Thursday, December 15, 2016

Building the Officer: Strategy, Foresight and shades of Mass Combat

Director Krennic Arrives -- by Ashley Clapperton

So, I've established that Mass Combat is a terrible idea, and then tempted you with the possibilities of some rather cool scenarios (a single dreadnought or fleet on the run from the Empire trying to maintain its resource while pondering when and where to strike next).  How could we design a character (say, the Officer) that can fulfill both design goals?  Most campaigns will never feature Mass Combat, so such a template would be useless in those, and even in campaigns that do feature it, Mass Combat is unlikely to be constant, so what does the character do in the meantime?

Mass Combat and Character

What traits do we need to make a solid Officer for Mass Combat?

Strategy: The "Commander" needs this skill.  It helps with the Reconnaissance roll (MC28) and it governs the Contest of Strategy at the heart of Mass Combat (MC 36)

Leadership: This is the other skill for the "Commander." It can be used to prevent your troops from entering into a "No Security State" (MC 28). to Rally a Confused force (MC 34), avert panic if the force commander falls (MC 37), to control a force after the enemy retreats (MC 38), and to retreat with a Fanatical force without being deposed (MC8).

Intelligence Analysis: This is for the "Intelligence Chief." It helps with the Reconnaissance Contest (MC 28). That's all it does.

Administration: This is used by the "Quartermaster." This assists with a Force March (MC 28), and covers how efficiently your logistic force is (MC13).

How useful are these skills in GURPS Action?

Strategy: You can always use Strategy for figuring out what your opponents grand military plans are.  Otherwise, the only mention of it is on page 17 of Action 2, in The Mission Plan.  Thus, Strategy is key in Mass Combat, but a footnote in Action.

Leadership: Leadership is always useful for helping characters overcome failed self-control or fright checks. It can also assist with the Ham Clause (Encouragement, Action 2 page 39), and The Mission Plan (in exactly the same way that Strategy can be useful, making Strategy even less interesting).

Intelligence Analysis: This is your general "go to" skill for "I need help figuring out this mystery."  It covers Deduction in a military or espionage scenario (which is most Psi-War scenarios, see Action 2 page 12).  It also assists in Planning by giving you access to the Big Picture (Action 2 page 17)

Administration: Administration helps us Falsify Records (Action 2 page 26) and acts as a Complementary Roll for Requisitions (Action 2 page 7 or see Pulling Rank, Action 1 page 24)

So the sort of character who would be good at Mass Combat is very good at putting together the Plan.  He can see the big picture (Intelligence Analysis), and then he can make a solid plan for how to go about tackling the enemy (Strategy), he can keep his allies from doing something stupid or deviating from the plan (Leadership), and he can make sure they're equipped well enough to do the job (Administration).

Is he an interesting character?  I think so.  He's a little focused on one thing, but that's true of all Action-type characters.  If we focus on Rank (say, starting Rank 4), we make Pulling Rank even more useful.  Charisma also suggests itself, as a bonus for his Leadership.  The only weak skill is Strategy, which can be removed completely in favor of Leadership, which is something we don't want if the character is to be equally useful in (optional!) Mass Combat.

How do we fix that?


I thought ahead, and already knew I wanted to talk about this, but evidently Jason Levine was even more foresightful. Pyramd #3-53: Action features the article "Fortunately I saw this coming," which is all about Foresight.  A character with Foresight can retroactively declare things true.  Remember how I wanted to give the Spy a power-up with some 5-point ability to retroactively declare that she was in disguise the whole time?  Well, what I needed was Foresight.

We have three different ways to model it.  First, we can simply buy Foresight for 5-10 points.  Second, we can spend character points (2 for a use of foresight).  Finally, any character with precognitive abilities or "incredible" skills might get "free" use of Foresight.

The simplest way to handle this is to let our genius officer have a level of Foresight right there in his template!  But is there a way we can use this to make Strategy more interesting?  What if we expanded the Planning roll?  We can say that Strategy can apply for any plan, and that success works like normal, but critical success provides a free use of Foresight to the group.  Characters may apply a -10 to their Strategy (or any planning roll) to get a second Foresight.  Characters with divination (Wisdom of Communion as a learned prayer, Prognostication or Visions) may use the Divination rules on Pyramid #3-53 page 43, and characters with the perk "Strategic Mastermind" can use Strategy to do the same using Skill Beyond Skill on the same page.

Thus, a character with Strategy 25 can become surprisingly useful in an Action scenario, not quite as useful as he would be in Mass Combat, but still useful nonetheless.

Powering Up the Officer

So far, the power-ups have turned out to be a good idea.  We know, in general, how the Officer will work: He's a master of planning and pulling rank, likely with some decent social acumen and basic combat skills.  How can we augment him in interesting ways that diverge from that core focus while still emphasizing his underlying gameplay?

A Personal Army

As it stands, out of the box, the Officer works with his fellow heroes.   He's Hannibal from the A-Team, rather than a grand general with an army.  But what if he had an army?  This sounds like a job for allies!  But rather than write up detailed allies, what if we used the mook rules we've already been using to create our characters?  How would we work out the point-cost then?

  • BAD -0: These characters have base skill 10.  That is, they might have other skills, but the skills that we care about (their ability to fight), they have skill 10, or worse.  They typically have pertinent traits of 10, no real advantages to speak of, and often some disadvantage, as they fight worse than their skill level would indicate.  Assuming all traits of 10  and 5 average skills at DX or IQ plus a disadvantage worth -5 to -10, we come to a character worth... 0-5 points!  Compared to a 300 point character, such a character is worth 5%.  The cost per ally of that is 0.2 (see GURPS Zombies page 27).  Such characters are rabble and generally more trouble than they're worth.
  • BAD -2: These characters have base skill 12.  They generally have stats of 10, perhaps 11 (ST or HT), perhaps 5 points worth of advantages, and might have disadvantages worth -5 to -10 (that apply to how they fight).  Having an average skill at trait+2 would cost 8 points, so 5 such skills would cost 40, but if we assume some nebulous talent that covers the specifics of being a mook for 5/level, then two such levels (10 points) will mean they can get their five skills for another 10 points.  Such a character costs between 15 and 60 points, depending on how you chose to cost him.  If we say these characters are worth 25 points, that's 10% of the character value, or 0.4 points per ally.
  • BAD -5: These characters have base skill 15.  They generally have a DX of 12 and other stats of 10-11, and usually at least Combat Reflexes or another 15 points worth of advantages.  They might have 5 to 10 points worth of disadvantages.  If we assume 5 average skills at level 15, then each skill needs to be at stat+3, or 12 points each (60 points for all 5).  If we instead assume some nebulous talent, three levels and 2 points in each skill will give them a total cost of 25 to reach skill 15.  Such a character costs between 75 and 125, depending on how you choose to cost them.  If we say such characters are 75 points, they are 25% of the character, and thus worth 1 point apiece.
  • BAD -8: These characters have base skill 18.  They definitely have a DX of 12 and other stats of 11-12, and always have Combat Reflexes and other advantages worth about 25 points total.  They might have 5 to 15 points worth of disadvantages.  If we assume 5 average skills at level 18, then each skill needs to be at stat+6, or 24 points each (120 points for all 5).  If we instead assume some nebulous talent, four levels and 8 points in each skill will give them a total cost of 60 to reach skill 18.  Such a character costs between 150 and 215, depending on how you choose to cost them.  If we say such characters are 150 points, then such characters are worth 2 points apiece.
This numbers are low, but I justify it for two reasons.  First, mooks tend to be very specialized, so it might be reasonable for them to have such a low cost.  And, second, player characters will rise in value.  If we set them at a low static value and don't shift them as the player goes up in points, then they'll only be particularly strong at first.

But what if we get our mooks killed? Mooks die pretty easily!  Shouldn't they be worth less than the listed values?  Well, I say that we create a new enhancement: Mook +0%.  Such characters are instantly removed from combat once they take a single point of damage, but you're assumed to have additional ranks from which you can rapidly draw recruits, so your full supply is replenished between sessions.  

Of course, we can't fit BAD 8 into any ally group: they're just too expensive.  However, if we follow the Ally-Group numbers backwards, we could get a group of 5 (a half-squad) for x4.  Seems fair enough.

We want our personal army around most of the time (15 or less, so triple value) and I often find that a faceless horde is hard to interact with, so having a lieutenant might be nice.  I suggest three values: 75 points (a minor attache), 150 points (a lieutenant), or 300 points (a full on hero who often works with you).

So our Power-Up would look something like this:

Advantages: Spend 25 points on Ally (75 points, 150 points, 300 points, almost all the time (15 or less)) [3, 6 or 15], Ally Group (BAD 2, BAD 5 or BAD 8, x5 members, almost all the time (15 or less) [5, 12 or 24] or Ally Group (BAD 0, BAD 2 or BAD 5, x10 members, almost all the time (15 or less) [4, 8 or 18] or choose one of the following packages:
  • Hero and minions; Ally (300 points, almost all the time) [15], and Ally Group (BAD 2, x10 members, almost all the time) [8] and two points from Officer advantages.
  • Lieutenant and Elite Squad: Ally (150 points, almost all the time) [6] and Ally Group (BAD 5, x10 members, almost all the time) [18] and one point from Officer advantages
  • Heroic Guard: Ally Group (BAD 8, x5, almost all the time) [24] and one point from Officer Advantages.

Boundless Ambition

What is an officer without higher aims?  More than that, why must we assume that all Officers are military?  Why not some high level spy agent, or a particularly cunning crime-boss?  The "Mastermind" archetype is a good one.  Why not exploit it for something broader than just a general?

One of the benefits of Smooth Operator in Action is that it grants you +1 per level to Pulling Rank attempts.  This makes the Faceman quite useful (and balances out the high cost of Smooth Operator).  We have another talent that's already come up in Psi-Wars: the Intuitive Statesmen.  It offers Administration, Current Affairs, Diplomacy and Leadership, which are useufl, and a bevy of other skills that are background at best.  If we also allow it to improve Pulling Rank rolls, then it becomes a more broadly useful skill, and a way of representing a different sort of officer.  Such a character sacrifices his Intelligence Analysis and Strategy for superior Administration and Pulling Rank rolls.

The Power-Up might look something like this:
Traits: Charisma +1 [5] and replace Born War-leader 4 [20] with Intuitive Statesmen 4 [40] for +20 points.
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