Which PC does the monster attack?

Last session in my Whitehack game a single undead black knight attacked the party. They investigated an old burial site and thanks to a random encounter roll this knight charged them on his horse. The PCs were a half-demon templar, a carnival strong-man, a dark-elf wizard, an archer, and a dual-wielding assassin.

I've often had unintelligent monsters attack a random PC each round, due to the monster not caring who they attack as long as someone is within range. The undead knight was intelligent, but didn't care about self-preservation, so it charged into the middle of the group and started swinging. In Whitehack 2, higher HD monsters get more optional attacks, and the knight had three attacks each round. Since it didn't really matter to the knight who it attacked, I rolled 1d4 for each attack (the wizard was levitating some distance away).

The PCs are level 4-5 with 12-20 hit points, and the knight could do 1d6+3 damage per hit. The +3 is a house rule based on high HD. According to the rules it should be 1d6. His three attacks were all with attack value 10, which means he had to roll 10 or less, and over the target's AC, to hit. Only a few of the attacks hit, and the ones that did only removed a small part of the PC's HP. The fight lasted for two rounds until the knight was slain.

Another wrinkle is that the PCs have picked up a magical artifact from a written module that lets them heal 3d6 HP on average two times a day per person. So after any fight that doesn't kill them they heal back to full HP.

The encounter wasn't very exciting and fell flat. As you can see there are lot of things going on: mid-level play, single monster vs multiple PCs, healing magic, and so onl, but what I need help with is how to determine who to attack. The problem with randomizing each attack is that attacks get spread out over the PCs hit points, so the players never feel really threatened. Sure, they may have bad luck and get hit two or three times and that might kill the PC, but in general it's a lot safer for the PCs than if the monster focuses on one of them at a time. The players do that; they go in for the kill on the most dangerous monster first and work their way through them. But I have a hard time knowing how to determine who the monster would attack first.

One option is to base it on a single die roll at the start of the fight. This was suggested by one of the players after the session. Say that the knight attacks the templar PC based on a 1d4 roll. It would keep attacking until the templar is incapacitated, unless something happens that makes it switch target. This switch would be determined by me based if some other PC becomes a more obvious target.

Another option is to attack the first or last PC of the group. This is usually the case in dungeons for obvious reasons, but you could also attack the first PC that enters the forbidden forest or something similar.

Another option is to decide if the monster goes for the metal-clad templar or the robe-clad wizard first, based on monster psychology.

I've been accused, only half-jokingly, by one player to always try to kill his particular PC in every game I run. Looking back it's certainly true that his PCs has died more often than others, but not based on me singling him out or him making really stupid decisions. He usually doesn't play the most obvious target, but for some reason his PCs gets killed. In one Whitehack adventure two cultists with daggers jumped out from hiding and attacked the four PCs. I rolled 1d4 for each cultist, and they both attacked this player's PC. Next round the cultist still standing made another random attack, hit the same PC and killed him. Four level 4 PCs met two 1 HD monsters with daggers, and he was killed.

Bad luck, sure, but if I do some self-analysis I think this random-attack stuff is in part because I don't want to be the jerk GM that use my power to single out players and put their PCs out of play. Randomizing targets takes the decision out of my hands, especially since we do open rolls. Making an initial random roll and keep hitting the same PC is a nice middle ground, but I'd like to hear other suggestions on how you determine who is attacked.

The main situation described above is a single monster, possibly with multiple attacks, that attacks four PCs. But if there are four monsters and four PCs, I think the players would focus their attacks while I would have the four monsters attack one PC each. This is more based on giving each player something to do, rather than the most tactically sound thing for the monsters. They would probably be better off if they all attacked the most dangerous-looking PC first. This would lead to the templar being attack by all monsters in every fight, and I'm not sure that would be very exciting for the group of players or that specific player.

Any thoughts on how to handle this?

Comments

  • My rule is that opponents fight according to self-preservation first, their intelligence second, and their plan third. Viewed in reverse order, they'll do what they were told or decided to do unless in the moment their intelligence dictates a better choice...but they'll only follow those reasons/instincts until they're in danger, when they'll react purely to stay alive.

    So a goblin was told to stand by the door and stab whoever got close would do so, until they see a weak looking small pc creeping around the hobgoblin leader. While they bear it no love, if their big brute goes down, the goblins will face peril, and the smaller pc looks easier than the big armored fighter that's closer, so the goblin ignores the plan and moves to attack the sneaky guy. He's doing well with that, but begins to take regular damage from an archer in the corner. He switches targets and rushes the archer in order to stop the damage and save his life. That he exposes his flank to a thief with backstab, and has utterly abandoned the door to the important prisoners doesn't figure in at this point...only stopping the hurt matters.

    Another example: a vampire will rightly fear clerics and paladins above all else, and so will purposely target them first. Probably casters second to avoid spike damage. They'll also use the correct attack against the opponent...they won't try dominating the holy men, and won't prefer physical attacks against the tank. However if they face grave peril (pun intended) then all bets are off. In other words, their high intelligence will equate to actually making the correct meta-choices, until Maslow makes a different decision for them.

    That's how I try to approach it at least.
  • How come you aren't basing the attack priorities on fictional positioning, motivations and perceptions? I'm asking because that's seemed sort of obvious to me in D&D-like games. I don't usually have much difficulty in choosing targets - a charging monster has to attack whoever is in the front line, and given a choice they'll avoid spear points and basically randomize between otherwise equal targets (this goes for intelligent and non-intelligent charging foes, really). Once the melee is joined, nobody's "choosing targets", you either fight the one you're already fighting or you try to withdraw from the on-going bout to try and flank another target. The "free for all" melee is a very, very rare situation in my experience, usually there is plenty of positioning and tactics available to determine who fights who.

    In practice I end up randomizing only like 20% of the time, and that only at the start of an encounter - later on the enemy picks targets based on combat action so far, so the aggressive and effective PCs get targeted. Even when I'm even-steven on some target, it's very common for a player to declare that their character's going to step up and provoke the attack on them, so as to protect another character - assuming the character's not flat-footed (and therefore unable to act in even minor ways) and the monster has no better reason to pick a target, they'll go for the one that's shouting and stepping forward to tackle them, sure enough.

    And yes, the monsters should fight to kill if that's the sort of thing you're fighting to establish in the first place - doesn't really make any sense to me for the opponents to voluntarily fight in a stupid way, unless they are actually stupid. Singling out an enemy to gang up upon, given numerical majority or a passive opposing force is obvious, as is flanking, surprise, whatever the PCs let the monsters get away with.

    Of course, I can imagine running all this much more abstractly, sort of like those menuing computer games where you pick freely whom to attack each combat round, as the fighters sort of stand in a line and wait for their turn to act. I'm sure there are virtues for this approach as well - speed and narrative freedom instead of precise tactics, I'd say - in which case you would indeed need some method for choosing who the monster assaults each round.

    One rules text that has an interesting approach for this is Dragonpact, in which monsters always attack the most dangerous target, as determined by their character classes: the Fighter is the most wanted, while the Halfling won't get any aggro even if he wanted to. It's an interesting read, and definitely exists in that abstract "we don't really care about positioning" combat space. Pay what you want, so no reason not to look for some ideas in there. The Finnish edition I have has a whole combat flowchart at the back for the specific purpose of finding out whom a monster is going to attack quickly.
  • I like @phoenix182's hierarchy of imperatives. Generally my monsters go for the closest foe. If they're intelligent monsters and they have the luxury of choosing a target, I'd give them an INT roll to see if they choose the foe who can do them the most harm. Once things start rolling though, it's like Eero says; it just kinda makes sense to choose the guy who just slashed your face.

  • Great answers here.

    Have you given a thought to what aspect of the game you wish to reinforce, as the GM?

    Is it your goal to make the fights as hard as possible? As balanced as possible? Really hard right up until the players succeed?

    (I don't personally like the last two in an OSR game, but if that's what you're actually going for, it may be liberating to admit it to yourself and then play accordingly.)

    Is verisimilitude important? Is giving the monsters personality important?

    All of those call for different priorities in terms of this kind of decision-making.

    For the record, I go with something like Eero describes, myself. Certain possibilities jump out at me as particularly believable or resonant in terms of the fiction being described, and I go with those. When I'm uncertain, I'll roll some dice. That might be to decide who is getting attacked, or it could be an Intelligence check to see if the monsters realize they can't get past the fighter's magical armour, or perhaps a morale check to see if they are fighting in order to preserve themselves or aggressively out for blood.

    Basically, I go with the fiction as much as possible, and when I have a question, I roll a die to settle it. ("Wait a minute... do these things work in coordinated packs, or do they just swarm their enemies? Either seems likely, based on the monster description...")
  • The Apocalypse World approach (seeing the development of the fiction as a conversation) can also be used here.

    Example:

    "Ok, the fighter just pulled off quite a stunt there. That seems significant; it feels like I should say something meaningful in return. How might the opposition react?"

    The most obvious example is one PC taking the lead and charging a group of monsters, with the others following him. Unless the others behind the PC seem much more threatening for some reason, it's pretty likely many or most of the monsters will attack the charging PC first, at least until the others catch up.
  • Thanks for all the answers. I'll address the posts one by one.
    My rule is that opponents fight according to self-preservation first, their intelligence second, and their plan third. Viewed in reverse order, they'll do what they were told or decided to do unless in the moment their intelligence dictates a better choice...but they'll only follow those reasons/instincts until they're in danger, when they'll react purely to stay alive.
    That hierarchy of motivations on why to act are really useful. I find the reversed phrasing to be more intuitive: first follow the plan, else use your intelligence, and if all else fails self-preserve. In the heat of fictional battle I tend to fall back to familiar, and largely unexamined, ideas, so having a method or procedure to follow is helpful.

    The two examples are also good, and shows a difference between how "mook monsters" and "boss monsters" might reason.

    No RPG I've read or played before I found B/X D&D through Whitehack in 2013 has had morale rules. Self-preservation has always been up to the GM, and both as GM and player NPCs have mostly acted according to the 80s action movie idea that they come running from all directions only to be mowed down by the PCs. The 80s modules I use are designed for a different RPG than Whitehack, and are part of a different tradition. There are mentions in the text that at least human opponents won't fight to the death, but it's not reinforced by the rules in any way. All encounters in the modules flat out state that the monster(s) attack the PCs (no reaction rolls) and doesn't say anything about what they do if the fight go badly (no morale rolls).

    I could add those rolls myself, but the modules are designed for, say, 4-5 combat encounters. Turning some of them into friendly meetings (reaction rolls) or turning and running at first NPC death (morale rolls) would risk having the PCs just walk through the dungeons in no peril at all. The modules also lack wandering monsters, and I think the combination of wandering monsters, reaction rolls and morale rolls are a very interesting part of old-school D&D as I've read about it.

    My original plan was to play through these modules exactly as written in order to experience the intended adventures. They are a huge part of Swedish role-playing history, but I haven't played most of them, and wanted to experience that. But now I think I should add all three rolls (wandering monsters, reactions, and morale) to get the kind of game I want.

    The above obviously won't solve last session's problem with which PC to attack, but I think having more encounters, where some of them doesn't have to turn violent (unless the PCs attack) and can have monsters fleeing, would force me to be more creative than just having monsters attack a random PC each turn until they kill someone or die themselves.
  • How come you aren't basing the attack priorities on fictional positioning, motivations and perceptions? I'm asking because that's seemed sort of obvious to me in D&D-like games. I don't usually have much difficulty in choosing targets - a charging monster has to attack whoever is in the front line, and given a choice they'll avoid spear points and basically randomize between otherwise equal targets (this goes for intelligent and non-intelligent charging foes, really). Once the melee is joined, nobody's "choosing targets", you either fight the one you're already fighting or you try to withdraw from the on-going bout to try and flank another target. The "free for all" melee is a very, very rare situation in my experience, usually there is plenty of positioning and tactics available to determine who fights who.
    In the specific case of the black knight it was because the motivation as described in the encounter was pretty strange. A single, albeit 10-HD monster, attacks a group of five mid-level PCs. I could tell that it would probably kill a single PC if it focused it's attacks, but that they would surely defeat it. After the session I tried a "what would a PC do" thought experiment and decided that they would never single-handedly attack five HD 2-3 monsters when they themselves are level 5. I could have increased the HD to make it more challenging for the whole group, but I already put it at the high end of the scale. I could have sent in two black knight instead of one, but I don't want to try to balance encounters. I very much like the idea of a world that just exists and doesn't adapt to fit the current PCs. When they were low level I didn't change the modules to make them easier, but now it feels like I need to double or triple the number of monsters to make the sessions interesting. Earlier in the same session, in a scripted encounter two guides tried to kill and rob the PCs during the night. They were HD 1 and 2, and were offed in two rounds, even though 4 of 5 PCs were asleep the first round. As one player suggested, it would take 8 of them to even begin to feel like a challenge. I'll have to figure out if I want to mess with the number of monsters in the modules or if the players should coast through them.

    The free-for-all that we often have is because the PCs move to flank single opponents. The latest modules we've played have had multiple "a room with one demon" encounters, and thanks to generous movement rules, and because flanking gives +2 to-hit and damage, it's no problem for PCs to position themselves in each cardinal direction around the monster and start chopping. We don't use directional/facing rules, so the monster is free to attack any of the four PCs each round. With the black knight, I realize now that I basically short-circuited the PC movement part and just put the monster in a position between all four PCs. It just rode into the middle of the group, because that's where it would end up anyway. It sounds stupid looking back, a bit like historical battles where people lined up and traded shots sound stupid compared to modern combat with cover and a lot of movement.

    Using fictional perception for monsters is interesting, because the players routinely use out-of-character information to decide who to attack. I roll monster HD in the open the first time the monster takes a hit, buy then I keep the current HP hidden. The players still have a rough estimate of the current HP, but they might not know that the 3 HD monster actually has 3d6+3 HP. In the beginning, the main reason for open HD rolls was to give the players experience how dangerous a HD 1, 3, or 5 monster is, basically teaching them the genre and expectations at the same time I learned them. Also, it still helps give the players a rough estimate how close they are to defeating a monster without having to depend on my descriptions. I know that basing player knowledge all on GM descriptions is a virtue to many people, but I think it's weird if I say "your cut is really deep", and the player doesn't now if they hit a 36 or 6 HP monster for 5 points.

    For 1 HD monsters it's very easy for the players to know the remaining HP. If they roll 5 damage and I roll 6 HP, they know this skeleton only has 1 HP left. If two PCs fight two skeletons, act first, and one PC brings a skeleton to 1 HP it's best for the second PC to finish that skeleton off before they hit back instead of risking only maiming the other skeleton. The players use this knowledge all the time. But if I would do that I'm sure they would view that as "cheating" (but I haven't asked them), that I'm out to get this particular PC, or something similar. I could argue that the second skeleton didn't know the PC was at 1 HP, but that it just attacked the same target as the first skeleton because it's better to finish opponents off. If the PCs can do it the monsters should too.

    As you can see, I'm thinking out loud now. This is really helpful, because it gives me a chance to organize my thoughts. I hope you have patience with me talking all over the place. My previous paragraph on the skeleton fight highlights a "why we play" issue; do we play to try to put each others' characters out of the game or not. Do I put monsters in front of the PCs just for the players to defeat them, or do I try to use any means I have through my NPCs to bring the PCs down?

    Fictional perception is also interesting in the two-cultists-with-daggers case. They were free to attack any PC, so I rolled randomly, but really, would they be just as likely to try to backstab the templar in platemail as the guy in leather armor? If they could hope to at most kill one PC, wouldn't they go for the most vulnerable one? Or the leader, if they could identify one in the party.

    The video game approach that you mention, from Final Fantasy, Chrono Trigger, and the very nice game Child of Light that I play with my daughter at the moment, is something I want to get away from. In each fight in Child of Light you have two (and a half, but I won't go into that) PCs and 1-3 monsters. As players, we try to figure out which monster is vulnerable to physical damage or magical damage, to fire or lightning, and so on. We focus our attacks to take out the most important monsters first, either because they're the most dangerous or because the timing is right and if we hit them they won't be able to act, and so on. But I haven't identified a pattern to the monster attacks. They either randomly attack one of the two PCs or use attacks that damage both, but it's not like one PC is vulnerable to fire and the monsters somehow pick that up and use it. So those fights are actually a good example of what I don't want; I want to be able to play the monsters more like PCs, but without feeling like I utilize out-of-character knowledge or act like I'm out to get a specific player's character. The "out-to-get" part obviously relates to the "why we play" issue above, but I don't have a clear answer yet. It's also something I need to discuss with the group, since they very much get to weigh in on why we should play.

    I'll have a look at Dragonpact. Thanks for the suggestion.
  • edited May 2015
    "A single, albeit 10-HD monster, attacks a group of five mid-level PCs. I could tell that it would probably kill a single PC if it focused it's attacks, but that they would surely defeat it."
    If the PCs see the undead knight focusing on one of them, do they not have ways to try to protect the target or get him out of danger?

    Focusing a single potent threat on one of the PCs forces them to think about taking actions other than just dealing maximum damage to the knight -- maybe the wizard has spells that can yank the targeted PC out of the knight's reach, or can create a useful terrain feature; maybe the strongman can physically interpose himself between the targeted PC and the knight, drag the targeted PC to safety. Make them make choices about positioning.
  • edited May 2015
    Always attack the wizard, no matter what. It's their own fault for being a wizard in a system where the people tasked with protecting them have no mechanical means of doing so.

    Remember that until 4e, everything the fighter was supposed to be able to do they couldn't actually do.
  • How come you aren't basing the attack priorities on fictional positioning, motivations and perceptions? I'm asking because that's seemed sort of obvious to me in D&D-like games. I don't usually have much difficulty in choosing targets - a charging monster has to attack whoever is in the front line
    For example, in many editions of D&D, this is just not true, there is no penalty whatever for just walking past someone with a spear and attacking a guy in the back. For a few other editions there's a tiny possibility of a single small penalty.
  • edited May 2015
    I'll repeat my earlier point:

    You have to decide (ideally, as a group) what the creative goals of this particular game are. Once that's in place, you can start developing trust in each other as players - the trust that you are capable and willing to carry out your particular responsibilities in this particular game.

    JD:

    I think you misunderstood Eero. He was talking from a fictional standpoint, not a formalistic one.

    However, it's a good illustration of why getting on the same page about this stuff is important!

    Do the game rules form the "battlefield" on which you play (in which running past the frontline fighters on your turn is a valid move, and it's the opposition's problem to figure out a counter-tactic), or are they just an agreed-upon abstraction which we use to parse the shared fiction we're creating (in which case a rule must be modified or ignored when it doesn't fit the situation we're imagining)?

    If nothing else, it's the starting-point to determining whether you need a functional, mechanical solution to the problem (e.g. Dragonpact) or a procedural/social one (like developing trust in each other as players).
  • Once things start rolling though, it's like Eero says; it just kinda makes sense to choose the guy who just slashed your face.
    Yes, in the second round with the black knight, for sure. It would both make sense for him from a fictional and game-tactical sense to focus on the PC who just dealt the most damage.
  • Have you given a thought to what aspect of the game you wish to reinforce, as the GM?

    Is it your goal to make the fights as hard as possible? As balanced as possible? Really hard right up until the players succeed?

    (I don't personally like the last two in an OSR game, but if that's what you're actually going for, it may be liberating to admit it to yourself and then play accordingly.)
    I was going to say "no, no, and no", but then I realized that with the first question you're not asking "do you want to add as many monsters as to make each fight impossible", but instead "do you want to try to use the situation and monsters given to you by the module and play them as hard as possible"; then yes! It would be a lot more fun for me as GM to be able to go at the PCs in full force, without any thoughts of balance, fairness, and player feelings. If the fights were played on a chess board without any rulings needed from my part I would play as hard as I could. But I have a hard time finding the balance between being impartial and playing the monsters as characters. I think that randomizing targets is a way for me to stay completely impartial, but then all fights turn into abstract pools of HP and disconnected die rolls to whittle them away.
    Is verisimilitude important? Is giving the monsters personality important?

    All of those call for different priorities in terms of this kind of decision-making.
    It's important to me that what happens is consistent with similar things that has happened before, and that both PCs and monsters follow the rules. Monsters have their own rules, though, that are not known to the players, like extra attacks that PCs don't have, regeneration powers, and so on. Giving the monsters personality is important, but it's not something I feel I've done a good job with. I would like fights with different 1 HD monsters to feel different, not the same guy with different monster costumes.
    When I'm uncertain, I'll roll some dice. That might be to decide who is getting attacked, or it could be an Intelligence check to see if the monsters realize they can't get past the fighter's magical armour, or perhaps a morale check to see if they are fighting in order to preserve themselves or aggressively out for blood.
    There's been a couple of mentions of intelligence checks, and I haven't used those. It's an interesting idea, since it lets me state the two options, give a probability, and then not have to decide on my own if the monster figure out who is best to attack. It's like the 1d2 method to drill down through a number of binary options ("Are the monsters asleep or awake? Awake. Do they guard the door or the stairs? The stairs." and so on); very handy, but I haven't used it in play yet. Existentialists talk about the burden of having the freedom to choose and having to live with the consequences of those choices, and this is a way to downplay that burden at least while playing a game.

    There's no way in Whitehack to know the monster's intelligence from the monster list; the GM is instructed to just make up something appropriate. Since I roll all my rolls in the open, in certain situations I think I'll roll a number of d6s depending on intelligence potential (1 or 2d6 for stupid monsters, 3d6 for humanoids, 4d6 or more for monsters more intelligent than humans), state what the monster tries to understand and then roll 1d20 to see if the do. I don't mind the players peeking behind the curtain to see this decision process, in fact, I think it would give more authority to the monster's choice.
  • edited May 2015
    If the PCs see the undead knight focusing on one of them, do they not have ways to try to protect the target or get him out of danger?

    Focusing a single potent threat on one of the PCs forces them to think about taking actions other than just dealing maximum damage to the knight -- maybe the wizard has spells that can yank the targeted PC out of the knight's reach, or can create a useful terrain feature; maybe the strongman can physically interpose himself between the targeted PC and the knight, drag the targeted PC to safety. Make them make choices about positioning.
    Yes, you're right. The Strong class, basically fighters, have a combat option where they can forsake all other actions and protect an adjacent character by redirecting all attacks to themselves. I don't know if any current PC has that option, but that's not a problem; they can pick it up when they level up or create a new character if they find it useful. Another Strong class option is to push the target back and take their place, inserting themselves between the monster and the other PC. All classes can use the regular protect action, a task roll against your attack value, where success means the next attack on the target hits you instead, monster's save negates. The current wizard PC has the ability to create stone walls, so he could block off a monster from attacking. They also have the option of activating a healing artifact during combat, and so on. There are probably more ways to do this, so there's a lot of rule support for this.

    If the monster's attacks get spread out evenly across the surrounding PCs' HPs there's no urgent need for tactics. You just hope that you don't get hit two or three times in the fight because then you're probably dead. If a single PC is targeted they may not have time to surround and hack away at the monster, but have to get creative quick.

    I will definitely talk to the group before next session about how monsters will behave differently and be more deadly. I will also present the different combat options again, because it's not something the players use often, and they may have forgotten about them. If I can get away from "Player: I hit. GM: The monster hits. Player: I hit" and force the need to use more tactics that would improve the game a lot.

    I will also discuss the disengage action with my players. It's a bit vaguely phrased in Whitehack 2 ("To disengage in combat, you must move backwards at a careful pace, still facing your opponents, or you will give away free attacks."), or at least I haven't described it properly to the players. According to the rules, careful pace is defined as average pace-10 feet, where average unencumbered pace is 30 feet per move action, but we instead say it's half the average pace.

    In a combat round each character has three actions: attack, make an average move, and perform a small action. You can shift actions to the right, for example skip the attack and make two moves, and you can move at a careful (half), average (normal), or running (double) pace. I'll clarify the text to say that when you disengage you spend your attack on a disengage action and can only move backwards at a careful pace, still facing the opponent. This doesn't trigger a free attack, but if the monster decides to leave the other three PCs to follow you the PCs get a free attack each on the monster. This sets up the decision for the monster (me as GM) if it's stupid enough to keep attacking the same target, or if it shifts to one of the remaining adjacent targets. Monsters will of course have the same option to disengage.

    All this disengage talk is just to remind myself that most monsters, if given the choice, won't fight to the death. All fights don't have to be people that run up to each other and trade blows until one of them dies. If monsters start disengaging, it will be interesting to see how the players handle it (my guess is they'll just think the monster was stupid to waste an attack and follow it). It's just that it's not something that's front and center in the modules or in the rules, probably because self-preservation is assumed, so I'll have to remind myself outside of the game to run it like this.

    We've mostly played fights a bit like the Swedish children's board game "Fia med knuff", Mensch ärgere Dich nicht (English Wikipedia). I don't know if it has a more well-known English title (edit: Ludo), but it's a very well known game in Sweden. Each turn you have 0-4 options on which piece to move, for example to choose to knock an opponent piece back to their starting position or advance your own piece. But most of the time you can only move one piece, so there's no choice. Children love it.

    Fights in Whitehack so far has felt a bit like this. There's no real tactical thought, just run up and start chipping away at the monsters' or PCs' HP. Hopefully by making different monsters act in different ways, and by me using the situation to push the players as hard as I can, I can make fights more unique and exciting.
  • Jonas, I can't remember if you were present for much of the fighting which took place in my D&D game (over IRC).

    However, your description of play as a boring hack'n'slash sounds very odd to me, because in my experience old-school D&D (which Whitehack seems to me to be quite similar to) combat is terrifying and deadly.

    I would start by playing the monsters much more intelligently. You can assign them an intelligence score of some kind (your 2d6, 3d6, 4d6 idea seems pretty simple in that regard) when you're unsure whether they're being "too smart". However, your players have a lot less to track than you do, and I'm sure they'll outthink you, so don't worry.

    Play them as you would an intelligent NPC during a negotiation: don't be afraid to use intelligent tactics. Monsters learn from encounters, they have certain motivations and goals, and so forth. (And making monsters intelligent actually makes it MORE interesting for players, not the other way around. A mindless creature which just keeps attacking can only be dealt with in so many ways. An intelligent monster which can be threatened, negotiated with, and runs away - and into a trap it has designed to capture pursuers - gives the players a lot more interesting choices in terms of dealing with it.

    Let's say a module has some goblins with bows hiding in a cavern. Why would your goblin archers sit in a room and wait to be discovered? They'd probably have a smart location set up for an ambush, perhaps even with some way to lure opponents into precisely the right spot before they fire. (Perhaps a small pile of gold, while the goblins hide behind barrels on either side of the room.)

    Then it's up to the PCs to see if they explore carelessly (and alert the goblins, allowing them to "take positions") or manage to surprise the goblins, avoiding the trap altogether and catching them off-guard. That makes simple exploration more interesting, too.

    If you feel it's "unfair", set up a little system for yourself. A random table of monster actions or dispositions, a reaction roll or morale check, an intelligence check, some kind of "die of fate"-style oracular roll, or the binary 1d2 resolution all work very well.

    In my game, I considered how the monsters would react to the PCs intruding into their home, and asked myself a lot of questions. Will they be frightened, or confident? Will their fear lead them to hide and barricade themselves in, or to try to strike as hard as possible?

    I rolled dice for each of these questions until I knew what they would do. In my game, the monsters were very scared of the PCs but also decided that they had to fight back as desperately as possible or all die. So they set a smoke trap for the PCs and sat by the exit with spears at the ready, while baiting another monster to chase the PCs out in case the smoke didn't do the job.

    Giving some thought to monster motivations and following through on them can really help here, and a clear idea of how intelligent they are and what drives them gives them personality and allows the players to think outside the box when dealing with them.

    I have a little generator for "monster features", and it includes things like "[creature] is maddened by the colour red", "[creature] is mindless and follows sources of sound", "[creature] is highly intelligent", "[creature] can communicate with its kind through hand signals and is highly organized in combat", and so forth.

    In my game I knew from the generator that the weird centipede-crab things were mindless, just drawn by noise and even more so by the scent of blood. However, they couldn't climb stairs, which, once the players figured it out, allowed them to find safe spots and then draw them away by making noise. The amphibious troglodyte-things, on the other hand, could see in the dark and communicate with each other telepathically, which made me consider what kinds of plans they could concoct - I decided that it would allow them to attempt plans which would normally be impossible without rapid communication, like using one group to attract a monster while the other set up an ambush. However, I decided it also made them fearful, since any member's death would be felt immediately by the others.

    Have some fun with it! So long as you keep your eye on remaining impartial, there is nothing wrong with considering intelligent tactics for your opponents, much like how you would play an NPC in a negotiation - get a sense of their intelligence and play them accordingly. When you're not sure, roll a die or use some other kind of oracle (even to establish the intelligence in the first place).

    I think it enriches the game. In my experience with (old-school) D&D, it makes things less about the fighting itself and more about the strategy of choosing when and where to fight. Smart planning, reconnaissance, and adjusting to enemy tactics becomes more important than the actual combat, which, I think, makes the game more fun.

    *Particularly* if it feels like fights are too easy, give yourself free reign to play opponents intelligently.
  • Smart planning, reconnaissance, and adjusting to enemy tactics becomes more important than the actual combat, which, I think, makes the game more fun.
    For sure! This to me is one of the major appeals of "OSR"-style play. Fictional positioning, clever use of arbitrary environmental features, and creative applications of skills or equipment - no two encounters are alike. Thinking outside of the box is the norm.

  • I'll repeat my earlier point:

    You have to decide (ideally, as a group) what the creative goals of this particular game are. Once that's in place, you can start developing trust in each other as players - the trust that you are capable and willing to carry out your particular responsibilities in this particular game.
    And it's a very good point. I'll have this discussion with my group before next sessions.
    Do the game rules form the "battlefield" on which you play (in which running past the frontline fighters on your turn is a valid move, and it's the opposition's problem to figure out a counter-tactic), or are they just an agreed-upon abstraction which we use to parse the shared fiction we're creating (in which case a rule must be modified or ignored when it doesn't fit the situation we're imagining)?

    If nothing else, it's the starting-point to determining whether you need a functional, mechanical solution to the problem (e.g. Dragonpact) or a procedural/social one (like developing trust in each other as players).
    I looked at Dragonpact and it's hilarious. I really like it, but I don't want that strict a procedure ("monsters always attack Stong characters first"). But I'm not comfortable ignoring rules based on fictional situations either, because I feel that the rules and the class abilities are things that players should almost always be able to depend on working. Without having played any later edition of D&D than B/X, but having read about them, this feels like a 4E mindset rather than an OSR mindset; to start with the PCs abilities rather than what the player wants to do. I don't like to say no when a PC has an ability they should be able to use.

    On the other hand, I don't want to ignore rules to allow PCs to do things they shouldn't be able to do, because I don't want it to set a precedent that the players will try to use over and over. If the rule says that Strong characters that bring a monster to 0 HP can follow up with a new attack on an adjacent enemy, but this time the player argues they have movement left and should be able to move 3 m to hit the next monster, ignoring the rule one time will make the players want to move 3 m every time. I don't mind house ruling between sessions, because I want time to think through the consequences of a ruling. I often say "let's do it like this right now, and we'll discuss the general rule between sessions" in these situations, but I'm not ignoring rules left and right based only on the fictional situation; the situation isn't that powerful.

    When I think about our fights the PCs actions are almost always move to flank and attack. On rare occasions someone has used a combat option (the ones described in Whitehack 2 are Charge, Fight defensively/offensively, Grapple, Trick, Protect, and Press; but the text also say that these are just formalized rulings and that the Referee must make other rulings). What we haven't done is go beyond the formalized options. I don't think anyone has grabbed someone's legs, tried to choke someone, thrown flaming oil, and so on, probably because the focus has been on getting the monster's HP to 0 through regular attacks. This is no fault of Whitehack, because it both has the formalized options above, and it talks about throwing oil and encourages Referee rulings. It's probably because the players haven't seen the need for any special tactics, and I haven't encouraged it. One way for me to encourage it is to have monsters, for example, start throwing flaming oil, or have one orc grapple a PC and the other attack with combat advantage (+2 to hit and damage). The last part is not in the rules, but a ruling.

    Back to the discussion at hand, what I aim for is Referee guidelines, rather than a fully functional mechanical solution. The guidelines will remind me how to play the monsters.
  • edited May 2015
    Yeah, get more creative with your opposition, and watch the players react!

    Or throw them against harder opponents, so they HAVE to adjust their tactics...

    (On that last suggestion: my view here is that "throwing harder opposition at the party" is not a thing the GM does, but, rather, something the group negotiates together. This can be out-of-character - "Hey, our fights are boring, how would you like to take on some harder opponents?" - or it can be in-character: start offering them adventure hooks which are clearly telegraphed as more challenging than what they've done to date, and see if they go for it. But playing such adventures with the group's consent helps build further trust.)
  • edited May 2015
    Paul_T said in another thread:
    By the way, the way to keep the narrative moving in a fight is to make sure that the fictional situation is transformed after each roll/move (keep in mind some moves do not require a roll, but are just part of the MC-Player conversation).

    It's really not much fun - as you point out - if you just have two figures stand in front of each other on an abstract board and roll dice to hit each other.
    I want to ask a question on this, but the other thread is AW/DW related, and my question is Whitehack/OSR related. I agree completely with the above quote, but I don't know how to enable it in my Whitehack games.

    One of the problems I've discussed in this thread is that our fights are usually static exchanges aimed at reducing the other side to 0 HP by swinging the weapon over and over. By clarifying the disengage action to the players before next session, and by having monsters disengage, I hope to make fights a bit more fluid.

    But it also makes sense to me to have PCs and monsters be pushed back when they take HP damage. This is not codified in the rules in any way, and would be a house rule. Perhaps there's a limit, like if you take half your remaining HP in one blow you risk being pushed back, but with a successful save you stay put. One reason I haven't added it is because there's a special combat option called Trick: Push where you forego damage to push the opponent back 5 feet and move into their space, save negates. There's also a Strong melee option where, following a successful attack, you're allowed to push an opponent back 10 feet and follow them, save negates. No current Strong PC has picked this option.

    By adding yet another way to push people back as an added effect, the usefulness of the other two ways will be diminished.

    So there are two questions here:

    1. Does anyone agree that adding another push back effect to Whitehack will make the other options less useful?

    2. More importantly, in, for example, B/X, would you add this effect on a per situation basis? Like, when the 6 HP fighter gets hit for 4 HP with a war hammer there's a risk he'll stumble backwards, which changes the layout of the fight for next round?

    Push backs are perhaps not very interesting if the fight take place in an open field, but most fights in our game take place in 1-1.5 meter wide corridors that open up into rooms, so getting pushed back for monsters to enter might be bad. The last sessions have had single high-HD monsters alone in each room, so pushing them back to unclog a corridor hasn't been relevant for either the PCs or the monsters. But if I have multiple orcs or goblins lining up in a corridor, while the PCs line up behind the PCs that stands in the entrance, perhaps using the regular Trick: Push action is what I should do.

    That raises another question:

    3. How would you handle pushing a PC or monster into a space occupied by another character? The PCs usually stand two men deep. Would each PC get a save to negate the effect, otherwise they are both pushed back 5 feet in the same direction?

    In the discussion on which PC is attacked by the monster one question was if this should be decided on the rules level or social level. When it comes to making fights more fluid after two opponents are in melee, I want a rule solution. I don't want to decide that people are pushed back purely by Referee fiat.
  • I don't have a specific comment on your suggested house-rule (although it sounds interesting to me!), because I haven't done much 'boardgamey' D&D combat, an certainly none of it has been interesting for me.

    The main thing I've noticed about a game like D&D is that the fights (and the game in general) are much more fun when players are trying unusual, fun tactics and doing unexpected things which shake up the situation. Play with a group which just lines up in a row and goes toe-to-toe with the monsters... and it's not terribly exciting. But add one player who decides he wants to swing in on the chandelier and drop hot wax on the opponents while the other characters are trying to sell them soap, and the game is suddenly really fun.

    So I try to bring this same approach to the game when I'm GMing (within reason, of course, and within what is believable for the opposition - stupid and mindless enemies SHOULD be predictable and unexciting, but the key is to make sure that they are UNUSUAL in that respect, by making "regular" opponents much more likely to change tactics mid-fight and do interesting things.

    Combining "pushback" with strong blows in combat seems to me to be well within the range of the D&D mindset: especially considering that combat rounds are supposed to represent a whole exchange of blows.

    Also, one of the features which makes combat more exciting and players more interested in tactics and positioning is simply its lethality. PCs who have 60 HPs can afford to fight for a few rounds and then withdraw.

    When you only have 1d6 hit points, however, you have to be much more thoughtful: that's no longer a viable approach. It's one reason I only enjoy low-level D&D - no fight is ever "boring", because death could strike at any moment.
  • First observation: miniatures are not inherently bad, but they certainly cause massive realism bottlenecks, which in turn may or may not bother players, depending on what their expectations and desires are.

    Second observation: I would, generally, much prefer to keep fights focused on issues of positioning and initiative rather than standing in a line and rolling dice. This is perhaps not very possible with a statically oriented rules gloss - you might need to rework your system entirely to make it more dynamic, minor changes won't do much.

    I have my own issues with the living tradition of D&D miniatures skirmish combat rules (they've gone horribly wrong is my issue, to be exact), but I'll suggest something anyway specifically about pushing:

    It may be more realistic, intuitive and fun to implement "pushing an opponent" as a mutually coordinated change in positioning rather than as some sort of a body tackle; rugby players "push" other rugby players, perhaps, but armed combatants do such things only rarely. Rather, they fight aggressively to close distance on their opponent while threatening them with their weapon, forcing the opponent to either take the risk of resisting, or to use footwork to retreat and maintain their preferred defensive distance. This has almost nothing whatsoever to do with a "push maneuver", of course.

    A simple rule that I've often used to capture this nature of skirmish combat is to assign penalties to characters who specifically cannot use footwork against an opponent who is so capable; this seems to confuse surprisingly many roleplayers as an idea, apparently mainstream D&D etc. has been busy providing people with the mental idea that standing rooted in place, not moving an inch, is somehow a preferable martial technique in duel-like conditions, where the enemy is free to control their own distance and therefore the entire timing of the bout.

    (I should note that in dungeons you often encounter situations that do not allow for footwork on either side, as well; if you opt to fight in a "shield-wall" or whatever, you're gaining concentration of force and mutual support, but losing most of your ability to dodge and avoid the enemy. It is a good tradeoff in certain situations with certain equipment, and a bad one at other times.)

    The opposite rule is a good one as well: give defensive bonuses to characters who specifically "give ground" as part of their defense. This way a combatant can choose to either stubbornly stand their ground at the risk of injury, or dance back, forcing the foe to chase after them, gaining a modicum of safety as well as some initiative in terms of reversing movement and turning to attack when they choose. Of course, this works the better if you're nimble and have room to maneuver.

    (If anybody, reading the above, is now imagining fantasy characters running after each other around a battle-field, then you've reached the other extreme of modern fantasy combat aesthetics that I find just as difficult to understand in real terms; what I'm describing here is all on the scale of meters and seconds, relating to fighters actively engaged in melee against each other, not letting the other guy out of their sight for a moment. Back-pedaling as opposed to fleeing or "skirmishing" as a 3rd edition D&D scout does, in other words.)

    Looking at the same dynamics from the viewpoint of the attacker, their basic choices in terms of forcing footwork are to stay at distance and time their attacks carefully, or to charge in and attempt to take the foe by surprise. This "charging in" is apparently what the 3rd edition D&D "pushing" is attempting to simulate, I think, as the "normal" reaction from the defense is specifically to give ground to maintain their defensive posture; failure to do so would mean letting the enemy within the defensive envelope of your weapon, ready to strike or wrestle or simply push you down and then finish you on the ground - or presumably run past, if they've somewhere else to be.

    A better combat option to simulate the aggressive pressure a fighter can bring to bear would simply be some sort of "step in" maneuver that gives you a bonus to hit at the expense of reducing your own armor class; after all, the main drawback of attempting to pressure your foe by moving in is that they may, if they decide to stand their ground, be able to pre-empt or counter your attack, leaving you quite vulnerable yourself.

    The above in short: allow characters to gain an AC bonus by voluntarily drawing back from an assault, penalize characters who are less mobile than an enemy harassing them, and allow attacking characters to do a risky lunge instead of a careful sword-dance to close distance and break their opponent's form. These changes together should get the battlefield moving.

    Of course, after instituting those, you'll also want to institute AC penalties for facing multiple opponents, AC bonuses for close support, and more realistic and fluid understanding of weapon reach and fighting form, so as to properly support and justify that largely immobile shield-wall when that's what a fighter is doing. After doing this as well, you should have a combat environment in which nobody just stands in line and trades blows - it's either a well-organised and drilled closed formation, defensive ramparts or loose skirmishers who need and utilize a lot of room as part of their fighting style.

    You might guess what I recommend for situations where a combatant is "pushed" at another because they're fighting in "two ranks" (another artificial D&D tradition - the characters are very rarely grouped nearly close enough together, and utilizing heavy enough armament, to justify such an arrangement): instead of having the guy at the back "push back" or get pushed themselves like it was a rugby game or a Greek city state phalanx, just have both characters roll to avoid falling down, and penalize the next action for both until they get clear of each other and recover their fighting form.
  • I'm with Eero on this, not too surprisingly. One fairly simple way I've used to emphasize this in my own house ruled D&D is to have two different defensive "maneuvers" (the hack in question treats everything as a PC action, including defenses, not unlike a "Players roll all the dice" version of D&D, or Apocalypse World).

    When you are under attack, one option is to "evade" (and fall back), and the other is to "stand your ground". They have different dangers: evading is less likely to get you killed, but you'll be giving ground, and likely to fall over or be forced into an unfortunate position. The warrior who chooses to "stand her ground", on the other hand, relies largely on her armour and shield, since taking a blow or two is extremely likely.

    I'm also fond of rules which allow characters to build momentum, by attempting a tricky maneuver to gain a bonus on future rolls - these can really add excitement to the battlefield.

    Eero points out an important detail, which is that rarely (if ever) do opponents in a "realistic" fight simply stand face-to-face and hack at each other. There's always an ebb and flow to combat, with the lines constantly shifting. In my personal "vision" of a fight taking place, this is always the case: one side is falling back, and the other is advancing, or vice-versa. Using miniatures makes this easier to forget, perhaps.

    That said, all rule modifications are a major undertaking; my comments about making sure enemies engage in fun and interesting maneuvers in combat is a much "easier" solution, and doesn't require changing any rules.

    For instance, if the PCs are standing in a static position on the battlefield, you should of course make sure that their opponents are constantly changing their own position to put them at disadvantage - surrounding/flanking them, fragile targets moving out of range and firing missile weapons, and so on. The PCs will be forced to respond in turn, and, viola, you have a shifting and exciting battlefield (with no need for rules changes, unless you're using very strict miniatures rules which don't even allow basic maneuvering while engaged in a fight).
  • I'll pick one thing from each of your posts, Eero and Paul, and combine them to make our fights more dynamic. I'll explain!

    Most of the things you discuss as potential add-on rules are already codified in Whitehack, it's just that they haven't had much use at our table. I think this is mostly due to the design philosophy of the game that you always have to trade something for an advantage, which I happen to agree with. My players have said I do the same thing in my rulings, in that you might be allowed to do things like push past and ally in a narrow corridor to attack a monster, but both you and your ally will get a penalty on you attacks that round. Do you risk it or do you stay behind and wait, and so on? I think that's a healthy way of looking at special combat options, because if it's clearly better to always fight aggressively (to get a to-hit bonus with no AC reduction) you would do it every time and it's no longer a special option.

    I agree that to plant your feet, stand still, and swing your arm doesn't look at all like the re-enactment fights I've seen on YouTube. Two people that face off with sword and shield will move backwards and forwards, circle each other, and so on. In a game with one-minute combat rounds it's assumed that this goes on, but then it's weird if that movement is allowed without moving on the map and it's weird if the combatants always end up where they started the round. In our Whitehack game we use approximately five-second rounds, but it would still allow for some movement.

    What I'll try is this: combine Eero's suggestion of a disadvantage when planting your feet (by giving the attacker an advantage) with Paul's suggestion of giving the defender the choice to do this or not.

    The normal mode of defense will be for the defender to back five feet "backwards" (straight back, diagonally, around corners, and so on) and for the attacker to follow to perform the attack. If the defender can't or won't back up, the attacker gets combat advantage (+2 to-hit and damage), which is a big deal. The decision on where to move is up to the defender, so they could back up to give an ally a flanking bonus when they attack back. The defender may also move out of flanking when the first person attacks them, which forces the second attacker to move before they can attack. More movement in combat!

    The difference with the special combat action Push, which trades damage for pushing the defender back five feet and optionally follow, is that the attacker decides where the target is pushed.

    The only add-on to the rules is defender movement, and I'm happy it introduces an extra choice for the defender.
  • That sounds pretty good. What happens if the attacker doesn't want to follow?
  • edited May 2015
    That sounds pretty good. What happens if the attacker doesn't want to follow?
    My first thought was that the attacker has to follow; it's part of the attack. You can't stand still if your opponent moves backwards if you actually want to hit them. But you're right, there are situations where you really don't want to follow the defender, so having to follow is only part of a normal attack.

    There's the special combat option Fight defensively that can be used in this case. The attacker takes -2 to-hit or -2 damage, or -1 on each, to get +1 AC. In addition, with the new moving-defense house rule, the attacker can opt to stay put after the attack. The defender can stay in melee, or get a free Disengage action if they want. They can move out of melee as part of their defensive action, since the attacker is fighting defensively and doesn't engage them. When it's the defender's turn, they are free to engage the attacker again or pick another target. Oh, and when the defender moves, they are assumed to protect themselves, and won't trigger free attacks even if they move past an enemy.

    The way I envision this it will create a lot more movement, which I think will be great. Each time someone gets to act in combat there will be a new situation, and we won't have four PCs facing four orcs and after each round they stand in the exact same spot just hacking away at each others' HPs.

    I also like how it creates a decision for the defender on how to move around to improve their chances for when they return the attack. You get free movement as part of the defense that suddenly becomes tactically interesting, instead of movement either only being used in the first round when you engage the enemy and if you get pushed.
  • My own take on D&D-style combat is much less formalized and "boardgamey" than what you are describing here, but I think the rule you've come up with should work really well for your purposes. Make sure you let us know how it went once you try it out!
  • edited May 2015
    Just wanted to throw a completely different approach into the ring for your consideration, Jonas.

    A long-ago version of my fantasy RPG Delve used a point-buy character creation system. The stats you could buy were Strength, Toughness, Agility, and Luck. All were highly relevant to combat: STR impacted damage, TUF impacted survival, AGL impact to-hit and dodge, and LUK impacted who the opponents would target. As GM, I never had to think about who the monster attacks, given opportunities to attack multiple PCs -- the monster attacks whoever has the lowest Luck score. Luck was rolled for other things too, like whether you happen to land on one of the spikes in the pit trap, etc., and was an in-fiction presence, with certain characters being known or even famed for being lucky / favored by the gods or unlucky / magnets for dark magics, forces and fates.

    This may not be compatible with Whitehack, but maybe it could inspire something, so I figured I'd share.
  • edited June 2015
    Ooh! Great idea.

    I've got a Luck stat in my houseruled D&D, which is the stat which governs saving throws. I use it in a very similar fashion.

    However, I think it doesn't entirely solve the problem. Ignoring the fiction and going with the stat is no better than rolling randomly; all the ideas and devices discussed in this thread still apply.

    (Also., very interesting to hear Delve has a Luck stat! I would have never guessed.)
  • Last Thursday was the session my group had the chance to try the things discussed in this thread. It was the most fun I had in a long time, and much excitement was had by the players.

    To set the scene: Only three players could make it, with another three missing. The PCs were the half-demon templar, the archer, and the dark-elf wizard. The previous sessions was the fight with the black knight outside of an old burial mound/mini-dungeon. The players debated whether to go into the dungeon or not; they correctly suspected ghosts, or more specifically barrow-wights. The level-drain ability of ghosts is highly feared by the players, but they managed to convince themselves that the whole point of playing was amassing riches and that meant some danger. The module is, surprisingly for Drakar och Demoner (80s basic-roleplaying-based fantasy RPG) a sandbox, so the players know they don't have to enter to follow the module's plot.

    The first fight with a barrow-wight utilized my defensive-movement idea: Each normal attack forces the defender to move 1.5 meters back and the attacker has to follow. There's an option for the attacker to stay put (fight defensively) and an option for the defender to stay put (stand your ground), which gives a bonus to the other side in exchange for control of movement. The defensive movement didn't matter much, since the first attack forced the wight into a corner and the second attack finished it off. It was a 3 HD creature (3d6 hit points) facing three level 4-5 PCs.

    The second fight with a barrow wight took place in a more spacious room, 6 meters wide and 3 meters long. In the middle was a stone sarcophagus, with one PC positioned by the door in the lower left and two PCs above and below (on the map; to clarify, the map is on a whiteboard drawn by me, we don't use miniatures on a grid) the sarcophagus to push off the stone lid. The wight appeared and the wizard by the door fired an energy beam at the wight. I had my first real choice on which PC to attack, and since the wizard had just hurt the wight bad I decided it would attack him. The thing is, to do this, it had to move between both other PCs, and the wizard player argued this would trigger free attacks. I hadn't considered this, and had to decide if I would go through with the move or change my mind and attack one of the closer PCs. The players change their mind all the time as the situation becomes clear to them, expect for one player (of the strong-man) who always go through with his stated action based on "I said I'd do it based on the information I had, so I do it". I was mostly curious if the wight would make it passed the two free attacks, and it seemed very appropriate in the fiction for it to attack the wizard who had just blasted it.

    The wight survived (or unsurvived, being undead and all) the free attacks, but its powers wasn't level drain, but magic power drain. It was now positioned by the only entrance into the room, and when the archer moved up to attack with his sword the wight moved defensively into the corridor with the PC following (since he didn't fight defensively). That way he blocked the others, but managed to survive the next attack by the wight and finish it off.

    If I had not used defensive movement, the wight would have stayed put in the middle of the room and the PCs would have surrounded it, with the old question on who to attack and the old problem of just hacking away each other's hit points.

    The PCs exited the burial mound for the wizard to refresh his magical energies, but a random encounter rolled as they waited had two minotaurs suddenly attack them. In the module it's stated that they attack unprovoked, and all encounters in Drakar and Demoner modules are either scripted to be friends or foes, but I rolled a reaction roll anyway: double 1s, immediate attack!

    Two PCs were positioned in an open field a couple of meters from the surrounding forest, with the wizard a couple of meters into the forest meditating. It was kind of obvious that the wizard was most vulnerable, but I still rolled openly to see who was attacked: the wizard. The first attack by a minotaur two-handed axe knocked him to the ground and the blow from the second minotaur finished him off (a failed death save at minus HP). The other two players realized they were screwed (they asked some questions like "do they look approximately as dangerous as trolls" and I said "that's about right"; minotaurs are 6 HD monsters).

    The archer ran for his horse and the templar just ran (in full plate; not very fast). The second round the PCs had won initiative. The archer wanted to just bolt on his horse, which would take him out of distance of the minotaurs, but the templar player convinced him to try to pick the templar up on the way. The templar ran as fast as he could, with the archer on the horse intercepting him. At first I said I'd position the minotaurs on places in the open field to try to catch up with the horse depending on which way they would run, but then I remember the free attacks when moving out of someones close space and had them both run up next to the horse. As the archer tried to move the horse out of their reach they both used their free attack to finish the horse off! In the ensuing fight the archer was downed, but succeeded with his death save. The templar was hurt bad, but PCs managed to just barely kill the two minotaurs. The templar poured a healing potion into the archer with just a round to spare.

    The fight with the minotaurs was very tense. The players utilized all their available rule options, asking for morale rolls when one minotaur was killed (I use the B/X morale rules and minotaurs have morale 12 and can't fail), the templar remembered he had a poisoned blade, and so on. I asked myself a couple of times if I would allow the players to do something, I allowed myself to do it, for example changing my mind on the minotaur movement to move next to the horse, to target the horse with their free attacks, and so on. Unless there's a specific monster power in play I don't want to give monsters options the PCs don't have, but if it's something I would say yes to the players to do, I let the monsters do it as well.

    The only thing I feel slightly bad about is not giving the PCs a chance to detect the minotaurs before the attack, like a wisdom roll. The attack started when they were in range to move up to the wizard. I can explain this away with the players not clearly stating the PCs were on guard, instead the wizard was meditating, the archer playing his lute, and the templar just walking around. They always post guards at night, and then I let them roll wisdom, so I guess it's their own fault.

    Another notable thing is I mentioned earlier in the thread that one player always seems to have his PCs killed by me as GM. That's the wizard player. I promise I'm not out to get him, and this time I openly rolled who would be targeted by the minotaurs. He reminded I've killed the same PC twice in one session in two previous games. In a Technocracy game his PC was first killed in a dream and then for real. In a Fireborn game, where you both play a dragon in ancient fantasy times and the same character as a modern-day human, his PC was killed both in the present day and in a flashback!

    Both me and the players thought this was a much better session than last time, with a lot of single rolls having large consequences. I like death saves for this very reason. We also had the templar fighting the final minotaur, with huge sighs of relief from the players as the minotaur missed two attacks in a row, and the templar managed to finish it off. Had he fallen, it would have been a TPK, and all present players in the session would have to roll up new level 1 PCs. Instead the wizard player can roll up a new level 5 PC for next session.
  • Interesting report, and sounds like a fun game!

    I agree with all your observations (such as the minotaur assault being perhaps too rough, unless you have a set "surprise" rule in effect and you followed it). Definitely sounds like an improvement on the "stand still and hack away" style of gaming!
  • So I see that we've mostly moved past the initial question, but I wanted to respond to it anyway.
    A single opponent surrounded by foes shouldn't be able to "choose" who he attacks each time. He'll have to take whatever opportunities he can get. In other words it makes perfect sense to make these random.
    The official rule in 1E AD&D is that a character can't chose who he hits in a "general melee." It is randomly determined. A rule which is often ignored.
    (Its also randomly determined based on size, so you'd be more likely to hit the ogre than his two goblin allies.)
    I used this in my last AD&D campaign, and I kind of liked it. You can obviously still pair off one on one, but if your 2 on 3, no one can deliberately focus on each other.

    That being said there are of course lots of other ways of doing things, and I agree with much of what has been said. You should try to have opponents act in tactically sound fashions whenever they can. A single foe should always work to keep from being surrounded.
    A mounted foe would ride "through" a crowd of characters on foot.
  • Very interesting.

    I kind of like the idea that, in a melee, you cannot control who you end up hurting. Therefore, warriors interested in being tactical or careful need to control/choose the battlefield even more carefully.
  • I think you're going about this all wrong - the real problem with the encounter was how you handled that iconic monster, The Black Knight.

    I couldn't think of a better situation to issue a challenge for a 1-on-1 duel, with all kinds of magical retaliations if the code of chivalry is ignored in favour of PC party mob.
  • Magical retaliations?

    I think you meant to say, "Threatening promises to bite them to death or bleed on them!"
  • Alternatively, calling it a draw.
  • edited June 2015
    I also thought I'd mention that Hackmaster Basic (the full rules might modify this, I don't know) has a knockback rule:
    If your hit for a certain amount of damage depending on your size, you get knocked back 5 feet. If you do double the value (or triple etc) you go and extra 5 feet back and are knocked prone.
    Size Damage for knockback
    Small 10
    Medium 15
    Large 20

    The character might also need to make a Threshold of Pain save (based on constitution).

    Hackmaster combats have a lot of nuance and detail in combat, including the fact that people act on seconds. Meaning you can choose to move on any second (and reset how long it will take for your next attack). Weapons take different number of seconds to fire/strike. You can give ground to gain defensive bonuses, and you need to maneuver to get past spears and such.

    Good system but the details and options aren't for everyone. I love it as a player, but am not so fond of it as a GM.

    edited to add a useful link: (For those curious souls you can still get a free version of Hackmaster Basic here.)
  • I usually go for monster psychology, with random variance. Things that aren't sentient either go for "whatever damaged them most last round" or "pick one target, change only when someone else becomes a huge threat"

    Sentient creatures usually have some form of impulse or motivation and follow that, with some random variance throw in for fun
  • I usually go for monster psychology, with random variance. Things that aren't sentient either go for "whatever damaged them most last round" or "pick one target, change only when someone else becomes a huge threat"

    Sentient creatures usually have some form of impulse or motivation and follow that, with some random variance throw in for fun
    This is what I do now, after this thread. I needed to be reminded of the fiction-first approach, to get away from randomizing too much of the monster behavior like I did before.

    Last session the PCs raided the burial mound mentioned in my first post. They found the skeleton of a young boy, with a short sword next to him, in a coffin in one room. As the archer PC touched the sword the ghost of the boy materialized. The PCs won initiative and with attacks forced the ghost into a corner of the room, with the archer on one side and another PC next to him. On the ghost's turn I realized it would attack the archer, since he was holding the ghost's favorite sword from when it was alive. Before this thread I might have rolled a die to see who it would attack, but now the fiction informed the decision. It of course led to a much better fight!
  • edited June 2015
    I have a couple of questions I ask myself.
    The first three are meta and they help the monsters' side:
    What would do the biggest damage to the party?
    Can I focus fire on the biggest threat?
    Can I take one of them out?

    The next two are diegetic and they hinder the monsters:
    Who is already in melee with the monsters?
    Is there anyone the monsters have an emotional reason to attack?

    I play hard against the players, to the point of it being adversarial. I have set up so many rules for "what's fair" for the DM. I don't change hit points or other things on the fly so all I have to make it challenging are the tactics. And I will be relentless.

    ETA:
    My inspiration is the famous red dragon fight in Dungeon World.
  • I often also try to remember that we are playing a *roleplaying* game. That means that the adversaries, just like any NPC, are there for me to breathe life into. It's my job to give them a personality and motives and play them to the best of my ability.

    So I see it as my duty to "roleplay" my opponents, deciding things on the fly, if need be. Are the goblins afraid of the magical fire? I'll make a Morale check. Do they want the treasure, or are they here to take the hostages? Let's call it 50/50 and flip a coin.

    The clever opponents I'll play to the hilt. Some monsters in my dungeons have "organized battle tactics" - those are dangerous! They'll engage in formation, and, if the fight is on their turf, have the battlefield prepared for their advantage.

    Mindless or panicked monsters, on the other hand, do well with randomized targets; they're not strategic but they're also completely unpredictable.
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