D&D Next Battlesystem

Just saw this post, from the end of April, from Mike Mearls about the planned Battlesystem for the D&D Next game, title "The Art of War". It's interesting that while D&D 3.5/4E definitely went in a direction downplaying tactical miniature battles, it appears that this version is more like the original wargame experience. In fact, in some ways it seems a bit eerie how much parts sound like my own Book of War game (see sidebar).

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.
As I wrote in 2011 for section on conversions (p. 10), this was also one of the guiding principles for Book of War (prior games from TSR all had quite different mechanics & statistics; see all of  Chainmail, Swords & Spells, and Battlesystem; contrast with the Book of War core rules here).

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. 
Note that Book of War is also at 1" = 20 feet, whereas all the earlier games from TSR were at 1" = 30 feet (as above, see assessment that led to the Book of War scale here).

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.
This "devastating attacks" statistical observation re: solo vs. mass was incorporated into Book of War, and in some circles was the most controversial part of the game; the prior Battlesystem from TSR had explicitly inflated solo stats to make them super-durable on the battlefield (while fantasy Chainmail was man-to-man only, and the implications in Swords & Spells were obscured; more discussion here).

Of course, I agree with Mearls that this kind of approach makes for a much more satisfying add-on game to D&D, and I'm glad to read that Wizards have pivoted away from the 3.5/4E approach in the last several years. Coincidentally, I've had an unusually large number of friends staying over at our place for the past month, and we've actually been playing a lot of Book of War lately. It's great to see how excited folks are by the game when first introduced to it, and then perhaps to the closely associated Original D&D game as well. I'll probably have some battle reports coming up from those games -- and if you want to check it out, of course, Book of War is available right now in the sidebar and here at Lulu.


  1. I go back and forth over whether I think stands should have "devastating attacks" against solo figures. On the one hand, if a single wargame round is several tactical, man-to-man rounds, it makes sense for a stand to get many attacks against a solo, even accounting for limits on how many opponents could attack a single figure per round in the standard combat rules.

    On the other hand, though, I think it's extremely unrealistic for a stand to get one attack for every figure in the group against a solo. Imagine a brave knight wading into a group of thirty orcs. Suppose a single wargame round is, I dunno, ten standard combat rounds. Are we to believe that the orcs are so well-organized that they swap in and out of the space immediately surrounding the knight that everyone gets a swing? It doesn't seem plausible to me. I think there's actually a loss of efficiency that large groups would have v. individual figures, which is why the Battlesystem rules for single-character figures v. multiple-character figures never bothered me much.

    Likewise, the rule that a single-character figure gets only one attack against a stand seems implausible and even unfair in some cases. A high-level fighter can reliably take out several goblins in a round in the standard combat rules, more or less cutting them down as fast as they can come at him (faster, maybe, if using the 1st ed. rule that fighters get a number of attacks per round equal to class level against creatures with less than 1HD!). If the wargame round is supposed to represent more than one standard combat round - indeed, if that's the whole rationale for a stand getting one attack per figure against a single character - isn't it nonsensical that a single figure gets only one attack against a group? Especially if that figure has multiple attacks? The last thing I want to happen is that a character who could cut down thirty goblins, easy, in the standard combat rules gets creamed by them in a wargame rules.

    1. To reply briefly, I do think we have to admit that a solo hero will get surrounded and attacked by a bunch of soldiers (maybe on the order of 6-10 men, including some rear attacks at a bonus). That's only one figure (a single d6 die roll) in Book of War, or one "stand" (figure) as per the 5E Battlesystem terminology used by Mearls.

      In Book of War, a 10th-level Knight will almost surely kill 30 goblins (3 figures) that attack him. However, it is not entirely risk-free (if the goblins can roll a "6" on a single die in one of the next 3 turns). And what the Knight will almost surely not do is kill 300 goblins (30 figures), which is what some players are aggrieved at not happening. Nor will a 4th-level fighter be able to beat 30 goblins (so they're not even allowed as a solo hero in Book of War).

      In Book of War, this was all statistically extrapolated assuming that a single D&D character gets surrounded by 6-8 other creatures at a time, as stated in various rulebooks across the editions, across the 1 turn = 3 rounds scaling assumption. It generally does not include the AD&D level = attacks assumption, however. (Link.)

      I agree with you that in the linked article, if Mearls didn't misspeak re: "When a solo attacks a stand, it makes one attack per round." (meaning 1 BS round, representing 10 D&D rounds), then that's seriously undervaluing the fighter's attacks in that case. Or perhaps he means that the BS goblin figure has ~4hp in scale, so the one attack is an in-scale attack that can wipe out a whole stand (10 real goblins?). If so, then that scaling does become reasonable again.

    2. Something interesting (although in hindsight not surprising) that came out of using my unit rules in play was that single figures, even fearsome ones, can be dispatched relatively easily by low-level mobs if their armor does not render them invulnerable. The PCs (IIRC, maybe 9th or 10th level) had something like 30 1st and 2nd level soldiers escorting them. The group was attacked by a Purple Worm, and the soldiery dispatched it ... with dispatch; the PCs didn't need to get involved. Twenty or thirty attacks per round can dish out a LOT of damage, even if they're only doing a single d6 or d8 per hit, and even if the target's AC is high (and the Worm's AC wasn't particularly impressive).

      It kind of goes a long way to understanding how towns defended by 1st level militias can withstand giants, ogres, trolls, and other large raiders -- if the defenders spread out and have lots of arrows available, even the largest foes can be brought down at relatively little loss.

    3. I agree, I had the exact same process of discovery in the past. One of the things in Book of War is that players taking a Dragon for the first time (like your Purple Worm example) tend to overestimate its durability and lose it very quickly to massed missile fire (hittable at AC 2). Better strategy in the mass wargame would be to keep it reserve and ambush an enemy hero (likely wizard) when the time is right. Original D&D giants, dragons, or heroes in general can't run over whole armies like some people would expect.

  2. I don't think I've mentioned my own unit combat rules here, and you might find them interesting, so let me point you to http://home.comcast.net/~leland53/UnitCombatRules.pdf (4 page PDF of rules) and http://home.comcast.net/~leland53/pages/d20UnitCombatRules.html (design notes).

    TL/DR: Small unit rules for 3.5e D&D inspired by Cry Havoc (which sounds quite similar to the Battlesystem) but focused on a somewhat smaller scale. I kept the round at 6 seconds; the idea is that individuals and units (representing up to 10 figures) coexist at the same scale. Bonus mathiness points for use of the binomial distribution; you can use the combat table to resolve lots of rolls like saving throws with one d20 roll.