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Lone Pilgrim

Wanted: Advice on effective combat

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Good evening folks.

 

Straight to the point, combat is not what I enjoy most in DH games:

 

I find it one pain in the lower back to pick adversaries that do not either go down like flies or are neigh unkillable for my acolytes - my fights either are over in the blink of an eye with either PCs or NPCs all but wiped out, or they drag on endlessly due to tough opponents that can take a beating.

What do you, my fellow GMs, do to select enemies that are a challenge but not impossible to fight, seeing as they are no Levels as in other systems?

 

Any advice on tactics would also be very appreciated. I've frequently read that key to survival in DH is to ramp up bonuses on your attacks, but in the heat of the moment I seem to be forgetting all about special circumstances, weapon upgrades etc. How do you manage it?

Involving the environment would seem like a good approach to me (cover, distances...), but doesn't that mean drawing a detailed map for each and every encounter, even minor ones? My players never go where they are supposed to, so it's pretty much futile to draw combat maps in advance.

 

I'd be grateful for any tipp you could give me, it can't get much worse than as it is, combat-wise. My players seem to be far cleverer than me in that aspect (no wonder, one of them is a military historian AND a 30yrs RP veteran...).

 

For reference, I have in my group three Rank 4 Acolytes:

A pretty fragile fledgling Pyromancer who is very clever at hiding and shooting from the sidelines

An Assassin damage monster armed with a Fervious Long Sabre (1d10+2 R, Balanced, Mono) and Furious Assault who pretty much two-hits everything I set before her

An Arbitrator clad in Guard Flak Armour (all 4) and TB 4 spraying every close combat enemy with semiautomatic fire from his Hecuter Autopistol at point blank range

 

Further down the road in the scenario I absolutely, positively need to bring them down as a trigger for an important event, and I have no clue how to go about it without frustrating them by using opponents that are all but immune to their weapons (dammit, they HATED the fight against the Skae-Thing in Illumination...). I think that one possibility would be to use a great number of weaker enemies with ranged weapons, that stay in cover, use grenades with choke gas, weapon upgrades like laser sights, maybe even toxic needlers (they would be decently equipped by their masters). Thoughts, advice?

 

Thank you very much in advance. Really!

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A few tricks, you might not like all of them:

 

As you've mentioned, terrain and cover.

This can be done without maps at all, but is kinda tricky.

My current OW uses a white board, with a scale where a 1" diameter magnet represents the whole group, so I wouldn't exactly call them detailed.

One trick I've used a lot was teaching players to simply ask "is there some cover nearby for me to dive into?" - the answer would (should!) generally be "yes!", and then the battlefield gains a little more definition.

 

I've had good experiences with daemons, mainly of Nurgle. They can be awfully tough to hurt. The trick is to have sanctified blades, making the daemons more vulnearble in close combat, because their daemonic immunity can be ignored.

But that means going into close combat with a nurgle daemon...

 

Smoke grenades are awesome, as they can interfer with shooting - but even better is a few minor psykers with things like Spasm and even better Weapon Jinx. And crazy cultists might not have any reasons to not use Weaken Veil - their Daemon masters certainly have no reason to use this trick.

 

Minions. Lot and Lots of Minions. If nothing else, they are ablative armour for the real bad guys.

 

Most heretical of all: Non-combat challenges.

The dance of social interaction and actual investigation might fox 'em a fair bit.

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Use PC tactics, surpressing fire, grenades (smoke, frag, flashbang, etc.), use cover (have to whittle that down), specialty ammo like manstoppers (affordable if well equipped).

 

For looting issues, make the enemy guns use a different caliber than the PCs, genelocking if you want to stop looting pretty much all together. Also, have them work as a team, Enemy A supresses the melee PCs, while others move to flank.

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Thanks a bunch ppl. So, what do I have so far:

  • Use terrain and cover, even without maps (though I guess I'll bite the bullet and draw them on demand)
  • Alter battlefield conditions (smoke, flashbang-grenades). Maybe some environmental hazards.
  • Inhibit player movement (suppressing fire)
  • Superior equipment (special ammo, area damage devices)
  • NPC Teamwork (f.i. flanking)
  • Dirty Psi-Tricks (Spasm, Weapon Jinx)
  • Lots of Minions - do you use the Minion rules from Creatures Anathema?

I will try to bear that in mind and pay more attention to NPC equip next time.

Demons are a no-go for the current adversary faction, but I'll keep it in mind for future use.

 

---

Another question that presented itself recently: how to handle the burning of Fate Points?

In the book, it states:
"The result is that the character survives whatever it was that would have killed him, but only just. So for example, if the character was shot with a lascannon and suffered a Critical Hit that would have killed him, instead he will only be horribly wounded, hideously burnt and rendered unconscious on 0 Wounds."

My players reasoned that, once your character is out, the bad guy simply proceeds with killing the helpless PC, and lobbied to have the burning of a Fate Point negate all of the killing blow, like it never happened.

It made sense to me at the time, so I consented to it. But since, I feel like that was a bad decision, for it means that even a very good killing blow does not end the fight and my PCs only go down when they are really, definitely, ultimately dead...

 

How do you go about this? Have your PCs died after burning Fate? I ist logical for the enemy to leave the mauled PC for dead?

---

 

 


Most heretical of all: Non-combat challenges.

The dance of social interaction and actual investigation might fox 'em a fair bit.

 

Thanks for the advice, but that is definitely not this group's problem. They are very much In-Character players, and we've had sessions without one single role of the die, just roleplaying. But once in a while, they simply need an opportunity to carve up some heretics without the moral qualms I usually heap upon them - after all this is not World of Darkness ;)

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  • Lots of Minions - do you use the Minion rules from Creatures Anathema?

I find the horde rules from DW to be an effective tool once the PCs reach a higher levels. Its good because it allows them to still feel heroic while still presenting a sizable threat. It also cuts down on the cambat time significantly

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My players reasoned that, once your character is out, the bad guy simply proceeds with killing the helpless PC, and lobbied to have the burning of a Fate Point negate all of the killing blow, like it never happened.

It made sense to me at the time, so I consented to it. But since, I feel like that was a bad decision, for it means that even a very good killing blow does not end the fight and my PCs only go down when they are really, definitely, ultimately dead...

 

How do you go about this? Have your PCs died after burning Fate? I ist logical for the enemy to leave the mauled PC for dead?

---

The way I run things, burning a Fate point means that this threat will not kill you.

I take it as a (small) challenge of my creativity to think up why that character will survive.

Perhaps (s)he is left for dead ("no-one could possibly survive getting a direct hit from a krak grenade like that!") or falls over a cliff? Being taken prisoner is fair game as well. If the PCs hold the field when the smoke blows over, it's easy, obviously it wasn't as bad as all that.

But whatever the excuse has to be, the Hand of the Emperor Protects the poor sod, and his death will not be until later.

Mind you, I remember a character spending his last Fate point to invoke a Daemon to take him safely from the scene, pushing him over 100 corruption. Not exactly what I'de have chosen myself, but the player asked to pick it himself.

Most heretical of all: Non-combat challenges.

The dance of social interaction and actual investigation might fox 'em a fair bit.

 

Thanks for the advice, but that is definitely not this group's problem. They are very much In-Character players, and we've had sessions without one single role of the die, just roleplaying. But once in a while, they simply need an opportunity to carve up some heretics without the moral qualms I usually heap upon them - after all this is not World of Darkness ;)

Excellent!

There just seems to be too many combat monkeys running about, so I thought I'd mention it :)

Edited by Tenebrae

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When our group are in a situation where we need to burn fate points (A.K.A death) does he always wait a little bit with describing the result of the attack, failed roll to jump between buildings and so on. When we then burn one of our points does he change the result to save us, sure did the big firestorm hit us, but you was just able to dive for cover, burnt but still alive. Sure you did still fall from the building, but falling two stores do you grab hold of something and save your life.

 

This way are we still saved, but we are also feeling our mistakes. Beside that, when we are in combat and are using a fate point does he always give us the choice between standing up again and get into the battle or just lay down and pretend that we are dead/ say that we are unconscious and therefore safe

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Burning fate points should always have a genuine effect at saving your skin.  I think this falls into two broad catagories.

 

1) Negating the hit altogether.  I.e the las cannon shot missed or the gun jammed and the PC carries on with no ill effects, possibly even benefiting from whatever lucky fumble on the part of the enemy saved him.

 

2) The PC is horrifically injured and by all rights should be dead but isn't.  However the pay off is that the enemies will not poke the body 'just to be sure'.  At worse the PC will be taken prisoner.

 

What should never happen with fate points though is that the PC take a stack of wounds doesn't die that round and then next round has to burn another fate point etc etc.  That isn't really saving the character it is just delaying the inevitable.

 

Finally in my view a PC should ALWAYS have the option of burning a fate point to survive if they have fate points left.  I am of the opinion that there is a special hell reserved for GMs that kill off PCs who still have fate points left because they couldn't be bothered to think of a way the PC survived.

 

With regard to combat I used to have the problem of forgetting combat bonus's etc.  What I do now is when typing up my notes for the session I also type out the stats of the bad guys (even if they are in a reference book like the Adversaries at the back of the DH Core Rule Book.  I then highlight important talents and maybe include a brief summary.  I also include the bonus on the Character sheet.  So for example if a bad guy has got a Ws of 35 and I know will be using some weapon that grants +10 Ws I just give him a Ws 45. 

 

Alternatively for things like Balanced I actually note what that does rather than just relying on description or I include the bonus in brackets next the the main characteristic. 

 

So for example say someone had Dodge +10 I might write Ag 40Dg(50)

 

Basically have pre-written notes about the NPCs that you can understand.

 

For locations I would suggest pre drawing a number of generic locations like a factory, a mine, a hab block etc etc.  That way it doesn't really matter if the players go off track as you will have a suitable location ready.  This might sound like a lot of work but there are plenty of floor plans either from RPG resources or real world buildings that you can use.  I have a folder which I have handy to produce appropriate floor plans.

 

Personally I think a map is essential for all combat even if it is a hastely drawn pencil sketch on some A4 paper.

 

In terms of choosing opponents, it is a difficult one.  Personally I just try and put in opponents which seem reasonable to the story and not worry too much about their actual difficulty factor.  It sounds like combat isn't a particularly big part of the game for your group, so you could see how far you can take this.  Make the game more like Call of Cthulhu where the villians are often distinct individual cultists or terrifying monsters.

 

You have said yourself that the PCs can tactically outsmart you.  This is a common thing for GMs happens to me all the time.  Makes sense, your facing the combined decisions of three or four people who are just focused on the combat whereas you are trying to act as the referee, make actions for the NPCs and also think about the wider story. 

 

Don't worry about this though.  After all your PCs are meant to be the heroes so it is only fair that they have the edge over the bad guys.

Edited by Visitor Q

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When one of my players burns Fate, I take them out of combat for the rest of the encounter and have enemies assume that they are dead. I sometimes inflict a permanent injury on the player when they survive by burning Fate; a player who was shot in the arm by a boltgun and killed would have the Lost Arm condition, while someone who was vented out of an airlock might become deaf in both ears before they could pull themselves out of the hard vacuum. If appropriate, you can have enemies capture the PC, which can lead to an interesting rescue mission in the future. Basically I treat Fate-burning as a guaranteed get-out-of-death-free card, but the character will still suffer some kind of tangible consequence.

 

I try to follow these guidelines when designing combat encounter maps:

  1. Provide cover for both players and enemies. Ideally there will be multiple different strengths of cover -- for example, a chapel might have many ARM 8 wooden pews and several ARM 16 stone pillars in the main floor area. Interior walls of buildings are usually ARM 8 unless they are reinforced in some way; modern rifles can pierce a typical wall and hit somebody on the other side with enough force to cause injury.
  2. Provide routes for combatants to flank or charge each other. A straight corridor shoot-out generally makes for poor tactical gameplay. Have stairs and balconies that pass above or below the main combat floor. Perhaps some routes are faster or safer than others but require a skill check to cross -- instead of walking around the edge of a pit full of hazardous waste, a character could use Acrobatics to cross the narrow girders leading across the pit.
  3. Let players interact with the environment in some way. Maybe tables can be flipped to provide cover, or an industrial lift can be raised to give someone a height advantage. Players can shoot pipes to produce a cloud of steam, duplicating the effects of a smoke grenade. Entering the proper code into a computer terminal (Tech-Use) could reprogram nearby repair servitors to attack your enemies.
  4. Give the players an objective besides "kill everyone." Maybe an important target is fleeing while minions and traps cover his retreat. Do the players advance cautiously and risk losing their quarry, or do they rush the enemy and possibly expose themselves to serious harm? Maybe the party Adept has to decrypt some vital data and must be protected while a large force of mercenaries tries to stop him, and the Acolytes must hold out against a superior enemy while the non-combat party member makes an extended skill test. If the Acolytes want to take a cult leader alive so they can interrogate him, they will hesitate to use their boltguns and power swords against a potentially dangerous enemy.

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Lots of good ground has been covered so far. Im only going to suggest stuff that hasn't been already.

 

Environmental factors: 

 

Is the fight happening in a junkyard? Why not have an NPC take charge of crane from a safe distance away (higher ground, protective 'cabin' for cover). The crane rushes in to pick up or smash the players. Is the fight happening in a Manufactora? Why not have factory workers get in the way, trying to escape? Fight happening in the streets? Are they under-cover? Make sure Arbites or Enforcers show up to lay down the law on both parties. Obviously, the players shouldn't be of the mind to kill the Arbites who show up in adequate force.

 

The Human Element:

 

The NPCs are not tough, but they are smart. They've captured a valuable lead, and is now using him as hostage! Or perhaps the combat was a ruse to draw them in deeper into their 'lair', a pre-planned trap with explosves. The foolish players have fallen for it, and just as they rush in to apprehend or kill the 'bad guy', he trips the trigger with a religious benediction to chaos. Boom goes the pcs. Lastly: Is the party have good morality in game? Have the NPC use children and innocents as shields, while he has no such qualms in return.

 

The Horde:

 

The enemy is a cult, and has a horde of devout, zealous followers who hate the pcs. This horde shold have 20+ magnitude rating. No matter how good the players are, they simply chip away at the horde each round. It's a flight or fight scenario, where flight is definitely the best option.  Alternatively, the horde is just a cover for the true villain, who waits for the players to be whittled down first. "Get them! They are infidels!" 

 

Superior Tactics:

 

Echoing this, although this was mentioned by others. Suppressing fire is great - make sure at least two or three mooks are doing this each turn. Cover with tactical advances, as well. These hard hitters are well-trained. The suppressing fire is meant as a cover while the primary antagonist prepares a weapon of mass player death: A lascannon autoturret, rolling in with a Chimera APC, or some other form of 'ffffffffffffffff' from the players.

 

The Deus ex Machina:

 

The combat is actually superfluous: In a set amount of turns, something big is about to happen: The daemon summoning will be completed, the site will be bombed, or the main bad guy will reveal himself to be daemon prince. Either way, they can stop it, but 'slugging it out' is not the way to do it. They have to run past the line, take a risk, and remove the power source or artifact from the summoning circle.

 

About the map:

 

The absolute easiest way of being prepared for anything is simply drawing on paper. Just draw a square or blob for nearby terrain "That's where you are, and that square is a table. Those guys you see are on that other blob with wheels - which is totally a bus their standing on."

 

I play alot online using roll20 - which makes it really easy to keep maps being generated, but in a real-life group you might consider toting along a laptop to generate maps easily the players can see to track movement and ranges. 

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Honestly? I realize this is mostly a playstyle thing, but my advice would be not to worry too much about it. Equip your NPCs in ways that make sense for them and their situation. Don't worry about how they would stack up against the PCs. That's the PCs' job.

 

But you should also (again, IMHO) not be afraid to make the enemies "too tough" for the PCs to handle, if that makes sense for the situation. If they decide to still take the threat head-on, that's that, but it should really be an opportunity for the PCs to be smart and get creative.

 

The balance point to this is that the PCs should, generally, have opportunities to gauge the strength of a potential enemy before committing to a fight. Whether they use those opportunities is, of course, up to them.

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Honestly? I realize this is mostly a playstyle thing, but my advice would be not to worry too much about it. Equip your NPCs in ways that make sense for them and their situation. Don't worry about how they would stack up against the PCs. That's the PCs' job.

 

But you should also (again, IMHO) not be afraid to make the enemies "too tough" for the PCs to handle, if that makes sense for the situation. If they decide to still take the threat head-on, that's that, but it should really be an opportunity for the PCs to be smart and get creative.

 

The balance point to this is that the PCs should, generally, have opportunities to gauge the strength of a potential enemy before committing to a fight. Whether they use those opportunities is, of course, up to them.

 

I completly agree with this.

 

I have put my PCs up against some pretty horrific things which on paper would have been rediculous and they have generally used their environment, combat sense etc to not only survive but triumph.

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Thank you all so much, that is all immensely helpful and was precisely the kind of advice I was looking for :) Boy, especially the bits about encounter map design and tasks will add some color to our game!

 

Some last mini questions:

Cognizcar, you mentioned the Horde rules from DW, but I don't know what you mean?

Also, you said you'd use maps that could be tracked on a laptop (which I have anyway for the music), could you give me link to that system?

 

Thanks again, everyone, and have a nice evening (or whatever part of the day it is where you are)!

Edited by Lone Pilgrim

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sure.

 

https://app.roll20.net/

 

Horde rules are on pg 359 in the Deathwatch Core Rulebook. To summarize: its just an alternate way to represents blobs of people (crazed heretics, swarms of grots, etc). The rules take a different spin - flamers are more awesome, dodging is impossibru, and the players will high tail out of there if they know what's best.

 

 

edit: If going to be in a game location with no internet, try Maptools instead at http://www.rptools.net/?page=maptool

Edited by Cogniczar

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Some last mini questions:

Cognizcar, you mentioned the Horde rules from DW, but I don't know what you mean?

 

The Deathwatch rpg employs a mechanic called 'Hordes', whereby a large number of (relatively) weak creatures which individually couldn't threaten a Space Marine (due to power armour+Unnatural Toughness) are merged together as a single, powerful unit, with a damage bonus (representing a barrage of attacks) that can potentially overcome a SM damage soak. I've employed small Hordes in my upper-level DH campaign. They can be useful to give an encounter a sense of epic scale without drastically increasing dice rolling, but they are very deadly and have to be used carefully in DH in order to avoid 'Insta-Kill' situations...

 

Edit: Cog beat me to it...

Edited by Adeptus-B

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Another quick idea - 

 

Send overwhelming opposition. Dozens of mooks, 1 real baddie for each of the players. Treat the mooks like Only war comrades - their sole existence is to eat up the parties ammunition. 1 shot equals injured. 1 more equals dead. Count the rounds, and when the moment is right, just focus on the real threats. Of course, make a few 'behind the screen' rolls to give it a faux feel of legitimacy. 

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