Group Combat; Options better than the Troop subtype or Armies?


Advice


I'm running a Dungeon Keeper inspired game for my group, and I wanted to find a way to clump groups of minions together into some sort of unit rather than tracking a hundred individuals.

Unfortunately, the Troop subtype is hideously generic. Assuming the same level, a group of human fighters is the same as gnome barbarians is the same as orc brawlers is the same as everything else with d10 HD. The subtype doesn't even cover the idea of a troop of creatures with spells or other special attacks. Do they all pick the same target? Does that target take a -10 to the save or roll 50 times? Does a troop of wizards casting fireball deal 500d6?

And then the Mass Combat rules get into Army Challenge Rating, where 50 minotaurs are CR 2.

So, can anyone recommend me a 3pp or set of house rules that cover grouping up creatures into a sort of mob, but still allow a unit of driders to be different from one made of shambling mounds?

Contributor

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Lucky you! You've managed to catch the creator of the troop subtype, who wrote it for Paizo after years of tweaking in his home games, sitting around bored on a Saturday morning with nothing better to do than offer some messageboard advice and insight to his fellow gamers. I've used this incredibly versatile mechanic to create everything from roving hordes of bloodthirsty ghouls to bands of healing battlefield medics, from armored knights on horseback to packs of spectral ghost hounds. There's a secret to building effective and memorable troops, and the REALLY important thing you have to keep in mind is...

...wait, did you say "hideously generic?"

Oh boy, would'ya look at the time...


Yes, running away is always so effective at disproving those who disagree with your work...
But why, when we can look at the issues right here on...

Oh dear

It appears that Paizo hasn't even added it to the PRD
But that's okay, there are other sources
http://www.d20pfsrd.com/bestiary/rules-for-monsters/creature-types#subtype- troop

So, let's look at what I feel makes it so unbearably generic. According to the type, can you tell me the difference between a troop of human fighters with greataxes compared to human fighters with rapiers and daggers?

How do spells and breath weapons or gaze attacks work?

Are they immune to other combat maneuvers like dirty tricks?

How much damage do they even deal? It says damage is based on HD but nothing more, is it the same as a swarm?

How does being a troop affect the CR of the component creatures? It clearly makes a tougher encounter than a single creature, but is a troop of orcs a fair challenge to a 10th level party? 15th?

Please, feel free to defend your work at any time.

Sovereign Court

I personally don't like the abruptness of the troop auto-hitting mechanic.

Look, here's 11 individual level 1 mooks with 1d8 crossbows that only hit PCs on a 20 due to them being armored like level 7 PCs. Expected damage is (4.5 * (0.05 * 0.95) * 11) + (9.0 * (0.05 * 0.05) * 11) = 2.59875 in total.

Now we add a 12th and can make them a troop. Suddenly they can shoot four lines per round doing 2d8+4 to everything in a line (reflex halves).

I certainly wouldn't want to roll to-hit for 12 such mooks every round, but I don't like how the troop rules ignore the AC of PCs.


Personally I'm alright with the idea of auto-hits, that's necessary to keep the group a threat to more powerful PCs, but if we're assuming that out of that group at least one is going to hit, why isn't damage based on the weapons used by the troop? It makes a bit of sense for a swarm to have lots of little hits that add up to a few d6, but when you take a hit from a morningstar and the wielder has a +2 from strength, it doesn't make sense to use a mere d6 for damage.

How do ranged attacks work for a troop anyway? They have the auto-damage melee thing, do they just deal damage to everything in range if they have bows?

Paizo Employee Pathfinder Society Lead Developer

I've worked with the troop rules in a Pathfinder Society scenario, and I found them pretty easy to use and modify in small ways to make just the creature I wanted. Table 1-1 in the Bestiary is going to be your friend here, as you'll want to ensure that the average damage output is looking about right. I also recommend not allowing the lines of crossbow bolts (in my example) to overlap, otherwise it's possible to utterly eviscerate a PC in one round.

The key to your question is understanding that each troop Paizo has published has had one or more special creature abilities. Dottari protect each other, grenadiers have their gas grenades, and more. The troop subtype is—by my assessment—more a manner of explaining how a new creature works than it is a "pick from the following options" template, and that's [i]exactly[/] what it needs to do in the books where it appeared.

So how do you differentiate one troop from another? Make up some special abilities. Here are a few off-the-cuff suggestions.

Daggers: Reduce the damage to d4s, but give the troop some ability that boosts its dodginess or allows it to hamstring (e.g. Halve movement speed) people who provoke attacks of opportunity.

Greataxes: maybe treat the troop's effective HD as higher for damage purposes, but reduce its effective AC because you have a bunch of people using a very space-intensive weapon in close quarters.

Rapiers: It's hard to critically hit if you never roll an attack, but the rapier troop might have a 10% chance to deal additional damage every time it attacks in order to simulate that benefit. Alternatively, maybe this pack of duelists can reflect a small portion of melee damage dealt to them as if simulating parry and riposte.


You might consider mining Ultimate Commander's general class, which has a troop as part of its mechanics. Not that you necessarily use the class, but rather, it has a bunch of different options for the troop based on what sorts of units the general picks, and you can just mine those for your troops.


Ascalaphus wrote:

I personally don't like the abruptness of the troop auto-hitting mechanic.

Look, here's 11 individual level 1 mooks with 1d8 crossbows that only hit PCs on a 20 due to them being armored like level 7 PCs. Expected damage is (4.5 * (0.05 * 0.95) * 11) + (9.0 * (0.05 * 0.05) * 11) = 2.59875 in total.

Now we add a 12th and can make them a troop. Suddenly they can shoot four lines per round doing 2d8+4 to everything in a line (reflex halves).

I certainly wouldn't want to roll to-hit for 12 such mooks every round, but I don't like how the troop rules ignore the AC of PCs.

I've used a version of the rules EN Publishing used for their War of the Burning Sky not-an-AP-honest a while back. It covers about 20 creatures, and involves some fairly simple adjustments to the base stat block. HD and hit points are multiplied by 6, the creature gets +20 to attack (to represent aiding another and sheer mass of attacks), deals triple damage with all of its attacks (since even a hive mind can only layer so many attacks in a round), and increases two size categories for CMB, CMD, and space (but not reach) purposes. There are some generic unit traits that provide common-sense immunities, and area attacks inflict multiples of damage for every full quarter of the unit's space the attack can cover. Special attacks have +20 to the save DC. The CR is nominally +6 for the template, but it's very swingy in practice, so you have to eyeball it. I'll often add individually-targetable leaders or other special abilities on an ad-hoc basis as well, but no rules for that really.

Anyway, I like that template. It still produces weird results sometimes, but by and large you end up with common-sensical stats and ability interactions, and best of all the connection between base creature stats and unit stats is really clear.

Paizo Employee Pathfinder Society Lead Developer

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On a somewhat related note, I am sure that Brandon's insights would be even better here than my own. However, it's important to remember than Paizo's contributors are under no paid or contractual obligation to comment on these messageboards. Nonetheless, many are very passionate about discussing their work with fans and helping GMs make the best use of what they've written. That's a blessing to the community, and it speaks highly of the great authors Paizo hires.

We also trust those authors to assess how to best spend their time on our messageboards. If an author is having fun and engaging in positive correspondence, I think it's a fair bet that you'll see more of him or her. This is true even if fans aren't entirely agreeing with the author, but everyone's approaching the topic is a respectful and courteous manner. Calling someone's work "hideous" and then taunting that author for disengaging in a conversation he's not obligated to have in the first place does not fall in that range.

Help make—and keep—paizo.com a pleasant place to visit and discuss the games we enjoy together.


John Compton wrote:

On a somewhat related note, I am sure that Brandon's insights would be even better here than my own. However, it's important to remember than Paizo's contributors are under no paid or contractual obligation to comment on these messageboards. Nonetheless, many are very passionate about discussing their work with fans and helping GMs make the best use of what they've written. That's a blessing to the community, and it speaks highly of the great authors Paizo hires.

We also trust those authors to assess how to best spend their time on our messageboards. If an author is having fun and engaging in positive correspondence, I think it's a fair bet that you'll see more of him or her. This is true even if fans aren't entirely agreeing with the author, but everyone's approaching the topic is a respectful and courteous manner. Calling someone's work "hideous" and then taunting that author for disengaging in a conversation he's not obligated to have in the first place does not fall in that range.

Help help make—and keep—paizo.com a pleasant place to visit and discuss the games we enjoy together.

A fair request, and I apologize for my choice of hyperbole in calling the Troop 'hideous'. I'll try to avoid taking it so far in the future.

Contributor

I don’t mind contributing a few pointers here for you, RogueMortal, if, in fact, that is your real name. ;-)

First, keep in mine that troops are not part of the official PRD because they have yet to appear in a Paizo hardcover. And that’s regrettable, because I haven’t had the chance to publish the actual basic troop statblock whose modularity would prevent us from having to work from scratch for each new troop. I invite you to head over to the Bestiary 6 Wishlist thread, the Armies of Golarion thread, or email our long-suffering editor-in-chief Wes Schneider and voice your support for the inclusion of more troops in future hardcovers!

Secondly, we have to consider the actual role of creature types and subtypes in monster (and troop!) design. For example, the magical beast subtype doesn’t dictate how a gorgon’s breath weapons work, how much damage they do or if it’s supposed to be a cone or a stream. The rules for the medusa’s gaze attack are nowhere to be found in the monstrous humanoid type. Nowhere does the magical beast type dictate that a lamia (magical beast) gets a host of spell-like abilities, when a remorhaz (also a magical beast, also 9 HD) doesn’t’ get any at all. Who decided a will-o’-wisp (9 HD aberration) gets a 2d8 touch electricity attack when a chuul (10 HD aberration) gets two 2d6 melee claws? For that matter, why does the chuul have +10 natural armor and the will-o’-wisp gets no natural armor bonus at all, and why doesn’t the creature type spell those differences out for us?

The answer, of course, is that in creature design, types and subtypes dictate only a creature’s basic framework. Most of the questions you ponder have to be asked, considered, and resolved with any other creature type when designing new monsters. And most of those answers are found in the monster creation rules. So, you use those to build your ideas to suite, and compare to other statblocks to make sure they’re in the same neighborhood of other established creatures in the CR range and type, whether working with the troop subtype or not. As Mr. Compton posits: making seasoned veteran troops with plate mail and great axes? Increase your damage dice, bump their AC, and slow ‘em down. Want some light, mobile skirmishers? Reduce their damage dice to reflect lighter weapons, lower their AC, and increase their movement. Are they orcs? Make ‘em stronger and give them sunlight sensitivity…or even the ability to collectively rage. If the constituent creatures have some magical abilities at their disposal, create a special ability or two that reflects that (see below for an example). It’s incredibly versatile. If I had my druthers, we’d get a future Bestiary entry similar to dragons, with lots of modular options for troops. Again, express your support for that with the powers-that-be.

In short--the differences you yearn for in troops isn't an inherent fault of the subtype--special abilities (and even different weapon properties, like long spears set to receive charges) will be your key to adding versatility to various units.

I invite you to some previous discussions I provided on this topic. Here’s a nice pair of posts discussing how to use the monster creation charts to help determine damage and CRs of special abilities, for instance. I discuss here why you don’t see a whole lot of spellcasting troops out of me, though James Jacobs was nice enough to introduce an inquisitor troop in AP #100 that helps demonstrate how to create a special ability that reflects a troop composed of soldiers with the ability to bless and heal themselves (And hey! Bonus! The base damage chart missing on d20pfsrd is there for ya!). My friend Charlie Bell even did a troop of devils for Wayfinder #11, among others.

In my original rules here at home, troops have a to-hit score (you can see the leftover-artifact of that in the rifle troop statblock for Rasputin Must Die!), but only against other troops, auto-hitting only when engaged with single opponents. I also allow single opponents to subtract their armor bonus from troop damage to reflect that a heavily-armored knight can withstand just a bit more abuse when surrounded by a mass of armored flesh than a leather-clad rogue.

But mostly, remember troops are an abstraction, so when building don't get too caught up in the details--treat them as a big giant monster and let the subtype handle the rest, which is does pretty effectively.

There’s also a nice reddit discussion with some great ideas in it, here.

I hope some of that helps! Happy to answer further questions.


It certainly helps me understand where your design is coming from, if not solve my needs for the way I'd like to handle groups of combatants.

Although I would certainly disagree with the rarity of casters, as plenty of classes possess at least some level of casting (even rogues!), and surely the forces of Heaven and Hell (among many others) must have plenty of troops with built-in spells!

The CR system and monster building tends to have issues of it's own, but if I'm at that point I may as well just make up a template or something.

But I get that you intended Troops to be made up of low end humanoid mooks rather than more potent sorts of creatures, and that works for your games. Good luck and happy gaming!

Sovereign Court

Brandon Hodge wrote:
I also allow single opponents to subtract their armor bonus from troop damage to reflect that a heavily-armored knight can withstand just a bit more abuse when surrounded by a mass of armored flesh than a leather-clad rogue.

Ah, there's the rub; I don't think that made it into the scenario where we almost fought the troop (bluffed our way past it).

As I see it, there are two conflicting tropes with regard to tough adventurers and troops of mooks. On the one hand we have the big hero wading through enemy ranks practically unscathed; a tried and tested fantasy trope and which the AC system handles well. On the other had you've got zombie horror where it doesn't matter who you are, if you're in the middle of that mob you're gonna get chewed on.

Some variation of "AC as damage reduction" combined with "enough manpower, and you can even hit really high AC" looks like the answer to me.

I'm not against the idea of troop rules per se, but I'm not convinced those rules are fully mature yet. More trial and error are probably needed to discover and work out all the major kinks.

Contributor

Ascalaphus wrote:
I'm not against the idea of troop rules per se, but I'm not convinced those rules are fully mature yet. More trial and error are probably needed to discover and work out all the major kinks.

With what's currently published, you might be right. Of course, for a long while, we only had the anachronistic rifle troop to use as an example to build new troops, and while we've got a few more statblocks fleshed out (officially and otherwise), I recognize it can still be tough to extrapolate builds from a relatively small data, though the advice given above on building to the CR-tables still stands.

Here at home, which I recognize doesn't help anyone but me, we use my complete system for full-blown tabletop battles royale with a dozen+ units all over the table and PCs right in the middle of the action, and have a lot more components in place that I'd developed over the years, from enhanced flanking and charging rules, a sort of bounded accuracy for troop-versus-troop combat (because attack rolls far outpace AC in high-HD builds like troops, and hits and misses are a necessary element of the randomness of simulated battle), morale rules, special feats for troops, the PC armor-bonus-as-DR rules, and even special units you can insert in troops to give them special abilities. I even have rules for advancing units as they gain battlefield experience. And most troops are built from a few base statblocks (infantry, cavalry, etc) with modular menus to pick and choose abilities from, rather than the ground up, so my players get involved with the troops under their command, too. But of course none of that was necessary for Rasputin Must Die, where the goal was realistic portrayals of real-world (i.e. low-level) Russian troops in a high-level adventure. But like I encouraged RogueMortal above, I encourage you to let your support for more troop stuff be known, because I'd like to guide Paizo's official troops ruleset to that maturity. ;-)


Hi there and sorry for the thread necro^^

Personally I'm a huge fan of the troop subtype, but I struggle to tweak it to really adapt it to my home game. Is there any chance that you could share some of the changes that you made, Brandon? Like how you handle troop vs troop combat and scaling damage for troops. I'd love to have a peek at the rule set you created for your game :)

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