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Ben Kimball
Ben Kimball's picture
Using Brute Squads
brute squad

Hey everyone!

The other night I used a Brute Squad in my game for the first time, and I'm not sure I did it right. It felt... anticlimactic. Here's the scene: the three Heroes sit at a table at an outdoor café in Vodacce, enjoying their evening espressos. Suddenly from around the corner comes a woman wearing all black, running flat out, pursued by five guards in the livery of a local nobleman. The Heroes being Heroes, they leap up to interfere with the guards. So I decide that the guards are a Brute Squad of strength 5, and I ask the Heroes for their Approaches. Hero 1 wants to kick the empty chair across from him into the path of an unrushing guard, so I decide on Brawn + Brawl and he rolls 3 raises. Hero 2 decides to casually back into the road, pretending to examine something on the roof and acting absent-minded, so I decide on Panache + Wits and she rolls 2 raises. Hero 3 wants to loudly call out a greeting to the nobleman the guards work for in the hopes of distracting them, but he's not sure who that nobleman is. I decide on Wits + Scholarship to figure it out from the livery, and he rolls 3 raises.

OK, non-Assassin Brutes always go last, so we're on 3. Hero 1 spends a raise, and one of the guards goes tumbling head over heels. The Brute Squad is down to strength 4. Hero 3 spends a raise, and one of the guards screeches to a halt and frantically bows deeply in all directions. Strength 3. Now we're on 2, and Hero 2 backs into the confused crowd, causing yet another guard to trip in his attempt to run headlong into her. I ask Hero 1 and 3 what they do, and now it seems obvious to everyone that nothing is required. In fact, once the Heroes had rolled 5 or more raises, the whole episode was essentially over, since the Brute Squad only had Strength 5 and acts last. So that was not a very satisfying outcome. "I spend a Raise." "Me too." "Then I do too -- now they're gone, right, because we spent 5 and they never got to act?"

Did I do it wrong? Should the Brute Squad have acted after the first two raises were spent on 3, dealing 3 Wounds to a Hero? Should this not have been an Action Sequence at all? Perhaps using a Brute Squad itself was wrong?

Or did I do everything right, and that's just how it's supposed to go?


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Wolfflin Huyghen
Wolfflin Huyghen's picture

You did it well, but for sure you need more brutes an consecuences. At the begining it's a little messy, but you can get it .

Try with 5 Brutes x hero, in a swamp, with water (1 consecuence for all) and see what happens wink

PS: Brutes are an abstraction. Don´t place them in a map. If they want to hit them, they are going to do it.

Salamanca's picture
That is how it works as far as mechanics are concerned. What you need to add is some sort of environmental or situational reason to even resort to the dice. The squad was never a threat to the heroes as long as they want to involve themselves so you can resolve this through roleplay. If you want to use dice and conflict for the scene, add some consequences that will need to be bought off. ( Tripping the guard may trigger a consequence of starting a street brawl. Wandering into the street could put a player in the path of a cart OR a drunk Duelist. Calling a nobleman's name may have a consequence of him being in earshot or worse, lead to a gossip talking about how casually the hero was tossing the name around). You can also add opportunities they may prefer to take like identifying the woman being chased. The idea is to add complications and incentives that they either accept and deal with or buy off leaving part of the squad active. ALTERNATIVELY: you can ask for approach, let them roll and seeing that they have plenty of raises, concede that they will win and let each player describe an action to eliminate a member OR a benefit for the scene they gain for each raise. (Maybe hero one trips his guard and gains the respect of some urchins who hate him. Hero two wanders into the crowd, knocks a guard over and tumbles into the arms of a possible love interest. ). The trick is just to add layers on top of simply removing the threat.
BluSponge blusp...
BluSponge blusponge@verizon.net's picture

Yeah, Strength 5 brute squad isn't much to write home about. Best I can tell you did everything right. Light weight squad giving the heroes a chance to shine and strut their stuff.

Thoughts on how someone might make the scene even more dramatic? A timed consequence on a high raise (On raise 5 the brutes ride her down. Anyone got five raises? Anyone?). Give them the pirate quality (spend a danger point to absuct the woman). A hidden assassin takes pot shots at the heroes. A second squad of reinforcements show up. Innocent bystanders. Spend a danger point at the start just to mess with everyone. The woman is actually the villain of the scene.


Salamanca's picture
Sorry Wolfflin, but I disagree on the idea of just piling on more brutes. If the GM has to continually throw 15+ brutes at the players in every encounter it gets to be a joke. Sometimes, the plot just calls for a few and that means they will be easily beaten. This is a problem in the mechanic that a handful of brutes will offer no problem beyond wasting time. I recommend GMs find ways to deal with such in a narration rather than falling to combat.
Wolfflin Huyghen
Wolfflin Huyghen's picture

I started wonderfull one shoots VS 20 brutes or more, + 3-5 Consecuences. I really don´t like combats, but it´s a way to let shine the fighters and make them think that it's better avoid combats. 

I really disagree with the idea of waste the time of the players with a bunch of brutes that one of them can make dissapear easily wink

Donovan Morningfire
Donovan Morningfire's picture

Remember that Brute Squads are not meant to be a serious threat to the Heroes.  They are frequently a brief inconvienience while the Heroes proceed through the story to their goal.  Consider Inigo Montoya vs. Count Rugen's guards in the final act of the Princess Bride; against a normal person those guards might have been a threat, but to Inigo those same guards were merely a minor speed-bump.  Jack Sparrow can more often than not run circles around the nameless mooks that are chasing after him, be they cannibals, pirates, guards, or soldiers, often without ever drawing a weapon, and yet he got largely stonewalled by William Turner (quite probably a Duelist, or at least had the Duelist Lite Advantage) in the first film.  Luke Skywalker in Return of the Jedi plowing through Jabba's guards is a prime example of a well-trained Duelist tacking on multiple Brute Squads and just demolishing them, with Boba Fett being a minor nuisance at best to Luke; same can be said with Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon simply carving through ridiculous numbers of rank-and-file battle droids in the early part of Episode 1.

It's also going to depend on how your players built their Heroes.  If you've got a party of 3 Duelists, then Brute Squads are going to go down ridiculously fast, not unlike the Three Musketeers facing off against a contingent of the Cardinal's men.  I ran a brief one-shot for some friends where there was not a single Duelist in the party, and even then a single Strength 5 Brute Squad would have been of no real threat to them; good thing I opted for a trio of Strength 3 Brute Squads instead, which posed a threat, but not a grave one, and just barely made it into Round 2 of the Action Sequence.

The real threats to the Heroes in an adventure are going to be Villains, with the lower ranking Villains being tantamount to henchmen that are there to worry the Heroes and the high ranking Villains being the ones that can truly wreck a Hero's life, and not just in combat.  Cardinal Richlieu was a very dangerous Villain, not because of his physical prowess, but because of the huge amount of political and even social influence he had.  Giovanni Villanova was often seen as one of the most dangerous Villains of 7th Sea's 1e because he had so many ways to destroy you, with physical combat probably being the least painful method at his disposal.

In short, your Heroes should rarely face nothing but Brute Squads in a fight, especially if there's one or more Duelists in the party.  NeoTanuki has a thread featuring low powered Villains, and some of those can easily be used as a lesser lieutenant to lead the Brute Squads that the party is facing.

Also, don't simply throw a single Brute Squad at your Heroes, no matter how high or low their Strength; if anything, break your Brute Squads up into smaller groups, so that they still present a greater threat to the party at large instead of just a single Hero the way a lone Brute Squad would.  A trio of Strength 5 Brute Squads is going to pose more of a threat a group than a lone Strength 15 Brute Squad.

Dono's Gaming & Etc Blog

BluSponge blusp...
BluSponge blusponge@verizon.net's picture

I think the trick to making brutes interesting will be their abilities. Spend a danger point and something happens. So when the brute squad shows up, the heroes never quite know what they are dealing with.

I also agree that extra environmental consequences are key. If the ONLY thing the heroes do is throw raises at the squad, you are going to have to throw ludicrous amounts of brutes at them to make a dent. But if a hero has to choose between a brute and putting out a fire before it gets out of hand... If 7th Sea is going to be a game about choices than its up to us GMs to ALWAYS put more than one choice in front of the players.

Something I did with a barroom brawl that worked very well. Each hero had a strength 5 brute squad to deal with. But at the beginning of each round, before the player's first action, I rolled on q random table to see what other consequences they had to deal with that round. It forced them to make choices and kept the brutes involved longer than they otherwise would have.

Ben Kimball
Ben Kimball's picture

These are terrific, well-thought-out replies. Thanks to everyone for their input!


Catalina Arciniega
Catalina Arciniega's picture

I still think brute squads suck. The whole mechanics of dealing with them is too simple.

Our GM decided on some house rules:

1st: brute squads and allied squads do not take each other out. The fight with each other on equal grounds unless a hero or a villain is leading one or both squads or decides to fight the Squad head on.

2nd: You can't simply take down brutes with raises, you have to narrate how you deal with each brute. Like I punch the first brute on the face making him stumble backwards and crash with the brute behind making both of them fell down, then I pull the punching arm of the next brute throwing him out of balance crashing with te brute in front.

3rd: Depending on the scenario you're not able to take on an unlimited amount of brutes, if there are close combat brutes and brutes with ranged weapons you won't be able to face both at the same time. At most, each hero who doesn't have duelist advantage, is able to take as many brutes as his/her rating in the fight skill. This means brutes on your back are able to injure you even if you can't confront them directly so we have to fight smart and make estrategies like holding an inconscious brute so that his companions won't dare to shoot at us, or fighting back to back, or fleeing to narrow alleys so that we can fight without being outnumbered.

I find this flavors up the story and makes us more creative in our storytelling.

Antti Kautiainen
Antti Kautiainen's picture

They can use left over raises to interact with nobleman. And I would've made the identity of nobleman as opportunity. Shouting greetings would be the action. Knowing who he was or for whom he was working for is very useful information opening lots of opportunities.

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