“Cinematic” Combat in Star Wars RPGs

Note: This post contains spoilers for the Clone Wars television show. If you intend to watch it, and don’t want anything spoiled, you may want to avoid reading any further.

Recently, I’ve been thinking about running a Star Wars game for my son, set in the Clone Wars era. He loved the Clone Wars show, and would really enjoy playing a Jedi in that timeframe, leading clones into battle with hordes of enemy droids, and getting into lightsaber duels with Sith villains.

Naturally, I took a look at the Force & Destiny RPG from Fantasy Flight Games. While the game itself is set in the Original Trilogy timeframe, Force & Destiny is focused on Jedi and seems perfect for what we want.

Except it isn’t, actually. One reason is that Force & Destiny PCs are designed to be on the power level of Jedi seen in the original three movies, not those that appeared in the prequels or the Clone Wars show. The other reason, though, is that combat in Force & Destiny uses a pretty traditional system with wounds (similar to hit points), and critical hits. A lightsaber battle in F&D generally has combatants whacking each other with lightsabers until one goes down. There are talents that one can take to mitigate some of the damage that is inflicted (like the Parry talent), but those still don’t actually block the lightsaber damage fully until a character has invested experience points heavily in multiple instances of that particular talent.

This doesn’t really reflect the lightsaber battles as shown in the movies and certainly not those in the Clone Wars television show.

So I decided to do a bit of research. I watched all the Clone Wars lightsaber battles, one-by-one, that occur in the show. I was hoping to get a feel for how those battles work, and then see if there was a system that could replicate that rhythm.

What I found was that most of the lightsaber battles follows a general pattern.

  1. The combatants engage in a flurry of slashes and thrusts, which are avoided by a flurry of parries, dodges, rolls, etc. There is no actual contact of a lightsaber with anyone’s body.
  2. There is a “beat” in the combat where one of the following things happens:
    • One combatant strikes the other with a fist or kick, knocking them down or backward.
    • One combatant uses the Force to shove the other combatant backward, often into a wall, pillar, pile of crates, or other obstacle. The shoved combatant may or may not be knocked down and/or get disarmed. One variation of this is that the combatant uses the Force to grab an object and hit his/her opponent, rather than throwing his opponent into the object.
    • One combatant disarms the other directly through swordplay.
    • One combatant leaps away, out of immediate range. This is usually so that they can exchange verbal taunts or otherwise talk. This also often leads to one of them getting a head start when they run away.
    • The combatants lock blades, with one pushed against a wall or down to the floor, thus trapping their lightsaber blade and struggling to push the other person off/away.
  3. The combat continues with any number of these “beats” depending on the length of the sequence.
  4. The combatants get separated somehow. Sometimes one of them escapes on a ship or other vehicle that prevents the other from following, sometimes a combatant falls into a pit or a tunnel collapses or something that prevents the fight from continuing.

In all of the clone wars lightsaber battles (of which there are many), there are only 4 actual battles (that I could find) that resulted in someone’s death:

  • General Grievous kills Nahdar Vebb
  • Darth Maul kills Pre Vizsla
  • Savage Opress kills Jedi Adi Gallia
  • Dark Sidious kills Savage Opress

And there’s only one other fight I saw where someone is injured by the lightsaber, when Obi Wan cuts off Savage Opress’ arm.

Also notable is that in the cases where death occurred, it always happened after a bunch of injuries from being kicked, punched, and thrown into things. In every case, a single stab by the lightsaber was enough to kill the victim, so there were never a bunch of stabs and slashes that brought down a character’s “hit points.” Getting hit with a lightsaber cuts off limbs or kills outright in the Clone Wars show.

Obviously, the show required the combatants to usually end up separated without one of them dying, because most of the characters appeared later in the Star Wars timeline in other movies/shows. This wouldn’t be a problem in the game I would run, as I would create new characters as opponents for my son to face, and I could do whatever I wanted with them. (Also, once the game begins, I never feel a need to slavishly adhere to canon for what comes later. The game becomes an alternate timeline anyway.)

So I’ve taken a look at a lot of options over the last while. I posted about it on RPG.net and got a lot of additional suggestions.

On a related note, there was another thread on RPG.net titled “Considerations for a next gen in cinematic fantasy combat” that talked about a small group of heroes being outnumbered by a greater enemy force, and how most existing games are not able to model this very well. There are a number of good examples from Game of Thrones and other movies demonstrating what we’d like to be able to reflect in our games.

On this blog, I’ve talked before about using HeroQuest for Star Wars. And that is still an option. However, HeroQuest takes the approach of using a high level of abstraction in conflicts. It’s an amazing system if that level of abstraction works for you. But sometimes you may want a more involved amount of “system modelling” for a particular game.

I’ve looked at the following systems as potential solutions to what I want to do with this Clone Wars game:

  • Force & Destiny (would need to be heavily houseruled)
  • Star Wars d6 (doesn’t really operate like the Clone Wars at all)
  • 7th Sea 2E (would need heavy reskinning and development of Force abilities)
  • HeroQuest 2E (as noted above, I’m looking for less abstraction for this game)
  • Other Worlds + Superluminary (same issue as with HeroQuest)
  • Fate Core (can work, but I’ve been burnt out on Fate lately and my son is not a fan of the system)
  • Mythras (would need to adapt the conflict rules from M-Space and make some tweaks to the Special Effects in combat, but actually works fairly well)
  • Star Wars Saga (don’t really want to deal with levels and it’s far too fiddly for my tastes)
  • Savage Worlds (it’s not a system that has ever really grabbed me)
  • Feng Shui 2 (a lot of reskinning and developing of Force powers would be needed)
  • Lone Wolf Adventure Game (this actually might work quite well, and it’s one I’m continuing to explore)
  • Infinity (I would have to do some reskinning and full development of Force powers, but this is another one that might work well, though I have to look into it further)
  • Some version of a Powered by the Apocalypse game (there’s nothing out there that does exactly what I want, so I’d have to come up with it all on my own)

Out of all of these, Mythras with the additional of the conflict rules from M-Space is a great option. It actually addresses many of my issues (a single hit with a lightsaber is definitely going to end a fight). I could use many of the Mysticism powers to reflect the kind of things a Jedi can do. And when it comes to cinematic combat, it actually addresses the “lone hero fighting off multiple opponents” with the combat option to Outmaneuver, which limits the number of attackers who can strike at the lone hero at any given time.

Conclusion

Unfortunately, I don’t have a solution at this time. I’m continuing to think about it and determine the right level of abstraction I want in the rules for this particular game. There are many options available and it’s more a matter of choosing how much work I want to do (a more rules-intensive game requires me to make up stats for all the adversaries and such, while a more abstract game reduces that workload considerably).

Have you run a Clone Wars-era Star Wars game? What system did you run? Was it focused on the Jedi? Did it feel like the television show, or was it more of its own thing? I’d love to hear about your own games. Tell us about it in the comments.

 

3 thoughts on ““Cinematic” Combat in Star Wars RPGs

  1. Did anyone ever send you the Mythras hack for a long time ago in a place far far away?

  2. I love Wushu, and I’ve used it for many games. Unfortunately, I’ve discovered that Wushu doesn’t work quite as well with a single protagonist as it does with a group. A single player means you can’t use some of the more advanced features, such as countdowns and side goals, because there are only so many successes being generated each round. But for a group, I agree that Wushu is pretty much perfect for Star Wars, and especially Jedi battles.

  3. I’ve had great experiences running Star Wars with Wushu. I designed a simple add-on for the Force powers, there were always at least a couple of Force users in the group, and I’ve never thought of using anything else for my SW itch.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s