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I assume we all know the epic battle scenes from the Peter Jackson's movie version of LotR: Return of the King:

Aragorn before the Black Gate of Mordor Oliphants charge during the Battle of the Pelennor Fields

Cinematically speaking, it can't get any more epic than this. Creating such a battle in a role-playing game is a lot more difficult. I have encountered a few problems:

  1. Annoying opponents
    Since it is going to be an epic battle between two armies, there is going to be a massive number of opponents present on the battlefield. Individually, most of them will seem like minions to any well-prepared hero.

    “Oh look, here's an orc for you to slay. And another one. Oh, here comes a goblin” is not going to be a lot of fun for the players.

  2. Massive damage
    Damage in The Dark Eye (TDE) is extremely painful. After a typical battle, most heroes won't be doing anything than recuperating for a few days. It takes a typical player character roughly 10 days to recover all health points. And even the best armour can't save you against tons of archers. Most heroes would basically be dead in a realistic battle scenario long before they reached the more important figures in an enemy army.

  3. Boredom Let's face it: In most game systems, fights can get quite lengthy. TDE is no exception. Especially if the beast you are fighting seems like it just won't die. Rolling attacks and attacks over and over again, dodging, fighting — this can be boring for the other players in a normal fight. And now imagine a huge battle.

I assume that I'm not the first to run into these problems. How do I work around these problems when GMing large battles in TDE?


Appendix

TDE is realistic. Extremely realistic. Food gets spoiled here, you recover 3.5 HP per day (a normal fighter has 35HP). If you take damage, you have the effect of pain, making fighting and basically doing anything significantly more difficult.

In the combat system, the distance between opponents will always have to be remembered as it influences all stats such as damage and possible attacks. Cinematically skipping across the battlefield is not possible.

A good answer will take this into account.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Thank you @SevenSidedDie for fixing my prose. This has really improved the question significantly! \$\endgroup\$ – Narusan Mar 18 '17 at 23:26
  • \$\begingroup\$ Certainly; my pleasure! \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Mar 18 '17 at 23:28
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I am going to answer this referencing the way it is handled in the campaign "Das Jahr des Greifen" for DSA 4.1, which as far as I know was never released in english. So expect an answer that is designed to explicitly work with the TDE-System (I am not sure how well it would work in 5, but it should be totally fine) - The answer will contain spoilers for this campaign, explicitly for the "Schlacht auf den Silkwiesen"!

General tips and tricks

A battle is a really big thing, and no one will be able to keep tabs on everything that is happening at once. Depending on the heros roles, they won't, either. They will know what happens in their immediate surroundings, but not much more...

Also keep in mind to assign appropriate roles to the heroes. This can be tricky in TDE, because it means that (if we assume a fight in the "Mittelreich") for example nobles will be part of the cavalry (most likely) or the commanding staff, while peasants will be part of the skirmishers. And if you have a dwarf he might get pulled to man the catapults...

(Optional) Before the battle

Give the heroes a chance to prepare for the battle, and get to know other fighters on their side, their commanders (if they have any) and similar things. This will allow the following battles to be more dramatic and more realistic. People they got to know and like will get killed or do heroic deeds, and the heroes will do the same. In "Das Jahr des Greifen", the training and a parade are both important stuff that happen beforehand. Sending (some) of the heroes to scout or help the preparation in any other way will let your players feel like they made a difference. (Remember this point, it will become important later, too!)

Part 1: Skirmishers

In "Das Jahr des Greifen", the beginning of the battle is played out directly.

The battle begins with the skirmishers of the human side advancing towards the battle line of the orcs, who respond with arrows. The first people that the heroes (at least those that where assigned to the skirmishers) know and like already die.

Then the human command orders the skirmishers to fall back, but the commander of the heroes unit of skirmishers does not comply and even starts attacking those who do retreat, naming them traitors.

some orcs swarm out to engage the retreating skirmishers, and the cavalry has to come to the rescue, involving the heroes that are assigned to those regiments. No real melee combat is fought, especially not with the skirmishers.

the skirmishers retreat behind the lines of their army to rest and lick their wounds

There is no real reason to roll many dice in this fight, other than occasional parries or maybe checks to grab wounded combatants and retreat with them. The heroes never come into attack range anyway, they might fire some arrows at the orcs, but even then there is no need to roll. This is just to show the players in what kind of fight they are. It is not something where they can just run forward and kill the enemy (which, to be fair, is not that often the case in TDE anyway)

The battle

While the skirmishers (and thus most of the heroes) rest, the book details the other things that happen on the battlefield. The orcs advance, the human cavalry rides to face them and drives them back... I will not repeat all of it in detail, as the heroes will never know most of it anyway. They should only hear rumors/stories from the soldiers that return from battle to rest and maybe their commanding officers. I can not tell you how your exact battle will go, of course, but as the heroes will not make that much of a difference (yet), you can pre-plan most of it.

When the heroes go into combat again (don't give them too much of a pause here), you can just cut to some interesting or key scenes on the battlefield, same as it is done in movies (you reference Lord of the Rings, which has some prime examples of that, too) - During these scenes, remember to focus on both sides of the battle: Death and destruction (especially if it seems their side is losing) but also heroic scenes for the heroes.

Examples from the campaign:

At night, the heroes are sent on a scouting mission. They see some orcs that summon an army of undead to attack the human camp directly, and have to run through a giant horde of undead back to the camp to warn them in time, all the while trying not to touch the undead

An orc shaman, flanked by some war ogres keeps casting light spells that blind the humans while their mainly undead enemies are not affected. The heroes accompany some mages, trying to sneak behind the lines of undead and get close to the shaman. They then have to protect the mages from orcs and undead until the mages can cast a spell in Unitatio (combined spellcasting in TDE) to at least drive the shaman away.

Handling the scenes that are not played out

"Das Jahr des Greifen" actually defines some rules for these (important: keep in mind that these where intended for TDE 4.1, and for a whole battle. YOu should not assign a high modifier just because someone fought in the front lines one time, but only if he was there constantly, for the whole battle. If you are playing TDE 5 or want it to not be that punishing, adjust the damage numbers a bit, especially because the armor values seem to be a little bit lower.):

First, assign a modifier to each hero, depending on how many battles where played out - and thus actually fought with the basic rules of TDE - in the time they fought (this is done after the battle is over, but you can do it after each day or something too, if you want):

  • Modifier of 0: All fights where played out and/or the heroes where not involved in any fights.
  • Modifier of 1: Most fights where played out and/or the hero is a normal "line-combatant"
  • Modifier of 2: Some fights where played out and/or the hero always fought directly on the front line
  • Modifier of 3: Almost no fights where played out and/or almost no one comes back from the battle alive, the hero had to undertake dangerous solo actions

This is only an example though, you will have to assign this modifier with gm fiat. The campaign says that you could also take into account AT and PA values of heroes and so on.

Every hero then loses (2d6 - Armor) * Modifier * 10% of the HP he had at the beginning of the battle. If he loses 100%, he reaches camp barely alive (in 4.1 this is around 5 HP, where you lose the ability to take proper actions in combat) - If he loses more than 100%, he is near death and gets rescued with 1 HP. If you use this rule for NSCs too, they die if they lose more than 100%. If you are playing 4.1, you can assign wounds (which are a mechanic different from HP loss and if I recall correctly are remodeled as "Pain" in TDE 5) as you like.

Example:

A hero with an armor value ("Rüstungsschutz") of 4 gets assigned a modifier of 2. His player rolls 2d6, resulting in an 8 minus his armor value of 4 = 4. Then he multiplies this 4 with his modifier of 2 for a result of 8. Finally, this result is multiplied by 10 to have the percentage of hit points he loses (not from his maximum but from the HP value he started combat with): 80%. He started combat wounded with only 10 HP and thus has 2 HP remaining after the battle.

(8 - 4) * 2 * 10 = 80

Regeneration

If the army is well equipped, your heroes regain an additional 1d6 HP per 7 Talent points that the healer has (most healers would have around 7 or 14 if they are really good in TDE 4.1, for 5 you might need to adjust these numbers a bit) - You as the gm decide how talented the healer they get is (depending on social status and what they did during the battle, for example) This of course replaces medical care done by other heroes, as per the rules.

Material Degradation

As far as I know, TDE 5 does no longer have the concept of "Bruchfaktor", which determines how easy a weapon will break. For 4.1, every weapon used in battle has its "Bruchfaktor" increased by 1. The rest will have to be handled without mechanics supporting it (repairing armor, getting new ammunition and so on)

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  • \$\begingroup\$ This is a great answer. I haven't thought of actually stretching the battle out into multiple "scenarios", but it adds a sense of realism as real battles went on for days! If I give my heroes a certain task for each encounter, it will not feel like orc here, orc there, and you are right, I can model the battle in advance to take exactly this shape. \$\endgroup\$ – Narusan Mar 18 '17 at 23:20
  • \$\begingroup\$ Yea, when I played the Campaign, it worked really well. (The rest of the Campaign is not that good, but that is another topic for another day...) \$\endgroup\$ – Patta Mar 18 '17 at 23:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ Just to clarify: When using modifier 3, heroes can lose up to 120% of their HP. The minimum is 30%. This wide spectrum basically makes it up to chance if someone is severely injured or just has a few scratches. Is this intended of have I gotten something wrong? \$\endgroup\$ – Narusan Mar 19 '17 at 8:46
  • \$\begingroup\$ The minimum with modifier 3 is actually 60%, for a hero without armor. The maximum would be 360% - This is extremely deadly, which is why a PC can not die when you use these rules, but instead is rescued from the battlefield and only close to death with 1 hit point. I'll edit in an example. (This may seem extreme, but remember that someone having no armor in a large battle would not really happen) \$\endgroup\$ – Patta Mar 19 '17 at 10:57
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    \$\begingroup\$ Let us continue this discussion in chat. \$\endgroup\$ – Patta Mar 19 '17 at 11:28
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I don't try to model the whole battle, but instead split the party into smaller groups and construct single small setpieces. It's not worth bothering to show six PCs fighting 20 orcs, as there's nothing interesting happening. What is interesting are the encounters that can happen on the way.

Like, the cleric and the fighter hear a sudden roar and feel the heat on their faces from a fireball striking just to their left. Several soldiers on their side are down, and the enemy is pouring in. Does the cleric stop to heal them? If so, can the fighter hold off the enemy seeking to finish the job / slip through the line? That's where role-playing decisions and tactical play shine.

After a few scenes like that I'd bring the party back together to face some kind of boss thing, which could just be an enemy officer and elite troops, a captured monster, or even some kind of war machine.

Sure, it's not realistic, but like you pointed out, in this situation realism would be "fight an orc, fight another orc, fight another orc" for four hours, so ...

Another option would be to put the players in as officers, so they're determining the flow of the entire battle, which is what previous editions of D&D generally recommended (rules like the War Machine in BECMI, or Battlesystem).

This is also perfectly fine, but IME most players would rather their characters be on the front lines than spending the battle sitting in a tent. YMMV.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This will work well for systems like DnD or similar things, but I'm afraid it won't work for TDE, which is a really different system in most regards... \$\endgroup\$ – Patta Mar 18 '17 at 22:28
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    \$\begingroup\$ Please note that this question is about The Dark Eye, which has a lot of significant differences from D&D (especially in the area of realism). \$\endgroup\$ – Oblivious Sage Mar 18 '17 at 22:31
  • \$\begingroup\$ How are my heroes going to get across the battlefield and behind the enemy's lines without engaging in combat though? Just imagine the scene in the end of Return of the King: Two armies running into each other. Your answer hasn't really taking the walking time into consideration. And the combat system in TDE very much relies on distance. I can't just beam my characters around. They will basically more or less have to go through armies of orcs and all that. \$\endgroup\$ – Narusan Mar 18 '17 at 22:36
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You can't

Don't use a hammer to drive in a screw. RPG mechanics are designed for RPG, war game mechanics are designed for war games. RPGs are about individual heroes and their personal wants and dreams. War games are about tactics/strategy where the player takes the role of a captain/general in order to achieve military objectives - these may be abstract objectives (e.g. Chess) or more simulationist (e.g. World in Flames) but they are not personal.

However, if you think about it - if you want the feeling of the climactic battle at the Black Gate, you don't want to simulate the battle: Peter Jackson didn't. He focused on the characters that the audience had a pre-existing relationship with, Aragorn, Gandalf, Merry, Pippen, Legolas, Gimli and, to a lesser extent Eomer. The bulk of what we were shown was about them and the bits of the battle we were shown that wasn't was cinematography, not story.

The only feasible way to model this is to treat the battle as background and model the player's actions as a series of small-unit encounters. Yes, there are enemies all around but it is only the ones immediately in front of you that are any of your business: anyone more than 50 yards away in missile combat or 10 yards in melee is SEP (somebody else's problem).

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  • \$\begingroup\$ model the player's actions as a series of small-unit encounters ~ Wouldn't this leave me with Point 1: Annoying opponents? They would encounter orc after pro after orc... \$\endgroup\$ – Narusan Mar 18 '17 at 22:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ Yes. Unless you are willing to handwave that minions fight minions and heroes fight heroes for reasons. \$\endgroup\$ – Dale M Mar 18 '17 at 22:54
  • \$\begingroup\$ This is an interesting solution, but it basically infers that there can't be interesting mass-battles in such a RPG-system. I really hope there is some sort of workaround. \$\endgroup\$ – Narusan Mar 18 '17 at 22:57
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    \$\begingroup\$ Actually, you can. There is a TDE 4.1 campaign that did exactly this, and it works pretty well. \$\endgroup\$ – Patta Mar 18 '17 at 22:57
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    \$\begingroup\$ “RPGs are about individual heroes and their personal wants and dreams.” is a very broad, and technically inaccurate generalisation. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Mar 18 '17 at 23:26

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