Thursday, April 24, 2014

The trouble with smarts

Two nights ago my Heroes By Trade group faced a very difficult fight.  We were in a strange city filled with all kinds of demons / demigods / eldritch powers from an ancient time who had been sealed away by the gods.  We decided to enter a building and found a statue there.  Being extremely random we decided to break the head off of the statue and doing so caused rather a large number of monsters to charge out at us.  The GM assumed we would run and by the numbers I am pretty sure we should have.  There were too many enemies for us to defeat and if they had played intelligently we would have died.

Well, all the other characters would have died.  My character, being nearly invincible, might have been able to get away or even win in the long run.  This is a separate issue that I need to address.

However, the monsters were not at all intelligent in their tactics and insisted on standing there beating on the target in full plate armour carrying a shield even though it was obvious that their efforts were in vain.  It is true that the tank was also the healer and normally Kill The Healer is an excellent strategy but in this case the best strategy was Kill The Squishy Ones and then deal with the healer once everyone else is dead.  Had the enemies displayed even modest tactics and swarmed the people who were the threats we would have been quite easily crushed.

I don't know how I feel about this.  It is certainly possible that the enemies were in fact mostly mindless thugs since they were insectoid monstrosities shaped like people in plate armour - who knows what they were thinking, if at all.  They simply attacked the nearest thing and that might be all they were capable of.  The other possibility is that the GM didn't want to just kill us all and decided to play the monsters stupid.  He was pretty obviously expecting us to run but he didn't count on my playing my character Po right to the hilt - she is pretty much certain of her own invincibility and until that proves false she basically won't run from anything.  If the other characters had been willing to run I perhaps would have followed but they all seemed to be waiting for someone else to do something and nobody stepped up to be that first person to flee.

I am not the sort of person that worries about the party all dying when I am a character.  I have more characters buried in my brain and I can be ready to start something new and fun next week, no problem!  I tend to be very wary of causing them as the GM though.  I guess for me I wouldn't mind at all if our refusal to run got us all killed because it would set the stage for a much more tense and terror filled campaign next time.  There is nothing like knowing that the GM will massacre you if you insist on being foolish and brave to keep you on your toes!


  1. the guy that did get knocked unconscious, I'd like to talk about how awful our tactics were. Namely, block the door so the swarm can't get in, and if the enemy insists on swarming the turtle, then the turtle shouldn't keep backing away to use range weapons and instead should turtle while the giant troll attacking with massive area affect spells continues to beat down.


    And what do you mean "extremely random"? I knew what I was doing when we broke the head off. A statue of a dragon doesn't exist in the middle of a room for no reason.

    Almost forgot - we were foolish for not scouting the place before breaking the head. Splitting up to explore is dumb. We've been pretty consistent in our "non-harmonized strategy", which is a fancy way of saying, "we're not a well-oiled machine just yet".

    I agree that your character being invulnerable is an issue.

    I found the hive mind "attack the nearest person" strategy wasn't unreasonable. In most cases, it's probably successful.

    I don't think we needed to flee. We just needed to keep you at the front.

  2. The notion that I was playing with was that of swarming: have a bunch of thugs all concentrate on a single target, and if that target removes itself then refocus on the nearest available alternative. No, it's not particularly smart, but then neither were they. (Or rather, you were battling against their autonomic brain. They didn't have access to their source of higher cognition.)

    And, to Matt V's point: if you'd noticed how dumb their tactics were, why didn't you take better advantage of it?

  3. A few points on tactics. We couldn't have blocked the door. The enemies would just have used the Push maneuver and shoved me out of the way. HBT doesn't let you just camp a spot and be an immovable object - Push maneuvers aren't great but if you really just want to shove somebody away from a spot you can do it. At best I could have delayed the entry of more enemies for a round by sacrificing my action - questionable benefits.

    I could have stood there and just tanked the guys forever but there were a few problems with that scenario. The ranged enemies were still beating down Keh pretty seriously and if I am surrounded by enemies I cannot heal effectively. He would have gone down. Also I chose to move and heal as a roleplaying rather than purely tactical decision. Po is used to retreating while casting and staying back a little to make her attacks effective. She is not used to just standing in melee beating down and I made the choice partly with that in mind. Lastly there was the issue of real timing. It was getting late and taking the tactic of doing no damage while making the enemies do less damage would have extended the fight further which I deemed not ideal.

    So while me tanking all the enemies is overall the best plan there are good reasons for me doing what I did. The fact that I *could* tank all the enemies that effectively is not good and The GM and I are trying to figure out how to fix that.

    I think breaking off the head of the statue without knowing what is going on is pretty random. Statues exist all over the place and normally breaking them is useless and silly. If we were just smashing art it seems pretty random, if we were summoning enemies it also seems pretty random. Either way I was playing Po as thinking that this was just a decorative statue. She broke it for character reasons that you can probably derive but which you might not be able to be sure of.

    1. I'm pretty sure the longer I'm standing and attacking every enemy in the room every round, the faster the combat goes. :-)

      Insects may not have been smart enough to push. We may have slowed them down which means a lot less attacks. Since nearly every attack hits me, two fewer attacks on me means an extra round of attacks from me - hitting all enemies (though maybe not if we blockaded them).

      I agree that from a roleplaying perspective, your character probably doesn't stand there. Your character is surprisingly aggressive for someone so defensive - I'm having trouble understanding her, but I'm assuming there's an elaborate background.

      There was a reasonable chance the statue would come alive. Or that it would trigger something - magical trap, warning, door/portal opening. I knew it did something. My character's solution to figuring that kind of stuff out is often to break it. Plus, that keeps it from coming alive. And maybe there's something shiny inside. I will say that I didn't entirely think things through, but that's what Long Arms does - he takes action and assumes it's fated.

      Keh could have run at any time. I'd gladly have taken the hits from the ranged enemies on his behalf.

      And we need to get more damage out of our bard/poet. For a guy without range weapons, he doesn't hit hard least not when we're taking on a dozen insect warriors. :-)

  4. The bard/poet in question hits as hard as you do in theory, actually. He hits more reliably but for less damage. He doesn't tend to augment abilities and isn't as aggressive though - the difference is in style, not character sheets. I figure I will try to amp up my own beatdown possibilities going forward since against most enemies having one invincible target just means that they all gang up on the squishies and that isn't good!

    While the insects may have been stupid I don't think they could be considered dumb enough to not even try to shove into the room. That isn't advanced tactics, just a simple desire to swarm.

    Po is a bit tricky to understand. The most obvious reason for her confusing behaviour is that she is way out of her element (an organized command structure with obvious, clear goals) and is making it up as she goes along. There are other, deeper reasons too though.

  5. It seems like there should be a way to hold a door. It's a basic strategy applicable at all levels - narrow choke points provide advantage/disadvantages. I see that there is a Rush Through maneuver as well. Neither give the opponent a chance to oppose it.

    If anyone can move anywhere, and I've noticed this as characters unrealistically dance in and out of squares surrounded by bad guys, it makes terrain meaningless. In one sense it doesn't matter as there are no facing rules so dancing into the back and surrounding people is the same as attacking them from the front. But if position, placement and terrain are irrelevant, aren't we just rolling dice? Sure, we can pick which dice we roll based on the action chosen, but it doesn't allow players to be smart/dumb outside of their stats, and certainly there's a loss of realism.

    At times it feels like we're doing a side-scrolling fighting game - figure out the combinations and press the buttons. But as you know, I'm more of a Civ 5 player, and even that very simplifed combat has flanking and zone of control.

  6. There is a way to hold a door but we didn't use it. Keep in mind that my character blocking a door is hopeless largely because Po is clumsy and slow. Dodging past her isn't very hard. If your character wanted to hold a door then you could just stand in the doorway and take the Defend action. It makes it quite challenging for people to get past you since they take disadvantage on their roll and your Dodge is much higher than mine. You could also use a Power that raises your Dodge, Immobilizes your opponent, or something else. It is possible for people to block a door, it just isn't possible for a slow and clumsy person with no applicable combat abilities to block a door.

    Terrain can be meaningless sometimes. It depends on the situation. I have run a lot of battles and terrain regularly featured very heavily into them. One thing you should notice is that your character doesn't have abilities that use terrain - you have no knockdowns, pushes, pulls, immobilizes, slows, or anything else that would let you abuse the terrain. I have found that when characters have those abilities they tend to use them and they make terrain matter a lot. If all you do is run next to an enemy and max your dps then yes, terrain won't be overly relevant.

    It is quite possible to hit an enemy with a pushback or slow and then walk away from them (assuming terrain allows it!) and have that tactic be devastating. Wizards have circle spells that can make great use of terrain by blocking off avenues of attack or retreat or even line of sight.

    If you want a demonstration we could have a battle someday with each of us making up 3 characters and then duking it out on a battlemat. You take dps abilities, I will take terrain abusing abilities, and we can see how it shakes out.