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balancing the difficulty level


jezreel

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As GM, how do you provide  balance in a game?-  by which I mean giving the players a good level of challenge ?    is it just down to experience? or are there rough guidelines?  I can see that you could roughly equate the numbers and skill levels of opposition to those of the players, but this would soon get tiresome. What about a larger group of lower level denizens  or just one very strong monster?    

How can players assess the strength of opposition - when to fight and when to run/parley/surrender  or do GM's just cheese the challenge level to make every encounter winnable?

And how does magic fare against muscle in the game?  

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In BRP, numbers (of opponents) can become a huge advantage.  Once you're out of AP's, the attackers can hit you at will, un-parried...

Similarly, a group of PC's is usually able to take down even a VERY strong single foe.

Armor can prove quite the equalizer, though:  if the numerous attackers cannot land a hit doing more than 10 points of damage, and the single defender has 10 points of armor, then nothing but a Combat Effect can penetrate, and the first Combat Effect has to be bypassing armor (or something tactical but non-damaging, like a trip or a knockback).  Then it becomes a matter of whether the lone but mighty combatant can whittle down the mass of attackers to just a manageable few, before they can muster enough Specials to take him/her/it down...

Magic can often be the telling difference.

 

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g33k is right about the numbers game in Mythras:  The so-called Action Point Economy rules.  Beyond that, skill rules.  Armor is nice but nowhere near as important.  If you always win your Combat Skill rolls because you're that good, you'll always get Special Effects (whether on attack or parry...), and you will have a huge advantage.

In terms of providing balance, start with Assumption Zero:  Does every encounter have to be balanced?  No.  Some fights would be untenable, and should never be enjoined.  A character could check Insight or Lore (Strategy and Tactics) to get the idea...or the kind GM could provide some narrative clues.

I think I do not know any GM that simply constructs solely winnable fights. :-)  There is no presumption of victory in Mythras...nor even survival.  Seriously, this is a big difference between Mythras and e.g. D&D.  Sensible characters are reluctant to battle--as in real life.  Less sensible ones tend to win the Darwin award for removing themselves from the gene pool.  That's not to say combat is rare; in many games, it isn't.  It's just a risky proposition.

However, given the fact that never being able to engage in combat could be rather, um, disappointing to most players, let's move on.

A good starting point is to pit a character against a clone of herself (stats-wise, anyhow).  Minor differences tend to have minor effects.

* A 20% difference in Combat Style is substantial.

* 3 Action Points versus 2 is often (but not always) overwhelming.

* Going first, i.e. winning initiative, is not such a big deal.  Getting an actual Surprise Attack, however, is usually devastating.  Stealth and preparation matter!

* Other things being fairly equal, having a high-damage weapon against little armor is a big deal.  You can take out an opponent with one blow.

* Other things being fairly equal, having a weapon with a Reach advantage is a big deal.  The opponent can only attack your weapon, unless she burns Action Points (or Special Effects) trying to close on you.

* Using a shield is often a big advantage--especially against ranged attacks.  In Mythras, shields are awesome.

* Having a Luck Point advantage over an opponent--remembering that in many people's games, and according to RAW, only PCs have Luck Points--is a big deal.

* Magic is extremely variable.  A powerful spell like Wrack could decimate an entire party with one casting, but it will take a while to be cast, and if the mage gets a spear through the guts first...  Folk Magic spells are quickly cast, but are much more modest in effect.  Still, they can turn the tide, sometimes.

 

 

Edited by Matt_E
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Lots of good advice here already. 

I generally try to balance action points, but add in skill difference as a factor here. If skill is half of the player characters, then I generally will go up towards twice the available action points. Normally this happens by adding more opponents. So, rabble at 40%, and the PCs are 80%, then I should feel pretty good sending 3 AP 2 guys up against a single 3 AP PC. The players have some options, like outmaneuver, that prevents it from getting too out of hand. They also take out rabble on single hits. 

For single monsters, I try not to do that, and I generally give them an action point more. I like to put in rabble with these to prevent a dog pile. 

There are some nuances that come in with shields that don't happen without them. One game, the GM asked me for advice on how to neutralize a two handed weapon fighter who would remove limbs easily. I told him to use ranged guys, just a javelin thrower or two, and they don't even have to be that good. Two javelin throwers pinned down that great weapon guy, even though they had 80% of the skill. Fear of getting hit kept him evading. 

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Yeah, Doug, I think the great-weapon wielder's best strategy there is to charge the javeliners. :-D  Use a Luck Point if needed, then make it hard for them to hit you, then hack them to bits.

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interesting and useful stuff- thank you

If a party are making a roll, say, they meet a creature, and roll badly against Lore(weird creatures we met on the way to the forum)

DOes the GM roll this for them in secret (maybe a task-type roll) so they may in fact roll badly, estimate the creature is easy to take down, and then fail horribly;  or do they roll themselves against their own skill and then  roleplay the mistake they have just made?

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Looking at your original post, one thing I encourage is to analyze the output of your group of player characters. Mythras (and most BRP game imho) do not follow the "balanced encounter" trend that D&D 3 and onwards attempted to utilize. This isn't a criticism of D&D's method, as there are uses for having some methodology to how to balance encounters.

Off the top of my head, something like this: 

[ (primary attack skill % /10) + ( median damage result) + (average armour value) ] x Action Points = Score 

Sum the score of all player-characters, sum the score of all opponents, and you have a very unscientific look at who has a distinct advantage over the other. Take the average Score of the player characters and use that as an idea of how many extra "PCs" of worth the opponents have over / under the group. Just keep in mind that dice can roll poorly in batches for either side, and mixed between the two sides, and the only thing PCs have to offset a run of bad luck is Luck Points.

You'll maybe need to do this once or twice before you discover eyeballing is faster and easier than crunching those numbers.

If your group does not have magical healing, assume that every fight could have serious consequences that could slow down the group for rest and healing. Combat in BRP games can be significantly more meaningful not only because victory is not a sure thing, but also because the "resources lost" have more impact on the group than in many other RPGs.

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that's useful advice too - thanks

Out of interest, do you set up encounters where the PC will likely need to AVOID confrontation to prevail? and if so, do you allow them to use  their wits/ skill rolls or do you tend to drop heavy hints that taking on that large Ogre when your character is unarmoured and at 50% with a boomerang is likely going to end in tears?  

I guess it depends on the player group as to whether they want their hands held or whether they want it hard and direct

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6 hours ago, jezreel said:

interesting and useful stuff- thank you

If a party are making a roll, say, they meet a creature, and roll badly against Lore(weird creatures we met on the way to the forum)

DOes the GM roll this for them in secret (maybe a task-type roll) so they may in fact roll badly, estimate the creature is easy to take down, and then fail horribly;  or do they roll themselves against their own skill and then  roleplay the mistake they have just made?

Depends on the roll, but largely I let them roll and roleplaying it. I try to make failure be "the lack of useful information" rather than "wrong information". This is less of a stretch to roleplay. A fumble I might have be a penalty on the first roll in combat or something. 

43 minutes ago, jezreel said:

that's useful advice too - thanks

Out of interest, do you set up encounters where the PC will likely need to AVOID confrontation to prevail? and if so, do you allow them to use  their wits/ skill rolls or do you tend to drop heavy hints that taking on that large Ogre when your character is unarmoured and at 50% with a boomerang is likely going to end in tears?  

I guess it depends on the player group as to whether they want their hands held or whether they want it hard and direct

Yes, I try to set up encounters that encourage tactics, stealth, or flat out avoiding if I can. But my group is also a bloodthirsty lot, who are looking to feel like superheroes after a week or two of real world activities, so I don't spend as much time on it. Still, it helps because you can put together encounters that are MORE tactical, and thus give them a better feeling of being a superhero. 

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I don't know that I try to set up encounters where instant combat would be a mistake, but I think that sometimes I do. ;-)  Yes, in general I would be liberal in dropping narrative hints or allowing skill checks, depending on the circumstances and nature of the players.

A slightly different way to set up such an encounter is this:  Construct the plot so that the PCs could use or just plain need the NPCs (may be monsters...) to help them progress.  Maybe the villain is the only one who knows a key bit of information; charging in with axes and crossbows would be a suboptimal solution to the real problem of interest.  If the NPC is powerful and cannot be intimidated, then the PCs have even more reason to put their swords away.

Cruel twist:  Don't advertise the fact that the PCs might need this dude's help.  If they discover this a scene or two later, and only after great personal losses (and perhaps a bloody retreat), maybe they will remember for next time.  If they kill the NPC and then wish they hadn't, the lesson will be even stronger.  You should have a good feel for your group before you pull a stunt like this, though, because if the players are as hotheaded as their characters, then some might quit in a fit of pique.  That might not be an entirely bad thing...but maybe playing on Friday night is more important than expanding someone's horizons. ;-)

 

 

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1 hour ago, jezreel said:

that's useful advice too - thanks

Out of interest, do you set up encounters where the PC will likely need to AVOID confrontation to prevail? and if so, do you allow them to use  their wits/ skill rolls or do you tend to drop heavy hints that taking on that large Ogre when your character is unarmoured and at 50% with a boomerang is likely going to end in tears?  

I guess it depends on the player group as to whether they want their hands held or whether they want it hard and direct

Like the hint when they need to jog quite awhile from tail end of the dragon to see the head of dragon. Or the time they realize that the mountain they are seeing is actually part of a sleeping dragon. Or when they do full blown lance charge with max critical damage and the opponent says 'clink' - I had forewarned them about that for awhile - several scenarios... Sometimes I do give warning...

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2 hours ago, Coffee Zombie said:

Off the top of my head, something like this: 

[ (primary attack skill % /10) + ( median damage result) + (average armour value) ] x Action Points = Score 

Sum the score of all player-characters, sum the score of all opponents, and you have a very unscientific look at who has a distinct advantage over the other. Take the average Score of the player characters and use that as an idea of how many extra "PCs" of worth the opponents have over / under the group.

That's a rather specific algorithm.  I wonder if it works. :-)  It certainly emphasizes the difference between 3 and 2 Action Points...but I think it underemphasizes the impact of very high CS scores, above 100...which may be rare, granted.

Also, give the lad a break and ask for mean damage, not median; they are the same, anyway, for symmetrical distributions like we always have. :-D

Finally, I'm not sure that summing each group's scores is the way to go.  If you have one character whose score is quite above his opponents', then his foe will be quickly put down (as always, barring strange results), and he will be left to help his weaker friends.  I think this magnifies his importance to his group, probably more that a simple additive model would indicate...off the top of my head. ;-)

 

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I agree with Matt that scores over 100 are rare, but also discounted here. Difference between scores is probably more important, and that would account for the over 100 penalty. 

But I do loves me some formulas, even if it's not really all that necessary :)

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22 hours ago, jezreel said:

As GM, how do you provide  balance in a game?-  by which I mean giving the players a good level of challenge ?    is it just down to experience? or are there rough guidelines?  I can see that you could roughly equate the numbers and skill levels of opposition to those of the players, but this would soon get tiresome. What about a larger group of lower level denizens  or just one very strong monster?    

In my experience, it is experience.

A party of well-trained PCs who work together can always defeat a party of roughly equal numbers and skill.

A party of chickens-with-heads-cut-off PCs will always lose against a roughly equal party.

A party of well-trained PCs who work together can usually defeat a party of fewer numbers but higher skill.

A party of well-trained PCs who work together can usually defeat a party of higher equal numbers but lower skill.

A party of well-trained PCs who work together can sometimes defeat a party of higher numbers and skill.

A party of well-trained PCs who work together can often defeat a single opponent, no matter the skill.

 

How can players assess the strength of opposition - when to fight and when to run/parley/surrender  or do GM's just cheese the challenge level to make every encounter winnable?

If the opposing party has higher numbers, they might be tricky, unless the PCs work well together.

If the opposing party has a Brute and some normal opponents, it might be tricky, unless you take down the Brute.

If the opposing party uses missile weapons then they are likely to cut you down where you stand.

If the opposing party is well-trained then it will be harder to beat.

If the opposing party is a rabble then it will be easier to beat.

 

But, a well-trained party with some magic and proven tactics proves very hard to beat, especially if PCs have access to Hero/Luck/Fate Points.

 

And how does magic fare against muscle in the game?  

It depends on the Magic.

In old-school RQ, Bladesharp 1 didn't make a lot of difference, Bladesharp 4 made a bit of difference against a normal foe and Bladesharp 8 cut through plate armour. Similarly, a good whack of Protection made normal foes struggle to do a lot of damage, except on a critical. 

Divine magic was even better, Shield 4 in RQ2 gave a lot of benefits, especially stacked with Protection 4, in RQ3 the limits were off so defensive magic could give very high armour points. However, for RQ3, offensive magic was limitless so your foe could have Crush 20 Bludgeon 10.

Berserker was good in RQ2, especially when stacked with Shield and Protection, we used to wander into combat with 12 points of magical armour, plus 10 points of iron/leather giving 22 points of armour, so we didn't need to parry. We also played that Storm Bull Berserker gave Protectoin as a side effect rather than Countermagic for Zorak Zorani, so that increased armour to 24. Given an Allied Spirit with a healing matrix, a Berserk Rune Lord would be very hard to beat in hand to hand combat.

 

Simon Phipp - Caldmore Chameleon - Wallowing in my elitism since 1982. Many Systems, One Family. Just a fanboy. 

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I would not stand behind my formula as perfectly representative at all, but I think it would do in a pinch to judge the strength of two groups "on paper". It doesn't work as well at simulating creature strengths as well, though.

My thoughts on how to best capture the scores above 100 is to not use this formula long before you enter that part of play. ;)

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Yeah, I don't have a better one. :-D  That formula would probably pick the winner with decent accuracy, for parties of modest skill levels.  It's a hard problem, with many parameters and possibilities.

One general thing that has struck me over the past few years of gameplay with Mythras:  How well a plain brute with a decent DEX does is a bit surprising.  High damage + 3 AP + (good base Initiative + little armor to drag it down) + good CS score = many victories.  As I mentioned earlier, winning or losing Initiative is not usually that big of a deal--except when you can reliably one-shot an enemy.  You go first, you hit, you drop the opponent, you move on to the next.  This translates to not needing to spend many AP on parrying...

Of course the enemies will gang up on this dude, but if their group is not too much bigger than his, then this still is a winnable situation.  Double-teaming this guy tends to merely buy the enemies a little time, if he keeps one-shotting them.  Their best defense is happening to have the biggest types of shields, and ranged weapons.

 

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