llamaenterhear
Username: Password:

Author Topic: NPC tactics  (Read 4924 times)

0 Members and 1 Lonely Barbarian are spying on this topic.

Offline Dossta

  • Anti-Entropy Specialist
  • Squirrel Strolenati
  • Master
  • *
  • Posts: 481
  • Awards 2013 Society of the Year Item Guild 2012 Dungeon of the Year Elite Questor Hall of Heroes 10 Master Questor
    • Awards
NPC tactics
« on: February 14, 2011, 12:29:51 PM »
Hi all,  I was hoping that the more experienced GMs here could help me out of a sticky situation.

I am currently running a campaign for two players -- one completely new, and one experienced PC gamer (so he knows a lot about tactics that can be applied to tabletop games).  I have provided them with a couple of NPCs for the first adventure (running a module, and I didn't want to nerf it too badly) -- one fighter, one cleric/fighter.  Both PCs are fragile cloth-wearers.

Now, I don't want the NPCs to outshine the PCs for obvious reasons, so I've been making them kind of  tactically "dumb".  This is because my PC gamer (*cough* rules lawyer *cough*) complained that I was doing "too much" with the fighter when I first introduced him.  Since then, the fighter pretty much looks to that player's character for guidance/direction before doing . . . well, almost anything.  Before opening a door, before walking down a hall, this fighter will wait for instructions.

You can see where this leads to in combat.  Because I don't want the NPCs to be "too smart", they will act pretty naively in combat.  If not given instructions to prepare an ambush at the door (or something), they will wade in and try to establish a front line between the monsters and the PCs.

Now, I'm much freer with the monsters because they don't have to wait for instructions from the PCs to make them feel good.  So the monsters end up doing much better tactically -- flanking, retreating, etc.  This has caused my rules lawyer to complain about the discrepancy between the monsters and the NPCs.

So . . .  what should I do?  I'd love to start using the NPCs more tactically, but don't want to outshine the PCs.  How do you all handle NPCs in combat?  Have you ever run into a similar situation?

Journeyman Strolenati – Strolenati Guild
Tale Spinner - Weavers Guild
Level 3
STR: 4 | END: 4 | CON: 3 | DEX: 6 | CHA: 3 | INT: 5
"The omniscient have no need for beliefs and no room for delusion."

Offline Michael Jotne Slayer

  • Strolenati
  • Grand Master
  • *
  • Posts: 609
  • Retreat now? In our moment of triumph?
  • Awards Item Guild Golden Creator Elite Item Guild Hall of Heroes 10 2011 Dungeon of the Year 2010 NPC of the Year
    • Awards
Re: NPC tactics
« Reply #1 on: February 14, 2011, 01:06:01 PM »
Do not fret :D You are not alone, issues like yours are very common and there are many ways to solve them. Talk with your players, introduce them to your little "catch 22" from your perspective and try to find a solution together. OOC communication between GM and players is of paramount importance. Everebody needs to know what to expect from each other and from the game. The PCs are the heroes and NPCs should never/rarely outshine them. The most important thing is that the players(and the GM) are having fun together.

One solution is to kill the NPCs and adjust the monster stats so that the PCs can make it without sidekicks.

Another is to find the perfect balance between tactically dumb NPCs and strategically smart NPCs.

I would use the first solution if I wanted to skip the problem for some reason and move on with the game. The second solution requires you to discuss the issue with your players. This is what I would do. Be sure to include the new guy.

Balancing an NPC is hard, I mostly figure out the personality before I create the stats. Give both of them pros and cons. What you could do is lower their stats a little and increase their in-game smarts..

No matter what solution you go for communication with your players is key, you should not be alone with the responsibility of making the game tic, you are a group and need to work together to have fun :wink:

Others will probably provide you with their insight as well, dont worry, it will work out :up:
Authentic Strolenite™©®

A skeleton walks into a bar and ask the Bartender: “Do you serve skeletons here?”

Times being what they are the wily Bartender replies: “sure, we serve anyone.”

The skeleton hands the man a silver and says: “Fine, I’ll have a pitcher of beer…and a mop”

Offline Silveressa

  • Mourning Wolf
  • Squirrel Strolenati
  • Master
  • *
  • Posts: 546
  • Scottish wolf-&^%$@ with silver fangs
  • Awards Guardian of the Citadel Elite NPC Guild Questor 2012 Location of the Year 2012 Sub of the Year Article Guild
    • Awards
Re: NPC tactics
« Reply #2 on: February 14, 2011, 07:26:51 PM »
An article I wrote a few weeks back on this very topic might also help address your problem.

http://www.roleplayingtips.com/techniques/pet-peer-npcs/

Feel free to ask here or comment under the article if you have any questions.  :up:
"Lesbian gamers, sometimes we use our hands for other things."

Offline Pariah

  • The Guildless
  • Strolenati
  • Emperor
  • *
  • Posts: 1353
  • Awards Item Guild Hall of Heroes 10
    • Awards
Re: NPC tactics
« Reply #3 on: February 14, 2011, 08:30:16 PM »
That's actually a pretty good set of ideas there...

On to a bit of combat related advice; seeing as your 2 NPC's are basically bloodthirsty warriors of death and destruction, just have them rush forward and attack anything that moves, unless your PC's specifically tell one of them "You, good sir, are here to act as a well armored meat shield."

Of course there's also the possibility that the band-aid has a little bit of wisdom, he /might/ take the time to heal the PC's/NPC's during combat with out being told to do so, but don't let the PC's count on it too much.

Overall, they should be slightly more tactically sound than the monsters your PC's are facing.  Hope this helps some, I only used NPC "helpers" on a couple games, did none of these things most of the time (read: had GMPC's   :?), and it's been a while since I've run a game...
They were immediately and absolutely recognizable as adventurers... They were hardy and dangerous, lawless, stripped of allegiance or morality, living off their wits, stealing and killing, hiring themselves out to whoever and whatever came. They were inspired by dubious virtues.  China Mieville - Perdido Street Station

Offline EchoMirage

  • Caffeinated Alcoholic Blood
  • Strolenati
  • Emperor
  • *
  • Posts: 1571
  • Medice cura te ipsum
  • Awards Item Guild Lifeforms Guild Master Questor Hall of Heroes 10 Elite NPC Guild Elite Questor
    • Awards
Re: NPC tactics
« Reply #4 on: February 15, 2011, 07:25:51 AM »
Actually - you could switch the fighter for a golem or other automaton. He will not need to be roleplayed, and will be dumb like a brick. Summoned critters or other minions likewise depend on the input of their masters.

If you want to keep the NPCs, give the fighter for example a Tactics rating, with complicated fights imposing a penalty. If he rolls well, he makes a sound decision, even an uncannily smart one if the die lands well ("Ah, I've fought NecroZorgs a few times, of course I know their DeathShield falls for a short time after they use their Gaze of Unmaking.") If he rolls badly, he does something straightforward and brash... even in a social situation.

If the players choose their sidekicks, this may lead to choosing one that may have lesser stats, but better smarts.

The cleric may silently judge their actions from the viewpoint of his faith. If he likes what he sees, he will be motivated to further their quest and act more efficiently. If he's displeased, he might begin to think that they don't perhaps deserve to succeed. Being their subordinate, he may not voice his objections, but instead hold his displeasure in, and perform without enthusiasm, invention and initiative.

As for the NPCs intervening in non-combat situations, you may get inspired by Socrates.
That chap did not tell the people what they needed to know, but instead helped them to come to a good conclusion by asking the right questions. "Ah, the keep of the ZorgMaster. That's one nefarious villain! Have you faced him before? What did he use against you? A Death Ray? Well, are you better warded this time? No? And don't you want a protection amulet or something? Who might have one?"
"Captain, the buttocks are moving from the pink into the red and purple spectrum! We cannot maintain this rate of spanking any longer!"

Authentic Strolenite (though spanked) (C) (R)

Offline Dossta

  • Anti-Entropy Specialist
  • Squirrel Strolenati
  • Master
  • *
  • Posts: 481
  • Awards 2013 Society of the Year Item Guild 2012 Dungeon of the Year Elite Questor Hall of Heroes 10 Master Questor
    • Awards
Re: NPC tactics
« Reply #5 on: February 15, 2011, 11:17:19 AM »
Thanks to everyone who has replied, so far.  I definitely agree with Michael that I should talk with my players, and I will try bringing it up in group at our next session.  The very *last* thing I want to do is foist a Mary-Sue on the party, so I definitely don't want to go too far the other way by making them tactical geniuses!

I do plan on killing the NPCs off eventually, but that will have to wait until the end of this dungeon.  In the meantime, I like Silveressa's and Echo's suggestions of using dice to determine an NPC's tactics and/or helpfulness.  What do you normally use for that -- a percentile die?  And how often do you roll?  If either of you would like to go into specifics, I'd be much obliged.  I also appreciated the golem suggestion.  That's a tidy way to avoid the problem entirely the next time I have to give them a meat shield.

Finally: do the NPCs really have to be more tactically capable than any group of monsters?  What about really smart monsters?  What about a villainous mastermind?  I've you've ever run an NPC through a major boss fight, how did it go?
« Last Edit: February 15, 2011, 11:18:57 AM by Dossta »

Journeyman Strolenati – Strolenati Guild
Tale Spinner - Weavers Guild
Level 3
STR: 4 | END: 4 | CON: 3 | DEX: 6 | CHA: 3 | INT: 5
"The omniscient have no need for beliefs and no room for delusion."

Offline Strolen

  • Ignorance Incarnate
  • Guild Leader
  • Emperor
  • *
  • Posts: 7966
  • All your base are belong to us.
  • Awards Locations Guild Questor Locations Guild Elite Item Guild Hall of Heroes 10 Plot Guild
    • Strolen's Citadel
    • Awards
Re: NPC tactics
« Reply #6 on: February 15, 2011, 12:33:00 PM »
I will jump out of the rules and speak towards the game. I have no problem with meat shields. Love that dude in The Gamers that pops up when you need him and otherwise is just standing in the background doing nothing. Use the NPCs to pass information and interact with the players. When it comes to combat, absolutely let the players take control of them. I don't think I ever messed with the NPCs once we got into combat, I have enough to deal with without fighting their side too. Once out of combat I would pop it into NPC character when there was an opportunity or when I needed to input something into the game. Otherwise that character was a pack mule guided entirely by the group.

For us, that was fun. If we needed a fighter, enter pack mule fighter. Same with any other class.  So now you have a pack mule for their muscle and you are still knocking them around. Again, out of rules, what is the fun factor of it? Are the players getting pissed while you are doing things correct for the monsters? Are you trying to teach a lesson or mentor them? If not, time to ratchet it down a notch then. Purposely fumble some roles or reduce their HP to let them succeed at a critical moment. Give them the joy of victory by the skin of their teeth.

I guess my bottom line is: Don't sacrifice the fun factor just because the monsters would IC be tactically superior. Yes, dumb it down, absolutely. Make the monsters take more extreme risks that the players can avoid. Have them make stupid mistakes. Roll a chance dice when you are debating whether to retreat every round with some of them. Battles are fun, but it is the players that make the game. Don't sacrifice the player fun factor without cause.

Flying Squirrel – Strolenati Guild
Grothar Rockfury - Dwarvish Guild
Minor Minion - Cartographer's Guild
Level 3
STR: 5 | END: 2 | CON: 3 | DEX: 2 | CHA: 2 | INT: 6
Authentic Strolenite™©® | Llama is as Llama does.


Offline Michael Jotne Slayer

  • Strolenati
  • Grand Master
  • *
  • Posts: 609
  • Retreat now? In our moment of triumph?
  • Awards Item Guild Golden Creator Elite Item Guild Hall of Heroes 10 2011 Dungeon of the Year 2010 NPC of the Year
    • Awards
Re: NPC tactics
« Reply #7 on: February 15, 2011, 01:27:57 PM »
Strolens advice is sound.
Authentic Strolenite™©®

A skeleton walks into a bar and ask the Bartender: “Do you serve skeletons here?”

Times being what they are the wily Bartender replies: “sure, we serve anyone.”

The skeleton hands the man a silver and says: “Fine, I’ll have a pitcher of beer…and a mop”

Offline Dossta

  • Anti-Entropy Specialist
  • Squirrel Strolenati
  • Master
  • *
  • Posts: 481
  • Awards 2013 Society of the Year Item Guild 2012 Dungeon of the Year Elite Questor Hall of Heroes 10 Master Questor
    • Awards
Re: NPC tactics
« Reply #8 on: February 15, 2011, 02:24:26 PM »
Are the players getting pissed while you are doing things correct for the monsters? Are you trying to teach a lesson or mentor them? If not, time to ratchet it down a notch then. Purposely fumble some roles or reduce their HP to let them succeed at a critical moment. Give them the joy of victory by the skin of their teeth.

I guess my bottom line is: Don't sacrifice the fun factor just because the monsters would IC be tactically superior. Yes, dumb it down, absolutely. Make the monsters take more extreme risks that the players can avoid. Have them make stupid mistakes. Roll a chance dice when you are debating whether to retreat every round with some of them. Battles are fun, but it is the players that make the game. Don't sacrifice the player fun factor without cause.

Ah, but that enters an entirely new debate: how much should you "let" your players win?  I think that no victory can be as sweet without a genuine chance of defeat.  Hell, I've been thinking about throwing a really hard challenge at these two some time soon just to see how they cope with retreat or defeat.  I think that if they *don't* have setbacks, especially as low-level characters, that they will handle a loss later on very poorly.  I already had my wizard complaining to me about how it wasn't "fair" that the two monsters closest to him both chose to attack him on the same turn -- and that was after the PCs had won that fight!

Journeyman Strolenati – Strolenati Guild
Tale Spinner - Weavers Guild
Level 3
STR: 4 | END: 4 | CON: 3 | DEX: 6 | CHA: 3 | INT: 5
"The omniscient have no need for beliefs and no room for delusion."

Offline Strolen

  • Ignorance Incarnate
  • Guild Leader
  • Emperor
  • *
  • Posts: 7966
  • All your base are belong to us.
  • Awards Locations Guild Questor Locations Guild Elite Item Guild Hall of Heroes 10 Plot Guild
    • Strolen's Citadel
    • Awards
Re: NPC tactics
« Reply #9 on: February 15, 2011, 04:02:37 PM »
Sweet. I have no problem with that either...if the set up is right. If it isn't, it will just piss them off.

If me losing moves the game forward and the players give each other high fives after encounters, I will "let" them win all night and not give it a second thought.  Sure, give them a beat down occasionally if you need to but make it so that it is expected. Foreshadowing and warnings galore telling them of their impending doom if they continue on. If they still go, slap at 'em and make them eat dirt and tell them you warned them. If, however, it is just another encounter and they get beat down out of nowhere, that is a morale eater and bad on you.

I loved all the different ideas for this and wouldn't argue with any of them but for me it is people first, game second.

For the dude whining about the two attacking him, well, that is a high maintenance player. If he complains about it every time then unless you feed him what he wants he will continue to be the whiner. Whiners happen. If it doesn't affect the game, give him what he wants. Rather have a happy player then an alive monster. If he complains about that then you will never win and you can kick him in the junk.

Alternately you can make things visible to them. 2 PCs, 4 monsters. low roll monster attacks cry baby, high roll other guy, 4 dice. Bam, dice decide who gets attacked by who and let him blame the dice for his ill luck. After a couple rounds or if they do something dramatic, roll the chance die again for a change. Diverting blame to the dice often works, hell, let them roll it and they can blame themselves for all 4 monsters on whiner when he rolls the most perfect roll. See how they handle that and also it fits into your own plan of giving them set backs...except they did it themselves. Bet they talk about that for awhile. "Remember when you rolled all four 1's and you had all of them on you. I can't believe you got out of that."

Some players suck and you may not want to entertain them for the purity of the game. No problem, you are running it, they can play or not and you can get some other players that love they way you run it. Each session with different people is a different dynamic. Just remember, it isn't just your game, it is "our" game and each person has a different expectation.

Flying Squirrel – Strolenati Guild
Grothar Rockfury - Dwarvish Guild
Minor Minion - Cartographer's Guild
Level 3
STR: 5 | END: 2 | CON: 3 | DEX: 2 | CHA: 2 | INT: 6
Authentic Strolenite™©® | Llama is as Llama does.


Offline Dossta

  • Anti-Entropy Specialist
  • Squirrel Strolenati
  • Master
  • *
  • Posts: 481
  • Awards 2013 Society of the Year Item Guild 2012 Dungeon of the Year Elite Questor Hall of Heroes 10 Master Questor
    • Awards
Re: NPC tactics
« Reply #10 on: February 15, 2011, 05:52:40 PM »
Just remember, it isn't just your game, it is "our" game and each person has a different expectation.

Well said, sir!  This thread has raised some very good points, and I can definitely see your side of things.  We're playing a game, and I agree that fun should be the first requirement. 

Which comes back to the original point: my NPC tactics are not fun for my players (or at least one of them), so I think that I'll try to let the dice "talk" a little more next session.  Maybe start with tactics/helpfulness ratings and escalate to randomly choosing who the monsters are going to attack, if the second problem keeps popping up.

Journeyman Strolenati – Strolenati Guild
Tale Spinner - Weavers Guild
Level 3
STR: 4 | END: 4 | CON: 3 | DEX: 6 | CHA: 3 | INT: 5
"The omniscient have no need for beliefs and no room for delusion."

Offline Silveressa

  • Mourning Wolf
  • Squirrel Strolenati
  • Master
  • *
  • Posts: 546
  • Scottish wolf-&^%$@ with silver fangs
  • Awards Guardian of the Citadel Elite NPC Guild Questor 2012 Location of the Year 2012 Sub of the Year Article Guild
    • Awards
Re: NPC tactics
« Reply #11 on: February 15, 2011, 09:21:22 PM »
What do you normally use for that -- a percentile die?  And how often do you roll?  If either of you would like to go into specifics, I'd be much obliged.

It varies depending on the system honestly, for Cortex rules I usually use a d12 and roll under their helpfulness rating of around 7 for Jane/Joe average hired help and temporarily lowering the rating by one point for every time I successfully roll their help check that session.

For simplicity sake (I assume you're using d20/Pathfinder?) I would suggest giving the hired NPC's a helpfulness rating of around 11 and then roll under it with a d20 to determine if they have useful advice or not in a given situation. (The lower/higher they roll the more or less pertinent/insightful their advice will be, with a botch having them get their facts completely wrong. "I heard werewolves have a secret weakness to gold as well as silver, only a hundred times worse, maybe using some gold coins in a sling shot will kill it quickly or dipping your blades in melted gold?")

As for how often I roll, it depends heavily on the situation, with out of combat inquiries, (I.E: Should we post guard for the night? Do you know of a good place to eat in this city?) usually not warranting a roll and just being made up based on the NPC's personality/past experience.

Tactically important choices, (I.E: Should we ambush the bandits from the trees with bows or try to pretend to be helpless travelers to lure them into a false sense of security?) Usually call for a roll if one of the options would be clearly superior to the other. (Such as with the former example posing as helpless travelers will simply get them surrounded with crossbows and weapons pointed at them, whereas a tree ambush would take the bandits by surprise.)

On a good roll the NPC may lean towards the better choice based on personal preference, on a poor roll they favor the poorer choice for whatever reason I feel is appropriate. (Maybe they have a dislike of heights, don't want to get covered in pine pitch, or just not thrilled about giving the rogue an upskirt view of their naked nether regions.)

In combat the helpfulness rating is usually rolled under to see if the NPC notices one of the players is in trouble (being flanked, ganged up on, etc..) Success = the NPC coming to their aid, failure = they were too caught up in their own fight to pay attention to anything beyond keeping their insides inside them.

For in combat tactics the NPC's usually don't have much to offer beyond yells of "Flank my target!" or "The little one near the bushes has a crossbow!" etc.. (Trying to plan a meticulous strategy in the middle of melee combat is something I rule is generally impossible for everyone involved given most people can manage perhaps a short sentence or witty one liner every time their action turn comes up with how fast paced combat is supposed to be taking place.)

For NPC's that are either dramatically smarter (or dumber) then the average person of their class they can have a helpfulness rating a few points above or below the average middle die result (I.E 10 being "average" for a d20, 50 for percentile etc..)

If you want to get particularly in depth you can give them more then one helpfulness rating depending on their character class. For example a ranger may have a general helpfulness rating of 8 on a d20 and a separate wilderness helpfulness rating of 14. This lets the NPC shine more in their area of expertise rather then being equal in all aspects of aiding the party. (It also encourages the players to seek out a specialist NPC to make up for their weaknesses as opposed to "whoever is cheapest.")
« Last Edit: February 15, 2011, 09:26:23 PM by Silveressa »
"Lesbian gamers, sometimes we use our hands for other things."

Offline Dossta

  • Anti-Entropy Specialist
  • Squirrel Strolenati
  • Master
  • *
  • Posts: 481
  • Awards 2013 Society of the Year Item Guild 2012 Dungeon of the Year Elite Questor Hall of Heroes 10 Master Questor
    • Awards
Re: NPC tactics
« Reply #12 on: February 18, 2011, 11:05:32 AM »
Thanks, Silveressa.  This is making it into my next session, after I have a quick talk with my players (as Michael suggested).  This was really helpful!

Journeyman Strolenati – Strolenati Guild
Tale Spinner - Weavers Guild
Level 3
STR: 4 | END: 4 | CON: 3 | DEX: 6 | CHA: 3 | INT: 5
"The omniscient have no need for beliefs and no room for delusion."

Offline Silveressa

  • Mourning Wolf
  • Squirrel Strolenati
  • Master
  • *
  • Posts: 546
  • Scottish wolf-&^%$@ with silver fangs
  • Awards Guardian of the Citadel Elite NPC Guild Questor 2012 Location of the Year 2012 Sub of the Year Article Guild
    • Awards
Re: NPC tactics
« Reply #13 on: February 18, 2011, 11:48:14 AM »
Anytime, I'm glad I could help.  8)
"Lesbian gamers, sometimes we use our hands for other things."