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[TSoY] Mass combat

Started by Anders Larsen, October 28, 2007, 09:10:44 AM

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Anders Larsen

Normally when I run games I try to keep away from mass combat - no matter what system I use - because I have a hard time handle them well, but in a Shadows of yesterday game I am currently running a number of situation have ended in mass combat scenes anyway.

Here is an example from the game:

The characters, with a band of mercenaries, are up against the local lord. They have made a roadblock to prevent provisions to reach the lord. The lord send out 15 good solders (masters in fighting skills), who meet the characters and the mercenaries at the roadblock. There are 20 mercenaries who are mostly adept in fighting skills, and three characters (two adept and one master in fighting skill). So we have the lords solders on the one side and the mercenaries plus characters on the other, going against each other head on.

So how to handle this? Do you handle it in one conflict, or do you split it into smaller conflicts? How is a good way to handle all the NPCs?

I tried to split the fight into a conflict per PC, but I felt that it fast became chaotic, with bring down the pain and all, and I was very uncertain of to handle all the solders and mercenaries.

- Anders

Eero Tuovinen

I could write an essay, but I'm tired, so instead I'll just ask you to give more backgrounds so I don't have to discourse pre-emptively.

Why were the PCs involved in the battle? Answer for each individual PC, if you would.

What did the soldier NPCs on both sides want?

Were there any named NPCs among the soldiers, or were they just a mass of statists?

What were you, as GM, seeking to accomplish by framing this scene?

All of the above are crucial to answering how I would (or how you, perhaps, should) run a massed combat like that. The answers range from having no rolls at all to ignoring the soldiers on both sides to a full-blown BDtP between all parties. TSoY works largely on the intents and goals of both the characters and players, so they have quite a large impact on what systems are used in what situations.
Blogging at Game Design is about Structure.
Publishing Zombie Cinema and Solar System at Arkenstone Publishing.


The quick way is to work out someone's tactics skill, and then slap on the fighters as "weapons" or "armor" modifying an opposed roll.



In addition to what Eero asked, whether you use the gestalt rules for group Pain-Bringing has some bearing on this. If you had just the 3 PC's fighting a big group of thugs, would you have the PC's band together to make a single roll, or let them all take on the thugs with individual rolls, dealing out Harm personally, and taking it from mass attacks from the thugs? Or would it be a "side vs. side" conflict, in which one roll is ultimately made on each side?

I can tell you that TSOY works quite elegantly for mass conflict, even on a bigger scale than this. Ship-to-ship battles from galleons firing cannons and using boarding parties, hordes of zombies running amok in the streets, and giant armies clashing have all been featured in games I've seen, and there's never been a huge problem with making it work.

-shadowcourt (aka josh)

Anders Larsen

I left out a lot of background to try to get a more general answer, but I can see that that may not be possible, so here are some background:

At this point in the game, the general goal of the characters was to remove the current lord from power and set one of their own people there instead. They had used guerrilla warfare for some time to get rid of as many of the lords solder as possible. The lord had at this point "locked" himself into his castle with the last of his solders. The roadblock had been build close to the castle to prevent provisions from reaching the lord.

In desperation the lord summoned some demons he could barely control. He send his remaining cable men and three demons out to take care of the mercenaries. Because he could not control the demons well they broke down the gate and fled out into the woods, but his 15 men attacked the mercenaries.

The lords goal in this fight was to get rid of the mercenaries (and PC) so he could get provisions and send for help.

The PCs general goal in this fight is to eliminate the soldiers so they could get into the castle and face the lord. The individual goals of the characters is:

Isaldor (Key of Renown and key of the Revolutionary). She is the main force behind the rebellion. Her goal in this fight is to weaken the lord so they can get into the castle.
Efthreen (Key of Bloodlust and Key of the Self). He just tag along for the ride. In this fight he wanted to kill as many people as possible (due to his bloodlust).
Tamim (Key of Power and Key of the Manipulator). He is interested in the possibility of power this rebellion can give him (This was a new character introduced in this session, so his goals was a bit fussy).

Important NPC:

Jarvis. He is the love interest of Isaldor. He want to support and protect Isaldor.

This was a fight which happened close to the end of the game (the last scene in the second to the last session) and was rather important. This was the scene where it would be decided if they would get easy access to the castle or or if they would had to regroup and depend on some less trustworthy men. I did not want to resolve this conflict in one roll (the players agreed on this), but apart from that I didn't really know how to handle this.

I hope this is enough information.

I normally in these situations use individual conflicts and individual BDtP (it of course depend a lot on what the players want in the situation). I this situations the characters had individual conflicts.

- Anders

Eero Tuovinen

In this particular situation my method would be to have the PCs roll against the leader of the lord's men in a simple conflict, with Isaldor rolling primary and others rolling in support. The conflict would be over whether the PC force manages to fight their way inside the castle. Normally BDtP-able of course. If there is no specified leader for the lord's men I might use the lord's strategic Ability (he chooses his men, after all, and conseivably has given them the relevant orders), or, lacking that, a generic "Soldiering" ability of the soldier group, possibly with a penalty die for not having passable leadership on the field. The PCs could specify a plan for the encounter, which would inform the Abilities used, as well as the situation after the check.

I would also frame the situation so that Efthreen would have to choose between getting bogged down in a pitched battle with the mercenaries and lord's men, gaining great xp from Bloodlust as well as friends among the mercenaries, or following Isaldor and participating in the showdown with the lord. Tamim would get in if it was up to me, if only so the lord can try to bribe him.

Note that the comparative strengths of the mercenary and guard forces are not at issue here. We are only interested in two things, really - whether Isaldor can get in to confront the lord, and whether Efthreen can set aside his short-term satisfaction from murder and rise to consider the larger picture. To find out these things we don't really need to know much about the NPC soldiers on either side; we definitely do not need to have them roll anything apart from something to find out whether they can stop or support Isaldor.

If Isaldor failed and went to BDtP here, the participants for that would again be the named leaders of each side, with the nameless mercenaries and guards providing stakes, leverage and consequences. If there were nobody leading the guards, then I'd probably create him - there is always somebody, groups of armed men do not run themselves as a blissful telepathic group consciousness. The actual BDtP would mechanically be between the named characters only - the only outright mechanical effect of the additional troops would be to give a condition penalty die here and there if the tactics happened to leave a character fighting alone against many. And of course, the existence of a fighting guard would allow the guard leader to resist reasonably well against most efforts of the opposing side, despite having less opportunities to do so than the other party, which has multiple named characters. But these are the usual vagaries of multi-participant BDtP, which as such do not have a lot to do with running armies.

If that's the way I run things, why have an army in the first place? The reason is simply leverage: if you have an army and your opponent doesn't, then you can declare events that he simply cannot contest in a conflict. Having an army in TSoY does not make you the outright and obvious winner of a conflict; instead, it allows you to just run over individual characters in many matters. For example, assassination: if you have an army guarding you, assassinating you is a matter for 3-4 separate Ability checks distributed between 2-3 scenes. (We have to figure how the assassin sneaks into the camp, silences guards and so on.) So even if the army does not actually provide you mechanical bonuses for resisting the attack, it certainly makes attacking you a much bigger deal and more difficult for the opposition. Similarly in a fight we're not interested in who has the best army, most of the time: we're just interested in whether you have the leverage to contest the other army's intents in the first place.
Blogging at Game Design is about Structure.
Publishing Zombie Cinema and Solar System at Arkenstone Publishing.

Anders Larsen

Thanks for the answer. Now I have a better idea of how to handle this kind of situations the next time one arise.

- Anders