The Rules of War
Warfare Mechanics Inspired by Sun Tzu
Written by Jarvis Mishler
When 600 soldiers attack 1000 farmers, most rpgs break down. These rules handle large battles quickly, with just enough flavor and drama to maximize the fun, while the PCs get a chance to influence the battle around them!
Give the larger army 10 tokens. Divide the number of troops in the army by 10 to determine the worth of each token. Give the smaller force a proportionate number of tokens (round up). This represents quantity alone, quality is factored in next. Size, for both armies, may be doubled, tripled, etc. for more ‘dramatic’ battles.
Example: if 1000 farmers have 10 tokens, then 600 soldiers have 6.
There are six fundamental factors to determining the outcome of a battle. Superiority in all six of these factors all but guarantees victory. Therefore, advantage in any factor grants an army 1 Strength. Determine which army possesses the advantage in a coming battle by answering the following questions:
- The Way – Which army possesses the highest morale?
- Heaven – Which army benefits most from the weather, time of day, etc?
- Earth – Which army gains more advantage from the terrain?
- Leadership – Which of the two generals is the better leader?
- Discipline – Which army is more skilled, trained, and supported?
- Steel – Which army uses the best weapons and technology?
No significant edge, grants no bonus for that category. Clear advantage grants 1 Strength.
Example: Soldiers have high morale, good leadership, great discipline, and good weapons, giving them 4 Strength. Farmers gain advantage only from their home terrain, leaving them with 1 Strength. The sky, cloudless and clear, grants no advantage and no bonus to either side.
To do battle, each side will implement a simple strategy to apply its Strength most effectively against the enemy’s Size. Each round of battle consists of the following phases:
- Strategy – Armies choose how much Strength to apply to defense and how much to offense
- Chaos – Armies roll 6 dice and count successes
- Strength applied to offense adds automatic successes
- Strength applied to defense subtracts successes from the opponent
- Reckoning – Each remaining success lowers the opponent’s Size by 1 token
Example: Soldiers apply all their Strength to defense and farmers apply theirs to offense. Both armies roll 6 dice, soldiers roll 2 successes and farmers roll 4. After factoring in Strength, soldiers end with 2 successes and farmers end with 1 (4 rolled, plus 1 automatic, minus 4). Soldiers lose only 1 Size while farmers lose 2. The soldiers’ victory proved costly.
After each round of battle, PCs can volunteer for spotlight missions in an attempt to affect the factors contributing to the opponent’s Strength or their own. Many PCs can volunteer for the same mission, thus fighting together and increasing the chance of success, or separate to take on several missions. Missions can be anything the PCs dream up, scouting, assassination, demolition, etc. It’s up to the GM to determine the difficulty and opposition for each mission, but they are under no obligation to make a tough assassination attempt easier should only a single PC undertake it.
Note: Only PCs not directly contributing to Strength can undertake spotlight missions. A PC acting as the general of his army, thus contributing Strength through Leadership, cannot step down for a secret scouting mission without forfeiting his contribution to Leadership as well.
Missions are resolved using the normal rules for the rpg you’re playing. A spotlight mission can be detailed and drawn out to add drama or shortened and summarized to speed the action. Ultimately, each spotlight mission should produce an opposed die roll to gain, or maintain, the advantage. After the roll, the Strength point for that factor goes to the winner.
Example: Two farmers attempt to break the soldiers’ morale by taking a mission. They decide to defeat a group of 10 soldiers in a spectacularly flamboyant fashion, loudly proclaim themselves to be “Dragon’s Chosen Warriors of His Holy Wrath”, and so fear and uncertainty among the soldiers. Should they succeed in defeating those 10 soldiers, they’ll probably need a bluff roll vs. the soldiers’ will or their general’s leadership as he attempts to rein in his men. Their bluff roll may be easier or harder should they defeat more or less soldiers.
Players should be encouraged to get very creative with ideas for spotlight missions, but GMs should step in with any ideas or alterations of their own. If a PC wizard wants to use a “Heat Metal” spell to melt enemy swords, the GM should help out by declaring the number of swords necessary to make a difference.
An army is defeated when all of its Size tokens are lost. Whether this defeat is due to destruction, rout, or retreat simply depends on the narration up to that point. After the battle, each army attempts to recover its losses by rolling 1 (loser) or 2 (winner) dice for each Size token lost. One Size token is recovered for each success on this roll as warriors are healed, pulled to safety, etc.
Missions always use the normal rules employed by the rpg you’re playing, but a simple dice pool is used during the ‘chaos’ phase of combat and recovering casualties. If the rpg you’re playing doesn’t already use dice pools and successes, just grab some six-sided dice. Any die that rolls 4+ is considered a success. A high target number (5+) places more value on Strength (automatic successes) where a low target number (3+) introduces more randomness during the battle. These rules were written with a 30% chance of success in mind (8-10 on a D10), but you are encouraged to adjust this as you wish!