Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Starmasters Update: Combat Playtest Installment III (or "Going Though a Phase")

We ran another great test of Starmasters combat last night and couldn't be more pleased.

In some ways, the Starmasters combat system is really an extension/culmination of the original combat mechanics I wrote for The System back in 1985 and has acted as a catalyst for refining the current mechanic refinements to The System: Expanded. What it has produced is an elegant combat system that technically only requires two tables for the resolution of any action in the game: 1) an "Action Table" that serves to resolve combat, skill challenges & contests, and saving throws, while seamlessly incorporating critical failures and outstanding successes (a mechanic I'm particularly proud of), and 2) an "Effects Scale Chart" used to handle any sort of "product" in the game, including weapon strength/damage, as well as the effects of skills used in the game (e.g., the effective quality of a forgery or a security system.) Don't worry, old-schoolers, you still get to roll for damage; you just have to do it all with d6s.

So here are the big takeaways from last night...

1) The issues with the phasing (order and interval of actions) is resolved.
Last go 'round, the Üroti's phasing (combat interval as determined by movement rating) combined with his accuracy was absolutely lethal to all who crossed his path (ironic, considering they were meant to be a passive race of healers.) Thanks to a suggestion from my co-conspirator David Welborn, with a simple modification to way phasing is determined (essentially adding 3 points to the way it used to be calculated), action sequencing was much more balanced and more realistic to the compared abilities of the parties involved. (On a side note, the basis for the phasing system and the way action order is determined goes back to the original 1985 rules for The System.)

2) The system really seems to produce what you've come to expect in a "sci fi shoot out."
Think about the beginning of Episode IV: A New Hope. The doors slide open and blaster fire starts whizzing back and forth. Then, every few seconds, somebody takes it and falls to the floor. This system really seems to do that pretty well. With the old phasing mechanic, most action was resolved in just a few seconds (think Peckinpah or Tarintino.) The new phasing mechanic resulted in a more drawn out shootout that actually ended with several of the characters "stalking" each other in the hallways! (It was freakin' wicked awesome!!!)

3) A little armor goes a long way.
The scale for attributes (including HPs) in Starmasters is rather small (1-6) in comparison to most RPGs (e.g., 3-18). It is my belief that one good blaster shot or well-placed sword strike should kill a clumsy, unarmored character. Also, Starmasters began as a 70s wargame concept, so the smaller scale was always in line with that idea. Those things being said, even a little bit of armor (just 1 or 2 points) went a long way in helping both "naturally" armored characters (like the Sluuth and the Zhophek), as well those wearing armor (like the Human) stay alive.

4) We're finally ready to test the optional combat rules (knockout, knockback and shock.)
These should be pretty simple to work through now that the other issues are resolved. I'm particularly interested to see how a well-armored character handles knockback, considering that a really good shot could create a lot of impact (force) without killing the character entirely.

Stay tuned for our next episode, "The Landing Party," in which our faithful heroes take on the deadly Ekeni'qos Bloodbeast and the legendary Thuzzendahg!

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