At previous Pastors & Dragons retreats, I’ve had groups of up to 12 people at the table. Running a game for a crowd is difficult to do. Many people have found the sweet spot of 5e D&D to be about 4-5 players. When the table gets crowded with 6, 7, 8 (or 12!) people, a lot of folks have found that the fun begins to get lost. So how do we keep the fun with a large group?
Keeping large group D&D fun is hard for a couple reasons. The first is that the role-playing and exploration phases of the game are difficult to keep everyone engaged. The players that are naturally more outspoken can easily dominate the spotlight. It takes a lot of work to keep everyone engaged, as there is usually just one DM adjudicating all the action. This is a hard nut to crack. The DM really needs to lean into the role of inviting forward players who tend to sit back, and reminding the more outspoken players to step back. They also need to create situations that necessitate group conversations and watch out for too much 1-on-1 PC-to-NPC interaction.
The second reason that this is hard, and the one that is driving this blog post, is that combat with a large group can turn into a real slog. There’s a lot of out-of-spotlight time for players during combat, as other players are taking their turns, making their decisions about their actions, trying to assess for the best possible action to take. Battlefields are a lot more complex, and this just makes everything even more difficult to adjudicate. For this, the tool of Speed Factor Initiative is one of the best ways I have found to keep things interesting, moving, and fun.
Speed Factor initiative is one of the optional rules in the DMG. It was also a tool that was created and used in some of the earliest versions of the game. Those early versions of D&D were built for huge groups compared to what we normally see today, parties of a dozen or more. Those early ways of handling large groups piqued my interest in Speed Factor Initiative, and then the Angry GM’s blog post about Speed Factor initiative, pushed me over the edge and encouraged me to try it for myself.
To use this at my tables, I’ve created a player-facing version of my Speed Factor Initiative rules. Each player gets one. You can download a copy of my Speed Factor Initiative tool as a doc or pdf and print some out for use at your own table.
I give them the opportunity to plan their actions in an action declaration phase. Then I have everyone roll initiative. Their d20 gets placed on the sheet over the corresponding number and the initiative countdown starts the action resolution phase. “30, 29, 28, 27, 26, 25, 24, 23…” As their number comes up they resolve their actions in quick fashion. In practice I’ve found that this method of initiative works and makes combat much more engaging, much less of a slog, and a bit quicker for large groups. It’s specifically a large group technique, and grows in effectiveness the larger the group is.
The action declaration phase is more engaging because it lets everyone at the table “play” as they plan actions, discuss, set up combos, whatever. There’s no waiting while other people come up with what they want to do. Everyone is engaged in the fun. Set a timer to make this phase feel tense and keep things moving.
The action resolution phase is engaging as well, because you’re counting down through initiative and people are waiting for their number to be called. There’s tension and surprise. You’re not sure whose turn will come up next, and since all the decisions about which action to take have already been made, it goes much faster.
There’s a couple hangups with this method. The first is that people have to understand that they are effectively locked in to the actions they declared, with the option to dip out of that action and take the Dodge action instead if what they planned goes awry. This means that when their turn comes up their declared action might not be the best possible action they could take anymore. Tough cookies. You have to do what you declared, that’s the only way this speeds up play and keeps it fun for everyone. If you start letting people change their minds, you might as well just use standard initiative. The second is that in my experience this works best for in-person play. Group discussions just don’t work as well online, and that’s a large part of what makes this fun.
War is a force that gives us meaning. The clashing of armies has the power to rewrite national boundaries and change the course of history. While the standard combat rules of Dungeons & Dragons can handle fights of up to a few dozen, they struggle to adequately handle true mass combat.
The Lord of Hosts Battlesystem builds on the standard combat rules to model conflict on a much larger scale, from dozens to hundreds to thousands, while still enabling individual adventurers to lead an army’s charge against an enemy regiment, rally dispirited soldiers to rejoin the fray, or defeat powerful enemy creatures.
In most cases, when two armies oppose one another, the DM serves as the general for one side, and the players serve as generals for the opposing force. These leaders direct the soldiers that make up their armies, and everyone at the table might also represent individual champions (such as the PCs and important NPCs) who are capable of turning the tide of battle all by themselves.
To make managing dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of creatures at a time easier, similar creatures are organized into units. A unit might be a small squadron of 10, a company of hundreds, or a battalion of thousands of individuals. Each unit acts together on the battlefield, fighting until they are victorious, destroyed, or flee, succumbing to broken morale.
Each unit may have a commander, though they can also operate without one. Commanders play a key role in resolving battles, and their Charisma might be what stands between victory and defeat.
Building a Unit
Units consist of similar creatures, for example 15 Orcs or 6000 Star Spawn Manglers. In general, units are organized in sizes according to the scale of the combat being played out. The scale of a battle impacts how big of a map to use and the length of a round of combat. Refer to the Battlesystem Scale Table to determine appropriate map scales, combat round lengths, and unit starting sizes.
Battlesystem Scale Table
Time of Combat Round
# of Creatures per Unit
The starting size is the number of creatures a unit begins the battle with. As a unit takes damage, the number of surviving creatures will shrink. Starting size is like a unit’s maximum hit points, while surviving creatures is like a unit’s current hit points. Note these numbers – they will impact when the unit makes morale checks and will be refered to throughout the battle.
A unit of creatures with a starting size equal to the number of creatures per unit shown in the Battlesystem Scale Table occupies the same space on a battle grid that a single creature would occupy on a 5ft grid.
When operating as a unit, the unit’s creatures make a single initiative roll and act together as one, using the same stats and abilities as of the single creature. If a creature has an ability that requires an ally to be nearby, such as Pack Tactics, that ability is active for all creatures within the unit.
All rolls other than initiative are resolved using these modified mob rules.
If a unit’s actions result in making damage rolls, use average damage or roll damage as if for a single creature, then multiply that number by the number of creatures that scored a hit. The same applies for healing.
Example: A unit of 14 Orcs attacks an enemy unit of Svirfneblin (AC 15) with their greataxes. The player makes an attack roll and rolls a 10 on the die, resulting in a 15 to hit. 5 Orcs hit with a 15, 5 more hit with an unnatural 20, and the last 4 miss with a 10. The player rolls damage and gets 9, multiplied by 10 creatures that hit equals 90 points of damage dealt to the enemy unit.
Advantage and Disadvantage can apply to these rolls as circumstances favor or disfavor the entire unit. Critical Hits and Critical Fails apply to the entire unit as well. If a player rolls a natural 20 on an attack roll, every creature in the unit hits the target and deals critical damage. If a player rolls a natural 1 on an attack roll, every creature in the unit misses the target regardless of their other modifiers.
Durations of Spells and Other Abilities
When casting spells or using creature abilities with lingering effects (like a Ghoul’s paralyzing claws) during mass combat, the duration of these effects is measured in rounds.
Spells and abilties that have a duration of Instantaneous or until next turn happen immediately or last until the next turn, even though the time scale of combat turns is longer. Spells with a duration of a minute or longer instead have a duration equal to the number of minutes times ten.
Example: a unit of Priests who cast Spirit Guardians (with a 10 minute duration) have a spell duration of 100 rounds regardless of the time scale. Likewise, a single PC warlock who casts Armor of Agathys (1 hour duration) now enjoys a duration of 600 rounds regardless of time scale.
The potential lengthening of spell and ability durations represents the combatants drawing on otherwise hidden stores of magic to rise to the need of their comrades and the heightened challenges of warfare.
Spells that require a longer casting time have their casting time measured in rounds in a similar manner. Spells with a casting time of a minute or longer instead have a casting time equal to the number of minutes times ten.
Tracking Damage Done to a Unit
While each unit uses the statblock of its component creature, the DM and players should round the creatures’ average hit points to the nearest 5 or 10. Write down the hit points of a single creature in the unit next to the unit’s starting size.
Tip! Adjust the creatures’ average hit points up or down to reflect how the combatants have been treated by their allies and commanders, their general health and condition, the stakes of the battle, their investment in the outcome, and any other factors that you think should play a role.
Tally the damage inflicted to the unit as a whole instead of the damage dealt to individual creatures. Assume that every hit targets the most damaged individual. When the damage tally is enough to kill one or more individuals in the unit, remove them from the number of surviving creatures, reset the damage tally to zero, and carry over extra damage.
If a unit has an ability that allows it to drop to 1 hp instead of 0 hp, like Undead Fortitude or the Death Ward spell, determine how many individuals are affected by this ability and track those survivors separately as a sub-unit of the main force. This sub-unit is identical to the main unit except for the damage threshhold to kill an individual. Assume that attacks target this sub-unit first, before the main unit.
If a unit receives any healing, apply the healing to the damage tally of the unit as a whole. If multiple creatures within the unit will benefit from healing, multiply the healing by the number of creatures that benefit. If the healing is enough to completely heal one or more individuals in the unit, add them back to the number of surviving creatures, carrying over any extra healing. A unit can never have more surviving creatures than its starting size.
If a unit receives temporary hit points, determine how many creatures within the unit will benefit. Multiply the temporary hit points by the number of creatures that will benefit. These are the unit’s temporary hit points and serve as a buffer against damage. The temporary hit points are lost first and any leftover damage is applied ot the unit’s damage tally.
Special Unit Actions
As an action, a unit can reinforce an adjacent unit of similar creatures. These reinforcements renew the resolve of their allies, reversing the effects of a failed morale check and resetting the sarting size of the unit to the sum of surviving creatures in the two units. The reinforcing unit loses its turn in combat and is joined to the space of the other unit, as the two units meld into one.
If both units have a commander (see below), the commanders decide which one stays with the newly reinforced unit. The other commander immediately leaves the unit.
Movement, Reach, and Range
A unit can occupy an individual creature’s space and vice versa, but not the space of another unit. A unit can also move through any opening large enough for one of its individual creatures.
When using a grid, the speed of a unit’s movement is measured in squares, and is equal to the speed of an individual creature divided by 5. To translate this speed into feet, multiply the size of the squares/hexes by the unit’s movement speed.
Example: a unit of Hobgoblins have an individual speed of 30 feet, resulting in a unit movement speed of 6 spaces, regardless the size of those spaces. In a single round, the unit can move 150 ft. in a battle using a 25 ft. scale or 3000 ft. in a battle using a 500 ft. scale.)
A unit can make a melee or ranged attack against an enemy if any part of the unit is within reach or range (respectively) of the target. Likewise, a unit of spellcasters can use their spells to target any point that is within range of any part of the unit. If a spell’s area of effect covers any part of an enemy unit, the entire enemy unit is affected.
Areas of Effect and Conditions
TAE Damage Multiplier
Some spells and creature abilities like a dragon’s Breath Weapon attack are especially effective when used in mass combat. Their damage to a unit is multiplied based on how many targets could reasonably be caught in their area of effect. Use the Targets in Areas of Effect Multiplier table to adjust damage from area of effect spells and creature abilities. The damage multiplier represents the number of small or medium sized combatants that are caught in an area of effect. Players running spell casting units or units of creatures with similar abilities may want to jot down the TAE damage multipliers for their commonly used spells and abilities.
Targets in Area of Effect Multiplier Table
TAE Damage Multiplier
Size ÷ 10 (round up)
Cube or square
Size ÷ 5 (round up)
Radius ÷ 5 (round up)
Length ÷ 30 (round up)
Sphere or circle
Radius ÷ 5 (round up)
Size Damage Modifier
If the combatants are of a size other than small or medium, modify the rounded result of the TAE damage multiplier by the modifier listed in the Size Damage Modifier Table.
Size Damage Modifier Table
Size of Creatures in Unit
Size Damage Modifier
x 2 (round up)
÷ 2 (round up)
÷ 3 (round up)
÷ 4 (round up)
Saving Throws and Conditions
When a spell or ability requires a targeted creature to make a saving throw, the entire unit makes a saving throw using the modified mob rules above. When a unit makes a saving throw to save for half damage, the total damage dealt is reduced by 1/6 if one section saves, reduced by 1/3 if 2 sections save, or reduced by half if all 3 sections save. Likewise if succeeding on a saving throw results in no damage taken, the total damage dealt to the unit is reduced by 1/3 if one section saves, 2/3 if two sections save, and is reduced to zero if all three sections save. If a spell or ability imposes a condition, a unit is only affected by that condition if the condition affects more than 50% of the unit.
If a unit is forced to make a saving throw based on the amount of damage they have received, like a concentration check, use the damage of a single attack, before multipliers and modifiers, to determine the save DC.
Battlesystem Saving Throw Effects Table
# of Unit Sections that Save
For Half Damage
For No Damage
Against a Condition or Effect
Damage Reduced by 1/6
Damage Reduced by 1/3
Damage Reduced by 1/3
Damage Reduced by 2/3
Unit Not Affected
Damage Reduced by 1/2
Damage Reduced to 0
Unit Not Affected
Example 1: a single PC wizard directs Burning Hands (a 15-foot cone) at a nearby unit of 60 medium Orcs. The Orcs make a saving throw and 1/3 (20) of them succeed, while 2/3 (40) of them fail. Using the TAE Multiplier table, we can say that two Orcs are actually targeted (15 ÷ 10 = 1.5, rounded up to 2). The wizard multiplies the damage of their Burning Hands spell (3d6) by two to get an average of 21 damage. Since 1/3 of the Orcs succeeded on the saving throw, the damage to the unit is reduced by 1/6. So the total damage from the wizard’s spell to the unit is 18 (21 – 3).
Example 2: a unit with ten surviving Archmages could launch a barrage of Lightning Bolts (100-foot line) at a unit of 15 large Ogres. Using the TAE Multiplier and Size Damage Modifier tables, we can say that two of the Ogres are targeted by each Archmage (100 ÷ 30 = 3.33, rounded up to 4 ÷ 2 = 2). The Archmages multiply the damage from their Lightning Bolts by 2 (8d6 x 2 = 56 average damage per spell x 10 sorcerers = 560 total average damage). The Ogres rolled poorly on their saving throw and none saved, so their unit takes the full 560 points of damage, likely killing 9 of them.
A commander is a significant creature on the battlefield—usually a player character or a powerful NPC or monster. These individuals may operate independently on the battlefield, but are most effective when they are appointed to a unit.
At the begininng of a mass combat, determine who the commanders are and whether they begin the fight independent or appointed to a unit. Commanders roll their own initiative and retain their place in the initiative order even when joined to a unit. While appointed to a unit a commander shares their unit’s space and moves with them on their turn, but take’s actions on their own turn. A commander maintains their own statistics and makes their own attack rolls, ability checks, and saving throws.
Protected and Protector
As a part of a unit, a commander both protects and is protected by their allies.
A commander can force an attack targeted at their unit to target them instead. Likewise when a creature the commander can see targets it with an attack, the commander can make the unit the target instead. Any time the unit is dealt damage, the commander can choose to redirect any amount of that damage to themself.
If a commander’s unit is eliminated, even if the commander was the original intended target of the attack, the commander remains in play. A newly unattached commander can immediately join an adjacent unit without a commander or remain unattached and occupy part of the space the stand formerly occupied. If a commander’s unit is subjected to a spell or ability that forces a saving throw and has an area of effect which covers more than 50% of the unit’s space. then the commander is also affected and must make a saving throw.
If a commander is dropped to 0 hit points and forced to make death saves, they make a single save each round.
Commanding Your Forces
When joined to a unit, a commander uses their Charisma to bolster the strength and the spirits of those in their charge.
A commander on the battlefield has five new options for its bonus action: Incite, Prepare, Rally, Reappoint, and Spur.
A commander can try to inspire the soldiers of its unit to greater effort by making a DC 15 Charisma (Intimidation or Persuasion) check. If it succeeds, the unit gains advantage on all attack rolls and ability checks it makes until the end of the commander’s next turn.
A commander can order its unit to be more wary by making a DC 15 Charisma (Intimidation or Persuasion) check. If it succeeds, the unit gains advantage on all saving throws until the end of the commander’s next turn.
A commander can steel the nerve of their troops by rallying them to the fight and making a DC 15 Charisma (Intimidation or Persuasion) check. If it succeeds, the unit gains Advantage on all morale checks until the end of the commander’s next turn. Whether the commander succeeds or fails, a broken unit can make a new morale check at the beginning of its turn. (See Check Morale.)
A commander leaves its unit and becomes independent, or joins a unit without a commander.
A commander can order its unit to move more quickly across the battlefield by making a DC 15 Charisma (Intimidation or Persuasion) check. If it succeeds, the unit can use its reaction to move up to its speed.
Few soldiers want to die. After a unit suffers significant losses, the survivors might lose their nerve for battle. Rather than stay and fight, the rest of the unit tries to run away. Anytime the rules call for a morale check, the unit must make a DC 10 Wisdom saving throw.
The first time that a unit is reduced to less than half of it’s starting size, or any time it begins its turn at less than half or its starting size, the unit must immediately check morale.
If a friendly unit within sight of the unit is destroyed or broken, the unit must immediately check morale.
A Commander Falls
If a unit’s appointed commander is killed during the battle, the unit must immediately check morale.
Failing a Morale Check
If more than 50% of the unit fails the morale check, the unit becomes broken. For the rest of the battle, a broken unit must spend its turns trying to move as far away from enemy units as it can. It also can’t take Reactions. For its action, the unit can use only the Dash action or try to escape from an effect that prevents it from moving. If there’s nowhere to move, the unit can use the Dodge action.
A commander is never broken. It can decide to move with a broken unit or immediately leave the unit at the start of any of its turns.
If a broken unit has a commander, the unit has a chance to rally at the start of its turn. If the unit is called to rally by its commander, it makes a new morale check at the start of its turn, potentially with Advantage. If the save succeeds, the unit is no longer broken. It takes its turn as normal.
One of my favorite parts about magic in fiction is all the extra accoutrements that go with it. Complicated hand gestures, mysterious and rare materials, and powerful incantations fill out a rich world of wonder. While D&D 5e has gone to significant lengths to put fun and creative material components in the rules, those verbal components have been left up to each player’s imaginations. Most of the time, however, that fun part of the game gets quickly glossed over.
If you follow me on Twitter, you know that I have a habit of tweeting out Biblical verbal components for the many and various spells of Dungeons & Dragons 5e. Over the last couple years, I’ve tweeted thousands of Bible verses matched up with hundreds of different spells. Last year I published that collection of Biblical Verbal Components over on DMsGuild.com. This supplement offers options for what to say when you need some verbal spell components for the over 500 officially published spells in D&D 5e!
Since I first published that collection, new spells have been added to the game in Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden and Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything. I’ve been working on updates recently and am proud to announce Biblical Verbal Components 2.0! All the new spells have been added and some of the old ones changed to match the errata. There’s new artwork as well to help inspire your imagination as you play.
I’ve also dropped the price on this collection of over 50 pages of supplemental content. Now it’s just $5. Every penny of profit goes to help people in need through an emergency needs fund. This fund helped meet over $2,500 of need in 2020.
It’s been just over a month since I put up the rules to Diamonds & Dragons, a dungeon crawling card game that my wife and I have gotten into playing.
We still really love the game, for the simplicity, the surprise, and the light layer of story that makes for an interesting card game to play when we have a spare 10 minutes.
When I first posted the rules, we mainly played with one person as a dealer and the other as the adventuring party. But since I’ve been working on a way for us both to play, and I’m happy to say that I’ve found something pretty good.
Here are the updated rules for Diamonds & Dragons, with the additional rules for playing with 2 players. It’s a great little game and I hope you enjoy it as much as we do!
I’m working on refining the ruleset for better use with Dungeons & Dragons and other tabletop roleplaying games. In the meantime, here’s an extra page that can help you start to adapt this game for TTRPGS.
In the last few months I’ve started playing a great little game with my wife that we call Diamonds & Dragons. It’s a roguelike solitaire card game where you try to escape a dungeon full of monsters. Along the way you find weapons, drink potions, and kill monsters. The best part of all is that it’s played with a standard 54-card deck of playing cards, Jokers included.
I was looking for a game like this after I heard Sersa Victory talking on the podcast Tabletop Babble about a minigame they developed for escaping megadungeons after the party has delved deeply. Sure, the GM could handwave the whole thing and you’re out, but where’s the fun or the challenge in that? Wouldn’t monsters fill in behind the party? The other option would be to slog back through all the rooms you just went through, but that’s a long slog. What Victory developed was a simple minigame using a deck of cards, where the cards represented the rooms in the dungeon between wherever the players were and the exit.
The only problem? Those rules aren’t written down anywhere. I asked.
So I went on a bit of a wild unicorn chase to see if I couldn’t find something that would approximate this megadungeon minigame that I had imagined in my mind. It would need to be simple, straightforward, quick, and challenging but rewarding for skilled players.
After a bit of looking I foundBattle of Cards on the Android app store. By Alexander Petcoglo, Battle of Cards plays just how I imagined this minigame should. Petcoglo developed it as an altered version of the games Scoundrel, designed by Zach Gabe and Kurt Bieg, and Donsol, designed by John Eternal and developed by Hundred Rabbits. My wife and I tweaked it to play with a physical deck of cards rather than an app, and Diamonds & Dragons was born.
Diamonds & Dragons is our new favorite game to play together. I play the Dealer for her while she breastfeeds our newborn son. We’ve been playing non-stop for three months now and the game is still just as good.
I’ve compiled our rules for Diamonds & Dragons, along with a sample game to teach you how to play. There’s also rules for turning it into that sought after megadungeon minigame that I went looking for months ago.
Check it out and let me know what you think. It might just be your new favorite game.
Not long ago I picked up the most recent iteration of the DUNGEON! board game. My wife and I played together and it was pretty fun. The rules are simple and straightforward. Roll the dice. Beat the monster. Take the stuff.
But it has some rough edges. The four classes are imbalanced, or rather they’re balanced by moving the goal post. Rogues and Clerics need to gather 10,000 gp, Fighters need 20,000 gp, and Wizards 30,000 gp. It works, but it’s inelegant, and not as fun as the alternative. I mean, who wants to only face off against kobolds, dire rats, and giant bats when there are dragons and liches in the dungeon?
So I homebrewed some simple rules to equalize the classes. Now you can play a Rogue, Cleric, or Fighter and still have just as much of a chance of surviving those beastly sixth level baddies as the Wizard.
The DM Pastor’s DUNGEON! House Rules
All classes require the same amount of treasure to win the game: 30,000 gp. Alternatively, you can mutually agree upon a lower total for a shorter game.
You have three Action Points. (represented by three stones, chits, jewels, or whatever.)
You can use one action point per turn to make one additional attack against a monster. Make this attack before the Monster fights back.
You regain one spent Action Point whenever you roll doubles, but you can never have more than the three Action Points you started with.
You gain the ability to Sneak.
When entering a room or chamber, roll 1 die. If you roll a 3 to 6, you are Sneaking and the Monster does not see you.
Draw a Monster card (and a Treasure card if you are in a room). Do not show the Monster or Treasure card to other players. Put the card(s) in the first open number slot, but keep them face down. Put the matching Number token in the room or chamber.
If you fail your Sneak roll, the Monster sees you and attacks as normal.
While you are Sneaking, you gain three additional options in the encounter.
Steal – You can swap the room’s Treasure card or one of the dropped Treasures in the room (if there are any) with one of the Treasure cards from your stash. Your turn ends.
Sneak Attack – Attack the Monster with Advantage. Roll 2 dice twice and take the higher result.
Pass Through – If you have not moved your full 5 spaces, you can complete your movement by passing through the room without engaging.
Protection – Your proficiency in defense and the graces of your god protect you in battle. The results of a Monster’s attack are one step less severe than they would normally be.
Crushed! becomes Seriously Hurt.
Seriously Hurt becomes Hurt.
Hurt becomes Stunned.
Stunned becomes Miss!
Spellcasting – Your devotion grants you divine magical power. You prepare spells before the game begins. Roll 1 die and add 6 to the result. This is the number of Spells you have prepared. Use the same Spell cards as the Wizard. If there are multiple spell casters, take turns selecting 1 Spell card at a time. You can regain Spells following the same steps as the Wizard. Clerics can know two spells: Hold Monster and Lance of Faith.
Hold Monster (use the Teleport Spell card)
If you have enough movement left to enter a room or chamber, you may use this spell on a Monster inside. First, stop at the door of the room or in the space next to the chamber. Say that you’re casting Hold Monster. If the Monster is not already revealed, you must decide to cast the Spell before drawing a Monster card.
When cast, the Monster is paralyzed for 1 turn. Move into the room and make an attack, adding an additional +2 to your result. If you miss, the Monster cannot counterattack you this turn.
Lance of Faith (use the Lightning Bolt Spell card)
You attack with radiant energy! Use the same mechanics as the Wizard’s Lightning Bolt Spell to resolve the attack.