System Design: Fighting a Horde
One staple of action adventure stories is that at some point in time, you really have to deal with superior numbers. The best ways I’ve seen to replicate the horde of orcs scenario involve enemies you can take out in one shot, and extremely simple statistics to keep things moving as fast as possible. I’ve been inspired by what I found the best implementation I’ve seen in usage, and I’ve come up with minion squads.
A minion squad is a group of lesser enemies up to a total of 6, as six is just about the largest group of people that could surround and gang up on someone. It’s also a believable number for roving mobs of civilians, thugs, squads of guards or soldiers and groups of ninja assassins.
Minions don’t have individual stats, that’s too much detail. Rather than Attributes and skills they have a Teamwork rating and a Threat, or competence, rating. Together these add up to a dice pool and a modifier. Yes, this means that minions can roll a single die if their teamwork is bad enough. Everything else you need to worry about beyond how much damage they do is based on these two ratings. So initiative and their Combat and Mental Defenses are based on one or both of these two stats.
When players face minions they can take them out of the combat by making a roll against one of their Defenses. If the player chooses an unusual way to put that particular minion down and he succeeds, that minion is down. It gives control to the player without needing the GM to have lots of rules to adjudicate the downfall of the minion. So just like in various films, including The Princess Bride, Star Wars and many superhero movies, the protagonists can defeat their enemies in any way they can think of. They don’t have to kill them all.
Now, just because minions don’t have skills and attributes, it doesn’t mean they have to all be the same. Minions can have traits, which can serve to make them more tenacious, tougher, harder to outwit, more canny fighters or just dedicated to their cause. So, a group of elite killers can be represented by minions just as easily as a group of effete noblemen out to embarrass the protagonists.
Minion squads act as one. That is they have one initiative rating, they have one action per round, they deal damage once when they hit, etc. They do have a bit of staying power, even though they go down quickly just because of numbers. Each successful action that defeats a minion only takes down one of them. They are subject to the same rules for multiple actions as heroes, so it is possible that they could successfully take on multiple protagonists simultaneously, but the greatest threat comes from multiple squads.
They are designed to be cannon fodder, but fodder that more often than not can fight back and maybe even overwhelm our heroes. A single squad of minions versus a party is a quick and dirty fight, a bunch of squads, or a squad with a few cohorts or enemies with it, is suddenly much more dangerous.
Here is an example Squad:
Teamwork: 2, Threat: +2
Actions: 2D+2, Damage: Medium (3D) Ranged
Combat Defense: 8, Mental Defense: 7, Initiative: 2D+2