Thursday, June 13, 2013

Jedi Power Creep

Committing to this once-a-week blog post has certainly been a challenge.  Some weeks I struggle for topics.  Others I have too many to choose from.  A couple times I've even forgot, or had so much taking up my free time that I had to skip it for that week.  Thankfully, those are few and far between.

This week is a week where I've got a lot going on, but a lot I could talk about.  I should really write up (or import) my notes from the update of my Order 65 campaign from the Star Wars Saga Edition RPG to Edge of the Empire.  I suppose I'm doing that anyway, because I've been working on a few more home-brewed Talent Trees for Jedi characters in EotE.

It hasn't been easy.

The Creeper

I used to be a Rifts fan.  Maturing in the impresionable 90s of giant muscle-bound heroes, sexy gunslining females, and over-gunned robots, Rifts was my game.  But I quickly came to the realization that every subsequent book after the first was just a little more powerful than the one before it.  After a decade, they actually had to go back and beef up the original character classes to inflate them to be on par with the classes that came out in their latest book.  This power creep turned off a lot of gamers.

Jedi in the D20 system started to suffer this sort of creep.  They also suffered a lot from nerf bats and rules that tried to keep them on even standing with non-Force users.  Let's face it; Jedi are powerful.  They have a lot of tricks up their big, billowy sleeves and should be dangerous in combat and difficult for your average mook to defeat.  However, it's no fun always being on the side-kick part of the "Jedi and Friends" show.  Jedi characters shouldn't out-shine the other characters in a player group nor hog the spotlight.

It's something I've had to keep in mind when making these three Lightsaber Forms Talent Trees that I've been working on. 

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, GM Jedi Scoundrel has come up with his own take on the Lightsaber forms and posted them on the D20 Radio Forums.  I think he did a good job, capturing the feel of the Lightsaber Forms as presented in the Expanded Universe and from the Saga Edition of the RPG.  Upon further consideration, I also think they full of cheese.  Nice cheese, perhaps a good, sharp cheddar or sweet mozzerella, but drippy tastey cheese none the less.  I look at some of the talents he came up with and I feel they're too good not to take.  As GM Chris is fond of asking in situations like this "Why wouldn't I take this?"

Now as I said, there were a lot of good talents in there, and in the spirit of the community creative process I yoinked some of his talents for my own trees, along with the Blaster Deflection talent from Jon Steven's Ways of the Force web document.  There are also a few new talents that I've made, and will be tweaking and re-working as playtesting occurs.

Now all I have to do is have someone playtest them...

Not-So-Balanced Form

We start with the first of the Lightsaber Form Specialization trees with the first of the Lightsaber Forms, Shii-Cho.  Closely related to Shii-Cho is Form VI, Niman, and hung off Niman is the two-bladed form of Jar-Kai.  This tree represents the basics and preliminary Lightsaber Instruction a Jedi receives, blocking blaster bolts and dealing with multiple enemies in combat.  I liked what GM Jedi Scoundrel came up with for Shii-Cho in his trees, so I took it for my trees.
When wielding a lit lightsaber, the character gains a +1 bonus to melee defense per Rank when engaged with more than one opponent, or with one opponent wielding more than one melee weapon.
A lot of fiction states how good this form is against multiple opponents, but weak vs. single opponents.  It's also stated that the reason Master Kit Fisto could stand up to General Grievous's multi-armed saber attacks was because of his Shii-Cho mastery, hence the bonus against someone weilding more than one melee weapon.

Balanced Forms Talent Tree
Shii-Cho Mastery is an homage to the Shii-Cho based Lightsaber Force Power from Saga Edition, where the great sweeping strikes of Shii-Cho allow a Jedi to share the love with everyone around him.  It's a bit wordy, can only be used once per encounter, and requires a Destiny Point to activate.  You also need to roll enough Advantages to trigger the extra damage.

When I look at all that together, I fear I took the conditions too far.  You have to be engaged with more than one foe; that can be tricky at times.  Facing Stormtroopers, you'd be lucky to get two of them together.  Then you spend a Destiny point and make an attack roll with a +1 Difficulty Increase against the opponent with the highest difficulty.  If you hit, you now have to hope you roll enough Advantages to be able to deal that target 5 points of damage in addition to the attack against the main target.  Oh, and the Jedi can attempt this once a fight. 

For the same two Advantage, the Jedi could crit with his saber against the main target and give the crit roll a +10% bonus, and at a lower difficulty.  Given all these conditions, I'm probably going to remove the "once per encounter" restriction.  Heck, I'm tempted to take away the Destiny Point requiremet too.  Autofire doesn't have it, and it does a similar effect at a similar cost for potentially more damage...

Look; insight into my creative process...

As far as placing talents on the tree, Shii-Cho leads to everything.  You have to get the basics down before you can handle the higher forms, and the tree reflects that.  Shii-Cho eventually leads to Niman, which is the basis for Jar-Kai.  However, once you get through the "15 point" row, no talents link to any other talent except the one above it.  This is where focus comes into play, and someone who wants to be a Niman Master will have to backtrack a bit if they also want to be a master with Shii-Cho, or Jar-Kai, or want that coveted Force Rating talent.

That's another key to these trees, a near straight-shot to another Force Rating talent.  If someone wants to take that path, and take these trees just to get more Force Rating, they certainly can and can pick up some solid talents along the way. 

Niman is a blending of several styles, but with Shii-Cho as a base.  It's about using the Force as part of your duel, which is why the talents named after the form mimic the two Lightsaber Form powers from Saga Edition.  Those powers allowed the duelists to push or pull the target to the character in conjuction with a lightsaber attack.  Since the thought of pulling a character to you and then hitting them with your lightsaber all as one action sounds rather difficult, I made that the "Mastery" level.  Now, using either of those talents hinges on your character also having the Move power, but that makes sense to me.  You're blending your proficency in the Force with your duelist abilities, not suddenly getting those abilities by taking the talent.

There are two glaring problems with the talent tree; talents that right now are "too good" to me.  Disarming Slash and Twin Strike are both talents created by GM Jedi Scoundrel, and both come across as "too good".  Disarming slash effectively reduces the cost of Disarming your opponent from 3 Advantage to 2 Advantage.  Is that really worth a talent, or will that make disarming your opponent too easy?  I'm going to leave it as-is for now and see how it plays.

The other "problem talent" is Twin Strikes; for one Triumph or 3 Advantage you can add your saber damage together as one big strike, instead of two individual strikes.  Sounds too easy to trigger to me.  It's not stated you have to actually be attempting to make two attacks with your sabers to use it.  As I look at it, I think I'll change it to read as follows.
Twin Strike
When making a Two Weapon attack with two lightsabers, the character can spend 1 Triumph to inflict a single attack with a base damage equal to he sum of the base damage of the two lightsabers.  The character cannot spend Advantages or additional Triumphs rolled to trigger a second hit per the usual Two Weapon Combat rules while using this talent.
Yeah...that looks a little better...

There are still tweaks to be made.  Heck, I'm still tweaking my original Jedi Career Talent tree.

Fast Times at Coruscant High

Fast Forms Talent Tree
Design of these Talent Trees came from the existing Seven Forms of Lightsaber Combat, but also from the three more "general" form styles presented in the Jedi Knight series of games.  In that game, you learned the "Medium" (or "Balanced") styles first and only after a few levels of practice did you unlock either the "Fast" or "Strong" lightsaber attacks.  I've duplicated that here with requiring 3 Ranks of skill in Lightsaber to take the Fast and Strong Style trees, but I'm also probably going to add an additional requirement of 4 talents from the Balanced Lgihtsaber Style tree.  That means that these trees will be at least the third specialization taken by the character (Starting Career tree, Balanced Tree, Fast or Strong Tree), and cost the character two good sessions worth of XP just to get access (three, if the GM is singy on the XP Awards).

The Fast tree gives the Duelist access to Makashi, Soresu, and Ataru; Forms II, III, and IV respectively.  Also accessed is the Lightsaber "style" of Trakata, which I replicated simply as allowing the character to use Cunning instead of Agility or Brawn to make Lightsaber attacks. 

Much of Makashi's feel is one-on-one dueling.  Only the last talent requires the character to have a Force Rating to take.  That's another design element to the Trees; the fact that someone not trained in the Force can access them, and go pretty deep into them too.  Someone taking the Makashi line can become a fine lightsaber duelist, allowing a character to be something likea saber-rake from the Taipani Sector.  It can also account for characters like General Grievous, who have studied the basics of lightsaber combat but can't access the higher forms without Force training.

Soresu is supposed to be the ultimate defensive form, able to allow the Jedi to sit there and hold off attacks while waiting for an opening to counter-strike, or talk their opponent down, or think of another way to end the fight.  It's a lot of defensive attacks, and not a lot of offense.  I consider it a "Fast" style because of the maneuvers used in it's practice; the Jedi's lightsaber is creating a virtual wall of light around the character, deflecting and parrying strikes from all over.  Since the description for it also mentions subtle dodges as part of the Jedi's defense, Dodge appears twice in it's line.  Second Wind helps a little with Strain Recovery, but if a character relies on Dodge too much for too long they'll wear themselves out, just as the fiction suggests. 

Since Soresu is a mostly defensive form, I made the Mastery talent an Action to activate, preventing the character from maintaining their impresive defense while attacking.  When the Jedi does attack, they'd best make it a good strike that ends the fight, or they may get caught with a lowered guard.

Ataru was difficult to import.  A style that relies heavily on Force-enhancements, this is a track that the character needs to have a Force Rating to get into.  Ataru duelists are supposed to be maneuvering all over the place, fighting their opponent from all angles (including above).  It's an exhausting form, which is replicated through the use of strain in most of it's talents.

Ataru Master allows the duelist to mimic the "Hawkbat Swoop", and allow the attacker to engage a target, strike, and leap away.  This forces their opponent to spend a maneuver to close to Engaged range to respond with their own melee attack, and may require spending strain to activate any abilities they want to use against the Ataru Master (like Aim or Precise Aim) or protect them from the Ataru Master's attacks (like Defensive Stance).

For placement, Soresu is described as a defensive evolution from Makashi.  Ataru is an aggressive, quick-strike form that relies on speed, grace, and the Force, but it too takes moves from Forms II and III.  It makes sense to have these three tracks linked prominently in the first few ranks.  In the fiction, Obi-Wan was an Ataru student under Qui-Gon Jinn, but switched over to study and master Soresu  when he witnessed the limits of Ataru when Qui-Gon was killed by Darth Maul. 

For someone who just wants another Force Rating talent, but for whatever reason do not want to take any specific Form talents, a character can start this specialization tree at Dodge, move to Second Wind, then move to Jump Up, Heroic Fortitude, and Natural Duelist.  Those last three talents are not Ranked talents, so you can skip over them if you already have taken them in other Specializations. With the right build, the character might be able to jump straight from Second Wind to the Grit talent just before Force Rating.

Strong Arm Tactics

The Strong Style talent tree has been the most fun, the most difficult, and the most frustrating tree to balance.  It really only has two Forms in it, Forms V and VII, but Form V is actually two separate lines; Djem So and Shien.  Form V is all about a more aggressive form of Soresu, but incorporates more counter-attacks into their moves.  Djem So focuses on melee attacks, while Shien counters ranged attacks.  In either case; stance, power, and resolve factor heavily into their feel.

Strong Forms Talent Tree
Djem So gives the lightsaber duelist a solid melee defense as well as the Djem So talent, which simply increases the damage done by a lightsaber attack made with the Brawn characteristic.  Some may wonder why I didn't just copy that for the Ataru talent, replacing Agility for Brawn.  Ataru is supposed to be an exhausting form, and making Ataru the lightsaber equivalent of the Ferocious Attack talent gets the duelist spending strain.  Also, by upgrading the attack the Ataru duelist could roll more successes, which translates into more damage.

Djem So Master gives the duelist a nasty response to melee attacks.  Any opponent that rolls a Despair during a melee attack check against the Djem So Master could have that damage dealt back to them, or at least the base amount.  Hit or miss, if a Despair is rolled, the Djem So Master can deal the attacker's base weapon damage back on them.

Shien is all about reflecting blaster fire back at the attacker, or at least closing the gap safely and engaging the gunner in melee.  Another throwback to Saga, the Shien talent allows a duelist to spend Threat or Despair to leap to the attacker, moving from Medium Range to Engaged.  This is simply an upgrade of the Threat option for the target to take an immediate Maneuver if the attacker rolls 2 Threat.  For one more Threat, or a Depsair, the Shien Duelist leaps to Engage the gunslinger, and make the gunslinger's life infinitely more interesting.

One change I made to "Dono's" Deflect Blasters talent is I increased the difficulty to a Hard check, instead of an Average one.  Shien Master returns the difficulty of that check to Average.

Then we have Juyo.

Gods, Juyo; what a nightmare.  An agressive form, almost totally offensive, nearly complete disregard for defense.  It's the "DPS Form", subscribing to the theory that the best defense is an offense that involves running your opponent through their heart with your lightsaber.  Skirts the edge of the Dark Side...or actually plunges right into it.  At the advice of others, I've removed the mechanics of "Light Side/Dark Side" from the talents.

FFG: Making dodecahedrons cool again.
One option I had for Juyo Mastery was to have the character roll their Force Rating when making an attack, and that either the net Light Side points rolled (Dark Side Point cancelled the Light) adds to damage, or the total number of Dark Side Points rolled is added to damage (not canceled by Light Side Points).  Then I thought of them adding directly to the Critical Hit roll on a 1-for-10%-bonus basis.  Dono made the suggestion to have it be an Ongoing Effect, forcing the Duelist to commit Force Dice from their Force Rating pool to get an increase on their Lightsaber's Vicious rating.  Juyo is a Form for deadly strikes, and this might encapsulate that lethality.

We'll have to see.  The bonus might be too low for anyone to take it, so I'm thinking of a 1-for-20% bonus.  We'll see how this plays as written currently, and see if it needs a change.

One fun little two-talent branch in this tree is the "Lightsaber Throw" talent followed by the Strong Arm talent.  Between Vader, Luke, Knights of the Old Republic 1 & 2, The Old Republic MMO, and The Force Unleashed, a lot of folks are chucking sabers around.  The last system really made throwing lightsabers unappealing.  You had to burn three of your highly coveted talents to be able to throw your lightsaber with any real usefulness, and even then it was a very underpowered tactic. Now, for 5 XP in this tree, someone can turn their lightsaber into a thrown weapon.  If they have the Move power, they can even have it come back to them after throwing it as long as they roll 2 Light Side Points.

Why did I toss this in the Strong Forms tree?  Because all the named characters that threw their sabers with any skill were all Form V practitioners.

Final Thoughts

These are still works in progress, needing play-testing and feedback.  They're also likely to become obsolete in a couple years.  I don't care.  This is a fun exercise and one that I can use immediately to help convert over characters from my old games to Edge of the Empire.  These trees, along with my Jedi Career, will be up for publication and download soon.  If anyone out there wants to try out these
rules and give me feedback, please feel free.


  1. I'd make Twin Strike also require a "Triumph on a successful check" rather than just a Triumph. This was probably your intent :) The way it reads now, you can score a double-damage hit on a failed attack.

    1. AH! Good catch. It's in the Talent box in the tree that you do it during a successful attack, but got typo'd out when I write the more lengthly description.


  2. We start with the first of the Lightsaber Form Specialization trees ...