A special thanks goes out to Norran, for being our example player! We used you with love!
FidoCon Auditorium -------------------------------------------------------------
A giant golden statue of a froth-mouthed mongrel looms above the broad procenium stage of the FidoCon auditorium. Lights shine down from the rafters onto the stage, which is backed by a crimson velvet curtain.
Glittering diamond chandeliers are suspended from the ceiling above the balconies and general seating areas. The main section of general seating, with its plush velvet-cushioned chairs, is bisected by a red-carpeted aisle that leads from the theater doors to the steps that climb to the stage.
Obvious exits: Out <O>
Announcement: Brody shouts, "Girls! Boys! Varal is holding a discussion on Leveling the Playing Field in the FidoCon auditorium! It's about managing scenes with characters of widely varied skills when those skills are critical to the scene!"
Odin has arrived.
MeiMei has arrived.
Diri has arrived.
MeiMei says, "Hey, this is a good topic!"
Joker2 has arrived.
Volissenait has arrived.
Kallyn2 has arrived.
MeiMei says, "I keep noticing this being a problem on Chia!"
MeiMei says, "Not so much on OS because, uh, everyone's twinked ;)"
Brody has arrived.
Kensei has arrived.
Meldor has arrived.
Joker2 says, "Lies."
Brody yays for Varal! Takes a seat on the foot of the froth-mouthed golden mongrel. "Someone else can lead this discussion! Varal from Chiaroscuro!"
Varal2 waves. "Well, I'm going to get started. First and foremost, this is a discussion and not a seminar. That means that while I might Chris Matthews a bit, this'll be give and take of ideas. I got a couple of my own, and some I might try out soon, but I'm also looking for yours!"
Scourge arrives from FidoCon Main Hall.
Scourge has arrived.
Varal2 says, "But, and MeiMei already stated, it is a problem (and can even be one on OS). I mean, you have me running in with a legendary dodge. How can an admin make a foe that can hurt me without getting lucky and not end up obliterating all the meddlesome little mages that want to tag along?"
Tiakins has arrived.
Varal2 says, "So, does anyone have any ideas that they want to throw out to start?"
MeiMei says, "Well! I would think you'd want to try and design events that tap into more than just combat, maybe, so people can shine with some skills that aren't necessarily as commonly used? Everyone's good at -something-?"
Brody says, "Watch an episode of Firefly."
Varal2 says, "Definitely. Let everyone contribute and show off a little. For instance, one thing that I've noticed is that a lot of people who are overconfident in their abilities tend to throw themselves into danger. Have them use some of their other attributes. Set up traps. This is especially true in those scenes where you are at Bad Guy NPC's place."
Brody says, "The gun people get to shoot stuff. The machine girl gets to fix the ship. The captain gets to captain."
Meldor nods in agreement. "The problem you can get is that when combat becomes used in every scene, everyone twinks out combat, to survive."
You say, "Well, that can definitely work on OS, where there are multiple roles to fill. But harder, though possible, on Chia."
Brody nods. "One regret I have with stepping back my involvement on New Journeys was that I didn't get to do as much of my political intrigue or courtroom drama plots."
Brody did lots of those in the early arcs.
Odin nods and misses those, Brody. :>
Odin says, "Let's admit it to ourselves, however. Running events/plots with heavy combat is relatively easy. It goes back to D&D on many levels. Make a bad guy, make some minions, stat 'em out, tell your players to get cracking."
Varal2 say, "That is one definitely beautiful thing about Chia. It mostly isn't combat, although that has begun to happen a little."
Brody shakes his head. "It's not that easy, though. The IDEA is easy. The execution is freakin' brutal.
Varal2 nods to Odin, "And that was what happened on ROE. It became a combat zone."
Odin says, "They're exciting to several characters, who get to show off, /and/ ii means a confrontation. - *nods to Brody* Yeah. I think, to use your terms, every time I've done such things I've gone Organic on plot design."
Tahnin has arrived.
Varal2 also agrees with Brody. "Let me go over two combat scenes that I had on ROE, one of which I felt I handled okay, and another that wasn't so great. Bad one first."
Brody nods and listens.
Brody says, "ROE, by the way, for those who don't know, was Reach of the Empire, our Star Wars game."
Leviathan quietly waves to all, settling in to listen.
Varal2 says, "Bad scene: We had set up a scenario where the remnants of the Empire invaded Alderaan. The first bad part was when someone thought they could equip 10 guys in the best armor in the game and beat a regiment. They got really upset when that didn't work. But then I had a scene where I had about 20 Imperials guarding the Senator from Alderaan."
Intei has arrived.
Varal2 says, "In jumps a Jedi and a wookiee in tooled out armor. And, frankly, I didn't do my math before hand. It was just a slaughter because the best I could hope to do was scratch them, while they went through my NPCs like madness - because I did not make them hard enough, while trying to give them the chance to win. Nor did they, at any time, feel threatened. So, the big lesson I learned there was to scale difficultly."
Brody waves to the newcomers.
Varal2 says, "I was really upset with how that scene went. But, later on, I had the chance to redeem myself when the elite stormtrooper PCs of the Empire attempted to infiltrate an alien super-ship to destroy it and stop an invasion."
Varal2 says, "Specifically, the scene was a group of stormtroopers holding the landing bay so that the infiltration team had a chance to escape."
Bahamut has arrived.
Varal2 says, "I had to deal with a Darktrooper, who was nigh invincible, an Imperial guardsmen admin-PC, and a handful of other stormtroopers - some of them NPC - as they held the bay. The way I compensated for this was to do the enemies in waves that increased every turn."
Varal2 says, "Now, the standard aliens were enough to give the stormtroopers trouble, and a PC dropped out pretty fast after an unlucky roll, but I also had the darktrooper that everything plinked off of. So, with every wave I'd make challenges for them to overcome."
Brody says, "Like working up to a boss in an MMO ;)"
Varal2 says, "In this case, it was a combination of self-destructing tankbots - which the Darktrooper could handle, crewed machine-gun equivalents - that would chew up the stormtroopers, and rockets - that would kill the Darktrooper."
Varal2 says, "So, everyone had a chance to shine, but had to succeed to prevent outright disaster. It can be really hard to mix up what someone is facing and stay on top of it - especially in a heated combat scene - but it really helps to keep things interesting for everyone."
Odin says, "So how many stormtroopers increased the skills used in that scene substantially afterwards, as a measure of long term balance?"
You say, "Having just one foe, or a bunch of identical foes means you have to shoot for the top of the ladder and be a demon to most everyone, or go to what is perceived as the average and let someone show off - which tends to start those skill cold war."
Varal2 says, "In answer to Odin - next to none, actually. THis was towards the end of the game, and most of those characters had reached the combat skill peak."
Leviathan notes: The Scales combat scene in East Leg on Chia was another good example of that. Very well done, and very similar - the Big Boss for the combat monster there, and many 'sidepeople' who were lesser-scaled for the lesser combatants, some of whom were caught completely unarmed.
MeiMei says, "The Scourge attack thing, Levi?"
Leviathan nods to Mei.
MeiMei thought that was really quite well done, yeah.
MeiMei says, "More events that deal with things other than pure combat are also just really nice, too, even if they're difficult to work sometimes."
You say, "You could even consider swarming the lesser PCs with especially easy monsters while the big boy has to take on the 'boss' if you want to let them shine a little more."
Fizban has arrived.
Varal2 say, "What is unique about combat, as opposed to other scenes, though is that it tends to be where skills show up much more often."
Joker2 has left.
Brody says, "Non-combat events aren't difficult to work, per se. But it IS harder to get a crowd for a costume ball than it is for an event called Blood for the Fields."
MeiMei nods. But I mean- well, I don't know how many people here will really know what I mean when I reference it, but the Unsettling Silence event on OS struck me as an awesome example.
Tahnin says, "Events called Blood for the Fields tend to have all PCs show up in heavy armor with pikes and broadswords for no apparent reason, also."
Leviathan nods to Varal - ".. would you say, just to kinda clarify, that combat is where characters feel the investment in their +sheet pays off?"
MeiMei says, "There was combat- but there was also exploration, plenty of chances to roll other things."
Brody says, "Mei, was that Mika's Odarite/Junkyard adventure?"
MeiMei nods. Exploring the derelict Odarite freighter, yeah.
Brody says, "Yes. It was awesome."
Varal2 says, "Certainly, Levy. Now, the craft system offers another tangible benefit. However, singing, dancing, horseback riding - why have superbs in them if you meet a minimum requirement?"
Bahamut headtilts at Tahnin, "Actually, that mentality doesn't hold true for Chiaroscuro." :>
MeiMei says, "The JTS games have so many little obscure skills."
Bahamut says, "Some *actually* turn up with the desire to get maimed. Like MeiMei. >.>"
MeiMei says, "Giving people a chance to roll things for bits of information is awesome."
MeiMei mmmms, maiming!
Varal2 says, "Another VERY important thing to understand is that it is THREAT is more important to a scene than actually combat itself."
Tahnin says, "I've done both, myself, in the past :)"
Varal2 says, "If players feel they are in danger, it makes things a lot more fun. A great example of this would be the second scene at New Luna, where the RNS, NLM, and Fauxites were trying to rescue people - afraid that Phyrrians would jump in at any moment."
Brody enjoys the threat. "But sometimes the threat requires a blood sacrifice to drive it home, otherwise everybody is Norran, charging headlong into battle because they know it's only the NPCs that ever get hurt."
Varal2 nods to Brody. "Indeed, which is why Blood for the Fields was so popular. The threat was real."
Leviathan nods to Varal. "It sounds to me like there's actually two /kinds/ of encounters - one more difficult to deal with than the other. There's the 'setpiece' encounters - which are organic, but open .. which is extremely difficult, as you must address all comers (Scales, blood for the fields - both very well done) ... and the more 'adventuresqe' storylines like the ROE encounter you mentioned, V, and the odarite freighter."
MeiMei oh mans, agrees with Varal. That rescue was -so- tense.
Brody says, "The first New Luna/Phyrrian event, if I may say, was a pretty awesome example of threat mingled with blood. The second event was fun, but the first actually had people trading luck cards and wondering if they were next."
Varal2 says, "But, there are other ways to deal with your Norrans. If people are going to charge in stupidly, make them pay for it. Perception to see that Ewok-style net, or that hole that's covered in brush."
Varal2 says, "No insult intended to Norran, let me clarify. =)"
Brody nods. "Or a dream sand eel that chomps them."
Brody doesn't mention Trueguard by name. Is subtle.
Kallyn2 notes that Norran would probably see that stuff. I've seen him have insanely lucky rolls.
Leviathan asks the room, curiously: Where do you draw the line between 'threat' and 'let the guys who really /are/ combat monkeys shine?' On the theory that everyone should shine sometime.
Varal2 says, "Kallyn, luck will only get you so far. Roll enough, and you will fail. Simple as that. But that's what makes things interesting. Wow! Norran almost fell in a hole filled with spikes!"
Varal2 say, "Almost still breeds threat. And great question, Levy. =)"
Leviathan abuses Norran as an example: "He /is/ a darned fabulous swordsman - and it should show, ICly - if he's in a scene, /shouldn't/ he look darned good waving that sword around?"
MeiMei hrmmms. "I like the idea of a build-up to the violence in which everyone else is relevant somehow, and THEN the crazy combat monkey time."
Tahnin says, "His character tends to be one who'd be more likely to take a leadership role and head a charge, also."
MeiMei says, "Make the players follow a trail to get to the killing, instead of letting the killing come to them, and other people get their turn but so do crazy fighters."
Varal2 says, "There are times for Norran to shine, and ways that combat skills can be used that are fun. A tournament, for instance. Or just teaching various PCs how to fight. And Norran /does/ get to shine in combat events - and he SHOULD. The key is to let everyone ELSE shine, too."
Varal2 says, "The key is to recognize that you should give everyone the chance to shine, and not take the easy way out."
Varal2 says, "Now, one common way of doing combat scenes is to have a combat admin PC that players want to hunt down - but these, to be honest, do not usually work out that well."
Varal2 says, "Gale is an example of one, though she was very well handled, as much as I saw. However, they can also get out of hand and be very unfair."
Varal2 says, "The better way to do them, I think, kind of uses the Neidermeyer-style that Brody evolved."
Brody says, "Resurrect and clone him over and over again, like an evil sock puppet?"
Leviathan snerks at Brody.
Varal2 says, "Not exactly. You have an evil puppet-master with minions. The puppetmaster himself is basically as good as the PCs themselves, but he has an organization behind him. He can make threats, and they're substantiated. He can make moves with his minions and have them fight. He can escape to come back another day. But very, very rarely does he actually fight - and when he does, he makes sure that he's safe and in a position of power."
Varal2 says, "This also gives him the opportunity to be a returning villain, if you want him to be."
Brody says, "Neidermeyer almost NEVER fought. When the Lem'ing invaded Tomin Kora? He hid under his desk."
Brody says, "The appearance of badness is more important than being bad."
Varal2 says, "Exactly. Just like the appearance of threat is more important than actual threat."
Brody says, "Except that doesn't always work. Do it too much, and everybody figures your villain is just a blowhard."
Brody says, "Sometimes they have to be Grim - and do mean things to people, for realz."
MeiMei says, "One single mean act can go a long way in putting off a serious aura of threat."
MeiMei says, "...if it's suitably awful!"
Leviathan points out that you can have that villain, though, that does mean things, as vicious as he may be... and /still/ not be more than the PCs are. Most is in the presentation, frankly. "I've read the old logs- folks were terrified of Nedermeier because, frankly, he always lived up to his promises. Which meant he rarely had to live up to the awful ones."
Brody chuckles. "True. But the best villains, like Neidermeyer, use *players* to do their bidding. Some of the best crap Neidermeyer pulled off was because of two of his minions. Ask Lucius about being killed with G'ahnli spunk sometime."
Varal2 says, "And, when Neidermeyer was in a position of power, he'd use it. It doesn't matter how badass the PC is if he's tied up. And it says a message when you throw him out a window."
Brody nods. "This is true."
MeiMei is still really fond of doing awful things without killing people.
Varal2 say, "Although, when you're a villain that uses PCs, you tread a potentially dangerous line with PC vs. PC combat, but we'll leave that to other discussions."
MeiMei says, "Killing people when you've -got- to, sure, but it's so much more conducive to good roleplay to maim people permanently!"
Brody says, "Well, maiming hadn't worked with Luc's character before..."
Kallyn2 says, "A villain that uses PCs leaves an interesting little gap for betrayal, too."
MeiMei snickers. Well, that's when it falls into the necessary territory.
Brody nods at Kallyn. "Indeed."
Brody says, "In fact, I happen to know those characters had their own agendas :D It was great."
Brody has actually been enjoying the Overmind as a villain. "Wondering what's coming next there." :D
Varal2 says, "Having players and manipulating them is another great way to try to keep things level. And, let's face it, manipulation does not necessarily require combat - though combat can result from it."
Varal2 says, "The overmind is another fun example."
Leviathan adds. "one commonly overlooked villain hook, to point it out - is character backgrounds. Using Kallyn as as example: the character has a sister, a brother, mother, father - all alive, and fairly well defined. it becomes easy, then, to hook that character, pull her into the tale or cause issues for her, by hooking the background. Manipulation without combat."
Brody says, "Quiet, you. Save it for tomorrow."
Leviathan shutsit. :)
Kallyn2 says, "Hey, father's dead"
Varal2 say, "It's a villain that is not more powerful that the sum of its opponents, but its opponents refuse to work together - making it considerably more dangerous. Forcing people who outright hate each other to work together to a common goal is another good means of trying to keep things even. Norran needs to be levitated to get to the enemies, for instance."
MeiMei says, "Hahah, I -like- that one."
Brody nods at Varal. "And making the Sivadians and New Lunites and Martians work together - that was key for dealing with the Phyrrians."
MeiMei says, "Levitate Norran to the enemies somehow cracks me up."
Leviathan nudges Mei. "Ride the flaming rock!"
Kallyn2 can see a bad roll resulting in Norran being tossed over the enemies' heads.
Varal2 says, "Quick example, Mei. Ironically, that Alliance falling apart now, too. Which is why a continuous villain also is fun. If you let success breed complacency, take advantage of it."
Varal2 says, "There definitely are a lot of angles to find conflict, and combat is, at times, an easy way out that is probably more trouble than it's worth - though, when done well, can be some of the most enjoyable scenes."
Varal2 says, "Well, it's been almost an hour and we're starting to slow down. I don't really have any closing thoughts. Anyone want to add anything, bring anything up, make a point, have an unanswered question?"
MeiMei thinks it just really needs to be reiterated- make people roll other stuff!
Brody chuckles. "Thanks for the session, Varal. Send me the log!"
Varal2 say, "Sure thing. My pleasure."
Leviathan thanks, Varal! I'm sorry I missed the very beginning. :)
Announcement: Brody shouts, "FidoCon II: The Second Bite, Day 1, has concluded its scheduled events! We resume tomorrow at 3 p.m. Eastern!"