D&D Horde Combat : How To Make Horde Encounters Run Smoothly

horde encounters in D&D level up corner

D&D horde combat can become a DM’s worst nightmare all too quickly. The concept of fighting 100 twig blights seems cool at first, but if you roll for each creature your night will quickly become a living hell.

D&D horde combat can be run smoothly. There doesn’t have to be a clunky feel where you are rolling more dice than even the greatest dice goblin possesses. In order to help you run combat smoothly, we will go over how to handle both large groups of enemies and hordes of enemies, as well as how to tell the difference between the two.

Large Groups Vs. Hordes

Large monster groups in D&D are where the DM has more monsters than there are players, but it hasn’t become unwieldy. In order to figure out if you have a large group, ask yourself two simple questions:

  1. Are there more monsters than player characters?
  2. Are there less monsters than double the amount of player characters?

If you have a party of 4 players, then 5-8 monsters are considered large groups. 9+ is when you reach horde territory, and where you should REALLY consider horde tactics rather than large group tactics. If you are using a large amount of monsters, you can use a lot of the rules for monsters that you would for large groups of players. These rules are as follows:

  1. Pre-roll before the monsters turn. Roll while your players are deliberating on what to do, or rolling on their turns.
  2. Keep monsters simple, and have at max one spellcaster.
  3. Separate different monsters into different initiatives with different initiative bonuses, or set initiatives to make them not all go back-to-back.
  4. Keep an initiative board up so that the players know the turn order and are ready to go directly after your monsters.

These are some rules to help you with large groups of monsters, but what should you do if there are a horde?

Fusion to Create Swarms

One of the most common solutions to D&D monster hordes is to fuse monsters together. This fusion is made by taking 4 monsters, and crunching them into a single swarm. Each swarm has a single initiative and acts on the same roll/s. This way, you can make 20 monsters only require 5 attacks instead of 20! In order to do this successfully, there are some rules that you should follow:

  1. Monster size increases by 1. A medium creature turns into a large creature if it is combined into a swarm.
  2. Quadruple the die damage. Instead of 1d8+3, make it 4d8+3.
  3. As per swarm rules, when at half health it deals half damage.
  4. Combine all health together. 22 hp per monster means the swarm has 88 hp.

Creating a monster swarm with fusion is a great way to solve the monster horde problem, but there is a downside. If you wanted the players to truly fight a horde of monsters with 20+ figures on the board, this doesn’t feel like a horde. Yes, there are swarms and all but the players might start to feel like they are fighting 5 creatures instead of 20. At least, this is how it feels in game.

If you are alright with this downside, then fusion is a great solution for you and your game! If you want to get a true horde feel, then there are some other methods that can be used.

Don’t Roll for D&D Horde Combat

Not rolling for your D&D horde combat may sound like cheating, but consider the alternative. Do you really want to roll 20+ attacks? If you were foolish enough to answer with yes, then you will quickly find out that running combat this way is a nightmare. Instead, we will use the power of math to mitigate how much time is spent rolling.

When you need to roll, determine the difficulty of success for your horde monsters.

DifficultyRoll on a d20 needed to succeed on an attack or save
Easy 6+
Medium 12+
Difficult 17+
Hard19+
Impossible20+
Required roll for different success difficulties in D&D

Once you have determined the difficulty of success for attacks, saving throws, or anything else, determine the number of successes/saves you need based on the number of monsters.

DifficultySuccesses/Saves Based on Number of Monsters
Easy 1 per 2 monsters
Medium1 per 4 monsters
Difficult1 per 5 monsters
Hard1 per 10 monsters
Impossible1 per 20 monsters
Difficulty of D&D encounter based on number of successes/saves required

These numbers are similar to the table on page 250 of the DMG. If you wish, you can use that table as well. In order to make this work, you still need to keep your monsters simple. This means no spellcasters if possible, and make your monsters only have one or two different attacks.

In addition to this, round out your damage if possible. Most monsters have an average damage assigned to their stat block. Take a goblin for example. You can see that they hit for an average of 5 damage.

Horde Limitations

There are several limitations that you should consider in your horde combats.

Choke Points

If your D&D horde combat takes place at a choke point (a passageway that only lets a certain number of enemies through), then you will have to restrict the number of enemies that can fight unless they have ranged attacks. Terrain can also play a crucial role in your game, limiting the space that creatures can occupy.

Combat Grid

Another limitation on horde combat is the combat grid. If you treat hordes like normal monsters, taking into account the combat grid, a player can only have at most eight enemies attack them in melee combat. This isn’t really a horde, and if they need a 20 to hit while you are using the ‘no rolling for horde combat’ guidelines, a tanky character can fight thousands of creatures since it’s so difficult for monsters to land a hit.

This limitation makes us have to adjust things a little bit. If this is really a horde, you need to tell the players how many ‘horde’ creatures can occupy a square. Whether it is 2, 3, 4, or 10 the players should know this before they are getting into combat. Any change in game rules is essential to communicate to the players, and this is one way to get rid of the limitations of how many creatures can attack a player.

Attacking Players

With a horde of enemies, who do you hit? All attacks are not going to be directed at just one player. Instead, it is best to split up the number of attacks to each player who is eligible to be attacked by the horde. Don’t count every model that can attack a player and calculate attacks that way. It takes far too much time.

Horde Health

Lastly, horde health is another limitation. If a player did 30 damage and a creature only has 10 hp, they should only kill one creature. This is again where we bend the rules. The whole reason you are running a horde is to have a cool combat encounter for your players that lets them feel powerful. Let the damage carry over, and kill 3 creatures instead of one. If there is damage left over, let it carry over to the rest of the horde.

For example, if the rogue dealt 36 damage to the horde where each creature has 10 hp, let three creatures die from a single hit. The next attack only needs to deal four damage to kill a creature instead of 10.

Minion Variants

One other way to run D&D horde combat is by using a variant found in 4e. One of the few good things to come from 4e was the minion rule. This is where monsters who are not the main threat only have a single hp, but are equipped with ridiculously high AC and saves. If you hit them, they just pop. The problem is that you have to hit them first!

You can apply the minion variant to your hordes in order to make them die quickly, but you have to change some limitations. Don’t have the damage kill more than one minion unless it was an area of effect damage. Otherwise, keep the rest of the guidelines the same.

Smoother Combat

You now have a basic understanding on how to run D&D horde combat, but we can go even further. In order to make your combats run smoothly, you can do two things.

  1. Calculate during other player’s turns.
  2. Carefully prepare

With hordes, we don’t really ‘roll’ on other players turns. Instead, we calculate. If the paladin comes up to the horde with a 21 AC and my minions have a +5 to hit, how many monsters are required to hit the paladin? In the section on not rolling for D&D horde combat’ we would see that this is under the ‘difficult’ category since we need a 16 on a d20 to hit. Therefore, we need 5 monsters to hit the player.

You will do calculations like this for every player and determine how far you are able to move and what your monsters will do on their turn. Do this while while the players are taking their turns. This makes the monsters’ turn go quick and puts the focus on the players!

For carefully preparing, you can make a cue card with the relevant information needed to make play move smoothly in your session preparation. Look to the example above. Instead of figuring out all of that information in session, do it beforehand.

Furthermore, you can look at the terrain, what limitations will be in place, and figure out the limitations with choke points or other environmental hazards. Whatever you are able to prepare for your monsters beforehand makes running your horde even easier, and if you prepare the environment and how many monster attacks are needed to hit each party member, running hordes will become a breeze!

Conclusion

Running horde encounters in D&D doesn’t have to be difficult. D&D horde combat can be fun, and if you prepare for it can be easier to run than many regular combats. Choose how you want to make the horde, either from minions, swarms, or another method that subverts the common limitations of hordes.

Once you have decided how to run your hordes, have a blast with them! Let the players experience the full fury of what comes with far too many enemies while keeping your game running smoothly.

I hope that this has helped you learn how to run hordes in your game.

This has been Wizo, and keep rolling!

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