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Start of Absurdists GM Guide

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This thread is a rough guide for GMing, primarily intended to address the intersection of mechanics and GMing, and how to look at things from that regarding.  With the expectation/goal that the mechanical constructs exist in service of the narrative one.


Or, less pompously: How to manipulate the mechanics and challenge of a fight.

This is not a bible, or canon.  This is a guide, and can be adopted or dropped as needed.  But it can be used to scale pre-made, or existing NPCs against the PCs involved in a thread.

The lead in is a rough rule:

In general, I estimate that character can fight up to 3 PL ranks high without it being mechanically problematic.  This assumption is predicated on no tradeoffs, and represents the average PLs of protagonist and antagonist groups.  Though it can be weighted, though this will be discussed in depth. I refer to this as PL Differential.

The assumption is based on central tendency for most rolls on a d20 to be about 7-12.  And that the rough assertion that there is a 5% flat chance a given result. (Yes I am rounding)

Which translates to at 12, or higher, it then follows suit that you will have a 45% chance to hit (40% for 13 or higher).  At this breakpoint of a PL Deviation +3, the probable outcome swings clearly in favor, and generates and mitigates the ability for an HP generated reroll to be beneficial as it effectively swing favor greater than the simple 60% in favor of the higher PL character.


Deviation from Null Tradeoff can result in more difficult combat, switching from a more expected/static more and goes to a more dynamic/organic model, and can reduce the PL D

As does non-Damage/Toughness Interaction, enough that I would argue that an Attack Shifted character may not count towards their full PL differential.

And Impervious Toughness on the NPC side should impact the PL differential to a greater degree.

Minions Corollary:

In general this is a non-issue.  I recommend adding a classification of ‘super-Minion.’  I.e. a minion that can’t be Taken 10 on.  Or allow defeat of Lieutenants on 1 Hit, depending on circumstance.

Example, following the above logic

Two fully Attack Shifted characters at PL10 without modifying feats, versus one fully Tough Shifted NPC w/Impervious Tou 11 translates in a very difficult, or impossible battle as no configuration can produce a sufficient damage source to impact the NPC.  And as such might as well be a PL Differential 5.




Here are some samples, based on Pro-wrasslin’ match structure to apply them to fights using my approach:.

*Jobber/Squash match.  Here is just gonna whup the snot out of the baddies and/or minions.  this also can be used if the heros get their hands on a villain who can't really fight them.  But can arrange events to impact them.  I.e. taking down the mastermind villain and serving commuppance.  Works best in Start (minions/lower baddie) or End (if mastermind).  Effective Combat PL Differential should be 2-4.

*Hot Match:  This is close, and both the baddies and the goodies are gonna go.  And they should go hard, so both can show off, or it be close.  This can go anywhere, and is a great pace setter, or capstone.  PL Differential Recommendation is none

*Out Numbered:  Goodies can win this, but they are outnumbered or betrayed.  This can be a win or loss, but what matters is the 'against greater odds.'  This should be Middle or End.  Differential Recommendation:  None.  It is numbers not power that creates the drama.  Depending on character construction, however, Outnumbering scales fast, and non-linearly due to action economy, so 2 to 1 in favor of non-Minion NPCs would count as a +2 or 3.  Whereas 3 to 1 can count at +3 to 5.  Use sparingly.


Monster Squash:  Big bad beats the crap out of the hero(es).  It's simple.  Curb stomp battles should be rare, to save their impact.  Used to show perseverance.  Suitable for Beginning or End.  If End recommend hero Win, but at a cost, or barely.  Unless you are setting up persistence.  PL Differential Recommendation +2-4, w/Tough shifting, or lots of resistance to the PCs bailiwick or tricksy non-Damage actions.

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A good start TA. 


Looking at our guidebook and such, I was thinking that maybe this should be a category under Getting Started.  Just like there is a Player Guide, we could have a GM Guide with a number of different topics.  I think what you have so far could be a topic titled something like “Considerations for Scaling Opposition’s PL” or something similar.


We could then include some other topics.  One that might be worth mentioning is the use of Canon elements and requesting approvals, which does not seem to happen much anymore (unless it is something we have stepped away from and I missed that).  For that particular topic it would be well worth it to note that it is rare the refs completely deny permission to use a canon NPC or location, but we might sometimes require some tweaking of an idea.


I am sure there are a number of other topics we could come up with for tips for GMing.  (and we should note that other than say the canon element approval, the topics are just suggestions on how things could be done).

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Personally, I use the Encounter Danger Rank system developed by Elric and Jackelope King on Atomic Think Tank.  It may not be for everyone, but I think the system's a great rule of thumb to consider.  


Step 1: How Dangerous?
Encounters are rated by how dangerous they are, or how difficult it will be for the players to overcome them:

Danger Rank: Description
0: No Danger; there is almost no possible way that the PCs could suffer injury, much less defeat
*: Minimal Danger; the PCs have almost no chance of being defeated
**: Modest Danger; the PCs stand to suffer some injuries if they're not careful
***: Significant Danger; the PCs are likely to win the fight, but it will require smart play to come out on top 
****: Serious Danger; the PCs are going up against a real threat and could just as easily win as they could lose, and will need to play smart to win
*****: Severe Danger; The PCs are going to be outmatched and without very clever gameplay and teamwork, they're more likely than not going to lose
******: Overwhelming Danger; the PCs are very likely to lose the encounter, and only tremendous luck or playing at the top of their game can see them through

Step 2: Challenge Rank
Next, you need to figure out just how many NPCs to challenge your party with (and just how powerful to make them). Depending on how challenging you wish to make the encounter (see Step 1), you can have more or fewer NPCs of higher or lower power level. To determine this, you need to determine the total Challenge Rank for the encounter:

Encounter Challenge Rank = Danger Rank x Number of Party Members

So if a group of four PCs is going to face an encounter of Serious Danger (****), then the encounter will have a total Challenge Rank of 16.

Step 3: How Many NPCs? How Strong?
The total Challenge Rank of an encounter can be distributed in any way you like among the enemies the PCs will face. You can divide the Challenge Ranks to many NPCs, or only a few. Depending on how many ranks you assign each enemy, it will change what Power Level that NPC is.

NPC's Challenge Rank: NPC's Power Level
Challenge Rank 1: Party's PL -4 or lower
Challenge Rank 2: Party's PL -2 or -3
Challenge Rank 3: Party's PL -1
Challenge Rank 4: Party's PL
Challenge Rank 5-6: Party's PL + 1
Challenge Rank 7-9: Party's PL + 2
Challenge Rank 10-13: Party's PL + 3
Challenge Rank 14-19: Party's PL + 4
Challenge Rank 20+: Party's PL + 5

So long as the total Challenge Ranks of all of the enemies put together are equal to the Danger Rank x the number of PCs in the party, you'll still have an appropriate encounter for that Danger Rank. A Challenge Rank 16 encounter for a party of four PL 10 PCs could consist of four PL 10 enemies, or two PL 12 enemies, or one PL 14 enemy, or two PL 10 enemies and one PL 12 enemy, or eight PL 7-8 enemies [since the above table is using integer values, an enemy at party PL -2 or party PL-3 has Challenge Rank 2], or just about any other combination you can imagine.

A helpful aid for this stage, especially if you're trying it for the first time, is to put a stack of poker chips or pennies in front of you for each enemy's Challenge rank. As you add or subtract enemies, or increase or decrease their power level, you can track it easily with the tokens.

Minions are weaker than villains of the same PL and their challenge ranks reflect this. Using the above notation, minions would often be worth a fraction of a challenge rank; to avoid this, minions are listed as minions per challenge rank. The minions come out of the same challenge rank budget for the encounter. For example, if you want to include challenge rank 4 worth of minions of Party PL-3, use 3 minions per challenge rank * 4 challenge rank= 12 Party PL-3 minions. 

The power of minions can vary greatly with how spread out they are combined with the area attack/Takedown Attack capability of the party. Minions may not be as challenging to a particular group as these numbers suggest. This table is based on the idea that 4 minions= 1 villain of a given PL. Besides the formal minion rules, minions tend to be weaker in other ways; e.g., they generally don't have abilities like Mental Blast! 

Party PL-8= 16 minions for 1 challenge rank 
Party PL-7= 12 minions for 1 challenge rank 
Party PL-6= 8 minions for 1 challenge rank 
Party PL-5= 6 minions for 1 challenge Rank 
Party PL-4= 4 minions for 1 challenge rank 
Party PL-3= 3 minions for 1 challenge rank 
Party PL-2= 2 minions for 1 challenge rank 
Party PL-1 to Party PL= 1 minion for 1 challenge rank


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