Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Tactical Analysis: Civilian Conflict

I have a draft back in Iteration 3 that never got published, nor finished, for Thug mooks.  So far, we've limited ourselves to military-scale opponents, because the most common opponent in Star Wars is a stormtrooper, and Star Wars treats its enemies as more-or-less interchangeable when it comes to difficulty.  Psi-Wars, being an Action game, accepts the notion of differing BAD levels, and thus differing levels of competency from its opponents.  Thus, we'd expect Psi-Wars troopers to be better than some opponents, and worse than others.  We'd also expect them to fight with different tactics.

A hive of scum and villainy
This creates a scale of opponents, and on the low end of that scale would be gangsters, thieves and punks, the sorts of people who might frequent a cantina.  While they might be dangerous or well-armed, they're ultimately just civilians.  They lack military discipline, skill and, most importantly, back-up.  If a soldier is BAD 12-14, then a gangster might be BAD 10-12.

But they have something in common with an another archetype: the upper-crust civilian.  Both thieves and nobles will typically carry only a personal weapon, one that they carry as much to signal status as to protect themselves.  Both
A haven for elegance and wealth
might view personal combat (under strict rules) as a means to advance their personal status.  In both worlds, it's highly inappropriate to walk in wearing full armor and carrying a full complement of military gear, especially if your objective is to negotiate with the other party.  In both worlds, that negotiation might suddenly go south, and might suddenly turn very violent, so it behooves one to be well-protected, and in both worlds, the ideal form of protection are body guards... and making sure the other guy isn't particularly well armed.

We don't actually have stats worked out, but we can extrapolate them pretty nicely.

Standard Civilian Combatants

A typical civilian wears little to no armor (rarely more than an armored coat or a thin armored vest under their clothes).  Expect no more than 20 DR in a few, strategic locations.  Civilians rarely carry heavy weaponry.  Most thugs will be poor and will rarely carry anything more expensive than a blaster pistol or a vibro-knife, and might even wield some improvised equipment.  Nobles will have more expensive items, but not necessarily much more effective, as they're more worried about ornamentation (and statement) than self-defense.  Expect weapons like elegant holdout blasters, ornate vibro-blades, or perhaps even a force sword.  In both cases, most skill levels will be between 10 and 12.

In combat, many civilians will be non-combatants, which means they'll lack combat reflexes, freeze up if surprised, and may well panic and simply run, or attack wildly while trying to escape.  More combat-savvy characters (battle-tested gangsters or former soldiers) will fight with greater precision, but their tactics will generally be to overwhelm, perhaps even grandstand.

If civilians want to initiate combat, they'll do so either via an ambush (social or otherwise) or by trying to initiate a duel.  In the former case, gangsters and punks will probably pin someone down in a back alley, knock them over and then commence with the kicking, while nobles will probably spring on someone in a place far from the eyes of other, inflict their damage, and then demand silence "or else." A duel is more open and formal, a challenge spoken and rules (unspoken or otherwise) declared, and then the battle fought, usually under the watchful eyes of others.  Here, the point of the combat is not just the defeat of the opponent, but a glamorous victory.  A stylish duelist can gain more than just victory over his opponent as he becomes the talk of the town and his reputation begins to rise.

Bodyguards and Hit Men

Bodyguards and Hit Men are likely to be nearly as skilled as soldiers (BAD 12-14) and may well be former soldiers, but typically less well-armed.  Nobles will have heavily armed and armored bodyguards, but more money will got to making them look good rather than having them be effective.  Expect weapons like vibro-glaives, force-glaives, force-swords, vibro-blades, or ceremonial blasters, and their armor might be a combat hardsuit, but it'll be a lovely, ornate one.  Criminals will have less elegant bodyguards and hitmen, but also less effective, as a truly excellent guard/assassin/combatant could expect superior employment.  Why be a hit man to some mobster if you can parley your talent for murder into a job for a local noble?

Both will tend to stand back and survey the scene.  Their job is to be unobtrusive, a beautiful and/or intimidating part of the scenery, until violence seems immanent, and then they spring into action.

Sudden Violence

For the most part, one should not expect civilian encounters to be violent.  One should be able to walk the streets of Coruscant at night without being mugged, and one should be able to get a drink at a bar without shooting up the place.  Violence is bad for business, and the world of civilians is one of business, homes, family, romance and intrigue, not war.  But violence does happen.  How best, then, to deal with it?

The Force Sword
Force-Swordsman in both deterring sudden violence, and dealing with it when it occurs.  First, the presence of their force sword, if visible, could certainly restrain other's desires for combat.  A force sword is a fearsome weapon, best used if one is psychic, and it's certainly not a cheap weapon.  Carrying a force sword suggests wealth and power.  Moreover, it is a dominating weapon in close range, and most civilian fights happen in the tight quarters of an alleyway, a bar, or a home.  Seeing a mark walk down an alleyway with a force sword in hand is likely enough to convince most people to seek another mark.

When violence begins, the Force-Swordsman has one disadvantage: the blade takes a full second to materialize.  That's a full second before he can lop off an alien limb, or parry a blaster bolt.  This seems counter to how Star Wars actually functions, and so might be a point to address.

But once the force sword blade has materialized, one would be a fool to attack its wielder.  Any melee weapon will be destroyed, and pistols in close combat will also be destroyed.  Fists and feet will not be (Unarmed Combat Etiquette), but good luck parrying his attacks.  A force sword is, in close quarters, the firepower of a heavy blaster that's small enough to fit on your belt or in the palm of your hand.  It's a gamechanger in the civilian battlefield.

The Force Sword-and-Buckler
The Force Sword and Force Buckler combo is less advantageous in this arena.  Neither take up much room while inactive, but once deployed, a force buckler is large, provides your opponent cover in close combat, and is difficult to deploy against side or rear attacks, so most of the advantages of a force buckler disappear in the cantina shoot-out, unless the character learns to sit with his back to the wall, etc.  Still, such a character carries a force sword, and that's certainly a huge advantage, and the force shield is large and obvious. Once it activates, it might persuade people to try a more peaceful solution.

Military Tactics
Military tactics are completely inappropriate in a civilian fight.  If a fully armed and armored soldier walks into a bar, most people expect trouble, and if he walks into a court, the guards will turn him away.  Such tactics suggest ill-intent and, worse, are gauche in the extreme.

Even if one could bring the heavy weapons of a military conflict into a bar or a court, when violence broke out, the close quarters and sudden nature of the conflict will make it difficult to bring one's weapons to bear.  By the time you've unslung and loaded up your gatling blaster, someone will have grabbed it and tried to wrestle it from you while someone else tries to shoot you in the face.

Gunslingers shine in civilian combat.  The ability to rapidly draw or sheath a pistol means that the gunslinger can escalate and deescalate conflict quickly.  She might draw her pistol, shoot a man, holster her pistol, and then grapple someone.  Blaster pistols tend to be more than sufficient to handle most of the lighter armor that civilians might wear, and so once the pistols come out, people can die.  Finally, they have low bulk values, so if someone forces close combat, the pistolero can handle that just fine, and they can also afford to hide the weapon somewhere on their bodies.

Other melee weapons and unarmed combat
Melee is generally the order of the day in such conflicts.  Simply having a neurolash baton or a vibroknife could easily turn the conflict around. The neurolash baton has the added advantage of being non-lethal, meaning you can avoid legal troubles after your fight with a baron's son.  The sorts of weapons you want, though, are small.  Polearms like vibroglaives are too long to really use in such tight quarters, and too obvious to bring with you into court.

Unarmed combat is even better, as most opponents will be relatively unarmored (except for bodyguards), and if violence suddenly breaks out, you always always have your fists.  Unarmed techniques are also (relatively) non-lethal.  Because you don't need to draw your weapons, when it comes to who gets their weapons out first, you'll have a distinct advantage.  Finally, because Psi-Wars uses the Unarmed Etiquette rules, even if your opponent has a weapon, being unarmed isn't a complete disaster, as your opponent won't be able to parry your attacks as well.  The greatest problem posed to unarmed combat are ranged weapons, but these battles tend to take place in very close quarters, so even someone with a pistol or a rifle doesn't pose as much risk to you as he might in, say, an open battlefield.


In both elegant and criminal circumstances, characters might find themselves suddenly challenged to a duel.  Elegant duelists might demand pistols at dawn, but the criminal demand to "go a round in the ring" or to simply through down in a bar with a circle of bikers looking on, is similar enough for our purposes.  A duel can certainly be lethal, but the point of a duel is as much about status as survival.  Characters challenge one another over matters of honor or status, and a "dirty move" that might be useful in an open battle might be frowned upon in a duel, while a useless flourish that might get you killed in an open battle might earn you a great deal of favor in a duel.

Obviously, because duels are fought with specific rules, nearly anything might go, or anything might be forbidden, and that tends to impact one's strategy (ie, if pistols are not allowed, then all the pistol skill in the world won't help you).  The following thoughts are based follow general thoughts and discuss less strict duels, where possible.

Force Sword and Force Sword-and-Buckler
It's rare that a force sword would be allowed as a dueling item for anything less than a lethal duel, but if it's allowed, its beautiful glow will certainly make it an eye-catching choice.  Force-Swordsmanship includes Force Sword Art as a core skill, which means that in the midst of beating the hell out of your foe, you can really impress the ladies.

In a general duel, it's highly likely that the fight will start close.  Most duels are fought at either melee range or a few paces apart (seldom in an area much larger than a boxing ring), which means a force sword wielder can certainly close distances fast on his opponent.

Military Tactics
The point of duels is generally to have a more elegant conflict than one might see on the open battlefield, so the "crass" tactics of warfare are usually off the table.  Even if they were allowed, military tactics rarely allow one to shine.  They tend to be the definition of substance over style.

Pistols are among the most popular dueling weapons, though they'll likely be more archaic than the typical blaster pistol (perhaps single-shot weapons).  The Way of the Galaxy has a few tricks (twirl) that makes it impressive enough

Other Melee Weapons and Unarmed
These are probably the most likely weapons used in a duel.  Most street duels will be "no holds barred" fist-fights or knife duels, and most noble duels will use some elegant weapon, perhaps a non-lethal one: a stylized neurolash baton makes an excellent dueling weapon because victory is both obvious and non-lethal, allowing you to humiliate your opponent without inviting reprisal.

Unarmed combat also offers the benefit that it always applies.  If your opponent demands to fight you with sporks at dawn, Brawl, Karate, Sumo, Judo or Wrestling can all provide some measure of benefit to you, as you can always attempt to grapple, sprawl, kick or sucker-punch your opponent, though some of it might be seen as decidedly unsportsmanlike.  That said, unarmed techniques can be very flashy, and thus eye-catching and pleasing to your audience.


Perhaps negotiation fails, or you never intended to honestly talk to your opponent anyway.  You need them removed.  Perhaps they're a dangerous despot, or a corrupt crime-boss, and you want them dead.  How well do our weapon choices play out?

Force Sword
The force sword is a spectacular assassination weapon.  While it faces the stealth problems noted in the previous analysis, most assassins have a single target in mind.  Once that target has been defeated, it doesn't matter if everyone is alerted (though it does make escape a bit harder).  Furthermore, the glowing light of a force sword matters less in confined spaces like a room, than it does on an open field, where distant reinforcements might see it.  On the other hand, when it's not active, it's just the size of a hilt, making it about the size of a hold-out weaponl, and thus very easily concealed until it's time to strike. But it's a hold-out weapon that deals 8d(5)!  The point of battleweave vests, or even heavier armor, is to stop a pistol shot, not to fend off a heavy weapon.  A force sword will carve through even a well-armored target with ease.  When his bodyguards retaliate, your melee dominance will give you an enormous advantage.

Military Tactics
Why get close when you can ambush your opponent?  A soldier-turned-assassin isn't necessarily elegant, but he'll get the job done.  He can use the same tactics he would when attacking a military operation with stealth: Traps, explosives and sniper-weapons.

Less stealthy soldiers can simply break into their target with full force.  The downside of this is that bringing a small regiments of heavily armed and armored killers to your mark's doorstep tend to alert him to your intent.  Noble characters will certainly call upon the full power of their defensive forces to hold you at bay, and criminal characters might form quick, temporary alliances to defeat you.  Finally, that much noise and firepower is sure to catch the attention of the authorities ("Do you have anything to declare?  I see, one gatling blaster, one missile launcher, and three anti-tank rounds.").  The increased resistance brought by military tactics makes its a sub-optimal approach, but brute force can get the job done.

While not as elegant as a blade, the pistol (especially the holdout pistol) has long been the weapon of choice for the modern assassin, and I would expect no different in Psi-Wars.  Battleweave armor, such as a concealed vest, is only going to stop about 4 points of damage, but that's enough to slow down a holdout blaster, which is the point of such vests.  Even so, a pistol is easily hidden, easily deployed (with a fast-draw) and sufficiently lethal to do the job.

The only real problem is dealing with return fire.  Bodyguards are likely to be much better armored than their employer, and a small pistol is almost certainly not enough to deal with them quickly.  If they can then return fire, a pistol is no defense against a vibroglaive, unlike a force sword.

Other Melee Weapons and Unarmed Tactics
Non-lethal weapons, of course, won't do the trick, but small, lethal weapons like a vibroknife are more than enough, thought they pose the same problems as the pistol, above (without the added benefit of range), though most melee weapons can at least parry in close range.  Unarmed tactics have the advantage of beating all search techniques, and a quick neck-snap or choke hold will definitely do the job.  A skilled martial artist could dispatch his target and then use some grappling/throw techniques to disorient the guards and make his escape. It's a difficult tactic, but plausible.
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