N18 The fundamental flaw of all campaigns

TopsyKretts

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An explanation of the fundamental flaw of all modern Necromunda campaigns (and why they suck).

DISCLAIMER: This is a controversial topic and the point of view presented here will be negative.

It seems like many people aren't aware that all campaigns are designed to let the winner take everything and loser to lose everything. Similar to how single-player strategy games on pc works. Except this is multi-player with friends. This isn't a result of unlucky rolls or unlikely results of a battle. To the contrary, this is designed to be the most likely outcome of any campaign.

First off, a clarification on statistics. The examples shown here will be the most likely outcome. Not necessarily the actual or only outcome. It is possible for a winning successful gang to suddenly have all their fighters die. That is however unlikely. This discsussion is about what is most likely, so will not take into consideration unlikely events (just note that they are acknowledge and do exist).

Second off, this discussion will make comparisons to the most relevant games to Necromunda. This should unarguably be stuff like:
  • Blood Bowl.
  • NCE.
  • Mordheim.
  • GorkaMorka.

All these games have similar contents:
  • factions (gangs/teams/warbands)
  • campaigns (campaign/league)
  • development over the course of a campaign:
    • suffer setbacks (injuries/deaths)
    • gain income (gold/credits/money) from resources (territory/racket/structure) and objectives (loot/touchdowns)
    • experience (XP/SPP)
    • earn various bonuses


For simplification, these examples will start with 2 identical gangs played by 2 "identical" players over a campaign. All income will grant equal amount of money.
Only 2 players will be considered, in real life it will often be more players. If you want, you can consider each player a group of players, but it won't affect the outcome.
Each player will start out with identical gangs, all gangs have a "rating", meaning the total power of the gang, how injured they are, how much money they got, what expensive skills and gear they obtain, how much XP and levelups they got.
 
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TopsyKretts

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Example 1: Blood Bowl

First battle: One random player wins, let's say A wins this one. Each player is awarded the same amount of money, X + 10 per touchdown. Let's say X is 40, winner has 3 TDDs and loser has 1 TDD.
- Player A is awarded 70 money (40+30)
- Player B is awarded 50 money (40+10)

Player A now has higher rating than player B. This will make player A more likely to win the next battle.

Second battle: Player A wins. Same result and rewards as last match.

This is the total income obtained by the 2 players over the course of a campaign:
1638198164096.png

Top graph is winner (player A), having optained a total of 750 money.
Bottom graph is loser (player B), having obtained a total of 500 money.

In addition to pure money income, the winner will increase their rating further by having earning more XP (by scored more objectives and inflicting more damage). So in total, the difference in rating will be higher than just the income alone. However, income cannot be safely stacked (there's a risk of losing money if you are above a certain limit), and even with excess money, each faction has a limited amount of stuff to buy, and buying excess stuff (like re-rolls) will bloat the rating, granting the underdog stronger bonuses like star players etc.

So let's say rating improves by 5% each battle for the winner. However the loser still gains some income and XP regardless of the result, and is able to improve it's rating by some extent, even if having to recover and repair their team from injuries and death. Let's say the loser improves rating at 1%.
Winner's rating multiplier: 1.62
Loser's rating multiplier: 1.10

So there's some discrepancy here, awarding the winner a stronger, bigger team than the loser.
 
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TopsyKretts

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Example 2: Necromunda

Unlike all the other similar games, there's no upkeep here, and each victory will grant a "resource" that will continue to bring income after all future battles.

First battle: One random player wins, let's say A wins this one. Player A gains bonus credits from the scenario in addition to a permanent resource which will grant extra money after all future battles. Let's say each territory grants 10 and the scenario grants 5.
- Player A is awarded 25 money (2 resources + 1 scenario reward)
- Player B is awarded 15 money (1 resource + 1 scenario reward)

Second battle: Player A is now more likely to win, gaining yet another resource.
- Player A is awarded 35 money (3 resources + 1 scenario reward)
- Player B is awarded 15 money (1 resource + 1 scenario reward)

This is the total income obtained by the 2 players over the course of a campaign:
1638199425436.png

Player A (winner) accumulates a total of 700 money
Player B (loser) accumulates a total of 150 money

Winning in Necromunda correlates strongly to inflicting most damage to the enemy, which in turns correlates to more XP, move more freely around the battlefield and can gain more loot or other objectives, which in turn correlates to more income.

To simplify:
  • Winning = more credits, rare items, bonuses, rating, resources
  • Losing = less credits, rare items, bonuses, rating, resources


In addition to pure money income, the winner will increase their rating further by earning more XP (by scored more objectives and inflicting more damage). So in total, the difference in rating will be higher than just the income alone. Income can safely be stored when needed (no risk of having excess money). Less money is needed to recover from injuries/death. A stronger gang not only inflicts more damage to the enemy but also suffers less damage in return (because the enemy loses more fighters and damage output). More money can be poured into expensive, competitive and rare items. There will be more champions and less fighters in recovery, giving a better modifier to finding rare items. More reputation will grant further bonuses from hangers-on and brutes.

The loser on the other hand, needs to spend more money on recovering their losses, less amount of champions, more fighters in recovery and therefore harder to find or afford rare and expensive items.

Let's say rating improves by 10% each battle for the winner. The loser still gains some income and XP regardless of the result, and is able to improve it's rating by some extent, even if having to recover and repair their gang from injuries and death. Let's say the loser improves rating at 1%. After 10 games, the winner and loser moves further and further apart:
Winner's rating multiplier: 2.59
Loser's rating multiplier: 1.10

Compare this to the previous result for Blood Bowl!
 
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Kiro The Avenger

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The fundemental problem is that Necromunda stakes every benefit on the same thing (winning) and every flaw on the same thing (losing).
Further expansion below.

Since win/loss is often derived significantly from who kills the most/best, that means the winner is very likely to be walking away with the most xp from kills, whilst the loser is walking away with the most injuries from deaths (and vice versa).
So the winner wins and the loser loses.

Plus reputation and credit income from scenarios is derived almost entirely from who wins and loses.
So again, the winner walks away with the most credits and the most reputation.

Permanent resources (eg settlements) are also handed out based on who wins. If you win the scenario you can a powerful recurring benefit, sometimes a direct ingame buff, making it easier for you to win, sometimes an income, allowing you to afford more and better gear, ultimately it still makes it easier for you to win.
The loser gets nothing, or even worse, loses something they already had.

Finally, and so tellingly, even aide objectives - intended to give the "little guy" something to work for, are exponentially easier to achieve for the winner. Some are incredibly powerful benefits like large credit payouts for a challenge that amounts to "win the game".
So again, the winner gets everything and the loser gets less.

This leads to infamous spiralling, where players that do well rocket ahead and continue to do well. Players that initially do poorly can never recover.

The game has scant little to compensate for this.
Hardly any permanent benefits, and what is permanent is handed out to winners as well or just inferior to other options (eg house favours).
And what small ingame benefits are available (bonus tactics cards) do little to redress the disparity in games, and nothing to redress the disparity between games.
 

TopsyKretts

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Thanks! I made this because it seemed some people wasn't aware this problem existed. The standard counter argument is stuff like "let the weaker gangs combine forces against the top dog" or "have the GM make a big gang to stomp the winner". Which just seems like a poor short-term solution to this permanent problem. Sure you can do that, and it might even be fun. The point is that you shouldn't be required to do intervene like that.

Imagine a Wood Elf team in Blood Bowl winning 5 matches in a row, only to be stomped by the commissioner who makes a 2000TV chaos kill-team all with mighty blow, frenzy, guard, tackle and whatnot. Who would think that is fun?
 

Thorgor

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And the guy dares claim he is no game designer... 😋

Yep, that's exactly the problem with linear growth (BB) vs. exponential growth (NM), aka snowballing.

That being said, the game does have a few mechanisms that are designed to limit snowballing.

One that often comes up is that some scenarios give a clear advantage to the attacker. The problem with this (and something a lot of people seem not to be aware of) is that those scenarios will seldom be played unless you house-rule scenario selection. The official scenario selection rules for Dominion will result in this:
8%Topdog chooses
19%Border Dispute / Marauders (symetrical)
31%Stand-off / Tunnel skirmish (symetrical)
25%Sabotage / Sneak attack (asymetrical)
17%Underdog chooses
In other words, this will only get the underdog an advantage 2 game out of 5.

To be honest, I've not checked whether subsequent campaign variants have fixed the issue or not.
 
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Troubled Child

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My experience with BB is that the smaller the league, the less well the campaign works. It has teams that are hard counters to others and needs the variety of teams to balance itself. I understand it's in the latest edition to a degree but I always wanted a more detailed campaign that involved building up your stadium and running the back office. Maybe even some actual character to the players and some plot about what is happening in the area all the teams play in.

Necromunda doesn't care about progression. It's only supposed to last 6 games and they want you to buy all the expensive extras so they need to ramp up your power level quickly. If your gang gets crushed then great, because that means you are going to spend more money in order to compete next time.
 
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Sundown Dreamer

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If I understand that correctly, you mean and criticize that winners become more and more powerful too quickly and rush away from the losers and can no longer be caught. Ähm, somewhat reminiscent of Monopoly?

The reason wouldn't be difficult to understand. If someone loses right at the beginning and has no more chance and there is no hope of turning the game over, I wouldn't be interested in the next games either. That wouldn't be much fun anymore.

Then I would put forward the following theses:

1. A campaign should have a result at some point.
2. A campaign should not be decided in the first game or in the first half of a campaign.

And my personal one:
3. A campaign system should be able to regulate and balance itself as far as possible.

And then the next question would be what is the easiest way to achieve that?
 

JawRippa

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Thanks! I made this because it seemed some people wasn't aware this problem existed. The standard counter argument is stuff like "let the weaker gangs combine forces against the top dog" or "have the GM make a big gang to stomp the winner". Which just seems like a poor short-term solution to this permanent problem. Sure you can do that, and it might even be fun. The point is that you shouldn't be required to do intervene like that.
Even then it is not going to help much. It is easy to inject gangs with credits in newmunda, but really hard to make them part with them. Since you only lose equipment and weapons (which are generally more expensive than new bodies) on a result of a 66 and only if you left the battlefield with your gang, you can't even bring down the bigger gang by OOA'ing most of them. All you'll do is send most of them into recovery (which can be worked around by said gang just taking 1 battle against weakest gang to let everyone come out of recovery). It'll require a constant pressure by overtuned arbitrator gang to topple topdog, we are speaking 3-5 games in a row. Nobody is goint to find that fun.

We need noticeable boost in permadeath and weapon/equipment loss, but allow a safety net for underdogs to be able to play the game after they get stomped flat by a topdog. We did it by making 63-66 be equal to 66 and you always lose all gear. In addition we use reputation as an alternative currency which is awarded for winning or playing against stronger opponent - and the lower your rating is the better uses you have to jump back into the game. One of main uses - get free gangers and weapons until your gang rating is equal or slightly lower than rating of a starting gang. So if underdog loses a leader and a few champions, they can easily jump into the game, but if topdog loses that, they've been knocked down a couple of pegs.
 
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Jayward

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Argh, I could really have done with you not making a post on this topic while I'm so busy; I could write pages on the campaign design flaws.

But briefly, a part of the problem is the imbalance between the three campaign rewards; reputation has no real use and is slow to accumulate, experience is useful but incredibly slow to accumulate, and money can be used to do more or less everything in the game, including replicating the effects of the other rewards, and is very quick to accumulate.

Were it not for the near-necessity of certain skills like Nerves of Steel and Spring Up for melee characters you could remove both experience and reputation from the game and campaigns would be 95% the same over their 7 cycles run time. Hell, you can even buy those skills technically.

Another part is the lack of curbing mechanics for people who have shot ahead, or catch-up mechanics for those who fall behind.

Another part is the high lethality meaning that losing will often leave you well down for the next game, so there's a negative feedback loop here along with the positive feedback loop for the money...

Like I said, I could write pages, but I'm going to have to make this brief acknowledgement of the problem and come back at another time
 

JawRippa

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Another thing is that being unemployed is overpowered when it comes to Necromunda campaigns :D.
If you have few players who have a lot of free time and can often meet and play against each other, they will have a lot bigger income than other gangs. This can lead to campaign becomming destabilized and in need of reset in just a few cycles - because those players have played a month worth of games. There has to be a limit for games per campaign cycle (any time frame that your group is okay with) that are followed with collecting income. If someone wants to play a lot - sure, but all you are getting are scenario rewards, which should be just enough to compensate your visits to doc.

Not to mention that the whole challenge and territory at stake is a really really dumb system - how do you resolve 5 van saar players who all want their gang-specific territory?
 
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Gilbragol

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Hi, first time commenting here.

Thank you for writing this post. I'm a new to Necromunda and after reading the rules for campaign play I also got the feeling that winners will be winning more. Great to see it written this clearly.

Taking some inspiration from Warhammer 40k 9th edition and having a primary and secondary objectives that both scores you points and earns you experience might be the way forward.
 
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Kiro The Avenger

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The funnest games I've ever had have been themed skirmishes.

In Skirmish, people are free to try weird and whacky loadouts that just don't work in a campaign.
They're free to try weird and wacky scenarios because the result doesn't have long term consequences.
There's no leaders killed, having a prized champion killed can really spoil your whole night, and you can't play with your cool miniature again.

The "campaign or quits" attitude kinda saddens me tbh.
 

TopsyKretts

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Speaking of scenarios, found something weird in the new "Gunk Tank" scenario from the Outcast book. It is about running towards the middle, pick up gunk and carry it back to your friendly battlefield edge. The win condition is to retrieve most gunk. The battle ends when only one gang remains. Then I noticed this:

If one gang forces the other gang to flee or takes all of their fighters Out of Action, they add D3 gunk tokens to their total before ending the battle.

How is this different from "The last remaining gang gains +D3 Gunk tokens."?

Getting a little bit off topic here, but just had to share this one.