcipher23 Oct 5 '16 at 14:57

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