Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Shooting First

More Art by McQuarrie

A role-playing game based on a given intellectual property ought to be able to emulate situations from the source material.  It ought to be possible for characters in the game to do the same things that characters do in the source material; perhaps not beginning characters, but the game should accommodate the possibility of these circumstances and events.

In Star Wars (not 'Episode IV,' not 'A New Hope' – just Star Wars), there is some...interaction between the characters of Han Solo and Greedo.  In this post, your humble host speculates as to how the mechanics of Fantasy Flight's Edge of the Empire - Beta roleplaying game (hereinafter EotE-B) could be used to re-enact this scene.  Specifically, even though Greedo has a blaster leveled at Solo, the Corellian manages to surreptitiously draw his own blaster and successfully shoots Greedo without Greedo being able to retaliate.  Make no mistake – Han shot first.  Poor Greedo didn't fire at all.  It should be noted that realism – or lack thereof – is not at issue; if it happened in the movie, it should be possible in the game.

Essentially, Han fires a weapon.  Firing a weapon is an 'action' which a character can perform on his or her 'turn.'  The existence of a turn requires 'structured gameplay.'  As opposed to 'narrative gameplay,' 'structured gameplay' carefully measures time in terms of rounds and turns.

Events that occasion structured gameplay (e.g., combat) are called encounters.  At the onset of an encounter, 'Initiative order' is determined.  Each participating character makes a 'simple' skill check.  ('Simple' – in this sense – means that no Difficulty dice are added to the pool.)  Characters anticipating the encounter make a 'Cool' check.  (Cool is associated with the Presence characteristic.)  Characters not expecting the encounter make a 'Vigilance' check.  (Vigilance is associated with the Willpower characteristic.)  The character with the most successes goes first, with other characters going in order of descending successes.  Characters tied at a given number of successes go in descending order of advantage results.  No instructions are provided to resolve ties at this level (which I would imagine to be fairly commonplace).  Presence is a measure of “moxie, charisma, confidence, and force of personality.”  Willpower reflects “discipline, self-control, mental fortitude, and faith.”  (Perhaps your humble host is firmly entrenched in the 'old school' paradigm, but he would enlist Cunning for 'surprise' initiative and Agility for 'prepared' initiative.)

Without a doubt, Han is a Smuggler: Scoundrel.  The Smuggler: Scoundrel talent tree offers two instances of Rapid Reaction; one at the 5 XP level and one at the 20 XP level.  For each rank in the Rapid Reaction talent, the character may suffer a point of strain and add a success to his or her initiative check.  The same talent tree offers Quick Draw at the 5 XP level.  Normally, drawing a weapon counts as a 'maneuver,' of which there are a limited number in a character's turn.  With Quick Draw, drawing a weapon becomes an 'incidental' activity; incidental activities do not constrain a character's options during a turn.

Given the verbal tête à tête upon which Han and Greedo engage, Presence sort of makes sense for determination of initiative.  It's reasonable to assume that Han has more presence than Greedo and if anybody has the 'Cool' skill, it's Han.  Given the situation, Han would undoubtedly use Rapid Reaction to garner an additional success.   So, in terms of initiative, it's not surprising that Han prevails. 

Yet can we rightfully consider the resolution of the Han-Greedo confrontation to be a mere matter of initiative?  After all, Greedo is pointing a blaster at Han.  Page 129 of EotE-B stipulates that, under certain circumstances, “a character may even be able to perform a maneuver when it is not his turn.”  Although an attack is an 'action,' which is distinct from a 'maneuver,' page 131 mentions there are “abilities allowing [characters] to perform an action as a maneuver.”  Greedo would not seem to have such an ability, but having a weapon trained on a target ought to count for something.

Let us examine the circumstances of the event.  Han and Greedo sit at a table.  Han puts a leg up onto the table, thereby concealing his holstered blaster from Greedo's view.  In Greedo's line-of-sight, Han nonchalantly picks at the cantina's stucco with his left hand, thereby distracting Greedo from what he is doing with his right hand.  Han resorts to subterfuge to counter Greedo's advantageous position.

This can be construed as an 'opposed check.'  Han assembles a dice pool based on his 'Stealth' skill (which is associated with Agility).  The Ability and Proficiency dice that would normally compose Greedo's 'Perception' skill dice pool are instead converted to Difficulty and Challenge dice (respectively) in Han's dice pool.  ('Perception' is associated with Intellect.)  Given Han's efforts at obfuscation, a Game Master might downgrade one of “Greedo's” dice, thereby lessening Han's difficulty.  Han could even chip in a Destiny Point to upgrade one of the positive dice in his pool.

Once Han has 'won' initiative and prevailed on his Stealth check, “frying poor Greedo” becomes a rather routine use of a blaster.


  1. Sound explanation, good stuff !

  2. That was the one scene I replayed over and over again as a kid. Han was (is) the coolest bad ass.

    Great job writing it up in game terms.