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Gregor Eisenhorn

Things I've learnt as a GM so far

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So there's nothing quite as good for learning about how to be a GM than actually going ahead and being a GM! I've played quite a few sessions now (my group has now gone through all of Dark Pursuits and after three sessions is only just coming to the end of the gallowsay section of Desolation of the Dead) so I've got a lot more to learn, but here's what I've discovered so far (pertaining specifically to Dark Heresy):

 

1. Combat isn't as deadly as it seems (initial impressions are that it's outright lethal). Between dodge, toughness bonus, armour, fate point rerolls and fate point wound/fatigue recovery, it can actually be quite hard to hurt players with regular mooks armed with autoguns. One of my players has a toughness of 40, wears carapace armor and is also a very competent medic. Hurting his character (he also has 4 fate points) is proving to be exceptionally difficult. The best I've done is in my last session I managed to get him to heavy damage (not critical) for the first time (chainswords for the win). He did promptly heal everyone up however (doesn't matter, even though it was right at the end of the session, everyone had exhausted their fate points so I'm happy with what I achieved, they certainly felt the pressure during their combat above the bone-grinder in the Fayne Mortuarius without it feeling insurmountable).

 

I have managed to improve the deadliness of combat, even if it's not quite where I want it yet by doing the following:

  1. Weapon penetration affects Toughness Bonus as well as armour. I'm not sure if it's meant to (I can't find an exact ruling in the rulebook) but even if my original interpretation is correct and it only reduces armour, not toughness bonus, I'm now playing it as if it affects both. I think this is both logical and it speeds up combat slightly (it works both ways, against PCs and NPCs).
  2. Mooks (troop level opponents) cause Righteous Fury. Sometimes, as in the case of my incredibly tough combat medic, the mini-crits are what I end up relying on to slow his character down in combat somewhat. The mooks themselves still die automatically if they get hit by Righteous Fury or are reduced to 0 wounds.
  3. Tactics. Sometimes even the best of ambushes results in bullets spectacularly bouncing off your acolytes' armour, but it does help a lot!
  4. I roll openly in combat. This reduces my temptation to pull punches (which is what I did a few sessions ago before I knew better!). If a PC ends up being taken out too easily...well I may review my opinion then but right now, that's what fate points are for. Speaking of which...

 

2. Fate points. These are a necessity for the acolytes and I have no intention of nerfing them even if with their current recharge rate of at the end of every session, they can be stunningly good at preventing your players from taking much damage at all. This is my fault, I decided to do something that I remembered from reading at the end of the 1e intro adventure and thought it strange it wasn't include at the end of the 2e intro adventure. I awarded my players a Fate Point, putting most of them at four. Man, am I feeling that now! In the future I think I'll only do it if a player has only 1 FP left, pulls off something amazing and we'd be sorry to see the character die so soon. Other than that, no! 

 

3. Combat...can actually be pretty exciting (although the system does suffer from having too many modifiers). During Dark Pursuits this was not my impression at all. It felt like a combat game, separate from the RPG itself and not even a particularly good combat game at that. It felt like a series of exchanging attacks and rolling dice. However, after getting used to it and doing the below, we've made it a lot more exciting:

  1. Do all the things I mentioned above about making combat more deadly. It increases the stakes and thus the tension for everyone involved.
  2. Roll for initiative at the beginning of the session, before combat is even a possibility. This seems like a minor thing on paper, the actual effect though has been huge and all of my players like it. I can flow straight from narrative time to structured combat time without stopping the story which makes it feel a lot more natural, as if the combat is part of the narrative and not a separate game. In my last session I actually forgot to do this, I just arbitrarily assigned an initiative order in what I thought made sense and it worked well. Once players realize combat has begun, before their first action I let them spend an fate point to 'roll a 10' for initiative if they wish to change the order; it hasn't come up though. Doing away with initiative rolls altogether is probably something I'll look into in the future.
  3. Remove the combat map, run some combat encounters without the map (or at least so it isn't visible to players) and then reintroduce it in the future. I love combat maps, they help set the scene and atmosphere and if I ever get to play this on the tabletop instead of roll20 will mean I actually get to use miniatures which is a big plus for me ^_^ . However, the problem with them I've encountered is that your players (this seems particularly true of those who have played the 40k tabletop game), tend to view the encounter as a tactical exercise and all sense of narrative is lost. This was a big problem for me in particular with the final encounter of Dark Pursuits. I subsequently found in future combats that when denied a combat map and they have to imagine the whole thing, my players retained their narrative descriptions of their actions a lot better (I also encouraged them to describe narratively what they were doing and that I'd translate it as necessary into the rules). This made the combats a lot more satisfying for both myself and my players. Later I had to do an encounter which was too large to do purely narratively so I reintroduced the combat map. It went really well, the narrative never really dropped during combat which makes me very happy, it means I can have the best of both worlds.

 

4. Tracking time can be quite important. My group's chirugeon is pretty **** effective so I've been enforcing the once per 24 hour rule on first aid.

 

 

I'm sure there's a lot more to learn, it's been a fun process so far. What has running dark heresy taught you about the system and how you should GM it?

Edited by Gregor Eisenhorn

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When you make combat more deadly, be careful of anything that reduces time to kill for everyone. Fate points mean that PCs are more likely to dodge any attack. If time to kill is reduced, then dodging is more important. So reducing time to kill benefits the PCs on average, though it makes the outcome of battles more random.

 

Things that only reduce time to kill for one side (for example, giving mooks RF) don't have that problem.

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Different styles, different perks from gameplay. I too made the error of awarding too many fate points in the past, but at least I can cripple them until they run out. =D

 

A few tips I'd like to add - 

 

  • Initiative: On roll20 in specific, setting up a macro is a must! In a matter of three seconds as a gm I can click on their tokens, hit one button and have a combat initiative all set up. I tend to let my players hit their own when I need to delay time (looking up an enemy profile, for example), but i can definitely get it up in no time flat or at any hindrance to myself.
  • Macros: In fact, set everything up as a macro in advance, especially token actions. No need to constantly look up weapon stats when it's all built into a sweet, sweet button. 
  • Don't roll for everything: Most of the things pc will do can be handled just with narrative alone. I learned very early on that you should only ask for a roll when theirs actually a chance of failure. Pcs don't need to roll operate to drive a vehicle, for instance. Just when their actively being chased and dipping through Imperial traffic!

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When you make combat more deadly, be careful of anything that reduces time to kill for everyone. Fate points mean that PCs are more likely to dodge any attack. If time to kill is reduced, then dodging is more important. So reducing time to kill benefits the PCs on average, though it makes the outcome of battles more random.

 

Things that only reduce time to kill for one side (for example, giving mooks RF) don't have that problem.

 

This seems like a good thing at the moment, I need to bleed away some of the fate points with early encounters each session and it looks like this would achieve that goal. However as time goes on I can see where your point becomes valid, something I'll definitely bare in mind but as dodge seems to be a skill everyone takes anyway, it shouldn't be a problem. We'll have to see!

 

 

 

Different styles, different perks from gameplay. I too made the error of awarding too many fate points in the past, but at least I can cripple them until they run out. =D

 

A few tips I'd like to add - 

 

  • Initiative: On roll20 in specific, setting up a macro is a must! In a matter of three seconds as a gm I can click on their tokens, hit one button and have a combat initiative all set up. I tend to let my players hit their own when I need to delay time (looking up an enemy profile, for example), but i can definitely get it up in no time flat or at any hindrance to myself.
  • Macros: In fact, set everything up as a macro in advance, especially token actions. No need to constantly look up weapon stats when it's all built into a sweet, sweet button. 
  • Don't roll for everything: Most of the things pc will do can be handled just with narrative alone. I learned very early on that you should only ask for a roll when theirs actually a chance of failure. Pcs don't need to roll operate to drive a vehicle, for instance. Just when their actively being chased and dipping through Imperial traffic!

 

 

Not rolling for everything is a super important one, I forgot to mention that! I very quickly learned that unless I knew what would happen in the result of a failed test and was prepared to run it, don't make them roll a test when they really shouldn't need to. It definitely prevents the whole 'failcolyte' syndrome (which I have to admit, I haven't had much problem with in 2e).

 

This macro business you speak of sounds amazing. I looked into it briefly but I don't know where to begin with setting up macros. Is there any advice you can give me as to how I can set anything like this up?

Edited by Gregor Eisenhorn

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Actually, yes. 

 

tokenactions.png

 

When your in a character sheet you go to this tab for abilities. See the green box? Add as many macros there as you want, and select 'show as token action'. 

 

tokenactions2.png

 

Of course, add a macro, text, or whatever you want here. I wouldn't bother with weapons if you have the DH2 character sheet loaded, it has automated fields to add melee and ranged weapons. If you don't, no worries! Just add /roll 1d10 and other tidbits for each weapon. You can make lots of fun macros

 

token%20action.png

 

Now whenever you select that token, the action will show up in an individualized token's macro bar (see above to the left). This is a perfect way to have lots of macros, each individualized for each players and npcs needs!

 

 

This is the init tracker macro I use on my shared macro bar that shows on the bottom of the screen. Click and play I say. 

 

Initiative tracker macro (adds initiative automatically, use with DH2nd Char sheet on roll20)

/roll 1d10+floor(@{selected|Agility} /10) &{tracker}

 

 

Here's a list of ready to use macros for our beloved game:

 

https://wiki.roll20.net/Dark_Heresy_2nd_Edition

Edited by Cogniczar

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This seems like a good thing at the moment, I need to bleed away some of the fate points with early encounters each session and it looks like this would achieve that goal. However as time goes on I can see where your point becomes valid, something I'll definitely bare in mind but as dodge seems to be a skill everyone takes anyway, it shouldn't be a problem. We'll have to see!

 

Why bleeding out fate points with encounters at the beginning? 

 

Is it so bad that your players have the stats to make it easy for them?

These are no judgement, just questions.

 

I tend to have deadly combat (was even criticisez on wanting on deadlier combat topic), but my players tend to wear good armours in combat, bionics and other equipments that boost their lifespan, cumulated with the right talents and the correct use of fate points, they can be hard to kill.

 

Remember that if you don't give them too many fate points over time, they'll end up burning some. They'll end up getting much insanity, they'll end up corrupted. Their death and cumulating difficulties will combe with time, wounds and the size of conspiracies they uncover.

 

No need to wear them off artificialy just to make the challenges harder, just let time do its job. Increase the diffilcuty over time, make your basic autogun-totting cultists be more intelligent, numerous or fanatics (suicide bombers, anyone?), make your ennemies have access, sometimes, to very good troops. Make your big ennemy prepare his plan.

 

Over time, they will lack the luck necessary to go unscathed in the terrible dangers that await.

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I too count Penetration against Toughness bonus (though not against Unnatural Toughness; that is the domain of Felling).  It makes things a bit squishier, which is what I think combat needs.  I don't give mooks Righteous Fury, though.  I consider that a domain of the 'important' people.  Instead, I'll just give them other tools to get those effects; weapons with Crippling or Snare or Flexible are my go-tos.  Tactics also help immensely; the worst fights my group has encountered are the ones where they've been flanked or surrounded, or ones that have rather skewed positioning.  As far as Fate Points go, I've changed how PCs gain them; they only recharge on rests, not sessions.  It keeps my players on their toes and more wary about spending their load without a care.  No pause just before the big boss-fight to get them all back!  It encourages some more tactics on their part as well.  

 

As one of my players is a Tech-Priest Chiurgeon of Doom, I've also tasted the power of Medicae and keep track of time periods as well.  Also for Fate Points.  

 

Also, I remember a time when I used a suicide bomber; it was a crazy cultist who refused to be taken alive, so he charged the melee lady with a grenade.  I rolled an 'attack' with it using Point-Blank and a few other modifiers to see what would happen (to see if the grenade jammed, mostly)... and he missed, just shy of jamming the grenade.  Scatter shows that as he was running up to her, he fumble-fisted the grenade, dropped it and proceeded to punt it over her head to hit the cliff wall behind them.  The melee lady was...  Incredulous.  

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My experience is, that combat is deadly enough - if you make clever use of some of the games mechanisms and think a lot about combat encounters beforehand.

 

Examples:

 

- in a combat inside of the mortuarium in the gallowsway, I made the NPCs try to maneuvre the PCs inside the grinding machines. --> the players where on the toes at all time

 

- rather weak Zombies dont even try to make wound damage, but go for fatigue (unarmed attacks, grapple, Takedown)

 

- Giving mooks a "troup leaer" that has a Little higher stats and something that differs him from the others (a different look, a Talent...whatever). Also give some mooks that are above street gang Level sometimes better ammunition (at least +1damage and +1Pen) and let them use their laser weapons at overcharge (makes +2 damage and +2 pen)

 

- one hallucinogen grenade can really really Shuffle a whole combat Situation and lead to...well...funny and deadly...situations (the Joker would love it, I guess).

 

- punish the use of heavy armour in all social situations (that are outside of Military context). It is also bad for subtlety.

Heavy armour would be everything above 3 for me in this case. This means, if the acolytes are not especially dressed for combat, they rarely have more than soak 3+4(TB)=7 --> even an overcharged laspitol would do 5 damage on average here

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Usage of non-personal/enviromental threats. If it has stats, Players can (and most probably will try to) kill it. Rather than solving the problem by creating non-stated NPCs, challenge them with likes:

 

- booby traps, from old good spikes and explosives, to more esoteric ones

- contaminated enviroment like irradiated areas of Hive, nerve-gas pumped to root the Acolyte infiltrators, or toxic sump under the cults refuge, also I do second Hallucinogen grenades

- all the range of "wireless" Mechanicum attacks, calling it malefic machine spirits to intrusiion gremlins, inclouding the old good haywire, to hit acolytes equipement or bionics (or let your AM strangle himself with mechandrite, Creatures Anathema and other supplements present some nice ideas)

- use Warp Phenomena, Perils and similiar tables (Hadex anomaly from Deathwatch for example), to create a truly bewitched and scary areas

- hit players senses, let the fight in dense fog, or unnatural complete darkness (ideally unpenetrable by artificial light) created by Tyrant Star or Sunkiller engine

 

Start using them gradually to avoid "Rock falls, everyone dies" and ALWAYS let players to be prepared somehow for them, but do not make it easy.

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- punish the use of heavy armour in all social situations (that are outside of Military context). It is also bad for subtlety.

Heavy armour would be everything above 3 for me in this case. This means, if the acolytes are not especially dressed for combat, they rarely have more than soak 3+4(TB)=7 --> even an overcharged laspitol would do 5 damage on average here

 

That's a fact in my games too.

 

My players tend to wear flak coat, mesh vest and such. I have no players running around in carapace armour (actually, one, he is an arbitrator and is commanding the arbitrator crew of the place, so this is fitting...for the moment).

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- punish the use of heavy armour in all social situations (that are outside of Military context). It is also bad for subtlety.

Heavy armour would be everything above 3 for me in this case. This means, if the acolytes are not especially dressed for combat, they rarely have more than soak 3+4(TB)=7 --> even an overcharged laspitol would do 5 damage on average here

My rule is that the players need to explain how the armor is concealed or NPCs will react to it. Mesh can be hidden if they cover it with clothing on top of all the areas the mesh covers, all other armors need the players to explain how they hide it. Flak, Carapace and Power Armor come with bulk that can't be hidden, but it can be disguised as some other bulky clothing.

Edited by Bilateralrope

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I was with up until you said power armor could be disguised with bulky clothing. Can you elaborate on that? Seems like only a rather large crate would disguise power armor. Then again, that does lead to a humorous scene with a power armored Inquisitor quoting that one famous line as he bursts out of the crate!

 

No one expects the Inquisition!

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Something that I honestly would like to see, would be an improvement of Righteous Fury.

 

I think it might have been too punishing in DH1, but now it is too weak against targets where you really need a push (especially high soaking targets).

 

Therefore I'd like to see RF not only makign a crit effect, but also having additional damage accourding to the 1d5 value rolled for the crit damage (so a 3 on the 1d5 would mean +3 damage). This damage should also be the minimum damage created (instead of the ridiculous "1").

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I was with up until you said power armor could be disguised with bulky clothing. Can you elaborate on that? Seems like only a rather large crate would disguise power armor. Then again, that does lead to a humorous scene with a power armored Inquisitor quoting that one famous line as he bursts out of the crate!

 

No one expects the Inquisition!

It can be disguised as something else that is at least as bulky as power armor. I leave it up to the players to work out what that thing is. A crate would work.

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Have you played with the concept of Repercussions?

 

OK - I've run most of my games as a Sandbox experience with Published Adventures being offered as Adventure Hooks here and there - if the Players "go" on the adventure then they are no longer in sandbox mode...

 

In the sandbox say I start something up but don't finish my business - that could lead to repercussions (this is classic gang mentality BTW)...

 

Say I go in like Columbo and ask some threatening questions - and then just feel like its all good after the fact - well not in 40k - you ask my NPC some aggro generating questions and threaten him - fine he sends people or just hires someone to get you - this is very simple...

 

Now say the PCs stomp out said hired help - now all the "players" in town are like who the F are these guys - by their acts they threaten use - even if they dont know us or that we exist?! FYI - this is how the american mob targets some people - if your too tough - you got to go - its THAT simple! Its also fundamental human nature not to "like" being next to in the air of or generally to live with someone who threatens you - not counting if your a criminal or psychopath in your own right...

 

This now becomes a practice in rolling out force - without our force or us even being know (i.e. on the proverbial radar so to speak)...

 

Footfall from RT does a good job of instilling this concept of play - which again is fundamental nature

 

A PROACTIVE Attack by "Foes" should grossly outweigh the challenge found both in a Random Encounter and that done by Player intent on Attack instead...

 

The DEFENSIVE approach by the "Foes" should be an easier exercise for the Players instigating the action - hopefully with some intel and planning to boot!

 

- most people run their games this way as most groups just wait for action rather than staging and starting it themselves

 

Closing: If players don't finish their foes - then that foe may rise up against them (even Conan the BARBARIAN knew this lol)

 

FIN

 

P.S. no funky new mechanics necessary

 

(on a side note - i dont care who the players are - lets see them not be challenge by a horde of say 120 gangers who come hours later - I post this due to an experience in my youth here in NYC whereby Ive seen just that happen - yes around 120 people showed up - it was magical to say the least)

Edited by MorbidDon

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My group tends to not go about in full armor unless they think it is called for, but given their current cover they do show off a bit; as 'agents of a Rogue Trader' doing 'Rogue Tradery' things, they'll keep some of their more potent sidearms and stuff on them, as well as the occasional carapace breastplate with filigree.  One is also working on acquiring their (third!) plasma pistol so they can put a Compact mod on it and have it concealed on their person even when having one openly on them draws the wrong kind of attention.  

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