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Fixing Horde Combat


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#1 ak-73

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Posted 23 February 2014 - 12:42 PM

Let's be honest: horde combat can be a boring numbers grind. Old-school D&D-style. It needs to be spiced up.

 

Let's have a look at the GM's tools to do that:

 

  • Turning points: I would advise to use them sparingly; one can over-do the special snowflake vibe. Much more importantly, the players should have tactically several courses of action on the battle field and only one or two of them should actually have the potential for turning the battle. The others should be "duds" or not have exactly the desired effect. That's where Tactics come in.
  • Special Elite-levels or individuals (or even sub-hordes (special weapon teams, snipers)) with dangerous weapons among the horde - creating hopefully unique combat challenges.
  • Terrain allowing for special modifiers to combat: fighting back to the wall to reduce horde attacks, fighting from the top of the hill, flanking a horde to rout it, etc.
  • A horde employing special, dangerous traits.
  • Horde splitting and merging, etc.

That's quite a bit. But how do we properly use these basic ideas? Let's compare with usual (individual) fights in 40K Roleplay: Normal fights can also get boring, when it's clear that your party has an overwhelming advantage against a group of enemies. All your PCs have to do is pull the trigger or keep hacking and the NPCs will be dead sooner or later. Unfortunately that is all too often the way hordes seem to get used. "There's a mag 30 horde of renegade guardsmen with lasguns blocking your path to the city center." This isn't challenging or much fun. The PCs can simply grind them down and move on. So horde combat needs tactical challenges for the players. The odds should be so that the players need to pull of some clever stunts to defeat the horde. Setting this up can be as simple as taking the above set-up and changing it to "Your way to the city center has been blocked off by a whole battallion of soldiers. A direct attack would incure the wrath of at least half a dozen hordes of traitors, each with a mag between 20 and 50." Suddenly the players need a plan, right? The trick is to force the players to come up with an idea other than "Charge!" or "Fire away!"

 

And here's where I feel official rules are a bit lacking: it would be nice to have more examples for maneuvres that hordes can pull on PCs (and on other hordes), as well as maneuvers that players can do to hordes. Not as a list for the players to pick from but to have some handy mechanics when the kill-team comes up with an idea. And, yes, this should take battlefield conditions into account (trenches, roadblocks, jungle fighting versus fighting in rocky plains, etc.)

 

I intend to post in this thread ideas for such special maneuvers, battlefield conditions, etc. and would like to invite a debate.

 

Alex


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#2 ak-73

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Posted 23 February 2014 - 01:34 PM

Let's take trench fighting as a first example.

 

A horde in a trench will be hard to hit from range. Even if you hit, casualties will be very limited. Morale will be better and fewer enemies will defect. Reenforcements are likely to arrive before you can grind them down. Assaulting a trench will draw considerable fire in the open field with limited capability to do significant mag damage. Once you get to the trench, you will be protected from outside fire too but clearing a trench takes time. On the plus side, the nature of the trench limits the amount of attacks coming in on you.

 

How to translate that into mechanics? How about this:

 

Trench Fighting (Battlefield Condition)

A trench reduces a hordes size by 2 steps for shooting purposes. Damage is limited to 10% (round up) of current horde magnitude maximum per attack. After each turn roll 1d10 - that much magnitude is regenerated as entrenched soldiers regain morale. Any excess damage is permanent. A horde in a trench that has been stormed can't get additional ranged combat damage dice for horde size against targets inside due to visibility and crossfire issues. In melee, it does only do one additional damage die max. However, it again only takes 10% mag damage (round up) because only few horde members can participate in a melee at a time. It does not regenerate mag damage in melee.

 

 

Thoughts? Any others?

 

Alex


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#3 musungu

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Posted 24 February 2014 - 08:27 AM

Sound advices in using hordes, I wholeheartedly agree. We're not yet at the point where basic combat is no more challenging - the gaps in the players' knowledge of their own abilities more than make up for the inexperienced GM (myself) -, but these tips would enrich the experience if done correctly.

 

As for Battlefield Conditions, it is quite a challenge to write up the plethora of possible battlefield effects ranging from the simplest caveman tactics of a feral world to the sophisticated Tau flying armoured suit tactics, and I feel in most cases the work is just isn't necessary, when a sufficiently prepared GM could take care of the inventory of modifiers. I'd rather welcome a Battlefield Conditions Generator template assisting in the compiling, where I could summarise all the modifiers in place. You know, terrain, cover, technology, weather, movement and perception modifiers and suchlike.

 

As possible pre-written Battlefield Conditions, Trench Warfare was a good idea as it's quite specific. For others, Urban Combat is a must as house-to-house fighting is decidedly not an unusual background for a DW mission. I'll try to think about the possible mechanics and post it here if I've got something. A few others which come to mind are Thin Red Line (extra damage to attacker when charged frontally, vulnerable against flanking or superior weapon range, possibly reduced blast effect - ultimately impractical but colourful, should teach players the value of manoeuvres, basically a tutorial mode), or Uphill Battle (movement and cover punishment for party charging up).

 

I'm thinking about introducing artillery support for the baddies next time - the plan is to employ spotters, and killing the spotters eliminates the effect for about d5x10 minutes, while they're being acknowledged as lost, and replaced by the next team of unlucky guys. Such simple mechanics do not warrant a separate Condition, but could be combined freely with other modifiers.


Edited by musungu, 24 February 2014 - 08:28 AM.


#4 musungu

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Posted 24 February 2014 - 09:06 AM

The main problem is that 40K is, as we previously established, bolter porn. There's generally no operational strategy visible, just the usual grimdark "Guard goes in, fights a battle of attrition" approach. Which is fine, don't get me wrong, I immensely enjoy it, but to credibly introduce modern military doctrines is quite some work and in an RPG focussing on a <10 team, mostly unnecessary. I'd rather read an account of Chaplain Grimaldus growing as a person to handle responsibility than an analysis of how combined arms theory was employed in the Battle of Helsreach - although the success of a mass amphibious action by orks from submarines still tested my suspension of disbelief. Darn the history major, darn!



#5 ranoncles

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Posted 24 February 2014 - 09:07 AM

Using hordes properly is perhaps the most difficult challenge for DW game masters but I find it to be a very crucial instrument in creating proper challenges and stories. Space marines should have the occasional mook fight albeit with a hint of danger.

 

Granted, too many hordes and too similar hordes will create boredom. My solution is to be descriptive and to use unique NPC’s or teams or terrain and situational features to make them less grinding.

 

For example, a horde with a leader becomes more interesting than just a horde. Now, the players must wade through the horde to get to the leader. While one or two players try to take the leader down, the others must keep the rest of the horde of their backs. And once the leader is slain, the horde will route.

 

Or the horde keeps the players busy while heavy weapon teams try to set up. If they succeed, the players will be in big trouble. If they manage to slaughter the teams in time, the horde withdraws.

 

Another option is fighting their way through a horde to reach an advantageous position from which to pour fire into the horde. Once they actually reach it, the horde will withdraw.

 

 

In all situations, simply killing off the horde is not the objective. Perhaps it’s even not possible

 

 

My finest hour was pitting my DW players against a tyranid horde while trying to get into a bunker complex. One player had to damage the endless horde of hormagaunts. Another had to kill each one (small horde) that made it through the killing zone. And the tech-priest was trying to open the bunker door (a series of tech and logic challenges) while the final player had to hold off a murder servitor guarding the bunker door access panel from gutting the tech marine….



#6 Lynata

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Posted 24 February 2014 - 09:25 AM

After my squad just "grinding" through two Hordes of Necron Scarabs, I'd certainly agree about this mechanic being boring. Any attempts to spice up mass combat are welcome.
 
Now, an idea that I had was not so much refining the existing Horde rules, but instead a completely alternate system focused on squads as they exist in the tabletop, which still treats unit members as individuals and simply seeks a way to minimise the amount of dice rolling that would otherwise come with representing 5-10 hostile NPCs. The trick was a mixture of the adoption of burst fire rules (just that instead of individual bullets, a single roll accounts for the amount of soldiers hitting their targets) and damage averages.
 
The system is designed to be used both for antagonists, as well as for NPC allies that might even have a player character as their squad leader.
 
It does not "magically" make weapons that would otherwise be harmless any more dangerous, however - so I'm not sure how much this mechanic would actually be useful for a Deathwatch game that is otherwise RAW.  :mellow:
 
I'd certainly be willing to elaborate more if there is actually any interest in this, though.

current 40k RPG character: Aura Vashaan, Astromancer Witch-Priestess
previous characters: Captain Elias (Celestial Lions Chapter -- debriefed), Comrade-Trooper Dasha Malenko (1207th Valhallan Ice Warriors -- KIA), Sister Elana (Order of the Sacred Rose -- assassinated), Leftenant Darion Baylesworth (Rogue Trader Artemisia -- retired), Taleera "Raven" Nephran (Hive Ganger & Inquisitorial Assassin -- mindwiped)

#7 Alrik Vas

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Posted 24 February 2014 - 11:09 AM

I'm not altogether certain hordes need to be buffed.  My GM used to complain that we killed hordes super fast, but he also didn't appreciate that we HAD TO or they'd 3d10+10 P: 7 us down like we were wearing guard flak.



#8 ak-73

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Posted 24 February 2014 - 04:23 PM

The main problem is that 40K is, as we previously established, bolter porn. There's generally no operational strategy visible, just the usual grimdark "Guard goes in, fights a battle of attrition" approach. Which is fine, don't get me wrong, I immensely enjoy it, but to credibly introduce modern military doctrines is quite some work and in an RPG focussing on a <10 team, mostly unnecessary.

 

Okay, before I continue with the regular thread, a brief outline on small unit tactics.

There's two basic strategies in the 20th/21st century environment:

  • Defeating an enemy range works basically via flanking. Your suppression element keeps the enemies heads down (ideally with heavy artillery) and minimizes interdicting fire for the maneuver element. Once the maneuver element has reached flanking position, both elements let loose on the enemy forcing him to retreat or die.
  • Defeating an enemy close quarters involves the suppression element again pouring in on the enemy positions, the maneuever element however goes straight towards the enemy position and tries to clear out with grenades, etc.

So what is necessary for the basics are rules for suppression, flanking (or even attacks from behind) and close combat fighting. Also, the 41st millenium technology changes things a bit (jump-packed assault marines are an awesome maneuver element).

 

 

I'd certainly be willing to elaborate more if there is actually any interest in this, though.

 

Sure - but ideally in a seperate thread, right? :)

 

Alex


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#9 ak-73

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Posted 24 February 2014 - 04:32 PM

Now to Horde-fighting Tactics:

 

Channeling (versus Horde, Defensive)

The basic idea is to lure an advancing enemy through a narrow space. As the horde squeezes through, all area of effect attacks cause double mag damage and semi-/full-auto do an additional point of mag damage per attack. The damage bonus might cap out, as only part of a large horde might be in the kill-zone at a given time. If it's the rear part, the surviving front part is probably in trouble. Difficult morale checks are likely for any survivors (at an additional -10).

 

 

Horde Magnitude Deception (by Horde, Defensive)

A ranged enemy pretends to have greater strength than it has. Whether it has affixed additional guns looking out of windows or uses other means, the main purpose is to discourage the enemy from attacking here. A successful Awareness -10 test (modified by range modifiers; treat as weapon with base range, say, 50m; binoculars, etc. will negate the range modifiers; usual marine bonuses also apply) will spot the deception, 2 DoS will give a good estimate of how much magnitude has been faked.

Careful: the enemy might play a double-ploy game and have actual reserves hidden out of sight to lure attackers into a trap.

 

Alex


Edited by ak-73, 24 February 2014 - 05:08 PM.

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#10 Lynata

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Posted 24 February 2014 - 04:52 PM

Sure - but ideally in a seperate thread, right? :)

 

My mistake, I mis-interpreted the "any others" remark. :)


current 40k RPG character: Aura Vashaan, Astromancer Witch-Priestess
previous characters: Captain Elias (Celestial Lions Chapter -- debriefed), Comrade-Trooper Dasha Malenko (1207th Valhallan Ice Warriors -- KIA), Sister Elana (Order of the Sacred Rose -- assassinated), Leftenant Darion Baylesworth (Rogue Trader Artemisia -- retired), Taleera "Raven" Nephran (Hive Ganger & Inquisitorial Assassin -- mindwiped)

#11 scipio83

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Posted 24 February 2014 - 11:03 PM

I'm book-marking this thread; I just started running a game and within the first session or two I was already getting bored with hordes.

Maybe part of this is the clunky mechanics of it, though?  I mean, I get the concept of magnitude, but wouldn't it be simpler just to give a large number of wounds instead of forcing an extra layer of math (i.e. dividing damage by 15 and rounding)?



#12 ranoncles

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Posted 25 February 2014 - 02:56 AM

The horde concept is pretty good but if you just address it as a mechanical/mathematical exercise it will be boring. Just as a player vs. npc combat described in attack/dodge/damage is boring.

 

The secret is to be descriptive and to take the hordes rules and run with it as a player character would. So it isn’t a faceless 50 magnitude horde but a mass of almost a hundred ragged human factory workers with improvised weapons, some of which could do quite a lot of damage….They are led by a massive foreman, accompanied by a well dressed man, perhaps a noble or the factory owner. Give the players some flavour and individual targets but make sure they are protected by a meat shield or they will be one-shotted by sniper fire.

 

The DW books also provide for numerous different horde characteristics. Use these or modify them to make each horde act ‘naturally’ and distinctive. And don’t be too stuck on the RAW. Rules provide a framework, not a cage. Be creative. For example, trained soldiers will use overlapping fields of fire (which could mean any PC not in cover gets 2 or more reduced strength attacks or any attacking PC gets 2 or more attacks from the horde)  and will use tactical advance themselves. While the mass of factory workers will attack the first opponent with overwhelming force but then be unable to counter the other pc’s….

 

Perhaps most important is to know when to roll the encounter and when to role the encounter. If the ‘horde’ doesn’t have a real chance of damaging the space marines, just role it by describing a quick slaughter by the space marines (perhaps allow for a dodge roll to indicate 1-2 wounds if missed to give some feeling of attrition by engaging in these trivial combats). Or just play the first round and then narratively decide the subsequent actions (horde flees or is destroyed in a welter of bolter rounds and chainswords). Only roll those encounters where the space marine players are in real danger of taking wounds or even being killed. That should make horde combats less boring.


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#13 ak-73

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Posted 26 February 2014 - 08:29 AM

My mistake, I mis-interpreted the "any others" remark. :)

 

It might be too confusing otherwise if we interleave two very different approaches, don't you think?

 

 

 

Alright, let's get to the basics of small unit tactics. And most basic is suppression fire/pinning. I feel like Deathwatch does not handle this properly. It will be hard to suppress an entire horde but parts can be suppressed/pinned and with enough fire a whole horde might get suppressed. So what do you think about this rule:

 

Suppressive Fire (versus Hordes, Basic Mechanic)

When firing at a horde suppressively, normal rules do not apply. Instead, the attacker attacks normally but all damage to magnitude is doubles (or more precisely: the multiplier increases by 1). However, the entire damage of the attack regenerates at the end of the horde's next turn. This horde damage is therefore no actual damage but represents the amount of magnitude pinned by the attack. Single-shots, blast weapons and psychic shooting attacks a la Smite can also be used. In melee, a horde uses it's full value (disregarding pin, like in normal rules).

 

Here's the beauty of the mechanic: someone described hordes above as glass cannon-ish - high damage but they don't last long. Suppressive Fire reduces the offensive capabilities of hordes but makes them to last longer. So it evens out the system a bit. (This presumes that players actually see tactical value in suppression rather than going for the kill. Players generally want to end combats quickly to get the rewards and move on with the plot. )

 

Alex


Edited by ak-73, 26 February 2014 - 08:31 AM.

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#14 ak-73

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Posted 27 February 2014 - 08:56 AM

New day, new rule.

 

Flanking (versus Hordes, Basic Mechanic)

Whenever a horde is being attacked from both the front and its flank (and the attacks have to be considered non-negligible), the horde must test for Breaking with Willpower. If there is another condition that would make it test for Breaking, flanking imposes an additional -10 modifier to the test instead. Entrenchments may (depending on circumstances) negate the effect. If the horde has been pincered (enemies on opposing ends), the Breaking test becomes -20/the modifier becomes -30 instead.

 

Note: this rule and the previous rule make routing/defeating hordes a bit easier. So slightly increased horde sizes might be in order. Also, many intelligent hordes will take necessary steps to ensure they won't get flanked (possibly even an orderly retreat). The tactical game then becomes establishing conditions so that the horde may be flanked, while the horde tries to keep that from happening.


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#15 bogi_khaosa

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Posted 27 February 2014 - 03:21 PM

There are rules of suppressing Hordes in Black Crusade, Tome of Blood. And a lot of other Horde rules.



#16 Alrik Vas

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Posted 27 February 2014 - 05:49 PM

I think my favorite rule was, "You!  Get over here and take this hit for me, I have a horde to command!"



#17 ak-73

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Posted 03 March 2014 - 01:27 PM

In the meantime I have taken a look at those rules from BC but at a quick glance they didn't fix my problems.

 

So here I have a special situation that I intend to use in my next mission. This is more complicated by design.

 

3D tunnels (special terrain & special tactics)

Basically the kill-team is on a Space Hulk mission and travels through a hollowed out asteroid (former Orks) under 0 G with lots of tunnels going off in all directions including up and down. They'll run into an ambush of a horde of human cultists there. The cultists will be able to rush or fire at the kill-team from all sides. Worse the magnitude of the horde builds and recovers every round as more and more cultists stream in for the fight. The players cannot initially asses the size of the horde. Nor which special threats (heavy weapons?) might come on later from a random angle. Which means if the players don't think of it themselves, they will get a Tactics(Defense) roll to realize that they better withdraw to the start of the tunnels and fight the horde from there (or go a totally different route). The basic challenge in this combat is to realize this. With this tactic the combat should be easy to fight; without it, it should be very hard.

 

In game terms:

The horde starts mag 15, regenerates 1d10 magnitude damage each turn and additionally increases 2d10 in size each turn until it has consumed 55 magnitude points via the latter roll for a total mag of 70. Because of the 3D angled attack, the damage that each marine can do is limited to 10% of the magnitude it had at the end of its last turn (at the same token, the horde can never get more than one additional damage die in ranged combat (which is always short range or point-blank). However, when heavy weapons attack, the player under attack must always pass an Awareness-10 check to be able to dodge.

 

However, when the players withdraw for one or two turns in the beginning, they can dissect the horde as it trickles in piecemeal - as there will be no restrictions to the damage the players can do to the horde and the Awareness test for heavy weapons will be +0 and can be assisted.

 

Alex


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#18 ciryon

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Posted 28 March 2014 - 03:09 PM

There are new hordes rules in motx

#19 ak-73

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Posted 28 March 2014 - 04:06 PM

They are only new in comparison to the Core Rulebook. Otherwise they are old news, I'm afraid.

 

Alex


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