Cumbersome Star Wars Combat

I’ve been playing the original Star Wars RPG (WEG 1987) in a solo game and damn if combat isn’t cumbersome. Lots of rolling and comparison and adding numbers up, as trad games like this commonly require.

Six six-sided dice
Photo by Zacharias Korsalka on Pexels.com

First, you roll your skill (e.g. “Blaster”) to attack against a target number defined by range. If the defender chooses to dodge, they roll and add that to the target number. Then, on a hit, you roll for damage and they roll to resist the damage. Armor increases the resistance but, if anything, can make it more difficult to dodge. Happily, damage is then only tracked qualitatively: Stunned, Wounded, Incapacitated, Mortally Wounded. Characters can attack or react (e.g. dodge) multiple times in the same round, just with smaller dice pools each time until the next round. So a single attack can easily require four separate rolls: to hit, to dodge, damage, and resistance.

I don’t mind rolling fistfuls of dice – a starting character could have up to 6D in a skill, even in the first edition rules. But I’m thinking about what design goals this serves and whether I’d want to keep doing it this way. Star Wars shows and movies often feature fast blaster combat and balletic lightsaber duels. While I’ve not played with lightsabers yet, having three to four rolls per attack, as well as multiple attacks in a round, turns out to be a lot. I’ve gotten so accustomed to rolling for either to-hit or damage, but not both, and definitely not a separate roll for resistance. That damage track is good, though.

I’ll noodle on how to approach this in the future. The next time I play Star Wars, though, will probably be back in a re-skinned Scum & Villainy.

3 thoughts on “Cumbersome Star Wars Combat

  1. I am a fan of the PbtA idea that if the player rolls poorly in a conflict, it doesn’t mean they suck at what they’re trying to do. Instead, it means that things aren’t going their way–and that can look like a lot of things in the fiction. It usually means that instead of hitting their opponent the opponent is hitting *them*, but it could mean other cool things in the fiction, like getting pushed back to a precipice over a deep chasm, or having your blaster shot out of your hands. Blades in the Dark (and therefore Scum & Villainy) definitely leans hard into the roll reflecting and or adjusting to how the scene is going for the player in the form of Positioning which is part of every roll.

    For me though, Fate has more levers to make the game feel like Star Wars. Aspects are a big deal part of giving a game a certain flavor, and when I run Star Wars it’s usually with Genre enforcing Aspects at a Game level: a player (including the GM) can invoke “I Have A Bad Feeling About This” to be at least a little mentally prepared for a change in circumstances for the worst, or they can lean into it and compel themselves on the same aspect to be caught flat-footed. Things Going Well / Things Going Poorly is also key in Fate conflicts, and there are more outcomes of a roll to tune into something cool in the fiction. Things like success at a cost (partial success is baked into PbtA & FitD) are helpful to keep the PCs from looking clownish where they should be competent, and using failure as an excuse to put Aspects on the scene is a great alternative to “He hits you. Pew pew.”
    Plus I have all these notes from Running Star Wars: Vagabonds for a year.

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  2. My dive into Star Wars systems also led to similar conclusions – which is why I modified Into The Odd to fit my needs 🙂

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  3. One thing to consider is that the escalating dice pool size encourages players to take *multiple* actions in a round. So you may have 8D in Blaster but you probably aren’t rolling that – you are likely taking multiple blaster shots and with the multi-action penalty this brings the dice pool down.

    Doesn’t deal with the whole roll damage, roll to soak non-sense that the game has (which can be handled with static numbers) but it does help a lot with the dice pool size.

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