A wrong tool for the job
Well, damn. I have been going over my designs for Champions of Ilea over and over again, but locking down any decisions has been incredibly hard. My vision of the gameplay is vague and evasive, and finally I have to admit: Champions is a setting, not an entire game. The concept of what the players do is pretty much functional with any roleplaying game system. Trying to create one is hard because it does not need one. Thus, I officially abandon that mission. I’ll probably return to it idly when inspiration strikes, though.
But good news, everyone! Fantasy Flight Games acquired the license for Star Wars! They have already announced Star Wars – The Card Game, a co-operative living card game, and X-wing, a miniature space combat game. This is excellent news, for the franchise is once again in relatively safe hands. Wizards of the Coast, having had the lisence for a long while now, never did get any real use out of it. They made Saga Edition, but only recently did I realize how annoying and old-fashioned the d20 system under it is. They made Star Wars Miniatures and Starship Battles, but they screwed them up with the booster format. Although I do not blame Wizards: I blame Hasbro, the evil corporate entity which tries to squeeze money out of spunky little Wizards. The prospect of a new Star Wars RPG also flared my heart, and got me thinking: How should the mechanics of a Star Wars roleplaying game function to capture the essence of Star Wars?
First of all, Star Wars should be light. New Hope was about a farm boy, who rescued a princess and fought an evil knight and his draconic superweapon. Space fantasy. Star Wars is full of action: The heroes blast stormtroopers, pilot all sorts of vehicles both in dogfights and hair-raising chases and duel great Jedi.
That is my starting point. Lightsaber combat. In the movies, as I have stated, duels usually take quite long and the combatants move around. In Phantom Menace, the duel between Darth Maul and the jedi duo moves from a hangar deck to a strange bridge complex and eventually in a some sort of reactor room. In Revenge of the Sith the action starts in a landing pad, moves through some sort of lava mining facility and ends up beside a volcanic river. A process-based system would drive the action forward nicely. I’m just going to go ahead and rip the spine of Noitahovi and use it as a basis. Three-section conflict resolution process. It will handle everything.
Then we need attributes. I like the system in Storyteller: A character has three-by-three grid of attributes: Mental, Physical and Social attributes, which are divided in Power, Finesse and Resilience. For example the three Physical attributes: Strength, Dexterity and Stamina. Let’s modify it a bit, mainly just by removing Social attributes. Star Wars is not about social interactions, so we do not need attributes for that. Then we’ll group them in three categories: Power, Finesse and Resilience. These groups will be used in conflict resolution. Power and Resilience are Primary groups and Resilience is a Secondary group. In Power, there is Strength and Intelligence. In Finesse, there is Dexterity and Cunning. In Resilience, there is Endurance and Willpower. Every attribute is represented with a number from 1 to 5.
Now we can elaborate on the mechanics. When a Conflict arises, the initiator determines which of the two first groups he or she wants to use in the coming conflict: Power or Finesse. Then he determines the exact attribute based on what he or she wants to do. If the player is opposed by another character, that character must also use the chosen attribute. After adding any other modifers to the base attribute, the player ends up with a number. This is the amount of d6’s he or she will roll. The highest result is used, and every double rolled adds 1 to it. (For example, a character rolls 5d6. He ends up with 5, 5, 4, 1 and 1. The highest number is 5 and there are two double results, so 2 is added to it. The final result is 7.) This result is compared to the opposing roll or difficulty number. This check is called a Phase.
A Conflict consist of a maximum of three Phases. In the event of a tie or when a Force Point has been used to achieve one, the Conflict proceeds to a next Phase, in which the player who did not use a Force Point chooses an attribute to use from the unchosen Primary Category to use. (For example: A wookiee character dropped on a Scout Trooper from a tree, intending to knock him unconscious. He decided to use Strength. He gets a 6 as an end result and the Trooper gets 4 and uses his only two Force Points to raise it to 6. The trooper takes the Wookiee’s weight but manages to wrest free, dropping down a rocky hill. The wookiee player decides to pursue by cutting the trooper off and uses Cunning as the next attribute). If another tie occurs, the final Phase occurs, using the secondary Category, meaning either Stamina or Willpower.
I have observed that people tend to do reasonable things in roleplaying games. They take cover, sacrifice time to fetch proper tools and rarely use their weaker abilities or skills. Most likely this is because the roleplaying systems are generally grounded in reality, and trying something awesome is likely to fail. In contrast, consider the assassination scene in The Revenge of the Sith. After spotting an assassination fleeing the senator’s window, Obi-Wan jumps after it and grabs it. A flying assassination droid, floating thousands of meters above ground level. A few minutes later Anakin jumps off his speeder to land on the assassin’s. Not particularily smart, but bloody awesome. This is the kind of action I want the players to do, and I know just how to incentivize players to try crazy maneuvers: Reward them.
The Force points I mentioned earlier function in the same way as Noitahovi’s Sisu points. If your roll would fail, you can raise the result by sacrificing Force Points. Every FP adds 1 to the result. You can only achieve a tie with them, though, and try winning on the next Challenge Phase. You gain Force Points at the beginning of every game session, and whenever you decide to try something spectacular, or give an awesome description of your character’s doings. The other players are encouraged to offer their opinion on whether something is spectacular or awesome, but the GM is the final (and hopefully generous) adjudicator.
What about failure? I might be just a big softie, but I dislike failures in roleplaying games. The golden rule of improvisation is “Yes, and…”. It means that when someone says something, you accept it and elaborate. Denial cuts inspiration. Failing an important skill check tends to create a “Oh. Well what now?”-situations which stop the flow. So whenever a player fails a significant situation like combat or a high-speed chase through Endor’s trees, he or she does not die. Instead the situation grows more complicated. The player is captured, or crashes his bike and wakes up in the bottom of a cave with a broken foot. The player needs to find his way out of the complication, or the others might need to rescue him. This creates a natural flow for the story.
Dying is not out of the question, though. Instead of making it a punishment for rolling dice badly, let’s make it an option. Enter Noble Sacrifice. In a dire situation, perhaps after a few successive complications, a player can make a noble sacrifice to buy the others more time to escape, or to trap the villain, or whatever. When a player would lose a roll, he or another player in the same scene can announce that he is performing a Heroic Sacrifice. In that case the player rolls the same roll that triggered the sacrifice and adds the end result to the original failing roll. This very likely will result in an astounding success, but at the cost of the character’s life.
Whoa, this is a lot of text. I would have published this post sooner, but I fell into the trap of overthinking and