I feel as though this post is the culmination of several other posts I’ve made/read here in the past. Or at least, one attempt at such.
A while back I posted wondering what separated persistent players from players who won most of the time. That is, what pushed apart the top tier from the middle tier. Clearly, newer players are going to lose a lot, but there is a whole middle echelon who are familiar with the game’s models, but lose to folks who have no greater experience than they.
It wasn’t the most well written post, came off much more arrogant than I wanted. Regardless, its a question that has been churning around for some time in my mind since.
Other people have written other posts, Danny Modesto’s ‘A Great Divide’, Chilly’s discussion on practice, etc. that make me feel like I’m not the only one who wonders at this. I think I’ve figured out part of the answer.
When I wrote my camping articles (I promise, I’ll finish them one of these days…) a while back, I was conscious of the necessity of laying everything out. A lot of beginners simply don’t understand the necessity, or the purpose, to camping, because they don’t think of their opponent failing to break the camp as a victory condition. I feel like I was sort of talking around a much bigger issue than camping.
A buddy of mine read my article about player tiers, and suggested that maybe the top tier were better at assassinating. I immediately felt like that wasn’t the case. I couldn’t describe why, precisely, but it was a strong feeling. It felt like almost the reverse, actually.
Enough stalling. I contend that one of the factors that separates the top tier players from the other competent players is the ability to recognize the necessity of assassinations, and, less importantly, carry them out.
I was losing to a top player a while back, and my caster was vulnerable. He didn’t take a shot, just kept chomping away at the edges of my army in safety. I commented on him farming army points, but that wasn’t it at all. He had like an 80% assassination, but the attrition was 100%, so he didn’t go for it.
I first stumbled on this behavior pattern in a match against a local. He was playing Ashlynn, I was playing eBaldur. His army was being ground down against the rooted wolds, he’d lost like 35 points in a 50 point game. Ashlynn got close with 0 focus, and I saw a juicy assassination. I shifted Megalith up to get the -2 defense, boosted a crevasse, did some damage. Then I had a wold watcher slam another one at her. Needed to roll a 2 on the distance. Rolled the 1. Guardian tried to slam Megalith onto her. Rolled the 1. Whatever, she’s at 0 focus and -2 defense and wounded. eBaldur shifts in and whiffs with all his attacks.
She cut him down without ceremony, and I’d lost a game that was so far in the bag I could have given it away to a good little kid as a christmas gift. The odds of getting neither slam, and none of eBaldur’s boosted attack rolls are staggering, but it was my own stupidity to let the dice roll. If I just sent up Megalith and did the crevasse, then just sat eBaldur back behind his Wold Wall that game was mine. Going for an assassination had killed me.
Anecdotes aside, what I’m saying is that the ability to evaluate an assassination is one of the most important player abilities you can cultivate. Here’s how I do it.
An assassination can involve several pieces that are either parallel or in sequence. Here’s an example of a parallel assassination.
3 Wold Watchers are going to move forward and shoot eNemo (no focus, full health at the start). Each needs a 9 to hit, each is dealing dice minus 4. 3 dice to hit a 9 is about a 70%. Damage is 3 dice minus 4, so figure around 6.5 per hit. 2 Hits might kill, 3 should.
So, 3 shots at 70%. You are .7 to get one, .49 to get 2 and, what, .35ish to get all 3? I’d round up because 2 hits might well be enough to get the job done, call this a 35% assassination, or one that’ll pay off 1/3 of the time.
The reason I’m calling it a parallel assassination is that each Wold doesn’t depend on the others. I figure each one has a 70% chance at giving me 6.5 damage. After each one fires I can elect to have the others stone form (if it whiffed), or keep pouring on the damage (if the rolls have been high thus far).
In a serial assassination, by contrast, each piece depends on the prior. An example would be Stormlord fishing out an warlock. Let’s say he needs to come forward 6 inches to be in Stalker range. Let’s say his Def is 14.
Stormlord can boost a TK at him, (3 dice needs 7 is a 90%). He can then boost a gallows (3 dice needs 7 is once again 90%). He needs to roll at least a 4 for the gallow’s distance (50%). So figure you are looking at a .9 * .9 * .5 ~40% chance. I’d bump it up to 45% chance because Gallows can fix a TK failure with a 6.
But it is essentially serial. I should start with the gallows, and if I miss I need to TK myself and feat. We didn’t get into the Warpwolf’s odds of killing the enemy, but in a real game we’d have to consider those as well. In a serial assassination each step enables the next, failure at any point makes the assassination fail.
In truth, many assassinations are combinations of parallel and serial. Consider the classic case of having charge lanes/distance, but needing to remove blockers. All of the ways you have of removing blockers would be parallel, then the important rolls would be serial.
The critical thing to realize is that adding parallel rolls is adding extra tries. Its a good thing. Adding serial rolls is adding extra steps, its a bad thing.
Evaluating assassinations could probably be its own article, for the purposes of this one it is only important that we are able to know how likely an assassination is to work.
More important than evaluating whether an assassination will work is evaluating whether or not you need it to. If you are losing the scenario next round, then you attempt a 1% assassination. If you are sweeping the enemy off the table then you turn up your nose at a 90% assassination.
Many times I have observed players that I consider ordinary players (not top echelon, but not newcomers) go for a 30% assassination while winning (occasions like that prompted my camping series of articles), or not try for a 10% one when they were essentially guaranteed a loss next round.
By contrast, top convention players attempt assassinations when they lose the scenario/attrition, and refrain from them when they are ahead. It is an important discipline to master.
This can help you in 2 ways.
First off, if you start to fall behind you get that one last chance to pull off the unlikely kill. I’ve seen strong players with strong lists lose out of tourneys in round one because there opponent realized that they weren’t going to make it and threw the kitchen sink at a kill.
My buddy was playing eGaspy at Gen Con, brutal list. His first round foe was playing eLilith. Dude bet the game on hitting pin cushion while eGaspy stood on a hill almost before things got under way. He knew he needed to assassinate because he was about to be attrition steamrolled. He took his shot and got the kill. If he’d waited until the attrition began he would have missed his shot.
Knowing when you have to try for an assassination lets you hope for high dice. The other half is probably more important though.
The other benefit of knowing when an assassination is incoming is that you are better able to protect your caster. If you are winning attrition/scenario, you can see that if you were the other player you would try a desperate assassination this round, and you can get your caster to safety.
I’ve seen top convention players play on numerous occasions, and as they take control of the game their casters start to fade back. They get behind cover, they camp, whatever it takes. Their job becomes not being assassinated.
Lastly, knowing when to try for assassinations prevents you from throwing away a game on an unlikely kill. This is a particularly bad habit of mine. Often times in the early going, with the game hanging in the balance, I’ll throw it away because I’ve seen a way to get a 10% shot on the enemy caster. Resisting this is key to getting to those top tables.
Here’s my rule. Try for the assassination only if you don’t think you’ll get a better one next round. Defend your caster in direct proportion to how well you think you are doing in the game (winning, camp/fort up. Losing, show a little vulnerability and hope their dice fail. Losing big time, give them the likely kill if it will let you win if their dice bomb out).