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  • Fixing V20's Alpha Strike combat problem...

    I may be missing something, but V20 combat feels almost entirely dependent on whether you get the first hit in, because there is no real way to effectively avoid being hit.

    Without environmental factors, each d10 rolled has a 60% chance of hitting. This means that an attacker with a dice pool of 5 (around average for a trained fighter) will on average have 2 threshold successes vs an opponent. Give them a weapon, and in melee that quickly becomes around 3 successes on a hit, without accounting for things like Potence.

    Combat characters are generally statted higher than this, to the point where a neonate was cut in two after 2 hits from average combat characters in a recent game, all before striking himself. However, had he forfeited an action to dodge, it's simply delaying the inevitable.

    Is it just me, or is this a little too deadly? A world renowned martial artist is as easy to hit as the average Joe in the street, unless they forgo ever attacking.

    Had anytime come up with ways to rectify this? My initial thought is having passive defenve values to overcome before the hit lands, a la Exalted. Eg, a Dex 3, Athletics 3 character has a Defence of 3 ( 3 + 3 / 2), and any successful attack has to get 3 successes or higher in order to land.

    Does this solve the problem I'm seeing? Is there another solution? Or am I doing something very wrong in how I'm running combats?


    A Not-Quite-Newb's Read-Through of Ex3 - my thoughts, notes and trials and tribulations with the Exalted 3rd edition rules.
    Ex3 Reference Materials - currently includes an ST screen, common actions sheet, weapons reference sheet, character creation summary and mortal QCs reference sheet.

  • #2
    I do think it could be a good solution, albeit never tried it outside Exlted.

    Keep in mind this: WoD combat was always intended to be very deadly. At the same time, it was always extremely bias towards multiple actions.

    It's one of the traditional advantages of a character with Celerity. The character with more actions can attack with less risk by spending one or more actions on defense. Perhaps even one per enemy attack (either by also winning initiative to declare your actions last, or by switching actions). The character with less actions has, likely, to accept injury. By giving a passive value of defense, you're effectively allowing a "counter" to Celerity (to some extent, "passive" Celerity gives more dice and defense) - Is that good or bad?, IDK. You may want to ponder that.

    The way V20 it's intended, your example of a "martial artist" would divide his, presumably huge, dicepool between defense and offense, trusting that a less prepared person would not have enough dice, or at least not w/o a "suicide" attack. Initiative, of course, matters a lot - and, yes, a martial artist would want to have a high initiative to know what the enemy it's going to do, and to deliver the "hurt" first (which also would impair enemy roll if HP get's reduced)
    Last edited by Aleph; 04-18-2022, 11:20 AM.

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    • #3
      Real war is entirely dependent on whether you can get the first hit in... but I get what you mean.


      You can and should split the dice pool. That's the natural approach to combat; If I'm an armed human with "five dice" in fighting and I'm in an even fight, I'm likely going to spend 2 on attacking and 3 on defending, because my life is more important than hurting the other guy. In another scenario, I could go 4 attack, 1 defence if I have an advantage, I am unarmed, and want to end things quickly but I'm still not 100% on my target's ability to fight back after I get my hit in. Humans are naturally cautious because nobody wants to get injured.

      I recommend you ignore the "use the lowest dicepool if you're splitting die" rule.
      I also don't count carry-over after 4. Five successes is the best you hit you can get, otherwise you can explode people with a .22 pistol if you have high enough dexterity, it's silly. This encourages splitting dice pools because getting 6+ successes isn't good for anything but mitigating the effects of a dodge/block roll.
      Use pre-revised soak rules: vampires can soak bites,claws, burning blade, and other non-fire,non-sunlight, non-faith sources of aggravated damage, they just struggle to heal it. This stops all-in Protean builds from being king.

      For more realism, you can remove the armour dexterity penalty and double the protection dice if the armour is well made for the threat it's been hit with.


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      • #4
        Originally posted by Xerxes View Post
        Had anytime come up with ways to rectify this? My initial thought is having passive defenve values to overcome before the hit lands, a la Exalted. Eg, a Dex 3, Athletics 3 character has a Defence of 3 ( 3 + 3 / 2), and any successful attack has to get 3 successes or higher in order to land.

        Does this solve the problem I'm seeing? Is there another solution? Or am I doing something very wrong in how I'm running combats?
        Revised and DAV20 had the right idea in changing how multiple actions worked. My preference is for DAV20 where each action after the first results in a cumulative -1 die from each action and +1 difficulty. So taking a defensive action in addition to an attack meant justice -1d from each and the diff going up by one on each.

        Another thing that’s useful is importing Mage’s basic martial arts maneuvers; snake step can allow a dodge at +3 dice at diff 5-6 (depending on soft or hard style) it’s easier to split dice pools (7 dice in Dex+Martial Arts could be split 5 to attack and 2+3 bonus dice for dodge). Similarly, counter throw lets you turn a successful defense into a full dice pool throw that deals damage and costs the attacker an action to get back up.

        A third very important angle is the proliferation of aggravated damage and Revised/X20’s adding extra hit successes to the damage roll which pretty much makes all other forms of damage mitigation irrelevant. More common approaches are to either;

        - limit the amount of aggravated damage being thrown around (ex. in my vampire games only fire, sunlight and true faith damage are aggravated to vampires. Claws/fangs/etc. only do lethal)

        - allow Stamina to soak Aggravated damage except from the particular banes of the supernatural.

        - remove or scale back the extra damage from extra attack successes. Str+1 Aggravated damage from someone with Str 2 is already a deadly threat… but their Dex+Melee+Celerity pool scoring five extra successes turns that into 8 dice of aggravated damage.

        Basically, there’s been a sort of unintended pileup of unintended consequences with various rules changes that have resulted in these problems that weren’t there originally… in 1/2e you split dice pools, but didn’t get extra damage successes and could soak aggravated with Stamina. Dex+Brawl of 10 dice and dealing 4 dice of Agg vs. Someone with Dex+Dodge of 7 dice and Stamina 3 would be very dangerous, but wouldn’t be a one-shot kill either.

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        • #5
          Maybe try to emulate damage to individual body parts?
          Also, you can not use the mechanics so literally. I mean, house cat can kill human in 7 turns.
          The numbers are quite inaccurate in terms of damage/capabilities.
          Last edited by Alphari; 04-18-2022, 11:40 AM.

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          • #6
            I agree, this is a big problem that I have with WoD combat. The fact that offense and defense have to be sacrificed for each other and the insane advantage that offense has not only creates a balance problem, but a realism and gamist issue as well. I think that having some kind of automatic dodging based on Dexterity and Brawl/Athletics/Dodge/Melee could work, as you suggest.

            Alternatively, you could give every character a defensive action each turn for free. For example, a character is in a gun fight, they have a Dexterity of 3, Athletics of 4, and firearms of 2. The character gets 5 dice to shoot each turn and 7 dice to dodge, then those dice pools could potentially be split to dodge multiple times or shoot multiple times. Celerity of 4 could potentially add 4 additional actions, which could go towards attacks, defense, or a mix of both. This method creates more rolling which may not be ideal.

            I don't think that having to balance between offense and defense to be realistic. In a fight, having a measure of offense also protects you. If you're in a fight for one minute and just trying to avoid getting get, you are more likely to take more punches (or sword blows) within that minute than if you are attacking and defending.

            The lethality and imbalance towards offense also is an issue that causes trouble for WoD combat.

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            • #7
              Originally posted by Alphari View Post
              Maybe try to emulate damage to individual body parts?
              Also, you can not use the mechanics so literally. I mean, house cat can kill human in 7 turns.
              The numbers are quite inaccurate in terms of damage/capabilities.
              As can gently holding a candle under a vampire's little toe for seven turns.

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              • #8
                Originally posted by CajunKhan View Post
                As can gently holding a candle under a vampire's little toe for seven turns.
                I remember how one bullshifter raised strength to 10+ die, which in theory should have made him a kind of strength demigod.
                Or whene mage kill vampires by rupturing organs in the stomach... And sometimes by mechanic it is agr. damage.

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                • #9
                  Oh, if my suggestions make combat too slow

                  Reduce 3/4 rolls to 1/2: Don't roll for damage or for soak (unless you're soaking fire/sunlight or some other thing that's not difficulty 6)
                  just take half (round up)

                  When you hit, count the base damage+carry over+special effects , half it, then reduce it by half the defender's soak dice.


                  Abe has 7 dice to slice at Ben, who has 5 dice to dodge. They both roll high: Abe he gets 6 successes, Ben subtracts 4 successes with his roll. So Abe is left with 2 successes and 1 carry over
                  Abe's strength is 2 and his sword is +2, he has +1 from carry-over, totalling 5. Half that is 3 (rounded up)
                  Ben is mortal, and doesn't use his stamina to save him from the blade, but he has 4 soak of dice from armour, we halve that to 2 and take it from Abe's damage.
                  Abe does 1 damage to ben


                  it's a lot of writing but it's pretty quick in practice so long as people don't drop the ball when it comes to basic maths.


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                  • #10
                    Originally posted by Alphari View Post
                    Maybe try to emulate damage to individual body parts?
                    Also, you can not use the mechanics so literally. I mean, house cat can kill human in 7 turns.
                    The numbers are quite inaccurate in terms of damage/capabilities.
                    Minor aside: don't underestimate cats. Cats are predators, and have all the tools they need to kill a human. To put this in perspective, ~65K people in the US are hospitalized every year by a single cat bite. If "seven turns to kill a human" sounds unrealistic, it's because you've never seen a cat that's actually at the point where they think they have to kill someone to protect themself.

                    ------------------

                    So, avoiding alpha strikes in RPG combat is hard. Even with a passive defense trait that means you don't have to take multiple actions, Exalted and the CofD are still fairly prone to alpha strike tactics until sufficiently potent supernatural powers come to bear. CofD 1e was particularly horrible with alpha strikes. The problem is, ultimately, if you want deadly combat because of the setting, killing someone before they can even attack back is almost always going to be the ideal scenario. All you can do is try to raise the bar on pulling this off, but eventually it will take over.

                    1) Passive defenses still help, but they need to be calibrated,which is hard because you have to pick between calibrated for humans fighting or monsters fighting; both isn't going to happen (that's basically V20's biggest issue, it's calibrated towards humans fighting, so vampires break the system pretty badly).

                    2) Armor is probably a bigger deal. Armor is the WoD blows. In every edition. CofD 2e's equipment model, for a modern day game, probably gets the closest here since it actually makes sure that while armor avoids "two tanks smack each other for zero damage forever" but still means bringing heavier armor to a fight means you can take some serious hits without going down. Armor also helps avoid ambushes from being the ultimate alpha strike they tend to be. Also consider having increase access to health boxes and/or decreasing the severity of damage penalties so one hit isn't an instant-win for the attacker.

                    3) Reduce rolls in general, again the CofD 2e rules are a good balance here. The less rolls, they easier it is to figure out the right math on all of this. The CofD 2e's weapon damage and armor reductions are static values.

                    Beyond that, you start getting into needing to reexamine the base assumptions of the goals of the system. The Storypath games, for example, are not mean to be dark and gritty places where combat is realistically dangerous. As such, the default 1 damage per attack fits those games. It takes a huge difference in power to be-able to alpha strike someone in Storypath and it actually working. Either you're fighting an extra (who only get 1 health so, so one hit takes them out), or you'd want to be have a two step Scale advantage before you'd expect to one-shot most human-level enemies (keeping in mind two Scale is like having a car in a race against someone running on their own feet).

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                    • #11
                      I recommend Dark Ages v20 streamlined combat, found in the Dark Age's companion. While it doesn't solve the Alpha punch problem, it does streamline combat a lot. Mix that with Dark Age's multiple action changes and you have a great alternative all round.

                      Honestly, combat in WoD should feel dangerous. After all it's modeled after real life combat in a way. While a material artist may be good in a melee confrontation, a gun will end them faster then you can say "I activate Awe". Is it perfect? No. Will people cheese it? Yes. Is that a bad thing? Depends on the group and game.

                      WoD tends to be a social/political game more then a combat game. If you're the ST, try using less combat if necessary. After all, most people aren't gonna start a fight if they're afraid to die, or suffer permanent injury. If you have a murder hobo, I highly recommend talking with them before doing anything drastic. Otherwise, just think of the natural consequences of the scene. For example, violence will likely draw attention, although it will likely take time a lot of the time.

                      Edit: Also if you wanna be a dick as the ST or player, use cars as weapons. The rules for hitting someone with a cat can be found in Hunters Hunted 2.
                      Last edited by Vilenecromancer; 04-19-2022, 03:51 AM.


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                      • #12
                        Something that can help beyond playing around with the mechanics:

                        Start combat with the players and NPCs declaring stakes. One of the problems with combat in a lot of RPGs is that characters (rather unrealistically to most settings) get into combat and fight like it's the most vital battle ever to be fought. While you can make some case for there being a thematic element to this regarding PCs that are predators in some fashion (the death vs. diner psychology in hunting where prey know they're fighting for their lives, but a predator can usually afford to lose one meal and go for an easier one later), in general people aren't out to use violence just for the sake of using violence.

                        The predominance of alpha strike tactics largely comes down to the fact that the only way to "win" most combat systems is to KO your opposition before they KO you. Besides trying to run away from a fight that's not going your way (which tends to be very difficult in a lot of RPGs), there aren't ways to win or lose beyond doing lots of damage as fast as possible (or circumvent damage to the same impact).

                        Thus, setting stakes: what are the key characters instigating violence actually after? Is a Gangrel just trying to exert physical dominance to make it clear they will kill if pushed and it's a serious threat, but only want their opponent to back off? Will the muggers leave your alone if you fork over a wallet so you don't have risk a Masquerade breach fighting them? If two Toreador master thieves are fighting over the same bauble and a third party just breaks it to get them to stop, shouldn't they stop because the fight's lost its purpose?

                        When most of your fights have an end goal other than "out violence the other party," you lower the stress on the mentality that leads to alpha strikes, and other ways of "win combat at all costs." You don't have to make the game unfun for combat invested characters/players. Just give them victory conditions that are more varied and interesting than, "beat the other guy into a bloody pulp."

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                        • #13
                          Part of what makes the Jyhad what it is, is a refusal on the part of the smart ones to avoid squandering their own immortality in violent combat. There's plenty of room to tone down the lethality, but there's also a lot to be said for disappearing, running away, being charming, hitting first, or just scheming to get somebody else in harm's way instead.

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                          • #14
                            Originally posted by Xerxes View Post
                            I may be missing something, but V20 combat feels almost entirely dependent on whether you get the first hit in, because there is no real way to effectively avoid being hit.

                            Or am I doing something very wrong in how I'm running combats?
                            Personally I find the mechanics good but you have to understand that they end up giving a certain sort of combat, one that's very different to other RPGs and can be quite difficult to get your head around.

                            Firstly, WoD combat does have a tendency to deadliness. Combats are often quick and brutal with whoever strikes first being a critical deciding point. It's also designed like a duelling system where the faster opponent attacks while the slower defends until the initiative switches sides. This is why it's really really important to roll init each turn as it allows the advantage to move around.

                            The other thing to understand is that if you don't win init then you should be defending yourself - dodging, parrying, maneuvering, moving out of range, and the like. Combatants who simply stand there waiting for their turn to make an attack deserve everything they get.

                            So looking at your example above you're forgetting about defense, if a 5d attacker gets 3 successes on an attack then their opponent should use their dodge (Dex+Athletics in V20) to counteract those successes. Attackers and defender with the same number of dice in their pools can negate each other for quite a while. Even if an attack hits there's always Armour and Soak to negate the damage.

                            So if your players are neglecting their defensive abilities and maneuvers and getting cut in half as a result they maybe they need a wakeup call. (you should also review the stats of their enemies, it could be that you're going too hard on them)

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                            • #15
                              Originally posted by Dogstar View Post
                              Personally I find the mechanics good but you have to understand that they end up giving a certain sort of combat, one that's very different to other RPGs and can be quite difficult to get your head around.
                              WoD combat isn't really that special all things considered. It's difficult to get your head around it because there's a huge number of difficult to intuit variables that make figuring out strong tactical moves beyond "hit hard and fast so they never get to hit you," hard. Is +1 difficulty to my attack worth it for +2 damage? How should I allot my offensive and defensive actions? Where should I spend my WP and BP for maximum impact? Should I finish off an opponent that's only one or two damage from incapacitation or trust their wound penalties make them harmless enough to move on to a new foe? Etc. V20 at least doesn't have variable weapon difficulties like most of the games do.

                              Combats are often quick and brutal with whoever strikes first being a critical deciding point.
                              Lets acknowledge that the narrative speed and brutality of WoD combat is completely blunted by the ponderousness of the mechanics. It's really hard to feel the emotional catharsis of your character ripping through a dozen ghoul guards in about 30 seconds, leaving a trail of mangled corpses and strewn viscera, when it took you 45 minutes to roll all of that and you're busy mentally decompressing from all the math you just did to appreciate the scene that came from it all.

                              This is why it's really really important to roll init each turn as it allows the advantage to move around.
                              To a point. After 3+ difference in initiative (which many supernaturals can achieve easily over mortals), the odds of a meaningful shift in the assumed average number of turns is very very small. And if you keep rolling it's going to shift back very quickly. One or two turns on top is not likely to change much (if suddenly having initiative means your roll is big enough to do a lot of damage to your opponent, you probably would have beaten them with parries before you took the initiative anyway).

                              You either need to change the math of initiative so that the range of results is small and thus easier for the "slower" character to get more time on top, or you need to completely redo initiative like Exalted 3e did to make ebb and flow over who has control of the fight a more central part of the outcome of each combat action rather than it just being a roll off.

                              The other thing to understand is that if you don't win init then you should be defending yourself - dodging, parrying, maneuvering, moving out of range, and the like. Combatants who simply stand there waiting for their turn to make an attack deserve everything they get.
                              Well... that depends.

                              It's also worth remembering that characters in the WoD games can abort to defense. Retaining your attacks in case your foe has a bad roll so you can unleash a powerful counter is frequently worth the cost/risk of aborting if you're behind in initiative.

                              Just staying on the defensive if you're lower in initiative is pretty much a good way to lose unless you're significantly skilled at parrying (and thus can counter attack via a good parry roll). The vast majority of the time you're just going to end up stalling the statistical favored fighter from getting the expected outcome. The WoD systems don't allow any meaningful way to capitalize on waiting for a lucky initiative shift in your favor. The "faster" character can play defense too.

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