The GM Awakens – Making Combat Massive – Part 2

This series follows the trials, tribulations, successes, and failures of a fairly inexperienced GM who has recently picked up the hobby after a long time away. It aims to assist new GM’s by examining what worked, didn’t work, and what failed miserably as he spins up new campaigns, modules, encounters, and adventures for his friends and family in Fantasy Flight Games’ Edge of the Empire/Age of Rebellion/Force and Destiny system.

One of the most exciting rules sets in Fantasy Flight Games’ Age of Rebellion game are the elegant rules surrounding mass combat scenes and adventures.  For the first time since I began playing RPG’s, I had a mechanism in front of me to get my PCs into a cinematic, sprawling battlefield and still allow them to concentrate on their individual stories and efforts within the larger battle.  In Part 1 of my examination of mass combat adventures, I described the basic rules behind Fantasy Flight Games’ mass combat system, as well as how I structured each phase with objectives for the PCs.  I talked about how each of those objectives affected the mass combat checks between each phase.  What is to follow assumes you have read the first part of this series or are familiar somewhat with the mass combat rules in Age of Rebellion.

My main gaming group meets once a week and we have a couple hours to play in the evening.  So generally, I am able to start a module and then make adjustments before the 2nd or 3rd night we run the module.  I can react to the things that work or don’t work, or things I need to improve on.  Such was the case with my first mass combat module, and I’m thankful I had that time to adjust after the first night.

As I indicated in Part 1, the objectives in the first phase of combat were fine, but something was missing.  All my PCs had something to do and all those phases affected the overall battle in the form of the mass combat roll between phases.  But when I “screen wiped” between each PC group and their activities, the members of the group not involved in an encounter had nothing really to do.  This is common in splitting the party and a reason why many GMs won’t do it.  But I thought to myself there has to be a way to get the PC’s to interact while being in different places during the battle.  So I sat and re-wrote phases 2 through 4 to create synergy between the PC’s and their individual objectives.  Here’s how I did that:

In Phase 1 each objective was written with different PCs in mind for them to showcase their talents.  I did that.  The trouble was that none of those interactions affected the other.  They affected the overall battle of course, with each achieved objective the mass combat check between the phases was improved, but the characters weren’t working together very much.  So I took phase 2 and threw it out and came up with new objectives that interacted.  As walkers and transports began to land on the planet at extreme range, I set up three objectives for my team that interacted:

Objective 1: Take out TIE Bombers bombarding the surface.

Objective 2: Destroy at least one drop ship carrying AT-STs.

Objective 3: Restore power to the point defense laser system outside the base entrance.

On the surface those seem like separate goals with no synergy.  But it was how the team accomplished them which caused the interaction.  The PCs had a freighter in the sky shooting down TIE Bombers.  But if they did not destroy at least two of them by round four, a bomb falls and will land near the mechanic of the group fixing the point defense laser system.  Also, the scouts on the ground took hold of a turbolaser and began helping the freighter in the sky.  The turbolaser on the ground also had a chance to destroy the bomb as it fell.

The point was I overlapped the scenes a bit so it seemed more like the PCs were each involved in the same encounter, even though they had split up.  Again, if objectives were met, the mass combat check between the phases got boosts for the PCs or upgrades.  If failed, it had negative consequences towards the mass combat check.  If the PCs won the mass combat check, then phase 3 of the battle had boosts for the PCs and vice versa.

The PCs did not, however, succeed at the mass combat check between phases 2 and 3.  They failed the roll and the Imperial invasion pressed forward.  As a result of the failed check, I had the consequence be that a squad of stormtroopers managed to infiltrate the base.  This created a situation where the party was split into three areas:  The battle in the sky, on the ground, and now in the base as a result of the failed check.  This is how I connected the mass combat check results to what the PC’s were doing.  Because they failed the check between the phases, a new encounter came into play.

Phase 3 also introduced the first objective that could seriously alter the battle on a larger, connected level.  The PCs spotted the command shuttle with the Imperial Admiral leading the battle inside.  As part of the mass combat rules in the system, the leaders of each side affect the mass combat checks by upgrading the check for their side based on their Leadership skill.  So by taking out this ship, the PCs could swing the tide of the next couple of mass combat checks.

I concluded the battle with the 4th phase.  The 4th phase changed things up and had only one objective.  That objective was to stop the Imperial Walkers…period.  All the PCs converged at the end and had to work together to take down two AT-AT’s approaching.  If they did, they would have significant odds to succeed at the last mass combat check.  If not, they would have been severely hampered in the last check to determine the winner.  But the key here is switching from a group of separated encounters and a split party, and at the end converging them into a single fight.  Every check and encounter up to this point affected this last phase.

When the PCs split up in phases, it’s important to make sure you connect them with a thread.  The reason the mass combat rules work so well at their heart is that they make the PCs actually affect a battle on a scale so large no GM could keep control of it all.  So it’s important to embrace this concept and connect each part of your mass combat adventure.

My PCs considered the mass combat adventure we did to be one of the best, if not the best, adventure we’ve done so far together.  They felt like everything they did had an impact and that they were part of the battle, not that the battle was simply a backdrop to their encounters.  If you then take the next step, and connect the very encounters the PCs are involved in, and provide objectives that focus on the things your PCs do well, having everything tie back to the mass combat checks, you’ll create a sprawling, amazing adventure that will make your PC’s feel like big darn heroes even more than normal.

Next week I will examine ways to transport this system from Fantasy Flight Games Star Wars RPG into other systems and ways you can create your own, even brief, mass combat adventures.

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Scott Alden

Scott Alden

Scott is a full-time IT Manager living in Lawrence, KS. (Rock Chalk, Jayhawk! Just outside Kansas City for those who don't know.) Scott is a veteran of several role playing, table top miniatures, video, and board games, starting with the Atari 2600 when he was 6, and the classic red box Dungeons and Dragons game when he was 12. After a long hiatus away from the hobby, Scott has recently picked up gaming once again, and is running two different campaigns in Fantasy Flight Games' Edge of the Empire/Age of Rebellion/Force and Destiny lines. He is an avid X-Wing miniatures player, as well as Armada, Imperial Assault, Space Hulk, and Rebellion. (His family is obviously a Star Wars family, right?) Scott is married to his high school sweetheart, and has 2 children in middle school, both Black Belts in Krav Maga martial arts.