Combat, Groups and Individuals

A not-often discussed topic in Ars Magica...

I wondered if anyone here had some experience using, more specifically Storyguiding, the combat system.

For instance, in my next adventure I have a potentially complex combat scene. I have four or five small groups (3-6 individuals), representing two or three factions (depends on the PC's actions), and three companions with a handful of grogs (no magi are involved). I was thinking of using a mix of group and individual combat... with the companions fighting as individuals.

Can you have individuals vs groups? Or should I seperate the groups fighting the companions into individuals? How do you handle multiple people fighting a single opponent? Any other strange quirks that you've encountered that I'm not thinging of?

Any tips or suggestions you might have would be appreciated.

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You can certainly have an individual fight against a group.

Keep in mind that, according to the corebook, a group is composed by 1 to 6 people, inclusive. So an individual is techically a one-person-group, and combat between individuals is just the simplest case of group combat -- where all groups involved have size 1.

There are two reasons why you may want to use group combat; which one applies depends on whether the group is a bunch of people that just happen to be on the same side (an UNTRAINED group), or a fighting team that has spent time training together to maximize its effectiveness (a TRAINED group).

In the case of an untrained group, the advantage of using group combat is basically speed of resolution: you get VERY ROUGHLY the same results as if the group were fighting as a set of individuals, but with fewer rolls. I'd say that the mechanics give a slight advantage to the group as opposed to a set of individuals, which both makes sense (cooperation helps) and encourages a more time-efficient resolution.

In the case of a trained group, the mechanics allow you a further bonus to simulate the fact that the whole is much greater than the sum of its parts. Keep in mind that this group bonus can be HUGE under the right circumstances (a large group commanded by a leader with a high Leadership score). Consider a group consisting of four green recruits with Weapon skill 3 and two veterans with Weapon skill 6 -- one of them a grizzled sergeant with Leadership 6 as well. As a group, all grogs fight at the veterans' level of ability, and if they trained together, effectively each character will also get a +18 bonus to either attack or defense (the same for all grogs, but can be changed every round).

Trained groups can be scary!

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The combat bonus of a trained group is definately a game changer in a fight. I ran a combat yesterday where a trained group of 4 knights with a +15 bonus was able to hold off a three larger untrained groups.

How common do you think a trained group really is outside of a covenant? Would a lords household knights count as a trained group? What about the infantry or archers from a certain village?

I have not given my opinion so far because we do not play by anything resembling the RAW when it comes to combat (we use 1D6 instead of 1D10 to start with) and outr trained groups get a flat bonus, not a cumulative bonus depending on the number of people in it.

However, regarding trained/untrained groups I would say that most groups should be untrained. Trained groups would be found in MERCENARY companies IMO. That changes a lot from saga to saga, though. 100 years war English archers would be trained groups, and so would Genoese crossbowmen. In Ars trained groups are more common than that, it would seem. Fighting together and fighting together as a unit are 2 different things. Some knights might get that (William Marshall's tournament party certainly qualifies) but most knights will not.

Now,for your levies. It can be that actually levies are ^better trained as UNITS than professional soldiers. They generally rely on low individual skill and fairly long pointy sticks. You need to collaborate to achieve success with that formation. If you are a badass with a mace, a shield and full armor you might consider that you fight alone surrounded by friends, instead. Better individual training might mean worse group actions. At least if most of the time you are NOT engaged in war like mercenaries. That would qualify for men at arms and knights being untrained. So your WS2 or 3 villager might be in a trained group directed by a yeoman, while the 3 knights in service of the lordwith WS 5+2 might not. they will be better armored and mounted on horses, though, so they might be able to kick the crap out of the yeomen anyway :slight_smile:

Weird, vision, I know. It is pure gut feeling since I have no experience or reading about real medieval tactics.


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Yes and yes but far from always. It depends on if whoever is behind their training and/or funding considers it "needed".

I think that more-often-than-not a group of household knights or a group of infantry levied from a single village would be a trained group in the sense meant by the rules. Although, as ever, it all depends on context.

For the household knights, if they literally lived in the same keep (and thus trained and practised together) it is difficult to see how they could not be a trained group. If the "household" knights actually live apart on distant manors --- then they might not have an opportunity to practise together, and so wouldn't be a trained group. Although even then, it is entirely plausible for them to have had experience fighting together (like when hunting, or at a tourney, or even in an actual war, for example).

For infantry levied from a single village, as long as the individuals are part of an expected militia (i.e. have practised together, sticking things with pikes, a few times a year), then they should be a trained group (unless for some reason they've been slacking around and not actually doing their training). On the other hand, if it's emergency levy made up of old men, the village idiot, and some young boys, then it wouldn't be a trained group.

I guess the real question is, what makes someone a trained group? I know, the rules say they are a trained group if they have spent at least one season improving combat skills in the same place at the same time... but what does that mean in a roleplaying sense? If a bunch of guys have fought in the same military campaign and decide to spend the resulting exp on a combat skill, does that make them a trained group?

I would say if they fought in the same "unit" in that military campaign, then sure they would be a trained group.

So, it wouldn't be enough for all the persons in the group to have merely fought at the 1204 siege of Constantinople. The persons should have been (for example) part of a group that breached the palace gate. Basically, to become a "trained" group via combat experience, the persons would have had to have fought together as an untrained group. So, typically groups will become "trained" via actual training rather than live combat (which makes some sense).

I agree with the consensus, except that I won't grant "training" to most war scenarios. It usually takes, well, actual training to become a trained group. In the same token, I would require quite a lot of time training for a militia to grant "trained group" status; the training should grant a Season of Training to their members.

While it isn't RAW, I'm thinking about granting "Trained Group" status to units under the command of a "spiritual authority" and commander - e.g. a leader of the crusade, or just the King of France. It grants their armies, and hence their persons, a greater "oomph".


You still have to meet the criteria that you gain XP in your Martial Ability from the war scenario. So, just turning up to a brawl doesn't cut it. The conflict has to be your (and everyone else in the group's) seasonal "adventure" or "exposure" (or maybe "practise"?) XP source. You have to have "learnt" from the experience.

I would also be somewhat wary to grant trained group status for Sunday practice once a month. IIRC that was what the village levies got, right? Something like that. Baically stand there with your spears all pointing in the same direction. I see training as a much more intense (5-6 days per week) thing during a season, not cursory practice in your free time during the same period. IMS most of the covenant grogs are not a trained group most of the time. Custos are CUSTOS for a reason. There is only 6-12 of them at most (2-3 per magus or so) in a population go around 40-70 males in most of our covenants. The rest are just good at their job, but are not trained killer machines ready to go after knights and beat them in a fair (or not) fight.


I'd be inclined to vary from the rules and say that any highly trained and disciplined warriors trained in the same general style of fighting should able to fight as a trained group.

e.g. a group of grizzled English knights, raised from child hood as warriors each equipped with sword and shield might well have the discipline and training to form a spontaneous trained group.

However, a group of aggressive and warlike french knights, despite their superior skills and elan, have more of a culture of competitive martial valour and do not fight as a trained group.

A group of Viking warriors should be able to fight alongside a couple of varangian guard without much problem, they are all trained to fight in a similar sense (the shieldwall) and know what they are supposed to do.

What do folks think? I know it varies from what the book says but it makes sense to me and also means that trained warriors can more readily form trained groups than before.

I think acting as one group has a lot to do with group dynamics, idiosyncratic communication and tactical routines, and so on. Realistically, as an infantry soldier (in reserves...), I think my army unit's men could function under different, non-organic, commanders, and alongside unfamiliar personnel from parallel regiments - but that their effectiveness would be reduced. And that's what the Trained Group rules are all about. So I'm against relaxing the rules.

That said, the effect is certainly not all black-and-white as the rules make it. Soldiers trained in the same army would fight much better together than similarly-trained soldiers from several armies, but it won't be "any man for himself" - they would still fight as a unit, only not as well.

I tend to stick with the book's definition: a group functions as a trained group if all the members have spent at least one season improving combat skills all together. While it's not clear-cut, I assume that if one of the members was teaching the others, he counts as a group member even if he did not actually improve his combat skill that season. Note that in the case of many non-magi a "season" is not necessarily a "full" season, but could well be a season of free time spread over a year.

I think that training together is more important than having the same "style" of fighting. And note that being capable of fighting as part of a trained group, and being willing to do so, are two profoundly different things -- and there are other considerations apart from combat effectiveness that may guide the choice of an individual warrior (e.g. accepting the Leadership of someone else).

LuciusT said:

This is a question I've pondered for a while now. The group and trained group rules seem to work really well when you have a homogenous group of rabble (turb, peasant mob, group of men at arms, squad of knights) but they seem to lose flavour (YMMV) when it comes to small personal battles amongst named and distinctive characters. Who wants their dashing and flamboyant swordsman to be just another member of a group if you gang up on an enemy.

So I'd like to come up with some houserules on how to run a small combat with unequal numbers. i.e. 2 vs 1 or 3 vs 2, etc.

My thoughts so far

  1. any individual can only attack once per round but can defend as many times as he is attacked.
  2. for each opponent after the first, there is a bonus to attack for the attacker. (i.e. first guy to attack is done as normal, second guy gets +4 on his attack roll, third guy gets +8, fourth guy gets +12).
  3. the attack bonus should be significant, I'm somewhat torn between +3 and +4 but can see the argument for +5.

The way I see these rules working is that with more attackers, it becomes harder to defend oneself. This is born out by real world fighting where essentially the last thing you want to do is fight more than 1 person at once. For multiple attackers trained to work together, the trained group rules should be used, this is much more about fighting small uneven combats.


We do that.

Trained group. Flat +5 bonus.

  • if unequal numbers of people fight, each additional member on your side gets you a +3 attack.

Fairly easy. Can't recall if those are the 5th edition rules, but they were the standard for previous editions when there were uneven combats.

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We do that.

Trained group. Flat +5 bonus.

  • if unequal numbers of people fight, each additional member on your side gets you a +3 attack.

Fairly easy. Can't recall if those are the 5th edition rules, but they were the standard for previous editions when there were uneven combats.