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    theMycon's Avatar

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    Default GMs, Storytellers, and villian-players- how hard do you try to "win"? (Also- SW-IA)

    This thread is about a particular skirmish game, Star Wars-Imperial Assault. Even if we change games, it's a question I'll have to face. I'm not the best tactician of the group, but as long as logistics are a part of it, I can hold my own.

    My gaming group has started a "side game" of the campaign for SW-IA for weeks not everyone can make it. In campaign mode, it's not well balanced. The host & I are trading off as the Imperials, and after 5 missions we've agreed that the Imperial player will win 9 times out of 10 if they want to. The only time the rebels won, including two missions where we subtly went out of our way to help them, was the introductory mission (and even that was close). Time is just naturally on your side. Your units don't need to win, they just need to delay the rebels by 2 or 3 turns. Conversely, rebel heros will slaughter Imperial units if you're not focusing fire (leaving one player sitting on the sidelines for an hour), so removing all time constraints will make the Rebels win 9 times out of 10, along with introducing a host of other minor issues. I want the game to be fair, but since I cannot accurately guess how to re-do the timing of every mission, "giving the rebels a chance" absolutely 100% means "giving them information they shouldn't have", and probably means "not playing to win."
    One more minor complication, my boyfriend (who occasionally fills in when one player is missing in our "main game" D&D campaign) is playing Diala, the Jedi-in-training, making him the most durable & offensively powerful character on the board (so far, at least). If I don't specifically aim for him, how wildly he outperforms everyone else gives the appearance of favoritism. Actually aiming for him isn't worth it for obvious reasons, especially if they don't win.

    That said:
    Assuming you are the "bad guy", you can always win, but you want something like a 50-50 win:lose ratio without making it obvious you're intentionally picking up & putting down the idiot ball; what do you do?
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    PirateGuy

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    Default Re: GMs, Storytellers, and villian-players- how hard do you try to "win"? (Also- SW-I

    The GM only "wins" when all the players have a good time. Trying consistently to "beat" the players is counterproductive. You can put whatever you want in an encounter for the PCs to face, and even tailor your enemies specifically to face the party's weaknesses, but what's the point? Any "contest" between you and the players is automatically as rigged in your favor as you want it to be.

    Sure you COULD have all the encounters be a squad of heavily armed, well-trained stormtroopers who act as a hive mind, but is that really fun or realistic for anyone?

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    Default Re: GMs, Storytellers, and villian-players- how hard do you try to "win"? (Also- SW-I

    Quote Originally Posted by DiscipleofBob View Post
    The GM only "wins" when all the players have a good time. Trying consistently to "beat" the players is counterproductive.
    OK, maybe a little more context would be helpful. Thank you for highlighting that.

    In the future, if you do not understand a system, asking a for clarification about how it works will generally allow you to produce more useful advice than making assumptions. That said, your advice is good advice for a new DM running D&D, so if there's anything more that would be useful for you to know, please let me know.


    Campaign mode of this game has pre-defined skirmishes with given win/loss conditions, which all players are aware of. There are "starting units" the players see immediately and could wipe in 1-2 rounds. Hidden from view are "open units" that you can* put in over time, and "reserved units" that you have to put in at specific triggers.

    The Imperial player is given a list of units, where to place them, and rules a list of what happens at the start/end of certain rounds, when certain tasks are completed, and a lot of flavor text to read. Your decisions are limited to "how do I call in open units" and "how do I run my units." With the exception of "boss" type enemies, rebel heroes will tear through imperial cannon fodder like tissue paper; but that still eats valuable time. Imperial units are distractions, not threats. The limited number of rounds is the threat.

    That said, I'm playing with adults. I'm supposed to be the bad guy. If I just waved my arm over the board and said "a magic space wizard appears from the mists and does everything for you"**, nobody would enjoy it. If I try anything that is blatantly patronizing, they will realizing I'm patronizing them. I'm suppose I'm asking two distinct questions about how to help people have fun when a game is clearly not balanced.

    1- In general, as the bad guy, if you should win in any "fair" game, but you want other people to have fun, how hard do you try to win?

    2- In specific, in Star Wars-Imperial Assault, how do you give the Rebels a fair chance without making it really clear you're letting them win? Act randomly? Tell them everything that happens during the mission & encourage metagaming? Redo deployment rules to produce half the number of enemies and add 2 rounds to every fight?

    *"Can" meaning "it is expected you do so, according to a list of rules."
    **Well, Luke is in the campaign, but you know what I mean.
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    Ettin in the Playground
     
    Flumph

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    Default Re: GMs, Storytellers, and villian-players- how hard do you try to "win"? (Also- SW-I

    It sounds like the actual solution is to design scenarios which have a closer to 50/50 natural winrate.

    Because if the winrate is skewed 90/10 between two competent sides trying to win those scenarios are ****.

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    Default Re: GMs, Storytellers, and villian-players- how hard do you try to "win"? (Also- SW-I

    Hrm...

    After some googling, I found a how balanced is each scenario poll. This seems to imply we've just being playing mostly imperial-friendly scenarios. Hopefully, with that guide and some suggestions, the other Imperial & I can make the side missions a fair game.

    Unfortunately, it seems almost all the story missions favor the imperials; and the last ones are about 80/20. So... Dagnabbit, I still have to cheat to lose.
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    Default Re: GMs, Storytellers, and villian-players- how hard do you try to "win"? (Also- SW-I

    That sucks. Poorly-balanced games are bad news, especially competitive-styled ones. In this situation, I'd love to be able to play the game well and not be guaranteed a win.
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    Firbolg in the Playground
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    Default Re: GMs, Storytellers, and villian-players- how hard do you try to "win"? (Also- SW-I

    I have no experience on SW IA, but I do play and mostly GM the previous game in the line, Descent Second Edition (they're basically the same game with minor differences, the main differences are one is a fantasy game, the other is a Star Wars game).

    And I actually have to agree, at least in Descent Second Edition, if both sides are playing with no-hold-barred bloodlust, most of the time the GM will win.

    How? I wasn't in that particular game myself, but one game convinced my friends to not play the game anymore. Basically the scenario was the heroes have to kill the boss monster and protect some stuff. Usually I GM the game, but this time, since I can't be there, another friend who's pretty notoriously competitive became the GM. And he played it by stringing the game, basically kiting the heroes around the relatively huge map, doing hit and run and heal stuff, making the whole experience pretty frustrating and unfun for everyone. What supposed to be a climatic boss battle turned out to be frustrating and long "move one step, try to hit, fly away" and so on. And a session that's supposed to end in 45 minutes stretches into 2 hours.

    Is it fair? You could say it's fair. Is it fun? For very competitive people maybe.

    But in my opinion, if you want to play those kind of games, get a wargame instead. Descent and SW IA is NOT a wargame or skirmish game (except for the actual skirmish rule, which actually exists and different than the campaign). In the campaign, it's more of a heroic dungeoncrawling game. You know, like DnD? And the GM is not a balanced second party, but actually more an actual GM role just like in a DnD game (except if you play DnD as adversarial game, but that's another topic entirely).

    Anyway, I'm not telling you to throw the game. But at least try not to string out the game. Try to make a climatic and exciting battle instead.

    And the limited number of turn? Well, Descent also have it (IIRC), that's the heroes don't try to kill all enemy, but try to focus on finishing the objective. If they don't do that but try to kill all enemies instead, well it's more of the heroes' tactical fault then.

    Once again, I'm telling this from the context of Descent, not SW IA, so I don't know how close my experience is with yours.
    Last edited by Fri; 2015-06-24 at 11:03 AM.
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    Ogre in the Playground
     
    Kobold

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    Default Re: GMs, Storytellers, and villian-players- how hard do you try to "win"? (Also- SW-I

    Depends. Ultimately, like DiscipleOfBob, I win if the players are having fun. But "fun" can differ.

    If I'm GM'ing a round of Paranoia? I'm going to win. The players are going to die, painfully, repeatedly, and in imaginiative ways. What's more, they're going to be killing each other or I'm not doing my job right. The players will also be on the floor laughing too, especially the ones old enough to know that my Friend Computer voice predates the Baymax character in Big Hero 6 by a couple of decades. Seriously, it was*unnerving* sitting in the theatre hearing how close that voice is to the one I've always used...

    If I'm playing Last Night On Earth? It's a competitive game, I'm not sure this should count as GM'ing, even if I've managed to be a Human Hero all of twice in the dozens of times I've played. Still, again, I have a responsibility to make sure the scenario is balanced (LNOE has a number of optional rules that are supposed to balance the two sides out) but once the game starts out my pieces are out for brains... brains... braaaaaaaaaaaaains...

    In most proper RPG's, though, we're out to experience a story together. If the players screw up*, they're going to pay for it. If the players do something wonderfully creative I didn't anticipate, I'm just as interested in seeing what happens next as they are Sometimes the players are out for a challenge, other times they just want to see how quickly they can kill 100 skeletons. It varies, and so does my response.

    *And by "screw up" I mean doing something obviously, terribly wrong - not "telepathically determining what I want them to do".
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    Flumph

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    Default Re: GMs, Storytellers, and villian-players- how hard do you try to "win"? (Also- SW-I

    Quote Originally Posted by Fri View Post
    How? I wasn't in that particular game myself, but one game convinced my friends to not play the game anymore. Basically the scenario was the heroes have to kill the boss monster and protect some stuff. Usually I GM the game, but this time, since I can't be there, another friend who's pretty notoriously competitive became the GM. And he played it by stringing the game, basically kiting the heroes around the relatively huge map, doing hit and run and heal stuff, making the whole experience pretty frustrating and unfun for everyone. What supposed to be a climatic boss battle turned out to be frustrating and long "move one step, try to hit, fly away" and so on. And a session that's supposed to end in 45 minutes stretches into 2 hours.

    Is it fair? You could say it's fair. Is it fun? For very competitive people maybe.
    That still sounds like bad scenario design. (eg. if the boss monster has a mobility advantage its objectives should prevent it just kiting. eg. the item the players are protecting is the Holy Talisman of MacGuffin and unless the Evil Demon of B'larg is within ten tiles of it it starts dealing damage to all the evil monsters, so the demon has a necessarily restricted playing space in which to leverage its mobility and organically loses if it tries to kite indefinitely. OR the boss monster just has worse mobility and can't kite anyway).


    It all rather sounds like the system is poorly designed for a heroic campaign, the attraction for the players appears to be "winning" the scenario, (because unlike D&D they don't have any agency in the campaign, it's a fixed order of scenarios). But they aren't winning the scenaraio by actually playing the scenario (they can't because the scenario as written is bull**** and designed to make them lose with a high degree of probability), they're going through a sequence of steps wherein the GM player orchestrates their victory to such a degree that they have to actively decline to win by ignoring their objectives on purpose.

    If you want a campaign game built of tactical skirmish battles where the players' objective is to win the skirmishes by tactical skill, design the scenarios so they are well balanced and the players can still win at least half of the time even if the GM is playing competitively. (You can probably bully the existing scenarios into this format)

    If you want an RPG game where the players partake in a heroic narrative, play an RPG designed to produce that heroic narrative and give the players campaign agency as well.

    Don't try and use a hammer to tighten screws.
    Last edited by GloatingSwine; 2015-06-24 at 12:53 PM.

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    Firbolg in the Playground
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    Default Re: GMs, Storytellers, and villian-players- how hard do you try to "win"? (Also- SW-I

    Quote Originally Posted by GloatingSwine View Post
    That still sounds like bad scenario design. (eg. if the boss monster has a mobility advantage its objectives should prevent it just kiting. eg. the item the players are protecting is the Holy Talisman of MacGuffin and unless the Evil Demon of B'larg is within ten tiles of it it starts dealing damage to all the evil monsters, so the demon has a necessarily restricted playing space in which to leverage its mobility and organically loses if it tries to kite indefinitely. OR the boss monster just has worse mobility and can't kite anyway).


    It all rather sounds like the system is poorly designed for a heroic campaign, the attraction for the players appears to be "winning" the scenario, (because unlike D&D they don't have any agency in the campaign, it's a fixed order of scenarios). But they aren't winning the scenaraio by actually playing the scenario (they can't because the scenario as written is bull**** and designed to make them lose with a high degree of probability), they're going through a sequence of steps wherein the GM player orchestrates their victory to such a degree that they have to actively decline to win by ignoring their objectives on purpose.

    If you want a campaign game built of tactical skirmish battles where the players' objective is to win the skirmishes by tactical skill, design the scenarios so they are well balanced and the players can still win at least half of the time even if the GM is playing competitively. (You can probably bully the existing scenarios into this format)

    If you want an RPG game where the players partake in a heroic narrative, play an RPG designed to produce that heroic narrative and give the players campaign agency as well.

    Don't try and use a hammer to tighten screws.
    I actually agree with this. This is why we don't play Descent anymore, and we actually planned to buy SW IA because we heard it fixes some of Descent's problem (like the thing you mentioned) but we didn't, because we heard it's still unfixed, and I'm glad we didn't buy it after all.
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    Default Re: GMs, Storytellers, and villian-players- how hard do you try to "win"? (Also- SW-I

    Yeah, if a cheap, annoying tactic is the most effective way to play one side, there's two possibilities. Either you haven't figured out how to counter it, or it's so badly designed that there is no counter. Experience and time proves which is which.
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    Ogre in the Playground
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    Default Re: GMs, Storytellers, and villian-players- how hard do you try to "win"? (Also- SW-I

    Another thing you can do is determine some amount of losing which doing better than is considered a relative win. Replaying historic battles often use that metric.

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    Default Re: GMs, Storytellers, and villian-players- how hard do you try to "win"? (Also- SW-I

    Quote Originally Posted by theMycon View Post
    Campaign mode of this game has pre-defined skirmishes with given win/loss conditions, which all players are aware of. There are "starting units" the players see immediately and could wipe in 1-2 rounds. Hidden from view are "open units" that you can* put in over time, and "reserved units" that you have to put in at specific triggers.
    [/SIZE]
    The rulebook clearly states that Rebel players should have NO INFORMATION from the Campaign Guide unless the guide says to read it to them. Read the mission briefing and their objective should be clear to them. There is no reason for them to know the Imperial win condition.

    For example: in the first mission (Aftermath), the mission briefing makes it clear that the Rebels need to destroy all the terminals to win and that they need to do it quickly. Once they open the door to the installation, they get a message from their mission officer telling them Imperial reinforcements are on the way and they need to hurry.

    There should be no need to tell them the Imp win condition is "end of turn 6." If you're telling them that, it might explain the balance issues you're having.

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    Default Re: GMs, Storytellers, and villian-players- how hard do you try to "win"? (Also- SW-I

    IMO, the Imperial Player is very different from a Dungeon Master. A DM's job is to make sure everyone has fun. The Imperial Player's job is to crush his enemies and see them driven before him.

    If there is a rules dispute, the DM has final authority. The Imperial Player does not.

    Also: IA isn't a game in which losing a mission means game over. The Rebel players SHOULD feel overwhelmed by the Imperial forces. Have you ever seen Star Wars? There is NEVER a moment when the Rebels really have the "upper hand;" just a few moments when Imperial hubris gives them a small, desperate hope of striking a real blow. If the Rebels are winning more than half the missions, you're not playing Star Wars; you're playing "Space Wizards."

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    Flumph

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    Default Re: GMs, Storytellers, and villian-players- how hard do you try to "win"? (Also- SW-I

    Quote Originally Posted by Thorvindr View Post
    Also: IA isn't a game in which losing a mission means game over. The Rebel players SHOULD feel overwhelmed by the Imperial forces. Have you ever seen Star Wars? There is NEVER a moment when the Rebels really have the "upper hand;" just a few moments when Imperial hubris gives them a small, desperate hope of striking a real blow. If the Rebels are winning more than half the missions, you're not playing Star Wars; you're playing "Space Wizards."
    Thread necro and all, but the Rebels have a p. high success rate in actual Star Wars. Even in the one where they're supposed to lose they basically all get away.

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