Using Status Effects

Carrier attacks and status effects can be used to complicate a battle and increase a monster’s threat level. But be careful not to overuse them.

When NPCs are armed with carrier attacks and status-effect abilities, it drains certain player resources. Be careful not to overtax specific resources by sending out too many of the same status effects. Be aware of which skills the players are using up to resolve the damage they’ve taken.

For example, charm, sleep, and fear effects are all cured by Awaken spells. If you’ve been sending out willow-the-wisps with charm spells and creatures with sleep carriers all day, think twice before sending out more creatures with fear carriers.

Carrier attacks become very frustrating when you’re hit by them too often, or when you must simply endure the effect because a cure isn’t available. If nobody’s willing to unparalyze you, you might up spending 10 minutes as a statue every time someone hits you. That’s not a very fun way to spend a fight.

As a rule of thumb, no more than a third of the monsters in a group should have take-out carrier attacks. Those monsters with carrier attacks should do lower damage than the other monsters, making armor and protective spells useful defenses.

When using monsters that deliver status effects, set up tactics they will use to maximize the effect. For example, giant spiders which web their opponents might be paired up with archers who pelt helpless targets with arrows. A PC that is diseased and feared is only walking away from the fight and is therefore very vulnerable to rogues. Disarm + fear is a nasty combo as well, as it sends an unarmed character running across the battlefield.

Be especially reserved in using spell strikes and massive damage, as there are few ways for players to avoid these attacks. Being targeted by them is frustrating because the monster doesn’t need to land a fair hit for the attack to work.

Massive damage, a type of damage which cannot be blocked by weapons, was originally meant for traps but has been used increasingly frequently as a monster ability. In order ot deliver it with a trap, you generally need a large impressive prop to justify why you can’t block the blow.

Massive damage delivered by weapon lacks this atmosphere and therefore should be uncommon at best. When it is employed by a creature, that creature should have props, roleplay, or costume which communicates the creature’s size and strength. Maybe when they deliver a massive swing they must roleplay a slow, powerful swing, giving players time to dive out of the way.

When using massive damage, keep in mind that you’re not really fighting fairly, and this can be no fun for your opponents if you use your ability too liberally.

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  1. #1 by Daniel Burke on July 2, 2009 - 2:09 pm

    Ah a subject near and dear to my heart, carriers, effects, and damage calls.

    Realizing that there are dozens of ways to employ these, I would like to share some of my more egregious failures in the process of learning how to run monster camp in the hopes that they will provide some ideas for others.

    Example the first: The homogeneous horde (I have lots of errors, sure I’ll get more out there later)

    The homogeneous horde is a danger when you have a long running plot of ‘themed’ monsters. Maybe they are all nightmare elementals with fear, maybe they are all barbarians who throw berserk gas poisons, in my case it was Trolls with Physical Disarms.

    Now the Physical Disarm, at the time when my partner and I were doing monster design for the season, seemed like an absolute godsend to us.

    -It was a physically delivered strike, so it did not require NPC’s to have to keep scavenging for packets over the battle and detracting from the fight.

    -It did not have a particularly complicated verbal component.

    -It was very obvious to the players affected by it WHAT the effect was.

    -The defensive against it was a second level spell, the same as a claw delivered carrier or standard weapon attack. As opposed to a 4th level spell for an alchemical packet attack, or a 5th level spell for a magically delivered packet. So it stayed ‘true’ to physical combat.

    -It did not have an instantaneous result on the combat

    That last point was one of the really big sellers to me. NERO Combat tends to have a lot of very ‘absolute’ options, particularly in terms of the monster abilities. Most carriers mimic existing in game effects, particularly those from alchemy. The difference between being paralyzed by claws versus by magic versus by alchemy is a net result that you are still paralyzed. Or Asleep. Essentially, you have no in-game skills or means to react to the absolute option.

    In my heart of hearts I have always wanted to see NERO look something more like Errol Flynn and Basil Rathbone, so this romantic notion of their being back and forth in the fight with an element of danger appealed strongly.

    Our trolls did two things, they could all disarm people at least twice, and they all did double their damage with thrown weapons. When it came to playtime, we had a horde of trolls lobbing foam throwing axes and rocks, and also knocking shields out of the way. During the event this seemed to do precisely what I wanted it to, breaking up fights, but not stopping them, and watching the battle shift around.

    Afterwards the NPCs all had a really fun time, and still lost as is their lot in life and the players looted up the field, some of them having found a surprising new respect for thrown weapons.

    The feedback from the players was resoundingly positive on the thrown weapons, with one or two “except for when one hit me in the face” which was not unexpected, but the physical disarms…those were not so well received. I’d overdone it. Every troll having the disarm had just irritated people beyond belief. Instead of providing something different and challenging, I’d just replaced the familiar absolute issue with an incredibly irritating issue that only targeted the people who made up the front line.

    The solution was simple – Only put one troll in a group of roaming NPCs, and try to spread out the homogeny. I happen to enjoy monsters with particular flavors and abilities, but the natural inclination is to send out a group of the same things together. There are lots of reasons for this in monster camp. It makes getting NPC’s rotated around faster, makes printing cards and doing makeup easier, it lowers the stress level of the event directors who are having to do less micro management, and it keeps it simple for the NPC’s if everyone has something similar to work from.

    Doesn’t make for a great game play environment over the long term, as opposed to bringing in some diversity to the dangerous ‘fauna’. Like mom always said, too much of a good thing isn’t good.

  2. #2 by Lord Byron on July 3, 2009 - 1:30 pm

    Great comments, Dan.

    The D&D 4th edition books have been making me think about “combat role” – and how encounters are more dynamic if everybody has a specific job. When you send out a group of monsters which are basically melee fighters, the PCs are faced with a fairly uniform challenge. Mix it up with some ranged damage, some tactical moves like disarms, it becomes a more interesting encounter. But yeah, if you give every monster in the fight the same role, even if it’s a diversified role like the trolls you described, you’re right back at a “flat” encounter.

    I don’t mind fighting waves of identical monsters – it’s when you’re fighting the same squad all weekend, or when you get hit with the same effect 10 times in one fight, that it becomes boring.

    As far as effects go, Disarm is a pretty kind affliction. It doesn’t require a spell to resolve, so there’s never a tipping point when Disarm becomes deadly. But it can still evoke that “damnit there was nothing I could do about that” frustration. I recently played a weekend where I was Drained (by packet) or Physical-Strike-Death’d at least 12 times in one fight. I was so frustrated because I HAVE to fight these monsters, and they’re really no fun to engage because they just have to hit me once to take me out. And I can’t even block. WTF! I was fine getting death’d the first three times, but come on!

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