Saturday, October 4, 2014

Heroic actions in GURPS mass combat

What's less fun (and consistent) with the rules as written

In the rules as written, the odds of a character influencing the odds of a battle are set to a flat 5 (on 3d6). The modifiers are:
  1. +risk level
  2. +1 if one relevant skill is 15+
  3. +1 if the character is a force commander
  4. +1 if part of a fanatic or impetuous element
  5. -1 if part of a support/logistic unit and in presence of fanatics/impetuous friendlies.
This is less fun because there is no sense of scale: same odds for a D-day invasion or for a 10 vs 10 men battle. This is odd, and left people around the table feeling a bit cold about the mass combat rules. 

The crux of the problem for us is that I often encourage people to color key checks with one "supporting check": some action that will positively influence the outcome and may be performed by someone else (or not). The fix below aims to replace the heroic action check for the more commonly used supporting check mechanism.

Heroism as a supporting check

Any PC or important NPC may decide to perform a notable act of heroism. The player describes an action, and specify the skills that will be used. The base level of the action will be set as the skill, adjusted by contextual modifiers (difficulty of the action per se). 

To this, the risk level gets added normally. This level is determined by the player and the GM based on the following guidelines:
  • -3 :  Cowardly performing a face-saving type of action.
  • -2 : Prioritizing personal safety first.
  • -1 : A minor sacrifice of effectiveness against personal safety.
  •  0 : Doing what is normally expected in this situation.
  • +1: Making an honest display of courage.
  • +2: Braving odds to achieve something great.
  • +3: Suicidal-kind of action. 
This dramatic increase in odds vs the rules as written is compensated by the penalty due to the scope of the action with respect to whole combat for which the roll will be made.

  • -1 : The hero's action will directly influence the progress of the whole battle. Force commander in control and in good position of command are here.
  • -3 : The hero's action will directly affect one component of the friendly forces. Direct sub-commanders in control of their units are here. A hero leading the charge of a column is another example. A bit of serendipity will be needed to make this act of heroism have a wider effect on the battle.
  • -6 : The hero's action may indirectly and through a sequence of serendipitous event have a global impact on the outcome of this round of battle. Logistical units, recon and side-show are included in this category. 

Thought exercise

Lt. Elwood is commander of the East India Trade Company troops (30 lancers), some of which are mounted and thus provide mobility advantage. He decides to use his Leadership-13 to motivate the troops. His check will be at Leadership-11, which could be brought to Leadership-12 by standing up to be seen and heard better. Had the lancers be the right wing elements of the main battle, only a suicidal action on his part would be good enough to maintain Leadership-12. The same level of risk instead (+1), his support check would be Leadership-9. In a large battle where the Lancers are part of a division-sized force, it would be Leadership-6 (+1 risk) or Leadership-8 (suicidal action).