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Threat level

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The sample NPC's all have a threat level. How is this level determined? The book refers to page 382 for more information about threat levels, but not how to determine it for a NPC. 

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Interessting point ;) In deed it is only explained how to use the threat level, not how to determine the threat level of self made NPCs.

 

I guess you can only try to compare your NPCs with those in the book or use the NPCs in the book and try to remodel them closely to the origianl.

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A lot of it is just going to be based on feel, because DH isn't running on the assumptions of something like D&D where everyone has an assumed level of combat competence. I have a feeling that the threat levels are similar to creature ratings from d&d third edition.

A rough estimate of threat level you could make is to take the average damage of an NPCs best attack, multiplied by the percentage chance it has to hit. Compare that to some other monsters with listed ratings and there you go.

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A lot of it is just going to be based on feel, because DH isn't running on the assumptions of something like D&D where everyone has an assumed level of combat competence. I have a feeling that the threat levels are similar to creature ratings from d&d third edition.

A rough estimate of threat level you could make is to take the average damage of an NPCs best attack, multiplied by the percentage chance it has to hit. Compare that to some other monsters with listed ratings and there you go.

 

I agree.

 

I would like to add, that you still have to think encounters through, depending on the gear of your players and their skill and attribute distribution. If you have a group persisting to use only low-tech weaponry for fluff reasons or are having a focus on investigative or scholar skills, you have to adapt the threat level.

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Something I've always liked to throw at my players is the idea that sometimes you'll come across something that is out of your league.

Obviously combat is fun, and it's good to have well balanced encounters that your PCs can wade into all guns blazing.

But it's also fun to remind them that sometimes they need to run away. There's nothing realistic about scaling threats to match the competancies of the PCs, so if they happen to get into a fight where they're outmatched then if they're smart enough they'll bug out before they get eaten, and come back later with a pocket full of krak grenades and a couple of MP lascannons.

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Something I've always liked to throw at my players is the idea that sometimes you'll come across something that is out of your league.

Obviously combat is fun, and it's good to have well balanced encounters that your PCs can wade into all guns blazing.

But it's also fun to remind them that sometimes they need to run away. There's nothing realistic about scaling threats to match the competancies of the PCs, so if they happen to get into a fight where they're outmatched then if they're smart enough they'll bug out before they get eaten, and come back later with a pocket full of krak grenades and a couple of MP lascannons.

 

While unbeatable opponents may fit with the 40k setting, in practice, the idea that combat encounters can be traps the players are supposed to avoid is a risky endeavor. 

 

If everyone at the table understands that sometimes you have to up and run that's fine, but if you're playing with new people don't be surprised when they jump into an encounter that will wipe the whole group (especially if they're coming from a game with multiple combats per session).

 

Personally I try to avoid any situation (combat or otherwise) where the players are supposed to do something. Every time I've expected my players to do something they've trod all over my expectations.

Edited by cps

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Something I've always liked to throw at my players is the idea that sometimes you'll come across something that is out of your league.

Obviously combat is fun, and it's good to have well balanced encounters that your PCs can wade into all guns blazing.

But it's also fun to remind them that sometimes they need to run away. There's nothing realistic about scaling threats to match the competancies of the PCs, so if they happen to get into a fight where they're outmatched then if they're smart enough they'll bug out before they get eaten, and come back later with a pocket full of krak grenades and a couple of MP lascannons.

 

While unbeatable opponents may fit with the 40k setting, in practice, the idea that combat encounters can be traps the players are supposed to avoid is a risky endeavor. 

 

If everyone at the table understands that sometimes you have to up and run that's fine, but if you're playing with new people don't be surprised when the jump into an encounter that will wipe the whole group (especially if they're coming from a game with multiple combats per session).

 

Personally I try to avoid any situation (combat or otherwise) where the players are supposed to do something. Every time I've expected my players to do something they've trod all over my expectations.

Yeah, the SUPPOSED to do something is always a bad expectation of players. If you're trying to get them to run away, you're not going to do it just by putting a really powerful enemy in front of them. You're going to either need to have backup arrive and tell them to leave, or otherwise have some "glowing arrow" pointing them toward the exit. Or hell, after a round or two do some hidden rolls and regardless of result tell one of them he realizes they can't destroy the monster with what they have. Basically, if you want your players to learn a new behavior, you have to introduce it to them.

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I think you misunderstood.

I don't just randomise the encounters and make them burn through fate points with bi-weekly TPKs.

I just don't necessarily try too hard to balance encounters, and if within a turn or two it becomes obvious that they're not scatching it, then I will remind them that running away is an option.

 

Chewing through cannon fodder is fun (and this is easily handled with low grade mooks), and a finely balanced encounter is increadibly satisfying (but a lot more difficult to set up).

Basically there's no shame in getting that balance wrong now and again because if your players are smart enough there will be evn more satisfaction to be had by retreating and then laying the smack down at a later date.

I guess I'm lucky that I have intelligent players... ;-)

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Personally that'd become old very quickly for me. Balancing is part of the GMs agreement with players when they run games. If it weren't then there'd be tpks all over the place.

 

Yes running is an option, running is always an option, it's rarely on people actually enjoy taking. That and the boss vanishing if they get hit too hard, that seriously grinds my gears. If there's a plan in place already of surveying the enemy's response to poking it then running to look at the info sure, but that isn't always an understood or even commonly accepted thing.

 

However it's not a matter of intelligence, some enemies would simply kill all the players in an encounter, even if they ran some would be able to catch up to them and gut them like the acolytes they are.

 

I guess it comes down to if they understand your style and are cool with it then go for it, but it certainly should be discussed beforehand.

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They do know my style and are cool with it.

I'm also slightly overplaying it because of the title of this discussion. I think most encounters are naturally balanced just by how your feel for the group and bad guys are. I obviously don't throw them up against a bloodthirster without first making sure they a) know there is likely to be something over their paygrade around the corner, and b) a plot driven escape route out of there.

 

I'd say that 6 or 7/10 encounters are against chaff anyway so hardly need balance since if you can't pitch appropriate level mooks at your PCs by eyeballing their stats then you really need to brush up your GMing skills.

Another 2 or 3/10 enoucters will be more challenging and might get a bit hairy. These are the ones I tend not to try too hard with perfect balance because hell - some **** should just be difficult. Sometimes you pick a fight with a tougher gang in the bar and you get bloodied. And if I'm not entirely sure how well the fight is balanced then it adds to the sense of excitement for eveyone.

The last group of encounters are against bosses and the like, so you've probably put a huge amount of thought into their creation anyway.

 

If my characters are struggling and decide to run away then there will be a door that's too small for the moster to get through, or handily discarded speeder for them to hotwire, or whatever. It's not too hard to wing it with perfectly satisfying getout clauses.

Sometimes they get to burn fate.

I do not indulge in or glorify TPKs. I've never had one happen on my watch. But I do like my encounters to be dangerous, with each and every one having the potential for real character damage.

Otherwise every fight turns into a turkey shoot with no real fear, and that gets pretty old pretty quickly too.

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"then I will remind them that running away is an option."

"my characters are struggling and decide to run away then there will be a door that's too small for the moster to get through, or handily discarded speeder for them to hotwire, or whatever."

*DING DING DING*

Good on you, this is exactly the kind of thing I was recommending you do. This is, in effect, the big glowing arrow saying it's okay to retreat. I do agree with ThenDoctor that having encounters like this occur regularly would get to be frustrating, but it sounds like you're keeping things varied. My only suggestion would be to make the act of retreating have some kind of reward or incentive attached to it, even a minor one. Like maybe the encounter is meant to stop the acolytes from still investigating and this gets made explicit, maybe the encounter is with someone trying to keep the characters from reporting about what's happened, maybe the encounter was meant to steal something te players have, maybe the encounter revealed some kind of importan information or weakness the players can now use. Basically, make it seem like retreating is a good idea by giving fights a purpose other than "kill everyone." It's generally good to give all fights that kind of purpose, but it can be easy to fall into the D&D encounters trap of having a bunch of fights for the sake of fighting. Make sure to give your players ways to win a fight that don't involve killing everyone.

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I remember Maggots in the Meat... Everything was going fine until the Slaugth show to scalp you a ticket for your own TPK.

This is from old style Dark Heresy... where one of the major ideas is that there are bigger nastier things out to get you, and surviving is part of the aim in itself. And there certainly was no idea of "balanced" encounters. Things were meant to be as tough as they were meant to be, and if players got themselves killed because they didn't take it seriously (or due to bad luck), then so be it. The intro adventure had multiple possible enemies who were all better than starting NPCs in combat, and an finale which is pretty much unwinnable unless you happen to work out the special trick, and even then might not be enough. That is why fate points exist, to let you survive long enough to be tough enough to take these things on (or to learn to avoid them).

 

However, FFG have made it clear from pretty early on that they wanted a more "heroic" approach. Also, as others say, getting players to see this is a different matter. As a rule, players 1) expect GMs to try and give "fair" encounters where they can reasonably expect to win and 2) players don't like backing out of a fight. Partly players don't like "losing" (personally I don't care as a player, as long as it is cool, but from my experience GMing this is certainly the case) and also because they are expecting the first point they presume that there is some trick to the encounter which will magically turn it their way.

Edited by borithan

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As ThenDoctor suggested, I've sent in my question and received the following answer:

 

"We have a spreadsheet formula for determining threat levels, but it's still in very rough form that's really not ready for publication. A lot of it is still intangible factors we're working to codify like the NPC's weapons, special abilities, and how she/he fits with others. For adventures, it can sometimes depend on the setting and situation. Right now, there is a lot of "gut feeling" that goes into the final values, but we do want to produce something that doesn't need that so much (so it is more useful for newer GMs). 

 
It's something we are working to get it into a supplement or make it an online tool, but one way or another it will see light of day."
 
So until it will be released, we have to compare our own NPC's to the NPC in the rule book to determine the threat level.

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As ThenDoctor suggested, I've sent in my question and received the following answer:

 

"We have a spreadsheet formula for determining threat levels, but it's still in very rough form that's really not ready for publication. A lot of it is still intangible factors we're working to codify like the NPC's weapons, special abilities, and how she/he fits with others. For adventures, it can sometimes depend on the setting and situation. Right now, there is a lot of "gut feeling" that goes into the final values, but we do want to produce something that doesn't need that so much (so it is more useful for newer GMs). 

 

It's something we are working to get it into a supplement or make it an online tool, but one way or another it will see light of day."

 

So until it will be released, we have to compare our own NPC's to the NPC in the rule book to determine the threat level.

This kind of thing sounds useful for creating new NPCs, but it's not going to work well for already made ones. Basically, it's taking something they've already done and then adding an explanation for it after the fact. You can't create a math formula for things you made up by gut feeling. Still , I'm interested to see what ends up being produced, particularly what assumptions it makes about the player characters and if it can be adjusted. I think that would require A LOT of Playtesting, though.

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Odds are it's going to function just as well as any other complex game's challenge rating: not at all.

The core idea is that, the bigger the difference between a strong (combat-wise) and a weak (combat-wise) party, the more useless any kind of general monster clasification becomes.

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So this notion of "heroes" & an awfully lot of emphasis on encounter balance - we're talking about WH40k GrimDark, right?  :P

Obviously, there's a lot of folks out there playing the type of DH game they prefer, which is awesome.  I am always pleasantly surprised when I discover the varied opinions on things that I figured would be pretty homogeneous.

 

There's lots of "high" setting games, the most common probably being "high fantasy" that take many of the approaches mentioned here very seriously.  I chose GrimDark specifically to not go that way.  It seems an assumed part of the D&D social contract that all of the 4+ level bad guys (if not 3rd level too) have mysteriously vanished from the world where your 2nd level PCs are adventuring.  That's all good...and for me why I play GrimDark.  Personally, I don't like the idea of my players meta gaming every encounter thinking, "Well, we know we can beat them because they wouldn't be in the universe otherwise."  Zoinks, not in my GrimDark!

 

PCs choosing certain death over tactical retreat or fleeing is perfectly acceptable in the service of the Emperor...and is probably the thing that will truly introduce them to the concept of fleeing as a consideration in the future, a burnt Fate Point later.

 

I'll add a couple of things - I also like the Acolyte Cell to have encounters they simply crush; why should all the lower bad guys mysteriously vanish from the universe, either?  Lastly, as has been mentioned, there are segues in session conversations where I always make clear to the players that all the ridiculously horrific powerful monstrosities in the universe are still there.  This is Grim Dark people!   ;)  

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Why I think many people are adverse to running away: most games make that extremely difficult.

In many games the power increase by level is very steep. This means that, unless specifically designed as a roadblock, an enemy that's obviously too tough to beat will also be dowright lethal. If you don't realize you need to run right away, by the time you do a couple of rounds in most likeluy a few party members are down already.

Additionally, though that's more of an issue fir fantasy, 'people' vs. 'monsters' kind of games the enemy is often more mobile than the party.Take D&D for example: how many things can a dude in full plate actually run away from?

Several years of experiences like that have made many players reluctant to run, unless they get guaranteed get out of jail free cards like teleportation.

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I think the issue is clearly one of style.

If your party is made up of players who refuse to run away regardless of the odd then you're best off balancing your encounters.

If, on the other hand, you have a party who are happy to take a more pragmatic approach to combat then it's perfectly possible to throw in encounters that are above their pay grade from time to time.

Arguably the second approach is a more realistic one - hence my preference for it - but it also comes with the risk of a loss of group cohesion if the players can't hold back from wading in to everything.

 

Some suggestions for GMing high risk encounters:

- Obviously first up the players should be aware that this style of play is on the cards, and they should be happy with that.

- If you suspect (or know) that the encounter is going to be tough then you need to drop hints. Furnish the players with the knowledge that they should approach this fight at arms length.

- As soon as you as GM realise the combat is turning (which should be quickly given you can see both sets of stats and skills) start rolling knowledge based tests for the party for them to realise the same thing (if they haven't figured it out already).

- Have escape routes pre-planned. A few plug n' play scenes featuring tunnels or stolen speeders etc that you can drop into a fight going bad are going to be useful.

- Allow the players a little extra leeway to discuss tactics when in structured time so they can at least try to plan a covered retreat, or manage the rescue of a downed party member.

- Use narrative to instil the feeling that victory doesn't only stem from standing over the bodies of dead enemies. A well worked fighting retreat or a daring rescue from the clutches of a big bad can be just as rewarding.

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In addition, running away is frequently not that fun to do, especially in a game with about a third of the text dedicated to running combats and kitting yourself up for combats, and having special combat talents. This is partly a clash between the war/combat-based source material versus the focus on the collective stampeding over the individual also in the source material. It makes it hard to run a game that is fun to play at length.

 

I'd also echo that there should be plenty of combats that occur as an obstacle to something else or with set goals besides just killing everyone. The players, who have probably learned that combat should be about killing everything to win, should be told directly about these kinds of goals, or given big bright glowing hints pointing them in the direction of that goal. Also, keep in mind that your players may just want to play a game about killing all the monsters/bad guys, in which case you need to discuss the difference in desires with them.

 

And the general purpose of having "combat balance" is to allow the GM to create an encounter that he knows the players can succeed at under the assumption that having a narrative arc or focus on gameplay is more important than exactly simulating the world the players are in.

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