Building a Non-Combat Challenge in Sword’s Edge

In the last post, I shared with you some of the thoughts I had about building binary challenges. This and the other recent posts grew from discussions with a friend in the UK, Bruce. Much of this sprung from a question about representing a spaceship crash-landing and how to best represent that. And that’s what I want to share this time, how I would create a crash-landing scene as the mechanical component of a scene.

USS Vengeance Crash from Star Trek Into Darkness.

Now, it is possible to do this as a binary challenge, as discussed in the last post. If this isn’t supposed to be a major scene, more like a speedbump or a reminder how dangerous the adventure is, it could be created like a binary challenge, a minion Narrative Character (NC) – hit the emergency gravity compensator and the ship will right itself.

If I wanted it to be a bigger scene, something that has impact on the characters and their narrative, I’d likely set up multiple NCs, one for each PC and probably create them all as regulars. So, for example, you might have the piloting challenge of keeping the ship on course, an engineering NC of the engines overheating, and a navigation challenge of finding a soft landing spot. Depending on the situation, maybe there are enemy fighters on the ship’s tail and another character is gunning for them (in this case, maybe three enemy fighters, an easy explanation for a Regular).

Let’s take piloting as an example. It might look like:

Keep Her On Course (good regular) TN 17
Concept: Rough re-entry +2
Phy +0, Cun -2, Cha +2

You’ll notice that Charisma is an option as a Trait to use against this NC. To be honest, the only way one could really use Charisma in such a way is if there is a crew one is commanding. If this were Star Trek, that would fit. The PC needn’t be the captain, it might be the helmsman working with other crewmates to get the ship levelled out and under control. If it were something like Serenity and the PC is Wash, it might look like:

Keep Her On Course (good regular) TN 17
Concept: Rough re-entry +2
Phy +2, Cun +0, Cha
Note: Charisma cannot be used for this NC

So, why is Physique +2 and Cunning +0? Because in my mind, wrestling the ship’s control to keep her flying isn’t as good as the knowledge and alertness to choose the best options and methods to keep the ship on the course the navigator provides, when the navigator provides it.

This NC is a regular, so the PC needs three successes to overcome it and remove it from the scene. In creating it, I would imagine what each success might mean. I think for piloting, that’s pretty easy. First success gets the ship basically under control. She’s bucking and not flying straight, but the pilot is wrestling to get her on course rather than lacking any control at all. The second success has her pointed in the right direction, but she’s bucking and the controls are sluggish. The pilot feels like they could lose it at any moment. That third success is what finally bring the pilot relief. The ship is going where she should go, with some bumps and shimmy, but that’s normal for a rough re-entry. The pilot has done it!

Then I would do something similar for each other challenge, keeping all the PCs busy, because if it is one NC, they can work as a group to beat it, and unless it’s a great hero, they’ll likely do that without much effort. These NCs should be tailored to the PCs – these should provide spotlights for each PC and showcase how each has a role in the team and on the ship.

That’s how I would approach building a non-combat challenge that is supposed to be an important scene providing character’s spotlight and moving the story forward in an exciting fashion.

In case you were wondering, I would estimate that with four players (and therefore four PCs) this scene would likely last between ten and twenty minutes. Some groups are all business, working through the scene mechanically with some narrative but not a lot of extraneous discussions. Other groups like to discuss possible responses, what would look best, often bringing in character personality and backstory. But if you are running this at a convention, a scene like this would likely take about fifteen minutes.

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