Monday, February 17, 2014

74. Resolving PEFs - Assistance Needed!

I mentioned in my last post (somewhere down around the middle when the dinosaur first appeared) that I was unhappy with the method I was using to resolve PEFs.  PEF stands for Possible Enemy Force, as used in Two Hour Wargames rules.  It's a method of maintaining uncertainty of what enemy you may be facing in a game, as you sort of "play against the rules."

One thing Ed of THW does is to pre-load the PEFs in his personal games, meaning he makes a list of possible enemies he might encounter, and then when it is time to resolve the PEF into an actual enemy he has a starting point; or you might say he has a better idea of what's coming without it being purely random, and yet it remains unpredictable.

So for my current solo game, I had the choice of using the pre-written PEF tables in the "Adventures in the Lost Lands" rulebook as is, or of modifying them to suit my tastes.  Considering that I have added to the list of possible enemies as compared to the rulebook, I have decided to ignore the original lists and use my own.

However the main thing that I am not happy about is the methodology of resolution.  I don't really like the default "roll 2d6 and consult the table."  I feel it is a bit ... inaccurate, for lack of a better word.  Everyone knows that the results of a 2d6 roll produce a bell curve effect of results, with 7 having the highest chance of appearing, and 2 and 12 the least chances.  And yet the basic table is simply a list of possible dinosaurs with no real regard to where they are placed on the 2 to 12 scale.

I recognize that the way to correct this would be to properly scale the entries to match their potential for appearing, but I don't really know what that should be; and it might change depending on how dangerous the particular location is, which is completely unpredictable and would be entirely arbitrary.

Here is an important point, my stumbling block, if you will:  I don't want arbitrary in my randomly determined enemies.  I want randomness properly mixed with appropriateness.

I think that a 1d6 chart would be more balanced (especially in keeping with the fact that THW rules use nothing BUT d6's), with perhaps a sub-chart of a 2nd d6.

With that in mind, here is what I have come up with.  The assistance I need is in determining which of them will produce the better effect of randomness properly mixed with appropriateness.

(You will see "Monster 'A'" and "Monster 'B'" below.  This is just a way of keeping some of the surprise for what might appear in the games.  I don't want to give it away before you get the chance to read about it!)

My modification of the Original 2d6 Table:
2,3       Nothing Appears
4,5       Something is Out There; Next Turn Roll Again ignoring any results of 5 or less
6,7       Dinosaur (Feeder)
8,9       Dinosaur (Ferocious)
10,11   Men (Cavemen)
12         Roll Again

The primary thing I dislike about the above table is that it does not take into account my newly added monsters.  Naturally I could fit them in.  What I do like is that everything has an "equal chance" of appearing, in the sense that each entry has two numbers associated with it.  However, as I mentioned before, the bell curve of 2d6 actually weights this in favor of 7 appearing the most often.  I don't know how to decide which monster should appear more often than another.  Maybe it should be a Feeder; maybe not.  But the main thing is I don't want to have to decide this "for myself" each and every time I roll on the chart.  I want it pre-arranged.

Another thing I changed from the original table is that I don't increase or decrease the likelihood of something appearing based on whether or not it is the first or the fifth PEF.  The original tables may things less-likely to appear the further on you go (which always seemed a little backward to me).  My "world" is big enough, I feel, that each time you encounter something, it could be the same entry as the previous roll.  In other words, I just use one table.  I like simple.

My 1d6 Table:
1  Monster "A"
2  Monster "B"
3  Mammals
4  Dinosaur (Feeder)
5  Dinosaur (Ferocious)
6  Men (Cavemen)

The above table benefits from simplicity, and straight-up even odds of each entry appearing.  However, what I don't like about it is it does not take into account that, perhaps, sometimes certain monsters should appear more often than others.  As I said in the paragraph above, I don't know how to decide which monster should appear more often than another.  This one is almost too simple.

My 1d6 Table with a 2nd d6 Sub-Table:
1,2  Ferocious
          1,2  Monster "A"
          3,4  Monster "B"
          5,6  Dinosaur
3,4  Feeder
          1,2,3  Mammal
          4,5,6  Dinosaur
5,6  Men (Cavemen)

This table currently rates as my favorite, because it is the most impartial with regards to what appears when.  It's pure 1/3 odds of which type of monster appears, with a second roll detailing what sub-type appears.  This seems to be suitable randomness (without being just purely random), and it seems to be properly mixed with appropriateness (as forced by the 2nd d6 roll for sub-type).

My biggest problem with this is the initial d6 roll.  There is, in fact, no weighting for which type creature appears; and I don't feel comfortable with arbitrarily removing or lessening one's chances as, say, the following:

1,2  Ferocious
3,4,5  Feeder
6  Men

The assistance I seek from you, my few and wonderful readers, is to help me see any flaws I've missed with regards to the different methods.  And to help me with my creative roadblock regarding the weighting of this last method, always keeping in mind my mantra of " I want randomness properly mixed with appropriateness."

Thank you, thank you, thank you (in advance) for your help and assistance!


  1. Well one thing you might do is to have a number of different tables (each weighted differently but with all possibilities present) for differing terrain types . . . in other words you don't always have to use the same table but can roll on a number of tables depending upon how dangerous (or safe) you figure the terrain to be (but everything would be possible depending upon how the roll of the die turns out.

    -- Jeff

  2. Ditch the dice-driven tables. Instead, use one or more decks of cards. Stack each deck with a desired distribution of critters: whatever distribution of carnivores to scavengers to herbivores to blank cards (or treasure/artifact cards?) you think appropriate. Use one deck for each major area you want to explore and change the distributions of cards in each deck depending on how lethal you want the area to be.

    I have used this technique successfully for my WWII solo games, adjusting the number and types of decks for the strategy I want my automated opponent to use. For instance, say I want my opponent to use the tactic of having mostly infantry up front and tanks toward the rear. I'll use two decks, one with mostly infantry units and the other with a higher number of tank cards.

    I then deal a random number of cards out from the first deck into likely locations along the enemy's front line. Then do the same for the enemy's "second echelon". Alternately, I might use three decks for left, center, and right. You could even use six decks for two echelons each left, center, and right.

    Perhaps have one or two cards mixed in with each deck that say "Stampede," like the herd of Gallimimuses being chased by a T-Rex in Jurassic Park.

    I hope this helps.

  3. I like Jeff's suggestion if you want to use dice and tables. But I really like using cards; as Pouncing Tiger said, you can customize decks as needed. Cards can also have any stats or other needed or useful info, such as any special abilities for example. You could even use the cards as a place to track hit points or other "bookkeeping" during the game.

  4. Thanks, guys, very much for you suggestions. Sorry for the delay in replying, I've been away from the table. I need to let these simmer in my subconscious for a while and see what boils up. I really appreciate you taking the time to help. Cards or dice, cards or dice? Didn't Shakespeare write a sonnet about that or something...?

  5. To draw a card, or roll a die,
    THAT is the question.

    Whether it is nobler in the mind
    to suffer the capricious whims
    of a fistful of knucklebones,
    or deal...
    perchance to match,
    a pair of jacks or queens. =P

  6. *groan* I take all the blame, I asked for it!