Thursday, April 16, 2020

When You Come at the King, You Best Not Miss

In D&D it can sometimes seem like your only two options for enemy royalty are the chess king model - where the king is realistically weak and helpless compared to the knights and castles defending him - or what we might call the Into the Badlands baron model - where the reason he has become and remained the king is because he is the single greatest fighter in his own army.

We could probably also call this the "chess queen" model

A third model occurred to me when thinking about character classes like The Extras, The Financier, and The Crew - that is, royal villains and their retinue of loyal bodyguards are represented within the game mechanics as a single enemy creature. So royal monsters get higher HD as their rank goes up, not because they become better fighters, but because they become better protected by a larger staff of intermediaries.

The king is always surrounded by his most loyal bodyguards, and initially, any damage is dealt to the guards. The figure of the king, in this model, represents the last Hit Dice, perhaps even the last hit point - you don't get to touch him until all the guards are down. With apologies to both Omar Little and Ralph Waldo Emerson, when you strike at the king, you won't kill him, at least not until all his guards are out of the way.

The question of whether the king escapes and returns later with a new retinue, gets captured, gets executed, or is simply thrown out of the palace and exiled - this is a question the players can answer outside of combat. And except for possibility of daring escape, these are all questions that can be answered simply by the players coming to a consensus. Once the king is at their mercy, they no longer need to roll any dice to determine what happens to him.

I believe it was also Emerson who asked
"Is you taking notes on a criminal fucking conspiracy?"

I was reminded of this idea during a conversation with Trey of From the Sorcerer's Skull, who suggested "A mechanic wherein Underbosses were like the ablative armor of the Big Boss would be interesting. The heroes don't get a chance to confront them until they've taken down enough "points" of Underbosses."

Mechanically, Trey thought you could borrow rules from the 2nd edition of Robin Laws's HeroQuest rules: "You could encounter a Boss without going through the Underbosses, but at that point the Boss is really high on the challenge curve and you're likely to get beat." 

Richard from Richard's Dystopian Pokeverse thought this was similar to the "onion skin campaign model" that's used in Sandy Peterson's Masks of Nyarlathotep. He adds that Patrick from False Machine is already using a rule like this in one of his current games where Richard's a player: "Having reduced a rival to 0, the attacker has to state they specifically want to kill/capture the king and use their forces against the remaining 1hp point."

And finally, Steve from Kaijuville thought this reminded him of a mechanic that sometimes shows up in Warhammer 40K: "Characters joined units that basically meant the unit became a Wound sink for the character. In hand-to-hand combat, enemies couldn't wound the character until they dealt with all the unit models."

20 comments:

  1. I'm reading K6BD at a critical time that is very relevant https://killsixbilliondemons.com/comic/king-of-swords-10-134/

    I really like this essay. I will note though that perhaps the best way to kill the king is not to kill his retainers, but his authority. If they stop following him, the emperor is now naked...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I really should read that comic sometime.

      I like your point about attacking the king's base of support. If we assume that "HD from bodyguards" follows a fairly strict schedule by rank, then "demoting" the king by reducing his base of support should weaken him.

      (Actually, I wonder if that's how that "challenge curve" Trey mentioned is supposed to work? This probably merits more investigation.

      Delete
  2. The game Rhapsody of Blood does this pretty well I think. Might be worth a look

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Cool, thanks for the recommendation, Aaron!

      Delete
  3. The terrific - and extremely innovative - miniatures game Rogue Planet (https://bombshell-games.com/rogue-planet/) does something like this very well.

    It uses 'pawns' - followers that act as floating hit points but also add powers to their leader. So a hero might have a bodyguard who takes double hits before expiring, a sword-bearer who ups his combat stats and a gun-bearer or sighter who improves his shooting.

    The pawns are essentially symbolic: their position on the tabletop is irrelevant, and they can't be attacked individually. But as they die (i.e. as they take hits for their master), the leader loses the associated powers.

    It's a brilliant system for a miniatures game, because it takes counting 'hit points' away from paper and onto the table. But the 'ablative armour + power' system could work really well in RPGs too.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That does sound very cool, thanks for the recommendation! The followers providing abilities that go away as they get knocked out also reminds me of the Space Trucker board game.

      The pawns' granting of powers also makes the choice of which pawn just got knocked out into an interesting strategic question for whoever gets to make that choice.

      I appreciate your point about the symbolic positioning. For this whole idea to work, you have to be willing to give up on specific miniature positions on a grid and probably on the ability to attack any individual figure deliberately.

      Delete
  4. That reminded me of this as well - http://udan-adan.blogspot.com/2016/09/bx-class-extras.html

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ten Foot Polemic had a version of "the extras" too!
      http://tenfootpolemic.blogspot.com/2018/09/class-extras.html

      Delete
  5. I propose henchmen providing HP pools for the leader in my post here: http://riseupcomus.blogspot.com/2020/03/three-bad-kung-fu-ideas.html

    Maybe you'll get some inspiration out of it. Or can poke holes in my execution.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh good call! It sounds like you and Steve S are on the same page - there's no reason this mechanic must be limited to villains. (Meat) shields must be splintered and all that.

      Delete
  6. Perhaps there is also the Rian Johnson or "Snoke" model, where a formidable ruler is summarily dispatched but the real battle follows as the protagonists seek to escape the bodyguards.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That would certainly flip things on their head!

      Delete
  7. I really like this idea.

    You could also imagine giving the boss "rotating" abilities or d&d 4e-style triggered abilities based on which underboss / guards / etc. are "on deck".

    If you wanted to go really ham with it, you could even add a (very light) CCG-style mechanic on top of it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks! Giving the Boss an attack based on which Underboss is currently "up" sounds a little like the mechanic from the Rogue Planet game that JC mentioned, above.

      I'm kind of a fan of rotating abilities for bosses. I know it makes them feel a bit like video game bosses, but it also means that players who pay attention can potentially anticipate and counteract whatever's coming next.

      Rolling a dice (like in Gloomhaven, right?) or adding in a deck of moves (like Kingdom Death?) could appeal to people who want a little more unpredictability.

      Delete
  8. I’m using a house rule for similar effect: anybody can take one hit destined for somebody else this round by interposing themselves. So a magic user protected by an armored guard can only be hit if two people attack at the same time as one of them is going to get intercepted by the guard. Or to think of it as “two rank fighting”: if the opposition has n people in the front rank you need at least n+1 attackers to reach the back rank. And in Mass Combat I generalize this as described in previous comments: you essentially hide in a unit and they all take the blows aimed at you until there is nobody else left.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That sounds cool, Alex. Yeah, one PC "taking a hit" for another seems like something that SHOULD happen sometimes, although I guess most rulesets don't exactly make it easy for that to happen.

      Delete
  9. This seems extremely gamified and I bet it'd be an interesting system for either a video game or highly abstracted, mechanics first sort of TTRPG. It could also have applications in genre emulators of the first two types.

    In a classic TTRPG, or one that focuses on puzzle solving, using the power-base, supporters or guards of a leader as direct mechanical power seems reductive and like it might limit solutions to direct combat. In a puzzle solving or classic TTRPG style scenario separating the "King" for its supporters, guards and wards seems like the main thrust of the scenario.

    How do the characters get to their softer target - infiltrate the capital, distract the guards, bribe the servants, and somehow slip the poison into the right cup. The planning itself carries the main ludic weight - a direct confrontation with the King alone is as much a foregone player victory as a confrontation with the King and retinue is a defeat.

    If anything the guards as HP sort of mechanic strikes me as very much a JRPG sort of thing - where the visual structure of the game (that classic FF sprites facing off) dramatically limits the number of foes, while a story/narrative structure favoring heroic confrontation (and the glorious quips that come with it)means the King has to be combated directly and climactically?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I would agree that this is a very "gamey" mechanic, in the sense that it abstracts away from directly simulating the world in a realistic way.

      It's an option for when you want to have a throne-room fight scene, and you don't want to have to choose between a realistically fragile king who risks dying of a nosebleed if he so much as sneezes in the PCs' direction, on the one hand, or the conceit that an elderly man who spends all day sitting in a chair while surrounded by a private army is somehow single-handedly the greatest combatant in the land, on the other.

      You're right that any kind of domain-style skullduggery offers the chance to undermine the king's support without directly confronting him in combat. You could even combine that idea with this one, and use the king's current level of support to determine how many HD of guards are surrounding him.

      It's funny you mention JRPG's as a combat model here, because honestly, yes, I think that IS how I tend to imagine combat. Turn-based, abstract, with two "sides" facing off. The only miniatures game I ever played as a kid was HeroQuest, and positioning is basically never a very big issue there.

      Delete
  10. Use Java Programming Help if you have less knowledge of coding and programming language. If you find tough to compose your Java papers before the due dates, get expert's help using the option of online Java programming services.
    Java Assignment Help
    java homework help
    Java Programmer Help
    Java Help

    ReplyDelete
  11. Thanks for sharing this great article. Hi, I am John Smith, I am working as a tech expert at email support. I have 3 years of experience in this field. If you have any problems related to Roadrunner email login problems, etc, then please contact for instant help related to email problems.

    ReplyDelete