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Old 10-10-2018, 12:43 PM   #1
Oneiros's Avatar
Join Date: Aug 2004
Default Balanced Encounters - How To?

I'm going to be running a one-shot this weekend using the KS PDFs. It's going to be four 34 point characters, with a short list of talents for players to choose.

Though I already have my NPCs/opponents picked out, I was just wondering how everyone goes about balancing encounters, i.e., how do you determine an encounter is likely to be easy, average or hard for a given group of X characters of X attribute points?

I know TFT has a lot of variability (aka "swinginess") in any given combat, and putting a scenario together is almost more art than science. I'm just wondering what everyone's general approach is. The ITL book doesn’t give a lot of guidance.

For the record, my adventure is a tower with four levels, each a mega-mega-hex in width. It's mostly submerged in a lake, with the roof sticking above water, but overall airtight, so interior floors are (mostly) dry.

Encounters include an octopus warrior guarding the roof, three "ghouls" who are actually prisoners succumbing to a curse (so it might not involve combat), and a final encounter with a 36 point wizard and two 15 ST water elementals (in a room with about a foot of water in it.) There's also a trap and a puzzle for the characters to deal with (i.e., I'm using a 5-Room Dungeon idea adapted from the web.)

Last edited by Oneiros; 10-10-2018 at 04:38 PM.
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Old 10-10-2018, 03:50 PM   #2
Join Date: May 2015
Default Re: Balanced Encounters - How To?

Not just the possibly swingy results of attacks, but also the tactical and logical cause & effect nature of TFT make it quite difficult (and I would add, undesirable) to try to "balance encounters" in the way some other games do.

What happens will depend on how events unfold, which has a lot to do with who becomes aware of whom first, and what they do about it.

To take your example:
If the players see the octopus first and engage it before it can do anything smart, they might get hurt but they'll probably be able to kill it.

If the octopus sees the players first, and it's smart enough not to just wade into combat with four humans at once, then it can do smart things such as go let the wizard know, and/or make use of tower defenses to get the PCs is a deadly situation.

Similarly for players, the way I "balance" the game is to set up the world rationally with everything from lots of 28-32 point normal people, to more exceptional people and also the people and organizations on top of the power scale. Then I give the players ample opportunities to learn and observe what their PCs can find out, as well as clues about what's probably really dangerous or not. And I roleplay the NPCs doing that sort of thing too, so:

* All characters get some appropriate chance to realize when they are outmatched by others in and out of combat, and players get clues from the GM when their PC realizes some opponent or situation looks deadly.

* All characters get appropriate chances to notice things as early as they might. A party of 4 has an advantage hearing another party of 12 first, etc.

* Especially with new learning players, I like to have perceptive NPC allies along, so they can point out if the players are contemplating doing something liable to get them killed.

* If NPCs aren't maniacal fanatics, I tend to have them run for their lives rather than fight to the death in losing battles (or even, before losing battles begin). This gives them a chance to raise alarms, live to fight another day, or at least beg for mercy and be human, and hints to new players that they might need to learn not to fight everything, too.

In roleplaying NPCs though, I think it terms of how they expect things to turn out.

As for assessing what the actual chances are of death or victory in any situation, I consider how it's liable to play out, drawing from my experience of having played out many many combats. For new TFT GMs, I would advise playing out a bunch of arena battles and running the Death Tests to gain experience with the combat system.

Some principles include:

* 1 or two more points in ST or DX or equipment quality gives a fighter an edge over another fighter. 4 more gives an often-decisive advantage... in a one-on-one fight.

* Strength lies in numbers, up to a point. Two weaker fighters can often defeat a stronger opponent if they can attack him at the same time... but specifics matter.

* Local superiority is what matters - numbers mainly matter when they can apply in the same place at the same time, and terrain can make that hard or impossible.

* TFT battles can be decisively won with little risk of injury if you can take out enemies before they get to attack you.

* Enough armor can make people near-impossible for some foes to hurt.

* Unlike other games, getting injured more than a token amount is something to worry about. Focusing on trying to win fights with as little risk of getting injured as possible is where to aim if you want to be successful. "I can suffer more wounds than my enemy and still be alive" should be the last-resort strategy.

* Some thrown spells can take out nearly anyone if the spell can be cast despite the range penalty.

* It's vital to know when to retreat and heal.

* In an adventure there's a whole game available about where people are moving, what they see and hear, and what they do with their time. A battle makes noise. Healing, resting, looting and searching take time. A party can be wiped out in a labyrinth if someone hears them fight a battle, goes for help and organizes a large group, and then the party goes down a path where they become cut off from a way to retreat, and the large group comes to investigate and corners the party.

Last edited by Skarg; 10-10-2018 at 03:55 PM.
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Old 10-10-2018, 08:01 PM   #3
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Join Date: Nov 2010
Location: Far northern California
Default Re: Balanced Encounters - How To?

One of the nicest things about TFT is that by simply comparing stats, you can get a feel for how "even" the combat is likely to be -- all other things being equal, two equally sized parties of equal stats should have an even chance of winning.

That said, the devil is in the details -- if one party is significantly better equipped than the other, the odds start to skew, and if one party has a lot more talents and spells than the other party, again the odds start to skew. The best way to handle it, if you really *must* "balance" your encounters that way, is to simply compare stats, and go based on "feel" and your own gaming experience on how the talents/equipment issues affect the likely outcome.

Having said THAT, remember that "balancing" things only works right up to the point where weapons are drawn -- after that, it depends on the luck of the die, how smart/experienced the players are, how smart YOU are tactically speaking, and so on.
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