How do you handle difficult situations?
For example I was running Hot Springs Island and the group decided to take on a Goa warrior in hand to hand combat. Even 4 against one, this should be a tricky fight for any group of heroes.
But I couldn’t really emphasize that through the mechanics. They had enough Luck/Cunning/Points to roll 10’s for every action.
And because the success on attack is: “Deal damage. Enemies misses.” it was a total steamroll.
How would you handle this? Just tell them: “You lose. No rolls.”
16 thoughts on “How do you handle difficult situations?”
I’d say one of two things:
A) Maybe a PbtA game isn’t the best for what you want – you’ve already decided the outcome of character actions, so you don’t want to Play To Find Out this fight, it seems.
B) Run it like the 16hp Dragon or Tucker’s Kobolds – present them obstacles to actually triggering their moves. “The six armed creature flashes swords around in a blur. It’s a wall of blades, and you can’t get through it to attack. What do you do?”
Aaron Griffin Playing to see what happens = accepting the world as it is and letting it play out, not allowing the players to win unreasonably, though, right?
Michael Bacon but it sounds like it’s entirely reasonable based on the design of this game. They saved up their various points to make the win a sure thing in perfect accordance with the game.
That’s a flaw in presenting the world. We’re talking about Goa, not math.
What’s frustrating is that I was able to build the tension using the story,
descriptions, dialogue, etc. The players went into the fight to true
trepidation and nervousness. But once the dice hit the table the tension
was gone. “Hey, that was easy! What a stupid lizard.”
You’re fully right, but the game system being used for this doesn’t afford for what you’re suggesting. There are plenty of game systems that do, and if that’s what you want, a PbtA game might not be ideal
PbtA can’t be altered to allow player agency/realistic worldbuilding?
Jason Cordova , any thoughts on this problem?
David Schirduan see, to me that sounds awesome! All this build up, for nothing. I bet it will become a story, too. “Remember the time we just demolished that goa?” Maybe the next one will stomp them because they aren’t afraid 🙂
It seems like the discussion here that hasn’t been addressed in PbtA mechanic terms is about how the GM can impact the difficulty threshold.
I think the place that the GM has the most control here is how you choose to stat the Goa or if you choose to give the Goa a special rule. A successful hit with a mundane weapon might have no/limited effect against the Goa’s scales (armor). Each successful melee attack against the Goa might bring the beast one step closer to its berserk rage against which you have no hope of surviving (special rule). Both of these elements are within your control and would limit the impact of a success even using Luck.
If they had to burn through most/all their Luck, then that seems to have been sufficiently difficult.
edit for PbtA syntax: special rule should be Custom Move and GM should probably be MC
Max Vanderheyden That sounds nice. I haven’t played a PbtA game yet, but the earlier replies were making me feel like I shouldn’t.
I’ll give a practical example from the rules of a PbtA that I wrote: City of Judas. There’s a Move which is part of the standard conflict (not just combat) moves that I wrote especially for very strong opponents (there are no dragons in City of Judas, and I don’t know this Goa, but I guess it goes in the right direction).
That Move basically states that when going against a stronger opponent you roll (i.e. +Steel in City of Judas, which is like saying +Strength or +Hard)… on a 10+ you choose if
– to run away safely
– or create an opening for one of your allies to make an attack
– or an option from the 7-9 range.
On a 7-9 you can
– give others the chance to escape,
– or get an opening for your own attack.
Both on a 6- and on a 7-9, though, the GM makes a move against you, which means maybe harm, maybe danger, maybe taking away a piece of your equipment (your shield? your weapon?) etc…
It’s a default Move in City of Judas, to have a mechanical way to regulate very strong opponents, but in other PbtAs it might be a simple Custom Move associated with the dragon, the Goa, etc… So, with such a Move in play, players cannot just attack.
I’m oversimplifying, but to make a valid attack a player should have to roll a 10+ here, and allow another to make the attack, or should roll a 7+ but suffer harm or danger to be able to make the attack…
As you see, a fight with this Move in place would be harder (not exactly twice as hard, but definitely harder). The move of course has its own narrative benefits too: think about the option of opening up the way for another character, or the escape options…
In other words, Custom Moves could help you a lot.
The benefit of a custom move is that, once it’s written, it’s a rule.
It is binding for the GM and the players, and it’s fair – which is very much consistent with the OSR gaming style, and I love OSR and PbtA in different ways, but both very much, so I hope I know what I’m talking about 🙂
Also, a Custom Move is not just binding and fair, but it’s explicit and clear for the players, plus it enforces consistency across fights, across sessions, even across different campaigns.
The downside: you have to think about the move, think about its options and balance, you have to write it, and you might have to write more than one (and maybe test them?)…
In other words, it’s work; I like it but it’s a personal opinion and maybe you don’t want to have to work so much…
So the real deal is to resort to two things:
– narrative difficulties
– other moves
Both of those are “built-in” in PbtA. For narrative difficulties see the examples that people gave you here, and the 16hp dragon that was mentioned.
In other words: I think that being fan of the characters does not mean that they can do anything. If the Goa is gigantic and terrible, it takes something from the players’ side to overcome the obstacle. The Goa is a giant pit, 10 meters (30 feet) wide. Can one of your players say that they just jump over it and roll +Dex? No, they cannot.
They must come up with a plan.
So the Goa is the same. Its scales are too thick or its defense too formidable for simply hacking at it with swords. Its attacks are terrible – for example pass this info to the players by having the monster literally ripping an henchmen in two pieces in a second, and then advancing against them? What do they do?
If they just stand there weapons in hands, they are going to suffer a huge amount of damage.
If someone says that being fan of the characters means that they just roll hack and slash by stating “I attack”, then they’re (imho) doing something wrong with PbtA.
PbtA (and being fan of the characters) does not mean empowering them. It means empowering the narration.
In OSR terms, you’d have like AC 18 and X attacks with 2d10 damage each, and invulnerability to mundane weapons…
In PbtA you describe in fiction the same things: how normal blades seem to bounce off the scales of the Goa, how the monster kills another two hirelings in the time it takes the characters to draw their weapons, etc…
And this is where other moves come in play.
The characters cannot just go and roll hack and slash, so they come up with a plan…
And perhaps one of them has to Defy Danger (that’s the DW move, I don’t remember if in Freebooters it has the same name…) to get into the Goa’s guards, very close so that the monster’s reach has no effect… maybe another is Reading the situation to find a weak spot… maybe one is Defying Danger just to be able to “reinforce” a defensive spell because the Goa is so strong that it cuts across magical defenses and the wizard is bleeding from eyes and ears…
When you “play” with alternative moves, be careful.
Don’t just make them to Defy Danger every time before they can attack (well, you can, if you can be very creative with the consequences).
Instead, listen to what they plan to do and find the appropriate moves and the appropriate responses. Roll those moves instead of hack and slash and use your Moves accordingly (separate them, put them in a tight spot, take their stuff, and so on).
When you do this, it’s basically like rewriting in real time how combat works – it’s like writing in real time a custom move.
It’s harder to be fair, it’s harder to remain consistent across sessions or even in the same combat, but of course it’s less prep than custom moves, and more flexible…
And I really got carried away and I apologize for this wall of text
Re: custom moves – here’s one from Uncharted Worldshttps://lh3.googleusercontent.com/Me7R_OMhfPEZMTWOTenW2coAGFqiH64JC3dGS29M_S7t2rCsoMlsp9vax3dzRI6mQipTweos8tOn67Y=s0
Aaron Griffin’s reference to the 16hp dragon is the key. Give big tough scary monsters moves, tags, and qualities that describe how big, tough, and scary they are, and then present them as obstacles to be overcome.
“You attack? Shit, how? You see all those blades? Soon as you get close enough to stab it, it’s gonna hack you apart. What do you do?”
The might tag team it (Get Involved) but now you’ve got two rolls just to get one attack. They might Perceive and ask for an opening in its guard, but that opening might require another move and anyway it spots your hesitation and lashes out at you SO MANY BLADES what do you do?
Make them work just for the opportunity to make a legitimate attack, and seize the narrative initiative any chance you get.
Make your 7-9 results harsh and your miss results brutal. They make a saving throw to wade in dodging and parrying and trying to force an opening? On a 7-9 be like: “yeah you can do it and take a shot but it’s gonna deal d8+4 messy damage first, or you can disengage safely. Which is it?” On a miss, deal d8+4 messy and lop their damn hand off.
And because the success on attack is: “Deal damage. Enemies misses.” it was a total steamroll.
Sure, but that doesn’t mean the foe just stands there and waits for the next PC to take a swing. You should be making setup/soft moves with you monsters all the damn time. So like, first pc attacks with a 10+ (after a 10+ to duck and weave and get in there in the first place). PC doesn’t do enough damage to drop it. You say how howls and jerks back and spins and it’s tail is swinging at your legs and three blades coming in high right behind it, what do you do?
I understand your concern David Schirduan, and it derives partly from the issue that, rules-as-written, monsters don’t get to do anything as long as the PCs are rolling 10+. This can lead to steamrolly situations. There are different ways of addressing that, some of which have been outlined above, but I’d be curious to know the Goa Warrior’s stats and description, along with a brief summary of how the fight played out and in what physical context. If you’re interested in more focused troubleshooting, that is.
Just to make sure this isn’t part of the issue — a thief can spend as much cunning as they want on a given roll related to their area of expertise, but you can only burn 1 point of Luck per roll.
Also, you only get Luck back when you Level Up, so there may be a tradeoff here when they find themselves in a spot down the line.
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