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Challenging combat encounters?

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  • Challenging combat encounters?

    I'm new to STing & starting up a mixed CoD 2e chronicle.

    My question is, when narrative suggests combat is an expected &/or reasonable method to deal with a villain, how do I decide what power level said villain should have relative to the characters in order to provide a challenging encounter but not a guaranteed TPK?

    I've no problem putting them up against things they should NOT fight directly. Oh, you want to go toe-to-toe with the vampire Prince of your city on day one? Yeah, good luck with that.

    However, there are at least 1 or 2 villains I'd like to include in long-arc plot where an eventual full-out smack-down could occur (if they choose to go that way). I want to have the villain statted out a bit long before that (they'll encounter it many times throughout the chronicle before it becomes the target of the narrative spotlight), so I sort of need to anticipate how strong to make it now. Too weak, and either they move to fighting it before it makes narrative sense for other plot elements, or find it a push-over when it all comes together. Too strong, and the opposite on both points.

    I've found a list of power 'ranks' in some of the books, scaling up by 5 XP for a few ranks, then 10, then more. If I put the villain 2 'ranks' above the 'rank' where I expect the characters to have the showdown, would that be a good challenge (it's a party of 5)? 3 higher? Only 1 higher? (I could, of course, supplement any power imbalance on either side by adding in some allies for the big fight.)

  • #2
    There's no easy answer to this question. Power Ranks are going to be incredibly deceiving because everything is bought a dot at a time, and a character who dumps 15 exp into a point efficient combat build may well be able to thrash one who has 50 but spread it around.

    Two useful points of advice though: You will absolutely want your big bad to have minions and/or powers capable of affecting multiple opponents at once. A well coordinated group of players can take down an enemy many times more powerful than they are if allowed to gang up.

    Second: Know your characters, know what they're capable of, make sure you plan countermeasures for any obvious easy win strategies. Figure out how many dice they roll when attacking, and make sure the enemy's defense is high enough that they need to burn willpower or all out attack to reliably hit. Is there a grappler on the team? Make sure the enemy can do something even if grappled, etc.

    If you give me a list of their character sheets I can give you a lot more specific advice


    • #3
      One good piece of advice was to have a sort of baddie that seems really dangerous, to urge the players to really go all out against it, just so you can see their combat capabilities and deal with it.

      Realistically you could just look at their character sheets and see their capable dicerolls. Factor in willpower and so forth and you can see what they're capable of.

      It's worth noting that usually, since players have numbers, they're going to be at a large advantage against a single enemy, who can take one action against however many the players could, and each attack against them lowers their Defense by one. There's some nice abilities that counter this, of course, usually in area effect things. Beast's Siren Atavism has a powerful 'all around you' attack, and since it's based on sound and generally Deafens those who take damage from it, I rule as making them immune to further assaults from it. Nice opening attack, especially since Deafened also puts a -2 penalty on combat rolls.


      • #4
        Make smart villains, not powerful villains.

        And I don't mean villains with high Mental States, I mean villains that know how to survive and when's the best time to get out of dodge. Because no matter how powerful you make a villain, due to the nature and brutality of combat a single good shot with any gun will almost always either outright kill them or at least knock them out.

        If you want a re-occurring villain then don't worry about their build, worry about how they interact with the Troupe and how they take steps to choose the final battlefield that will ensure their victory. And have every victory the players muster alter that final battlefield in ways that both vex and hinder that villain.
        Last edited by Dusksage; 02-10-2017, 07:04 PM. Reason: Spellcheck


        • #5
          Combat comes down to dice pools, figure out what everyone is likely to be rolling and ask yourself "what if he gets mostly successes?" "How many times can he get (dice pool/3)+1 successes?" And "What if John sacrifices his Defence like an idiot?"
          Remember that most people will look to retreat rather than die and that merits make things a bit more complicated so let the players have a monopoly on them at first.


          • #6
            Originally posted by Dusksage View Post
            And I don't mean villains with high Mental States, I mean villains that know how to survive and when's the best time to get out of dodge. Because no matter how powerful you make a villain, due to the nature and brutality of combat a single good shot with any gun will almost always either outright kill them or at least knock them out.
            While that's true with humans, once you get into supernaturals it's not as simple as that, and once you get into things like Horrors or ephemerals it's a concern to throw out the window.


            • #7
              Originally posted by nofather View Post

              While that's true with humans, once you get into supernaturals it's not as simple as that, and once you get into things like Horrors or ephemerals it's a concern to throw out the window.

              I would be willing to argue that up to a point (that point being that any splat can be killed by a dude with a gun), although I did make an assumption that the antagonists mentioned were going to be either humans or humanoid rather than Horrors of Ephemeral Entities since the later work better normally as force of nature villains (with the exception of some Ghosts.)
              Last edited by Dusksage; 02-11-2017, 12:04 AM. Reason: Polish


              • #8
                If the dude is a world class sniper and the gun is a high powered rifle, sure. Your average street thug with a hand cannon is going to run out of bullets before dropping a Werewolf, Beast with Unbreakable, Vampire with Resilience, etc. It's not hard to get armor soak that will reduce 4 lethal to a single bashing.


                • #9
                  Right, so that just leaves: every other Beast without Unbreakable, every Vampire without Resilience, every single Mage, every single Changeling, every single Promethean (granted they usually come back pissed off at least once), every single Sin-Eater (second verse same as the first), and every Demon not going Loud (which is still practically a death sentence for a Demon.)

                  My point is that combat in Chronicle is brutal and violent and ultimately comes down to who can deal the most damage and who can heal. It's almost always wiser to try and run away because every single weapon no matter what it is deals Lethal damage. Tilts can brutalize even the mightiest powerhouses, and usually a single well timed sneak attack is all that's needed to drop most antagonists who are even remotely human.


                  • #10
                    All vampires and any mage with Death 2+ can automatically downgrade lethal to bashing. Vampires can also heal two bashing or one lethal for a single Vitae (which can also remove those tilts that are applicable to vampires) while even fresh-from-character-creation Mages, depending on which Arcana they have, often can take down a single mortal opponent with relative ease in a single turn, assuming the mortal isn't sniping from a hidden position or extreme range.
                    I'm not as knowledgeable about the other splats, but I doubt they're as weak as you make them out to be.
                    I agree that combat can be brutal and violent, but that's primarily for regular humans, not major splats unless they're up against other major splats or ridiculously combat focused humans that are anything but regular. Unless you've got numbers on your side. Being able to collectively use multiple actions per turn can be just as useful as the supernatural abilities of major splats.

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                    • #11
                      The Vampire point is solid, that delicious all non-magical lethal to bashing effect makes then one of the toughest monsters out there. I'd still argue that without Resilience most Kindred will go down if shot enough times, far less lead than WoD anyways where basically only other splats could kill other splats.

                      As for Mages though, is that lethal to bashing thing an Attainment? Because if not then they still need the foresight to cast the spell before combat.


                      • #12
                        Mage Armors are Attainments, yes.

                        But this is deviating strongly from Snapdragyn's question, and I'm sure there's other places we could white room combat and discuss the differences between enemies and villains.


                        • #13
                          Without knowing more about the player characters or the antagonist it's hard for us to offer specific advice, and this discussion is, in a roundabout way, making the point that you really, REALLY want to give major antagonists enough armor to negate weapon modifiers or fights end very quickly.

                          But like I said, that's pretty easy to do. All Changelings? Hah, no. Earthbones and Metalflesh can get 3-4 armor at character creation, and there are contracts to take that higher. All Sin Eaters? Even more no. One of their basic splat abilities is spending plasm to downgrade any injury to bashing, point for point, and several of their manifestations make them even tougher. Grave Dirt Caul 2 Downgrades firearms to bashing. Grave Dirt Shroud 2 gives them 2+stamina armor. As previously mentioned every single Mage will have at least one Mage armor attainment. Prometheans and Demons I don't know so well, but the point is, you want your antagonist to have armor, and that's a thing most splats will have access to without a huge Exp sink. Firearms are a great early game equalizer, but they're not that difficult to counter.


                          • #14

                            The funny thing is we can go on and on about how effective guns are against supernaturals, with lots of counter and counter-counter arguments, but ultimately we are both arguing the same point:

                            No matter what you decide the best steps you could possibly take is to ensure that the combat isn't anticlimactic. Be it through crunch, like armor contingencies or strategic traps and enemy placement, or fluff, like betrayal from supposed allies or Moriartis level mystery leading up to the fated encounter, the best thing you can do to make the combat engaging is to first eliminate the possibility for players to end up saying, "Wow, that wasn't as bad as I thought it would be."

                            And for me, the best way to do that is to have intelligent villains who either try to avoid combat or who purposefully use it to learn more about their opponents (from the safety of their own homes of course, useful and unknowing pawns would be my second piece of advice for designing engaging antagonists.)