I read an article the other day — and here the lag in my reading an article versus writing a response prevents me from linking to the source — about the influence of the game Diplomacy on early D&D. I’ve heard of Diplomacy but never played.
After doing some research, I can honestly say that I’m glad of that.
Not that Diplomacy is a bad game — far from it — just that I don’t think I’d have ever survived a game of Diplomacy. It takes hours for most games, longer even than your limited-turns versions of Risk. Oh, and you need seven players.
Also, it’s pretty ruthless. The game is without random element and any advantages in position are easily dwarfed by the number of contenders and the ease of causing a rout among forces. You have to lie, swindle, and cheat to make any progress.
What I mostly got out of my reading of the rules was a pretty clear-cut way of handling cities, generals, and armies once PCs hit the Epic tier.
A city (20th level) enables a player to maintain an army (22nd level).
Players can of course raise and command armies before 22nd level, but a city is necessary to maintain an army — they have to make do with bluffs and promises and whatnot before that point. A city provides supplies for an army.
A PC who with no city has to capture one if they want to keep their army.
Generally speaking, the rule is one army to a character. Any more than that becomes an active challenge to prevent soldiers from running amok.
Given that cash is used to directly advance characters (PC and NPC alike), enterprising PCs can hire and advance NPCs to run their armies. This introduces the new problem that their armies are now of course, controlled by NPCs.
Every gain comes with an associated cost.
It should still be possible for players to create multiple characters to run their armies, with the caveat that they can still only control one PC at a time. That’s unless you’re just really into bookkeeping or something. I don’t know.
I can only provide so many shortcuts and controls.
There’s a lot of room for abuse but I also see these parts of the game not necessarily appealing to all players. And that’s great. It’s fine actually.
Really, the point of having armies included in the game at the basic level is to make sure that everything scales well — and as a GM tool. Sometimes a GM wants a villain to have an army, and these points that indicate when PCs can have armies serve as a guideline for villains acquiring and running their own armies.
The GM can do pretty much anything the players can do.
The easier it is for the players to do something, the easier it should be for a GM to do it. If the players can have armies, the GM can have armies and so forth.
Really, the main advantage of being the GM in this case is that you don’t have to show the villains leveling up. You get to use all the same rules as the players but you can hand-wave portions of them such as the investment of time.
And… say it with me… the easier the rules are to use… yeah, you know.