Actually Usable War Rules in Elf Games

I have read almost every rule set for large scale conflict in weird elf games, from Chainmail, to ACKS and Heroes of Battle, to several modern takes. I am sure plenty of tables have used these rules and enjoyed them, but they were all insanely fiddly with a ton of upkeep to track and tried to simulate more than I care to track at a table. So here is my own take on mass combat in elf games.

These rules are meant to abstract large scale conflicts where you aren’t describing individual actors but units of troops. they are designed to be minimal and easily hackable so that a DM can make rulings mid combat without needing complicated references. I am not trying to make an entire game of large scale battles but instead make a robust system to model them during game so players can engage with the battle and make meaningful decisions without needing to learn an entire war game ruleset or memorize complicated systems. Ideally, these battles are happening while the players are trying to achieve an important goal, such as assassinating a leader, causing a landslide, completing a ritual, or sapping fortifications.


  • The battle is comprised of units of troops, typically 50-100 soldiers. this is an abstraction and can fluctuate as appropriate. Units have stats which reflect the unit as a whole, covered below, and these stats can be altered by events in game such as inspiring speech, access to superior weapons, or a magical blessing. there are rules below to convert a unit into individual stats as well.
  • All sides engaged in the battle declare their actions at the same time, then resolve them at the same time. There is no conventional turns; if two units of troops attack each other and succeed, they both sustain injuries.
  • Units are given orders before battle and will follow these orders the best they can unless routed. Each unit has a default behavior listed in their stats that describe what they do without orders or if they complete an order. Players cannot give orders To units they’re not with during battle without magic.
  • Individual player characters, special NPCs, leaders, or special attachments can move with a unit to provide benefits. These units have their own rules depending on the benefits they offer, and do not die when another unit attacks the one they move with unless enemies specifically target them.
  • players and DMs are encouraged to discuss how any events not covered by these rules would play out. When in doubt, the DM has final say, but they should encourage smart and creative play.
  • Every round involves a movement phase, an action phase, and a resolve phase.
    • Troops have movement in single digits which represents 10 foot measurements. you can use this for a square grid or traditional ruler measuring.
      • Movement can cost more depending on terrain.
      • Terrain can provide bonuses to AC or other effects.
      • Units with a range of 0 attack adjacent units only.
    • the most common actions are attack, disengage, charge, and fortify.
      • Attack means you roll your (Fighting Strength)d(attack die) and and deal damage to the opponents Fighting Strength for each die that is above their AC. For example, if you have fighting strength 3 and d6 attack die, you roll 3d6. This means they closer to being routed and fight with less strength, since they now roll less attack die.
      • Disengage allows you to retreat away from an enemy next movement phase.
      • Charge requires you to have used at least 2 movement and adds an extra attack die.
      • Fortify improves a troops AC by 2 until their next round, and they cannot be flanked.
    • If a unit has an enemy on at least two sides who use the attack action against them, that unit is flanked. they cannot disengage and have -1 AC.
    • The resolve phase is where Fighting Strength damage is counted and all active effects such as fire, magic, or natural disasters resolve. Afterwards, morale checks are made.
    • Units who suffer more than 50% of their Fighting Strength, rounded down, or sees traumatic events such as enormous casualties, must make a morale check, and another morale check every time they suffer any more damage after. They roll a D20 and must roll higher than their morale score; or if there is a leader or PC with this unit they can roll charisma in place of a morale check. If they fail they must use their next 2 rounds to disengage and flee if possible, or fortify if not possible.


3 units of infantry engage 2 units of ogres on an open field. They move in range, and all 5 charge into the pitch of battle.

  • The infantry each roll 4d6 due to the charge against the Ogre’s AC of 5. All three target one ogre, and out of 12 dice, 2 score a hit.
  • the ogres swing for a massive 5d8 each against the infantry’s AC of 4 but each attack a different unit. One scores 3 hits, and the other 4.
  • the center ogre is reduced to 2 fighting strength, but 2/3 of the infantry lie battered and defeated. the third unit must make a morale check as the DM decides seeing the immediate defeat is traumatic and rolls an 8 – they fail, and will use the next round to disengage if they survive.

Sample Units

use these as a baseline to make your own units. I believe in you; the human infantry is to this system what Mario is to Super Smash bros.

Human infantry
fighting Strength OOO
Morale 9
AC 4 / attack D6
Move 2, range 0

Elven Archer
fighting Strength OOO
Morale 8
AC 3 / D6 Reach: advantage against flying units
Move 2, range 15
all attacks reroll one hit when in forest terrain

Centaur Siegebreakers
Fighting Strength OOOO
Morale 9
AC 4 / D8 Gain 2 attack die when charging
Move 4 cavalry, Range 0
Deals double damage against all fortifications and walls
cannot dismount

Decaying Rabble
fighting Strength OO Regains a fighting strength during the Resolve phase after damage is counted.
Morale 0
AC 2 / D6
Move 1, Range 0

Goblin Mercenaries
fighting Strength OO
Morale 16
AC 3 / D8
Move 3, Range 1
stupid: will mess up orders 2-in-6 times. Roll every order.

special keywords

Keywords are a great way to keep stat blocks easy so I am sure I will identify trends that I can keyword. Here are a few I already thought of.

Cavalry – mounted units, can dismount as an action
Pike – advantage against cavalry when mounted
Flying – move through troops, can move immediately when disengaging
Reach – Advantage against flying
Swift – can attack and disengage as one action
Blast x – deals x Fighting Strength in damage per success
Stupid – this unit will mess up it’s orders with a x-in-6 chance. Check when a battle starts.
…and many more as I make them!

converting to individual stats

If you need to quickly convert a troop into an individual stat block, use the following guidelines.

  • add 10 to AC. If you use THACO I trust you can do your own conversion.
  • average hit points to 4 per HD and assume the maximum Fighting Strength is total HD. If you are playing 5th edition, average this to the average of whatever class is closest to this unit type (3 for wizard, 5 for rogue, etc)
  • damage and range becomes whatever weapons they have. Assume most troops have a simple ranged weapon and melee weapon even if not listed.
  • movement is racial speed or mount speed
  • keywords convert as well
    • Pike – Reach of 15 feet
    • flying – fly speed of 60 feet
    • swift – disengage as a bonus action
    • blast – the unit has either an appropriate spell such as fireball or is equipped with a cannon.
  • Assign Attributes and Saves as needed, with most combatants being as a fighter of equivalent HD. Use the saves of the closest appropriate class otherwise.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: