Thursday, May 30, 2013

My Modified DF Mook Rule

I mentioned a modified mook rule in my post on speedy GURPS combats. I didn't describe it, so I'll fix that here and write it up.

For those paying close attention, I mentioned this a while back on the SJG forums, where you can see other takes on the the "And Stay Down!" rule from GURPS Dungeon Fantasy 2, p. 27.

Briefly summarized, "And Stay Down!" has fodder drop from any hit that does damage, and worthy and boss critters stay up longer and/or get some HT rolls to stay conscious. That's a little too undifferentiated to me, and I feel like it de-values the high damage attacks of front-line fighter types by making a lucky tap from a weak fighter and a high-damage skull shot from a heavy weapon into effectively same thing. Knowing a monster is probably a mook, it means you're best bet is to use the lightest tap you can (a Defensive Attack with a thrust of a double-dagger weapon, say) to take something down.

I prefer people really open up on fodder and show their stuff, yet I want them unimportant NPCs to drop without dragging out a fight uselessly.

Here is my variation:

Unimportant NPCs automatically fail HT rolls to stay conscious, avoid stunning or knockdown, or to stay alive. This means that a wound that takes them to 0 HP or below will put them right down and out of the fight; a wound that cripples a limb or inflicts a major wound will stun them and knock them down.
(Clarification: Unimportant NPCs still get a HT roll to recover from stun, they just don't get one to avoid it in the first place.)

Special Cases: Some monsters come with special rules for staying awake - berserkers, for example, ignore knockdown and stunning, and do get to make HT rolls, no matter how "fodder"-like they are. Creatures with Hard to Subdue have it for a reason, and get rolls to stay awake. Hard to Kill means I make a death check to see if a creature is dead, even if it drops unconscious automatically.

Doesn't this mean a 2-point advantage like Hard to Subdue turns fodder into a potentially tough fight? Yes, it does. Hand out advantages that make weak monsters stand up longer with care - putting them on an NPC says you intend this guy to stand up and fight longer. It makes guys with those advantages and makes berserkers a really different fight.

Important NPCs use the full rules - they roll anything a PC would roll. These include named NPCs, boss monsters, singular monsters (if I put one chimera in a room, it's automatically a special chimera), etc. They don't have any automatic drop levels other than dying at -5xHP (unless they've got advantages that say otherwise.)

Also, NPCs might be special because of the situation. The goblin messenger who's running the alarm to the other goblins might get rolls because he's situationally important. The dinoman champion is special, even if his dinomen buddies are not. The one orc who happens to be wielding the magic sword from the treasure pile is special, no matter how weak he is.

I'll also rule on the fly that what was supposed to be a mook is an important NPC. If a fodder monster scores a critical hit, or somehow pulls off some amazing rolls (say, a great set of defensive rolls, or knocks a PC down), or otherwise shows his awesomeness, I declare then and there (silently, not out loud) that he's no longer a mook and gets to make his rolls.* This way any given mook can turn out to be important just because of what he does.

These rules apply to NPC hirelings, too, but not full-out Allies (you paid for them, they roll) or special NPCs.

This approach speeds up combat, especially with large numbers of fodder types. They don't last long if they fail to defend, but they're still touch enough that you need to hit them hard enough to take them to 0 HP or less. This lets you use them in larger numbers (fun!) without ending up with a lot of bookkeeping and rolling and status tracking (not fun!)

Coupled with the Untrained Fighters rules from GURPS Martial Arts p. 113, this makes a clear line between skill and lack of skill, toughness and lack of toughness, importance and lack of importance. It also rewards high-damage strikes and makes you use the skills you've got to dispose of the weak opposition instead of encouraging you to take out just enough to win.

TL:DR version: Don't roll HT to stay conscious for mooks; they just fail. If you give them a name or Fit or Hard to Subdue or something, you're saying they aren't mooks. Roll for them.

* This is the "Sgt. a Wood" rule. Sgt. a Wood is the name of a sergeant counter from Cry Havoc. We used it on a battlemap to represent a no-name NPC in a big fight in my old GURPS 3e game. Oddly, he fended off a much more powerful PC, hurt another one badly, and then started to escape when the fight went bad. A PC pursued him ("I'll show that guy!") and in the process got cut up, knocked out, lost a fine knife, and ended up losing out a lot in the subsequent game from trying to finish him. From then on, whenever I'd use that counter for an NPC they'd open up on him with maximum firepower and get him down ASAP.

Amusingly, one of my players made a military PC who was a sergeant, and named him Andy Wood. "Call me A. Wood."


  1. Do the players know who you are/ aren't rolling HT for?

    1. I don't tell them but sometimes they can make an educated guess.

  2. Re: the "the "Sgt. a Wood" rule."

    In a Rolemaster Game many moons ago (like, 250+ moons) a low lvl NPC mook bandit archer survived a battle with the PCs by fleeing.

    I made him a recurring enemy, and he eventually became THE recurring enemy, and it was awesome. Ever since, I've been deeply in favor of ascended mooks.

    1. It's got a longer history than I even realized. A couple years back I read about how Gary Gygax promoted a previously nameless orc hireling up to a named hero based on how well he did in combat. It's where Quij the orc comes from, apparently. I didn't know it at the time but we were just perpetuating an old tradition of discovered greatness.

    2. I think we can all likely tell the tales of (a) Parry Hotter, the Mook Who Lived, and equally (and depressingly for the GM) well the tales of the endless series of (b) Big Bads who Died in the First Frackin' Round of Combat.

      My wife was once condescendingly advised that in order to injure the Angry Guy in Full Plate in GURPS Orcslayer, she'd have to aim for the eye slits with her bow, and of course, what are the odds of that?

      I shoot anyway.

      Patient explaining of probabilities.

      I. Shoot. Anyway.

      Sigh. Fine. Roll the dice.

      Oh. I rolled a 3. To the eye. Arrow through the eye into the brainpan? Yes, max damage on crit table, with x4 for brain? Dead guy in plate? Yeah, thanks.

      " . . . "


      In that same adventure, one other player rushed into a room and knocked the big bad flat unconscious on the first round of combat with a lucky series of rolls on a shield rush. Some nameless mook then proceeded to hit him down to -4xHP or so with repeated blows from a pick. Player didn't fail a single HT roll, so he was still going, but it was a classic inversion of "mook vs. named."

      Good times.

    3. Leave open the chances for this, as well as forcing players to treat every mook as if at some point he could turn out to be awesome, is why the rule is constructed the way it is!

  3. This is very similar to the mook rules that I used in my last DF game. The advantage that they share with the Savage Worlds mook rules, and are not shared by most other mook rules, is that there is no difference stat-wise between named and mook characters. A D&D 4e orc minion, for instance, has totally different stats from a non-minion orc, which makes it hard to promote a character from one status to the other. If the stats are identical, you can just choose to start rolling HT and *bam*, the mook's a full character.

    1. I'm not familiar with Savage Worlds, but it's good to hear they share that similarity. There is a serious advantage to starting with identical rules for all and then carving out exceptions compared to having different rules for different folks and then trying to cross over from one to another. "Okay, you're not an exception anymore!" is so much easier that way, while still allowing you to zoom in or out as needed.

    2. Savage worlds denotes important characters in the books with an icon next to their names. Ones without the icon are mooks. The stats are otherwise exactly the same. The difference in play is how damage is recorded. Mooks are either "up, down or out". "Up" means they act normally, and their minis (SW is minis-based) is placed upright as minis normally are. "Down" means the mook is shaken. This is vaguely similar to being stunned in GURPS and is represented by laying the mini on its side. Finally, "out" means that the mook is dead/unconscious, and is denoted by removing the mini from the table. Thus, there is no bookkeeping needed for mook damage. Important characters do require that you keep track of wounds and such. Since the stats are the same, it means you can easily promote a mook.

    3. Very much agreed with Peter's point here. For those of us who are old enough to have done this, I suggest we call to mind the epiphany that came with discovering RuneQuest having started on some form of D&D. All of a sudden, the monsters were rated on the same scale as the PCs! You could find out strong a monster was (in case it needed to bend some bars or break down a door), not just how much damage it did.

    4. I think the design approach that works is to have the same details for everyone, and then carve out exceptions from them. D&D started out as a very simple system, but then exceptions need to be added on. So you need to give monsters a ST score to have them open doors or bend bars, say, or give them a rule to have level advancement, or whatever. It's a simpler start but then complexity comes later. A more complex start means you just have to say who thinks don't apply to.

      I find the latter easier in play although it does mean a bit more work on the front end.

  4. For me it was GURPS rather than RuneQuest, but yeah, PC stats, NPC stats, and monster stats all being equivalent makes things much smoother. I do, however, find that in some cases that doesn't work as well. D&D 3e, for instance, did this, which mostly just made encounter design a pain if I wasn't just using pre-created monsters or NPCs. This is because D&D 3e is a prescriptive system--you follow a set of rules which determine what you can and can't do. You can't just say "I want to make a monster with these stats" because that might not be a legitimate build at any level. GURPS (and RuneQuest) are descriptive systems--you just write down the stats of the creature. GURPS has points, of course, and RQ has a character creation process that's meant to simulate a character's prior life history, but those are all built around a set of skills and such that don't have much internal structure. I can just say a GURPS NPC's stats are "ST 10, DX 11, IQ 9, HT 11, Shortsword-12" and that's about it. I might want to write down that the sword does 1d-2 imp or 1d cut so I don't have to look that up later, and give him leather armor with DR2, but I don't have to figure point totals, decide what non-combat skills he's got, etc. It took me mere seconds to create those stats, and most of that time was spent getting up, grabbing my basic set off the shelf, and looking up the damage of a shortsword. In my experience, GURPS is by far the best system for that sort of improvisation.

    1. I've been thinking about this. It's possibly a result of a class-and-level plus skills/abilities system. Rolemaster suffered from the some thing in the incarnation I played - you could sort-of get away with minimal stats for opponents but then you'd get stuck trying to figure out what skills were appropriate. Too many of skill X and he could be only Level Y, and skill A was too low for a guy of level B. GURPS doesn't suffer that, IMO, because it's not class-and-level but only skill based. You can assign out as needed and the point total is never that important.

  5. This is the way I've always preferred to run fodder monsters anyway. I figure if a monster was really meant to go down from -any- 1 HP attack then it'd be noted as having HP 1 instead of HP = ST.


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