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The Galaxy's Fate in my Hand: An IA Probability Compendium

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Because no weapon currently in the game can score 3D or 4D from just a single surge result, scoring 3D or 4D means one of the following must be true:


Not sure what expansion you're basing this off of, but...



You're right! I overlooked that one somehow! I don't think there's any melee weapons with a surge for +3D, but we may need to revisit that threshold when we get to ranged weapons. Thanks for pointing that out!

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Oh okay, if you were just talking about melee weapons then yeah there aren't any 3+ damage surges. But you had mentioned ranged weapons too so I thought you were talking about both.


Nope, you were right. It was an absolute statement (and, as it turns out, an incorrect one). I'll try to be more precise next time!

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That disruptor pistol was absolutely wrecking my troops in the last campaign I played.


It's tier 3 though, so with luck it doesn't show up until late in the campaign...


I imagine it's particularly bad if your Rebs have Healbot on their squad to vape on other heroes and give them an extra yellow die.

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That disruptor pistol was absolutely wrecking my troops in the last campaign I played.


It's tier 3 though, so with luck it doesn't show up until late in the campaign...


I imagine it's particularly bad if your Rebs have Healbot on their squad to vape on other heroes and give them an extra yellow die.


Thankfully they didn't. Mak had it, and with his easily accessible pierce I might as well not have been rolling defense dice most of the time...

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I just wanted to drop in here and say that this series is FANTASTIC and I can't wait to read more! I'm waiting to fire up another campaign with a small group once I'm done painting all my minis and having this kind of meta knowledge going into it is so much fun. I love understanding how systems work and this is an excellent breakdown.


Looking forward to the next part!

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The Galaxy's Fate in my Hand: An IA Probability Compendium


Part the Sixth: "Blast It! Part I" (in which we dive into the combat keywords found on our Starter and Tier I weapons, and ask some basic questions that will help us separate real gems from fools gold).

  • Topics Discussed: Starter and Tier I melee weapons, Stun, Weaken, Bleed, Cleave, surge probabilities, at-least damage probabilities, surge hierarchies, proc rates, recover.


We left off last time with a teaser about the Vibrogenerator, as well as an open-ended question about combat conditions like Stun, Cleave, and Blast. Unfortunately, combining both those topics proved to be biting off more than I could chew this week, so we're going to shelve the Vibrogenerator for now (we'll come back to it, though), and focus on that last component we need to start making educated comparisons between all these weapons available to our heroes.

So far, we've been looking at our Starter and Tier 1 melee weapons purely from the perspective of how much damage they are likely to inflict upon a target. This analysis, while valuable, does not give a complete picture of every weapon's combat capabilities. This time, we'll take a look at some of these weapons, and try to put a value on their ability to inflict conditions on their chosen target, and/or other negative combat effects on other innocent bystanders. Even in the early weapons we've looked at so far, we've seen no shortage of weapons that inflict conditions (StunBleedWeaken) or additional damage unaffected by defense dice (Cleave). 
6_1_Plasteel_Staff.png  6_1_Vibro_Knife.png  6_3_Gaffi_Stick.png  6_4_Vibro_Blade.png  6_5_Gauntlets.png  6_6_Sword.png
Starter & Tier I Weapons that can inflict negative combat effects...
We've put off discussing these critical keywords until now for a few reasons.
  • First, these keywords are usually interrelated with other concepts we've talked about. For example, we need to deal damage to the target to trigger these keywords with our hero's weapon, so we can't really assess the merits of the Vibro Blade's Cleave 2 before we know whether it can reliably deal at least 1 damage past defense dice. As we'll see, surge probabilities, opportunity cost, dice hedging, and the distinction between natural and surge damage can also impact the effectiveness of weapons when dealing these keywords.
  • Second, the calculations for these keywords can be messy. At a bare minimum, in order to build a large enough sample size, we have to establish some sort of "surge hierarchy" for how a weapon will spend its surges. For some weapons (*cough* Gaffi Stick *cough*), this will be extremely simple. For others, like the Armored Gauntlets, the choices become much more difficult. As we'll see, decisions we make in this surge hierarchy have an impact both on overall damage and keyword application, sometimes severely so. So we'll need to spend some time before we run tests thinking through this hierarchy, and be sure we account those choices when analyzing our data sample.
  • Third, none of these keywords (with the possible exception of Hidden, which we'll be considering in more detail later) are a clean fit to calculations of damage totals, which is basically the only metric we've been looking at (apart from some very slight dabbles in surge probabilities). What damage does a Stun contribute to an attack? Well, none, right? So in a calculation that looks purely at damage dealt, a Stun is a wasted surge. And yet we know from game experience that the ability to Stun can be extremely valuable (or frustrating), if not game changing (or devastating). Keywords like Blast and Cleave look like they fit better (they do add damage to the damage total, after all), but to make that damage calculable, we have to make a lot of assumptions--are there any eligible targets in range? If so, how many? And if I'm dealing 2 damage to 2 figures adjacent to the target, how do I work that +4D into my calculation? There's a reason why calculators tend not to account for Blast and Cleave.
  • Speaking of calculators, the fourth and most important reason is that to run these calculations, I needed an upgraded Monte Carlo engine that could (a) account for all the data we'd need to input (attack pools, defense dice, melee mods, exhaust effects, added surge abilities, etc.) and (b) give us results in a format that we could use (i.e., break down the odds of scoring X-damage and triggering one, two, or at times even three keywords). I got that simulator on Friday, so now we're finally ready for a test drive.
So here's our big-picture overview of what I felt proved to be a very illuminating query:
  • Applying combat keywords essentially comes down to surge probabilities and "at-least damage dealt" probabilities;
  • The interrelationship between these two probabilities is often one of cannibalism;
  • Testing "surge hierarchies" can help us gain important insights into a weapon's ability to inflict keywords;
  • Mod choices can help (and hinder) our weapon's ability to inflict keywords; and
  • Ultimately, determining the "value" of triggering a keyword is not an exact science, but perhaps is an adaptable one...
Here we go.
In many ways, navigating when (and how) to trigger these keywords is a critical mini-game in the greater context of an IA mission (or skirmish). So before digging into these keywords in more detail, it's worth pausing to revisit the basic rules that govern this mini-game (which means another RRG deep-dive!):
  • The most basic, elementary rule that governs the application of keywords is this: "The keyword abilities Blast and Cleave, and any keyword that causes a condition, all require the target of the attack to suffer one or more damage to trigger" (RRG 6) (emphasis added).
  • Note that there is also no inherent difference between "beneficial" conditions (like Focus or Hidden) and "harmful" conditions (like Stun or Weakened) (RRG 9). So weapons (and attack pools) that apply beneficial conditions still have to follow the "suffer one or more damage" rule.
  • A condition is not applied until after the attack resolves (RRG 9). Keywords like Blast and Cleave are not triggered until after the target of the attack suffers 1 or more damage (RRG 6), which does not occur until the "calculate damage" step of an Attack (RRG 5). Similarly, a surge ability that relates to a keyword, such as BlastCleave, or a condition, does not apply until after the attack resolves (RRG 24).
  • Beneficial conditions are applied to the attacker; harmful conditions and keywords are applied to the target figure. (RRG 9).
  • A figure cannot be affected by multiple instances of the same condition (RRG 9).
Using these basic rules as our jumping-off point, I've distilled them into four basic queries (starting from the very elemental and culminating in the complex) that will help us determine whether a weapon's keyword ability(ies) are worth the asking price.
QUERY 1: What is the nature of the ability we are trying to trigger?
The basic premise here is understanding (a) what an ability does, and (b) when it can be triggered. I told you, elemental. For now, we'll focus on the four keywords on our Starter and Tier 1 weapons:
  • "Stun: You cannot attack or voluntarily exit your space." The bearer may spend 1 action to discard this condition. Heroes (and figures in skirmish) can gain items or class traits (or command cards in skirmish) to remove this effect without spending an action. The big takeaway is that applying this condition (a) generally limits hostile figures to performing only 1 action; (b) can prevent a melee figure from attacking at all (if our hero withdraws more than 1 space away, or more than 2 spaces away if the melee figure has Reach), © can force ranged figures to choose between attacking and moving (potentially exposing them to keywords like Blast and Cleave), and (d) can prevent hostile figures from taking advantage of IP figure and class abilities that allow figures to perform out-of-activation attacks and moves.
  • "Bleed: During your activation, after you resolve an action other than the action listed below, you suffer 1 strain." The bearer may spend 1 action to discard this condition. As with Stunned, there are some ways for heroes and skirmish figures to remove this condition, but generally this will either limit a figure to just one other action, or will result in the target taking strain each time the figure performs an action other than removing the Bleed (which, for IP figures in a campaign, is taken as damage, see RRG 23). Although not as inhibiting as Stun, the potential for added damage can be almost as devastating for low-health imperial figures.
  • "Weaken: While attacking, apply -1 surge to the attack results. While defending, apply -1 Evade to the defense results." In many respects, Weakened seems like the red-headed step-child of harmful conditions. Unlike Stunned and Bleeding, this condition persists until the end of the target's next activation (although heroes and skirmish figures may be able to remove it before that in certain circumstances). That means it doesn't force the target to forfeit an attack or move (like Stun), or even strongly discourage the target from moving or attacking (like Bleed). That said, Weakened is the only harmful condition that has an impact on all of the damage calculations we've looked at previously, because it makes it easier for our hero (and any other heroes or allies) to deal surge damage past the white die's three Evade faces. This is no small thing in the world of damage calculations. Just to give some reference, attacking with a weapon that has Pierce 1 against a Weakened target will completely ignore 7 of the 12 faces on the white and black defense dice (all but the Dodge, Block 3 which is downgraded to a Block 2, and two Block 2s which are downgraded to a Block 1). That effectively gives the target a better than 1-in-2 chance of rolling a blank defense result. There's also the side benefit of making our heroes more difficult to wound while defending, by removing a surge result from the target if it attacks.
  • "Cleave X: If the target of this figure's attack suffers one or more damage, the attacker may choose a different hostile figure or object that he could target for an attack. The chosen figure or object suffers the amount of damage listed." Unlike StunnedBleeding, and Weakened, this time the negative outcome is applied against another figure who was not the target of the attack (which means that there has to be another target we can attack in order to take advantage of this ability). For melee weapons, in particular, where the universe of eligible targets is usually limited to hostile figures in adjacent spaces (see RRG 8), this will often be an important limitation.
Pretty straight forward, right? Alright, on we go!
QUERY 2: What is the likelihood of triggering this ability?
Actually, the query itself is presented is somewhat deceptive, because underlying the "likelihood" of triggering a combat ability are at least two separate probabilities, both of which we've already looked at in detail.
First, because all of these weapons require that our hero spend 1 surge result to trigger the effect, at least part of this analysis will come down to our weapon's basic surge probabilities (which we've looked at before):
In this case, all of these weapons have a decent chance at triggering their effect (the Vibro Knife has the same dice pool as the Vibro Blade, Green-Green), but only Diala's Plasteel Staff and the Armored Gauntlets have a probability of rolling a single surge that crosses the 80% threshold, with the Vibro Sword bringing up the rear with odds of roughly 2 out of 3 (67%).
Second, because all of these keywords require that the target suffer at least 1 damage, we're also concerned with our basic "at least" damage probabilities, and specifically the probability that it deals 1D+. Again, this is something we've considered before:
Now we might be tempted to stop here with our analysis. After all, every weapon has a relatively decent chance of rolling the surge we need to trigger the keyword, and every weapon has at least a 79% chance of dealing at least 1 damage past defense dice. So aren't we golden?
Well, we are for the Gaffi Stick, which reaches its damage totals without spending any surges (remember, the big knock on the Gaffi Stick is that it has no surge abilities for damage, and it's biggest asset is that the Pierce 1 is free). So we can safely say that the Gaffi Stick has a 77% chance of scoring at least 2 damage and a 72% chance of triggering Weaken, both past defense dice.
But all of the other weapons are relying on at least 1 surge ability to gain this level of damage (surge for +damage, or +pierce). In fact, two of these weapons (the Armored Gauntlets and Vibro Knife) can actually surge for both damage and pierce, which is why their damage totals past defense dice were so impressive early-on. Since none of these weapons reliably trigger two surges (the Plasteel Staff and Armored Gauntlets top the list at just 42%), triggering one of these keywords with these weapons will require that we either find a way to add another surge to our damage total, or (more often) reassign a surge to our keyword that was formerly spent on damage output, which means our weapon's damage is going to suffer overall. We've already seen this principle at work in Part 4 with the Vibro Sword, when we were trying to figure out whether we could sustainably strain for Pierce 1. Just as we did with that inquiry, the key here is for us to figure out how badly a given weapon's will suffer (if any) if we spend that surge to trigger a keyword, and whether that loss in damage (if any) is worth the benefit of triggering the keyword. Hence, our next query.
QUERY 3: What is the cost of triggering this ability?
First, let's assess what we mean by "cost." At this stage, we're not concerned about the cost of acquiring a weapon in credits or xp. Rather, we're concerned about the opportunity cost of choosing one surge result (in this case, a keyword) over one or more other surge results which would increase our damage total. We'll refer to the way in which we order our surge preferences as our weapon's "surge hierarchy."
For simplicity's sake, let's start with a very straight-forward surge hierarchy: a naked Vibro Sword. It has two surge options: surge for +2D, and surge for a keyword, Bleed. So our surge hierarchy can either be:
  1. Bleed, +2D; or
  2. +2D, Bleed.
The following chart plots the odds of dealing at least "X" damage and triggering Bleed with our naked Vibro Sword, using our two surge priorities (Bleed, then +2D, followed by +2D and then Bleed). Since this is new ground for us, let's also plot how the results change depending on the defense die our target rolls. All data is from a Monte Carlo simulation rolling 2000 trials (for more information on the MC2000, click here):
Because this is new (and we'll be seeing these a lot), let's just take a moment to walk through the chart:
  • The first three columns from left to right chart the results if our Vibro Sword prioritizes Bleed over +2D. The first of those three columns is the adjusted performance of the Vibro Sword (the average of the results vs. a black die and vs. a white die), followed by the results against 1 black die and finally against 1 white die. Columns four through six chart the performance when the surge hierarchy is reversed (this time +2D over Bleed), again record against adjusted, black, and white defense dice.
  • The back row plots the odds of scoring at least 1D against the target. Remember that the best chance at scoring at least 1D against a Black die is 100%, while the best odds of scoring at least 1 damage against a white die is ~83% (to account for that Dodge).
  • Recall also that a Monte Carlo simulation rolls 2000 hypothetical dice, so while these figures should generally reflect probability trends, a Monte Carlo simulation is not an exact measure of probability, as it's always possible (even in a sample size of 2000 rolls) that the dice will roll "hotter" or "cooler" than their base probabilities.
  • The very front roll plots our "Bleed proc" chance, or the odds that our attack caused the target to Bleed.
  • The data table at the very bottom has the actual numerical rates for each data point plotted on the chart, if we're interested in precise comparisons instead of the chart's visual impressions.
So what do we learn? Well, for starters, our surge hierarchy definitely matters, especially against white dice (those pesky Evades keep rearing their heads). If we prioritize the Bleed, our weapon has a roughly 70% chance of dealing at least 1 damage, which is quite low. And our chance of dealing at least 2D drops below 50% adjusted for both defense dice. In exchange, our odds at inflicting Bleed go up, but the adjusted odds come out at a measly 33.1%, or roughly one-in-every-three attacks. That's not a result we can count on. On the other hand, if we prioritize the +2D, our weapon's damage goes up significantly (the odds of dealing at least 2 damage are nearly 70%), but the odds of inflicting Bleed plummet (~11%, adjusted for both defense dice). In other words, if we consistently use surges to push our damage through, there's little chance we'll get to use that Bleed, especially against the White defense die (which escaped a bleed in all but 8.6% of our 2000 trials).
Does that 33.1% seem low? After all, a green-blue dice pool has a ~67% chance at rolling at least 1 surge, and an ~17% at rolling two surges, so if we're devoting that first surge to Bleed, why is the overall proc rate of Bleed so low? Well, there are a couple factors at play. First, the Bleed proc rate fares poorly against the white defense die across the board because three of its six faces have an Evade result, which will eliminate our single-surge (plus the Dodge). The MC sim is also taking into account the fact that the attack must have both a surge and deal at least 1 damage to the target in order to trigger Bleed. A base Vibro Sword's damage floor does not clear the 3D + Pierce 1 or 4D threshold, so there are a lot of defense die faces that will give it problems, especially if it's not surging for +2D (Dodge, 3 Block, Block-Evade, single-Evade, and even the 2 Block and 1 Block faces may prevent us from spending the Surge on Bleed). This is why our Vibro Sword procs a Bleed at a rate substantially less than the ~67% chance it has to roll a single surge result.
Now let's see what happens to our weapon's "Bleed proc" when we add some mods to our Vibro Sword. Since surge scarcity is an issue, let's start with the Balanced Hilt and see if that helps our damage and proc rates:
Much better, right? The odds of 1D+ are now consistently over 80% across the board, and prioritizing our +2D result even pushes our odds of 2D+ over 80%. On the flip side, prioritizing the Bleed increases our proc chance to nearly 80% against our adjusted defense dice. White dice are still a problem (lowest damage odds of 1-2D across the board, as well as Bleed proc chance), but that's to be expected with a surge-dependent weapon like the Vibro Sword. This is a definite improvement over what we've seen before.
But wait, there's more! Because that Vibro Sword has a second mod slot, let's see what happens if we introduce another surge option into the equation, by equipping the Tier 2 High-Impact Guard (and its ability to surge for +2D). We now have three surge abilities in our surge hierarchy: +2D, +2D, and Bleed. Results vary again, depending on the hierarchy we chose:
So here's what's going on now:
  • Our first batch of results (columns 1-3) prioritized Bleed over both +2D results. Our weapon still has a very good chance of scoring 1D+, but the odds of scoring at least 2 damage suffered a bit (though still in the mid-70s range). Our Bleed procs at an adjusted rate of 81.7%, which means we can count on it. Bear in mind that this data assumes we can exhaust Balanced Hilt for an extra surge, so this level of output isn't sustainable, unless we only plan to attack once per round.
  • In the second batch of results (columns 4-6), we prioritized one +2D result over Bleed, but prioritized Bleed over the second +2D result. There's a noticeable uptick in damage, especially in the 2-3D range (the odds of 3D+ are now over 70%, instead of the roughly 50% odds of our prior batch). Note that even though we have Balanced Hilt, we're now just barely applying a Bleed at more than a 50% clip past defense dice (52.9%). The culprit is that annoying white die again.
  • The third batch (columns 7-9) prioritizes both +2D results over Bleed, and the results are basically what we'd expect. Our odds at 3D+ are now at least 80% (and comfortably over 80% against a Black die). Having Balanced Hilt available also gives us a relatively decent chance of applying a Bleed as well (21.7%), with a third surge ability, at least against the black die. Again, this isn't sustainable because we have to exhaust Balanced Hilt to do it, but if we feel like playing the odds, this weapon can hit hard and leave a mark on the target.
Finally, let's take a look at how the Vibro Sword fares when we replace the High-Impact Guard with the Tier 3 Shock-Emitter, which adds another surge ability to Stun the target. Again, we have three weapon surge abilities out there, plus we'll add our default "surge-to-recover-1-strain" which, if we have the Vibro Sword, we might want to trigger from time-to-time so we can Pierce or fire off one of our strain-based class abilities. Here's how the Vibro Sword fares, based on the surge hierarchy we select:
In order to stream-line the data, we've eliminated the Black vs. White results, and gone straight to "Adj." defense results. The row nearest to us (and the first row on the data table) is the medium blue, stun-bleed-recover strain-+2D hierarchy. I recognize that in reality, there are very few scenarios where one would actually want to trigger these three surge abilities over the +2D, so the real benefit here is seeing the probability that the Vibro-Sword with Balanced Hilt (and, by extension, how any weapon with a Green-Blue dice pool and a way to gain a free surge) will generate 1, 2, or even 3 surges. This is harder to calculate when we apply surges towards damage directly, although we can guess about how often a surge ability for +damage triggers (based on a noticeable uptick in damage output, for example). So let's see what we can discover based on these results:
  • First, I found it interesting that the highest chance of applying the Stun to our target was from surge hierarchy #2, which prioritized +2D over Bleed. Now of course, we need to remember that these results were generated with a Monte Carlo simulation, which means they're not absolute probabilities but rather a dice rolling simulation (which means there's always a chance that the dice roll hotter than their average). There may be some of that going on here, although in this case, the results are for 4000 dice rolls instead of our normal 2000 sample size (2000 vs. 1 black die, and 2000 vs. 1 white die, averaged out), and a larger sample size usually evens out some of those spiky results. More likely, I think, is the fact that the odds of dealing at least 1 damage past any defense die improves tremendously from surge hierarchy 1 to surge hierarchy 2 (from 79.8% to 91.2%). Since dealing at least 1 damage is a necessary pre-requisite for triggering a keyword on a target, it makes sense that having more reliable damage would result in triggering that keyword more often. The difference isn't earth-shattering (an improvement from 73.3% to 82.9%), but it's significant and gets our weapon above that 80% probability threshold, which is a good indicator of reliability.
  • Second, note that between surge hierarchies 2 and 3, there's very little difference in the probabilities of dealing 1 or 2 damage past defense dice, but a dramatic difference in the likelihood of triggering Stun (82.9% falls all the way to 51.0%). So what's going on here? Well, first of all, let's remember that in this particular surge hierarchy, the odds of triggering Stun are actually tied in some fashion to our odds of triggering at least two surges (because we're spending our first surge to generate +2D). So a 51% chance at landing a second surge ability (granted, with Balanced Hilt) is actually pretty good. The odds of dealing top-end damage (3-4D) are obviously much better with this hiearchary, and with Balanced Hilt, there's even an outside chance of dealing 7 damage to the target, if everything breaks our way (we exhaust Shock-Emitter for +1D, roll 2D on the Green die, roll 2 damage on the Blue die, exhaust Balanced Hilt to surge for +2D, and the defender rolls a blank).
  • Third, note that whatever route we choose, our third surge option (recovering 1 strain) hovers at about 14%, which interestingly enough is just a shade lower than the Vibro Sword's native chance at rolling 2 surges (~17%). There are a few forces at work here. Exhausting Balanced Hilt is obviously the only way this particular weapon will ever have the third surge ability needed to recover strain in these hierarchies, so of course this isn't sustainable. At the same time, recovering strain is by far an easier surge result to trigger, because our target does not need to suffer damage in order to trigger recover. In fact, a recover can occur even when an attack misses (Dodge), which is something we ought to be taking advantage of as often as we can (RRG 17).
Now that we've taken stock of the costs and gains, we're better prepared to move on to our final analysis: deciding whether to pull the trigger on a particular weapon, based on how we want it to perform.
QUERY 4: What is the value of triggering this ability?
This is by far the most difficulty query, because this is where all those annoying gameplay variables enter the equation. There are some situations where the application of a condition--even over a direct damage increase--will be the obvious play: Diala has triggered Way of the Sarlacc and has four adjacent hostile figures, with a chance to Cleave 2 up to four times, or Fenn with Rebel EliteSuppressive Fire, and a Tier 1 Under-Barrel HH-4 has an uncontested shot at a Weakened Stormtrooper surrounded by three squad mates.
Most of the time, however, these judgments are closer calls. What's the actual value of applying a Stun to a target? Well, in a vacuum, in most cases it's a denial of an action. For melee units with no special non-action movement abilities, it's probably the denial of an attack as long as no friendly figures are adjacent (and the melee unit does not have Reach). But again, that's largely situational. We may go entire missions without seeing any Royal Guards or Nexu. And how does that value compare to the value of a Bleed or a Weaken? Or spending that surge to recover a strain instead? Or just converting that surge into more damage to kill the thing. After all, isn't a dead Imp is better than a Stunned Imp? (Yoda might have something to say to us on that point...). 
Fortunately, the game design helps us out somewhat in this regard, in that our heroes resolve surge abilities after they accumulate most of the information needed to figure out what the "best option" is in that particular combat (what the attack dice rolled, what the defense dice rolled, and usually what combat modifiers are available). The situation can become more muddled in Skirmish, with the addition of Command Cards that have hidden information on them, but generally, we're not flying completely blind when it comes to evaluating how to spend our surges. The problem, of course, is that once we're in that situation, we're locked into a particular weapon (and, if we were both lucky and wealthy, maybe some mod choices, too); in other words, we've already made resource allocation decisions, which may ultimately not be the most efficient in retrospect. And we're trying to avoid that, right? So what we want to develop, if we can, is a mode of analysis that will help us understand how a particular weapon is likely to react to the sorts of varied mission scenarios and combat set-ups we're likely to confront, as well as the varied group roles, and individual play style(s) we're likely to employ on the campaign trail.
Can we develop such a system? 
Swing by next time, as we plumb the depths of all our other Starter and Tier I weapons, and finally get some answers.  ;)
Inevitable post-posting edits: Eh...

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I look forward to the scientific journal version of this thesis once all the chapters are complete, I do research for a living so I can't turn my hobby into work by delving into all these specifics, but I am interested in the final results. I do appreciate all the work you've put into it as well.

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The Galaxy's Fate in my Hands: An IA Probability Compendium
Part the Seventh: "Blast It! Part II" (in which we take a closer look at dice pools, compare keyword proc rates, and talk about surges we want, and surges we don't, plus the best keyword-procing melee weapon is... wait, what...?)
First off, if you're reading this, welcome back! I'm finally back in the swing of things after getting (another!) updated combat calculator, a busier-than-usual schedule at work, plus a couple of holidays and a visit from my in-laws (and maybe a Corellian Conflict campaign and a round or ten of Star Wars Destiny...). At any rate, things have finally quieted down, so I figured we'd finish our discussion of Keywords, and then dig into one of my new favorite topics: surge efficiency.
If you're just browsing, here's the skinny:
  • I'm back from a long hiatus.
  • Mostly because I needed an updated calculator and life's been pretty busy lately.
  • Holidays are fun. Friends, family, food... especially food.
  • Did you have a good time? (You didn't spend all Christmas on the forums, I hope. :P )
  • I'm into Star Wars Destiny now (leisurely... not the tournament scene).
  • I have a Darth Vader. It makes me very happy. :D I know I should sell him, but I just can't bring myself to do it...
  • I saw Rogue One, too. It was awesome.
  • Maybe that's why I can't bring myself to part with Vader...
  • (Wait, you wanted maths spoilers?)
On we go.
So last time (and it's been so long I had to look, so feel free to jump back, too), we ended with four basic queries on keyword applications, and were left pondering whether we could compare the value of triggering different keywords in a predictive fashion that would account for the variety of scenarios we were likely to face on the battlefield. We'll highlight three potential methods here, starting with the most basic: using a weapon's dice pool--and literally nothing else--to gauge its ability to apply keywords.
It doesn't take much time in IA to notice that different dice pools do different things (different strengths, shortcomings, etc.). This is especially true of two-dice pools, which always seem to be missing... something. We've already commented generally on the strengths and weaknesses of the different dice acting in isolation, so we won't rehash that here. Instead, we'll take a quick detour to see how our melee weapon dice pools fare in triggering damage, surges, and keywords, without the benefit of their precious surge abilities.
Let's start with damage, because let's face it, that's why we really want weapons:
There is a hierarchy here. Our dice pools with a Red die (Red-Yellow) start with a significant advantage (~6%) over their counterparts at landing the1D+ we need to trigger keywords, while our most ubiquitous dice pool (Yellow-Green) starts off almost twenty percentage points behind (72.3% vs. 52.6%). Interestingly enough, while the Green-Green dice pool ends up having better damage than the Green-Blue dice pool, the Green-Blue pool remains relatively close throughout. As we've noticed before, having the ability to Pierce built-into the attack improves a dice pool's damage significantly: the Green-Blue dice pool improves its chance at 1D+ to nearly 80% (78.6%), while the Red-Yellow dice pool landed at least 2 damage past defense dice in basically 70% (69.9%) of our 2000 trials. Not bad for just the attack dice, with no resolved surge abilities. Speaking of...
This time, we're looking at the odds of a particular dice pool triggering 1-3 non-Keyword surge abilities (things like +damage, +Pierce, remove 1 strain, etc). First, notice that these odds are lower than the odds that the same dice pool will roll "at least" X surges (a stat that we'd care about for, say, rolling an attribute test). This is because we're factoring in defense dice now, and their Dodge/Evades. There's also another hierarchy here... or more accurately, there's one clear winner: that Yellow-Green dice pool (which brought up the rear in our "at least" damage tests) outperforms its nearest competitor by roughly 10 percentage points (69.5% vs. 59.2% at triggering 1+ surge ability). The rest of the dice pools are fairly clustered together, separated by less than seven percentage points (59.2% for Green-Green, vs. 52.5% for Green-Blue, again for triggering 1+ surge ability).
Last, let's consider the odds of triggering keywords, which as we discussed last time, require that we first deal at least 1D+ to our target and have a spare surge to trigger the Keyword:
For the third time, we have a hierarchy, but again, it's close. The Red-Yellow pool performs the best at inflicting 1+ keyword, but the Yellow-Green is lurking (40.0% vs. 38.4%, or a difference than less than two percentage points). Yellow-Green actually has better odds at inflicting multiple keywords, thanks to the Green Die's multiple surge faces. Green-Green and Green-Blue lag behind from the start, then fall off significantly once it comes to adding 2 keywords (and, of course, they have no chance at triggering three--at least not off of three separate surge abilities). Interestingly, adding Pierce 1 to the Red-Yellow dice pool improved its effectiveness by more than 12 percentage points, pushing it upwards of the 50% mark (and giving it a 14% edge over the Yellow-Green die pool). It also improved the Green-Blue dice pool (clearly the poorest performer in its unmodified form) by more than 13% (38.9% vs. 25.8%), placing it between the unmodified Red-Yellow and Yellow-Green dice pools at dealing at least 1 keyword (the other two continue to outperform it at inflicting multiple keywords, by a fair margin).
Although we've yet to take into account surge abilities, we can already start making some general comparisons between our starter and Tier I weapons' capabilities to deal Keywords, based solely on their dice pools:
  • Both Gaarkhan's Vibro-Ax and the Tier I Gaffi Stick have a dice pool (Red-Yellow) that is set-up well to score at the top of both damage dealt past defense dice and inflicting keywords, even before we start adding surge abilities. Both of these are also low-cost weapons (free and 200 credits, respectively), although of course Gaarkhan's Ax will need an attachment before it can actually deal any Kewyords. :lol:
  • Weapons with yellow-green dice pools (Diala's Plasteel Staff, Davith's Heirloom Dagger, the Armored Gauntlets, etc.) are certainly lurking, especially if we can improve their damage output. But we need to be careful: even though we can score 2+ surges, the odds of doing so still aren't great, especially if the target rolls an Evade. So whenever possible, we want to prefer automatic damage modifiers (+damage, + Pierce) over surge abilities; and if we can't find those, we want damage abilities that are paired with Keywords in a single surge; and if we can't find those, then abilities that will give us extra surges consistently. ;)
  • For Green-Green (Vibroknife, Vibroblade) and Green-Blue (Vibro-Sword), we can only ever "count on" rolling 1 surge that we can apply to a Keyword. If we have to split surges between damage and Keywords, we'll dry up pretty quick. Automatic damage upgrades, consolidated damage/keyword abilities, and extra surges are even more essential to this dice pool. The fact that these weapons all cost our heroes credits (150 for the Vibroknife, 300 for the Vibroblade, and 350 for the Vibro-Sword) suggests some potential efficiency issues with these weapons from the get-go, just from their dice pools. :mellow:
Of course, all the above don't take into account surge abilities, which in many ways are what make combat in IA so dynamic and flexible (or infuriating and frustrating). Pumping out max-damage is always sexy, but there are lots of times in practical combat scenarios where it's either overkill (if a stormie rolls 1 block--as he's wont to do 33% of the time--I only need 4 damage to kill him, and less if I have Pierce, so rolling 6-8 damage, while awesome, is a waste) or myopic (sure, I could deal 7 damage to that Elite Royal Guard by maxing out all my surges for +1 damage, but if I spend one of those surges to recover a strain, I could still deal 6 damage and be better set-up for the next round). Trying to account for all of these abilities is like trying to account for all the variances and nuances on a battlefield--we never know exactly what we'll need until we see it in front of us, which is a wonderful gameplay mechanic but makes predictability a bear to deal with.
I'm sure there's probably a way to quantify all these variables and arrive at some "true score" of a weapon's value that accounts for its performance across combat scenarios (and if you've found it, by all means share it--if you don't trademark/patent/publish it, too!). But I haven't, so we'll settle for what I've found to be the next best thing (or at least a useful thing). We've previously used benchmarks (damage floors/ceilings) to give us a good idea of what a weapon's combat range is likely to be. In the same way, we can build a picture of how flexible a weapon's surge abilities are by prioritizing those abilities to accomplish different outcomes we're likely to encounter in a given combat scenarios. We'll refer to these as "surge hierarchies."
To illustrate how this works, we'll start with a very basic Keyword weapon: Diala's Plasteel Staff. If you recall, we've never been particularly high on this weapon's damage output. It consistently performs the worst out of all our Starter and Tier I melee weapons, because as we now know, a Yellow-Green dice pool is just atrocious at dealing damage. Couple this with just one damage-dealing surge ability (for a measly +1D, no less), and it's easy to see why damage is so low. The "X" factor to our prior negativity has always been its ability to Stun, which on hero weapons in general (and starter weapons in particular) can be quite amazing. And given our discussion of dice pools, we know that this particular pool--while poor at dealing damage--is a pretty strong Keyword pool. So maybe we've finally found its niche?
So let's see how it fares. We have only two surge abilities we have to worry about: +1D, and Stun, giving us a grand total of two hierarchies: a damage hierarchy (surge for +1D, then Stun), and a Keyword hierarchy (Stun, then +1D). We'll then run each hierarchy against our two defense dice (black and white), which we can then combine down into two adjusted results. Here's what we get: 
We saw some of these charts last time while looking at Keywords, but just to review briefly:
  • Expected "at least" damage output is listed in the normal way: odds of 1D+ appear in the row furthest from us, and increase in one-damage increments as we creep towards the front (in this case, culminating in 4D+ (maximum output for a naked Plasteel Staff).
  • The pink column represents the percentage that the given data set triggered a given Keyword (in this case, Stun, because that's the only Keyword on the Plasteel Staff). Some weapons have the ability to trigger multiple keywords, either through innate surge abilities or boosts, or through modifications.
  • This data was drawn from Monte Carlo simulations involving 2000 dice rolls ("mc2000"). We'll generally be using these instead of straight probability calculations, so all the usual caveats about small sample sizes, "hot" and "cold" dice, etc., will apply to our data sets.
So now that we have this information, we can say with great confidence that Diala's Plasteel Staff unequivocally stinks. :P  We already knew that prioritizing damage with this weapon was bad: sub-80% odds at landing at least 1 damage past defense dice, and sub-50% odds of landing 2D+ (with considerably more difficulty against black defense dice, the most prevalent defense dice in the game). Now we know that prioritizing the Stun keyword only results in ~40% odds of stunning the target, regardless of defense dice (or 2 times out of every 5 attacks). Given that a Yellow-Green dice pool has an innate chance of dealing Stun about 38% of the time without surge abilities built-in, a roughly 2% bump in triggering a Keyword is a tremendously poor showing for the Plasteel Staff's surge abilities. And prioritizing Stun takes what was already very poor damage probabilities and casts them far below the 80% confidence threshold (1D+ less than 60% of the time against black dice, and under 65% of the time when we adjust for both defense dice). In other words, this weapon isn't a reliable way of dealing damage or triggering keywords.
For comparison's sake, let's see how the Plasteel Staff stacks up with the Tier I Vibro Knife, which has a poorer innate dice pool when it comes to triggering Keywords (Green-Green):
[Photo Credit: FFG and cards.boardwars.eu]
Before we get into the data, it's important to note that we're dealing with three surge abilities instead of two. Because this particular weapon caps out at two surges (because it can't take mods unless we're Saska), we're looking at a total of six (6) surge hierarchies:
  • Surge for +1D, then Pierce 2
  • Surge for Pierce 2, then +1D
  • Surge for +1D, then Bleed
  • Surge for Pierce 2, then Bleed
  • Surge for Bleed, then Pierce 2
  • Surge for Bleed, then +1D
Running each hierarchy against our black and white defense dice give us a total of twelve (12) data sets, which are represented below:
There are a lot of data points here... probably too many...
Even without putting the Vibro Knife's data sets on the same chart as the Plasteel Staff, it's clear this weapon is giving us more.
  • The damage output of the Vibro Knife is substantially more reliable (above 95% against black dice and 80% against white dice) in our damage-focused surge hierarchies. Part of this is due to the fact that this weapon has two damage-focused surge abilities (+1D, Pierce 2) instead of one. Again, we've already seen this in some of our other charts, but it's worth repeating.
  • Interestingly, the +Pierce 2 tends to outperform the +1D option against black dice (which makes sense, since it essentially converts the Black die into having an Evade, a 1 block, and 4 blanks), while the +1D option outperforms the +Pierce 2 option against white dice (which again makes sense, given that the Pierce 2 is never more valuable than the +1D option when it comes to the white die, plus the white die has two "blank" faces when it comes to blocks--a true blank and an Evade--where surging for +1D actually results in a net damage increase). The differences between the two aren't stark on the white die, though they are consistent. For the black die, prioritizing Pierce 2 over +1D seems to result in a roughly 6-10% increase in damage odds for 1-3D, which is much more pronounced.
  • When it comes to keywords, the Vibro Knife appears to be an improvement over the Plasteel Staff, at least against black dice. Prioritizing Bleed and then Pierce 2 gives us the best results, with a 76.6% chance of dealing at least 1D (up from 58.1% on the Plasteel Staff) and a 51.2% chance of triggering the Bleed (up from 41.2% on the Plasteel Staff).
  • Against white dice, however, the Vibro Knife does better than the Plasteel Staff when it comes to triggering damage (73.1% chance of dealing 1D+, vs. 68.1%), but worse when it comes to triggering the Keyword (33.4% when paired with +1D; 33.8% when paired with Pierce 2; compare with 42.1% on the Plasteel Staff).
  • In the same vein, the Vibro Knife's Keyword proc rate against white dice (33.4-33.8%) is basically identical with what we'd expect from a Green-Green dice pool (33.9%). This makes sense, given that (1) a Green-Green dice pool can only trigger a max of two surges; and (2) the white die, with its three Evades and the Dodge, has a very good chance of removing at least 1 surge result. In this case, the lack of a Yellow die hurts the Vibro Knife's keyword output.
  • At the same time, the Vibro Knife significantly outperforms a generic Greeen-Green dice pool's Keyword proc rate against Black dice. Prioritizing Bleed, then Pierce 2, improves our Keyword proc chance from a pedestrian 33.9% to over 50%, or an increase of roughly 16 percentage points. If we compare this to the paltry 2% increase we saw on the Plasteel Staff, it's clear that the Vibro Knife is getting a lot more out of its dice pool and surge abilities against black dice, than the Plasteel Staff got against either dice type. 
  • Finally, while the Vibro Knife is more effective at triggering keywords against black dice than white, notice that its odds of dealing at least 1D+ remain at ~70% better even when we prioritize the Bleed keyword (only one result--surging for Bleed, then +1D--falls below 70%, at 68.0% against a black die). This is within 1 percentage point of the Plasteel Staff's best chance of dealing 1D+ while prioritizing a keyword (68.9% against a white die, prioritizing Stun, then +1D). In other words, for 150 credits more, the Vibro Knife deals better damage across the board, has a better chance at triggering its Keyword against black dice, and has essentially the same chance of dealing its Keyword against a white die.
The only thing the Plasteel Staff has going for it is the quality of its keyword: in other words, we like the ability to Stun better than we like the ability to Bleed. And there is some merit to that distinction. After all, in a vacuum, a Stun is a better keyword to trigger than a Bleed, because Stun an absolute bar to voluntary movement and attacking, while Bleed imposes a cost on voluntarily moving, attacking, or taking any other action. If that matters to us, we may still prefer the Plasteel Staff. And that's certainly ok, so long as we recognize that our preference will be based on considerations other than the raw damage and keyword efficiency of the weapon.
We'll return to the idea of Keyword quality in a future discussion. For now, it's time to get the rest of our Starter and Tier I melee weapons on the table.
While we could run a complete surge-hierarchy comparison vs. both defense dice for each weapon, that seems unduly tedious to me, given most of us want to ditch both starter and Tier I weapons relatively quickly. So to speed things along, here's a summary of all those weapons given their available surge hierarchies against adjusted (black + white) defense dice, arranged in order of their likelihood to trigger their primary keyword:
There are two clear front-runners: Davith's Heirloom Dagger, and the Tier 1 Gaffi Stick (200 credits), both of which log a 1D+ chance of 79% or better, 50% odds of at least 2 damage, and a Keyword proc chance of 60% or better. Both are a solid 10-percentage points better than their closest competition (the Tier 1 Armored Gauntlets, which still scores a healthy 50.4% proc rate, but comes in at a higher cost of 300 credits). The Gaffi Stick shouldn't really surprise us: we already knew it performed well beyond its cost in scoring damage generally (thanks to that built-in Pierce 1, which guts both defense dice), and that its Red-Yellow dice pool sets it up nicely to both roll high natural damage (instead of relying on surge damage) and to trigger keywords. High natural damage + a free pierce + a yellow die that can be fully devoted to triggering a keyword is a winning combination, and it shows here.
What was less obvious (at least to me) was how competitive Davith's Starting weapon (Heirloom Dagger) would be to the Gaffi Stick, at least when it comes to triggering keywords. While it can't match the Gaffi's pure damage output (and really, the only weapons that come close are the upgraded Vibro Sword with that surge-for-Pierce 1 and the Tier 1 Armored Gauntlets--and only then if their surge hierarchies clearly favor pure damage output), it has the best overall odds of procing a keyword (61.7%). There's a ton to say about that weapon and why it performs so well (despite its low-damage-yielding dice pool and its lackluster-looking surges), but for the moment we'll set it aside so we can tackle the rest of the chart.
  • Three of our weapons (Heirloom Dagger, Vibro Sword, and Plasteel Staff) have just two surge hierarchies because they have only two native surge abilities. For all three weapons, our choice of surge hierarchy makes a dramatic difference in our keyword proc chance . For the Vibro Sword and Plasteel Staff, our choice of hierarchy also has a significant impact on our weapon's overall damage output. That impact is still there on the Heirloom Dagger, but it is much less severe.
  • Three of our weapons (Vibro Knife, Vibro Blade, and Armored Gauntlets) have three or more surge hierarchies. There's quite a bit of variance between their hierarchies, although in general, a greater Keyword proc chance translates into lower damage output, and a higher damage output reduces keyword proc chance.
  • Speaking of dealing damage, the Vibro Sword with Pierce 1 (350 credits + 1 strain) logs our fourth-best odds at triggering its Keyword (Bleed, 46.2%), and is the only weapon that can simultaneously log better than 40% keyword odds and stay in the same general ballpark as the Gaffi Stick when it comes to dealing damage. The secret to this weapon--as we've talked about many times before--is that (A) it's rolling a Green-Blue dice pool, which has a relatively high chance at rolling natural damage, and (B) it's not reliant on a surge to Pierce 1, which is important because it's seldom getting to keep more than 1 surge (which it needs to trigger Bleed). This would be a fantastic choice for a flexible weapon if the Pierce 1 was sustainable... but of course, as we know, it's not. Once we're strained out and that "free" Pierce 1 goes away, the Vibro Sword performs very poorly: just a 33.2% chance of triggering Bleed (even when prioritizing it over +2D), and damage odds of 72.2%, 46.7%, and 19.19% which, while not bad in themselves, are far below what the Gaffi is giving us, and even slightly behind Davith's Heirloom Dagger. Which means we're still looking for the Vibro Sword's niche, given it's the most expensive Tier 1 weapon.
  • Finally, it's worth noting that the Vibro Blade and the Armored Gauntlets each have a hierarchy that can trigger two separate keywords (Bleed + Cleave 2, and Stun + Cleave 1, respectively). But the damage-cost of doing so is quite high: a mere 64.6% chance of doing 1D+ with the Vibro Blade, and a worst-in-class 58.0% chance of dealing 1D+ with the Armored Gauntlets. Yes, you read that right: it's a lower damage output than Diala's Plasteel Staff, which has a 63.5% chance of dealing at least 1D if it prioritizes Stun over +1D). That's a good reminder for us if we're looking longingly at the Armored Gauntlets and its four surge options: yes, it'd be wonderful to deal lots of damage and Stun the target and deal damage to another target... but we only have so many surges to go around, and even if we do manage to get three surges past defense dice, we have less than a 1-in-3 chance of dealing 2 damage to our primary target (32.1%). Eeeeep...  :o
That's actually a nice seguay into what makes the Heirloom Dagger so surprisingly potent when it comes to triggering keywords. The Gauntlets have an overabundance of surge abilities (4). This makes them both more flexible weapons, capable of adapting to several circumstances on the battlefield (raw damage with +2D and Pierce 1, applying Stuns to slow targets down, using cleave damage to thin packs), but also makes their damage more surge-dependent (and spiky) and less focused. The Heirloom Dagger can cover fewer bases with the same dice pool, but accomplishes its goal (damage + Bleed) in a much more focused (and efficient) way. This idea of "surge efficiency" is an important theme in both high-tier weapons as well as certain campaign character builds, so let's dig into the Heirloom Dagger a bit more to see how it works (in what is perhaps its most simplistic form).
A "surge-efficient" weapon is a weapon that: (1) has "high" odds of rolling multiple surges; (2) has multiple surge abilities; and (3) converts the surges rolled into at least 1 more combat result than the number of surges that were rolled (or at least the same number of combat results as the number of surges rolled, if an Evade is rolled).
Davith's Heirloom Dagger is the only melee weapon we've looked at so far that fits this bill:
  1. It has "high" odds of rolling multiple surges, with it's Yellow-Green die pool. A roughly 7-in-10 chance of rolling a single surge (69.5%) is excellent for a two-dice pool. And it's odds of rolling two surges, while less than 1-in-3 (32.2%) are quite a bit better than its nearest competitor (Green-Green, at 19.8%). Plus, there's always a chance of landing three surges (5.5%).
  2. Unlike the Gaffi Stick, which has only a single surge ability, the Heirloom Dagger has two surge abilities (surge for +1D, surge for Pierce 1 and Bleed), plus a mod slot where we can add another. Hold that thought...
  3. That last surge ability (allowing us to convert a single surge into Pierce 1 and Bleed) is what catapults the Heirloom Dagger into surge efficiency. For just a single surge, Davith can trigger two separate combat effects (Pierce and Bleed). The fact that the Pierce helps to trigger the Bleed (because we have to deal at least 1 damage to the target in order to apply a keyword) makes the pairing extremely efficient.
In the broadest sense, the Armored Gauntlets also have a minor surge efficiency, in that they allow us to convert a single surge result into more than one combat result (+2D). A simple surge-for-damage trade (surge for +1D) is fine, but trading one surge for 2D is obviously more efficient. (The Vibro Sword might fit the bill as well, if its odds of rolling more than one surge weren't so abysmally low.) But when it comes to triggering Keywords, the Armored Gauntlets prove less efficient than the Heirloom Dagger, because while both can trigger up to three surges, the Armored Gauntlets must resolve at least two of them to apply a Keyword and a combat bonus; the Heirloom Dagger can trigger both off of a single surge. This may not seem like much of a difference on its face, but over the long haul of a campaign, having a weapon with good surge efficiency can make a huge difference in combat.
To illustrate this, let's compare the Tier I Vibro Blade (which is not a surge-efficient weapon) with the Tier I Vibro Sword (also not surge efficient), and then compare the Vibro Sword with Davith's Heirloom Dagger. All of these weapons apply Bleeds, so we're dealing with apples-to-apples here. We're primarily interested in Keyword proc chance (since this is a discussion of keywords primarily), but damage output is also important, so we'll look at that, too.
First, let's compare the "at least" damage potential and bleed proc chance of a naked Tier 1 Vibro Blade (300 credits) and Vibro Sword (350 credits):



Unsurprisingly, the Vibro Sword fares the best in both keyword and damage hierarchies as long as it gets its "free" Pierce 1; without it, it lags behind. This shouldn't surprise us, as the Green-Blue dice pool is pretty good at triggering keywords with Pierce 1, and very lackluster without it, whereas the Green-Green dice pool is more even-keeled.
Once we switch to full-on damage output, both variants of the Vibro Sword pull ahead, thanks to its surge for +2D. This is a minor surge efficiency over the Vibro Blade, which is forced to convert that same surge result into just one damage. Already, we're seeing surge inefficiencies (albeit minor ones) impacting our combat results.
Now let's see what happens if we cure that minor surge inefficiency by giving our Vibro Blade the option to surge for +2D instead of 1, by equipping the Tier 2 High-Impact Guard (500 credits) on both these weapons:
When it comes to keywords, the "Strain to Pierce 1" still gives the Vibro Sword a lead, although the margin between it and the Vibro Blade is much closer. Moreover, the Vibro Blade's sustainable proc chance and damage dealt are much better than the Vibro Sword's sustainable proc chance and damage dealt. When we switch to prioritizing damage, the Vibro Blade has the best keyword proc chance of the bunch, with competitive odds of dealing 1-2 damage compared to the Pierce 1 Vibro Sword (and better odds at dealing all damage than an unmodified Vibro Sword), at a cost of 50 fewer credits.
And, by the way, if we don't want to Bleed, we can Cleave 2 with the Vibro Blade instead: the math is exactly the same. Which means the Vibro Blade is giving us more options than the Vibro Sword (Bleed, Cleave 2, +2D, or +1D vs. +2D, +2D, or Bleed). Again, at a cost of 50 fewer credits.
So if we're getting basically the same damage output and keyword output from our Vibro Blade and Vibro Sword, with more combat options, why would we ever want to pay the extra 50 credits to downgrade the Vibro Blade's pretty good Green-Green dice pool into a less desirable Green-Blue pool with fewer and more inflexible surge options?
[Photo Credit: FFG and cards.boardwars.eu]
Oh right... that second mod slot. Which, as any seasoned campaigner knows, is worth much more than 50 credits. To illustrate, here's what happens when we take that same high-performing Vibro Blade with High-Impact Guard and compare it to a Vibro Sword with High-Impact Guard and the Tier 1 Balanced Hilt (300 credits):
Now, granted, this particular Vibro Sword costs a whopping 1150 credits to the Vibro Blade's 800... but for that cost, it blows it out of the water. Prioritizing Bleed gives this Vibro Sword an 80% or better chance at procing a bleed, coupled with a 90% chance of dealing at least 1 damage, and a 75% chance of dealing at least 2 damage. If we add the "free" Pierce 1, there's also a 70% chance of dealing at least 3 damage while prioritizing the Bleed, which is just nuts. If we play more like we're likely to do during actual play--prioritize a +2D over our Bleed--we still proc the bleed better than 50% of the time, while pushing our 3D+ total to at least 70% without Piercing (almost 85% if we Pierce). The Vibro Blade tops out at 45% odds at a Bleed, with just a 76% chance of dealing a single damage. Nowhere close to the sword.
And, of course, if we decide we don't need to go for the Bleed with the Vibro Sword, it can score 5 or more damage an eye-popping 33-39% of the time with this set-up. The Vibro Blade tops out at 5 damage (2.4% of the time, and only if we're in full-on damage mode). That's what we're paying for when we fork over 50 more credits to take the Vibro Sword instead of the Vibro Blade: the potential of a weapon with a built-in +2D surge ability and two mod slots that we can have as early as our second campaign mission (or the first mission in a mini-campaign). This is nothing to sneeze at.
Now let's run through the same comparison using Davith's Heirloom Dagger, to see if a "surge-efficient" weapon fares any better than the Vibro Blade. And I'll start by just reminding us that the dagger starts with a 350 credit advantage over the Vibro Sword (or nearly the amount of credits you can expect to obtain in a generic campaign side mission). We'll start, as we did before, with naked Heirloom Dagger vs. naked Vibro Sword:
As we saw earlier, the Heirloom Dagger starts off well-ahead of the Vibro Sword when it comes to triggering the Bleed keyword (61.7% vs. 46.2% with Pierce 1, and 33.2% without it). The dagger's 1-2 damage output is also better than the Vibro-Sword's sustainable damage (78.9% and 52.6% vs. 72.2% and 36.7%), although straining for Pierce 1 puts the Vibro Sword ahead (once again proving just how much of a swing a single Pierce can give). The Heirloom Dagger also has a much greater chance of triggering Bleed in a damage-focused hierarchy than either Vibro Sword variant (28.4% vs. 13.8% and 11.5%).
Even with no upgrades, the Heirloom Dagger is in a much better position vis-a-vis the Vibro Sword when it comes to damage and keyword procs than the Vibro Blade. And the dagger actually improves overall once we add the High-Impact Guard to both weapons:
In this data set, the Heirloom Dagger's keyword proc chance actually fell slightly, from 61.7% to 59.9%. But that was still 13-percentage points better than the Vibro Sword fared with Pierce 1. The dagger's odds of scoring at least 1 damage also improved to better than 80%, as did the odds of scoring at least 2 damage (more than 60%). These are still lower than the Vibro Sword with Pierce 1, but within the realm of competition, and with a much better keyword proc chance.
The most interesting outcome is if we opting for +2D over the Pierce 1 + Bleed. This represents a vast improvement over our previous damage-focused hierarchy, where we opted for +1D over Pierce 1 and Bleed. Again, we've worked in another minor surge efficiency: instead of burning a single surge on a single damage, we can double the offensive output of that same surge ability. The result is an almost 9-percentage point increase in 1D+ (from 80.8% to 89.3%), giving us more raw damage output than what we can sustainably draw from the Vibro Sword (72.2%), with essentially the same keyword proc chance (33.5% vs. 33.2%).
And if we go all-in on dagger damage, the dagger surpasses the Vibro Sword's sustainable damage, with just short of a 90% chance of dealing 1D+ (though the Vibro Sword with Pierce 1 still outstrips it on 2-4D, before the Heirloom Dagger makes a slight combat on 5D). And bear in mind, the credit cost between these two weapons is a whopping 350 credits (500 credits for the Heirloom Dagger, vs. 850 credits for the Vibro Sword).
On that note, though, notice that the dagger's odds of scoring damage are basically the same (within about 2 percentage points at the most) if it prioritizes the Bleed over the surge for +1D. That seems counter-intuitive at first, until we remember that surging for Bleed with the dagger also nets us a bonus Pierce 1 which, against most defense die faces (and especially black defense dice) is the equivalent of receiving +1D. That's surge efficiency doing some work.
Of course, the Vibro Sword didn't really shine until we added the Balanced Hilt. Let's see what happens when we do that again:
So much for different outcomes. While the Heirloom Dagger fares better than the Vibro Blade did, it's still no contest: the Vibro Sword with Balanced Hilt still eclipses the 80% mark in procing Bleed, which is much greater than the 59.9% odds we have with the Heirloom Dagger. And its damage output is quite a bit higher, too. With Pierce 1, the Vibro Sword has better than 70% odds of scoring at least 3 damage; the Heirloom Dagger's odds are a paltry 31.5%. Remove the Pierce 1, and the Vibro Sword still scores 3 or more damage 50.1% of time, which is a significant improvement. And the Heirloom Dagger's full-damage hierarchy, which was competitive before, is now well off the scent (as the Vibro Sword can land 3D+ 86.5% of the time without Pierce 1, compared to the dagger's 47.8%).
But this time, there are some proverbial flies in the ointment. For starters, there's a significant cost difference between these two weapons. The Vibro Sword absolutely crushes the Heirloom Dagger, but it absolutely should given that it costs more than twice as much (1150 credits for the sword, vs. 500 credits for the dagger). Then there's the fact that the Vibro Sword's impressive damage results aren't sustainable, because (A) its awesome results require straining for Pierce, and (B) Balanced Hilt can't be used more than once per round because it's exhausted on use. So if we're only going to attack once per round, this Vibro Sword will outperform this Heirloom Dagger significantly. But if we're attacking twice (or more) per round, the Heirloom Dagger is much closer to the Vibro Sword (see the chart before this one). 650 credits (or 13 crates-worth of recovered goods) is a lot to pay for a one-round advantage, even one as significant as this. (Although to be fair, if we're forking over 1150 credits for a weapon that we know only gives a strong performance once per round, there might be larger efficiency issues we need to address...)
For most weapons, this would be the last word. But since the Heirloom Dagger is Davith's starting weapon, there's one last piece we need to address, because Davith has a special ability when he uses melee weapons: he gains another surge ability, which allows him to surge to become Hidden:
There are two components to being Hidden: while defending against ranged attacks, the attacker's accuracy is reduced by 2; and while attacking, we can add a surge to our attack results. Despite its placement at the top of the card, the defensive bonus from Hidden is very situational, and can be played around by a semi-skilled IP. Hidden's real value is in its offensive bonus: the ability to add a free surge to our attack pool.
This is incredibly powerful. If we canvas the universe of available weapon mods, only three allow us to add a surge to our attack results: the T1 Tactical Display (300 credits), the T1 Balanced Hilt (300 credits), and the T3 Sniper Scope (250 credits). The first two are perhaps the most highly sought after upgrades in the game--often highly contested among teammates--and Sniper Scope would hands-down be more popular than either if its range restriction weren't 5 or more spaces (which, as we'll see eventually, dramatically reduces the universe of weapons that can trigger it reliably). Class skills that give surges are also highly sought-after, like Gideon Argus's "Called Shot."
These are all really good, right?
[Photo Credit: cards.boardwars.eu]
For Davith, being Hidden is the functional equivalent of having one of these highly-sought after class and upgrade cards, with the added bonus that there's no once-per-round restriction on its use (thank to Davith's "Cloak and Dagger" ability). And while that single bonus surge may not seem like a lot, its effect can be dramatic. To illustrate this, let's see what happens to our Tier 1 Heirloom Dagger with High Impact Guard if Davith uses it while he is Hidden, and compare it to our monstrosity of a Vibro Sword:
First off, let me reiterate this weapon still costs just 500 credits: all we've done is taken advantage of Davith's special ability to Hide. Prioritizing the +2D over the surge for Pierce 1 and Bleed gives us a keyword proc chance of almost 90% (87.9%), which is absolutely absurd. Better yet, our odds of dealing 1-2D are within 2 percentage points of the Vibro Sword with High-Impact Guard, Balanced Hilt, and Pierce 1 from a Strain (91.1% vs. 91.8%, and 86.0% vs. 88.0%). Better still, it significantly outpaces the non-Pierce damage dealt by the Vibro Sword at every damage point except 6D+, by up to 10-percentage points. Even better, there's basically no difference between prioritizing +2D over the Pierce 1 and Bleed or vice versa, which means we're reliably resolving at least two surge results per turn (past defense dice). And if you compare this damage output with the Vibro Sword once Balanced Hilt is exhausted (two charts above), there's absolutely no contest.
Which raises the question: just how sustainable is this? Well, if we choose a surge hierarchy that prioritizes +2D and Pierce 1/Bleed over becoming Hidden, we get those remarkable damage totals and still are able to reapply Hidden roughly 1-in-3 times (32.7% and 32.1%). That's an infinite increase over the sustainability of an exhausted Balanced Hilt, and much better odds than we have of recovering 1 strain with the Vibro Sword (unless we want to completely gut our damage total, of course). If ~33% odds are still too low for us, we could opt for more of a middle-ground approach, where we surge for Pierce 1 and Bleed, then Hidden, then damage: that nets us a Bleed proc 80% of the time, and a 69% chance of triggering Hidden again, with an 84% chance of dealing at least 1 damage and a 66.7% chance of dealing 2 damage or more. In other words, we can apply damage, a Bleed, and become Hidden. Sustainably. Each and every time we attack. And our damage output are still better than what a Vibro Sword can sustainably deal.
And all for 500 credits.
Five. Hundred. Credits.
Not bad for a "starter weapon," right? :P
Now that we've covered keywords and surge efficiency, we're finally ready to put the bow on our starting and Tier I melee weapons. Next time, we'll do a final wrap-up of these weapons, see if we can find identify some winners/losers/keepers/sinkholes, and set the stage for our advanced weapons.
I'm so excited... :D
Inevitable post-posting edits: Wait, none so far?
"It's Christmas Theo, it's the time of miracles. So be of good cheer... and call me when you hit the last lock."

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Took a while to get through. Amazing read! Will you be looking at Davith's lightsaber too? Or does it fall out of scope because it's an XP upgrade?


Yeah, it was a lot this time, and I thought a lot about splitting it in two parts, but truthfully I'm ready to be done with this particular weapons batch and move on to some new shineys. As for Davith's lightsaber, it's coming, but probably after we do the Tier II weapons (along with Shu Yen's lightsaber). Otherwise those Tier II weapons look... underwhelming. ;)

Edited by Rythbryt

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The Galaxy's Fate in my Hand: An IA Probability Compendium
Excursus: Jabba's Realm and the Dawn of Malleable Weapons...
So I know last time I said the next talk would wrap up our starter and Tier I melee weapons. And I had every intention of doing that. Until about 4pm this afternoon.
But then FFG released some new product, and the rest as they say is history.
Now that Jabba's Realm is hitting tabletops (or at least spoiler threads), you may have noticed that melee weapons are getting a significant bump, thanks to:
  • A new melee hero and starter weapon (which we'll talk about next time--Mandos for the win!);
  • Two new melee weapons (a Tier II and a Tier III, so they're coming...); and
  • A new Tier II melee mod, which is really the reason I'm deviating slightly from our wrap-up schedule:
We talked last time at length about how a weapon's dice pool predisposes it to certain tendencies. For example, a Yellow-Green dice pool rolls high surges, very low damage, and middling keyword procs. A Red-Yellow pool rolls slightly fewer surges, but has excellent damage and keyword procs, especially with Pierce (hello Gaffi Stick). So choosing a weapon that has a dice pool that synergizes well with its primary goal (dealing damage, triggering keywords, gaining surges to trigger abilities/clear strain/etc.) will give us an edge on weapon efficiency, especially if we can get it on the cheap and it performs well with minimal upgrades. In a perfect world, we could choose our dice pool specifically to gain our desired combat advantage(s).
The problem with this sort of analysis is that up until today, our heroes' only real choice was choosing which dice pool would be a better fit for their combat goals, given the pool of preset dice pools that were available to them in existing weapons. Ranged weapons have had some flexibility in this regard for a while, through the convenient (but expensive) Tier 3 Disruption Cell (600 credits). Melee weapons weren't nearly so lucky.
Yet another modification melee weapons would (literally) kill for...
Some melee heroes had the option to swap or add a die of their choice to their attack pool through their class deck (Diala's "Saber Throw" and Davith's "Falling Leaf," for example), but for the most part, in order to change melee dice, our heroes' only recourse was to pair with Saska or Loku, assuming they 'specced into a very particular upgrade tree:
8_3_Saska.png     8_4_Power_Converter.png
It costs us a strain, but hey... (plus that card text is just rad...)
Saska's basic ability, Practical Solutions, coupled with her class skill Power Converter (3xp) allows any hero that has a device token to replace 1 die in an attack pool at the cost of 1 strain. The unstated bonus is that a hero who discards a device token receives +1 surge to his or her attack results anyway, meaning that discarding a Power Converter device can cover its own strain cost. So if Saska's in our group, the Vibro Sword can roll a Red-Green dice pool instead of a Green-Blue, which we intuitively know is a damage improvement. Or, if it has the High-Impact Guard on it, we might opt to replace the Blue die with a Yellow, and hope to trigger +4D from our double-surges (if we prefer a more surge-dependent weapon with greater risk and a slightly higher damage ceiling).
Melee heroes with Loku also had some options if they were attacking a target that had been pegged by a Recon Token (Set Your Sights), combined with Coordinated Attack (4xp) which allows one hero (it's exhausted, unfortunately) to add a die of his or her choice to the attack pool, at the cost of a whopping 2 strain (to Loku):
8_5_Loku.png     8_6_Coordinated_Attack.png
Not all of this is sustainable... but I'm sure it had to be that way for game-balance reasons.
While these dice-swapping/adding options were certainly better than nothing, they didn't come cheaply. They required a particular hero composition, and xp investment, and strain to trigger.
Well, not anymore:
For the moment, we'll ignore the fact that ranged weapons are getting another dice manipulation upgrade, and just bask in the incredible options this upgrade opens to our melee weapons. It's not available until Tier II, so we won't be able to use it right from the get-go. And there's an exhaust penalty, too. Plus it takes up one mod slot, which for most weapons, is all they have.
And yet, despite all that, I don't think I can over-emphasize how big a deal these upgrades are going to be when it comes to improving campaign weapons. In short, I think they're game changers.
For starters, while there's opportunity cost to be sure, there's no strain cost, which for many of our heroes (Biv *cough* Biv...) is going to make this significantly more attractive than something like Saska's "Power Converter." All we need to make this work is a melee weapon slot, which most melee weapons have. And then there's the literal cost: a paltry 250 credits. For comparison, that's 50 credits less than the Balanced Hilt, which is also an "exhaust to use" modification. As we mentioned last time, that's a highly sought-after melee upgrade (perhaps the most sought-after)... and I'm not sure it's any better than this one for most melee weapons, especially weapons that are surge-starved. If we have, say, Diala's lightsaber, and we want to trigger Cleave, would we rather have an exhaust to add one surge, or an exhaust to swap our blue die for a yellow die? Or if we have the Tier I Vibro Sword with the High-Impact Guard, would we rather have an exhaust for a surge, or an exhaust to replace the Blue die with a yellow? Or a Red? Or heck, why not another Green? We'll run the maths on these combinations and more eventually, but just based on intuition, wouldn't we rather spend a mod slot on an exhaust that will improve our base die pool over an exhaust that adds a surge to a bad die pool? Especially if it costs 50 fewer credits? That's all I'm saying...
We'll look at how this upgrade can impact specific weapons next time in our wrap-up, but (spoilers) there's a lot of good options out there. So for now, we'll just get the general lay of the land by seeing how all our potential (two) dice attack pools fare in different performance benchmarks. We'll start with raw damage dealt (natural damage, not surge damage) by all possible two-dice attack pools (there are 10):
As anyone who's played against Wampas knows, a Red-Red dice pool is no joke, with a ten-to-twenty percentage point lead in basically every damage category (except 6D+, where it stands alone). The red die is so strong when it comes to damage (guaranteed at least 1 damage, 1-in-2 chance of 2 damage, 1-in-3 chance of 3 damage) that having a single red die in our attack pool in combination with any other attack die outperforms the damage of any other attack pool that lacks a red die. And it's not particularly close.
Of course, some of our other dice pools can get close-ish if we start adding combat upgrades like Pierce...
... which, as we've seen time and time again, is just an all-around awesome upgrade for a melee weapon (turning what might otherwise be a mediocre dice pool, like Green-Blue, into a thing of beauty). Of course, adding Pierce to a dice pool with Red in it is even better, so...
While natural damage is amazing for forcing damage past defense dice, if we're more interested in landing surges (and let's face it, most of us are--either for weapon surge abilities or to trigger class abilities), the balance shifts dramatically:
Unsurprisingly, Yellow takes the cake here, followed closely by green. The Red die holds basically every die back except a Yellow, which actually ends up being surprisingly serviceable when it comes to triggering surges (hello again, Gaffi Stick).
And last, but not least, our odds of triggering Keywords (where we need to deal at least 1 damage to the target in order for the trigger to occur):
Big picture: reds, yellows, greens, and Pierces are where it's at. Some combination of those, paired with a staple of surge-efficient abilities and upgrades, should give us an excellent platform on which to build reliable melee damage. Only a few weapons have even a few of these traits welded into a single chassis (and none has all of them--there are no Red-Yellow-Green melee weapons, after all). But thanks to the Energized Hilt, our melee weapon customization options are about to increase exponentially.
(Figuratively, of course... not mathematically. Since this is mostly a maths article, I felt it important to mention that explicitly. You know, just in case.)
We'll dig into some of these more promising dice combinations next time when we (actually) wrap our starter and Tier I melee weapons. For now, I need at least one night to dream about what might be.
Because for the first time, it's (literally) all going to be on the table. :D


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While I rarely play Campaign and most of the time when I do I play as IP, I really appreciate these articles and an starting to use the "worst/average/best" rolls metric to evaluate units, especially in regards to seeing if a damage floor can reliably put damage through defense dice and how much damage can get through. I can't wait to see you get to IP/Skirmish oriented analysis (although with the depths you've been going into, I'll probably be waiting till 2018 ;P ).

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I really need to get it into my head that changing a die can have more of an impact than adding a surge. It just feels wrong, but maybe it really is as good as advertised :D


It really depends on the surge and the die.  ;) 


There are a surprising number of weapons that only have a single damaging surge result that only gives +1 damage:

  • basically all the starting weapons that have damage-surges (and there are many that have no +damage surges)
  • The Tier I Vibroblade, Tatooine Hunting Rifle, DDC Defender, and Vibroknife;
  • The Tier II Deathhammer and BD-1;
  • The Tier III Sporting Blaster.

For those weapons, slotting in a red die is usually going to result in at worst the same amount of damage, and generally better damage at a more consistent rate, because the red die has a 5/6 chance of dealing at least 2 natural damage, and a 3/6 chance of 3 natural damage (with a surge for +1D), whereas a green die with the same surge abilities will land 1 damage 1/6 of the time (single surge face), and two damage 5/6 of the time (double-damage and damage-surge faces). Blue and yellow will be behind that, just because of what they have on their faces and the surges they have available. For weapons that don't have damage surges (some starters, unmodified Gaffi Stick, and the Tier II T-21), there's basically no scenario where expected damage output will suffer by swapping in a red or green die for a blue or yellow one.


The weapons that tend to benefit more from surges are weapons that either:

  1. Have a +2 damage surge but don't have the right dice to land surges consistently (Tier I Vibrosword, Tier II Stun Baton, Tier III DXR if you have Saska);
  2. Have good surge dice, but too many surge abilities to resolve all of them at once (Davith's Shrouded Lightsaber [5 damage abilities, 3 max surges, but usually just 2 before defense dice... maybe 3 if you're Hidden]; Tier III Force Pike with High-Impact Guard [3 damage abilities + stun; 5 max surges, but consistently just 2 before defense dice]; Jyn with "Gunslinger," the Sporting Blaster, and the DL-44 [4 damage abilities plus stun plus accuracy, 5 max surges, but usually just 2 before defense dice]); or 
  3. Weapons that need surge to either manage strain to consistently chain-off high-strain abilities (Diala's "Sarlaac Sweep," Gaarkhan's "Charge," Biv's "Close and Personal," Verena's "Close Quarters") or need additional surges to trigger other class abilities (Davith's "Cloak and Dagger" and "Fell Swoop").

For the first group (weapons that only need 1 surge, but need it consistently), upgrading a die to improve base damage odds (swapping, say, a Blue for a Red) may still end up being the way to go--especially if we're attacking a target that rolls a white die (IOs, ISBs) or has a free Evade (Boba Fett)--but the math is closer. For the second (weapons with not enough surges), changing a die can still help if it involves upgrading a die to a more surge-friendly die (a blue to a yellow for full-surges, or even a green for more balanced damage-surge distribution), which is the beauty of the new dice swap mods--for just 250 credits, they give us unparalleled ability to adapt to a particular fight (granted, just once per activation, but still). For the third group, adding another surge heavy die to the attack pool is the best possible solution (Davith's "Falling Leaf"/ Focus/ etc.), adding another surge to the attack results (Balanced HiltSniper ScopeTargeting DisplayHidden, etc.) the next best (because only the yellow die can give us more than one surge per roll, and then at just 1/6 odds; so if we're rolling just 2 dice, odds are that the only way our weapon can land 3 surge results is by adding one artificially to their attack results through a mod or ability). If we can't do either of those, then upgrading a poor surge die for a yellow one is a lower-percentage way of getting at the same result... but at that point, it's better than settling. :P


Those are my big-picture conclusions at this point, anyway. But the maths be coming, so this may all be subject to change.  :D

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The Energized Hilt looks very exciting for the Ancient Lightsaber: Davith and Diala can get a red die on their non-wounded side now, AND their wounded sides become so scary that IPs might want to wound other heroes first.  Of course, Davith can also get a fourth dice added with Falling Leaf, there are surges from Hidden to consider.  What if he gets his reward!?!  Wow!  And Diala can focus herself to add a green die.  I also think Davith's own lightsaber and the electrostaff on Diala with this new mod are wet-my-pants exciting (and of course Davith's Shrouded Saber still has a mod slot left!).  Good luck eventually doing all the math on these things.  Give it four or five years and this thread can be used as a doctoral thesis!

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The Galaxy's Fate in my Hands: An IA Probability Compendium

Part the Eighth: "It's so hard to say goodbye..." (in which we bid a fond bon voyage to our Starter and Tier I melee weapons (with three data deep-dives)). 

Well, believe it or not, we're finally at the end of the trail. :D
This proved to be by far the most ambitious of the articles in this series, as we're essentially cramming a full weapon break-down (because a new expansion dropped) with a comparison of what ended up being eighty-eight (88) different weapon-mod combinations to see what weapon(s) proved to be "the best." Hopefully the results will be worth the wait. :ph34r:
So here's the skinny:
  • First, we'll dig into Shyla's Duelist's Blade, looking at the base weapon, it's special action, and what mods really make it tick.
  • Then we'll look at the weapon+mod combinations that the data tells us are best at generating surges (top 10), triggering keywords (top 10), and dealing damage past defense dice (top 15).
  • Because less than a quarter of the eighty-eight weapon+mod combos we tested made the top cuts, you'll find detailed data for all the rest after the main event, in several data deep dives for Unmoddable Weapons, Starter Weapons, and Tier I Weapons.

Finally, because not everyone might be interested in all the numbers (Recover? Why would I care about recovering when I attack? I'm all about the damage, baby!), I've embedded most of the data and detailed discussions in spoilers to reduce the amount of info you have to comb through. But if you really want it, it's all there--I promise!

There's a lot to cover, so let's get to it.

The Duelist's Blade: Dice Manipulation at its Finest (or at least its Cheapest)

In our brief post-Jabba's excursus, I was very excited about the new Energized Hilt mod that allows us to swap out one of our attack dice for another die of our choice. In a perfect world, of course, we'd just add our die of choice to our attack pool... but that's a very rare ability (hellooooo Saska and Loku). In the absence of that ability, I suggested that most of the time, the next-best thing we can do to improve our damage output is to swap in "better" (i.e., "more efficient") dice for "worse" ("less efficient") dice. For melee weapons, that generally means swapping in Reds for Yellows and especially Blues (if we want more damage, especially on weapons that aren't surge-dependent and/or have static combat effects like free damage, pierce, or keywords), Yellows for Blues if we want more surge results, and Greens (again, primarily for Blues) if we want a nice balance of damage and surges. Add in the Energized Hilt's extremely low buy-in price (250 credits), and it seemed like a game-changing addition to our campaign weapons.
But I had no maths to back it up, so it was all basically just spit-balling.
Fortunately, Jabba's Realm also gave us a new melee starter weapon--Shyla's Duelist's Blade--that basically has a mini-Energized Hilt built into it. Since we haven't had a chance to talk about that weapon yet, it's a nice way to test that dice-swap theory in a microcosm.
Photo credit: FFG & cards.boardwars.eu
In its basic form, the Duelist's Blade is essentially Davith's Heirloom Dagger: it has the same dice pool (Yellow-Green), a single mod slot, and surges to add 1 damage and to Pierce 1. The only difference is that the Dagger also has the ability to apply a Bleed when it Pierces--which, as we discussed previously, is actually a big part of what makes the Dagger so good at applying Keywords. The Duelist's Blade, on the other hand, is one of only two melee starter weapons that cannot apply a Keyword unless we add a modification like the Tier III Shock Emitter (Verena's Fighting Knife is the other, and cannot be modified).
To compensate for this, the blade gives Shyla access to a special action, which allows her to convert her Yellow-Green attack pool into a Red-Green pool. Our excursus suggested that this particular pool will give our weapon the second-highest damage results past defense dice (behind only a Red-Red pool), along with an average chance at landing a Keyword (though that's not applicable to this particular weapon). It's also a very rare attack pool for melee weapons, reserved for just the Tier II BD-1 Vibro-Ax (at the hefty buy-in price of 600 credits) and the new Double-Vibrosword (at a steeper buy-in price of 650 credits). We'll get into the specifics of those weapons next time; for now, it's enough for us to know that Shyla can gain access to a Tier II dice pool with her starting weapon.
Duelists_Blade.jpg    BD_1_Vibro_Ax.jpg    Double_Vibrosword.jpg
Photo credits: FFG & cards.boardwars.eu
So that begs the question: is there actually a payoff to swapping Shyla's Yellow die for a Red one? Given that Shyla can only surge for damage (no Keywords here), this is actually a very clean test-case for us. What boosts our damage more: a high surge die and two damage-focused surge abilities, or a single damage-focused attack die?
The answer is the red die. And it's not particularly close.


The first column (Red-Green [Dmg, Surge]) is what happens when Shyla uses her special action and performs an attack using a Red-Green pool, and surges first for her two damage abilities (+1D, Pierce 1) before spending any excess surges on other abilities (in her case, surging to recover 1 because this weapon has no other keywords or surge abilities--of course, with this particular pool, we never get to that third surge because a Red-Green dice pool can only ever have 2 surges... but that's the hierarchy we tested). Doing so gives her nearly a 9-in-10 chance (87.2%) of dealing at least 1 damage past adjusted defense dice (the average of her damage against a black die and a white die), a roughly 3-in-4 chance of dealing at least 2 damage (74.0%), a 1-in-2 chance of dealing at least 3 damage (50.4%), and a 1-in-5 chance of dealing at least 4 damage past defense dice (21.4%).
If the only thing we change is swap the Yellow die back in for the Red, the results are drastically different (third column from the left). Our odds of dealing at least 1 damage are still above 80% (80.9%), but everything else is way down. The Red-Green Pool has almost the same odds of scoring 3 damage (50.4%) as the Yellow-Green has of scoring 2 (56.8%), and its odds of scoring 4 damage (21.1%) are within the margin of error (in a sample size of 2000, the margin of error is about 2.2%) of the Yellow-Green's odds of dealing 3 damage (22.9%). In other words, swapping in the Red die amounts to about a 1 damage increase across the board. Especially in the early rounds of a campaign, when weapon damage is generally poor, a +1 damage boost--even for just one attack per round--can be significant.
The most interesting stat to me is how well the Red-Green pool performs relative to the Yellow-Green pool even when it isn't trying to pump out the damage. Look at the second column from the right, when we applied a surge-first priority to our Red-Green pool (surge to recover 1, then +1D). In other words, in order to surge for damage, this pool had to roll at least 2 surges and none of them could be removed by defense dice. Given that this pool was left with just a single-surge a mere 41.1% of the time, the damage totals in this column were basically all natural damage rolled by our two attack dice (less than 5% of our 2000 rolls had a second surge left-over after defense dice to add +1D). Now compare the total damage output to the column next to it, where the Yellow-Green pool is taking the opposite tack--prioritizing damage surges over recover. Red-Green still outpaces it when it comes to applying 2 or more damage--and outpaces it comfortably (16-percentage points better when it comes to dealing 3D+, 38.9% vs. 22.9%)--while also recovering 1 strain a full eight-times more often than the Yellow-Green pool (41.1% vs. 5.0%).
Better damage? Better Surge? Papa Red.
There are some limitations. Because Shyla has to use a special action to use the Red-Green attack pool, we're limited to doing so just once per round (unless she also has that marvelous Energized Hilt upgrade attached). But given that there's no associated strain cost and the special action also allows her to perform a melee attack, this dice swap is essentially "free." It also can't be combined with "Mandalorian Whip" because both are resolved using separate special actions. But since Shyla can gain up to 3 movement points at the start of each activation (plus a bunch of other fabulous goodies) for just 5xp, there should be plenty of opportunities to use both actions each round if we so desire (gaining three movement points and whipping up to three spaces away gives her an effective attack range of up to 6 spaces, which is nothing to sneeze at, and then she could attack again using the Red-Green pool). Given how well this Red-Green dice pool performs, that strategy is not just thematically satisfying but also brutally efficient, especially in the early rounds of a campaign.
Modding our Duelist's Blade
All that is well-and-good for a melee starter weapon (in fact, it's incredibly good for a melee starter weapon, even if it's only available 50% of the time). But let's face it--no one (except perhaps Gideon or MHD-19, and only then in 4-player groups where credits are tight) is going to suffer through an entire campaign with just an unmodified starting weapon. So what happens when we start adding modifications to Shyla's Duelist's Blade? Is the Red-Green dice pool still a significant improvement over Yellow-Green?
Once again, yes. And again, it's not close. 

Here's how the numbers break down in a damage-focused surge hierarchy (Damage X, Pierce 1, Recover 1):


First off, regardless of the mods we apply, the damage totals are dominated by Red- dice pools (top-5), all of which have a 60% chance or better of dealing at least 3 damage past defense dice. In fact, only two Red dice results score worse than any Yellow results, and both draw damage only from their defense dice and the Duelist's Blade's native surge abilities: the basic Red-Green attack pool with no mods (or a second Red-Green attack pool manufactured by putting the Energized Hilt on the Duelist's Blade, which would allow Shyla to attack with a Red-Green up to twice per activation) and a Red-Yellow dice pool with no mods (again gained from the Energized Hilt). And the basic Red-Green dice pool essentially battles the most surge-dependent upgrade for Yellow-Green (High Impact Guard) to a draw when we factor in our 2.2% margin of error.

The top entrant--the Duelist's Blade + the Tier III Vibrogenerator--is a marriage of brute efficiency, pairing the high-natural damage yielding Red and Green dice with a static +2D bonus. As a result, its odds of dealing at least 4 damage past defense dice are well above 50% (61.1%). The Duelist's Blade also scores much better damage with a red die while using both the Shock Emitter (50.2% chance of 4D+ with Red vs. 55.9% chance of 3D+ with Yellow) and the Balanced Hilt (70.6% chance at 3D+ with Red, vs. 70.9% chance at 2D+ with Yellow). As we saw above, taking the Red die over the Yellow still gives the Duelist's Blade a roughly 1 damage edge across the board.
The Red-Green pool also fares better than the Yellow-Green when we account for the most surge-dependent mod, the Tier II High-Impact Guard. Even though this surge hierarchy tells the Yellow-Green dice pool to surge for up to +3D (+2D, +1D) before moving on to Pierce and Recover, the Red-Green attack pool (which has access to the same surge abilities, but triggers 2 or more surges far less often) performs evenly with this weapon when dealing 1-2 damage (89.5% Red vs. 89.1% Yellow; 80.5% Red vs. 75.4% Yellow), and is better at dealing 3-4 damage by ten or more percentage points (for 3D+, 60.8% vs. 48.7%; for 4D+, 34.7% with Red vs. 22.2% with Yellow). In other words, the natural damage pushed through by the Red die is outpacing the yellow die's increased surge chance when it comes to forcing total damage past defense dice.
The numbers change, of course, if we're trying to accomplish something other than raw damage with our weapon: if Recover is more important than damage, for some reason, then we obviously want to use the Yellow-Green pool. And if that's the boat you think you're in, you can look at our Starter Weapon Deep Dive below to see how the Duelist's Blade--or any other weapon+mod comb--fares (spoiler: it fares best with the Balanced Hilt mod, as basically all weapons do in those circumstances).
Conversely, if we want to deal the most damage, the Balanced Hilt isn't a good choice unless it's paired with that Red-Green dice pool--we'll want to look to other upgrades, like the High-Impact GuardShock Emitter, and Vibrogenerator, all of which give the Duelist's Blade a boost to damage output.
So with that nice seguay, let's end our discussion of Starter and Tier I melee weapons with some winners.
Although damage is the most obvious purpose of a weapon, seasoned campaigners know that there can be a lot more to a weapon than just the raw amount of hits we can generate. Our deep-dives account for this by breaking up each weapon and mod's performance using a pre-set surge hierarchy that favors (1) raw surge abilities, then (2) the ability to generate keywords, and finally (3) consistent damage output. Just to make sure we're comparing apples-to-apples, we'll use that same approach here. 
Before we get started, a few brief words on methodology:
  1. What I've done is taken the eighty-eight weapon+mod combos we have for Starter and Tier I weapons, and ranked each combo's overall performance using a Monte Carlo simulator (2000 trials). For each weapon combo, the simulation measured the weapon's effectiveness in generating (1) raw surges, (2) keywords, and (3) damage past adjusted defense dice (the average of black vs. white) using three surge hierarchies: (1) surge hierarchy (surge, damage, keyword), (2) keyword hierarchy (keyword, damage, surge), and (3) damage hierarchy (damage, keyword, surge).
  2. Weapons were ranked both naked and with their "max upgrade potential" (i.e., the maximum number of upgrades they could sport). For every weapon but the Vibro Sword, that's one upgrade. The Vibro Sword can take two upgrades, so only the two-upgrade variants were tested (but don't worry -- there were a lot of them, so the Vibro Sword is still very well-represented).
  3. Once I collected those data points, I ranked our results for each hierarchy (for damage hierarchy, ranked weapons with the best surge output, keyword proc, and damage output; for keyword hierarchy, ranked weapons with the best surge output, keyword proc, and damage output; for surge hierarchy, ranked weapons with the best surge output, keyword proc, and damage output). Because the goal of this series is to reduce randomness by making weapon performance more consistent, the best "damage" weapon is the weapon that produced the best collective "damage" results no matter what surge hierarchy we used. This means that other weapons may have the outside potential to generate even higher damage results if all conditions are right (i.e., a higher damage ceiling), yet not ultimately prove the "best" weapon for generating weapon over the course of a campaign. The same is true for our "keyword" and "surge" weapons.
  4. We have a total of 88 candidates, which is way more than we could talk about without boring everyone. So for the sake of keeping things moving, we'll confine our discussion to the top 10 weapons for generating surges, keywords, and damage, in that order. We'll hit the high points of 6-10, then dig deeper into our top 5. (*Spoiler* There are some weapons that made more than one list.)
So let's start with the best Starter and Tier I weapon+mod combos for generating achieving surge results.
Early Campaign Flexible (Surge) Weapons
These weapons are for heroes who want to generate surges, and lots of them. Primarily, they need them to survive (recover), manage strain (again, recover), or trigger class abilities. If the weapon deals damage, so much the better. Keywords are an afterthought, but if we can get them, why not? Here's the top 10:
Early Campaign "Surge" Weapons: #6-10


  • 10thHeirloom Dagger (Starter, Davith Elso, 0 credits) [0 Credits]
  • 9thVibro Sword (Tier I, 350 credits) + Balanced Hilt (Tier I, 300 credits) + Energized Hilt (RG) (Tier II, 250 credits) [900 Credits]
  • 8thDuelist's Blade (YG) (Starter, Shyla Varad, 0 credits) + Balanced Hilt (Tier I, 300 credits) [300 Credits]
  • 7thVibro Sword (Tier I, 350 credits) + Balanced Hilt (Tier I, 300 credits) + Shock Emitter (Tier III, 500 credits) [1150 Credits]
  • 6thVibro-Ax (Starter, Gaarkhan, 0 credits) + Balanced Hilt (Tier I, 300 credits)  [300 Credits]
Here's how they fared in generating surges by surge hierarchy, and their overall composite score:
Some highlights:
  • First off, it turns out we don't have to invest much to have a top-10 weapon for generating surges. Three of the five entrants are starting weapons (Gaarkhan's Vibro Ax (6th), Shyla's Duelist's Blade (the yellow-green variant) (8th), and Davith's Heirloom Dagger (10th)), and it's worth noting that Diala's Plasteel Staff, which came in 11th, has the same dice pool as Davith's Heirloom Dagger but lost the nod due to slightly cooler dice in its 2000 Monte Carlo simulations. So if we're running a hero who only needs a weapon to clear strain or generate surges, we may not need to invest much at all (0-300 credits) or proceed far up the upgrade ladder (Starting weapons and/or Tier I upgrades).
  • Conversely, if we want to sink a lot of credits into a surge-generating weapon, we can do that too! The Vibro Sword price-points on this chart are a little deceiving, because what's really giving it a 7th and 9th place finish is the Balanced Hilt (300 credit upgrade, 650 credit total cost), not the Energized Hilt (250 credits) or Shock Emitter (500 credits). And those weapons are far and away the best at dealing consistent damage, so there's definitely a benefit that comes with their increased cost. But it's not a benefit to generating surges (or at least not with the Energized Hilt swapping in a Red die for a Blue).
  • The Vibro-Ax placed the best of these five weapons thanks to its strong surge generation regardless of surge hierarchy. In a damage hierarchy, it landed 1 surge (after surging for Pierce 1, then Cleave 1) 17.4% of the time, which was the 8th best surge proc among our 88 combos in the damage-centric surge hierarchy category. It also landed the 6th best surge results when prioritizing keywords (a basically identical 17.6%), and the 9th best result when prioritizing that surge (83.8%, aided by the Balanced Hilt). The 7th place Vibro Sword ranked 10th, 8th, and 10th; the 9th place Vibro Sword logged 12th place across the board; and the Heirloom Dagger ranked 13th, 14th, and 15th.
  • The Duelist's Blade ranked 4th in surges using a damage hierarchy and 4th with a surge hierarchy, which were both impressive. But it lost points because it doesn't have a keyword hierarchy (meaning its overall performance was less impressive). That's one of the few mathy-quirks of our apples-to-apples comparative approach, so I thought I'd flag it.

And now, on to the top 5.

Number 5:



The price point on this weapon is clearly high, but make no mistake: what we get for the price is an incredibly balanced weapon. Regardless of surge hierarchy, this weapon gives us almost a 90% chance of scoring at least 1 damage past defense dice, and between and 75-80% at dealing 2 or more damage, with composite odds of 52.4% of landing a keyword (Bleed) and a 40.8% chance of procing a surge. If we prioritize the surge, we'll get it close to 86% of the time plus a nearly-20% chance at getting a keyword, too.

Number 4:



So first off, as you've probably noticed, this is exactly the same weapon that logged fifth place (and, for what it's worth, 9th place). The difference is the die we choose to swap in for the Energized Hilt. What we get is an equally flexible weapon that still logs very good odds at dealing at least 1 damage (85-87%, depending on surge hierarchy), with now a 58.4% composite chance of triggering a keyword (Bleed) and a 51.3% chance of proccing a surge. 
Now it's worth noting, of course, that both the Energized Hilt and the Balanced Hilt have to be exhausted to use, so this level of surge-generation isn't sustainable if we're attacking more than once per activation. By the same token, though, if we're getting a weapon primarily to generate surges, odds are that we're primarily a support character and may not want to spend more than one action attacking. If that's the boat your in, this weapon is expensive, but it's a good way to generate a really annoying single attack per turn (damage + bleed), while reliably generating strain. And the Energized Hilt gives us a way to adapt to the situation, opting for the Red die if we want more damage (77.9% chance of 3D+ in a damage-focused hierarchy), or Yellow if we want to surge (87.7%, 5th best in surge-focused hierarchies).

Number 3:


Actually, there's a two-way tie for second place, between two cheap weapons that--for surge purposes--are basically indistinguishable. :P See what I mean? 



The difference between the surge proc rate of these two weapons is an absurdly small 0.2% (51.7% vs. 51.9%). The Plasteel Staff technically finished 2nd, 4th, and 2nd in our three hierarchies, while the Heirloom Dagger finished 3rd, 2nd, and 3rd. In other words, a dead heat. The advantage for Davith's Dagger is the insanely high keyword proc rate (68.3% composite, compared to the Plasteel Staff's 49.0% rate, which is still very good but obviously inferior) as well as slightly-higher damage output, so that bumped it slightly in our overall calculus. But if our goal is just to generate surges, at 300 credits, it's hard to argue with the results we get for the price. Although...

Number 1**:


** If you're just joining us and are wondering what happened to #2, there was a two-way tie for 2nd. It's just above...


If Davith's Heirloom Dagger (2a) uses the Balanced Hilt to give us an excellent balance of consistent damage, keywords, and surges, the Gaffi Stick takes the Balanced Hilt and pumps it full of steroids. It's the only weapon to generate a composite of 70-70-70: 70%+ odds of 2D+ (70.7%), 70%+ odds of a surge proc (75.2%), and 70%+ odds of a keyword proc (77.1%, Weakened). It costs 200 credits more than the Heirloom Dagger, but there's a definite benefit to be had.
Given what we've seen previously, this isn't really a surprise. The Gaffi Stick combines the consistent natural damage of a Red die with a free (surge-less) Pierce 1 to jump ahead in the damage race (it has 1-in-3 odds of landing 3D + Pierce 1 with just the Red die, which is enough to guarantee damage past any defense result other than a dodge). And in this build, it has literally only one surge ability available to it (surge for Weaken). By pairing the Balanced Hilt with a Yellow die, the Gaffi has excellent odds at getting at least 1 surge past defense dice, and very good odds at 2 surges (especially against a black die); if it does, then it there's enough surges to apply Weaken and recover 1, or spend that surge (or two) on other class abilities.
The result is a composite surge score (75.2%) that is far and away the best among our Starter and Tier I melee weapons:


Early Campaign Havoc (Keyword) Weapons
These weapons are for heroes who want to spread havoc wherever they go: stunning, bleeding, weakening, cleaving, hiding, and focusing (oh to be so lucky!). Some level of consistent damage output is also important (as the weapon needs to deal at least 1 damage to the target to trigger the keyword), but we'll settle for minimal damage to our primary targets, who are pawns in a much larger game. Here's the best of the best:
Early Campaign "Keyword" Weapons: #6-10


  • 10thVibro-Ax (Starter, Gaarkhan, 0 credits) + Balanced Hilt (Tier I, 300 credits) [300 credits]
  • 9thHeirloom Dagger (Starter, Davith Elso, 0 credits) + Shock Emitter (Tier III, 500 credits) [500 credits]
  • 8thVibro Sword (Tier I, 350 credits) + Balanced Hilt (Tier I, 300 credits) + Shock Emitter (Tier III, 500 credits) [1150 credits]
  • 7thPlasteel Staff (Starter, Diala Passil, 0 credits) + Balanced Hilt (Tier I, 300 credits) [300 credits]
  • 6thVibro Sword (Tier I, 350 credits) + Balanced Hilt (Tier I, 300 credits) + Energized Hilt (GG) (Tier II, 250 credits) [900 credits]
As before, more highlights:
  • First off, there are some repeat-offenders. Gaakrhan's Vibro Ax + Balanced Hilt comes in at number 10 (6th in "surge"), the Vibro Sword with the Balanced Hilt and Shock Emitter lands in 8th (7th in surge), Diala's Plasteel Staff with a Balanced Hilt takes 7th (tied for 2nd in surge), and the Vibro Sword with the Balanced Hilt and Energized Hilt (GG) comes in at number 6 (5th in surge).
  • These weapons lodge a composite keyword proc rate of somewhere between 40-50%, which is very good. And with the exception of Diala's Plasteel Staff, all of these weapons also have an 80% chance or better at dealing at least 1 damage.
  • The two Vibro Swords are the best at landing keywords (Bleed) while prioritizing them (82.9% and 82.8% proc rates) and have better than 75% odds at dealing at least 2 damage in a keyword-centric surge hierarchy. As we've come to expect with the Vibro Sword, we have a potential sustainability problem (the Energized HiltBalanced Hilt, and Shock Emitter are all exhaust-to-use mods), but once per round these models are devastating. On the flip side, they're also quite a bit more expensive than any of the other weapons that made the cut.
  • Davith's Heirloom Dagger made the cut because it lands a keyword an astounding 29.5% of the time in a surge-centric hierarchy (surge for surge, then damage, then keyword), thanks to the fact that it can get damage (Pierce 1) and a keyword (Bleed) out of the same surge.

And now, on to the main event!

Number 5:



On first blush, this weapon looks... underwhelming. It's got a Green-Green dice pool, which is nice in theory, but only a 77% composite chance of landing at least 1 damage (which is terrible in practice), and under 65% odds of dealing at least 2 damage even under the best conditions (64.6% odds in a damage-centric surge hierarchy). So what gives?
What gives is this weapon's 39.8% chance of landing both a Cleave 2 and a Bleed past defense dice in a keyword hierarchy (65.5% odds of landing one of them), which gives this weapon the best keyword proc rate of our eighty-eight weapons (over 100% combined odds). Add to that it's 11.7% chance of landing both Cleave 2 and Bleed in a damage-centric surge hierarchy (5th best keyword proc rates among damage hierarchies) and we have a weapon that's sneaky good at getting just enough damage through to be dangerous to more than one target.

Number 4:



Again, this is another incarnation of the Vibro Sword that ranked 6th in overall keyword proc with a Green-Green dice pool (and 4th, 5th, and 9th in our surge proc rate). That Energized Hilt really lets it be a chameleon.

Here, we still clear the 70% threshold on dealing 2D+, which is extremely solid, and the Yellow-Green dice pool gives us a composite 58% chance of proccing a keyword (Bleedand a 51.3% composite chance of proccing a surge as well (meaning we just might have found a way to make the Vibro Sword's Pierce 1 semi-sustainable).

Again, exhaust-to-use caveat applies here.

Number 3:



So first off, this weapon is nothing if not a model of consistency. In a damage-, surge-, or surge-centric hierarchy, it has a 70% chance of dealing at least 3 damage past defense dice. Again, the Red die's consistent natural damage (5-in-6 chance of at least 2 damage) plus a free Pierce 1 sets us off to a great start, and now we're pairing that with yet another "free" (exhaust to use) natural damage from the Shock Emitter, once per activation. On the flip side, we're not spending a single surge for damage in this set-up (because the Gaffi Stick still has no surge abilities for extra damage), so every surge we roll can be applied to triggering a keyword (or two), giving us a better than 60% chance of at least one, which is a phenomenal proc rate considering we don't have the Balanced Hilt.
And speaking of keywords, we also have the choice between Stun (to wreck IP plans) and Weaken (to make our heroes that much more resistant to taking surge damage, and to make the target's defense dice that much more susceptible to being wrecked). Or a 20.3% chance of triggering both in a damage- or keyword-focused hierarchy. You know, to really mess with the IP's head...
Finally, you've probably noticed that the damage numbers for this weapon are the same across surge hierarchies (as in the maximum variance is 1.3%). That's because this is is a surge-independent weapon: our surges literally have no effect on our damage totals (though they factor into keyword and surge ability procs), and by extension, Evades on defense dice are effectively blanks (for damage purposes only--they can still affect surge abilities and keywords). Any variance comes down to how "hot" or "cold the dice roll--and since we have a Red die + a free Pierce 1 + aren't reliant on surges for damage, even a "cold" roll (1D on Red, +1D from the Shock Emitter, 1 Surge on Yellow) will give us a 2D + Pierce 1 and the option to either Recover or Weaken the target (unless the target rolls the single 3-block face on the black die or the single Dodge face on the white die). Again, consistency.

Number 2:



Yet another repeat offender (tied for 2nd in surges), which just goes to show that a starter weapon absolutely can be better than "good enough" depending on the role our hero fills in the group. 

We already discussed this weapon's ability to proc keywords in significant detail, so rather than rehashing that discussion here, let's just reiterate: for the price, this is the most consistent keyword-applier in the game. When we want to proc keywords, this thing will give us 1D+ and 1 keyword better than 83% of the time. When we want to deal damage, this thing will proc 1D+ and 1 keyword 63.9% of the time. And when we need to surge to recover, this weapon will still deal 1D+ and 1 keyword an astonishing 57.7% of the time (or better than 1-in-2). If you're just going to attack once per round, pencil this thing in for 1D and a Bleed every time. And on the rare occasion it misfires, just laugh. 

Number 1:



All that said, if we can manage to scrape together extra 200 credits lying around (and really, we should be able to--if all else fails, go rogue crate-hunting during a mission ;) ), this is the apex of keyword application among all the weapons we've looked at so far.
The king of surges (1st, 2nd, 2nd) does it again, this time logging a clean sweep (1st, 1st, 1st) with an unfathomable 85.5% keyword proc rate in damage- and keyword-focused surge hierarchies, and 60.4% keyword proc rate when prioritizing surges, all while dealing at least 2 damage 70% of the time. Again, this weapon is all about brute efficiency: free Pierce + Red die for damage, no fancy-pants surge abilities for damage, utterly focused. Just damage, Weaken, recover.
Every. Single. Time.

Alright. If you've made it this far, we're finally at the main event. If you joined the Rebels for a chance to kill Imperials, then this next section is for you...

Early Campaign Disintegration (Damage) Weapons
"Damage is king."
"The only good Imp is a dead imp."
"Anything worth killing is worth over-killing."
"You can never have too many Wookiee pelts on your wall."
"A red sun rises."
"Yippee ki yey."
"I'm gonna cut your heart out with a spoon."
(And so on.)
If any or all of the above sound like you (and you're not interested in going home and rethinking your life), here's what you want to get to the carnage as quickly as possible. Since everyone loves damage, here's the top 15:
Early Campaign "Damage" Weapons: #15-12


We could refer to this group as the "reign of the Shock Emitter," and we wouldn't be wrong. Three of the four weapons listed here use the Shock Emitter's natural-damage boost (exhaust for +1D). The result is composite odds of 75% or more of dealing at least 2 damage past defense dice, no matter what surge hierarchy we use. In damage-focused hierarchies, each weapon has at least a 60% chance of dealing 3 or more damage past defense dice (Gaarkhan's Vibro-Ax brings up the rear, at 62.8%), and the Vibro Sword variants have close to a 50% chance of dealing at least 4 damage past defense dice if we prioritize damaging surge abilities.
The party crasher is the Gaffi Stick with the High-Impact Guard, which comes in at 12th. Like the weapons with the Shock Emitter, it too has very good odds at dealing at least 3 damage past defense dice in a damage-hierarchy (72.1%) and coin-flip odds of dealing 4 or more damage (49.0%). The trade-off from what we've seen with previous Gaffi Sticks is that since we're now spending a surge to deal additional damage, we also need to choose between triggering a keyword and triggering a surge ability, and our odds of doing so are now quite a bit lower (though still above 15% if we prioritize damage).
Finally, there's quite a bit of variance among these weapons when it comes to cost and sustainability. The Vibro Swords run somewhere between 1100 and 1350 credits (or Force Pike/Electrostaff territory), but we can get similar consistency (if not the same levels of spike damage) out of weapons that run 500-700 credits total, for a potential savings of up to 850 credits. That's not insignificant. And because the Shock Emitter has to be exhausted to use, only the Gaffi Stick's results are sustainable over multiple attacks in the same activation.

Early Campaign "Damage" Weapons: #6-10



So right off the bat, we have not one, but two surprises! First, we have a bunch of ties! (It's crowded at the top.) And second, it's a whole new crop of weapons we haven't talked about yet! What an amazing universe of possibilities we live in!

Ok, on to the highlights.
  • First off, notice the large black holes in the chart when it comes to keyword- and surge-procs. With the exception of the two Gaffi Stick entrants, all the other weapons just don't have enough surges to deal damage and apply both keywords and trigger non-damaging surge abilities (like recover). In other words, there are fewer generalists than specialists in this group.
  • The tie for 10th provides an interesting study in contrasts. On the one hand, we have a very conventional weapon: the Tier I Vibro Sword with the Tier II High-Impact Guard and the Tier I Balanced Hilt. This gives us two surge abilities for +2D (or the potential for +4D total), plus an extra surge once per round to help us get that bonus damage past sub-optimal rolls or Evades on defense dice. Odds are that if you're a seasoned campaigner, you've either considered this weapon build yourself for a campaign or know someone who has. Total cost: 1150 credits, or the cost of a Tier III weapon with no- or minimal-upgrades. On the other hand, we have a starting weapon with just one surge ability that impacts our damage total (and it's a surge for Pierce 1, not even for +1D) and a mod that allows us to swap out a Yellow die for a Red die. Total cost: 250 credits. When both weapons are gunning for damage, there's clearly no comparison between the two: the Vibro Sword ranks 3rd in overall damage output in a damage hierarchy, with a better than 60% chance of forcing at least 4 damage past defense dice; the Vibro-Ax ranks 24th with a 37.2% chance of forcing at least 4 damage past defense dice (which is still better than 1-in-3 odds, but obviously behind the Vibro Sword by a lot). On the other hand, the Vibro Sword is very much a one-trick pony. If the situation calls for us to surge to recover or to apply a Bleed, its damage tanks, because a Green-Blue dice pool--even with the Balanced Hilt--struggles to get 2 (and especially 3) surges past defense dice, particularly white dice. The Vibro-Ax will struggle to get surges as well (it is rolling a Red-Red after all, so its odds of getting a surge for a keyword or surge ability are in the 17-19% range, instead of the 80% range), but its damage suffers far less when it gets that surge, thanks to the high natural damage on the Red dice. Which is better? Well, in a vacuum, the Vibro Sword is obviously the better damage dealer of the two, and also has the best odds of getting that other surge we need for other things (because it has the Balanced Hilt). But is it 900 credits better? I'm not so sure...
  • Speaking of modifying dice, Shyla's Duelist's Blade makes a cameo here with its Red-Green dice pool, tied for number 6 in total damage output with the Gaffi Stick + Shock Emitter (which we've already talked about at length thanks to its strong 3rd-place performance in generating keywords). This time, the Duelist's Blade finally has the ability to trigger a keyword (Stun, thanks to the Shock Emitter), and can do so at almost a 40% clip if it wants to (38.4%), plus have a better than 65% chance (65.2%) of dealing at least 3 damage past defense dice. It also logged the 9th best damage results when prioritizing a surge for recover (which it managed to trigger 42.3% of the time) while still dealing 3D+ more than 60% of the time (61.9%). It doesn't have the max damage ceiling that a fully tricked-out Vibro Sword has (up to 7D past defense dice), and it still needs a Tier III upgrade so there's a mission-delay issue, but it does have the best composite odds of dealing 5 or more damage past defense dice (17.5%, or approximately 1-in-6 tries) of any weapon in this group (just narrowly edging out #8). At just 500 credits, this is a cost-effective way to get very consistent damage, with the added option for flexibility.
Finally, speaking of #8, we probably can't just gloss over what is certainly on the short-list (if not the list) for the most counter-intuitive weapon build in the game. In case you missed it, this is how it looks on the table:
Photo credit: FFG & cards.boardwars.eu
I'll give that a moment to sink in...
* * *
Ok... so now that the moment's passed... 
What the heck?!?
I mean seriously: what the heck?!?
I mean... just... what in the... how... who would ever... ???
The reasons this weapon works (and more importantly, a discussion as to why any self-respecting campaigner would even think about choosing this weapon--and convince his or her teammates to let him/her construct this Frankenstein of a weapon) deserve their own deep-dive (which we'll get to). But the damage data for this weapon is fairly straight-forward: this weapon (ironically enough) has a damage floor of 3D (plus the potential to add Pierce 1 at the cost of a strain, which means guaranteed damage against all but a Dodge), which makes its damage output remarkably consistent. The dreaded double-surge roll converts to 4 damage (if the defender doesn't Evade; otherwise it's 2 damage). It has a decent chance at triggering keywords or surge abilities (at least as far as Vibrogenerator weapons go), at around 10%. And it has composite odds of dealing 3 or more damage past defense dice 66% of the time (or two tries in 3).
Long-story short, this is definitely a weird weapon. And an expensive weapon. But according to the data, it's not a bad weapon.
Not the best, but not bad.
Alright, the moment of truth is finally here. Here's the top 5 damage dealers among our Starter and Tier I weapons:

Number 5:



On the one hand, a Vibro Sword with a Balanced Hilt and Energized Hilt isn't entirely new to us. And just for the record, we can slot both of them in the same weapon--even though both are "hilts"--because the Balanced Hilt is (surprise, surprise) a "balance" modification while the Energized Hilt is (surprise, surprise) an "energy" modification... because of course these things matter.
We've seen this exact same weapon place 4th and 6th in keyword procs and 4th and 5th in surge procs, albeit with a different dice pool (some mix of Yellow-Green and Green-Green primarily), though this particular Red-Green variant also managed to place 9th overall in surge proc chance, which is in itself fascinating. Here, the high natural damage from the Red die, combined with consistent surge for +2D from some combination of the Green die plus the Balanced Hilt, give us a very strong damage platform. This weapon is above 75% and 50% when it comes to dealing 3D+ and 4D+ respectively in a damage-focused surge hierarchy, and it lodges composite odds of 4D+ of basically 40% (39.8%).
What's more, our keyword and surge proc rates can be very high (around 80%) if we need to prioritize a Recover or Bleed, so there's a measure of flexibility with this weapon that we haven't typically seen on these damage-focused weapons.
The caveat, of course, is that both the Energized Hilt and Balanced Hilt are exhausted on use, so if we blow both of them on the same attack, we're left with what is essentially a naked Vibro Sword for the rest of our activation (which is a paltry 64th of 88 in damage... yeesh :huh: ). That said, this is the cheapest full-upgrade path for a Vibro Sword (900 credits), so it's at least more efficient than some of the other variants that are out there.
Speaking of which...

Number 4:



Now we're getting to the big guns (metaphorically speaking, of course... the actual big "guns" are coming... eventually :D). This beauty is our first weapon to near the 50% threshold when it comes to dealing 4 or more damage (46.9% composite, 60.4% in a damage hierarchy) and to cross the 20% threshold at leading 5D+ (21.9% composite, 33% if we prioritize damage). There's no Balanced Hilt, so our odds of procing keywords or surge abilities have taken a noticeable dive, although our odds are still around 40% if we really want it (and while there's some loss in damage output, we still have 60% odds or better at dealing 3D+). 
So we're getting a noticeable damage bump from our 200 credits, in exchange for a drop in the flexibility that comes from reliable surges. The result is top-tier damage regadless of surge hierarchy (top 5 in damage and keyword hierarchies, 7th in surge hierarchy). There's still an exhaust-to-use caveat, of course. But it seems there always is with the Vibro Sword.
But wait! There's more!

Number 3:



For just 50 more credits, we get what is essentially the best of both worlds. The damage output is basically the same as we'd get with the Energized Hilt instead of the Balanced Hilt (46.9% odds of 4D+ vs. 46.8%; 21.9% odds of 5D+ vs. 19.0%), but our surge and keyword proc rates skyrocket (better than 80% odds if we prioritize them). The damage output is also consistently excellent (6th best in damage-hierarchies, 4th best in keyword-hierarchies, and 6th best in surge hierarchies), and overall, this was the best weapon among the eighty-eight I tested when it came to balance: the ability to generate damage, keywords, and/or surges in a single attack.
So why is it only the third-best "damage" weapon? Well, sustainability is again an issue, because this weapon is only fabulous once per activation: after that, it morphs into a very ordinary Vibro Sword. And while this weapon is a very good generalist, its damage does suffer--even under peak circumstances--once it starts handing out surges for keywords and abilities. Finally, this weapon is still surge-dependent: there's a noticeable drop in damage if it can't spend a surge for +2D. The Balanced Hilt helps with that, but even then, there are times when there's only one surge in the attack results and the defender rolls an Evade. So while this weapon proves to be very consistent (again, at peak strength, with all upgrades readied), it's not the most consistent when it comes to dealing damage.

Number 2:



So let's get one thing out of the way before we get to this fantastically absurd weapon: how can this weapon possibly fare better than a Vibro Sword with an Energized Hilt and the Vibrogenerator (which would add the Vibrogenerator to a Red-Green dice pool, which sounds much better than this)? And the answer is it's not: that Vibro Sword would kick this Vibro-Ax's butt. But unfortunately for us, both the Vibrogenerator and the Energized Hilt are "energy" mods, and thus can't be combined in the same weapon (because apparently that would be "too boss").
As a result, we have to settle for what is now only a "very boss" weapon. Which, in case it wasn't clear before, is a starter weapon.
The most obvious thing on these charts is the lack of keywords and surges. Because let's face it, if you have to lose 2 surges to trigger the Vibrogenerator, your odds of landing 3 surges with a Red-Yellow dice pool aren't good (although as we can see from the chart, it will occasionally happen). That's the cost of doing business with the Vibrogenerator.
The trade-off is incredibly consistent damage at an extremely cheap cost. For a mere 350 credits, we have what amounts to a 1-in-2 shot of dealing 4D+ (once we factor in our ~2.2% margin of error), and odds of 5D+ that are at or better than 20%. Our odds of 6 and 7 damage are also higher than anything else we've seen. Add to that the fact that this weapon is (1) entirely surge-independent, and (2) entirely sustainable because there's no exhaust-to-trigger requirement on the Vibrogenerator, and Gaarkhan can deal crazy damage on a budget. And if Gaarkhan is wounded and has "Unstoppable" (4xp) and/or is focused and has "Ferocity" (2xp), this weapon's damage becomes insane.
So how could we possibly improve on such a masterpiece of brutal combat efficiency? Simple. Give it even more free, non-surge-dependent combat stuff. Which, if you've been following this series, can mean only one thing...

Number 1:



So I could pontificate on why this is such a great weapon (and it is), point out its absurdly-high damage stats (70%+ at dealing 4D+, 40%+ at dealing 5D+, twice the odds of any other weapon when it comes to dealing 6D+, etc.). But since I've basically been doing that since we first stumbled on the Gaffi Stick, I'll just let this visual do the talking:


When it comes to damage floors, it's hard to beat this one: this weapon gets basically guaranteed damage (3D + Pierce 1) out of what for any other weapon would be a laughably-bad roll (1 damage, 1 surge). Things only escalate from there. This weapon has the same odds of crapping the bed (3D + Pierce 1) as it does of shooting the moon (7D + Pierce 1): 2-in-36, or ~5.6%. Its odds of dealing 4D + Pierce 1 are extremely high (9-in-36, or 25%). And its odd of dealing 5D or 6D + Pierce 1 are a whopping 23-in-36, or 63.9% (in other words, almost 2 out of every 3 times we attack, we'll give the target a 5D + Pierce 1 or a 6D + Pierce 1 to chew on).
There's only one caveat with this weapon: we have to wait until we have access to Tier III items, because unfortunately, that's where we'll find the Vibrogenerator. But it proves to be well-worth the wait. For 550 credits, we get an insanely high level of consistent damage that is completely sustainable because nothing is tap-to-use, and because we don't rely on surge abilities to generate any damage, we can completely ignore defense dice that roll Evades as well as single-blocks (because of our free Pierce 1). So if a defender rolls a black die, that die has effectively 1 double-block, 2 single-blocks, and three blanks; a white die is even worse: 1 dodge and 5 blanks). The result, predictably, is yet another clean sweep: 1st in a damage hierarchy, 1st in a keyword hierarchy, and 1st in a surge hierarchy.
That's why when it comes to total damage dealt, this weapon is the best of our Starter and Tier I weapons, and it's not particularly close:


So that's that! :D
We've finally made it through all our Starter and Tier I melee weapons, ran the numbers, and come up with some clear winners and some interesting choices: high-cost weapons that do a lot vs. cost-effective weapons that are more selective, surge-dependent weapons that give us flexibility versus surge-independent weapons that give us consistency, role-specific starter weapons vs. generalist items, etc. 
I hope this summary has been helpful. If there's a weapon we didn't cover that you're interested in, you'll find its data below in our deep dives.
The next step is to move on to our Tier II melee weapons (yes!), but before we do, we'll take a brief aside to talk about this:
Photo credit: FFG & cards.boardwars.eu
Because I promised I would. And because the data is pretty clear: if we want to maximize our weapon's damage output, the Vibrogenerator deserves a harder look than most of us have given it.
A much harder look.
Until then. ;)
Edited by Rythbryt

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DATA DEEP-DIVE 1: "Unmoddable" Starter and Tier I Melee Weapons.

If you haven't already read the Early Campaign Extravaganza article (here), none of these weapons wound up making any of our top-10 lists.  But if you want to see their data anyway, then this is the place for you!


The basics are that of these three unmoddable weapons, the only one we might end up wanting as anything more than a place-holder would be the Armored Gauntlets. But even then, the damage output we have with this weapon--while definitely an improvement over most naked starter weapons--is easily outpaced once we start adding mods to most of our weapons (especially the VibrogeneratorShock-Emitter, and the High-Impact Guard, and even the Balanced Hilt on some weapons, like the Vibro Sword). Its damage especially suffers once we start spending surges on other things like surge abilities or keywords.

If we are going to settle for a weapon that we can't modify, we want a better chasis than what we get with any of these weapons. Unless we want a weapon solely to recover strain in a pinch, we should probably leave these well enough alone (or at least leave them for the newbs in your group :P ).

Edited by Rythbryt

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DATA DEEP-DIVE 2: Starter Melee Weapons

Here's the exhaustive data for all of our starting melee weapons, sorted by how well each weapon+mod combo performs in dealing damage, triggering keywords, and generating surges. The results are broken up for each weapon by surge-hierarchy (damage-focused, keyword-focused, surge focused). Enjoy.

Diala's Plasteel Staff (Starter, 0 credits)



The shortcomings of this weapon are well-documented: its damage is generally poor (even with the Vibrogenerator, it has just barely a 50% chance of dealing 3D+ past defense dice), which is a shame because it's one of the few early campaign weapons that can Stun a target (its ability to trigger keywords is also quite poor, again due to its difficulty in dealing damage).

That said, this weapon placed very high in generating surges for non-damage abilities (like Recover), so if you're not planning to take Diala up the "Way of the Sarlaac" (4xp) upgrade tree and are going to focus instead on strain-intensive group support abilities--like "Force Throw" (1xp), "Force Adept" (1xp), "Battle Meditation" (2xp), and "Art of Movement" (3xp)--then this can help recover an extra strain in a pinch. In the off-chance if double-resting with "Battle Meditation" isn't doing enough for you...

Davith's Heirloom Dagger (Starter, 0 credits)



 This weapon is all about incidental damage: the focus is applying Bleeds and generating surges (for awesome Davith-things). If we want reliable damage--especially multiple times per activation with "Fell Swoop" (4xp)--the High-Impact Guard is probably the best bet (especially if Davith is getting a free surge from Hidden). Otherwise, we're probably looking at a damage cap if we settle for this weapon.

DO NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES pair the Vibrogenerator with this weapon unless you're planning to never have Davith do Davith-things... in which case, you should let someone else play Davith. Because peak Davith is absolute awesomeness.

Gaarkhan's Vibro-Ax (Starter, 0 credits)



If you read the full write-up, the Vibro-Ax with the Vibrogenerator was our runner-up when it came to dealing damage, so this is a very solid starter that you can (a) actually afford to sit on for a few missions while your teammates upgrade their garbage weapons, and (b) can actually deal very-good-to-excellent damage with an opportune mod or two.

Bear in mind also that this weapon functions at least as well (if not better) with the cheaper melee damage upgrades (Vibrogenerator and Energized Hilt) as it does with the more common-place and expensive mods (Shock Emitter and High-Impact Guard).

Plus, if you pair this thing with the Energized Hilt and "Ferocity" (2xp), you could chuck three red dice when focused. Which is just all sorts of awesome.

Shyla's Duelist's Blade (Starter, 0 credits)



Also an excellent choice for a starter-keeper. It's significantly better at dealing damage with the Red-Green dice pool, so the Energized Hilt isn't bad if you're all about cheap consistency. For a little more, the Vibrogenerator is a good choice since (a) this weapon only surges for what amounts to +2 damage anyway (1 surge for +1D, 1 surge for Pierce 1), and (b) Shyla has ways to Recover without using surges.

The High-Impact Guard is a decent buy as well if you want a slightly higher damage ceiling and the flexibility of spending your surges on other things. But if you happen to land Shyla's reward card, "Mandalorian Heritage", definitely pass on the Guard and go straight for the Balanced Hilt. A red-green dice pool with a free surge and surge abilities for +2D, +1D, and Pierce 1 is probably the most terrifying thing 300 credits can buy.


Edited by Rythbryt

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