Product Spotlight05/10/2005

Heroes of Battle
Designer Interview

In this month's exclusive interview, the lead designer and developer of the new Heroes of Battle accessory discuss mass combat in D&D, running a battlefield adventure or campaign, teamwork benefits on the battlefield, commander auras, and the challenges of adapting real-world military operations to the D&D game.

Wizards of the Coast: Before asking about the book's contents, I'd like to ask about the initial concept for Heroes of Battle. How did the idea for this book come about, and how did it evolve through the various stages of development? When did you each get involved?

David Noonan: The fundamental concept behind the book was pretty simple: Show the reader how a battlefield can make a really good dungeon. Though it's not a dungeon in the literal sense, a battlefield is nevertheless a site full of dangers and enemies, in which characters can run around fighting, looting, and undertaking missions and quests. Sounds like D&D to me.

I was the in-house designer for the project, so I got to explain the vision for the book. Then Will McDermott, Steve Schubert, and I started writing like crazy. We swapped files back and forth, then wrote some more. When we were finished, I got to stitch the whole book together.

Andy Collins: I joined the process as the design phase was winding down. During the six weeks after its completion, I led the project development phase.

Wizards: We know that Heroes of Battle takes the dungeon out onto the battlefield and provides information on everything from running battlefield adventures to managing entire battlefield campaigns. But what, specifically, can players expect from this book?

AC:Heroes of Battle can add a wide range of battlefield concepts to any D&D game. In its pages, you'll find behind-enemy-lines missions, teamwork benefits, military ranks, commander auras, and much more. In fact, most of the book is useful whether or not the characters are actively involved in warfare. For instance, the new feats and spells are just as useful against evil cultists as they are against a squad of orc soldiers.

Wizards: Heroes of Battle provides some background regarding historical, real-world armies and their ranks and organization. What were some of the most important influences behind the military concepts in this book? Did you draw heavily from any particular real-world militaries? Did you have a previous interest in military history, or did you draw most of your information from active research for the project -- or was it a bit of both?

DN: I think all of us love military history to a greater or lesser degree, but this book isn't by any means a realistic treatment of medieval warfare. Any treatment of mass combat in D&D requires making a pretty fundamental choice early on: medieval realism, or a full-on embrace of magic, monsters, and the fantastic. We chose the latter. At that point, we discovered that the presence of magic makes the battlefield less like Agincourt and more like Utah Beach. You can have air cover (dragons), artillery (ensorcelled catapult stones), and squad-based heavy weapons (the wizard's fireball). Thus, a lot of World War II doctrine applies to D&D characters running around the battlefield.

But the fate of the player characters is more important to your campaign than the survival of any individual soldier is to a 20th-century army. So in essence, a Heroes of Battle adventure plays out more like a World War II movie than a realistic portrayal of modern, day-to-day attrition warfare.

Personally, I'm a big wargame grognard. I developed an interest in military history at an early age because of two relatives: a great-grandfather who served in the Black Watch in World War I, and his son, who fought under Patton at the Battle of the Bulge almost thirty years later. Neither of them would talk much about the war, so my curiosity sent me to the library -- and I just never stopped reading.

Andy Collins works as an RPG developer for the RPG R&D Department at Wizards of the Coast, Inc. He has led the development for numerous projects, including Complete Adventurer, Races of Eberron, and Player's Handbook v. 3.5.

AC: As David has noted, cinematic suspense was a key point for this book. So while developing it, we kept in mind the exciting, small-scale battlefield scenes from various movies we had enjoyed, such as the gripping conflict at the conclusion of Saving Private Ryan. Neither the timeframe nor the genre of the movie mattered a great deal -- the battlefield action was the important issue. We wanted to make sure that you could use Heroes of Battle to recreate scenes such as these in your D&D game.

Wizards: Did you have any particular difficulties translating real-world battlefield concepts into the high-fantasy setting of the D&D game, where spells, creatures, and magic of all sorts can come into play?

AC: Any time you're trying to translate a real-world situation into game rules, you must decide how much "reality" you can actually capture without overburdening the DM and players with minutiae. Balancing believability and playability is an ongoing challenge.

DN: The sheer diversity of the D&D environment was both our greatest challenge and our most fertile ground for ideas. Just going through the Monster Manual and saying, "What role could this guy play on the battlefield?" would produce enough material for an entire book. The same goes for every spell in the Player's Handbook, every magic item in the Dungeon Master's Guide, and so on. So it should come as no surprise that the hardest part of the process was getting the book to fit into its allotted page count.

So we cheated. Heroes of Battle is more of an "army construction kit" than a selection of specific military forces. You can figure out for yourself how the PCs might come across, say, carrion crawlers on the battlefield, but once you do, this book gives you lots of options. My notes for my own Thursday night D&D game -- a battlefield campaign set during Eberron's Last War -- include probably a hundred pages of specific troop types, units, and so on. All that information comes from implementing the techniques given in Heroes of Battle.

We tried to stay away from analogues to real-world armies, although you could certainly create game versions of actual armies yourself. My Thursday night game includes a group composed of kalashtar soulknives that are dead ringers for the Gurkhas from the East India Company and the Gurkha Brigade, which have fought alongside the British Army since the early 19th century.

Wizards: What influence did the D&D Miniatures gamehave on Heroes of Battle? In particular, how did the miniatures game influence the systems for commanders, victory points and the like? Might some of the book's other systems (recognition, for example) influence D&D Minis in the future?

AC: The commander rating and auras were adapted freely from the D&D Miniatures rules. Beyond that, the systems have very little in common, and it's unlikely that D&D Miniatures will be adopting any rules from Heroes of Battle. It's entirely possible, however, that a future model might incorporate a prestige class or feat from the book.

Wizards: During the development of the book, did you find any aspects you knew that you especially wanted to include, and did those concepts actually make it into the pages? On what aspects did you focus most of your development efforts?

AC: The development team was particularly keen on the commander rules that the designers had created for the book, especially the auras. So we worked hard to bring the aura powers in line with the D&D game, in terms of both power and flavor, so that commanders of different alignments and races would seem different from one another (much as they do in the D&D Miniatures game).

As is always true of the development process, we spent significant time on the feats, spells, and prestige classes in the book. We wanted to make sure that those sections opened up new and interesting options not only on the battlefield, but also in the dungeon. After all, a dread commando or combat medic (both among the new prestige classes) should feel just as useful in a traditional D&D setting as he does when his sergeant is ordering the troops forward against a hail of arrows.

Wizards: As if siege engines weren't dramatic enough already, Heroes of Battle provides a new spell to animate them. Do you have any favorite spells or feats from the book that you plan to use as a player, or unleash upon the players in your game?

AC: I think it'd be fun to play a combat medic, particularly in big, spread-out fights with lots of combatants on each side. Diving into the fray to deliver a timely cure spell, then escaping the enemy sorcerer's fireball with a quick action roll -- a scene such as that one just sounds exciting.

Many of the spells in Heroes of Battle either alter the battlefield in some significant way (for example, early twilight or battlefield fortification) or impose some sort of negative condition upon the target (for example, hurtling stone, which knocks down Medium or smaller creatures in its path). I think these spells are much more interesting than ordinary "direct-damage" spells such as lightning bolt or cone of cold because they encourage tactical planning and smart play.

Wizards: The new dread commando prestige class appears in the latest Use This Book Tonight column. What sets this prestige class apart from others, and what is it about this character that holds particular appeal for you?

AC: The dread commando is a pretty cool concept, and I could easily see using such a character as a recurring thorn in the side of a PC party. The dread commando gets to do all the fun stuff -- sneak past defense lines, infiltrate the PCs' stronghold, and deliver deadly strikes against unwary foes.

Wizards: Which kind of army or unit (drow, hill giants, or whatever) would you like to have on your side going into battle? And which kind would you be especially loath to face?

David Noonan is an RPG designer at Wizards of the Coast, Inc. and the co-author of Heroes of Battle, Complete Divine, and Races of Stone. He lives in Washington state with his wife and son.

DN: It should come as no surprise to players of the D&D Miniatures skirmish game that undead make particularly effective troops because you don't have to worry about their morale. Furthermore, they can march day and night because they never tire, and you don't have to feed them -- except for ghouls, and if they're supplying their own food, you're winning. Any general would be eager to have strategic advantages such as those.

And though it's more of an intellectual exercise than anything else, consider a squad of eight 1st-level wizards, each with a wand of magic missile (750 gp). Those wizards can unquestionably wreak more havoc on the battlefield than eight 1st-level fighters in full knightly regalia (which typically runs more than 2,000 gp). If I ever become king of a fantasy nation, I'm going to build a wizard's college in every hamlet and tell my smiths to start making plowshares.

AC: I can't imagine how terrifying it would be for a squadron of human soldiers to face off against a warband of ogres or hill giants. The sheer destructive power of the foes simply dwarfs the defenders' capabilities. In a situation such as that, I think it would be pretty challenging to muster up enough courage to charge forward into the fray.

Wizards: Can you discuss what other products you have in the works right now?

AC: Since Heroes of Battle, I've worked on the development teams for such upcoming products as Dungeon Master's Guide II, Weapons of Legacy, Maelstrom, and Magic of Incarnum. Most recently, I finished leading the development on Magic of Eberron, which is due out later this year.

D&DHeroes of Battle, May 2005 Release Date, hardcover, full color, 160 pages, $29.95.

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