Friday, 24 April 2015

Oldhammer Rogue Trader: Battle at the Farm Redressing the Balance

Following the read through of Battle at the Farm play reports, it's reasonably obvious that victory for the Marines is par for the course. Wondering why that might be... is it because of the marines defensive position, the Orks goals being unachievable, lack of cover on the field of battle as the Orks charge in... or something else.

This misleading piece of propaganda shows the Orks winning | Ian Miller

In the quest for that elusive something else I thought I'd calculate the points values for the forces using the RT points calculator. Remembering that point values in RT and 2nd Edition WFB are an abstract value based on mathematics and the relative numerical attributes of troop and equipment, not spooky-magic, estimations and guesswork:

Marines
Trooper: 18
Missile Launcher: 47
Commander: 100

Total: 408

Orks
Trooper: 8
Officer: 11
Commander: 46

Total: 217

So Marines come in at a whopping 408 points, and the Orks at a measly 217.  I think its reasonably safe to conclude, all other things being equal, that properly calculated PVs are a strong indicator of the outcome of a given scenario.

Even so, there are some anomalies in the way the scenario is set up, as the marines are seemingly given unlimited plasma missiles, which should be costed at 1 point each, and the player made to keep track of how many used. This potentially pushes the value of Marines up a vast amount, but lets overlook this for now.

But so what? we could decide that balance isn't important in narrative gaming, that the Orks are doomed to defeat from the outset.  Makes it kind of questionable why one would rather play this as a two player game, as opposed to read a book, watch a cartoon or solo-play.  It is possible to have a game-like experience where the end is entirely determined by the starting conditions, and the players express no agency other than mindlessly going through the motions of moving little figures around and rolling dice - but that's not my idea of fun nor is it about making meaningful choices in a narrative game - a GM "railroading" to use RPG parlance - players to a predetermined end point is not the same thing as the GM and players collaboratively shaping and telling a story.

If we were to do this in terms of a skirmish war game scenario, we'd see motivational Victory Conditions (Orks get the loot +5 VP) balanced against realistically achievable goals - Ork survives +2 VP / Marine Survives +0 VP - but thats not how the victory conditions are set in the scenario.

We could also disregard Points Values all together and just say 'experience and playstesting' shows us the scenario is clearly biased towards the Marine player' and subsequently suggest fixes based on our own hunches. However the Point Values effectively tell us  how much needs changing - that the marines are nearly 100% over-powered in comparison to the Orks goes some way to helping us make informed decisions towards creating a less deterministic scenario design.


wrong farm! wrong battle! right idea | Wells Little Wars

Rebalancing the Battle at the Farm:

As suggested, we could just re-balance the victory conditions, leaving everything else in tact. But, without changing the field of battle, the narrative conditions or the characters objectives, what can be done to give the Orks a fighting chance of winning, and lift the Ork player out of his position of stolid doomed deterministic defeat?

1. Balance the PVs of the sides by force-size: 


Orks. Faasunds of 'em | Space Ork Raiders advert


1.1. Reduce the number of Marines to around 7 troops OR
1.2. Increase the Orks to around 40 troops.

Either of these changes keep the scenario asymmetrical - Marines, highly trained elites with their top rated gucci mil-spec equipment, Orks the low-tech horde, but the forces are still statstically balanced, giving each a chance of success, and that's the point. The shape of the scenario becomes the classic colonialist myth found again and again in fantasy literature (giving Orks guns does not make 40k sci-fi) the plucky few civilised against the unwashed primitive masses, not unknown in history or previous warhammer scenarios either...

2. Balance the PVs of the sides by troop capabilities: 


Power X-treme! | via

2.1 Reduce Marines firepower and combat abilities.
2.2 Increase the Orks firepower and combat abilities.

This potentially makes the game much more symmetrical - giving Orks powered armour and bolters pretty much makes them the same as marines, similarly putting the Imperial forces in Flak armour, makes them more similar to Space Orks. Much more in the vein of Modern Warfare (by which I really mean WW2) basket - where troops arms and armour are reasonably similar, and there is no clear technological edge. Arguably tactics, use of terrain and psychological effects come to the fore. However, it lacks the dynamics one expects from fantasy gaming, where typically one has advanced technology or magic on their side.

3. Balance the PVs by technology


Killa Kanz | Space Ork Dreadnought



The Orks could spend their 200 points on a dreadnought, robot, combat vehicle, squad of psykers or something. The asymmetry of the scenario remains, but instead of being a foregone conclusion, the result hinges on the 'risk' of planting a significant pool of points into a single heavy hitting unit. This appears to be what was done with the 2010 redux - although I don't know how the rest of the troops in the scenario are balanced. Muscle and the mooks, vs. a smaller team of higher trained - this is a typical gangland, cops and robbers scenario also beloved by the writers of superhero comics.

Conclusion

So what does Battle at the Farm tell us about war in the 41st millennium? That having  a 'few more' bodies on the ground does not compensate for greater fire power, but 40ks internal logic states that 'vastly more' bodies will. A moral universe where the proud, noble warrior Marines inevitably defeat the dirty, greedy, stupid Orks and the 'good-guys' always win. I think that's ultimately the way the scenario was intended to be, the story Rick wanted to tell, as cut and dry as a Rogue Trooper tale of Future War.

My preference is for balanced, but asymmetrical fantasy games, where players have a reasonable chance of success, as they give dramatic momentum to the emergent narrative (can we take down the big guy? can we hold out against the horde?) , and leave the actual result open, rather than have the outcome simply determined by the weight of models put on the field.

Meanwhile, preparations being made for playing it, as written.

Mustering the forces | Lasercut 40K



13 comments:

  1. Balanced, but asymmetrical, that's exactly the point of a good game, there would be no point (well to me) of a RPG game where the GM doesn't challenge his players and where he excludes the possibility of killing some but it has to be fun for all parties involved. A delicate balance here and I think I'd probably add 200ish worth of points to the ork side to make things a little more stressful for the marine player.
    Very intersting dissection of the scenario anyway.

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    1. Yeah. I think you're right, the possibility of failure for the Marines is every bit as significant as the possibility of success for the Orks.

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  2. Another option would be to switch positions; orks are already in the farm (and looking for the treasure) when the Space Marine patrol comes by. This gives the orks the possibility of cover. Doubt this would be enough on its own, but it would change things around somewhat.

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    1. We could definitely change the narrative goals as well, perhaps Thrugg held back when he originally saw the loot, and then Cantor seeks refuge at the farm - Thrugg has to leg it!

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    2. I think this is the esiest way to balance the game without calculating new points. Traditionally the attacker needs a 3:1 force advantage to win making the Marines 2:1 advantage potentially 6:1 (I think)?
      Anyway they hold all the cards. Switching setup gives the marines less than the required 3:1 but perhaps leaves it more in the balance. It's now up to the marine commander to concentrate and get a local 3:1 ratio.

      This does completely change the narrative of the game though.

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    3. 6:1 is probably right! Applying an external statistical model for estimating comabt efficiency. Interestingly if we apply Lanchesters Square Law the Orks are 3:5 overpowered, which would mean their enemies would need to be 60% better in quality in order to "balance" the two forces - the PVs indicate a 66% increase - which is close enough.

      Experience seems to show that Lanchsters Laws are somewhat wrong, still maybe someone out there is applying QJM or something to 40k.

      Perhaps occupied buildings as contributing PVs. Use Strength, Toughness, perhaps LOS blocking as AC...

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  3. Interesting article. I'm shuffling things around to balance my own scenario and I think RT has pretty good math in the characteristic section, but I'm finding some of the gear dubious...

    Jokaero digital weapons are 50 points for what is essentially a +1 attack (valued at four points in straight characteristics). Yes, you can use them even if you already have a weapon in that hand, but I don't think they are worth 50 points, especially when you figure in the to hit penalties for fighting with multiple weapons!

    Auto-guns and Lasguns cost the same amount of points despite the fact that Auto-guns have a max range of 32" compared to the Lasgun at 24" (all other stats are the same).

    Heavy weapons seem a bit random in cost as well and haven't been able to reverse engineer the method used to calculate these.

    Let me say that I don't care about any of these things in general. I prefer to work out my scenarios by eye. I normally run games as a GM and keep an extra unit or monster to throw into a game if I think one side is having a calk walk BECAUSE OF MY SCENARIO. Poor tactics or bad luck are not usually deserving of intervention (unless I think it will make the game better for everyone).

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    1. Hmmm... A cake walk... Sorry, typed that on my phone...

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    2. Jokaero digital weapons are a little extreme. They're somewhat akin to magical weapons in WFB2E hence the +50PV. One of the problems with the PV system when it comes to weapons is that it isn't very high resolution. The las / auto gun difference just means that 8" isn't enough to cause a +0.5PV difference, perhaps 12" would. I've never managed to reverse engineer it, and suspect that overhaulling the weapons table viewing it as modifiers to the troop baseline would be more fruitful.

      Eyeballing and guesswork are all well and good, but I bet you 50p that if you calculated the PVs of each side and did not intervene as a GM, the 'winner' would be the side with the greatest points allocation ;-) Also I think there is a difference between a home game and a published scenario, if Rick had suggested having some wandering Ambulls on the farm, or some other form of GM intervention that took into account the imbalance then it would have been a good introduction to that style of gaming.

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  4. Significantly The Battle of Jadeberry Hill (the WD-published sequel to this) didn't give the Crimson Fists bolt pistols or frag grenades, both of which their brothers in The Battle of the Farm have. When we've replayed this we've found that the +2 to hit at short range for bolt pistols was one of the deciding factors.

    While it's still unbalanced, it strikes me that Rick P decided to do something about the SM lethality at short range we he wrote the follow up.

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    1. I do plan to do The Skirmish on Rynns World / Jadeberry Hill, assuming that the Battle at the Farm goes down well. So I don't want to get too ahead of myself - it's bit of an odd one, with the constant reinforcements of the Orks (shadows of the Ziggruat of Doom) meaning their points allocation will accumulate and (once again) the Orks are given a mission objective that any reasonable attempt to achieve will cause them to completely and utterly lose.

      Personally I'd have the Orks hot-wire (2d6 under Int) the crashed vehicles and ram-raid New Rynn City like the final scene out of Shopping, and declare they won by style.

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  5. As it stands the battle is winnable by the Orks. They need to ignore the 'grab the jewels' mission. It's a trap. To win they need to hide behind the rise out of sight of the marines and call in support on their communicator. On a roll of 6 they call in the ork horde and the marines have to leave their prime positions in the farm and exit the board through the ork line. One the marines are in close range the ork forces move to the top of the rise and poor fire into the marines.

    No editing of the scenario required. The orks just have to play defense and ignore the misleading mission outline.

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    1. The GMs briefing also says that the Orks win if they get the loot, changing the objectives is editing the scenario, but hey, it works for Kirk!

      I'm not sure the Orks could win even then, they are still greatly outclassed by the Marines, who don't really need the hard cover to beat the Orks. Would the marine player know that Ork reinforcements were going to arrive in 4+1D6 turns? There's no indication the Marines have hacked the orks comms or are plugged into Milli-Com intel feeds (otherwise they could call for an airlift or something) so I'm not sure how they'd know - but the race against the clock would certainly be exciting.

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