How to turn around a combat

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Porkchop Express
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How to turn around a combat

#1 Postby Porkchop Express » Mon Apr 10, 2017 11:23 pm

Greetings!

As a little background, in the last session of our Rippers campaign, the hunting party had travelled to Egypt and was collecting a needed Eygptologist from a suspicious cafe thus ending up in The Scarab savage tale. The party started combat on a back foot due to a confluence of events from travel, drugging, deciding to spread themselves out among the cafe and some truly poor luck on the dice. They were surrounded, outnumbered, a little fatigued and not quite prepared for the threat posed by mummies. The fight was a knock-down, drag-out clusterfark that has left them fairly wounded and generally feeling that they have barely scraped through but have yet to confront the wild card NPC Royal Mummy, which they expect to really struggle with.

This less than satisfactory result led to a long discussion I had with a few of the players on the subject of how to turn around a combat where the proverbial dung has hit the fan. Most of my suggestions were about getting ahead of the game in terms of equipment, maximizing their opportunities for bennies, and considering how to shift the dynamic of the fight (in this case, setting the cafe on fire isn't "heroic" but very effective at scattering a mummy-worshipping cult). I also threw out the idea that, while situational, surrendering is an option that preserves the party in a dire scenario and allows them to stage an escape when conditions are more favourable. I don't think that is what they were looking to hear.

So, I'm wondering, when a fight has become an absolute balls up what strategies do you use to try and right the ship? Both as a player and a GM.

galu
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Re: How to turn around a combat

#2 Postby galu » Tue Apr 11, 2017 12:48 am

(I don't know that specific campaign setting/savage tale, so generic stuff follows)


Whenever dice are rolled, the players must accept that they gamble. Savage Worlds is a very forgiving system: you have a wild die, bennies, the opposition is geneally extras with 1 wound and no bennies.
A "Mr. d6 normal man" PC can easily kill a grizzly bear with a club!


But dice rolling is still a gamble, and sometimes you lose. What can be done?


If you can help it, don't allow dice to be rolled.
- get intel (on what you have to fight)
- prepare for the brawl (Perseus decided to bring a mirror-shield into a fight with Medusa)
- make a plan, and execute it (distract them, separate them, use alternate routes)
- get help! It happens in movies all the time. The hero finds the bar where foreign legion soldiers, pilots, smugglers and sailors hang out, and round out their team.


In the end, I think, it all comes down to the skill of the players, not game currencies like bennies or wounds.


Oh, and
- retreat is a viable option. you can approach from a different angle. (this is more common in DnD like "survival games", where you have 5 HP, and a longsword damages d8)
- if stupid plans are made, don't be surprised to be defeated ("Yeah, dressed in my jedi costume, I will find the lever that keeps the ship in place" "well, I guess there will be no guards or anyone there" - Kenobi's plan)
- sometimes getting caught can be fun (think of the "plan to rescue Han Solo" in the Return of the Jedi. Everyone got caught, but it was memorable)

Porkchop Express
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Re: How to turn around a combat

#3 Postby Porkchop Express » Tue Apr 11, 2017 6:42 am

The setting and campaign stuff are a little incidental to the question. I'm also trying to avoid calling them stupid if at all possible. :lol:

I know combat can get wild and I know that there are no guarantees when the dice start rolling. The players realise the importance of planning and they do what they can when they are able. I'm just trying to get a sense of what more experienced players do once a battle starts going south that isn't simply retreat or be luckier.

ValhallaGH
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Re: How to turn around a combat

#4 Postby ValhallaGH » Tue Apr 11, 2017 7:21 am

I tend to throw around bennies, in such situations. In all non-Savage games, I've killed at least one character of every player. In Savage Worlds, I'm down around 50%, thanks to bennies, and a willingness to let characters live (they have to earn victory, but I don't use Finishing Moves on them).

The party put themselves in a bad spot, surrounded, outnumbered, and separated? That sounds like three bennies each for making their own lives rough.
The party pushed on to confront evil, despite hangovers and travel fatigue? That sounds pretty heroic and loyal to their jobs, have two bennies each.
The party had a bad round? Everyone gets a benny.
Someone got Incapacitated? Everyone gets a benny for the complication of being down a teammate (or being taken out of the fight).
Someone rolls their third critical failure, or just their sixth or seventh regular failure, of the session? Give them a, "the dice hate you" benny.
One of the players comes up with a really cool action sequence or description, give that player a benny for a good idea. Or just because that sounds so cool that you want it included in your campaign.

Note that none of the awards remove the causes. Failures happened, wounds happened, drug effects got applied, and so forth. But those things make the characters' lives harder, justifying the reward of more plot control in the form of bennies.


Bennies aren't going to turn a fight around by themselves, but they are a big way for a GM to indicate that he wants the party to succeed but isn't going to pull any punches. A plethora of bennies also encourage players to be creative and interesting. Things tend to get more spectacular when players know they'll get bennies as things get bad.
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Re: How to turn around a combat

#5 Postby ZenFox42 » Tue Apr 11, 2017 7:35 am

Are your players doing all the co-operative things in combat, like Gang-Up, Tricks, Taunts, and Intimidation to help their comrades deal more damage? If not, remind them of those. If they still don't get it, have their NPC *opponents* do it to them to demonstrate their effectiveness!
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Re: How to turn around a combat

#6 Postby Erolat » Tue Apr 11, 2017 11:28 am

galu wrote:- get help! It happens in movies all the time. The hero finds the bar where foreign legion soldiers, pilots, smugglers and sailors hang out, and round out their team.

I think this is the best advice I can see. The patrons of the cafe may not like mummy cultist interrupting their lunch. Maybe not so good against the mummies themselves but any cultist should have been fair game to them. Perhaps one or two are even wild cards that just happen to like the falafel this cafe makes.

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Re: How to turn around a combat

#7 Postby Matchstickman » Tue Apr 11, 2017 1:17 pm

Erolat wrote:
galu wrote:- get help! It happens in movies all the time. The hero finds the bar where foreign legion soldiers, pilots, smugglers and sailors hang out, and round out their team.

I think this is the best advice I can see. The patrons of the cafe may not like mummy cultist interrupting their lunch. Maybe not so good against the mummies themselves but any cultist should have been fair game to them. Perhaps one or two are even wild cards that just happen to like the falafel this cafe makes.

Of all the advice posted that is the one thing I was really against. Sending innocents into battle just because the PCs messed up? I can see that leading to far more guilt (and/or reason loss) than just running away and failing to get the badguy at this scene.
But fortunately for the players of this group I'm just a passing poster and not the GM!
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Re: How to turn around a combat

#8 Postby galu » Tue Apr 11, 2017 2:49 pm

Matchstickman wrote:Of all the advice posted that is the one thing I was really against. Sending innocents into battle just because the PCs messed up? I can see that leading to far more guilt (and/or reason loss) than just running away and failing to get the badguy at this scene.
But fortunately for the players of this group I'm just a passing poster and not the GM!



As I remember this entourage approach is kind of unfashionable nowadays, but we used to do it all the time.
- In games where resource management is an issue, you cannot get by without torchbearers, pack mules and followers in general. (eg. in LotFP an average PC can carry ~10 items total, where 1 torch is 1 item. You pretty much have to hire retainers)
- In Shadowrun, when preparing for potentially lethal missions, the guys regularly hired some trolls with machineguns for a cut. If all goes well: you just paid 10000 for a bunch of trolls, who played poker in a white van for an hour. On the other hand, if something goes wrong... you have 6 guys armed to the teeth who you can call on.

This is a method of preparation, and it does fit some settings. The retainers/mercs are not necessarily nice guys either. (eg. Mummy 2, where they get alcoholic pilot this way)
Also, they don't have to be directly involved in violence. (create distraction like turning off the lights, or feeding the guard dogs while the team sneaks in)



ZenFox42 wrote:Are your players doing all the co-operative things in combat, like Gang-Up, Tricks, Taunts, and Intimidation to help their comrades deal more damage? If not, remind them of those. If they still don't get it, have their NPC *opponents* do it to them to demonstrate their effectiveness!


As I understood the problem is that the players understand the system, but sometimes they cannot get out of a spiral, which started as an unlucky roll.

If I understand right, they should use preparation to "avoid rolling", this always works. (eg. don't roll for "climb sheer surface", rather get a ladder)


edit: alternatively, they could be allowed to retcon preparation for spending bennies. But this only suits some genres (master thieves, highly skilled agents). If everyone agrees that the characters are "highly trained, skilled individuals", and they come up with a viable reason+method of action, I usually let them.
(eg. it makes sense that a thief has a rasp in his pack, even though the player doesn't have it on her charsheet)

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Re: How to turn around a combat

#9 Postby Porkchop Express » Tue Apr 11, 2017 11:11 pm

ValhallaGH wrote:BENNIES!


Yeah, I have to cop to the fact that I don't always have the best handle on the benny economy. I stay on top of tapping hindrances and rewarding creative play but I'm not always the best at doling out bennies when the team has made mistakes or gotten into a spot. I'll try to remember that sometimes I'm doling out Bennies to cut the players a break.

ZenFox42 wrote:Are your players doing all the co-operative things in combat, like Gang-Up, Tricks, Taunts, and Intimidation to help their comrades deal more damage? If not, remind them of those. If they still don't get it, have their NPC *opponents* do it to them to demonstrate their effectiveness!


They are a bit of a curate's egg in this regard. Ganging up happens quite a bit. The tricks and tests of will are used every now and then. I think it is a two-pronged problem of falling into the mentality that damage is the best thing they can contribute to a combat and when side tactics are used but fail to succeed the players get discouraged and fall back on attacks.

galu wrote:
As I understood the problem is that the players understand the system, but sometimes they cannot get out of a spiral, which started as an unlucky roll.


Yes, this is more or less the situation. A few poor rolls and suddenly the party were suffering penalties which only made their lack-lustre rolling worse.

I certainly encourage them to make use of some hirelings when they can but the players have proven a bit civilian-averse.

Thanks for the replies so far. It's given me a few things to think about.

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Re: How to turn around a combat

#10 Postby Phasma Felis » Wed Apr 12, 2017 1:05 am

galu wrote:If I understand right, they should use preparation to "avoid rolling", this always works. (eg. don't roll for "climb sheer surface", rather get a ladder)

Or to put it another way: never, ever go to a fair fight. If you ain't cheatin', you ain't tryin'.
Matchstickman wrote:
galu wrote:- get help! It happens in movies all the time. The hero finds the bar where foreign legion soldiers, pilots, smugglers and sailors hang out, and round out their team.
Of all the advice posted that is the one thing I was really against. Sending innocents into battle just because the PCs messed up? I can see that leading to far more guilt (and/or reason loss) than just running away and failing to get the badguy at this scene.

I dunno, I think it depends entirely on how you do it. Obviously rounding up a bunch of random drunks who don't understand what they're getting into and using them as cannon fodder is a crappy thing to do. But if you do it right, you don't need to lie, and after all the locals have even more of a stake in things than the PCs--it's their home in danger if the heroes fail. Roll into the local Foreign Legion haunt or longshoremen dive, announce that you've found the maniacs who've been snatching people off the street or whatever, frankly tell them the dangers *and* what will happen if they don't help, and call for volunteers, and you'll get rough and ready men who are willing to risk their lives for justice and glory--just like the PCs!

Above all, I think, this is a very Savage Worlds way of doing things. It doesn't happen in most games because the bookkeeping makes things a slog, but Savage Worlds is built to have loads of Extras running around in combat.


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