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Speeding up Combat for M&M3e in PbP

   
Speeding up Combat for M&M3e in PbP

Question! What have y'all done to try to speed up combat in M&M for PbP?

I am running a test campaign now where I've been running players through encounters from various M&M scenarios and campaigns. So far the average encounter (PL 10 vs 2 PL8s or PL 12 vs PL 12, etc.) has taken between 12 and 15 rounds. Based on the average posting rate for a M&M game here at MW, that's between 4 and 6.5 weeks to finish a quick, simple punch-em-up. If we can't find a way to speed that up, we're going to dump M&M. I like the character creation system and I like the HP/complication system a lot. I'd like to try to salvage it.

The next test will be to gimp all the villains by -2 or -5 depending on if they are scrubs or the big bad (scrubs are the -5). We are also going to test adding an Escalation die to the game like 13th Age.

What have you tried?

That is a lot of rounds for M&M. Is everyone hitting their caps? Are your characters using the full range of combat maneuvers?

My concern about using the escalation die is that it biases the system even further toward trading off hit ranks for effect ranks.

Also, if you are using the 13th Age system, then only the heroes get the bonuses. This makes the fights go more quickly because they get easier. There are simpler ways to make the fights easier in M&M. Lower PL for baddies, use more mooks, use fewer villains so the PCs can gang up, raise PL for PCs.

I kinda do like the idea of using the escalation die but giving everyone the bonus, hero and villain. That would make the fights much shorter but it would also increase the number of fights the PCs lose. That happens all the time in comics but I'm not sure players will like it very much.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Caystodd View Post
My concern about using the escalation die is that it biases the system even further toward trading off hit ranks for effect ranks.
I hadn't thought of this, but you are probably right. This won't be a problem for us, because our characters are built around the archetypes. They trade-off based on concept not based on optimization, but I can definitely see people using certain combat maneuvers specifically because of the to-hit bonus on the escalation die.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Caystodd View Post
There are simpler ways to make the fights easier in M&M.
Easier? Probably. More consistent and elegant? I'm not ready to concede that yet.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Caystodd View Post
I kinda do like the idea of using the escalation die but giving everyone the bonus, hero and villain. That would make the fights much shorter but it would also increase the number of fights the PCs lose. That happens all the time in comics but I'm not sure players will like it very much.
Yeah, that might cause a mutiny, especially from the players that don't really understand genre expectations.

Let me tell you a secret....

*whispers* You will never like anything d20. Just admit that and move on with a different system.

Also, the best way to speed up pbp combat is to roll it out in Discord and then write a combat summary post. Get everyone on for thirty minutes and you knock out a combat.

That does seem a bit slow. I've not managed to play many actual fights in M&M; I do remember at least one feeling quite slow, but we were mostly slugging it out against one tough guy and I couldn't do much to help - yet even then, I don't think it hit 12-15 rounds, it was more just that we had three rounds in a row which were all about punching the guy (M&M, as a fairly simple system, can be a bit same-y round to round).

The book archetypes aren't typically very good, though they should hit PL caps. In fact if a bunch of people just roll damaging attacks vs each other's defences for a few rounds, I would guess that statistically you wouldn't expect it to last more than, what, maybe half a dozen? You could run the numbers. It seems a bit strange, though.

By the way, aren't "scrubs" usually minions? This means they essentially get hit a lot harder whenever they get hit, so they're much more fragile than "real" characters (a la 4e D&D, where minions might be able to harm you but still die in one hit).

I've asked this question all around and the most common responses have been: 1) fight less to speed up the game, 2) don't use M&M, and 3) don't play by post! I consider all three to be excellent suggestions, but that wasn't my question.
Quote:
Originally Posted by TheFred View Post
(M&M, as a fairly simple system, can be a bit same-y round to round).
This definitely counts as a vote in favor of "use a different system." It also did make me think a little more about how many of our combat rounds aren't actual combat rounds. I usually have two or three rounds in a combat where the heroes have to break off their attacks to save someone in peril (from a falling building, a collapsing bridge, etc.) caused by the fight. You know, comic book stuff. The players love that stuff though, so it has to stay. It's the other stuff I want to speed up.

The most common actual suggestion I've gotten has been about optimization. Our characters are optimized better than the archetypes in terms of PPs and alt powers, but not necessarily in terms of extreme combat effectiveness. One person on Discord suggested that all the characters should have damage powers linked to afflictions and possibly to defense drain. I suppose that would be one way of making combat easier. I tend to build my villains to about the same level of crunch as the PCs, so if everyone was built that way, the combats would go faster. It's something to think about.

Looking at this from a statistical standpoint, the numbers, at first glance, look like what we are experiencing is normal-ish.

Quote:
Originally Posted by TheFred View Post
By the way, aren't "scrubs" usually minions? This means they essentially get hit a lot harder whenever they get hit, so they're much more fragile than "real" characters (a la 4e D&D, where minions might be able to harm you but still die in one hit).
No, minions are minions. Scrubs are the villains that help the big bad that you have to fight at some point, usually in act 2. (Hela is a big bad. The Executioner is her scrub, etc.) Usually scrubs are at PL or one or two below it and usually are about equal in number to the PCs. The big bad is usually much higher PL, depending on the number of PCs. In our games, we usually don't bother to roll dice against minions. We just narrate the scene and have lots of fun.

Well, this is true of most relatively-rules-light systems; in D&D terms, everyone in M&M is basically a Fighter - you roll to attack, maybe you hit, then next round you do the same again. That's because most people have a go-to attack at max ranks, and it's either their only option or their best (they might decide that using their Alternative Affliction effect is better than their regular Damage effect, for example, but then they'll just spam Affliction instead).

That's not 100% true, since there are all sorts of other powers - it's a bit of a caricature. However in a straight-up fight there isn't much variety (as compared with, say, a D&D Wizard) nor is there really much resource management (Hero Points and Fatigue and Extra Effort are there, but don't add much).

That means there's more onus upon the DM to make the game interesting with terrain, obstacles, multiple foes and moving parts, "save the bystanders", etc - which it sounds like you're already doing.

Actually I think combat probably ought to work out a little faster than that because you get this escalation effect. If you fail the check against the first hit, you not only have an increased chance of being knocked out next hit, but also of failing that at all, and the penalties are cumulative. Worse, the third degree of failure is almost as bad as the fourth - a person who suffers three degrees twice is knocked out (though I'm sure their music can't be that bad ).

I still only get about an evens chance of being knocked out after having been hit 5 times, which is a bit lower than I expected. This is for a single person hitting an equivalent foe over and over, though, and not using any trade-offs between attack and damage or anything. I'd normally expect players to be facing foes who are actually slightly weaker than them (because otherwise you'd expect them to get wiped 50% of the time). I'm not sure how it would change things if you start consider, say, one character attempting to impose a defence-lowering condition whilst others attack. I also suspect that multiple characters will be more lethal because they can escalate through those stages better with a couple of lucky hits.

More "optimal" characters will probably want to double-up on effects, because it's the best way to squeeze the most out of your actions. Points-wise it's obviously more expensive. I'm not sure how much of a different that makes, though; if you can lower someone's defences whilst also damaging, that's pretty good.

Quote:
Originally Posted by TheFred View Post
Well, this is true of most relatively-rules-light systems
I think this is incorrect, but I won't say anymore about it since 1) it isn't my question and 2) what constitutes "rules lite" and what makes combat "feel samey" are both largely (though not entirely) matters of taste.

Quote:
Originally Posted by TheFred View Post
Actually I think combat probably ought to work out a little faster than that because you get this escalation effect . . .
I accounted for all of this in my calculations. Click the spoiler above if you're curious.

Quote:
Originally Posted by TheFred View Post
I still only get about an evens chance of being knocked out after having been hit 5 times, which is a bit lower than I expected.
Statistically speaking, you'd have to be on round 9 or 10 of combat to have been hit 5 times. Which is my point.

Quote:
Originally Posted by TheFred View Post
I'd normally expect players to be facing foes who are actually slightly weaker than them (because otherwise you'd expect them to get wiped 50% of the time).
This has not proved true for us for a couple of reasons (Nor is it how M&M published encounters are typically set up).

1) This is because a hero with two or three HPs stands little chance of falling to an equal PL opponent. Over ten rounds, four of the attacks on the hero will miss, statistically speaking. Of the six attacks that hit, the hero will, statistically, succeed on the save twice (more if they are non-damage saves). Of the four checks that the hero fails, he can essentially negate two or three of them with a HP (using the reroll option). This not only skews the outcome in favor of the heroes, it also extends the fight by two or three rounds.

And 2) In M&M, there is no long-term iterative damage. With just five minutes or so of rest, heroes are as good as new. They face every fight at full strength except on rare occasions.

And even if you are entirely right and my encounters are too hard resulting in a 50/50 split for wins and losses, comic book heroes lose fights regularly. In fact, in the comics we've been reading and the cartoons we've been watching lately, heroes usually lose between 30% and 50% of their fights. As long as they don't lose the last fight in an arc, the story goes on. I be reluctant to give that up unless I just can't find a better way to speed up combat.

But your point is well taken. As Caystodd said above, if you want to make the fights shorter, make them easier. Lowering PL or encouraging the PCs to link powers while also not building villains the same way will do that. It is one of the options I am now considering.

Quote:
Originally Posted by TheFred View Post
I'm not sure how it would change things if you start consider, say, one character attempting to impose a defence-lowering condition whilst others attack. I also suspect that multiple characters will be more lethal because they can escalate through those stages better with a couple of lucky hits.
This is also good advice, but it falls under "make fights easier." I tend to build fights, especially in PbP, so that every player has something to do for the entire fight (e.g. everyone has their own opponent), because 1) it's fun and 2) it's very much a genre expectation. My players in my face-to-face game tried the "let's all gang up on the weakest villain first" approach, so one player hit him with drain, one an affliction, while the others started punching. It works well, as you say, but they didn't much like it when the villains did the same to them. In a face-to-face fight around a table, having to sit back and do nothing for twenty minutes because you got KOed on the third round is no fun. Having to sit back and do nothing for four weeks while the fight rages on in PbP because you got KOed on week 2 is ridiculous. But, again, your point is well taken. Making the villains fight poorly or building them improperly would make the fights easier and thus over more quickly. Making both heroes and villains more effective in dealing damage and conditions would also make the fights go more quickly, but would make the outcomes far more volatile. I'm not sure if my players would like that or not. I'd love it, but my tastes are kinda skewed like that.

After this discussion plus several on Discord, here are the options I'm considering:
1. The Escalation Die for to-hit and the save DC for both heros and villains (but not minions). We'll try this on Friday. I love the idea, but I have my doubts.
2. Giving the PCs some extra PPs to beef up their offensive powers with linked Afflictions and Drains. I'll do the same for the villains. We'll see if the volatility is a problem.
3. Giving the PCs more HPs (in my games players earn most of their PPs by the complications in their personal lives). My theory is that if they have a few extra, over and above the ones they are saving for those bad toughness saves, they will spend them to increase their number of hits. We'll see. They are hoarders.

I wasn't really suggesting making the fights easier, I was just postulating that heroes ganging up would actually knock people out faster, and that a mixture of conditions and damage might also prove more effective in the long run (especially if used by multiple characters).

I'll admit I hadn't really considered Hero Points; I see these more of a last resort, though I guess if it's that or a TPK then of course you would use them. How many HPs do your characters normally have? I thought it was 1 per scene, plus any from Complications? It's possible that they just have many HPs. Having more HPs might indeed help, though to be honest it sounds like they are just playing defensively with them. Using their HPs on key attacks might prove just as effective since then the fight will end quicker and you'll never need to make so many Toughness saves in the first place - but they're clearly not choosing to do that (and I sympathise, I'd probably want to keep at least one in reserve, too).

Villains can have HPs (Villain Points?) too, and if you're worried about that extending fights even further, just have them use them on attacks. In fact, in general, you can have villains use things like All-Out Attack if you want to speed things up a bit, though it's not an always-applicable, general solution. That said, you can basically just give villains abilities of whatever rank you want, so if you want to up their damage a bit, you can just do that.

Do your heroes always make very "balanced" attacks (as in, attack roll vs effect rank)?

As for making fights more volatile - that's generally not the greatest, but it sounds like what you have here is unusually un-volatile fights. If you want the fights to end more quickly but not be any easier, you basically have to make them more volatile - everyone needs to die faster. If you only make the villains die faster, the fights become easier, and if you don't, they carry on taking a long time (unless the villains just kill the PCs quicker, in which case the fights get harder but also finish quicker - but usually you don't want this).







 

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