Guidance – Rules 101: War Never Changes

Welcome to Guidance, Private Sanctuary’s source for tips and techniques for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, written by Everyman Gamer Alexander Augunas. Today, we’re going to be talking about mass combat.

So while I was skimming the Paizo forums a few days ago, I came across an interesting question (in part because the individual had linked to Guidance as part of his question).

The question was simple: does my CR +4 method work with mass combat. And how do you design a challenging mass combat anyway? So this week and next week, I’m going to tackle those two questions in the GM’s Guide to Mass Combat. This is part 1: War Never Changes. Today, we’ll begin with a quick look at the absolute basics of how mass combat functions.

Lessons of War — The Army

The basic “unit” of the mass combat system is the army. An army is comprised of a number of soldiers, which determines its Army Challenge Rating (ACR). When calculating an army’s ACR, take the CR of the army’s component creature and apply a modifier based upon the army’s size. Armies use the same size categories and size bonuses as creatures (think the CMB/CMD modifier scale), so a small army has a lower ACR than a larger one. The size categories range from 2,000 soldiers (a Colossal army) down to a single unit (a Fine army).

In a conflict, armies “fight” by making offense checks against their enemy’s defense value (DV). An army makes an offense check by rolling 1d20 and adding the army’s offense modifier (OM), which equals its ARC. DV, on the other hand, is equal to 10 + the army’s ACR, plus any additional circumstance bonuses such as from occupying a fortified building. (In effect, an army adds the defense score of any settlement or building it occupies to its DV.) Armies also gain tactics. They start with one tactic and learn new tactics as they are victorious in combat. Tactics modify strategy tracks (see below) and give the army new options to use in mass combat. As a result, an experienced, low ACR army has more tactics available than an inexperienced, high ACR army.

Finally, all armies have hit points. An army’s hit points are equal to the average on one soldier’s hit die x its ACR. For example, if you have an army of wizards (d6), the army’s hit points are calculating by multiplying 3.5 x the army’s ACR. This ultimately gives martial armies more hit points than spellcasting armies, which makes sense. Damage is dealt by comparing an attacking army’s offense check to the defending army’s DV. For every point that the attacking army beats the defending army’s DV, the defending army takes 1 point of damage. For example, if I roll a modified 25 and the defending army has a DV of 15, the defending army takes 10 damage.

Lessons of War — Strategy Tracks

Since mass combat would be boring if it was simply a series of d20 rolls without any real tactics at play, all armies have the ability to choose a strategy track at the start of their turn. A strategy track penalizes either OM or DV in order to gain a bonus on the opposite value. For example, using the aggressive track you can take a –2 penalty to DV to gain +3 OM. The system is designed so that bonuses and penalties to OM are slightly larger than bonuses and penalties to DV.

Lessons of War — Commanders

The final component to mass combat are commanders. A commander is the person in charge of each army. A commander’s primary function is to provide boons and to army and boost the army’s Morale. Let’s take these functions piece-by-piece.

  • Boons: Army commanders learn boons as they win victories and gain levels. An army commander learns one boon initially and gains additional boons based upon her ranks in Profession (soldier). Alternatively, a kingdom leader learns additional boons at a slightly slower pace, but learns then based upon her character level.
  • Morale: An army needs to make a Morale check when it chooses to route in combat or against special, mass-fear inducing conditions. Morale checks keep the army in the fray, and a commander gives a small bonus on this check.

A Typical Combat

Below describes a play-by-play of a typical army combat. These sample armies are taken right out of Ultimate Campaign and I rolled dice for each of them.

Hobgoblins (OM +2; DV 12; 5 hp; ACR 1) vs. Kobolds (OM +2; DV 12; 11 hp; ACR 2)

  • Round 1: (No Strategy Tracks)
  • Hobgoblins: Ranged Attack (1d20+2 = 18; hit, 18 – 12 = 6 damage)
  • Kobolds: Advance (In range of melee next turn)
  • Round 2: (Hobgoblins cautious, Kobolds reckless)
  • Hobgoblins: Melee Attack (1d20+0 = 12; hit, 12 – 8 = 4 damage)
  • Kobolds: Melee Attack (1d20+6 = 20; hit, 26 – 16 = 10 damage)
  • Hobgoblins defeated. Kobolds victorious.

As you can see, luck is a HUGE part of mass combat. The d20 roll is everything, and while there are ways to bolster that row, mass combat is very reminiscent of low-level combat in that a single bad row can kill you.

Next week, we’ll be looking at the math behind mass combat to try and determine if my CR +4 (or even the regular CR difficult ranges in general) makes for an appropriate PC challenge. Until then, may the odds be forever in your favor!

Alexander “Alex” Augunas has been playing roleplaying games since 2007, which isn’t nearly as long as 90% of his colleagues. Alexander is an active freelancer for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game and is best known as the author of the Pact Magic Unbound series by Radiance House. Alex is the owner of Everyman Gaming, LLC and is often stylized as the Everyman Gamer in honor of Guidance’s original home. Alex’s favorite color is blue, his favorite Pathfinder Race/Class combination is kitsune warblade, though he thinks Dreamscarred Press renamed that class to something else.

Alex Augunas

Alexander "Alex" Augunas is an author and behavioral health worker living outside of Philadelphia in the United States. He has contributed to gaming products published by Paizo, Inc, Kobold Press, Legendary Games, Raging Swan Press, Rogue Genius Games, and Steve Jackson Games, as well as the owner and publisher of Everybody Games (formerly Everyman Gaming). At the Know Direction Network, he is the author of Guidance and a co-host on Know Direction: Beyond. You can see Alex's exploits at, or support him personally on Patreon at

Chimera Statue with episode name on it.

1 Comment

  1. Darrell Vin Zant Reply to Darrell

    Seriously, that quote by Ron Perlman from Fallout always gives me chills.

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