Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Soldiers, the Hard USA Superweapons General of 4e

Command and Conquer: Generals is one of my favorite RTS games. It combines tongue-in-cheek stereotypes and very solid game play. It is also great because I can use it to illustrate a point today. Generals had three difficulty settings for skirmish play. Easy, Medium, and Hard. However, there were hidden difficulties that once you started playing the game you realized. Prior to the release of Zero Hour, the expansion, there were three groups you could play. USA, GLA and China. Hard USA was significantly harder than any others. Making this the fourth difficulty. Zero Hour introduced generals with specializations. So generic Hard USA was still more difficult than any of the others, except for Hard USA Superweapon. Hard USA Superweapon was perhaps the most god awful devastating AI I have seen in a game. USA Superweapon gave everything lasers. Everything. Turrets, tanks, random dudes. I think even their missiles had lasers.
The point is, this was the fifth, extremely hidden and not announced difficulty. You just had to experience it and know about it to truly know what you were getting into should you then select it.

4e DnD actually works this way. You don't realize how awful things are until you really experience them. The snake fight is a good example of this, so is any fight with stun (save ends). However, the secret difficulty setting is really simple, adding soldiers. Do you want your fight to be a lot more difficult with little or no change in level and xp reward? Add soldiers! High defenses, high hit bonuses, good damage and usually awful conditions! Woo, welcome to soldiers! Equal level soliders are a pretty good challenge, elite or not. They are difficult and if there are a lot of them, yikes. Lower level soldiers are still a good challenge, did I mention the high everything? In your xp budget, you can actually use more of these lower guys too, making things both harder and easier at the same time. Higher level soldiers? Ugh. Just ugh. Even if you have good feats and good equipment, it's going to be a really tough time hitting these guys.

Now, do you necessarily need to do something about this? Not really. That's just how the game is set up. Just try and be cognizant of it when you are budgeting your fights. Soldiers are worth more than their counterparts, almost every time.

Are there things you can do? Sure, in a game I ran, I chose to give the players a way to lower defenses and increase damage taken on the showcased soldier NPC. It worked out alright. If I had to do it again, I would probably have it decrease defenses a little less, but it made the showcased items a commodity that was carefully used throughout the fight. That being said, do you need to do that if you are actually staying within xp budget (hint: I did these things because I specifically was NOT)? No, not at all. It's just something to keep in mind when setting up fights.


  1. Looking at it from the other side of the table, the lesson I'm taking away from the encounters is that on-level soldiers are bad enough; soldiers more than 1-2 levels higher than the party are just not a good idea. If I want the NPC to be higher level than the party (which is of course common), I should plan to use every other role, but shy away from soldiers.

    Now, I was also quite surprised by the once-per-encounter damage potential of artillery NPCs that I had increased from level 3 to level 11, but that didn't stop players from doing what they wanted to do.

  2. Artillery is pretty nasty, high damage, high chance to hit. They, as they should be, are pretty easy to punish once you can start getting in close, at least. Having a soldier or two makes a fight a lot more interesting all of a sudden, but if everything else is higher level, the soldiers should be on level or just barely slightly higher.

    The point here is that a secret hard mode exists. That hard mode is called Soldiers.

  3. A bunch of soldiers standing around pretending to be minions (at least until you try to hit them) is a super nasty surprise. A point of order question I have, however, is how & when to fill in the players of the role of what they're fighting? Sure, they can just look at some monsters and tell-- (oh, that's a sorceror! Oh, that's a wicked-looking dude in a uniform with a great-axe!) But when it comes to things what are not human, do you think it's better to just say as part of the game, make it a skill thing (insight or whatnot), or it depends? I mean, in most of the games I've seen you run, you typically just say so, more-or-less in play. But the rp aspect interests me.

  4. I try and make sure the players are able to make the most informed decisions possible. This usually means some in-play description and then I'll just answer if asked. Really dungeoning, arcana, religion, or nature could cover any conceivable skill based check to figure out what something is though.

    A general "these guys look well armored and like they carry their weapons well, they have obvious training" is a good way to go about describing a normal dude that's a soldier. However, the first time someone gets marked, it's a giveaway.