Friday, August 12, 2011

Minion mash

Well it seems yesterdays listing of things to work out didn't come to pass today at least, spent about five hours wandering around town. Took care of some things though none of ti really panned out but was a lot of walking. So instead of progress I'll talk about some game running problems. The problem being, lots and lots of monsters.

Lots of games have you fighting hordes of monsters. RPGs are notorious for things you dispatch in one round and just keep appearing through the game due to random encounters. FPS and action games love hordes as it can present a legitimate challenge in a game where you are overpowered to everything and your downfall can come from overconfidence or other things. RTS use this with some factions as their main method of winning as they can overwhelm you with inferior troops. Usually this is fun, in table top games it's a little differnt.

Running games usually means all the little boring things such as tallying up dice is done by humans and not in microseconds by the machine, it also has some verbal asking of players to do things, and them joking around and other things. This means what in any other game of it's genera that would take maybe five to ten minutes takes roughly a half hour of real time. Online this is even worse, I believe this was mentioned it sometime ago but my tired legs and sore feet are preventing me from moving my mouse around to dig that up, how I'm not sure. Seeing a three round combat session take forty minutes  is not uncommon for me between 5 people. I suspect youtube, image galleries, and the lower typing speed of some players has something to do from it as seeing the same text for two minutes gets them to think "well I'll just look here and check back occasionally". While a player I don't usually mind but as a DM I feel like I'm failing in keeping them interested especially when this is just a minor inconvenience fight that could go bad if mistakes are made.

This often makes me question the making of such things. Usually I go with it though with less monsters than I'd see fitting as this keeps the hack and slash slough from continuing too long. Another thing is not only do my players have to roll, I have to roll for the monsters while the players have to do checks. Having 6 monsters who make attacks and target different players who may cause rolls from them and so on is a bit of a headache and extends the length of battle quite significantly.

Mutants and Masterminds system does have a solution to minion swarms that are still threats but aren't quite grinds. It's damage system is based on a saving roll and failing that by enough can incapacitate a player, foes generally run on the same rule. While it seems horribly swinging it's mitigated by hero points and the fact that you can't be taken out in one hit. Minions work slightly different, they make their saves so they can get by unscathed but on any failure they take the worst condition. Beyond that they can dish out damage like any other character allowing them to be a real threat without the unfairness of them facing double their numbers that are roughly as hard hitting as them.

The rolling for the mobs attack I've written a page from my book on. I've come up with two solutions that I employ regularly. One I have "auto pass assistance" for the mobs, each one in range adds +1 to the attack roll of one monster. Assistance is an action that tests a monsters attack against DC 10 so it passes 55% of the time with no attack bonus, most have attack bonus so quickly this is just auto passed. Using the idea allows for a better chance to hit with less rolling, though it's safer for players as they have less chances to just flat out fail a save roll. For minor encounters it works for me. The other one is to use the books combined attack with monsters. For each one that "hits" the target there is an increase in the difficulty of the save that must be passed. It reduces rolls for players while allowing me to at least pretend each monster maters more, and does increase the threat level substantually from a group based beat down. The problem is that it starts to enter one shot territory. By rules and probability if they were equal level threats 6 monsters attacking would cause there to always be some sort of wound and about a 50% chance (with large room for error due to me not actually taking out scratch paper for this) of defeat if they all succeed on hiting. Players could hero point to avoid this but that seems slightly too punishing if it's just a bump in the road to your main encounter.

It's a thing I struggle with in designing encounters. Thematically it is great but in practice it could just be seen as filler or a time sink. At least with the last batch I've been making the taking out of the mass of zombies be laughably gory which has something for it.


  1. very interesting. all these rolls almost seem overwhelming.

  2. Gory zombies are always great!

  3. @thomau5
    It is a lot, though you get used to it.