During our game on Thursday, an interesting problem surfaced: The characters were attempting to raid an alleyway housing complex in 1936 Shanghai that was full of Indochinese gangsters of Hanoi Shan’s Silk Mountain Triad. There were roughly twenty “houses” with 3-4 floors, in a complex that had two entrances from the main thoroughfares on either side of the block. The road was tight, allowing only three men abreast, with no room for vehicles. they estimated the population at about 300-400 people, max.

The characters, led by one who is an Inspector in the Reserves (the SWAT of its day), has 100 officers and 20 Reserves. It was at this point I realized that Hollow Earth Expedition had no rules for mass combat that I could find quickly. (Now, I could be wrong, and if so would appreciate a comment to direct me to the pages in question…) So I had to wing it. But that led me to slap together some mass combat rules based on a few other systems out there.

First — how I did it. I assumed that no more than 20 or so could be engaging at a time as a means to keep the die rolling to a manageable level. Each side rolled 20 die, and each success was a man down/killed. It worked fine and allowed for a general idea of how the respective sides were doing, but completely ignored the influence of the commanding police officer (a PC), or the fact that the cops were all armed with Enfield #2 .303 rifles and a few had Thompsons. the bad guys were mostly rocking melee weapons, with a few having “box cannons” — the C96 Broomhandle in 7.63mm — and a couple of Mauser 98Ks. they should have been able to outmatch the numbers, save fo the tight spaces and defensive positioning of the bad guys, so I ignored any kind of mods for simplicity sake.

But I thought it removed the PC in the command position from really having an impact (the others were involved in a side operation that allowed me to simply run combat normally — 2 guys against a few dozen gangsters.

So…here’s my battle rules for HEX:

Figure out how many troops each side has and divide by 10. Use 10 of whatever you use for style point/chips/whatever to keep track; each is 10% of the respective force. Now compare the numbers. In the above scenario, only about a third of the people in the place were active triad members — it was about 200 guys vs. 125 cops. Round down that 2 to 1 odds, so the bad guys had a +1 advantage.

The two sides start with the Diplomacy/Leadership or Warfare skill of the commander. The side with the superior force adds that number to that dice pool (so the bad guys would have a +1 added to the “leader” of the gang (a senior mook, in this case) of 3. The lead cop had a Diplomacy of 4 and  Warfare of 3 — I figure the Warfare can give him a synergy die to his DIplomacy…so a total of 5 to the bad guys’ 4.)

Now we add in some basic modifiers for the situation: superior weaponry +1, artillery or light cav support +2, air cover or tanks +4. Terrain: slight advantage (high ground) +1, entrenched or in defensible location +2, fortifications +4.

So the initial combat engagement would have given the cops a 6 (for the guns over melee weapons), but the triad 6 for the tight, easily defendible environment. Roll the dice. For each success, the force is reduced that number of markers (or that number x 10% of the force [in this case 10 cops or 20 gang members].) Works mostly the same, but gives the PCs, if they are in charge of troops, a chance to shine. You could break the forces up, as well — say each PC had had a section of 40 or so guys (4 guys/marker) and would get to roll for their men.

This makes it quickly scalable, and you can add in mods for senior commanders. Say they’re working for a general or other senior officer in a war time event. Each player is a company commander. The general or whoever rolls their Warfare or Leadership first (with mods if the GM wants to) and his successes add to the initial die pool — this represents the strategic position of the commanders and how it effects the tactical picture on the ground.

As the forces are diminished, you add the difference in survivors to the superior force. So if the initial police raid hammers the Triad with 3 successes (30% or 60 guys) and the cops only suffered 10 men or 10% losses, the next test, the police commander would have another +2 to his roll.

You could add in a morale test at the end of each move to see how the respective forces are holding up — a Leadership test vs. a target number equal to the number of markers lost. Example: the Triad got hammered on the initial assualt and the mook in charge needs to roll a Leadership test and get three successes to prevent a rout (and the police inspector one success.) The mook leader would roll three dice, the cop 6 (his Leadership of 4 plus the two markers more he has than the Triad boss.)

You could scale the combat for the number of troops, as well: for a “small” engagement like the one above, each combat round might be 1-5 minutes, but for a battalion level action, it could be 15 minutes, for a whole army an hour each round. Player characters could be doing their part or having specific combat scenes during these rounds.

It’s pretty easy and should allow the game not to get bogged down while allowing the players to influence the outcome of big battles, without having to resort to pre-determines outcomes.