When you have been Game Mastering RPGS for as long as I have, I like making my players feel powerful at higher levels. There are, of course, no shortage of opportunities to provide that. There are times when I want my players to face massive hordes of monsters, wiping out huge swaths of their enemies. As I played DND 3 and 3.5 I started forming my horde rules.
Pathfinder has a few ways of dealing with massive amounts of enemies. For instance, there is the “swarm” or “troop” templates, as well as mass combat rules. The swarm template is really meant for massive amounts of tiny creatures. Troops represent well-trained soldiers, and mass combat is like learning a whole new game! I want to have an army of goblins who don’t know how to work together with simple rules so combat rounds don’t take forever. So I present to you my House Rules for hordes.
(Side note, since I created these rules and featured in Void Ocean #72, the Troop template has added the variant “Rabble” which does a lot of what I was trying to make here. While it looks like it would work just fine for encounters, it never hurts to have alternate options…? Also, I might have a little bias here)
A Horde is an overwhelming number of single type of creature. It can potentially work for anything: cats, goblins, villagers, even giants if you want. Hordes may also require some descriptions and flavor to work well in any game scenario, especially for Huge creatures and up. Unlike swarms or troops, the creatures in a horde are (mostly) still considered separate creatures. Read below to learn how to build your horde.
How to Battle A Horde
A horde should be made out of a single type of creature. In our example, we will use a horde of 15 ghouls (Bestiary 1, page 146).
Challenge Rating: Use the normal rules for creating a large group of one type of creature. While a horde had many advantages, the fact that they share a hit point pool and have base HD lower than a normal encounter, the advantages and disadvantages tend to balance out.
Initiative: Roll Initiative once for all members of the horde. Although they do not act as a properly organized unit, this vastly reduces confusion and helps combat flow.
Hit Points: Take the average Hit Points of the base creature. This is now their Death Threshold. Multiply that by the number of creatures in the horde. This creates a giant pool of hitpoints the entire horde shares. Every time the players causes damage equal to the horde’s Death Threshold, one member of the horde dies. This will affect the horde as a whole. If damage exceeds the Death Threshold, the remaining damage applies to the next threshold. Ghouls have an average of 20 hit-points. Multiplying that by 15 Ghouls gives us a point pool of 300 with a death threshold of 20. Each time the Horde takes 20 damage (their Death Threshold) a ghoul dies. See Example below for a full scenario.
Area of Effect Damage: Numbers can be an advantage, but they can also be a weakness. If an area of effect affects multiple members of the horde, then the damage dealt is multiplied by all the affected members and is then applied to the hordes hit point pool.
Regarding Areas of Effect: if the area of effect has a saving throw, roll the hordes’ save once and +1 for every member of the horde affected. For every point they beat the DC, one less horde member is affected.
Attacks: A horde gets bonuses to attack. Although they do not work well together their real strength is their numbers. Since a horde is considered separate creatures, they can divide their forces to attack separate opponents on the battlefield. When attacking, divide the horde amongst your targeted players.
Power In Numbers: A horde’s true power is in their numbers. Whenever a horde works towards the same goal (makes a d20 roll) the horde gets a +1 for every member that is participating. If the horde succeeds then one member is successful, for every point they succeed by, an additional success is counted.
There is a negative to relying purely on numbers though. Once at least half the horde has died, the remaining members must roll a will save, DC 15 + the party’s average party level, every round or they will flee. This counts as a full victory. The horde does not get its Power in Numbers bonus on this will save.
When attacking, roll an attack for their highest attack and add +1 for each participating member of the horde. If the attack hits the player’s AC they take one attack, for every point they beat the player’s AC they score an extra hit. When determining damage, use the best damage rated attack first and progress to the weakest attack. For example, a ghoul has a bite attack that deals 1d6+1 plus disease and paralysis, and claw attacks that deal 1d6+1 plus paralysis. Obviously, the bite is more powerful because it causes everything the claws do and can cause disease as well. So if five ghouls attack someone and successfully hit seven times then all five of the ghouls hit with their bite, and you get two claw attacks after. If the horde rolls a natural 20 they get all of their attacks no matter what.
Afflictions: Many creatures can cause curses or diseases, have poisons or spells. Power in Numbers can boost these abilities as well. Curses and Diseases get a +1 per horde member to the DC saves. Poisons have a +1 to the fortitude DC, for every point the target fails their DC, add a +1 to the poison’s effect. If the poison had multiple effects this bonus can be divided between the effects. On spells, this bonus increases the DC of the spell, for every point the target fails its save, treat the caster level of the spell as 1 level higher.
Example of a Horde Battle
Your party consists of a fighter, a ranger, a barbarian, and a wizard. They stumble into a nest of ghouls! Usually, the party would laugh at a handful of ghouls, but there is a horde of 15!
Roll for initiative! The fighter rolls 19, ranger rolls 15, barbarian rolls 13, ghouls go on the same turn so they roll once and will go on 10, the wizard doesn’t roll to well and only gets a 5.
The Fighter goes first and attacks, dealing 17 damage, not enough to kill a Ghoul.
The Ranger goes next and takes a shot with his arrows and manages another 15 damage. This will kill off one ghoul and damages another Ghoul for 12 damage. Now to kill the next ghoul the threshold is at 8 (20-12=8).
Then the party barbarian attacks and deals a massive 30 damage! She obliterates the threshold 8 ghoul, her attack carries through and instantly kills another ghoul, and hits a third ghoul for 2 points of damage.
This is where flavor text comes in. if there were only 2 ghouls next to the barbarian there needs to be a way for those last 2 points to hit another ghoul. A good example would be “with massive force your maul smashes the second ghoul into pieces causing its head to fly off and hits another ghoul 20 feet away, dealing 2 more damage!”
At this point, the party could be feeling pretty good about their progress. Already 3 ghouls are dead and a 4th damaged. But now it’s the Ghouls’ turn! Of the 12 ghouls left 6 swarm the barbarian, 2 attack the ranger and 4 attack the fighter.
The 6 Ghouls roll to attack the barbarian. They roll d20+3(Ghouls highest attack)+6 ghouls. The Ghouls roll a 16+3+6=25 to hit the barbarian’s 15 AC. So the ghouls hit the barbarian 10 times. You start with the Ghouls best attacks, 6 bites, then move on to claws for 4 more attacks. To quicken combat, you can take the attack and multiply it by the number achieved, so roll 1d6+1 times the result by 6 bites, then 1d6+1 times 4 for the claws (in this example it might be even easier since the bite and claw do the same damage to just take 1d6+1 times 10). The Ghouls roll 1d6+1 and get a total of 4, 4 damage x 6 bite attacks = 24 damage. Then the Ghouls roll for claw damage, they roll a 5+1=6 x 4 attacks for another 24 damage. So the total damage is 48, even a barbarian will feel that much damage.
Thankfully the wizard had cast protection from elements on the barbarian before the fight so when his turn comes around the wizard hurls a fireball at the ghouls surrounding the barbarian. The ghouls roll a reflex save, 1d20+2(Ghouls reflex save) +6 (+1 for every member of the horde in the blast). They roll a 13+2+6=21, the fireball has a DC of 18. The Ghouls rolled 3 higher so half of them make the save. The fireball does 40 damage on the ones that failed and 20 on the ones that didn’t. 40×3=120, 20×3=60, 120+60=180 damage. The Ghouls have a death threshold of 20, this means that 9 more ghouls die with another 2 points into the next threshold. There were only 6 ghouls in the blast though, so again flavor text comes into effect. The GM might say “The burning ghouls run out of the explosion and in their confused death throws tackle and kill off 3 of their horde and damage a fourth before succumbing to their demise in smoldering heaps!” This has brought the HP of the ghouls from their starting 300 down to only 58 (3 ghouls left, one slightly damaged). There are only three ghouls left, their chances of doing any significant amount of damage is pretty small, so they attempt to run.
Keep in mind these rule sets are still being tested so it may not work perfectly with every creature in every situation. If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions please feel free to let me know!