Hence that general is skillful in attack whose opponent does not know what to defend; and he is skillful in defense whose opponent does not know what to attack.
I recently had a massive battle in the D&D campaign that I run. My players and all their followers were heroically pitted against the orc hordes of Archbishop Bolvag, his blackguard, and priests of Gruumsh. After many weeks of planning and using all the tricks in the book that I have mustered in my 20+ years of DM experience, I thought I had it all under control. I expected my hordes to destroy the characters' followers and leave the heroes a shining island of goodness surrounded by a bleak sea of death and destruction! The characters are powerful heroes, so this would be a fitting test for their abilities.
It didn't work out. The battle bogged down in minutiae. Just setting up the confrontation took forever. So did getting through a single turn and assessing damage. By the time the first session was done (over five hours), we had barely gotten through a few turns, nothing had really moved, and worst of all, no one was dead! Trying to remember all the things I needed to remember, even with my trusty laptop, was impossible. This isn't the first time this has happened, so I shouldn't be surprised. Large skirmishes or battles have always been a problem in roleplaying games.
That's why I was so intrigued by the new D&DMiniatures Handbook coming soon to a store near you! Besides being a great stand-alone system for miniatures gaming, it also has rules that let you convert your D&D characters and monsters to simpler stats for large battles or even skirmishes. This article is going to give you a sneak peek into some of the stratagems used to accomplish this.
The first and most important piece to this puzzle is simplifying characters without losing their essence. You can do this by varying degrees. You certainly will want to capture as many of a carefully-built character's qualities as possible. Here is an excerpt from the Miniatures Handbook explaining this in more detail
Converting to the Miniatures Rules
Converting a character or creature is not a simple matter of applying a formula. You'll do better to capture its flavor, spirit, and idea than to account for every detail and wind up with something that's overly complicated. Keep in mind that the miniatures system uses a simpler set of rules than the roleplaying system. Instead of controlling a single character, you often control five or more. This requires skipping over a lot of small details to make game play easier.
The miniatures rules recast creatures, special abilities, and spells in a format that is true to their original natures but easier and faster to use. If you want your battles to run smoothly and quickly even after you've added new creatures, you should take the same approach. Another option is to preserve the various special abilities and other rules of the roleplaying system, but this will make the creature much more detailed than is normal in the miniatures rules, and you'll need to use roleplaying rules to interpret many of its features. You should decide ahead of time how you want to balance features of the roleplaying and miniatures rules.
While this process will take you a little time to work out with all your players, it will ultimately save you from getting bogged down in monotonous, time consuming tedium. You will then be able to inflict large battles on your players at will! How detailed or simple the characters and creatures are is totally up to you and your players. Once you decide which path you want for your characters, you can start the conversion process. I'm not going to go into every aspect of that process here, but I will touch on some of the more interesting portions from the Miniatures Handbook.
First, every character and creature is assigned a Stat Card. All the information you need to run that character is on the card. Monsters and NPCs that are featured in the miniatures sets come with their stat cards already, as described in the Miniatures Handbook.
Each Dungeons & Dragons miniature represents a character or creature from the worlds of the D&D game. (The skirmish and mass battles rules refer to all miniatures as "creatures," and for simplicity this term is also used when referring to the roleplaying side of the card.) Each creature has a corresponding stat card that lists game statistics for the miniatures rules on one side and the roleplaying rules on the other.
One side of the stat card, labeled "D&D Quick Reference," summarizes information for standard D&D roleplaying sessions. These simplified roleplaying statistics are easier to use during play. Details that aren't necessary for running the creature as an opponent may be abbreviated or even left out. For example, wizards' prepared spells are listed, but not spells known: What spells a wizard knows matter when using the character as a repeat nonplayer character (NPC), but not for a single encounter.
Player characters and other monsters and NPCs need to have stat cards created. That's your job. Some things, such as movement and armor class, translate easily. Hit points are rounded up to the nearest multiple of 5. If your Cleric of Pelor has 23 hp, then he would have 25 hp in a miniatures skirmish. Melee damage is averaged as well to the nearest factor of 5. Calculate this by adding the minimum and maximum damage together and dividing by 2. For example, an ogre's average damage with a club is 16. (Its club deals 2d8+7 points of damage; 9 (min) + 23 (max) = 32, 32/2 = 16). That rounds off to 15 for the ogre's skirmish stat card.
One stat that some miniatures have but D&D characters and monsters don't is Command ability. Certain powerful beings have a commander rating that lets them place friendly troops under their command. Commander ratings and abilities are excellent ways to manifest some of your characters' abilities in roleplaying terms.
Creatures with character classes or prestige classes can be commanders. Very intelligent and powerful monsters might be commanders even without classes, such as the Mind Flayer.
There's no hard-and-fast rule for working out a creature's Commander rating, but you can make a rough determination using the following lists. Start with a base rating of 1, +1 for each feature listed under Higher Commander Rating and -1 for each feature listed under Lower Commander Rating. A commander's minimum Commander rating is 0.
This system can't advise you on whether to make a character into a commander. That depends on your vision for the character and its role in the battle.
If the creature is a commander, give it a Commander Effect. You can choose a Commander Effect from one of the commanders in its faction or invent one along similar lines.
Higher Commander Rating
Int 13 or higher
Wis 13 or higher
Cha 13 or higher
5 ranks in Intimidate or Diplomacy (not both)
Aristocrat, paladin, or fighter
Character level 6th or higher
Lower Commander Rating
Int 8 or less
Wis 8 or less
Cha 8 or less
Rogue, sorcerer, or wizard
Character level 1st or 2nd
Having a commander can help your troops fight harder and smarter. Some commanders can dismay their enemies. They can effect your troops' movement, initiative, attack rolls, and morale saves.
The ability to command troops really adds a great element to the battlefield on both sides. Some experienced characters, like my 12th level female paladin Thessa, have every characteristic from the Higher Commander Rating list. She will be a focal point for any battle or skirmish. My 7th level rogue Lazlo, on the other hand, hits the Intelligence, Diplomacy, and Level requirements for a commander rating of 4 but he is dragged down by being Chaotic and -- well, a rogue, giving him a final rating of 2. That seems appropriate for a sneaky little thief.
The process for converting character stats to miniature stats is completely flexible. You can make the result as simple or as detailed as you choose and as your time and energy allow. For a small skirmish involving two dozen figures, a fairly high level of detail (but not as high as you'd get with the full D&D rules) can be manageable. For a battle like the one I tried to stage recently, with a hundred or more characters, NPCs, and monsters involved, ASAP ("as simple as possible") is a good slogan. The conversion rules in the Miniatures Handbook let you set your own intensity.
As a change of pace, nothing beats an epic battle that culminates in a backs-to-the-wall, all-out fight for survival against overwhelming odds. I think you will be surprised at how well the miniatures skirmish rules handle such difficult situations and how much they add to your D&D campaign.