Ever wonder how to lay out the forces of the villain? While it is certainly permissible to reduce the villain’s evil horde to rank upon rank of generic type soldiers/orcs/servitor demons, and a anti-pc party as his prime lieutenants, there is room for improvement. While a person, given enough time can delve into a fully ranked military system, with the various ranks, system of medals, trials, and even training camps, that level isn’t quite necessary. A middle group must be found between the faceless horde and the 6500 page registry of the army.
A modest Proposal
Borrowing from the Warhammer 40K game, I found a novel structure for developing and organizing enemy forces in a game that finds a rather comfortable middle ground between detail and time required to use it.rnrnA typical Warhammer battle force is laid out as follows*
1 HQ unit
1 HQ unit
4 Troop Units
3 Fast Attack Units
3 Elite Units
3 Heavy Support Units
The First HQ unit is most likely the primary villain on the field of battle. Given intellectual villains, this will by the villain’s most trusted henchman and warmaster. HQ units are going to be the most powerful of the enemies pieces, but looses an HQ unit can cause enemy forces to retreat or surrender. The second HQ unit is generally the second in command of the army and likely the first HQ unit the players will encounterrn
HQ units are generally individual characters, but have very high abilities and should be a match for the PC party as a whole. Whatever class the HQ unit is, they should likely be masters of it, be well equipped, and have a few tricks up their sleeves.
The most common of the unit types, Troops make up the backbone of the villain’s army and they are the most representative of it. Barbarians, goblin mobs, dark elf companies, and the like form the rank and file. Extras to the last, troops only have strength in numbers, and individually are weaker than lone PCs. Unlike the HQ unit which is a single NPC, a troop unit can be quite large, ranging from a dozen to a few hundred NPCs.
The HQ Troop Unit
There is generally a troop unit attached to the main HQ unit of the villain. This is the villain’s personal bodyguard and depending on the disposition of the villain, this unit can really be pretty much anything. If the villain is a sorcerer, his troop is his cadre of servant sorcerers, or summoned minor demons. If he is a knight, they are his squadron of lordly cavalry.
The Fast Attack Unit
Speed and maneuverability have always been assets on a battlefield, and the fast attack unit is both compared to the plodding rate of the footborn Troop Unit. In a traditional setting, the fast attack unit is generally a mounted troop, horseback cavalry, war chariots, or any other sort of warrior designed for speed. In a more fantastic setting, gryphon mounted warriors, long-legged land striders and flying soldiers can be used.
If the HQ unit is mounted, and his personal Troop are also mounted soldiers, the villain can swap his troop selections for fast attack selections, exchanging infantry for cavalry to reflect a more mobile war force like a mongol horde, for axample.
The Elite Unit
THe best description for the Elite Unit is ‘These guys kick ass.’ Elites can be a varied as main troop selections, though an elite unit will generally be no more than a dozen NPCs. The elite is a skilled npc and still and extra, but not in the sense of the nameless extra of the troop unit. The elite unit should be an even match for the PCs, if not stronger in their numbers, discipline, and preconstructed purpose. Cadres of war mages, elite groups of mounted knights, elven dark rangers, and the best of Orc berzerkers fill out the ranks of the elite unit.
The Heavy Support Unit
In the most mundane sense, heavy support units are catapults, ballistae, trebuchets, and battering rams. In a larger vein, armored war elephants, enslaved giants and trolls, and war golems are also heavy support units. Speed and maneuverability are low to the point of non-existance, heavy support is used either for a strong defence, or in siege operations. Just because the villain isnt attacking a castle doesnt mean he wont have at least a catapult and crew in training.
In a fantasy game, dragons and other supernatural creatures can be called upon the fill in the role of Heavy support unit. Ideally, a heavy support unit should be expensive, and have some sort of conditional use limit. Trebuchets are not so good against non-fortified positions, flying knights can fight in bad weather, goblin sappers have a bad habit of blowing themselves up, etc etc etc.
The Importance of Theme
Once an army has been laid out, it should have a readily visible theme that runs from the main HQ unit to the lowest Troop member. A necromancer is going to have hordes of undead troops, elite units of necromancer acolytes to control them, and even the animated corpses of long dead megafauna. The dark elves will have a shadowy force built around guile and deception, and the orcish war host is going to bellow so loudly they can be heard for miles.
* - This information is gathered from the pages of the Chaos Space Marines codex. I do not actually have any other Warhammer material.