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Author Topic: [Agon] Actual Play  (Read 3440 times)
Valamir
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« on: August 28, 2006, 12:52:34 PM »

Agon was the game I left GenCon most wanting to try with my group.† It offers a pretty solid combination of features, not the least of which is an opportunity to get away from some of the heavy narrativist issues juggling for a while and have fun just killing bad guys.† In Agon you don't even need a reason for killing the bad guys...the gods tell you who needs killin.† Nice and straight forward both from play and prep perspectives.

Our game took place on the Island of Halavra.† The players decided to go after the mercenaries and restore the rightful king to the throne.†

To make contact with the royal family who were living in the midst of the captured city they decided to use nothing but bravado to brazenly enter the city and march on to the palace. My game prep had consisted of contacting the royal family as the first objective and establishing how difficult it would be (2d8 Harmful Obstacle Contest), and some suggestions as to which abilities might be tested based on what the players decided to do.† In the game difficulty starts at 2d6 for free but can be bought up with Strife (GM currency) and 2d8 is a moderate difficulty.† The Obstacle Contest means that instead of pass/fail, success is guarenteed (the players WILL overcome the obstacle) so the contest is just to see how much resources it takes to succeed.† This is a nice feature because it means you never have to worry about a roadblock shutting a quest down.†

I had the heroes test Spirit for the attempt and they rolled horribly.† Every single hero failed the test and took Impairment and (since I'd made the Contest "Harmful" as well) Wounds.† I narrated how the mercenaries showed no respect for the greeks, hurling insults and chamber pots at them and treating them as so inconsequential they didn't even try to stop them.† It might have been an opportunity for some Hubris, but as the first contest of the game I don't think anyone was thinking in those terms yet.

After getting cleaned up at the palace, the widowed queen sent them on a mission to recover the royal crown which had been smuggled out of the city to keep it safe from the mercenaries.† I had this objective set up as a 2d6 Simple Contest.† Since there were many different options as to how the heroes could find out where the local hero Brison had taken the crown I didn't make it an obstacle test.† If they failed, they'd just have to try something else.† As it was they succeeded, and followed the trail to the woods where they found the body of Brison tossed in a ditch with the Crown missing.

Here Keith asked to make a Hunting test to discover what had happened and rolled ridiculously well netting 8 total Victories in the process.† I had a bit of fun playing "CSI: Ancient Greece" using the high roll to justify explaining every little thing that happened to Brison including the exact cause of death and the number of creatures currently sneaking up on the party.† I had to ad hoc a bit of a rule here.† In the game Victories convert into Advantages that can be used in the future, but the table only goes up to 3 (i.e. 3 Victories = 1d10 Advantage).† The rules don't say what to do with 8 Victories, so I just gave him two d10 and a d8 to be used in the upcoming attack by the Shadow Apes who begain tossing rocks from the trees.

Here's where things bogged a little bit.† A combination of rules learning curve and not knowing yet how many minions make for a good fight caused the battle with the Shadow Apes to drag on well past the time it had stopped being interesting.† Additionally there are a few rules that proved too fiddly for my tastes in practice and some modifiers that led to a bit too much whiffing against minions who are supposed to go down quickly.† The rules set a limit for how many minions can be in a battle, and for this party the limit was 20.† I only used 10 but that was way too many.† With that many minions it should be a question of how many a hero can kill in a single round, not whether or not the hero can even hit one.† Luke had talked about some issues with whiffing in This Thread and while I pointed out numerous ways built into the system to avoid whiffing, the numerous negative modifiers proved to powerful for most of those ways and caused more whiffs than I like to see.

So here's what I've decided to try for next week's game:

Armor penalties gone.† In Agon there is no money, you can take whatever you want and the balance comes in from the tradeoff between bonuses and penalties.† Armor gives you the ability to shrug off damage, but comes at the price of penalties to attack.† Sounds good, but in practice adding in penalties to every attack roll proved annoying and contributed to the whiff factor.† So, I'm going to replace the penalties with Advantage Dice.† If you have armor your advantage comes from being able to avoid damage.† If you don't have armor your advantage comes from being more manueverable.† Being "more maneuverable" is represented in the current rules by simply not getting hit with armor penalties.† I'm just going to hand out Advantage Dice inversely to the Armor Dice.† 0 Armor gives no Armor Die and 1d10 Advantage Die. 1 piece of armor gives 1d6 Armor Die and 1d8 Advantage Die.† 2 pieces of armor gives 1d8 Armor Die and 1d6 Advantage Die.† 3 pieces of armor gives 1d10 Armor Die and no Advantage Die.† The Advantage Die can be used once per battle (like all Advantage Dice) on Attack, Defense (dodging), or Positioning rolls.† Not only is this easier to manage but eliminating the built in penalty everyone was suffering should help with the whiffing.

Positioning Penalties gone.† The positioning rules are pretty cool, and will become more so as we start to figure out the interrelationship with weapon ranges and the like.† This game there were too many detracting factors going on for the players to really see the potential in the system.† One of the detracting factors was Positioning Penalties.† If you get within optimum range for your weapon you have no penalty.† But outside optimum range you get hit with -2 or -4 on your attacks.† When you are rolling mostly d6s with the occassional d8 and a rare d10...-2 is HUGE and greatly contributed to whiffage.† Its also a bit annoying to have to perform math (even simple math) when the core system (roll a bunch of dice and take the highest) is so elegant and simple.† So, once again I turn to the existing Advantage system.† If you're one step outside of optimal range instead of getting a -2 to attack, your opponent gets a 1d6 Advantage die to their defense.† If you're two steps outside of optimal range instead of getting a -4 to attack, your opponent gets a 1d8 Advantage to their defense.† While the advantage to the defense still makes attacks more difficult rolling an extra 1d6 is much less of a issue than getting hit with a -2 to your best roll and so should help reduce the whiffing.† Plus it should be relatively easy to implement, simply pick up an extra die with your left hand before rolling.† No math involved.

I had some thoughts regarding the minions too, but I hate to change too much at a time.† If the whiffs are curtailed, minions might start going down quickly like a good minion should, so that issue may well take care of itself.

My primary plan here is, as much as possible, to replace instances of modifiers to the die rolls with Advantage Dice using the core Advantage Dice system.† Less math, more consistancy, and I think a more reliable probability curve less prone to whiffs.† I'm tempted to do the same thing with the Hero Abilties (since they are currently +2 in many cases) but they are HERO abilities, and so the actual bonus putting you above the range of mere mortals seems a desireable feature at this point.

So the above two changes are what I'm going to bring to the table next week and see how it goes.

[edited at the author's request to fix link - RE]
« Last Edit: August 28, 2006, 01:55:20 PM by Ron Edwards » Logged

Darren Hill
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« Reply #1 on: August 28, 2006, 03:39:55 PM »

It sounds like a fun session, especially the heroes being scornfully pelted with crockery :)

Additionally there are a few rules that proved too fiddly for my tastes in practice and some modifiers that led to a bit too much whiffing against minions who are supposed to go down quickly.† The rules set a limit for how many minions can be in a battle, and for this party the limit was 20.† I only used 10 but that was way too many.† With that many minions it should be a question of how many a hero can kill in a single round, not whether or not the hero can even hit one.

I don't see Minions the same way. Since heroes usually only attack once a round (unless using divine favour), the above section in bold doesn't make a lot of sense to me. I don't see Minions as Mooks, exactly, but as reasonably competent opponents that the heroes outmatch. It's perfectly reasonable to me to have players try to kill minions in a round and fail - they can put up a good defence, but even with the maximum number they are not going to kill the pcs.
I've had two big minion battles (the first time, 16 minions, d8 ability die; the second time, 10 d6-level minions supporting two d8 name leaders) and the minions being able to persist and threaten and harrass the pcs right up until the heroes beat the leaders was a feature, not a bug in my view. In that second fight (where the PCs were ambushed) it was three rounds before the PCs managed to kill their first minion, and there were still three left when the final leader fell: that means that it's harder for the players to simply gang up on the big guys. They know 1 success can take out a minion and reduce a groups attack bonus, so their is constant pressure to attack them - and the tension is heightened by knowing they might fail.
Whereas in the first fight, thanks to advantageous positioning and no leader present, they slaughted the 16 minions very quickly.

I can easily believe that there's a better way to handle armour, but I do see problems with your advantage die system, because of the way you can change your armour level between combat rounds (during the Break). So, I might start off with no armour, get the d10 advantage die and use it, then immediately jump to full armour. Also, if I'm playing a reasonably competent fighter with a d10 weapon and a d6 or d8 name, I see only two worthwhile options: the d10 advantage die and no armour (maybe!), or the no advantage die and full armour - with the emphasis on the last. I think you'll see a lot less variety in the stuff people wear. (My players tend to dump their armour once it gets to a d4 rating.)

I'm commenting just after returning from playing a session which contained a massive battle which might well have contained a lot of what some people are calling whiffs. 5 PCs against 2 18-point NPCs and 10 Minions who ambushed the Heroes (5 of them). The NPCs had a Heroic Ability - one high d10+2 Might and Wrestling, the other had d12 Grace and d10+2 Athletics,with a smattering of d8 abilities, and these were used to good effect to negate major PC hits - in addition to all those blows the PCs had which just weren't good enough anyway. The Strong Limbed guy in particular used his Might and Wrestling a total of 8 times, counting on that +2 on the later attempts to turn hits to misses, or vice-versa. Then armour, too. It was quite a while before either of these NPCs took any damage at all - but their resources were being whittled down (including armour, and Divine Favour which was being used for rerolls and open-ending rolls).
There were also lots of rolls where the PCs failed when these abilities weren't needed - where the players took reroll after reroll, and called in oaths for more rerolls, either to no effect - or winning and then watching their target do the same. (There were of course plenty of rolls where the reroll or creative ability worked first time, or so commandingly there was no point challenging it.)
While this can be pretty tiring in a very long battle with lots of opponents (or facing foes with plenty of abilities high enough to use for Creative Abilities or Helping each other), I think it would have been a lot less fun if the victories had been easier. More importantly, the cost for those rerolls, leading to impairments, affects the game's strife economy. Making players successes easier has a knock on effect there - the Strife bonus for taking Interludes should probably be increased in that case, since players won't need to take as many.
(After that last mega-fight, one hero had 13 impairments!, and several had 3-4 wounds.)

Likewise, I'm not keen on the Advantage Die system for positioning. It seriously weakens the need to make good use of positioning. Dropping the penalties by half is about as far as I'd go, or maybe: On Position +1, out by 1: +0, Out by 2: -2.
But I'm reasonably happy with it. I think frequent failure is actually a feature of the system. The so-called whiff factor heightens the tension in the PvP part of the game, where players are jostling to be the one who delivers that 5 or 6 point wound, and a lot of that tension will diminish if you can make it a lot easier for them to hit when they really need to. In the system as it stands, so the archer can be praying that the main villain, with one wound remaining, will survive all those attacks by sword and spear wielders - and he just might! Player behaviour - the way they divvy themselves up between opponents - will change if they can hit more reliably.

Also, about that 8 victories: that wrap around effect seems like a pretty good way to handle it. That was a pretty impressive roll! The highest I've seen yet has been a 21 (22, with a -1 bonus).
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Valamir
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« Reply #2 on: August 29, 2006, 07:47:35 PM »

I don't see Minions the same way. Since heroes usually only attack once a round (unless using divine favour), the above section in bold doesn't make a lot of sense to me.

Right.  Heroes only do attack once per round in Agon.  But in the Illiad heroes also wade through mere regular soldiers like a farmer scything wheat.  Even the lesser heroes don't have any trouble until confronted with a greater hero.  To duplicate that one would need to be able to kill 1 minion per victory.  Fred indicates he tried that and didn't like the result, but I'll keep that in the back of my mind.  Minions don't even get names of their own, so to me whether you call them minions or mooks is semantics.  They're there to make the heroes look good. 

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It's perfectly reasonable to me to have players try to kill minions in a round and fail - they can put up a good defence, but even with the maximum number they are not going to kill the pcs.


You playing with the same rules as me?  The current ganging up rules have 6 minions rolling 7d6+6.  That's statistically pretty darn likely to roll a 12 attack.  Even if you can't open minion rolls (and its not entirely clear to me whether you can or not...I'm assuming no since they don't have Divine Favor of their own...but I suppose they could use their master's the same as with the name die) with 20 Minions that's basically 3 nearly guarenteed wounds per exchange.  If you group them in 4s instead of 6s that's 5d6+4 which is still almost certain to wound a hero not willing to spend a Divine Favor to open end a defense roll.  I'm not going to do the math, but the likely hood of rolling a 9 or 10 on 5d6+4 is pretty darn high.  That means barring d10s the defense will fail with a lucky max roll opened with Divine Favor. 

If you have  4 heroes killing 1 minion for certain per turn each, they'll almost certainly suffer (barring Favor, Armor, or Fate)  5+4+3+2+1 = 15 wounds...enough to bring down 2 heroes, maybe three if the heroes defense rolls are low.  If the heroes miss half the time (not unlikely) then the wounds inflicted could double which is easily enough to finish off 4 heroes without the main NPC even bothering to attack.  Statistically this is almost certain, (unless I'm really fouling up my mental math), and will require a large amount of Favor, Armor Saves, or Fate to avoid.  Spending scads of Favor, Armor, and Fate to survive against the quest's main boss seems entirely appropriate.  Spending it against minions...doesn't seem that fun to me.

I'm not ready to change the minion rules yet until I see how the other changes go, but I had 4 heroes against 10 minions and the battle went on far too long and I had the last 6 minions run away because the universal player opinion was they (and I) were tired of rolling.


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I can easily believe that there's a better way to handle armour, but I do see problems with your advantage die system, because of the way you can change your armour level between combat rounds (during the Break). So, I might start off with no armour, get the d10 advantage die and use it, then immediately jump to full armour. Also, if I'm playing a reasonably competent fighter with a d10 weapon and a d6 or d8 name, I see only two worthwhile options: the d10 advantage die and no armour (maybe!), or the no advantage die and full armour - with the emphasis on the last. I think you'll see a lot less variety in the stuff people wear. (My players tend to dump their armour once it gets to a d4 rating.)

Well, I'm not a big fan of the change armor between rounds rule anyway, so I'm not too bothered by it.  I don't see the logic in having the hydra stand around waiting while a hero futzes with the straps of his greaves.  Just throw that option out and problem solved.  I don't understand your less variety comment at all.  Currently 1d8 armor is the most optimal option as players are highly motivated to avoid whichever piece gives them the attack penalty to their favored weapon.  If I'm melee fighting I'll wear helmet and greaves, and if I'm missile fighting I'll wear breastplate and greaves.  ESPECIALLY if you let players switch armor around between exchanges, why would I ever voluntarily eat a -1 attack?  So its not like all 4 options are equally usefull currently.  But aside from that, I'm not following your logic with my trial rule.  Why is 1d8 armor 1d6 Advantage any less optimal than 1d10 armor 0 advantage?  Is it your position that a d6 advantage is fairly useless and so no one would give up the extra armor level to get it?  That would be a hard case to make since the vast majority of Creative Dice uses and Advantage Dice earned from victories are 1d6... 

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While this can be pretty tiring in a very long battle with lots of opponents (or facing foes with plenty of abilities high enough to use for Creative Abilities or Helping each other), I think it would have been a lot less fun if the victories had been easier. More importantly, the cost for those rerolls, leading to impairments, affects the game's strife economy. Making players successes easier has a knock on effect there - the Strife bonus for taking Interludes should probably be increased in that case, since players won't need to take as many.
(After that last mega-fight, one hero had 13 impairments!, and several had 3-4 wounds.)

I'm going to reserve detailed comment on the Stife system until I finish up a complete Island.  Without seeing the full cycle its impossible to tell whether Strife is too easy or hard to come by or just right.

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Likewise, I'm not keen on the Advantage Die system for positioning. It seriously weakens the need to make good use of positioning. Dropping the penalties by half is about as far as I'd go, or maybe: On Position +1, out by 1: +0, Out by 2: -2.

I'd initially considered just adding 2 to each so the modifiers become +2/0/-2 instead of 0/-2/-4.  But I really want to get rid of as many of the plusses and minuses as possible.  They do very wonky things to the dice mechanic.  Lets say all the abilities are d6s, just to keep things easy.  I'm out of position so I get a -2 to my attack roll.  If any of your defense dice come up a 5 or 6...then the whole system is stressed.  No matter how many abilities I bring in I can never hit you without getting a lucky 6 and spending Divine Favor. I could narrate Creative Abilities until I run out of ideas and cash in all the oaths I want, and nothing short of luck and Divine Intervention can even allow me to hit you.   I could be rolling 12 d6s but 33% of the time your 1d6 can stop me cold. Think about that.  33% of the time your 1d6 will beat my 12 d6 just from positioning penalties...that's a pretty hard core penalty.  55% of the time 2d6 will stop me cold.  That reduces the game to shear dice luck.  Creative abilities don't matter.  Oaths don't matter.  Advantages only rarely matter and can only be used once.  Now lets go ahead and throw in d8s and the occassional d10 into the mix.  While there's a 33% chance of your 1d6 defense rolling a 5 or better, theres only a 25% chance of my d8 rolling a 7 or better.  I only have a limited number of d8s to call upon while you have scads of d6s to call upon (most of your abilities are d6s).  I may have at most 2d10 to start the game with.  1d10 with a -2 penalty has only 40% chance to beat your 5 with my best die.  66% chance if I throw both of them.  So I call in my two best abilities...Impair them both...and still will fail to overcome your simple lucky 1d6 defense 1/3rd of the time.  Pure luck and spending Favor will win the day if I lose the Positioning game...that doesn't sound fun to me, and in practice I didn't find it fun. 

Even when I was on the winning side I didn't find it fun.  Its a trivial matter for the Antagonist to design NPCs and Minions that will stomp all over the party in the Positioning game.  d10 Athletics, d10 Cunning, Ambush, Swift, and 3d8 worth of Advantages are all pretty darn effective at making the range anything I want it to be.  If the bad guys are armed with Javelin based weapons and the heroes aren't the Antagonist will be able to keep most of the heroes at a positioning disadvantage pretty easily.  Swift is particularly nasty in this regard as it can be used any time.  With the positioning penalties being so high using anything but a Javelin is a crap shoot. 

So I don't mind at all reducing the potency of the positioning penalty.  Winning the positioning game should give you an edge not decide the outcome of the battle.   We'll see how the advantage system works in practice.  Maybe it reduces it too much.  Maybe 1d8 / 1d10 would be better if less intuitive.  We'll see.


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But I'm reasonably happy with it. I think frequent failure is actually a feature of the system. The so-called whiff factor heightens the tension in the PvP part of the game, where players are jostling to be the one who delivers that 5 or 6 point wound, and a lot of that tension will diminish if you can make it a lot easier for them to hit when they really need to. In the system as it stands, so the archer can be praying that the main villain, with one wound remaining, will survive all those attacks by sword and spear wielders - and he just might! Player behaviour - the way they divvy themselves up between opponents - will change if they can hit more reliably.

Maybe.  You could be absolutely right and I just don't have the patience for long drawn out combat-by-attrition any more.  One of the other ideas on my back burner is reducing the wound levels to 4 to make things (and heroes) go down quicker and resolve the combat in fewer rounds.  I'm not going to do that until I see how the above goes, but its in my quiver.  Why?  Not because there's anything broken with 6 levels...but for me (and even more so for the majority of the group I'm playing with) battles that go on longer than 6 rounds result in glazed over eyes and boredom. 


With 4 heroes, 1 NPC and 12 Minions there are:
6 Positioning Rolls (one per hero, 1 per NPC, 1 for the Minions as a group)
8 attack rolls (one per hero, 1 per NPC, 3 for Minions in groups of 4) and
8 defense rolls (1 vs. each attack).

Thats 22 dice rolls per exchange. 
In 6 exchanges that 132 fist fulls of dice hitting the table...

that's the extreme limit of what I'm capable of maintaining interest in.  Thats not even counting time spent on making the Positioning moves, figuring out the attack order, and dicing off for order ties.   No matter how cool the monster or dramatic the encounter 132 dice rolls justs sucks the excitment out of anything for me.   That's not saying anything bad about Agon...but it is saying something about what I need to do to keep my players interested in it.

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John Harper
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« Reply #3 on: August 29, 2006, 10:30:13 PM »

Minions are a resource hog for the heroes. Yes, you need to spend Divine Favor and take Armor hits to face their attacks. Then you cut them down like chaff (that's what "attack again" is for). If the heroes manage an ambush, they should kill 3 minions per hero on the first exchange. That's six divine favor, sure, but it saves you a lot of grief, and getting divine favor back is the easiest thing in the game. Your 4 heroes should reliably kill 8 minions right off the bat, if they're spending their resources well.

So, yeah, I agree with you. Minions can be nasty. Too nasty? Depends on your tastes, I guess. In my games, they die by the score and the heroes rarely take a scratch -- minions have never come close to defeating a hero. But my guys go through divine favor like water. That's what it's there for. Minions most often end up costing an Interlude to sacrifice, maybe a wound or two, and that's pretty much it.

Now, my super awesome minions with all kinds of gnarly powers... those guys are gonna kick ass. But they can hardly be described as "mooks" at that point, can they?

Having said all that, I'm always open to ideas about improving the minion rules (and Ralph has been full of awesome ideas for this game). I'm not saying they're perfect as-is or anything.
« Last Edit: August 29, 2006, 10:33:25 PM by John Harper » Logged

Agon: An ancient Greek RPG. Prove the glory of your name!
Darren Hill
Member

Posts: 861


« Reply #4 on: August 30, 2006, 05:07:04 AM »

Minions don't even get names of their own, so to me whether you call them minions or mooks is semantics.† They're there to make the heroes look good.

John's explained why I don't buy that - Minions can be very dangerous foes, even monstrous ones.†

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It's perfectly reasonable to me to have players try to kill minions in a round and fail - they can put up a good defence, but even with the maximum number they are not going to kill the pcs.


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You playing with the same rules as me?† The current ganging up rules have 6 minions rolling 7d6+6.† That's statistically pretty darn likely to roll a 12 attack.
John's mentioned one thing here: PCs using Divine Favour to attack again. (And I don't think Mooks get to use thier master's divine favour, so they don't get roll ups: a good thing considering how likely it is that they'll roll a maximum.)
And yes, your math is skewed :) Or at least your logic.
A couple of things you're overlooking are: Positioning and Attrition.
if you have bands of 6 mooks, they aren't going to stay together long. Only 1 or 2 PCs need to beat the  mooks each round, in addition to killing 1 or 2, to wipe out a mook groups effectiveness. Now opposition of, say, 3 groups of 6 minions will be frightening for a few rounds, but it's a safe bet that close to half of their hits are going to be negated by armour for those early rounds, and some of them are still going to be low enough to be cancelled via Helping without too many resources.
I've done three big mook battles, two with 15-16 Mooks, and another with 10 Minions and 2 NPCs, each against 5 PCs, using Mook groups of size 4-6, and the same thing happened in all of them. The first couple or few rounds the Mooks were frightening, inflicting wounds where the PCs were relying on armour to cause them to glance off, or spending resources to maybe just reduce the level of the wound (a questionably practice in my view).
And each round after that the mooks became less and less of a threat, struggling to regroup into useful numbers.
Also, my players didn't use Divine Favour to get extra attacks in the early round, though as they fight more mooks, that idea may occur to them.

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If you have† 4 heroes killing 1 minion for certain per turn each, they'll almost certainly suffer (barring Favor, Armor, or Fate)† 5+4+3+2+1 = 15 wounds...
How many 4-6 minion groups is that?
Let's say the heroes face 16 Minions (the maximum for d6 name characters), organised into two 6-mook groups and 1 4-mook group.
Round one, they'll probably inflict 3 wounds, and 1 or 2 of these will be stopped by armour.
Round 2 will look much the same. Round 3 will probably inflict 2 wounds, 1 of which may be cancelled by armour. So at this point, you might have 4 wounds on the PCs, maybe up to 6 if armour rolls aren't good - but those people who've been relying on armour now can't afford to.
By round 3 or 4, you will almost certainly not be able to form two 6-mook groups, due to damage and positioning, and the tide will begin to turn - quite rapidly.

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I'm not ready to change the minion rules yet until I see how the other changes go, but I had 4 heroes against 10 minions and the battle went on far too long and I had the last 6 minions run away because the universal player opinion was they (and I) were tired of rolling.

I haven't had this experience.

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Well, I'm not a big fan of the change armor between rounds rule anyway, so I'm not too bothered by it.† I don't see the logic in having the hydra stand around waiting while a hero futzes with the straps of his greaves.

I agree with you regarding putting on armour, but tearing off armour during a fight (or having it be torn off) doesn't seem so strange - especially if you're cutting the straps rather than unlacing them.

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the breastplate, † Just throw that option out and problem solved.† I don't understand your less variety comment at all.† Currently 1d8 armor is the most optimal option as players are highly motivated to avoid whichever piece gives them the attack penalty to their favored weapon.† If I'm melee fighting I'll wear helmet and greaves, and if I'm missile fighting I'll wear breastplate and greaves.† ESPECIALLY if you let players switch armor around between exchanges, why would I ever voluntarily eat a -1 attack?† So its not like all 4 options are equally usefull currently.† But aside from that, I'm not following your logic with my trial rule.† Why is 1d8 armor 1d6 Advantage any less optimal than 1d10 armor 0 advantage?

It's because an advantage die only applies once per battle, and it's very cheap to get other ways (1 divine favour, a reroll from an ability your not that bothered about) . In my five hero group, two of the players wear full armour, and take the -1 to melee and missile attacks. (These two are also two of the three joint highest glory characters, so it's not penalising them too much.) The others all go for the d8 option by default. So the current system does lead to different players choosing different armour.

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I'm going to reserve detailed comment on the Stife system until I finish up a complete Island.† Without seeing the full cycle its impossible to tell whether Strife is too easy or hard to come by or just right.

I haven't done a full island, just one mammoth quest, and I'm having trouble getting rid of all the strife the players keep giving me through interludes and failed contest rolls.

<Snip analysis of the Positioning penalty>
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Pure luck and spending Favor will win the day if I lose the Positioning game...that doesn't sound fun to me, and in practice I didn't find it fun.†

Your attacks while out of position have the odds against them, yes. But believe me, it's quite easy to roll 2's and 3's for defences once in a while. So when you're out of position, you're hoping for a good roll (maybe one you can roll up - more helping dice increases that chance dramatically, especially if they are d6's), and hoping your foe gets a bad roll. With four players attacking a round, it happens not infrequently. And you're hoping to get in position.

I can understand, though, finding the positioning phase a chore. On It's the most tiring and tactics-intensive part of the game, and I was glad when that last mega-battle ended where it did. It was just crossing over my threshold of tolerance for that sort of thing.

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Even when I was on the winning side I didn't find it fun.† Its a trivial matter for the Antagonist to design NPCs and Minions that will stomp all over the party in the Positioning game.† d10 Athletics, d10 Cunning, Ambush, Swift, and 3d8 worth of Advantages are all pretty darn effective at making the range anything I want it to be.† If the bad guys are armed with Javelin based weapons and the heroes aren't the Antagonist will be able to keep most of the heroes at a positioning disadvantage pretty easily.† Swift is particularly nasty in this regard as it can be used any time.† With the positioning penalties being so high using anything but a Javelin is a crap shoot.†

Despite some of the rhetoric in the book, the role of the Antagonist is not to design opponents that can stomp all over the players. It's to provide a consistent challenge that the players compete against each other to do well against. So, you could (and should) design those "d10 Athletics, d10 Cunning, Ambush, Swift" NPCs, but if you're doing it too often the players have every reason to cry foul. (I've certainly been enjoying building some obscene NPCs.)

So, it is possible for the players to lose the positioning game once in a while. But in practice, from my limited experience of four battles, designed with the emphasis of "how can I make this fight fun," rather than, "how can I hammer my players," this isn't as frequent as it might appear.

Quote from: Darren
But I'm reasonably happy with it. I think frequent failure is actually a feature of the system. The so-called whiff factor heightens the tension in the PvP part of the game, where players are jostling to be the one who delivers that 5 or 6 point wound, and a lot of that tension will diminish if you can make it a lot easier for them to hit when they really need to. In the system as it stands, so the archer can be praying that the main villain, with one wound remaining, will survive all those attacks by sword and spear wielders - and he just might! Player behaviour - the way they divvy themselves up between opponents - will change if they can hit more reliably.

Quote from: Ralph
Maybe.† You could be absolutely right and I just don't have the patience for long drawn out combat-by-attrition any more.† One of the other ideas on my back burner is reducing the wound levels to 4 to make things (and heroes) go down quicker and resolve the combat in fewer rounds.† I'm not going to do that until I see how the above goes, but its in my quiver.† Why?† Not because there's anything broken with 6 levels...but for me (and even more so for the majority of the group I'm playing with) battles that go on longer than 6 rounds result in glazed over eyes and boredom.†

I considered dropping the wounds in TSOY to 4 for the same reason, and - if I was playing a long campaign - I could see that being an option that I used for Agon (while keeping the 6-wound fights for the important, pre-prepared battles). I think something like this might be a better solution than altering positioning. Armour, as I mentioned, I'm not sure about: my players don't seem to mind the -1 attacks.
Alternatively, since the positioning phase is the real heavy-thought and time-draining part of the game (all those dice rolls seem to fly by pretty quickly in comparison - for me at least), maybe you might look at adopting the Non-combat Battle positioning system, or some variant of it. It does completely change the dynamics of the weapons, but I'm sure variant rules could be worked out to maintain some of their key attributes.
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Darren Hill
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« Reply #5 on: August 30, 2006, 05:09:15 AM »

Oops - messed up the quotes at the end there. The last paragraph is part of my reply.
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Darren Hill
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« Reply #6 on: August 30, 2006, 09:21:56 AM »

Getting away from discussing positioning and minions for a moment, I remembered something else about that big fight with 2 NPCs and 10 Minions.

During the fight, as I marked off the latest use of Might/Wrestling to negate a hit on Protus, one of the NPCs, one of the players, Gary, looked upset. "How did he do that, he's used it about five times!" I had the impression he was suspicious of some GM illusionist technique (without using that vocabulary) to make the fight last longer. I explained how it worked, and he looked mollified, but still a little frustrated.
Later in the fight, after Protus had ran out of Might & Wrestling (eight uses!), he called on his leader, Doreis, who used his Athletics to help him evade another blow. At which point the players groaned, but in a fun way, as Gary said, almost joyfully, "they can help each other, too!"

After the fight, Gary's hero had increased his Name die to d10. "Of course, that makes you the bad guys prime target, now," I told him. "What! Why?" he said, with a look that said, that's not fair!
I told him that if I, the Antagonist, can Defeat him, I get a number of Strife tokens equal to his Name die - and he's worth more than the other characters now.
"Ah!" he said, smiling. "That makes sense. Bring them on!"

Both of which go to show that if a game provides clear mechanical justifications for the GM to act like a bastard, the players will accept it, and even embrace it!
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Valamir
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« Reply #7 on: August 30, 2006, 11:19:43 AM »


A couple of things you're overlooking are: Positioning and Attrition.
if you have bands of 6 mooks, they aren't going to stay together long. Only 1 or 2 PCs need to beat the† mooks each round, in addition to killing 1 or 2, to wipe out a mook groups effectiveness. Now opposition of, say, 3 groups of 6 minions will be frightening for a few rounds, but it's a safe bet that close to half of their hits are going to be negated by armour for those early rounds, and some of them are still going to be low enough to be cancelled via Helping without too many resources.
I've done three big mook battles, two with 15-16 Mooks, and another with 10 Minions and 2 NPCs, each against 5 PCs, using Mook groups of size 4-6, and the same thing happened in all of them. The first couple or few rounds the Mooks were frightening, inflicting wounds where the PCs were relying on armour to cause them to glance off, or spending resources to maybe just reduce the level of the wound (a questionably practice in my view).
And each round after that the mooks became less and less of a threat, struggling to regroup into useful numbers.
Also, my players didn't use Divine Favour to get extra attacks in the early round, though as they fight more mooks, that idea may occur to them.

I'll have to see it play out in a few more comments.  It didn't work that way in our first battle and I'm finding it difficult to envision how that would work. 

There's a lot of Minions and if players are using their Positions to move individual Minions instead of themselves, they may break up a group or two but they aren't moving themself into optimum position for future rounds (except against maybe the one mook they moved) nor are they moving themselves out of optimum position for the Minions. 

Assuming Minions can group and regroup freely (as opposed to having fixed groups) which the rules imply, Its not that hard on the Minions next positioning roll (either later than exchange if they rolled high, or next round) to get them back together. 

Now I will say that maybe my mistake was starting off the first battle with Minions that had Swift before the players had truly grokked the nuances of positioning, but I found only a couple of occassions where I even needed to use Swift to keep the groups fairly self contained.  There were a couple of stragglers but by and large they stayed intact.

Quote
It's because an advantage die only applies once per battle, and it's very cheap to get other ways (1 divine favour, a reroll from an ability your not that bothered about) .

That's a good possibility...hmmm.

Well if it proves ineffective, my next option would be to fall back to my initial strategy of replacing penalties with bonuses.  Instead of giving a -1 to melee for wearing a Breastplate, give a +1 to melee for not.  You're still giving up 1 point on your attack roll for wearing the armor, but this time its giving up a bonus rather than taking a penalty.
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GreatWolf
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« Reply #8 on: August 30, 2006, 11:41:33 AM »

Hey, I was one of the players in question.  First, some disclosure.  I'm measuring Agon against my game experience with Rune, Robin Laws' competitive Viking RPG, which I played with my former group in Erie.  Unknown Armies on Friday, Rune on Sunday.  Those were the days....  I bring this up both to establish my bona fides as being able to enter into and enjoy the sort of competitive play that Agon encourages and to establish the frame of reference from which I'm operating.

I'm also going to acknowledge that this was my first play of Agon, and I haven't read the rulebook.  Therefore, it's quite possible that there are strategies that I'm missing.

So, first off, I totally acknowledge your point when you say:

Quote
Both of which go to show that if a game provides clear mechanical justifications for the GM to act like a bastard, the players will accept it, and even embrace it!

Absolutely.

At the same time, one of the features that I liked about Rune was how it rewarded whoever was the GM for almost killing a PC but penalizing him (and the rest of the group) for actually killing him.  So, particularly during scenario design, the GM has to finesse the game.  Simply buying overwhelming force is a bad thing and will actually hurt the GM's score.  So, black belt Rune GMing consists of getting as many PCs into the red zone before they overcome.  It's very fun when the GM is holding his breath along with everyone else because he doesn't want a given character to die.  Of course, since the Rune rules explicitly lay out the combat logic for its monsters, the GM can't just stop whaling away at a character.  (Unless he's paid for a self-willed monster, of course.)  Suddenly, everyone is trying to save this PC,

Of course, up until that point, it's every man for himself...sort of.  One of the best parts of playing Rune is the engagement roll.  Essentially, this allows your PC to body-check other PCs and monsters around.  So, one of the common uses for this is to move a PC in front of a monster, let him deal out most of the damage, and then bump him out of the way for the kill-steal.  At the same time, you don't actually want this PC to die, so you do dole out a little help....  The tension was sweet.

And then there's the terrain.  Each Rune scenario was required to have at least one set piece battle, where the battleground was lovingly created by the GM, paying points for the privilege, of course.  The terrain had various effects, and the GM earned points when players took advantage of this terrain.  So, the player had the rush (and tactical advantage) of body-checking an enemy into a lava pit, and the GM earned points for providing this extra joy (and advantage) to the players.

So, to recap, the three items that I liked about Rune:  GM finesse in scenario design, a delicate balance between player cooperation and player competition, and flavorful battle sequences.

Now, to Agon.

GM finesse in scenario design
This is the point where my rules ignorance will rise to the fore.  I don't know much of the details of island creation, except that the Antagonist starts with X Strife, which he spends to create obstacles and battles for the heroes, the remainder being saved to use during play.  In theory, this Strife budget is supposed to constrain the island so that the Antagonist can be totally rude...within his budget.

However, as far as I know, there is no corresponding finesse built into the reward structure of the game.  From what I'm reading, I gather that the Antagonist earns extra Strife for giving a hero a total beat-down.  No "red zone" finesse, just go for the Total Party Kill.  Counter-balancing this with advice that you don't always need to smack down the heroes is counter-intuitive:
Quote

Despite some of the rhetoric in the book, the role of the Antagonist is not to design opponents that can stomp all over the players. It's to provide a consistent challenge that the players compete against each other to do well against. So, you could (and should) design those "d10 Athletics, d10 Cunning, Ambush, Swift" NPCs, but if you're doing it too often the players have every reason to cry foul. (I've certainly been enjoying building some obscene NPCs.)
Really?  From where Iím sitting, I think that the game system ought to constrain the Antagonist to either keep him from designing those NPCs or counterbalance with great reward.  Why should the Antagonist ease up on me?
Again, I may be missing some rules concept, which Iím open to hearing about.

Balance between Player Cooperation and Player Competition
One of the things that allows the balance in Rune to work is that the players need to overcome each other while still keeping them in the game.  Behind this is the feeling that the group together is capable of handling the encounter.  Based on our play of Agon, I was so concerned about our ability to face the enemy that I didnít give any consideration at all to trying to climb over my fellow PCs.  I felt like we were facing a foe that is superior in every way (the aforementioned +6 bonus is a major factor here) and an Antagonist who had no reason to try to finesse the encounter.  Why should I try to out-perform my fellow heroes?  We needed to go back-to-back, or we would be swarmed!  In the face of an overwhelming enemy, the desire to engage my fellow players in competition went quickly out the window.

Flavorful Battle Sequences
Itís been four years since Iíve played Rune, but I can still remember some of the set pieces where we fought our battles.  There was the cave filled with spiked pits where we fought Smurfs and Barney.  (Donít ask.)  There was the dwarven workshop flooding with boiling water, where the combatants were quickly forced to climb to the catwalks while still battling each other.  There was the frozen lake of doom.
Agon has none of this.  Combat felt like ďNow I roll dice for positioning, get frustrated because thereís no way for me to overcome all the penalties that are sitting on me, and therefore get screwed by poor positioning when itís time to attack.Ē  We move up and down this trackÖand thatís it.  So combat, which should have been an exciting time of maneuver, positioning, clever resource use, and eventually victory, turned into an exercise where we roll the dice and hope that we donít get totally screwed.

I say all this, not because I hate Agon.  I still want to give the game another go, and I really want to like it.  When details of Oaths (for instance) were being explained, I laughed with glee, anticipating all the different ways that I would be able to hose my fellow players during the game.  I want to like this game, but as it stands, the issues that I outlined above are getting in the way.

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Seth Ben-Ezra
Dark Omen Games
producing Legends of Alyria, Dirty Secrets, A Flower for Mara
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Darren Hill
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« Reply #9 on: August 30, 2006, 12:17:31 PM »

There's a lot of Minions and if players are using their Positions to move individual Minions instead of themselves, they may break up a group or two but they aren't moving themself into optimum position for future rounds (except against maybe the one mook they moved) nor are they moving themselves out of optimum position for the Minions.

Quote
Assuming Minions can group and regroup freely (as opposed to having fixed groups) which the rules imply, Its not that hard on the Minions next positioning roll (either later than exchange if they rolled high, or next round) to get them back together.
(Note about the bit in bold: Heroes can only move Minions if they rolled higher than the minions, so once a minion is separated, it stays that way for at least that exchange - unless there's an NPC around with a better positioning roll who wants to move it. I'm sure you know that, but just forgot in the contest if this conversation - I almost did the same while writing this post.)

I thought the way you did, too, but in practice it isn't always so easy to regroup. (Or at least, I haven't found it so.) Sometimes it's just too important to move a PC or two, to try to keep them out of effective range, and Minion groups can only move themselves OR heroes. (To clarify: if as a Minion you spend your positioning regrouping, you are probably allowing some or all of the Heroes to close into their optimum range, or you're not taking opportunities to push them out of optimum range.)
One a minion or two gets separated from the group, other PCs can try to keep them separate (and maybe two PCs will move the same minion, moving it further from its group), while concentrating their attacks on the bigger group. So, the big group gradually drops in numbers, while the stragglers try to build up a second group in a different range band but often end up getting more staggered.

At least that's my experience so far. It's always possible I've been using bad tactics!

One thing that I've just realised might be contributing to my experience is one of my heroes is a man-killer with d10 Athletics. He rolls d10+d8+2 for Positioning rolls against Men, and usually wins against Minions. So regardless of what everyone else rolls, he often gets to move two minions and moves them in two different directions, or moves himself and a minion. The two player game I ran last night also had a player with Fleet-footed...

Also, early rounds of my minion battles (except for the ambush against the PCs) have been dominated by javelins or bows, and everyone has been at optimum range for a round or two. They get a +1 to your roll (armour notwithstanding), and ties go with attacker, so even if the minions roll well for defence, there's still a good chance some of them get hit. I'm not sure this has been much of an influence, but I wondered if your players have been changing weapons or sticking with a particular weapon regardless of range.
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GreatWolf
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« Reply #10 on: August 30, 2006, 12:28:25 PM »

Quote
Also, early rounds of my minion battles (except for the ambush against the PCs) have been dominated by javelins or bows, and everyone has been at optimum range for a round or two. They get a +1 to your roll (armour notwithstanding), and ties go with attacker, so even if the minions roll well for defence, there's still a good chance some of them get hit. I'm not sure this has been much of an influence, but I wondered if your players have been changing weapons or sticking with a particular weapon regardless of range.

We started with javelins and bows then switched to spears as the ravening hordes closed.  We didn't have any swordsmen, which I acknowledge would have been useful.  However, we were all playing the Positioning game, trying to make optimal use of our weapons.
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Seth Ben-Ezra
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John Harper
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« Reply #11 on: August 30, 2006, 12:33:36 PM »

Agon is not meant as a Rune replacement. Rune is an awesome game. It does many cool things and players looking for those things should play Rune.

One of the key differences is that the Antagonist is not competing with the players at all. Strife is a pacing mechanic, not a resource for GM vs player conflict. The Strife budget makes the GM solve a problem with scenario creation, namely, where does the hurt land? Will it be easy and then tough, tough then easier, or somewhat tough all the way through? When the GM makes an encounter very tough, then the heroes have to help each other more, and the PvP aspect may diminish (it might not, given a very cutthroat player). But that means that other contests will be easier (due to the limited budget) so the PvP will come out more strongly later.

It's worth noting that the Antagonist gets nothing for beating the heroes other than a little more juice to beat them up some more. That resource cycle is telling, in terms of intended game play. Heroes can never be killed, and even defeating a hero is very hard to do (fleeing is a great option). The Antagonist has the ability to put the heroes under pressure of various amounts, to force them to make hard choices about how to spend their resources in relation to the other heroes. Beating up NPCs is not the game. The NPCs will ultimately lose, that's a given. The game revolves around beating up NPCs in a way that maximizes reward for your hero and minimizes resource cost. Oaths, as has been rightly pointed out, are one of the key factors to this game.

It sounds like you guys faced a really challenging NPC battle as your very first taste of play. Since the various strategies (and rules trouble-spots) were unknown to you, I think you had to flail about a bit. Your experience with the positioning game, and the attendant "boring combat" issues are very different from my own experience and that of other players I've heard from. Interesting set-pieces and terrain use are a key part of Agon play, for example, but may not be as immediately apparent to first-time players.

Still, I do see some rough spots in the rules, in terms of stacking penalties. They can get kind of nasty at times. Against really tough foes, I can see how things could get frustrating. In Agon, it rarely makes sense to stay in a battle that you are losing that badly, though. Escape, planning for a tactical edge (and a few Advantage dice), some refreshment, and an ambush attempt later would have been another way to deal with the situation. The "locked in, to the bitter end" battle style common to many fighty RPGs is not always the best style for Agon.

Thanks for the detailed feedback, and I hope your future games of Agon go more smoothly.
« Last Edit: August 30, 2006, 12:35:49 PM by John Harper » Logged

Agon: An ancient Greek RPG. Prove the glory of your name!
Darren Hill
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« Reply #12 on: August 30, 2006, 01:00:44 PM »

Damn. I spend half an our writing a reply, and John has said what I was planning to say, more concisely.

One thing.
Quote
Flavorful Battle Sequences

I do share your concerns here. The only real support in the game itself for interesting battle environments (that I can see) is the ideas the GM gets when building his Island and quests. The way the battle system works (heavy crunch) can easily be a hindrance for this too. Personally, I find it hard to shift between interesting descriptions and interacting with fairly heavy game mechanics and tactical considerations like positioning. So in my own games, I've certainly not given the players particularly interesting battle environments, but now that the system is getting more natural to use, I should be able to work on this.

Interesting set-pieces and terrain use are a key part of Agon play, for example, but may not be as immediately apparent to first-time players.

Can you give some examples of the sorts of things you've seen done here? One thing that I remember is the GenCon report where Jared hadn't been able to use a pillar as a club and someone (you?) pointed out how this could have been achieved.
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