December 23, 2022

Starforged: Thoughts on Combat in the Forge

I’ve been playing Starforged again (play reports to come… maybe?) and a couple of things dawned on me. Neither of these is probably an original thought but I can’t say I’ve seen much discussion of them. Perhaps these are helpful framings for people coming over from traditional RPGs.

Progress Tracks as hitpoints

I don’t believe that most RPGs truly use hitpoints as a simulationist measure of an entity’s health. Instead they use them to pace how long a combat scene will last which tells the players how dangerous and involved the combat could be. Ironsworn/Starforge Progress Tracks function the same way but they abstract and obscure some of this (for the better I think.)

One can approximate though about how much damage” (“progress”) one or more enemies can take in a Starforged combat encounter. A Progress Track is 10 boxes and each box can hold up to 4 ticks”. The Rank of the Challenge dictates how many ticks” you can mark in a Progress Track box. When it comes down it then you are looking at the following:

Rank HP
Troublesome 3~
Dangerous 5
Formidable 10
Extreme 20
Epic 40

So in a Dangerous Combat encounter, your foes can resist about 5 progress/harm/hits before you are in a strong position to make the Take Decisive Action move which would end the combat. In Ironsworn/Starforged to complete a progress track” you take the number of completed boxes (all four ticks marked) as a progress score and compare it to two d10 dice results. So if you’ve filled 6 progress boxes and roll a 4 and 6 on your d10s, then you’ve scored a weak hit because your progress score of 6 beats the 4 but not the 6.

Not every mark progress” in a combat has to reflect you pounding on your foe but let’s just work in the abstract as a thought exercise. In Starforged you are most likely to mark progress” once or twice (generally) in a move. So that gives you a feel for combat pacing: Troublesome fights might be over very quickly because a good start might put you both mechanically and fictionally in a position to end the fight on the next move. A Formidable fight is going to take several rounds even if you were marking progress twice per attack.

Initiative and control”

Starforged has an interesting take on what most RPGs would dub initiative” or maybe action order.” You are either in control” or in a bad spot” - you are acting or reacting to what’s happening. I see some push back on this as being not as realistic as my favorite RPG (D&D, etc) but I’m not so sure.

First let’s just establish that I go you go” is maybe one of the least accurate representations of real-world combat ever and yet it is the standard in many RPGs and even wargames because it is easy to referee. Even if you’ve never been in a hands-on combat situation think back to a schoolyard fight. Was it really two people taking turns having blows at each other? Not to my memory. One kid jumped another kid, wailed on them for several rounds (“in control”) and maybe the other kid got a spot of fortune that gave them an opening to move from being in a bad spot” to in control.” Did I watch fights where one kid maintained control the entire time? Heck yes. And certainly in popular fiction there is no sense of balance in combat encounters usually one side maintains the ebb of the flow more strongly than the other.

I think what Starforged offers is a spot on representation of combat - sides that have the a good starting position tend to maintain control until someone plans a decent counterattack or lady luck shines down on the opponent.