Zack lists the following criteria for an RPG mass combat system, and I think it's a pretty on-target assessment:
-Quick to learn, easy to remember.That second bullet set off a firestorm in my mind, and I came up with what, at least initially, seems like an ideal solution to the problem of mass combat in RPGs.
-Related to the same base mechanics, at least nominally, as the rest of the game.
-Scale for company-size to full army-size combat with little issue.
-Allowing for a moderate level of complexity without either too little or too much abstraction.
-Allow the players to influence the outcome of a battle through their actions.
What if large formations of troops were treated just like really big individual monsters?
That is, what if there was a separate entry in the Bestiary for "Skeleton, Infantry Company", with its own hit dice, hit points, damage, size, movement, morale, etc.? And another for "Dwarf, Crossbowmen Company". And "Men, Knight, Company", "Men, Peasant Mob", and so forth.
The only change to the combat rules that I think would be necessary would be to change the scale. When that class of unit is involved, combat moves at the turn level, rather than the round level. So that's even already built into the system.
Combat between such large units of troops would be simplicity itself. Roll to hit, take damage, roll morale if needed. Again, everything that's already built into the system. You'd need a couple of special-case rules to deal with such units in combat against individual heroes; problems of frontage mean 100 orcs can't all hit the same 10th-level fighter. But that's easy enough to take care of with probably no more than a couple of lines of text. Maybe include a "minimum damage per turn" based on the "you always hit at least 5% of the time" rule.
I think this fulfills each of Zack's criteria. Quick to learn? Hell, it's just another monster. Related to the base mechanics? Ditto. Scalable? If you need an army at a size that companies make too awkward, just make up stats for "Skeleton, Infantry Regiment". Voila! Complexity? You won't need more than a handful of special rules to handle unit vs. individual cases. Just make sure the GM enforces the morale rules that are already in the game. Player influence? Heck, because it scales to the "regular" combat system, your 10th level fighter can take on those 100 orcs and see how he fares. Just multiply everything a single character does by 10, because it's turns rather than rounds. Damage, movement, etc.
Am I just missing something, or is this a really elegant solution to the problem of RPG mass combat?