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D&D Concepts - Marching Order

One of the suggestions in the new D&D Starter Set is that you work out a Marching
Order for your party. This is a pretty simple concept its the formation that you use
when moving around that has seen some development through the history of D&D.

In the early years of the game, adventuring parties were often much bigger than they
are now. Nine characters seems to be a fairly standard amount, or at least its
presented that way in the first edition Dungeon Masters Guide. Dungeons tended to
consist of rooms connected by 10 foot wide corridors, so the standard formation for
travelling was considered for that width. Although later editions standardised the
amount of space a character took up as 5 feet, the AD&D DMG has each character
taking up 3-1/3 so that three characters could stand abreast. Thus, a party would
arrange themselves into a formation of 3 rows of 3 characters each a 33 formation
often with shorter characters (halflings and dwarves) in the front rank so archers
could fire above them from behind.
These days, you will tend to have from four to six characters, so, with the 5 space for
characters, you get a 22 or 32 formation.

You can generalise all of this to a party need a Front Rank, one or more Middle
Ranks, and a Back Rank. Who goes in each?
The Front Rank and Back Rank tend to serve similar purposes: they are the ranks
that will tend to be attacked. Most often, it will be the Front Rank that ends up in
combat, but the Back Rank will be first into combat in those cases when the party is
attacked from behind. As a result, you need good armour classes and high hit points
in those ranks.
The one exception in the Front Rank tends to be the trap finder; its very easy to find
traps when the barbarian in the front rank has already fallen down the pit trap, but
most parties want a little more warning than that! Alternatively, the tracker will want
to be in the front rank when youre following a trail.

The Middle Ranks contain the characters you dont want in the front rank during
combat typically the wizards, who have poor Armour Class and Hit Points, but
rogues, spell-casters and archers may also be there.

So, what happens when you only have two ranks and the wizard is standing with no-
one between him and the large bugbear that has sneaked up behind you? Well, the
typical reaction to this is for the wizard to get squished (or to quickly use
a thunderwave spell to push back the bugbear and then slip behind the fighters) In
earlier editions of D&D, we used to hire men-at-arms and, at later levels, henchmen
to fill in the spots further up the list.
Men-at-arms are mercenaries who fight for pay. If youd like to include one in your
game, Ive included some house rules at the end of the article you could use at least
until the full rules come out in the near future.

The chief problem of putting characters into the various ranks comes when combat
begins: who can participate? Although characters in back ranks can cast spells or fire
missile weapons, they will normally be penalised for the opponents having cover
(from the other members of the characters party!) This, at least, is kinder than the
rules in AD&D, where youd be quite likely to hit your allies instead!

Another option is to use Reach weapons from the second rank pikes, halberds,
whips and lances. Again, Id impose a cover bonus to the targets armour class, but at
least members of the second rank of characters could attack. If the spell-casters are
in the second rank, one of the first actions in combat would be for the spell-casters to
move back so that the fighters in the back rank could move up. Note that you can
happily move through allied characters without penalty.

With larger parties (five or more characters), five-foot corridors prove a major
problem. All of a sudden youve only got one character in the front rank and able to
attack. Theyre great defensively, but they can be very frustrating to play in. As a DM,
I rarely use corridors of that width just because you can have a lot of players sitting
around unable to participate. If you are going to use them, having them as part of a
maze of several intersecting corridors so the characters could be attacked from
different directions makes a much more interesting set-up.

Twenty-foot wide and wider corridors are quite challenging for the party, as it is
much harder to protect the more vulnerable members of the party, especially using
the 5E rules. I would tend to spread out more to protect the centre.

It is worth noting that keeping very close together is great when youre in non-
magical combat, but is quite dangerous when Area of Effect spells like fireball start
getting thrown around by the enemy. Know your opponents and be prepared to
change your tactics when necessary!
Ultimately, the marching order provides the DM and players with a quick reference
when the group is attacked for where everyone is. The marching order should protect
the vulnerable characters and allow everyone to participate effectively in the combat.

House Rules for including Men-at-arms in Dungeons &

Dragons 5E
Mercenary soldiers between jobs and young, untrained fighters often seek
employment with adventurers. It is high-risk work, for which they are well
compensated compared to their usual scales, but hiring them can prove very useful
for new groups of adventurers delving into dangerous places.

If the Dungeon Master has men-at-arms available for hire, they are hired on a per
expedition basis of 2 gold pieces per day.

Man-at-Arms; AC 16, hp 10, MV 20, longsword +3 (1d8+1). Str +1, all others +0.
Scale mail + shield.
Men-at-arms are not stupid, and will not perform needlessly dangerous acts. If
commanded to perform an action the DM considers dangerous, or if one or more of
the party are rendered unconscious or killed, they may refuse the order or flee. For a
simple loyalty system give them a rating of 7 plus the Charisma modifier of whoever
hired them. When loyalty must be checked, roll 2d6: if it is higher than their loyalty
rating, they have failed the check and will refuse the order or flee.