Advanced Dungeons & Dragons BATTLESYSTEM 2nd Edition Review

While wargaming is the grand-daddy of Dungeons & Dragons, the RPG has evolved separately and quickly became its own entity. By questioning many of the rules that may seem odd as to how they were formed, the answers can usually be traced back to our wargaming roots. Ranges, Movement, combat: All of it heavily borrowed from wargames and evolved to attract a much larger audience. Some rules are more pronounced than others, for instance the end-game, mass battles are eluded too in the form of attracting followers and constructing buildings. The worlds that we create are all hostile to the players, so the PC’s buildings will no doubt have to be defended from time to time.  War is a common event, however it was an event that was not officially supported until 1985 with the publication of BATTLESYSTEM!

In 1989, the year that saw the release of AD&D Second Edition; before many of the titles which expanded the 2e core system were released, or even worked on, one of the first 2e products to come out was, oddly enough, BATTLESYSTEM 2nd Edition. While the BATTLESYSTEM was always well received within the industry (the original earning the esteemed “H. G. Wells Award”, and the second edition winning the Origins Award for “Best Miniatures Rules for 1989”), among consumers it was a different story. Dungeons & Dragons had tapped into a new audience, and this one wasn’t too hip on wargames.

Written by Doug Niles, he really didn’t care if there was a market for this thing or not. All he wanted to do was use the Dungeons and Dragons magic system within a mass combat game, and when it comes to the 2nd Edition version, it is safe to say that BATTLESYSTEM 2e would had been published with or without 2e itself. The original 1985 boxed set contained a ton of goodies typical of that era; one can almost put it down as a play-testers box; as the 2e version of the game is polished, containing all of the changes to the system from feedback that he had gotten, as well as changes that he had made himself. Gone was the box, the scale of miniatures was changed, as well as a more streamlined combat system that was easier to manage.

While the booklet was stripped down, its production quality was improved, it featured glossy, full color pages, pages that were required to illustrate the fantastic photographs taken by Michael Weaver and Ral Partha Enterprises INC.  While the game wasn’t as demanding as WARHAMMER in regards to what figure you use, the Ral Partha brand has always been a well-loved and well-trusted company which players typically stick with to get their figures anyway.  

The booklet contains three stages of play: Basic, Intermediate, and Advanced.


The Basic rules was just that, a very simple version of the game that gets players used to moving and understanding what each figure represents. It is rules light, yet sturdy enough to handle conflicting armies meeting on an open battle field. When I mean Rules Light, this is kind of an exaggeration; this game is complicated and hard to learn on your own.

 It requires an investment into the materials needed to play the game, and as many 6 sided dice as you can afford. You don’t technically need the metal figures to play, that alone would cost you lots of money and time, and you don’t need to create the elaborate sets depicted in the book either; but, even going on the cheap is not an easy task. It is the lucky DM who has the space big enough to host regular D&D games, this game recommends playing on a Ping Pong table! The larger the space the better because once a unit leaves the field from failing their Moral Check, it is gone for good, thus, by using your typical dining room table, it makes it really hard to regroup your troops before they are off the board.


The Intermediate rules add our heroes into the mix, as well as generals and advanced formations. It doesn’t do a good job of adding the heroes. If you are thinking about putting your character on the table, you are putting them in danger beyond anyone’s control. While some will put this as war is dangerous, I consider placing your PC onto the field as the equivalent of high stakes gambling; a couple of bad rolls and you are dead, just like that. It had nothing to do with the decisions that you made, or how aggressive you are playing, you are dead. Roll up a new character.

Sure, you can be captured, but that kind of depends upon the enemy, doesn’t it. How many PC parties out there try to capture the biggest threat in a scenario? Thankfully, you can avoid this by not placing your PC in the first place, and just controlling the army itself. If you do place your figure, you can treat it as a King in chess, capture the king and this phase of the scenario ends and you go back to standard D&D to resolve the situation.


The Advanced rules are where all of your fun stuff is. Siege Engines, Magic, fires, flying troops. Once you’ve mastered the previous BATTLESYSTEM rule sets, now you are ready to add this stuff to your campaigns! But, as you can see, that is hard to do. Everyone has to really want this, and spend game time playing war games scenarios instead of D&D. That isn’t the only problem with the system either, this is a two player game and Dungeons & Dragons works best with 4 PCs. You can divide the troops among the party, or whatever, but it is still a two player game. It doesn’t even need a DM, though when you are dealing with the Advanced Rule Set, an impartial judge is “desired”.

The game itself is clunky, and more of a board game, and if you have a difficult time finding players to play standard D&D, you’ll really enjoy trying to find someone to play this game with you! I have lots of dedicated players, but only one who has an interest in exploring Mass Combat, but even then, we’d still rather spend game time playing D&D, not learning some new ruleset.


Thankfully, this system is not the only thing that you get when you buy this book. One can say that the Mass Combat system is just an added bonus to why you’d buy this thing. Remember the Ral Partha photos I was talking about? The book provides a wealth of knowledge and hints on not just how to paint miniatures, but how to modify them, and take care of them. It is a crash course on a part of the hobby that is very enjoyable to those who have been bitten by the painting bug. One doesn’t have to spend much money to partake in it; Ral Partha sells singles that are much cheaper than anti-psychotic medication and provides the same results (not a qualified medical opinion).


Don’t judge this book by its cover (especially this book as the cover is hideous), it is still a very inexpensive book to own, and something is better than nothing. There are times when something happens and it just can’t be resolved any other way! Yes, we can always write around war, or concoct some house system, which I think is still a viable option, but it is still nice to have this book as a backup! Those out there that have been able to use this system say that it is functional, and while it is far from perfect, it is still the best option to keep that Dungeons & Dragons feel to the game. What it lacks in the strategy department, it makes up in ease of use and integrating the magic system. At its root, it is a method of quickly determining the events which take place during a massive conflict involving many combatants; I just wish that it was easier to learn.

BTW the Appendix is brilliant, it contains a wealth of quick reference material, worksheets to create your own units, a method of creating said units, and The Art of Miniatures section, as I said, is the reason why you should pick up a copy if you don’t already own one. I give the product a D+.

It begs the question, what do you, the reader do? I suppose that the most common answer is to ignore it and write around the war, but let’s just say that it can’t be done. You’ve got to run it, how do you, as a DM resolve the issue?  


Todd Jerome Jenkins said...

I stumbled on your blog a few weeks ago and I love it! I am currently running a Forgotten Realms campaign set in 1325 DR. I have adapted several 1e modules to 2e. Currently my PC’s are in in the middle of the Desert of Desolation. I have been tweaking it to fit my campaign. After reading this post I am going to introduce a mass combat scenario.

Ripper X said...

Thanks for the compliments! Mass combat is some hard stuff, but is very interesting. Every table plays D&D differently, and even more so when armies are involved. Typically we always have home brewed quick and messy systems for dealing with it. I'd love to run a "Lord of the Rings" type battle with 10's of thousands involved, however, as written, each figure = 10 men, I figure that if I just do some math I can convert the Movement Rate and scale of the board, however I gave up and just converted humongous war into RISK style combat.

BTW, I really like your site! I did my best to add it to my blog roll, but for whatever reason, it doesn't seem to support the HTML. I'll have to play with some stuff.

Michael S said...

> It begs the question, what do you, the reader do? I suppose that the most common answer is to ignore it and write around the war, but let’s just say that it can’t be done. You’ve got to run it, how do you, as a DM resolve the issue?

I take that bull by the horns and scale up and down my games. I've been blogging about it a lot over the past year. I've got two D&D to wargames to D&D sessions with my tabletop group, and one of the same with my 1x1 game with the wife. So far so good.

Ripper X said...

Sitting in on a table with a grognard like you would definitely help one learn the rules of mass combat! I do enjoy reading all of your posts, but like any blog, it just isn't enough. I kind of feel that any battlesystem must be learned by playing it, which makes it that much harder to learn when that isn't an option.

The player who is interested in the system got a new job, and won't be able to attend our regular games anymore, perhaps he and I can get together here and there and run some of the BATTLESYSTEM scenarios?

Michael S said...

I just find systems that work and mess with them. Usually solo play. I'm starting to get more interest from my group, especially a couple of guys who have enjoyed our forays into Book of War.

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