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I'm trying to make sure I can appropriately challenge my group and figure out what the appropriate opfor would be. I have all the data on the characters, know their standard spells, spirits, etc. The difficulty is in figuring out what's an appropriate threat. I threw more than an equal number of gangers at them at one point and the gangers never even got an action.

Anyone have any suggestions for how to gauge an appropriate threat other than trial and error over time?


With a sweep of his...

Honestly, i just try to wing it the best I can.

In any game with random die rolls, anything can happen; really. You don't want to over do it and hose the PCs. But then you realize that what you thought was overdoing it wasn't enough. One time i nearly hosed a party because they were non magically active; and one mage friggin did horrible things. You really have to be careful there. (IMO, i don't like when players die unless they do something A. REALLY dumb or B. Make a heroic sacrifice. Luckily with Edge able to be used to sorta buy your way back from death-unless it's like, a nuke at your head can ease things here, but i still don't like to throw so much danger at them purposefully that they are blowing Edge every five minutes. Now, if they see OUT the trouble, well...)

Anyway, I find it's hard to get a hard and fast rule. Having die pools of X doesn't necessarily mean anything. Ive had enemies with DPs more in the player's range get hosed. Ive seen redshirts work over the party when i thought they would win. (This COULD have something to do with the players themselves. Perhaps they see people that are bigger threats and actually play smarter around them, using lots of tactics and just gaining the upper hand that way. They underestimate redshirts and end up taking way more damage than they should have.)

I guess as a rule of thumb, try out the SR4 guys. If they end up trashing them, then maybe bump it up a bit. Get a feel for how your characters play. Sometimes you don't need to change die pools or stats of the enemies; but a gear and tactics upgrade can make all the difference.

One big factor is taking advantage of terrain - meeting a group of gangers is much more dangerous if it's in an alley near their hideout, and two of them are positioned on rooftops with rifles, or have found a way to take cover while keeping the players in the open. Vehicle combat adds a lot of challenge as well.

If you really want challenging encounters though, you want the NPCs to be a proper "party" - ie. having a mix of skills just like a player group would. The classic mix of "tankers", "blasters", "defenders" and "controllers" works wonders - for example, have a hidden technomancer/hacker messing with the team's equipment, a mage (protected my a melee-spec troll, maybe), one or two ranged shooters in hard-to-read positions, and a couple of street-sam melee guys preventing the team from easy tactical movement. The lamest encounters are numbers with no specializations (the group of identical gangers) or the Lone Big Boss (like a powerful mage or a tricked out Prime troll pysad or street sam) who you *think* is going to be a challenge but just melts under the initial damage spike.

If your runner team have high street cred, don't forget the bad guys probably know things about them, and will play tactically against the team's strengths/weaknesses - "drop the mage first!" or "don't let that sniper get into a good position!" - and they should spike high-priority targets to eliminate them first.


Of course, you don't need to make all combats "challenging" - it's a bad idea if you do, because if things get too lethal then players start in with the tedious overplanning (always the bane of Shadowrun). A good mix for a session is probably one Thug Encounter (dumb gangers who are easy) and one really tough one (the boss and his bodyguards).

Damage in 4th ed is VERY front loaded. People refer to "eggshells with hammers" because its really, really hard to be good at soaking damage (converting Physical to Stun isn't so hard). Much better to avoid it, if you can. Its possible for a schmucky Lieutenant to roll fantastically on attack, and the PC to roll horribly to defende... *poof* dead PC unless edge is burnt.

Something that you can (and should) do is to make sure you're imposing all the situational modifiers you can. Lighting, bad terrain, rain, cover, etc. You name it. Factor it all in. Especially for mages. This can greatly extend the duration of a fight.

As for the number of bad guys... well... that can be tricky.

In most cases, its not very likely that you'll have all your opposition in one spot. Even if the PCs tangle with a street gang, there are probably more gangers inside a nearby building. And they might have better gear too. A combat turn or two after the action starts, the cavalry shows up (so to speak). In other words, if you feel a combat was too quick/easy, make it last longer.

Incidentally, if you're worried about skyrocketting bodycounts, you can substitute drones for people in many scenarios.

Another thing you can do is to put them in a potential combat situation where they don't have all their combat toys. Say they have a meet at a ritz, novahot nightclub (where weapons are a big no-no). On the way out, some gangers mistake them for drunk patrons and try to rob them... The PCs can try to fight without all their toys or they can try to talk their way out of a fight.
You know, seeing the 'geek the mage first' and 'troll melee/big gun guy' mentioned, also beware here. Players are more likely, in my experience, to unload on these characters first and without mercy. They don't want to deal with them. (however, the troll melee guy isn't as dangerous as they used to be, with the advent of martial arts the friggin 12 year old boy in the background could whomp on them.)

I like using non-obvious mages(some regular joe with maybe even a sword and gun), or asskickers(a morally ambiguious-not necesarily a good or bad guy-NPC of mine is a rather androgynous looking human guy; he's got some flowing looking robes and such, long nails and hair to his knees in a braid. If anything he looks delicate, but he's a 600 BP+, extremely elite, thrice initated Adept assassin whose hands are worse than a sniper rifle by far. Then AGAIN, nowadays, with the prevalence of videogames and manga, that's the guy the PCs will be trying to get rid of first before he even moves. But anyway. biggrin.gif)

But yeah, try little things like that. Maybe that big honkin' troll is actually the hacker that's screwing up their commlinks and they don't realize it. Maybe that big honkin' troll is the oppositions face and they are trying to take him out when the small woman next to him dressed in jeans and a tank top is the team's summoner who has a bunch of her little 'friends' on call. That willowy, prettyboy elf guy in the corner who looks like the harmless face wearing the full body suit actually has his entire body practically replaced with cyber parts, and he can crush the troll's head like an eggshell. I like tossing stuff like this in to keep them guessing.

And sometimes the troll with the minigun is indeed the troll with the minigun.
Zen Shooter01
Build the opposition to overwhelm the PCs. Then handle them delicately.

As was just mentioned, you can build six gangers - throw the first four in with the remaining pair to appear later, then judge later whether you want those reinforcements or not.

And keep in mind that people don't always do the smartest thing first in combat - people get rattled. So if the opposition is doing too well, have them make some bad choices. Just refraining from firing a second burst can make a big difference.

Finally, there's outright fudging. Say three boxes of damage when the result was six. Say the enemy misses when he hits. Say the enemy glitches and his weapon jams.

PCs are rarely going to complain (or notice) if you fudge on their behalf. But if they feel you're fudging against them, they won't like it. So make the opposition tough, and lie to help the players, instead of making the opposition weak, and lying to hurt the players.
Spread your opponents out and open up the range. That will give them more opportunities to use cover and movement.

Use full defense liberally. It's the only way for most people to survive a "hard" ranged attack in SR.

Have at least one opponent use Edge to go first. That throws off your pcs timing because they expect their samurai to be in the lead.

Don't put all your goons in one basket. Compartmentalize them so that they can't all be seen from one position. That forces the team to move from place to place to get to them and makes it more likely that somebody will leave themself open to a flanking shot with no cover or a surprise attack.

Put in at least one hard "threat" who's as tough as a Street Samurai. Between that guy and somebody using Edge you can get a couple shots in early.

Scale down your idea of what's "challenging" This isn't D&D - you can't safely put your players down to 1 hit point each. Attempts to do that are likely to just kill one or more PCs.

Remember: Players want a lot of action and they want to win. That means somebody has to do a whole lot of losing.
For challenging the PCs I'm looking to make them work for a win, something that takes the team's involvement and moderately smart play. If they sweat through the combat but don't really get hurt I'm fine with that. The PCs are the heroes after all. I'll definitely look to increase the environmental modifiers including cover and atmospherics.


With a sweep of his...

QUOTE (Hat @ Apr 22 2008, 03:12 PM) *
For challenging the PCs I'm looking to make them work for a win, something that takes the team's involvement and moderately smart play. If they sweat through the combat but don't really get hurt I'm fine with that. The PCs are the heroes after all. I'll definitely look to increase the environmental modifiers including cover and atmospherics.


With a sweep of his...


That should work pretty well for getting them to sweat if they're used to not having to deal with the environment so much: they might even miss once or twice! Nothing takes the wind out of a team's sails quicker than seeing something they expect to be a breeze turn out to be harder than they thought...
I can remember a particularly long(ok, it went a bit TOO long, the modifiers on both sides were so bad the enemies weren't hitting much either), but we did sweat. We won eventually, but we had a lot of close calls.

However, the worse wound any of us had(SR3), one of us had 3 Physical boxes filled(Moderate), and some of us had a couple of Stun boxes. So really, we recovered rather quickly from it. It sounded like one of those cases-it was harder, but it ended up not being very deadly for us in the end. So yeah, you can challenge without killing, or even severly injuring, for sure!
QUOTE (Hat @ Apr 22 2008, 09:12 AM) *
For challenging the PCs I'm looking to make them work for a win, something that takes the team's involvement and moderately smart play. If they sweat through the combat but don't really get hurt I'm fine with that. The PCs are the heroes after all. I'll definitely look to increase the environmental modifiers including cover and atmospherics.

If you want more of a worrysome but not deadly combat you can have their foes (realistically) spending a lot of time shooting around corners and stuff with smartlinked weapons. Not as accurate and such but it keeps the enemies allive and can make for an interesting fight.

However I strongly urge you to throw away the dungeons and dummies philosophy of needing a "balanced encounter" . The idea isn't to get into a fight and have the players walk away having used ~ a quarter of their resources.

Personally I enjoy mixing it up. Go with a group that sounds fun and seems realistic and worry less about how well it exactly balances with the players. Remember this is Shadowrun. Players should have the stupid philosophy that they can go into any fight you set up and win. They should be cautious and always striving through hacking, drones, or contacts to find out more about what they're up against.

Also I find isntead of regular threat levels if sometimes they get to walk all over some poeple/drones and another time they're rolling dodges with edge just to get out.

Also, unless you have bad sports, don't be afraid to whack a stupid player. Certainly don't worry about knocking one out.

The full auto rules are great that way actually and if you're worried about power level I would encourage using something like machine pistols with gas vents, because they allow you to really knock a characters socks off without killing them.

EDIT: Even better would be if the machine pistols were loaded with flechette ammo. (erratad to raise the effective value of Impact armor (AP +5) ). This (usually) results in a higher relative armor value, but also results in more boxes of damage dished out on average. So again it helps with knocking their socks off without actually killing them.

I.e. if one of your goons uses an aim action and then a long burst on a gun with a stock and GV3 and started with a dice pool of 6 they're now down to five dice. Unless your runners aren't using even decent armor (6/6) your guy can't possibly penetrate their armor. So you're guaranteed not to kill your player. However if your shooter manages to just get one net hit the player is now looking at 13 boxes of stun damage. That almost guarantees knockdown and a half incapacitated char, and quite possibly puts them down for a little nap.

one thing I love about the shadowrun rules is that its very easy to adjust the power level on the fly.

for instance, last game, I had the team get ambushed by 6 elven gangers. after the first pass, I could see that the gangers were getting chewed up way too fast. at that rate, the next pass would have seen them all DOA . so the next pass I cranked things up abit. by addings some tactics and bumping their armor some. They still got thier hoops handed to them but combat lasted just abit longer. had I not adjusted, the only one to really get any action would have been the dwarf with the shotgun. as is , even the face got to draw blood.

this week, I had the opposite happen. I had the team guarding a box in a warehouse, and had planed on having a Yak hit team try to take the box. In the first pass of combat the Dwarf ex-LS main combat guy takes 5 boxs of Physical from a lucky shot by one of the Yak soldiers. the other sami takes 8 boxes Phys when he fails a perception test to notice the two covet ninja guys sliding down the ropes behind them with smgs. The mage overcasts a stunbolt and takes 3 boxes Phys on the drain. that leaves the face,who is hiding in the limo and firing a light pistol at the attackers through the partially open window and the drunken Phys ad untouched as of pass one. so I pulled the bad guys magic backup and beefed the lieutenant some to compensate. The team was chewed up all to hell,but survived. still lethal. and could have gone bad depending on the rolls but kept things edge of the seat as opposed to "what did I do to piss off the GM so much that he killed my character?"

the last run this week I think hit that sweet spot where I think I guaged things perfect. all it took was a blown front tire on an old sedan, a force 6 beast spirit and 120 gray squirrels spin.gif spin.gif

The GM I played with last had a very simple method for making challenges appropriate to our characters. He didn't stat anything.

He guesstimated the size of our dicepools by eyeballing them as we rolled, then rolled an appropriate number to counter that. For goons, he'd remove 4 or so dice, and for major threats, he'd add 4 or so...
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