The Problem of Group Stealth

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Freemage
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The Problem of Group Stealth

#1 Postby Freemage » Tue Jan 24, 2017 12:27 pm

Yeah, this needs its own thread:

Zadmar wrote:
Freemage wrote:Having one person be Sneaky McSneakface works fine for those situations where you want to get some key bit of info or bypass an obstacle (and in fact, it's arguably MORE reliable than having two Sneaky McSneakfaces, since that really just doubles the odds of one of them rolling like ass and either burning through their bennies, or simply being unable to re-roll because it's a Critical Failure setting. Better for players 2-5 to spend that skill die on obscure Knowledges.

In my experience, it's usually the case that the entire party needs to get past a particular obstacle in order to continue with the adventure. For example, the characters need to sneak past a zombie-infested shopping mall, or slip past an enemy watchtower, or creep through a monster's lair to continue their journey, etc. If the other players want to participate in the adventure, they'll have to make their Stealth rolls as well.


In which case, by the math, either this checkpoint turns into a Bennie Tollbooth, or the rest of the adventure turns into a slugfest (or both, and the slugfest happens after the unlucky player has been soaked for last Benny and still can't make the roll).

If you have a four-person party, each with d4 Stealth, then the odds of at least one of them failing a non-opposed check with no penalties is around 85%. A 6-person party pushes that to 94%. Hell, even if everyone has a d6 Stealth, then the odds of losing at least one Bennie from a group of 6 players is over 80%.

And none of that even includes situations where someone is pretty much guaranteed to have a penalty. If anyone in your group is "Power Armor Dude" or "Ogre Lady", you're pretty much done out of the gate.

And the flipside to "if the other players want to participate in the adventure" is, "if the sneaky builds want to have their party along as back-up". In short, requiring a group to sneak past an obstacle is tantamount to saying, "Give me X Bennies, or we stop the adventure here." Frequently, if the obstacle is a choice between sneaking past or fighting past, the party is better off if everyone pumped their combat skills. At least if I miss an attack, that doesn't mean everyone else in the party misses, too.

****

The source for the difficulty here is that Stealth is the only group activity where, every time, if one person fails, the entire group fails. In every other endeavor, it's almost always possible for other characters to 'pick up the slack'. Statistics side with the idea that someone is going to roll well, and that good roll will carry the day, even if someone else fails horribly. Even things like Swimming and Climbing can be benefited with group action. (Alternately, there are several skills where, so long as you have one person who is good at it--say, a d6/d8 and an appropriate Professional Edge--you don't really need anyone else to even pick up the dice: Driving and Tracking, for example.) With Stealth, though, the worst roll is the only one that matters.

As a practical matter, this either means the GM must write to allow situations where Sneaky McSneakface is able to go on alone, accomplish some task and come back to the group, or accept that any significant Stealth challenge is going to be failed by someone. And in either of those cases, the process of character creation tends to move towards anyone who isn't going to be THE party Stealth-guy ignoring the skill entirely. The rest of the group is going to be better off, overall, if everyone takes out their d4 Stealth and turns it into a d4 Knowledge (of differing types)--because you only need one person to succeed at the Knowledge roll.

So, if you concur with my assessment, what's to be done?

Well, this is Savage Worlds, which has a fantastic workaround already in the rules, if the GM wants to use it. Want to sneak an entire party past a zombie-packed mall? Fine. It's now a Group Dramatic Task. One person takes 'lead', rolling Stealth (at a penalty based on factors like the number of zombies, and, to keep some semblance of realism, a flat -1 penalty for every second person in the party, round down). Other PCs can roll to assist as normal, in order to counter the penalty--but if one guy fails the roll, it doesn't mean instant combat. You can even allow creative use of assistance skills--if the party's wizard has an appropriate spell, he can roll Spellcasting to assist by creating a distraction on the far side of the mall. The party has to accumulate 5 successes in five 'rounds', same as always, and everyone benefits from Sneaky McSneakface's infiltration abilities. Everyone's still involved, but no one is the de facto goat for not being able to make the roll.

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Re: The Problem of Group Stealth

#2 Postby zgreg » Tue Jan 24, 2017 1:28 pm

Freemage wrote:
Zadmar wrote:In my experience, it's usually the case that the entire party needs to get past a particular obstacle in order to continue with the adventure. For example, the characters need to sneak past a zombie-infested shopping mall, or slip past an enemy watchtower, or creep through a monster's lair to continue their journey, etc. If the other players want to participate in the adventure, they'll have to make their Stealth rolls as well.

In which case, by the math, either this checkpoint turns into a Bennie Tollbooth, or the rest of the adventure turns into a slugfest (or both, and the slugfest happens after the unlucky player has been soaked for last Benny and still can't make the roll).

Is it really the problem of the mechanics? I'd say that this is rather an example of a bad scenario design. You'd get similar "show stopper" (or "Bennie drainer") if you designed the adventure in a way that forces the PCs to make a Dramatic Task or Social Conflict using a skill no-one has...

OTOH I think that you might have forgotten about situational modifiers that apply to a Stealth roll. PCs may wait until it gets dark to get +4 bonus. Crawling gives them additional +2. This gives even the unskilled characters an automatic success against passive guards (well, assuming that they won't roll snake eyes ;) ).

If the situation forces PCs to sneak through an open plain in a daylight then either the players screwed something up or they were screwed by the GM. I wouldn't blame the mechanics.
Last edited by zgreg on Tue Jan 24, 2017 3:52 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: The Problem of Group Stealth

#3 Postby Freemage » Tue Jan 24, 2017 2:39 pm

zgreg wrote:
Freemage wrote:In my experience, it's usually the case that the entire party needs to get past a particular obstacle in order to continue with the adventure. For example, the characters need to sneak past a zombie-infested shopping mall, or slip past an enemy watchtower, or creep through a monster's lair to continue their journey, etc. If the other players want to participate in the adventure, they'll have to make their Stealth rolls as well.

Is it really the problem of the mechanics? I'd say that this is rather an example of a bad scenario design. You'd get similar "show stopper" (or "Bennie drainer") if you designed the adventure in a way that forces the PCs to make a Dramatic Task or Social Conflict using a skill no-one has...

OTOH I think that you might have forgotten about situational modifiers that apply to a Stealth roll. PCs may wait until it gets dark to get +4 bonus. Crawling gives them additional +2. This gives even the unskilled characters an automatic success against passive guards (well, assuming that they won't roll snake eyes ;) ).

If the situation forces PCs to sneak through an open plain in a daylight then either the players screwed something up or they were screwed by the GM. I wouldn't blame the mechanics.


Were you looking to quote me or Zadmar, there? :D Either you attributed his words to me, or cut out the portion of my post you wanted to reply to....

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Re: The Problem of Group Stealth

#4 Postby paladintodd » Tue Jan 24, 2017 3:42 pm

I think the Dramatic Task is one way around the problem. We do something similar with a Skill Challenge setup that works much the same way.

For a quick stealth check though, I wouldn't want to spend 5 rounds deciding. The quicker way I do it is to have everyone make a stealth roll and the party needs enough successes/raises equal to the number of people in the party. So Sneaky McSneakface "helps" ogre lady be quiet, it's worth for other players to have a little stealth still, and it's quick to resolve.

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Re: The Problem of Group Stealth

#5 Postby Freemage » Tue Jan 24, 2017 3:48 pm

paladintodd wrote:I think the Dramatic Task is one way around the problem. We do something similar with a Skill Challenge setup that works much the same way.

For a quick stealth check though, I wouldn't want to spend 5 rounds deciding. The quicker way I do it is to have everyone make a stealth roll and the party needs enough successes/raises equal to the number of people in the party. So Sneaky McSneakface "helps" ogre lady be quiet, it's worth for other players to have a little stealth still, and it's quick to resolve.


I like this one, too.

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Re: The Problem of Group Stealth

#6 Postby zgreg » Tue Jan 24, 2017 3:55 pm

Freemage wrote:Were you looking to quote me or Zadmar, there? :D Either you attributed his words to me, or cut out the portion of my post you wanted to reply to....

Damn, the latter. I've edited my post to fix it. :/

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Re: The Problem of Group Stealth

#7 Postby Zadmar » Tue Jan 24, 2017 7:10 pm

Freemage wrote:
Zadmar wrote:
Freemage wrote:Having one person be Sneaky McSneakface works fine for those situations where you want to get some key bit of info or bypass an obstacle (and in fact, it's arguably MORE reliable than having two Sneaky McSneakfaces, since that really just doubles the odds of one of them rolling like ass and either burning through their bennies, or simply being unable to re-roll because it's a Critical Failure setting. Better for players 2-5 to spend that skill die on obscure Knowledges.

In my experience, it's usually the case that the entire party needs to get past a particular obstacle in order to continue with the adventure. For example, the characters need to sneak past a zombie-infested shopping mall, or slip past an enemy watchtower, or creep through a monster's lair to continue their journey, etc. If the other players want to participate in the adventure, they'll have to make their Stealth rolls as well.

In which case, by the math, either this checkpoint turns into a Bennie Tollbooth, or the rest of the adventure turns into a slugfest (or both, and the slugfest happens after the unlucky player has been soaked for last Benny and still can't make the roll).

The examples I described are ones where the players know in advance that there's something they specifically need to sneak past. So if they've invested in the Stealth skill, as per my original suggestion, they would be able to crawl past the obstacle with a pretty good chance of success.

Freemage wrote:If you have a four-person party, each with d4 Stealth, then the odds of at least one of them failing a non-opposed check with no penalties is around 85%.

Which drops to less than 16% if they crawl past the obstacle. And why wouldn't they, if they know it's there?

Freemage wrote:Well, this is Savage Worlds, which has a fantastic workaround already in the rules, if the GM wants to use it. Want to sneak an entire party past a zombie-packed mall? Fine. It's now a Group Dramatic Task.

That'll likely eat up a lot more Bennies than individual rolls. Dramatic Tasks should have a penalty of at least -2, and on clubs that increases by a further -2 (with failure on clubs indicating that the worst possible resolution to the task occurs).

Dramatic Tasks have their uses, but they're much more challenging than normal skill rolls, and should be used with care.
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Re: The Problem of Group Stealth

#8 Postby Freemage » Tue Jan 24, 2017 10:49 pm

Zadmar: I'll admit I overlooked the 'crawling' option. That's going to seriously force me to reconsider my position, yes.

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Re: The Problem of Group Stealth

#9 Postby zgreg » Wed Jan 25, 2017 2:11 am

Freemage wrote:Zadmar: I'll admit I overlooked the 'crawling' option. That's going to seriously force me to reconsider my position, yes.

One can make his hands dirty trying to help, dig through the book to find and bring forth the forgotten wisdom of the Situational Modifiers but at the end it's the veteran with more than 3k comments on this forum and author of great material who gets the recognition. Typical ;)

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Re: The Problem of Group Stealth

#10 Postby Freemage » Wed Jan 25, 2017 8:14 am

zgreg wrote:
Freemage wrote:Zadmar: I'll admit I overlooked the 'crawling' option. That's going to seriously force me to reconsider my position, yes.

One can make his hands dirty trying to help, dig through the book to find and bring forth the forgotten wisdom of the Situational Modifiers but at the end it's the veteran with more than 3k comments on this forum and author of great material who gets the recognition. Typical ;)


D'oh! I REALLY have blinders on re: the crawling bonus, it seems. When I read your post, I locked onto the lighting modifier--which is often something the PCs have little to no control over. And ignored the bit about crawling, which absolutely does crush my initial odds analysis.

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Re: The Problem of Group Stealth

#11 Postby zgreg » Wed Jan 25, 2017 9:27 am

Freemage wrote:D'oh! I REALLY have blinders on re: the crawling bonus, it seems. When I read your post, I locked onto the lighting modifier--which is often something the PCs have little to no control over. And ignored the bit about crawling, which absolutely does crush my initial odds analysis.

Actually when I came up with the crawling + darkness combo I started to wonder if sneaking isn't broken the other way (onto "it's too easy" side) :)

Well, the situational modifiers are, err, situational ;) so they may not always apply (but I judge them to be important to this discussion). The players may also try to avoid Sneaking in some clever way, e.g. by diverting the guards attention (Sneaky McSneakface can move unseen and create a diversion) or disguising themselves (remember Odysseus's escape from the cyclop's cave? :) ).

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Re: The Problem of Group Stealth

#12 Postby Freemage » Wed Jan 25, 2017 10:16 am

zgreg wrote:
Freemage wrote:D'oh! I REALLY have blinders on re: the crawling bonus, it seems. When I read your post, I locked onto the lighting modifier--which is often something the PCs have little to no control over. And ignored the bit about crawling, which absolutely does crush my initial odds analysis.

Actually when I came up with the crawling + darkness combo I started to wonder if sneaking isn't broken the other way (onto "it's too easy" side) :)

Well, the situational modifiers are, err, situational ;) so they may not always apply (but I judge them to be important to this discussion). The players may also try to avoid Sneaking in some clever way, e.g. by diverting the guards attention (Sneaky McSneakface can move unseen and create a diversion) or disguising themselves (remember Odysseus's escape from the cyclop's cave? :) ).


In fairness, if you're crawling in darkness, you SHOULD succeed virtually all the time, even if you're not a trained ninja, so long as the guards are lax.

OTOH, trained and actively alert guards turn that TN 4 into a TN 6-ish (d6 Notice + Alertness), which makes failure at least a possibility again.

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Re: The Problem of Group Stealth

#13 Postby JamesG » Thu Jan 26, 2017 10:51 am

paladintodd wrote:The quicker way I do it is to have everyone make a stealth roll and the party needs enough successes/raises equal to the number of people in the party. So Sneaky McSneakface "helps" ogre lady be quiet, it's worth for other players to have a little stealth still, and it's quick to resolve.


I really like this, though if you combine it with the situational modifiers it may make Stealth too easy, so I would not do that. Maybe let the players "decide" how to resolve the situation. If they don't describe how they are sneaking past, use the quick and dirty group method described in the quote. If they go into details like crawling past, waiting till dark, creating a distraction, etc then each character's individual roll must succeed, but they each benefit from situational modifiers.

I also think the quoted system may help me solve my other "party roll" situation, the party Notice roll. That one has the opposite issue as the party Stealth roll in that it is very easy for the party to succeed. With a typical group of four or so PCs, someone is likely to make the Notice roll unless a Raise is required. Using the quoted system makes it a little less automatic, and the fluff for why it works this way is the more people in the group the more likely they are to distract each other, but having a greater number of observant people in the group makes it more likely that someone will notice something.

In cases where it makes a difference on who makes their Notice roll and who doesn't, like determining who is Surprised in an ambush and who isn't, each character makes an individual succeed/fail roll as normal. The "party Notice roll" would be used in situations where it only matters if one person succeeds, like noticing a clue at the side of the trail as the group moves past it.

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Re: The Problem of Group Stealth

#14 Postby amerigoV » Thu Jan 26, 2017 12:35 pm

Freemage wrote:In fairness, if you're crawling in darkness, you SHOULD succeed virtually all the time, even if you're not a trained ninja, so long as the guards are lax.

OTOH, trained and actively alert guards turn that TN 4 into a TN 6-ish (d6 Notice + Alertness), which makes failure at least a possibility again.


Plus sound can offset it the other way. Its one thing to crawl away from guards in a watch tower vs. a guard 10' away on a still night.
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Re: The Problem of Group Stealth

#15 Postby MatthewJHanson » Thu Jan 26, 2017 10:09 pm

In situations like this I have a rule that one character getting a raise can cancel out another character's failure.
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Re: The Problem of Group Stealth

#16 Postby paladintodd » Fri Jan 27, 2017 9:03 pm

JamesG wrote:If they don't describe how they are sneaking past, use the quick and dirty group method described in the quote. If they go into details like crawling past, waiting till dark, creating a distraction, etc


I assumed that the Stealth skill implied, you know, that the PC was trying to PC stealthy - crawling, using shadows, using distractions, etc. I wouldn't give any bonuses for describing those things.

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Re: The Problem of Group Stealth

#17 Postby ValhallaGH » Fri Jan 27, 2017 9:36 pm

paladintodd wrote:I assumed that the Stealth skill implied, you know, that the PC was trying to PC stealthy - crawling, using shadows, using distractions, etc. I wouldn't give any bonuses for describing those things.

No one is making up new mechanics for Stealth modifiers, they're talking about stuff that's part of the skill in the core rules (page 27).
Also worth remembering, crawling characters are Pace 2.
Darkness may be a bonus to Stealth but it's also a penalty to the characters' Notice and ranged attack rolls. :evil:

As an aside: I've always been amazed how often people will overlook someone in the open, if that someone moves in certain ways. Just keeping a certain posture and moving certain ways can keep people from realizing that you're eleven feet in front of them. I have no idea how that works in people's brains, but having seen it in action, and even done it to people, I know it's a real thing.
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Re: The Problem of Group Stealth

#18 Postby Freemage » Fri Jan 27, 2017 11:01 pm

ValhallaGH wrote:
paladintodd wrote:I assumed that the Stealth skill implied, you know, that the PC was trying to PC stealthy - crawling, using shadows, using distractions, etc. I wouldn't give any bonuses for describing those things.

No one is making up new mechanics for Stealth modifiers, they're talking about stuff that's part of the skill in the core rules (page 27).
Also worth remembering, crawling characters are Pace 2.


And... now my analysis is completely sideways, because that means that you need to make multiple rolls for each character (since you'll get 10" each roll, and if we're talking about 'sneak past the gate', you're dealing with at least 30-40" of movement).

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Re: The Problem of Group Stealth

#19 Postby GruffaloCrumble » Sat Jan 28, 2017 3:30 am

Another option is to step away from the mechanics of the stealth roll and look at it as a roleplaying problem. In similar situations in books & films, Sneaky McSneaky would creep ahead and cause a distraction to lure the guards away from their post, creating a window for less stealthy allies to pass.

If a character is loud and clumsy, it makes little sense to try and fudge the system to give that character a better chance to succeed at something he is naturally unsuited for. Instead, players should be looking to alter the situation to one more favorable to their skill set.

My two cents (or pence, being British). :)

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Re: The Problem of Group Stealth

#20 Postby zgreg » Sat Jan 28, 2017 6:03 am

paladintodd wrote:I assumed that the Stealth skill implied, you know, that the PC was trying to PC stealthy - crawling, using shadows, using distractions, etc. I wouldn't give any bonuses for describing those things.

Not necessarily. I recommend this topic: viewtopic.php?f=4&t=44596


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