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Opponent Engagement Mechanic?


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#1 Jagged

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Posted 10 September 2017 - 04:51 PM

I am involved in a some preliminary world building at the moment and I am thinking about some super hero tropes I want to encourage and meta-gaming to discourage. Compare these two:

  1. Back in the day when we used to play City of Heroes, it was usual for the party to concentrate their attacks on one enemy at a time. This makes good sense since there is no penalty for ignoring members of the opposition and is the quickest way to reduce incoming damage.
  2. But jump to the comics for some team vs team fights and what you usually see is opponents pairing off. This seems realistic as a letting a dangerous enemy run round the battlefield unengaged would leave you vulnerable.

So I want to discourage 1 and encourage 2, what should I do?

 

Champions seems to have two possible mechanics that could be applied, Coordinated attacks and Multiple attack bonuses. These seem to do some of what I want but while they deal with bonuses for outnumbering an opponent they don't deal with the "engagement" idea. I would like there to me some kind of "strategic tussle" at the start of a combat as the two sides pair off. Penalties for attacking someone other than the person you have currently engaged. Maybe a way that two coordinating team mates could swap opponents? Perhaps combat skill levels could be used to increase the number of opponents you can cover?

 

Other comic book tropes this could hinder would be the big boss villain taking on a team and the nimble dexterous hero jumping around a group of minions. Is there a way this could be framed to allow all?

 

Any suggestions or obvious problems?



#2 mrinku

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Posted 10 September 2017 - 06:22 PM

It largely depends on the purpose of the fight (and all fights should have a purpose). Mooks exist to slow the heroes down and tire them out a bit so that the Villains proper can get away, achieve the objective or engage them at an advantage. Occasionally you see them used to pin the heroes in place to give the villain time to arrive, though that's not common. Mooks will normally outnumber the heroes, so the GM has control over how they line up against them. It may make more dramatic sense for them to crowd the Brick to give the more vulnerable members a break and to allow the Brick to show off some shockwave or multiple attack tricks. Or you might just split them up evenly. How the players choose to engage Mooks is their call, though since there's normally no point in teaming up on a single Mook the natural flow is everyone picks a different target until they're dealt with.

 

Mega villains obviously are engaging teams on their own and don't normally fall under this situation. They're meant to be a challenge for a whole team and can usually shrug off unco-ordinated attacks while smashing each hero one by one.

 

So it basically comes down to similar team vs similar team. Without rules changes, as GM you can try to physically separate pairs. If one hero and one villain have flight, for example, set things up so that the flying hero is the only one who can easily deal with the "death from above" the villain is raining down. If a hero has desolid, line them up with a villain who has desolid using the same special effect. Complementary vulnerabilities often give natural pairings, especially if the teams know each other "Robotgoon! Quick, Electrofish - he's weak to electricity... take him out!" And Rivalries, Hunteds, Psychs and Enrageds will often cause characters to pair up.

 

Making it so that all the villains NEED to be engaged is probably your best approach. There may be civilians to protect or loot to be recovered before they escape with it.

 

As far as a rule to discourage disengagement, maybe require a half phase action to do so safely (full DCV) and impose a DCV penalty of some kind for not doing so (maybe -2 DCV). Although this shouldn't apply when power use can clearly avoid it, like switching on desolid, making an Acrobatics roll to flip over the opponent, or turning invisible. Characters that expect to get hit but shrug it off won't much care, and speedsters will often have a free phase where a DCV penalty won't matter. I'd allow a small amount of movement from a disengage action - enough to get them clear, probably 2m or so (1" in the old measure). 


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#3 IndianaJoe3

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Posted 11 September 2017 - 05:45 AM

I've thought about this, but I don't think that engagement/disengagement is the way to go about it. I'd allow a character (PC or NPC) to make a Tactics or Perception roll to realize that they aren't being targeted, and can adjust their tactics accordingly.



#4 DasBroot

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Posted 11 September 2017 - 07:46 AM

It's something I've given thought to as my own table tends to take the MMO approach (because it works) - the enemies spread out to engage them, comic style, but the player focus fire.

 

So far what I've done to various levels of success (overlapping with mrinku):

 

1) Designed enemies that can't be engaged by the entire team due to logistics - such as high speed fliers making strafe attacks that only the ranged character can engage.

 

2) Recovery actions.  NOTHING draws player aggro like unchecked recovery actions. Only effective if there's something they have to recover.

 

3) Cross defending - you have to deal with the henchmen because they're Blocking for or Diving for Cover to take the damage for their boss or each other.

 

4) Interrupt-able huge attacks.  If three foes start punching out higher damage attacks with Extra time on them the team will split to deal with this - or get nailed to the wall until they learn to not let your opponent finish charging their Spirit Bomb. Especially potent when combined with number 2.

 

5) Split the team.  There are lots of powers which can affect the shape of a battlefield - if someone ends up alone in a dome shaped Barrier with a foe they'll engage it.  Limited success rate on this, though, as if it annoys a player often enough they'll build around it (a four meter teleport with double armor piercing, etc).


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#5 IndianaJoe3

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Posted 11 September 2017 - 08:25 AM

4) Interrupt-able huge attacks.  If three foes start punching out higher damage attacks with Extra time on them the team will split to deal with this - or get nailed to the wall until they learn to not let your opponent finish charging their Spirit Bomb. Especially potent when combined with number 2.

 

A haymaker works well for this.


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#6 Cantriped

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Posted 11 September 2017 - 12:39 PM

Players will almost always make the most efficient combat decisions they can. The advantage to focus fire is that it more quickly reduces incoming damage by reducing the number of combatants left on the battlefield in following Phases/Turns. In order to discourage Tactic #1, you have to engineer situations where it is no longer viable.  So in order to render the tactic ineffective or impossible: you have to create a situation where Focus Fire instead increases the incoming damage, negates its ability to reduce the number of combatants on the battlefield, or makes the opportunity cost higher in some other way.

 

Of course, if it is fair for PCs to do it, than it is fair for NPCs too. If PCs leave themselves open to Focus Fire, use the tactic against them.

 

For example:

 

What if there were a group of metahumans (like a small tribe or family unit) who all have small amounts of Usable By Other defenses which they can apply to others instantly via Triggers. In this situation Focus Fire becomes ineffective because the NPCs can similarly Focus all their Defences on whichever of them is being targeted. The values should be such that if all of the NPCs Focus Def on one of themselves, they are effectively immune to the PC's attacks. However, if the PCs spread out an attack each member individually, their own defenses (sans Focus Def) aren't enough to protect them.

 

What if you simply develop a single NPC specialized in combat against multiple opponents.  All of their defensive characteristics increase proportionally to the number of Attackers they face. Such as a character with Regeneration and Absorption As Defense to DCV and/or DMCV (as appropriate). Likewise, a character with bonuses to various CVs dependent upon facing multiple Attackers would also be effective at discouraging Focus Fire

 

What if the Villains/Agents the characters ignored are able to escape (and target their DNPCs next). Or worse, what if they take and threaten hostages immediately; thereby forcing characters with certain levels of Code Vs. Killing to make Ego Rolls to resist the compulsion to engage the hostage taker instead.

 

What if the first combatant on the scene is a Brick so tough the party can't hurt him, but can't really hurt them either beyond harrying (for whatever reason), and only after the heroes begin to Focus Fire on the Brick do the come out of the Woodwork to finish the PCs off, or accomplish their objective. For example, Brainchild could persuade Ogre to start a street brawl with the heroes to buy him time to perform some villainous act or another.

 

​Regarding Optional Rules: ​ I can think of two optional rules which discourage Tactic #1 as consequences of their function. The first is Wounding (CC 160), and the second are the Damage To Subject and Injury (HSS 34 & 35) rules (which are the same as the Significant Injury rules from Fantasy Hero ​5th Edition). Both optional rules in some way undermine the core principle that allows Tactic #1 to be so effective: The fact that it doesn't matter how much damage the defender has taken unless it results in their immediate incapacitation. Aside from the chance of being Stunned, there is no penalty assigned for having taken damage. In other words, by default, the first strike doesn't matter, only the last (which isn't very realistic).

 

The first, Wounding introduces a chance that taking damage will prevent the attacker from performing offensive actions (in addition to the chance of being Stunned); which means the more the attacker's spread out their attacks, the more defenders they can potentially Wound or Stun that phase (thereby reducing incoming damage without having to be able to reduce the number of remaining defenders).

The second, Injury, introduces a "death spiral" effect wherein the defenders are less able to retaliate as they become more and more wounded. Which again, means that spreading out the attacks allows them to potentially Injure more defenders (thereby reducing incoming damage without having to be able to reduce the number of remaining defenders).

 

Other Notes: In order to further ensure that Tactic #1 is discouraged, you mustn't let the PCs know when Tactic #1 is working. Don't report exactly how much damage is being taken beyond what is obviously visible. Otherwise once they realize a target isn't taking enough damage to drop them, the player will switch to a "softer" looking target even if there is no good reason for their character to want to do so.

I don't really consider the amount of damage taken by a attack to be obvious to the attacker unless it causes actual destruction (such as breaking an enemy's bones or putting a hole in a wall), so I describe my enemies status in vague terms so that the players cannot make decisions based on information their characters should not have.



#7 zslane

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Posted 11 September 2017 - 01:52 PM

It also helps if the heroes have connections to the villains such that each hero has a character-based reason to go after a particular villain. This can't always be arranged, and not usually for every PC in every combat, but it is usually possible to sprinkle them around so at least a few of the PCs have a nemesis they are compelled to go after, regardless whether or not it is tactically optimal to do so.

 

Also, some power sets make it hard to ignore the villain simply because they are so effective. You may want to concentrate your firepower on the leader (or whatever), but if their mentalist is locking down your best attacker with a Mental Illusion, well you can't just ignore that.

 

I guess my experience has been that good GMs find ways to construct their scenarios so that the heroes find it unwise to gang up on just one or two villains at a time. It's not something you build a new mechanic for, it is something that happens naturally as a consequence of properly building the campaign world and the PCs' connections to it (and its villains), along with how cleverly you play the villains (and their tactics). Remember, the villains don't have to just sit around reacting to what the heroes do; they can, and often do, dictate the flow of the battle by taking the initiative (in a chess sense) and doing things the heroes are forced to react to.



#8 Christopher R Taylor

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Posted 11 September 2017 - 02:05 PM

  1. Back in the day when we used to play City of Heroes, it was usual for the party to concentrate their attacks on one enemy at a time. This makes good sense since there is no penalty for ignoring members of the opposition and is the quickest way to reduce incoming damage.
  2. But jump to the comics for some team vs team fights and what you usually see is opponents pairing off. This seems realistic as a letting a dangerous enemy run round the battlefield unengaged would leave you vulnerable.

So I want to discourage 1 and encourage 2, what should I do?

 

 

 

Nothing special.  If characters gang up on one guy and ignore everyone else, they get picked off by the rest of the team.  You cannot fight all offense in a Champions game, or you get slammed.  The reason that kind of tactic works in a computer game is that computer AI is stupid and designed to work with that strategy.  When you as a GM are running bad guys, they aren't being taunted and forced to fight one guy, they will take advantage of openings and being ignored.


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#9 Doc Democracy

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Posted 11 September 2017 - 02:43 PM

The most effective I have been in a Champions game was when the GM had sought to isolate me from the rest of the team and failed.  His carefully constructed pairings were then disrupted as I used small powers to provide each of my team-mates with a slight advantage that tipped the balance in each and every case, like the flash that blinded the brick's opponent providing him with the opportunity to haymaker and stun his opponent.

 

That fight ended quickly.  An opponent left unengaged can be used to tip the balance in subtle ways, players will soon learn that truth.

 

Doc


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#10 Cantriped

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Posted 11 September 2017 - 03:09 PM

 

Nothing special.  If characters gang up on one guy and ignore everyone else, they get picked off by the rest of the team.  You cannot fight all offense in a Champions game, or you get slammed.  The reason that kind of tactic works in a computer game is that computer AI is stupid and designed to work with that strategy.  When you as a GM are running bad guys, they aren't being taunted and forced to fight one guy, they will take advantage of openings and being ignored.

 

Its not just a video-game mechanic, and its validity has nothing to do with Bad AI design. 

This tactic is perfectly valid in Tabletop and Computerized RPGs alike, and works just as well against groups of PCs as it does against groups of NPCs. The effectiveness of the tactic is due to the fact that in most games with abstract damage systems, there is no penalty for being injured, only incapacitated. The Stunning rules mildly discourage Tactic #1, but obviously not enough. Conversely the Coordinating Attacks and the Multiple Attackers bonus strongly encourage Tactic #1 if you can invest in Teamwork.

You can find literally dozens of threads on the Paizo forums which support, with exhaustive math I'm unwilling to reproduce, the general superiority of the Focus Fire tactic.

 

In the end it is almost always better for your team to Focus Fire and Incapacitate one enemy than it is for them to Spread Fire and injure two or more enemies, but leave them able to retaliate. The obvious exceptions are regarding Control powers and Stunning. If your team can Spread Control and Incapacitate or Stun two or more enemies at once, than it becomes a more efficient way to reduce the enemy encounter's Economy Of Action.

 

Of course, a properly built party can have their cake and eat it too. One Multi-Target Control character paired with two or more Single-Target Damage characters allow the party to use both Focus Fire to reduce remaining combatants, and Spread-Control to reduce the effectiveness of the remaining Combatants (effectively shaving away at their Economy Of Action from both sides



#11 mrinku

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Posted 11 September 2017 - 03:28 PM

Splitting everyone up (often into pairs) is the classic Justice League method, by the way :)



#12 Cantriped

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Posted 11 September 2017 - 03:35 PM

"Don't you know, you never split the party!"

 

There is also the classic anime cliche "I will be your opponent" scene where everyone pairs up against the enemy they are (usually worst) suited to fighting. Of course, that scene requires the appropriate combination of Complications (usually Hunted/Hunting), or a McGuffin that cannot be left alone long enough to engage in Focus Fire.



#13 Christopher R Taylor

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Posted 11 September 2017 - 04:19 PM

Well individual games will vary but I've never played a single real life actual RPG in any game system where the party just ignored everything else and piled on one target at a time until it fell down.  It just doesn't work because while you aren't dealing with the other guys, the GM is using them to mess up your strategy and take out people.  I mean, if he's any good at it.  Like Doc says, doing little stuff to help out from the sides can make a huge difference.  That pushes the party to split up.

 

And its been my experience that, unless the mechanics or the specific battle requires you to, people will tend to split up anyway.  They want their duel, their stand up fight against a bad guy, or against the most tactically valuable person at the time.


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#14 zslane

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Posted 11 September 2017 - 05:39 PM

There's more to Champions attacks than just conventional damage-delivering powers. Mental Illusions, Mind Control, Entangle, Teleportation/Desolid Usable On Others, Flash, Drain, and many others. The villains need to be designed so that they can't just be ignored on the battlefield. If there is no meaningful drawback to being attacked in your game, it isn't necessarily a flaw of the game system, but a flaw of villain design and lack of tactical creativity.


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#15 DasBroot

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Posted 12 September 2017 - 09:02 AM

Indeed.  Even if they can't hurt a hero (a mook with a 4d6 energy blaster in a game with 25-35 defenses) they can potentially foul them up with Knockback if nothing else and knock a hero down ... which makes a follow up Move Through / Charge from Da Boss much more effective.

 

However, if you really want to make players mad with low point enemies in a big fight ... it's Leg Sweep.  As far as I've ever been able to tell nothing negates 'target falls' (I hope I'm missing something, to be honest - is it the same as trip? roll acrobatics with a -1 penalty for each point the attack succeeded by?).

 

A lucky hit from an OCV 4 mook can turn a DCV 8 hero into a DCV 4 punching bag for the boss.


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#16 Cantriped

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Posted 12 September 2017 - 09:52 AM

Position Shift (a 5 CP Adder to Flight or Teleportation) (CC 112) allows a character to stand up (or otherwise regain their footing) as a Zero-Phase Action instead of a Half-Phase. A character can also attempt a Breakfall Roll (at no penalty) to stand up as a Zero-Phase Action. However, there is no way I know of to directly negate the 'target falls' Effect caused by Leg Sweep.

 

If they had named the maneuver Martial Trip, than by RAW (CC 154) it would automatically function as an improved version of Trip (and therefore allow the Acrobatics roll to resist), but since they did not, Leg Sweep doesn't inherit anything from Trip (it functions exactly and only as written). However, it isn't unreasonable to house-rule that Leg Sweep allows an Acrobatics Roll to resist just like Trip.



#17 Crusher Bob

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Posted 12 September 2017 - 11:16 PM

The problem with that, of course, is now 'everyone' needs acrobatics. Alas, there are too many ways potentially available to make focus firing someone very attractive: flash, legsweep, an entangle that takes no damage, large PRE attacks, etc Once you get someone to 1/2 or even 0 DCV, the incentive is very strong to have everyone pile in and finish that person. Attacks against them will be close to twice as effective (assuming you hit a normal DCV target around 1/2 the time).

For example, if you want your mooks to win things for the bad guy, give them (2d6 entangle (one body (-1/2), 0 DEF (-3/2), AOE: 4m radius, accurate (+1/2)) (30 active, 10 real points)). The mook holds fire until just before the boss goes, reduces a hero to 0 DCV, and the boss hits the hero for (big damage) -1.

[edit]
A 1d6 entangle is even cheaper, but has 1/6 change of producing no body on the roll result, 2d6 is safer, failing only on 1/36.

#18 DasBroot

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Posted 13 September 2017 - 07:27 AM

Steve has ruled that the 'Target falls' element uses the 'Throw' rules and quotes a source I don't recognize (HSMA? Hero System Martial Artist?)

 

http://www.herogames...-clarification/

 

So Aunt May can no longer Leg Sweep the Hulk... let alone Giant Man (or Galactus).


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#19 DasBroot

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Posted 13 September 2017 - 07:34 AM


[edit]
A 1d6 entangle is even cheaper, but has 1/6 change of producing no body on the roll result, 2d6 is safer, failing only on 1/36.

 

Choosing 'standard effect' on the 1d6 entangle will always give you 1 body at the cost of never getting 2.  I always choose 'standard effect' when buying Flashes, Entangles, and even positive adjustment powers whenever possible.


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#20 Christopher R Taylor

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Posted 13 September 2017 - 08:30 AM

The problem with that, of course, is now 'everyone' needs acrobatics.

 

 

Nah, just DCV, or to recognize that martial artists are unusually gifted in hand to hand combat and you'll have to be ready for that.


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