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Old 12-02-2006, 12:00 PM   #1
Pragmatic
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Default Judging combat encounters

I'm trying to make the transition from D&D3.X to GURPS. I'm used to archetypical classes (though less so as the splatbooks keep coming out), graduated levels of ability (i.e., character levels), and the most important thing, being able to reasonably judge how much danger is involved in combat encounters.

With GURPS, I'm not so sure. How does one judge whether an encounter will give the party a reasonable chance of survival, while giving enough danger to make the victory oh so sweet?

Is it a measure of attack skills, defense skills, and levels of hit points? How does one know that, barring a series of critical failures, the party will win? D&D gives reasonable estimates as to when an encounter will use 25% of the party's resources (magic, hit points, and so on), and when an ecounter will be barely survivable. The difference between fighting some mooks and fighting the boss.

Some help for someone who can't stomach the cinematics and rigidness of D&D? (Which is a personal preference on my part, and in no way implies that the system is bad. It's just not for me.)
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Old 12-02-2006, 12:34 PM   #2
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Default Re: Judging combat encounters

Quote:
With GURPS, I'm not so sure. How does one judge whether an encounter will give the party a reasonable chance of survival, while giving enough danger to make the victory oh so sweet?
Mostly I use gut feeling. In cinematic campaigns I usually make most of the opposition deliberately weak, and play them stupidily. In a realistic campaign I rely on the PCs to avoid fighting except when necessary and to retreat when overmatched.

For the most part you don't need to sweat it as much as in D&D. PC death isn't really as much of an issue in GURPS since they are likely to be rendered hors d'combat before being killed. Total party capture is more likely than TPK, IME.
Quote:
The difference between fighting some mooks and fighting the boss.
You can use the Cannon Fodder rule and the buying successes rule. My modified version:
  • Basic Mooks:Use the cannon fodder rules as is.
  • Ninja Mooks: Defend normally (in fact use any and all combat options) but still go down after one hit.
  • Tough Mooks: Don't defend (Tough Ninja Mooks will defend normally). Goes down automatically if they take HP damage or more than 1/2 HP in a single hit.
  • Named opponents: All normal rules apply. Named characters have a small (1d) pool of extra character points to spend on successes.
  • Bosses: All normal rules apply. At 1/3 HP or less the boss gets a benificial coincidence that helps him escape combat (as per the Serendipity advantage). Bosses have a larger pool (2d+3) of extra character points to spend on successes.
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Old 12-02-2006, 12:45 PM   #3
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Default Re: Judging combat encounters

Quote:
Originally Posted by Pragmatic
Some help for someone who can't stomach the cinematics and rigidness of D&D? (Which is a personal preference on my part, and in no way implies that the system is bad. It's just not for me.)

Kromm had a fantastic post on this some time ago. I suggest searching the archives for it. I will do likewise until I have to go...

crap. That came faster than I thought.
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Old 12-02-2006, 01:01 PM   #4
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Default Re: Judging combat encounters

Quote:
Originally Posted by Pragmatic
Is it a measure of attack skills, defense skills, and levels of hit points? How does one know that, barring a series of critical failures, the party will win? D&D gives reasonable estimates as to when an encounter will use 25% of the party's resources (magic, hit points, and so on), and when an ecounter will be barely survivable. The difference between fighting some mooks and fighting the boss.
As Pudding mentioned, there are always the Mook rules. However, that's cinematic trappings. If you're trying to be more realistic, these may well not be appropriate. In GURPS (and there are those who understand the dynamics much better than I) skill is important, but I would argue not as important as defenses. A foe with a skill of 12-14 won't be risking much on his to-hit for Deceptive Attacks to lower the opponent's defense, but if his dodge (for instance) is 12 somehow, he'll take a while to bring down, barring bad luck.

HP are probably pretty important, but what strikes me as potentially a greater issue is the opponent's HT score. That's what determines if they can stay up after receiving X damage, and even if some little Dire Rat has 2 HP, if its HT is 16+, it's quite simply not likely to fall, even after big hunks of its flesh start to go MIA. If you want to give PCs a really rough and potentially unnerving battle, pit them against some monstrosity that has a lot of HP AND a good HT score. It'll take forever to land a decisive blow even assuming that they can penetrate its defenses.

Naturally, supernatural advantages (how's that for a mouthful?) skew the balance here. A creature that can heal itself or that absorbs certain attacks or has the ability to turn invisible and so forth will be exponentially more difficult to fight. An invisible foe, particularly a CLEVER invisible foe will be a severe threat to a party that can't see it, even if it can only do a token 1 point of damage per attack. You can't stop what you can't see, unless you're a cinematic warrior in which case you can as well as see it anyway.

Another very important thing to consider is that GURPS does not generally favor the underwhelming odds. If you have a group of adventurers fighting a group of roughly even threat enemies, the fight will be a toss up. Whichever side outsmarts the other will most likely win. If you have a group of adventurers fight a single powerful enemy, the single enemy isn't particularly likely to win, unless he is SIGNIFICANTLY more powerful, or has supernatural advantages that allow him to deal with attacks from all sides and groups of opponents all at once. If a group of adventurers faces a horde of monsters, the little ankle-biters will likely come out victorious through sheer numbers. Not without heavy losses, but the simple fact is that without advantages and/or cinematic skills (spells fall into this category) to counter attacks from all sides, the enemies will overwhelm the heros' defenses by slipping in behind, getting lucky hits, grappling the PCs en masse (one little goblin grappling a berserker may not do much. Twenty of them dogpiling the brute probably will, though), and so forth.

The final (not really, but it's the last I'll mention) thing in GURPS to consider is that while HP tends to be low, and damage tends to be fairly high in comparison to it, HT plays an INCREDIBLE role in prolonging battles, by keeping fighters alive and awake even after they're badly beaten and bruised. If you play combat as an endurance match, you'll be fighting a long time, mostly, and it turns into luck of the draw to see who fails their HT roll first. GURPS reminds the savvy GM of this, and I absolutely support it, it's important to remember that most creatures, humans included, will flee if a fight isn't going their way, regardless of the other danger. Those who fight and run away live to fight another day. That isn't cowardice, it's SMART. PCs would be well-advised to remember that victory doesn't mean death to the enemy automatically. It helps that in GURPS, CP isn't rewarded based on monsters slain or enemies downed. Those two things combined will go a long way to keeping fights shorter in length and less stained in blood.

As I said before, there are others on the forum that have a better grasp on this than I do. Consider this a stand-in til more knowledgable members can weigh in on the issue.
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Old 12-02-2006, 01:11 PM   #5
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Default Re: Judging combat encounters

Pragmatic: You might want to look up this thread. They are not discussing exactly what you asked, but several posters (look up posts #2 by RPK and #10 by Kromm, for example) give some ideas that could help you.

Other than that, combat proficiency in GURPS is quite hard to quantify. I suggest you use the guidelines on skill levels in the Basic Set (so at least you can tell the difference between someone who is just "quite good" and someone who is a real master), and remember that several key advantages, such as Combat Reflexes and High Pain Treshold will make a big, big difference in combat.

I don't have enough experience with the combat rules, so I can't tell you much more. I suggest you take the PC sheets and run the important combats before the gaming session a couple of times, to see if the PCs can cope with it or not.

Good luck in your transition to GURPS,

M.
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Last edited by Mercator; 12-02-2006 at 02:30 PM.
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Old 12-02-2006, 01:55 PM   #6
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Default Re: Judging combat encounters

Quote:
Originally Posted by Pragmatic
With GURPS, I'm not so sure. How does one judge whether an encounter will give the party a reasonable chance of survival, while giving enough danger to make the victory oh so sweet? Is it a measure of attack skills, defense skills, and levels of hit points?
Yes ;-)

IME:

Damage dealing potential combined with skill (and thus defence) is primary. Hit points become secondary, as ability to avoid hits all together increases.

But damage dealt is really important.

Quote:
How does one know that, barring a series of critical failures, the party will win?
IME: It does not take too many levels of skill over the opponent to make a 1-1 fight a somewhat sure thing. A few more levels of excess, and the prudent group can deal with a small horde.

Ex. I have just witnessed two PC with skills in the 17-20 range and damage potential of 2d+2 imp and 3d cut, fighting in two-weapon mode, absolutely make mince meat of 7 skill 18 dmg 2d+1 cut two-hander opponents (DR and HP comparable).

But in this case, even 1 crit could have made quite a difference ...

Best advice: Test it slow, on the group in question, and get a feel for what they can handle - then tighten the screw, if needed/desired :-)
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Old 12-02-2006, 02:35 PM   #7
Kromm
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Default Re: Judging combat encounters

Some related threads:
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Old 12-02-2006, 04:07 PM   #8
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Default Re: Judging combat encounters

Unless I'm playing in a cinematic game I expect a high mortality rate for people who get into fights (plus all those one-eye, one-hand etc. disadvantages come from somewhere). The key difference IMHO is in changing the definition of success from "We fought it, killed it and took it's stuff" to "We figured out how to threaten, bribe, sneak, coerce, convince or cajole what we wanted without having to draw blood"
Whacking things with pointy bits of metal is very exciting precisely because of the perception of danger involved. If you expect to be able to wade into combat thrice weekly and still live a long life you are either supremely skilled, insane, or playing a cinematic campaign.
The fine line between heroic and moronic is crossed when ones first (or second) reaction to any situation is to pull out the nearest weapon.
Of course, for cinematic play, have fun with a Bash-O-Matic 9000 in each hand. Just don't expect to get the same pre-fight tension or 'Thank God I survived!' emotional reaction from that style of play.
Just my $0.02
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Old 12-02-2006, 04:34 PM   #9
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Default Re: Judging combat encounters

Quote:
Originally Posted by benz72

Of course, for cinematic play, have fun with a Bash-O-Matic 9000 in each hand. Just don't expect to get the same pre-fight tension or 'Thank God I survived!' emotional reaction from that style of play.
Oh, you can have both. I have several Bash-O-Matic 9000 PCs in my current campaign, but there are still plenty of "Thank God I survived!" moments.
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Old 12-06-2006, 06:27 PM   #10
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Default Re: Judging combat encounters

Quote:
Originally Posted by Kromm
Oh, you can have both. I have several Bash-O-Matic 9000 PCs in my current campaign, but there are still plenty of "Thank God I survived!" moments.
I most humbly defer to one who can make simple what I deem'd impossible. Please accept these overly profuse and insufficiently amusing apologies for my ignorance and inablility.

P.S. How do you manage it? Whenever I've upped the violence it either got deadly for PCs (and became a much shorter term campaign than I had intended) or they started in with the "Yawn... another knight with a blank shield... you want this one Joe?" or I resort to one-upsmanship and keep piling on bad guys that don't really have a place except as 'instant adventure hardener, just add mooks'.
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