Combat and NPC Advantages/Disadvantages

  • 4 Replies
Combat and NPC Advantages/Disadvantages
« on: August 14, 2012, 08:40:14 PM »
This is kind of building on a couple of other recent threads. I'm completely supportive that MH doesn't dwell too long on combat. The longer a rulebook goes on about combat, the more players think that that's all the game's about.

However, I am struggling a bit with making combat, specifically PC v multiple NPC combats exciting. I get that you can dispose of the combat with a single dice roll, but normally if it promises to be a good one players generally like to have a bit of back-and-forth and the roll dice a few times.

When it's a PC against a single NPC this is pretty straightforward, but when there are multiple opponents is there a way to do it mechanically which isn't either a) a single roll for the entire encounter or b) a series of one-on-one fights?

Here's what I'm thinking of:

A PC is faced with a bunch of vamps

As MC, I feel we should be in the region of NPC Advantage/Disadvantage here. To bring that into play, however, I need to either exploit one of the PC's conditions or spend a String.

So as MC I tell the PC that she's clearly outnumbered and so needs to Hold Steady.

If she fails - it's too early to inflict harm - so I give the vamps a string and have them spend it immediately to give the PC the condition Outnumbered.

Now, we get into the fight itself. The vamps acting at an Advantage of the PC's condition (as long as it lasts), however this doesn't make any different to the PCs Lash Out Physically rolls.

The combat would then proceed mechanically just as if the PC was fighting a single
opponent. The NPC Advantage isn't providing any mechanical difference.

Any advice on how I should be incorporating NPC Advantage in combats?

Re: Combat and NPC Advantages/Disadvantages
« Reply #1 on: August 16, 2012, 05:09:48 PM »
Personally, my advice is: Don't.

Save NPC Advantage for social situations, where it can stretch its legs and make it clear what the game is about. Advantage/Disadvantage just steps on the toes of Soft Hits and Hard Moves in combat. I'll talk about this more lower down.

In the case of your example, here's the thing, as far as I feel:

Outnumber isn't sexy enough to be a condition. It doesn't mechanically strengthen the vampire gang in a way to be immediately relevant.

As soon as they get the String from the failed Hold Steady? Immediately spend it to come out of nowhere with a Hard Move. The PC is outnumbered? Make your Hard Move prove it in the fiction.

"Okay, so there's a bunch of 'em, and you're spooked -- your failed Hold Steady proves it -- maybe you try and bolt, but c'mon there's loads of 'em, you bolt right into one standing in your blind spot. He gets you by one arm and another grabs the other and now you're pinned against the dumpster. The one in charge -- the one with the stupid haircut out of the '50s -- he's moving in now. What do you do?" (put them in a spot)

So, let's break it down further. What does the PC do? Well, let's say they attack -- call them out on that. Okay, how? Your arms are pinned and you're against a dumpster. Okay, you're flailing your legs? Trying to hit 'em in the shins? Now, make the call: Is screaming and flailing actually Lashing Out? Let's say you judge, yes, that's totally Lashing Out. How many can the PC hit?

This is really, as far as I can tell, the meat of the question. How do you make a gang fight not a one-off or a series of one-offs. You do it by the letting the characters work over more than one baddie at a time (I personally would limit how many times I let a PC rip into groups... they're just kids, after all). Let the PC hit a couple of 'em if she succeeds. Boom Boom, problem solved, she's kicking her captors in the shins and that really smarts even if you're a blood-sucker and now it isn't one-on-one cause it just became one-on-two-or-three. If you want to keep it one on Many, challenge the PC to be smart about how she is fighting.

Now, let's talk Advantage/Disadvantage like I said I would. You give the PC the Condition "Outnumbered" (not one I would do myself, only because I've explained to the players at my table that they should think of most conditions as the psychological or social ramifications of self-labelling). Okay, NPCs act at Advantage when using a PC's Conditions. What can they do: gain new followers, be better protected, perfectly follow up.

Here's my issue with Advantage/Disadvantage in combat. Those all sound like Hard Moves. They sound like Hard Moves that you can make just by describing them, not by earning them on PC's Misses. So, how to use "Outnumbered" as an Advantage in combat...

Boom, she fails a Hold Steady Roll, you spend the String, Outnumbered. You describe (because she just failed, so you're talking) the Vampires swarming around her like some sort of crappy broadway dance number, and then they're on her and fangs are breaking skin. Or whatever. Because they're perfectly following up which is one of the things you can do with Advantage.

So, as long as that Condition exists, you just keep having them perfectly follow up. It can make group fights really deadly, which makes sense in a way. I don't like that though, cause again I don't like the way Advantages translate to combat.

So, I guess what I'm really saying is that a fight of one versus many can be made to feel like one versus many by playing to the fiction. If the PC leaves themselves open to retaliation from the many, then hit them with the harm from the many. If they have a way of thrashing on more than one at a time, let them have it. If they have the condition Outnumbered and they successfully lead the many into a warehouse and fights them one by one, lose the condition Outnumbered.

Just my musings on the idea. I've had plenty of one-versus-many fights, and its about remembering your angles, at least when I'm running them. A Soft Hit is a great opportunity to remind them you can't half-ass it when you're surrounded, you'll get beaten down also. PCs need to control the situation when outnumbered, and so they have to watch the stakes they're fighting for and control the battlefield.

Re: Combat and NPC Advantages/Disadvantages
« Reply #2 on: August 24, 2012, 04:14:53 AM »

Be wary of thinking in terms of "combats." The game doesn't support fight scenes.

In the case of the vampires cornering the PC, your opening is great. They gain a String and spend it to make the PC "outnumbered" - though I might have instead given them "an easy target" or something else that's more generally applicable outside this fight.

Now, there is a gang of vampires cornering the PC. Does it seem likely that they would just rip the PC to shreds? If so, you might choose to say what honesty demands and tell them the possible consequences and ask: "If you stay and try to fight these guys, they'll likely swarm you and rip you wide open. What do you do?"

If the player has their PC stay and ready themselves for a rumble, look at your principles. Make monsters seem human sticks out to me, as well as Give your NPCs simple motivations that divide the PCs. Why are the vampires cornering this person? Do they really want a fight, or are they working on some ulterior motives? Maybe they issue some threats and try to goad a promise out of the PC.

If it really does come down to a fight, this will get ugly for the PC. They kill a vampire, a vampire does 2 harm to them. "So, [PC], another hit like that and you're probably taken out of the fight. Plus, you're at serious risk of getting bitten here. What's your game plan?"

Maybe the PC tries to use a show of force to drive the whole gang away (that's one of the 10 up results for "lash out physically," yeah?). Maybe the PC tries to fend them off, long enough for backup to rush in and save them (that's "hold steady," maybe?). Maybe the PC tries to kill the leader and then book it ("lash out physically" followed by "run away"). Maybe the PC tries to kill one of the weaker ones, and displays such muscled beauty in doing so as to captivate the others, their jaws dropping as the PC twirls lithely about ("turn someone on").

Try not to think in terms of "combats," but rather think in terms of physical violence adding an extra degree of urgency and stress to a social-emotional situation.

Re: Combat and NPC Advantages/Disadvantages
« Reply #3 on: August 26, 2012, 10:10:50 PM »
Thanks, Alfred and Joe. I suspect this was something of a vestigial, lizard-brain reaction when the gloves come off, chairs get broken and the celebrity actors are suddenly replaced by their stunt doubles. Suddenly, we're in a strange parallel world called 'combat' where people act in strictly ordered turns to kick each other in the shins.

I guess what I'm coming to terms with is the sheer extent of narrative control that the MC has. From my experience with other games, combat is where players tend to get the most sensitive about 'playing fair'. You can quite happily tell them that, unknown to them, their social faux-pas have caused a major diplomatic incident and now two nations are mobilising for war, but if you tell them that they can't have that cover bonus when they've deliberately put their character behind it then you're going to have an argument. But this, I realise, is all wrong-thinking in Monsterhearts. There aren't exhaustive rules in place to ensure that the MC "plays fair" with the PCs as there would be in a dungeon-crawler. There doesn't need to be. It's not MCvPC; the MC shouldn't just be playing fair with the PCs, he should be their biggest fan. And the mechanics are there to support the fiction rather than bind it.

Cf the Purgatory, Nebraska example:
Raksha pursues Chase until she finally tackles him just outside town. He lays Georgia’s body down and the Wolf Monster and the Chosen (who was practically her Dark Self by this point anyway) tear into each other. Both are soon bloodied and bruised and Dark-Chase opens his senses to determine his enemy’s weakness. At that moment, it arrives in the form of Tracy and Brad who’ve come running after ‘to help’. Sensing the Chosen’s vulnerability, Dark-Chase leaps away from her to attack her friends. Brad, seeing the Wolf Monster approaching, turns around, slips off his backpack and whirls back, by pure fluke catching Dark-Chase a blow around the head and giving him the condition ‘sleeping dog’.

Mechanically, we were trying to figure out how unconsciousness should work. When Chase failed his roll against Brad, we gave Brad a string through the Hard Move and then had him instantly spend it to give Chase the inconscious condition. What I realise now is that we didn't have to worry about trying to explain it in terms of strings and conditions (simply because they're the most visible), we could have just thought:

failed roll -> Hard Move
Hard Move -> Expose a dangerous secret to the wrong person:

"Chase, you're knocked unconscious and, while you're lying there, you revert back to your human form right in front of the chosen and her scoobies. Raksha, you now have two classmates lying in front of you, one dead, one badly injured at your hands. What do you do?"

Re: Combat and NPC Advantages/Disadvantages
« Reply #4 on: August 26, 2012, 11:12:17 PM »
Yes! We're now cooking with fire. Emotion-and-anxiety-fuelled fire.

failed roll -> Hard Move
Hard Move -> Expose a dangerous secret to the wrong person:

"Chase, you're knocked unconscious and, while you're lying there, you revert back to your human form right in front of the chosen and her scoobies. Raksha, you now have two classmates lying in front of you, one dead, one badly injured at your hands. What do you do?"

That is perfect.

Another option would be, "Chase, you're knocked unconscious. Raksha, you now have a friend lying dead next to you, and then this wheezy, unconscious wolf-monster. What do you do?" And if Raksha's player hesitates, you can throw in, "You could kill this beast now, or you could wait and find out who it transforms back into. Or... ?"

Another option would be, "Chase, the bag hits you square in the side of the head. You start to see murky clouds, and you feel suddenly light-headed and slow. I think you might need to roll to hold steady in order to stay conscious."

Another option would be, "Brad, you hit it with your backpack, and now you're staring into the eyes of this dog-beast.  It's stunned for the moment. You notice that these aren't wolf eyes - they're Chase's eyes. Chase, remind me what your eyes look like? Right. So, Brad. This beast has Chase's eyes. What do you make of that?"