Monday, September 26, 2011

A Matter of Great Import

One of the most enjoyable things about being a GM, to me, is memorable combat encounters.  I really enjoy crafting an interesting fight location, populating it with memorable opponents and complex (yet fun) terrain and hazards, and running my PCs through a fight they'll talk about for months.  One of the biggest problems I encounter is the survivability of certain NPCs, specifcally the Big-Bad-Evil-Guys (BBEGs).  I either have to give them so much that they could one-shot a PC, or I make them close to the PC's level, he gets tag teamed, and blanket-partied into the ground in two rounds.

On the other end of the spectrum, I enjoy giving the PCs a room full of targets that they can mow through, but I don't like the NPCs being no threat to the heroes.  If I have a group of five 8th level heroes, and I give them thirty standard Battle Droids to face, those droids are toast, have a 5% chance to hit the PCs (by rolling a Natural 20), and the PCs engage in the chore of tearing them up by going through the motions.  I want to beef up the droid's attacks and damages, but not their crunchability.  If I add more levels, they'll get tougher.

This is assuming I make my NPCs "play by the rules of advancement".  One question I've been asking myself a lot lately is "Why do they have to?"  After an enjoyable and insightful conversation in the Post Show of the most recent Order 66 Podcast, I'm starting to put thoughts to paper (or keyboard, in this case) about adapting some runes for monsters in D&D 4e and porting them over to Star Wars Saga Edition.


The first step is Minions.  In 4e, these crunchtastic targets are generally equal to the PCs in attack rolls, a little sub-part on the Defense numbers (the number needed to hit them), and deal a set amount of damage (usually the average for the weapon's damage dice, rounded down).  They may also have a neat trick or two that they do, like shift "X" number of squares after a PC misses them, or get +1 to attack rolls when adjacent to another NPC Ally of their type.  In all cases, they have 1 hit point and never take damage on a miss (so missed AoE attacks that usually do half damage do no damage to minions).   Minions are worth 25% of the normal XP award for an NPC of their same level/Challenge.

GM Chris [on the Order 66 Podcast] has developed his own set of rules concerning Minions.  He will make an NPC with the usual number of stats, Feats, and Talents, but they'll only be able to take one "hit".  One successful attack, and they're done.  If they get hit by an Area-of-Effect attack that misses, they are assigned a "half hit".  Presumably this is to allow someone to pop some AoE attacks (like setting a blaster to Auto-fire), miss twice (dealing half damage, normally), and still being able to drop the Minions in two rounds.

I like this rule.  I can throw the PCs against B1 Battle Droids, Sith Troopers, Stormtroopers, or Pirates and the PCs will hewn through them with every hit.  Also, it makes them a viable threat.  That takes care of the first part; crunchy-yet-threatening.  But what about the second thing I wanted to do for them; increase their tactical ability in combat.

There are many talents and feats that I could use for this, but paging through the Monster manual comes up with some interesting ideas.  I could assign an extra ability to the various Minions.  Looking at Goblins, they have Goblin Tactics, which allows them to shift 1 square when they are missed by a melee attack.  Neat ability, something I could see giving Pirate Minions for when those pesky Jedi or Axe-wielding Wookies get in their faces and miss.  Hobgoblins get Phalanx Soldier, where they gain a +2 bonus to AC while at least one hobgoblin ally is adjacent to them.  I could see this as an ability for Battle Droids, or Stormtroopers.  Two enemy groups that are routinely seen fighting adjacent to each other.  These types of bonuses favor the tactics we've seen various "thugs and mooks" take in Star Wars media.  It could work with a little refinement.

Serious Threats

You've taken three days to carefully sculpt, tweak, and hone your BBEG's abilities, talents, and feats to make them a devastator on the battlefield.  You look at your work, and then look at the PCs just-as-carefully-sculpted abilities, and at their number of Destiny Points.  You come to the realization that, by following the rules of NPC and Character Creation, your BBEG is a two-round threat.  The PCs simply have enough Destiny Points to auto-crit your NPC to Hell and back.  Or worse, the PCs are so honed that they don't need Destiny Points, and can utilize high powered attack rolls, weapons, and twinked out Use the Force checks to render your NPC useless. 

What they need is an edge, one that isn't just leveling up the NPC to be 5 or 6 levels over the PCs.  Digging into the 4e Dungeon Master's Guide, I came across "Templates".  This may be the starting point for what I'm looking for.  While "Death Knight", "Lich", and "Mummy Lord" may not be viable right out of the box, several others are. 

Look at the "Battle Champion" template.  It gives a bonus to it's Defenses (AC and Fortitude), +1 Action Point, +8 hit points per level, and several useful tactic abilities that could translate well to Saga Edition.  Battle Lord Tactics grants an extra d6 of damage to allies that are flanking an enemy with the Battle Champion.  Battle Talent allows the Champion to score a critical hit with a 19 or 20.  Finally, Inspiring Assault heals the Battle Champion and all Allies within 5 squares of him by a number equal to half the Battle Champion's level.

How could this look?  Let's add this to your average Stormtrooper from the SECR.
  • Reflex Defense would increase to 18, and Fortitude Defense would increase to 14.  Not too shabby...
  • +1 Action Point could be 1 of two options, either give the Stormtrooper Force Points (I'd give him 3), or give him a Destiny Point to purely spend on another round of actions
  • Hit Points would increase to 42 (Base 10, +8 x 4 non-heroic levels).  That's one beefy Stormtrooper commander
  • Because the Stormtrooper is a ranged attacker, I doubt Battle Lord Tactics would come into play much, but if it does, it's a bonus d6 damage for any of the Stormtrooper Commander's allies.
  • Battle Talent is just pure awesome, and potentially very deadly.  I see this NPC as a hefty threat to 2nd and 3rd level characters, characters that could be killed by a well rolled Crit from a Blaster Rifle.  But hey, that's what Destiny Points are for (spent by the PC target to negate an attack all together), am I right?
  • Inspiring Assault could shine, but it could also not come into play much at all.  Odds are the PCs will mow down the average 10 hit-point Stormtrooper without much trouble.  Healing everyone 2 HPs when the Stormtrooper Commander hits won't do that much unless the PC's just dropped the Stormtrooper and didn't kill them.
Supposedly, this Stormtrooper Commander is worth twice the normal XP for such an opponent.  Looking at the numbers, I'd probably tweak that to three times the award.  This guy is beefy, at least equal to a 2nd or 3rd level Soldier.  Maybe even more-so, with his ability to score a Crit 10% of the time and the extra full round of actions once per encounter.

Under Development

I really like where this is going.  It's going to surprise some of my players, for sure, but I hope it's going to be fun and challenging for them.  As I work on the details and development of this "4e import", I'll update my progress here.

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