Saturday, 28 September 2013

Monitors: Imagined and modelled combats

Another long, dry post full of maths that only makes sense when you can consult an extensive set of related tables you don't have access to yet. Hooray!

So, I've had bit of a think about weapon types and examined some of the maths involved in hit and damage rolls. What next? Right, I said I'd look at narrative expectations of results.

I think it's reasonably important to do this at this stage, because disconnect between what you imagine and what happens in play is liable to cause all kinds of... I kind of want to say "cognitive dissonance" but I don't know why and I'm not entirely clear what that is. It's going to throw you off, is what I mean. If you're expecting to wade through storms of bullets and instead go down like a ninepin, that'll wreck your expectations. If you expect your character to cower behind barrels and fire off inaccurate warning shots while trying to calculate an intellectual solution, but they take down heavy infantry at long range with a handgun, that will also change the complexion of the game and tend to redefine your character. If you expect a hard-nosed tactical game where you constantly look for advantage, swap weaponry and cling to cover, then a looser game where your tactician character can't really use those features to advantage will disappoint. So I need to work out what I actually expect from this game and the various characters you might run into.

Going back to basics, the starting points are:

  • Simply in order to qualify for active service, Monitors are all baseline competent with weaponry, and can hit a person-sized target at the average distance for a weapon.
  • Monitors have access to better equipment than ordinary criminals, security guards and local militias, but not all Monitors will take such equipment.
  • Monitors are frequently outnumbered and must be able to defeat a moderate number of opponents, given their skill and equipment.
  • While a range of equipment types are available, Monitors are expected to stick with their preferred gear most of the time, rather than constantly switching for tactical advantage.
  • Almost any weapon is more likely to wound than an unarmed attack, which will be our baseline
  • Almost any armour is more protective than

I will need to revisit soft attacks at some point, as I think under the current rules it's not especially viable to rely mostly on soft weapons: there's simply no way to eliminate a target. Perhaps cumulative attacks can result in a wound? Or perhaps the results of the attack are hampering enough that a target can be readily brought down with the equivalent of the "clean blow to the jaw" so beloved of Dick Barton et al?

Also, some sample characters:

  • Professor Rayner, the noted physicist dandy, who uses weapons only reluctantly and wears nothing but silk
  • Xerxes Hardly, special investigator, handy with a pistol but preferring guile to force
  • Siobhain Greenclaw, hardy adventuress, equally comfortable with rifle, jetbike or antique vase, and geared up for tough situations
  • Captain Ukala, former special forces, a crack shot in military armour
  • Toa, finest shot in the spinward sector, professional rogue robot hunter with the social skills of a sprig of broccoli

Rayner is likely to avoid combat entirely. If a firefight ensues, she will largely stick to covering fire while seeking another option. She's unlikely to engage in long-range shooting under normal circumstances, and wouldn't expect to hit anything. In extremis, and at short range, she would pull a gun in self-defence, and expect to have a reasonable chance to stop one (two at the outside) attacker with fairly basic gear. I wouldn't expect her to take down any well-trained or armoured attacker with straightforward shooting, but to rely on intelligence, or make skillful use of the environment to buy enough time to escape or finally get in a lucky shot. Under fire, she can weather an injury as well as any other Monitor, but I'd expect most accurate shots to cause an injury.

Xerxes uses violence as a backup when stealth fails. He's comfortable enough with a weapon to confidently take on a crook or security guard and expect to win, especially since he can usually get the drop on them somehow. Facing more than a couple of opponents, though, he'd look for other options. He's unlikely to carry anything heavy enough to dent serious armour, and would make special arrangements if he expected that kind of trouble. His tough clothing should soften impacts a bit, but he still wants to avoid getting shot at in the first place. In a brawl, he expects to knock out the average street thug fairly handily, but will go down quickly to a gang.

Greenclaw is willing to engage in a firefight with whatever bandits, aliens or extradimensional horrors care to kick off. That kind of character expects to fight off larger numbers of opponents, to pick off weak enemies fairly readily and tougher ones with a few shots, be they mercenaries or wild beasts. She isn't expecting to tear through military targets, but does expect to survive an encounter with a fairly dangerous enemy, holding it off and getting out of there until a better opportunity presents itself. We'd also want her to weather a few hits with the survival gear she has.

Ukala will probably be drawing a bead as soon as an enemy presents itself. She fully expects to defeat several soldiers single-handed, to go toe-to-toe with robosaurs or Kargbeasts, and have a decent bash at vehicles if she has the kit to hand. In a straight-up gunfight, most shots should hit home, and only well-armoured targets should regularly withstand them. A particularly tough opponent ought to weather a few shots in order to be satisfying, but should still be defeatable.

Toa will be deeply disappointed to miss a shot against any but the trickiest target. He expects to pick off fleeing robots at long range, take out drivers as they race past, and hit that vulnerable thermal outlet valve more often than not. While he probably won't carry the heaviest weapons, he should be able to use accuracy to take on tough targets, and should rarely have cause to worry about any kind of firefight. Facing hostile creatures, there's really no more sensible tactic than finding a good spot to shoot from and beginning as soon as they come into view.


Okay, where does that leave us?

Just in passing, I'm going to say that I don't especially anticipate Monitors going around with a heavy weapon as their usual kit. While I'm perfectly happy for them to do that, they're special agents rather than actual soldiers, and even when confronting bandits and the like, unwieldy heavy weapons aren't usually the best choice. But I'll try to keep those as a viable but not overpowered option too.

Also, for clarity: this is not an exercise in picking the result I want and then allocating modifiers to fit. I am in all cases starting with the descriptions given above (each character has 4 Skill points more than the last) and rules described elsewhere, applying them as the situation would warrant and then looking to see what the numbers do. So while I can't rule out subjectivism, I am at least trying to limit it.

I will be using the model with a +5 Wounding bonus for rolling half the target number to hit, as suggested at the end of the last post.


If we treat Rayner as our suggested Skill 4 character, then assuming a short-range +5 bonus for pistols she'd hit 45% of the time, so can draw a weapon and still have a decent shot. If the pistol is exactly as good as the target's armour, she should successfully hit and wound a target one time in four. Anyone starting a fight is probably as good if not a bit better at fighting, but then ordinary mooks have only one Wound. Thus, Rayner should be able to take on one or two low-quality mooks and have a decent chance at coming out on top. Let's see.

With the +5 close bonus, it will take Rayner an average of four shots (two rounds) to cause a wound.* It will tend to take her eight attacks to drop both mooks. Depending how long the first one takes, and whether they go first or last, two mooks with exactly the same gear can get off anywhere from zero to sixteen attacks. Most likely, each will take about four shots, and so they can get off about seven shots before the first goes down, and then another four. This will tend to inflict 2.75 wounds. Just about perfect, I'd say. Rayner has a very slight advantage against two fairly feeble attackers, or one more competent attacker, but would be taken down very quickly by three.

*this took me several sprawling tables to calculate, which may appear elsewhere on the blog in future.


Allowing Xerxes a skill of 8, a +5 close bonus and a +1 strength weapon, he has a 44% chance of wounding, which translates into just under three attacks for an average wound on a thug. He's most likely to use force when he expects to win, which means he'll likely be getting another bonus somewhere and dropping the thug in one round, but let's not assume that. Against two, he can take them down in five shots, during which they might get off four to eight shots before one falls and another couple before the second. More likely it will be six before the first falls and another two before the second drops, for a total of eight attacks, inflicting 1.6 wounds through his tough coat (2 armour). Xerxes comes out battered but conscious and the odds against him going down are decent.

In a brawl (no weapon mods), he has a 25% chance to wound while theirs is a mere 11% because of his outfit. Being generous, they might have some equivalent protective gear and drop his chances to 21%. Here it's likely to take him five attacks to cause a single wound, but he can still easily take out both of them (ten attacks) while taking only 1.8ish wounds in the same period. About the same. It's going to take more than just a couple of two-bit thugs to drop Xerxes when he's on form, but three of them (or two with weapons) can handle it.

I'm happy with that.


Greenclaw (skill 12 in ranged and melée) expects to fend off, say, four or five competent bandits (Skill 8, armour 3, str 6 rifle). With her rifle and moderate armour, she has a +4 advantage in attacking them, and a 0 modifier in defence. The bandits have a 25% chance of inflicting a wound, while her odds are 50%. It should take her five rounds on average to finish off the bandits. During this time, if they stand their ground, she will suffer a total of 50 shots. With the best will in the world, there's no chance she can handle that. Hiding in cover would improve her odds by making it harder to hit her, but they can do the same, of course.

In practice, we're not expecting Greenclaw to stand in the open and shoot; she should be using some of her actions to move around for advantage, getting out of the line of fire for some bandits and forcing them to move around too, so she can handle them piecemeal. Assuming that this will allow only half the remaining bandits to attack each round, and that Greenclaw and the bandits each spend one action moving per round... she'll have to weather a more reasonable 25 shots, which is just slightly more than she can expect to survive. With suitable application of cunning, cover and tactics, and allowing for things like cowardice on the part of the bandits, I think it's reasonable.

Greenclaw expects to drive off a mob of cultists. Not being properly trained, the cultists have a puny skill of 2 and their rusting weapons are -5 against Greenclaw's armour. They have only a 4% chance of inflicting a Wound. Meanwhile, Greenclaw's skill 12 and +6 weapon grant her a 56% chance. She can mow down the cultists in 18 shots, but really they will probably scatter once half go down (nine shots, five rounds). However, that's plenty of time for them to get off 148 shots, if we allow them all to fire each round, twice as many as they need. To succeed here, Greenclaw will have to rely on not all the cultists having ranged weapons, on blast weapons like grenades, or on some being distracted each round by jostling for position, by clambering over obstacles or by crazed chanting. Not awful, but not amazing. Using auto-wound minions as discussed earlier would make virtually no difference here, as the issue is hitting the cultists. But a mob of cultists should not be modelled individually; such puny and numerous opponents should be a mob entity that's modelled individually. So this is a false issue right now.

Greenclaw expects to defeat a Kelithan Rockchewer (three Wounds, armour 6, str 4) and to survive an encounter with a Kargbeast (four Wounds, armour 8, str 9) but not defeat one in a straight-up fight. Her ranged weapon has about a +2 on the Rockchewer's armour, while the laser knife she'll probably use in melée will only be a str 3-4. If she can open fire before it reaches her, her odds are about even - she'll cause about 1.3 wounds in three shots, while it'll take five melée attacks to cause the remaining wounds. The Rockchewer is probably better in combat than she is (skill 16) but even so, will take four rounds of combat to defeat Greenclaw - too long! However, if the Rockchewer gets the drop on her, she will be in trouble. On the other hand, if it's a juvenile no more skilled than her then it's even odds.

What about the Kargbeast? Well, this isn't really a maths question but one of actions. Greenclaw needs to use her actions for evasion and escape - or for delaying attacks, like slowing darts - and rely on the Kargbeast spending some on attacks. As long as the Kargbeast isn't likely to take her down in a single strike, she should be okay.


Ukala expects to take half-a-dozen mercenaries single-handed. Mercs are skill 12, with rifles like Ukala's (but probably a little less good - str 6) and armour 6. Ukala has skill 16, a str 8 rifle and armour 8 - as I said above, most of her shots will find a target. With a 58% hit chance, it'll take Ukala eleven shots to drop them all if she relies on straight-up shooting, though as a competent soldier she shouldn't be. As previous examples will demonstrate, this is far too long (they get 66 shots, and need only 10), but Ukala should be using suppressing tactics and throwing grenades and so on. Nevertheless, I don't think this is good enough purely off the numbers, though it's hard to tell how it would work out in play with many more factors involved. The classic situation tends to have the hero picking their moments, ready and waiting when a searching merc rounds the corner, or spinning out from behind a pillar. In short, Ukala shouldn't reasonably expect to the mercs as a group, but by taking on a couple at a time. Having done some checking, the most she can realistically take on even terms is only two, simply because they get more shots than she does and are moderately competent. One to keep an eye one.

Ukala expects to go toe-to-toe with a robosaur or Kargbeast and have a decent chance. The Kargbeast has four Wounds, armour 8, str 9 and probably melée of about 15. The Kargbeast has a substantial advantage once it gets into combat, which means Ukala needs to get some shots off before combat starts. If she does, all well and good; she should be able to get a wound in, possibly two. If she uses a soft attack (which would be sensible) she can reduce the beast's offensive ability in the long run, and improve her odds. On the other hand, if she leaps into melée the Kargbeast is likely to emerge battered but victorious.

Ukala expects well-armoured targets to weather her shots and prove tough to defeat. At present, that's entirely possible if armour values are basically unlimited. If they're capped around 10-12, she can expect to do around one wound in every two or three rounds of fire.


Toa has a skill of 20, and a dedicated anti-robot rifle (shock weapon) designed for mid to long-range fire. He would have military armour, but not heavy stuff, since he expects to be the one doing the shooting. I'll grant that armour of 7, and assume that a mob of security bots have weak weapons with about a +2, so Toa has advantage by 5 points.

With no attack modifier for range and a weapon that's likely to be at least +5 against the robots compared to their armour, Toa can expect to damage a robot a full 88% of the time, dropping five robots in three rounds of focused fire. He can take out a ten-bot squad in six rounds, which is probably not enough to stop a distant target from closing into melée (if it wants to). If it's a firefight, during that time Toa would be exposed to... wow, let me just do some maths...

Okay, Toa is going to be taking 136 attacks before he drops the robots - assuming they choose to fire rather than move. I think we need to assume that a robot with a weapon has at least some idea what it's doing, and more so if in a pack, so let's give them a "militia" score of 10. They're looking at a 19% wound chance. Even allowing for all Toa's advantages, ten robots are likely to drop him in the first round with things as they stand (16 attacks, to be specific). If he's in a bit of cover, they're looking at two rounds of fire. Toa is a great robot hunter, but can't simply stand around blasting at overwhelming numbers of militia-grade robots with his current gear. He's going to need to try long-range fire (where their weapons will be penalised or ineffective), some proper hunting tactics (divide and conquer) or just some really serious armour if he wants to weather that kind of situation.

What about a single high-grade military bot? Let's allow the robot Armour 10, and Toa's rifle Strength 5 against it (a total penalty of -5). Due to stellar marksmanship, he will score a wound a full 38% of the time, allowing him to take the heavily-armoured military bot down in four rounds of sustained fire - providing he stays standing that long.


Okay, I would say this isn't awful, but also has some obvious weak spots. One prominent one is that I haven't really established a high-end power level for dangerous beasts, so it's hard to tell if that stuff works (the Kargbeast is only slightly better than a Monitor, which is hardly "terrifying alien monstrosity" level). Strength in numbers very rapidly allows competent enemies to overpower a Monitor despite the difference in wounds, because three one-wound enemies with two shots each can hugely outshoot a three-wound Monitor with two shots. This is true at very small numbers of competent enemies, well before you get into hordes.


Here's the other question: what would it take to survive a mob of ten enemies for several rounds? That's a classic of fiction, after all. Incidentally, I am well aware that this is not the way to handle large groups of enemies, I'm just curious.

A mob of poorly-trained Stormtroopers may have Skill of only 2-3 and low-quality weapons. It will take them 50 shots to take down the Professor, 60-odd for a lightly-armoured Monitor, or 75+ to drop a target with military armour of grade 6 or better. However, 60 shots is only three rounds of fire for a squad of ten Stormtroopers! You'd need to reduce their wound chance to a mere 3% before it'll take 100 shots (5 rounds for them) to drop you on average. Meanwhile, Rayner will take 77 shots to destroy the robots (39 rounds) and Xerxes will take 38 shots (19 rounds) - neither stands a snowball's chance in a kiln. Heavy armour does a limited amount to help here - what you really need is penalties to hit, which calls for evasive action and/or cover. I don't think this is that outrageous to be honest - characters surviving mobs do typically use speed, mobility or cover to survive - but if I want tank-like characters soaking up damage then I'm going to have problems in this model.

So mobs are something I need to look at again, and like just about every other (combat-including) RPG out there, I will probably end up with some swarm rules for handling large numbers of ineffectual targets. I have also mentioned the idea of minion NPCs, who don't even have wounds but go down to a single hit from any kind of weapon, which would perhaps be a better fit for the Stormtroopers.

There might also just be some standard rules for mobs of weak enemies, allowing them to look nasty while presenting less of a threat than expected. For example, it makes sense that in normal circumstances only part of the mob can get a clear line of sight, while others are distracted, cowering under suppressing fire, clambering over obstacles and so on. Similarly, it may be easier to hit a mob if you aren't aiming at a specific target.

I could add rules for suppressing fire. They can be pretty broad-brush and affect only certain enemies (one-wounders, who come in mobs). Alternatively, taking cover might be a part of the rules for such NPCs, allowing GMs to present a mob of them while having standard rules that prevent them being too much of a threat.

Of course, this doesn't deal at all with the actions issue, because the idea of actions is you sometimes do things other than standing still and shooting. You use cover, manoeuvre for advantage, run from overwhelming force and try to pick off isolated targets.

The other thing is that, impressive as Monitors should be, I don't especially want individual characters to be fighting off large numbers of enemies on a regular basis. That sort of thing should be restricted either to genuine swarms, to very particular situations with very particular gear, or to streaks of outrageous luck and cunning. Apart from any other considerations, if a single Monitor that's anything other than a minmaxed combat machine with outrageous gear can wade through ten enemies worth differentiating in a straight-up fight, the GM is going to be faced with managing huge numbers of NPC combatants and combats will grind to a screeching halt. There is no problem with a Monitor fighting, say, ten pirates, as long as they appear in small groups or are otherwise unable to bring their numbers to bear. Similarly, there's no problem with a Monitor defeating a horde of crazed hoover-bots that pose virtually no individual threat.

On top of that, a lot of the time (though not all) Monitors should be working in groups, and three or four can handle a significantly larger number of enemies far more effectively than one, because it's a smaller multiple. Broadly speaking, if one combat-ready Monitor can handle two or three enemies then a group should be able to deal with eight to twelve at once, which is a nicely impressive number.

Next steps

I want to try out an alternate model (suggested, as so often, by Dan) which would exchange Wound rolls for an unmodified Armour save. This would emphasise the idea that Monitor weapons do hurt if they hit you, and only some decent armour will protect you. Powerful weapons would not modify the roll, but simply penetrate armour of a particular value or worse. This can greatly speed up play because there's no roll for high-pen weapons, while allowing armour to be really very good against weapons that are even slightly weaker than it.

I also want to take a look at mob rules.

One day, I will actually get round to publishing some actual armoury again!


  1. For what it's worth, I think you're partly running up against a phenomenon that a friend of mine (citing, I think, Rommel) used to sum up as "two tanks are three times as dangerous as one tank". The danger from larger numbers of enemies increases pyramidally because, as I think you've worked out, every additional enemy gets to shoot at you while you're taking down the first enemy.

    1. Exactly. I also had the (interesting?) thought that this would be far less of a problem in a fantasy game, because it's much more intuitive to have only two of the guards rush you at a time (there's not room for more, they're being cautious) and thus limit your incoming risk, whereas with guns aplenty this is not the case.

      My actions model is also not helping, because in this situation it allows enemies to bombard you very very effectively. I'm considering rates of fire for weapons, where some would only get one useful shot per round, but not sure yet.

      I suspect this is actually also an area where a big hit point model would potentially improve matters, because you can scale damage very sharply with that (c.f. 4E minions often doing 3-4 damage), whereas with a small pool and a risk model it's much harder.

    2. Also: I agree that this would be much less of an issue in a fantasy game because, as you say, you can handwave limits on melee attackers a lot more easily.

      Having said that, I think it would be feasible to put a similar limit on ranged attackers, it doesn't feel as superficially obvious but I suspect it's actually quite hard to coordinate twenty people all firing at the same target at the same time.

  2. Incidentally, something else I'd notice about your example is that you seem to be scaling both *number* and *power* of enemies at the same time (you go from "two ordinary dudes" to "six mercenaries with powerful rifles"), so that might also be skewing your results a bit.

    Another thing to consider is that, while this sort of theorycrafting is helpful, remember that in actual play, your players won't be facing individually-appropriate groups of enemies alone, they'll be fighting particular groups of enemies together.

    Thought on actions. Rather than giving weapons a rate of fire, you could limit the number of actions a character can spend per round on firing. This might encourage more movement in combat. You could also have some kind of special ability/break point where a character was able to spend both actions on attacking once they reached a certain level of competence.