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jinjitsu
2021-07-15, 11:22 AM
You know these kinds of fights - they pop up all the time in video games, and usually, even if you're good enough to not get yourself stomped, the game goes to a cutscene of you losing when you get the boss down to half its health.

Does anyone use these in their TTRPGs? I know a lot of people worry about "sandbox" games where players can stumble into overleveled monsters and not realize they should run, but have you ever planned for a party to do so and, say, trapped them with the villain?

Vahnavoi
2021-07-15, 11:47 AM
Yes and no.

Yes, I do occasionally put fights in my games that are impossible, at least on paper (sometimes, players defeat the enemies anyway due to some unlikely thing). No, in the sense that I rarely expect them to fight. These impossible fights are, typically, traps or optionaö challenges where you can see from a mile away that you shouldn't get involved. So, players rarely trigger them and when they do, they aren't surprised when it doesn't work out for them.

KorvinStarmast
2021-07-15, 11:56 AM
Does anyone use these in their TTRPGs? Rarely. These kinds of encounters are like silver bullets: you only have a few of them, so use them with care at just the right time.
YMMV.

Anonymouswizard
2021-07-15, 11:59 AM
Does anyone use these in their TTRPGs? I know a lot of people worry about "sandbox" games where players can stumble into overleveled monsters and not realize they should run, but have you ever planned for a party to do so and, say, trapped them with the villain?

Once, when I was relatively new to Gaming. These days I'd do it again but with a less overpowered enemy (say 5-6 levels higher in D&D, not 13).

The difference was that the NPC just wasn't bothered with the battle and had what they wanted. Therefore they left via a Teleport spell a couple of rounds in. The PCs took no damage, but as they (for reasons I can't remember) wanted something the NPC teleported away with they didn't achieve their objective and the enemy did.

Which is probably one of the best ways to have such encounters if you're going to make them inevitable. Place something the PCs want within their grasp, and then have the gnome bard swoop in, grapple them all with a couple of spells/minions, grab the Orb of MacGuffin, and then the bad guys all break their contingency amulets and plane shift to the demiplane of silk pillows.

JNAProductions
2021-07-15, 12:00 PM
You know these kinds of fights - they pop up all the time in video games, and usually, even if you're good enough to not get yourself stomped, the game goes to a cutscene of you losing when you get the boss down to half its health.

Does anyone use these in their TTRPGs? I know a lot of people worry about "sandbox" games where players can stumble into overleveled monsters and not realize they should run, but have you ever planned for a party to do so and, say, trapped them with the villain?

It's generally a bad idea. You might not indicate sufficiently that it's beyond their ability to handle, they might be stubborn about it, it can easily make feels-bad moments... Which is not to say NEVER do it, but do so with great care.

BRC
2021-07-15, 12:04 PM
You know these kinds of fights - they pop up all the time in video games, and usually, even if you're good enough to not get yourself stomped, the game goes to a cutscene of you losing when you get the boss down to half its health.

Does anyone use these in their TTRPGs? I know a lot of people worry about "sandbox" games where players can stumble into overleveled monsters and not realize they should run, but have you ever planned for a party to do so and, say, trapped them with the villain?

Sometimes? I find the key is to clearly communicate the purpose of the fight and provide some other outcome to shoot for.

For example, I did a flashback session about a doomed expedition. During that session, which the PC's knew was going to end in the Expedition's defeat, they got Points for killing monsters and achieving things. In the final encounter, an endless-wave fight until everybody went down, they got Points for surviving another round, and the enemies didn't get to act on the turn they joined the fight. After the session, the points they earned turned into charges of consumable magic items that they got in the main campaign.

So there was still a way to Win (get as many points as possible by surviving/slaying foes) despite the outcome being pre-determined.

And the Players KNEW what was going to happen, this was framed by their characters hearing the story of the Doomed Expedition That Ended In Disaster.


For example, if you Lock The PCs into a room with the villain, tell the players "You can't win this. However, each round he'll take some "Damage", if between that, and you dealing damage, he takes enough, you'll get some extra bonus".

Mastikator
2021-07-15, 12:04 PM
Turn it into a cutscene, if the players were not supposed to have a chance of winning or affecting the outcome then they have no agency. Don't trick them into thinking they have agency when they don't. If you don't like the idea that the players sometimes don't have agency then don't take it away and don't run fights that are supposed to be lost.

kyoryu
2021-07-15, 12:14 PM
If you roll the dice, allow the results.

If an opponent is unbeatable, then make that clear, and try to re-frame it as a chase or something else. Figure out what the question being asked is, and go from there.

And if they figure out a way to succeed? Let them.

PhoenixPhyre
2021-07-15, 12:25 PM
I don't plan such fights. They can still get into them if they want, but they'll have it clear ahead of time[1]. I have put things in the world that weren't intended to be fought, where the party literally could just walk on by, no issue (ie backdrop things). A dragon hunting in the clouds, not looking at them. A dire yeti hibernating in the forest. Etc. And even then, running is an option (very few such things will pursue them very far unless they did something horribly stupid to really antagonize it).

Any forced fight is winnable, even if it's not easy.

[1] ie deciding to attack the king in his castle at level 1. Bad idea and I'll "are you sure?" it, but I won't stop you if you're sure.

Morgaln
2021-07-15, 12:26 PM
I did this once. It was in a story that was designed to be a one-shot. For this one, I had a much clearer picture than usual of how I wanted the story to go, so I had a few scenes where I railroaded a bit and that one was one of them. I wanted the players to get captured, so I designed a fight with enemies using powerful poison to knock them out. They had saving throws to stave off the effect, and had they managed to defeat the attackers before the poison incapacitated them, they would indeed have escaped capture. It was unlikely but not impossible.

Note that my players didn't begrudge me this. In fact, the whole one-shot was so popular with them that not only did we turn it into a full-blown campaign (about to go into its fourth chapter), it also spawned a spin-off using some of the side characters from the one-shot.

However, this was an exception. My campaigns (including the one that came from the one-shot) are mostly comprised of reacting to what the players do, not actively pushing a certain story. As such, I usually don't have a reason to create fights that are not supposed to be won.

Leostales
2021-07-15, 01:49 PM
I did this once. It was in a story that was designed to be a one-shot. For this one, I had a much clearer picture than usual of how I wanted the story to go, so I had a few scenes where I railroaded a bit and that one was one of them. I wanted the players to get captured, so I designed a fight with enemies using powerful poison to knock them out. They had saving throws to stave off the effect, and had they managed to defeat the attackers before the poison incapacitated them, they would indeed have escaped capture. It was unlikely but not impossible.

Note that my players didn't begrudge me this. In fact, the whole one-shot was so popular with them that not only did we turn it into a full-blown campaign (about to go into its fourth chapter), it also spawned a spin-off using some of the side characters from the one-shot.

However, this was an exception. My campaigns (including the one that came from the one-shot) are mostly comprised of reacting to what the players do, not actively pushing a certain story. As such, I usually don't have a reason to create fights that are not supposed to be won.

Is this campaign on the forums? I would be interested in reading it.

Imbalance
2021-07-15, 01:53 PM
Yeah, I finished Halo: Reach. I really can't think of a more perfect example of how to tie a world-building oneshot into the story of a main campaign, and that's really the only way I would use such a device. It's not even a railroad - it's an inclined plane, but there are still opportunities to tie the choices players make on that journey into its foregone conclusion to show that they made a difference.

In general, encounters I design have multiple possible outcomes, and my players often come up with their own unforeseen solutions that I'll happily roll with. While I may have an affinity for trains, I'm wholly open to letting the players destroy the bridge as the locomotive crashes into the river and explodes. If that flow turns out to be its own sort of railroad, the currents may split and twist and cross at the delta yet still reach the ocean.

I'm not a scenarist; I only set the stage. The story is what will have happened.

False God
2021-07-15, 02:35 PM
No.

If the enemy is there, they could be beaten. Smart enemies will usually retreat. Dumb enemies will usually die.

Lord Raziere
2021-07-15, 03:13 PM
No.

If the enemy is there, they could be beaten. Smart enemies will usually retreat. Dumb enemies will usually die.

only really works if your assuming PC invincibility and have no choice in what they face next and that the GM just throws them at you. in a game where a party chooses which direction they go next and a GM offers them the choice of a path that leads to an army of thousands and another path that leads to a couple of bandits, its kind of the players job to properly assess what they can and cannot do. a party that assumes that they can kill anything will just be killed by the army if they're foolish enough to go against logic.

jinjitsu
2021-07-15, 05:09 PM
Something that hasn't come up, and that I'm interested in because it's common with fights like this in video games, is the villain who isn't keeping pace with the heroes. I usually tend to approach long-term villains with a concept like this, where the first time or first few times the PCs run into them they get stomped, but as the villain focuses on their evil plan or on working toward a huge leap in power instead of steadily progressing in power, the PCs eventually get strong enough to beat him. I tend to find that very fulfilling narratively, but unfortunately I haven't yet been able to run a game long enough to pay that off; I'd be interested to hear from anyone who has.

Lord Raziere
2021-07-15, 05:19 PM
Something that hasn't come up, and that I'm interested in because it's common with fights like this in video games, is the villain who isn't keeping pace with the heroes. I usually tend to approach long-term villains with a concept like this, where the first time or first few times the PCs run into them they get stomped, but as the villain focuses on their evil plan or on working toward a huge leap in power instead of steadily progressing in power, the PCs eventually get strong enough to beat him. I tend to find that very fulfilling narratively, but unfortunately I haven't yet been able to run a game long enough to pay that off; I'd be interested to hear from anyone who has.

I wonder if a mechanical trait like "First Two Fight Mercy" would help clarify this where the BBEG by the game rules physically can't kill you the first two times you face them but the third time is for real. or something like "Early Fight Mercy" with similar rules.

Batcathat
2021-07-15, 05:23 PM
Something that hasn't come up, and that I'm interested in because it's common with fights like this in video games, is the villain who isn't keeping pace with the heroes. I usually tend to approach long-term villains with a concept like this, where the first time or first few times the PCs run into them they get stomped, but as the villain focuses on their evil plan or on working toward a huge leap in power instead of steadily progressing in power, the PCs eventually get strong enough to beat him. I tend to find that very fulfilling narratively, but unfortunately I haven't yet been able to run a game long enough to pay that off; I'd be interested to hear from anyone who has.

I'd be wary of using it, since it'd be hard to balance those early fights to minimize the risk of either the heroes defeating the villain before they're "supposed" to or the villain killing the heroes. Though I don't think I've ever attempted it (mostly because I don't really like the trope, partly because that "perfect" balance doesn't usually feel very realistic) so I can't say for certain.

Morgaln
2021-07-15, 05:24 PM
Is this campaign on the forums? I would be interested in reading it.

Sorry, no. It is an offline game I play with friends. I can write up summaries of the chapters if you're interested, but note that it is a Werewolf: the Apocaypse game and might need some knowledge of the setting to fully understand.

Leostales
2021-07-15, 05:27 PM
Sorry, no. It is an offline game I play with friends. I can write up summaries of the chapters if you're interested, but note that it is a Werewolf: the Apocaypse game and might need some knowledge of the setting to fully understand.

That won't be necessary, but I appreciate the offer!

Time Troll
2021-07-15, 06:03 PM
Yes, very often.

Loss and death are common in my game.

I'm a fan of heroic sacrifice drama, so Ive set that up in over a hundred games. Basically a version of the Bolivian Army Ending. The city needs more time to get everyone on the escape boats....so the characters head out to take on the giant army and give them that time. ""How many giants are attacking", "One thousand" "Oh, is that all, for a moment I thought we were going to be in trouble" And then the characters die in a blaze of glory.

Also, in general, I run a hard game: if players just stumble around into combat encounters, they will loose the fight quick, and often loose charters too.

Telok
2021-07-15, 06:32 PM
One time my players decided to hijack a spaceship. At the dock. Of a medium law-and-order level mega space station. With it's own fleet and army in addition to a paramilitary police force.

They later confessed that they didn't do much thinking. They assumed based on... nothing they could identify... that because the target ship was smuggling molassis, if they killed everyone aboard, they would be allowed to have the ship.

As they slaughtered their way through the captain of the ship called the police and started live-streaming to them. The party basically murdered him and some unarmed techs, and turned some security robots into "kill everything alive" rogue AIs, all live on camera to the police. Then they spent 20 minutes dickering with the dock manager about why the docking clamps wouldn't loose and the elevators to the station weren't working.

Needless to say, when the elevators were "fixed" and they got to the top there were several anti-terrorist squads and police mecha waiting for them. Amazingly enough, they surrendered.

I didn't plan any of it, aside from there being a smuggler ship in a dock near them. There wasn't a "supposed to" anything. I just figure out who reacts to their actions and what resources they can bring to bear.

False God
2021-07-15, 08:03 PM
only really works if your assuming PC invincibility and have no choice in what they face next and that the GM just throws them at you. in a game where a party chooses which direction they go next and a GM offers them the choice of a path that leads to an army of thousands and another path that leads to a couple of bandits, its kind of the players job to properly assess what they can and cannot do. a party that assumes that they can kill anything will just be killed by the army if they're foolish enough to go against logic.

I'm not sure what this has to do with what I was saying. I was framing my response in the context of a PC victory. Yes, the PCs could lose, the PCs could also win. If they lose, the PCs could all be killed, or the party may retreat, same options the enemy has.

The party has control over where they go, but they don't have control over where the enemy goes. The BBEG could track them down and attack the party, and the party would then have to choose to engage, or not (if possible). A smart BBEG may not give them the option to run away.

The party operates on imperfect information, as does everyone else(save the GM I suppose) and their assessments are only as strong as the information they have to make them right.

Glorthindel
2021-07-16, 03:57 AM
Turn it into a cutscene, if the players were not supposed to have a chance of winning or affecting the outcome then they have no agency. Don't trick them into thinking they have agency when they don't. If you don't like the idea that the players sometimes don't have agency then don't take it away and don't run fights that are supposed to be lost.

This.

There is nothing more frustrating for a player than a fight with a set outcome (defeat, enemy getting away, specific NPC killed, object getting destroyed / stolen), that they don't know is set, and that their main objective is to prevent happening. Players get desperate - they start doing weird or complicated maneouvers to do everything in their power to stop the thing happening, and as every move gets checked or countered, that moves to frustration and anger.

Instead, just tell them - this is what is happening. Cut scene it or don't, so they can either continue on after the event, or have fun with it in a stress-free way. Last time I did this (with an enforced capture of the party) I pulled a few tricks to seperate the characters, then took them each into another room for a private discussion, and told them "so, this is going to end with you taken prisoner - do you want to just cut-scene this, or play it out, with the knowledge that you wont win, but if you want to go down swinging heroically, we can spend a few minutes playing it out?". Most of the party went for cut scene and move on, while the combat character chose to play it out to see how many enemies he could take down before he went down. He still lost, but got to have a bit of fun, where I can guarantee he would have got frustrated and angry if he hadn't known the fight was a lost cause, and i had just stong-armed him with the encounter.

Satinavian
2021-07-16, 04:05 AM
Unwinnable fights have their place.

But in RPGs the question is, if the fight is truly unwinnable, why bother playing it out ? Fighting usually takes a ot of time so you have to justify this.

MoiMagnus
2021-07-16, 04:36 AM
In general, players are much more ok with forced set-ups than forced conclusions.

Having a monster summoned out of nowhere at the beginning of the fight to help the evil guy (and make the encounter more difficult) is usually OK.
Having a monster summoned out of nowhere at the end of the fight to help the evil guy (and allow him to escape) is usually not OK.

Similarly, having a forced defeat at the beginning of a scenario (allowing to start the plot of the scenario as you intended) will always be more acceptable than a forced defeat at the end of a scenario (preparing for whatever future plot you have in mind).

I will also join some other posters in saying that if you don't want the PCs to win, don't give them the hope of winning. If you give them an opportunity to make choices, those choices should potentially mater. Admittedly, you don't need to have an idea of how they can get out of the fight and win, but if you gave to the player an opportunity to craft a plan, you should not reject a potentially successful plan just because you don't want them to win.

Eldan
2021-07-16, 04:49 AM
Yes, but I make sure the Players enjoy doing so.

It's also very System dependent. There are systems out there that reward you for losing when story appropriate. If you play those and have the right players, they will occasionally want to lose. Or take bad decisions. If you get Fate Points for saying "Screw this diplomatic negotiation, I flip the table and punch the guy in his arrogant mouth", players will go for it quite happily. Some will also without the reward, if they think it fits.

Thrudd
2021-07-16, 06:44 AM
In my earlier days, when I was being influenced by the new "Storyteller" systems and reading lots of epic fantasy novels, I started thinking that arranging things so the game played out like a movie or novel was a good idea. I toyed with the idea of what is now called railroading to stage appropriately dramatic scenes for the sake of a narrative. The only time I ever recall actually doing it, however, was a couple times when a campaign was being forced to end and I was never likely to see any of the players again. I basically just narrated endings to a big conflict without rolling dice, sometimes killing off or giving endings to the characters in a way I thought was epic and dramatic.
I also may have started out a couple campaigns with cut-scene-like narrated scenarios to give the characters appropriate back stories (sometimes because the kids I played with were not inventing their own back stories).

Now, and for a long while now, I would rather not do anything like that. I prefer the dice to fall where they may, and for the players to know going into everything that the outcomes will be up to their own skill and luck as much as possible. That includes their skill to judge when the odds are not in their favor and avoid or flee from a fight. This also means I won't stop a bad guy from getting killed by extremely lucky rolls, even if I hoped to use them later- even in a very cinematic and narrative driven game like Feng Shui. That actually happened more than once with crazy consecutive exploding 6 rolls from my players. It was a super memorable event when someone chucked a knife at a guy flying away in a helicopter and hit him right in the eye, one-shotting one of the named villains who was meant to return in the next episode. Good thing he was only one of a set of identical triplet evil kung-fu masters!

Alcore
2021-07-16, 08:52 AM
Does anyone use these in their TTRPGs? I know a lot of people worry about "sandbox" games where players can stumble into overleveled monsters and not realize they should run, but have you ever planned for a party to do so and, say, trapped them with the villain?

Kinda... my player thought i was but something was lost in the description.


It was a solo afair where a player was fighting a blob moster summoned from the far beyond. He struck it with a hammer and it reformed. The visual/description threw him off...


He saw the monster regenerating

I saw it as the monster still having the energy and elasticity to keep going...


How else was i to describe an ooze like creature taking damage? He won the battle once it slowed down and, at death, evaporated into foul smelling mist.

Composer99
2021-07-16, 10:16 AM
If the game system has mechanical ways to make this happen, and it is an expected part of gameplay, I don't see any problem with intentionally unwinnable fights per se. I would also make sure that the players both understand and are cool with that happening. It can certainly work in games that are meant to more closely match classical narrative structures. Obviously this works better when a fight is just another kind of dramatic scene.

In a game such as D&D, intentionally unwinnable fights would be harder to pull off, relying more on the players being on board than on any game mechanic. The combat mechanics of D&D also suggest making such an event into a cutscene - unless the characters can succeed at something other than destroying the enemy (although I guess that might not be an "unwinnable" fight).

(By intentionally unwinnable, I mean the kind of fight jinjitsu is discussing in the original post. Fights that are unwinnable by coincidence of game mechanics and player decisions are a different beast, and are always a risk of open-world-style games.)

Psyren
2021-07-16, 12:13 PM
Hopeless Boss Fights (https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/HopelessBossFight) are a tool in the designer's tool belt. Like all tools, they can be used well or misused/abused.

The fight can be truly unwinnable without plot, or it can simply require the players to come back later when they're stronger. (https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/BeefGate)

Some of the key considerations to avoid the fight feeling punishing/abusive include:

- Telegraphing the challenge appropriately
- Allowing the players to escape if they get in over their heads
- Avoiding irreversible consequences (e.g. don't kill off any characters without an accessible way to bring them back)
- Make sure the fight has a point beyond shock value. All the best no-win or highly-unlikely-to-win fights, like Megaman X vs. Vile, or James Sunderland vs. Pyramid-Head, or the first Lavos fight, or the first Asylum Demon fight etc etc, don't just smash you into the dirt, they teach you something about the world and allow you the opportunity to continue on the game's critical path.

P. G. Macer
2021-07-17, 01:40 PM
I was on the receiving end of an unwinnable fight once, and I feel that it demonstrated some of the flaws with that trope in a TTRPG, or at least in D&D 5e.

The point of the fight, from a DM’s meta perspective, was to capture our characters. Unfortunately, one of the PCs had a “better to die than be captured” mentality and only barely managed to be knocked unconscious with some lucky die rolls, much to the DM’s frustration.

Another issue was that we almost won the supposedly unbeatable fight, with only one enemy left standing at the end, due to the luck of the dice, again.

Finally, once the DM divulged we were supposed to lose the fight afterwords (this was likely the biggest mistake), I at least felt a bit of a feeling of being cheated. While the DM had forewarned us that not every encounter would be winnable by combat in the campaign we were playing in, to have a fight we deliberately were supposed to lose felt wrong from a player perspective.

Mastikator
2021-07-17, 02:55 PM
I was on the receiving end of an unwindable fight once, and I feel that it demonstrated some of the flaws with that trope in a TTRPG, or at least in D&D 5e.

The point of the fight, from a DM’s meta perspective, was to capture our characters. Unfortunately, one of the PCs had a “better to die than be captured” mentality and only barely managed to be knocked unconscious with some lucky die rolls, much to the DM’s frustration.

Another issue was that we almost won the supposedly unbeatable fight, with only one enemy left standing at the end, due to the luck of the dice, again.

Finally, once the DM divulged we were supposed to lose the fight afterwords (this was likely the biggest mistake), I at least felt a bit of a feeling of being cheated. While the DM had forewarned us that not every encounter would be winnable by combat in the campaign we were playing in, to have a fight we deliberately were supposed to lose felt wrong from a player perspective.

If he had just went "you are captured" and nope'd every attempt at resistance, would that have helped?

P. G. Macer
2021-07-17, 04:38 PM
If he had just went "you are captured" and nope'd every attempt at resistance, would that have helped?

That would have been even worse, assuming the ambush scenario remained. Touché.

I’d argue that being captured mid-campaign as a preplanned plot element doesn’t work well in TTRPGs (or at least 5e) in general. It can work to save the party from a TPK, but TPKs are rarely, if ever, planned.

I need to dwell on this topic in more depth…

Mastikator
2021-07-17, 04:48 PM
That would have been even worse, assuming the ambush scenario remained. Touché.

I’d argue that being captured mid-campaign as a preplanned plot element doesn’t work well in TTRPGs (or at least 5e) in general. It can work to save the party from a TPK, but TPKs are rarely, if ever, planned.

I need to dwell on this topic in more depth…

Does it need to be more overwhelming? Like a hundred or maybe even a thousand enemies demanding surrender just to drive home the point? Or is it just that losing sucks?

Also what kind of game is it you were playing? Fantasy adventure? Modern fantasy? Scifi? Horror? I greatly suspect the genre matters.

vasilidor
2021-07-17, 06:07 PM
due to the nature of my campaigns and the fact I use random encounters, players often run into things that they have no chance against if they fight fair. sometimes even stacking the odds in their favor is not enough. I always allow for ways to survive, always. most of the time that is not engaging the monster or running from it. knowledge skills are often key to not getting killed.

Lord Raziere
2021-07-17, 06:19 PM
Also what kind of game is it you were playing? Fantasy adventure? Modern fantasy? Scifi? Horror? I greatly suspect the genre matters.

Yeah, lots of these discussions assume DnD.

when your playing something like M&M, the assumptions are different: if your a superhero and a supervillain is attacking something you kind of can't run: your a superhero after all you HAVE to defend people from a threat, so you have to trust any villain you face is a solvable situation.

while in horror, the opposite is true where its likely you might have to run constantly to avoid something horrible happening to you and you have to trust that you can keep yourself alive as long as you stay smart and cautious.

while in sci-fi, you often deal with higher tech and thus have more ways to get information that tell what fights are winnable or not, as well as some scenarios being more obvious about how unwinnable they are (like say a group of PC's vs. a star destroyer. these are two entirely different scales and the PCs can't really do anything on foot so if they want to have a hope of destroying one they have to either get ships themselves or get on board to treat the ship as a dungeon crawl to take out the commander at the end)

Batcathat
2021-07-18, 03:18 AM
when your playing something like M&M, the assumptions are different: if your a superhero and a supervillain is attacking something you kind of can't run: your a superhero after all you HAVE to defend people from a threat, so you have to trust any villain you face is a solvable situation.

Not necessarily. I feel like the hero getting their ass kicked once or twice before finally managing to defeat the villain is a very common trope, at least with some heroes.

Cazero
2021-07-18, 04:06 AM
Not necessarily. I feel like the hero getting their ass kicked once or twice before finally managing to defeat the villain is a very common trope, at least with some heroes.
Getting their ass kicked because they can't let the villain have their way. They have to put everything they got into the fight even though they know they're going to lose. They can't book it without at least trying to stop the villain, and they're willing to suffer greatly just to reduce collateral damage. That kind of things is simply absent from classic D&D.

Quertus
2021-07-18, 04:58 AM
If your physics engine allows a child with a rusty knife to one-shot Superman, then decide if that's something you want. I would say that your physics engine fails to model one or both correctly, and change it; the alternative is to accept that this reality operates on different rules.

If your physics engine *still* allows that, don't cut scene that fight. And never plan a fight whose *purpose* is to…, for that is the path to the railroad side of the force.

Let the dice fall where they may. Let the child encounter Superman, and, if their plans and the dice allow, let them kill Superman.

Give the player…. as much information as their character would have about the scenario, or more, in accordance with your table culture, to allow them to evaluate their chances.

Lord Raziere
2021-07-18, 05:03 AM
Getting their ass kicked because they can't let the villain have their way. They have to put everything they got into the fight even though they know they're going to lose. They can't book it without at least trying to stop the villain, and they're willing to suffer greatly just to reduce collateral damage. That kind of things is simply absent from classic D&D.

Exactly. DnD doesn't have tons of civilians dying and the media tearing you a new one because you decided to chicken out from fighting a pyrokinetic going around setting buildings on fire on a block. and thats if we're talking low-end.

Rynjin
2021-07-18, 05:22 AM
I did this recently in a game I started in the Final Fantasy d20 subsystem. The encounter was setup such that I didn't expect the players to win (though there was slim chance of anyone dying, due to a number of optional rules in play that made first level characters significantly beefier), but what I think is important is that.

What I think is important though is that the encounter should be designed such that they should be unlikely to win, but it should never be impossible. There was actually a chance they won the fight against a level 4 Gunslinger and his crew of pirates; one critical swing from one of the character's Butchering Axe and he may have died. This is how many of those JRPG bosses fights are designed as well; extremely difficult but technically winnable for some reward.

The ones that aren't kinda suck. "Win to lose" is terrible design. You should never have the party win only for the "cutscene" afterward to have the bad guy they just whooped standing over their limp forms and mocking them for how weak they are. If the party wins, they should win. Have contingencies for if it happens.

If you truly want an encounter to be unwinnable, I suggest what we told another friend who was running a Monster Hunter themed game. he wanted something specific to happen, and asked us if it was okay if the encounter was just unwinnable.

We suggested that instead of rolling dice for an encounter that wasn't designed to be won anyway, he simply declare "Cutscene Mode", and describe what happens, with some chances for us to interject with our character's reactions and general actions divorced from combat rounds.

DwarfFighter
2021-07-18, 09:42 AM
You know these kinds of fights - they pop up all the time in video games, and usually, even if you're good enough to not get yourself stomped, the game goes to a cutscene of you losing when you get the boss down to half its health.

Does anyone use these in their TTRPGs? I know a lot of people worry about "sandbox" games where players can stumble into overleveled monsters and not realize they should run, but have you ever planned for a party to do so and, say, trapped them with the villain?

My first tip would be to check if you are prepared for your "no-win" fight to have a "win" outcome. If it does, play it out as you like. It's not really a "supposed to lose" fight if they can win, right?

But let's say that you've decide to take the plot in a direction that can only be achieved by having the PCs lose the fight. For example, you want the PCs to be captured, taken as slaves, and then revolt and overthrow their taskmasters. It's a great story arc, the trouble is getting started. What you want to avoid is having the players feel that their agency is taken away from them. Firstly, having the players act out a fight they are not going to win is frustrating if they believe their only objective is to win. Second, when they lose, if you screw them over by stripping them of their gear with no chance of recovery, that's going to come across as a d2k move.

I think that to deal with the first issue, you need to apply some benign meta-gaming: Let the players know that a) this fight will be lost, b) the consequences will not be fatal, and c) there is an achievable objective.

For the second issue, you can make it clear that their gear is recoverable!

One approach I like to promote is the flash-back: Tell the players where they are after the fight and what state they are in, and then play out the events lading up to their capture as the PCs "remembering" what happened just before they got knocked out.

GM: "Let's get started. You all wake up in a dank cell, stripped to your undergarments, bruised and battered. Outside the cell you see a number of Orc guards rummaging through your gear before dumping it all in a big crate marked "B1" in dwarf runes. The soon leave, except for one guard that is left to keep an eye on you. You have been captured by the slavers!"

Fighter: "Uh, how did that happen?"

GM: "Glad you asked! You rub your sore heads and think back to the events that led to your capture. You were at the shore and helping the refugees board The Spirit of the Sea to bring them to safety when the Orcs burst out of the forest and attacked!"

I suggest you play this out as a combat encounter that plays for a limited number of rounds, e.g. 6 or 10, depending on how much time you want to spend on this. PCs aren't killed but are instead knocked out for the rest of the fight. The enemies can bring in as many reinforcements as needed to keep the fight going for the duration. At the end of the last turn the PCs are automatically overwhelmed and knocked out, and the flashback ends. During the fight the PCs can work toward an objective, and are rewarded accordingly. This is what makes playing out the no-win fight have actual value.

Example: The PCs are escorting a group of refugees onto a ship that will bring them to safety when they are attacked by evil slavers. You set up the encounter scene as normal, placing two refugees per PC scattered spread throughout the area. At the end of each turn, any refugee that is within 5ft. of a PC and no enemies moves 30 ft. towards the exit point (the ship's gangplank), and any refugees that reach the exit point are removed from the encounter as safe. After 6 turns, the slavers overwhelm the PCs and the encounter ends. You can even let the players themselves describe how their final moments in the fight plays out:

GM: "The captain can't wait any longer and cuts loose, The Spirit of the Sea rapidly draws away from the shore as the refugees cry out to each other. More orcs burst onto the battlefield, more than you can manage. The last thing you remember before waking up in the cell was you being ultimately overwhelmed. How do you go down?"

Fighter: "Kongar the Black yells in defiance as two of the Orcs grab his arms. He kicks one of them in the groin before a cudgel strikes him in the back of the head."

Mage: "I'm casting Fireball, and suddenly there's a sack over my head!"

Rogue: "I slaughter ten thousand Orcs in a week-long orgy of blood!"

GM: "...dude!"

Rogue: "Fine. I trip and fall."

GM: "Thanks!"

Rogue: "This fight was lame."

GM: "It it what it is. We're back in the cell as you reflect on recent events. One thing is obvious. You must regain your freedom! And your stuff."

-DF

P. G. Macer
2021-07-18, 11:05 AM
Does it need to be more overwhelming? Like a hundred or maybe even a thousand enemies demanding surrender just to drive home the point? Or is it just that losing sucks?

Also what kind of game is it you were playing? Fantasy adventure? Modern fantasy? Scifi? Horror? I greatly suspect the genre matters.

It was fantasy adventure (The DM mentioned The Lord of the Rings as a major (loose) inspiration), and the system, as I previously mentioned, was D&D 5th Edition. It’s not simply that losing sucks, though for some people that may be a part of it, in this case the DM specifically later mentioned we were supposed to be captured, which is why I felt it to be railroad-y.

DwarfFighter
2021-07-18, 12:07 PM
Not necessarily. I feel like the hero getting their ass kicked once or twice before finally managing to defeat the villain is a very common trope, at least with some heroes.

Being thwarted by the villain once or twice before the end encounter should give the players a feeling of accomplishment beyond "Phew! That guy had A LOT of hit points!"

icefractal
2021-07-18, 04:42 PM
If there's something that actually changed to justify why this time is different.

* PCs get their ass kicked the first time.
* PCs get their ass kicked the second time.
DM: Your nemesis is back for a third time!
Players: We GTFO, he's clearly out of our league.
DM: No wait, come back, this time is different!

Lord Raziere
2021-07-18, 05:06 PM
If there's something that actually changed to justify why this time is different.

* PCs get their ass kicked the first time.
* PCs get their ass kicked the second time.
DM: Your nemesis is back for a third time!
Players: We GTFO, he's clearly out of our league.
DM: No wait, come back, this time is different!

Yeah thats a problem I've encountered: you make a method not work once, some players will tend to assume it consistently never will and don't even bother to check a second time.

Thrudd
2021-07-18, 05:46 PM
But let's say that you've decide to take the plot in a direction that can only be achieved by having the PCs lose the fight. For example, you want the PCs to be captured, taken as slaves, and then revolt and overthrow their taskmasters. It's a great story arc, the trouble is getting started. What you want to avoid is having the players feel that their agency is taken away from them.

Um...there is no way the players can't feel their agency is being taken away when you literally tell them they have no control over the outcome of the encounter. This is basically video game scenario design- you enter a scenario, the game tells you what you need to do to succeed or get the best outcome: ie. save x number of captives within a time limit. When the time limit expires, there is a cut scene and the game tells you your character's new scenario (you've been captured and are imprisoned now) and the parameters for the next challenge (break out of your cell, sneak around the fortress and find your confiscated gear).

You can run a TTRPG like this if you and your players want this, sure. But you'd better establish that this is how the game will be from the very start, not just drop it into an ongoing game that you've been running in a different way.
Let them know that each session you will describe what has happened to the characters, where they are now and what they need to do, and the players will have little or no control over this part. Then they are set loose to engage with the scenario (sneak around and save captives, get the artifact from the dragon's lair, etc.), after which you will again describe what happens narratively and set them up for the next challenge. They know from day 1 that some things have been fixed by you for narrative reasons and not to expect full agency.
I think a lot of experienced TTRPG players would not be excited about that idea.

Duff
2021-07-18, 06:36 PM
When I was a younger GM, if the PCs did something sufficiently dumb, I'd send a realistic response.
One campaign, the PCs were mouthing off about how they kicked the Evil Overlord's butt back in the day. In a pub, in the capital city of EO's domain. Of course an informant informed. So the fantasy equivalent of a SWAT team with air support was sent out.
I knew the party would be doing well to win the fight, and they'd be very lucky to survive it given the venomous nature of the attacks. But he'd read the Evil Overlord's handbook and he was not going to mess around with a dangerous group who had driven him from his home.
Or when they beat a pair of mind flayers and took their heads, but then paused to camp while still in the cave system they nest was in. With the mindflayer brains still in their bags and before the tunnel even branched.

Now I would try harder to avoid those TPKs.
And be less subtle about fights they should run away from

DwarfFighter
2021-07-19, 10:43 AM
Um...there is no way the players can't feel their agency is being taken away when you literally tell them they have no control over the outcome of the encounter.
The flashback option is a compromise. The GM tells the players where the story is at, the next waypoint if you will, but the PCs have a say in how they get there. It's part railroad, part co-operative storytelling.

It makes the presumption that a) the GM is in the right when setting the scene for the upcoming scenario and b) the players are ultimately fine with it. This is a pointless excerise of it doesn't result in an enjoyable game.

Also, this type of setup probably works best in an episodic game like Star Trek, where the adventure structure is often inspired by that of the TV shows: quite a few TV shows will start with presenting the the characters in a predicament and then skip back to explain how they got there. But there really is no genre limit here. This could work in DnD or other settings too.

Quertus
2021-07-19, 02:36 PM
Rogue: "I slaughter ten thousand Orcs in a week-long orgy of blood!"

Best response ever!

Also, with the right setup (holding a choke point with a Ring of Vampiric Regeneration, for example), it might also be the most realistic.

Alcore
2021-07-19, 02:51 PM
If there's something that actually changed to justify why this time is different.

* PCs get their ass kicked the first time.
* PCs get their ass kicked the second time.
DM: Your nemesis is back for a third time!
Players: We GTFO, he's clearly out of our league.
DM: No wait, come back, this time is different!I would assume they were leveling and thus might be harder to beat by the nemesis's perspective...

Still that requires trust in the DM.


Yeah thats a problem I've encountered: you make a method not work once, some players will tend to assume it consistently never will and don't even bother to check a second time.

One thing I have noticed in my gaming is that players are inflexible. They min/max themselves into hammers and then everything turns into a nail. Once they realize they ran into a problem their hammers cannot overcome without grinding levels to simply overpower they lose their minds. Then there are the "death or glory" players that assume anything put in front of them is within their level and will not retreat, will not let an enemy retreat and get themselves or the entire team beaten.

heaven forbid you try something new or even *GASP* try some suboptimal builds in order to be able to respond to more situations in more ways.

icefractal
2021-07-19, 03:00 PM
heaven forbid you try something new or even *GASP* try some suboptimal builds in order to be able to respond to more situations in more ways.Like what, for example?

I ask because I've seen this sentiment a lot, but it seems like it often boils down to "if the GM interprets things as favorably as possible for their preferred approach, and much more strictly for a 'typical'/mechanical approach, then the former will be better".

Which may be true, but I don't really want to win by GM fiat much more than I want to lose by it.

Alcore
2021-07-19, 03:40 PM
Like what, for example?

I ask because I've seen this sentiment a lot, but it seems like it often boils down to "if the GM interprets things as favorably as possible for their preferred approach, and much more strictly for a 'typical'/mechanical approach, then the former will be better".

Which may be true, but I don't really want to win by GM fiat much more than I want to lose by it.

hmm...

(I was one of the players for this one)

I had created a fighter/barbarian for a PF game on PBP. He had a Klar. Another player politely informed me that I cannot use it. I told him I could (It was true). He again (with no politeness at all) told me that it was against the rules. I looked up my sheet and true enough the klar was there, all its stats were there, my horrendous attack bonus, the shield bonus; everything.

I told him I could.

He told me that I cannot do it for i lacked the proficiency. he was three quarters false. It was a shield, I am proficient in shields. Nothing was inherently stopping me from using the shield as a shield. (it is a klar, mind you)

If his half flaming, half condescending post was anything to go by he went ballistic and finally said "you cannot use it as a weapon". Which was 100% not true.


A klar is a shield and exotic weapon at the same time. I had the non proficiency penalty already factored in, including the two weapon penalty and other penalties (I had planned on taking the feats required but couldn't fit them in without harming the usability and function of my 1st level character; you have to min/max enough to not take a party with you. If I found myself not using the klar then those are future feats I could put elsewhere...)


I, still vary calmly, told him I can use any weapon with or without proficiency.

He told me it was against the rules.

I told him that I can if I take the non proficiency penalty and the sharp end still counts as a sharp end. I can use it as a dagger to cut rope or something. I wouldn't even need to aim; just calmly place it onto the thing to be cut and saw it apart. my post was quite long and I fear I wasn't nearly as nice as I could be but I was done with his idiocy and his ****.

The GM finally spoke up (he had been utterly quiet this 36-48 hour long argument) and congratulated me on my "outside the box thinking". He said nothing (publicly) to the other player and that player never interacted with me again.


That was a tense game and the only GM to not question me following the rules when I apply penalties to myself. When the word penalty comes up no matter the side of the GM board it (99% of the time) means you can't do it...



That is just one occasion. I think most games have a problem of players building too OP forcing the GM to build OP just for a challenge. I like playing with beginners as the GM can relax and, if things go south on dice, I go OP as needed. I also like playing with just GMs...

Thrudd
2021-07-19, 04:37 PM
The flashback option is a compromise. The GM tells the players where the story is at, the next waypoint if you will, but the PCs have a say in how they get there. It's part railroad, part co-operative storytelling.

It makes the presumption that a) the GM is in the right when setting the scene for the upcoming scenario and b) the players are ultimately fine with it. This is a pointless excerise of it doesn't result in an enjoyable game.

Also, this type of setup probably works best in an episodic game like Star Trek, where the adventure structure is often inspired by that of the TV shows: quite a few TV shows will start with presenting the the characters in a predicament and then skip back to explain how they got there. But there really is no genre limit here. This could work in DnD or other settings too.

Yes, I understand this is cooperative storytelling inspired by TV shows and other media, I'm just suggesting your players need to be onboard from day 1 with a railroaded cooperative storytelling game before someone uses this suggestion.

That's the answer to the whole thread, I think. Narrating that the players lose a fight, or fixing/fudging while the scenario is happening to make sure they lose, is just a thing you shouldn't normally do in a conventional (D&D-like) TTRPG. Just don't make plans like that.

If you want a game formatted in an unconventional way, so you can tell stories that play out like tv episodes or a video game or whatever, that's a pitch to give before you start the campaign so that every player understands what to expect.

Telok
2021-07-19, 05:28 PM
Like what, for example?

Well, in DtD40k7e I'm writing some example characters for an appendix about character optimization in that game. There's an example character that has... in D&D 5e terms about a 14 in all stats and half proficency in everything, the Lucky feat, and a 3/scene "after you roll add +1". At the end of their first game session they can spend xp to pick up medium armor prof and boost combat skills from 1/5 to 3/5, or learn some magic and a sort of 'lay on hands' thing, or get more rerolls and some social bonuses, or... well, lots of options. But it would definitely be a "suboptimal" starter character in the eyes of many, despite it being able to hit any (the build has all the skills) 10-15 DCs easily more than half the time.

Compare that to an "optimized" character able to punch a hole in a tank and resist small arms fire, but unable to contribute outside of melee combat. That's important, the "outside of melee combat" thing, because it's a game with rocket launchers, flying mecha, computers, and sociable mind-flayers. That character failed hard.

There are some example builds that are about half as "optimized" as the tank-puncher. They can still hit pretty hard and have room for some social abilities, or low-medium skill-monkeying, or limited magic. But they'll still have areas in which they can't even try or it's not worth them rolling. But even with those characters many players will see that they're "better" at combat and default to violence as a solution, especially if the scenario calls for something outside their area(s) of competency.

Or there was the time I played a Shadowrun game with a conjurer elf using skillwire cyberwear with lots of friends/contacts. Of course the rest of the grup was optimized gun-bunnies who couldn't talk their way out of a paper bag, drive cars, magic anything, work a computer, or perform first aid, and their only contacts were people who sold guns. Definitely a sub-optimal character from a game mechanic standpoint, but it was needed in that game.

Had a AD&D fighter with higher charisma than strength. Totally suboptimal on a fighter, right? Of course with morale rules, hirelings, and not being a murder-hobo a +2 or +3 on the 2d10 reaction checks was pretty useful. More useful than the +1 or +2 on attacks & damage. Of course that was back in the days of rolled stats and no "internet approved" character builds.

So I've had good experiences playing "suboptimal" characters that were broadly competent even if they weren't some super optimized death machine. I've avoided the organized play and online activities that tend to reward the "optimize or get out" tendencies, and I've moved towards games with more than just binary pass/fail mechanics. That probably helps. But I have seen the ones where people think you shouldn't play a character without a maxxed stat or exceed some minimum DPR calculation.

PhoenixPhyre
2021-07-19, 05:44 PM
Well, in DtD40k7e I'm writing some example characters for an appendix about character optimization in that game. There's an example character that has... in D&D 5e terms about a 14 in all stats and half proficency in everything, the Lucky feat, and a 3/scene "after you roll add +1". At the end of their first game session they can spend xp to pick up medium armor prof and boost combat skills from 1/5 to 3/5, or learn some magic and a sort of 'lay on hands' thing, or get more rerolls and some social bonuses, or... well, lots of options. But it would definitely be a "suboptimal" starter character in the eyes of many, despite it being able to hit any (the build has all the skills) 10-15 DCs easily more than half the time.

Compare that to an "optimized" character able to punch a hole in a tank and resist small arms fire, but unable to contribute outside of melee combat. That's important, the "outside of melee combat" thing, because it's a game with rocket launchers, flying mecha, computers, and sociable mind-flayers. That character failed hard.

There are some example builds that are about half as "optimized" as the tank-puncher. They can still hit pretty hard and have room for some social abilities, or low-medium skill-monkeying, or limited magic. But they'll still have areas in which they can't even try or it's not worth them rolling. But even with those characters many players will see that they're "better" at combat and default to violence as a solution, especially if the scenario calls for something outside their area(s) of competency.

Or there was the time I played a Shadowrun game with a conjurer elf using skillwire cyberwear with lots of friends/contacts. Of course the rest of the grup was optimized gun-bunnies who couldn't talk their way out of a paper bag, drive cars, magic anything, work a computer, or perform first aid, and their only contacts were people who sold guns. Definitely a sub-optimal character from a game mechanic standpoint, but it was needed in that game.

Had a AD&D fighter with higher charisma than strength. Totally suboptimal on a fighter, right? Of course with morale rules, hirelings, and not being a murder-hobo a +2 or +3 on the 2d10 reaction checks was pretty useful. More useful than the +1 or +2 on attacks & damage. Of course that was back in the days of rolled stats and no "internet approved" character builds.

So I've had good experiences playing "suboptimal" characters that were broadly competent even if they weren't some super optimized death machine. I've avoided the organized play and online activities that tend to reward the "optimize or get out" tendencies, and I've moved towards games with more than just binary pass/fail mechanics. That probably helps. But I have seen the ones where people think you shouldn't play a character without a maxxed stat or exceed some minimum DPR calculation.

I agree with this. And generally, the idea that you should really only do the things you're specialized at leads to suboptimal results for the group as a whole. If an "optimized" character is 10/10 at one thing and 2-3/10 at everything else, that's worse (in my experience) than someone who only gets to 8/10 at that one thing but can manage a 5-6 at everything else.

I, personally, as a DM and as a player, much prefer when people create characters that are good (but not overwhelming) at their "thing" but also can contribute meaningfully everywhere else (just not as well as a specialist). I dislike when people mono-focus on one aspect and decide that they'll sit on their bottoms for anything else. My ideal scenario is one that requires participation from the majority, if not the entirety of the group. Hard specialization (and the resulting serial spotlight effect) doesn't make that possible. I don't want to play a game about a group of individuals who happen to be in the same place at the same time--I want to play a game about teams working together to do what individuals can't. And I'd like the game system to enable and encourage that.

Squire Doodad
2021-07-20, 01:44 AM
That would have been even worse, assuming the ambush scenario remained. Touché.

I’d argue that being captured mid-campaign as a preplanned plot element doesn’t work well in TTRPGs (or at least 5e) in general. It can work to save the party from a TPK, but TPKs are rarely, if ever, planned.

I need to dwell on this topic in more depth…

What if there was a situation such as "the next time the party sleeps, (unbeknownst to them) sleeping gas gets wafted in by the bad guys and they get captured; they wake up in the prison cell"? Or maybe have a situation like FFV's Abductor fight; it's actually very winnable, but IF you win then you have to open a chest to proceed, which in turn knocks you out.
Perhaps if the players somehow win the fight, the DM tells them they see a bag with a curious looking map in it; the map actually is set to trigger Greater Teleport to a specific location or something after being interacted with. Or something to that overarching effect.

I think it's no longer an unwinnable "fight", though.

Thrudd
2021-07-20, 02:11 AM
What if there was a situation such as "the next time the party sleeps, (unbeknownst to them) sleeping gas gets wafted in by the bad guys and they get captured; they wake up in the prison cell"? Or maybe have a situation like FFV's Abductor fight; it's actually very winnable, but IF you win then you have to open a chest to proceed, which in turn knocks you out.
Perhaps if the players somehow win the fight, the DM tells them they see a bag with a curious looking map in it; the map actually is set to trigger Greater Teleport to a specific location or something after being interacted with. Or something to that overarching effect.

I think it's no longer an unwinnable "fight", though.

That kind of stuff is almost worse than just narrating the PCs getting captured in a cinematic "cut scene". It would be super obvious the GM was not going to let the PCs get away. The magic gas or teleport trap immediately following the fight screams "desperate contrivance to make my plot happen"- which is exactly the opposite of what you want if you're trying to craft a good story.(presumably the purpose of railroading adventures in the first place- "it's all about the story", right?)

If you're running a story and you need to force certain events to turn out a certain way, tell everyone before you start the campaign that you'll be doing this. Then you can narrate the cool dramatic scenes- don't roll dice for anything that isn't up to chance, and make sure your story is as good as possible to make up for the fact that the players don't actually get to decide the outcome of events.

Quertus
2021-07-21, 07:11 AM
I agree with this. And generally, the idea that you should really only do the things you're specialized at leads to suboptimal results for the group as a whole. If an "optimized" character is 10/10 at one thing and 2-3/10 at everything else, that's worse (in my experience) than someone who only gets to 8/10 at that one thing but can manage a 5-6 at everything else.

I, personally, as a DM and as a player, much prefer when people create characters that are good (but not overwhelming) at their "thing" but also can contribute meaningfully everywhere else (just not as well as a specialist). I dislike when people mono-focus on one aspect and decide that they'll sit on their bottoms for anything else. My ideal scenario is one that requires participation from the majority, if not the entirety of the group. Hard specialization (and the resulting serial spotlight effect) doesn't make that possible. I don't want to play a game about a group of individuals who happen to be in the same place at the same time--I want to play a game about teams working together to do what individuals can't. And I'd like the game system to enable and encourage that.

I don't think that follows.

If I'm 8/10 knowledgeable in spells, and 6/10 knowledgeable in items, feats, prestige classes, early entry tricks, optional rules, and the GM, how likely am I to get the help of the rest of the generally 6/10 knowledgeable group's help in building my character, vs if I'm 2/10, asking the 10/10 specialist for help?

If the 10/10 Rogue is down, the 2/10 Fighter can really characterize the difference between their characters by bashing down the epic challenge of the locked door ("it's not locked - it's push, not pull!").

What, exactly, did you hope to gain by mashing the characters more samey and less specialized? Can you give me a use case? Because all my use cases point in the opposite direction, that specialists are more likely to work together, and to make a better team.

(Well, OK, all but one: if the Fighter could actually contribute, spend their actions to buff the party, spend their time and XP to teach their teammates combat tricks, etc, it would feel more like a team game IMO)

PhoenixPhyre
2021-07-21, 09:49 AM
I don't think that follows.

If I'm 8/10 knowledgeable in spells, and 6/10 knowledgeable in items, feats, prestige classes, early entry tricks, optional rules, and the GM, how likely am I to get the help of the rest of the generally 6/10 knowledgeable group's help in building my character, vs if I'm 2/10, asking the 10/10 specialist for help?

If the 10/10 Rogue is down, the 2/10 Fighter can really characterize the difference between their characters by bashing down the epic challenge of the locked door ("it's not locked - it's push, not pull!").

What, exactly, did you hope to gain by mashing the characters more samey and less specialized? Can you give me a use case? Because all my use cases point in the opposite direction, that specialists are more likely to work together, and to make a better team.

(Well, OK, all but one: if the Fighter could actually contribute, spend their actions to buff the party, spend their time and XP to teach their teammates combat tricks, etc, it would feel more like a team game IMO)

The big thing--it avoids serial spotlight syndrome, where each player only interacts 1/N of the time. Which avoids boredom. And also enables more interesting scenarios that actually require teamwork. Instead of ending up with the multi-headed hydra/tag-team game, where each person effortlessly and without consequence gets swapped in when it's their "turn to shine". It means that much less unexpected happens. Which is a negative for me, because exploring the unexpected is a large part of my fun. Failure is not failure. Failure means the game still goes on, just in a slightly different (and often more interesting) path. The flip side to that is that most things aren't big. The entire course of the game is decided by a bunch of little things, organically, and smoothly.


One of the flaws with "your decisions matter" in video games is that they can't really provide it very well. Take one of the bad examples, Mass Effect 3. When it came down to it, only the aggregate of your War Readiness mattered. None of the specifics did at all. Basically, there was only one big thing that mattered.

Table top games, on the other hand, can be much more flexible. Every decision matters, and this works best if each decision is small, with neither success nor failure being situation-ending.


I don't want win buttons. I don't want single people being able to solve problems. I want groups, working together over multiple actions, to solve problems. And specialization (especially when it comes with crippling weaknesses everywhere else) means that more emphasis is on the individual.

I put no value in "optimization potential". Ideally, a total newbie and a veteran will end up in the same rough ballpark. The character-building minigame, to me, is a waste of resources and frequently a net negative. I'd prefer if the mechanical bits are pretty much baked into the cake--make a few choices at the beginning and boom. You've got a fully-functional, playable character. No need to go further, and if you choose to go further, you still can't breach the rough balance. No trading off everything to marginally increase your "hit things with sharp objects" potential.

Specialization is for insects, to quote Heinlein.

kyoryu
2021-07-21, 10:37 AM
I put no value in "optimization potential". Ideally, a total newbie and a veteran will end up in the same rough ballpark. The character-building minigame, to me, is a waste of resources and frequently a net negative. I'd prefer if the mechanical bits are pretty much baked into the cake--make a few choices at the beginning and boom. You've got a fully-functional, playable character. No need to go further, and if you choose to go further, you still can't breach the rough balance. No trading off everything to marginally increase your "hit things with sharp objects" potential.


This is pretty much my ideal at this point. I'm all for flexibility, but I prefer characters to be more broad than they typically end up as a result of strong charop games. I prefer specialization to mean "slightly better at x, but with a broad base" than "awesome at x, terrible at everything else."

You see this to the extreme in cases where warriors become useless if they're not using their one specific weapon type, as opposed to them being able to use any weapon according to the situation.

More breadth also allows more moment-to-moment choices, and places the emphasis there rather than on charop, which is a win for me. If you've optimized so that only doing X, Y, and Z make sense, then you've limited yourself to three options. A broader base means more options to choose from.

Note that I totally get that for some people, charop is a big part of the fun, and I'm not taking away from that or saying it's BadWrongFun. I just personally prefer games overall that do what I describe above.

Quertus
2021-07-21, 03:13 PM
The big thing--it avoids serial spotlight syndrome, where each player only interacts 1/N of the time. Which avoids boredom. And also enables more interesting scenarios that actually require teamwork. Instead of ending up with the multi-headed hydra/tag-team game, where each person effortlessly and without consequence gets swapped in when it's their "turn to shine". It means that much less unexpected happens. Which is a negative for me, because exploring the unexpected is a large part of my fun. Failure is not failure. Failure means the game still goes on, just in a slightly different (and often more interesting) path. The flip side to that is that most things aren't big. The entire course of the game is decided by a bunch of little things, organically, and smoothly.


One of the flaws with "your decisions matter" in video games is that they can't really provide it very well. Take one of the bad examples, Mass Effect 3. When it came down to it, only the aggregate of your War Readiness mattered. None of the specifics did at all. Basically, there was only one big thing that mattered.

Table top games, on the other hand, can be much more flexible. Every decision matters, and this works best if each decision is small, with neither success nor failure being situation-ending.


I don't want win buttons. I don't want single people being able to solve problems. I want groups, working together over multiple actions, to solve problems. And specialization (especially when it comes with crippling weaknesses everywhere else) means that more emphasis is on the individual.

I put no value in "optimization potential". Ideally, a total newbie and a veteran will end up in the same rough ballpark. The character-building minigame, to me, is a waste of resources and frequently a net negative. I'd prefer if the mechanical bits are pretty much baked into the cake--make a few choices at the beginning and boom. You've got a fully-functional, playable character. No need to go further, and if you choose to go further, you still can't breach the rough balance. No trading off everything to marginally increase your "hit things with sharp objects" potential.

Specialization is for insects, to quote Heinlein.


This is pretty much my ideal at this point. I'm all for flexibility, but I prefer characters to be more broad than they typically end up as a result of strong charop games. I prefer specialization to mean "slightly better at x, but with a broad base" than "awesome at x, terrible at everything else."

You see this to the extreme in cases where warriors become useless if they're not using their one specific weapon type, as opposed to them being able to use any weapon according to the situation.

More breadth also allows more moment-to-moment choices, and places the emphasis there rather than on charop, which is a win for me. If you've optimized so that only doing X, Y, and Z make sense, then you've limited yourself to three options. A broader base means more options to choose from.

Note that I totally get that for some people, charop is a big part of the fun, and I'm not taking away from that or saying it's BadWrongFun. I just personally prefer games overall that do what I describe above.

There's more than two possibilities here. I suppose I prefer… Hmmm… "awesome at X, with a broad base of competence, and a few areas where they're terrible".

Quertus, my signature academia mage for whom this account is named, is awesome at raw power and spell research, has a broad base to draw on (from knowledge to stealth to fame to allies (his true strength, tbh)), and a few glaring weaknesses (like being tactically inept).

The guy beside me? 10/10 on videogame PvP. I've never seen his equal (OK, fine, I've seen one person better, but it's still technically true). But I have him beat on paying attention, strategy, doing the math, let alone my strength of Delta Squad (multiplayer force multiplier, where even afterwards most people struggle to figure out why my team won / what I did).

-----

Having an interesting character creation minigame is… somewhat orthogonal to how characters turn out.

As is whether all results of the character creation minigame are "viable" characters or not. (You think you can fail at character creation in D&D? Try dieing during character creation!)

-----

How does the win button of "the Medusa is invisible, she *cannot* petrify us" reduce the ability to work as a team? For that matter… while I understand the concept of spotlight rotation of "getting to shine 1/X of the time, and not getting to participate (x-1)/X of the time, and *share* the sentiment of wanting to avoid it… I understand exactly nothing about why you think a group of generalists will be more likely to produce good teamwork results than a group of more specialized characters.

So, for example: we've got a locked door that none of us are good enough to pick. So I take the keys I looted off the guard, hop in his truck, and drive it through the wall. How is that better than, "the Thief is skilled enough to pick the lock"?

Or, again, what do your use cases for "mediocrity done right" look like? Because, again, the only case I see for "sameyness breeds teamwork" is making the Fighter able to contribute like the Wizard - making them spend their actions (and build resources, and limited daily resources?) to buff the party, and their time and XP to give the party permanent bonuses. That would be an example of "sameyness breeds teamwork". What's yours?

-----

Most importantly, my brother would demand that I address that not all videogames are that dumb. Some (like Dragon Age?) have choices and consequences that are independently meaningful. Others are less discerning, with nothing more than a "light side / dark side" bar, that every choice gets dumped into, to indicate your ending.

It's simple laziness on the part of the GM / programmer, not something bound by fate or mechanics, that makes none of the specifics in Mass Effect matter.

Calthropstu
2021-07-23, 10:35 AM
I have had a dm try this 3 times.

It was supposed to "teach us a lesson."

The only thing we learned was that critting a dragon to death in a single round, blasting 4 ogre berzerkers in the charisma and stunning a monster for 4 rounds beats monsters much higher than we are.

If you do this in a d&d 3.5 or PF game, be prepared to lose.

Batcathat
2021-07-23, 10:40 AM
Well, it does sound like it taught you a lesson, just not the one the GM intended to teach. :smallamused:

Calthropstu
2021-07-23, 12:39 PM
Well, it does sound like it taught you a lesson, just not the one the GM intended to teach. :smallamused:

He took it well too. The dragon was a cr 15. My wilder hit it with an elemental ray and our paladin did a smite. Both of us crit for about 90 damage apiece. We were lvl 9.

And putting ogres against a wilder with ego whip is just asking for trouble. Doesn't matter how high their level is, they eat an ego whip and it's over. 6 cha means a 1 shot.

The 3rd I forget what it was supposed to be (different game from the other 2.) It popped up from the ground, attacked and got hit by a sommoned ankylosaurus. Another crit, 1d4 rounds of stun and that was that.

The poor gm genuinely looked sad. He wanted us to run, and use the monsters as a surprise foil later on when we were stronger. Poor guy.

Quertus
2021-07-24, 12:17 PM
I have had a dm try this 3 times.

It was supposed to "teach us a lesson."

The only thing we learned was that critting a dragon to death in a single round, blasting 4 ogre berzerkers in the charisma and stunning a monster for 4 rounds beats monsters much higher than we are.

If you do this in a d&d 3.5 or PF game, be prepared to lose.


He took it well too. The dragon was a cr 15. My wilder hit it with an elemental ray and our paladin did a smite. Both of us crit for about 90 damage apiece. We were lvl 9.

And putting ogres against a wilder with ego whip is just asking for trouble. Doesn't matter how high their level is, they eat an ego whip and it's over. 6 cha means a 1 shot.

The 3rd I forget what it was supposed to be (different game from the other 2.) It popped up from the ground, attacked and got hit by a sommoned ankylosaurus. Another crit, 1d4 rounds of stun and that was that.

The poor gm genuinely looked sad. He wanted us to run, and use the monsters as a surprise foil later on when we were stronger. Poor guy.

Had a GM do that with a Purple Wurm.

On the plus side, we fled.

On the downside, the slowest member of the party was too slow to flee.

On the other plus side, the Psion stunned it for something like 3d4(10) rounds.

On the more plus side, my mounted character, being mounted and therefore fastest, stayed behind to draw it away from the party (he'd flee in another direction, and circle back to meet them later).

On the most plus side, my mounted character was mounted because he was a mounted combat specialist. He killed the Wurm before it became unstunned.

Not what the GM expected.

Curiously, his response was to give a *bonus* to our two characters.

Duff
2021-07-28, 11:01 PM
heaven forbid you try something new or even *GASP* try some suboptimal builds in order to be able to respond to more situations in more ways.

I'll give some examples

Some examples where sub-optimal builds can be good -

Stealth can be good for everyone. A sneaky wizard might not be very sneaky compared to a rogue, but they still make themselves hard to see. And that helps the party be sneaky as well as allowing the wizard to get into position to do things without getting caught. Maybe you want the wizard to sneak in, grab the thing and teleport out as the alarms go off. Or start the fight with monsters conjured next to the court wizard
Social interactions can (maybe should?) get bonuses for being the right sort of person. Who's going into the camp of orc barbarians, the skinny elf bard or the orc barbarian? So, improving mediocre social skills is still worthwhile
Good communications can make a huge difference to a "heist" type plan but parties optimised for combat don't always have the spells and items for this. So one less lighting bolt , one more tongues spell.
Engineering solutions - sometimes rather than go down the tunnel it'd be wiser to practice "open cut" dungeneering. Or hydraulic monster clearance. Depending on system, engineering might be a skill or come under another skill that wont always be optimised
Or ecological warfare. I could kill all the goblins, but if we buy and remove all the sheep in 20 miles, they'll be wiling to surrender in 2 weeks to get a meal. knowledge nature. Not just for knowing what powers a monster has

vasilidor
2021-07-28, 11:27 PM
I'll give some examples

Some examples where sub-optimal builds can be good -

Stealth can be good for everyone. A sneaky wizard might not be very sneaky compared to a rogue, but they still make themselves hard to see. And that helps the party be sneaky as well as allowing the wizard to get into position to do things without getting caught. Maybe you want the wizard to sneak in, grab the thing and teleport out as the alarms go off. Or start the fight with monsters conjured next to the court wizard
Social interactions can (maybe should?) get bonuses for being the right sort of person. Who's going into the camp of orc barbarians, the skinny elf bard or the orc barbarian? So, improving mediocre social skills is still worthwhile
Good communications can make a huge difference to a "heist" type plan but parties optimised for combat don't always have the spells and items for this. So one less lighting bolt , one more tongues spell.
Engineering solutions - sometimes rather than go down the tunnel it'd be wiser to practice "open cut" dungeneering. Or hydraulic monster clearance. Depending on system, engineering might be a skill or come under another skill that wont always be optimised
Or ecological warfare. I could kill all the goblins, but if we buy and remove all the sheep in 20 miles, they'll be wiling to surrender in 2 weeks to get a meal. knowledge nature. Not just for knowing what powers a monster has

everything on here can be part of a hyper-optimised wizard build.

Lord Raziere
2021-07-28, 11:30 PM
everything on here can be part of a hyper-optimised wizard build.

you mean everything on here can be part of a wizard if the GM allows them to get all the spells on their list.

vasilidor
2021-07-29, 02:35 AM
you mean everything on here can be part of a wizard if the GM allows them to get all the spells on their list.

do not need to go farther then the core book for the most broken spells and most DMs are ok with those spells.

Mastikator
2021-07-29, 05:13 AM
you mean everything on here can be part of a wizard if the GM allows them to get all the spells on their list.

TBH if the GM is disallowing things from the player handbook I'd be extremely curious as to why.

Lord Raziere
2021-07-29, 05:42 AM
do not need to go farther then the core book for the most broken spells and most DMs are ok with those spells.


TBH if the GM is disallowing things from the player handbook I'd be extremely curious as to why.

I am not including other books.

I am simply referring to the fact that at each level they gain only two spells each level. taken as total, if they only gained those number of spells like every other class, they'd only have 41 spells. the number of spells in the game is far more than just 41. that is what I'm referring to, not extra books.

vasilidor
2021-07-29, 02:17 PM
41 spells? ok, lets go.
charm person and detect thoughts for awkward social encounters, invisibility for stealth, tongues and comprehend languages for understanding, legend lore and contact other plane can bypass the need for knowledge checks as can conjure elementals if you bother to ask them questions. ecological warfare? need to kill some animals fast, just use fireball. the mass buffalo hunts were ecological warfare. or if you want to do it fancy like, control weather.

as far as using engineering to kill a dungeon, they can just take the skill.

Kvess
2021-07-31, 12:14 PM
In a game such as D&D, intentionally unwinnable fights would be harder to pull off, relying more on the players being on board than on any game mechanic. The combat mechanics of D&D also suggest making such an event into a cutscene - unless the characters can succeed at something other than destroying the enemy (although I guess that might not be an "unwinnable" fight).
In 5e, you could throw a Rakshasa at any party under Level 13 that doesn't have access to magic weapons. They shouldn't have any abilities that can do significant damage to it, due to immunity to Bludgeoning, Piercing, and Slashing from Nonmagical Attacks and any effects from spells of 6th level or lower.

Calthropstu
2021-07-31, 01:37 PM
In 5e, you could throw a Rakshasa at any party under Level 13 that doesn't have access to magic weapons. They shouldn't have any abilities that can do significant damage to it, due to immunity to Bludgeoning, Piercing, and Slashing from Nonmagical Attacks and any effects from spells of 6th level or lower.

Grapple + bucket of water. Drown it.

Did you forget where you are?

DwarfFighter
2021-07-31, 04:11 PM
Grapple + bucket of water. Drown it.

Did you forget where you are?

I don't think Grapple does what you think it does.

-DF

Calthropstu
2021-07-31, 07:01 PM
I don't think Grapple does what you think it does.

-DF

You can't grapple + tie up in 5e? Then tie them upside down and dip their head in a bucket of water to kill them?

Rynjin
2021-07-31, 08:20 PM
You can't grapple + tie up in 5e? Then tie them upside down and dip their head in a bucket of water to kill them?

No, and you also can't do that in any other edition either, because you needed to Grapple, Pin, and THEN tie-up, and the Rakshasa could just...casually shapechange into something that can breathe underwater if you managed it.

Calthropstu
2021-07-31, 08:29 PM
No, and you also can't do that in any other edition either, because you needed to Grapple, Pin, and THEN tie-up, and the Rakshasa could just...casually shapechange into something that can breathe underwater if you managed it.

Grapple, pin, tie up, toss into an air tight box. Suffocation then.

Rynjin
2021-07-31, 08:45 PM
Assuming you somehow have a human sized airtight box (which you don't), this gives them ample time to break free by, for example, turning into a Large humanoid.

Mastikator
2021-07-31, 08:56 PM
Grapple, pin, tie up, toss into an air tight box. Suffocation then.

In 5th edition you need the Grappler feat to actually pin someone down. And the Rakshasa can planeshift out of the box.

Calthropstu
2021-07-31, 10:32 PM
In 5th edition you need the Grappler feat to actually pin someone down. And the Rakshasa can planeshift out of the box.

But requires concentration when grappled no? And if they plane-shift out, all is well. They will be a problem, but you have forced him out of the plane for the day.

Kvess
2021-07-31, 11:06 PM
Without getting into too much detail about Rakshasha or the mechanics of 5e, if you want to spend 50 rounds of combat trying to keep a powerful fiend in a position where it’s suffocating… you’re, uh, welcome to try.


And if they plane-shift out, all is well. They will be a problem, but you have forced him out of the plane for the day.
Bold of you to assume the creature is casting planeshift on itself.

Calthropstu
2021-08-01, 12:30 AM
Without getting into too much detail about Rakshasha or the mechanics of 5e, if you want to spend 50 rounds of combat trying to keep a powerful fiend in a position where it’s suffocating… you’re, uh, welcome to try.


Bold of you to assume the creature is casting planeshift on itself.

Fair. But there is a saving throw. Since you already need a check, adding a saving throw on top may not be the wisest.

I was just refuting the "nothing you can do" statement.. Now if it had teleport at will like 3.5e demons, we'd be in trouble. Not that we aren't already in trouble. The odds of all this working in our favor is slim.

Just not zero.

Rynjin
2021-08-01, 12:37 AM
The odds are zero, because there is no way your party is lugging around an airtight box big enough to fit a human sized creature inside of at all times, and you have no way to make one on the fly.

It's like saying "well the odds aren't zero that the party can beat a Marilith at level 1, because they brought their CL 20 scroll of Dismissal along duh". Absolutely absurd.

Calthropstu
2021-08-01, 12:50 AM
The odds are zero, because there is no way your party is lugging around an airtight box big enough to fit a human sized creature inside of at all times, and you have no way to make one on the fly.

It's like saying "well the odds aren't zero that the party can beat a Marilith at level 1, because they brought their CL 20 scroll of Dismissal along duh". Absolutely absurd.

If one isn't avilable, throwing it in a sack and tossing him into water would trap him for a while. Locking him in a room would also make him bound and locked in a room giving you time to loot and escape. Or, the pinner could just keep binding him as he tries to escape. blindfolding blocks all of his targetted spells, so you shouldn't need to worry. Go and get the box while the rakshasa is held down, put him in the box.

It's a lot easier to get a mundane box than it is a high level scroll.

Kvess
2021-08-01, 09:46 AM
You could contrive a way to defeat any statted enemy. Sure.

The classic example of an unbeatable enemy is the Lady of Pain in Sigil. She doesn’t have a stat block, and elaborate plots against her from Murderhobo NPCs always go horribly wrong. Usually ends with all their allies eviscerated and being banished into a Maze.

Stonehead
2021-08-11, 07:59 PM
I've run a couple, and been in a few more than that. Enough to know that it's really hard. It opens a lot of plot opportunities, and interesting directions for character development, but it's really hard to pull off well. For all the reasons posted here and more, just ask yourself if you're really good enough of a dm to pull it off. And I'm not being rhetorical, if you're really experienced and know your group well, it's definitely possible. I just know I'm not skilled enough to pull it off consistently (and neither is anyone I've played with).


In general, players are much more ok with forced set-ups than forced conclusions.

Having a monster summoned out of nowhere at the beginning of the fight to help the evil guy (and make the encounter more difficult) is usually OK.
Having a monster summoned out of nowhere at the end of the fight to help the evil guy (and allow him to escape) is usually not OK.

One additional point to this, you can have the best of both worlds by putting a summoning circle or something in the beginning of the fight, and tell the players it'll complete after 4 rounds. The threat itself doesn't need to be there from the start, the players just need to know about it from the start.


Edit:
One thing I forgot, everyone else has said it already, but if your players are crazy lucky or crazy smart, you should roll with the punches and let them win your 'unwinnable' encounter. That's not really specific to unwinnable fights, just particularly relevant here.

KorvinStarmast
2021-08-16, 12:04 PM
In 5e, you could throw a Rakshasa at any party under Level 13 that doesn't have access to magic weapons. They shouldn't have any abilities that can do significant damage to it, due to immunity to Bludgeoning, Piercing, and Slashing from Nonmagical Attacks and any effects from spells of 6th level or lower. Unless they have a sixth level (or higher) monk. :smallsmile:

Calthropstu
2021-08-16, 01:37 PM
Unless they have a sixth level 9or higher) monk. :smallsmile:

Or a 1st level druid casting Shillelagh

KorvinStarmast
2021-08-16, 01:44 PM
Or a 1st level druid casting Shillelagh While I agree with you, I think I recall J Crawford claiming that the Rakshasa was immune to that in a tweet. (It's not in the SA compendium, and I think that tweet was irresponsible ... :smallyuk:)

Xervous
2021-08-16, 01:46 PM
While I agree with you, I think I recall J Crawford claiming that the Rakshasa was immune to that in a tweet. (It's not in the SA compendium, and I think that tweet was irresponsible ... :smallyuk:)

I think a fair rule of thumb at this point is you don’t hear about responsible tweets.

Bohandas
2021-08-17, 04:43 PM
Hopeless Boss Fights (https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/HopelessBossFight) are a tool in the designer's tool belt. =

Hmmm. I'm struck by the fact that their list leaves out the player character's inexplicable surrender in the beginning of the Fallout 3 DLC "The Pitt"


Stealth can be good for everyone. A sneaky wizard might not be very sneaky compared to a rogue

Well, I mean the really stealthy one is whichever of them the wizard casts invisibility and silence on

Rynjin
2021-08-17, 08:12 PM
Hmmm. I'm struck by the fact that their list leaves out the player character's inexplicable surrender in the beginning of the Fallout 3 DLC "The Pitt"


That's because it falls under Cutscene Incompetence (https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/CutsceneIncompetence).