Wednesday, April 19, 2023

Looking for thoughts on abilities for a 5e combat leader!

For the next little stone in the wall that is my effort to put together a set of rules with which to play with my 3.75-inch toy soldiers, I'd really like to nail down a Commander class.  (Appropriate that I used a wall as a metaphor for one of my hobby endeavors?  Maybe...)  I did a little rundown of the classes I want to start with HERE...for reference, I'm looking for a Soldier, Driver, Medic, Scientist, Commander, and Ninja.  Today, I shall speak of the Commander.  Also, as fair warning, I'm about to ramble...there's a TL;DR in italics below...

I think a Commander class is important for a few reasons.  First, I simply believe it's a fairly critical archetype in the genre, so that the roles of characters like Hawk, Duke, and Cobra Commander are covered.  I also think enough games have included a battlefield leader role that its utility and (ideally) fun are pretty well established.  I'm thinking specifically about classes from the D&D 3.5 Miniatures Handbook and the 5E-based modern ruleset Ultramodern5, both of which include a Marshal.

Finally, I really want to have a class that can be used to level up the leader of a warband over the course of a toygaming campaign, and adding to their leadership capabilities seems like an appropriate way to go about it.  The Miniatures Handbook, once again, had this slot filled by the Warlord class, which was a super-simple prestige class that really only applied to miniatures campaigns.  A level in Warlord, if memory serves, gives a character +1 to attack bonus, +1 to Commander rating (a value specific to the miniatures rules), and either +10 HP or +5 HP and an extra use of a spell.

I want the classes in this game to remain fairly simple anyway, so why not have a Commander class that does something similar, enabling quick-n-easy leveling in between battles, while also serving as one of the core classes?

One approach that seems to work is to give a battlefield leader the ability to impact combat simply by being among the troops.  The 3.5 Marshal has auras that grant bonuses to other troops, and the Ultramodern5 Marshal gets Command Presence abilities.  This is probably the way to go, although the direction I'm leaning is to give Commanders a small set of "commands" they can give with an action (or maybe bonus action), with a successful roll having the selected effect on the battlefield.  I'm thinking of things along the lines of Bardic Inspiration, but with a chance of failure, and possibly the ability to attempt one every round.

If these scale with a character's level in the Commander class, then advancement in power along with advancement in levels may take care of itself without even having to add abilities as the character progresses.  I suppose that might go against the intentions of "bounded accuracy" as it's built into 5E, but I really like the simplicity of it.  Players can know that all Commanders are able to try X, Y, or Z each round, and the magnitude of the effect is connected to level.  Nice and straightforward.

Oh!  And I do have plans to incorporate a sort of Commander rating into the activation mechanic of the game, so having that increase with Commander level, as it does with the Miniatures Handbook's Warlord, will also be a benefit for campaign play.

Okay.  So that's where my question for you comes in, my friends.  What are the key abilities that should be built into a Commander?  What is that X, Y, or Z that they can attempt each round?  A choice of bonuses to grant to those around them?  Handing out extra actions?  Extra HP?  Should they be able to choose different difficulty classes to have differing magnitudes of effect?  Should it just be simplified such that all abilities use the same target number?

Are you still reading?  Well...thank you!  For the rest of you, here's the...

TL;DR   I'm putting together a very simple Commander class for an action figure battling game based upon D&D 5E.  I'd like to give them (around) three different actions that they can attempt each round of combat, with successes granting boons to allies on the battlefield.  These abilities will scale with the Commander's level and should be simple and iconic enough that they can be easily remembered as the standard traits of a Commander.  I'm open to any and all suggestions as to what seems fun and fair!

Thanks for reading all this, or even skimming to this sentence...and please let me know if you have any thoughts!


  1. I remember the commander or leader or whatever it was called from D&D4. It worked well there because the general game design allowed interesting interactions between the commander and other party members; they could activate other characters' special actions out of sequence, and things like that.

    So... I don't have any specific suggestions yet, but here are some ideas:

    - I would give them one "power" f the three that doesn't require a success. Either an always-on aura, or something that activates without a test. A low level thing they can do without fail, because the class is about being useful and you don't want to take that away because of a dice roll.
    - Sequence-breaking is a fun ability. Perhaps they can cause another character to attack/move twice, once in their turn, once in the commander's turn.
    - You've got the Medic planned, but perhaps the commander can have a low-level "healing" power. Something like automatically stabilising characters in a death spiral, or waking up unconscious characters. Not actual healing as such, but just a minor boost, flavoured as a "get up soldier!" type shout.
    - Depending on how you're going to do morale, then the commander can either provide a bonus to morale tests, or nearby troops can use their morale score, both being an aura-type ability. Or perhaps they can use an action to allow a reroll on a failed morale test.
    - The flipside is that you could give them an intimidation ability. Perhaps they can have a St Crispin's Day action that boosts nearby ally morale but also causes nearby opponents to make a morale test or fall back.

    There's some brief morning ideas!

    1. These are great ideas! Thanks man! Somehow I had kind of forgotten that the 4e Warlord/Marshal is probably one that could provide some inspiration, especially since that edition seemed (to an "outsider") to have such a board-gamey setup...which is kind of what I'm looking at here.

      And your detailed suggestions are excellent...that's exactly what I needed to give this a skeleton.