I have been running into the problem of too many NPCs for a given scene. Mostly a combat issue. Now, in our Gaki Mura campaign, the idea for recent sessions was season-ending, major (epic?) events, where numerous named NPCs were involved to try to have them be relevant to events. But, still, even just rolling antagonists has gotten tiresome.
Specifically, I’ve been running into this problem reffing L5R.
I don’t know what the extent of available GM tricks is. Given time for research, can probably find all sorts of possible solutions. I could push dice-rolling on to players. I have been printing out more of my NPCs to hand them off to players, to avoid the dreaded “I’m rolling against myself” situations. What I’d really like to do is simplify NPC resolution.
And, of course, there are plenty of ways to do that. But, it’s having a fair way to do that that I’m wondering about. For instance, melee dudes aren’t terribly important in L5R. They can just square off against some group of enemy and I just roll some amount of dice to determine how messed up they are at the end of combat. Shugenja, which there have been many of in Gaki Mura, don’t work well that way. Every shugenja is going to have Path to Inner Peace for in-combat healing. That’s a huge deal. Being taken out of combat makes for a very boring time for a player, and here are all of these healers who could do something about it. But, are they so punked that they can’t do anything? Punked enough that healing someone else is not going to be terribly effective? More likely to save a PC by doing something besides healing?
Stupid spellcasters and their versatility. Anyway. If the party NPCs are going to have an impact on the players in a combat situation, then they should be able to actually do things. But, what things? If it’s just a single party NPC spellcaster, that seems to work out fine – just treat the NPC like a full character. But, “fullness” is the problem I’m having when there is a swarm of spellcasters, a wigwam of wizards, a mass of magicians around.
I thought about simplifying wounds, something like divide by 10 for NPCs to basically get at wound ranks rather than specific wound numbers. Sure, tracking individual wound boxes is more work than general wound levels, but it’s not that different. It crossed my mind to use FUDGE dice or something to indicate NPC status/effectiveness, but that means creating a whole system of results, which isn’t any better than the existing system of results, as L5R is hardly a mechanics heavy system. And, a homebrew system isn’t likely to be all that fair from a player perspective.
Pushing spellcasters on the players runs into metagaming, where NPCs suddenly become the greatest defenders of individual PCs the world has ever known. Plus, some NPCs’ abilities shouldn’t be all that well known. Nor do I want to see NPCs do boring crap, like the same five spells that we always see in L5R play.
I can probably work on trimming the number of party NPCs down, especially spellcasters. But, then, there’s still antagonists. I don’t really feel like rolling out attacks and damage for eight Mira-gaki, then eight Gaki no Suzumebachi, then three Gakimushi. Putting the burden of rolling for the enemy on players doesn’t appeal that much to me as I’ve seen it be hard for players to take on an opposition role. Pre-rolling doesn’t interest me at all, as I’m not really into pre-rolled values conceptually and am too lazy to roll out a bunch of numbers when they may not even be relevant. Then, I’m not just rolling a bunch of d20’s or percentile dice – L5R dice pools can vary significantly. Nor am I inclined to change the system to have the players roll defense against a fixed attack value of the attackers, as some systems do. And, while I usually give one Initiative roll for all of a pack of enemies, I’m not inclined to give them a single attack or damage roll.
L5R has a reasonably tactical combat system, even without magic thrown in. Wound management is a thing. Void Points. Stances, to a degree. Maneuvers are extremely important for effectiveness, but, with monsters, it’s easy to ignore them and just roll attack and damage. Of course, monsters don’t have any of the wound boxes management, Void Point expenditures, or stances complications to worry about. Humanish enemies might, but I don’t have a lot of those. And, yet, just deciding which PC to attack has huge implications in combat. The fact of the matter is that intelligent combatants should gang up and eviscerate one PC at a time, but that’s amazingly unfun, even though it’s what intelligent PCs do against their enemies. But, just having one extra evil dude choose PC #3 instead of #4 can be massively swingy.
I suppose I just need to have more 2-3 big bad fights and lose the horde fights. Horde fights suck in 4e, anyway, because whichever side has numbers pretty much should own the other side (well, this is a reason big bad fights aren’t terribly interesting for GMs, but whatever), and 4e is really, really slow when compared to 3e. It’s so slow, that I’m increasingly cutting off combat. I think even major fights should be 3-5 rounds, like 3e’s vastly superior combats, not the “Fires of Purity wore off” grindfests that I far too often see. Rather than adjusting numbers to see that happen, as that could just be insane overkill, leading to dull results, I’m coming up with more “and, then, something happens” to cut fights off, with the relative effectiveness of the party’s efforts to the point the combat gets cut off dictating the narrative. It is important, after all, that the PCs’ efforts matter, so there has to be some effect to doing better or worse in combat.
It’s even a problem with my FSTH campaign, which sees fewer situations of party NPCs and fewer gaggles of goons. Mooks are a thing in Feng Shui, and I use mook rules – should be using mook rules in L5R more than I do, come to think of it. But, how to handle mook attack and damage rolls is a problem, as the mechanics I’m using for FSTH involve more dice rolls than FS. Maybe I standardize mook damage, like how FS has fixed damage values.
I guess I see whether using better/more mook rules combined with controlling better party NPCs combined with farming out party NPCs when I can combined with fewer numbers of antagonists combined with having combats that don’t get rolled to the very end (it’s actually not terribly dramatic to have a 15 round L5R battle, IMO, even when I’m a player and not the GM) goes a long way to solving the problem of the GM rolling too many dice.