Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Stealth Problems

I am enjoying the stealth rules I created and I've had plenty of time to play with them ~ but I have to admit that they're tricky to use.  I thought I'd write a post about that.

The rules stipulate a minimum distance that the combatant can successfully approach an enemy without being seen, modified by such things as vegetation, the amount the combatant is wearing/carrying, the level of the combatant and the combatant's appearance due to camouflage.  The closer the distance between combatant and target, the more silent and hidden it is assumed the combatant is.

The tricky part is in describing this to the player, specifically due to troubles that arise in terms of the player's awareness of the enemy and how they may choose to describe their movement.

Let's take the easiest situation: the player can see the enemy at a set distance away; we'll say the enemy is 14 hexes away, with 5 feet per hex, or 70 feet.  The stealth rule then designates (we roll) how many hexes will separate the player character from the enemy before the character's movement is discovered.

What's needed at this point is a "commitment to approach," which is hard to obtain.  The characters says they are approaching the enemy.  Because of the rule, we don't need to figure out if the character uses the bushes or moves along a low wall or just crawls up on belly.  Time is not a factor in the rule (though we could stipulate one hex per round, or perhaps one hex per three rounds).  In movie terms, it's the scene where the character very, very slowly moves up on the enemy in order to kill them, pausing each time the enemy moves

Players don't want to commit, however.  They want to describe their movement one hex at a time, but of course until reaching the critical hex, the character isn't discovered.  So I have to ask the question, "Do you approach the enemy until you are discovered?"

That's a really hard question to answer.  It sounds ominous and uncomfortable and players don't want to answer it; which usually means they want to back off and not approach the enemy at all. Which is fair enough. Sneaking up on someone is freaky and ought to be seen as a very hazardous option.

Now let's take a more difficult situation to run.  The players can hear the enemy but can't see them.  They're nearby, in the bushes, and the players want to attack them.  However, now I can't tell the players how close the enemy are.  They can't see distance; hearing is not seeing and the distance can't be judged.  In such situations, I find it hard to explain to the players that yes, if they move up on the enemy, they'll have to risk being seen ~ while having no idea how many hexes the enemy will be away.  Again, I need that commitment to approach, until the enemy is engaged.

Prior to the stealth rule, I did not have a problem with this.  The players, by not relating stealth to distance, would happily blunder into the enemy and a fight would ensue.  They're in the bushes? No problem, we rush through the bushes and attack them.

But by introducing this distance scheme into the mix, players have become very, very cautious. Basically, I've given them a measurement that they think they ought to be able to control; but of course they can't, since a 3d6 roll can be pretty scattered, particularly when I'm making that roll in secret so they can't be sure what their result is (at least, until they're at -10 on the dice because they've reached name level as an assassin or thief).  By nailing down the specifics of the approach, I've given the players a reason to think twice; and thinking twice, they tend to err on the side of caution.  That is, they decide not to approach at all.

It is an interesting psychological problem and I have found it difficult to work with.  I'm going to be working on another rule about heightened senses [page description in progress], which will establish a minimum approach distance for anyone with the sage ability, regardless of the enemy's stealth, as well as providing some information on how distant an enemy is by virtue of hearing them. Heightened senses basically takes the place of "hear noise," while adding a few other juicy benefits.


Baron Opal said...

Would it be worthwhile for the player to have an inkling of the result?

It seems like the character would have an idea of the range of results possible. Perhaps after you determine the notice distance, roll a d6-INT mod and add that. So, if the notice distance is 4 hexes and you roll a 3, you could say, "you feel confident that you can evade notice up to 7 hexes distance. You're not sure how much closer you can get." Then the player has a feel for what their character's skill brings to the table concretely, and also knows that they can push their luck a little more. The smarter the thief, the narrower the margin of risk is.

Alexis Smolensk said...

It is that desire for an inkling that is goofing the player's mindset, Baron.

Look at that youtube video again and tell me the time stamp when Eastwood has an inkling that he is going to succeed or fail.

Baron Opal said...

He advanced pretty confidently up until 00:50 when he reached the door. Now, that was before he was truly sneaking up on the radio operator. Until then he was sneaking up on the target's position. But, once he was at the top of the stairs his body language conveyed "stealth" to me.

If we're only examining the distance from the door to the guy's back, then, yes, you take your chances.

Looking at your rules, would the clip be described as Dim Moonlight (3d4), Urban, interior (-4), Stripped with light weapon (-1), camouflage (-1)? He looks like he should be there (uniform) and the light isn’t that great except in the radio room itself. 3d4 - 6 - X (level mod). Ended up with a 2, so that was pretty good. Darn magic buttons…

Alexis Smolensk said...

Dim moonlight in the hall, but not when he's actually being observed; but he does get the -4 urban interior, because he's protected by the corridor and walls. I don't accept that he's camouflaged, but I'll accept stripped (no armor). In the movie, he's a first rate American ranger, so gotta figure at least 6-8th level; and he does get potentially within 1 hex.

But the radio operator did not roll surprise and then won initiative...

I get what you're saying, Baron, but he doesn't "know," right? Not until the exact moment when he steps on the board in the silence; he might have stepped on a squeaky board already, but the radio covered that up.

So let's say he's 7th level, and that as a ranger he has thief-level skills; he can be pretty sure that with the -1, -4 and the -7 that he can get within 0-2 hexes on average, which gets him to the doorway. He'd have to roll a 15 on 3d6 to be detected at three hexes, or outside the door. If we accept your moonlight argument, he CAN'T roll so bad as to be more than a 0.

Baron Opal said...

I suppose if the hex by hex gets too vexing, you could break up the path in segments. Going back to the clip, Clint climbed the stairs, walked down the hall, crossed an intersecting hallway, crossed the radio station floor. Rather than just getting as close as they can, more bite sized bits could be offered.

Although it begs the question, if you knew exactly how far you could go, and go just that far, then what? Gather your forces there? Or, gather your stealthy forces there and give the high sign to charge?

Alexis Smolensk said...


But you shouldn't know. That's the only way it is tense. That's why I say the solution is to force the player to commit, and not let them back out once they've chosen to enter stealth.

Playing hundreds of situations like this, when there were no distance-hex rules, no one who said they were going to move in for the kill ever said they wanted to stop halfway through and break off. They shouldn't be allowed to now that the rule is more precise.

You either close to catch the opponent by surprise and kill them, or you don't. But I will grant you this: if the situation changes (the guard turns the radio off), so that the numbers change from what they were, the player should be given a chance to back out, right then. Eastwood decided to press forward; but a player might decide to retreat at that point.

Baron Opal said...

A last comment, if the goal is scouting rather than assassination, you just have to maneuver around everyone's "sense bubble", correct? You go, discover what you can, and come back, assuming things are relatively static and you can avoid the patrols, or whatever.

Alexis Smolensk said...

Yes, that's the case. But the worst sense bubble rules, so the party tends to hang back while one person moves forward for scouting.