Combat is supposed to go quickly and enemies are supposed to die quickly. Remember a few things though. Anything the heroes can to the enemies can do as well, this is especially true of bbgs. Make sure you are doing wounds right, one player should not be able to inflict 5 wounds in one round. Make sure you are adapting the difficulty of combat. The base to hit is one success but when you take into account the nature of the battlefield and the fact that the enemies are likely defending themselves it is likely to get harder to hit. Do your best to have your boss enemies plan for combat. Unless they are built for it, very few enemy bosses are going to rush to the front to be slaughtered. Easy answer is Doom. You can significantly alter the battlefield just by stealing initiative or spending doom to increase difficulty. I recently ran a combat where my players where perfectly capable of wiping the floor with the enemies but by spending 3 doom I created an impediment that made it harder for them to hit and it evened out the battlefield quite a bit. There were plenty of more subtle ways I could have changed things but I wanted the players to feel like they had accomplished something when they killed the enemy. It only added a couple rounds but with those rounds I was able to injure them quite a bit and by then end everyone was celebrating their victory like it had been one of the most deadly encounters they had ever had. If you get creative with your resources nearly every battle can be an epic, cinematic feeling encounter.
In REH’s Conan story “Queen of the Black Coast” Conan ran/rode away from a handful of soldiers/guardsmen who tried to (unjustly?) get him found guilty at court.
A Conan 2d20 PC would be able to simply wade through them, no need to flee from any number of guards ever, as he slays them by the score.
This is what I find often at odds to the literary source material. As a GM you have to muster up mob after mob of minions, so that after slaying - for example - 30 city watchmen the PC “hero” walks away without any scratch on him. This breaks the inner logic of the game world, I find. Such a kind of bloodshed might be expected in a great battle, a clash of armies or so. But as GM seeing the PCs “depopulate” entire areas, towns quarters or villages, that is a disbalance in power that breaks the suspension of disbelief utterly.
I ran several Conan campaigns by now, and I have played in even more as a player myself. In every campaign there is such a kind of “combat monster” PC who annihilates minions and Elite opponents in great numbers. And in some campaigns I have played such a PC myself, so I know how it feels from both sides of the table.
For a decently built - not even a maxed-out one-trick pony - combat oriented character it is way too easy to become a “being of mass destruction”. And that does not fit the source material at all.
It only fits the warped, second-hand “rumored” traits of a “typical fantasy barbarian”, it does not fit Conan according to REH’s stories.
So I would expect more sense of danger to be felt even for combat heavy created PCs than the current Conan 2d20 game delivers.
Simply making every single NPC the group encounters a Nemesis rank NPC or at least the rest of the world Elite NPCs does not really work as a fix for that problem.
I’m deeply interested in how this thread develops.
I ran one quickly-ended PbP of this system, and I definitely felt like I was at great straits to even touch my PCs, let alone hurt them. True, one of the PCs not only was a “combat monster” but one I had allowed the Skill Talent General, resulting in him leading a small party of Elite warriors. My own fault, since I allowed it? Perhaps. But I typically prefer players to build what they want.
Just started a face-to-face game and have run one true session. Yes, the PCs are awesome (though the players don’t seem to know this yet, not yet having fully groked the rules). But I didn’t find it mattering so much, since the focus of the main excitement entailed the PCs rescuing a victim from ravening ghouls/jackal-men. The point was that the PCs weren’t so much interested in “wading hip deep in the blood of their enemies” as they were in achieving their objection and getting (by Hades!) away.
Incidentally, after a few encounters with these creatures, for this last one I simply dumped a handful of markers—representing foes—onto the tactical battle mat. This is a weird game in that the GM serves as a traditional GM—in other words, doing whatever she wants—but also has these things called Doom spends, such as using them to bring new Minions into a scene. I did it one time, and one of my players (who runs a 1e game for me and others) asked, “What was that about? In old school games the DM just does what he wants.” This is true of 2d20 too, I know. But it’s a curious animal in which GMs enjoy both GM fiat and resources for when they feel like justifying their decisions.
All this said, I enjoy the Minion/Toughened/Nemesis rules. I think I’ll make them work well, and I’m curious about how these rules will influence the development of my campaign. I feel free to throw anything at my PCs (including handfuls of enemies). I see the criticism as valid, though.
Well when the players are fighting the Villain or opponent you need to remind yourself that each of the PCs are all made with about the same starting points that a 15 year old Conan would start with. If the characters are all made decently they are formidable just by themselves and the game puts that feeling into the PCs pretty well.
Weapon reach in most of the stories is the Opponents main downfall but when heavily outnumbered that is a good way to balance opposition. Most of the adventures in the core book, quick start rules, and Jeweled Thrones of the Earth use most opponents with a weapon or natural attack reach of 1 which is good for some starting adventures. The higher the Opponents reach is with weapons or natural attacks the more fair combat will become since most PCs will run with a standard reach of 2 and more combative ones will gravitate towards the Spear and Greatsword with a reach of 3.
I’ve had well built combative PCs tear through Nemesis NPCs that outnumbered them. A more balanced campaign would probably use shadows of the past character creation method. I think this would bring the PCs more in line with the opposition in the printed stories.
Interesting point about the Shadows of the Past rules. I must try that in a game some time. I think, especially for an ongoing campaign.
I am still yet to run my first session but I’ve being reading the core book (and a few supplements) like crazy for the last few weeks (I know it doesn’t worth actually GMing the whole thing). Nonetheless, I’m a bit surprised: my first game will probably be “Racing the Thunder” and I can’t see how this adventure won’t be able to challenge any character. From what I’ve read, if you want to rock at combat, you’d need Melee (Agility), Resistance (Brawn), probably Ranged weapons (Coordination) plus, being able to stand the horrors of the Hyborian world (Willpower). If the players’ characters just want to max their Melee score and hit points, they are screwed.
I ran that one using the pregen PCs about a dozen times for groups of very different experience with RPGs in general or 2d20 games in particular. Every single time the PCs were quite difficult to challenge as the Picts are pushover minions for the most part. I suppose this is intentional not to frustrate players trying out the - at that time - new Conan 2d20 game. But nevertheless, I wouldn’t call this scenario challenging at all - unless you choose to modify it, increase the numbers, add more Toughened opponents, etc.
I’ll have to trust you on this because you are one step ahead from me. One last thing though: there is a huge difference between what the players think as challenging and what the GM considers as a challenge. More often than not the GM would think an encounter was a bit disappointing in term of challenge while the players would deem it was quite harsh. Use Doom to disarm them, to invoke extra warriors or to make the NPCs act first at a bad time etc… Maybe you, as a GM, you will know: « okay that’s no big deal, the NPCs never had a chance » and you may be you are right but, what your players thought about that.
At the end of the day if it was a challenge for your players, you win (you made a memorable story, and you don’t want the PCs to die anyway).
I’m still to run the scenario and I’m eager to give some feedback to you based on what happened.
A lot of great ideas are presented above. Please remember to hold back some Mobs or Squads with Bows. Having a PC burn a Reaction trying to dodge a volley of arrows thrown at them only softens them up for the Toughened and/or Nemesis later in that round. As Feond posted above, remember Nemesis can spend 3 Doom for a Fortune Point. This works for both Attack and Defense.
I ran my first Conan game last week. The thing « is » we were 7 so one GM (your humble Jps « and 6 players). It was a lot, so I didn’t spend much Doom because I didn’t want to make combats longer than they already were. When fighting minions, the PCs rolled over them (but that’s what minions are supposed to be used for, right?). Then things got stiffer: one of my player said « that’s a pity we are only fighting minions » and he was right, the thing was: it was our first session, I had to explain the rules, we were many so we didn’t advanced the scenario that much. So I improvised a combat between one strengthened NPC for each PC. It was brutal, one PC went down with 3 harms.
The scenario To Race against the Thunder is not finished yet (it will be done tomorrow night and I expect I’ll have 4 players and not 6 - there were two extra players that don’t usually show up). Nonetheless it was challenging: minions are not and they are not supposed to be but when you raise the bar it’s an another story and keep in mind I didn’t spend much Doom because we were so many I didn’t want to prolong fights any longer.
For the time being the system is working fine but it was under unusual circumstances (so many players) with 3 or 4 I’ll be probably able to give you a more informed feedback.
I find that I, too, have had some time getting used to balancing encounters. In my last adventure, I figured, “Hey my  players can handle about anything,” so I faced them with a Nemesis, a Toughened Sergeant, and two Mobs of Minions. The Mobs alone started wrecking my PCs, so I had to do some quick thinking and get an allied NPC more involved.
Going forward, I think I’m going to use Minions most of the time, a Toughened rarely, and a Nemesis as a set-piece for an entire adventure only.
I have a player that, for whatever reason, wants more lethal combat. He seems to be confused as to why the game was designed for PCs to cut through enemies 2-3 times stronger in numbers without taking real penalties. I told him that heroes are supposed to win and fighting is the easy way out of a scenario, not the roleplayer’s way. He wants me to use my Doom to punish the PCs for entering dangerous situations and recommends one character die every adventure or so.
Frankly it makes me concerned about playing in any game he’s running…
Conan’s world is deadly. Upping the challenge and making it so isn’t a bad thing. You are absolutely right though. The pcs are supposed to fight 2 and 3 minor enemies at a time and handle them readily so they feel like they are mighty like Conan and his allies.
Honestly if the PCs are decent at combat then minions will likely never pose much of a threat unless you use them tactically. Use hindering terrain. Maybe some minions are firing at the PCs from an elevated position or from across a creek or river.
There is also the problem if they are optimized for fights then you have 3 to 6 Conans running amuck in the Hyborian world which is very powerful.
You can always upgrade enemies with doom.
Use doom to go first.
If it makes sense during the fight remember to group those greater number of minions (5 minions) and attack one PC. Roll 5d20 and see if the PC doesn’t think that’s dangerous. Grouping enemies also saves time in making rolls and lets the players react and attack more.
Grouping archers is pretty mean. Use terrain for cover soak. Don’t fight in the equivalent of a white room.
If the PCs are fighting a berserk minion or toughened opponent use all the dice you can. Yes they will probably die but the PC will want to really not be hit by 5d20.
Maybe this should be first but. Spend 3 DOOM and you can mimic the results of a spent fortune point. Suddenly the Nemesis gets his vigor or resolve back in full. They parry or attack with 2 extra successes. They ignore wound Or trauma penalties for the scene.
Remember shields use cover soak for 2d6. I forget sometimes in big combats too.
Add riposte to an important Nemesis NPC.
Spend doom for an extra action such as dual wielding NPCs. Or a claw and bite from a creature. Or an attack and display.
Edit: extra attack.
Don’t forget to Raise Difficulties with Doom!
Just ran an online the other night, with 5 players who are no getting used to the system. As I’m growing in confidence too, I found it easier to make use of the system and Doom, etc, to balance play. One thing I did was use terrain to the advantage of the NPCs, even though this was a side encounter and not a main quest.
I used Bandits, mostly minions, but included a couple of Toughened. I used rooftops to give cover and add difficulty to PC ranged attacks (I didn’t consider this a Doom spend). The attack was at night so I penalised PCs for having light sources and for the attackers not having any. I used Mobs of minions. I used Doom a lot - to go first, to get extra d20s, to increase dofficulty for PCs and to add reinforcements.
The outcome was that one PC remained fully engaged in combat throughout, haivng to use every trick he could think of to avoid Wounds, one (who was already wounded) became so wounded he had to take cover. ‘Second tier’ fighters, who usually do other things (a thief, a would-be sorcerer) had to step up.
Altogether it was very successful, and I ran out of Doom just at the end and at least one PC ran out of Fortune. I think if I used the same tactics with more dangerous npcs (Bandits are pretty easy) this could have been even harder.
My next adventure will include Skeletons and a Nemesis and we’ll see how that goes.
I like that. Most humans are people who will fight dirty or use an advantage if given the opportunity. Let the PCs pull off similar tactics once in a while as well as long as it makes sense narratively.
I put the big bad with squads of protection surrounding it. If the players charge the boss, every squad gets an attack of opportunity. Charging through five full squads would be fatal.
I spent doom for boss to go first, then boss cast a spell that seemed to do nothing, when the archer fired on the boss, he hit another PC (spell was an illusion that made the character misread friend and foe)
I had an easy semi-boss whos death started the fight with the real big bads. (5 Serpent men vs. 6 player characters, PCs retreated and took them down one or two at a time, because they were low on momentum and fortune)
My players are mid to high level, so keeping them on their toes is more of a matter of tactics than brute force. This does encourage them to play smart rather than charge in first.
I have started a number of Conan games recently, two in the last week via Chat on Discord. My players have been finding the battles tough, so much so that I’ve been making most everyone a Minion and keeping them unarmored.
I expect two things are going on. The players are new to the system, so they aren’t cognizant of all their crazy resources and character shields and are still learning even how to use them. Also they’re new characters, largely randomly generated, so there is no min/maxing, and they have a lot of room to grow.
I am a very inexperienced 2D20 GM, so please take my advice with a grain of salt. What I learned from my first sessions: You should keep in your head what fight is for entertainment and which is for challenge, and with that, you will maybe also notice what the big advantage of the 2D20 system is. You might know this, but in many other systems you cooked up some combats that are just for entertainment. Say, you play a Cyberpunk RPG and the lost Rockstar/ fugitive genetic experiment/ informant comes to the players and wants help. Then the bad guys show up. This fight is for only entertainment, the adventure has just started, you don´t want to kill them now. So, you play a bit dumb, if anything goes wrong you fudge some dice etc. In 2D20, you use fights that are only for entertainment to generate doom. Let them stomp the bad guys and don´t care, you don´t need to play dumb, the NPCs have no chance.
So, if you let them face a really important battle, you spent doom like hell to really hurt them. The error I have made in my first session was to constantly burn doom to keep every fight interesting. Just don´t. These fights are only a set-piece and meant for you to get doom. If the serious stuff comes in, you have a massive pool to hurt them. That´s the great advantage of 2D20. You decide when it´s serious and only then you burn your pool.