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 Post subject: E-i-C’s Guide to the Apocalypse
PostPosted: Tue Nov 21, 2017 12:02 am 
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Editor-in-Chief’s Guide to the Apocalypse
A short treatise on writing encounters for the Rotted Capes RPG.
By Brendan ‘Southernskies’ Robertson

Overview
A compilation of experience from writing, running and listening to podcasts (shout-out to the Fandible.com crew). This short treatise is a general guide and should be adjusted to both your group and the story you are trying to tell.

There are times when overwhelming force is called for and others that can be cinematically ignored. As always when running a game ‘know your Heroes’.

Building an Issue
I am not going to go into building a Serial (multiple linked Issues) here, as that topic is too broad and well-covered by many others.

An Issue should have a defined primary goal (loot the store, find the medicine, fix the vehicle) that the heroes know at the start. Due to sub-plots, they might not achieve the goal but it should be top-most in their planning and actions.

After that, at least two sub-plots and/or complications should be sketched out. These are not random zombie encounters but more active problems such as saving Bystanders, cracking a locked vault or needing to find suitable fuel. Keeping a list of the heroes Disadvantages and Flaws will help here, as you can do a ‘hero of the week’ rotation on the sub-plot. Don’t do this without reason, it should still advance the plot for the issue and not feel random or irrelevant.

For example, if the hero is a Darwinist, their favorite Supporting Cast member may have been captured by a Super-Z as bait to draw them out (why eat one meal, when a good trap can give a smorgasbord?) Will the hero walk into the trap or leave them to die? The decision will have consequences for the entire team (and possibly the enclave).

Building an Issue (3-4 hour session of play) within Rotted Capes does have some unique challenges when compared to a generic superhero issue. The first problem is Z-virus infection.

Z-Virus Infection and the story
A few bad rolls in a row can kill (or worse, turn into a Super-Z) any hero. This WILL happen at some point and the players should accept the possibility. It is up to you, as the Editor-in-Chief, to mitigate this to advance the plot.

An encounter with a single deadhead zombie is an ignoble death that rarely advances the plot (unless organized with a player before the session; bringing them back as the villain later). An encounter with a Super-Z on the other hand, should result in multiple Wounds and potential death and infection. The heroes should never walk away from a Super-Z encounter without Wounds and a story to tell around the campfire.

With access to Plot Die, death from Z-Virus should be technically difficult. An ‘average’ Vigor Action roll (2d10+d8) should get 16. A single Plot die (d8) will usually get them to the TN20 to recover from infection. Of course, this doesn’t help if Vanquished away from your team when hungry zombies wait to devour you (killing you outright).

Building combat terrain
If your players have difficulty conceptualizing the Areas used in combat (or insist on using miniatures), a handy way to represent this is have a pile of square drink coasters. These should already be in use to protect your play surface.  :shock:

Each Area is one drink coaster and heroes can only move between the flat edges of coasters that are touching. You can layout a map of any size in seconds, including side alleys and doorways (using a pencil for walls that can be broken through and an eraser to show doors). Some toy diecast cars can be dropped down randomly for high Might heroes to use as weapons. My current preference is Lego(tm).

How you lay out the terrain of an encounter will also determine reinforcement arrival or other ways to creatively spend (or earn!) Plot Die. That blind corner? It hides the entrance to a sport stadium filled with deadheads (with their +11 Perception (Hearing) a nearby combat will attract them). The old brick wall next to you? One good hit may bring it crashing down. A rule of thumb is that new combatants will arrive a number of Areas away equal to their Pace + 1. It gives the heroes at least one opportunity to react to the new situation (fight or run) and to use Ranged Powers or weapon attacks.

Building an Encounter
For a ‘balanced’ Issue (ie: the heroes are expected to walk away with each suffering 1-2 Wounds), my experience seems to be that you have a budget equal to the total xp of the heroes across the Issue. Eg: 5 brand new ‘B-Listers’ of 150 xp each gives you 750 xp of Threats to use.

As the quote goes, ‘Quantity has a Quality all of its own’. The Wound total of the heroes should also be determined for the number of Threats used. Common Threats (deadhead zombies etc) will use this up quickly with some Exceptional Threats and Unique Threats to round out the totals.
Eg: 5 B-Listers gives you an average of 16-20 Wounds to use. If you expect the heroes to fight an encounter, this should be the maximum they can deal with. A mob of 20 deadheads (with the +18 to hit and damage of a mob) will be eating a hero after only two attacks. Surviving said mob alone would be the stuff of legend (or an Ultra-level hero). 4-6 deadheads per hero (with +6-10 to hit and damage) is going to make them sweat.

This is only a starting point, as the mix of Powers of the hero team may be optimized for dealing with deadheads or Super-Zs (it is unusual to deal with both equally well) and should be adjusted appropriately. An example occurred in my second game; while fighting 12 deadheads and surrounded in melee, I tried to ‘one-shot’ the encounter by firing my Freeze Ray applying both Secondary Effect: Crippled and Energy Burst using a Plot Die… into my own hero team (everyone and the Z’s were in the same Area). It nearly worked; everyone became Crippled and the 12 damage was nearly enough to wipe out the deadheads. The Stamina damage wasn’t appreciated at the time but it did give the other team members a chance to follow up with Team Attacks and the -2 Avoidance also made Headshots and Devastating Attacks easier.

Not all Unique Threats will actually be a threat if encountered alone (see next section), so are likely to need mob support. A rule of thumb is two mobs of Common Threats are needed to support a weak Super-Z.

When spending your budget, each mob, Common, Exceptional or Unique threat can be deducted by using the costings of RCRPG Table 2-12.

A combat-heavy team should be able to deal with +20% budget, while a combat-light team may struggle with -20% budget. Unless it is a major set-piece battle (with suitable foreboding) don’t throw more than half of your budget at them in a single encounter. One reason for this is that some Powers scale exponentially when used well and can ‘one-shot’ lower level heroes (ie: Qu 15 + Energy Blast 15 + Energy Burst trick = splattered B-Listers in 6-12 ticks of combat).

Conversely, if you only throw 1/10 of the budget at them (a mob of 4 deadheads) it can be resolved cinematically without rolling die. You can also offer an ‘unbeatable horde’ as incentive to choose an alternate means of resolution. As the heroes are not expected to fight (unless really stupid) it doesn’t come out of your threat budget.

Heroes need to be cognizant of their Stamina, while Super-Zs will ignore those minor hits. A long combat favors the zombies (lots of targets or high Fortitude), as Stamina drops faster from small hits than Wounds occur from a few big hits.

Building a Unique Threat
The first step is to make your threat credible. A Super-Z with Energy Burst 5 and no other Powers or Tricks is barely going to attract more than a couple of headshots before being Vanquished and will need a lot of minion support to become credible. A Super-Z with Might 13 throwing cars as a ranged attack is likely to have a hero team panicking and using full-auto attacks and can probably fight alone.

A story example from the rulebook is The Wrecker taking out Stonehenge (pg114-115). The Wrecker only appears to have one Power: Nullify. 1 v 1, he could never take out Stonehenge. However, with the mob of deadheads, that single Power shifts the encounter from ‘I can do this in my sleep’ to ‘I’m dead…’ Which Stonehenge forgot until it was too late.

A wolf-pack of 4 Delta-level Exceptional Threats (75 xp each with 2 wounds) is going to be a challenge for a team of B-Listers even without mob support. Individually weak, when working as a team, the Super-Zs can use the same combat maneuvers as the heroes (Team Attack etc) which makes Massive Damage more likely to occur.

A solo Super-Z (even if Beta or Alpha level) needs at least one (or more) advantage over the heroes. This can be a high Might (to use those big melee weapons, such as cars, trains and other ‘found objects’), a good area attack (such as Energy Burst with the Energy Blast trick), a high resistance to damage (Armor Power with Invulnerability Power and a high Vigor), or a way to break up the heroes ability to work as a team (Mind Control, Energy Manipulation to create walls or other ‘battlefield control’ tricks).

From the book, Flaming Fist (even though an Ultra-level Threat) will struggle when alone to provide a challenge against a hero team, whereas The Golden Ram (only a Beta-level Threat) has a good chance of causing Massive Damage with every attack and can absorb a lot of damage while doing so.

Having said that, Flaming Fist’s threat level does go up quickly as the number of heroes goes down and/or the Editor-in-Chief acquires Plot Die to spend (on Power Tricks and Vigor rolls). She will still be Vanquished quickly to a well-coordinated team.

Conclusion
As stated at the start, know your heroes. It may take a few issues for the players to mesh together and the Editor-in-Chief (you) to know some of the oddities within the rules to get the best out of the heroes. “Rule of Cool” always trumps “Rules as Written”, provided there is consistency between Issues (and they spend enough Plot Die!). If you allow something to work, expect the heroes to try and do the same thing again with the same result.

For further reading (or listening), Ep.10 Patriotic Enslavement (Part I and II) on http://www.fandible.com/rotted-capes/ is a good example of a well-structured Issue. It only has two heroes, so the number of zombies encountered is low (at one point 4 deadhead’s give them problems) and the ‘final battle’ with a single Beta-level threat really pushes them. 2 x 150xp Delta’s vs a non-Z’d 300xp Beta could easily have gone against Blackout and Exclusive. If the General had been a Super-Z, it likely would have meant their deaths. More information about the episode is on this forum by the EiC at: viewtopic.php?f=23&t=2240

_________________
LARG; Astra Tonsoria Ursula val¤Dellanov, Martial Former Tribune, Sword Sage II, T2.4
LA:5E; Barbara Duran-Dellanov, Former Tribune, Fighter 1
LRC:OP; Garrett "Hangman" Gibbson, Tech Hero


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