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.

Gearheads

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 "Space...is 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...)





13 comments:

  1. Very good review of the book. And I'm glad you stressed the point that this is not the "Big Book of Jedi Knights" as a number of folks I talked to during GenCon had rather dismissively referred to it as such, having not actually read it.

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  2. Hey Phil,

    I'm a bit confused by the following line: "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." It seems like The Force is well fleshed-out with this release, and a character could be built from any era using these rules. Moreover it seems like the "Knight Level Play" even encourages building such characters. What do you believe is missing, fluff aside, that would prevent other era (Old Republic, TCW etc) play? This is all keeping in mind that the Jedi we see in those eras are very experienced in combat, having been embroiled in warfare for years. It seems to me that you could run Jedi in any era with this system, either as a padawan or using the knight level rules for playing "real" Jedi.

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    1. No you're right. You could do it, you'd just have to spread yourself far and wide to pick up all of the "traditional" Jedi tricks. I guess that's why I felt it was a good starting point, but not a perfect one.

      The book really does make you feel like someone trying to stumble in the Jedi's footsteps. Playing a full blown Jedi with these rules, to me, would need about 300 XP to feel right.

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  3. KILLER review, Phil! I'm waiting on my copy of the book to arrive in the mail from my inside source at Gen Con, and this will tide me over nicely until then. Thanks for your effort in writing and I love listening to you on the podcast.

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  4. You mentioned that some some specializations, like Sage, have 2 force rating talents but I only see one. Am I missing something or could you clarify what you mean? Thanks!

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    1. No, it's there. First column, 4th talent down. 20xp =]

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    2. Dang, you're right. lol, ty btw for your thoughts on the book. I wasn't able to get my hands on a copy until just recently so this was the only thing I really had to sustain me until then. Granted, there were other ppl commenting on the book but NOTHING this detailed or involved.

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    3. You're welcome! And thanks for reading, helps motivate me to keep this up. =D

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  5. This is a very interesting and detailed description of the book, Phil. I have a question involving character creation; a group of friends and I are going to be playing a Force and Destiny game fairly soon, and I had an idea for a Jedi Temple Guard character. What class do you think would best suit this particular background? I would very much like someone else's opinion on this just to have a better idea of what I could do.

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    1. Any of the Lightsaber specs will work. Especially Shii-Cho Knight and Shien Expert. But Guardian is the first Career that leaps out to me. Soresu Defender is a powerful spec for holding your own and surviving in Combat. Pair it with Protector and you have a solid combo for combat, healing, and protecting others.

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  6. As Phil said Shii-Cho is really nice, but it's more of a proactive defender. You protect others by jumping into the group of 3+ and hitting everyone. It's all about high offense and high soak/WT. Soresu is a much more peaceful type that protects people/self first and deals damage secondly. It's the standard greatweapon fighter vs sword and shield paladin.

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