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More Thoughts about TBH Mass Combat

When I posted Mass Combat for The Black Hack Saturday, I got some great ideas and feedback from Joel Priddy and Bob Bersch on G+. I tried to link to the discussion on G+, but WordPress or Google have some issue with that. Go figure.

Feedback and Combat Options

Joel thought that the Combat Factor should be more like the TBH distance rules. A great idea! From his comments:

Opposing force is:

Much Smaller (x6) "Piece of cake!"
Smaller (x2) "We've got this!"
Equal (—) "Stay sharp!"
Larger (x1/2) "This calls for great valor!"
Much Larger (x1/6) "We're screwed!"

You could add more steps of scale if you wanted, of course.

This feels more TBH than my hack. You will find it faster, giving the GM more time to describe the action.

Combat Factor: Quick Calculation

Combat Factor can be calculated using this quick chart below:

If the opposing force is...

CF Description
Much Smaller x6 Piece of cake!
Somewhat Smaller x4 What a glorious battle!
Smaller x2 We've got this!
Equal x0 Stay sharp!
Larger X1/2 This calls for great valor!
Somewhat Larger X1/4 Steady men! Steady!
Much Larger X1/6 We're screwed!

Another point Joel brought up is that the leader doesn't take damage. He asked about a way for the leader to take damage. In small group battles, as he pointed out, groups can lose their leader and re-group under a different one.

Combat Option: Skin in the Game

When the group takes damage, the leader takes the same hit point damage personally. For example, if a Warrior led group takes 2hp damage, the Warrior takes 2 hp from his/her character sheet.

Bob helped me correct the math in my example, so I will correct my example in the PDF. He also provided an example of his own. He said it took about 10 minutes to run the combat. Bob also added a rule for shields, which is great. From his comment:

A small border town is about to be attacked by a small group of Tomb Guardians, awoken by some adventurers that have since gone on their way.

Side A: The town militia, 25 able bodied men with spears and shields. Armor 2, Hit Points 4, 1d8 damage, CSx5. They are lead by the village wise man/mayor, WIS 13, CHA 13.

Side B: 5 Elemental driven skeletal Tomb Guardians, which are 3 HD monsters. They get an average HP roll of 13, so Armor 2, HP 13, Damage 2d4, CSx2.

Side A gets a CF of 3 (so they could win.. maybe).

(If this was in a actual game I would have the defenders man their wall, which would give them advantage on defense rolls till they started taking damage (the wall is breached!!) but since this is an example no wall).

Round 1: the mayor fails the WIS test with a 16, the Tomb Guardians charge and attack. Another fail of WIS on defense with a 18. The damage rolled is 5, divided by the CF of 3 is 1 2/3, rounding to nearest is 2 points of damage, destroying the militia's shields. Their attack back fails with a 14 vs a CHA of 13.

Round 2: The militia is rocked again, rolling an 18 vs WIS. The TGs do 3 points of damage, divided by 3 is 1 point of HP on the militia. This seems to rally them and they attack back hitting with a 10. And rolling 2 points of damage.. but 2x3 for the CF is 6, minus 2 for armor is 4 on the Tomb Guardians, taking them to 9.

So lets see what changes. One fourth of the militia is down, knocking them down to 19 men and changing their CS to 4. The TGs are down to 9/13*5 or 3.4 (rounded to nearest) or 3 TGs. CS is still 2. But the CF has dropped to 2.

Round 3: The mayor continues the rally, helping the militia avoid the reeling Tomb Guardians, rolling a 7 vs WIS. And then rolling a 7 was CHA for the attack! Hitting them for 5 damage. Times 2 for CF and the TGs are glowing rubble at the militia's feet. Well done lads!

The shields were a nice touch. It's also gratifying to get outside confirmation of how a system works. So, here is another combat option for you.

Combat Option: Shields Will Be Splintered

When the group takes damage, the entire group may sacrifice their shields in place of taking damage.

There was also discussion about pooling resources and having other party members contribute to the conflict as individuals. I assumed that they would be treated as a separate faction, but I never stated that in the rules. So, thanks to Joel, here's the last Combat Option.

Combat Option: I Am Not Chopped Liver

If a member of the characters' party is not leading a group, they can join the fray as a separate faction. As a separate faction, their Combat Scale is always 1.

The GM will adjudicate how damage is shared by the group led by one character and the second character fighting as their own faction. For example, the Conjurer in the party decides to join the fray on his own. There is a Warrior led group of hirelings fighting against a band of skeletons. The Conjurer is always Combat Scale 1. The GM quickly computes that the skeletons and hirelings are both CSx3. This gives the Conjurer a Combat Factor of 1/2. (Yikes!) In the batter, the skeleton strike for 4 hit points of damage. Since the skeletons are fighting two different factions (the hirelings and the Conjurer), the damage is shared, 2 points of damage to the hirelings and 2 points to the Conjurer. The Conjurer has a Combat Factor of 1/2, so dividing 2 by 1/2 yields 4 points of damage. Raining down a fireball on the skeletons, it is calculated to do 20 points of damage. With a CF 1/2, 10 points of damage are done to the group of skeletons. They have been burned to ashes!

Bob suggested another change, namely that certain situation provide advantage or disadvantage. For example, if the character's group is defending a keep from the walls or other well-defended position, they roll advantage to avoid damage. I tweaked the suggestion that taking advantage on one roll forces you to take disadvantage on the other roll.

Combat Option: Advantage and Disadvantage

In play, the player describes how the character is directing the group to gain an advantage to attack or avoid damage. If the GM accepts it, advantage is granted. However, the other roll will be rolled at a disadvantage while the advantage exists. For example, the character directed his hirelings to make a full running charge at a group of skeletons. The GM rules that this provides advantage to the hirelings' attack roll for one roll only. This means that the hirelings will roll disadvantage to avoid damage once.

Thanks to Joel and Bob! I hope these options

Mass Combat for The Black Hack

The Mass Combat Hack

Mass combat is handled by treating combatants as a single creature, calculating a combat scale, and applying a combat factor. The group led by a character will use the character's stats for tests and damage. The character's CHA stat is used for attacks. The INT or WIS stat (character's choice) is used for avoiding damage. A group can be led by only one character, but that character can be of any class.

Calculate Combat Scale

Combat Scale is determined by the size of the group. Use the chart below to determine the combat scale of each group.


Number in Unit 2 - 5 6 - 10 11 - 20 21 - 40 41 - 80 81 - 160 161 - 320 321 - 640 641 - 1280
Combat Scale x2 x3 x4 x5 x6 x7 x8 x9 x10

For example, a marauding band of 20 Goblin warriors is attacking a group of villagers. Consulting the chart, they have a combat scale of 4 or CSx4. The villagers have amassed a group of 30 to fend off the attack. The 30 villagers have a combat scale of 5 or CSx5.

Determine Stats

Goblins have 1 HD, so according to the monster damage chart, they do d4 damage. Per the monster entry, they roll 1d6 for hit points instead of 1d8. After rolling for hit points, the goblins have the following stats: HD:1, Hit Points: 4, Damage: d4, CSx4.

The villagers are led by a 2nd level Warrior with the relevant stats; INT 11, WIS 12, CHA 14. The GM rules that they are treated as 1HD for determining hit points and have no armor. Rolling for hit points, the result is a 5. The Villagers' stats are: CHA: 14, WIS:12, Armor Points: 0, 5 Hit Points, d8 damage, CSx5. CHA is used for attacks representing the Warrior's ability to get the villagers to obey his directions. WIS is higher than the Warrior's INT, so it was chosen for avoiding damage. The villagers do d8 damage per the Warrior's damage.

Determine the Combat Factor

The Combat Factor represents how the size of the two groups affect the outcome of the battle. If the character's group is larger than the opponent's group, they can do more damage and absorb more punishment. If the opponent's group is larger, the character's group will do less damage and suffer greater casulaties.

To determine the Combat Factor, subtract the opponent's Combat Scale from the character's combat scale and consult the chart below. The Combat Factor is multiplied to the damage done by the character's group and divides the damage done by the opponent's group. Any fractional damage is dropped. If the two groups have the same Combat Scale, damage is determined as normal combat without multiplying or dividing damage.


Diff CS -8 -7 -6 -5 -4 -3 -2 -1 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
Combat Factor   1/16 1/12 1/8 1/6 1/4 1/3 1/2 2/3 * 3/2 2 3 4 6 8 12 16 24

The villager's final stats are: CHA: 14, WIS:12, Armor Points: 0, 5 Hit Points, d8 damage, CF: 3/2

Running Combat

Combat progresses per the normal rules with two exceptions:
- Different Stats are used for attack and defense
- The Powerful Foes rule is not used.

Recalculating Combat Scale and Combat Factor

After each round, reduce the size of the Combat Scale for both groups as Hit Points as lost. This may also change the Combat Factor.

Continuing with the villagers and goblins in our example, the goblins do 2 hp damage to the villagers. The villagers now have 3 out of their original 5 hit points. This means they have 3/5 the number of villagers. 3/5 * 30 = 18. As there are now 18 villagers, their new Combat Scale is 4.

Comparing the Combat Scale of both groups, they are the same. Consulting the Combat Factor chart, the villagers have a CF of 0.

Mass Combat Example: Villagers vs Goblins

20 Goblins -- HD:1, Armor Points: 0, Hit Points: 4, Damage: d4
30 Villagers -- CHA: 14, WIS:12, Armor Points: 0, 5 Hit Points, d8 damage, CF: 3/2

The character directs the villagers to set up formations to attack the goblins with rocks and pitchforks. Making a WIS test for initiative, the goblins go first. On the WIS test to avoid damage, the player rolls a 12. Argh! Rolling a d4, the result is 4. The villagers have a CF of 1. Dividing 4 (rolled damage) by the factor is 2 1/3. This rounds down to 2 points of damage. On a CHA test, the villagers miss doing no damage. Calculating casualties, 3 hit points remain out of 5 hp the villagers began with. 3/5 * 30 villagers means that there are 18 villagers left. Consulting the table, they are down to Combat Scale 4. Since this is the same as the goblins, the villagers have CF of 0. The goblins are unchanged.

Rolling a WIS test, the villagers avoid the swords of the goblins. With a CHA test, they strike home raining down stones from the rooftops as the second line advances to engage the goblins. Rolling a d8, a 3 is rolled. With no Combat Factor, the damage is not modified. Calculating casualties, the goblins have 1 hit point remaing out of their initial 4 hit points. 1/4 * 20 (the original number of goblins) = 5. Their Combat Scale is now 2.

The villagers are still at Combat Scale of 4. The difference between the Combat Scales is 2. Consulting the Combat Factor chart, the villagers now have a Combat Factor of 2.

The goblins regroup and dive into the group of villagers on the ground to avoid damage from the rocks above. A WIS tests fails and the goblins roll 4 points of damage. 4 divided by the combat factor of 2 yields 2 points of damage. The villagers press on, and succeed on a CHA test. The Warrior's quick thinking directed the rooftop villagers to attack from above. Rolling d8 for damage produces 3. When multiplying the Combat factor of 2, the final damage done is 6. The goblins have been vanquished! The 12 villagers that sacrificed their lives are honored with songs and feasting! The Warrior is hailed as a hero for saving the village!

Mass Combat Example: Knights vs Dragon

This system also works for armies against a very powerful foe.

The 100-strong Knights of the Crown stand ready against a Dragon. The GM rules that the knights are treated as 2 HD Warriors all with chain mail and large shields. They are CSx7. The dragon has CSx1 since he is alone. Calculating the difference between Combat Scales is 6. This give the knights a Combat Factor of 8.

100 Knights led by 5th level Cleric, WIS:17 CHA:15 -- CHA: 15, WIS:17, Armor Points: 10, Hit Points: 10, d6 damage, CF: 8
Dragon: HD:11, Armor Points: 10, Hit Points: 66, Armor Points: 10, Damage: 2 Claws (1d8), Bite (1d10), Breath Weapon 3d8, Spells: Shield, Charm, Web

The Knights win initiative and charge the dragon with their swords. The roll success! Rolling d6 for damage, they roll 5. With CF:8, that is 40 points of damage. This is reduced by the dragon's 10 armor points to 30. The Dragon is struck hard, and boils into a rage. The Dragon flies high above and breathes flames across their formation. Making a WIS test, the knights avoid the rain of fire.

With no loss of knights and the Dragon's CSx1, the Combat Factor is unchanged.

The knights charge again, but fail to penetrate the dragon's scaly hide! (Failed CHA test.) The dragon slashes the knights, raking their ranks with a vicious bite and sharp claws, (WIS test fails). The claw damage is 9 points and the bite adds another 8 for a total of 17. With the Knights 10 Armor Points, this is reduced to 7. Dividing 7 by a Combat Factor of 8, yields 1 point of damage (any remainder more than .5 is rounded up).  Calculating casualties, the knights are down to 9 / 10 of their original force, now numbering 90. Their Combat Scale remains unchanged.

The fallen knights will be commended for their valor, yet the stuggle continues...

The Last One Standing

At the GM's option, if the forces under the character's command fall, they make engage the enemy single-handedly.

Link to Sections 1 to 14 of the OGL

Section 15 of the OGL:


Open Game License v 1.0 Copyright 2000, Wizards of the Coast, Inc.
The Black Hack © 2016 by David Black
Additional Things © 2016 by David Black
M20 Mass Combat © 2016 Robin V. Stacey
Mass Combat for The Black Hack © 2016 by John Payne

Attack of the Portán

One of the oddities of Fiend Folio I used in coastal areas was the crabmen. In 2e, their entry went on to talk about their molting noting that some individuals reach ten feet tall and live to be about 20 years old.

I thought about them again today in part because I was recently in my hometown during the time of year for harvesting soft-shell crabs. Without going into the process too deeply, the idea is to catch crabs close to molting and place them in a make-shift aquarium until they shed their shell. During the process, the crab will usually increase in size by 33%.

This triggered three ideas for the as-of-yet-unnamed-clone:

  1. Alter the stats to include a 33% growth rate per molting
  2. Give a few shamans the ability to create golems from their old shells.
  3. Create a module that features them as a function of mass combat rules

I also wanted to give my crabmen a new name, Portán, mostly to differentiate them from the old stats. The Portán are similar in some ways, but generally have more intelligence (barely), grow larger, and practice their own form of primitive magic.


Frequency: Rare
No. encountered:
Medium (5 ft tall) to Large (11 feet tall)
90 ft, swimming 60 ft
Armour Class:
Hit Dice:
3 - 6
1d4 - 1d10 / 1d4 - 1d10
Special Attacks:
Special Defenses:
Magic Resistance:
Lair probability:

The special attack refers to the special ability to create golems from discarded molts. Portán shamans do not know any other spells.

The golems are created by filling the old shells full of mud and animating them. The stats would be the same except:

  • No 11 foot tall golem would be found. After reaching that height, a portán will die shortly before or during any molting.
  • Move is 60ft and Swimming 30ft.
  • As golems, the creatures are immune to charm and sleep spells as well as psionics.

When I get the mass combat rules hammered out, we'll see these guys again.

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