Combat as Failure

The Star Wars Edge of the Empire roleplaying game is designed around the idea that combat happens when the Fringer Crew fails. It’s the way the Galaxy Master keeps the excitement going and the plot moving forward, even if the primary way of doing so is flubbed. Combat is your safety net, and as such, it can also be looked at as a failure condition.

Han_luke_stormarmorWhen designing encounters, a Galaxy Master should encourage a variety of creative, optimal victory conditions; and then have combat statistics at the ready in case things don’t go as planned. For example, an encounter with a patrol of Imperial starships looking for the Fringer Crew’s hidden contraband could be resolved through sweet-talking, bribery, forging fake licenses, etc. When those options fail, then the crew can always rely on shooting their way through the problem, but only as a last resort.

This idea feels right and proper with me. It’s generally how challenging situations are handled in the Star Wars movies, and it lends itself to encourage more roleplaying of the froo-froo, talky-talky variety*.

The game mechanics in Edge of the Empire also support this notion. Combat is very lethal and has some decently high probabilities for utter disaster, even for combat-focused characters. This helps reinforce the notion that it is something to be avoided and is almost like a punishment. Moreover, there are a very small number of combat skills compared to non-combat skills; 5 purely combat skills (many of which are redundant with each other, such as Melee and Brawl), 26 purely non-combative skills, and 2 skills (Cool, Vigilance) that are used both in and out of combat. What this mechanic says to me is that only a few skills can even be invested in to cover combat without just wasting experience points, and that the heroes’ real focus should be on avoiding that combat.

We Galaxy Masters should be designing our encounters to challenge a wide variety of skills and combat should only be a small part of our design. If those tricks don’t work at the game table, however, the game can always fall back on combat (including deadly chase scenes) to keep the game from stalling.

In summary: Don’t design encounters and expect combat to be the primary way to win.

Of course, I may be entirely wrong about this. It’s possible the game designers went about designing this system in a similar fashion to traditional roleplaying games like Dungeons & Dragons, wherein the gameplay is centered on killing monsters, claiming the treasures within, and exploring ancient ruins (and in that order of priority). If that is the case, the EotE designers are bumbling idiots. Let’s hope that’s not the case.

* I consider myself a bit of an expert on running combat in RPGs, but have a distinctly hard time creating and running really meaty roleplaying scenes. I think it has something to do with me being happier with myself and my life and, as the years go by, wanting less and less to thrust myself into the guise of someone else. Anyway, game mechanics that help encourage the less mathematical and more theatrical aspects of the hobby are of utmost interest to me as I feel I need all the help I can get.

About C. Steven Ross

C. Steven Ross is the founder of Triumph & Despair. View all posts by C. Steven Ross

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