Handling group actions with big dice pools

So I’m wondering if anyone has any good suggestions about how to handle some combat heavy missions.

The challenge that I’ve found is that my group has become quite well optimized to do big group shoot and skirmish rolls. They have gotten to the point that a group skirmish or shoot roll can regularly include up to 10 dice, which means it rarely triggers a consequence, and they have multiple characters with the officer ability limiting stress taken from group actions. By default it makes the game feel very static, as the players really aren’t motivated to innovate or split up, or really do anything but group up and shoot.

Has anyone else encountered this problem, and how did you solve it?

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I haven’t met this problem, or not so severely, because our campaign reached Skydagger keep before the PCs’ action ratings went that high. Obviously I don’t know how you play, so my remarks are maybe not relevant. But in any case:

  1. 10 dice for a group action (GA)) roll seems a bit high if you follow the rules. I’m not saying it’s impossible. But if you’re not forgetting to apply the corporal rule, you normally do not have more than 3 PCs rolling in a GA (2 specialists, 1 PC max rolling for the squad). So it would mean that each and every PC has 3 or even 4 in Shoot and Skirmish, or that they all always push. Once again, it’s possible, but surprising.

  2. Maybe you haven’t presented enough situations that can’t be resolved by Shooting or Skirmishing, which has led your players to safely put all their xps in improving their Shoot and Skirmish actions rating. You could try to play on their weaknesses, since they apparently haven’t thought of boosting their other Action ratings. That’s easier said than done, I admit, because in BoB some missions are heavily combat-oriented.

  3. When the squad meets high Threat enemies (Infamous, Lieutenants), do not forget that you are allowed to have them act or hit first, and the PCs have to resist even before acting. Since Stress is a much rarer resource in Band of Blades than in vanilla Blades, this will make it more difficult for them to push, do GAs etc. Even Threat 1 or 2 undead can be menacing when you play on their specific strength: Crows are supposed to be very fast and agile, Spitters can cover you with acid from an ambushed position etc.

  4. But all things said, you are not the first to put the finger on this problem with FitD rules: at higher level, the GA rules tend to break the game because 6s come too often. Several hacks have got rid of them.

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I can’t find any mention of the ‘corporal rule’ in the book?

I’m my experience it’s usually 3-4pcs rolling plus 1 dice for the squad.

Well, that’s (partly) why you have problems.

Corporal rule does not exist as such. It is the unofficial name given to the rule described on page 226: “As part of a group action, the PC squad member with the best rating for that action rolls on behalf of the squad. If there is no such player, perhaps because all players are playing Specialists, or the player Rookies are separated from the squad—the squad gets one die, or two if they all Soldiers.”

It is also described by the author on this server, here:
https://community.bladesinthedark.com/t/rolling-for-squads/887/2

To sum up: you can’t have more han one squad member rolling, even if there are several PC squad members. Only one of them will roll for the whole squad (or none). That means, in a normal scenario, any GA will involve a max of 3 rolls: 2 specialists + 1 for the squad (a PC squad member rolling his action rating, or 1 or 2 dice). The exception is if you have a third specialist (a Medic with “Attached”), and he also participates in the GA.

That should solve some of your “overpowered group action” problem.

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Sadly the attaché rule has been a big reason for the challenge here. We have had the same medic on every mission save one from the start of the campaign (she’s super-badass and has multiple officer abilities to boot).

It does trim it down by a dice though… which is a step in the right direction.

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I see.

she’s super-badass and has multiple officer abilities to boot

So hasn’t she taken any Medic abilities? I mean, I don’t think any of the Specialists in the two full campaigns I’ve played (as player and GM) have taken more than 2, sometimes 3, new Special abilities throughout the whole campaign. Even for our Medic, who is the one who can go on every primary mission if they want to, and get more SA, but Harm and Trauma should prevent that from happening too often. And in order to be “super-badass” a Medic would have to put a lot of XP in Shoot and Skirmish before getting new SA.

Is it possible that you have been a bit lenient as a GM, so not “forcing” them to spend their resources (and stress)? I know I’ve been guilty of that. Also, I know of at least one GM who forgot the XP rules, and every Specialist and squad member got as many XP on secondary as on primary missions, leading to too fast advancement. Maybe, your players rely too much on Group actions because you add the effect from each PC rolling, instead of just taking into account the effect of the best roll (plus scale). That would make GA super-OP, and it’s also something I’ve seen. In fact, RAW, GAs are indeed safer, but they are less potentially effective than individual rolls. And when they don’t get that 6…

Ofc it’s possible that you do all the rest right and your players have just been good/lucky. In this case your only choice is to play on their weaknesses (not systematically though, that would be no fun).

Well I think that’s interesting, because it’s been a bit of a rocky road. A lot of other characters took the hits in the early game, so no injuries took her out of play, and the noble background has allowed her to completely reset her stress after every mission.

It’s 9 sessions in now, and she’s been on 8 of them, so she’s had a lot of time to pick up exp.

And no, I’ve been playing the effect rules correctly. Generally speaking they aren’t doing massive damage per volley (though she did take the officer ability that allows you to count 6s across multiple characters for criticals), but the odds of them generating a consequence are typically below 10%, so it doesn’t really matter.

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Yup. All I can say is that this confirms that a player, with an optimised character, who plays well, and directs their XP towards efficiency in certain group actions will indeed reinforce the “unbalancing” of the group action mechanism which, as I’ve said, has already been commented on often.

Group actions can be ridiculous. The fictional solution here is to lean into situations (including battles) that require the group to split up in order to handle (“Well, you can perform a group action against the Gaunt, but then the pincer move the Black Oak are making will leave you in a Desperate situation because you’ve left your rear unguarded.” or “Someone needs to hold off the two Cinderguard while someone else rescues the Commander.”), or situations that are too cramped/chaotic/etc. to allow the entire group to act together (“The mess of ditches, barbed wire, and barriers, don’t leave much room for being able to act together.” or “Unfortunately, your formation has been split apart by your charge into the enemy ranks, and there’s just no way to immediately reposition yourselves.”) Obviously, you telegraph all this first.

Depending on the circumstances, you could also require the leader of any group actions to make a Marshal roll in order to organize the attempt, before everyone can act as a group. With a failure leaving them disorganized, and no group roll possible, and a partial failure meaning they organize for the action, but end up split/disorganized afterwards.

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The fictional difficulty is indeed a good solution to make GA less frequent. “The mess of ditches, barbed wire, and barriers, don’t leave much room for being able to act together.” is a very good exemple of this.

But a potential problem with the second part of your suggestion is that the Marshal roll demanded before the GA could very well be framed as a Setup action, which would give a bonus to the GA in case of a 4-6, so this would not really help solving the problem of GA being too easy…

True. But I see multiple ways to handle that from a narrative standpoint. Either the situation can be so fraught that a group action isn’t even possible without someone successfully commanding everyone (so you rule that is how it is a set-up roll), or it totally counts as a set-up roll for the action and that’s no big deal because so what? It can still cause problems when their luck turns and it’s a 1-3 or 4/5.

But the book doesn’t say Marshal rolls are automatically set-up actions, it just says they work well with them. How a table decides to interpret this and when Marshal applies to set-up rolls is left open-ended.

There’s also the question of Position and Effect for these rolls…group rolls are great, unless you’re looking at Limited or No Effect, and more than one person has to burn Stress in order to improve that.

Remember the example in the book where a Heavy and the Ember Wolves are facing off against the Chimera? Despite acting together, just because the Heavy matched its Threat level, didn’t mean the group was able to, so it didn’t count. The same should apply to potency, position, and so forth in a group: the table could rule that if everyone in on the action doesn’t have a particular benefit/bonus, that benefit/bonus is not applied to the roll.

This would mean if you’re acting with a Rookie squad, you’re always going to be Threat 1, you won’t have potency, and the group’s effect level or position can’t be bumped by a Push, and might even be lower. At least not without other factors specifically affecting the squad. Significantly reducing the boom of even 10d group actions. (Imagine a group acting to bandage the wounded: if no one has medical training, it starts at No effect, or perhaps at Limited if led by the Doctor.)

So, in the case of using Marshal, you have to effectively marshal the squad not just to act, but to bring up their effect, and then also burn Stress yourself afterwards to Push for better effect for your own roll, if you want the improved effect from the set-up. Maybe the other Specialist can get away with not doing it, or maybe they have to as well.

Of course one could always just let them shine at group rolls…but inject more single-person events into play that just aren’t do-able as group actions. And if they fail at these, don’t forget to apply their Harm penalties when attempting future group actions. (Including: “Does it bring everyone’s effect level down? Does it put everyone in a worse position because they have to cover for you?”)

I agree, though, @A_B, group actions can be a pain to adjudicate, and avoiding group-action success-creep shouldn’t be quite this problematic in basic play.

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Eventually the enemy might try to work around the legion’s incredibly efficient volley fire. :smiling_imp:
I’m not specifically a BoB GM, but it seems to me that the Broken are quite intelligent enough to adapt.

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So I’ve decided to cap group actions at 6 dice, but compensate with having scale be more effective against groups of enemies. I feel like 6 dice is good because it means there is always a 33% chance of consequence, while simultaneously promoting the idea that characters shouldn’t have to dump too many points into shoot and skirmish.

If you’re going to do that, you better let them tweak their action dots.

I may be alone in this, but I feel like this is just how they want to play and they are deriving joy from it so maybe consider letting it happen?

If it’s bothering you so much you absolutely can’t stand it, then have a conversation with them about it. Let them know you’re not having fun and work out together how to alter your play style so everyone is enjoying themselves.

I’m 90% certain that you’re going to just flip the unhappiness onto the players by arbitrarily house-ruling caps on their fun.

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So, if you ever need more advice and discussion about this subject (as I’ve said, there are many), there is one with exactly the same question on the discord:
https://discord.com/channels/325094888133885952/598197796859936799/763195327343230996

And if you type “Group action” you will find many more, in the Band-of-Blades room, in the General room or the hack room…

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Your problem isn’t mechanical. It’s fictional.

If your group can cakewalk through a skirtmish/shoot group action? That’s fine. Let them. Let them feel good and cool and smart for creating an optimized group that can do that. Just don’t let them do it all the time.

If they’re able to solve every combat situation with the same tactic? That isn’t on them for abusing the situation - that’s on you for making every combat situation more or less the same. Off the top of my head here’s a few ways I’d approach it:

  • Attack them from both sides. They either split into two groups (and only one is going to get the officer ability boosts), or they absolutely dominate one roll…and auto-fail (1-3 result) the other, because they chose to disregard the threat.
  • Put them in a situation or terrain where formation fighting (i.e. a group action) isn’t viable (crossing a rope-bridge only wide enough for one person at a time, or a swamp where they can’t stay in formation).
  • Split them up. Easiest way is give them two objectives (set fire to the chemical vats, steal horses to get away) and not enough time to stick together to do them consecutively (reinforcements will arrive shortly to escort the vats to the new fortress).
  • Cavalry. Throw a dozen Knights of the Black Oak (if you’re using Render) at them. Full cavalry charge, lances down. Prior to WW1? Cavalry charges like that decimated infantry carrying flintlock rifles. So that’s Desperate position. Rough estimate? Your group will need to make 5 or 6 roll before they fill an 8-clock to defeat them - and if they trigger even one consequence? That’s 3 dead Rookies, a Medic with level 3 harm, and two other specialists with level 2 harm. That might teach them to vary up their tactics a bit.
  • Gut Sacks (if you’re using Blighter). Have two or three of these brutes, in addition to a bunch of rotters all around them, charge the players’ line. They likely won’t be able to drop all of them with a single roll - at which point the Gut Sack detonates, inflicting harm and corruption. Describe a Crow or two hanging back, seemingly directing the enemy - and imply that if they’re sniper had taken out the Crow (single action, rather than group) it might have thrown the Rotters & Gut-Sacks into disarray, giving the squad as a whole more time/options.

Those are just a few possibilities, off the top of my head. All of them respect the agency of your players. Your solution doesn’t. And, honestly, is overstepping your authority as the GM - and I say that as a Band of Blades GM.

Also, how is this Medic using the Noble heritage ability to recover all stress, all the time? They only get the effects of a boosted Liberty action (reset all stress) when the Quartermaster takes a basic Liberty action. If the QM is constantly doing back-to-back Liberty? Then your Legion is going to be coming up short on Materiel, be in need of recruits, and have lots of injured legionairres. That’ll catch up to them eventually.

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