Modding (or managing) Combat

Discuss the Traveller RPG and its many settings
bluekieran
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Modding (or managing) Combat

Postby bluekieran » Fri May 19, 2017 12:22 pm

My players are used to more "heroic" games (D&D, Mythras/Runequest, and others), and I'm concerned that the super-deadly combat in Traveller might be offputting - both on the ground and in space.

Avoiding combat because combat is deadly is all very well, but heroic combat is also good fun, and I'd rather not miss out on that.

Thus far the only combat I've gone through is versus the wolves in Marooned on Marduk. Messing with the size of the waves of wolves in each combat allowed me to do them real damage without killing them, so perhaps I'm over-reacting, but I'd certainly be glad of any tips before I do dive in to combat against armed opponents or space combat.

For reference: I'm currently leading one of my groups towards Pirates of Drinax, and will be starting another group next month that I'll run through Secrets of the Ancients.
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Re: Modding (or managing) Combat

Postby Condottiere » Fri May 19, 2017 12:27 pm

Holtman effect personal shields.

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Failing that, the best armour you can afford and are allowed to use.
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Re: Modding (or managing) Combat

Postby AnotherDilbert » Fri May 19, 2017 3:18 pm

If by heroic you mean invincible and invulnerable player characters, let them fight Keystone Kops with bad weapons and skills, perhaps with an extra negative DM. Some character will occasionally be hurt as a reminder of their mortality, but they will win their combats and perhaps be happy?
bluekieran
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Re: Modding (or managing) Combat

Postby bluekieran » Fri May 19, 2017 3:48 pm

AnotherDilbert wrote:
Fri May 19, 2017 3:18 pm
If by heroic you mean invincible and invulnerable player characters, let them fight Keystone Kops with bad weapons and skills, perhaps with an extra negative DM. Some character will occasionally be hurt as a reminder of their mortality, but they will win their combats and perhaps be happy?
I guess I'm thinking more of the variance of it. Knowing that a hard fight is a hard fight, but that they probably won't be hurt beyond what can be healed fully, and that easier fights are unlikely to result in more than mild or occasionally serious injury... but preferably without having them face obviously under-equipped targets. Animals/monsters are actually an easier sell than "guys with cutlasses and flak vests who have decided to take you on anyway".

Also, that space combat won't end up with them losing their ship unless they do something stupid, and that damage won't cost more to repair than they're likely to earn from the piracy involved. Though as I haven't run through space combat yet, I don't know how that compares.
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Re: Modding (or managing) Combat

Postby AnotherDilbert » Fri May 19, 2017 4:49 pm

bluekieran wrote: I guess I'm thinking more of the variance of it. Knowing that a hard fight is a hard fight, but that they probably won't be hurt beyond what can be healed fully, and that easier fights are unlikely to result in more than mild or occasionally serious injury... but preferably without having them face obviously under-equipped targets. Animals/monsters are actually an easier sell than "guys with cutlasses and flak vests who have decided to take you on anyway".
I recognise the phenomenon.

I was thinking more like tell the players the enemy has assault rifles, but actually use the stats for SMGs. Make sure the enemies weapons will not kill with a single hit, deduct a little damage if necessary. Let it take a little time to heal to get out of the "just take a healing potion" mindset.

Warn the players that if they fight crowds, they lose.

If they insist on picking fights with too powerful enemies, let them learn a hard lesson.
bluekieran wrote: Also, that space combat won't end up with them losing their ship unless they do something stupid, and that damage won't cost more to repair than they're likely to earn from the piracy involved. Though as I haven't run through space combat yet, I don't know how that compares.
That is more difficult to balance, it's very easy to make it too easy and the players too rich.

Ease the players into it with easy combats, so they learn to recognise when things are not going well (and let them run away).

The classic method is to keep the players hungry, and let them work off the occasional too expensive repairs with an adventure.
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Re: Modding (or managing) Combat

Postby Reynard » Fri May 19, 2017 6:45 pm

Not every combat event must be with the enemy equipped with the best and deadliest weapons nor do they need to be high skilled. Skill levels for opposition should be a way to level a challenge. Only specialized highly trained combat units should ever see skills of 3 or 4. If your players see those kind of elite teams, they did something very wrong to the wrong person or organization. Same with weapons, big guns for very, very special occasions. Use weapons cinematically. Fire and flash as needed but for the most part, make weapons appropriate for the scene and players.

Big problem can be those players who believe "Either I win or I die." and behave like monster opposition who are there for the purpose of dying for experience. Try to get players out of that mentality. Also have opposition not go for the kill in a game. Once a target is down, they target someone still standing. A chance for surrender and staying alive. You see it in the movies all the time. How many times have the gang in Star Wars have gone down, give up and still win the day?

Same with space combat. Give the players' ship a bloody nose if it come to it but don't let bad rolls rule a situation. Every GM in any game from Traveller to D&D to Shadowrun etc. are given consent to roll behind the screen if they want unless it's an official tournament game.
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Re: Modding (or managing) Combat

Postby Condottiere » Fri May 19, 2017 7:47 pm

The rule is, if the Imperium Marines turn up, you're toast.

Combat is deadly in Traveller; you can't nerf the weapons, so you'll have to upgrade the protection.

Star Trek teaches that you should have enough redshirts around.

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Re: Modding (or managing) Combat

Postby Reynard » Sat May 20, 2017 1:50 am

There are other ways beside armor upmanship. One thing the XCOM game always made clear is USE COVER. Maybe your opposition is dumb enough to stand in the open shooting but the characters are supposed to be the bright ones.... except that one over there who put a 3 in INT.
Unless you're playing Star Wars, not every fire fight need be "You and the bad guys are in the middle of the street. ACTION!" Let players have a moment to observe the terrain if it's a case of no surprise or not planned by them. Make sure they can, with luck, find a better position you conveniently provide.

Don't overpower the opposition unless this is supposed to be 'realistic' and player death is welcome. Think movie or tv series. Really, only reason for a character to die is they are foolishly taking big risks or, and we all have seen it in any RPG, someone gets that incredible critical hit. I'll repeat, let the referee roll behind the screen.

Players should not be made paranoid (let them come up with it on their own) by believing every encounter will see gauss pistols and PGMPs leveled at them. Make weapons associated with the tech level of the enemy and reasonable for the opposition's purpose. Also remind your players armor could be illegal in public or just so gauche that it attracts the wrong people who might actually have better gear for times like these.

Look scenarios over, determine what the players have and what the opposition has and determine if it fits the scene and why might it be a bit much. Make it fun as well as rewarding.
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Re: Modding (or managing) Combat

Postby Sinanju » Sat May 20, 2017 4:39 am

Reynard wrote:
Sat May 20, 2017 1:50 am
There are other ways beside armor upmanship. One thing the XCOM game always made clear is USE COVER. Maybe your opposition is dumb enough to stand in the open shooting but the characters are supposed to be the bright ones.... except that one over there who put a 3 in INT.
Unless you're playing Star Wars, not every fire fight need be "You and the bad guys are in the middle of the street. ACTION!" Let players have a moment to observe the terrain if it's a case of no surprise or not planned by them. Make sure they can, with luck, find a better position you conveniently provide.
I was in a gaming group for some years in which most of the players were ex-military and we were all rules lawyers and power gamers. Which I know a lot of people would hate, but we had a hell of a lot of fun. And one of the unspoken rules in our games was, "If it's a fair fight, you're doing it wrong." We took every possible advantage going into a fight--or when the fight came to us without warning, we did our level best to turn things to our advantage. And because we took turns running games, the GM was just as ruthless when it came to NPC actions and tactics. If the NPCs got the upper hand, we knew better than to make a dramatic last stand because it would be just that. It was time to negotiate, or surrender and wait for a better opportunity to turn the tables.
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Re: Modding (or managing) Combat

Postby Nobby-W » Sat May 20, 2017 4:40 am

bluekieran wrote:
Fri May 19, 2017 3:48 pm
[ . . . ]
I guess I'm thinking more of the variance of it. Knowing that a hard fight is a hard fight, but that they probably won't be hurt beyond what can be healed fully, and that easier fights are unlikely to result in more than mild or occasionally serious injury... but preferably without having them face obviously under-equipped targets. Animals/monsters are actually an easier sell than "guys with cutlasses and flak vests who have decided to take you on anyway".
[ . . . ]
In another universe, I established some 'state of the art' weapons that did reasonable damage and were somewhat effective but not too effective, especially against a party wearing moderate body armour. These were specifically designed to equip NPCs with stuff that was not too lethal but did not make them look underpowered. Judicious choice of weapons for NPCs in Traveller can also achieve the same end.

Also, I've emphasised skills like Tactics to help gain initiative, get better use from cover or evasion or mount effective suppressive fire or gain other effects such as getting to a flanking position. This makes gunfights more tactical, as it were, rather than parties just blazing away at each other. The objective of the fight becomes an attempt to get a clear shot without getting shot at. With rules like these, one or two characters with a decent tactics or recon skill (maybe you could use leader to give the group a bonus) can provide a significant edge, even against fairly heavily armed opponents. The bonus with this is that a successful party might not get shot at all.

Also, don't be afraid to have the enemy take a few causalties and then break off and retreat. Most random thugs won't want to fight to the death.
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Re: Modding (or managing) Combat

Postby Condottiere » Sat May 20, 2017 7:49 am

Initiative gives you the option to act first, skill, how well you can carry that off.

Reconnaissance will allow you to locate the opposition before they detect you, which allows your group to decide if they want to engage.

To resolve issues in my favour, I'm a firm believer in just throwing more dice at the problem.
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Re: Modding (or managing) Combat

Postby Epicenter » Sun May 21, 2017 1:16 am

bluekieran wrote:
Fri May 19, 2017 12:22 pm
Avoiding combat because combat is deadly is all very well, but heroic combat is also good fun, and I'd rather not miss out on that.
Then run games using a methodology more familiar to them. I have five suggestions, use them singularly or in combination with each other:

1. Reduce the damage of weapons that do lots of damage to like half damage. This will also have the side effect of making pistol-type weapons more popular over long arms such as rifles, which is almost always a good thing.

2. A plasma gun or a VRF is not a +4 weapon as opposed to an ACR's +3 weapon and a pistol is not a +0 weapon. Make the more powerful weapons exceedingly rare. An ACR is closer to a Fireball, a VRF more like a Disintegrate, and a plasma or fusion gun is more like a Power Word: Kill. You likely don't toss around Disintegrate or Power Word: Kill in games for the same reason why you likely don't toss them around in a D&D game: There's simply too many eggs in one basket or one saving throw.

3. Introduce incapacitation rules, sometimes known as a "no one-shot kill" rule. A character that is reduced to 0 stats is not dead, but is "mission-killed" for that combat in some way; likely injured bad enough that they can no longer meaingfully participate in the combat. However, simply having their morale broken and having the "flight" part of "fight or flight" cut in so they're overridingly concerned about just getting out instead of fighting is another option. Once a player is in this state, however, they are extremely vulnerable - if they are attacked again, they will die. However NPCs will ignore them at this point as "mission-killed" provided they play possum.

4. Hit them in the pocketbook instead. Replace "hit points" with monetary loss - once you're at 0 cr, you're dead not because you're dead instantly, but because the character will not be able to afford the after-combat medical bills and will have to retire. We have to assume that TL12 probably has some pretty amazing medical technology and probably only gets better as the TLs go up. While the standard healing rules are fine, I find it a bit punitive and counter-roleplay to have players laid up for weeks healing damage. Instead, I say that any reasonable starport (C or better) likely has a hospital that can quickly repair some pretty major damage to players and have them out in like 12-24 hours. No questions likely asked - it's a frontier universe. But it's not cheap. Getting healed from "death" to full life is not an issue ... but it's going to cost you 250,000 Credits. Less significant damage will be cheaper, but still not cheap. This allows players used to systems like D&D to see a number (how much credits they have left) and manage their risk accordingly.

5. Hit them in the pocketbook, part II. A local GM uses system where if a player takes damage that would kill him (or her) outright in a single attack, the player lives, but loses prominent parts of the equipment they were carrying (or had stowed, if it is a vehicle) - this represents a near miss where the player dove out of the vehicle moments before the missile hit it (but had to leave their gear behind in their haste), the player found some fortunate cover at the last moment but in their panic they dropped that shiny fusion rifle or maybe it took some high-speed debris that would have otherwise taken their head off. Now some people are going to say "that just means that players will simply travel naked" ... but seriously, when have you ever had players who aren't carrying half of the catalog of Amazon.com on them?
bluekieran wrote:
Fri May 19, 2017 12:22 pm
and in space.
For decades and decades of my RPG existence, I've always thought that space combat is deadly.

Only now have I realized - it's simply not true. Not true at all. Inject some 'hard sci-fi' into your game on this point, and your game will be a lot better.

Realize that spaceships are not like ships sailing around our oceans today:

* Fires aren't a big problem in space. If you go to any source on naval battles, you'll find most warships that "sink" typically suffer from out of control fires that gut the ship (often when it reaches something that reacts violently to hot fires such as fuel or a ship's ammunition magazine). This fire and/or explosions cause so much damage the ship is marked off as a loss, then they're scuttled. However, fires don't burn without some sort of oxygen supply - the weapons fire in Traveller doesn't come with its own oxygen supply, so they have to use the existing oxygen in an area to burn. Unlike on Earth where where we're breathing this convenient oxygen supply that is very difficult to isolate ourselves from (in fact, a firefighter's entire career revolves around this problematic situation), atmosphere is a manageable to commodity in a starship. Ships in Traveller have things like sealable bulkheads and it's likely that most ships actually depressurize or fill their ship with some inert gas (say nitrogen) and everyone works in spacesuits during combat. Outside of the ship, there's unlikely to be any atmosphere at all, let alone oxygen. Fires aren't going to be the problem they are in the modern day.

* About explosions. Another big threat on ships are explosions (you know, those pesky fires reaching the ammunition magazine). However, Traveller ships likely have a lot of fewer things that can explode than a modern day warship. "Modern" (say World War 1 and after) ships had immense quantities of thing that could explode - the propellant for their guns and their fuel supply. Traveller ships don't have these in such quantity. First things first: fusion reactors do not explode in some huge nuclear explosion. I don't what Michael Stackpole or any other "sci-fi" author says, they don't (the capacitors on them might explode, but this is a much smaller, less destructive explosion). If a ship has missiles, fires or laser penetrations might detonate them. The capacitors for lasers are likely to explode if they're hit as well. The hydrogen fuel supply is certainly prone to explosions but those are very dependent on having oxygen around to detonate - so unless ship-builders are particularly dense, it's probably routine to isolate the hydrogen fuel supply from oxygen sources and the tanks are designed so that in event of a failure, the explosion is vented out and away from the ship using a combination of being placed near the outer hull of a ship and likely featuring hull panels over it that are weak to being pushed out and away from the ship. If your players depressurize their ship, they're probably storing the gasses in a tank somewhere, so that pressurized gas could detonate if it is compromised by damage - it's likely that such tanks are actually placed near a position in the hull where the explosion will be vented outwards so it doesn't harm the ship.

* Starships don't just explode. This is probably the worst one, and why people think that combat is deadly. See my note on "about explosions" - no matter how much fire you pour into a starship, it's not just going to explode conveniently like something from Star Trek or Star Wars. Shooting an enemy ship to pieces is definitely more trouble than it is worth. Imagine a modern long-range delivery truck, but just the metal and plastic parts, no fuel and no hidden explosives - now you're given a few .50 caliber machine guns and told to "shoot the truck to pieces" - you're likely to run out of ammunition before you render the truck into scrap metal.

* Starships can't sink. This is an important one. When a modern day ocean-going ship takes too much damage, it's likely its buoyancy is compromised and it conveniently sinks into the sea, removing it completely. They can, of course, be pulled into some gravity well and burn-up/crash if they're fighting near such a place, but destruction like that isn't quick unless they're very low to the surface, unlike a ship rapidly taking water.

What's all this mean? It means that even if your party has their ship "destroyed" it is completely reasonable to assume that all of them survived, provided they took basic precautions like depressurizing their ship before combat starts and everyone is wearing a vacc suit. However, it's also likely everyone knows this in this universe. At this point, the enemy has two options: Either leave the player's ship and abandon the battlefield or close in to board the vessel (possibly to salvage it).

If the enemy ship(s) leave, the players have a new adventure. It's likely that a lot of critical starship systems can be restored to operation with some repairs - likely enough to limp to the local starport, land it on the surface of a planet, or put it into a stable orbit and everyone climbs into the Low Berths to hope for the best. If they're in an unstable orbit, it's very likely they'll have some hours or even days before the orbit becomes untenable and they burn up, so it's a race against time to get some sort method to stabilizing their orbit or controlling their descent working. Even if they're in an atmosphere and plummeting towards the surface, some rolls are likely to stabilize the ship sufficiently to either bring it in for a rough landing or stabilize it long enough for everyone to bail out.

The enemy may also close. This may be because they're pirates or groups like the players and likely want to pick over their defeated foe for salvage and/or any cargo. Navies are likely to close to rescue survivors (as prisoners) and salvage or scuttle the vessel by towing it into a gravity well or something. Again, the enemy is likely to know that there's survivors so they'll be appropriately wary. Again, now we have another opportunity for adventure. The players now have the option of setting up an ambush or even negotiating with their victors. Unless their opponents are particularly ruthless, spacers are likely to accept surrenders (though they might impose harsh penalties and will require the losers go into low berths for the duration of the trip - hey it saves the worry of having to feed and guard prisoners). Perhaps the condition of both ships is so terrible former foes are now reluctant allies as they both realize their in the middle of nowhere and have to cooperate sufficiently to get one ship working to jump back to civilization ("fighting seemed like a good idea at the time...")
Last edited by Epicenter on Mon May 22, 2017 4:57 am, edited 1 time in total.
Infojunky
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Re: Modding (or managing) Combat

Postby Infojunky » Sun May 21, 2017 10:48 am

It really depends on the games you run.

Most of my games the term Pistol and Knife work, is the most apt description. Especially when you add in Cloth/reflec armor. The most common weapon/ammo in said games is SnubPistols/Tranq. Also consider Stunners, as a common armament.

But the biggest thing to emphasize is thinking your way through conflict.
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Re: Modding (or managing) Combat

Postby Condottiere » Sun May 21, 2017 11:13 am

Availability and price would make powerful items scarce; how many Holy Avengers do you think were smithied, enchanted and are currently sitting in a dragon's hoard, awaiting a new wielder?

One issue gun users have with their guns is that they're afraid that when they need it to operate, they'll be electronically locked out.

You could assume that all gauss weapons are smart guns, they need authentication before they can be used, and the militaries keep track of them.

They don't award them to veterans, or sell them as surplus; any examples in the civilian market were smuggled out, probably by entrepreneur armourers who are responsible for disposing of broken parts, and the electronic locks were either removed or are easily reprogrammable.
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Re: Modding (or managing) Combat

Postby locarno24 » Mon May 22, 2017 8:51 am

Plus, it's not just availability, it's how easy it is to carry stuff around openly.
I know that in D&D games, a lot of players are under the impression that every day a knight gets up, shaves, and then puts on plate armour and wears it for the entire day, complete with tower shield and broadsword slung over his back, as opposed to putting the stuff on when he's planning to have a fight.

This is a wonky assumption at best and even more so in a somewhat-closer-to-modern-day-society traveller. On any 'civilised' world, yes, there might be provision for you to have personal weapons - maybe even openly carried - but try walking down the respective Capitol Avenues of various countries in modern battlefield body armour and carrying an assault rifle on earth today, even pro-personal weapons nations, and see how far you get.

This means that, as noted, a discreet body pistol and cloth armour is the most useful weapon travellers can get and likely to be the preferred weapon of starship crews and criminals (assuming you can distinguish between the two) - not because it's the best gear in the rules, but because it's the best gear you can carry all day, every day, which doesn't involve a firefight with SWAT or serious awkwardness in transporting.
Understand that I'm not advocating violence.
I'm just saying that it's highly effective and I strongly recommend using it.
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Re: Modding (or managing) Combat

Postby Condottiere » Mon May 22, 2017 9:30 pm

Even if the local jurisdiction allows open carry, this might not apply to visitors.
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Re: Modding (or managing) Combat

Postby Sinanju » Tue May 23, 2017 2:08 am

Condottiere wrote:
Mon May 22, 2017 9:30 pm
Even if the local jurisdiction allows open carry, this might not apply to visitors.
Yeah, I'm working up a Traveller campaign background now, and some of my planet descriptions explicitly include a note that the Law Level is X...for the bigwigs. Y for the clanking masses. Z for Travellers.

And even if it's legal, if you're walking around in full SWAT kit, from armor and helmet to SMG, with grenades hanging from your tac vest...you're going to get noticed. And watched. And remembered. If trouble breaks out, the authorities will have very little trouble tracking where you went, and where you came from.
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Re: Modding (or managing) Combat

Postby Condottiere » Wed May 24, 2017 11:24 am

Appropriate force.

There may be dangerous critters that you may need to defend yourself against.

Emptying a box of fifty calibre to stop a bunny rabbit seems excessive.
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Re: Modding (or managing) Combat

Postby locarno24 » Thu May 25, 2017 2:05 pm

Unless it's that rabbit from that movie. In which case, nuke the site from orbit - it's the only way to make sure.
Understand that I'm not advocating violence.
I'm just saying that it's highly effective and I strongly recommend using it.
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Re: Modding (or managing) Combat

Postby Condottiere » Thu May 25, 2017 6:18 pm

Humper?

So that was a deer I shot.

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