Recent experiments with mass combat run using AD&D as written have been wildly successful, even as they open up new avenues of exploration. Which is a fancy and nigh-journalistic way of saying that, after two battles, a glaring hole in my understanding has been exposed.
On the matter of using 1:10 or 1:20 ratios to bring the number of die rolls under control there can be no doubt. In the two battles fought so far, each dealt with 200+ combatants, and each was brought down to an effective fight of 20-40 ‘figures’. (We use the air quotes because both battles were fought theater-of-the-mind using scratch paper covered with little boxes and arrows to manage the geometry and geography of the battle, rather than actual figures.)
On the matter of heroes and leaders things get a little more complicated. At times it makes sense to consider a leader and his retinue as a single figure. An orcish subchief and his nine bodyguards make for a fine, tougher than usual at 1:10 figure, but what about that lone 6th level cleric running around trying to put out fires? It’s easy enough to declare than one successful attack on his part deals one HP of damage to a 10:1 figure, or to get him into a 1v1 fight against an anti-paladin. But what if he needs to run to the safe confined of a block of troops to avoid the crushing press of a line of battle? How much space does he take up? Is the resolution of the fight such that we can just ignore than one of our 10:1 ‘figures’ now possesses the spell casting ability of a 6th level cleric?
There are huge gaps in the AD&D rules to be filled.
Which presents both a problem (for the dullards) and an opportunity (for the rest of us). Since the rules don’t issue one single standard, we are free to mix-and-match solutions based on the needs of any given battle. We can adjudicate such questions on an individual basis and thereby ensure that every experience is new and fresh and unique. While we stalward grognards have thoroughly renounced “rulings not rules” as a prime design ethos, even a game as complete as AD&D provides plenty of scope for “rulings, but only when needed”.
And mass combat is rife with those needs.
Another, but lesser, aspect of mass battles that Gary leaves open for individual tables to resolve is the matter of ranks and flanks and wheeling and maneuvering large masses of combatants. On the one hand, a wargamer should know enough to plug the standard movement operations into any given battle. On the other hand, AD&D excels at the warband level of fight in which strict ranks and flanks may not even apply.
(For the wargamer, it may help to think of this as the difference between Warhammer Fantasy Battles and Dragon Rampant style movement.)
When a band of brigands fifty strong blocks your twenty-man patrol of cavalry and demands unlawful tribute, you can run a quick 5 v 2 fight without even worrying about such matters. The fight on the road runs no different than any other dungeon-clearing brawl, save only for the stakes.
It’s one area that Gary really does leave up to the individual table. That’s some pretty smart design right there.