Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Disinterred Eldricity: Waging War

This, the final major component of my 5th Edition conversion, touches on warfare on the scale of kingdoms. It also brought to light some unfortunate limitations and oddities with the system I intended to expand upon (that is, UA Battlesystem), which ultimately caused me to abandon the effort. But I'll touch on that more below.

Waging War

For all of the complexity of politics and management of realms, sooner or later a regent will find themselves embroiled in bitter conflict with rivals, brigands, or swarms of marauding monsters. Such battles are rarely limited to the adventure scale, and regents will need to muster armies to come to the defense of their domains, or those of allies.


Soldiers are acquired either through musters, levies, mercenaries, or holdings. The first three are covered under the Muster Armies domain action, and must be paid for each season lest they disband (and in the case of mercenaries, become brigands). The cost to muster a unit of soldiers, which typically numbers around 200 individuals, is contingent on the type of unit they are and covers the expenses of drafting, training, and outfitting those troops. Units of monsters or specialty troops may contain fewer individuals.

Without use of Scout-type units or the Espionage action, a regent has no idea of the number or composition of enemy troops without seeing them firsthand. This usually means engagement with the enemy, but creative regents and Dungeon Masters might find other ways to accomplish this goal.


These “standard” troops can be called up from any province you control. Certain types of soldiers require a minimum level of Law holding or Castle in order to be mustered; for example, you cannot raise a unit of knights from a backwoods province with no law and little civilization. The requirements for each unit type are listed on the respective table.


As outlined in the Muster Armies action, it is important to remember that levies are pulled directly from the peasant populace. You may muster a number of units equal to the level of the province, and this reduces the province’s level by one each time it is done. The level remains lowered until the entire levy disbands, and if the levy is ever destroyed in battle, the province level remains permanently decreased. Levies are quick and inexpensive to muster, but are dangerous for this reason (nor are they particularly strong, but sometimes desperate times call for desperate measures).


Sometimes a regent will find themselves in need of trained soldiers, but lack the holdings necessary to muster them. In this case, the regent may opt to hire mercenaries, who come with their own risks. Firstly, mercenaries who are routed in combat will immediately disband. If mercenaries go unpaid, they have a strong chance of becoming a unit of brigands in whatever province they currently occupy.

Castle Garrison

Castles may have troops stationed there, but even a Castle with no inactive units garrisoned will have a skeleton crew of guards and soldiers who maintain and defend the structure. These troops do not tend to number more than ten per level of the Castle, and if they are ever ordered away or killed, the Castle is considered neutralized until they return or are replenished.

The War Move

Part of each domain action phase is the War Move. All regents with troops actively engaged in wartime have the opportunity to position units of soldiers based on their movement and the conditions of the provinces through which they move.

First, any armies that possess units with the Scout designation identify the number of units and composition of those units for all troops in surrounding provinces at the beginning of the War Moves phase. This allows a more educated course of action on behalf of the regent.

To move troops through a domain that is not your own, you must either Declare War or engage in Diplomacy to secure the right of safe passage for your armies. The act of moving your armies requires the Move Troops domain action, and moves happen in order of domain initiative. Armies move as far as they desire unless they encounter an enemy force, terrain obstruction, or Castle asset controlled by an enemy regent.

In the case that an army on the move encounters a hostile unit, and that unit has not yet moved on this turn, that unit may immediately elect to retreat to a friendly adjacent province (never to a hostile one, even if unoccupied). If the unit has already completed its move this turn, it cannot flee, even if it has movement remaining. If the enemy unit retreats in this manner, the aggressor army may continue its move as though it were not halted.


The type of terrain and presence of roads has a heavy impact on how far a unit can move. Each unit type has its own movement rate, and combined armies of different unit types use the movement rate of its slowest unit. Roads and bridges are useful for making provinces significantly easier to navigate. A unit can never be denied a single province’s worth of movement, regardless of how difficult the terrain is to cross or how low their movement rate.

Movement Cost per Province
Desert or Tundra
2 (1 for elf units)
Mountains or Glacier
4 (2 for dwarf units)
Plains, Farmland, and Steppes
Swamps and Marshes
Roads Present
Reduce movement cost by 1, minimum 1
Cross River
Uses entire Move Troops action
Bridge Present
Allows river to be crossed as normal for province
Wilderness Fortification Present
Increase movement cost of terrain by 1, even if Castle is neutralized

I simplified the terrains a bit, since there was some stuff that was basically redundant or otherwise irritable to deal with (impassable mountains being some). I also made some terrain types slightly easier to traverse, lest Vos and Rjurik armies never move more than one province per war move, because they live in Frozen Hellscape Lands.


The presence of a Castle is a significant obstacle for invading regents. Any province that possesses a Castle asset that is manned by at least its skeleton crew prevents any further advancement through the domain until the Castle is neutralized or destroyed. The invading force can always retreat the direction from whence it came, and is never “trapped” within the province by the Castle.

Neutralizing Castles

In order to overcome a Castle’s inherent defenses, it must be surrounded and besieged. To do this, an invading regent must have a total number of units hostile to the Castle’s owner equal to the level of the Castle, plus any units stationed there. Once a Castle is neutralized, any additional units may pass through the province without being blocked.

For example, Baron Gavin Tael has enough of Erin Velescarpe’s constant stymieing of his efforts, and sends troops to attack her realm. Erin Velescarpe’s frontier Castle is only level 2, but she has two units of troops stationed there. The Baron must commit four of his own units to that province in order to neutralize the Castle.

A neutralized Castle is considered besieged. For each season that a Castle is besieged, its effective level is reduced by one at the end of the season. If the Castle is ever reduced to zero, it is considered destroyed and any units garrisoned there must come out to fight; they cannot flee to a friendly province on the following season.

Siege warfare is slow, exhausting, and expensive, and it is often more cost-effective to simply bypass the Castle while it is neutralized. Troops committed to a siege must be paid for and replenished as necessary; without a unit that is capable of attacking the occupants directly, those troops are effectively sitting there waiting out the Castle occupants.

Dwarven fortifications are notorious difficult to besiege, as they tend to be built partially or entirely underground. As such, they cannot be fully neutralized unless completely destroyed. See the Subterranean Fortifications upgrade under the Fortify action.


Units that have the Scout quality can identify the number and makeup of units in a one-province radius from wherever they are stationed. This identification takes place at the beginning of the War Moves phase. If no scouts are present in your armies, then you are unaware of the number and makeup of enemy units unless you perform the Espionage action with that express purpose in mind.

Conducting Battles

Here's where I step back and admit I probably am not up to the task of redesigning an entire mass combat system on my lonesome. I spent the majority of the last few weeks trying, and I never got any closer than "this feels too complicated to resolve quickly".

The Birthright campaign scope needs to be able to handle the clash of armies swiftly and with a fair bit of abstraction, lest domain turns take forever and ever to resolve. As such, I am ditching Battlesystem and encouraging the use of the War Cards resolution method from the base 2nd Edition game. It works, it's already a functioning system, and the units presented are as relevant now as they were then.

I won't be rehashing all that here, since I'm not updating any mechanics. It does feel a bit like a cop-out on my part, but I may come back to this at some point in the future when I feel more confident in building a 5th Edition mass combat system that operates with the scale and speed required.

Conclusion to the Update

So that pretty much updates all the major stuff. I kept more of it intact than I thought it would, only fully rebuilding a few things, but otherwise just making the mechanics work with 5th Edition D&D. This was all pretty much a first draft, with some input from respected friends and former colleagues that have excellent game design instincts. Thanks, folks. :)

Birthright does a lot of things right, but being a rules-light game is unfortunately not one of them. I don't feel as though I made it much more playable than it was before; there's a lot to keep track of, and domains need a huge amount of maintenance.

Next time, I'll add some miscellaneous and sundry, such as links to a domain sheet and some updated monster mechanics for Birthright, before moving onto something else. This has been a fun project to do in my spare time, and I hope my tiny readership had fun reading

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