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[Star Wars] Jedi Duels in RPGs

Andrew J. Luther

It's all just a game
Validated User
I’ve been thinking about Star Wars gaming again lately (as I tend to do every 2-3 years). I’m going to be running another Clone Wars campaign for my son – he’ll be the sole player – and it’ll be focused on the Jedi.

I’ve looked at the Force and Destiny RPG, but I just don’t really like how the game handles combat. I know there is a Clone Wars book about to be released, but unless they dramatically change the underlying traditional premise of rolling to hit with a lightsaber and inflicting damage, it’s not really going to work for me.

Specifically, what has been a bit of an issue for me is the Jedi vs. Sith lightsaber duels.

I found a video on YouTube where someone edited the entire series down to just the lightsaber battles. And I noticed that almost all of the battles followed the same basic routine.

[SPOILERS BELOW FOR THE CLONE WARS TV SERIES]

  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:
    1. One combatant strikes the other with a fist or kick, knocking them down or backward.
    2. 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.
    3. One combatant disarms the other directly through swordplay.
    4. 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.
    5. 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 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.

I’d like to capture the rhythm and general feel of these lightsaber duels. So I’ve thought about how to replicate this in an RPG. For the purposes of this discussion, the specific system doesn’t matter as long as there are hit points or wound levels or fatigue levels or something that can be brought down through the non-lightsaber injuries before the loser is rendered essentially helpless and ready for the final thrust.

What I figure is that you have a basic “engagement” roll between the PC and the NPC duelists. Whichever side gets the higher rolls gets to perform one of the actions above as a single “beat” in the combat, which either inflicts damage (or exhaustion or whatever) on the losing side, or the winner gets to leap away or otherwise change the location of the fight.

Once that “beat” is complete, the fight continues with another engagement roll, and the process repeats.

At some point, one side will take enough damage (or become too exhausted to fight or escape), and the other side will win. If it’s a Sith, then that could result in death for the loser, or perhaps being captured. Jedi will tend to ask their opponent to surrender (Obi Wan does this most of the time).

Here are some thoughts on how this might work in particular sets of rules:

HeroQuest 2E: Use a standard Extended Contest and simply narrate the outcome of each roll in the contest as described above. For example, the first roll is a success for the PC vs. failure for the NPC. The PC scores 2 Resolution points, and narrates that after a flurry of lightsaber slashes and parries, he locks blades and kicks the NPC in the stomach. The only thing is that I’ve had a few Extended Conflicts that ended on only one roll (Critical for one side, Fumble for the other) and that was very unsatisfying. I might bump up the needed Resolution points to 7 or even 10 if I wanted the battle to go on for a while.

Mythras: Ignore Action Points and the attacker/defender split during a dual. Both combatants make a Combat Style roll, and the winner can apply special effects as normal (but doesn’t roll for damage with the lightsaber). I would limit the available special effects to Bash (use an unarmed strike for the damage), Blind Opponent, Disarm Opponent, Entangle (with appropriate off-hand weapon), Grip (requires one empty hand), Overextend Opponent (opponent can only choose “defensive” special effects if they win on following round), Pin Weapon, Scar Foe, Trip Opponent, and Withdraw.

7th Sea: Both combatants roll and count Raises. The one with the most Raises gets to spend the difference on inflicting damage (one point per Raise) on the opponent, or performing other actions (e.g. Force Push). Only when the opponent is helpless can the PC actually hit his opponent with a lightsaber.

Force and Destiny: Just let the PC make a roll for lightsaber combat as the “engagement” roll. Successes become straight damage to the opponent, failures are damage to the PC. Advantage/Disadvantage can provide bonuses/penalties to future rolls. The only thing is that it completely ignores a lot of the talents in the combat spec trees, so you’d have to tell the players this before they spent XP on talents that they’d never use.

Fate Core: I’m sure there’s a way to do this with Fate, but I’ve been pretty tired of Fate lately and don’t really want to think about it. I’m happy to let someone else describe how it might work, though.

I haven’t decided what actual system I’m going to use for this game for my son yet. Which is why this is fairly nebulous. But writing it down helps me organize my thoughts on what I’m trying to achieve.

So what do you all think? Is there a game that already does this (or something really close) out of the box? Am I overthinking it? Is there anything that doesn’t make sense, or pitfalls I’m not seeing?
 

Marikir

ST/GM/DM/PC/NPC/OKC
Validated User
I might be mistaken, but I thought that the idea behind the way damage worked in the old Star Wars Wizards system was that your health was a combination of "Health" and "Vitality."

The loss of one wasn't an actual hit, but a near miss or glancing blow. It was only after you were worn down that you would actually lose the critical points that could lead to your death. This meant that you were actually hit full force by a hit.

So, you basically had a period of "near misses" (systematically, these were hits, but weren't narrated as such) that eventually got closer and closer until...well, someone won.
 

spectator

Registered
Validated User
Fate Core: I’m sure there’s a way to do this with Fate, but I’ve been pretty tired of Fate lately and don’t really want to think about it. I’m happy to let someone else describe how it might work, though.
Fate Core would just do this out of the box, wouldn't it? Stress loss isn't damage, it's loss of abstract narrative staying-power in the scene; even Consequences don't have to be actual lightsaber damage. Taking stress "damage" and even Consequences in the fight are easily described as the things you want--flurries of blows and parries that leave someone in a bit of a spot, or getting knocked down/back, or dazed or limping or whatever. Combatants usually Concede the fight, which lets them make their escape, and when someone does actually get taken out, well then sometimes they're captured or whatever, but just sometimes it means the actual lightsaber blow lands and someone dies. You probably want to make sure you're on the same page as the player(s) that landing a lightsaber blow is probably not a fitting description in all but the most decisive cases, but the mechanics already fit, to my eye anyway. Or am I missing something?

I've seen that idea of "hit points" being something more abstract than body damage other places for sure, so it might just generalize as a useful tool in this case. Whatever the system, just skin the "damage" as loss of advantage, of fighting spirit, of luck, of focus, of etc. and only the killing blow (or other serious result) is an actual lightsaber hit.
 

Octopus Prime

Retired User
The two games that jump to mind are Exalted and Anima Prime.
In Exalted's most recent edition, characters build up a pool of points called "Initiative" which determines the amount of advantage they have over their opponent, via things like you mentioned - cornering, disarming, nonlethal blows - which is then used to determine damage when unleashing a fatal attack. When one combatant gains Initiative, the other loses it - it's much like the Brave/HP system in the Dissidia games, if you ever played that.
In Anima Prime, you build up pools of "Strike Dice" (which are used to inflict damage) by executing Maneuvers based on skill values (which again, represent positioning your opponent around, to set them up for a killing blow). It has a very anime feel to it, as you're charging up these bigger and bigger attacks before unleashing them.
 

Dalillama

Registered User
Validated User
GURPS with the Martial Arts, Space, and Psionic Powers supplements has all of that covered in as much detail as you could possibly want.
 

Gee4orce

Registered User
Validated User
You seem to have dismissed out of hand the two systems that I think would work best for this kind of narrative combat!

Wouldn't Advantages in FFG Star Wars do exactly what you were looking for ? - advantages buy you something like knocking your opponent back with a kick, or leaping out of their reach. Hit points in FFG are the system's weak point, IMO, but you can always interpret them as exhaustion rather then actual injuries. The critical tables give you the actual results of being slash with a lightsaber.

Also, as mentioned above by spectator, Fate is a natural fit for this kind of narrative combat.
 

Alban

Registered User
Validated User
Given your comments on HeroQuest 2e, I think you could take a look at MouseGuard (or TorchBearer, for a more Dungeoncrawly approach).
In its conflict resolution system, the goal is to reduce the opposing side's pool of points (whose name I forgot...) to 0.
Each turn, you chose one option out of 4 (attack, maneuver, feint, defense), which states which roll you do and if it will be opposed or not.
The outcome of a conflict will largely be based on what compromise the winning party is ready to take, depending on how many points it lost in conflict.
If you're left with 1 or 2 points and want to kill your opponent, be ready for some (general ?) grievous wounds or some deaths.
 

HardKore Keltoid

RAW Cultist
Validated User
Legends of the Wulin also does this, with the added bonus that Star Wars is space wuxia to begin with. Most hits inflict "ripples", which are a measure of being battered, tactically disadvantaged, forced to give ground, and so on. When somebody finally batters past your defenses, they get to roll all your accumulated ripples for damage.
 

Asklepios

Registered User
Validated User
Legends of the Wulin also does this, with the added bonus that Star Wars is space wuxia to begin with. Most hits inflict "ripples", which are a measure of being battered, tactically disadvantaged, forced to give ground, and so on. When somebody finally batters past your defenses, they get to roll all your accumulated ripples for damage.
That actually sounds like it addresses what the OP was looking for in a very cool way. Not saying that others aren't doing that, just that you definitely are. Nice suggestion!

Is there any sort of mechanic for battles ending in forced disengagements, or for dramatic dialogue being part of the tempo of the fight?

--

A friend of mine created a whole houseruled game system for a Star Wars campaign that had the bulk of its system based around lightsaber duelling, with a clever overlapping paper-scissor-stone mechanic representing the in-universe fighting forms, along with blind bidding and style/ stunt bonuses, accumulating advantage on a series of see-saw advantage tracks (representing positional advantage, flow of the force, the battle of willpower, and more), and being able to make the kill move or an escape move only when tracks were at certain positions. It was mechanically very satisfying, though perhaps to the degree that concentrating on how to win the fight detracted a little from the mental image of the scene and immersion in the drama. The game mechanic itself was the thing of joy, that is.
Was years ago though, and not my game system, so I can't reproduce it for you guys unfortunately.
 
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