When I run any kind of roleplaying game, I want the entire affair to be a smooth, seamless, exciting cinematic experience with a minimum of stutters and hiccups due to complicated rules. Of course, I also like adhering to complicated rules and fully enjoy exercising well-designed game system mechanics. When I ran my first Edge of the Empire game, I ran the pre-generated adventure ‘Crate of Krayts‘ and found a number of ways in which the information presented was rather poor. Notable was the disorderly layout of the various enemies’ stat blocks. In my opinion, their skills and abilities were presented in a way to optimize the amount of space taken up on paper. This may be a great thing to do when paper and printing space is at a premium and I can give the beta publication of the Edge of the Empire rules I was using some slack as it was intended to be a no-frills version of the ruleset. Moving forward with the game, however, I find myself simply unwilling to adhere to this style and needed to create something better.
Getting into Edge of the Empire, my immediately previous roleplaying game of choice was Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition. I feel like D&D 4E did stat blocks extremely well, laying out the information in a very easy to read and easy to run manner, so I plan on bringing those lessons and examples that worked well in one roleplaying game with me to this next endeavor. No doubt many of you will notice quite a bit of overlap in style from my D&D 4E to my SW: EotE work. It’s all about what information is needed when; about grouping text together in a logical fashion so as to minimize the amount of times the reader’s eye need to move from one spot to another. A good stat block design also is broken up into distinct parts that correlate to the phases of interaction with the NPCs during an encounter.
Work Now, Fun Later
It’s a simple mantra that has helped create my very positive reputation as a game master who always runs a decent game (often a great game), is always prepared, and is always fun to game with. I do the hard work now, so I can relax and enjoy the fun later. Like most people, I have a harder time thinking about two tasks at once than I do at one task at a time. Like my Paleolithic ancestors before me, my mind works best when it can focus on one goal or one job at a time; be it hunting a wooly mammoth or engaging in a roleplaying game. Notice I say engaging here, not running a game. If I can setup my game notes ahead of time in such a manner that they become easy and intuitive to read, then I can pay more attention to being creative and having fun at the table, actually engaging with the other players, and not so much crunching numbers on the fly.
The first step in making my stat blocks more intuitive is to eliminate every instance of mathematics. Even the simple addition used to create basic dice pools is too much. In the current stat blocks, all skill dice pools are calculated by:
1). remembering what ability score is paired with the skill in question
2). looking at the ability score’s value
3). looking at the skill’s value
4). adding them up to get the proper dice pool
Four steps! That’s three steps too many.
Instead, I will simply be doing all of that, for every stat block, ahead of time during adventure prep with the end result being an easy-to-read set of diamond and hexagon symbols. These are intuitively connected to which dice type I will need to use and how many, there’s almost no thought process going on here; leaving me more free to create funny voices, interesting complications, and surprise plot twists. The same goes for Force Powers: write it all out beforehand with hexagons for Force Die and white/black circles to represent Force Points.
Weapon stats in particular I have found to be a bad offender on the current stat block. Not only do we see the same computational-power problems with skills in general, but now we also need to include base damage, range, critical hits, and any other special abilities. As is, the stats are written kind of backwards. They have the information that is needed first (What range am I at?) buried in the middle of the text, surrounded by a cacophony of other information. Instead, I am changing the attacks’ presentation to address, in order, the questions that I need answered:
1). What range are we fighting in?
2). How do I describe the weapon?
3). How many dice should I use?
4). How much damage am I dealing?
5). Can I trigger anything special, such as a critical hit or linked fire?
As bad as calculating weapon stats have been, the absolute worst has been figuring out Minion Groups on the fly. In the current stat block, we now must take all of the complexity and confusion of the previous two discussions and add on yet another layer to it all, forcing the Galaxy Master to look back and forth to the basic stat block and then add on the effects of Minion Groups. To fix this, my new stat block will have Minion Groups of 4 Minions as the default value. When prepping for an adventure, I plan on writing out Minion group stat blocks that have the correct number of Minions in that group, with little in-game adjustments needing to be made (until the minions start dying off, of course).
Lastly, I took a look at the overall flow of information in the stat block with regards to when and how often various bits of information are expected to come up. As is, everything is sort of mixed-up together and the reader’s eye must jump around the stat block piecing together the needed information. What I propose is to break up the stat block into several distinct groups: Social, Combat (Defense, Attacks), Special Abilities/Force Powers, Other Skills, and Equipment.
The Social grouping includes all the social skills, including the two initiative skills Cool and Vigilance. In many encounters, these will be the only game mechanics needed, and so they are placed at the forefront of the stat block. In nearly all encounters, these skills will certainly be the first game mechanics needed, as either the encounter will become a social interaction scene or combat will creep along and plunge the Fringer Crew into an initiative roll one way or another.
Next, I have two groups exclusively for combat: Defense and Attacks. Splitting these out is the key to an efficient stat block design, as the Galaxy Master need only concentrate on one grouping at a time depending on if it is the Fringer Crew’s turn or not. Furthermore, attacks are grouped in terms of range, with closest range listed first, making it easy for the Galaxy Master to quickly narrow in on his attack of choice.
Special Abilities is a catch-all grouping that typically applies to combat, although not always, and that are not as often needed in comparison to the previous Attacks and Defense. Force Powers is done in a similar fashion, with a distinct place held for number of Force Dice rolled. Sharp eyes will note that many simplistic Special Abilities have been omitted or otherwise represented only in their effect and not in name. The busy Galaxy Master does not particularly care where a bonus came from, only that it shows up at the table appropriately, and the stat block reflects this utilitarian aesthetic.
Other Skills came at the end, mostly due to their even more rare use than combat statistics, followed by Equipment, which represents non-weapon gear that typically is only relevant at the end of an encounter.
The major downside to this method is that it does take up quite a bit more space on the paper. I think you will find, however, that the rewards for increased clarity and a smoother running game are well worth the little bit of extra paper and ink you need to use up, or nothing at all if your notes are entirely digital!
Here’s a sample of one of my stat blocks in action. I chose the Forsaken Jedi Nemesis to try and show off a particularly complicated stat block that is also full of errata and simplistic Special Abilities that have been melded into the background, so to speak.
Later this week, I will post the remaining stat blocks done in this fashion. In the meantime, please drop some Comments and question my methods.