Incapacitating Commanders

In last weekend’s Battles playtest, when I found myself losing badly to my two other players and about to go over the morale threshold, I turned to the logical but desperate tactic of trying to knock out their general using a combination of heroes and spells. My hero had little luck, but my stinking cloud was fortunate enough to knock the opposing general (and his embedding unit) out of commission. I ruled that this would result in an automatic coup d’grace from the (otherwise unthreatened) adjacent hero next turn, reducing the severity of the defeat by forcing both armies to make a morale check. One good spell radically altered the state of the battle!

This situation actually got me to worrying that this strategy of “eliminate the general” might be too powerful and something campaign players would always turn against me, given the number and diversity of man-to-man spells that effectively incapacitate commanders. I can see some narrative logic in making “Defend the king!” a chess-like imperative of any fight. I just don’t want invisible heroes to routinely be able to sneak up and end a fight just as it gets interesting, after an hour of setting up and moving miniatures on a hex map.

There are a number of spells that effectively neutralize commanders: obvious ones like disintegrate and flesh to stone, and less obvious choices like confusion, feeblemind, polymorph other, and garble (reverse of tongues). The latter is particularly nasty, since it is in every cleric’s repertoire and allows no saving throw.

What exactly should happen when a commander is incapacitated? Does this prevent issuing any orders to the division being commanded for a single turn, or for the duration of the battle? What about the loss of a general, for the whole army? The rules are more clear about the effect of death, but the result of being cursed with a feeblemind or a garble are spelled out in less detail.

Can anyone think of good counter-strategies for blocking this approach, or handling players who overuse it? As it stands, the effect of seeing how powerful this can be would encourage me to use “leading from the rear” quite a bit more often.

EHamilton -
The “Visibility Distance” and “Leading from the Rear” rules were specifically put in place to address this. An enemy commander/hero can generally not even be spotted until 3 hexes, and if leading from the rear, can’t be spotted at all except by creatures in his hex.

In my most recent D@W Battle, the players tried exactly the strategy you describe - They sent their best casters, cloaked in invisibility, riding a magic carpet over the enemy’s forces until the enemy general revealed himself by casting a spell. They then attacked him with flesh-to-stone and fireball. Unfortunately for them, the enemy general survived and he slew both the party’s casters. Had the battle gone the other way (it was a near-run thing) the party would have permanently lost its best casters and all their magic items. So it’s a high, high risk strategy.

If you find that invisible assassins develop into a doctrinal issue for your campaign, assume that the wizards of your campaign-world have developed spells to address the issue.

For example, using Player’s Companion, you could build spells like this:

Level 4: Detect invisibility within 1/2 mile, concentration duration

  • Cast this spell on a scout in a watch tower or by the general.

Level 1: Detect invisibility, 60’, 2 turns

  • Have low level mages (and any high-level general has access to 1st level mages!) learn and cast this spell on the general and his bodyguards

Finally, “Dispel Magic” is the trump spell of mass combat. In most battles I’ve run that involve a lot of magic, it is cast more often than any other spell. A single target Dispel Magic would be a level 2 spell and would be another good one for war-mages to learn.