Thursday, November 20, 2014

Science Fiction within Science Fiction

There's something that's always bothered me about Star Wars technology, and that's when people try to implant today's technological marvels into it.  The movies have a real "the future that was" theme to them; technological advancements far beyond our scope and dreams in the 1970s and 80s, but when compared to today a lot of it seems retro.  Personal communications are push-to-talk, effectively.  Video communication is nigh-monochromatic and static-filled.  Computers need to be accessed within the system, and can't be accessed remotely.

Maybe it's because I grew up on those films alongside the development and implementation of the home computer, the video game industry, and the dawn of wireless communications and the internet.  I remember when all phones were analog and corded, when television was only what was broadcast over the airwaves, and when computer data was limited to what stack of floppy disks you had sitting in the library.  I bought into the communications tech level of Star Wars as seemingly permanently stuck in the era the films came out in, and I was okay with that.

Even the prequels did little to counter what's come before.  Information is still delivered in person, communications still very line-of-sight and broadcast based.  Heroes have to walk around to find junk dealers, or visit specific people to uncover information about rare weapon technology.

But invariably, there's always someone in one of my games who tries to apply the technologies of today to Star Wars.  They want to use computer skills to look up information about everything, applying tech like the internet and Google and Wikipedia as galactic sources of information.  They are under the assumption that everything is networked, and every computer system can be accessed remotely.  That vast amounts of information can be sent electronically.

There was a discussion over on the FFG boards titled The Google Effect and upon reading it the poster "knasserII"property verbalized what has been kicking around in my head all these years, but just couldn't put into words.

[The] Star Wars setting is NOT an Information Society. They manage perfectly well without everyone broadcasting personal information everywhere or running blogs and creating Wiki encyclopedia. Indeed, they would probably respond to suggestions that they should with very good reasons why they don't want to.
 Most of his posts in the thread involve a discussion on the type of tech in Star Wars, that it's not electromagnetic-radiation based communication (or if it is, it's not like we have today).  The Holonet is not the internet of today; it can share some things like the internet (news sites, government alerts) but it's not the be-all information source from anywhere in the galaxy.  You're certainly not using it to hack a database from across the sector.

He presents an interesting argument that the level of holographic communication (that allows for real time conversation from light years away) could theoretically suffer from a limited bandwidth issue, which is why holo-communications are so "low tech".

In Star Wars, a droid the size of an office copy machine floating around a back-water world looking for evidence of Rebel Bases takes a grainy picture of a shield generator and sends it off to the Empire hundreds of light years away.  Darth Maul's probe droids have to fly back to get him to show him where Qui-Gon and Padme are on Tatooine.  Droids have to plug in to terminals directly to manipulate doors, schematics, and to issue commands.  The biggest system Artoo is able to access on the Death Star is the garbage smasher schedule and reset it; the only reason he could do that was because the Death Star is probably the largest computer network  ever, he was inside of it, and he could only access minor systems commands.  He couldn't remotely deactivate the tractor beam, or let the Princess out of her cell, or turn off the alarms from Cell Block AA-23.

I wonder if the reason is generational.  Or maybe it's simply that we've gotten so accustomed to having our smartphones and internet so close at hand that we can no longer imagine a universe with any sort of advanced technology not having that tech.

I'm kinda curious what "technological advancements" we see in Episode VII.  Will there be an obvious internet-like system, or will the tech stay the same?

Guess we'll find out in 13 months.

May the dice be with you.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Endings and Beginnings

I sit here typing this while a high-tech washing machine launched 10 yeas ago is now doing it's best TJ "King" Kong impression as it rides around the solar system.

Best tweet I saw about this...

Fox News: Why did America waste so much money on this mission?  
Scientist: This was a European mission.  
Fox News: Why didn't America do it first?

Order 65 Draws To A Close

On November 22nd, I'll be running the last session of Order 65, my Alternate Universe campaign that began on July 4th weekend, 2010.  It's taken a little longer than I intended to get to the end, but I did have to take some time off in 2012 to recharge my batteries and come up with a way to convert it from Saga Edition to FFG's Star Wars RPG.

The game didn't go exactly as I scripted out, but it was pretty much where I thought it would go.  I'm still trying to do some sort of self-evaluation to see if that was because I directed the storyline or if it's because the PCs followed the same clues and thought patterns I had going for the plot.  I'm willing to bet a bit of both; sometimes it's up to the PCs to figure out where the GM intends the plot to go.  I think it's a mark of a good GM to let his story happen along with that of the PCs, instead of against them.  I know I steam-rolled over a lot of good RP opportunities because I wanted to move the plot along.  I had a story to tell, dammit.  I don't have time for Lucas's revenge plot, or Nicaella's flirtation with the Dark Side, or Marin and Barrett's issues with their creditors.

The Obligation chart really took a back seat to become an on-again-off-again debuff, and not so much as a source of subplots for my players.  I really feel like I missed out on a lot of the fun of the system because of that.  I suppose I was just so focused on getting to the end of the campaign so I could work on the next "shinny thing".  Stupid ferret-brain.

Another Longshot Prepares for Launch

The next two weekends will have meetings with the 5-6 players in each of my Another Longshot groups.  This will make the weekend of the 22-23rd a very Star Wars weekend for me.

Group Aurek looks very Force-heavy, with everyone playing a Force-user of some allegiance.  At least two Imperial Knights and two Jedi, for certain.

Group Besh looks more on the fringe/Galactic Alliance side of things.  Got one Mandalorian, a merc commander who may go Alliance, and a fighter pilot who also may go Alliance.  No clue what the other 3 PCs are thinking of playing.

I'm leaning towards everyone having Obligation or Duty (as appropriate for their characters) at game start.  Force users will have Morality too, but I'm leaning towards applying the other two "RP Mechanics" in all cases.  It makes sense to me that Imperial Knights have a Duty score, and that Jedi have an Obligation (or two).  Starting scores will be based on the number of players in that party with either Obligation or Duty, as outlined in the Character Creation section of the Core Rulebooks.  So the two Imperial Knights (assuming the fifth player is not an Imperial Knight) will start with a Duty score of 20, since there are only two PCs with Duty in that party.  The Jedi (or whatever) will all start with Obligations of 15, since there are three PCs with Obligation in the party.  If I based it on the number of total PCs, then everyones score would start at 10.  So a 20% chance to have Duty affect the game and a 30% chance to have Obligation affect the game.  That just feels a bit low to me, even taking into account these scores will shift as play proceeds.

I'm leaning heavily towards letting my players modify these starting scores to allow for more XP or gear, as normal, except that any XP earned by lowering Duty or raising Obligation is applied after Character Creation (so it can't be spent to help increase Characteristics).  I'm leaning towards this option instead of starting characters at Knight Level (+150 xp, +9,000 credits or a lightsaber).  I've got a lot of players that are relatively new to the system, or at least new to leveling up their own character.  I want to give them that chance to grow and develop their abilities, but maybe start them a little more advanced than normal.

My conundrum is what to do about those players that aren't Force Users.  The Force Users can basically double dip.  It would only be fair to let the non-Force Users to as well.  I think I'll be working with those PCs to figure out the best manner to handle it; some may have Duty and Obligation, or double Duty hit (and possibly starting with zero Duty, but a ton of gear), or two Obligation types (and really be beholden to someone).

We'll see.

Anyway, that's all for now.  Here's a treat for those who don't follow my twitter feed; the finished image for my Besalik Imperial Knight PC.

May the dice be with you!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Let's Get A Party Started

Anyone who's followed this blog for any serious length of time, you'll notice that occasionally there are times when I got dark for a few weeks.  If I'm lucky, it's only a few weeks.  Rest assured, I try to come back as soon as I can to talk Star Wars at you all.

Another Longshot: The Preparation

So Another Longshot is coming together.  I've set a date for the campaign to start; January 3rd.  I'm excited, and anxious.  I'm setting myself up for something really ambitious; multiple parties, same storyline.  I've tried something like this once before with an Eberron campaign I co-GM'd with my buddy Random.  We ran our own groups, and each group contributed to the over-all story we had written together.  It worked well for...a year, I think?  Then life happened, and the game fell apart.  I made some odd logistics choices too, concerning a journal that both parties had and could write in to share information with the other group.  I had one journal in each party, players who wrote anything in one would appear in the other.  Nice concept, but I spent a lot of time transposing from one journal to the other when I should have just used the same book with each party. Ah well, that was a long time ago; many games under the bridge since then.

The parties are starting to come together, at least in number if not in themes.  I've got a couple concepts, which fortunately has the side effect of sparking my artistic side.  One of my players, my fellow Legion-cohort Erich, wants to play a Besalik Force User.  Not a Jedi, but an Imperial Knight.  Thinking about Jedi General Pong Krell in Imperial-Red armor burned such an image into my mind that I had to put it to paper. This also got me to bust out my Wacom Intuos4 tablet I got a couple years back and also work on it.  I'm a fair bit of the way through painting some color onto the Knight.  Got the base colors down, and I'm now working on highlights and shadows. 

I'm changing my technique from my last digital paintings I've tried.  I'm working on a few character portraits in the same vein as comic book art, as opposed to most of the digital paintings seen in Star Wars gaming books these days. I think I work in that style a bit better, and I'd rather crank out some more character portraits in a shorter time (since my free time is pretty well taken of late).

Another player is busting out the obligatory "PC from annoying alien race" and making an Ewok Jedi.  Hey if one brother could make a Gungan Ace Pilot that was pretty effective and fund to game with for my last Legacy era game, then my other brother should be able to do the same with an Ewok Jedi in this Legacy-era game.  I think he's planning to go Ataru Striker and rock that Lightsaber (Agility) skill with twin shoto-lightsabers.  Beyond that, no clue where he's taking the character.

One thing I'm so thankful for is the return of my buddy and former co-host Gonzo from the not-so-wilds of Georgia.  He and his family have finally returned to the land of four actual seasons (Almost Winter, Winter, Still Winter, and Road Construction) and that means he can actually play at the same gaming table as the rest of us instead.  He is also eyeballing an Imperial Knight, as some sort of Star Wars version of a character he's played a few times before.

That puts two Imperial Knights and one Jedi in "Group A" (which coincidentally has 3 players in it with names starting with "A"). 

Group B (which coincidentally has 3, possibly 4 players with first or last names starting with "B") is still forming with the current concepts including a Bothan Mandalorian and a Human Noble/Merc Commander from the Dark Times who was carbon frozen until the Legacy Era.  I shall also be rehabilitating one player's perceptions of what a Star Wars game is, as his last GM...well, let's just say the GM was very liberal with her interpretations of the universe culture.

DarthGM: The Next Generation...?

This campaign is also likely to include another first for me; a player from the next generation.  My step-son is going to be playing, and in one of these groups (depending on final numbers).  It will prove to be an new experience for me, being a parent of his.  True, he's almost out of High School, but I remember my gaming "prowess" at that age and what I was really into when it came to gaming.  He seems to be lining up for a similar bent, so at least I'll have my own experience to fall back on for how to handle things.  All and all, I'm sure he'll do fine.

I think that'll do for now.  Maybe I can come back next week and get some more gaming goodness down.  I've also got some costume projects in my future I gotta get ready to document; Celebration Anaheim is coming up, and we have PLANS.

May the dice be with you...

Thursday, October 9, 2014

GenCon Mod Revisited: Force and Destiny Updates

Two years ago I started to create my own rules for a Jedi Career in FFG's Edge of the Empire RPG and for 18 months my players got to play Jedi in this glorious system.  Around about the time when my GenCon Module was debuting at GenCon 2014, FFG dropped their Beta rules for Jedi and Jedi-like characters, Force and Destiny.  When I made my module, I knew I'd want to incorporate the rules for Force Users that FFG would release, especially if I were going to share "The Big Leagues" with the public. I always knew my Edge of the Jedi rules were temporary; something to bide the time between then and now, and get me running my games with full-blown saber-slingers in my campaigns.  I think I had some great ideas that worked at the time, but naturally the material from the original source came in a few notches above mine.

I promised the backers of the D20 Radio Kickstarter that "The Big Leagues" would be released in October.  Converting over my Jedi (and Sith) PCs to Force and Destiny was the first step in meeting that commitment.

Update 1: Kira Carsen

With Force and Destiny's new careers, I had to find a place to start with Kira.  I figured that her brash nature and role as a melee damage-dealer would steer her towards a Lightsaber style.  Ataru Striker seemed to fit the best.  Ataru Technique allows her to still use Agility with her lightsaber attacks.  Her survivability improves with two ranks in Parry and Reflect, and her damage output is high with Improved Parry and Hawk Bat Swoop.

I wanted to give her a second Specialization to improve her Force Rating.  In the old version, her Force Rating was 3.  In Force and Destiny, a Force Rating of 2 would work just fine as long as the player is willing to earn some Conflict for her by using Dark Side pips rolled on the Force Dice.  I initially chose Seer from the Mystic Career because it was a quick skip to a Force Rating talent and gave her some Grit, Sense Danger, and Uncanny Reactions.  Now I'm taking a second look and thinking that Shadow might be better.  In fact, I might want to start her with Shadow, given her background as a street rat on Nar Shadda.

Shadow earns her Street Smarts, which could help during the Module.  Mental Fortress probably wouldn't affect her too much, so I might just exclude it for the sake of the module. Unrelenting Skeptic would add two Failures to any NPCs trying to use Deception against her.  I remember Kira doing some computer work during some of the adventures in SWTOR, so Codebreaker isn't too much of a stretch.  However I don't see it being used during the Module too much, so like Mental Fortress I'd probably remove it from her talent list just to streamline as much as I can.  If I give her Anatomy Lessons, she'd be able to spend a Destiny Point to add 2 to the damage of any attack, since her Intellect is 2.   I could always swap her Intellect for her Cunning and give her a 3, and bump up her Computers a little, but that's stepping on T7's expertise.  Maybe I'll bump her Intellect to 3 as well.

For her lightsaber, she's got the Double-bladed Lightsaber (Saberstaff).  I wrote these stats before this week's update that increases' the Saberstaff's "Unwieldy" quality to 3, so I'll have to fix that.  I gave her a Dantari crystal which has a good base damage and a neat side effect for when she uses it with Hawk Bat Swoop.

Kira's a brave soul, which is reflected in her Emotional Strength.  She also tends to be a firebrand, and sometimes that bravery can turn to Anger when push comes to shove, hence that Emotional Weakness.  Her Morality is pretty middle of the road, at 55.  I'm somewhat tempted to make her a Light-Side Paragon, just to make sure there's always a Light Side point to flip to dark (see Lord Scourge, below).

Looks like I've got some revisions to make on this...

Kira Carsen F&D v1.0

Update 2: Lord Scourge

Thanks to the novel, Revan, I had a lot of backstory for Scourge to draw from.  Unfortunately, I couldn't use a lot of it because it mechanically doesn't make sense.  The novel says he uses Soresu and Ataru, which would make him a Agility and Intellect-based duelist.  He's also strong, and a melee tank, so he needs a good Brawn too.  I've always thought that Sith Purebloods would be Cunning, so I wanted to start his Cunning at 3.  He also needs a good Willpower, as he's supposed to be an interrogator of high caliber.  That means that Scourge probably wouldn't have a "great" stat (4+) if I gave 3s to all these Characteristics.  Heck, this would mean he had 3s in everything but Presence.  He'd also have three Specs, because he'd have Soresu Defender, Ataru Striker, and Aggressor (the only Spec that gets Coercion as a class skill).  Also because Kira is already an Ataru Striker, I didn't want to double up on those abilities.

So I fudged it a bit.

Scourge has a good Brawn and Willpower at 3, and a high Cunning at 4.  Starting as a Warrior and taking Aggressor, he branches over to Shien Expert, which gives him very good melee and ranged defensive abilities.  It also gets him access to Saber Throw, which he did a fair bit in Revan. He can use that high Cunning with his lightsaber skill.

Hmmm...looks like I didn't update his Dice Pools to reflect the lower Brawn score.  I'll have to fix that.

Aggressor gives Scourge Fearsome and Intimidating, two very apt and appropriate talents for his background as an Interrogator and as the former "Emperor's Wrath".  Shien gets him some good Parry and Reflect ranks as well as Saber Throw.  I'm tempted to also give him Falling Avalance from the Djem So side of Shine Expert, but I think that with his Force Powers would be too much.

Scourge doesn't have anything fancy for his lightsaber, just a basic Ilum crystal with two damage boost mods and a Vicious 1 mod.

The hardest part about Scourge was considering his Emotional Strength and Weakness, and his Morality score.  I figure his Morality score is in the teens, thanks to his adventures with the Hero of Tython.  That makes him a Dark-Side character with a -1 to Strain Threshold and +1 to Wound Threshold.  Looking over the options for Emotional attributes, I selected Coldness for his Weakness and Discipline as his strength.  The immortality ritual he is under is a constant source of pain, so a rigid discipline and mental will is needed to function.  Because of this he has a detached nature, the constant pain has removed almost all traces of compassion and empathy.  He remembers warmth, love, the taste of foods, simple pleasures, but he can no longer feel them.  The price of immortality.

Lord Scourge F&D v1.0

Update 3: Nadia Grell

I pretty much had Nadia's build pegged before I really sat down to map her out.  The daughter of a diplomat, learning from watching, and possessing an insatiable curiosity and a passionate drive.  She's a potent Force-user, but not a highly skilled one.  I started her in Consular with the Sage specialization, as the talents and skills in Sage fit her role as the diplomat for her world and as the padawan and/or spouse of the Jedi Bar'senthor. Because she is the melee damage dealer of the party, she moves to Niman Disciple and puts her high Willpower to work in melee as well as with the Force.

Between Sage and Niman Disciple, Nadia gets a bevy of good social talents; Kill with Kindness, Nobody's Fool, Sense Emotions, and Smooth Talker all beef her up in social situations (and will be a big help during the first part of the module).  Through Niman Disciple she gets some great combat talents; ranks in Parry and Reflect, Force Assault to smash foes she misses with her lightsaber attacks, and Draw Closer to pull targets to her for her to slice up with her saberstaff.

I lowered her Lightsaber (Will) skill to only one rank partially because I don't see her as an exceptional combatant but also because she can technically use Draw Closer every round.  Doing so will add her Force Rating in Force dice to her attack checks, and she'll be able to add any Force pips she wants to spend on Successes.  Nadia really shouldn't have a hard time hitting foes in combat.

Because of all her combat options, I gave her a basic Saberstaff with no modifications for her weapon.  With the Linked 1 quality, and all the options for scoring damage (either by hitting with the saber or using Move if the saber misses with enough Advantage or Triumph) adding too much more damage felt too good.

I ended up giving Nadia two Emotional Strengths and Weaknesses; she's compassionate and curious, but she's also prone to reckless behavior and she can be prone to moments of hatred for those who hurt her allies.  Her Morality is high at 65; on the road to Light Side paragon, but not quite there yet.

Looking over this sheet I see some typos I need to correct. 

Nadia Grell F&D v1.0

What's Next?

Next up is looking at some of the opponents I have, specifically the Force Using ones who could use some of the abilities given in Force and Destiny.  Then I give the module a final polish, add a sidebar for running it with different characters and different Eras, and then it's ready for the public.

I got three weeks.  Tops.

Off to work I go.

May the dice be with you.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

World Building and Costume Conundrums

Wow, it's been a while since I posted.  I could come up with lame excuses why, but you've heard it all before.  Sadly, they're still reasons I've been kept away from this blog for too long.

At least I've got a modern browser on my work computer now, so I can start updating while I'm at work during breaks.

So what has DarthGM been up to in September?  Well, I've ordered a new costume.  Not for me, for my father.  He tried on my Biker Scout at the Dover Mini-Maker faire this past August and really liked it.  So we talked with a few folks and he has a suit of un-assembled Scout trooper armor on a UPS truck en route to his home.  Ideally we should have it set up for St. Pats day (if we troop it)

We also need to make some upgrades to his Old Ben Kenobi outfit.  The outer robe shrunk and the inner robe stretched out during one of the rainy parades he trooped in.  We got new material for his inner robes, but the wool army blankets I ordered to make his outer robe from never shipped.  Never even heard back from the eStore owner I bought them from.  That transaction is now in dispute with Paypal and I'm waiting for resolution.

Preliminary work is being done on a Cade Skywalker outfit for my stepson.  He'll be 18 by the time we go to Anaheim for Celebration VII, which means we can get him into the Rebel Legion group photo if we do a good enough job on it.  It's simple, yet difficult to make.  Gotta make it look right.

I wonder if we can submit him for a BH or SL designation in the 501st.  He was a Bounty Hunting, drug using scum who collected a bounty on a Jedi, and he did go dark-side for a while there.  If Mara Jade could do it and get SL designation, why not Cade?

I promised my stepson that if he got the costume all ready by his birthday, I'd get him Cade's lightsaber.  I thought I was going to have to build it from scratch, but Ultrasabers actually has a really good saber that looks right.

(Looks like Ultrasabers won't let me link their photos, but this is what I see as "close enough!")

Even my wife is starting to look into costumes.  She expressed interest in a couple; we'll see when we can move forward with one of them.

And me?  Cripes, I don't know.  I've been meaning to kick my EVA Jedi Knight/Sith Acolyte into high gear for a while now.  It's all about finding the time to work on it, which means I have to start neglecting something else.  Probably Mechwarrior Online is the next thing I really have to ramp back on.  Too bad, because in December they're releasing the King Crab, and it looks bad-ass.

Oh look; something else to fit into my already tight schedule!

I'm reminded that I was going to release my GenCon Module "The Big Leagues" for public consumption this month, or at least to those who backed the Order 66 Podcast/GamerNationCon 2015 Kickstarter.  I really need to get on that.  Building these characters using the Force and Destiny careers and specializations should prove a fun exercise.

I've made some changes to my "Another Longshot" campaign.  Previously I was running my Tuesday night game (dubbed the "Wild Cards")  as a prelude campaign to "Another Longshot".  I've had some inspiration with what I want to do with the overall Longshot campaign and right now the Wild Cards don't really fit into that.  I've split the Wild Cards off as their own campaign on Obsidian Portal and made a new Another Longshot website.

I've put some time and effort into mapping out a sector of space where the Longshot game will predominantly occur in; the Hagen Sector.  Thanks to Pro Fantasy and their Campaign Cartographer, I was able to slap together a pretty cool map of the area.  I then went and applied my "Eons System Generation" method I talked about a year ago and came up with some pretty fun locations.  I haven't fleshed out every system, but I've got some neat ideas.

And with that, I think I'll call it for another blogpost.  Gotta get back to work.

May the dice be with you.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The Lightbearers: Part 1- Jailbreak

So here it is; the beginning of a new campaign.  It's a playtesting campaign, but to me and my storytelling that means nothing.  If anything, it simply means I need to pay more attention to the Rules As Written.  This is all going to FFG, after all.

So here are my PCs...

Vel Kloon
Kel Dor
Sage &
Niman Disciple
Ambition: Enlightenment
Soresu Defender
Bravery/ Anger
Cause: Freedom & Ambition: Discovery
Xi’quar Vesh  
Starfighter Ace
Independence/ Coldness &
Curiosity/ Obsession
Ambition: Survival
Pride/ Arrogance
Faith: Friends and Family & Faith: Science and Reason
Voren Jaxx
Shii-Cho Knight
Enthusiasm/ Recklessness
Help the Helpless
Ataru Striker
Curiosity/ Obstinateness
Faith: Natural World

Not a bad group, to be sure.  They'd be quite formidable if they weren't all waking up in their own detention cell aboard an Imperial Corvette.  Without any equipment.  Or weapons.  Or armor other than a bright orange jump-suit.

Fortunately for them, that didn't last long.

A slightly different start than "You are all in a cantina when..."

Vigil-Class Corvette Yardway
Orbiting above a currently-unknown planet
0 ABY (4 months after the Battle of Yavin)

The PCs wake up sore but alive, with fleeting memories of some violent abduction from wherever they were before, and vague recollections of being in some examination/interrogation room facing some pale human male with yellow eyes.  They wake up to explosions rocking them in their cells, tossing them about.  The force fields that keep them in their cells flicker and fail, as do the main lights in the hallway outside.  An alert comes over some intercom saying that there's been a power loss to the brig, and that security should secure the prisoners. 

At this point the PCs sprung into action.

They investigated the area, finding two dead Imperial Naval Troopers and one barely alive one trying to draw his blaster but failing due to 3rd degree burns over the entire right side of his body.  Eventually the PCs grab weapons from the fallen guards as well as their own gear from the two storage lockers in the security office.  They fail to open the second locker before two groups of Naval Troopers and an Officer finally breach the doors to the Brig and come in blasting.

The PCs didn't take the Conflict-earning bait and kill the dying guard, and in fact Irith tried to treat him.  They ended up disarming him and leaving him tied up but alive for whomever to find.

The rest of the PCs acted to the situation according to their Morality and Motivation; Voren grabbed whatever melee weapon was at hand and charged into melee (where his Shii-Cho talents aided his attacks).  Fen moved to the northern door and barred the second team entry, weaponless but determined.  Kuru got his carbine and started taking out troopers, and Xi'quar grabbed a blaster and as much cover as he could to stay alive.  Irith got the security console working again and locked the door to the North, allowing Fen to move to retrieve his gear. 

Vel did his best trying to assist in the endeavor, and in fact all encounters this session.  Apparently, the dice were not with him this adventure, as he rarely scored any successes or much of anything beneficial with his rolls.  Still, he tried and did as admirably as he could.

Eventually the PCs took out the southern group of Troopers and made a break for the escape pods, because the intercom now announced there was some sort of hull breach aboard the ship.  They pass a room with an examination table, a single chair, and some medical control panel.  Xi'quar searches it quickly for clues to what happened there or what the Imperials were looking for, but ultimately finds nothing but a code cylinder, which he takes, and smashes a few objects in the room with his mace-like truncheon (earning 2 Conflict).

The characters run into a few Stormtroopers and a Stormtrooper Sergeant cutting them off from the escape pods.  They fight, with Voren taking two solid blasts from the stormtrooper's rifles.  During the fight the intercom announces an alert to abandon ship, which heartens the characters to try and make it to the pods.

At the start of the next round, a pale human in armored robes carrying a strange cube emerges from a turbolift and pauses.  With fierce yellow eyes, he states that the characters should have stayed in their cells, because then they would have at least died in peace.  He stows the cube in a large hip pouch and ignites a double-bladed saber.  He doesn't seem too interested in fighting, just getting to a pod.

I forgot to have my PCs roll for Fear, here.  Which could have led to some more Conflict on the part of the PCs.

Vel tries to take out the Stormtrooper sergeant, but a Despair result caused his training saber to strike the escape pod console on the follow through and trigger one of the escape pods to launch, leaving two in that area. 

The Inquisitor blasts Fen with Force Lightning, rolling one success but three Triumphs.  He inflicts a Critical Injury, causing an agonizing wound and heads to one of the two remaining escape pods.

Voren moves in to engage both the Sergeant and the Inquisitor, attacking the Sergeant.  He clubs him soundly, but doesn't drop him.  With the Triumph he scores, he spends it to hook the Inquisitor's hip pouch on the back swing and tears it free from his belt.  The pouch and it's contents falls to the deck.

Just then, the ship starts trembling violently, tossing the Inquisitor back into the escape pod.  With a muffled, cut-off shout of "NOOOO-" the pod slams shut and launches with his polygonal prize still lying on the deck.  The characters finish off the sergeant, snag the cube, and hop into the pod.

Xi'quar now shows his stuff as he expertly flies the escape pod through the atmosphere, the cause of the stricken corvette's violent trembling.  They watch as their prison-ship disintegrates upon re-entry to whatever mountainous world they are now plummeting towards.  With Kuru's guidance and pack mentality (giving two Boost dice on an assist), Xi'quar lands the pod in a narrow valley, avoiding certain death by mountain-impact like a (Force-aided) pro.  (Xi'quar adds the Enhance Force power to his Piloting checks, but he doesn't consciously know it)

The characters emerge from the pod in an arid, scrub-filled valley, surrounded by high, orange mountains.  They saw a city from orbit scores of Kilometers to the east, and a road of some sorts a couple kilometers to the Northwest.  Irith disables the pod's homing beacon, seemingly without need for many basic tools while the rest of the party breaks out the survival kit and tends to their wounds.

Vel finally feels useful as, with Fen and Kuru's assistance, examines the cube and reveals it's true nature.  The cube glows brightly and a 40cm high hologram appears above the cube and speaks directly to Vel.

"Greetings and may the Force be with you.  I am the Holocron of Satele Shan, Grand Master of the Jedi Order.  How may I assist you?"

And that's where the adventure ended.

No Plan Survives Contact With the PCs

Look at all the map I didn't use...

Originally, I had planned for the PCs to wander around the ship a little more to try and figure out where they were (they still don't know what planet they're on).  A couple more encounters, a couple more opportunities for Conflict.  The plan was for the Inquisitor to leave the ship just as he did, but also launch every escape pod.  The characters then had to split up to go to engineering and the bridge to try and keep the ship together and on-track long enough to crash it safely, sort of like Obi-Wan and Anakin in Episode 3 on the Invisible Hand.  Each group needed to score 7 successes before 3 Failed rolls to consider their team "successful".  I had it worked out as follows...

Both Teams Fail: The ship disintegrates around the players, but the core of the ship remains intact into the atmosphere.  Players are going to come down in the mountains and prepare for impact.  What’s left of the Yardway slams into several mountain peaks and eventually sideswipes a mountain range, causing it to plow down into the valley below.  Each character suffers a Medium Fall (30 damage, 20 Strain).  An Average Coordination or Athletics check can reduce the damage (1 wound per success, one strain per advantage).
Bridge Team Succeeds/Engineering Team Fails: The players are able to pull the stricken corvette out of it’s death dive, but the heat from re-entry has fried most of the remaining systems on the ship.  The Yardway comes in at a gradual angle into a mountain range.  The ship hops and bounces, coming more and more apart with each impact.  The ship eventually skids to a jarring halt, throwing everyone forward.  Each character suffers a Short Fall (10 wounds, 10 strain).   An Average Coordination or Athletics check can reduce the damage (1 wound per success, one strain per advantage).
Engineering Team Succeeds/Bridge Team Fails: The engineering team is able to restore the shields, but the ship is coming in too fast.  The controls are shot, and the bridge crew barely keeps the ship from slamming nose first into a cliff.  The ship bounces and skids to halt in a valley, only remaining intact due to the last vestiges of the shield system and structural integrity.  Each character suffers a Short Fall (10 wounds, 10 strain).   An Average Coordination or Athletics check can reduce the damage (1 wound per success, one strain per advantage).
Both Teams Succeed: With the shields in place and retro thrusters able to level out the descent, the stricken corvette is able to level off and glide in to a landing in a vast mountain range.  Thanks to the piloting efforts on the bridge, the ship comes in for a belly landing and somehow manages not to skid sideways into a death-roll.  After several bone-jarring bounces, the ship plows to a halt at the bottom of a vast canyon valley surrounded by a wide mountain range.

 That didn't work out, so I had a similar check rolled by just Xi'quar, since he needed a moment of glory.

Final tally for Conflict was Xi'quar 2, no Conflict for anyone else.  Final Morality rolls resulted in the following.

Vel Kloon
Xi’quar Vesh  
Voren Jaxx

Yup, Kirk rolled a 1, and lost Morality. 

I pre-rolled the next session's Morality Trigger, so that I have a chance to plan for it.  I rolled a 9, meaning both Vel and Xi'quar will have opportunities to trigger their Morality next time.  This was the first time I pre-rolled like that, but I might do it for all my games going forward.  I like knowing who's Obligation/Duty/Morality mechanic triggers, so I can write it in to the story instead of having to derail my plotline to try and work it in.  My problem with that is I tend to be pretty focused on my own writing, so when I trigger someones Obligation, it tends to do little more than debuff the party instead of appear in the story.  I want to give my PCs a chance to have these mechanics actually MEAN something, hopefully doing it this way will allow for these opportunities more.

Everyone earned 25 xp, a lot for a 3 hour game but this is technically a Beta Test group, and I want them to get up in the Talent Trees and Force Powers to start testing what's in the book.


Just a few points on things I've noticed...
  • Training Lightsabers are just fine in the hands of starting PCs who encounter more Minions and Rivals than Nemesis-opponents.  8 Stun Damage is still enough to drop a Naval Trooper, and can ruin a Navy Officer's day pretty well too.
  • I need to remember to make Fear checks.  I think I've remembered to do that once, ever, in two years playing this FFG Star Wars RPG system.  Because it could result in Conflict, I need to remember to use it where appropriate.
  • I've also come to the realization I need to present more situations for the PCs to earn Conflict.  And not be afraid to assign it.  In my observations in the game and on the FFG Forums, Heroes will earn Conflict just by being adventuring heroes.  Characters that don't generate Conflict should be uncommon.  The trick for players should be to manage the Conflict their characters earn.  Don't game the system, manage it.
This playtest is going to be a blast.  I can feel it.  More story to come, more adventures to follow.  More feedback for FFG.  Their first Beta Update is planed for this coming Tuesday, that gives me and my players a week to review and prepare for it. 

Not sure what I'll write about next week, but in two weeks we should have another update from The Lightbearers.

Until then, may the dice be with you.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Light the Fires

Tomorrow night I start up a new campaign, of sorts.  My "Wild Cards" campaign is on temporary hiatus.  I'm trying to figure out where to take it, and also since it's part of the much larger Another Longshot mega-campaign, I feel like I need to put the brakes on while I figure out my plans for the other team(s).  In the meantime, we've been given this lovely black-covered manuscript from FFG, and an open request to play the hell out of it and give feedback on what players and GMs think works and what doesn't. 

So for purely scientific reasons and solely for creative feedback purposes, I've transitioned my usual bi-weekly, Tuesday night game to test out the Force and Destiny Beta rulebook.  I'm certainly not doing it because I've nearly destroyed the book flipping through it so many times or because I've drooled all over the pages. 

And if you believe that, I've got a lovely plot of land on Alderaan I'd love to sell you.  Cheap, too!

I know I've said this before; but this time I'm going to try...really, really give readers a peek behind the curtain in my presentation of this campaign.  I'm highly motivated to do this because this is a playtesting process.  These rules have to work with both sides of the GM screen; with players and with Gamemasters.  So I'm going to try and talk about how my adventures were formed, and how the party performed, and what rules worked and what rules didn't.  I'm going to be submitting this data to FFG for their Beta Test, and will hopefully contribute to the final product.

So later this week, hopefully, you folks will start to get a GM-eye view of "The Lightbearers".

Monday, August 18, 2014

Force and Destiny

24 hours ago I was at the Indianapolis airport in an Indy 500 themed restaurant starting to recover from all that was GenCon 2014.  What a whirlwind week that was.  Time dilation seemed to be the theme of the event, as Thursday seemingly took forever (which was awesome) and suddenly it was Sunday ("...wait, what? I have to go HOME?!").  Through it all, Fantasy Flight Games may not have been the advertised belle of the ball (that went to 5th Edition), but they were certainly one of the 800 lbs gorillas smacking some gaming goodness down on folks entering the exhibit hall.

Star Wars Armada (capital ship and fighter squadron combat), Star Wars Imperial Assault ("Descent" style, modular tile map, character scale combat and adventure), and of course the Beta Release of Force and Destiny.  The giant pile of Force and Destiny books sat atop a table as I entered with the other VIGs at 9am Thursday morning (shout out to Chris Bradshaw for letting me join his quartet this year).  Many copies were purchased, and by Sunday they were all sold out.

On the flight(s) home, I was able to give F&D a good read-through.  I read the limited fluff, tried to absorb and understand the crunch, and started to formulate opinions and impressions about the book.  Before these thoughts and ideas are blown away by my return to real life and the mental bandwidth required for employment, I shall get them down here and tell you all about Sam Stewart's, Jay Little's, Andy Fisher's, and the rest of the FFG team's brilliant book that is Force and Destiny.

The cover of the book is great.  Black and gold (I thought it would be green, myself), with the image of a Lambda-class shuttle landed in front of the Jedi Temple draped in Imperial iconography.  Clearly the Emperor has moved in and is using the Jedi Temple as his palace.  Probably redecorated the Grand Council chamber too.  The image actually tied in well with the book; you're trying to undo the damage the Empire has done in quashing the Jedi Order, seeking out the lost lore and knowledge of that once great sect.

This is not the "Jedi Knight RPG"

Take a look at that header and absorb it for a moment.  If you were planning on this book being the on that allowed you to bust out your Jedi Robes and your lightsaber and go stomp the Empire, you're about to be disappointed.  This book will not allow you to move the game to other eras and play fully fledged Jedi Knights as written, but it's a great start.  What it does do is give you the opportunity to rediscover and aspire to the legendary status of the Jedi Order, and work towards bringing that light back to the darkened galaxy of the Empire.

Force and Destiny takes place in the same time frame as the other two "Core Games" (Edge of the Empire and Age of Rebellion).  Even as back as far as the Edge of the Empire Beta, we were told "In Star Wars: Force and Destiny, the players become figures of legend; the last surviving Force Users in the galaxy.  Hunted by the Empire, they must stay alive, and more importantly, stay true to the ideals of the forebearers - the fabled Jedi."  Put your mindset there and get ready for it; you're not a Jedi.  You're someone who has discovered the Force within themselves and has decided to unlock it's mysteries in-spite of what the Empire has outlawed.

Keeping your Morals in Order

The new character role-playing mechanic in F&D is Morality.  Every character in the game has a Morality value that measures how good or evil they are.  Much like Obligation and Duty, Morality pushes your character to act in certain ways in certain situations.  It's a dynamic system, that moves up and down with each passing session.  Morality has two elements; Emotional Strengths and Emotional Weaknesses.  Strengths might be Bravery, or Compassion, or Justice.  Weaknesses of those same aspects are Anger, Hatred, and Cruelty.  If your Morality is triggered, you're encouraged to "engage" your Morality's Strengths and Weaknesses during the session.  If you do, the adjustment to your Morality score at the end of the session are doubled.

I Sense your Conflict

For years now we've wondered what the mechanism will be for handling dark side actions, and falling to the Dark Side.  We finally know, with Morality and more specifically Conflict.  Actions you take during a session will accumulate Conflict.  Inaction when you know someones going off to cause harm may earn a Conflict point or two.  Stealing out of greed or for no reason may earn 2-4.  Murder of a helpless foe at your mercy could earn as much as 10.  Calling on the Dark Side and using Dark Side Points to power your Force Powers earns a number of Conflict points equal to the Dark Side Points used.  

At the end of the session, you roll a D10 and subtract the Conflict score you have earned.  That number is how much your Morality score moves, up or down.  Conflict is then reset to zero for the next session and you start all over again.

The game encourages players to play Dark Side Users if they want to.  It's certainly something you can do.  Something to consider if you're a Dark Side user your Strain Threshold lowers and you poison the Destiny Pool, flipping a Light Side point to Dark once the pool is generated (you still use Light Side points when you spend Destiny Points).  Characters who venerate the light gain a bonus to their Wound Thresholds as well as an extra Light Side point to the Destiny pool (not a flip, an additional point).

Racial Profiling

I was almost dead-on with my racial predictions in this book.  I nailed Human, Kel Dor, Mirialan, Togruta, Twi'lek, and Zabrak.  I picked Droid and Miraluka for the other two races.  FFG went with Cerean and Nautolian instead.  The races look great, and all appear to be fun to play.  I'm surprised by a couple choices in starting abilities; I didn't see Kel Dor as particularly weak, yet they start with 1 Brawn.  Maybe it's more a reflection of their constitution rather than their strength.

Career Day

There are Six Careers in this setting, just like Edge of the Empire and Age of Rebellion. They are Consular, Guardian, Mystic, Seeker, Sentinel, and Warrior.  Every one of these careers starts with Force Rating of 1.  They also only have six Career skills, instead of the normal eight.  All the specializations come with the usual four skill choices to add to the Career skills list.  None of the Careers have Lightsaber as a career skill, but every career has one Specialization that offers it.  Each Career has one Specialization tree named after one of the six Jedi Lightsaber Forms (no Form VII: Juyo/Vapaad).  Each form (except Shii-Cho) has a talent that allows the Lightsaber Skill to be used with a talent other than Brawn.

Most specializations get a Force Rating talent, improving the character's Force Rating by 1.  Some get 2, a few get none.

Here's what we got:
  • Consular
    • Healer (like Doctor but with some Force tricks added in, has 1 Force Rating talent)
    • Niman Disciple (Form V specialist, Force Effects with lightsaber attacks, uses Willpower with Lightsaber, 1 Force Rating Talent)
    • Sage (Force Using scholar, has 2 Force Rating talents)
  • Guardian
    • Peacekeeper (Group leader who buffs his allies with the Force, 1 Force Rating talent)
    • Protector (Part Combat Medic, Part Bodyguard, 1 Force Rating Talent)
    • Soresu Defender (Form III specialist, melee defensive form, uses Intellect for Lightsaber attacks, no Force Rating Talent)
  • Mystic
    • Advisor (Social expert with support talents, 1 Force Rating talent)
    • Makashi Duelist (Form II specialist, focuses on one-on-one duels, uses Presence for Lightsaber attacks, no Force Rating talent)
    • Seer (precognitive and clairvoyant prowess, 2 Force Rating talents)
  • Seeker
    • Ataru Striker (Form IV acrobatics, uses Agility with Lightsaber skill, no Force Rating talents)
    • Hunter (Ranged combat expert and big game hunter. 1 Force Rating talent)
    • Pathfinder (The second half of the "Ranger" class, with animal bonding powers.  One Force Rating talent)
  • Sentinel
    • Artisan (A Force version of the Outlaw tech.  One Force Rating talent)
    • Shadow (Infiltrator and Investigator.  One Force Rating Talent)
    • Shien Expert (Form V master, uses Cunning for Lightsaber skill, experts at Blaster Deflection.  No Force Rating talents)
  • Warrior
    • Aggressor (Uses intimidation and fear to resolve disputes, 1 Force Rating talent.)
    • Shii-Cho Knight (Expert with the basic Form I. Good at fighting multiple opponents. No Force Rating talent)
    • Starfighter Ace (Use the Force while piloting vehicles.  1 Force Rating talent)
Remember how I told you this was not the book for Jedi Knights?  That cannot be better spelled out than in the fluff description of "A Consular's Role" for that Career. 
"Followers of this career are not Jedi Consulars of the now-fallen Republic, but they do embrace some of the same philosophies and practices."
You are not playing a Jedi Knight.  You are playing someone who's trying to live up to their reputation and legend.  Someone who in many cases has learned to use their Force aptitude alongside a more mundane role; be that melee combatant, diplomat, or technician.  It also means that you're going to have to spread yourself far and wide to grab all the "traditional abilities" of the Jedi.  The only tree that has blaster deflection (Improved Reflect) is the Shien Expert tree, yet we see Jedi throughout the Movies, Shows, and EU bouncing back blaster bolts.  Usually, those examples are full-fledged Jedi.  You're not a Jedi, not a fully-trained one anyway.  You haven't been using a lightsaber since before puberty.  You're lucky if you have a lightsaber at all.  So only those practitioners who have invested time and effort into tracking down the abilities of Shien will have any proficiency in slapping a "return to sender or nearest enemy resident" label on incoming blaster fire.

I can get behind that.

The (Glowing) Elephant in the Room

One of the first things I dove into when I got the book was how Lightsabers were working.  I had them being upgraded melee combat checks, because so much can go wrong when you're swinging around a massless plasma blade that can cut anything.  Lightsaber is now exclusively a Brawn skill, but can be replaced by other talents as listed above.  The difficulty is the same as any melee combat check, 2 Purple difficulty dice, with no inherent upgrades.  The lightsaber we've seen in previous books is not the base lightsaber now, however.  The "10 damage, Crit 1, Breach 1, Vicious 2" statblock we've seen is apparently for a lightsaber with an Ilum crystal that's been tweaked to Hell and gone by some previous Jedi (or Sith). Base lightsabers deal 6 damage, have a crit of 2, and still have the Breach 1 and Sunder qualities.  You can try and find a wide variety of crystals, too.  Crystals that add Burn, Disorient, deal more base damage, or even have higher Breach ratings.

Getting hit by a lightsaber has been mitigated by the prolific inclusion of the Parry talent throughout the Careers.  Parry lets you take 3 strain to reduce the damage you receive from a melee attack by 2 plus the number of Ranks of Parry you have.  Note I didn't say "soak", because Soak is armor that can be blown through by the Lightsaber's Breach quality.  Parry simply reduces damage before Soak is applied.


There's some awesome gear in this book.  The lightsabers for certain (Double Bladed Sabers with Linked 1!), and a new quality; Unwieldy (also applies to the Saberstaff).  Unwieldy is like Cumbersome, but for Agility.  You have to have a certain Agility or you suffer increases to difficulty when you use the weapon.

This book gives us Electrostaves, Cortosis shields and swords, ancient swords (that use Lightsaber instead of Melee), and even Cortosis plated gauntlets (like the Imperial Knights use in Legacy).  Nothing REALLY new in the equipment section; oh, except for Demon Masks, Meditation Tools, and Holocrons.

Use the Force

This book offers eleven Force powers; the five previously released are back and unchanged from their Core Rulebook release, and 6 new ones.  Many of these new Force Powers have a minimum Force Rating to take.  A lot of these powers have alternate effects if you use Dark Side points to power them.
  • Battle Meditation (Pre-Req: Force Rating 2+): Buff (or dominate) your allies to perform better in combat as a more cohesive unit.
  • Bind (Pre-Req: Force Rating 2+): Restrict your target's ability to move or act, or if you use the Dark Side crush them in your Force-powered grip.
  • Heal/Harm (Pre-Req: Force Rating 1+): A Force-powered stim-pack which can restore health to a target.  If you use the Dark Side you Harm your target instead, and can steal the life force from that target to heal yourself or allies.  You can even bring someone back from the bring of death (Light side) or pervert the Living Force and use the life force of one person to restore life to someone who has died (Dark Side, duh)
  • Misdirect (Pre-Req: Force Rating 1+): Create powerful illusions to beguile (or haunt) your foes.
  • Protect/Unleash (Pre-Req: Force Rating 3+): Erect potent Force Barriers that can protect yourself or allies, or call on the Dark Side to project lethal lightning blasts or deadly cones of cold.
  • Seek (Pre-Req: Force Rating1+): Become the master of location and be able to hunt down anything or anyone.  Can even be used to perceive the weaknesses in those around you (Shatterpoint powers, anyone?) and add Pierce to all your attacks.

The Knight Time is the Right Time

The book spells out the option for "Knight Level Play" saying that characters with 150+ earned XP are advanced characters, should have proper lightsabers (if they want them), and can generally handle opponents with Cortosis weapons and lightsabers.  The book also spells out rules for starting at Knight Level, with every PC getting 150 points to spend after character creation (no buying up Characteristics) and a basic lightsaber or 10,000 credits in gear (player's choice).

No One Expects the Imperial Inquisition

The GM chapter includes more than 2 full pages to making bad-ass Inquisitors to send against your PCs as a main adversary, and brings up the rules for "Enhanced Nemeses".  These pages are a godsend, and really get your juices flowing to provide your players with their own Darth Vader to contend with.

You All Meet In A Cantina

There is, of course, a starting adventure.  I've only skimmed it, but it does look like a fun romp and does offer some neat rewards at the end.

Opinions: Everyone's Got One

In the final analysis, you're probably reading this to find out what I think about FFG's Force and Destiny book.  I'll put it thusly; I am sorely tempted to derail my Tuesday night, bi-weekly game and have everyone roll up these characters.  I find the theme of the book to be simple yet elegant, and most of the design decisions the Devs made towards "Jedi Characters" to be brilliant given the era of the game.  You're not playing characters who will become Jedi Knights after a year or two of playing, you're portraying beings that follow in the Order's fading footsteps and may one day rival their expertise.

Look, Luke Skywalker thinks he's the last Jedi, and he's right from a certain point of view.  He claims the mantle in Episode VI.  He moves on to restore the Order after the war.  But as Johnny Bravo once said " really, REALLY BIG" and Luke is the Hero of Yavin, on everyone's radar and everyones lips across the galaxy.  Who says there aren't bands of Force Users out there that are fighting against the Empire, or simply just trying to survive in this crazy mixed-up galaxy.  They wouldn't be known to all, and even if they were in the Rebellion how quickly would word of such Force Users spread across the thousands of light-years and millions of worlds?  Obscurity is helpful when the powers that be are out to get you.

This book completes FFG's love-letter to the dawn of Star Wars Gaming, giving us characters that feel like the ones I first played back in the 90s with West End Games.  Characters that work to improve their raw, untapped Force potential to perform great feats and greater heroics while being hunted by the Empire.  It gives us the chance to have our own "Luke Skywalker moments", of finding our place in the Galaxy and our role within it.  It also allows us to experiment with our own Morality, discover for our own if the ends do justify the means, and how far down the "line we will not cross" lies.

How this book will affect my upcoming games, I do now know yet.  One thing I do know is a retort to Grand Moff Tarkin's line "The Jedi are extinct.  Their light has gone out of the universe."

Beware those who carry the light, no matter how diminished or dim.  

Beware the Lightbearers.

(...and boy, does that line give me ideas...)