November 16, 2018

Welcome to the Wizarding World, Mister Potter

So given that the second installment of the Fantastic Beasts film series (aka the "we're giving you backstory on the Potterverse!" films) has just hit theaters, as well as the fact that Chris "GM Chris" Witt has released his Harry Potter Genesys theme to the masses (link to be found below), I thought it'd be appropriate to publish a collection of pre-generated Hogwarts students that I've used for a couple of one-shots that I've run using said Genesys theme.

You've already seen one of them, a young chap by the name of Timothy Barnett, an adventurous young Gryffindor with a mild penchant for mischief.  But now is perhaps a good time to present a few of the other students in his year from various other Hogwarts Houses.

When I initially came up with these characters, I had originally figured that they would be having their adventures a few years after the events of the Second Wizarding War as detailed in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, and that it had been at least a few years since Voldemort's final defeat.  With that said, for the first one-shot I ran with these characters I set their doings during Harry's third year at Hogwarts (when things were still fairly innocent and Voldemort was a not much of a threat to the wizarding world), if only for the chance for me to portray Professor Snape as the horrible person that he was to students, especially those who got into trouble.

It's also worth noting that I initially conceived each of these characters as being First Year students, fairly fresh off the Hogwarts Express and with plenty to learn.  But given how Genesys operates, they just felt too competent for a group of eleven year olds, so I opted to bump them up to being Third Year students, putting them all at about thirteen years old; this way they're capable without seeming ridiculously so, but also still have a lot of room to grow.

You can of course download the Harry Potter and the Theme for Genesys file from the d20 Radio BackerZone page, with the link located under the "2017 Content" header.

And now, on to our students...

Dedrick Bigglesworth, Hufflepuff Athlete

To put it plainly, Dedrick is a jock with a focus on the wizarding sport of Quidditch; he's not very good at casting spells, but can get by when it comes to low-end magics.  Though he's a pureblood by birth, he really doesn't have any of the more negative traits that many of the pureblood families and students are shown to have in the books.  That doesn't mean muggleborns and muggle society won't leave him as baffled as they do Ron Weasley.

Emmamanelle "Emma" Falk
So Emma is actually the second of the first series of characters I made using GM Chris' Genesys Harry Potter theme, and drew inspiration from a dear friend of mine, that being Nateal "Tariel" Falk.  Emma's big thing is her fondness and knowledge of animals, especially the fantastic beasts and magical creatures that populate the world of Harry Potter, but she's also by far the sunniest and most cheerful of the students.  She is a bit of a "squishy wizard" but can play well as support and help get people to see her side of things.

Issac Tobin, Ravenclaw Academic
Yeah, I'll admit to going with the stereotype and making the Ravenclaw representative being both a bookworm and very much the brains of the party.  He is a bit of a genderflip on Hermione, being that he's a muggleborn who is probably far more knowledgeable about the wizarding world than many of his peers who were born and raised in it, but he's much more shy and reserved than the much more outgoing and frankly bossy Hermione; he's much happier with his nose in a book thank you very much.  He's not adept at the flashier sort of magics, and works best when trying to think his way around a problem as opposed to just blasting it.

Selene Vale, Slytherin Potioneer
So originally, Selena started out as being more of a "social expert" who was better at getting people to do what she wanted with words and manipulation before I decided to toss that and embrace yet another stereotype of the Slytherin who excelled at potions.  However, she does still have some traces of her original concept, from being able to drop the occasional zinger to put others at a disadvantage in social encounters and a fairly strong base for most social checks she might have to make.  She does break the mold a bit by being a half-blood, since to my mind in the wake of Voldemort's defeat it made sense that Slytherin would dial it back regarding pureblood mania.  Selena's not inherently ruthless but she is pragmatic, such as having the right potion on hand at the right time.

Timothy Barnett, Gryffindor Opportunist
The first character I'd written up for this Genesys theme, Tim very much is not the typical "brave and forthright Gryffindor" that many folks would presume a student of that house to be.  Now of course, you've got the Weasley Twins and the Marauders for examples of generally well-meaning Gryffindors who managed to get into loads of mischief during their school years, to say nothing of what Harry got up to, especially during his second year, in the course of doing what was right.  So in that respect, Tim is following a fine Gryffindor tradition of getting into mischief but not doing so out of malice, and he's quite good at it, though he is a bit lacking in the raw physicality department.  Magically speaking, he's got a number of tricks up his sleeve and is broadly capable, as long as you don't ask him to do any serious potions work.  And by making a third year student as opposed to a somewhat more naive (for a given value of the word) first year, it's easier to explain why Tim has a bit of a record for getting into mischief at school, as he's quite good at getting into the exact sort of situations that more sensible students would prefer to avoid; if played right, he should be the one dragging the rest of group into whatever adventure is at hand.

And there we have a quintet of third year students of the illustrious Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizadry, each of them with their own strengths to contribute to whatever sort of adventures a group of young students might find themselves drawn into during the course of the school year.

You can download the zip file with their respective character sheets from here:
Harry Potter Genesys Pregenerated Characters

All character images were made using Hogwarts Student Maker, found on the Doll Divine website here:

August 27, 2018

Thoughts on Warhammer Fantasy Role Play 4th Edition

So to switch gears a bit (apart from the actually posting), rather than jawing about the Star Wars RPG I'll be giving my thoughts on the newest edition of the Warhammer Fantasy Role Play, published by Cubicle 7.  I won't be going into exacting details on the mechanics, just sort of an overview.

For a bit of background, I got my proper introduction to WFRP with the second edition created by Green Ronin.  I had a good deal of fun with the small handful of characters I got to play, in particular a Bretonnian Knight Errant and a Human Protagonist (i.e. professional bully).

The world of WFRP is is much darker than your typical fantasy RPG setting, with magic being (ostensibly) a very rare and unusual thing, with the general tech level being around early Renaissance with some steampunk elements, mostly revolving around gunpowder weapons.  Also, the PC are not going to be grand heroes saving the world; in fact the best summary I've heard for WFRP is "the world's finest crappy peasant simulator" since most PCs are going to start off being on the lower end of the social strata and will be lucky to have a decent weapon or a leather vest.  You can read more about the game's history and elements of of the setting here.

So now the preamble's out of the way, on to what my thoughts are with the latest edition of "the world's finest crappy peasant simulator."  Overall, I like the tweaks made between 2e and 4e (sorry, but just couldn't get into the Fantasy Flight Games edition as it felt far too gimmicky and too much like a board game than a proper RPG).  I've only played two sessions thus far, having rolled up a Human Protagonist (what can I say, I love the entire concept of the career) for the group.

One notable change right off the bat is that it's officially part of the rules that you can either roll randomly to determine things like your race and your starting career or you can pick what you want.  However, if you opt to go with the random roll method, your awarded with a bit of bonus XP for each part of the process that you go with the rolled result; it's not a huge amount, but it's a nice little bonus to allow a little extra tweaking to your PC in the early going.

An issue that plagued the first and second editions was the "whiff factor" given that for most trained skills a PC would typically need to roll under a 35 on percentile dice, meaning that unless your had circumstantial bonuses you were more likely to flub the roll, which got especially tedious with combat as you could go several rounds of two opponents swinging and missing at each other.  What 4e has done is changed skills so that they now have ranks (or Advances as this game calls them) that give you a bonus to your value, meaning that as a PC gains more XP they can get better at the skills in their career; starting PCs still won't be amazing but at least there's a definite improvement track.

Talents have gotten a significant overall, as many of them are now ranked and provide a small bonus to successful tests 

Another tweak is to combat itself, where melee fighting is now an opposed check, with the attack hitting if the aggressor gets the better degree of success.  Also changed is the introduction of Advantage, with each point you have giving you a bonus to your combat checks.  Defending against attacks have been expanded, so that a creative player has a bevy of options available to them to protect against people trying to cave their face in, which is nice.

Combat overall feels a bit more dangerous, as every successful attack will inflict at least 1 point of damage no matter how good your armor rating it, so the much maligned "naked dwarf syndrome" of 1e has been averted, though it will still take a while to chip away at the health of foes with a high Wounds total.  Also, if you roll doubles on a successful attack (or even a successful defense) you inflict a critical hit, which can lead to some really nasty injuries that will linger for quite some time if nobody in the group is a trained healer.  So much like 2e, getting into a fight can have some nasty consequences beyond losing health points even if you win, which will definitely come to a shock to those players used to a "kick in the door" style of play.

Spellcasting has gotten quite a revamp, now requiring a skill check, with the more advanced spells needing a better degree of success.  It's definitely a bit more complicated than 1e or 2e, but if you do really well on the skill check with the lower power spells, you can get a greater degree of effect.

Now I've only played a couple of sessions so far, with the GM running us through a converted 2e adventure (don't know which one), but it's been pretty fun thus far, starting off with a bar brawl to ease us into how combat worked without too drastic of consequences, leading then into a investigative segment where we had to exonerate an innocent farmer that a local (and not very trustworthy) bounty hunter looking for a quick payday by claiming the farmer was a local bandit that'd been causing problems, and leading to a rather intense social encounter between the us and the bounty hunter as each side made their case to the local road warden.  Next portion had us on the road after liberating the farmer and the disreputable bounty hunter winding up with a heck of a black eye (literally and figuratively), and then getting roped into rescuing a little girl who'd been snatched up by bandits and was apparently the illegitimate daughter of a local noble baron, only to find the bandits had been ambushed by a band of goblins that had taken the little girl as a prisoner.  Our attempts at being sneaky and distract/scare off the goblins didn't really work out so well, leading to our Halfling Rat Catcher catching a nasty head wound from the lead goblin, though we managed to flee away with a couple of horses and the rightly terrified little girl, which itself lead to an amusing situation with the Witch having to deal with calming down the little girl at least enough that she wasn't screaming as we made our speedy escape from the pursuing goblins.  Of course, now we have to bring the girl to her father, which I'm sure that given this is WFRP is going to go swimmingly.

Overall, I've been enjoying playing this system.  It's definitely a bit more on the gritty side, and I will admit it's kind of fun to play a PC that's not the typical noble and upstanding individual, and instead embracing that fact that my character in this group is a boisterous rapscallion with a penchant for punching folks in very uncomfortable places.

July 4, 2018

Y2K-class Light Freighter - A New Ride for FFG Star Wars

Firstly, to my fellow American residents, a happy Fourth of July.  While our nation's current state of affairs is tumultuous (to put it mildly), as a young nation (at least when compared to Europe) we've still managed to accomplish quite a bit for what was once derided as "The Great Experiment."  So that at least we can celebrate.  There's still a long ways to go, but I'm hopeful we'll get there sooner rather than later.

Now, while it might not be May the Fourth, it's still appropriate to say that the Fourth will be with you, so in that vein I'm posting up a little something I threw together not that long ago.

Over on the FFG Star Wars RPG forums, a thread cropped up with a newer member asking for some suggestions on how to stat up a ship design they'd found on the interwebz, jokingly calling said ship a "Falcon Junior."  Dubbed the Y2K Peregrine by Miniature Scenery, it's actually a pretty neat looking ship, and to my mind would indeed be perfect for a small group of PCs, probably no more than two or three characters as a starting ship, perhaps especially for a Force and Destiny group, who frankly don't have a lot of options when it comes to available starting craft due to the limit of a 70K credit price tag.

The thread's OP was initially just using the stats of the JumpMaster 5000 (which still holds a place of amusement in my brain for reasons) as the baseline, but the JM-5K is designed more as a scout ship than any sort of cargo-carrying craft.  So I thought I'd take a stab at coming up with a set of stats for this "baby YT-1300" that set it apart at least somewhat from the JumpMaster.

So one point of contention in the forum thread was the Silhouette, with a few folks being rather insistent that based upon their calculation of the ship's measurements that it must be Silhouette 3 and no bigger.  However, given that Silhouette 3 is pretty much the domain of starfighters and the Y2K freighter is a lot wider compared to most starships, I felt that this fits into the lower end of Silhouette 4 and is better suited for a ship that's designed to haul cargo.  I also wanted something that wasn't a flying death trap in case the PCs wind up getting into a starship battle, so making the ship Silhouette 4 also justified a higher Hull Trauma threshold than a Silhouette 3 ship would generally have.  The initial armament isn't great, but it's serviceable and it wouldn't be too hard to swap it out for a quad laser cannon at some point down the road; admittedly I was tempted to give the ship a quad laser cannon as the default weapon, but I felt the ship had enough going for it already that it didn't need an awesome gun right off the bat.

I won't bore you with too much more of the creative thought processes that went into coming up with these stats, as if you take a look you can see where the stats for the JumpMaster 5000 had a strong influence on the stat block for the Y2K-class light freighter.

Y2K-class Light Freighter

Designed and put into production a few years after the end of the Clone Wars and the formation of the Galactic Empire, Corellian Engineering Corporation sought to create a smaller-scale version of their venerable YT-series of freighters, which were beginning to show their age.  Applying lessons learned over the decades, the design team for the Y2K-series strove to design a courier-vessel, opting to skimp on the frills and focus on functionality.

Unfortunately, not unlike Kuat Systems Engineering's much-maligned S40K Phoenix Hawk-class Light Pinnace, the Y2K-class crew compartments were considered cramped even though it was spacious in terms of cargo hold.  While most independent freighter pilots aren't overly concerned with having luxury accommodations, the Y2K-series' crew berths were certainly not a major selling point.  What the Y2K-series did have was a high-performance ion drive that was reliable and needed far less maintenance than similar models, and while the hypedrive is not exceptional it too is very reliable.  Instead of the more typical single laser cannon that ships of the YT-series featured, the Y2K-series comes standard with a twin blaster cannon, allowing it to more easily pass the Empire's increasingly strict weapon restrictions.  The Y2K-series is surprisingly robust and nimble for a ship of it's size; a Y2K-series freighter won't be doing loops around your typical starfighter, but it won't be easy prey for raiders and pirates either.  Unfortunately, even CEC's long reputation of easily modifiable craft couldn't overcome the ship's reduced size, and the Y2K-series isn't nearly as welcoming of modifications as many other CEC designs.

Unfortunately, CEC's core market weren't overly interested in what amounted to a cramped courier vessel, even at the deeply-discounted price the ship was being sold at, and production ceased after only a couple years.  While replacement parts for this specific make of freighter are becoming increasingly scarce, the Y2K-series is surprisingly accepting of parts and components made for the YT-series, allowing this small and largely overlooked ship design to continue to operate and even thrive long after CEC had forgotten about it and moved on to other, more profitable ship designs.

May 25, 2018

Some Force & Destiny rules tweaks (Star Wars RPG)

Yeah, yeah, I missed "May the Fourth" in terms of posting something relating to the wide world of Star Wars geekdom.  Still, given that Solo is officially released today here in the U.S., I figure a Star Wars themed RPG post is acceptable.

Far warning, this post is going to be a bit on the lengthy side, not due to the volume of things being tweaked, but more due to explanations of the reasoning behind why the tweaks were made in the first place.  That and the matter that the bulk of what I'd consider my rules tweaks for Fantasy Flight Games' Star Wars Force and Destiny RPG is covered in version 2.0 of my old Ways of the Force fan supplement.

Now to be clear, I consider the FFG Star Wars RPG to be a pretty solid system, one that can be run very well without a single house rule needing to be made or implemented.  I've played and run a number of games, from one-shots at conventions to campaigns of varying lengths, and not once have I been disappointed beyond a rare string of crappy dice rolls, but that's more an issue with the Star Wars dice roller apps generally not liking me than any sort of fault of the system.

That's not to say there's elements that I don't think could be tweaked a bit, such as the revised talent trees that I posted a while back for the Ataru Striker, Shii-Cho Knight, and Soresu Defender specializations (you can check them out here), or things that could be added such as the inclusion of synthetic lightsaber crystals (much as I like Dave Filoni's work on Star Wars Rebels, I disagree on the notion that synthetic 'saber crystals are emphatically not a thing in the new canon).

I've been working on most of these for a while, running a series of test combats as well as using them in live game sessions where possible.  Some of what I'm posting below is fairly minor, some of it less so.  But, enough prattling, on to the house rules...

Deception checks are now opposed by Vigilance instead of Discipline
Okay, so this isn't so much a house rule as adopting a rules element from FFG's Genesys RPG, one that I happen to like.  This change/update/tweak takes some of the value off of Discipline, which is already pretty solid since it's used to resist Coercion and fear, is the default skill for Force powers when a skill check is required, and can be used to recover strain.  As a result, Vigilance becomes a bit more than the "roll initiative" or "resist an ambush" skill.

So like I posted last year when discussing the various Lightsaber Form specializations, the Feint talent for a Makashi Duelist is problematic because given how the game's combat system works, said talent is likely to be become less and less useful.  Reason being that combat is skewed towards making it harder to avoid getting hit than it is to be able to hit your opponent.  And since as written Feint requires you to miss on a melee-based combat check, that means that the talent is going to see less and less use as your character gets better at using a lightsaber, which is bad since Feint is the Makashi Duelist's primary defensive talent.

So my suggested tweak is to re-word the talent's effects to read as follows:

F&D pg82 (short description)
Spend Triumph or 3 Advantage when making a melee combat check against an opponent to upgrade the difficulty of the opponent's next melee combat check targeting the character during this encounter by the character's ranks in Feint.

F&D pg142 (full description)
When making a Lightsaber, Brawl, or Melee combat check against an opponent, the character may spend Triumph or 3 Advantage to upgrade the difficulty of the opponent's next Lightsaber, Brawl, or Melee combat check targeting the character during this encounter by the character's ranks in Feint.

In short, make it so that Feint can be spent whether you hit or miss, but as a trade-off the effects only apply if the opponent themselves is making a melee-based attack, which makes sense for a combat form that is built entirely around dueling; Feint should be zero help if the other guy decides to draw a blaster or throw a grenade at you.

Defensive Circle
So after some pondering based upon observations of the Soresu Defender PC in my current F&D campaign, I've decided that this talent needs a bit of a tweak to make it more viable as a tactic.  While on paper it looks pretty good as written, the stumbling block comes when you've got a party where most everyone is wearing armor that provides defense or routinely takes cover when the blaster bolts start flying.  Even more so is the fact that you're rolling against a Hard difficulty, meaning you're probably not going to be getting a lot of Advantage to spend if you succeed on the Lightsaber (Intellect) check that the talent requires.  This is a rules tweak that I've tested in live play sessions, and it's worked out pretty well as it lets the PC be a "defender" for the party without having to min-max his Lightsaber skill or Intellect in order for the talent to be worth the XP.  So for this tweak, the rules text would be re-worded as follows:

F&D pg77 (short description)
Make a Hard difficulty Lightsaber (Intellect) check as an action.  The character plus one ally within short range per uncancelled success increases their defense by 1 until the beginning of next turn.  Increase defense bonus by 1 per 2 Advantage.

F&D pg141 (full description)
Force Talent: While wielding a lightsaber, the character may take the Defensive Circle action, making a Hard difficulty Lightsaber (Intellect) check.  If successful, the character plus one ally within short range per uncancelled success increases their current ranged and melee defense by 1 until the beginning of the character's next turn.  Increase the bonus to defense by 1 for every 2 Advantage.

With the most recent FAQ adding some needed clarification on defense stacking as well as a hard cap on how high a character's defense can get, the rewording of Defensive Circle now allows for the character to help out his party members who are benefiting from armor defense or cover, but not to such an extreme degree that enemy dice pools are loaded with setback dice thanks to the hard cap that's now in place.

Strategic Form
So another Soresu Defender talent, this one caught my eye as at a later date I will be entering into a friend's F&D-themed campaign using a character that has this as his starting specialization.  While he's only at Knight Level in terms of XP, I did take a look at other talents in the tree, especially since the GM is keeping things fairly close to RAW with regards to specializations.  For me, the problem with this talent is there's an entire Signature Ability called Fated Duel, which is for the Guardian career, that does a lot of what Strategic Form does (forces an enemy to attack you and only you), but does it in such a way that the Soresu PC isn't suddenly overwhelmed.  Which, given my experiences with Feint above as well as general play regarding the strain cost of Parry and Reflect, means that a Soresu Defender using Strategic Form as written is pretty much drawing aggro like crazy and more likely than not will be taken out of action before they get another chance to act, either from burning strain to fuel Parry and especially Reflect or from the sheer volume of wounds taken.

Now, as I mentioned under Defensive Circle above, one of the key tenets of Soresu is don't get hit, but is also to use those defensive motions to create opportunities for the Soresu user to make their own attacks while weathering the storm of their opponents' offense.  As written, Strategic Form does neither of these, and instead it really just paints a huge bullseye on the character's chest, making it more of a desperation tactic than something the player would want to use.  Yeah, the talent's tucked into the top corner of the spec, so the player doesn't have to purchase Strategic Form if they don't want to, but it's location does mean that you'd either need to buy it anyway or purchase and go through a second Guardian specialization if you wanted the previously mentioned Fated Duel Signature Ability.  So, my proposed revision to the talent is such:

F&D pg77 (short description)
Make a Hard difficulty Lightsaber (Intellect) check as an action, rolling Force dice no greater than Force rating.  Add 1 Threat to results of combat checks targeting the character until the beginning of next turn; add additional Threat per 2 Success.  Spend Force point to recover one strain.

F&D pg152 (full description)
Force Talent: While wielding a Lightsaber weapon, the character may take the Strategic Form action, making a Hard difficulty Lightsaber (Intellect) check and rolling Force dice no greater than Force rating as part of the check.  If the check is successful, add 1 Threat to results of any combat checks targeting the character until the beginning of the character's next turn, adding additional Threat per 2 Success generated on the check.  The character may spend Force point to recover one strain.

So with this revamp of the talent, Soresu Defender now has a tactic that lets them "weather the storm" (recoup strain used to fuel Parry and Reflect) while creating openings for them to exploit by making it more likely they'll be able to trigger Improved Parry and/or Improved Reflect, which is going to be the main way a Soresu Defender PC is able to make attacks seeing as how using this talent causes them to forfeit their action, and thus pass on attacking with what is probably one of the most devastating close-quarters weapons in the game, especially if they're using a highly-modded Ilum or Mephite crystal (which given Intellect is one of their key characteristics is fairly likely).

Most of this is actually tweaks to some of the previous homebrew material I previously published in Ways of the Force rather than tweaks to officially published FFG material.

Adegan Crystal (Lightsaber Attachment)
Okay, so this originally began as a "starter crystal" option for GMs that were hesitant about handing out some of the potentially more potent crystals early in the campaign.  However, given the lore behind Adegan crystals over in Legends, and how they were standard for the Jedi prior to the discovery of Ilum, I felt I was underselling them.  Now granted there are a number of varieties of Adegan crystals, from the Pontite and Mephite to the lowly Katharcite, but I ultimately wanted to keep things more on the simpler side rather than have several different types of Adegan crystals.  I also wanted something that had a bit more punching power than the Athiss Cave crystals from the F&D Beta adventure Lost Knowledge, which are themselves excellent starter crystals for a group of aspiring 'saber monkeys.

So here's an updated version of the Adegan crystal, one that's more potent than the WotF version, but not as potentially potent as a fully-modded Ilum crystal:

Adegan Crystal Base Modifiers: Installing this crystal changes a lightsaber's base damage to 6 and critical rating to 2, and the lightsaber gains the Breach 1 and Sunder qualities.  If the crystal is ever removed, the lightsaber loses these qualities and reverts to its previous base damage and critical rating. Modifications: 3 Damage +1 Mods, 1 Decrease the weapon's critical rating by 1 to a minimum of 1 Mod, 1 Item Quality (Vicious +1) Mods. Hard Points Required: 2 Cost: 8,000 credits Rarity: 10 (R)

So main changes are an extra damage mod, one less rank of Vicious, a mod to get the crit rating down to 1 as well as an increase in both price and rarity owing to the increased power of the crystal.

Now, having pretty much removed Adegan crystals as a lower-end "starter crystal," that left me with something of a blank space in that regard.  I still wanted something that a player whose character was designed to be a lightsaber wielder could have that wasn't as timid as the training emitter but wouldn't give novice GMs pause by providing the Breach 1 quality.  The answer was found in the lore for the Tapani lightfoil, in particular the modern versions of the weapon, which per Legends are effectively novelty store knock-offs of a proper lightsabers, not being nearly as well made and employing sub-standard or synthetic focusing lenses.  And so was born...

Synthetic Focusing Lens Base Modifiers: Installing this crystal changes a lightsaber's base damage to 6 and critical rating to 3, and the lightsaber gains the Pierce 1 quality.  If the crystal is ever removed, the lightsaber loses these qualities and reverts to its previous base damage and critical rating. Modifications: 1 Damage +1 Mod, 1 Decrease the weapon's critical rating by 1 to a minimum of 1 Mod, 1 Item Quality (Pierce +1) Mod, 1 Item Quality (Vicious +1) Mod. Hard Points Required: 2 Cost: 500 credits Rarity: 8 (R)

So yeah, definitely a good deal more heft than the training emitter, given the potential to make this a Damage 7 with Pierce 2 weapon, but not as potent as a full kyber crystal, making a nice midpoint between the two.  I'm not 100% settled on the price, as a part of me thinks 500 credits is too cheap, but I still want this to be something a starting character could begin play with.

And much like building a training emitter as detailed in the sidebar of the Lightsaber crafting rules from Endless Vigil, it'd take an Average difficulty Mechanics check and 150 credits' worth of parts to build a synthetic focusing lens.

Force Powers
And this is the part where I'm likely due to irk some folks, as one of the powers that I've been working on tweaking is the Move power.  However, unlike a number of folks that have sought to water down the power based solely upon their presumptions of how potent Move is (9.9 times out of 10, the naysayers are using hypothetical examples of PCs with either awesome dice luck to be constantly rolling double light side pips or a few hundred XP invested in both Move and getting to Force Rating 3 or higher), what I've been testing over the past several months probably makes this most contentious of Force powers a bit more powerful, at least in the early going.  But more on that in a moment.

Okay, full disclosure, there's been two things with Enhance as written that have irked me.  The first is that leaping horizontally and vertically are split into two separate Control upgrades.  The second is that as the effect is written (and was confirmed by Sam Stewart during one of his guest appearances on the Order 66 podcast), you can't use a Force leap to engage or disengage with an opponent, meaning that you'd have to spend at least one maneuver to either disengage and then Force leap away, or Force leap in and spend a maneuver to engage.

So, my tweak to Enhance is to address both of those points, first by rolling the "leap horizontal" and "leap vertical" Control upgrades into a single Control upgrade that reads as follows:

Control Upgrade: Take a Force Leap action to make an Enhance power check.  The user may spend Force point to jump to any location with short range, ignoring obstacles and difficult or impassible terrain.  The user may not activate this multiple times.
(if using OggDude's awesome character generator, you can label this as Control: Force Leap)

Now, that leaves an empty slot where the "leap vertical" Control upgrade used to sit.  This is easily filled in with the following:

Control Upgrade: When taking the Force Leap action, the user may disengage from or engage with another character as part of the action.  Cost = 10XP

I've not really tested this outside of a few test combats, but given that for the longest time I'd been allowing a character to use this power to engage/disengage without problem, I don't foresee any major issues with implementing this revision.

And here we go, the tweak regarding the one Force power that's drawn all sorts of concern and consternation from many folks who are going on pure speculation of how "overpowered" this power is compared to the reality where it's not nearly as potent as it looks on paper.

Now way back in the EotE Beta days, I had toyed with the notion of incorporating an inherent "attack" ability into the base Move power, much like a character trained in Use the Force could do in WotC's Saga Edition game.  That never made it past the concept phase, until last year when I was working on a bunch of Force user pre-gens for the Star Wars module I ran at this past April's GamerNationCon, when it struck me that none of the PCs (who were originally Padawans of the Jedi Order) had the ability to make ranged attacks.  Yes, most of them had lightsabers, but nobody could really attack at a distance if the situation called for it, something that I recalled happened to Chris "GM Chris" Witt of Order 66 podcast fame during one of his initial Saga Edition games, which resulted in a frustrating experience for players and GM alike. Of course, the tricky part was "how do I balance this without making Move too powerful?"  The answer proved to be deceptively simple once I stopped obsessing over it.

So, my tweak to the Move basic power is as follows:

Basic Power: The user may spend Force point to move or hurl one object of Silhouette 0 that is within short range up to his maximum range.  Hurling an object is a ranged attack using an Easy difficulty Discipline check combined with a Move power check, and deals 5 damage if successful.  The default range is short range.  May not be activated multiple times.

So, the offset is that while you can now use Move to attack as part of the basic power, it's no longer a Discipline check with no difficulty dice, meaning the attack is generally going to do less damage or not generate as much Advantage as said attack would under the rules as written.  And this change has actually seen play at the table, both in the con session I ran (though most of the players were too eager to use their lightsabers to attack than hurl small objects) and in a recent campaign a friend of mine is running.  Thus far, it's not proved to be unbalanced in the slightest, and the increased difficulty actually helps address a point of concern with throwing bigger objects (see below).

Now, with removing the "hurl objects" Control upgrade, that leaves a blank spot in the power tree, which similar to Enhance is rather easily patched with the following:

Control: The target of an attack mad with a hurled object is disoriented for a number of rounds equal to the number of Force points spent on the power check.  Cost = 10XP

I took this idea from the Bind power in that any damage the base Bind power inflicts is determined by the number of Force points spent on fueling the power, so long as at least one of them came from a dark side pip.  Yes, there is potential for a target to be disoriented for several rounds by a powerful Force user, but as being disoriented only adds a setback die to checks, and can itself be overcome with various talents or even equipment upgrades (such as the custom hilt attachment), that's not too big of a concern.

Now, by rolling the "hurl objects to deal damage" Control upgrade into the basic power, this necessitates some rewording of the Magnitude and Strength upgrades, such as:

Magnitude (add the following sentence): If hurling multiple objects or attacking multiple targets, the attack uses the rules for the Auto-fire quality.

Strength (add the following sentence): When hurled, damage is equal to ten times the object's silhouette and the base difficulty is increased by the object's silhouette.

Magnitude isn't really changed so much as relocating verbiage from the "hurl objects" Control upgrade regarding attacking multiple objects or attacking multiple targets.

Now with the Strength upgrade, this actually addresses one of the concerns with the difficulty (or lack thereof) for hurling around larger objects and doing considerably more damage.  As one of my friends put it, the increased difficulty made it so that the tactic of hurling multiple silhouette 1 objects (base damage of 10 each per hit) at only 2 difficulty is no longer an easily accomplished thing.  This change also happens to make it so that hurling anything above silhouette 4 falls under the purview of "impossible tasks" and can only be attempted by flipping a Destiny Point, which since you're limited to one Destiny Point expenditure per skill check means that you'd be stuck with whatever pips your Force dice rolled, meaning you'd be unable to convert them if the wrong flavor comes up.  This puts tossing around truly colossal objects is the realm of the very powerful among Force users, and won't be the sort of thing that player-characters will be able to pull off until they've invested a whole lot of XP into both increasing their Force rating and investing in the Move power.

Okay, that's enough of my rambling on about what my more recent bouts of incessant tinker-monkeying have wrought.

I'm off to go what Solo, which if nothing else I expect to be a fun romp in the Star Wars universe.  To be fair, I was never a huge fan of Han Solo as a kid, so I don't have any sort of emotional investment in the character for the film to trample on, and thus no real expectations for how things are going to turn out beyond Han and Chewing taking ownership of the Falcon and Lando being ticked off about them making off with "his" ship.

April 27, 2018

Revisiting the Unofficial Species Menagerie - Squibs

So several days ago, while helping a budding GM and new players build their characters for their first foray into Fantasy Flight Games' Star Wars Roleplaying Game, I wound digging up up an older entry into the aging Unofficial Species Menagerie that Ben "Cyril" Erickson and I had collaborated on a surprising number of years ago. 

The species in question was the Squib, which you can read about on Wookieepedia here.  I'm not entirely sure what exactly it is that made these goofy little fuzzballs so endearing to me, but I am certain I can blame Kevin "Rikoshi" Frane for cementing just how off-the-wall awesome the species can be in the hands of the right player.

So, in light of unleashing the Squibs on an unsuspecting gaming group, which sadly I won't there to witness the initial fallout of this action as I'm not a player (at least not at the moment), I decided to look back and reassess the species based upon what I've learned about this system and what FFG has done in terms of published species.

Overall, the Squib as originally written is solid, if not anything overly exciting: Brawn 1, Agility 3, -1 to starting Wound Threshold, +1 to starting Strain Threshold, a free rank of Negotiation, a free Advantage on Mechanics checks, and Mechanics is always considered a career skill.  A lot of this was informed by the Squib write-ups in previous Star Wars RPGs, namely WEG's Galaxy Guide 4 (which introduced the species) and Saga Edition's Unknown Regions (for which I got to write the Squib as a species), but upon further review and with the elements I'd mentioned in the paragraph above, I'd certainly tweak a few things.

First change is that I'd drop their Agility down to 2 and boost their Presence to 3.  From the further research into the species that I've done, Squibs are generally gregarious and outgoing, even if it at times they get on other sentients' nerves.  They're not Kender-levels of cheerful, but they're certainly not timid or reserved by nature.

Second change is that I'd remove the free skill rank in Negotiation, and replace it with the Savvy Negotiator talent from Disciples of Harmony, which is a ranked talent that removes a setback die from Negotiation and Streetwise checks.  This does steer Squibs away from all being expert negotiators, allowing for members of the species that maybe can't sell you a bucket of air and keep the bucket, but does let them keep a cultural aptitude for haggling while also adding in some degree of talent for sussing things out simply by asking around in what is probably a complicated arrangement of little favors that lets the Squib find out things a bit more easily simply because the folks they're talking too are off-balance from trying to keep up with the increasingly convoluted chain of conversation.  Or at least that's how I'd picture a Squib asking around as part of making a Streetwise check and paying for information, because you know full well that any Squib worth their fur isn't going to just say "Here, let me offer you a few credits in exchange for you answering a few questions!"

Third change is that to set their Wound Threshold to the default of 10+Brawn, as their lower starting Brawn already makes them a bit more frail than other species by default.

Fourth and final change is to tweak Tech Savvy so that instead of having Mechanics as a career skill that instead once per encounter Squibs can convert up to 2 Threat to an equal number of Advantage on a Mechanics check.  Reason for this is that for a tech-minded Squib, having Mechanics as a career skill isn't much of a boon, and Squibs that aren't tech-minded probably aren't going to buy more than one or two ranks.  However, if the player gets to swap out a couple of Threat results and instead add a couple advantages to the check, that's a lot more interesting even if the Squib character isn't much of a mechanic.

So with all that in mind, here's an updated version of the Squib species...

Starting Characteristics
Brawn 1, Agility 2, Intellect 2, Cunning 2, Willpower 2, Presence 3
Starting Wound Threshold: 10+Brawn
Starting Strain Threshold: 11+Willpower
Starting XP: 100
Special Abilities: Squibs begin the game with one rank in the Savvy Negotiator talent
Tech Savvy: Once per encounter, Squibs may convert up to 2 Threat from a Mechanics check into an equal number of Advantages.

Not sure this will become any sort of recurring series, given how many of the entries in the Unofficial Species Menagerie have since been supplanted with official FFG write-ups. as the years have gone by.  There's a couple other species I've got my eye on revisiting, but time will tell when or even if I'll get around to doing so.

April 13, 2018

GamerNationCon 5 - The Aftermath

So yeah, GamerNationCon 5 has come and went, and it certainly was a thing.

Lest that first sentence be misleading, I had a lot of fun at GNC5.  I wasn't able to get into a game run by GM Chris or GM Phil, but that's not too surprising given how quickly those tend to fill up.  I did get a few pick-up games in, as well as getting to see a number of friends that I'd not seen or talked to in quite a while, such as Kevin "Rikoshi" Frane and the ever-lovely Adie from across the pond, as well as getting to spend some time chatting with Christopher West and Star Wars RPG authorial legend Sterling Hershey (about 80's cartoons and differences in animated TV series that were brought over from Japan between the original version and the American version of all things).  I also got to catch up with folks I'd not really seen or talked to since last year's GamerNationCon, and enjoy a few meals out.  Got to try Mediterranean food, but it doesn't seem it agreed with my stomach, which is a shame as it was tasty.

I don't have a bunch of pictures, as frankly I've never been really much of a photo-taker, either in terms of pictures I take generally not turning out so well or just a lack of interest in doing so.  Adie did get a pretty good pick of me in my Hogwarts student cosplay, though sans the school robe.  Lin got a group shot of me in costume, Eric in his Black Mage costume, and Andrew Maiaweski (Phil's brother) in his Hogwarts outfit.  Also in costume was one guy in a very good Hagrid costume and one gent done as Uncle Vernon after tussling with owls to snatch Harry's Hogwarts letter.  I wasn't the only person to don their Hogwarts robes, with other folks wearing theirs on different days of the con.

Amusingly and on a bit of a lark, I'd decided to pack the Plagg plush that I'd picked up on a bit of a whim last year.  Plagg is a character from the CGI animated series Miraculous: Tales of Ladybug and Cat Noir, which is a series that while aimed at younger audiences is surprisingly good both in terms of plot and quality.  For the first couple days of the con, I'd had Plagg's oversized head sticking out of my messenger bag, but for Saturday and Sunday I got the notion to tuck him into my badge holder, again with his giant noggin peering out over it.  That got some grins and laughs from folks, and since Plagg is a magical creature (in the show, he's a kwami and provides one of the heroes with his powers) it fit well with the con's theme of "magic" and with my Hogwarts get-up.

Gaming-wise, the sessions I ran were mostly hits, but a couple of misses.  I had one player that was in two of my sessions and frankly if he never shows up to another of my games, I'll count myself fortunate.  I hate players that don't want to get involved or constantly question my GM calls when running a game, and this guy did both, the former during my Dragon Age game (which ran way shorter than I figured) and the latter during my Star Wars game.  If he reads this and gets offended, I really don't care, and again will be glad if he doesn't play in another game I run.  But with the exception of that one person (who thankfully was not in my 7th Sea game), most of it went well.  Again, Dragon Age ran way short, but I think a large part of that was my simplifying the first initial combats, which upon re-reading was probably mean to chew up more time; when I first ran the module it ended up going over due to combat drag, so I probably chopped it down more than I needed to.

My Star Wars module went pretty well, though I ended up ab-libbing much of the specifics, which is something I'm wont to do when running a pre-written module, even if I'm the one that wrote it.  Part of that is not being certain of what the players will do, but part of that is not wanting to break the flow of a scene to look up what exactly had been written.  Luckily I'm pretty good at improve GMing and making stuff up as I go, so it worked out.  The final combat got interesting, as one of the players who had taken one of the two beatsticks in the party simply couldn't succeed on a combat check no matter what he did.  Still it was fun, and apart from the wet towel player I mentioned above, the players all had fun.  I guess said wet towel player has had some bad GMing experiences from what a mutual friend told me, and so had learned to constantly question anytime a GM did something that was outside the rules-as-written.  I guess I've gotten so used to gaming with folks that know ahead of time that I'll throw rules aside in the favor of "rule of cool" or having fun that I forget not all players at my table are aware of that; I should probably adopt a variation of GM Chris' boilerplate speech in the future.

The 7th Sea game more than made up for any drags up to that point.  I was running my "Under a Harvest Moon" adventure, which was itself an adaptation of Steve Kenson's "Apple of Her Eye" for the Shadow of the Demon Lord RPG.  This is a horror-themed adventure with some pretty unsettling elements, but this group of players were punch-drunk enough that the session turned into a near-constant laugh-fest with some really absurd lines being tossed out.  Again, the players had a blast, and more than once we had to pause so everyone could catch their collective breath after a particular good zinger got tossed out.  This was also the first time that the Heroes directly confronted the Villain rather than outwitting them, and in retrospect I think the Villain needs to be punched up a bit in the offense department as they simply could not deal enough Wounds to the Heroes to be a credible threat.  I had considered using the 7th Sea: Khitai quick start rules for Brute Squads for this adventure, but I forgot about them and simply used the default rules as that's what I was more used to, and the last thing I wanted to do was go book-diving in the midst of a combat scene; it's one thing to do it for a home campaign, but just feels tacky to do it when you're the one GMing a con module.

The last game I ran was on Sunday and was a pick-up making use of GM Chris' Harry Potter theme for the Genesys RPG.  I had a quintet of pre-gens that I'd managed to get printed out, and with a big thanks to Will for rounding up players I was able to run this.  I'd intended for this pick-up to run no more than a couple hours, and at roughly 2.5 hours it fell within that metric.  There wasn't a whole lot of pre-planning on my part; just enough for the basic set-up and after that I simply riffed off what the players did, giving occasional nudges here and there so that they didn't all just sit around.  Big props to the guy that played the Gryffindor Opportunist, as he did a lot to keep things moving, and props all around to the table as they had fun with the characters, with most of them getting fully into the spirit of things.  One moment of unexpected hilarity was one of the two Hufflepuffs deciding to sock the Gryffindor in the face after coming to an erroneous conclusion that Gryffindor was a culprit in making a 2nd Year Hufflepuff have a really rotten day, with the other Hufflepuff reacting in shock (all while saying "we said we'd TALK to him!") and the Slytherin was annoyed at this time-wasting foolishness.  I'll certainly be keeping this on hand as a quick pick-up game for future cons and game days.

As for games I played, I got into a D&D pick-up (was supposed to be a Star Wars pick-up, but the GM sadly had a bad case of nerves and had to back out) that used some of the most oddball pre-gens I had ever seen.  It deliberately had a Coen Brothers movie vibe, with out hapless bunch of adventurers inadvertently becoming notable assassins in the space of a morning.  The two stars of that game were Kevin and his friend Paulie, playing a duo of a moronic half-giant fighter and a really smart kobold druid respectively.

Another game I played in was a Star Wars module set around the Battle of Jakku, with our party being a Rebel ops team that was one of a dozen such teams sent to capture a Star Destroyer.  We failed the mission (which seems to be the norm) but were able to survive (2nd group to do so in all the times the GM had run the module).  I wound up playing a Gand beat-stick, who had some Force abilities that I never wound up using as there was never really a need for them.

I did get to play in my friend Eric's magic-themed Geneys game.  I won't spoil anything, but it was a neat set-up with an interesting twist.  I had a lot of fun, and ultimately wound up becoming the party leader of the group.

So overall, it was fun experience.  Luckily my flights down to Texas and back were largely incident free (a half hour delay on the return trip on both the initial and connecting flight).  Also, I've now left behind DSL-based internet and now have high-speed, a choice that was spurned by my copper-wire landline being shut down by the apartment complex (they claim notifications were sent out, but I never received one and it seems neither did a few other folks).  Definitely a whole lot faster than what I'm used to, which is nice.

In other news, I did go see Ready Player One on the opening Friday, and I very much enjoyed it.  The movie is notably different from the book, but I think they had to make many of the changes they did as the Challenges/Gates as presented in the book simply don't work for a purely visual medium.  I liked the changes to the cast in general, which again was something that needed to be done for the sake of a two-hour film as opposed to several-hours long novel.

March 18, 2018

"Yer a wizard Harry!"

Welp, so much for that notion of regular updates I had way back last year.

So short version is that between work and campaigns, I've not really had a lot of mental bandwidth for a whole lot else, much less posting here.  The campaigns have been fun (couple of Star Wars ones, and just recently restarted Mutants & Masterminds), while work has been far less so.  I had considered putting up a blog post in the wake of seeing The Last Jedi, which I did enjoy but really did need to see a second time to properly enjoy it, but all the ignorant toxicity that got flung around by whiny gatekeeping man-babies about how it wasn't "their" Star Wars soured me on that notion.

Now, I must say that I'm really looking forward to the beginning of April, as I'll be taking a much-deserved vacation and flying down to Texas for GamerNationCon 5.  Looking forward to seeing a number of friends, including a few faces I've not seen in some time.  Planning to run three events, one for Star Wars, one for 7th Sea, and one for the Dragon Age RPG; the last two are modules I've run in the past, and have worked out pretty well.  The Star Wars module I'm still nervous about, as I wound up doing some pretty major re-writes from what I initially had as well as re-doing almost all of the pregens, but I'm pretty happy with how the module looks in its current form.

So speaking of GamerNationCon 5, as one of the backers of the most recent Kickstarter, I and all the other backers got access not only to Phil "DarthGM" Maiewski's Fallout theme for the Genesys RPG by Fantasy Flight Games, but also the very cool and well-written Harry Potter theme for the same RPG written by Chris "GM Chris" Witt.

I've been a fan of the Harry Potter series ever since my mother convinced me to go see the first movie with her in theaters, and pretty much devoured the first four books of the series when I got them as a Christmas present later that year.  So having a Harry Potter hack for an RPG whose mechanics I already know pretty well was certainly intriguing; I've checked out a number of other efforts for different systems and none of them really seemed to fit well for the setting mechanics-wise or were too focused on Hogwarts as of the time of the books.  I think Chris managed to avoid both those issues, as Genesys' mechanics are pretty adaptable, and he's broadened things to include Ilvermony and American magical society as introduced in the Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them movie.

One of the things I'd been meaning to do was sit down and work up a character using the HP theme.  And after a hectic previous week at work, I was finally able to do just that over the weekend.

For my character, I figured I'd go with a first Hogwarts student, someone that had a knack for magic but still had much to learn.  In a fit of whimsy, I decided to borrow the first name of the protagonist of the Books of Magic comic book series, and named my character-to-be Timothy.  And yes, I did chuckle at the notion of playing a wizard who some call... Tim.  I then did a Google search for British surnames, and eventually settled on Barnett.

With the name in place, now came the matter of which of Hogwart's Houses would young Timothy (Tim to his friends) would be sorted.  I decided that I'd instead skip ahead in the character creation process to figure out his Strength (Witty), Flaw (Recklessness), Desire (Expertise), and Fear (Obscurity), all determined randomly.  Based on those, he sounded like a good fit for either Slytherin or Gryffindor; I decided to once again rely on random chance and flipped a coin, with the result landing young Tim amongst the ranks of Gryffindor House (my personal fave of the Hogwarts four).

Next came deciding Tim's "career" or what sort of aspiring wizard he'd be.  Looking through the options, I settled on Opportunist, as I liked the notion of a Gryffindor that employed out-of-the-box thinking and clever ploys, who may not always be completely honorable but instead uses unconventional methods to accomplish things.  In a way, he's not unlike a slightly more serious Fred or George Weasley, or a less arrogant school-age James Potter.  I decided that as part of Tim's backstory, he had an ancestor that was a famous Curse-breaker, and one of his goals was to follow in his ancestor's footsteps but also seeking to make his own mark on the wizarding world.  This in turn made him a half-blood, though I figure both of his parents were muggleborns (magical genetics in the Potterverse are weird, but then again it's magic).

Picking skills was pretty simple, giving young Tim a good mix of magical, social, and practical skills, which I decided meant that he's not been raised completely in the wizarding world, and has some notions of how muggle society operates; he probably went to a public primary school prior to getting his Hogwarts letter and picked up some peculiar skills as a result.

Spending XP was pretty simple, picking up a couple extra skill ranks (none of which are above a 1, which fits an eleven-year old that's still got loads to learn) and a couple of talents that go with the "rush into trouble" and "react quickly" notions of the character.  And in a change for the usual types of characters I make, Tim isn't all that physically impressive, instead relying more on guile (Cunning), tenacity (Willpower), and pure cheek (Presence), which is very fitting for a adventuresome wizard-in-training.

The fun part then came in figuring out what sort of wand this character have.  Fortunately, the Harry Potter Wiki has a very useful page on the topic (read it here) which made the process a bit less daunting.  I ultimately choose spruce wand with a phoenix feather core, and then went with the standard school supplies package.  I was tempted to snag a familiar as well, but decided not to and instead give young Tim some leftover currency for pocket money.  I did grab a set of Thieves' Tools (renamed as a Lockpicking Kit) from the Fantasy Theme section of the Genesys core rulebook, given that Tim's got a rank of Skullduggery and his muggle-influenced upbringing would give him an appreciation for non-magical ways of getting into places he's not supposed to.

And thus, here's young Timothy "Tim" Barnett, an eleven year old boy about to embark upon a new set of adventures as he begins his magical education at Hogwarts' School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

Timothy Barnett, Gryffindor Opportunist -  Character Sheet (PDF version)

Obviously another thing I did was modify the Star Wars character sheet that I've been using for years to fit the Harry Potter theme, as I like having a recognizable character sheet that I electronically enter information into.  It's a Word document, but that works easier for me in terms of modifying that trying to set it up as a form-fillable PDF, especially given the fonts used for the dice and result icons that Genesys uses.  I tried using a couple different Potterverse-themed fonts, but none of them really worked for me, and instead wound up using a LotR-themed font called Ringbearer.

I do have a few notions for the rest of a groupof First Years, coming from a variety of Houses, such as an intellectually-focused Slytherin, a social-focused Ravenclaw, and maybe even an Ilvermony exchange student, but not sure when I'll be able to write them all up.  Hopefully sometime in the not-to-distant future now that I don't have to worry about writing modules, but even that's up in the air.

But even still, I think Tim would be a fun character to play, a Gryffindor that bucks the "honorable and noble" stereotype while still being a decent kid at heart.