Making things hard for your players

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Locke
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Making things hard for your players

#1 Postby Locke » Thu Sep 27, 2012 9:54 am

So, I ran into a bit of a situation in my Necessary Evil game last night. The team had infiltrated a V'sori installation and had to make a Repair roll to start overloading the power core (with the intention of blowing up the installation). Thinking that it might be fun to run as a dramatic task, I told the Super Sorceress in the group that she would need to get five successes in five tries in order to accomplish her goal. Well, she dumped all of her Super Sorcery points into Super Skill and wound up with a d12+some obscenely high number in Repair, netting four successes in one roll. As you can imagine, it took the wind out of my sails pretty quickly.

As I was thinking over the situation—and how to keep it from happening in the future—I realized that I don't really have a firm grasp on how to modify difficulties in Savage Worlds. I come from a very d20-heavy gaming background where the target number for a task changes depending on how hard the GM wants it to be. With the static TN in Savage Worlds, I'm just not sure how to go about making things harder (read: hopefully more exciting) for my players without seeming like I have it out for them.

What tricks do you use to modify skill difficulties and increase the challenge for your players?

(Thanks in advance for the help. :) )
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Re: Making things hard for your players

#2 Postby robert4818 » Thu Sep 27, 2012 10:13 am

Locke wrote:So, I ran into a bit of a situation in my Necessary Evil game last night. The team had infiltrated a V'sori installation and had to make a Repair roll to start overloading the power core (with the intention of blowing up the installation). Thinking that it might be fun to run as a dramatic task, I told the Super Sorceress in the group that she would need to get five successes in five tries in order to accomplish her goal. Well, she dumped all of her Super Sorcery points into Super Skill and wound up with a d12+some obscenely high number in Repair, netting four successes in one roll. As you can imagine, it took the wind out of my sails pretty quickly.

As I was thinking over the situation—and how to keep it from happening in the future—I realized that I don't really have a firm grasp on how to modify difficulties in Savage Worlds. I come from a very d20-heavy gaming background where the target number for a task changes depending on how hard the GM wants it to be. With the static TN in Savage Worlds, I'm just not sure how to go about making things harder (read: hopefully more exciting) for my players without seeming like I have it out for them.

What tricks do you use to modify skill difficulties and increase the challenge for your players?

(Thanks in advance for the help. :) )


Question: Why make this a dramatic task? A skill roll in general is only needed when there's both a chance at failure, and a consequence of failing. Dramatic tasks generally up the ante from that point. Unless there was something pressing going on, (i.e. a combat going on, back-up troops on the way, etc.) then I wouldn't have really called for a dramatic task.

That being said, making it harder....
In a situation like this, you can't. With super sorcery you have to accept the fact that your sorcerer can shift his points around at will. So anytime you have something basic going on, your sorcerer can handle it on his own. To make it difficult, you have two options: Artificially limit the Sorcerer or up the complexity.

To artificially limit the sorcerer, use any hindrances he may have given himself (Such as Kryptonite), or declare there is some sort of "Anti-magic Field" going on. This is liable to make your player upset though.

I'd recommend the upping the complexity factor. Dramatic Task + Combat, 2 simultaneous Dramatic Tasks in different areas, etc. Basically, make sure there's other things going on that can't be handled by a simple flick of the magic wrist. It doesn't limit him from doing whatever, but it does mean he has to choose his role carefully. Does he take himself out of combat by taking on the dramatic task, or does he take on the combat and leave the task to someone not as well equipped to handle it?

But anytime you drop this situation down to something simple, your sorc is going to own it.
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#3 Postby farik » Thu Sep 27, 2012 10:18 am

One tactic I use to deal with superior skill jockeys is require the work be divided. So for instance in your example I might have required 3 success at one location to overload the power plant but require the other 2 successes be achieved in a different room within the same time frame to over ride the emergency shut off mechanism.

You can also have radio linked bombs; multiple shut off valves; rituals taking place over several square miles where disrupting only 1 caster just means the thing be summoned will still show up but not be controlled.

Another thing is don't let 1 roll have the power to end the entire dramatic task no matter how well they roll. A dramatic task should represent a series of actions.

My 2¢

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#4 Postby Locke » Thu Sep 27, 2012 10:19 am

The reason I used a dramatic task is that once they entered the control room, the sensors alerted the V'sori backup forces to converge on the PCs.

Also, I know that there's not a whole lot I can do to keep a Super Sorcerer challenged with skill rolls. I was just using that as an example. To go with a more mundane example, how do you make things more challenging for your Expert Thief lockpicker? Change the environment? Impose a penalty because this is a really difficult lock?

I was just asking for general ideas on how to make a skill roll more difficult without the player feeling like they're getting the raw end of the GM's not wanting to lose. I like the idea of having more than one thing going on at a time, so that the character has to divide his attention. And now that I think about it, maybe I'll go look at the Extended Trait Check rules in Agents of Oblivion. Seems like there might be some good idea fodder there. :)
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#5 Postby robert4818 » Thu Sep 27, 2012 10:56 am

Locke wrote:The reason I used a dramatic task is that once they entered the control room, the sensors alerted the V'sori backup forces to converge on the PCs.

Also, I know that there's not a whole lot I can do to keep a Super Sorcerer challenged with skill rolls. I was just using that as an example. To go with a more mundane example, how do you make things more challenging for your Expert Thief lockpicker? Change the environment? Impose a penalty because this is a really difficult lock?

I was just asking for general ideas on how to make a skill roll more difficult without the player feeling like they're getting the raw end of the GM's not wanting to lose. I like the idea of having more than one thing going on at a time, so that the character has to divide his attention. And now that I think about it, maybe I'll go look at the Extended Trait Check rules in Agents of Oblivion. Seems like there might be some good idea fodder there. :)


The same concept comes in though. Artificially limit them, or make it more complex.

As for modifiers: +2 Increadibly Easy, 0 Normal, -1 slightly Hard, -2 hard, -4 Very Hard etc.

Some thoughts though. Don't fall for the D20 trap of escelating difficulties because the people get better. (I.E. at lvl 1 they are picking locks with DC 15, at lvl 20 they are picking locks at DC 35). The person has chosen to be a GOD at locks, let him BE a god at locks.

Have the locks be there, but don't expect the challenge to come from picking the lock itself. Perhaps the challenge isn't picking the lock, but getting to the lock. He might be able to pick the lock on Fort Knox with a piece of gravel, but he also has to get past the guards, get past the cameras, avoid tripping the lasers, etc. After all that's said and done, THEN he can easily pick that lock.
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#6 Postby ValhallaGH » Thu Sep 27, 2012 11:17 am

robert4818 wrote:As for modifiers: +2 Increadibly Easy, 0 Normal, -1 slightly Hard, -2 hard, -4 Very Hard etc.

Some thoughts though. Don't fall for the D20 trap of escelating difficulties because the people get better.

This.

I might quibble over the descriptors, but this is the usual scale. +2 (Nearly Automatic), +1 (Easy), +0 (Normal), -1 (Hard), -2 (very Hard), -4 (Crazy), -6 (You're BLIND!; seriously, this is the penalty for the Blind hindrance), -8 (I'm kindly allowing you a chance to succeed at this practically impossible thing), all the way to -24 (I shouldn't let you roll this, because I don't want you to do it, but you're going to ace like mad and succeed with a raise anyway).

If you're imposing external penalties beyond -8 then you should probably not let them roll. But trust your GM judgement.

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#7 Postby farik » Thu Sep 27, 2012 12:21 pm

I agree -8 might represent 1 person trying to do something normally done by 3 or more people. But once you go beyond that it's really in the area of arguably doing the impossible where a good skill check might confirm it's impossible but still not let you succeed (at least not with your current resources).

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#8 Postby johnnii » Thu Sep 27, 2012 2:01 pm

This is were a Skill Challenge would be better choice than a Dramatic Task, ie using several different skills to achieve victory rather than just one skill.

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#9 Postby Clash957 » Thu Sep 27, 2012 6:02 pm

ValhallaGH wrote:If you're imposing external penalties beyond -8 then you should probably not let them roll. But trust your GM judgement.


I agree with this, as the Patron Saint of Beleaguered Players, Hail Mary, comes through only so often at the right point to give them that roll of 24 on even a d10 with a Wild Die. More often than not, it's just wasting time with forlorn hope.
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#10 Postby Virgobrown72 » Thu Sep 27, 2012 6:42 pm

But in all fairness, your player did exactly what I would have done too...
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#11 Postby ValhallaGH » Thu Sep 27, 2012 6:59 pm

Clash957 wrote:
ValhallaGH wrote:If you're imposing external penalties beyond -8 then you should probably not let them roll. But trust your GM judgement.


I agree with this, as the Patron Saint of Beleaguered Players, Hail Mary, comes through only so often at the right point to give them that roll of 24 on even a d10 with a Wild Die. More often than not, it's just wasting time with forlorn hope.

I actually gave a player a -24 once. He rolled his d4 skill, and succeeded with a raise.

Right then, I knew that I would never allow a roll at ridiculous penalties ever again. Either reasonable penalties or I don't let you roll.
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#12 Postby Locke » Thu Sep 27, 2012 7:06 pm

Please don't get me wrong, here. I'm not trying to fault the player for making the choice she did. Her character is the Swiss army knife of the party, and she really enjoys being able to do things like that. She made the smart play.

I'm just mourning my missed opportunity to make this particular scene more than just a simple skill test. I'm also trying to make sure I have my toolbox stocked for situations like this in the Rippers game we'll be starting next month. No, players won't have d12+15 in any skills, but I'd still like to find ways to keep dramatic situations dramatic.

For some reason, I read the deluxe rules and got the mistaken idea that the GM doesn't mess with the player's roll, aside from the modifiers already given in the book (for dim lighting, long range, bad weather, etc.). It's kind of a revolutionary thought to me that I can tell the players they need to make their lockpicking or stealth rolls at -4 because this particular lock is very high grade or because the marble floor they're trying to sneak across is covered with broken glass. Those kinds of circumstances had never really clicked for me until now. :)
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#13 Postby robert4818 » Thu Sep 27, 2012 10:06 pm

Locke wrote:Please don't get me wrong, here. I'm not trying to fault the player for making the choice she did. Her character is the Swiss army knife of the party, and she really enjoys being able to do things like that. She made the smart play.

I'm just mourning my missed opportunity to make this particular scene more than just a simple skill test. I'm also trying to make sure I have my toolbox stocked for situations like this in the Rippers game we'll be starting next month. No, players won't have d12+15 in any skills, but I'd still like to find ways to keep dramatic situations dramatic.

For some reason, I read the deluxe rules and got the mistaken idea that the GM doesn't mess with the player's roll, aside from the modifiers already given in the book (for dim lighting, long range, bad weather, etc.). It's kind of a revolutionary thought to me that I can tell the players they need to make their lockpicking or stealth rolls at -4 because this particular lock is very high grade or because the marble floor they're trying to sneak across is covered with broken glass. Those kinds of circumstances had never really clicked for me until now. :)


We all get that way from time to time. Like I said though, just don't start making every lock the players run across a -4 just because that penalty challenges your lock monkey.
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#14 Postby Locke » Thu Sep 27, 2012 10:28 pm

Oh, I won't be making every lock difficult for them. It's just nice to know that there are complications I can throw in to spice things up once in a while.
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#15 Postby The Dread Polack » Fri Sep 28, 2012 9:47 am

This sounds to me like the perfect call for a Dramatic Task. I want to say that there is an automatic -2 to all rolls during a Dramatic Task. Does that sound right?

In this case, that wouldn't have done much. However, isn't there also something about using multiple skills? Even if it isn't official, I don't think it's out of the question to call for multiple skills. Maybe you need 3 successes on a Repair roll, but 2 successes on a knowledge or Smarts, or Notice roll to figure out the labels, which are written in Finnish.

I'm not sure exactly how Sorcery works, but is there a legitimate way to limit exactly what powers a character can whip up? Does it take time? If so, I guess I'd try to use these to compliceate the situation. The problem is when this becomes obvious.

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#16 Postby Locke » Fri Sep 28, 2012 10:03 am

The Dread Polack wrote:This sounds to me like the perfect call for a Dramatic Task. I want to say that there is an automatic -2 to all rolls during a Dramatic Task. Does that sound right?


That's exactly right. As for multiple required skills, it's not spelled out in the Deluxe rules, but I agree that it wouldn't be too out of line to require different skill rolls during a Dramatic Task—depending on the task, of course.

I'm not sure exactly how Sorcery works, but is there a legitimate way to limit exactly what powers a character can whip up? Does it take time? If so, I guess I'd try to use these to compliceate the situation. The problem is when this becomes obvious.


The only extra time it takes a character with Super Sorcery is the spellcasting roll. Believe me, I checked the SWD, Necessary Evil, and the Super Powers Companion several times just to make sure I hadn't made a mistake, but I couldn't find an explicit, rules-bound cap on it. It might be something to house-rule in depending on the campaign's power level (Street: Super Skill can't exceed d12+2, Baseline: Super Skill can't exceed d12+6, Cosmic: No cap; or something like that).
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#17 Postby manifold » Sat Sep 29, 2012 5:24 am

Monte Cook once said that rather than trying to limit what characters can do, build challenges that require their abilities to overcome. In one of Bruce Cordell's adventures, the characters were expected to have access to the Fly spell. Coincidentally, the adventure location was much easier (but not impossible) to access with Fly. In other words, the adventure gave the players the option to game the things they clearly wanted to do.

Sometimes the players don't want drama; they want to be awesome.

That said, awesome comes with a price. The aforementioned adventure location was full of really nasty monsters, like ghast assassins and a vampiric gibbering mouther. All kinds of evil up in that place you just blew a spell to fly into. (and now you have to fight your way out, and find a place to rest before you fly back out. Yikes!) So, letting them be awesome for a second is great. Letting the awesome get them into greater trouble is better.

Why do you not want it to look like you have it in for the characters? Of course you do! Your awesome skills open the lock; unfortunately there is an alien technology that interfaces with V'sori harmlessly but is not turning your nervous system into circuitry! Or, you open the lock but the interaction of sorcery with the alien bio-engineered computers pulls your soul into their network. You can control their mechanical systems and have full access to their surveillance system in this facility, but you have to roll on the fright table every 1d4 rounds as your mind writhes in the alien matrix, and how are you going to get back to your defenseless body? In short, anticipate the awesome, let it be awesome, and then give them some real trouble.

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#18 Postby TommyBrownell » Sat Sep 29, 2012 1:29 pm

Locke wrote:
I'm not sure exactly how Sorcery works, but is there a legitimate way to limit exactly what powers a character can whip up? Does it take time? If so, I guess I'd try to use these to compliceate the situation. The problem is when this becomes obvious.


The only extra time it takes a character with Super Sorcery is the spellcasting roll. Believe me, I checked the SWD, Necessary Evil, and the Super Powers Companion several times just to make sure I hadn't made a mistake, but I couldn't find an explicit, rules-bound cap on it. It might be something to house-rule in depending on the campaign's power level (Street: Super Skill can't exceed d12+2, Baseline: Super Skill can't exceed d12+6, Cosmic: No cap; or something like that).


The balancing factor is that every Super Sorcery roll has a chance of going south in a bad, bad way.

I've seen it several times.

Part of the reason I like Super Sorcery...=)
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#19 Postby Locke » Sat Sep 29, 2012 1:50 pm

TommyBrownell wrote:The balancing factor is that every Super Sorcery roll has a chance of going south in a bad, bad way.

I've seen it several times.

Part of the reason I like Super Sorcery...=)


I kept hoping for this character to borrow too many points and end up with terrible backlash, but she took her Spellcasting roll high enough that she very rarely failed. Also, she was a bit paranoid about borrowing, so the opportunities for backlash were few and far between.

All in all, I think that a lot of my problems with this particular campaign/group was that I wasn't being a very good GM. I ran them through the plot points pretty much straight through, with very little customization thrown in. If I could do it over again, I'd spend more time making the campaign about the characters rather than rushing from plot point to plot point. It's a lesson that I'm trying very hard to implement as I prep our Rippers campaign.
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#20 Postby TommyBrownell » Sat Sep 29, 2012 2:20 pm

Locke wrote:
TommyBrownell wrote:The balancing factor is that every Super Sorcery roll has a chance of going south in a bad, bad way.

I've seen it several times.

Part of the reason I like Super Sorcery...=)


I kept hoping for this character to borrow too many points and end up with terrible backlash, but she took her Spellcasting roll high enough that she very rarely failed. Also, she was a bit paranoid about borrowing, so the opportunities for backlash were few and far between.

All in all, I think that a lot of my problems with this particular campaign/group was that I wasn't being a very good GM. I ran them through the plot points pretty much straight through, with very little customization thrown in. If I could do it over again, I'd spend more time making the campaign about the characters rather than rushing from plot point to plot point. It's a lesson that I'm trying very hard to implement as I prep our Rippers campaign.


As a Necessary Evil GM, I'd say that's key...but that's key with any plot point, really. There's enough of a framework there for you to run the game without too much heavy lifting, but especially after you get going, you need to tailor to your characters a bit.

I invented a whole new adversary hit squad to torment my PCs, and they wound up on a sidetrek to Russia.
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