Combat dragging on (GM fiat?)

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Combat dragging on (GM fiat?)

Postby monele » Sun Feb 24, 2013 1:54 pm

I have had this happen recently. The characters were fighting a "surprise villain" at the end of an adventure. One of the characters got a great roll result almost right away and I thought "well, that was fast... let's try this thing I keep reading about!" I gave a Hero Point to the attacker and made the effect less crippling to the villain.

Sure enough, the combat went on......... and on... and on... and on. I utterly regretted my decision.

Admittedly, it was a special case where the players were roleplaying not wanting to hurt the villain too much. So they tried grabbing. And tried... and tried... But it was a rather agile villain and we soon found out they had no chance of keeping the villain still for any consequent amount of time.

Since we finished the battle in yet another session, I looked into rules, maneuvers, etc... and tried to find a way for them to achieve their goal, but I couldn't find any. That villain would have to be defeated first. But this implied violence, which is a bit sad when players were actually looking for a more gentle solution :/
(btw, they did defeat the villain through fisticuffs in the end)

Obviously there are multiple issues here, but I'm mostly interested in two things: how to deal with a fight that is going nowhere (forces evenly matched or everyone holding back for various reasons)? and whether GM fiat is a solution... or a problem in this case?

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Re: Combat dragging on (GM fiat?)

Postby Monolith » Sun Feb 24, 2013 3:11 pm

First, M&M is a superhero game. Violence is implied by the genre. The Avengers didn't negotiate Loki's surrender in that movie. :) It's important to embrace the genre conventions; and since lethality is an optional rule there's really no reason for character to hold back. Without the lethal optional rules you can't really hurt anyone; and even with those rules death can still be held off via hero points or fiat.

If a fight's going nowhere the gm needs to make a decision: let the players win, let the villain get away, or let the villain win via fiat. I tend to err on the side of letting the players win or letting the villain get away. While the game does need challenges the ultimate goal of the gm is to let the players win; maybe not on the first try but eventually the heroes need to get to be the heroes. As the gm you can just flub the roll and say villain x was knocked out. Good job all! The gm is the bastion of fun and pacing. Don't lose the fun over mechanics.

I don't see fiat as being the problem here. Fiat is there so that the fluke occurrences don't destroy the drama, pacing, and tension of an encounter. Since villains don't get hero points fiat is there hero points. Just like a player can use a hero point to re-roll the villain uses fiat, but the player gets the hero point. It can certainly ruin things if it's over-used but it's there to make the encounters fun rather then flat. A 1 or 2 round knockout can be fun occasionally, but a steady diet of that would just bore the players to death. At times you need fiat due to the flat nature of a 1d20 roll.

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Re: Combat dragging on (GM fiat?)

Postby Wayne » Sun Feb 24, 2013 6:57 pm

Monolith wrote:A 1 or 2 round knockout can be fun occasionally, but a steady diet of that would just bore the players to death. At times you need fiat due to the flat nature of a 1d20 roll.


I can vouch for that. When our group plays M&M (which has been a few months each 2E and 3E) we rotate GMs, and one of them used fiat pretty much every time he rolled badly, and the last one never ever did, and it had the results you might expect: the former had really long fights that eventually burned people out, but the latter's penultimate fight was over so quickly it was basically slapstick. So... definitely an "all things in moderation" rule. :]

On the other hand, it sounds like monele's problem was he did just use fiat to make up for one bad roll, and then the PCs never got another good hit in when it was more appropriate. And, yeah, that's part of the problem: the dice don't know when they're supposed to roll high, heh. I know exactly where that viewpoint is coming from, because I've gotten into it too-- that basically you have to follow the rules, and while GM fiat is in there and thus you can use it, you can't "cheat" to make things easier for the PCs, so pacing is left to the mercy of the dice, and M&M just isn't a deep enough game to make long fights pay off. It's kind of frustrating in that way, as our group came to M&M from 3E D&D... D&D had a lot of tactical options for most classes but fights too short to use them, while M&M fights lasted several rounds but most PCs only had a handful of attack options.

Anyway, there's basically two ways to handle that. Monolith is right that the GM should feel free to handwave things to make the session more fun... within reason, of course. You have to be subtle about it so the PCs don't feel their efforts were secondary to deus ex machina, or else be comfortable enough with the group they'll be cool with it if you end a fight early with a "Wow, that was starting to drag, sorry about that." You could also turn the tables a bit and get the PCs to "fiat" a bit, with that little-used "edit a scene" Hero Point option. Just pointing out that you'll be flexible about what you allow and offering them the chance to end it on their terms could work, like calling in reinforcements or triggering some PL-breaking attack like a giant explosion or whatnot.

Alternately, there's some in-game tricks the GM can use. It sounds like the PCs couldn't hit a defense-shifted villain, rather than a Toughness-shifted one constantly rolling high (which is a far worse problem, especially if the villain is a higher PL than the PCs, and thus is also less susceptible to Fort/Will attacks). In both editions I've played, defense-shifts have a glass jaw to some really common attack types, like perception attacks and areas (in 3E, anyway, where Evasion just means you'll be knocked out in 2 attacks rather than 1), that a lot of PCs will have. If they don't, you can have the villain open himself up with All-Out Attack (which can be a good in-character response to being goaded, if you have a Spider-man style "chatty" PC), and remind skill-based PCs to try feints or reversing the formula with All-Out/Accurate Attack. A good chunk of M&M's "depth" comes from maneuvers and trade-offs like that, and some players may not keep that in mind.

PS - The biggest player response to tough fights like that is Extra Effort (and of course HPs), do you players not have enough? Getting an extra attack or a reroll gives more chances to crack those defenses. It's unfortunate most of the other options (+1 rank, seriously?) aren't as good, but those still are.

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Re: Combat dragging on (GM fiat?)

Postby mattador » Sun Feb 24, 2013 9:06 pm

Wayne wrote:And, yeah, that's part of the problem: the dice don't know when they're supposed to roll high, heh.

Just had a flashback. Years ago (in a galaxy far, far away) I was running a Star Wars game using the d6 system and the PCs had to knock out a bureaucrat in an office so they could access some computer files. This poor accountant kept rolling open-ended strength checks to resist the damage and shrugged off like 5 consecutive attacks including a Wookiee pummeling and numerous stun blasts all the while yelling "Ow OW OW OW HELP STOP IT Stop Beating Me Murder Murder Help Help OW!"
Ah... good times.

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Re: Combat dragging on (GM fiat?)

Postby Doctor Devious » Mon Feb 25, 2013 2:49 am

Sounds like your players did well, so all in all, a good report!
I think we'd all have done as you did, so don't sweat it.

When you can't hit: either go accurate or go big.
So aim, set-up, feint, taunt, intimidate as tatics all come into play.
If any player has enviornmental powers, get them working to restrict the target's ability to move freely.

Then consider area attacks (if there isn't too much collateral at stake). If the villian also has evasion (particularly at the the often-poor-build evasion 2 level, whetever 3e calls it) then that won't work: a precog or a speedster can be expected to avoid almost all area attacks, so don't even bother with them, others are worth trying it out.

The alternative to going big (area) is going accurate: perception attacks if you have them - via power stunt if you need to (e.g. spidey power-stunting "spidey sense" from defence to offence on the likes of quicksilver or wolverine; most mentalists can power stunt a percention attack if they must and so on).

And of course, there's always the redirect option (into a handy electrical cable/gas tank/whatever); ususally via taunt to ".. oops you missed and look what you hit..." senario. If you've a metal-head, they can even try stunting an aura (e.g. an insulated batlle-suit; they stand on said power cable and let themselves take a punch) and so on.

Sounds like a good learning experience for all.

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Re: Combat dragging on (GM fiat?)

Postby saint_matthew » Mon Feb 25, 2013 6:39 am

monele wrote:That villain would have to be defeated first. But this implied violence, which is a bit sad when players were actually looking for a more gentle solution :/
(btw, they did defeat the villain through fisticuffs in the end)


There is a great line out of the Art of War which translates roughly to "fight the battle you have, not the battle you wish to have." I think there is some wisdom to be sort in that statement.

monele wrote:Obviously there are multiple issues here, but I'm mostly interested in two things: how to deal with a fight that is going nowhere (forces evenly matched or everyone holding back for various reasons)? and whether GM fiat is a solution... or a problem in this case?


When i first started i evenly matched my villains to the heroes, because i was still in the D&D 3.5 "eveerything must balance" mindset... I lost that mindset when a particular character was so evenly matched with a villain that the battle went on for 4 hours, with both characters struggling to land a telling blow. It was on that day that i learnt the miracle of the complication rules.

Every character must have at least two complications of which one must be a motivation: Me personally i rule that every character/villain i build must have 3 complications (1 motivation & 2 complications). An those complications must contain atleast one that is potentially exploitable by PC's. An if such a complication doesn't suit the character, they must have a weak save, or a easuily removable item of power... something players can use a clever power stunt on. An if worst comes to worst GM fiat again in the opposite direction (blow a save on purpose for example).
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Re: Combat dragging on (GM fiat?)

Postby monele » Mon Feb 25, 2013 11:27 am

Monolith wrote:Violence is implied by the genre. The Avengers didn't negotiate Loki's surrender in that movie.

I know, they had a Hulk!

since lethality is an optional rule there's really no reason for character to hold back.

I did mention that to the players, but I can totally appreciate them wanting to be even more pacifist than that :). To put things in context, their opponent was an NPC who had helped them in the previous fight and suddenly disappeared at one point. When she came back, she tried to steal the artefact from one of the PCs... who was kind of getting a crush on her up till then. So yeah, he was hesitant in pummeling her to unconsciousness.
In retrospect, I should totally give out HPs for such things, even if they're minor inconveniences sometimes. It is good roleplay and a minor Complication.

let the players win, let the villain get away, or let the villain win via fiat.

I'll have to agree :). See further down the post for an idea inspired by this advice.


Wayne wrote:On the other hand, it sounds like monele's problem was he did just use fiat to make up for one bad roll, and then the PCs never got another good hit in when it was more appropriate.

Absolutely... So then I use fiat again to make the heroes win? But then why are the players even rolling/playing if I'm deciding everything? :/

be comfortable enough with the group they'll be cool with it if you end a fight early with a "Wow, that was starting to drag, sorry about that."

In this case, everyone was getting bored and it's been confirmed by subsequent feedback. So I don't think they would have minded too much.

You could also turn the tables a bit and get the PCs to "fiat" a bit, with that little-used "edit a scene" Hero Point option.

Similar to my idea below, I could simply give one HP to everyone when it drags just to help make things happen. And remind them of the various possibilities of HPs/Extra Effort, yes.

remind skill-based PCs to try feints or reversing the formula with All-Out/Accurate Attack

They're still a bit hesitant with maneuvers but they tried some in this very battle and were bitten by bad rolls (or high resistances) making it seem useless. I'm always sad when I see a die roll (or system rules) make a cool action rarely work. The first use is often the most important: if the player gets nothing out of it, they're less likely to attempt it again later. And of course, if it's not terribly effective overall, it's probably going to get canned in favor of more classic (but ultimately boring) attacks.
I've discussed it with them and told them I would try to pay back Hero Points used for inventive actions (if they cost one), and otherwise give a HP they can use to reroll or something... just so cool stuff remains prevalent in spite of rules or luck. Hopefully it will work out.

The biggest player response to tough fights like that is Extra Effort (and of course HPs), do you players not have enough?

Probably not many in that fight. I think I'm getting better as they tend to reach 3 HPs and not even deplete them these last few sessions. Either that or fights are much shorter :)
I have definitely learned to consider many more things "Complications" than just the characters'... and I'm trying to bring theirs to the fore more often too. I have also given a few for amusing roleplaying.

Doctor Devious wrote:<various tactics>

Good stuff all around. It is in my current "tactical issues and solutions" list, but it's hard to keep everything in mind for now :). We're slowly learning though.

saint_matthew wrote:There is a great line out of the Art of War which translates roughly to "fight the battle you have, not the battle you wish to have." I think there is some wisdom to be sort in that statement.

Indeed, but it's hard to drop wishes sometimes ;)

i rule that every character/villain i build must have 3 complications (1 motivation & 2 complications). An those complications must contain atleast one that is potentially exploitable by PC's. An if such a complication doesn't suit the character, they must have a weak save, or a easuily removable item of power... something players can use a clever power stunt on. An if worst comes to worst GM fiat again in the opposite direction (blow a save on purpose for example).

Interesting. I haven't been too observant on that end, but I'll try to check Complications beforehand, as well as the other points.


----

I just had an idea to answer my own question!

Once the GM feels a combat dragging on, he activates Sudden Death, as it's done in sports. This could be public or secret I suppose.

What happens is that there's a time limit of X rounds for either side to get a clear victory. Beyond that, whichever side is the worst off loses. Though to avoid making this unfair, this shouldn't result in clear cut victory. Villain flees, heroes have to retreat, someone has to give up on something, etc...

This sets a clear limit beyond which things just got too long to be interesting anymore, while allowing regular victory within this time.

I'm also thinking declaring Sudden Death and offering a HP all around could be interesting: all characters would supposedly go all out to win before it's too late and it should make things more interesting.

Thoughts?

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Re: Combat dragging on (GM fiat?)

Postby Arkrite » Mon Feb 25, 2013 11:53 am

My suggestion?
Don't let the players see your dice.

Remember, as the GM you can't cheat. This gives you a lot of power and a good chunk of responsibility.
Try to keep as honest as you can, give the players a Hero Point when you fiat but... this does allow you to fudge things a bit if a session gets a little more intense or runs a little longer than expected.

Should the entire party be near a TPK situation it's okay to fudge a roll or two to give the survivor a chance to pull through and save the day.
Or in the case of a fight that just never ends, at the point where everybody starts getting a little bored with it, or the point where it's obvious the badguy doesn't have a chance, just tell them he failed his roll.

Might not seem right, but at the same point in time the players would probably remember the time they scraped by a TPK situation with glee as opposed to them all dying.
And more favorably remembering a fight that ended within a reasonable amount of time as opposed to dragging on.

I also had a fight that went on forever. Never could convince my players that M&M was a fun game after that. :~(

The trick is to only do it if you have to. But that's just my opinion.

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Re: Combat dragging on (GM fiat?)

Postby monele » Tue Feb 26, 2013 2:27 am

I do have everything on the (virtual) table so far. And I admit I kinda like players seeing what's happening. Maybe I just like to share the results :). If I hid the dice, I would have to hide every roll, since there's no knowing which is going to be an issue. This would put me back behind the (virtual) GM screen, which is a strange feeling to me.

So I don't think it's a bad idea, but I know I might have a personal mental block on this nonetheless :). Which is also why I'm trying to find "official" in-the-open solutions I guess.

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Re: Combat dragging on (GM fiat?)

Postby prufock » Thu Apr 11, 2013 8:30 am

monele wrote:Obviously there are multiple issues here, but I'm mostly interested in two things: how to deal with a fight that is going nowhere (forces evenly matched or everyone holding back for various reasons)? and whether GM fiat is a solution... or a problem in this case?


Here are some ideas I have and sometimes use in dealing with these types of situations. One-shot KO's are not usually fun, but neither are battles that last forever.

1. Allow the KO to stand, but remember that a good villain always has a backup plan. A partner, minion, or sidekick rushes in (teleporter, speedster, flier, sneaky guy that was hidden to make sure things went as planned). The primary villain is KO'd, but a new threat has appeared (should be a lower PL, since you're extending combat this way but don't want to extend combat TOO much), either to fight the PCs, rescue the primary villain, or grab the artifact. Depending on your goals for the scenario, you can have the new threat get the item and escape, leaving the primary villain to the PCs, rescue the primary villain, or just pummel the heroes. Then the primary villain can wake up and leave or join the fight (but with some negatives). Lots of room for GM fiats in this scenario, and give out some HPs for the alteration of the scene.

2. Allow the villain to surrender. Depending on her motives, she may not like getting pummeled into the dirt, and after taking X amount of bruises, she might simply give up.

3. Allow the villain to escape. It doesn't sound like this is what you wanted; seems like this was the climax. But she may escape with or without the artifact.

4. Cinematics. This is really an option more for the PCs, but it sounds like they were able to prevent her from escaping (barring a fiat), so letting the PC with the crush try some interaction skills with a speech might a) make her hesitate and re-think her actions, b) distract her so another character can get a solid hit, or c) make her realize she has feelings for the PC after all. On the GM's side, she can play on his emotions to try and convince him not to hurt her, that she was just a pawn in the plans of a mastermind, etc.

5. Fudge the dice. I don't like using this option, but it's there if you want it.

6. Introduce some outside interference. Perhaps there is an off-duty cop nearby that will join in to help the PCs. Something like that.

7. The artifact activates. I'm not sure what it does. It may grant extra powers to the person holding it. It may summon a larger threat that they have to team up to combat.

Anyway, there are options. It can be difficult to come up with them on the fly, but remember anything can happen.

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Re: Combat dragging on (GM fiat?)

Postby crashmurdoch » Thu May 09, 2013 11:52 pm

Fiat works other ways too.

I always tell the players before a game starts. "I'm the GM, I will cheat like hell to make the story, but I won't cheat to hurt or kill your characters."

You want your party captured by the bad guys to move the story along. Inevitably one play chooses to resist to the bitter end rather than be taken down. A hero point is a good way to end a fight and get the story back on track.

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Re: Combat dragging on (GM fiat?)

Postby Fists of Dorn » Tue Jun 18, 2013 8:58 am

monele wrote:Sure enough, the combat went on......... and on... and on... and on. I utterly regretted my decision.

Admittedly, it was a special case where the players were roleplaying not wanting to hurt the villain too much.



I'm not sure what powers your players' characters have available to them, but you ought to remind them that there are plenty of non-lethal, not really violent, methods of subduing a villain with powers/power stunts. And if the heroes work as a team they can employ a few tactics that will greatly help in succeeding with their plan: Demoralizing uses of intimidation reduce the resistance checks of the villain, using Set-Up to help others make successful attacks, Team Checks- be it aiding another's attack or effect rank- help to boost an ally's attack result or increase the resistance check needed to overcome the ally's effect.

Advantages can be gained with the use of a Hero Point, though I house rule that these last for the scene rather than a single round (I can power stunt an effect able to split the moon in half for a scene, but I can only use Daze once?).
The hero developing the crush on the now villain, could power stunt a sense-dependent affliction resisted/recovered by Will that requires a DCXX Persuasion check to use (Check Required flaw) as he tries to reason with the woman, bringing up his feelings etc. It's a good reason to award a Hero Point as he is revealing his feelings in front of anyone watching, which can be quite difficult for some people. You may even impose a circumstance penalty on her checks to reflect her fighting against whatever is possessing her.


If you are concerned about needing to conceal your dice rolls, conceal them by rolling numerous dice at once; know ahead of time which of the dice you intend to use for the roll of course. I tend to roll four to six d20s at a time, depending on how nosy the players are at the table. Go even further and use multiples of the dice at a time, one each for a result this round.
Roll four d20s, one for an attack roll, and one for the villain's next toughness resistance; knowing which die is for what roll. When the villain needs to make his next Toughness Resistance check, again roll some d20s and note one of the dice as the result for the villain's next Intimidation check.
Eventually the players will just ignore the dice because they won't know if the extra dice are for a resistance, a skill check, or you just wanting to see what you might roll for the heck of it.




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Re: Combat dragging on (GM fiat?)

Postby roguescribner » Tue Jun 18, 2013 11:37 am

And don't forget team checks. Have them combine their attacks if necessary to overcome the villain's defenses. Or power stunt. Or have the villain grow tired of the lengthy combat and fiat his escape. Combats should primarily be kept to 10 rounds or less as it can quickly grow tedious. If it looks like the combat is starting not to be fun anymore, there's nothing wrong with fudging some rolls to wrap it up. The GM has a story to tell, but the players also need to enjoy the story being told.
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Re: Combat dragging on (GM fiat?)

Postby monele » Wed Jun 19, 2013 4:09 am

Thanks for all the replies since. We have moved on from that scene quite a while ago (the game has been dropped actually), but it's still nice to read about potential solutions.

The romance power stunt is... very original. I never thought of using powers for anything else than powers or talents. That said, in this very specific situation, the recipient of his crush was not receptive at all (being a villainess enamored with her villain master).

As for gaining temporary Advantages, it seems like it would require a very coordinated effort... unless, as you suggest, the Advantage remains for the scene (probably not a bad house rule to have in that case).

Hiding dice rolls wouldn't be a technical problem for me since we were using a virtual tabletop (Maptool), though your actual-table method is interesting! As I said in a previous post, my biggest issue is that I'm not quite down with the idea of fudging rolls. Strangely enough, I'd prefer fudging circumstances (deus ex machina) than a die roll. Go figure :p

Overall though, most of the confusion was due to us all learning the ropes and what was possible with the system.


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