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Gauging difficulty of combat and other hazards

Hey all,
I’m just preparing for my first JCOM play. I’m going to narrate a whole-day session in a RPG camp.
The rebel I am, I decided not to go with the pre-published games, but write something of my own. I’m a pretty experienced GM generally, but have not played JCOM before (some 2d20 games I’ve tried).

I feel fairly well prepared now, read the core book, forums, thought about the rules, all ok.
Practical question came up for me: how to make combat and other dangerous situations challenging, while avoiding early TPK?

So, what was working for you, when designing scenes? How do you gauge the power level of a given adversary (minion, monster, villain, whatever)? How do you guess numbers of adversaries for a scene?
Which seems to be priority in terms of difficulty: power of the individual enemy, number of enemies, environment, preparedness (who surprises whom)?

I’m looking at the phantoms of mars campaign and the starting adventure in the core book, trying to reverse engineer how things are put together, but any practical advice would be very welcome, how you put together your challenges!

Thank you so much,

Short answer: Practice.

Long answer, set up three combats throughout the first game - one that you think they should steam roll, one that you consider to be a challenge for them, and the last one adjusting between the first and the second to get the perfect sweet spot.

My usual go to is that I would have at least 1 minion per player on the table, along with a higher ranked rival/liutenant/etc to start. until you know what your players are capable of, its best not to have them struggle on the first combat.

Then for the second, 2 minions per player, and two lieutenant/rivals. Take your time with this one to make ure they can handle ti.

Finally from there you should have an idea what what would work. Throw a big bad, maybe 1 or two lieutenants, and half the minions, and you should be good to go.


Thank yoiu, Lloyd! Useful guidelines. I will quickly start our session with a lighter combat encounter to see how they handle it, then we will move upwards.

Anybody has any tips on seeing how tough a given monster is? Sure, Menace level is a good indicator, but otherwise, what is your tell-tale sign at first glance whether a monster is really tough (White Ape, probably) or not that much (maybe Hormad)?