Mass Combat: Expanding the Army Rating system from Barbarians of Lemuria

My drafts are filled with posts about mass combat systems. There are various ideas I really like (such as an infantry>cavalry>archery counter triangle, moving troops, Into the Odd warbands etc. etc.), but I can’t really get them to stick together in a way that I liked. That’s when I gave the Army Rating system from Barbarians of Lemuria by Simon Washbourne another look.

Image: Medieval concept by Kamen Anev

I made a worksheet that you can copy to use!

It provides all the feeling I’m looking for: it takes a bunch of variables into account, without bogging it down in a load of mechanics. I love me some wargaming, but to introduce it into my campaigns unannounced is a bit of a risk.

This post is my love letter and expansion to the basics introduced in Barbarians of Lemuria – and I hope it can provide you with some inspiration (and might convince you to check out the full game!).

The base system uses the following variables:

  • Army training
  • Army size
  • Battlefield
  • Supplies/Equipment
  • Sorcerer
  • Commander

The neat part is, it asks you only to look at the differences between armies. That makes the system so easily scalable: it works just as well for a 30 v. 30 skirmish as an epic 100.000 v. 100.000 era-defining apocalyptical struggle.

Expanding on a Solid Base

I want to make the system a bit more simple to use, and to provide a few more handles for the GM to narrate/integrate it into their setting. Note that I’m using all of this through a Google Spreadsheet, which can be found here.

Keep track of the Army Rating of both sides. Keep track only of the bonuses: if Side B is larger, it gains a +X bonus – Side A does not get a negative score, simply not the bonus.

I made the following additions:

Army Size

I like knowing the number of troops (roughly) involved. I added:

  • Squads (8 men)
  • Platoons (32 men)
  • Companies (128 men)
  • Battalions (512 men)

Note that it’s still about the difference in troops. I apply the following bonuses:

  • Larger army? +1 Army Rating
  • 25% larger? +2 Army Rating
  • Twice as big, or bigger? +4 Army Rating

Army Training

I classify training in 4 levels.

  • Green: Rabble, militia. 1 HD per troop.
  • Trained: Regular soldiers. 2 HD per troop.
  • Veteran: Survivors of multiple battles. 5 HD per troop.
  • Elite: The best of the best. 8 HD per troop.

Generalize this for a side, and average if necessary: If a side has mostly green troops and some veteran, you could average it as green or trained.

I use the HD to have a frame of reference, and to make comparison easier:

  • Better trained? +1 Army Rating
  • Better trained, and a difference of 3 HD or higher? +2 Army Rating
    • Trained v. Veteran is 2 HD v. 5 HD – a difference of 3, so +2

Supplies & Equipment

I split these into two variables – supplies and equipment. Each have 3 values:

Cut offLow quality
LimitedNormal quality
Fully StockedHigh quality

Simply assign a value for both variables. If a side has a higher value, it gains +1 Army Rating.

The Rebellion is has low quality weapons, but has managed to ambush Imperial troops and has cut off their supply lines.
Supplies: Rebellion 3 (Fully stocked), Empire 1 (Cut off) – +1 Army Rating to the Rebellion
Equipment: Rebellion 1 (Low quality), Empire 2 (Normal quality) – +1 Army Rating to the Empire


I rank the usage of magic (or high-tech, for sci-fi settings?) in 3 tiers:

  • None
  • Some (a few wizards here and there)
  • Prominent (magic fully integrated into the army)

I simply give scores to each, and apply the difference as Army Rating: None (1), Some (2), Prominent (4).

An army making prominent use of magic going up against an army that uses no magic gains an Army Rating of 3 (4-1).

Battlefield Position

I rank the following battlefield positions. Note, once again, that it is about differences between sides. If both sides are fighting from a terrible position, it does not affect the outcome. Just as with Magic, I simply compare the two scores and grant the difference in Army Rating:

  • Terrible: No cover, uneven or even dangerous ground – swamp, toxic fumes, lava, a shoreline. Score: 0
  • Normal: Plains, rolling hills. Score: 1
  • Excellent: Forests, landscape with a lot of natural cover, a fortified position. Score: 2
  • Overwhelming: A heavily fortified position, ancient city walls. Score: 4

The Empire is attacking a Rebel-held city from their staging ground in the plains. Normal (1) v. Overwhelming (4): +3 Army Rating for the Rebellion.


I like the idea of the person in charge being important for the whole chain of command and outcome of the battle – it allows to make battles more personal, and provides a great weakness (take out the commander!). I don’t want it to count as heavy as Training/HD, so I apply scores and once again grant the difference in Army Rating.

  • Green: 0
  • Trained: 1
  • Veteran: 2
  • Elite: 4

Various Morale Bonuses

  • If a side fights in their homeland, they gain +1 Army Rating.
  • Count the months the troops on each side have been away from home and on deployment. Compare the values: grant the difference in months as Army Rating to the side who has a shorter deployment.

Sum It All Up

Add all the bonuses together for both sides. With the nifty worksheet, it looks like:

This is unrelated to the examples mentioned above.

So, we got an Army Rating of 5 for Side A and an Army Rating of 6 for Side B.

The Battle Round

A battle round can last a few hours, a day, a week or even a month in the case of big battles. In each battle round, the player’s side rolls the Battle Roll:

The Battle Roll

Roll 2d6 + Army RatingEnemy Army Rating
After the roll, subtract 7. This is the change in Victory Points.
The battle is won at 10 Victory Points, and lost at -10 Victory Points

Using the example table above, the player’s side rolls 2d6 (10) + 5 – 6 = 9, – 7 = +2. This Battle Round went in favor of the players, and Side A now has 2 Victory Points.

The original system does not necessarily account for the dynamic changing of Army Rating while the fight is going on. These new rules would make that a lot harder, with more things to track - except the worksheet allows you to make changes on the fly! 
You might decide that a roll of 2 Victory Points results in, say, 2 platoons being wiped out, and that the enemy is running out of High Quality equipment. Simply change those fields and the Army Rating is adjusted automatically!

Player Interaction & Intervention

Barbarians of Lemuria proposes that player interaction takes place primarily through Heroic Actions. Furthermore, regardless of who wins or loses, the players survive the battle. I’d say that not simply narrating that “Your army is wiped out, and you are all killed by endless waves of enemies” is good practice, but players can still die in combat encounters related to the battle.

Heroic Actions generally grant between 1-3 Victory Points. I’d also keep an eye open for ways that Heroic Actions can change the base Army Rating of either side.

Some examples:

  • Bring Reinforcements: Can grant Victory Points, or might add more troops to your tally/Size Bonus.
  • Capture or Kill VIP: Victory Points, or might lower the enemy’s Commander Bonus
  • Destroy: Can grant a flat bonus, or might change the battlefield significantly enough to change the Battlefield Bonus (redirect a river, compromise a fortification)
  • Hold or Take Position: Grants Victory Points per round held
  • Inspire: Victory Points, through a dramatic speech
  • Prevent Sorcery: Stop a ritual from taking place (and perhaps lower the Magic Bonus)

Optional Rules

These are some additions – I haven’t thoroughly playtested these, but I feel like they might add something to the basic framework!

Strategy & Tactics

At the start of a Battle Round, the commanders of both sides make an Intelligence check (or whatever is the equivalent in your system). The winner sees through the opposing side’s strategies, and gains +1 Victory Point this round.

Rallying Speech

Once per battle, at the start of a Battle Round, the commander of a side (or someone else high-ranking – or the players!) can hold a rallying speech. Make a DC 15 Charisma check. On a success, gain +1 Victory Point this round.

Assault, Defend, Maneuver

I love me some rock-paper-scissors. At the start of a Battle Round, both sides pick either Assault, Defend of Maneuver. Defend beats Assault, Assault beats Maneuver, Maneuver beats Defend. If you win, gain +1 Victory Point. If you lose, -1 Victory Point. Tie – 0.

3 thoughts on “Mass Combat: Expanding the Army Rating system from Barbarians of Lemuria

  1. A very interesting approach for mass battle and worth a good bit of consideration in terms of weighting the various factors in terms of influence. I also like the idea of modifying certain factors during the course of the battle to reflect the results of battle and the choices that are made. For instance, under some circumstances choosing to maneuver might yield an improvement in battlefield position for future rounds. Some play testing will help to refine the parameters. If someone has a background in simulations, then a series of Monte Carlo runs with difference combinations of parameters would produce some very interesting information on win/loss sensitivities to parameters.

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