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Toning down the lethality of combat

posted Dec 12, 2012 22:32:15 by StreetBushido
I do like RQ6 as it is, but I find it to be very dangerous for anybody getting into combat. While I realize that this is to grant the game a certain degree of verisimilitude, and also to make non-violent solutions equally (if not more so) viable than violent ones, it does worry me (and my players) a bit.

We're all used to fairly heroic (at least measured by prowess if not by morals) characters chopping through bunches of foes and occasionally facing off against some form of tougher opponent. Note, we've never played D&D, only swedish RPGs.

I can imagine that in games like the older versions of D&D where character ceation takes very short time and where death is fairly common that having your character die is not a big deal. However, in the case of RQ6 the character creation process is a bit more complicated, and you do really get a character that is tied to the world she is in. Having that character snuffing it due to one bad roll of the bones is... not very fun.

With this in mind, what can I, as the GM, do to tone down the lethality (at least for the PCs) in combat? I'm not necessarily looking for house-rules or such, just pointers, tips and advice. I'm not planning on running a hack'n'slash game, but my players enjoy combat, as do I, and I want to deliver.
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13 replies
PeteNash said Dec 12, 2012 23:00:58
"With this in mind, what can I, as the GM, do to tone down the lethality (at least for the PCs) in combat? I'm not necessarily looking for house-rules or such, just pointers, tips and advice. I'm not planning on running a hack'n'slash game, but my players enjoy combat, as do I, and I want to deliver."

If you haven't already found it, there's several pages of guidance in the Games Mastery chapter, from consequences to pacing. However, the best advice I can give is to roleplay you game world's cultural and social laws concerning violence.

There should be repercussions for killing, even in self defence - just as there are in the real world. As a GM you should always reward mercy with things like approval from the local community, payment of ransoms, the making of a friend from an enemy, the offering back of a PCs life if they fall the next time they fight that foe, a snivelling apology, the exile of the instigator, and so on. You shouldn't punish PCs for acting in a humane way.

If you have looked though the combat special effects then you have probably realised that there is no real reason to kill an opponent in order to defeat them, at least against sapient foes. Ravening monsters are a different issue and its probably best if you don't throw creatures with huge damage bonuses against the PCs unless they have lots of armour, a good First Aid skill, and best of all, a way of avoiding or defeating it without direct combat.

From the 'just bad luck' side of things, a replenishing amount of Luck Points every session goes a loooong way to avoiding outright death. If your players find they are burning through them every fight, then you are probably using too much combat in the game or they need to learn how to cut and run at the right time.

There's a ton more advice which others will contribute, but this is a start. :)
DanTrue said Dec 12, 2012 23:10:16
What Pete said :)

In addition, if you want your characters to be of high prowess, this also helps immensely. If the characters start (or soon become, after they've had a few scares) well equipped and with extra skills, combat becomes less dangerous. Good armour, high skills, a shield for each character and a bunch of spare weapons, will all make combat much less dangerous without tinkering with the system.

Giving them access to superior combat styles is also a way - they might belong to a brotherhood or warrior order with a combat style with two traits.

So, if you start the characters off as knights, young nobles or something like that, they can occasionally wade through enemies. Just remember that the lethality of the system still means you need to think before engaging - if your party is 4 knights, they shouldn't just waltz into a mob of orcs and get surrounded, rather they should saddle their fine steeds and charge them downhill and wreak bloody havoc... same if they're fighting a dragon or another large baddie.. In RQ6 you don't simply defeat these by walking up to them and exchanging hits - you topple rocks down on them, you lay a trap, you use a mirrored shields against the Basilisk etc. (or use magic, that can get you far too).

- Dan
bluefenix42 said Dec 12, 2012 23:50:20
* Encourage players to save a luck point for the unlikely event that they take a Major Wound - the luck point downgrades it to a Serious Wound.
* Serious Wounds cannot kill you - at worst, they leave you unconscious. Expect a lot of players and foes to be out of the fight after a Serious Wound or two, in which case they will only die if their entire side loses (and even then, they may just be taken captive or whatever) or their foe is cruel or hungry enough to continue attacking a downed foe.
* Encourage the players to invest in skills like Endurance, Evade, Athletics, First Aid, and Healing. These can massively improve their ability to survive an encounter or multiple encounters in a row.
* Players can and should take the time to rest up and heal between adventures, unless there's time pressure forcing them to go fight again while still wounded. Downtime while healing, recovering magic points, and so on can be a great time to deal with roleplay stuff around the character's homes, town, etc. such as getting training or attending to cult/guild duties.
* Defensive and healing magic can be extremely powerful in this game. The Folk Magic spells Heal and Protection are pretty useful by themselves, and higher forms of magic are even better.
* As a GM, be very aware of how many enemies you throw at the players at once. Getting attacked when you have no action points left to defend with is very dangerous. Any fight where one side has significantly more total action points than the other will be somewhat one-sided unless there's a mitigating circumstance such as a single foe with very good armor, or a swarm of weaklings that have very low damage.
* Take advantage of the Rabble and Underling rules at the end of the Combat chapter when appropriate - they're great for managing large numbers of weak foes, while being less likely to overwhelm the players.
StreetBushido said Dec 13, 2012 09:21:40
Thanks for the replies, guys!

I'll keep all of this in mind. I'll have to remember to remind my players about their Luck Points. Also, as I only have two players, I think I'll up their Luck Points a bit, maybe giving them an extra each.

I'll also try to really get the "non-lethal" message across; they don't have to kill every foe, just defeat/circumvent them.

RangerDan said Dec 13, 2012 10:49:54
Want to reinforce what bluefenix said about the the rules for 'Rabble' and 'Underlings'.
You can find them on page 164, and it sounds like it might be just what you need.
If most of the foes your players face are of this level, they should more easily be able to Conan their way through larger numbers of enemies (and it certainly keeps the bookkeeping down!)
Dreameister said Dec 13, 2012 14:25:04
I want to third the Rabble and Underlings rules. They really make the tone of the session more heroic.

PatHenry said Dec 13, 2012 18:13:51
Just to add, in my campaign I try to make generally impossible to tell Underling opponents from truly dangerous opponents by visual cues alone. Once they’re fully engaged, the ragtag telltales of mookdom of course make themselves known. But I think you want to keep players from overconfidence and expecting they’ll mop up an operation. You want them always to enter combat with the best possible strategy and clearly aware any encounter could prove deadly.
jackpersona42 said Dec 13, 2012 18:30:07
I would even go so far as to give the Underlings armor that looks the same as more robust enemies, but that is cheaply made (half APs, say) where appropriate, to help maintain the ruse.
StreetBushido said Dec 13, 2012 22:19:03
Further thanks for the input!

I'm definitely going to be using the Rabble and Underlings rules. My groups are used to cutting a swathe through their foes (when the dung has really hits the Archimedes screw) and it's really nice that RQ6 has that covered.

I'm thinking of the laws controlling a ninja's power (at least as it is presented in Dr. McNinja): the more ninjas (opponents) you have on one side, the weaker each ninja is. That's why a single ninja is one-man army while an army of ninjas end up as mooks. Thus, if my players are fighting few opponents, each opponent will be more imposing foes, properly statted up NPCs, for instance, while if they're fighting a larger group then they'll be facing a mix of Rabble, Underlings and perhaps one proper NPC.
[Last edited Dec 14, 2012 11:40:34]
PatHenry said Dec 13, 2012 22:54:08
IMO, the things that really makes RQ shine are the imperatives to avoid (or at least cautiously think through and plan) meaningless hack-&-slash combat. It often comes as a shock, often a sudden fatal shock, to players used to other systems that do not punish arrogance and impulsive folly. That's why those Mastery passages Pete Nash spoke of are so important. Creates a really different (and superior IMO) gaming experience.

I remember the caveat from the original RQ rules: “Numbers always count in Runequest.”

ADD: if you are running a Japanese-y feudal-ish campaign, consider adding some rules about hostages and ransoming. That happened quite a bit in that setting, with often elaborate kabuki governing it, and creates favorable conditions where characters can consider surrender and survive.

Not every combat need end in death.
[Last edited Dec 13, 2012 23:09:38]
slyder111 said Dec 14, 2012 03:21:49
Another factor is to space things out in a battle. For example (I tend to GM 2-3 players) I will throw 2-3 orcs at them, perhaps sighted 150 yards away in the woods. This gives the characters time to prepare a bit and then, depending on how the actual combat goes, I can bring in more orcs in drips and drabs. It allows you to keep things suspenseful and removes complacency while still providing you an out if the initial encounter goes poorly.
StreetBushido said Dec 15, 2012 22:12:34
I consider the issue settled, and I'll be using this advice in my next session (tomorrow, in fact). However, I do have a question that is related to this "issue".

If I recall correctly the RuneQuest system has been used to power settings such as Elric and Hawkmoon. Having read those books/stories I found that they were of the "heroic action" kind, which I occasionally enjoy. Did the licensed RPGs reflect the kind of stuff that the protagonists of the books did? Particularly Hawkmoon and his pals fighting large groups of foes and living?
Thalaba said Dec 15, 2012 22:46:43
The Elric/Stormbringer system is different in several ways. For one thing, there are no hit locations, only total HP. The effects of serious wounds are modeled through a serious wound table, rather than dropping a limb below zero. Furthermore, that system encourages some starting combat skills to start at levels higher than 100%. So in general it's a less gritty system and more geared to movie-style heroics.

Looking at your original question, I'd just like to note that only a little of the above advice really deals with how much punishment your characters can actually take. The point about Luck Points is pertinent, though.

If you want your two lonely PCs to face some of the deadlier creature challenges in the book, you might find yourself in trouble whether you incorporate the above advice or not. Two starting PCs are not really going to be a match for dragons and basilisks. My recommendation, if you want to run a game where such creatures are featured, is to provide alternate means for your PCs to defeat them through cleverness rather than frontal assault. But if full-on face-to-face combat against dangerous mythical creatures is what you're after, you might also consider simply doubling the hit points per location - a technique which I've seen used effectively in a campaign which featured little armour.
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