Content of the article: "Kibbles Battle System – I made a campaign-spanning Deck Building Card Game framework to run large scale Warfare and Epic Battles in 5e (Beta Version)"
What is this?
This is a framework that does essentially two things – provides a structure you can use to give your players concrete progress and assets in their efforts of building up an army, and provides an overlay (in the form of a deck building card game) for a D&D 5e combat encounter that turns that combat encounter in the heart of a raging battle – with your PCs at the center of it.
Why did I make this?
I had a problem that I imagine many DMs have had over the years. I had written myself into an epic confrontation between the players, and a literal horde of hobgoblins – teeming with siege weapons, dragons, the whole nine yards. My player had started to build an army, but as the confrontation loomed, the question of how I was going to actually run the fight became an ever present issue. I've done various "war" scenarios before, and tried everything from dodging the issue completely to rolling dice to full on pseudo wargames, but never really felt I'd hit the correct balance between "let the players play 5e" and "give the players satisfying rewards for the efforts in building an army" and "give players agency over how the battle plays out".
So I sat down to solve this problem for my game, and I ended up spending way too much time on that solution, but maybe made a system that you can use so you don't have to.
How It Works
It is actually quite simple how it works. Players build their army – this is them playing the game of D&D. Finding NPCs that will help them, gathering allied forces, that sort of thing. These become assets in the players struggle. Did your players convince an old-washed up hero that the goblin army coming was bad news? They got themselves an Elite. Did they get that old hero back into shape? Reward them with an extra Battle Card! Rally the villages, get General Forces! You'll need all the help they can get, because the enemy horde is vast! But be sure to find yourself a stalwart leader (like our Warlord here!) as without good leadership, and army is but a pile of corpses!
Once the time for battle comes, the following plays out.
- There are two armies, represented by General Forces and Elites, with Leaders.
- The clash in an epic fight, in at the heart of which is the Skirmish where the players play out 5e combat.
- The tactical layer is simulated by Battle Cards representing the actions of Elites and Leaders.
- The strength of an army is represented by Fielded Strength and it's will to fight by Morale, both of which are reduced by Casualties.
That's it. That's the system. The rest of the words will just serve to explain what the bolded words mean, provide tools to construct them in a manner that works for your campaign, and run them in an epic and memorable battle.
- General Forces are the bulk of your forces; it can be nameless or named NPCs, but they are typically in the lower CR range. They vitally provide the bulk of your Fielded Strength.
- Elites are typically your more powerful allies or followers. They vitally provide you with the Battle Cards that make up your aforemented deck-building-card game. They determine how many cards you can draw and hold.
- Leaders are the people that make your army go; you can have one that provides a multiplier to your force, and the rest provide additional bonuses. They determine how many cards you can play per round.
- Siege Weapons are unnecessary, but nice to have, and give you powerful bonus Battle Cards.
But that's just your army. What's this about a Skirmish? What are the all important PCs doing? The PCs can be found at the heart of the Skirmish in the heat of the Battle, where they use D&D 5e combat rules to engage the enemy Elites and slaughter their General Forces with their actual characters. The actions of the PCs in the Skirmish will greatly impact the overall state of the Battle, but they cannot win a war alone, and you'll need all three parts – General Forces, Elites with their Battle Cards, and the PCs in the Skirmish to overcome the enemy forces.
The Skirmish will contain an enemy Elite (of the DMs choosing) and a flood of the General Forces. Enemies killed here both deplete the enemies General Forces and Morale, but boost your own. It also gives you the chance to take out enemy elites and snowball the fight in your favor, routing them for good. The less elites they have, they less Battle Cards they are deploying against you.
Setting of for Battle
In order to use this system, you will need to set up for a Battle. Fortunately, this is quite simple in theory, and is the sort of thing that a whole campaign can be about in practice!
Determine your player's army General Forces. These can be recruited, hired, joined, or created (in the case of things like Skeletons and Golems!)
Determine the Player's allied Elites. These are generally powerful allies the players have recruited. Determine the best Battle Cards for them, the players, and if any special Battle Cards have been earned through adventuring.
Determine the leader of the Player's army.
Determine if any Terrain factors are in play and distribute Terrain Battle Cards and Multipliers as necessary.
Calculate the Player Army Fielded Strength and Morale.
You're ready to go!
Running the Battle
Lastly, there is the Battle itself. When two armies collide, the DM can determine if the overall tactics merits any special modifiers (for example, one army ambushing the other), or if one army is gaining a terrain benefit from the positioning. These will be expressed in terms of multipliers (found on the Terrain Benefits table).
Once battle starts, each side selects who will take place in the Skirmish. While it is generally expected that all PCs will take part in the Skirmish, they do not have to. The DM will deploy enemy Elites in general forces into the Skirmish, deducting them from the forces of that army. All forces in the skirmish will roll initiative.
The turn order:
Step 1: Draw Battle Cards equal to 1 + your half your number of Elites (rounded down) (on subsequent turns, you may have to discard some if you exceed your Hand Size).
Step 2: The player and DM take turns playing Battle Cards until each reaches their Battle Card limit. The DM always places cards first.
Step 3: Resolve any Battle Card outcomes.
Step 4: The Skirmish initiative runs in order.
Step 5: After all creatures in the Skirmish have acted, roll Attrition Dice.
Step 6: Calculate remaining Fielded Strength and Morale, and return to the top of the Battle if neither has been depleted to zero for either army.
For the full details, default Battle Cards, and template General Forces & Elites, and even Sample Armies, check up the full GMBinder/PDF:
Design Notes & FAQ
Why Deck Building Card Game?
It turned out to be a really easy way to get players to engage with the tactical level of warfare without feeling like they were setting up for Warhammer. Some people will obviously like a less abstracted version, but this version lets you have the narratively cool bits that makes it clear what you and your allies (and the dastardly villains)
How Do You Actually Play It?
I'm not going to lie, I designed this to play in person, and it works a lot better that way. That said, since the world is the world and that's off the table for me at the moment (and many of you folks I'm sure), I've been playing and tested it in Roll20. They have a feature that allows you to build a deck of cards. I just build 2 decks; one for players and one for DM. The players cards I deal face up on the map and let them decide what to do, the DM cards I deal to myself and play onto the map. The system assumes the DM knows the players cards (but has a large corresponding disadvantage built in for the DM as they have to play their cards first allowing the player to much more easily counter them).
All of this for 1 battle?
It's possible that a single battle could resolve the war, but generally I would expect a series of them. You may lose and be routed the first time, and be the frantic hunt for new allies and cards to counter the particularly savage enemy Battle Cards! You may defeat their expeditionary force only to find their main force not far behind. Once war breaks out, the need for a battle system tends to grow.
How much work for the DM is this?
A fair bit. A lot less than making it from scratch, a lot more than telling your players to roll a d20 to see how the battle goes. It'll usually take less than an hour to generate an NPC army, how long the players army takes depends on how much you integrate that into your campaign. Setting up decks in roll20 is a bit of a pain, but doesn't take more than 10-15 minutes. I just use a master-token for both armies tracking their fielded strength and morale, and record the damage they take to those like I'd record damage to any unit – I let the players see their army, but not the enemy army stats. It's pretty doable.
Is it actually fun?
So far, all the players/playtesters have wanted to play again/more. That's a loose metric, but it's what I got.
What if I don't run warfare in my 5e game?
Than you don't need this system. But perhaps keep it in mind for if it ever sneaks up on you 🙂
Who is KibblesTasty?
I make Homebrew stuff for D&D 5e. I have a website, and have made stuff like the Warlord, Psion, Occultist (Witches, Shamans, Oracles), and Alternate Artificer. This is a bit out of my usual lane, and frankly not what I was really supposed to be working on (that's the Crafting system I'm working on over on my patreon) but I decided I wanted to post this system. If you want to support my stuff, I have a patreon which is what allows me make all this stuff.
What'll you do with this from here?
I will continue to test and play it myself, as well as take in feedback and tweak it. It is not and never will be a 100% plug and play system – it's a framework for you to apply to your campaign and build around your player's situations, NPCs, and allies. Your players will want custom cards, and they make great alternate loot – even rewards for character development or building relationships with their NPCs! But I will refine the base system, and expand the default cards quite a bit (generally aim to give each class 3-4 options per level, and build out a few dozen template Elites. If there's truly massive interest, I may make an app or something for it to make running the overlay easier, but that's likely out of scope the time being.
If you have any questions, thoughts, or feedback, feel free to let me know. Don't treat anything here as set in stone, but take what works for you and tweak and tinker as much (or as little) as you want. The balance of this system is very much in the hands of the DM. I generally find that players with 2/3 the forces of the enemy will usually win, but it heavily depends on the Battle Cards, Tactics, Characters, and Luck… just as a battle should!
- Add a legendary perk coin as reward for daily ops
- Enough is enough, Bethesda. Time to cut your losses and completely remake the Perk Coin system. They are broken at its core.
- Legend Rewards Idea
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