July 1, 2015

Some further thoughts on Lightsaber Duels in FFG's Star Wars RPG

A while back, I'd made a post about what I'd seen regarding lightsaber usage in duels in Fantasy Flight Game's excellent Star Wars RPG.

Well, I've gotten some more experience in the matter, this time around as a player, in just how devastating a lightsaber can be against most opponents, and just how dangerous a lightsaber fight can be even for a well-experienced character.

The character in this case was Kyren Stryder, a Human Warrior/Shii-Cho Knight that I'm playing in my friend Linda's rather fun Age of Rebellion game.  To give herself something of a break from trying to figure what sort of adventure to come up with next for our motley group of Alliance operatives, Linda decided to put us through the Dead In The Water module, written by Keith Kappel and included in the AoR GM Kit.  There will be some spoilers ahead about the adventure, so be warned.

Now, as a bit of a preliminary disclaimer, up to this point the characters had zero idea that Kyren was in possession of a lightsaber; all they knew was that he had some Force abilities much like an NPC they'd just rescued when Kyren joined up, being a replacement for my previous character (a Human Commander/Tactician) who had lost his life to an ISB Agent while trying to ensure the rest of the team and the liberated Rebels made it to safety.  Prior to the second act of Dead In The Water, all they'd seen Kyren do combat-wise was mix it up pretty well in close-quarters.  Frankly, Kyren wasn't nearly as effective in a fight as he could have been, due to no ranks in the Melee skill and thus not being able to use the bulk of his talents.  But I had accepted this as a consequence of not wanting to have him break out his lightsaber in ever fight, and to save that particular pipe bomb for when things were really desperate.  With the GM's approval, I'd also been slowing modifying the Ilum crystal it came with (we were at roughly Knight Level when I brought Kyren in, so Linda was fine with him starting with a basic lightsaber) so that by this point, it was a Damage 8, Crit 1 weapon.

First act went by without too much incident, other than Kyren getting slugged in the face by a badly-scarred Wookiee for no apparent reason and him having to defuse a potentially violent situation between the Human ex-merc and an arms dealer while we tracked down info on the privateers we'd been sent to purchase a large shipment of droids from.  Our mission was successful, and we got the droids though not at quite as good a price as Alliance Command might have been hoping.  So we returned to the Shadow Raptor, which per this adventure was one of the Alliance's top intel-gathering/sifting ships for that region of space... only for the droids to stage a coup and seize control of the ship, forcing it out of hyperspace and locking up most of the crew, as well as leaving it drifting perilously close to the event horizon of a black hole (if the engines weren't repaired in time, the ship would get sucked in and we'd pretty much be done for).

Given the circumstances and sheer number of droids involved, as well as the fact that I was the only PC that was fully equipped with their gear, I felt that Kyren would deem this situation to have crossed the Zillo Beast Threshold, and had him finally break out the lightsaber.  Fun tidbit: to help conceal the weapon's presence, Kyren stores it much like Kanan in Rebels, splitting it into two parts.  And yes, carnage pretty much ensued, as the fact that I was striking with a Damage 8 weapon that had Breach 1 and could crit with a single Advantage, on top of getting a boost die thanks to the Multiple Opponents talent meant that I was chewing through those minion groups like a hot knife through butter.  And the various Rivals we encountered didn't fair much better.  In fact, what was probably meant to be the "boss fight" of Act II, squaring off against a tactical droid that was leading this insurrection and his droid minions/guards turned out to be fairly anti-climactic due to some astoundingly good rolls on my part and the application of the Sarlacc Sweep talent; rolling a dice pool of 3 yellow and a boost vs. 1 red and 2 purple made it very likely that I'd get that additional hit in and still have enough Advantage left over to score at least one critical on the minion group I was also engaged with.

So yeah, against most of your rank and file opponents, a lightsaber is going to be brutal.  Though from reading Act 2 of the adventure after we'd completed it, I noted that Linda and Rick (who'd helped her with prepping it) had trimmed down quite a few of the encounters, mostly out of a concern of the fights dragging on too long, especially when most of the PCs only had what amounted to their back-up weapons on them.  They weren't sure if Kyren was going to make use of his lightsaber or not, but correctly figured that if he did, it was going to be a massacre on the droid's side of things.

Now, the flip side of that is they tweaked the third act of the adventure to include an ISB Agent (the same one that had gutted my prior PC as a matter of fact) that was now wielding a lightfoil (using stats they'd adopted from my Ways of the Force fan supplement) and generally built along similar lines as an Inquisitor from the back of the Force and Destiny Beta, only with a lower Wound/Strain Threshold, Adversary 2 and no Force Rating, but having Parry 5 and Melee Defense 1 as part of his defenses.  To be honest, I'd been kind of spoiling for a lightsaber fight with Kyren for a while, and this opportunity was specifically included for my character, something that I thanked Linda and Rick for including.

On paper, that fight should have been a lot more daunting, as the ISB Agent was (I'm guessing) quite skilled with that lightfoil and his Parry 5 would allow him to negate a large portion of Kyren's damage output (increased to 9 thanks to a Contribution Rank reward of a superior hilt customization from completing the second act), and that the agent's lightfoil had enough ranks of Pierce to ignore Kyren's own soak value and blow past his 2 ranks of Parry (I'm using a modified version of the Shii-Cho Knight spec that replaces a couple of Parry talents with Reflect talents, but more on that later).  The ISB Agent got in one hit, and it was a doozy, inflicting nearly half of Kyren's wound threshold in one go; luckily he didn't get any Advantages with which to trigger a critical injury, but he did generate a Despair to let me tag him with a free hit thanks to Improved Parry.

In a way, I got lucky in that Kyren was able to get in the first strike; his Emotional Weakness is Anger, and I willingly accepted conflict points for acting on that anger after the ISB Agent made allusions to what he'd do to the other PCs as well as a supporting NPC that we'd previously freed from his clutches.  And that first strike was a monster, dealing 16 damage and having enough Advantage to inflict a critical injury and recover a bit of strain while I was at it.  From what Rick and Linda said, if the ISB Agent didn't have all those ranks in Parry, he'd have been nearly toast on that first strike, and my counterstrike via Improved Parry would have been the nail in the coffin for him.  My follow-up attack the next round was equally monstrous, only this time generating an obscene number of Advantages, enough to trigger a second critical injury with a +70 bonus to the roll, and ended with an insta-kill result that was narrated as Kyren simply driving his lightsaber right through the ISB Agent's throat and out the back of the creep's head.  In retrospect, I felt I should have done things differently, such as going for a disarm before moving back so that the other PCs could have the honor of taking the ISB Agent out, but hindsight is 20/20 and I was caught up in the excitement of the moment, thus taking the advice of one my fellow players to simply spend all that Advantage on a crit.

So what did this reveal?  Well, for starters a sufficiently modified lightsaber is damn dangerous to minions and rivals, since I not only get to ignore their soak values but have a very real chance of dealing enough raw damage to take out most minions or probably two to three minions (plus an extra one with a crit) in one shot.  And even a major Nemesis like the ISB Agent would need to get boosted up to last more than a couple of rounds, meaning that three ranks of the Adversary talent will likely become the norm for any major foes we encounter.  That and we probably will start seeing larger numbers of bad guys, and minions in full groups of five as we've proven incredibly capable of handling such things.

Now it's probably worth noting that the only other PC that comes close to that damage output is the ex-merc with his spiffed up heavy blaster rifle that does 13 damage base with Pierce 3 (the rifle is one I suggested from Dangerous Covenants and he's added a heavily modified augmented spin barrel to it as well), but an adversary with a sufficiently high soak value is still going to be trouble for him, where Kyren's all but assured to get damage through and still be likely to score a critical injury to debilitate the target even the damage doesn't exceed the target's wound threshold.  And with a recently added rank of Vicious to the lightsaber, any critical injuries that Kyren inflicts have a greater chance of being pretty nasty, especially if there's an abundance of Advantages on the dice roll.  But yeah, we're a couple of high-volume damage machines at this point.

Now I'd mentioned above that I'm using a variant of the Shii-Cho Knight specialization for Kyren.  To be honest, I never liked that the version found in the FaD Beta didn't include the Reflect talent, as all the basic lore on Shii-Cho as a Lightsaber Form indicates that it includes blast-deflect training as part of its core curriculum; i.e. the Reflect talent.  So having the spec be solely focused on defending against melee attacks felt off, particularly since being heavily focused on melee was Makashi's schtick.  Thus far, I'm pretty happy with my revised Shii-Cho Knight.  There are a couple of tweaks I'm thinking of making (in particular to where the lone Durable talent in the fifth row is hanging out all by itself), but seeing as how FFG hinted that a number of the specializations underwent further revision after the open beta was concluded, I'm going to hold off on any further tweaks until I get a copy of the core rulebook.  Who knows, they might have tweaked the Shii-Cho Knight spec to include ranks of Reflect already, making my revision unnecessary.

For those curious, here's the layout for my revised take on the Shii-Cho Knight:
(chart layout taken from OggDude's character generator program)

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