Saturday, July 11, 2015

H+I Encounter Scaling

I was inspired by this post by Tom from ...and a Brace of Pistols.
"How do you scale encounters for a smaller or larger group than you had planned on. Or than the published adventure planned on? What works, and what does not? Do different systems affect how you scale?" 
Honor+Intrigue falls into the category of games that Tom describes as having “mechanics to support throwing bucket loads of opponents against the PCs with minimal threat to their survival.” It may help to explain a bit about how that works in H+I. There are three levels of characters in H+I: heroes and villains, retainers, and pawns. 

How Honor+Intrigue Works

Heroes and Villains have similar abilities and use the same mechanics. Both types of characters have a base of 4 points each for Qualities i.e. stats, Combat Abilities, and Careers. Both start with 3 Advantage points which allow them to yield advantage to avoid being hit by melee and brawling attacks. Both have 3 or more Fortune Points which can be used for various benefits. Two of the most common are adding a bonus die to an action and turning a hit with a missile weapon into a close call, i.e. a near miss. Both characters are able to take two actions, one major action (like an attack) and one minor action (like a move or parry) each turn. They can also, split actions to gain an extra action, though at a penalty to both actions. In addition, heroes and villains have 3 Composure for use in Social Combat. Composure works similar to Advantage. To take an opponent out in social combat one must reduce their Composure to zero. Heroes and villains have Lifeblood (similar to hit points) equal to their Might+10. Lifeblood does not increase except by increasing Might or adding a Boon like Hard to Kill. (To put Lifeblood in perspective, a normal rapier hit does 1d6 damage+Might or 2d6+Might for a Lunge. So one hit can be fatal.) Heroes and Villains get one Boon for free and may take up to two additional boons in exchange for Flaws.
Retainers are less capable than heroes or villains. They only have 1 to 3 points each for their Qualities, Combat Abilities, and Careers. They only have 1 Advantage point. They have no Fortune Points. They can take on action (major or minor) each turn and, like heroes and villains; they can split actions at a penalty. They also have 3 Composure, just like heroes and villains. Retainers have a base of Lifeblood equal to their Might+8. Retainers start with no Boons, but they may take up to two boons in exchange for Flaws.
Pawns have a total of 0-4 points to split among their Qualities, Combat Abilities, and Careers. Pawns may take only one action and may not split their action. They have no Advantage, Fortune Points, Composure, nor Boons, and they only have 1 Lifeblood. So any successful attack defeats a pawn. Pawns can combine their attacks to increase their chance to hit and their damage and pawns can combine with a leader who is a retainer or villain. That is the typical way pawns are used. Mostly as it cuts down on the number of low probability die rolls, but also because some heroes may be nearly unhittable by a single pawn.

How to Scale Encounters in Honor+Intrigue

  • One can dial this up or down by increasing the competence of the Pawns, Average Pawns are competence 2, but competence can vary by +/- 2 so from 0 to 4. Lots of average pawns or a rabble of competence 0 pawns may look impressive, but they are not particularly dangerous to combat capable heroes unless they can surround the hero to maximize their bonus and to gain modifiers for flank or rear attacks. 
  • Similarly Retainers can be dialed up or down from 1 to 3. A Retainer-3 is about half as tough or less than a typical hero. Two retainers may hold up all but the most combat capable PCs for at least a couple of turns or more. If they each have pawns aiding them they may become a dangerous threat.H+I usually assumes adversaries will consist of one villain, one or more retainers as lieutenants, and the rest pawns. The more PC heroes, the more lopsided this arrangement will be. A good rule of thumb for combat is that a typical hero or villain is equivalent to 1 villain or 1 retainer + 4 pawns. So a reasonable match for 4 heroes, would be 1 villain, 3 retainers, and a dozen pawns.
  • Numbers do matter in H+I, but no more than the ability of the opponent. Fighting two retainers may be a bit of a challenge or it may be a walk over depending on the relative abilities of the opponents. While two villains at once will greatly outclass all but the most experienced hero since the villains will have twice the actions, twice the fortune points, and twice the lifeblood of the solo hero. And the same is true for multiple heroes attacking a single villain or monster. So one thing to do is either to screen the villain with a retainer(s) and/or pawns or to have the villain use Fortune Points to make good an escape at the first sign of being outnumbered.
  • Because heroes only get one major and one minor action, any time they get two or more successful attacks against them in a single round they are going to either take damage or they will have to yield advantage. So multiple attacks matter a lot. Use them wisely.
  • One other thing to be aware of is maneuver masteries. Mastering certain maneuvers e.g. Dodge, Parry, and Riposte grants the character one free mastered maneuver. So a duelist who has mastered parry, can now take 1 major action, 1 minor action, and 1 free parry each round. A duelist who has mastered all three maneuvers, may dodge one attack, riposte against that opponent, parry a second opponent and still have their normal major and minor actions. This makes master duelists extremely dangerous. This may counter any advantage that a pair of retainers will have. 
  • Numbers may need to be adjusted depending on your heroes. A high Might hero with a large weapon can use the Moulinet maneuver to attack all the opponents in front of him which may conceivably take out a retainer and 4 pawns in one blow. Any hero can spend their full turn using a stunt to incapacitate a group of pawns. With the right stunt and the right abilities a hero can easily take out half a dozen pawns. And the standard bladework maneuver can be repeated if the pawn is hit. Allowing multiple attacks with each additional attack at a cumulative penalty of -1 per additional attack. This means a highly skilled duelist will tend to take out 3 pawns per round or more.
  • Giving a Retainer a Boon that provides Fortune Points is one way to increase either the danger or the durability of the retainer and it can provide a nasty surprise for an unprepared player and may allow the villains lieutenant to make good a near death escape.
  • For social combat, one thing to remember is that retainers are nearly as dangerous as villains. This is more equal than in physical combat. One way to prevent the heroes from socially steamrolling NPCs is to give them a coterie of hangers-on or followers who can support or even intercede in social combat.
Depending on your style of play, balancing encountes may require careful planning by the GM to hit a reasonable balance. This is especially true if you are worried about combat ending too quickly or the PCs getting killed. Personally I’m perfectly happy to let the heroes slash their way through a horde with a good roll or three or to have them spend Fortune Points to escape near certain death by the skin of their teeth or to wake up chained in the Baron’s dungeon, so I don’t worry too much about balance. I may send guards in waves – a tactic often seen in films and one that may realistically reflect reactions of guards in multiple locations. So I often plan to have additional guards in earshot to provide reinforcements.

Of course if one doesn't use hard keyed encounters, the GM could just keep adding groups of pawns or pawns with retainer leaders until the encounter reaches the desired level of difficulty. That’s not my style, but it works for some tables, so if it is your style, there you go.

1 comment:

  1. HA! I've added this to the other links on the subject.