Once Grok von Pintel and Rad completed their preparation, I distinctly recall saying to the players “Let’s try out combat before we all have to go home.” (We were playing at our FLGS, you see, and they were closing in an hour.)
I laid out the map of the area: a stone bridge over a large, deep, rapidly-flowing stream. One thing I really enjoy about Expedition‘s combat is the concept of Zones. Instead of a grid of 5’x5’ squares, Expedition divides the battlefield into several arbitrary, conceptual spaces. For this battle, I had six: Near Bank, Far Bank, West River, East River, Bridge, and Dense Forest.
I put some elven Mooks on the bridge and in the forest, and a troll on the far bank. The players started, naturally, on the near bank. After the pieces were placed, Rad’s player announced “Time for initiative!” I laughed, and we agreed that, naturally, negotiations had not gone well.
Combat began, and things were off to a rocky start. Characters can attempt one of three types of attacks: Strike attacks, which set foes up to receive debilitating conditions; Edge-generating attacks, which fuel special powers; and damaging attacks, which do what they say, but require you to spend Edge.
Every character has a Protection Rating. In order to make an attack, you roll 3d6 plus modifiers, and attempt to equal or exceed the PR of your foe. The elven Mooks had PR 14, and this led to many frustrations for the first half of combat. You see, nobody could manage to roll a 14, so the player characters’ damaging attacks never managed to land. We began to worry that Expedition‘s combat would take as much time as 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons, and while we do love 4E D&D, we were hoping for a faster resolution system. This certainly was not the message I wanted to send Dennis after our session…
…then THE REVELATION hit us.
One lesson I learned during college, when my friends and I would play many a game of Arkham Horror, is that new rules systems take time to learn. Sure, you read them over before you play, but there are a lot of interconnected pieces that you might not retain. I think our first three games of Arkham Horror were simply wrong. Turns out we were experiencing the same issue with Expedition.
Damaging attacks, rather than hitting or missing, either deal full damage on a successful attack, or half damage on an unsuccessful one.
Suddenly elves began dying. Grok’s player commented, “Ah, that makes so much more sense! So these elves just take two attacks to kill, instead of one rare hit.” This was good, because Mooks were allegedly piddly minion creatures, not full-blown threats.
The players began losing Momentum as well, and Grok even lost a precious point of Endurance, so the remainder of the battle suddenly became much more interesting and enjoyable. I was more enthused about what my response to the game’s author would be.
After the session, I re-read the entire combat section of the rules. Everything began to click. I liked the system, and understood it.
Naturally we missed a few things. Getting attacked by several Mooks is bad, since they accumulate bonuses against you. Spending Edge on an attack adds a bonus to the roll, and to the damage, so enemies are less insurmountable. Etcetera, etcetera. We’ll do better.
We’re playing again next week, and they’ll actually be in Castle Barderin, where the main force of elves await them. I look forward to running it.