Saturday, November 12, 2016

Gathering Intelligence in GURPS Mass Combat

The role of intelligence chief in GURPS Mass Combat is pretty boring: you roll the dice in the reconnaissance contest, which can have meaningful effects in the battle, but you don't make any decisions. It would be better if the intelligence chief could actually go out and gather intelligence: who is the enemy commander? what are his goals? how many troops does he have? what strategies does he favor in battle? how good a commander is he? There are the kinds of questions that influence strategy.

Fortunately, GURPS already has a fairly robust system for gathering clues and making deductions from them: it's the Investigation system in Monster Hunters: the Mission. It's not a 100% match for a fantasy mass combat game like New Dawn, but I think the concept can be modified to fit. And the concept of having the intelligence chief gather intelligence in a fantasy game can be generalized for all Mass Combat games.

Gathering Intelligence

An intelligence chief creates intelligence by making deductions from data. Deductions answer questions like the size of the enemy force, the skill of the enemy commander, the objective of the enemy operations, and the like. Deductions are earned by successful skill rolls against Intelligence Analysis, usually heavily penalized. Those penalties can be minimized by gathering data. Data is gathered through investigating sources, such as reading history or interrogating prisoners. When the intelligence chief feels he has enough data, he can attempt a deduction. Repeated attempts are possible, but are penalized, so it helps to gather more data between attempts.

Data and Sources

Each piece of data removes a -1 penalty on the deduction roll. Data can be gathered from a variety of sources, usually through a skill roll. Repeated attempts at the same source are at a cumulative -4. The intelligence chief doesn't have to gather all the data himself: he can use data gathered by other people at no bonus or penalty.


Military history can provide information about a famous commander's abilities, preferred strategies, and skills. Roll Research or History with a bonus or penalty for the fame or obscurity of the commander. Gain a bonus for a better library. Earn one piece of data for success and another piece for every two points of MoS.

If the enemy commander or any of his known troops are supernatural, then Hidden Lore, Occultism, Theology, and Thaumotology can be used to gather data about the abilities of the commander or the qualities of the troops. Gain a bonus or penalty for the fame or obscurity of the subject, but Occultism halves bonuses and doubles penalties. Earn one piece of data for success and another piece for every two points of MoS.

In a high-tech game, Computer Operation and Computer Hacking can be used as complementary skills on any research attempt. Success on Computer Operation gives a +1 on the research roll. Computer Hacking can be used to access secure data bases for better information: for every -2 penalty taken on the Computer Hacking roll, gain a +1 bonus of the research roll.


Interrogating witnesses and enemy prisoners is the best way to gain data, but it can be very difficult.

Interrogating a friendly or neutral witness can give data about type and number of enemy troops that the witness has seen. Roll versus Interrogation, with Detect Lies and Diplomacy as complementary skills. Earn one piece of data for success and another piece for every two points of MoS. Repeated interrogations of eyewitnesses of the same force are at a non-cumulative -4.

Interrogating a prisoner is more difficult but more valuable. Rank 0-2 prisoners can provide data about the type and number of enemy troops and the enemy commander's goals. Higher rank prisoners also provide that data but can also provide data about any other topic. Roll contest of Interrogation versus the prisoner's Will, with Detect Lies, Intimidation, and Psychology (Applied) as complementary skills. Earn one piece of data for success, a bonus piece for the prisoner's rank, and another piece for every point of MoS. Interrogating multiple members of the same unit are at a non-cumulative -4.

Special Abilities

Various advantages, spells, prayers can be used to gather data. The possibilities are pretty wide. Successful use of any any provides one appropriate piece of data per 5 points of ability cost. Unresisted abilities that have a success roll gain another piece of data on success and another piece per two points of MoS. Contest abilities gather another piece of data on success and another per point of MoS. The types of data depend on the ability used, but are generally pretty far-ranging.

Examples: Mina uses her Channeling ability to contact the spirit of a general defeated by the enemy commander. She rolls Will, at +2 for her auto-trance ability, and gets complementary bonuses for Detect Lies and Diplomacy. She'll earn three pieces of data on success (2 for Channeling being worth 10 points and one for the success) and another for every two points of MoS, and can gather data on the enemy leader's abilities and preferred strategies. If she'd used her Mind Probe ability instead, it would have been a contest of Interrogation versus Will and she'd have earned 5 pieces of data on success and one more per point of MoS.

Anyone who has data can think about it to gather further inferences. This is a Meditation roll at -5, with a +1 bonus per piece of data already available. Gain one additional piece of data on success. This can only be done once per question.

Intelligence Coups

Intelligence coups are unpredictable events that provide significant data, such as capturing an enemy courier with orders from the capital or stealing a paymaster's logbook. Coups are always reconnaissance adventures (Mass Combat 30) and produce 10 pieces of data to answer an appropriate question. Coups provide a lot of data, but are still subject to analysis and can be misinterpreted.

Questions and Deductions

At any time, the intelligence chief can analyze the data and attempt a deduction to answer one of the following questions. Each question is penalized, and each piece of data relevant to the question removes a point of penalty. On success, the GM answers the question exactly. On failure, the GM provides an incorrect answer as determined by the question. Repeated deductions are at -2, and failures always give the previous result, except critical failures give a new result.

Complementary Skills
Answer on Success
Range on Failure
What are commander's personal special abilities?-5Occultism, Psychology (Applied)Any Gifted Commander advantages, any advantages or disadvantages with a power modifier, any racial template advantages or disadvantages1d random Gifted Commander or racial templates, capped by MoF
How skilled is the enemy commander?-10StrategyEnemy commander's strategy skillEnemy commander's strategy skill +/- 2d capped by MoF
What is the enemy commander's preferred battle strategy?-10StrategyEnemy commander's preferred strategyA similar strategy is MoF if 5 or less, or a random strategy
What is the enemy commander's objective?-10Psychology (Applied), StrategyEnemy commander's objectiveA similar objective if MoF is 5 or less, or a random objective
How skilled is the enemy commander?-10Psychology (Applied), StrategyEnemy commander's strategy skillEnemy commander's strategy skill +/- 2d capped by MoF
How many troops and of what types are in the enemy force?-6AdministrationList of element types and countList of element types and counts, with each count +/- 2d*10%, capped by MoF
What is the quality of the enemy force?-8AdministrationList of enemy elements and their equipment and troop qualityList of enemy elements, with gear and troop quality increased or decreased by up to one level per 3 MoF

Critical success on any deduction generates 3 pieces of data that can be applied to answer any one question as the intelligence chief manages to deduce additional information from the answer.


My initial inspiration for this was Glen Cook's Black Company books. At the start of the books, the Black Company is hired on by an evil empire and finds themselves engaged in feuds among the mysterious sorcerers known as the Taken. The Company doesn't even know the names, much less the abilities of the Taken or their armies at the start of the story, and that air of intrigue is something I want to reproduce in New Dawn.

As I thought about it more, I realized that the intelligence chief is a boring role. The solution is to let the intelligence chief actually gather intelligence, using the traditional methods of research and interrogation. I should probably add a section for high-tech signals intelligence, but honestly that's both complicated and outside my immediate needs so I'm not going to.

As I said, I started with the Investigation framework for Monster Hunters. One significant change I made was turning deductions from something that happened every time someone found a clue (as happens in Monster Hunters) to something that only happened when the intelligence chief decided to attempt a deduction. My limited experience with Monsters Hunters was that a deduction per PC per clue meant that the power of iterative rolling allowed the PCs to deduce even very complicated puzzles through the sheer luck of someone critically succeeded. With 6 PCs, it only took 4-5 clues for someone to critically succeed, which meant puzzles could be solved during the first investigative scene. Shifting that deduction - with penalties for retrying, which means repeated attempts rarely give better results - to a decision on the PC's part should hopefully improve play.

The assumption is that the intelligence chief will generally fail his analysis, but hopefully with a small margin of failure and nearly correct results. I think this is an easier approach than Monster Hunter's requiring large margins of success to fully deduce information.

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