Star Wars Wednesday - See ya CL...

It's been awhile since I posted anything directly gaming related that didn't include a link, so today, I'll switch things up a bit. Back to gaming talk....but you still get a link.

Creating a good roleplaying game encounter from a game mechanics standpoint is often more art than science. Star Wars Saga Edition has a system called Challenge Levels, or CL for short.  It provides a mathematical model for balancing an encounter against a specific number of player characters at a specific level. Every gamemaster character, critter and starship has a CL listed as part of their stat block. They indicate to the GM what level of opponent is appropriate for a PC at a specific level. It gets a bit trickier when the opponents have different CLs.

I used the CL system whenver I created official adventures for Wizards of the Coast. I referred to it when assembling an adventure for a convention, but perhaps not as strictly.

For my home game? Hardly ever.

It's not that I don't like the CL system. It works well enough, though it takes as much art as science to use well. Despite best efforts, not every CL is equal to every other CL. Characters, creatures and ships vary a lot in the Star Wars universe. Mechanically, the CL system covers hit points, defenses and other stats. Some adjustments are made to CL for opponents with a big advantage due to special qualities or equipment. However, it still takes the GM to look at a stat block and say, yes, that looks like it's a fair opponent for their particular set of players.

No, for my home campaign it comes down to a few points:

  • I have little time to prepare (You're shocked, I know).
  • I usually run from an outline. Sometimes not even that.
  • I'm more interested in assembling the right characters for the story, and less interested in worrying about creating or altering stats (see above).
  • I don't have matching minis. Seriously, I dislike minis randomly representing something that they're not when on the table. 
  • My starship battles turn out more cinematic, which is good because I'd rather use the right ship for the scene than the right CL.

If it turns out I've chosen poorly, I'm not afraid to jettison aspects of the encounter to keep it fun. I'll usually come up with a reason why I adjust someone's stats or situation on the fly - cover, poor judgement, poor morale, poor training, emboldened responses, panic, rally, intimidation, debris, injury, the dark side of the Force, equipment failure, take advantage of the PCs' bad luck or poor choices, sudden environmental effect, arrival of allies, abandonment of allies and....nonstop ranting?

The key there is to have a good reason for mid-combat change that the PCs can relate to, understand, or eventually discover. Keeping their suspension of disbelief and feeling of fair play intact is very important. Giving them a good, possibly unexpected, escape route is another way to get them out of a bad situation.

While I don't use the CL system very strictly, I do refer to the CLs when assembling the gamemaster characters from various stat blocks. It still proves to be a good guide. However, I double check a few things to make sure I'm on the right track:

  • Check the attack values - can the gamemaster characters actually hit the PCs? If you have a big group of gamemaster characters, its fine if some have a harder time hitting their targets.
  • Check the defense values - can the PCs hit the characters? Its ok for the tough bad guys to be harder to hit.
  • Check their Force powers, if any. Determine if the list is appropriate to the encounter, and plan how the character can use them effectively.
  • Check their equipment. If their attack or defense values aren't working out, an equipment upgrade can tip the balance in their favor. 
  • Slight talent and feat adjustments can also turn a marginal or unusable stat block into something interesting.
  • Starships are their own special category. Check to see if the ships can actually get through each other's shields and damage reduction. It's ok if the Star Destroyer can blast the PC's ship 100 times over (assuming they're not in a Mon Calamari Star Cruiser or something), if the encounter is meant to capture them or make them run away.

Remember, making adjustments on the fly is ok, and can add spontaneous responses or actions that can add to the chaos of combat or the enjoyment of the encounter.

So, if you're short on time or patience, or you're just lazy, try winging it on a couple of encounters and see what happens. If it doesn't work out, you can always return to the system next time...assuming you didn't lead your poor PCs into a total party kill in the process.


Oh, right. The link.

Christopher West has anew kickstarter going for his next transit map. You can find it here.