April 2, 2014

Whenever's there's a hang up, you'll find.... Mutants & Masterminds?!

Taking a bit of a break from all things Star Wars, particularly in the wake of putting a wrap on Ways of the Force.

A few weeks ago, upon hearing that Erik "Ogehn" Benders was looking to add a new player or two for the Mutants & Masterminds 3e Skype game he was running, I asked if I could step in, and was quite pleased to hear the answer was "yes!" I'd been aware of the thread for his game on the d20 Radio boards for a while, but was unsure of how to go about asking "hey, you guys got room for one more?" particularly when I really didn't know many of the players.

The game is set in the Emerald City setting, with my hero and that of another player stepping in a few months after the conclusion of the Emerald City Knights adventure series.  I'm going to avoid typing any spoilers, but there'd been some pretty major shake-ups in Emerald City as result of the actions of the Stormbreakers (what the PCs decided to call themselves, a name chosen well before Green Ronin published the Emerald City sourcebook).  So, they opted to include some of the newer heroes into their line-up.

Well, prior to finding out there was an opening, I'd been re-reading my Deluxe Hero's Handbook (so glad I backed that Kickstarter, as it's a really cool book), and been toying with various builds, thanks in no small part to the Quickstart Character Generator.  While I'd done a plethora of builds for 2nd edition (and posted a number of them on the Atomic Think Tank under the handle of JediMorningfire), I was aware that 3rd edition had made a number of changes to the rules.  So having the Quickstart CharGen when developing various character ideas was a huge boon.

Now, while I'm not currently into comics very much, one of my favorite Marvel super-heroes has been Spider-Man, due in no small part to the Spidey & Amazing Friends series, the 90's animated series, and somewhat more recently the very awesome (but sadly short-lived) Spectacular Spider-Man series.  Even the various live-action portrayals have been enjoyable, barring Spider-Man 3 (good god as that movie a mess).  So I had the notion of "hey, why not play a hero based on Spider-Man?"  Well, after crunching the basic numbers and seeing how the PC was built, I decided that rather than try to to work around the notion of playing a clone (so to speak) of an existing hero, I'd fully embrace the idea and play the Freedomverse's version of Spider-Man, right down to using the name (which got applied by a reporter for the major newspaper and got adopted by everyone else, much to his initial chagrin).

The Spider-Man (PL 11) for the Emerald City Campaign

I changed a few names (my Peter uses the surname of Reilly, for instance) but he pretty much is Spider-Man, right down to having the mechanical web-shooters instead of them being organic.  The build need a few tweaks due to a lack of real familiarity and understanding of the system, but it's gotten to a point that I'm really happy with it.  He's a bit under his PL caps, but at least if the first session is anything to go by, he works very well as-is, and even then only needs a few PP to hit his caps due to having focused much of his attack bonus on skill ranks (good at unarmed combat or using his web-shooters, not so much at other types of combat).  He's also really smart, at this point probably being the smartest PC in the group on top of having a really good memory and decent ranks in the major tech skills.  Which is something I'm really happy about seeing as how one of the things that tended to get overlooked with many portrayals of Spider-Man in other media is that Peter's really smart (not quite Reed Richards or Tony Stark or Bruce Banner level of smarts, but he's still one of the smarter heroes in the Marvel Universe).  Of course, getting chances to put those smarts into play is going to depend on the type of adventures that the GM runs, but I figure that as long as I pay attention, the opportunities will present themselves.

And of course, there's the quippage.  One thing I felt was really lacking from the Tobey MacGuire movies was Spidey's long-standing tactic of pelting his enemies with lame jokes in a gambit to get them so ticked off that they lose focus and attack in blind rage.  And since I have a rather constant habit of making snarky remarks in almost any game I play, particularly when gaming with folks I know, having the option to make those kinds of remarks and be totally in character is simply great.  Especially since I don't need to worry about making them funny (frankly, a lot of Spidey's quips are pretty bad), just so long as I make them.  And with Mutants & Masterminds being a super-hero game, I can fully abuse the "talking is a free action" trope for all it's worth.

The initial session had us breaking up a bank robbery... and let's just say the team tactics need a bit of ironing out.  I kinda felt that Spidey wasn't super-useful in that encounter, but a large part of that is due to me not being fully comfortable with the system as well as still getting a feel for the character.  Mechanically, he worked as intended, so I got that part right.  A fun bit that I don't think the GM really planned for was that while the rest of the group made a beeline back to the team's base, I had Spidey head off a bit earlier, mentioning that he'd probably be late due to a combination of not being all that fast while web-swinging and that if he came across any street crime, like a mugging or petty robbery, he'd swing in to put a stop to it.  Well, the GM took advantage of that to introduce a plot element and give me a chance to interact with a "stormer" villain that's known simply as Bubblegum Girl (due to her appearance and having elastic powers), by way of her staging a mugging (with her as the alleged victim) as a way of drawing the attention of one of the other heroes; seems that she was rather put out about having the friendly neighborhood webhead show up instead.  There was banter, but no fighting as she was there to talk, and Spidey wasn't quite pleased with being duped into beating up a pair of patsies, which I figure was why he (a college freshman straight out of high school) overlooked the fact that Bubblegum Girl is smoking hot.  A plot hook was dropped along with more character interaction, perhaps setting the stage for a future adventure, and who knows, maybe the next time Spidey and BG Girl meet-up, the banter will be a bit friendlier... unless she's still fixated on Nature Boy (whoo!) that is.  But who knows, maybe the next time their banter will be a lot more playful.

Now from what I've been told, these sessions have a chance of showing up as Live-Play episodes of the Punching for Justice! podcast.  Admittedly, I've fallen out of listening to most podcasts, in part due to many of them having podfaded or just plain loosing interest.  Sadly, PfJ! was one of those "lost interest" in, partly due to one of the host's bile-fueled rant about the Man of Steel movie (I agree, it wasn't a great movie, but it wasn't the steaming pile that he made it out to be), but I may have to see about catching back up on that one, particularly the earlier live-play episodes of this campaign just so that I have a better idea of prior events that took place.

Of course, one element of playing Spider-Man is that eventually, this will have to happen...

March 22, 2014

Ways of the Force, Version 1.3

Wow, four posts in the same month.  One might start to think the owner of this blog actually remembered that it exists ;)

It'd been quite a while since I'd last updated my Ways of the Force fan supplement.  I'd been working on altering a number of things, such as largely doing away with the minor Force powers and expanding two of them into full-fledged Force Power trees.

Ways of the Force, Version 1.3

I've also made some major revamps to the Force Powers, new and old, in light of clarification from FFG's own Sam Stewart in regards to how Force Power effects were activated.  To simplify, my understanding was incorrect, and that in light of that understanding, Injure and Healing were vastly more powerful than I was comfortable with.  There was also the matter that they had gotten perhaps too complicated, particularly Healing and my attempts to keep it from being too useful to a group but not so restricted as to make it nearly useless.  I think I've struck the right balance this time around with both powers, making them effective but not game-breaking.

The Jedi Initiate has also gotten a substantial change in layout.  I opted to go back to the original focus of this being a specialization that focuses on becoming a competent lightsaber duelist as one of it's primary aspects, and that improved Force usage isn't quite as major.  That's not to say that someone taking Jedi Initiate won't be slackers in the Force, but rather that lightsaber prowess is going to be a major part of the specialization.  So folks that are looking to be a Jedi but don't want to bother with the lightsaber talents, I'm afraid you're going to have to look to other Force-sensitive specializations to scratch that particular itch.

I've also recanted a bit on my earlier statement about not having any kind of skill check to construct a lightsaber.  For this version, I've settled on making it a single Discipline check, partly to avoid the issue of "how would my PC know how to build a lightsaber if they're not trained in the skill?" had I used the Lightsaber skill, but largely as a nod to Saga Edition and having it be a Use the Force check to accomplish that task.  Plus, Discipline ties into it being an important skill for Force users to have as well as the concentration and focus needed for a task that's noted as requiring a combination of great delicacy and precision.  However, that's not to say that it's an automatic thing either, especially if the player is impatient, as the check starts at Daunting, and only gets harder the quicker a PC tries to accomplish the task of building the 'saber; get too greedy and your Jedi-in-training could find themselves having to start completely from scratch.

Another major change has been to the Deflect Blasters talent.  I feel there comes a point that when you need more than a single paragraph to cover the effects of a talent, then you've reached the point of needing to split it into two talents.  And given some of the unexpected issues that cropped up, such as a PC using the talent to deflect a single shot from auto-fire weapon and then trigger auto-fire (something that was never intended), the split was needed.  So while it now takes two talents to allow a Jedi Initiate to deflect and reflect blaster fire (presuming they've acquired a lightsaber in the first place), both talents are better balanced, with the minor bonus that deflecting ranged attacks is now something that the character could start knowing how to do; after all, it's one of the first lessons that Luke learned on his path to becoming a Jedi Knight.

The two new powers are Rebuke (expanded from Resist Force) and Message (expanded from Projective Telepathy).  As for Sense Force, that's simply been moved to a sidebar (found under the Force Mystic) and is pretty much a function of the Sense power.

With Message, I had toyed with the idea of creating some kind of "battle meditation" effect, but I felt that such an ability was best left as a plot device type of thing, particularly with FFG having kept the uses of the Force in the powers they've published much closer to the general feel of the films while mostly averting some of the crazier stunts that have been seen in the Expanded Universe.  While Sense covers the "picking up thoughts" aspect of telepathy, Message is more in line of what folks think when one mentions "telepathy," though like Saga Edition I kept the power's effects fairly simple, with the intent that any conversations would be very simple; something akin to Luke contacting Leia and sending a general sense that he was in danger and that he was "underneath Cloud City," and hoping that she'd be able to take it from there to rescue him.

As for Rebuke, one complaint I've often seen is that there was no real way to defend yourself from a Force power.  It's not a major issue with Move (since any defensive traits that work against ranged attacks would apply), but it becomes a bigger on with Influence and Injure, both of which as written don't give the target any way to stop the damage inflicted.  I opted to keep the opposed Discipline check that Resist Force had, though this isn't too big of an issue for most powers (especially as I scrapped the opposed check that was part of Injure in the last version).  I've also broken out it so that the basic effect is simply to negate the effects of a power; if your Force user wants to pull a Yoda and hurl those bolts of Force lightning back, you'll need a Control Upgrade to do it.  One potential concern is that with enough ranks in Discipline and the way Rebuke's Strength Upgrades operate it could become very easy for a Force-user with this power to shove an offensive power right back down their opponent's throat.  Admittedly, this is offset somewhat by needing a Triumph on the opposed Discipline check and the chance for a Despair against more potent Force users as well.  I also opted to include the ability to absorb/negate energy attacks as the "capstone" ability of Rebuke, using the same general mechanics, such as the Force user making an opposed Discipline check, only this time the difficulty is the shooter's combat skill.  You could potentially use this to redirect a blaster shot with your bare hands, but by the time that most characters gain that particular Control Upgrade, they should be facing some pretty potent adversaries.

There have been a few other lesser tweaks here and there, but those are the highlights.  And, barring any major typographical errors, this will probably be the final revision to this document.

With a Force & Destiny Beta having been teased as coming out later this year (presumably at GenCon), that brings to a close the reason I created this supplement in the first place; namely as a way to provide players with further options to play Force users in and Edge of the Empire or an Age of Rebellion campaign.  A number of folks wanted some way to play an actual Jedi, not a "let's pretend" version that had either the Force Exile or Force Emergent specs and a few ranks in the Lightsaber skill, as well as an ability to perform Force-based feats that we saw in the movies but weren't covered by Edge of the Empire.  While some folks chose to focus exclusively on creating a Jedi career, I opted to split the difference and create a Jedi specialization as a nod to the limited training available during the Rebellion Era as well as create additional Force powers.

But, with Force & Destiny having been teased to cover Jedi and other Force-users, the need to add new material or revise the existing material becomes less and less.  Then again, I knew this was going to happen eventually, and thus had a degree of "planned obsolescence" from the very start.  After all, when it comes to choosing between officially published material and some random guy's fan work, most gamers are going to lean towards the officially published material.  And I'm okay with that.  On a personal level, I'm interested to see how different in the design and application of things like blaster deflection and rebuking enemy Force powers my stuff and FFG's stuff will be.  Amusingly, around July of last year, I'd been working on building an "enhanced movement" and "farseeing" power, and laughed with giddy joy at seeing that the Enhance and Foresee powers in the Age of Rebellion Beta were along very similar guidelines; my stuff would have gotten to that point in another month or two.  Part of me hopes I'll get to experience that a second time around with the Force & Destiny Beta.

In the end, I can only hope that in the time frame between when I first web-published Ways of the Force and when the Force & Destiny core rulebook gets released next year, folks have found the material I've created to be useful for their games, either in whole or just select parts of it.

March 18, 2014

A New Beginning for a retired character...

Wow, three blog posts in a single day.  You'd almost think I didn't have anything better to do ;)

Well, the prior post (GamerNationCon: An Opportunity Missed...) covered the downer part of the past few days, namely all the cool stuff I couldn't be a part of due to my flight plans being scuttled due to weather.

This one is instead going to cover the cool stuff that happened.  You see, while I wasn't able to make it down to Dallas to get my gaming fix in, I was still able to get plenty of gaming in this past Saturday.

As Thursday was winding to a close, I got an unexpected e-mail in my inbox.  The GM of a pre-existing EotE campaign that I'd tried to join (it was an utter disaster due to the GM not acting sooner to keep his more assholish players in check, particularly when they started harrassing the one female player that was new to RPGs in general) had passed along my contact info to another chap that was looking to start up his own Star Wars campaign.  Again, it was an entirely new group of folks I didn't really know all that well (I knew a couple from very casual interaction at the FLGS, including the GM), but as the saying goes, nothing ventured, nothing gained.  Besides, it wasn't like I had anything better to do at that point.

Talked with the GM, and got the ground rules on building characters.  Standard starting XP budget, an extra 250 credits for gear, players had the choice of Obligation or Duty, and any official material that FFG had released from either EotE or AoR was allowed, but no homebrew material.  While he's got plenty of GM experience, this would be his first time running FFG's Star Wars system, so he wanted to keep things from getting too wild, which is perfectly understandable, as "homebrew RPG material" can be viewed as code for "horribly unbalanced and broken power-gamer material."

My first question was would he allow a Force-user PC?  He thought about it, and said that he'd allow one, but that no way was he handing out a lightsaber, which I replied was not a problem as I had an old PC that I could very easily re-work into a starting character.  Matter of fact, a few weeks prior I had already re-worked said character to be a rules-legal starting character (including the part of only having the usual 500 credits to work with).  I sent him a PDF of the character sheet, and so my initial EotE PC, a teenage street rat named Valin Starsmore was reborn.  The only real difference was that Valin started out with a blaster pistol instead of a light blaster pistol and an extra stimpack.  It didn't make sense for him to be connected with the Alliance, so I took a Bounty obligation to reflect that the ISB is very interested in bringing Valin into Imperial custody.

Valin Starsmore got his initial start as character for West End Game's Star Wars D6 2nd Edition Revised & Expended system, modifying the Young Jedi template to remove Alter and re-distributing the Attribute dice into an array that wasn't quite as one-sided.  Sadly, the game that I was to play that version of Valin in never got off the ground, and so he went into my file of "characters that have never seen play."  Well, when I got my copy of the Edge of the Empire Beta, I set about looking for prior characters that I could see about re-inventing for this interesting new system.  Now I've a long-standing tradition of my first PC in any new Star Wars system being a Jedi of some type, often with the surname of Morningfire, with my online name being taken from the longest running of those, a Jedi Knight of the Rise of the Empire era named Donovan Morningfire (started as a Jedi Guardian under the OCR, was converted to RCR, and then finally re-imagined for Saga Edition).

Seeing as how FFG had opted to hold Jedi PCs until the third book in their Star Wars RPG product line, it didn't seem right to create a new Morningfire that wasn't a Jedi.  As noted, I was going through my file of "characters that have never seen play."  And there was Valin, a teenage street rat with a noted sweet tooth and very much lacking in self-confidence, with a note that the ISB had a warrant out for his capture as "person of interest" due to being a possible Force-sensitive and connected with his mentor (who had been a Jedi apprentice when the Jedi Purge kicked off back in D6, and was re-imagined as a Padawan that'd escaped Order 66).  And so Valin was remade as a Smuggler/Scoundrel/Force Exile for a one-shot game that Cyril ran.

And he was fun to play, even if he did a real hatchet job on trying to hit on Gizmo, Nateal's Twi'lek Bounty Hunter/Gadgeteer whom she had admitted "Presence of 3?  Yeah, she's pretty hot, busty too."  It was painful I'm sure for the other players (Wayne even noted that his character was ready to come over and show the kid how it was done), but given Valin's almost-crippling lack of self-confidence, it made perfect sense that he'd do a horrible job of trying to impress a hot chick; I've come to see Valin as being a prime example of Adorkable.  His only real Force ability in this incarnation was that he "could see things before they happened" and had a degree of hyperawareness (watch the Guy Ritchie Sherlock Holmes movies and note the scenes where Robert Downey Jr's Holmes is alone), with Valin's problem being that while he "saw everything," he wasn't always able to properly filter and process that information.  The adventure was fun, and while it ended on a possible hook for further adventures, that never really came to be.

Well, some time later, Cyril was going to start up an EotE campaign after his Saga Edition campaign came to a close.  Once again, I took up the role of Valin, only this time replacing Force Exile with the Jedi Initiate from my Ways of the Force, and adding the Move Power and an extra talent from the Scoundrel tree to his stats being the major changes.  Other characters were Priska, a Bothan Colonist/Scholar (and later re-worked into an Explorer/Archaeologist when Enter the Unknown came out) and Chavbagga, a Wookiee Technician/Outlaw Tech, as well as a Chiss Hired Gun/Merc Soldier that called herself Erina and an archeological assistant droid (Explorer/Scout) whose name I don't remember (sorry Rikoshi).  Sadly, that campaign came to an abrupt end due to GM burnout and some personality conflicts that one of the replacement players caused within the group.  It's been put on hiatus, but as much as I'd love for that campaign to resume, I'm not holding my breath.  Still, I was able to advance Valin a fair amount as well as test out the talent tree layout of my Jedi Initiate, which in turn lead me to make some drastic alterations, the point that I felt it'd be better to just remove that spec and replace it with Force Emergent instead as I wasn't sure what the next form of Jedi Initiate would look like and it wasn't fair to the GM to keep revising my character every so often.

Well, Valin saw new life this past Saturday, and was just as much fun, particularly as the rest of the group came across as very self-assured and assertive (if a bit violent) so it was an amusing contrast.  However, Valin did prove he's no slouch when it's time to get violent, and even managed to land the finishing shot on the major antagonist with the guy's own (dropped) heavy blaster pistol.  The GM ran us through a slightly modified "Escape from Mos Shutta" adventure from the Edge of the Empire Beginner Box, mostly as this was his first time running the system and I was the only person at the table with extensive experience with the system (a couple players had played the Free RPG Day adventure, but that was it).  We've got quite a mix of characters in this group, though there is a slight bias towards combat-savvy types, which makes sense as the GM had pitched this as ultimately being an "Rebel Special Mission Group" campaign, though he's admitted that he'll likely be sticking to published adventures until he's comfortable enough with the system before creating his own adventures.

One of the more amusing things to come out of that session was that one of the other PCs, a youngish female Mirialan Hired Gun/Demolitionist that goes by the name of "Jynx" took quite a shine to Valin, finding him and his sheepish personality to be "rather cute," and thus taking a few opportunities to flirt with the young Force-user.  Also, she definitely saw Valin use the Force to pull that heavy blaster pistol to his hand, so Jynx knows that Valin's not just a self-professed "street rat" with a very acute awareness for danger.  The session ended not long after, so we'll have to wait until next time to see what she does with that knowledge or if it changes her perspective on Valin.

On the off chance anyone's interested, here's Valin's character sheet, reflecting his abilities at the start of this new campaign:

Valin's Story:
An orphan for as long as he can remember, Valin grew up in the foster care system, being transferred from one home to the next home; as such, he never really had a sense of belonging anywhere.  That all changed when the groundskeeper at the latest foster care center, a middle-aged man named Cori, recognized Valin's nascent Force abilities for what they were.  Cori helped the youth understand and begin to control his fledging powers.  But when Cori was taken into custody by COMPNOR agents, Valin fled out of fear that he’d be next, spending the next several months living on the streets.  With only his wits and Force-enhanced reflexes to rely on, he did his best to avoid drawing attention to himsel, even as he kept looking for someplace to belong.  But he hasn’t forgotten what little he’d learned from Cori, and tries to conduct himself in accordance with the Jedi Code as best he can in these dark times of Imperial rule…

As the above shows,he's not a powerful Force-user by any stretch of the imagination.  With only the basic abilities of Sense and Move available to him (and though I did consider replacing Move with Enhance, I'm glad I stuck with Move given how the adventure played out).  We'd earned 25 XP during the session, which I spent thusly:

+1 rank in Ranged (Light)
Purchased the Sense Control Upgrade to allow him to upgrade the difficulty on an enemy's attack once per turn.
Purchased the Toughened talent from Force Emergent.

GamerNationCon: An Opportunity Missed...

If you follow me on Twitter (and haven't been chased away by all the cute critter retweets), then you probably saw that the past few days have had some major ups and downs for me.

For months, I'd been eagerly anticipating going to the first (and hopefully not only) GamerNationCon, or 3 Days of Gaming Goodness as it had also been called.  A big part of it was the opportunity to met folks from the d20 Radio forums, such as Wayne "Maarkeen" Basta and Kevin "Rikoshi" Frane amongst others.  The first blow was finding out that Ben "Cyril" Erikson couldn't make it down as his employer didn't approve his time-off request, though that itself had been preceded by the disappointment that his wife Nateal wouldn't make it due to the cost of plane tickets for them.

Well, this past Thursday, the Capital District of the semi-glorious state of New York got hammered with a major winter storm that forecasts had been saying "wouldn't be all that bad" up until the night before. Now, my flight was scheduled to head out Thursday morning and get me to Dallas in the afternoon.  So I was a bit upset to find that my flight had been cancelled, though I was able to rebook to a later flight that would have gotten me there in the late evening instead, but still there on Thursday so that I could enjoy the con and be there to run my two events.  Well, I show up at the airport, after driving through barely-cleared roads and spending 10 minutes trying to find a parking spot in the long-term parking lot, only to learn that my re-booked flight has also been cancelled, as had a bunch of other morning flights.  I tried just about every option I could think of, including seeing if they could get me to Little Rock that night, hoping that my friend Linda and her husband Mark wouldn't object to me catching a ride down to Dallas with them.  But the only way I was getting to Dallas would be through doing a lot of plane-hopping and overnight stays at either airport hotels or airports themselves, and without some extreme amounts of luck, I'd get there late evening on Saturday.  So yeah, not really worth the sheer volume of aggravation just to show up when the convention was pretty much over.  At least I've got a voucher for my flight that I can put towards the air fare of my trip to GenCon this August.

And from what I've seen on Twitter and heard from Linda, the 3DoGG was a blast, with some of the highlights being Jay "Ynnen" Little being made an Honorary Member of the Rebel Legion.  Part of the set-up to surprise him was that I was scheduled to co-host a seminar with him about "RPG Writing."  From what I've been told, he was quite surprised when a bunch of Rebel Legion folks came out and presented him with this plaque.  I really wanted to be there, as Jay Little is a very cool guy, but alas.

Rikoshi and one his friends also ran an Age of Rebellion module which I can only assume will be a blast to run/play given how much Linda was gushing about it when I talked with her last night.  It does require two GMs to run it, although a really good GM could probably handle the two separate tables that the adventure has.  Said GM will probably need a mental break afterwards though.

I'd been looking forward to running my Star Wars convention module "Tales of the Blue Zephyrs" at the convention.  I've run it a bunch of times, including as a pick-up at GenCon (which infamously was the only time the players got wiped out), and it's a pretty fun adventure, having started out under the Revised Core Rules then being converted to Saga Edition.  I also had a Dragon Age adventure, this being "Duty Unto Death" which was what Chris Pramas ran for Wil Wheaton and his crew on the "Table Top" web series, only I'd opted to create my own set of pre-gen characters.  And I'd plenty of folks looking forward to playing both of those.  But, thanks to the wonderful Northeast weather, those plans got scuttled.

As the Jedi adage goes, "we accept what we are given, we take what is offered."  I wasn't able to go to GamerNationCon, but I might just be able to pull it off for next year, and will probably adjust my plans to hopefully account for any weather issues so that I can avoid a repeat of this year's fiasco.

The HWK-290 for EotE, a second look

Quite a while back, I took a stab at converting the HWK-290 from WotC's RCR/Saga Edition to FFG's Edge of the Empire, and posted it to the Gamer Security Agency here.

For those not familiar with the ship, you can read up on it here:
HWK-290 on Wookieepedia

There's also some "controversy" on the ship's size, as new information has put the 29 meters that WotC used as incorrect, and that going by the information that FFG was provided by the Lucasfilm Archives, the HWK-290 is about half as big as WotC listed, measuring in at somewhere around 16.5 meters.

Well, I've been going back through a number of some of my earlier conversion work, both for starships and alien species, and trying to take a fresh look at my work now that FFG has released more material to be used as points of reference.  A lot of my earlier starship work was done when the only material available was the EotE Beta rulebook, so I was probably a bit more conservative than I needed to be.

One of the ships that got changed was the HWK-290, which at least until FFG publishes their own stats should work for small player groups:

HKW-290 Light Freighter
Hull Type/Class: Freighter/HWK-290
Manufacturer: Corellian Engineering Corporation
Hyperdrive: Primary: Class 2
Navicomputer: Yes
Ship’s Complement: One pilot, one co-pilot/engineer
Passenger Capacity: 1
Encumbrance Capacity: 25
Consumables: 3 months
Cost/Rarity: 95,000 credits/5
Silhouette: 3 
Sensor Range: Short
Speed: 4 
Handling: +0
Defense: 1/0 
Armor: 3
Hull Integrity: 15 
Strain Threshold: 12
Customization Hardpoints: 3

Ventral Turret Mounted Twin Heavy Blaster Cannon (Fire Arc All; Damage 5; Critical Hit 4; Range [Close]; Linked 1)

Compared to the GSA version, the ship has a lower Silhouette, matching it up with starfighters such as the Y-Wing as well as the video images from the Dark Forces game.  This also results in a much lower Encumbrance Capacity and Passenger Capacity since it doesn't have that extra 10 meters of length that the WotC write-ups gave it.  The consumables got chopped in half as six months seemed a bit more for a ship that's under 20 meters in length, but that should still be plenty to get from destination to destination.

I also updated the onboard weapon to be a turret mounted blaster cannon.  Also from the various visual references I could find online as well as the model for FFG's X-Wing game, I also added Linked 1 since it's a presented as having twin barrels.  Strain Threshold got a boost as well though Handling was reduced a notch.

For the price, I opted to take the average of the "new" and "used" price points listed on the Wookieepedia article; given the overall speed and maneuverability of the ship in comparison to the YT-1300 (which is bigger and packs more firepower), this seems about right.

Overall, it makes a decent ship for a small group, being roughly on par with the Firespray.  It'd also make a nice ship for a two-person Alliance Mission Ops group, as proven by the duo of Kyle Katarn and Jan Ors of Dark Forces fame.

February 22, 2014

And back to Star Wars...

Okay, so got the musings on the Babylon 5 RPG out of my system, so back to all things Star Wars.

Over the past few weeks, LucasFilm/Disney has been releasing info on the main characters of the upcoming Rebels CGI animated series.  Now, I'll admit that my initial response to this was rather tepid, as The Clone Wars generally left me cold (I really didn't care for Ahsoka at all, and would have preferred the series to focus on Jedi other than Obi-Wan and Anakin).

But, as details started to come out, I found myself becoming more and more interested.  The fact that it takes place in the Dark Times Era (that 19 year time frame between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope) means that the showrunners and writers have a lot more free room to create their stories rather than trying to shoehorn them into the three-year span that was the Clone Wars.

There's also the matter that the lead characters of Rebels are all original characters, so no having to deal with pre-established leads that pretty much script immunity due to needing to appear in later films.  The hero list started with Chopper, an astromech that's supposed to be as far from Artoo-Detoo in terms of personality as you can get; Artoo's been compared to a loyal canine, where Chopper is more akin to a cat in temperament.  Next was Kanan, the "cowboy Jedi," and while several folks over on the FFG forums were upset that there was a Jedi character in the series, i can't say that I was surprised.  While FFG may have pushed Jedi PCs to the third rulebook (Force & Destiny), Jedi remain one of the most identifying elements of the Star Wars franchise.  However, Kanan is something of a "failed Jedi" in that while he survived Order 66, he's largely given up on being a Jedi, even going so far as to lock away his lightsaber.

The next character to be revealed gave me reason to chuckle.  Said character, Ezra Bridger, has been described as a street smart kid with untapped Force abilities... which is almost exactly the character I've been playing in a Sunday Skype game.  About the core difference is that while Ezra is pretty much clueless about the Force (he's only aware of his abilities as something that helps him get out of a tight spot), my character Valin was aware of the Force, being fortunate enough to receive a bit of training from a Jedi that survived Order 66 (I figure said tutor was a Padawan that managed to go underground rather than a Knight or full-fledged Master).  I know the similarities are very much accidental, but it still amused me.

There had been some concern from a few of the female Star Wars fans that I follow on Twitter (such as dunc of Club Jade and Amy Ratcliffe) that so far, all we'd seen were the guys, particularly after the ToyFair convention at which the only Rebels toys shown were for male characters, with only a few hints at a female Mandalorian as a new character.  Well, that's now changed as Sabine (female Mando explosive expert/graffiti artist) and Hera (Twi'lek pilot and "team mom" that's sensibly dressed) have gotten their official introductions.  There was a bit of concern that Sabine's introduction used a lot of feminine buzzwords such as "sassy" and "feisty" and "kind of a tomboy", but I think it bears mentioning that the person using those words was the voice actress portraying the character, while Dave Filoni instead focused on her being a Mandalorian and thus an expert fighter, while a few others expressed the cool factor of having a character that expresses themselves through art.

I must say, out of the characters, the two that I'm most interested in are Ezra and Sabine.  Ezra because frankly I enjoy playing teenage characters, particularly Force-sensitives when it comes to Star Wars RPGs; I've only played one character in various Star Wars RPGs that wasn't a young Force-user that wasn't for a one-shot using pre-gen characters.  Plus, I've already been playing a character very similar to Ezra, so it should be fun to imagine to myself "how would Valin handle this situation?" while watching the show.  I do agree that his look and backstory does merit the nickname "Space Aladdin," but given that I found Disney's Aladdin to be an enjoyable character, it's a comparison that doesn't bug me.

And Sabine because frankly, she looks to be something that the Star Wars franchise has been missing for a while... a strong female lead.  Princess Leia is a well-known character for a damn good reason, and has been cited as a role model for young girls as she's managed to be strong-willed and capable in addition to being a princess and being attractive without being reduced to mere fanservice (the slave bikini in RotJ only coming about due to Carrie Fisher asking for an outfit that let her show off her figure).  With Sabine, you've got an attractive young woman that's wearing armor (no exposed midriff) that's capable of kicking butt right alongside Kanan and Zeb.  In fact, she'd probably make a great basis for an RPG character in and of herself.  Earlier today I gabbed with a female gamer that (sadly) has sense moved out of the area, and she expressed a lot of enthusiasm for Sabine, even going so far to say that she regretted the move simply because she's not had any luck finding a new gaming group.  Which led to us discussing over Skype how to go about building Sabine as a PC.

Speaking of RPGs, what's interesting about the crew from Rebels is that on the surface, they look to be more at home in an Edge of the Empire style of game than an Age of Rebellion one.  The party is operating out of a light transport (The Ghost, a VCX-100), waging their own battle against the Empire.  Going by the Age of Rebellion Beta, a lot of the focus is on the PCs being a part of the Rebel Alliance and having notable support from the Alliance, particularly as they complete various missions.  However, having played the WEG version of Star Wars back in the day, the set-up of Rebels sounds very much like a "Mission Ops Group" as described in Galaxy Guide 9: Fragments from the Rim.  In short, a disparate group of individuals (the PCs) are lumped together into a team, provided with a light freighter (if they don't have one already) and given missions by the Alliance to investigate or derail various Imperial schemes.  Since Rebels takes place at a time when the Rebel Alliance hasn't quite formalized yet (or at least is not as we see them in the films), it makes sense that the crew of the Ghost are mostly operating on their own directives.

There's also the matter that Greg Weisman is one of the executive producers of the show, and given how much I've enjoyed his work, particularly on Gargoyles, Spectacular Spider-Man, and Young Justice, I'm hoping for the excellent characterizations for both heroes and villains that his shows have provided.  Though sadly, for all the talk of Joss Whedon getting screwed over by Fox in regards to Firefly (he was), Greg's had it worse, with many of his shows getting cancelled after one or two seasons, or going down the tubes if the show does make it past that two season mark (Gargoyles: Goliath Chronicles is a prime example of that).  I'm really hoping that Star Wars: Rebels bucks that trend, lasting for more than two seasons and maintaining a decent level of quality along the way.

Back to things pertaining to Star Wars RPGs, despite an earlier promise to myself that I was done and through with it, I've found myself returning to the Unofficial Species Menagerie, reviewing and revising a number of species as well as adding some new ones to the roster.  But I guess there must be something in the air, as my co-author on the project, Ben "Cyril" Erickson has gotten a similar urge to review his own contributions and devise a few new ones.  There's no telling when this would be finished, though I suspect it'll be a while.

I've also been poking around with my Ways of the Force supplement, in particular the Jedi Initiate.  Being able to get some actual play-time with the spec has lead to seeing where things could certainly be changed and revised, which I've done.  I'm also exploring taking some of the "minor powers" that I'd introduced and fleshing them out into full-blown Force power trees.  One of them has turned out pretty good, while the other is still very much a "work in progress."  Of course, what's going to make this interesting is that if the pattern holds true, then FFG should be releasing the Force & Destiny Beta rulebook at this year's GenCon.

Lastly, and I'm ashamed to admit this, but working on my contribution to Order 66 Kickstarter backer rewards had (until recently) stalled out.  I'd hit a number of snags, including losing a nearly-finished copy of the adventure once and narrowly avoiding losing my computer entirely, as well as hitting a (brief) span of time where I simply didn't want much to do with Star Wars RPGs.  Plus, it's hard to want to stare at a computer screen when you've just gotten home from a job that requires you to spend most of your day staring at a computer screen and trying to solve and sort out the problems that other people have created.  But, things have improved, as I've gotten over a major hurdle in the adventure's second act, and I've gotten a good start on the third and final act, which should go much smoother in terms of getting it written.  Of course, the issue becomes finding the time to write it, but with a bit of luck, I should have this done much sooner rather than a lot latter.

Also, it's only a few more weeks until I board a plan to head to Fort Worth, Texas to attend GamerNationCon, aka 3 Days of Gaming Goodness.  I'm looking forward to this, more to meet and hangout with folks that I mostly know through the d20 Radio Forums, but also for a chance to get some Star Wars gaming in, something I've not been able to really do since the Sunday game I was in went on hiatus.  I'm also running a couple of events and even helping table a seminar on RPG writing, so if nothing else I'll at least have those to keep me busy.

My next post will probably be in the wake of GNCon (at least at the rate I post on this blog), so see you in March.

Babylon 5 RPG - a few thoughts and rambling considerations

Yep, February.  Dismal month, with cold temps and lots of snowfall that needed to be cleaned up.

Most of my recent gaming posts have had to do with Star Wars RPGs, specifically FFG's Edge of the Empire, so I thought I might ramble a bit about a different sci-fi RPG setting, one that I've enjoyed quite a bit.

Like the subject line says, the RPG in question is the Babylon 5 RPG published by Mongoose Publishing, particularly the 2nd edition.  For me at least, this was the version of the game where things really started to gel into making this it's own RPG instead of yet another D&D knock-off.

For those of you that don't know about Babylon 5... shame on you.  It's one of the first TV series to prove that you could have a multi-season story arc built around an ensemble cast with elements from the earlier episodes tying back to episodes from later seasons.  It could easily sustain multiple plot arcs that while separate were not wholly divorced from the overall story.  It had characters grow and evolve over the seasons.  As the character G'Kar said during the first season,"Nobody here is exactly what they seem."

So onto the RPG, of which I've been re-reading due to a very high likelihood of getting to play this game for more than just a handful of sessions (hopefully).  The setting of Babylon 5 is a tricky one to bring to the gaming table, especially for being a d20 system.  When most folks here "d20 system" they tend to conclude that said game is focused predominantly upon combat.  But in B5, trying to simply brute-force your way to the solution isn't going to work; yes, there are times when a fighting pike or a PPG will help, but the series more often required the cast to out-think the opposition, or to come up with novel and unusual ways to achieve victory; when the latest Shadow War started, nobody in-series would have even begun to think of trying Sheridan's method to win the war for all time.

Personally, I think the best setting for a Babylon 5 campaign is after the events of the TV series.  Even if you take the short-lived Crusade series into mind, there's a nice five year window where the galaxy is in a relative state of peace, and the younger races are just starting to learn what it means to truly be in charge of their own destinies.  There's no major galaxy-spanning villains to be found, and the Interstellar Alliance is still in its infancy, though it does benefit from the leadership of Sheridan and Delenn as well as the support of the Rangers.  Even if the station itself doesn't make an appearance in your campaign, the fact that there's no scripted material for events taking place after the series helps give both GMs and players a greater sense of freedom in what sort of games they might like to run/play.  I know that there are supplementary books and other TV series that take place after the main series, but most of those can be easily and safely dismissed as "non-canon" for a GM's game.

One major challenge for a GM is one that often crops up in many RPGs... what exactly brings an EarthForce fighter jock, a Narn soldier, a Minbari telepath, and a Human covert agent into being a group?  With most fantasy RPGs, there's the common thread of "professional adventurers" in that their common goal is to find vicious monsters and slaughter them for XP and loot.  It's probably for the best that the GM have a basic structure in mind for their campaign, and let the PCs know about it so they can design characters with an eye towards "why would my PC take part in this?"

On the crunch side of things, there's some very interesting changes.  One immediate change is that the base classes are limited to 10 levels each; much like in d20 Modern, if you want to go beyond 10th level, you'll need to multi-class in order to pull it off.  Another big change is that hit point totals are a lot lower than you'll find in pretty much any other d20 game; most characters will be lucky to have more than 10 hit points at 1st level, and it'll be a great many more levels before they can really hope to break 20, much less 30.  Seeing as how the average handgun in this game does 2d6 damage, the system reflects how the lead characters in the TV series made finding cover one of their top priorities when a firefight broke out.

Several skills have been combined into a macro skill, making things a bit easier on PCs that want to be good at certain things, enabling them to do so without having to spread their skill points too far around.  These combinations include such popular things as rolling Spot and Listen into Notice as well as Balance and Tumbling into Acrobatics.  The game also accounts for this being a future setting, with new skills to govern dealing with technology or conducting various actions that wouldn't occur in your typical D&D fantasy setting.

Telepaths were a notable element of the B5 series, being very powerful as it was incredibly difficult for mundanes to block a telepath's abilities.  The RPG reflects that, and the higher a telepath's P-rating (roughly how strong a telepath is), the harder it becomes for a mundane to block them.  In an interesting arrangement, telepath PCs pretty much start out with access to all the telepathic powers presented, both in the core rulebook and in the Lurker's Guide to Telepaths supplement (which I suggest picking up if you can, as it adds a lot of options for PC teeps).  Of course, the drawback is that certain telepath powers require the user to have a minimum P-rating in order to pull them off; while a telepath can "push" their abilities to a limited extent, a lot of the really major powers are probably going to remain out reach of most telepath PCs, particularly if they don't take advantage of the Telepath class' 1st level option to forego a bonus feat in exchange for a hefty boost to their P-rating.

But while going through the book, I noted some things that were part of why I grew dissatisfied and generally disinterested in most d20 systems (Star Wars Saga Edition being the major exception).  There was the "favored class" restriction, which for a game that seems structured to favor and encourage multi-classing felt unnecessarily restrictive.  And most importantly, there was the skill point system, which again was problematic for a game where your skills are far more important to solving a crisis than your attack bonus or weapon selection or even telepathic powers.

Oddly enough, I found myself looking to Paizo's Pathfinder for solutions to some of those issues.  For starters, the skill system could easily be replaced with the Pathfinder system, which simply does away with the Level+3 cap for skills and increased cost for cross-class skills, and instead uses a flat cost of 1 skill point per rank, and with class skills getting a +3 bonus to the check modifier.  To be honest, this is the one thing I truly liked about Pathfinder, and something I'd probably carry over into any d20-based game I were to run that wasn't Saga Edition.

The other Pathfinder solution was how they handled favored classes, which simply does away with the penalty aspect and instead provides the PC their choice of a bonus skill point or a bonus hit point if they take a level in their favored class.  While Pathfinder simply cites that whatever class you took at first level is your favored class, for Babylon 5 RPG I might consider keeping the favored classes listed for each of the races, with Humans using the "class at first level is your favored class."  Since this is a game that's more focused on your skills, I could see players opting for that extra skill point, although the extra hit point would be enticing given the low hit point totals that I mentioned earlier.

Now, I've gotten to play this game a few times before, in a rather short-lived campaign set around the time of the Crusade series and based around Andromeda Station, an Earth Alliance station that served as both EarthForce staging point and trade center; sort of like a mini-B5, but lacking the diplomatic importance of the titular station.  Our group was comprised of 3rd level characters, with myself playing a Human Ranger that was on undercover assignment to investigate a smuggling cartel that was rumored to be dealing in Shadow technology.

Now, by the end of the first session, the simple fact that combat is so dangerous was made very clear when the Narn soldier/bodyguard rushed out to face a trio of thugs armed with cheap PPG pistols.  The Narn was critically wounded and crippled by the end of the first volley, having not even managed to get within 20 feet of the thugs; it was a fact that the Centauri exiled noble took a great deal of delight in, given the almost instant animosity between the two characters (in-game only, the players were long-time friends in real life).  It was through employing Batman-like tactics that my Ranger was able to take down two of the thugs, freeing up the Centauri and the Human bounty huntress to dispatch the third one... and they never knew I was there ;)  We only played one additional session after that before we opted to move onto something else (what it was, I don't remember), so there were a lot of potential plot hooks that never got resolved, such as the Centauri exile trying to clear the name of his noble house, the bounty huntress to track down a war criminal that she had some personal history with, or my Ranger's mission to find out just what those smugglers were dealing in.  A shame really, as there undoubtedly could have been some great stories told in that campaign.

So, as mentioned prior, odds are certainly looking to be in my favor of playing this game again.  I've already had made the two Pathfinder-based suggestions to the GM, and he was certainly in favor of them.  He did mention about maybe bringing in the Combat Maneuver system from Pathfinder as well to replace the grapple/disarm/trip business that's caused no shortage of headaches for d20 gamers, but that remains to be seen.  There hasn't been much talk about what the campaign is going to be about, which does have me concerned a little given what I mentioned before about how a widely disparate group of characters can lead to some issues in the game's direction.  However, the GM is a friend of mine, and I'm willing to trust his discretion on this.  Though admittedly part of that is that he's approved my re-purposing my Human Ranger from the prior campaign for this one, making the necessary updates to bring him to 4th level and to account for using the Pathfinder method of skills.  I figure I'm going to wind up taking the bonus skill points for staying in my character's favored class, since to be a competent Ranger you need to cover a lot of ground when it comes to skills.

So far I only know of one other character, that one being a female Human telepath.  Given the player in question has a habit of playing social-savvy femme fatales (seriously, I can count on one hand the number of character she's played that weren't that), I suspect she'll be a high Charisma hottie and likely adept at using her telepathic prowess to enhance her social acumen.  There's also been a running gag that when she and I are in the same game, our PCs tend to hook-up; given that she'll be a telepath and I'm playing a Ranger, be interesting to see how that shakes out.