The Alexandrian

Star Wars: Force and Destiny - Fantasy Flight GamesIn my review of Star Wars: Force and Destiny, I explained how the game’s core mechanic uses three inconsistent pairs of symbols in order to generate a huge mess of meaningless results that even the game’s designers can’t figure out how to interpret or use consistently.

Now I’m going to show you how you can make it a little better.

THE NEW CORE MECHANIC

Build and roll your dice pools the same way.

(1) The Triumph symbol counts as a Success, but also has the additional effect of either (a) cancelling Despair, (b) cancelling all Threat symbols, or (c) if there are no Threat symbols, counting as two Advantage symbols.

(2) Despair does the exact same thing in reverse: It counts as a Failure, but also has the additional effect of (a) cancelling Triumph, (b) cancelling all Advantage symbols, or (c) if there are no Advantage symbols, counting as two Threat symbols.

(3) Any effect in the game that uniquely requires a Triumph symbol requires 4 Advantage instead. Similarly, anything that uniquely requires a Despair symbol can be triggered with 4 Threat.

(4) With the exception of damage and recovery, the number of Success or Failure symbols you roll is irrelevant. (The only thing that matters is the binary assessment of whether you succeeded or failed.) Everything else in the rules that ask you to count or use Success instead uses Advantage.

(5) The guidelines for Knowledge skills are chucked completely: If you succeed on a Knowledge check, each Advantage gives you an additional piece of information. If you fail, Advantage can give you a lead on where information can be found. Threat either corrupts the information in some way (misleading, missing detail, missing context), gives you straight out misinformation, puts you in immediate danger (such as an angry alien in a bar shouting, “You’ll be dead!”), or alerts the bad guys to your search (like stormtroopers noticing that you cut off the alien’s arm).

DESIGN NOTES

Essentially, what I’m doing here is lopping off one of the dice result tiers and having Triumph/Despair cancel each other so the symbols are all counted the same way. The system will no longer generate 18 different possibilities (with varying degrees along multiple axes), but the system will still give you:

Succeed
Failure
Succeed-Advantage
Succeed-Threat
Failure-Advantage
Failure-Threat

You get two bits of information: One is a binary success/fail. The other is good/neutral/bad, with varying degrees of good and bad.

In play, I think you’ll find that this:

(1) Gives you guidance essentially indistinguishable from the original system;

(2) Results in dice pools being resolved about three times faster (because of simple symbol cancellation and players needing to report less tangled information); and

(3) Quietly eliminates a wide swath of the game’s dizzyingly inconsistent mechanics.

PROVISO

This house rule won’t magically fix the entire game: Mechanics that flirt with elegance are still going to be mired in a bloated, inconsistent mess. And you’re still going to have to lay out $180 to get a complete Star Wars game.

But it helps. It helps a lot. And I think if you’re interested in putting a little more elbow grease, then it also gives you a pretty good foundation for cleaning up all the other problems these games have. (Your next stop would be to start stripping all the weird inconsistencies which remain in the game. Working from my system cheat sheet can probably simplify that process.)

Good luck!

FFG STAR WARS – FURTHER READING
Review of Force and Destiny
Force and Destiny: System Cheat Sheet
FFG Star Wars: The Big Fix
Star Wars: Red Peace

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16 Responses to “FFG Star Wars – The Big House Rule”

  1. Justin Alexander says:

    In a discussion on another forum, someone pointed out that one of the things they really liked about the FFG Star Wars system was the “Reichenbach Falls” effect, in which a single resolution could have both a really great complication and a really awful complication.

    To a certain extent you can argue that Success+Threat achieves the Reichenbach Falls scenario: You successfully hurl Moriarty to his doom, but fall yourself. (This would obviously be the pre-retcon version of the Reichenbach Falls.)

    But there is something appealing about occasionally getting both “success+” and “success-” on the same check. If you want that effect, you can tweak these house rules:

    (1) The Triumph symbol counts as 2 Advantage that CANNOT be canceled.
    (2) The Despair symbol counts as 2 Threat that CANNOT be canceled.
    (3) Any effect in the game that uniquely requires a Triumph symbol requires 4 Advantage instead. Similarly, anything that uniquely requires a Despair symbol can be triggered with 4 Threat.
    (4) With the exception of damage and recovery, the number of Success or Failure symbols you roll is irrelevant. (The only thing that matters is the binary assessment of whether you succeeded or failed.) Everything else in the rules that ask you to count or use Success instead uses Advantage.

    And you still chuck the Knowledge guidelines, as described in the post.

    Unlike the house rule in the post, I haven’t playtested this version in any way. One thing you’d want to look at is whether or not the probabilities of success have been skewed in an undesirable way by no longer having Triumphs count as successes.

  2. Erik says:

    So you gut the 2 most interesting die results and call it a fix? That’s a really poor choice, in my opinion. Besides, they come up so infrequently in my experience (and statistically) that it can’t be an actual problem “dealing” with those results. The dread and jubilation in getting one or the other is worth keeping them. If you’re THAT worried about bloated possible outcomes, a better idea would be to make it: all successes mean X, advantage means Y etc. Since your original problem seemed to be how different skills treated the same die results.

    Speaking of, this is quoted from your last post: “If you’re making a Computer check, then additional successes reduce the time required to make the check. But if it’s a Stealth check, then you’re going to use advantage to reduce the time required. With Skullduggery you use advantage to gain additional items, but if you’re making a Survival check you’ll use successes to gain those items.”

    I can explain that. With the computer skill, the obvious baseline assumption is that you’re interested in speed, so successes mean you go faster. For Stealth, it looks like the baseline assumption is you’re interested in … being stealthy, with time being a secondary component. For Skullduggery, you’re trying to pick someone’s pocket (or similar) so success is measured mostly by stealth and, assuming you reach the target, you’re automatically getting whatever’s there. Advantage just means a couple goodies you hadn’t expected. With survival, you’re trying to survive, which means gather food and water. It makes perfect sense that additional successes would mean additional survival items.

    It’s nuanced and possibly unnecessarily complicated, but that’s a judgement call, not a hard fact about the system. It really isn’t as mind-boggling as you make it out to be.

  3. Justin Alexander says:

    “If you’re THAT worried about bloated possible outcomes, a better idea would be to make it: all successes mean X, advantage means Y etc.”

    The entire value of adding a qualitative result to a resolution mechanic is to provide an improv cue for adjudicating the result in a way that’s more interesting than a simple binary outcome.

    Ditching the improvisational aspect of the system instead of just fixing the underlying bloat and inconsistency of the mechanic sounds a like a really terrible idea.

  4. Ste says:

    (Justin, the link to the previous article seems to be busted.)

  5. Justin Alexander says:

    Fixed!

  6. Kannik says:

    Nice. This really would go a long way to cleaning up the dice results.

    One other thought my group had if we were to ever return to the game (which we’re not) would be, for most regular skill rolls and situations, to require and denote 2 advantages/threat before gaining a “minor advantage/threat”, and 4 or 5 to gain a “major advantage/threat”. This would limit both the frequency that ad/threat comes up*, and make more clear how “powerful” the ad/threat is.

    * – In our experience practically every roll had some amount of advantage or threat, so often that it became not only a burden of resolution but also became boring/unspecial/routine.

  7. Erik says:

    I … wut?

    Justin: THERE’S TOO MANY OPTIONS!
    Erik: *suggests fix*
    Justin: THAT TAKES AWAY ALL THE OPTIONS!

    How do game design. I mean, to be fair, my “fix” is just as lame as yours. In the end though, I think you just don’t like the system. Which is fine. But don’t act like it’s unplayable. Criticize it, sure, but don’t crucify it as some deformed monster of a gaming system. It just isn’t.

  8. Anonymous says:

    @Erik: Huh, wut?

    Justin didn’t respond to you by saying “that takes away the options”… he said “that takes away the improvisational aspect”.

    What I got from his post is that your idea of predefining “all successes mean X, advantage means Y, etc” is akin to a table of results, which makes this system more rigid.

    His solution also takes away options, but with the purpose of streamlining the results (you only get success+, success, success-, failure+, failure, failure-), making it easier for a GM to adjudicate on the fly, accordingly to the situation.

  9. Justin Alexander says:

    Anonymous nails this on the head.

    No matter how many times I point out that you’re wrong, Erik, you keep insisting that what I secretly want is for the system not to feature qualitative results. That just isn’t true, no matter how many times you repeat the accusation.

    Nor have I ever claimed that the game was “unplayable”.

    @Kannik: I think the argument can be made that you don’t necessarily need these complicating/boosting factors to feel like special events. Instead, the mechanic is providing a consistent, low-level texture that renders the game world in shades of gray instead of a stark black-and-white.

    It’s only on the rare rolls where you rack up a significant number of advantage/threat symbols that something really “special” is going to happen.

  10. James says:

    ^ Exactly, I was worried about the game too, being very left-brained, but after playing for five minutes i realized that most rolls fall into a small range of results that are easily manageable.

  11. allinonemove says:

    tl;dr: the core mechanic could be a really sweet dice-pool implementation of the *World resolution mechanic. why isn’t anyone talking about that?

    i absolutely appreciate these past 2-3 articles regarding the FFG SWRPG after my brief reads and listening to actual plays on the “one shot” podcast. myself, i needed to come up with a different house rule than posted above to deal with the dice mechanics cuz i am just tired of having to reference every die roll. not because i’m lazy but because i’ve been spoiled by dungeon world and all things PbtA.

    i am shocked, actually. in all the conversation i’ve seen in various forums and on G+ that the core dice mechanic and it’s convoluted narrative resolution has NOT been compared to the success/partial success/failure which is so well/simply codified in Apocalypse World system and its derivatives (*World or PbtA, if you will). instead of trusting players and GM’s to narrate cool effects based on the results of an exciting dice pool, they’ve made it overly prescriptive, cumbersome, and internally inconsistent.

    i do like what FFG has done with the core mechanic, but the house rule i’ve implemented to maintain my own sanity is this:

    success(es): +1; improvement to original intent (e.g., damage, knowledge gained, etc)
    advantage(s): recover strain; activate property (e.g. criticals); improve immediate condition/context (e.g., less time to hack a terminal)
    triumph: +boost or +ability die for ally; +setback or +difficulty die for target/enemy; temporary beneficial narrative effect (e.g., weapon jam)
    multiple triumphs: ongoing beneficial narrative effect.

    invert all of this for threat and despair. then, narrate as appropriate at the table.

    this was meant to be short, but became much longer.

    full disclaimer: i’ve bought the force & destiny beginner box and the core rules (haven’t read it all yet) but nothing else. i’m playing the system for the first time in my first ever solo session right now, cuz i’ve been interested in the system and setting – of course.

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  13. Kannik says:

    @Justin: Hmm, good point, maybe I was too fixated on making them “interesting” or “significant”. A more low-level ebb and flow for the routine 1 or 2 levels of ad/th may have been enough. Noted for next time. }:)

  14. Nojopar says:

    The problem with your original analysis is no estimation of probability. The 18 possible outcomes are presented as if the odds of any one is 1 in 18, which isn’t true. Success-Threat-Triumph-Despair will happen significantly less than, say, Success-Advantage. While the complex things are possible, they’re not probably. How hard is it to interpret those few times it happens?

    Your house rules get rid of some of the complexity (assuming you can keep the math of what Despair/Triumph gets/doesn’t get rid of straight in your head) it also gets rid of some of the nuance. It effectively boils things down to a coupled binary-ternary with the values of Yes, No, and Null in the latter’s case. You win, you lose, something good happens, something bad happens, but maybe not. It’s simpler but vastly less nuanced. I think that’s a detriment to the game. The game is all about nuance.

  15. kaladorn says:

    I understand Justin’s observations in this article and its predecessor.

    Most games, no matter how awkward the rules, can be made to play a great game for the right group of people at the right time in their lives and in the right mood and with the right story and GM. There is NO perfect system. Tastes vary on what is a fast enough pace, what is an appropriate level of roll/role play, and on what is too much rules crunch/detail (or too little). And the group makes all the difference – I’ve met RPers who struggle to emote a single line in character and freeze when put in the spotlight and others who’d happily ad-lib half the scene if the GM let them. I’ve met players who are fascinated by the minutiae of crunchy, detailed rulesets but they occur in the same groups as those who want fast streamlined play.

    Those things said, there are better and worse designs. There are designs that are more or less consistent internally. There are mechanics which are more or less elegant. Their are presentations that are more or less clear and/or more or less concise and effective. There are systems that one works ‘around’ more than ‘with’ to get to the great gaming experiences.

    If the rules need to be houseruled to be playable, the design is not elegant or easily useful. If the rules explanation claims a narrative focus but then supplies a thick tome of skill and situation specific rules, the rules are not in line with the focus claimed.

    That doesn’t mean someone can’t make a great game with a few house rules and interpretations. Humans are very adaptable which also explains why TV/disk/satellite remotes have 100 buttons and most of us use about 15-20 at most. T

    Whether you can have a great game with a particular system isn’t an indicator of whether the system is well designed. Whether you can play the rules as written (and a cop out ‘feel free to house rule’ statement doesn’t count IMO) or not and still achieve the flow, fun, and focus on the story and experience that you want is the ultimate test of whether a rule system is well designed.

    The best system I have ever seen for sci-fi adventure gaming was that of Megatraveller. It has at its core a syntax for describing any task, a difficulty, assets, a time increment, and modifiers like hazardous, uncertain, opposed, etc.

    With that simple tool alone, a referee could pretty much discard everything (other than a simple weapon table with ranges/damage on it) to run most adventure sessions (ship fights were another issue and no version of Traveller has ever made a really slick character-driven combat system).

    The fact you could chuck out all of that other crunchy stuff because of this elegant mechanic meant there was a great game hidden inside the actual rules with all their crunch. If you tried to play strictly to the written rules, you would have issues (oh my, would you).

    The ‘hidden core’ was the great thing, not the entirety of the rules as written. A rulebook 1/5th the size could have sufficed.

    So I have to say that game was not a well-designed game from the rules as written but had a few excellent mechanics that, when the rest was largely made background, could make an excellent system.

    I think some of the commenters have argued that the fact they can have great and fast games and house rule good solutions that work for them means the rules are good. I submit this is not so. It means that humans are adaptable and can identify useful parts, can dispose of or modify un-useful parts, and can thus make a good game out of a not-so-good game design (with a few reasonable mechanics of interest embedded in it). That sounds like the case with FFG’s new Force & Destiny (and the other sections).

    In MT played as we played it, the referee spent his time focused on scenes, stories (plots or else nuggets if you prefer the more open format) rather than on the interpretation of thick tomes of rules.

    Some games are very prone to good ideas wrapped in overdone and clunky mechanics. Spycraft & Stargate were those sort of systems. They had some excellent concepts about how to resolve all manner of interpersonal interactions (interrogations, social interactions, chase sequences, etc) that allowed players to choose strategies and apply their skills while opponents did the same. Unfortunately, too much crunch made them slow and a bit annoying in actual use.

    Elegance in game design could be though of as providing just enough mechanics to let a referee tell the story he wants to tell without getting in his way.

    It sounds much like FFGs version follows in the footsteps of a predecessor or two in going for thick books with overdone mechanics (I have SW D6 from WEG and all of SW WotC and the latter definitely had the same disease all D20 games with feat treats experienced).

    I, like Alexander, like dice mechanics that encourage or shape the narrative and inspire vibrant scenes. FFG’s basic mechanic has that, but it also puts in a third axis which is for the most part unnecessary. It is unnecessary because the advantage/threat axis could handle the same thing (as you had more or less of them) and because as many have observed, those results are rare.

    I remember a 5E D&D discussion where the explained why the bonus was +2 (or -2) – it was because anything less didn’t happen often enough to be useful in play (+1s) and stacking bonuses was part of an escalation sequence that was part of 3.x editions problems.

    Elegant mechanics can give you trigger points for narrative embellishments. People who want to sell rulebooks for $60-80 dollars need page count and content to justify that – I think that has more to do with the book counts for D&D, Pathfinder, FFG’s SW, SW D20, and others than any necessity for a rulesystem so heavy.

    Think about it:

    If you had some simple mechanics that could easily generate the narrativist hooks, some basic guidelines on how to interpret results in the context of various skill tests and in combat, and then the rest of the material was rules-absent background and setting, then you could have 15 pages at most of actual rules and apply those to as needed to any situation on the fly if the mechanics were consistent and simple enough (while still triggering interesting results).

    Refs could run adventures from plot summaries or nuggets rather than bogging down for even 30 minutes to conduct a 2 minute firefight.

    This, I think, is some of the gist of what Alexander’s complaints were (he may disagree). The game could offer all of the good things it does without the density of crunch or the inelegance of clunky and irrationally varied mechanics. That is more a necessity of page count or a result of poor game design than it is anything players and GMs require.

  16. kaladorn says:

    Justin,

    Pardon me later on referring to you as Alexander (I realized only after hitting submit that I had done that). I always think of Alexander as a first name for some reason.

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