Monday, April 25, 2016

Lions and Tigers and Bug-eyed Monsters, Oh My!

What could be more fun for your players than to be in a wilderness situation and to be confronted by a giant mutant insect? Alien worlds in sci-fi literature are often teeming with interesting life forms. The Wampa ice creature from The Empire Strikes Back is only one example of an animal that presents a major challenge for exploring adventurers.

How dangerous is that bug, anyway?
Offhand, I'd say very dangerous. Run Away!
The animal encounter tables give two numbers expressed in xD for the animal's fighting ability. The first is hits to unconsciousness, the second is hits to kill.

An Autopistol does 3D-3 (average 8), and is best at Short range or less.
A Rifle does 3D (average 10) and is good out to Long range.
A Shotgun does 4D (average 14) and is best at Medium range or less.
A Laser Rifle does 5D (average 18) and is good at all but Close range.
A character with skill-1 and average DEX will need to throw 7+ to score a hit. That's 58% probability. So we can assume every other shot, more or less, will miss.
I have consulted the site for averages on die rolls.

A 50 kg animal (such as an aardvark or wolf) has hits of 4D/2D On average that makes for 14 hits & 7 hits, for 21 total – this is equal to the 777 stats of an average human PC. So, that wolfoid beast is near equal to a human in toughness. Creatures this size may have tough (jack equivalent) hides but don't have the mass to support significant armoring. Jack will not stop guns. One PC with a handgun will have to hit it twice, or a shotgun once, to put it down. An LR will drop it in one shot.

At 100 kg, the next step up, (such as a St Bernard dog) hits go to 5D/2D or 18 & 7, or 24. For a doubling of mass, that's not a big step up in toughness. At this size it's time for creatures to start sporting tougher hides (mesh equivalent or better). If it does have armor, a handgun or rifle may need three hits to drop it. An shotgun or LR might get it in one, but two shots is possible. This size critter is a lot tougher than a human.

At 800 kg (such as the largest bears) the average hits are 7D/3D, or 24 & 10 for 34. By this point, the critter can take a couple of hits and keep walking. This size creature is a challenge for multiple PCs. Three rifle rounds may be needed, or two LR bolts. If it's hide is armored, it will survive more hits.

The animal size column of the creation tables keeps going up, and so does the Hits column. Rhinoceros or elephant sized animals and larger are possible, and correspondingly tougher. After 400 kg, the animals have damage bonuses. Extra large animals have damage multipliers to reflect greater attack power. That 800 kg ursinoid?  Its claws can do 4D+3 damage, average 17. Yeah. That'll be the end of your PC in one go if it gets close enough.
I detect . . . dinner.
Once a critter is down, of course, the PCs are likely to make sure it stays down by shooting it again. So the hits to death part isn't really useful information. The coup de grace rule in the combat section makes that second number irrelevant.

Does the animal creation system need changing?

I suggest we change things in interpretation rather than design. The first number represents the bulk of the creature's health, the point at which its desire to attack will be overcome by self-preservation and the creature flees. A carnivore on the hunt may hesitate to battle a foe that's demonstrated an ability to hurt it. Human NPCs get a morale roll to see if they run away. Why should animals not also have a morale check? If the creature fails the check, it retreats at its best speed. Some creatures like the carnivore/killer may fight to the death, but most will run away and seek an easier meal. 

As an alternative for hunters, the first number could be the point at which the creature can't recover on its own. It will continue to lose strength, like 1 point per 30 seconds until the second number is exhausted and the creature dies. An animal hunted for food might flee after being wounded, necessitating a chase. Characters who have the xeno-medicine specialty under Medical skill could attempt life-saving surgery on such a creature.

Another possibility is to assign maximum wound points to a critter based on its size, rather than leaving it to random die rolls. As each 1D adds on average 3 points to the critter's total, bigger things are not that much tougher. Past human size, If a critter battle is going to be the climax of the adventure, give the thing Battledress-tough hide to make it a big challenge

Thoughts on running an animal encounter

The ‘Attack if’ and ‘Flee if’ numbers provided by the animal encounter tables are used only at the start of the encounter. Throw for Attack and Flee in the order presented. Throw the second only if the first target is not met. If neither target is met, the creature remains in place, either hidden or in sight of the PCs. It might move around (stalking) but takes no decisive action until the PCs act. Once the PCs do something, then the referee should roll for Attack or Flee again. 

Once a creature has been wounded, it will respond with which ever action is first in the description. Herbivores will flee, while the other types will attack. The animal will fight back, if it can tell who attacked it. Otherwise, the creature will attack the nearest character to it.

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