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Nerdarchy > Dungeons & Dragons  > D&D Ideas — War

D&D Ideas — War

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Welcome once again to the weekly newsletter. This week’s topic is war, which we discussed in our weekly live chat. We hangout every Monday evening at 8 p.m. EST on Nerdarchy Live to talk about D&D, RPGs, gaming, life and whatever nerdy stuff comes up. Speaking of war in Dogs of War adventurers who come upon a grisly scene may find themselves going to war with a dangerously deceptive adversary. When heroes find a scene of animal attack, a duplicitous shapechanger lures them in for a howling kill along with 54 other dynamic scenarios in Out of the Box. Find out more about it here. You can get the Nerdarchy Newsletter delivered to your inbox each week, along with updates and info on how to game with Nerdarchy plus snag a FREE GIFT by signing up here.

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Delving Dave’s Dungeon

What is war good for? Absolutely everything in a fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons game. War can become a backdrop to your campaign, inspire adventures and inspire characters with backgrounds like knight, marine, soldier and urchin.

Many epic stories use war as the backdrop — Star Wars and Lord of the Rings to name a couple of big ones. War is a constant crucible of conflict to squeeze characters through. Campaigns can be about preventing, winning or just surviving war.

In 5E D&D we’ve got College of Valor bards, War Domain clerics, Oaths of Conquest and Glory paladins and even War Magic wizards. I’d say even the character classes themselves are here for the war.

Interjecting a little war into your 5E D&D game can make for some dramatic scenes within the game. The idea of heroes having to hold out against insurmountable odds to save the day can be a lot of fun. Or when party has to sneak into the enemy army’s camp to achieve an objective crucial to the war effort.

Both Nerdarchist Ted and I have used war as to create encounters in our 5E D&D games and have used them as the backdrops to narrative arcs in those campgains. For us it’s less about using the wars themselves as the adventures and more like dungeon dressing for the encounters and scenarios we want to run.

Neither of us have shown any great desire to run a war themed campaign where the characters dictate how things play out on a large scale. They may influence the outcomes but we like to focus on the players and their characters. Besides, trying to use mass combat rules in a game like 5E D&D starts to feel like a minigame within the game and not one we or players in our games are into.

For us war is more likely to be a theme we use to spice up the stories we are helping players tell of their characters than the main story itself. Our games tend to focus the these characters’ roles in the world than the wider world itself.

From Ted’s Head

As the expression goes, “War– what is it good for?”

As it turns out it can be used is a lot of different ways for 5E D&D. Dungeon Masters know war can be used as a very nice backdrop. While adventurers run around doing whatever, a war can be taking place in the world around them. The party might lend a hand with quests to aid the war effort or just try to stay out of the way. The party might actually get directly involved in the war and the DM gets to play and narrate what can happen on the battlefield.

If you are going to use war as the 5E D&D campaign focus the party will almost definitely be directly involved. You can play sessions talking about strategy and meetings to discuss treaties as well as all out warfare. Party composition will determine what tasks they might be able to accomplish and how to theme this game.

What can players do with war in 5E D&D? There’s the soldier background for starters. Was the character a soldier during a war or during a time of peace? Do they have horror stories of when they were the only one in their unit to survive a terrible conflict? Did they run away because they could not muster the strength to fight to the death as you had seen others do?

How is being in a war going to affect roleplaying? Is a character over confident because of some real or imagined fight on the battlefield? Does fear haunt them? Do they have dreams or nightmares about the things they saw and heard at war? Having some roleplaying cues lined up regarding how a character responds to certain situations is helpful. Should a DM be interested they can come up with a list of memories or fellow soldiers this character could call on — or who might come calling to them.

Any character probably has thoughts on war. Is war a goal or something to be avoided? Some players like to wait until the situation is thrust upon them before they think about a concept. Some like to be in the headspace of their character and know what they would do in just about any situation.

Lastly let me share a bit of my personal gaming history. Many years ago during the second edition D&D era I made the fighter Zon Galrin. He was just a guy with a longsword and his goal was to be a general. He purposely wanted to be the one leading people into battle. Things did not go the way I foresaw but having a long term character goal is good even if you know it might not be likely or even possible.

From the Nerditor’s desk

When I think about war in the context of 5E D&D a couple of ideas come to mind. I touched on them during the live chat and I’ll expand on them here.

First up is perhaps the largest scale war in all of fiction — Star Wars. I’ve always felt the most impacted by the war aspect of these stories and especially considering expanded media beyond the films, which really sell the sizzle of a mind bogglingly huge war waging in this galaxy for something like tens of thousands of years.

The most in depth Star Wars experience for me is Star Wars: The Old Republic. This fantastic MMO does a terrific job introducing characters to the galactic war and making players feel like they’re making some difference right from the start. This is the most important factor to focus on for a 5E D&D campaign dealing with war.

Whether a campaign setting features war on a small regional scale or tests the limits of reality itself with a multiplanar war there’s innumerable important tasks for everyone involved at any level. A group of 1st level adventurers may not be icons of the battlefield (yet!) but simply delivering a package or a message across dangerous territory can have a big impact on a war and success makes fledging adventurers feel like heroes.

The trick for DMs running a war campaign is to always keep this in mind. No matter the scale of the war it’s the party around the table who are the heroes of their story. They might wind up a sort of fantasy version of The Dirty Dozen, a ragtag team of desperate operatives or perhaps even incredibly amazing war heroes. Whatever the ins and outs of the war they’re involved with it’s these particular characters who are the main characters of their story. Making sure this remains true goes a long way towards a successful 5E D&D war campaign.

The second idea is one of my favorite tropes and makes for a fantastic character concept for DMs and players alike — the soldier who hates war. It’s not uncommon or even limited to fiction.

“I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity.” — Dwight D. Eisenhower

For me the pinnacle of this character concept comes through in the Metal Gear Solid games. Solid Snake, Big Boss, The Boss and other key figures in the franchise represent the ultimate soldiers — living legends and the greatest warriors in the world who make the impossible possible. Yet despite their unmatched skills there is a deep sense these circumstances are often unwanted.

I love the idea of incredible warriors who understand war is not a thing to be sought and more of a burden to bear. Going to war means needless killing — probably whatever foolish adversaries decide to engage them. There is a tremendous wealth of roleplaying and character development to discover through characters like this and with the thrill of combat heavily incorporated into the entire 5E D&D experience there’s plenty of opportunities to explore!

*Featured image — A scene of bloody violence and a shaken survivor set the stage for peril in Dogs of War, one of 55 dynamic encounters ready to drop into your game in Out of the Box. [Illustration by Kim Van Deun]

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