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Kharol

Scaling encounters for high level PCs

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I've recently hit a bit of a snag in my encounter design, and I hope the lessons I've learned can be helpful to others.

 

We've been running the same Only War campaign since the beta rules, and the PCs in my game are now approaching the 10/12.5k experience mark.  They've picked up most of the obvious Talents and Advances for their chosen roles, and are now looking at branching into Advanced Specialties where appropriate.  The main issue I'm presented with at this level of experience is that a combination of armor and Toughness have rendered at least two of the PCs almost invulnerable to small arms fire.

 

The party consists of a Sergeant, a Commissar, a Stormtrooper, and a Heavy Gunner.  They're Vostroyan Firstborn, so everyone has a Good-quality Carapace chestplate, and everyone has managed to requisition Stormtrooper Carapace for their other limbs.  Both the Stormtrooper and the Heavy Gunner have Toughness in the 60s, and it's with them that the issue arises.  For example, in our latest session the Stormtrooper rushed into point-blank range to try to take out an enemy officer before he could vox for backup.  Unfortunately for him, he missed, leaving him surrounded by 6 hostiles armed with autoguns with manstopper rounds.  Of course, they opened up on him on full-auto, connecting with 15 or so hits.  Even rolling well on damage, he was only brought down to Crit 2, and this is only the second time he's been brought into Crit in almost a year.  He's probably going to pick up True Grit the next time they spend experience (the Heavy Gunner already has it), making him nigh invulnerable when he even takes Crit.

 

I certainly don't begrudge him his character's resilience; the PC's role as a bullet sponge has become a lynchpin in their tactics and has saved the bacon of everyone else in the party quite a few times.  The issue I'm having is that it's becoming more and more difficult to contrive challenging encounters for the party.  They've pretty much outgrown Troop-grade threats of every force they've encountered so far, and can stomp many Elites as well.  Orks pose little threat given their overwhelming firepower (heavy bolter, plasma pistol, bolt pistol, and longlas are all in their arsenal); even if the Orks manage to get close enough, the Commissar is a power/chain-wielding blender, the Sergeant can more than hold his own, and the Stormtrooper can always Acrobatics out and blaze away at Point Blank.  The Severan militiamen they're facing at present can almost be safely ignored, even with manstopper rounds.  I'm looking forward to introducing Dark Eldar as the current conflict ramps up, but Wyches as written are completely useless, and even Kabalite Warriors are likely to be mown down without inflicting more than one or two points of damage.  Of course, heavy weapons can always balance the equation; even the Stormtrooper would go down from one hit from an autocannon, but Dodge-or-die hardly makes for a fun encounter time after time.  Accurate weapons work the same way.

 

Of course, I can always throw more guys at them (ramp up encounters from 10-15 to 30 or more), but it's both mechanically tedious and somewhat unbelievable from a fluff point of view.  Vostroyans are tough, but they're still Guardsmen, not Space Marines.  It's totally subjective, but it just doesn't feel right for them to be shrugging off shoota and heavy stubber rounds, and eating grenades for breakfast.  Early on, the players were quaking in their boots at the thought of combat with Orks, but experience has taught them that they can survive encounters with three or four times their number and walk away at the end.

 

These thoughts could probably be better organized, but I feel like these are the main issues I've run into with mid/high-level play.  Some of them (the Stormtrooper taking his +5s in Toughness) will probably be addressed by future expansions.  So, here are some potential solutions and workarounds I've been considering.

 

To make Troops challenging again, I've been thinking of turning general issue troops into Hordes ala Deathwatch, and making others into heavy hitters/glass cannons.  If the Hordes are limited to no larger than Magnitude 25 or so (even 15-19 seems fine for most) they shouldn't get too out of hand.  They'll hit hard in the beginning (+2d10), but after a round or two they'll be down to +1d10, which will sting but isn't likely to be a one hit kill (at least with my party).  These would represent large squad or small platoon enemy forces.  The other sorts of Troops will be armed with special weapons (grenade launchers, plasma guns, big shootas, splinter cannons, etc.), and can probably only expect to get one or two high-damage shots off before they get toasted by the PCs.  I consider the latter different from Elites in that they do not have high armor/Toughness or high Wounds, and don't really have any special abilities beyond damage dealing.  If the Hordes get into close combat, I was considering just having them break down into their constituent units; the melee damage just seems too high, even as an abstraction.

 

Another option I've been considering is hitting them with squads of Elites in place of Troops.  Instead of a squad of Kabalites or Wyches with a Wrack as a centerpiece, just hitting them with a full squad of Wracks or Grotesques.  Mobs of Nobs for Orks, squads of Stormtroopers for Dominate.  As long as they're defending or attacking a high value target, it makes sense for elite troops to be there.

 

Any feedback is appreciated.

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Purely from a story point of view, I like the second option a little more. These are Guardsmen who have been around for quite some time, seen a great deal of the galaxy, shot it in the face…it makes sense that they would be picked for missions against high-value targets (or even targeted for assassination by mildly irritated Dark Eldar after they cause too much trouble!) Plus, they're **** near superhumanly tough - if I were an Imperial Guard officer, these are the people I'd want between me and the lasblasts (after they were cleared of suspicion of mutations….) I haven't played Deathwatch so I'm not up on the mechanics of Hordes, but aren't they there to represent a swarm of enemy troops for the Kill-Team (or Squad, in this case) to blast away chunks of? Wouldn't that provide that Space Marine feel you're trying to avoid?

 

I'd been wondering how the game scaled up myself, so it's great to see someone tinkering with it in practice!

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You're definitely right about Hordes changing the feel of encounters, but my reasoning behind it was: they're going to be fighting that many guys anyway; why not make the enemy effective?   Hordes get a number of attacks and deal extra damage based on their size, making individually weak weapons efficacious en masse.  It's the only way that a Gretchin or Snotling Swarm's 1d5 knife is ever going to even scratch a Guardsman.  Plus, Hordes test Willpower when they take enough casualties to see if they flee, which I find reinforces the sense that these are military engagements rather than last man standing free-for-alls.  Another way I try to play up the military nature of encounters is to include enemy officers that actually grant bonuses to their allies.  Because my guys are fighting Dominate militiamen, I use the Sergeant's Sweeping Orders as a baseline; when they face down xenos and heretics, I'll have to modify the orders to play to the strengths of the faction.

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I think you can maybe just let them play the Big **** Heroes. The Warhammer 40k universe is all about over-the-top heroes/anti-heroes beating the sh*t out from the lowly grunts (yes, even in the IG), and if the characters managed to fight their way to the top of the food chain, then let them feel that they are there. Petty enemy soldiers should drop like flies around them, and their actions can influence the battle (or even the whole war!) on such a scale that even high ranked commanding officers became supporting props next to the Squad. 

At this point, the actual fight won't give much challenge (except when the Squad encounters enemies of their caliber, but I don't think that the Dominate has such invividuals), but the responsibility for wielding such a power will. Let the characters destroy whole battalions without even breaking a single drop of sweat, but don't forget to face them with the consequences: their reputation could spin out of control, the Inquisition could suspect something fishy behind their abilities, and whenever the Squad makes a mistake, the whole world around them goes haywire. 

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I think for the Dominate forces, an idea you can run with is to build an enemy squad at a similar XP level to the players and have them charged with hunting down their squad a la Enemy at the Gates.  Play the Dominate squad as the best the traitors have to offer, but have them just as smart and well-equipped, and be willing to retreat when necessary.  Could be fun.

Overall, using small-magnitude hordes seems to be the best bet.  I don't personally see the problem with the horde rules like others seem to, and I plan on including hordes in my upcoming OW campaign.

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Sniper…landmines…krak grenades…pitfalls…boobytraps…internal sabotage of equipment…adverse weather conditions…enemy vehicles…quicksand (nice that heavy armour)…specialized missions…enemy psykers…

segara82 likes this

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Your problem, at least to me, is letting your players do whatever they want and letting the dice decide everything.  Also, it seems like your players are at least slightly power gamers.

 

One big way to help balance things out is A) As they are not officers (at least dont seem to be), why is their CO/Commissar(s) letting them run around with all of this non-regulation/non-standard equipment.

If you want to balance encounters, dont let them have all of this cool equipment, at least not as standard kit.  If the heavy has say, a missile launcher as standard wargear, if he wants say, a lascannon, he rolls to see if he gets it FOR THAT MISSION, if they decided to keep, problems arrise with the commisariat.  Also, if they are looting corpses and keeping war trophies, start having random locker inspections and get in trouble for non-regulation equipment.

 

If you dont want to do that, like others have said, give the NPC enemies better stats and wargear.  Your PCs should fear running into a squad of Severan Dominate Storm Troopers with their hot-shot lasguns and maybe a couple of plasma guns/melta guns.  Or how about making them go up against vehicles as an infantry unit, then they actually have to think.

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I'm going to have to respectfully disagree with both of your initial assertions.  My players are far from power gamers; it's just a natural development as characters advance for them to pick up equipment and abilities that increase their survivability.  It would be a little strange in the system as FFG designed it for the survivors of a dozen missions to be missing shots half the time and dying of grot shankings.  And their advancements make sense in terms of their Specialties; the Sergeant has concentrated primarily on Fellowship, the Commissar on melee prowess, and the Heavy Gunner and Stormtrooper on marksmanship.  As for letting the dice decide everything, at some point in the game you're going to have to roll dice.  If someone needs a 10 to acquire Stormtrooper Carapace, and they roll a 7, it's against all rules of fair play to deny it to them.  I wouldn't tell them that they miss in combat if they hit, or that they failed to elude the Orks if they succeeded.  Maybe I'm missing your point, though.

I assume that the reason their CO is allowing them to carry the extra equipment is because they have requisitioned it through the proper channels and have the paperwork to prove it.  We've been playing weekly for almost a year now, and some of the equipment they have took them actual out of game months to acquire.  It would feel unfair to strip them of it with no possible redress on their part.  They tried battlefield looting early on in their careers, but it got too hairy too fast and they ditched the stuff, so everything they have now is totally legitimate.  I could pull gimmicks like all of their carapace armor needing to be recalled for inspection, but that would probably get old fast.

I think an eventual workaround to this issue might be to institute a Renown mechanic as in Deathwatch.  Maybe grunt-level PCs just shouldn't be able to requisition Stormtrooper Carapace or melta guns; it does seem to go against the fluff quite a bit.  Only officers carry that stuff, so only officers should be able to roll to acquire it.

The higher-powered NPCs are a must, and vehicles have begun to make an appearance already.

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Thanks for the response, and I never said they were power gamers, just seemed to be, so thank you for clarifying that.  I am more proud of your players now.  So with your players then having all of this cool equipment (legaly) that is fine then, just keep sending them on harder and harder missions with a lower chance of success.  That is what would happen.

 

And what  was saying about letting dice decide everything was that, tes if they rll a 10 and only needed a 7 give it to them, but should they have even been allowed to roll is the point I was making.

 

So there is no easy answer for scaling, but all I can is make each encounter harder, but start small, and if you have been GMing for that long you should have a good idea of what they can/cant handle.  Good luck.

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Hey, I'm first going to tell you I truly understand your pain. I've run a DH campaign from start to ascension, and remade the characters in Only War over the past 2 years. I recommend against hordes, as they are really boring to play against and to use. Depends on your  group, but getting bogged down and grinding a horde up is too abstract to be fun ('ok I do 9 magnitude damage, how's the horde look?' 'You killed a few guys, but they are still in it' 'thrilling').

 

I recommend fewer but more exciting and powerful bad guys. DON'T feel bad about customising your NPCs to fight the party! Your PCs are elite, and so they get elite enemies. Make the basic mooks fairly decent (stats in the 35-45s and with skills like dodge), and give them equipment that can threaten the whole party. Gernades are perfect to give your mooks the capacity to wound tanks, particularly Iron Eater grenades. Using orks as an example don't use boyz, use Flash Gits with fancy shootas that have high pen but overheat (blastier). Add in a few special mooks: tanks, supports, and assassins. A mega armoured Nob can go toe to toe with the storm trooper and tie up his attention. Make him tough enough to tank a good few solid hits from the party, with weapons that can mess up the tank if he rolls well. Get some meks with custom force fields to support the boyz, and add Kommando's to flank around, threaten the squishes and give them high dodges so the commissar blender doesn't just murder everything in his path. Finally, DO use heavy weapons, but be merciful. Don't just ambush the party, but have weapons set up that sort of set the boundary (try to just walk through here and you die) and to show when the NPCs man business.  

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Remember, you can change the skills, talents, and stat line, equipment to challenge your players as well. I have an Ogryn and storm trooper with Toughness 60+, and i think both are over 20 wounds. the ogryn is near 30 i think. My NPC enemies are coming equipped with pulse rifles next gaming session we have :P

but yes, you need to find a way balance it out. why not do the same setup as your player group is. a couple of hard hitters and soakers going for theirs. and the underlings going for the others. :)

Edited by Mr T

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Well, my PC squad started as Hunter-Killer, which helped from the get-go, but my reasoning for thier missions getting harder and harder is the development of a reputation as reliable problem-solvers. When rolling for aquiring gear, there is an option to increase their chances due to squad fame. I figured that the same fame that lets them get gear should be noticed, also, but their commanders and the Inquisition. Any difficult missions I can think of, be it assasinations, infiltration and detonation of a rebel-occupied arms factory, or otherwise, I have assigned to them because they're all-stars of the Guard in their system.

 

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If you're looking for different enemies to put them up against try pulling them from Dark Heresy and Rogue Trader.  Have the Inquisition "borrow" them from their unit and send them to an abandoned Mechanicus research base to recover the research data.  Then you can through enemies that are tough but animals so they lack organization.  Then when they arrive they can fight Genestealers or some other dangerous batch of badies in small numbers at them with a lot or organization.  Then have them fight their way out of the base through more of the starting enemies or weaker ones depending on their strength.  If they have limited healing in between combat encounters it will slowly erode their combat capability making the game progressively harder for them.

 

You could also have the general send them on a suicide mission that they're not suppose to return from so they have to figure out a way to return to base through hostile territory... 

 

Spice up the types of missions with off duty hunting parties going after Ambulls and other exotic beasts you can make in Rogue trader with Stars of Inequity.  Lets see how they handle a massive creature with 55 wounds, 70 strength (with unnatural strength), 75 toughness, and multiple arms along with other characteristics.

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Well, it seems like you've discovered one of the disadvantages of how Toughness is handled in these games. But at least it sounds as if everyone is having fun, and you are merely looking for ways to spice up the game? :)

 

I'd go with the suggestion from Mr T - when your players can gain higher attributes, additional skills/talents and better gear, then in theory so can the enemy! The system is fairly easy to modify, so don't shy back from coming up with your own ideas for elite troops or dangerous xenos to challenge your squad. Armoured vehicles with large weapons can become fairly dangerous as well, and are probably not so uncommon in warzones. Mine fields, suppressive fire, aerial support .. all these things can make for additional hazards your guys need to watch out for, possibly forcing them to change their tactics and adapt to the unique situation at hand.

 

I usually recommend against pulling enemies (or equipment) from the other games as they were clearly not designed for use with Only War, but in this case it might be worth a try to "go shopping" in other books, given your players resilience against things from their own environment. Maybe you could even have them face enemies from the Deathwatch RPG, or how about encountering a couple Chaos Marines?

 

And I agree with the previous posters' scepticism about the Horde mechanics. Apart from the issue of them potentially "feeling strange" due to the abstraction, the way Hordes work also make them incredibly random, with all those d10's running the risk of yielding both "not even a scratch" and instakills, and anything in-between. I'd rather recommend something that is a little more consistent, meaning a higher point value behind a single d10, or two at maximum.

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Seems to me a small tweak in the TB/armor rules would fix your problem. I've tried having a minimum damage of 1 if armor is overcome. Say, if you got someone with TB 4 and S Carapace 6, if he takes 7 or more damage (but less than 12) he takes 1 damage. This means a mass of troops with Lasguns may wound a Space Marine with Armor 10 or 12 sometimes, but not much per shot. TB still subtracts damage but doesn't give the "naked dwarf syndrome. "

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I can actually sympathize with that a bit. My group is to about 5K in XP and they've been quite effective. Some of it was a bit of luck on the front of their logistics rolls with a couple special items (which they had a rather interesting time hiding before commissar inspections of their gear( , The best way I can see it would probably be a combination of a few small swads with sergeaants ace proper leaders, also, if the guys tend towards certain tactics consistently that should also work against them for any tactically minded enemies.

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Seems to me a small tweak in the TB/armor rules would fix your problem. I've tried having a minimum damage of 1 if armor is overcome. Say, if you got someone with TB 4 and S Carapace 6, if he takes 7 or more damage (but less than 12) he takes 1 damage. This means a mass of troops with Lasguns may wound a Space Marine with Armor 10 or 12 sometimes, but not much per shot. TB still subtracts damage but doesn't give the "naked dwarf syndrome. "

 

A mass of troops with lasguns will wound a Space Marine sometimes with RAW right now.

 

I've done the math. 40 lasgun-armed Guardsmen (not taking things like Get Them! into account) witll kill a Space Marine in about 5 rounds (= 25 seconds) on average, IIRC.

 

Let's do the math again. Standard Guardsman from OW book vs. generic Space Marine from BC book.

 

40 Guardsmen firing at short range semi-auto with aim actions. Each has a 55% chance to hit. Including semi-auto, that's an average of about 60 hits a round. The Space Marine's Dodge will on average neutralize one of those hits, so that's 59.

 

That's 59 hits = 5.9 Righteous Furies. Let's round up just to  make things easier. That's 6 wounds a round. If they are firing on overload, 50% of the time a hit will hit an AP8 location, and since 15 > AP6 + TB8, they will also do a d5 critical. 6 x .5 = 3 criticals a round. So in an average round the SM will take 6 wounds and 3 critical hits.

 

He has 20 wounds and True Grit. True Grit is irrelevant here since these are all doing just 1 wound anyway. Death is around the -8 wounds level IIRC. So he will die in an average of 28/6 = 5 rounds (rounding up), in which time he will have taken 3 x 5 = 15 Critical Hits (to the arms, head, and/or legs).

 

(The math is slightly off because I didn't factor in that 10% of lasguns on overload will Jam in a round, so it might be a little bit longer -- hence why I rounded up to 5.)

 

EDIT: actually they'll kill a terminator in 7 rounds (=35 seconds). They won't do any Crits on it though.

Edited by bogi_khaosa

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You and your Righteous Fury.  :lol:

 

There's no reason to have those Guardsmen fire on Overload, by the way. Just issue them with rocks and have them throw these at the Space Marine. RF Crits do not stack, after all.

 

Or we can re-work both RF and TB skin armour into something less silly where 40 guys don't have to spend half a minute gunning down a single target.

Edited by Lynata

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I don't see what your problem is with Righteous Fury. I find it baffling.

 

Crits do not stack but they are highly likely to leave the Marine with very serious injuries. Rocks cannot fire semi-auto BTW so it should take a good 2-3 rounds longer. :)

 

I think taking half a minute to gun down an Astartes is very fluffy. :)

 

Anyway, you may not like the RF mechanic, but it exists, and this is why "a mass of troops with Lasguns may wound a Space Marine with Armor 10 or 12 sometimes, but not much per shot," which is the point being addressed. A mass of troops with lasguns can, and will, do this. This is a mythical problem.

Edited by bogi_khaosa

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Why don't you just increase weapon damage? Then you can evade the "space marines get beaten up by little kids" issue.

 

Let's see - lasgun does 1d10+8 Pen 4 damage, Sister of Battle has AP7 and TB3, average lasgun hit does 13.5 damage - 7, Sister takes 6.5 wounds per hit, dies in 4-ish hits.

 

Yup sounds right. We can't underestimate the mighty weapons of 40K after all. :)

Edited by bogi_khaosa

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And I find it baffling how anyone could think TB skin armour was a good idea. I guess such different positions are just the result of how we perceive the ruleset's effects on the atmosphere, and how we interpret the setting itself. :)

 

This version of Righteous Fury is offending my sense of realism. Yes, yes, we may be playing a game that has daemons and Warp magicks and futurespace laser guns, but that doesn't mean we have to condone such hilarious ideas as the RAW making no difference between a rock and a las blast when it comes to applying damage. The old "+1d10 bonus damage" at least placed greater emphasis on the gear itself, although I would have preferred if the damage would actually scale with the weapon's original damage. That being said, at least RF in Only War does not need confirmation like it was the case in earlier games, so that's at least one area where it got (subjectively) better.

 

Truth be told, I'm not even sure we should have something like Righteous Fury in these games at all, given that we already have a degree of randomness in the default damage profile, but I can see its merits in terms of cool narrative results, like shooting someone in the eye. The way you are relying on it to defend the massive resilience of characters in these games, however, is something I just can't understand. Even more interesting is that it is exactly this Righteous Fury that would also allow your Space Marine to get "beaten up by little kids". Yet somehow this is not an issue for you here, it seems.

 

Anyways ... yes, increasing weapon damage might actually be another viable idea. That being said, given the number of weapons this sounds like a lot of effort. Much easier to just do away with TB for a similar effect with less work. Though I am, as you know, in favour of adopting one of the alternate systems to make TB count somewhere else. :)

 

Anyway, you may not like the RF mechanic, but it exists, and this is why "a mass of troops with Lasguns may wound a Space Marine with Armor 10 or 12 sometimes, but not much per shot," which is the point being addressed. A mass of troops with lasguns can, and will, do this. This is a mythical problem.

 

1 point of damage is "not much per shot". 6 damaging hits out of 120 shots is "sometimes". So I'd say his point still stands.

 

And just because a mechanic exists doesn't mean we cannot look for improvements. That's what threads like these are for.

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