antasy novels and movies often end with huge fights, as two armies representing the forces of good and evil face off in battle to determine the fate of the world. Though D&D has always been focused on individual characters, the game has taken a number of different approaches to rules for mass combat over the years. (In fact, the Chainmail rules for fighting medieval battles with miniatures were one of the key inspirations for the original D&D game.) When we've talked to players about the options they're looking for in D&D Next, a set of rules for mass combat has been at the top of many gamers' wish lists. Battlesystem, a set of rules for pitting D&D armies against each other, is our response.
An optional part of the core system of D&D Next, Battlesystem is based on the standard D&D combat rules and assumes the use of miniatures and a grid. It uses the stats for monsters and characters mostly unchanged. If you know the combat rules for D&D, you're already 90 percent familiar with how Battlesystem works.
The big changes in the rules focus on scale. Large battles naturally take more time than single combat, so a round of combat in a Battlesystem mass battle takes 1 minute. Battlesystem uses a combat grid divided into squares measuring 20 feet on each side, and scales up the number of creatures a single miniature represents. A miniature in Battlesystem represents a "stand"—a collection of combatants that fight as a single group. Ten Small or Medium creatures make up a single stand, as do five Large creatures or two Huge ones. Player characters and NPCs, including powerful monsters, operate as solos, represented by a single miniature. Solos can fight alone, or can join up with stands to avoid becoming surrounded and overwhelmed by large numbers of enemies.
Stands are typically organized into larger units, defined either as skirmishers or regiments. Regiments are orderly ranks of combatants that take on different formations to adapt to the battlefield, from a tight line of warriors with shields linked to repel an attack, to heavy infantry, heavy cavalry, or hobgoblin mercenaries. By contrast, skirmishers are faster and move in looser formations. Light cavalry, scouts, elf archers, and chaotic gnoll warbands are typically organized as skirmishers, engaging in hit-and-run tactics or rushing forward to seize objectives on the battlefield.
Movement in Battlesystem scales up from the existing D&D rules, with miniatures moving in formation by squares. Difficult terrain works as it does in the core rules, as does cover, walls, and other terrain elements. Combat works just like in the core rules too. When a unit acts, each stand makes an attack and rolls damage as normal, as long as it is attacking another stand. Since both sides scale up equally, Battlesystem simulates a number of combatants on each side of a battle attacking each other over the course of a minute with a single die roll, using the combatants' combat statistics.
If a stand attacks a solo creature, the stand takes one attack for each creature in it. A solo can avoid such potentially devastating attacks by joining up with an adjacent friendly stand, relying on the creatures in that stand to protect it. The enemy stand can still attack the solo, but it makes only one attack.
Solos work the same as stands, making attacks and dealing damage just as they would in the core rules. When a solo attacks a stand, it makes one attack per round. However, if two solos fight, they play out 10 rounds of combat per 1-minute Battlesystem round, using the regular D&D rules. A powerful wraith might duel a cleric of Lathander at the center of the battlefield while their armies clash around them. If you want to speed things up, you can roll ten attacks for each solo at once and assess the damage.
Morale plays a key role in large battles. Once a unit has lost half its stands, it must make a Wisdom saving throw or flee the battle. Solos can attempt to rally such broken units.
Rounding out the Battlesystem rules is a set of guidelines for determining victory. When designing the battlefield, the DM creates a set of objectives for each army (drawing on the players' objectives if an army is under their command), giving each objective a victory point value. At the end of the battle, the side with the most victory points wins.
The key element of the Battlesystem rules is their reliance on the core combat mechanics. This design decision allows a DM to build armies using any of the creatures in the game, including NPCs and player characters. With only minimal conversion required—speed is the only statistic that needs to be recalculated for the Battlesystem rules—putting together big battles is simple and easy.
Mike Mearls is the senior manager for the D&D research and design team. He led the design for 5th Edition D&D. His other credits include the Castle Ravenloft board game, Monster Manual 3 for 4th Edition, and Player’s Handbook 2 for 3rd Edition.