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Author Topic: Balancing a Scenario/Campaign  (Read 1638 times)

Scotty

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Balancing a Scenario/Campaign
« on: 16 April 2014, 21:25:02 »
I am not familiar with AToW's combat system.  I build characters, but I have never played them.

Now that that little business is out of the way, I have a question for you, dear forumites.  I have a campaign in mind, one which could last a very long time.  I don't want it to sputter and fizzle out after the first session because I'm bad at balance.

Quote from: Atreus, 3077
The Jihad rages.  You and your unit, the 1st Free Worlds Guards, have spent the last nine years hunting down the survivors of the 1st Knights of the Inner Sphere, kept on a leash by the Word of Blake.  It's an unsavory duty, and the bad taste it leaves in your mouth is hardly unique across the Guards.  Unfortunately, there's nothing you can do about it if you want to keep your head.

Then, suddenly, you have an opportunity.  Thomas Halas, the Captain-General your unit followed for decades, returns, and he brings with him hundreds of 'Mechs and tanks to fight the Blakists.  The 15th and 30th Divisions, your keepers for nearly a decade, are suddenly distracted.  Your squad takes the opportunity in the ensuing chaos of 'Mechs dueling in the streets to escape from your handlers.

Now you're on the run.  The Word might not know you in particular are deserters, but you're wearing the wrong uniform for them to give you the benefit of the doubt.  If you want off this rock, it needs to be on a proper League dropship.  That means forming up with some of your other Guard comrades, or even the invading League troops.  The Word still owns this city, though, and even with everybody not in a 'Mech keeping their head firmly pressed to the concrete, there's still danger.  Blakist infantry, tanks, and even 'Mechs patrol the streets or furiously duel with the invaders.  The same invaders might have the same enemy you do, but they're not going to be particularly friendly at first glance - you've been hunting the people they're here to rescue, after all.

Escape your Blakist handlers, carefully shepherd your ammunition and supplies, and find allies in the burning city.  Gather anyone friendly, and muster your forces for a breakout of the city, escaping to the safety and freedom of the invading dropships.  The Word forces aren't going to be blind to your little band forever, and you'll need some proper firepower to beat back the inevitable assault.  Your 'allies' might not share your goals, either, and even more pressing, the 'safety' of the dropships could turn sour just as fast as a gauss slug cuts through the air.  Do whatever you have to in order to make your break for it.  Good luck.

The players would start as an infantry squad, cut off from supply, friendlies and enemies alike, and any support.  The first order of business is to find somebody they can trust to cover their backs, probably more 1st Guards infantry units that have likewise escaped.  Obstacles include ruined buildings, treacherous terrain and even sympathetic Guard forces fighting for the Blakists, and Blakist infantry and vehicles themselves.  As they encounter more units, they gather a command around themselves, jockeying for control of the rag tag band or simply going along for the ride.

The campaign is going to be designed to escalate from AToW scale with single or squads up to about platoon size, and then as the players start to recruit entire platoons and even armor lances it would transition to tactical BattleTech scale.  The campaign finale is going to be (assuming they get that far, which shouldn't actually be too hard because if they die I can just introduce a new infantry, tank, or 'Mech unit and give a player one of them or more) an Alpha Strike rules, battalion/level II size engagement to break through the Blakist lines and make a run for the dropships and 'safety'.

I've got a mapset from Dropzone Commander lined up to serve as the cityscape, and I'll probably pick up another of those or some other cardstock buildings and multiple tables to give the campaign some sense of scale, as well as giving new players opportunities to jump in at literally any level of the campaign.

So, back to the original question: how do I balance AToW scale infantry actions?
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StuartYee

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Re: Balancing a Scenario/Campaign
« Reply #1 on: 17 April 2014, 12:46:19 »
The basic way is XP. Just as your players build characters with XP, you can build "carbon copy" NPCs with XPs as well.

The very generalized system that ATOW provides in the NPC section is classing NPCs as "Thugs", "Soldiers", "Savants" and "Bosses"

Don't take the nomenclature literally, think of "thugs" as poorer quality soldiers, which are worth approximately 1200 XP a piece. In this instance, you'd want 4 "Thugs" for every PC.

"Soldiers" are said to be roughly equal to one PC, so they'd be from a military unit of of similar quality to the PCs.

My interpretation of "Savant" is that they were super min/maxed characters that generally served non-combat roles. Examples would be a super tech that could repair a PPC with duct tape and paper clips. I'd think of a combatant "savant" as perhaps a weapon specialist, or someone who has a very specific combat role like a sniper. (Side note: In addition to a standard "stand up" fight, a sniper encounter would add flavor to a scenario in which the sniper is super deadly while hidden, but totally vulnerable if found- the objective being to try to find the sniper and avoid getting hit- see Private Ryan for examples)

"Bosses" are any sort of opposition in which it typically takes 4 PCs to handle, or worth roughly 20,000 XP. This could be a cyberneticaly enhanced Mannei Domini with mini-guns surgically implanted where its hands should be.

 When building NPCs, make sure the skills and traits are appropriate for the encounter, and fair. Giving a negative Wealth trait to a soldier or boss might not help the PCs in terms of XP balancing.

Using XP as a rough guide, you get an idea of a balanced encounter. However, unlike TW, I wouldn't have a set OpFor. An easy way to maintain balance is to go light at first, and throw in enemy reinforcements at the PCs if more of a challenge is needed.

The idea of balancing forces in an RPG is also a floating concept. As the GM, it also depends on how much of a challenge you want to make for the PCs and also how long you want the encounter to last in respect to the story arc as a whole. For example, I ran a game last week in which the PCs were a trio of Mechwarriors in light mechs in which their objective was to extract data from and R&D building near enemy lines. My story outline was Mech battle, PCs go into building, small arms fight, mech fight. For the first mech battle, I threw a Stinger at them- hardly a fair fight. But the goal was to present a challenge that would last only about a quarter of game time. The PCs were having the devil of the time trying to kill the Stinger, so I simply had the Stinger retreat when I felt it was time to move on to the next encounter. Had the PCs been able to dispatch the Stinger too quickly, I simply would have thrown another mech at them.

After they found the data, elements of enemy infantry armed with assault rifles infiltrated the building. Again, hardly a fair fight, but the PCs were mostly hidden and sniped at the infantry. At this point, the goal was simply for the PCs to get back into the mechs, so it didn't matter that they were outnumbered since a stand up fight was not the goal.

I know it's wordy, but I hope that helps answer your question!

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Scotty

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Re: Balancing a Scenario/Campaign
« Reply #2 on: 17 April 2014, 14:13:52 »
It certainly helps.  In particular, the brief explanation of "Thugs" helped immensely.  I freely admit that though I have AToW, I haven't actually read through the whole thing. :-[

Now, that said, the idea here isn't necessarily to have an actual "create your characters, explore the universe" style game going.  Unless there's a massive player outcry to keep the campaign going, this is going to take place in Atreus City, for however long it takes us to get through the action and escape (or die trying).  Will that change how the balance is/should be conducted?  Should I even make the player characters beforehand?
Catalyst Demo Agent #679

Kansas City players, or people who are just passing through the area, come join us at the Geekery just off Shawnee Mission Parkway for BattleTech!  Current days are Tuesdays in the afternoon and evening.  I can't make every single week, but odds are pretty good that somebody will be there.

StuartYee

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Re: Balancing a Scenario/Campaign
« Reply #3 on: 17 April 2014, 16:26:03 »
I freely admit that though I have AToW, I haven't actually read through the whole thing. :-[

Good thing you didn't post in the rule question forum!  :P

Quote
Now, that said, the idea here isn't necessarily to have an actual "create your characters, explore the universe" style game going.  Unless there's a massive player outcry to keep the campaign going, this is going to take place in Atreus City, for however long it takes us to get through the action and escape (or die trying).  Will that change how the balance is/should be conducted?  Should I even make the player characters beforehand?

Ok, let me take a stab again if I understand what you're asking.

Firstly, my recommendation is to have the players create their own characters with the caveat that you have final approval. The first reason is that the character creation process in the ATOW is rather complex and lengthy. It's a lot of bookkeeping that you shouldn't have to shoulder. As it is, you've got  to create the NPCs! The second reason is that as awesome as your imagination is, your player group are bound to come up with character concepts and put together characters in ways you hadn't imagined. Your players may use traits or character concepts you may not like at first, but keep and open mind and see if you can work something you hadn't thought of into the campaign. As long as you communicate the premise of the campaign, your player group aren't likely to create any characters that can't tie into the overall campaign. It seems a Maskirovka agent wouldn't fit, and you'd have the right to disallow it in your campaign. Or you could be super ambitious and allow it as a hidden plot thread that there's a spy in your midst!

Secondly, there are two basic formats of RPG campaigns- linear plot driven campaigns and open "sand box" campaigns or a combination of both. As you said, it may not be an explore the Inner Sphere sized sandbox, but an Atreus City sandbox is definitely large enough for an infantry squad. Or, it could simply be a linear campaign- "You receive orders, and your mission is as follows..."

That said, it doesn't necessarily change how you should balance the challenges your characters face. Balancing challenges is a tricky art rather than science. Ultimately you have to create challenges that are difficult enough to keep the characters interested, but not so difficult that it frustrates them. That's why I find it easiest to start small, and add layers to challenges as needed on the fly. The PC squad very quickly annihilates the enemy squad, fine, throw more enemies at them, or a complication- the enemy squad was a suicide unit and they triggered a bomb that will level the city block in x seconds!

Another recommendation is to vary the "flavor" of your challenges. Some examples of challenges an infantry squad could face in an RPG game:

A) An enemy infantry squad (stand up fight)
B) The PC squad needs to take out an enemy 'mech
C) An enemy sniper is somewhere and needs to be located an eliminated
D) The squad is low on supplies and the unit quartermaster is being tight fisted (not a combative challenge)
E) The squad is hidden behind enemy lines surrounded by overwhelming enemy forces- they have to stay hidden and find a way to sneak back to friendly territory
F) The PCs may have performed poorly in a previous game session, and now face a tribunal or possible court martial (not a combative challenge)
G) Squad captures a downed enemy 'mech pilot and need to escort their prisoner back to base
H) [Insert any war movie plot]

And for each of these types of challenges, they can be layered. Encounter A for example is pretty straight forward- throw more enemies at the PCs if needed. For Encounter G, the squad's prisoner either surrenders quietly, or is crafty and keeps trying to escape and cause trouble at every turn. It could also be a morality play as RPGers are often tempted simply to execute their prisoners. As the prisoner becomes more difficult to manage (needing a share of the squad's food and water in addition), the PCs know that he's need for a prisoner exchange so a fellow FWLer out there can be released from an enemy camp.

As you get to know the strengths, weaknesses and capabilities of your PC party, you'll intuitively begin to learn how much they can handle.

Another method of balancing is choosing when and when not to tap into the PC's negative traits. If the characters are too easily overcoming a challenge you throw at them, well it turns out that the one with combat paralysis freezes up all of a sudden, or the character with Beserker rage goes nuts and starts flailing and attacking friend and foe alike. The character with the Unlucky trait rolls too well, spend an "Unlucky point" and make him reroll.
"I can't save his life, it's too embarrassing!" - Arnold Judas Rimmer, BSC SSC

Scotty

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Re: Balancing a Scenario/Campaign
« Reply #4 on: 17 April 2014, 17:44:34 »
I admit, my initial idea was to simply build six or seven "player templates" and let them choose from those.  The players will be an infantry squad, and that definitely curtails their nearly limitless choices at least a little bit.  Having one for "Trooper", "Squad Gunner", "Squad Leader", "Officer", "Sharpshooter", and the like would also help me get new players into the game without wasting hours on walking them through the character building process.
Catalyst Demo Agent #679

Kansas City players, or people who are just passing through the area, come join us at the Geekery just off Shawnee Mission Parkway for BattleTech!  Current days are Tuesdays in the afternoon and evening.  I can't make every single week, but odds are pretty good that somebody will be there.

StuartYee

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Re: Balancing a Scenario/Campaign
« Reply #5 on: 17 April 2014, 18:14:15 »
I admit, my initial idea was to simply build six or seven "player templates" and let them choose from those.  The players will be an infantry squad, and that definitely curtails their nearly limitless choices at least a little bit.  Having one for "Trooper", "Squad Gunner", "Squad Leader", "Officer", "Sharpshooter", and the like would also help me get new players into the game without wasting hours on walking them through the character building process.

I'd say the character template idea is a good one for those new to the system, but I'd give a freer reign to those who are more experienced with the rule system and RPGs in general. As long as it's an aid and not a constraint.

If I was in your campaign, I'd want complete reign. Now, I'm not the kind of person that would give you a headache and create a Mechwarrior with an assault mech, but I'd want you to respect my creativity. Without going into game mechanics, the type of character I'd want to play would resemble something like this:

Corporal or Sergeant (second or third in command)
Small arms skills would be fair
I'd have better than average Com skills (radio and the like)
I'd be the demolition expert in the group.

So thus far, I wouldn't be the best at a straight up fire fight, but I might be your goto guy for planting a charge on a 'mechs leg actuator or getting in radio contact with HQ to call in artillery support.

Outside of combat, I'd be the archetype war movie character that can ALWAYS find ANYTHING. You know, the guy who has crates of cigarettes, but never smokes, and can find someone to trade them for a bikini poster of Natasha Kerensky.

That's just an idea.

If I was in a different mood, I'd be the laconic sniper. Good acrobatic, climbing and sneaking skills to get anywhere and get hidden plus the marksmanship to match. But I'd have the Introvert negative trait and would be a liability during non-combative encounters.
"I can't save his life, it's too embarrassing!" - Arnold Judas Rimmer, BSC SSC

StuartYee

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Re: Balancing a Scenario/Campaign
« Reply #6 on: 17 April 2014, 18:30:32 »
Oh yeah, and outside of the standard war movie tropes, I want to say the FWL took Smoke Jaguar bondsmen during the 3059/3060 campaign (but I could be wrong).

What if one of your infantry guys was an ex-Smoke Jaguar bondsman? What if he was an Elemental?!  :o
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Scotty

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Re: Balancing a Scenario/Campaign
« Reply #7 on: 17 April 2014, 18:35:57 »
I'm leaning toward sticking to 'standard' stuff, if only because this campaign isn't a full on Roleplaying game, and more something that uses the AToW scale combat mechanics as a springboard into platoon and company sized fighting.
Catalyst Demo Agent #679

Kansas City players, or people who are just passing through the area, come join us at the Geekery just off Shawnee Mission Parkway for BattleTech!  Current days are Tuesdays in the afternoon and evening.  I can't make every single week, but odds are pretty good that somebody will be there.

Mohammed As`Zaman Bey

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Re: Balancing a Scenario/Campaign
« Reply #8 on: 17 April 2014, 21:29:06 »
What if one of your infantry guys was an ex-Smoke Jaguar bondsman? What if he was an Elemental?!  :o
  Have you tried making an Elemental with the AToW rules? They suck. If you try to make a decent Elemental he winds up dumber than a bag of hammers. Nobody wants to play an Elemental in my campaign because you can't build a decent veteran Elemental without major GM intervention.

  I don't balance scenarios. I roll up the enemy force and leave it up to the players to figure out if they can handle the enemy or not. They know that if they don't conduct proper intel, strategy and discretion, and bite off more than they could chew, that I have absolutely no qualms about annihilating them.

StuartYee

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Re: Balancing a Scenario/Campaign
« Reply #9 on: 18 April 2014, 17:10:26 »
  Have you tried making an Elemental with the AToW rules? They suck. If you try to make a decent Elemental he winds up dumber than a bag of hammers. Nobody wants to play an Elemental in my campaign because you can't build a decent veteran Elemental without major GM intervention.

A piece of paper with sucky stats and numbers can be an awesome character (or at least very amusing one) if played by that right player.

Quote
  I don't balance scenarios. I roll up the enemy force and leave it up to the players to figure out if they can handle the enemy or not. They know that if they don't conduct proper intel, strategy and discretion, and bite off more than they could chew, that I have absolutely no qualms about annihilating them.

Amen.
"I can't save his life, it's too embarrassing!" - Arnold Judas Rimmer, BSC SSC

monbvol

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Re: Balancing a Scenario/Campaign
« Reply #10 on: 20 April 2014, 14:27:35 »
The key I've found to making decent Clan Veterans with a few years under their belt is to actually use Point Buy instead of Module.

 

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