Great Captains of War


Alexander the Great
14th level Fighter
Strength 14
Intelligence 18
Wisdom 12
Dexterity 18
Constitution 18
Charisma 18
Alignment: Lawful
AC: 9
HP: 82
Languages: Greek, Macedonian, Persian, Thracian

Class Proficiencies: Combat Reflexes, Command, Endurance, Manual of Arms, Running
General Proficiencies: Adventuring, Diplomacy, Knowledge (Philosophy), Leadership, Military Strategy 3, Riding (Horses)
Equipment: Lance, short sword, shield, lamellar armor, heavy helm

Domains at War Characteristics

Leadership Ability: 8
Strategic Ability: 6
Morale Modifier: 6

Strength: Alexander is notably fit and strong but not overly so.
Intelligence: Alexander's undeniable brilliance in war and politics certainly place him in the top 0.5% of human intelligence. Whether he was solving the Gordian Knot, capturing the Sogdian Rock, or sieging Tyre, his ingenuinity knew no bounds.
Wisdom: Alexander was strong-willed and confident, but also prone to bouts of drinking and emotional excess. I have assigned him a Wisdom which is above average, but not high enough to help him avoid his nemesis.
Dexterity: Alexander frequently accomplished great feats of dexterity. As a child he mastered a powerful warhorse. He famously beat his own bodyguard, Cleitus the Black, in a key initiative roll. He was reputed a very swift runner who might have competed in the Olympiad 200m but refused because the other runners were not kings.
Constitution: Alexander's endurance is legendary. He survived wound after wounds that would have killed most men. He survived the march through the Gedrosian Desert when all around him men dropped dead of sunstroke and dehydration.
Charisma: One of the few historical figures labeled The Great, he was worshipped as a god in his own lifetime and proclaimed 'master of the Universe' by the Egyptians. One doesn't rate Alexander's Charisma relative to an 18. One rate's Charisma 18 relative to Alexander.
Proficiencies: Combat Reflexes, Command, Diplomacy, Manual of Arms, Leadership, and Military Strategy 3 are all self-evident from his historical accomplishments. Endurance represents his almost super-human stamina on the march. Running reflects his reputed Olympic-level speed. His taming of Bucephalus and lifelong positions as a cavalryman justify Riding (Horses). (He probably merits Animal Training, too, but alas Alexander had no more proficiency slots.) Knowledge (Philosophy) is from his tutoring by Aristotle.
Domains at War Characteristics: These are all at the maximum possible rank. Simply put, you do not want to face Alexander on the battlefield.


I am unconvinced on the DEX and CON scores.

CON: Surviving grievous wounds implies high level, in my opinion.

For the march through the desert . . . didn’t 25-50% of his soldiers survive, as well? And those soldiers would have lacked Alexander’s starting hit points, since even then he had more fighter levels than they did. If those soldiers could make it, I find nothing exceptional in the idea that a fifth level or higher fighter could make it.

(It’s also worth noting that he probably died of illness, and he couldn’t exactly hold his liquor.)

(And as another side note, what was most exceptional about the march through the desert was that he attempted it at all.)

DEX: The taming of Bucephalus was more a matter of CHA. The other stuff, maybe, although I would be inclined toward a 13–15, again.

Before answering specifics, let me state that in giving these ratings, I am assuming that the scores have the actual distribution that the dice say they do. Therefore your chance of having an 18 in ability score is 1 in 216. A large high school with 2000 students will have 10 students with CON 18,  10 with INT 18, and so on. 

Given the billions of humans that have lived on earth, some remarkable people are going to have multiple 18s - 1 in 40,000 will have two 18s, 1 in 8,000,000 will have three 18s, 1 in 1,600,000,000 will have 4 18s. There are probably 5 people with 4 18s alive today, by that measure!

With this in mind, I don't really think Alexander's 18 Constitution is arguable. He was tireless. Inexhaustible energy. Survived incredible wounds. It's worth reading Robin Lane Fox's description of the wounds Alexander suffered and survived - prior to marching through the Gedrosian Desert. His death by disease was painful and lingering because he took so long to die.

As far as his Dexterity, it depends to what extent you believe he was genuinely an Olympic-caliber runner/athlete. I think his personal heroics and survival on the battlefield certainly justify it. Calming Bucephalus down was generally described as an act of Intelligence (he figured out what made the horse upset), not Charisma; in any event, actually riding a horse requires a lot of Dexterity (and Strength and Constitution).

On a broader note, I was thinking of doing a series of these as blog posts to promote Domains at War: Julius Caesar, Hannibal, Genghis Khan, etc. Interesting idea or lame?

Agreed skeptical; odds of stats that good are about 4 in 10 billion by my maths. This suggests maybe 20-30 people of such calibre in the whole of human history (I once calculated the number of people who had ever lived, and I believe it was a fairly small integer multiple of current world population), and I would still expect half of them to die during infancy or childhood, and another half to be female, hence unlikely to have made history due to traditional gender constraints in most societies. This leaves us with but a bare handful, of which I suppose Alexander might have been one, but the odds of such a person being born into circumstances which were ripe for building an empire seem poor.

On the other hand, I was rolling stats last week and pulled an 18, 18, 17 in order, so… it does happen.

 "This leaves us with but a bare handful, of which I suppose Alexander might have been one, but the odds of such a person being born into circumstances which were ripe for building an empire seem poor."

I think the answer there is that  people in history (or in game) get their ability scores from a combination of genetics, environment, and development, not from dice. The resulting range of abilities makes up a 3d6-like bell curve (normal distribution), so we as gamers use dice as a prescriptive means of assuring that our in-game characters get ability scores. 

But with ability scores actuallly coming from genes, environment, and personal development, we should expect to see higher INT and CHA among the well-fed, well-educated, groomed-from-birth nobility, higher STR, DEX, and CON in a well-fed warrior nobility, and so on. Moreover I'd reckon Darwinian factors were probably much more strongly at work in the ancient world.

As a side note: This conversation is making me feel really bad for Alexander the Great. I mean, what the heck does a man have to do to justify 4 18s? Conquer the known world? Become worshipped as god in his own lifetime? Go undefeated on field of battle? Establish himself as the standard by which all later emperors judged themselves? Serve as the source for the Romance which becomes the most read book until printing of the Bible? Found the greatest city of the next two hundred years? "Nah, I don't think he's all that." JEEEZ you guys are harsh.


Broader note first: Interesting idea. It will certainly be fodder for armchair arguments ;-).

Score distribution: One in 2,176,782,336 will have four 18s. At smaller values, we tend to round to 0.5%, but the actual chance is closer to 0.46% which adds up fast when you start stacking them. When you further stack the 37.5% chance of a 12+ and the 16% chance of a 14+, you end up with about one in 36 billion.

Some reasonable math indicates that about 100 billion people have ever lived, which gives us 2–3 people in history with stats like those.

If probable outcomes are important, that means that—at most—one or two other people in the entire history of the world have ever been Alexander the Great’s equal.

Of course, there are a lot of ways to “fix” that, and CON and DEX are only one of them. How likely is it, for example, that Alexander was as intelligent as Leonardo?

For the rest of it, I don’t think I’ll convince you :-).

You say CON, I say high fighter level and halfway good hit points. You say Olympic level athlete, and I say he was a master of propaganda who never actually competed (his battlefield performance, and thus presumed AC, is a much better argument for high DEX, of course, since DEX actually affects that in the game).

On the horse thing:

Really, I just don’t understand any of what you are saying, which is usually a good sign that we’re on completely different pages where the ability score definitions are concerned. I don’t think I would let a PC replace their CHA reaction roll with an INT-based reaction roll, unless they had special knowledge of some sort, and that knowledge made any kind of sense.

I might allow WIS (based on the Perceive Intentions custom power), if the fear of shadows was true. But then why would he want a warhorse who spooks at its own shadow?

So I’m inclined to believe that the explanation of the horse being afraid of its own shadow was a convenient lie; and that the method used to tame the horse was a CHA-based reaction roll, which he totally owned.

Then just give him all 18s and say he was, as his propaganda implied, demi-divine.

ACKS spends a great deal of energy on the idea that one can accomplish great things without idealized ability scores, after all, and it is not like the scores will materially affect the character build as much as the proficiency selection will.

For myself, I aim conservatively: the biography gives evidence for a score of “at least X,” so I give the person X. And with masters of propaganda like Alexander, even more so ;-).

Which is why I said “I am unconvinced” rather than “you are wrong.” To me, Alexander’s accomplishments can be explained with lower DEX and CON scores, so I would give him those lower scores. His CHA is the only thing I think is inarguable, although the INT comes close.

“ACKS spends a great deal of energy on the idea that one can accomplish great things without idealized ability scores”

This. There’s no heroism in conquering the world with stats like those; to do any less is a disappointment :stuck_out_tongue: I’d rather reduce the scores a little, give him the benefit of the doubt on some lucky rolls throughout his career, and be able to say to my players “You don’t need quadruple 18s to conquer the world. Just look at this guy!” But that’s preferential on my end.

I think Alexander qualifies as much as anyone who is real for those kind of scores. How many other figures in history accomplished so much that even now we see the effects they had on the world?

I think the problem is what you touched on. Attributes in reality aren’t random but are the result of training, genetics and nutrition. They also aren’t frozen like they are in early D&D. People change and improve which isn’t reflected well in level systems (except for someone’s killing ability).

So yeah my reaction at first was too high, in retrospect I think I’m good with it.

Oh I meant to say…I think this is a cool idea and look forward to the others.

Two thumbs up!! I would like to see more. (Genghis Khan is a personal favorite.)

You might mix in some Not-so-great Captains of War, and/or the Captains that faced one another, such as:

Publius Quinctilius Varus vs Arminius

And I would like to see Richard the Lion Hearted :slight_smile:

Here's a list of some ancient and medieval great captains. Personal inclination and knowledge leads me towards antiquity primarily:

Great Captains:
Genghis Khan
Hannibal Barca
Julius Caesar
Richard the Lion-Hearted

Runners Up: Agrippa, Leonidas, Pompey, Pyrrhus, Sargon, Spartacus, Thutmose

Other sugestions?

I would be interested in Cyrus the Great.

I would also be interested in seeing at least a few women on that list. While there are no world-conquering women in antiquity that I am familiar with (Fu Hao, maybe? That was mostly to retain an existing empire, though . . .), not everyone on the list above were, either.

Sadly, I’m not knowledgeable enough about history to make very many suggestions: most of what I know is from very casual reading to establish flavor for this or that campaign setting ;-).

There were a few good female leaders mentioned in Civilization V: Theodora of the Byzantine Empire and Boudica of the Celts. Of course, I don’t know enough about history to know much about them.

There have been some strong female leaders in history (Elizabeth I, for example), but most  have not generally been "great captains" in the sense of battlefield commanders. Theodora, a formidable woman by any measure, was Emperor Justinian's wife, and Justinian himself retained Belisarius as his battlefield commander. 

Perhaps Joan of Arc.



I think that if Joan is the main one you feel you have enough information to provide canon stats for (which is understandable and perfectly reasonable), that it would be better to leave the women out entirely.

I can use the examples you provide as a baseline for comparison, and there won’t be any Amelia Earhart* issues with my players.

And sorry: I didn’t mean to start a discussion down this path, and I’m bailing out now ;-).

Man, Boudicca would make a wicked bladedancer…

Welp. There’s my new campaign idea.

(I second Genghis, Boudicca)

Yeah... There were competent female battlefield commanders from time to time, but none have become as famous as, e.g., Hannibal, Julius Caesar, or Genghis. Joan of Arc is quite famous, but mostly for her religious zealotry and sad death. I doubt many people could even say what war she fought in or name a battle she won! The only others that immediately come to mind are: Boudica, Margaret of Anjou, and Zenobia of Palmyra. 

I personally am fascinated by the confrontation of Aurelian and Zenobia, but neither of them is well known outside of narrow circles. Boudica might actually be the best choice as I think she's someone who I could say an ACKS player rolling up.




It seems as though the odds are stacked against women in history. We’re looking specifically at warrior-captains, for which many of these eras would be actively discouraging female participation, and even those women who could gain a little infamy would have had to contend with male history writers. Unfortunately I’m not enough of a history buff to list off any possible candidates.

wikipedia seems to offer a few examples that haven’t been named yet: Nusaybah, Artemisia, Rani Lakshmibai all sound neat.