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Old 07-21-2021, 09:43 AM   #1
Join Date: Aug 2004
Location: Ronkonkoma, NY
Default [HTBAGG:CE] Example evaluation

Sorry for the awful thread title.

I'm really enjoying How to Be a GURPS GM: Combat Encounters. It's the complete answer to the perennial question, "How do I balance fights?" Bravo!

I want to try out the combat-balance stuff, so I'm going to evaluate the "tax collectors" encounter in Caravan to Ein Arris to (a) see if I've understood the system and (b) see if it matches the common wisdom that the combat opponents in Caravan are too powerful.

The adventure is for three to six characters, so I'm going to assume that the four sample characters from the third-edition Basic Set are in use, properly converted to the fourth edition, of course. I recognize that these aren't all combat-oriented characters, but they do represent a good idea of any party of PCs who aren't all combat-oriented.

The encounter takes place on the canyon map, which has normal terrain in the middle, rocky terrain with -1 to Move and weapon skills on the sides, and steep terrain beyond that with -3 to Move and -2 to weapon skills. Beyond those are cliffs that are impassible in combat time. There is a gate across the normal terrain and a small building to one side.

The NPCs are two of Fighter I and two of Fighter II. An NPCs whose HP is reduced to half will flee; when two are out of the fight the rest will flee automatically.

First we evaluate the key areas. Here's what I get:
  • Headcount: Equal
  • Movement speed: Superiority to PCs (but see battlefield, below).
  • Skill with primary attacks: It's close. I'm calling it equal.
  • Damage with primary attacks: also close, but not quite so close. I'm giving superiority to the NPCs.
  • Best useful active defenses: I think the PCs have a slight edge here. Superiority to the PCs.
  • DR: The PCs have some armor; the NPCs have none. Superiority to the PCs.
  • HP: NPCs have slightly better HP, but they'll run away after losing half. Superiority to PCs.
  • Roll to resist being taken out: PCs are a little better. Superiority to PCs.

So far, the encounter will be considered an easy one for the PCs. Let's see if there are any special areas to consider.
  • No side has a huge edge in any key area.
  • Unconsidered combat advantages: Katrina might go Berserk, which would let her ignore shock and slowed movement due to injuries. She would get +4 to rolls to stay alive and conscious, but the PCs already have superiority in rolls to resist being taken out. Should I give them superiority here? I'll say yes.
  • Nobody has any special gear or extra attacks.
  • Battlefield (see below), no superiority.
  • We'll assume the players are inexperienced, since this is an introductory scenario. Superiority to NPCs.

Not counting battlefield superiority, the special areas are a wash.

Let's look at the battlefield. I'm assuming it's a clear day. The encounter has the NPCs on one side of the gate and the PCs on the other. Nobody is hiding; everybody knows it's tense. There's no ambush or surprise. Each side is equally adapted to the environment and can exploit it as much as the other. There are no factors that favor battlefield superiority to either side.

The scale is small. The narrow canyon means the PCs' superiority in movement might not make any difference. I'm going to remove their superiority there.

We'll check to see if there are any game-changers. No surprise, no uncounterable mobility, no off-screen support, no superhuman capabilities, no near-absolute advantages from the battlefield. There are no game-changers.

After all that, we're left with this final tally: PCs 5, NPCs 2. Clearly, the PCs will find this an easy fight.

Meanwhile, there are no factors that raise the stakes, which is quite suitable for what really amounts to a nuisance encounter.

What do you think? Have I got it right? It clearly disagrees with the common wisdom that the fighters in Caravan are too powerful. Do you still think that, if you did?
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Old 07-21-2021, 11:33 AM   #2
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Default Re: [HTBAGG:CE] Example evaluation

Originally Posted by Stormcrow View Post

What do you think? Have I got it right? It clearly disagrees with the common wisdom that the fighters in Caravan are too powerful. Do you still think that, if you did?
That seems fair. One situation to consider is that of totally inexperienced players who don't work together vs. an experienced GM who's out to kill the PCs and plays the enemy fighters as a tight unit. That's close to cheating to keep the fight more difficult. I do have to wonder how many people ran into that . . .

Because in the hands of my old gang who routinely played 5-10 scrimmages with Man to Man and later GURPS every Saturday afternoon for years, that would indeed be an easy fight for the PCs. Corwin would spearhead to buy time, and could stop a lot of attacks (in Fourth Edition terms, he'd have Dodge 7, Parry 10, Block 9, and DB 2, and would probably Parry at 12, Dodge with a retreat at 12, Block at 11, and mostly avoid harm, plus only take nicks if hit, given his DR 6 vs. 2d damage). Katrina would be using her bow until she couldn't. The other two would be running interference using All-Out Defense, retreat, and Acrobatic dodges, and if ignored, would pitch knives. The enemies have no ranged attacks, no shields, and mediocre Dodge scores.

In fact, I think we ran that once, and the result was bad guys taking half their HP from impaling ranged attacks to the vitals before melee ever came up.
Sean "Dr. Kromm" Punch <>
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Old 07-21-2021, 11:36 AM   #3
Join Date: Aug 2004
Location: Ronkonkoma, NY
Default Re: [HTBAGG:CE] Example evaluation

Originally Posted by Kromm View Post
The enemies have no ranged attacks
Oh, I missed that. I think my eyes were passing over Fighter III and thinking the bow was for Fighter II. That's another superiority for the PCs.

Thanks for the look! I'd be interested in what other forumites think as well.
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Old 07-21-2021, 02:22 PM   #4
Join Date: Aug 2004
Location: Ronkonkoma, NY
Default Re: [HTBAGG:CE] Example evaluation

So I've been considering the system in evaluating "The Vigil" from the same adventure, and it's much more interesting.

The setup: the PCs and Tsorvano are in a church, guarding their boss's daughter, who is at vigil upstairs. They are expecting trouble, and there is a demand at the door to be let in. Three fighters get in and attack. I'm not going to evaluate that: I think it's clear that a mere three fighters will work out to an easy challenge (but see below). But once that fight is done, enemies start trying to chop down the door. The PCs have several seconds to prepare for another attack, this time consisting of at least one more fighter than there are defenders, and those fighters might be up to 100-point fighters. We are given the option of using Fighters I, II, and III, so I'll do that for simplicity. The attackers fight to the death, and their mission is to kill Riana.

The "small church" is actually fairly spacious, but there is only one way in or out: the front door. All other entrances are blocked in one way or another. I'm going to assume that there's various pieces of furniture appropriate for a church here.

  • Headcount: NPCs have superiority.
  • Movement: The scale is too small for the PCs' better Move scores to matter. No one gets superiority.
  • Attacks: Ranged weapons are more or less not possible in the church: if you try to use one, an opponent can probably reach you before you can shoot. However, if the PCs prepare ranged attacks while they're waiting for the attackers to break in, they might tip this further in their favor. As it is, they've already got slightly better weapon skills, so the PCs have superiority.
  • Defense: Everyone's best active defense is Parry, so the loss of mobility in the small space doesn't have any effect. PCs have the better Parry scores, so the PCs have superiority.
  • Damage: Similar to before, but now everyone's probably using melee weapons. Still, it looks vaguely like the NPCs are slightly better, so NPC superiority.
  • DR: PCs, as previously.
  • HP: The NPCs fight to the death this time, and they have better hit points. (Damn you, Dai!) NPCs have superiority.
  • Resist going down: The PCs have better HT scores, and Katrina might go Berserk, so the PCs have superiority.

So far the PCs are still ahead, 4 to 3.

  • No side has as huge edge in any key area.
  • Unconsidered advantages: As previously, the only one worth considering is Katrina's Berserk. I'll give it to the PCs for the same reason.
  • Exclusive ranged: No one has exclusive ranged weapons, so no effect. If the PCs prepared ranged attacks in advance of the attackers entering, that's already counted above.
  • Special gear/extra attacks: No special gear or extra attacks are involved.
  • Battlefield: In general, the battlefield does not favor one side or the other. However, if the PCs take the time before the attack to arrange obstacles defensively, that is in their favor. If they secure the stairs to the upper floor, that gives them a height advantage and favors them. If the PCs have any battlefield favor, they'll get superiority.
  • Inexperienced players: As before, I'm assuming yes. NPCs have superiority.

So the special areas are even between the PCs and NPCs unless the PCs use the battlefield to their advantage and prepare for the attack either by arranging obstacles defensively or securing the stairs, which will then give PCs battlefield superiority. Clever players might think of other ways to improve their chances.

So the score is either PCs 4, NPCs 3 or PCs 5, NPCs 3. It still looks very much like a fight in the PCs favor.

Meanwhile, because the encounter takes place at night and indoors, there are likely to be Vision penalties for both sides, lowering the stakes. If the GM makes sure there are plenty of candles, lamps, etc. lighting up the place, the stakes can go back to normal, and there's even a chance of someone tipping something over and starting a fire. That would be a hazard neither side was adapted to, raising the stakes. But I can easily imagine the PCs demanding that most or all of the lights being put out to keep better watch.

For the climactic ending to this adventure, this is fairly easy, and it probably needs the stakes to be raised somehow.

There is one possible mitigating factor, though. If in the previous attack by three fighters the PCs are injured or otherwise have their superiorities reduced, the NPCs might better even out the fight.

Another possible mitigator is the potential PC working as a spy for Katsaya. If the PC decides to switch sides during the fight, the fight would probably change from easy to at least even, and possibly even hard.

I think the GM would be smart to take the suggestion of the adventure and create some more powerful 100-point fighters to replace Fighters I, II, and III, or at least give the generic attackers some armor and HT. If the generic fighters are too easily overwhelmed, the GM should probably cheat and bring in more — the attackers did, after all, manage to drive away the outside guard through superior numbers. If a PC is working for Katsaya and seems loyal to her, it's probably best to keep the lesser attackers.
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