Gauging difficulty

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Kuildeous
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Gauging difficulty

Postby Kuildeous » Fri Feb 01, 2019 10:30 am

It's hard to shake the D&D mentality sometimes.

So a common way to gauge how challenging an encounter was in D&D is to see how much hit point damage you did. You can see all sorts of threads about players saying that they were on death's door after taking 140 points of damage. There's a quantifiable indicator of how rough of a time the D&D group suffered.

That metric isn't really part of Torg though. Saying that someone took 10 Shock of damage doesn't mean a whole lot since it could happen in ways not related to how tough the enemies are. It could've been from back-to-back Fatigue results. Or from burning Shock to cast a spell in Aysle. Or from using the Relentless perk. But yeah, it could be because they got the shit beat out of them.

Wounds are another way to measure difficulty, but that's kind of tricky too since they can be soaked. Have the players had a challenging encounter if they end up with no Wounds? They could've if they end up soaking everything. So how many Wounds you've inflicted as a GM is not a good measure of how difficult an encounter was.

Which makes one think that perhaps if the players have run out of Possibilities then it is a challenging session. It's probably the best indicator, though I don't think it's a perfect indicator. Clearly if the Possibilities are flowing freely then the players clearly found the encounter challenging enough to spend Possibilities to soak or enhance action rolls or activate special abilities. But with enough cosm cards being played and a heavy swinginess in who spends Possibilities (PCs who attract attacks will likely spend more) you may have someone with 0 Possibilities left while another character has 5 left.

How challenging your session was is probably more qualitative than quantitative. Some of the encounters I put my group through that felt really challenging may not have had a lot of Wounds or Possibilities passing back and forth. Last night I had my group face a rather tough encounter. But in the end, they took no Wounds. In fact, the creature didn't even hit them. How could that be challenging? Because the group worked hard to negate the threat. Sure, they didn't take damage, but they spent an Opponent Fails card. Then one of the PCs who invested heavily in Trick and Taunt got Player's Call to essentially lock out the monster. With a Toughness of 22, it shrugged off most of the damage, but the group was working furiously to take it down before it could land a nasty blow.

And I like that feeling. I like the threat of it goring a PC even if it never hits because of PCs' actions. Actually, because of the PCs' actions they clearly earned their victory, and they were sweating bullets even though they took not a single lick of damage.

So yeah, I have to go off of how the encounter feels, which is a difficult science to master, but I dig it. There's always the chance of going too hard, but that's also the big risk of Torg. But even really difficult encounters can be beaten with clever card play. But that uncertainty also makes the game exciting.
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TorgHacker
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Re: Gauging difficulty

Postby TorgHacker » Fri Feb 01, 2019 10:50 am

The fact that the players have Possibilities, cards, and cards to get more Possibilities does allow you to really throw some nasty stuff at them.

However, from Original Torg, one rule of thumb, that I think works pretty well, is things start getting much harder if the heroes' attack skills are five or more points less than the villains, or the villains 5 or more than the heroes' defenses, and the same thing with damage vs. Toughness.

Once you're needing 17-18+ to even hit someone at all means that you pretty much need Possibilities to get a hit, and even those hits probably aren't doing much more than Shock.

Conversely if you're able to get bonus dice to damage regularly, that's a significant power boost.
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Re: Gauging difficulty

Postby Gargoyle » Fri Feb 01, 2019 12:03 pm

Good topic. I think that once the cosm books are out, this would be a great subject to tackle in an updated High Lord's Guide to the Possibility Wars or something similar. I don't think Challenge Ratings like D&D third edition or whatever is in order, but something more vague than that might be useful, even for experienced GMs.

For now, I think the way to gauge difficulty in Torg Eternity is to eyeball a few key things and come up with a rough idea of the "difficulty level"; Not a really mathy thing, or an attempt to be precise, or even a real number, just a few things to look at and apply GM experience to:

First there are multipliers of difficulty. These don't just make things a little difficult, they make it exponentially difficult. I came up with four:

Type of scene. Dramatic scenes or special abilities that make scenes dramatic rachet up the difficulty more than anything. I would say that it's easily twice as hard, maybe as much as four times as hard if the scene is Dramatic.

No possibilities or way to earn them going into a scene. If they start with low or no Possibilities or Cosm cards, that's also a multiplier for the difficulty. It will probably be twice as hard at least.

Wounded. If there are multiple wounds to a character, or wounds to multiple Storm Knights, then a wounded party is at a disadvantage. That's also a multiplier to difficulty, making it at least twice as hard because of the skill check penalties and the cost of soaking wounds.

Reality rated or not. This obviously is a big deal and can make an enemy way harder. Ord can be tough too, but it takes high numbers to make up for lack of possibilities and also ords can be defeated with a Player's call from an interaction attack.

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And of course there is the statistical set up of encounters, particularly combat encounters or hazards. These can be thought of as linear increases in damage. Bigger numbers make things proportionally harder:

Damage output of enemies as compared to Toughness of Storm Knights. For every five points difference, that's a level of difficulty. The more bonus dice they are likely to get, the more likely the Storm Knights will suffer.

Toughness of enemies and wounds/Shock. Anything that needs more than one wound to be defeated and still has significant Shock, is going to be harder. The Toughness makes it harder to get those wounds, so while these are linear, it's also sort of exponential. Adding more wounds to something with relatively low Toughness just lengthens the fight. Adding more wounds to something with high Toughness can make it very hard to kill, even with good card play, rolls, etc. So the combination of both high Toughness and more Wounds is very dangerous, but one or the other is just going to lengthen the encounter.

Here's a cool thing though, if the goal of the fight is something other than "killing the bad guy", an enemy with lots of both is likely to survive the battle to harass the heroes in the future. You don't see that in a lot of RPG's and it's great in Torg. "You may have rescued the informants this time, but the Iron Crocodile will be back!!!"

Lowest defense. If they have a low Trick or Mind, or some other dump stat, a foe can be way easier to beat by a well balanced group than it may first appear, especially if it's an ord because of Player's call results from interaction attacks. If they have all high stats, that might be something to look at changing for most foes, especially if they aren't super important villains. Transparency can make this very obvious to players too, so in time skilled players will start selecting the right weapon for the right enemy, making such dump stats even more vulnerable. So you may have to be careful not to make things too easy in this respect.

Numbers. If they're outnumbered, It's another level of difficulty. Two to one, Three to one, etc, ramps it up linearly. Multi-attacks are powerful, and they should be able to handle lots of ords. But they can cause damage and I find players are often afraid of big numbers. More reality rated characters should be reserved for big, important fights, but be careful, that's usually a dramatic encounter too, and it will be very tough. If it doesn't have a personality and is just a faceless soldier, it probably shouldn't be reality rated anyway.

Action economy. This is related to numbers. Lone villains aren't as hard as a small group of weaker foes, because they don't get as many actions. Love it or hate it, one of the good ideas in D&D 4th edition was Solo monsters. The idea that a big foe like a dragon should have more actions is a way to make such foes a threat. They will be focus fired, after all. So if you do have a big solo enemy, you might want to give player characters other things to do in the fight and/or find a way to make that character be able to do more per round. Villains with special abilities that allow them to react to player character actions can still be a threat when outnumbered by Storm Knights. Most fights only last five to seven rounds, so a big list of special abilities doesn't buff a villain unless they can be used. And some immunity from stunning effects might be in order too, but it might be a good idea to be transparent about that if the characters would have a way to know.

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Special note about cosm cards: They can make encounters harder but if well played I choose to make the outcome lean in the player's favor to encourage their use. For instance a Dino Attacks might result in a dinosaur attacking them but more focused on attacking the edeinos warriors they were fighting. I like to encourage cosm card play because players often worry that they will spend more possibilities playing them than what they earn. I try to make sure that's not the case.
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Kuildeous
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Re: Gauging difficulty

Postby Kuildeous » Fri Feb 01, 2019 12:17 pm

TorgHacker wrote:Conversely if you're able to get bonus dice to damage regularly, that's a significant power boost.


Oh man, that is so true! I just played my second Torg Eternity game ever (always the GM, never the player), and I played the Blood Witch from the Living Lands archetype. While she's physically weak, she has some pretty cool miracles.

Bloodlust is a really great miracle. It makes the affected target Very Vulnerable, but the target adds +1BD to melee attacks. If he's going to be Very Vulnerable anyway, you might as well go all-out and get +4 to hit as well, though that is less of a given the better the miracle is cast.

Turned our three-person group into a pretty good chopping machine. The Electric Samurai was really enjoying the guaranteed bonus die with her Trademark Weapon.
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Diskhotep
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Re: Gauging difficulty

Postby Diskhotep » Fri Feb 01, 2019 4:08 pm

Turned our three-person group into a pretty good chopping machine. The Electric Samurai was really enjoying the guaranteed bonus die with her Trademark Weapon.


I'm sorry I missed that. I had been looking forward to manipulating the Drama Deck using foreshadow. Glad to hear things turned out okay.

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Re: Gauging difficulty

Postby Kuildeous » Fri Feb 01, 2019 4:18 pm

Diskhotep wrote:
Turned our three-person group into a pretty good chopping machine. The Electric Samurai was really enjoying the guaranteed bonus die with her Trademark Weapon.


I'm sorry I missed that. I had been looking forward to manipulating the Drama Deck using foreshadow. Glad to hear things turned out okay.


I may end up running Burden of Glory at KC Planet Comicon, KantCon, UnderCon, or Midwest Game Fest this year. It is written to handle convention slots. And when I add the LL archetypes to my list of demo characters, then it'll be especially interesting.

The worst part was that the Martyr card was at the bottom of the Drama deck. No grand sacrifices.
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Re: Gauging difficulty

Postby fougerec » Fri Feb 01, 2019 5:03 pm

I find Relentless is something that makes a creature more difficult as now you need to up the damage output to have any impact. The ability to ignore certain interactions (like Mindless) also impacts but to a lesser degree.

I tend to use the idea that 5 points is a BD or extra success level as a very rough gauge of difficulty but I also have a PC with a Toughness of 18 so anything capable of routinely hitting a damage of 23 is going to be a very bad day for the other PCs and I have to keep that in mind.

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Re: Gauging difficulty

Postby agarrett » Fri Feb 01, 2019 5:15 pm

Gargoyle wrote:Action economy. This is related to numbers. Lone villains aren't as hard as a small group of weaker foes, because they don't get as many actions. Love it or hate it, one of the good ideas in D&D 4th edition was Solo monsters. The idea that a big foe like a dragon should have more actions is a way to make such foes a threat. They will be focus fired, after all. So if you do have a big solo enemy, you might want to give player characters other things to do in the fight and/or find a way to make that character be able to do more per round. Villains with special abilities that allow them to react to player character actions can still be a threat when outnumbered by Storm Knights. Most fights only last five to seven rounds, so a big list of special abilities doesn't buff a villain unless they can be used. And some immunity from stunning effects might be in order too, but it might be a good idea to be transparent about that if the characters would have a way to know.


A form of this I used recently. My players used Eye of the Saar and managed to get Baruk Kaah appearing in the battle. I really didn't want them fighting him, but was fine with them getting away. So I improvised a new ability for Kaah - had him make a faith test, and for each level of success he stole one of the players' cards from their pool for himself to use. My players were utterly terrified, and suddenly even the idea of facing a High Lord doesn't seem so appealing. I got what I actually wanted there - they ran. I like the idea quite a lot, but it's staying High Lord only, probably Baruk Kaah only, though the others might get something at least along those lines.

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Re: Gauging difficulty

Postby Kuildeous » Fri Feb 01, 2019 5:17 pm

fougerec wrote:I tend to use the idea that 5 points is a BD or extra success level as a very rough gauge of difficulty but I also have a PC with a Toughness of 18 so anything capable of routinely hitting a damage of 23 is going to be a very bad day for the other PCs and I have to keep that in mind.



Yeah, my numbers aren't as high as yours, but the gap is still there. I can expect to see toughness hovering up at 12 to 14 in my group. One PC, however, has a Toughness of 7. If he remembers to wear armor (he loves the Nile Empire since he can wear a mask), then that lessens the blow, but I have to remember that the threats are worse against him. Usually, I have enemies go after the bigger threats, and he's not one of them. But in the opening round, the villains don't always know that Walter is the physically weakest. For some reason, those are the attack rolls that tend to explode. Stupid random luck.
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Re: Gauging difficulty

Postby fougerec » Fri Feb 01, 2019 5:32 pm

Yeah Strength 14 Dragon Warrior is a melee beast. Then again we've been playing since launch so everyone is Beta Clearance with north of 100xp on them. I find numbers do more to balance an encounter than higher stats. Grem can get worn down by some lower damage hits (his Shock Limit is an issue for him) so rather than throwing one or two beastly monsters at the group that will smoke the other PCs I usually use more mobs that can routinely hit him for 1 shock. Sure their hits are still damaging against others but there is a big difference between a 14 damage hit vs Toughness 10 and a 23 damage hit against Toughness 10.


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