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RebelDave

Ambushes and Surprise

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How do you deal with this?

 

I've just had an argument with my players over this, and I wanted opinions.

 

This was the situation:

 

PCs are set up to ambush a spice deal, in a cave, they have allied with a couple Stim addict soldiers.

 

I rolled up initiative.

 

I then ruled that (as per the adventure, Enemy of my Enemy in this case), than the Soliders loost their nerve and attacked.

 

Initiative order was:

NPC

PC

PC

NPC

PC

NPC

PC

(Plus some more).

 

(Granted, I made a mistake at this point, as I was using different coloured magnets to visualise the order so the Soldiers should have gone int he first two slots, but I dont think that would fix things if the order were different. However...presuming a 3 sided battled...).

 

The Soldiers went on PC action 3. (As this was their first action).

Everyone was waiting, until the Soldiers broke rank.

I ruled that every slot PRIOR to the 3rd PC action would be lost this round. THe result of those people being surprised by the sudden breaking of ranks, and not following the plan.

 

I was met with argument for 30 mins, over how "they always get screwed over" and "what was the point in setting up an ambush when we get not benefit from it" etc.

 

My point was that the sudden action of the Soldiers outside of the plan, surprised everyone, PCs and NPCs.

 

Didnt go down well.

 

 

What would you recommend?

How do you deal with surprise?

Do you have a "Round 0" where surprise actions happen, and THEN move into initiative order?

Edited by RebelDave

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Allow a competitive Stealth vs Perception check by 1 Player only, I usually allow any PC to do it so the Stealth specialist can shine and its representative of them guiding the others in finding places to hide. Then roll another check for the Soldiers, probably with setback.

Use the PC's results to provide boost/setback and either proficiency or challenge dice to the initiative checks of everyone in the encounter.

So if the PC's succeeded then allow an upgrade to at lest 1 PC, perhaps 1 PC per success, on their initiative checks. advantage/threat is spent in the usual way. If the PC's failed then upgrade some of the NPC's checks.

If the soldiers pass then they hold ranks. If They fail then they break ranks on their eventual first initiative slot.

Every initiative slot gets used, even if the first PC's slot is used for a double Aim maneuver but the party's big gun. If the PC's succeeded then the NPC's that act before the trap is sprung could be doing things irrelevant to the combat, but narratively important like moving crates, firing up a speeder, talking, having a picnic... If the PC's failed then the Vigilance of the NPC's gives them a heads up.

Just an idea, there's many ways to do it.

Edited by Richardbuxton

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Discussed a lot here... The initiative rolls are still followed as they were rolled... even if it means that a group that is ALLEGED to be oblivious to the other gets to act first. The roll is telling you they were NOT oblivious.A vigilant character senses something, even if he's not entirely sure what, that allows him to act. Water sloshes in a canteen, a momentary reflection off a sight, a capacitor whining as a weapon powers up, droid servos servo-ing... WHATEVER.

 

There are no rules for setting up an ambush but I've read that a lot of people (and I do this, too) add Boosts for the ambushing side's preparation. Did they hastily hide behind whatever was at hand? Probably nothing. Did they have time to do so and make use of camouflage, carefully choose locations to optimize firing angles while reducing enemy sight lines? 2 or 3 Boosts are in order!

 

You want to reward your players for playing smart but everyone needs to understand that the game and the dice are INTENDED TO CREATE ACTION AND DRAMA... but only if the drama is DRAMATIC ACTION! This isn't Shadowrun. This is Star Wars.

Edited by Fred Palpatine

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It depends on the situation. Sometimes I'll have a D&D-esque "surprise round" where the players can take a single action or maneuver (but not both) before the enemy gets a chance to react. Sometimes I simply give them all a free boost die to their first round of actions. You can give them a bonus to their initiative check, giving them a better chance of going first.

 

Also, since a surprised party uses Vigilance for initiative, you could decide that advantage from the check offers no benefit other than affecting initiative but threat produces setback dice, thus providing a benefit for the ambush but also differentiating between enemies based on their alertness.

 

A devastating opening salvo coupled with an ambush might force immediate Discipline checks for the enemy to keep fighting instead of breaking contact and retreating.

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A competitive check is a good idea.  Perception v. Stealth or even Knowledge(War) v. Perception or Leadership v. Perception, whatever.  Use that to see if the PCs get to go first in the first round of an encounter.  Everyone has an opinion on the rules but I take the devs advice, at that point the rules are pissing people off then it's time to step outside the rules.

Edited by 2P51

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Discussed a lot here... The initiative rolls are still followed as they were rolled... even if it means that a group that is ALLEGED to be oblivious to the other gets to act first. The roll is telling you they were NOT oblivious.A vigilant character senses something, even if he's not entirely sure what, that allows him to act. Water sloshes in a canteen, a momentary reflection off a sight, a capacitor whining as a weapon powers up, droid servos servo-ing... WHATEVER.

 

There are no rules for setting up an ambush but I've read that a lot of people (and I do this, too) add Boosts for the ambushing side's preparation. Did they hastily hide behind whatever was at hand? Probably nothing. Did they have time to do so and make use of camouflage, carefully choose locations to optimize firing angles while reducing enemy sight lines? 2 or 3 Boosts are in order!

 

You want to reward your players for playing smart but everyone needs to understand that the game and the dice are INTENDED TO CREATE ACTION AND DRAMA... but only if the drama is DRAMATIC ACTION! This isn't Shadowrun. This is Star Wars.

This is how we did it at my game.

Most of the time the ambushing party has another advantage, too. Even if they aren't going first due to flaking on the initiative rolls, the ambushers generally start ready, weapons drawn and in cover.

Stuff happens. Awesome characters in the movies step on the noisiest stick on the planet while sneaking up on a scout trooper and give the scout the initiative. Experienced officers come out of hyperspace too close to the planet and give up surprise when they're detected. Even sith lords take a few blaster shots and have to deflect them despite surprising the Smuggler who shot him when he should have thought he was just going to have lunch with an old friend. Roll with the punches because you're gonna get punched.

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I always only roll initiative, when the action starts, never in advance.

 

In your situation, if I understand it correctly, I would've had the soldiers open fire, and then roll initiative.

 

In case of a set up, I would've asked for Stealth/Deception from the ambushers, to let one of them act before initiative (perhaps more than one character in case of a particularly successfull roll). After that I'd have rolled initiative, with Bonus/Setback, derived from Advantage/Threat from the Stealth/Deception roll.

 

And yes, I agree, it's just not very elegant to penalise high initiative.

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The issue I have, is in this particular situation, the PCs were not sure what they were going to do.

 

They were just waiting to see what was happening.

 

Thus, they were taken as much by surprise as the target bad guys, when their allied Soldiers jumped the gun.

 

I will admit, what I tried to do was probably not the most elegant solution, but what annoyed me the most if the player just wouldnt accept it and talk to me later... one made out that it was a HUGE AND MASSIVE disadvantage, and made it seem like I was purposing screwing the players over.

 

They lost a couple of slots, in a single round.

I also lost a couple of slots in a single round.

 

They refused to simply roll with it and discuss it later, and wasted 30 mins out of a 3 hour session (As thats the most we can get) arguing with it.

 

To the point where i had to get up and go for a smoke. I had, what I had hope, would be a fun and action packed scene... and it turned into something I really didnt want to play anymore, because the players were somehow convinced that they should always and everytime, always have every single advantage, in any situation ever (At least, thats how I was feeling).

 

I was close to saying "OK, fine, you win, you always get the drop on everyone, noone can ever sneak up on you, or surprise you... and you win the galaxy... game over"

 

After the session, one player remained and said, that while he could see and understand what i was trying to do... to him it "didnt feel right" and thus, it needed changing.

 

Well, what he was suggesting didnt feel right to me... but apparently, that means I have to change to ensure they always get the benefits? Despite the fact they are generally far more powerful that any NPC i can throw at them, so unless I throw HUGE groups, or LOTS of groups at them... they are never going to struggle in any situation.

 

(One of my players, fully RAW and following them, was rolling 5 Yellow, 3 Blue.. and 2 purple..... geee. I wonder how that was going to go down?)

 

 

They claim the "lack of a surprise mechanic" is a flaw in the system.

 

I personally, dislike the "everyone gets a free round before initiative happens" as it gives my group 5 full actions (1 good gunner, and two very good melee monsters) before I ever get to act..... I can pretty much write off 2 minion groups of 4 before I even get a chance to do ANYTHING.... and THEN they get their own initiative slots... which tend to have at least 3 high on the track.... do deal even MORE damage...

 

By the time I get to do anything... im already at a considerable disadvantage, on top of their far superior dice pools.

 

And if I start throwing nastier mooks at them, I get complaints like "why is this stormtrooper (who dont pose any challenge to them) cleaning the toilet?"

 

 

I tried to explain that I was trying to "narrate a scene, its just a couple actions in a 10 second round... just go with the flow"

 

But that was apparently, far from good enough.

 

I'm at a loss for what to do... if I do one thing, they expect exactly the same in every similar situation going forward... they dont seem to GET that the rules are so much more flexible than that.

 

And finding a new group to play with, is NOT an option for me.

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I personally, dislike the "everyone gets a free round before initiative happens" as it gives my group 5 full actions (1 good gunner, and two very good melee monsters) before I ever get to act..... I can pretty much write off 2 minion groups of 4 before I even get a chance to do ANYTHING.... and THEN they get their own initiative slots... which tend to have at least 3 high on the track.... do deal even MORE damage...

 

 

That's why I suggested giving only ONE "surprise" slot to the whole group, before initiative is rolled.

 

In your example the trigger happies would have taken that slot. 

Edited by Grimmerling

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They have only been in situations were they could ambush TWICE. Including last night.

 

The first one, I messed up, and ive admitted that. I adhered to the Initiative order, I was running "By the Book" because I was entirely new to the system.

 

And last night.

 

And apparently, thats "Always screwing the players over"

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They have only been in situations were they could ambush TWICE. Including last night.

 

The first one, I messed up, and ive admitted that. I adhered to the Initiative order, I was running "By the Book" because I was entirely new to the system.

 

And last night.

 

And apparently, thats "Always screwing the players over"

 

I think, in all 6 Star Wars movies, there was one successful stealth operation. When Obi Won shut down the tractor beam on the Death Star, he seemed to get in, pull it off, and leave without a hitch. Of course, the theory is that he was being allowed to succeed all along so that Leia could be rescued and lead Tarkin and his nifty Christmas Ornament O' Doom right to the rebel base and seeing as how Obi Won walked right into a very prepared Darth Vader on his way back to the Falcon, the success level of that stealth op is debatable.

 

Even my brother, Palpatine, had his masterfully crafted ambush of the rebel fleet over Endor blow up in his face... literally (unless you believe the Robot Chicken version of his ultimate demise, that is).

 

I'd have to say you're not messing with your players.

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it sounds like the don't like bad things happening without a dice roll. As far as I see it your only "mistake" is not rolling a tough check for the soldiers out in front of the players.

The best solution for you in my mind would have actually been to flip a Dark Side Destiny Point then tell them the Soldiers broke cover. Destiny Points are such powerful tools for the GM when used to trigger major plot twists. For example the PC's have just escaped the Empire and have gotten to a city in the clouds, only to have the BBEG suddenly capture them as he had actually gotten there first.

Your players can do similar things and should be encouraged to do so. For example they are trapped down a Prison corridor on a moon sized space station with no escape rout, then they flip a DP for there to be a garbage chute you had not planed into the encounter. They still have to get it open, but now they can at least escape capture.

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I didn't like how surprise was handled by RAW, when I first read them. But, I didn't want to use the old D&D surprise round, either.

 

I'll try and summarise the conclusion I've come up with, that has worked smoothly with my campaign, so far:

 

In the case one side has the opportunity and the intention to ambush their opponent, they, as a group, have do a skill check to determine the outcome. The required skill will be Deception, if they want to catch their enemy out in an open encounter; Stealth in case of a proper ambush, or Survival for a Hunting/Wilderness encounter.

SUCCESS: ONE character can do a single "surprise Action" before the encounter commences.

TWO EXTRA SUCCESSES: One more character will get a "surprise Action".

ONE ADVANTAGE: One character regenerates one Strain; OR Boost to a single initiative check.

TWO ADVANTAGES: One character can perform a single "surprise Manoeuvre" (only one per char); OR one Boost to any "surprise Action".

ONE THREAT: One character suffers Strain; OR one Boost to a single opponent's initiative check.

TWO THREAT: An opponent can perform a free "surprise Manoeuvre"; OR one Setback to a "surprise Action".

TRIUMPH: Upgrade one "surprise  Action"; OR upgrade one initiative check; OR any environmental/situational boon.

DESPAIR: Upgrade a "surprise Action's" difficulty; or upgrade an opponent's initiative check; OR else.

 

After that initiative is rolled.

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Another option I have not heard discussed is to roll a check while setting up the ambush such as stealth to let the party hide or leadership to get the plan in order. Give this an easy or average difficulty and let them spend triumphs advantage etc like normal. They can either use any boosts etc on either their initiative check or their first action. This provides a slight advantage without being over powered and also give the chance for negative outcomes. IE that being rolled and then hiding behind a loose boulder.

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I didn't like how surprise was handled by RAW, when I first read them. But, I didn't want to use the old D&D surprise round, either.

 

I'll try and summarise the conclusion I've come up with, that has worked smoothly with my campaign, so far:

 

In the case one side has the opportunity and the intention to ambush their opponent, they, as a group, have do a skill check to determine the outcome. The required skill will be Deception, if they want to catch their enemy out in an open encounter; Stealth in case of a proper ambush, or Survival for a Hunting/Wilderness encounter.

SUCCESS: ONE character can do a single "surprise Action" before the encounter commences.

TWO EXTRA SUCCESSES: One more character will get a "surprise Action".

ONE ADVANTAGE: One character regenerates one Strain; OR Boost to a single initiative check.

TWO ADVANTAGES: One character can perform a single "surprise Manoeuvre" (only one per char); OR one Boost to any "surprise Action".

ONE THREAT: One character suffers Strain; OR one Boost to a single opponent's initiative check.

TWO THREAT: An opponent can perform a free "surprise Manoeuvre"; OR one Setback to a "surprise Action".

TRIUMPH: Upgrade one "surprise  Action"; OR upgrade one initiative check; OR any environmental/situational boon.

DESPAIR: Upgrade a "surprise Action's" difficulty; or upgrade an opponent's initiative check; OR else.

 

After that initiative is rolled.

I really like that system. Totally stealing it for my campaign.

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OK, so I've spoken with Rebel Dave in private about his issue, but there are a couple of things that I think are worth noting. In this scenario, the PCs are coupled with stim addicted troops. Dave said that he was worried about creating tension in so far as combat goes. My thought initially went to the fact that the tension isn't in the combat, its in the "keeping the troopers from going nuts".

 

I suggested that a Leadership or some other social check be made opposed by the troopers Cool (and perhaps with a couple of setback due to the fact that they are trying to do it on the quiet). If they fail, the troopers loose their cool and start to attack. This is where an opposed Stealth vs Perception or Cool vs Discipline check may come into play to see how much of a drop the Soldier NPCs get (using the results of the check to provide boost to either side), and the PCs make their check as normal (since they saw the whole thing unfolding).

 

After that, its a free for all, and roll combat as normal, letting the dice fall as they may.

 

If the PCs and soldier NPCs completely slaughter the bad guys, that's totally cool. The combat wasn't the hard part, keeping the group together was. Perhaps they find a datapad encrypted with a password that only one of the dead badguys knew. A bit of a reminder that there are ramifications to loosing their cool (or those under their guidance).

 

Just a few additional thoughts here.

 

As for initiative in my game, I run it as normal, and if the PCs do get the jump on the bad guys, I base the benefits they get to their initiative roll obtained from the stealth check.

Edited by GM Hooly

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I try and keep it as simple as possible. If a party sets up an ambush they roll the appropriate Skill (Stealth, Survival, Tactic, whatever seems right at the time) vs a Difficulty based on the best Perception or Vigilance of the group being ambushed. I Add Boosts or Setbacks for the amount of time they have, special features of the environment, etc.

The actual Ambush Roll doesn't happen until just before Combat.
 

Despair and you end up being surprised! Automatically cancel out any Successes and the PCs are at the bottom of the Initiative order.
Failure and you do not set up in such a way as to provide any bonuses but you still get to choose the initial set up.
Success and you get to divide the number of Successes up amongst the PCs and add them to their Initiative Roll. PCs can choose the initial set up and have weapons ready.
Triumph and all the PC are automatically at the top of the Initiative order, can choose the initial set up and have weapons ready.
Advantages and Threats are applied normally to the first Combat rolls
.

 

So:

1) Roll for Ambush
2) Apply results to Initiative Roll, losers of the above roll Vigilance.

3) Apply Advantages and Threats to initial Combat Rolls.

Edited by FuriousGreg

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I think the way you ran this makes perfect sense.

 

There may have been other ways to do it, but those ways would just be different, no better or worse.  The whole point of the situation is that an ambush requires discipline and coordination, and on the attackers' part, that means trading other opportunities and openings in favor of allowing the whole group the benefit of surprise.  It's perfectly reasonable to expect that, when that coordination is ruined by early jumpers, others may have already let a golden opportunity slip by, as they were purposely waiting in order to attack as a group.

 

About the only thing you could have done to make this more clear would have been to ask them all if anyone wanted to do anything in those slots (when the whole plan is still intact).  Unless they were wiling to break ranks, they should be using those slots to do nothing except delay and wait.  Once those slots are past, they're done.

 

Shoe on the other foot: ask them how they'd feel if they were the ones being ambushed and when they noticed the glint of metal that gave them the chance to spot the trap, rather than them being able to grab the senator and dive for cover, as soon as they spotted them, every single ambushing NPC who'd delayed got to act before they had a chance to act on their observation?  Wouldn't that sort of make it so that ambushes were always successful/impossible to foil?

 

Bigger picture, though, it sounds like these players have been somewhat coddled.  They're too powerful for most challenges, used to getting their way, and bring the game to a halt when something happens that they don't like.  It may be time to have a pre-session talk with them to voice your concerns, and get their reactions...before they get in the IC mindset and invested in their characters.

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