Creating Balanced NPC Opponents

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Absolute Brethren Absolute Brethren's picture
Creating Balanced NPC Opponents

I'm having a hard time striking a balance between opponents that wont absolutely slaughter the undersized party I will be GMing for shorty but are competent enough to do their jobs and work in number that make sense for their job.

Verisimilitude is very important to me and I understand that I should be structuring their missions around non-combat and trust me, I already am. However that doesn't mean I am willing to Fiat the party out of a bad situation if they get caught or they make the choice to engage in direct combat to achieve a goal. I just want to make sure they aren't always having to replace their morphs and restore from backups.

The party currently has:

An infiltration and combat focused character who has a Ghost Morph and a Reaper in storage. Has 9 Moxie.

A hacking and social focused character with a lot of rep. Uses a Sylph and a Ghost in storage.

A social and academics focused character. Uses a Exalt morph and has disposable Cases modified with industrial armour and gas jet systems. They intend to use Forks in these.

The npcs in Prime didn't really help me out very much. Some of them seemed easily capable of killing party members, stack non-retrievable. I'm looking for corporate police types that would would expect to find in the Inner system and would work with large logistical support networks on whatever Hab they are on.

Chevre Chevre's picture
Think of it like this:

Think of it like this:
Skills at 40 are professional level. They're good at this, but any PC that has the skill as their "thing" will run circles around them. Standard NPC. If you're talking combat, these are corporate security, Triad thugs, and amateur MMA fighters.

60 is PhD level. These guys are damn good at their jobs, and should be able to match a PC in their respective fields. We're talking Dirty Harry, Dick Tracy villains, and Jackie Chan in Snake in Eagle's Shadow.

80 is world-renowned. These guys are badass, have amazing gear, and should be a match for any group of PCs. Bulletproof John McClane, Norman Osborn sleeved into a Menton, Donnie Yen with neurachem.

99 is...well, unfair, really. You can't get any better, and you really can't win. All you can do is survive. Exsurgent Robocop, David Xanatos as a Jupiter Brain, little bald wrinkly smiling man with no apparent weapons.

Basically what I'm saying is: figure out where your PCs are, and throw stuff at them you think they can handle. Use the NPCs as a starting point and raise/lower skills from there. Like the idea of the Jovian Spy but realize he's just not good enough? Crank some skills to 70 and now he's potentially scary. Realize that Reaper will drop them like ED-209 on Mr. Kinney? Drop some skills back, cut the armor a few points, and presto.

Sun Stealer Sun Stealer's picture
I agree

I agree with Chevre, I also wouldn't recommend doing up the NPC character sheets in full detail but instead just picking the key stats and setting them at the level you think they need to be at. It also isn't all just about stats in combat, using the environment to their benefit could give them an edge (asteroid with high EM radiation to toast the PC's new toys for example).

Giving the NPC an escape plan can also really help, I once played an NPC that was really weak in combat but due to a undisclosed quirk kept coming back to life over time slightly stronger so the first time in combat he died in one round but then eventually could go toe to toe with one of the PCs. The players seemed to really like this as they often wondered when/if he'd show up and what he was really up to. His death was the ultimate escape plan for the NPC (though with him I had to use him rarely as otherwise his ability would appear stale).

Kayne0X1 Kayne0X1's picture
I recently had a similar

I recently had a similar issue - I designed an encounter that was supposed to be difficult, with a better than even chance of a TPK (a welcome to the future, this place is fucking deadly wake up call kind of encounter). The PCs were outnumbered, outgunned and (in the case of one NPC - the assassin from the NPC file) completely outclassed. By being smart, getting the drop on their opponents, and judicious use of Burst Fire, they managed to largely exterminate their opponents in 6 seconds.

In short, combat in EP is really, really deadly. In my experience, foresight, planning and luck play a much larger role then skills and equipment.

Thampsan Thampsan's picture
Another trick to make NPCs

Another trick to make NPCs believable is to give them a gimmick based on their organisation. Odds are good that a Martian ranger isn't going to be packing a whole arsenal of anti-synth weaponry, but his back up might be (possibly in the form of jammed drones with missile launchers). Scale it up as the PCs make an impression on the world.

So if your PCs walk over an encounter and then start making the assumption that their current set up is god, have your antagonists act organically, learning from their mistakes. Unless the combat was done so cleanly that there were no witness (via spimes, or forensics) or the PCs up and relocate significantly away from the scene of the crime and investigation area, they don't get a free pass. Ultimately their load-out will be identified and someone higher up the chain will brain storm a counter-kit for the rank and file to deploy.

Of course if the PCs do execute a hit cleanly or they simply hit and run away, then the NPCs should remain easy until the PCs start getting cocky and stupid.

Most importantly remember that the PCs winning isn't necessarily a loss for you. Yes the epic final encounter might not go according to plan and the PCs might learn nothing from it; save for their own 'invincibility', but the repercussions of that one victory may work in your favour. If the PCs continue to cause trouble and start developing a MO (Modus Operandi) then it's fair to say that the NPCs will begin to kit accordingly.

Of course this falls to pieces when you're not referring to organized antagonists. If you're referring to exsurgents and TITANS then you should start off ridiculously powerful but leave an archilles heel that the PCs must figure out in order to succeed. In these events you're looking at less long term learning and scaling for the NPCs and more short-order ass-whupping.

So for example I used the following encounter for my PCs.

ARTILLERY BEETLE Morph (Synth Morph). WT 20, Durability 150, Death Rating 300, Armour 30/30*.
Description: A house sized beatle shaped synth morph cover in battle damage, its armaments are covered by a pair of giant metal 'wings' which fold out to allow the artillery to fire up and over the body. The monsterous head is a large plexi-steel radar dome along the front of its head are six glowing 'eyes' – powerful particle beams and lasers used for both killing and targeting. The right side of it's 'head' below the eyes is badly damaged. An automated light machine gun rests atop the fold of each leg joint for close combat. On the up side it would appear that the infowar suite is damaged beyond repair.

Advantages:

  • Bombardment; Skill 60, 70 DV (Blast Radius 25m).
  • Precision Blast; Skill 60, -15 AP, 35 DV (Blast Radius 12.5m).
  • 'Laser' Eyes; Skill 60, -7 AP, 5d10 DV.
  • Autoturret Mounts; Light Machine Gun, Skill 40, -2 AP, 3d10+6.
  • All armament (except turrets) are laser guided.
Disadvantages:
  • Slow, it may move or shoot. It must turn to shoot things directly behind it and cannot shoot beneath itself. It has a 180' Firing Arc but can only fire two of its weapons per round.
  • Minimum Range, within 30m it can no longer fire it's artillery pieces. Any character underneath the huge morph cannot be targeted by weapon fire – but stands a chance of being crushed as it moves (successful Fray or suffer 5d10 DV).
  • Weakpoints, missile bays (when launching), infowar suite (right side of 'head'), under-side, all 15/15 armour.
Xagroth Xagroth's picture
I suggest explaining to your

I suggest explaining to your players that the focus of the setting is not combat and gear, like D&D is: frankly, I was surprised by the amount of morphs for just three players! Mind you, a Reaper is 100 CP, plus the amount of credits you will need to spend on it... Frankly, for that price you can turn the Ghost into a super-predator with alien-like capabilities and marine weaponry! Or you can just get two skills at 60+...

As for the NPC's, I tend to not even make them: 40 in the skills I need them to have for mooks, 60 for leaders and 80 for really awful and dangerous characters. Of course, the higher the skill, the less company that skill gets, like a pyramid. Gear and morphs do the rest.

But really, what defines a combat in this game is the amount of preparedness you have, the backup and the plannings in both sides. Charging all gung-ho through the front door is the fastest way to ask for a resleeve. If you are lucky.

Absolute Brethren Absolute Brethren's picture
Xagroth wrote:I suggest

Xagroth wrote:
I suggest explaining to your players that the focus of the setting is not combat and gear, like D&D is

I had already made that clear in my initial post and to the players. I'm only concerned in the combat that does happen not turn into a total blood bath with resleeving almost a forgone conclusion for some party members. All that will do is interfere with plot progression in a way that will just get them all killed given the nature of the opening scenario.

The party will be on a Habitat, one lives there and two travel there physically from other places in Martian orbit. None of them know each other but all have a contact in common who requested them to do something for them. Without realizing it they are helping them preform a terrorist act on another Hab in the cluster. They will be detained as known associates of one of the suspects but released when the investigation goes along another lead. They then meet each other but by this point they will have put together than the seemingly innocuous things they did for their common friend were involved and they will need to flee the Hab. They then meet that friend who set a fork to do the mission and she claims that it wasn't a barsoomian attack but a Firewall op and the corps are just spinning it. One of the PCs will know her from Firewall. The Egocasting facilities are busy relseeving egos who were killed in the attack and they must find a way to escape physically.

Two things will happen at this point: Firstly the investigation will turn back to looking at them and they will be actively pursued by two investigator NPCs they will have met the first time they were rounded up. If they are caught one of the two can be made sympathetic enough to help them escape. Secondly a chain reaction of damage on the other Hab start to break it apart which was not intended. Large portions of it start drifting towards the Hab the party is on. This chaos will either make the last portion of their escape more challenging or provide cover for their escape if captured.

If at any point during this if someone needs to be resleeved the entire group is screwed. The facilities are not available, even popping their stacks still leaves a third of the party out of play due to the small number of players. If any combat has the potential to take one or more character out of the game I just shouldn't be running this system, what do you expect the dead players to do for the rest of the night after having to take the day off to even play and driving for an hour to get to my place?

NewAgeOfPower NewAgeOfPower's picture
Your players aren't

Your players aren't specialized enough. As long as the Combat Ninja survives with less than 3 wounds, the group is going to be fine in combat.

Again, decide what sort of opponents your team is facing, this is my chart:

Skills|Assessments|Examples

20|Poorly Trained; [Jovian Conscripts, Martian Militia, Local Gangs]

30|Newly Trained; [Direct Action Candidates, Autonomist Militia, Church Inquisition]

40|Standard/Line; [Direct Action Enforcers, Jovian Army, Titanian Defense Forces, Yakuza/Triad Enforcers]

50|Standard+ [Medusan Sentries, Locus Defense Militia, Fa Jing Internal Services, Church Templar]

60|Veteran [Direct Action Rapid Response, Jovian Republican Guard, Titanian Marine Corps]

70|Veterancy+ [Jovian HOPLITE Corps, Oversight Commandoes, Direct Action Emergency Teams, Church Executors]

80|Elite [Jovian TAHI/SID, Firewall Erasure, Ozma Wetworkers, Medeans, Titanian Guardians]

90|Legendary [EMIYA, Teilhard Liu, JohnnyBoy, John Preston]

As mind to body, so soul to spirit.
As death to the mortal man, so failure to the immortal.
Such is the price of all ambition.

Xagroth Xagroth's picture
I would say "do not push

I would say "do not push yourself into a corner". You should usually limit the moment when players lose their bodies to the last 25% or so of the adventure, or of the segment of the adventure before a group resleeving/access to a body shop (the "Mind the WMD" quickstart adventure uses this masterfully: there are two combats, one just before a mass resleeve and the second at the end of the adventure).

First, there have been a lot of casualties at once? Though luck, even with resleeving policies, some time will pass before the dead are reinstantiated (and the poor indenturees now will have to start over). If the stack is recovered by "good guys" (that is, not Nine Lives tugs or the like trying to make a profit), then it has to be identified, and then the insurance company can pay for resleeve. That gives a couple of days the players can still die and be resleeved quicky if the stack is recovered.

Another option is to resleeve them as Infomorphs (the Ghostrider Module is there for a reason...), or to "take over" the body of an NPC! Mind you, that is really illegal... but they don't have an option, now do they? It is, after all, "for the greater good"...

Second, their selection of "backup morphs" tells me all that is to say about their mindset: they think they can "jump" from their current body to the real "killing machine". Sorry, pal, but unless you make yourself vulnerable to hacking by implanting a cyberbrain in the biomorphs, they will need at least an hour to be "downloaded" from their current morph. Or they can just get their cortical stack "popped out", killing them and forcing the Continuity Tests (plus the resleeving tests!) after they are sleeved (another hour or so for the Ghost, mere minutes for the Cases and the Reaper...).
And they expect to get into a firefight, and get out shooting. That will mean casualties, like it or not, and EP is not a game for baby-sitting GM's. If you set your players up, anyway, it is your responsability to give them one or two ways out, even if those ways mean, in EP, to blow your own stack off and leave no trace so your backup won't be erased for gruesome crimes against Transhumanity! Of course, they will need an Ego Bridge or a morph with a cyberbrain to pull this off.

Third, if they bother buying some blueprints and a CM big enough, they can make their own morphs. Granted they will need a lot of time and a medtank for the biomorphs, but they can "print" a synthmorph in hours if they have the materials, specially the "spare Morphs" depicted in Gatecrashing.

Fourth, we are not seers. We cannot give you any answer without knowing the character's sheets, and the player's way of using them. Personally, I'll tell you that I have had trouble to stop my veteran players from sweeping the floor with vanilla NPCs in EP, and they did not spend a lot of points into combat skills (Fray, Kinetic Weapons, and little more... the one using a Ghost picked some blades and profession: medicine, though. He can get to you and pop your stack without anybody noticing... The rest, movement skills, and the recommended ones in the core book, plus some "standard hacking"). In fact, they had no skill above 60 wihtout the morph's bonuses.

And yes, I know you mention you made clear to the players that EP is not D&D. Sadly, a player might need a dire experience to really understand that, and I tend to introduce new players into a combat situation into a simulspace or in a way that, if they die, it will take little time for the rest of the team to resleeve him, without endangering everybody else.

My advice would be to run pre-made scenarios to get a feeling of both the game and how the players react to it before making your own adventures, so the timing in the events allows them to make mistakes that won't ruin the fun nor to force you to baby-sit.

Sorry if the post sounds harsh, but I'm quite spend at this time of the day, and the way the new forum lets me see 5 lines of my answer at a time doesn't really help to make good answers :S

Chevre Chevre's picture
@NewAgeOfPower I like your

@NewAgeOfPower I like your list better than mine. Much more useful from an in-game standpoint. I still stand behind "Donnie Yen with neurachem" and "Exsurgent Robocop", mind you.

@Xagroth Yes. That.

Prophet710 Prophet710's picture
Somewhere on this site there

Somewhere on this site there is a "Goon" sheet for just this purpose. Flesh them out like one would flesh out thugs and goons in SR. A few skills here and there that matter. You'll need to gauge how you want your NPCs to run. Realistically, at a professional level you'd want them to run on par with the players, if you're looking for something more monty haul, some handwaving and reduced skills are all you need.

I like to keep in mind that most people with bodies are very capable in their field of choice, if not multiple fields. Unless they're soon to be free or have been recently freed indentures, you can bet that what you come across is both confident and skilled.

"And yet, across the gulf of space, minds immeasurably superior to ours regarded this Earth with envious eyes. And slowly, and surely, they drew their plans against us."

Xagroth Xagroth's picture
Prophet, please take into

Prophet, please take into account that a player character is created with 1000 points as an exceptional transhuman, while 800 points are above the masses. I always have one critical detail in mind: my players have one character each, and I have the whole world, so I can allow myself to produce "blind experts" (that is, characters that are experts in one field, and know nothing else), and I don't really care if my players make mincemeat of them. I can always up their opponents later, which I find an easier task than to try to avoid to kill them with NPCs too powerful ^^

Prophet710 Prophet710's picture
I completely understand that

I completely understand that the average character is going to be an exceptional transhuman. In this setting I like to keep my players going head to head with other exceptional if not more exceptional threats, keeps them thinking and on their toes. This also denotes a strong sense of realism. In an advanced setting, you're not going to have an small array of guys simply charge you guns blazing. Tactics, comms, ECM, ECCM, flanking, etc. are going to be utilized by any combat threat. Accordingly and on other avenues such as negotiations, dodging, vague intentions, brevity are going to be used just as much.

Dicing goons is what goons are for, its fun, but its more monty haul IMHO, and that's humble. Don't get me wrong I'm all for that, and I play with thus, using tough guys only sparingly. But brushing players with death does give the game a certain thrill.

"And yet, across the gulf of space, minds immeasurably superior to ours regarded this Earth with envious eyes. And slowly, and surely, they drew their plans against us."

Xagroth Xagroth's picture
I have been playing a Conan

I have been playing a Conan campaign, and all the enemies we have encountered so far had a vartiation of 2 levels on ours, and we were always outnumbered and outgeared. Frankly, that was not really fun considering how long it took to make each combat (we had characters with low stats, so our damage output was low...), and I really missed the classic Conan feeling of hordes of "lesser men" falling around the party (mind you, I was running a priestess, so I was playing the way I wanted since the beginning).
So be carefull with using only extraordinary NPCs against your players, because every now and then they will want a change. And a recurring cast of enemies on their level is that: the enemy disadvantage (and thanks to backups, there is no fear they kill them too soon and a son or other related family member needs to avenge them! XD).
Anyway, it is not realistic to find exceptional people all around you, because then that is not exceptional people, and in that case the difficulty level would be the same with 800 CP and the complications from having lots of skills and gear, less (simplifying matters a lot while keeping the level of the encounters, and favouring spceialists players a little more).

Prophet710 Prophet710's picture
Wading through hordes of

Wading through hordes of enemies is something better done with d20 than with EP. The standard campaign setting for a Firewall team might as well demand exceptional enemies as existential risks are, by nature, threats to an entire civilization. Wading through hordes of feeble minded barbarians with tusks or greasy clothes is unrealistic at best considering thus. But, these are just playing styles and all are welcome. :)

"And yet, across the gulf of space, minds immeasurably superior to ours regarded this Earth with envious eyes. And slowly, and surely, they drew their plans against us."

Xagroth Xagroth's picture
Prophet, my point was that

Prophet, my point was that facing only "elite" enemies can be tiresome and unexciting. "Mooks" in Eclipse Phase would be militiamen, guerrillas, low to mid end security guys, etc...
That can translate to "they have 35-50 in one or two weapons and 40 in two or three combat skills", but they won't know some tricks and tactics veteran soldiers would. Like keep more than 1 meter between member groups, keep themselves focused, and things that distingish a real pro from a worker. In essence, not all criminal enforcers will be elite assassins, nor all the security guys of any given habitat/corp propierty will be Medusa/Direct Action/Ultimates. And of course, not everyone will be sleeved into a customized and improved combat morph!

And yes, to wade across countless foes that can't really harm you is quite stupid. But to be able to infiltrate into a "secure" and "secret" installation without tripping any alarm is better done with distracted guards that are workers, not somebody who lives his job. They can call the really hard guys if something happens, after all.

Lorsa Lorsa's picture
I think all games I have

I think in all games I have played, the best balancing formula is:

1. Many bad opponents is better than few good.
2. High survivability and low damage output is better than the other way around.
3. Look at the PC's skillset as baseline, don't take skills from 'thin air'.
4. Reinforcements / multiple encounters can make fights more interesting without being too hard.

(With better I mean more balanced, better to have to avoid TPW)

So, what does this do for EP? Well, high fray and lower-than-PC's weapon skill is what I'd recommend. Make sure the opponents don't have higher speed than the players (unless you make them face only one opponent but read my formula for that). Give them weapons that will do damage on whatever armor they run around with but won't melt them in one attack. Opponents with decent durability and wound threshold is good, as is armor that makes sense for whatever they are doing.

A point to remember though is that ghosts are meant for infilitration, so if they do not use ambush tactics they are not using their morphs properly and you should not be "nice". If you have the upper hand you can easily kill one opponent before the "fight" even begins. Also, if you have opponents with extreme equipment and that are very skilled and the players know about this but choose to engage them anyway, that's not your fault.

Lorsa is a Forum moderator

Red text is for moderator stuff

Xagroth Xagroth's picture
Lorsa, I will just add one

Lorsa, I will just add one detail I forgot: in EP you can get bonuses with extreme ease for combat skills:
- Weapons include as a default option the +10 for smartlink or something similar
- Full auto also gives a huge bonus (and if not, you can try burst).
- It is unusual to stack layer upon layer of armor, unless you are expecting military-grade opposition (for NPCs). Also, first contact units tend to go in the light.
- Avoid combats where lots of shots are fired and no damage is incurred. If it is the players suffering the fire, they will feel invulnerable and loose a lot of emotion (not to mention they will keep pushing the limits until they get a harsh reminder. Which can be precisely what you want), and if it is the other way around, frustration will burn their interest in the game. If the NPCs cannot hurt the players, do not stop rolling the dice (but roll no damage), and describe how they use the shots to force the players to cover and let the NPC's to retreat orderly, or even contain them a little. Then drop the reinforcements only a player with the appropiate knowledge or profession skills would anticipate ;p
- In EP, you can drop the low security to automated robots on cheap shells with medium-grade weapons. They make perfect cannon fodder... but be ready for the players to attemp this tactic against you, too!

Ukio Ukio's picture
As some other users told you,

As some other users told you, I think the best way to make an action (not only combat, but action), is to use the enviroment to make it more interesting, so the PC or NPC can use it on their advantage.
Few things are as boring as a shootout where both sides have good cover. You'll find yourself rolling dice for hours in a scene where nobody will abandone their cover. You could use some things in the scene to give the PC some options (like the classic shoot at the fire extinguisher, or red hot steam tube).

You should prize the players who use this kind of "cheap tricks" to win the fights, so in a short time, all players will be willing to find a way to get the winning hand on the scene.

So, with this tricks, you can use stronger enemies, but players will know that there's always a way. (But there MUST be a way, other tan lucky dice rolls)

Wellcome... Wellcome to this world of madness and wonder. You've been dead. For ten long years, you've been dead. Now... That's it! Small steps...

Chevre Chevre's picture
Ukio wrote:You could use some

Ukio wrote:
You could use some things in the scene to give the PC some options (like the classic shoot at the fire extinguisher, or red hot steam tube).

You should prize the players who use this kind of "cheap tricks" to win the fights, so in a short time, all players will be willing to find a way to get the winning hand on the scene.

So, with this tricks, you can use stronger enemies, but players will know that there's always a way. (But there MUST be a way, other tan lucky dice rolls)

This is pretty much how my group ends up fighting, regardless of system. The GM tends to give us problems and enemies that, on paper should either confound us for weeks or murder us instantly and then get amazed/annoyed at how quickly we solve/kill them once we work out a strategy. I think he secretly enjoys it.

Ukio Ukio's picture
Chevre wrote:...I think he

Chevre wrote:
...I think he secretly enjoys it.

Don't know, but I sure do.

Wellcome... Wellcome to this world of madness and wonder. You've been dead. For ten long years, you've been dead. Now... That's it! Small steps...

Thampsan Thampsan's picture
The environmental hazards

The environmental hazards also make for great equalizers and are things the enemy can use as well. While shooting out a window to a vacuum might not be anyone's first choice, it might be their last desperate choice, so bear that in mind.

Also remember that if the scene calls for it fudging the occasional roll (as GM) is definitely permissible, after all if nothing is a challenge the PCs often feel just as robbed as you do - at least if you have good players. Most people play games to escape and feel powerful and the best way to empower them is to give them a challenge that they can out-think or get lucky and beat.

Arenamontanus Arenamontanus's picture
Thampsan wrote:The

Thampsan wrote:
The environmental hazards also make for great equalizers and are things the enemy can use as well.

Here is an old favourite from our games: when your enemies are using lasers or other beam weapons, trigger the sprinkler system.

Extropian

OpsCon OpsCon's picture
Chevre wrote:Ukio wrote:You

Chevre wrote:
Ukio wrote:
You could use some things in the scene to give the PC some options (like the classic shoot at the fire extinguisher, or red hot steam tube).

You should prize the players who use this kind of "cheap tricks" to win the fights, so in a short time, all players will be willing to find a way to get the winning hand on the scene.

So, with this tricks, you can use stronger enemies, but players will know that there's always a way. (But there MUST be a way, other tan lucky dice rolls)

This is pretty much how my group ends up fighting, regardless of system. The GM tends to give us problems and enemies that, on paper should either confound us for weeks or murder us instantly and then get amazed/annoyed at how quickly we solve/kill them once we work out a strategy. I think he secretly enjoys it.

When I run the games, oh yes. I do think Mage gives you a few too many options sometimes (stupid Fate magic). As for Eclipse Phase, as I get to play this one instead of run for once, I'm not sure, but I think he likes it.

We still surprised the hell out of him by surviving the first half of 'Mind the WMD' however. That adventure expected the pre-gens however, and having a Ghost, vacuum-ready Ruster, and Ego Hunter with a seeker pistol kinda ruined the math.

KT
Alex 'Iceshade' Andrade