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Old 09-25-2021, 12:45 AM
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ChalkLine ChalkLine is offline
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Default The problem with NPC behaviour in encounters.

This isn't a rant, it's just thoughts on things I and other GMs do on occasion.
Something I see a lot in games is that NPCs seem to have no real respect for their lives or their limbs. They attack frontally and with no regard for losses. This is made worse by how easy it is to hit in the game as players will generally kill off all the enemy in just a few rounds of shooting. It ends up with a regular almost shooting gallery feel.

Most people alive at this point are going to be versed to a fair degree in ground combat, even the 'novice' category, yet NPC activity rarely reflects this.

The biggest problem is that many skill rolls are all or nothing. A successful Observe roll often gives the result of "you see a Pact trooper with an AK-74 and wearing a helmet". Now, I understand why this is done; it gives a quick and accurate appraisal so combat is fast and doesn't bog down in minutiae (my besetting sin). However it's unlikely this would be what a soldier saw in combat unless the enemy was totally unaware of the player and this should rarely be the case. Firstly, the enemy's first response to a threat in the area is to lie down at which point unless they're in a desert or on a tennis court they become difficult to see. Really if you just make an observation roll you only see either a flicker of movement or something out of place such as the top of a helmet, but it may not be enough to get a targeting solution. A few points higher and you might make out their position but you might need to soak it with automatic fire to get a hit on them. This is why snipers are so feared; they shoot when you don't know you have to use cover. Even muzzle flashes aren't a good indicator but rather a general location.

Secondly, they don't seem to move unless it's straight at the players. Now, once again because it's so easy to hit they often don't get to take a step before they get ventilated but if they do it's strangely towards the player even if they are in range. Enveloping a position doesn't seem to occur to NPCs. Hiding, calling in artillery while observing never occurs to NPCs.

This has led to some odd habits in players. I've seen many mentions of player groups exiting Poland in just a few days and I can't understand how they can move that fast and not get slaughtered in ambush after ambush, but because NPCs don't post the elementary precaution of observation posts watching the surrounding area they only seem to become aware of players if they appear on their doorsteps. I actually think the game designers didn't want this. As an example I had some scouts once just run off on contact and one player literally didn't know it was possible or how to react. He also didn't seem to understand that those scouts were heading straight back to the enemy to give a warning of the player advance and what that meant. He wasn't dumb, he was quite smart, he'd just never encountered that before.
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Old 09-25-2021, 10:53 AM
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Raellus Raellus is offline
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Default The Spice of Life (and Death)

I once had a player complain that some of my OPFOR NPCs were too smart. He seemed surprised that bad guys would have a solid grasp of basic infantry tactics like fire-and-maneuver and flanking. He also complained when OPFOR pressed an attack despite sustaining casualties. He expected that marauders, in particular, would always retreat at the first site of their own blood.

For GM's, a potential solution to the problem that you described, Chalk, is to use the NPC playing card system of v1 to help determine the tactical competence of NPC OPFOR. One could modify the suit/number/face card system already in place, or simplify it further. Something like,

Spades- tactically sharp; will use every trick in the book
Clubs- brute force, favors frontal assaults
Hearts- tentative, will retreat at the first significant casualty
Diamonds- opportunistic, will only attack if it has a measurable advantage, favors ambushes

That's just off the top of my head, so I'm sure one could come up with a better system, but something along these lines would create a variety of competence levels of OPFOR for parties to go up against.

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Last edited by Raellus; 09-25-2021 at 11:24 AM.
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Old 09-25-2021, 12:52 PM
3catcircus 3catcircus is offline
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So.... There is nothing wrong with playing the NPCs as smart or stupid as you need them to be - either to advance the plot or to act as cannon fodder. The more senior the NPC, the more likely they will be to end up being forced to flee by their staff, bodyguards, minions, etc. Thats close to real life - leaders, general officers, etc. end up getting out of Dodge while the E-nothings get killed...

As to the observation aspect - that's why I like TW:2013's mechanics where you're able to use margin of success to influence the degree of information. Just made it - you might see a bit of movement. Huge margin of success, you can see what uniforms (with rank insignia) they are wearing, what exact weapon they're armed with, etc. Somewhere in between, you can tell they are armed with a rifle and wearing tan uniforms. And that middle level of detail might be enough to figure out if they are friendlies or not. Blue-on-blue happens plenty often...

Last edited by 3catcircus; 09-25-2021 at 01:09 PM.
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Old 09-25-2021, 09:41 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Raellus View Post
That's just off the top of my head, so I'm sure one could come up with a better system, but something along these lines would create a variety of competence levels of OPFOR for parties to go up against.

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Some of the "Novice" class are probably very skilled troops who are simply burned up. Common theory is that after a year of solid fighting a soldier starts to degrade significantly in ability
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Old 09-26-2021, 03:54 AM
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This looks a lot like a discussion on a T2K Facebook page in recent days.
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Old 09-26-2021, 01:48 PM
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This looks a lot like a discussion on a T2K Facebook page in recent days.
I often crosspost

I'm copping a bit of flak there but I get the feeling people think I'm criticising their old glory days and don't realise I still play the game
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Old 09-26-2021, 11:50 PM
unipus unipus is offline
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Well I guess my advice would be... don't do it that way? Unless that's the sort of game you want to play?

In any encounter I try to determine the actual motives of my NPCs, and give them a break point based on their training and situation. If that motive isn't directly related to the PCs, then the break point is much lower... even a gang of marauders isn't suicidally bloodthirsty and if they're just out looking for fresh water they probably don't have much stomach for a shootout.

I also absolutely never give my players perfect information. Maybe I don't give them enough information -- but I base this on their skills, experience, and spotting roles, as well as the conditions. At night? Usually nothing more than "you see some silhouettes approaching," and if they get closer or have light or during the day more details like "they seem military" up to "you can tell they have AKs." Only under good conditions or good rolls do they get "it's a Soviet soldier with an AK-74 and..." and the level of detail depends on experience. So we had a recent game where one character needed to explain to another the magic of thermal imaging technology and how they really didn't want to fuck around with it.

There was a very memorable session where this group decided to lay an ambush for a gang of marauders. It seemed like a solid plan, except that I rolled on an oracle "Hey, is this gang of marauders the first group that's going to come down this road tonight? Oh, they aren't... hmm." Soon enough a dozen or so silhouettes appear, getting closer. Nobody in the group even asked what they look like, and they opened fire as soon as they have a straight shot... on a group of refugees with barely even civilian weapons. Most of them were shredded in a grenade blast. It was an ugly scene and caused one of the PCs some lasting trauma -- as well as made them a new nemesis or two, out of the ones who escaped. Good times.
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Old 09-27-2021, 03:47 AM
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Originally Posted by unipus View Post
[snip]I also absolutely never give my players perfect information. Maybe I don't give them enough information -- but I base this on their skills, experience, and spotting roles, as well as the conditions. At night? Usually nothing more than "you see some silhouettes approaching," and if they get closer or have light or during the day more details like "they seem military" up to "you can tell they have AKs." Only under good conditions or good rolls do they get "it's a Soviet soldier with an AK-74 and..." and the level of detail depends on experience. So we had a recent game where one character needed to explain to another the magic of thermal imaging technology and how they really didn't want to fuck around with it.
[snip]
This is so little understood. A good maxim in life is "no one ever has 100% information in anything". You get this hammered into your head when you study history and I find it applies it everything.

It also really brings scouting into its own, players should of course be encouraged to act and steal the initiative if an opportunity presents itself but I really like players who'll look at a situation and say "no, too tough". Many years ago I had players assault head on a hardened position and after the inevitable spate of woundings and two deaths I had to ask them why on earth they thought it was a good idea to attack. The general consensus was that they didn't think GMs put up challenges they couldn't beat straight on. I had to explain that beating that enemy involved not being detected and circumventing them.
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Old 09-28-2021, 12:37 PM
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My NPCs usually start off with fairly good tactics and will have a retreat point; whether I as GM can keep track of what I'm doing as well as run the game... well, YMMV.

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Old 09-28-2021, 04:52 PM
3catcircus 3catcircus is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ChalkLine View Post
This is so little understood. A good maxim in life is "no one ever has 100% information in anything". You get this hammered into your head when you study history and I find it applies it everything.

It also really brings scouting into its own, players should of course be encouraged to act and steal the initiative if an opportunity presents itself but I really like players who'll look at a situation and say "no, too tough". Many years ago I had players assault head on a hardened position and after the inevitable spate of woundings and two deaths I had to ask them why on earth they thought it was a good idea to attack. The general consensus was that they didn't think GMs put up challenges they couldn't beat straight on. I had to explain that beating that enemy involved not being detected and circumventing them.
This. So this. In *any* genre of RPG - whether this, D&D, Supers, Western, Spies... The only game that really teaches players discretion right out of the gate is Call of Cthulhu... Everything else, it's learnt the hard way.
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Old 09-28-2021, 10:00 PM
JHart JHart is offline
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First rule (perhaps the only rule?) of Call of Cthulhu is BURN ALL THE BOOKS!

For T2K, the urge to "kill them all and let God sort them out" takes effort to overcome.
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Old 09-30-2021, 03:41 PM
unipus unipus is offline
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I have found that NPCs showing discretion and self-preservation does seem in some small part to encourage players to do the same.

My current group is pretty cautious and didn't really need to be taught most of these lessons, but other times I've also found a tag-along NPC to be helpful! The less often they open their mouth, the more the players listen when they do...
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Old 10-03-2021, 01:31 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by unipus View Post
My current group is pretty cautious and didn't really need to be taught most of these lessons, but other times I've also found a tag-along NPC to be helpful! The less often they open their mouth, the more the players listen when they do...
I've included that kind of NPC sometimes, when my non-wargamer friends insist that they don't want to lose constantly to my tactical brilliance (tm). His usual refrain is, "Are you sure you want to do that... sir?"

I haven't done that in a long time, as the myth of my so-called tactical skill has been dissolved by years of my dice luck.
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