Some have wondered what the nature of Realms Warfare might be like if the commoners, freeholders, serfs, and other “imaginary people” that are assumed to make up the bulk of the population would be like. After all, it would be unrealistic to assume everyone is a plane-hopping, demon slaying adventurer like the characters we play. As always, the nature of warfare is driven by the technologies in use. In this case, our spell system is very much part of the “technology” that determines the shape mass warfare would take. Game mechanics also force assumptions about Realms technology. In this article, I will make explicit the relevant technological assumptions, I will discuss how they might effect mass warfare, and then summarize.
Horses are apparently very rare. There seems to be one limited source of horses, and they only seem to make a difference when in Creathorne. While this is a result of our game system, it is a major change from medieval historical combats. This extreme rarity of mounts is probably the reason that Realms armorers have never developed anything heavier than two-point armor.
Adventurers are more deadly than commoners. There is a reason that Player Characters end up doing the adventurous quests is that they are much more powerful, one on one. Peasants do not train in weapons or spells. After all, has anyone seen an “imaginary person” at fighter practice? If so, get help. Seriously, we might expect that an untrained peasant to be as easy to kill as an untrained newbie. When we have seen NPCs as peasants, this lack of training is usually represented by the NPC peasant wielding only a single short sword. Peasants were more likely armed with flails, pitchforks and other long weapons; I recognize this short sword as a game mechanic so that a skilled NPC can fight at full speed while representing the peasant’s inexperience. The bow was historically a weapon of the commoner, but in our game bows are far more expensive to acquire than swords, at least in terms of real money.
Armor is very expensive. Even many adventurers find it difficult to field the armor that they would like. Thus, it is unlikely that any nation can field hundreds of suits of armor for mass battles. Only commoners from nations that are both wealthy and militant, with a significant tax burden, are likely to have any armor available. Most commoner armor will be padded and one-point leather. In medieval times, leather was a readily available by-product of eating meat, but today in our game we find leather very expensive to acquire compared to the other costs of equipping an adventurer. The extremely rare peasant who has a suit of chain mail handed down their family for generations is exceptional enough to be a Player Character with a peasant background. Again, as a game mechanic, not allowing commoners to use armor reflects their lack of training.
Casualties. Combat in the Realms is extremely deadly. In most historical battles, far less than half of a force would be incapacitated before one side’s morale broke and the day was won. Of those incapacitated, not all would die, even given the primitive medical conditions. The victors who held the field would thus be able to slay or ransom many prisoners. In Realms battles between players, typically nearly 100% of the losers are slain and even the victors find it unsurprising to have 90% dead if the forces are evenly matched. This is of course because adventurer’s morale is much higher because they are used to this sort of thing, and because they are quite likely to be raised, although in a serious war this would not be a certainty even for them. A commoner of the Realms is unlikely to share this selfless bravery. Morale will be a very large factor in any large-scale battle, even if healing is available. The long-term effects of losing commoners in a large-scale battle must be considered. Losing hundreds of peasants on the field of battle would seriously damage the industry of that nation, greatly lowering prosperity. This is why we haven’t seen mass battles so far. Commoners are probably armed in only the most desperate circumstances, for even a victory would seriously damage a nation using commoner levies. If commoner women fight, it may take generations for a nation to recover from a single loss, hamstringing the growth of the nation. Calculating leaders would probably exempt commoner women from levies.
Healing. Speaking of healing, this is of course the largest and most fundamental change, but also the one we are most familiar with. But mass combat changes things: Your nation’s three healers will find their “heal limb” spell to be spread much more thinly among hundreds of commoners. And after a battle, your “Raise Dead” and “Circle of Healing” spells will make a dent in the casualties, but only a small one. The “Circle of Healing” spell would of course make a huge difference. The entire plan of battle would be centered on this spell. Holding the field of battle would be even more important than it was historically: the victor could restore all of their fallen troops! Thus, long campaigns are unlikely in the Realms. An army is likely to win in a single decisive victory. Even with the “Circle of Healing” it might not be possible to recover all of the commoners. And if that spell is not available, a wise commander will probably rule that raises be reserved for the adventurer elite.
Other magic. The effectiveness of Magic Missiles and Lightening bolts would depend on how superstitious the peasants are. Since the Realms is a relatively high magic environment, I would not expect their morale to break like historical peasants would if faced with sorcery. If their army were losing ground, after blasting a few commoners, it would probably be very difficult to recover their spells. “Conjure Netherform” could be extremely effective. Even if this does not break the peasant’s morale, the regeneration ability would be even more useful than usual. For those rare armies that can field armor, the “Mystic Forge” spell becomes of even greater tactical use. Seer spells could be useful. Imagine a “Vision” of the enemy general’s war council where he describes his battle plan to his followers? Even “Fortune Tell” could provide critical information like “Is nearest bridge held by the enemy” or even “Is this a trap?” Unfortunately, game mechanics would make this problematical. Finally, there is the question of necromancers. All spells I can think of go away at the end of the event. It would be cheating to say, call “protection from magic missile” because I had it cast on me three weeks ago. Thus, while a necromancer can supplement their army with a several commoner bodies, they would have to have enough “Create Zombie/Create Undead” spells to sustain each body, and recast it each week. Thus, it would not normally be possible for a player character necromancer to claim an army of hundreds of undead, built up over years of gristly collecting. Only super powerful NPC necromancers like Zermarks can do that. Of course, regional magic can make a big difference too. I imagine Rathkeale regional magic might allow one to retain a large body of undead, avoiding the “recast” problem described above.
In summary, large scale battles would greatly increase the amount of destruction and suffering caused by war, yet the fate of the battle would still be firmly in the hands of the player character adventurers. Because of this, perhaps there is a “gentleman’s agreement”, an understanding among the nations of the Realms that commoners are to be left out of our wars. Against monster threats to the Realms, an army of commoners would probably be worse than useless: the first monster that was immune to normal weapons would rout them, and the casualties would eat through your raises quickly. Still, commoners armies allow you to take all of your adventurers to Queen of Hearts safe in the knowledge that a mere handful of other adventurers will not be able to take over your castle while you are away. Even if a major threat attacked your homeland, you could reasonably expect your commoners to slow the enemy down, hold them off long enough for you to get back in time to have the fate decided by player characters.