Help with Fictional Positioning: If I let my players “begin” with attacking my monsters die too fast.

Help with Fictional Positioning: If I let my players “begin” with attacking my monsters die too fast.

Help with Fictional Positioning: If I let my players “begin” with attacking my monsters die too fast. Can someone give me some pointers on how to make my normal monsters still useful? I know of the 16 HP dragon: but I’m having problems with monsters like Frogmen where I cannot justify that my group can’t hack n slash (as they have no thick hide or other stuff).

16 thoughts on “Help with Fictional Positioning: If I let my players “begin” with attacking my monsters die too fast.”

  1. If the players attack first, this means that they’ve gotten the drop on the monsters. Only let them do this if they’ve earned it or are otherwise properly in the situation to do so.

    Otherwise, use a miss to drop the enemies in without warning, and to kick the fight off to a massive start. A Discern Realities failure, for instance.

  2. -The frogmen are “hidden in shallow water”, players can be surprised by them over and over.

    -The frogmen are not a blob you can only kill one of them or two of them at a time – so there is a max damage you can do to the group

    -Destruction of the frogmen group means their morale is broken. They return after a few hours, again and again and again fighting like cowards.

  3. I’ve used Chris Sakkas suggestion to great effect.

    First of all, fighting a BUNCH of goblins is totally fun.

    Second, by positioning three goblins around a member of your group, they can’t easily hack and slash without consequences. The fighter might easily be able to kill one of them, but the second one is going to get a free hit in (the fighter probably had to ignore that threat to attack the other one, right?) AND get a damage bonus from the third! (and fourth, and fifth…)

    You could generalize this advice to something like “give the fighter more than one threat to think about”.

  4. I feel like, to properly discuss issues like this, it’s easier to teach by example. Showing is just so much easier than telling. I’m happy to run through a little example encounter for a smaller crowd over G+ if folks are interested.

  5. Jonathan Walton “Showing is just so much easier than telling. I’m happy to run through a little example encounter for a smaller crowd over G+ if folks are interested.”

    I’m interested in your practical example via Hangout, because I’ve read the blog article about the 16-hp-dragon, but could not imagine how this would be practically implemented by using the DW rules. (The article made the impression that the group of players had to be exceptionally passive to allow them pushed into a completely reactive position like the described one.)

  6. Just kidding, Frogmen are many, they’re vicious, they lurk just beneath the surface, they can drown people, poison them, set traps, have huge crocodile pets… enough to get three or four adventurers in a cooking pot for dinner.

  7. Hi Sophia! First off let me ask you a couple questions.

    What exactly is the problem? I think that frogmen (aka: Bullywug) are fine opponents. Are you trying to turn them into a credible threat? Create challenging encounters for the PCs? Or just suss out how you can use fictional positioning? These answers would help me target answers better.

    However I do have some general rules of thumb I use in my personal games you might find useful.

    First, once the PCs see the frogmen, you’ve established a threat (yeah I know they’re not threatening yet). On a 7-9 you can show signs of an approaching threat when they croak into the swamps, and the PCs hear responding croaks. On 6- after that you can easily drop in another squad of frogmen. Remember also mob rules (+1 damage, this adds up quickly)

    Remember two things. One – the dice won’t always run hot. If a PC rolls well, great! Give them the victory. Fire your NPCs like arrows. Don’t expect to retrieve them. There are always more.

    Second – remember that Fictional positioning comes from Fiction. Think of this scene in the book. Why would you (a gamer person) not want to be in the swamps fighting frogmen with poison tipped darts and spears in their home turf? Those are your dangers.

    If the PCs kill a squad or three, how do their tactics change? Do they stand on the other side of a quicksand pool that the PCs might get stuck in? Do they now cover their red and black poison secreting skin in mud, and use guerrila tactics? Do they hide in the swamp and ambush, build traps? To attack one what are the steps that a person might have trouble with? Dodge the dart fire, leap over the barricade, then get the hit in. Thinking like this helps you set up the actions. If a PC says: Hey I want to attack, ask how he’s attacking and check in your mind’s eye if it’s as simple as that. Tell them the rolls needed up front, and see if they still want to do it.

    And always remember: any time they roll? They can take damage. So they’re taking their lives in their hands. If they roll hot, don’t cheat them. They rocked the day. Let them be heroes. They might get lucky and simply be crazy frogmen mowing-down machines. It’s ok. The rule is everything makes story. Maybe they can’t buy healing pots now since the rare herbs for them came from the swamp and were acquired by frogmen. Maybe thieves now make their lives miserable till they pay off the debt of removing their premier source of paralytic poison. Maybe towns no longer have trade for rare goods from inside the swamp. Win, lose, or epic win – the story keeps building.

  8. Sophia Brandt, have you read Eon Fontes-May and Sean Dunstan’s Dungeon World Guide? It has a bunch of good advice.

    I’ve also stared a lot at this same problem, and have been collecting ideas. I think the basic one is: you have to get aggressive with the monsters. When you’re fighting something scary, misses mean something really bad happens.

    Some “worse outcomes, hard choices” for melee:

    • Opponent shoulders past to threaten someone vulnerable

    • Character is pushed into dangerous terrain: off ledge, down stairs, into fire [note “forceful” tag means this happens in addition to dealing damage, but any opponent might push or trip as an attack]

    • Armor or weapon is damaged or destroyed

    • Are they carrying anything dangerous or valuable? Poisonous, flammable, or breakable? Was that a good idea?

    • Deal damage from an ignored threat; e.g. a fighter is being threatened by three lizardmen with spears. If she just rolls to cream one of them, that’s a golden opportunity for one of the others to run her through.

    • Helmet stops the blow, but bell is rung, clock is cleaned; take -1 forward

    • Inflict a debility, particularly stunned, confused or scarred.

    Some ways to make monsters scary:

    reach: characters without reach or ranged attacks must defy danger to get close enough to attack at all

    extended reach: characters without ranged attacks must defy danger to get close enough to attack at all

    flying: cannot be engaged in melee unless it chooses to attack first, or is forced somehow to the ground.

    stealthy: attacks from ambush and/or disappears from sight (even when being watched)

    evasive: moves in ways the characters cannot normally follow

    fast: when it takes its action, the monster can move anywhere (or almost anywhere) on the battlefield as a free action; cannot be cornered; does not give up attacks of opportunity; if knocked down, gets back up instantly

    devious: e.g. threatens bystanders, reveals traps, exposes hidden allies, fast talks or dissuades, deceives with illusions

    area attack: attacks multiple characters at once; e.g. dragon breath or cleave attacks

    counterattack: makes a return attack after every incoming melee attack; the monster may therefore get many more moves than any player character.

    multiple attack: makes attack moves more often than individual player characters, either because the monster has multiple modes (e.g. claw/claw/bite, or multiple eyestalks of a beholder), or because it’s superhumanly quick.

    messy: rips equipment (and sometimes characters) apart; reduces armor; breaks weapons

    forceful: knocks back and/or knocks down; possibly picks up and throws characters

    skilled: rolls twice for damage, takes the better

    n piercing: reduces target’s armor by n (temporarily) before applying damage

    ignore armor: damage dealt is not affected by target’s armor at all

    terrifying: causes fear in all who can see (or hear) it; defy danger (WIS) to remain in the area

    controlling: influences, controls, or possess player characters; e.g. charm

    disabling: takes characters out of battle non-lethally, such as by entangling, pinning, stunning, or causing sleep

    confusing: creates smoke screen or confusion in battle, preventing characters from knowing where it is or being able to attack it consistently

    damaging presence: causes passive area damage; e.g. from extreme heat or toxic emanations

    debilitating: causes one or more debilities as part of attacks; e.g. vampiric bite does d8+5 dmg plus inflicts weak debility

    damage resistance: takes half damage from specified attack types

    immunity: unaffected by specified attack types; e.g. iron, fire, fear. typically description should cite a vulnerability, such as silver or salt. active immunity (e.g. counterspell) may require the monster to be aware of an incoming attack and free to respond to it.

    incorporeal: cannot be affected by non-magical causes

    regeneration: regain hit points in combat; e.g. some number per action, or some proportion of damage dealt, or some proportion of damage received. In the extreme case, the monster must be killed in one blow, or will instantly regenerate.

  9. Thanks for all the suggestions!

    I was concerned about “normal” enemies being too squishy but with your suggestions I think I can make them more durable by applying some of your advice. I want them to be a worthy opponent for a little fight but in my first try their numbers dropped too fast and my players didn’t feel any challenge.

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