Domains at War - Level of Detail and Complexity

I’m soliciting feedback over the level of detail you’d like to see in the ACKS mass combat system. The current (completed) rules are a detailed set of miniature battle rules featuring flanking, engagement, push backs, shield walls, etc. Based on some feedback, I am concerned this may be too complex for the RPG audience.

What level of detail would you want for your ACKS mass combat battles?

  1. Very simple: A single die roll resolves the pitched battle.Major PC activities would be handled outside the mass combat mechanics.
  2. Abstract: A small number of player inputs and a few dice rolls resolve the pitched battle. Major PC activities would be handled outside the mass combat mechanics. [Example: BECMI War Machine]
  3. Chess-like: The battle is fought out using a chess-like system on a battlemap. Some straightforward PC activities could be handled on the battlemap, but some would have to be adjudged outsided the mass combat mechanics. [Example: Birthright]
  4. Boardgame-like: The battle is fought out using boardgame-style mechanics on a battlemap. Some straightforward PC activities could be handled on the battlemap, but some would have to be adjudged outsided the mass combat mechanics. [Example: BattleLore by Fantasy Flight]
  5. Miniature-like: The battle is fought out using miniature game mechanics using rulers. Most PC activities could be handled on the table, with only a small number of esoteric actions requiring separate adjudication. [Example: Chainmail, AD&D Battlesystem, C&C Fields of Battle]
  6. Comprehensive: A full-fledged detailed miniature combat game. Any PC activity imaginable can be translated into the mass combat mechanics. [Example: Warhammer Fantasy Battle]

The current Domains at War rules are set at “5”. There is an alternative abstract set of rules set at “1”.

I like the idea of level 5 rules, but would also really love a way to fall back to level 2 (not all the way to level 1). The options in between are intriguing, but ultimately I think will be unsatisfying both for the rigor and balance to maintain interest in board games and the flexibility expected of RPGs.

A level 3 might be appropriate if you redefine it as engagement of forces with large area movement on custom sketched maps by the players or GM. If you aren’t familiar with Diaspora, check out the tactical combat in that system which I think abstracts well to level 3.

I would like the option of 3 using hexes, but Option 2 would be my default.

I prefer level 4, or something along the lines of the USE ME miniature rules:

to be honest. if i want to play a table top miniature wargame, i would play another game. i want acks mass battles to be useful in roleplaying situations and would not like to take a mass battle several hours, stealing my precious rpg-time. i use acks as a rpg, so for me nothing higher than 2 or 3…

I wouldn’t want anything more complex than An Echo Resounding. I love how the stats of tt seamlessly integrate with the mass combat anxious pcs plug in at different levels depending on their power.

I prefer option 3 (Birthrigh-like) or option 4 (Battlelore-like).

I understand some PC activities are lost at this level of abstraction, but for me that is a small price to pay for the increased playability.

To me, one of the selling points of ACKS is how the economic system “fits” an doesn’t broke once players reach high levels. What I really need from a mass combat system in ACKS is not really detailed rules at a “tactical” level (rules for the battlefield), but at a “strategic-level” or “logistic-level” (rules before and after the battlefield).

Tactical rules are fine, sure, but I don’t need them to be like option 5. Option 4 or option 3 should suffice.

For me, at least :).

I’m also in the 3-4 range. You mentioned DBA in the ‘Hexes or Inches’ thread, and that (more specifically its fantasy analog, HotT) or Battlelore would certainly be my cup of tea. Anything more complex than that, however, and I’ll probably just convert one of those two games myself (probably HotT).

As for PC interactions, I think these should take place as mini-encounters during the game. So each round of the battle, there should be a single event that requires the PCs attention. I did this when I used Warmaster to simulate mass battles for WFRP. At the beginning of every full round of combat, I looked at the board, figured out where the PCs where in the battle and then came up with a ‘mission’ for them based upon the circumstances. One I remember clearly involved an enemy unit near a village. I declared that they were looting and burning and that the village had a shrine the PCs had to protect. We ran that using the WFRP rules, and at the end of that short scenario, I gave the enemy unit a Wound and -1 Attack for the next round to simulate the troops drawn off fighting the PCs.

In DaW, this could be handled a similar way or by using a series of encounter charts for the front of the battle, the back of the battle and the reserves area (ala Pendragon, in fact, I think Pendragon’s Mass Battle system is a wonderful example of how to integrate PCs into a battle). Encounters would represent opportunities that open up during the battle or special assignments and could include combat events, like challenges from enemy officers, RPG events, like convincing a unit to rally or fight harder, or missions behind enemy lines, like attacking a siege engine or assassinating a wizard. The success of failure of the encounter would have some tangible effect on the battlefield.

I’d suggest 5 and 1. Why not give the option of a very simply resolution and a more detailed one? Surely a simple option would add only a few pages, but a more complex one would allow the utilization of Napoleonic style tactics at various levels as well as theater level strategy and logistics.

ACKS has well worked out economics that almost beg to be applied to campaign warfare. One can actual practice Sun TZU style total war using acks economocs. So campaigning should be a central focus, with options as to how granular battles may be resolved.

Without making things too difficult for you, I’m with Aldarron: a full set of in-depth mass combat rules (5) and a simplified ‘basic’ mass combat resolution (1) that utilizes a very streamlined version of the more complex ruleset.

I’d like to see 2 and 5.

One die roll seems a very dissatisfying way to resolve a “mass battle”, especially if it will be ran alongside little “cameo appearances” by the PCs in such a battle. With option #2, a few die rolls to resolve a battle correlates nicely with taking a few rounds to resolve a typical PC battle.

Option #5 would be nice allongside option #2. It would be very nice for a fantasy roleplaying game to once again pay serious homage to simulating such an iconic event in fantasy media and literature (and do it better than all who have come before).

I have to agree with the others who said that the economic setup with ACKS should dovetail with the mass combat rules.

I agree with a few recent posters that a simple and complex system options would be good, but I think there should be a simple-battle system that is somewhat more substantial than a single die roll (maybe have a die roll resolution system for truly minor skirmishes fought by henchmen of henchmen along an extremely vast conflict). Also, the complex battle system should probably be a little simpler than most miniatures games (maybe toward the lower end of the miniature game spectrum). Powerful PCs should significantly help units they lead.

While I’m not sure how easy or hard it would be to implement, it would be very nice to have some option to attempt unorthodox strategy or army composition. I know there will be players who want to use their magical (and generic fantasy) resources to give themselves an edge. A staff of healing could heal everyone in an entire unit of 120 men once in 2 turns (120 heals * 1ound/heal, though not everyone will be wounded and shuffling ranks might be difficult without becoming vulnerable), so that could allow recovery of fraction of “destroyed” units to come back mid-battle. There is going to be a mage who wants to make a new beast-man soldier with strange abilities, or a new spell for a surprise effect.

Would it be possible to reflect zany PC tactics and unorthodox compositions in the mass combat rules? I understand if it is unfeasible, but it hardly seems worth making a race of acid-spitting, bat-winged, reptilian humanoids if they are treated like any other unit.

The mass combat rules are written to account for and allow wide and interesting uses of magic. Virtually every spell or special ability with usefulness at the mass combat level is accounted for. Some of the ones I've seen used in actual play so far include: 

- Using control weather to turn the battlefield into mud, or call up a tor place a tornado on the map to damage enemy units

- Using control plants to animate a hex of forest terrain, damaging and trapping the unit in that hex

- Using hallucinatory terrain to place one or more hexes of fake terrain during battle set-up

- Using massmorph to hide a unit with an illusion that it is forest/jungle terrain

- Using move earth to add, remove, or move terrain features

- Using wish to inflict the bubonic plague on an enemy army (MY army, actually! damn you Greg Tito)

- Using drums of panic to send enemy units fleeing

- Using eyes of the eagle to spot and "snipe" enemy commanders from across the battlefield

- Using a crystal ball with ESP to read the enemy command's mind during the battle, gaining a major initiative bonus

Special abilities covered include acid, charging, dragon breath, dragon fear, energy drain, flying, immunities, poison, swooping, trampling, turning. 

There's even a complete section on how to use magic to speed up castle construction. Here's a brief excerpt...



A spellcaster with Engineering proficiency, or under the supervision of an engineer, can use spells to assist construction. Move earth, transmute rock to mud, and wall of stone are the most valuable spells for construction projects.

A spellcaster can use move earth to dig or fill moats or erect earthen ramparts. The caster’s construction rate towards these projects is 12,500gp per turn. The spell expires after 6 turns, allowing 75,000gp of construction total. This construction rate only can be used on ditches, moats, and earthen ramparts!

EXAMPLE: Quintus wishes to build his sanctum, a huge tower, on a hill. Unfortunately, the grasslands of Southern Argollë  where he is building are as flat as his spellbook. He casts move earth and gets to work fixing the local geography. An earthen rampart of 15,000 cubic feet costs 2,500gp. With a construction rate of 75,000gp per hour Quintus is able to erect an earthen mound of (15,000 cubic feet x 75,000 / 2,500) 450,000 cubic feet! When the spell’s duration ends, a 200’ x 100’ x 15’ mound now rises from the plains.




As far as the race of “acid-spitting, bat-winged, reptilian humanoids,” their ACKS stats and powers directly into their mass combat capabilities.

As flying units, they’d have unit type “Flyer” which is something akin to being “Loose Mounted”, but better. Flyers can disengage freely, reduce damage from attacks by flying away, ignore terrain, etc.

As far as acid, they’d probably use the rules for “Acid” attacks: “Once the target unit has been damaged once by the acidic unit, it takes the full base damage each combat round thereafter until it spends an entire command phase outside of melee cleaning the acid off. The unit’s AC is reduced by 1 for each combat round it is in contact with the acidic unit.”

Awesome. Much appreciated. I know that converting every spell and ability to work with a different combat system is difficult and time consuming. Out of curiosity, do/will the rules have rough guides for custom spells made with the spell creation rules in the Player’s companion?