Star Wars Wendesday - How long did that take?

Action scenes in roleplaying games are major highlights in the game. In Star Wars, more often than not, they should be THE highlight of the session, or the campaign. Creating good cinematic sequences is key.

Creating a good action sequence can be difficult. It has to be fun, thrilling and challenging. Interesting things must happen to, around or by the player characters. They'll provide their own interesting moves (hopefully), but giving them something to work with is key.

Remember that action doesn't always mean combat. There doesn't even need to be a direct physical threat, if there is enough drama in the scene. The results of failure can manifest itself in other ways - the characters didn't get there in time to prevent x from happening, for instance.

Naturally, gamemasters mine the movies, comics and stories they're familiar with for action-set piece ideas and inspiration. Most of the time GMs don't have direct experience with the action or combat at hand. This isn't often much of a hinderenace - RPGs have rules for combat and timing built in. Still, when concocting a spectacular sequence it can be difficult for a GM to estimate just how long an unusual event (or even an everyday one) may take.

There's an easy solution to both the timing and inspriation issues: track down a video.

In this day of YouTube and the internet, there's all kinds of interesting stuff you can watch from the comfort of your computer screen. Fire up an interesting scene with an effect you're looking for. Count the seconds for the effect to occur and convert to number of rounds your chosen game system uses.

Here's the video that inspired this post (thanks to Aaron Williams at for posting the link):

That was about 6 seconds from explosion to striking the shore, or about a round. Plenty of time for potential surprise and horrified player response as the wave comes crashing across the water.

Sidenote - we always talk about surprise BEFORE the start of combat/round sequence, but there's plenty of things that could surprise characters DURING the round sequence. Why not activate a surprise round in the middle of for an unexpected explosion like this...hmm....

Sometimes you find stuff you never thought of, but are inspirational in their own ways...

This works for skill checks as well. For instantce, how fast can a true expert climb a wall? Faster than you think.

You can find more reasonable examples as well.

Acrobatics? Try parkour...

Amazing stuff, but of equal use is to look up these topics with the word FAIL to see examples of what happens when things go terribly wrong. The videos can also be useful in solving arguements over how long something will take in real life.

There are Star Wars specific examples out there as well. Everyone knows the lightsaber combat scenes from the movies and the Clone Wars series, but there are plenty of fan films to draw new inspiration from, as well as timing. The classic is ryan vs. dorkman:

 Looking for landspeeder examples? Flight time? Maneuvering time? Try a hovercraft. For an airspeeder, try this flying hovercraft:

So, a little video research can add a lot to your game.

Here are some more search ideas to get you started:

Youtube searches:

  • explosion - lots of them. 
  • dogfight - brush up on your maneuver descriptions
  • battleship - big ships firing big guns, how fast on the reload?
  • car chase - movies or real life examples
  • slippery road - good for looking at environmental conditions
  • karate or martial arts - how many attacks in a round?
  • fast shooting - how many shots in a round?
  • zero gravity - how do people move and how fast?
  • flash flood - how fast can that water rise, and how fast is the current? What just got carried off?
  • volcanoes - good for lava flows, lakes, explosions and so on.
  • repelling and speed climbing
  • pretty much any other topic you can think of, and a ton of others you'll run across along the way.

 Another good source is Mythbusters videos, if you can stand the commercial delays.