Friday, October 27, 2017

"There are too...many...of them..."


Over in the G+ ICONS community, Hallam Rickett asks about overwhelming numbers, such as Captain America attacking a Hydra base, where there are too many and the heroes end up captured. Steve Kenson already answered but I get to be both more orthodox and less orthodox, so I'll repeat and expand on my answer here.

First of all, what do you want narratively? (I don't think you should dictate everything that happens to your players, but sometimes you want to skip over some non-essential stuff or avoid having it send you into the weeds.) If you really want to do an adventure about how resourceful the heroes are without their gadgets or whatever, then you essentially set the terms and let them go.

In ICONS terms, you narrate the capture ("There are too many of them. When you wake up...") and give them each a Determination point to sweeten it. This sort of thing is (in my experience, as a person who has made many many of the mistakes that gamemasters can make) best done to begin the session or end it. You're framing this session or next session.

However, sometimes you're okay with them winning ("There's only like 200 agents on the island...") but you want it to be unlikely.

The fastest way is to use a pyramid test or two. If you're trying to model the experience of it being tougher after the alarm is sounded, maybe you use two pyramid tests, one representing before the alarm and one representing after. You figure the average difficulty of hitting an agent is 3 or 4, so that's the difficulty of the first test. The second test is harder—the agents are fighting smarter now, so the difficulty is 6 or 7. Everybody can contribute to the pyramid tests, so each one is probably a page or two.

But as variations:
  • Use a single long test (requires two massive successes) but it escalates: the difficulty goes up by one every time failure, or every attempt.
  • Use a long pyramid test for each player character, rather than having everyone contribute to one pyramid test.
  • Use a pyramid test for each area they want to clear out, difficulty determined by the level of the opposition and whether the alarm has been raised.

Another way is to model the agents as a character that represents a horde. Fights take longer than tests, however, so this eats up more of your session.

Look at your individual agent, and fold any weapons or Martial Arts skills into Coordination and Prowess, because we're going for something like speed here even though we've decided to use a fight. Ignore body armor, which you might have lovingly crafted for individual agents, because we're going to abstract it all into Alternate Form Fluid, using the Damage Resistance in that to represent both body armor and that there are many agents.

A horde of agents might be:

Horde of Agents
Blaster Rifles or whatever they have to attack6
Alternate Form Fluid Represents that there are lots of agents. Brings Damage Resistance 6, Stretching 6 to represent agents being in lots of places and how destroying some of them doesn't get all of them. Adjust level based on strength of hero attacks and number of agents.6
Fast Attack, because there are lots of these agents. Assume they can attack twice more; that's a compromise between lots of attacks and time spent rolling dice8
Regeneration Every 10 pages, the number of agents replenishes because more agents show up10
  • Horde of agents; every part is a minion but the whole isn't
  • The "Alternate Form Fluid" attribute can be nullified for a page by smart tactics or moves
  • Some quality reflecting the nature of the agents or a special ability

First, unlike what it says in the rules, in this case the Fast Attack doesn't have to be used to Coordinate attacks. You can, maybe you should, but I would say that in this case it doesn't have to be a Coordinated attack.

Second, maybe they have some equivalent to Growth or Wrestling when they get down to grappling with the heroes...individually they might not be strong, but if you get twenty agents hanging off you, well, it might get treated as a much stronger foe.

Third, if you want the agents to be unbeatable unless something smart is done, you say that the PCs have to use Advantages to neutralize the Alternate Form Fluid...the heroes do something smart, it counteracts the damage resistance of the Alternate Form, and the attack can do Stamina damage. Otherwise, the agents are nearly unbeatable if the Alternate Form is set at the same level as the highest PC attack or higher. (I might not count Combining attacks to increase effort as smart on the part of the PCs...depends on the players.)

Again, you might vary it by having each area of the base as a "horde" character, so you have the Lab horde, the Living Quarters horde, the Airfield horde, and so on. And this has the advantage that if some player does something clever, like using the security system to lock various agents in place, you aren't forcing yourself to a fiction that if the one horde character is defeated, they all drop unconscious. Really, you'd claim that the other agents surrendered or something in that case, but this way lets you have them if you need another fight later.