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A response to the role combat and danger in EotE


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#1 LethalDose

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Posted 06 April 2013 - 11:41 AM


This is a response to the following response to one of my comments on a different thread.



LethalDose said:


I've posted this opinion before, but I'll do it again here:  I LIKE the fast, brutal nature of the combat in this game.  It feels like combat carries serious danger and encourages the PCs to be more creative.



To which ErikB responded:


"Would it be fair to say that you regard combat as more of a necessary evil, rather than an end in itself?


kinda an action scenes link story elements together approach rather than a story elements link action scenes together kind of thing?"


Sorry, for the wierd quotes.  The forum is screwing up the quoting.  The orginal posts can be viewed at the end of the link above.


I created a new thread since the statement and my response is fairly off topics, and the OP of that thread explicitly requested no debates on the previous thread.


So, again, I want to make it clear that the statement that I see combat as a "necessary evil" in no possible way reflects my view of combat in EotE, or most other roleplaying game for that matter.  As the name "Star Wars" implies, combat is clearly part of the "Star Wars experience", and, when done right, combat is a fun and exciting part of that experience.  Combat can and, when appropriate, should be used to advance the story and link story elements together.  I don't think it should be used as filler, because something with all that rolling should be influential (we'll get into player agency below).


Now, there are two points that need to be made to make clear my stance on the topic is moderate, and not some "all or nothing" viewpoint as may implied by by statements like the one above.


First, I stated above, "Combat is a fun and exciting part of that experience".  Combat is just that, a PART of the experience, not the whole thing!  Some encounters are combat, some are social, some are environmental, etc.  These primary elements exist in a game in a balance, and that balance may change between game systems, between sessions, between GMs, and so on.  In my Star Wars games, I don't feel that one of these elements should consistently systematically override or supercede all other aspects.  I prefer systems that support this, and I think it's representative of what is seen in the OT.


Second, I qualified that statement about combat with "When done right".  For me, it's "done right" when combat is dangerous.  As I see it, games are entertaining exercises in decision making (I believe ' games as exercises in decision making' is pretty much where the discipline of Games Theory got it's name).  Simply, combat should never be the universal best option for dealing with situations because I don't think there should ever be any universal best option.  Now, sometimes there may really only BE one option, and thats okay so long as those situations are in the minority.  But  there should be points where the players decide between several reasonable courses of action (truly this is player choice), and it is in these situations that it becomes problematic where there are universal best options.  Combat can be effective option, but dangerous combat means that this effective option comes with an opportunity cost, and that is where the decision making starts!  If combat is a best option, and (or because) there is little risk of permanent loss, then the players ability to make decisions is completely undermined, and my players and I find the game becomes dull.  This is a system that prides itself on enabling character creativity and cooperation between players and GMs.  I would posit that to fulfill this claim, combat must be dangerous, or carry some other drawback/cost that encourages thoughtful or creative play.


Contiuing that line of thought, players gain a greater sense of accomplishment when they succeed against a substantial threat, compared to when they succeed with little threat of loss.  The contrast between success and failure is greater between win with no one dead vs win with a dead comrade, than it is between win with some ammo and a win with less ammo.  The latter can still be useful in attrition scenarios.  I also think that games where players have more at stake, like their character's lives, tend to be immersive than when there is less at stake or lessened consequences.


Some parting thoughts on the topic: If most/all combat lacks threat of permament loss to the PCs, I have found that there is little doubt that the PCs will succeed in the adventure, and repeatedly placing players in situations where success is assured again subverts player choice, since the consequences of their choices have little effect on their situation or their story, i.e. they have diminished agency, which diminishes fun.  Also, I've found that combat encounters in which the goal is not "kill all enemies", i.e. encounters where the players can still loose even if they killed all the enemies, can be way more fun and challenging.


Anyway, that's where I'm at on why EotE should have dangerous combat.  To sum up, dangerous combat



  • Improves the "Star Wars" feel


  • Expands encounter variety


  • Encourages player creativity


  • Improves player immersion


  • Increases player agency



I think combat being scary for PCs will be a substantial improvment on what we saw in d20 systems.  Actually, I think this is also supported by the persistence of critical wounds as well.


-WJL


Disclaimer:  This post represents my experiences and opinions as a player and GM, and how I apply these concepts to my games.  Obviously, different GMs will have different styles, use what works for you.  Some points may be more generalizable (e.g. dangerous combat encourages more creative play) than others (my players have a greater sense of accomplishment when there's real danger).  As always, YMMV.


"All models are wrong, but some models are useful."  - George E. P. Box


#2 TalkingMuffin

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Posted 06 April 2013 - 11:51 PM

I love the combat system. I like lethal combat that's still easy to run and allows players to be creative and flexible. I played a FATE game tonight and wanted to smash my dice and tear up my sheet when I learned how STUPID the combat system was (I've grown to nearly despise the FATE system for it's clunkiness! LOL). It was just slow and….stupid. Ugh. While it was being run I went to a happier place in my gaming mind and thought about EotE and it made me feel better because the combat scenes we've run have been exciting and tense and just plain awesome.

More of a vent about FATE and a hug to EotE, but whatver. :)



#3 Donovan Morningfire

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Posted 07 April 2013 - 02:00 AM

LethalDose said:

I think combat being scary for PCs will be a substantial improvment on what we saw in d20 systems.  Actually, I think this is also supported by the persistence of critical wounds as well.

Oddly enough, we agree.

I've played enough d20 games (paritcularly D&D and Pathfinder) that the general assumption of "gas tank of hit points" and the "you're fine until you hit zero hit points" has a negative effect on combat being exciting or carrying a degree of risk.  Even critical hits only did extra damage, which may not even be that much of a worry for a high-level Fighter-type.  This became rather glaring in D&D 4th Edition as anything not classed as a "minion" took several hits to drop, and minions only had 1 hit point so all you had to do was hit them, leading to instances where the party's damage-dealers requried several swings to take down a single orc in some instances, but in others could plow through them like a chainsaw through butter, and lead to fights against Solo enemies being rather dull as the PCs simply had to keep chipping away at the monster's bloated hit point total until it dropped (and dice gods help you if you whiffed when trying to use your encounter powers in that fight, as those are often needed to speed up those kinds of fights).

The various Star Wars games tried to mitigate this, first with the Vitalty/Wound Point system fo the OCR/RCR, where Vitalilty was your "plot armor" and critical hits bypassed that plot armor and went straight to Wound Points, and could result in character death.  This had the result of armor (especially in the RCR) being incredibly commonplace as even a basic blast vest was seen as a good idea to help cut down on the chances of a critical hit dropping your PC outright.

Saga Edition had the condition track, but once you got past 10th level, it became a lot harder for damage-based attacks to move a target down the Condition Track to the point where "CT Killer" builds became quite popular, with the express goal of moving the target as far down the condition track as quickly as possible.

I think EotE has the balance closer to "just right," in that combat is dangerous, but not "lethal" in the strictest sense of the term.  After all, a PC isn't dead once they've taken wound damage in excess of their Wound Threshold, they're just unconscious and with a lingering wound (a critical injury).  I do think that the option to heal a critical injury with a Medicine check and proper medical supplies (not just a bacta tank) should be a "per day" instead of a "per week," but that's a different topic.

But this also means that as your PCs gain experience and grow in terms of skill and talents possessed, they don't become entirely free of the risks involved in combat either since EotE skirts the "gas tank of hit pionts" problem by keeping "hit points" fairly low so that a shot from a single blaster rifle is still something to be worried about, and a critical injury is going to have more effects than just simply dealing more damage.  And with weapons that have a low crit rating such as vibro-weapons and lightsabers, that threat of a critical injury is going to much more present.  Of course, the degree of threat that a critical injury represents depends on whether you're using the Beginner Box version of critical hits or the Beta version, as well as which version the actual EotE corebook uses.

The Beginner Box version of critical injuries aren't quite as dangerous, as you need to get tagged with three of them to have any serious long-lasting effects, with the fourth one putting you out of the fight until it's healed, and there's actually no way to die under the Beginner Box ruleset (a deliberate design choice as noted in the sidebar on page 19 of the BegBox rulebook).

The Beta rules had a far more varied effect for critical injuries, and the higher you rolled, the worse off the target generally was, and multiple critical injuries stacked in that they provided a bonus on the critical injury chart.  Even then, you needed to get a result of 151 or higher to instantly kill someone, which required a combination of a really high percentile roll and a lot of bonuses to the roll, generally from a mix of the target having prior critical injuries, using weapons with multiple ranks of the Vicious quality, and having ranks in the Lethal Blows talent.  So while it is possible with the right build to be able to easily "one-shot" a Nemesis-level foe or a PC and kill them, it's not common.

The Beta rules are also a bit vague on whether a critical injury has any effect on a Henchman-level NPC.  The exact wording is "Henchmen do not suffer critical injuries normally," which has lead some GMs to read that as "Henchmen are unaffected by critical hits at all, so don't waste your Advantage trying to trigger a critical injury against them."  The Beginner Box however uses "Rivals" instead of "Henchmen" (a change I hope is carried over into the final EotE corebook), and in the included adventure, has a bit of rules text that "If an NPC that suffers a critical injury, that NPC is simply defeated."  Personally, that's my take on how Henchman/Rivals should react to a critical injury; you inflict one, they drop, and you move on to the next foe, as it keeps combat moving and rewards a player that's either scored a really good roll or a player that has built their PC to be good at combat.

So is combat in EotE dangerous?  Yes.

Is combat in EotE truly lethal? Not really, as it takes some dedicated effort (Beta) or simply isn't possible (Beginner Box)

Should it be the main feature of a GM's planned Star Wars adventure?  Not really.

A combat without context isn't very interesting to a lot of players, and a string of combats without context even less so.  I think one of the really good things that D&D 3rd edition did was highlight the idea that "defeating" an encounter doesn't always have to mean reducing the bad guys into bloody smears.  If you look at the Star Wars films, for the most part the heroes tried to avoid excessive fighting when and where the could.  Even though Luke's plan to free Leia in ANH wasn't well thought out, the idea was to sneak in and free the Princess with as little fuss or muss as possible.  Leia and company didn't hang around blasting stormtroopers in ESB any longer than they needed to, partly because they were racing to catch Fett before he took off with the Hansicle, and then to get to the Falcon in order to escape.  The big fight at the Endor bunker only came about because the Rebel's attempt at stealth to destroy the shield generator was defeated.

In the Phantom Menace, Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan only started tearing it up on the Trade Federation's carrier after the Viceroy tried to kill them; until that point, the Jedi were there to negotiate an end to the blockade, and would have been happy to resolve the whole matter through diplomacy.  The two Jedi certainly didn't hack their way through the Gungan city to get a transport, and only attacked the battle droids when they needed to, namely to rescue the Queen and get her off Naboo.  They knew from prior experience that Darth Maul was there to kill them, having already made the attempt on Tatooine, so they cut the preliminaries and went to the lightsaber fight.  Obi-Wan relied very much on stealth when on Utapau until it came time to directly confront Grievous, and was certainly a polite guest during his time on Kamino until he had enough information to suspect Jango of being the assassin he was after and went to confront him, but with Jango being Jango and thus not about to come quietly to face charges back on Coruscant…

But each of those fights had a context, and didn't really just occur for the sake of having a fight scene (at least in-universe; they did have to occur so that the audience would have something exciting to watch on the screen).  And script necessities aside, quite a few of those encounters could have succeeded without any combat at all.  Hell, the Battle of Endor might have gone very differently if the Empire was caught with its pants down like the Rebels had been expecting.


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#4 LethalDose

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Posted 07 April 2013 - 05:23 AM

 

I appreciate the comments, DM, and not neccessarily because we agree, but because you raised some good points.  

Donovan Morningfire said:

I think EotE has the balance closer to "just right," in that combat is dangerous, but not "lethal" in the strictest sense of the term.  After all, a PC isn't dead once they've taken wound damage in excess of their Wound Threshold, they're just unconscious and with a lingering wound (a critical injury).  I do think that the option to heal a critical injury with a Medicine check and proper medical supplies (not just a bacta tank) should be a "per day" instead of a "per week," but that's a different topic.

We disagree here.  I think it's important for critical wounds to have substantial persistence.  This goes back to my comments about temporary vs permanent loss.  Taking a critical wound is a semi-permanent cost since it will be around for awhile.  The good news is that, until you start reaching the >90 range, the crits aren't that nasty.  Though I wonder if this will change to >100 in the final text.  Anyway, I think resolving a crit/day is too frequent, and is exactly what Bacta is for.  Resolving a crity/week means theres a reasonable chance that combat damage will accrue to the point where combat may actually become lethal.

Donovan Morningfire said:

So is combat in EotE dangerous?  Yes.

Is combat in EotE truly lethal? Not really, as it takes some dedicated effort (Beta) or simply isn't possible (Beginner Box)

This is an excellent point that I had forgotten about when writing the OP for this thread.  In EotE, its easy to get hurt, but hard to die.  I very well may have been sloppy when writing the OP, alternating between the use of "dangerous" and "lethal".  A PC is going to be torn to crap and usually have multiple crits before death is even a possibility.  This gives characters plenty of chances to turn away from combat before the $h!t hits the fan.

 

Donovan Morningfire said:

The Beta rules are also a bit vague on whether a critical injury has any effect on a Henchman-level NPC.  The exact wording is "Henchmen do not suffer critical injuries normally," which has lead some GMs to read that as "Henchmen are unaffected by critical hits at all, so don't waste your Advantage trying to trigger a critical injury against them."  The Beginner Box however uses "Rivals" instead of "Henchmen" (a change I hope is carried over into the final EotE corebook), and in the included adventure, has a bit of rules text that "If an NPC that suffers a critical injury, that NPC is simply defeated."  Personally, that's my take on how Henchman/Rivals should react to a critical injury; you inflict one, they drop, and you move on to the next foe, as it keeps combat moving and rewards a player that's either scored a really good roll or a player that has built their PC to be good at combat.

I'm not sure where this is coming from.  I thought the Beta rules were very clear on this: Henchmen do suffer Critical Injuries Normally (pg 196).  They can just die when their threshold is exceeded instead of being incapacitated and taking a CI.  I can't find any Beta update text that indicates otherwise.  

I remember this came up in Beta discussions where a player felt that CI's were useless against NPCs, since minions were immune to CI's (they just die), Henchmen typicallyaren't around long enough for most CI to matter, and Nemeses aren't common enough for it to be much of an issue.  They felt that CI's were really just player oriented punishments.  I don't agree with that, but I think that line of thought could lead to one of your points, DM, that players may be better off using advantage produced on attack rolls to activate other abilities instead of critical hits.

Also, I prefer the use of the term "henchman" to "rival", as henchman indicates something below a nemesis, while rival can be a synonym for nemesis.

-WJL


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