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...

Skills
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.

Talents
Feint
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).

Equipment
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.

Enhance
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.

Move
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...

Squibs
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.


October 31, 2017

Danny Copperfield, Novice Wizard and Amatuer Sleuth

Happy Halloween!!!

So I'm writing this post coming off the conclusion of the long-running Curse of Strahd campaign that my friend Eric has been running for our Saturday night online group (used to call it the Skype group, but we've pretty much switched over to Discord at this point as it's given us far less grief that Skype so far, and the ability to have separate channels for general and game-specific discussions is quite nice).  I don't think any of us were really expecting the campaign to end the way it did; yes we managed to defeat Strahd, but it was a very bitter victory indeed, leaving the party largely broken and ultimately going their separate ways.  I did have fun playing Sir Thomas, even though in hindsight there are things I would have done very differently if I'd had a better handle on who the character was.  Still, it's nice to bring that campaign to a conclusion, with the advent of running a campaign that's far more cheerful and bright on the near horizon.

Now, to continue with my string of Samhain appropriate blog postings, I thought I'd post up a character that I'd made a while back, got to play briefly, have remade and may have a chance to play again.

The character in question was originally made for the Dresden Files Role-Playing Game by Evil Hat Productions, taking place in the world detailed in the highly enjoyable Dresden Files series of novels written by Jim Butcher.  Personally, I prefer the audiobooks as I honestly feel that James Marsters (best known for playing Spike on the classic TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer) does a bang up job of giving voice to the many characters; it's at the point where to me he's pretty much the voice of series protagonist Harry Dresden.

Said character was Danny Copperfield, a young/novice wizard of the White Council, and can be summed up as Dresden-Lite.  This was deliberate, as I liked the notion of playing a still-fresh and mostly-untested wizard, just barely into his 20's (Harry started out in mid to late 20's I believe), albeit one that had proper training as a wizard and lacked the many tragic elements of Harry's personal history.  In his original incarnation, Danny had a solid mix of control and power, in that while he might not have been hitting at the same level of power as Harry Dresden, but neither was he quite as likely to set the immediate on area with an errant blast of flame.  I did get the chance to play him in a rather short campaign, and he was quite a bit of fun, delivering snark and unexpected bouts of sheer magical power with aplomb.

So when Evil Hat released the Dresden Files Accelerated RPG, updating the material to work with their very fun Fate Accelerated Edition, I decided (mostly on a lark) to do an updated version of Danny, just to see how the character would work out given DFA's method of using Mantles to set character archetypes.  And overall, I think it worked out pretty well.  The fact that in DFA a spellcaster isn't nearly as restricted in hurling magic (that was an issue with the original DFRPG was that spellcasters had very limited mojo, an issue that in the books really only affected Harry "powerhouse slob" Dresden given his own admittance for simply grabbing as much power as he could and hurling it at his foe with little to no finesse) means that Danny can make much more use of his evocations, in particular attacking enemies with fire.  As a bit of a trade-off, he's not quite as adept starting out with divination or ward magic, but seeing as how his Mantle gives him a much broader bonus to thaumaturgy makes up for it.

One thing that is nice about DFA is that by essentially rolling spellcasting into a character's approaches, there's not as much worry about balancing things out for the Pure Mortals; yes a spellcaster does get to work their mojo at a higher power scale, but magic may well not always be the answer.  That and I suspect a GM could easily compel the Wizard part of the character's aspect to have modern technology breakdown around the spellcaster.  And even the higher power scale isn't that huge of a boost when competing with Pure Mortals, whose own Mantles have some pretty neat tricks of their own.

With my friend Doran wanting to run at least a one-shot of Dresden Files Accelerated (to the great delight of the entire group as we're all fans of the Dresden Files), I'm looking forward to an opportunity to once again don the red canvas duster and whip out the blasting rod (mind out of gutter, thank you very much!) and step into the role of this character.  Given the interesting personalities that I'm sure the rest of the players will bring to the table with their own characters, it should be interesting to see how things shake out... preferably without multiple buildings being on fire (especially if it's not his fault)!

Danny Copperfield
Mantle: Magical Practitioner
High Concept: Novice Wizard of the White Council
Trouble: Chronic Wiseass
Aspects: Amateur Sleuth; Don't Underestimate My Power!
Refresh: 1

Approaches
Good (+3): Force
Fair (+2): Haste, Intellect
Average (+1): Focus, Guile
Mediocre (+0): Flair

Stress and Conditions
Stress: [1][1][1][1][1][1]
Combat Wizard: [1][1]
In Peril (sticky): [4]
Doomed (lasting): [6]
Indebted (sticky): [_][_][_][_][_]
Exhausted (sticky): [_]
Burned Out (lasting): [_]
The Third Eye (sticky): [_]

Stunts
Evocation: You are able to cast spells on the fly and without need for ritual preparation.
Thaumaturgy: You are able to cast a variety of arcane rituals, adding a +2 bonus to the roll.
Soulgaze: You have the ability to look directly upon the soul of another person, and they can look at yours in turn.
Combat Wizard: Gain two stress boxes explicitly for enhancing evocations.
Evocation Specialist: Gain +2 bonus when making a Force attack using the element of fire.
White Council Membership: Once per session, you may request aid from the White Council.

Appearance
Danny is a tall, lanky young man just under six and a half feet tall, with shoulder-length charcoal black hair, several strands of which constantly hang in front of his dark blue eyes, a good-natured lopsided smile befitting his generally irreverent nature on his face, although his expression turns much darker once his ire has been raised.  His preferred attire is a dark-hued shirt, a pair of blue jeans, simple sneakers, and a full-length red canvas duster, with his blasting rod tucked away but always within easy reach.

Notable Possessions
Blasting rod (made of hickory), red canvas duster with extra pockets, assorted ritual tools and aids stuffed in said extra pockets.

October 28, 2017

Light and Darkness: Two PCs for D&D 5th Edition

And so it is that Halloween is pretty much upon us.  In the spirit of the holiday, I'll be doing three things related to role-playing games.

The first of these is that this afternoon, I will be running "Under a Harvest Moon," a 7th Sea 2nd edition conversion of the Shadow of the Demon Lord adventure "Apple of Her Eye" for one group of gamers that want to try out 7th Sea 2e.  I've had a fair amount of success with this adventure, which you can grab from my blog here: http://jedimorningfire.blogspot.com/2017/10/once-upon-harvest-moon-7th-sea-2e.html

The second of these will be later this night I will be gaming with an online group via Discord to engage in what may very well be the final confrontation with Strahd Von Zarovich in the possible conclusion of the 5e Curse of Strahd adventure.  As our group's DM for this adventure, Eric has done a bang-up job, not only in running the adventure but in customizing it so that the lands and culture of Barovia have some very distinctive elements.  I've had fun playing an Oath of Vengeance Paladin who due to decisions made has taken a much darker turn, and to be honest I'm not sure he's going to come out of this even remotely close to the person he was when the adventure started.  But as much fun as I've had, I think I am ready for this to wrap-up and for our group to move onto something a bit more cheerful and less dark.

As for the third, well you're reading it, as I thought I'd post up a couple of D&D 5e characters who are about as different as night and day, an aasimar paladin and a half-elf warlock, both of good alignment though of very different means and outlooks.  I opted to go ahead and post the third level versions of these, as the general agreement online seems to be that 3rd level is when a character really starts to "come alive" in terms of their abilities on top of not being frail enough that a single wayward encounter could spell their doom.

Aramir Greyhaven, Aasimar Paladin of Lathander
Class/Level: Paladin 3
Alignment: Lawful Good
Background: Acolyte
Personality Trait -  I've spent so long in the temple that I have little practical experience dealing with people in the outside world.
Ideal - I trust that Lathander will guide my actions; I have faith that if I work hard enough, things will go well.
Bond - I owe my life to the priest who took me in when my parents died.
Flaw - Once I pick a goal, I become obsessed with it to the detriment of everything else in my life. 

Ability Scores
STR 15 (+2), DEX 10 (+0), CON 12 (+1), INT 10 (+0), WIS 14 (+2), CHA 14 (+2)

Armor Class: 18 (chain mail and shield)
Melee Attack: +4 (longsword, 1d8+4 slashing, versatile) 
Ranged Attack: +4 (javelin, 1d6+2 piercing, range 30/120, thrown)
Hit Dice: 3d10
Hit Points: 25
Speed: 30 feet

Class and Species Abilities
Darkvision - see in dim light as bright light out to 60 feet, and in darkness as dim light.
Celestial Resistance - resistance to necrotic and radiant damage.
Celestial Legacy - knows the light cantrip and can cast lesser restoration once per long rest.
Divine Sense (3/day) - as per page 84 of the Player's Handbook
Fighting Style - Dueling (as per page 84 of the Player's Handbook)
Divine Health - as per page 85 of the Player's Handbook
Divine Smite - As per page 85 of the Player's Handbook.
Sacred Oath - Oath of Devotion (as per page 86 of the Player's Handbook)

Spellcasting (Spell DC 12, Spell Attack +4)
1st - Compelled Duel, Divine Favor, Searing Smite

Languages and Proficiencies
Saving Throws - Wisdom and Charisma
Languages - Common, Celestial, Draconic, Elvish
Skill Proficiencies - Athletics (+4), Insight (+4), Persuasion (+4), Religion (+2)

Gear: Longsword, 5 javelins, chain mail, shield, holy symbol of Lathander, explorer's pack, prayer book, 5 sticks of incense, vestments, set of common clothes, belt pouch containing 15 gold pieces.

Image: Aramir is quite tall, standing just over six feet, but with a lithe build that belies his strength of arms.  His weapons and armor are kept in near-pristine condition, which along with his shoulder-length mane of golden-blonde hair and soft blue eyes marks him as a champion of the light, with a gaze that is resolute and firm yet fair.

Summary: Aramir is at heart your typical knight in shining armor type, the heroic and noble champion of all that is good in the world.  He's also not very worldly, and will probably be likely to take most people at their word unless he has cause to distrust them.  From my own experiences with playing a Paladin, he'll be able to hit pretty hard a couple times of per day, and with his Oath of Devotion he can power up his sword to be able to inflict substantial damage to creatures that are otherwise resistant or immune to non-magical attacks.  As for the source of Aramir's racial traits, I used the Aasimir write-up from pages 286 and 287 of the 5e Dungeon Master's Guide, so check with your GM to see if they will allow that race at their table.

Xevlanna Nightblossom, Half-Elf Warlock
Class/Level: Warlock 3
Alignment: Chaotic Good
Background: Entertainer (Routines - Dancer/Tumbler, Storyteller)
Personality Trait -  Nobody stays angry at me or around me for long, since I can defuse any amount of tension.
Ideal - The world is in need of new ideas and bold action.
Bond - I want to be famous, whatever it takes.
Flaw - I have trouble keeping my true feelings hidden; my sharp tongue lands me in trouble.

Ability Scores
STR 8 (-1), DEX 15 (+2), CON 14 (+2), INT 12 (+1), WIS 10 (+0), CHA 17 (+3)

Armor Class: 13 (leather armor)
Melee Attack: +1 (spear, 1d6-1 piercing, versatile)
Melee Attack +5 (Shocking Grasp, 1d8 lightning)
Ranged Attack: +4 (dagger, 1d4+2 slashing, light, range 20/60, thrown)
Ranged Attack: +5 (Eldritch Blast, 1d10 force, range 120)
Hit Dice: 3d8
Hit Points: 24
Speed: 30 feet

Class and Species Abilities
Darkvision - see in dim light as bright light out to 60 feet, and in darkness as dim light.
Celestial Resistance - resistance to necrotic and radiant damage.
Fey Ancestry - advantage on saving throws against being charmed, cannot be magically put to sleep.
Skill Versatility - proficient in two skills of your choice
Otherworldy Patron - The Fiend (as per page 109 of the Player's Handbook)
Pact Boon - Pact of the Tome (as per page 108 of the Player's Handbook)

Spellcasting (Spell DC 13, Spell Attack +5)
Cantrips - Eldritch Blast, Minor Illusion, Shocking Grasp*, Thaumaturgy*, Vicious Mockery*
Spells (cast as 2nd level) - Hellish Rebuke, Hex, Scorching Ray, Suggestion
*from Pact Boon

Languages and Proficiencies
Saving Throws - Wisdom and Charisma
Languages - Abyssal, Common, Elvish
Skill Proficiencies - Acrobatics (+5), Arcane (+4), Deception (+6), Investigation (+4), Performance (+6), Persuasion (+6)
Tool Proficiencies - Disguise kit, flute

Gear: Spear, 3 daggers, leather armor, arcane focus, scholar's pack, flute, entertainer's outfit, belt pouch containing 15 good pieces, an old divination card bearing her likeness, a silver teardrop earring (favor of a past admirer).

Image: Xevlanna's very presence draws attention, from her eye-catching apparel to her long tresses of curling raven-black hair decorated with colorful glass beads to her languid yet graceful movements to her smoke-grey eyes.  Not much taller than most elves, her features retain a sense of elvish delicateness, and her lips are most often settled in a mirthful smile.

Summary:Xevlanna is pretty much the ideological opposite of Aramir in many ways.  Where he's a devout servant of the light and a champion of good, Xev is more self-centered and draws her power from a devil's bargain.  She's also a talented manipulator of people, sweet-talking and deceiving as the situation warrants or her whim decides.  She's also very much a blaster-caster and would do well to stay out of range of melee-focused opponents, though she's got a couple tricks to make enemies that do close with her regret it.  Her Pact Boon certainly broadens her spell repertoire, giving her a few more options both in and out of combat.

October 19, 2017

Thoughts on FFG's Legend of the Five Rings Beta

So as many may have heard, Fantasy Flight Games has released a beta version of their spin of the Legend of the Five Rings RPG.  If not, you can grab it here from FFG's own website or you can snag a copy from DriveThruRPG.

So first off, I will admit to not being that impressed with the system.  One thing that people have noted and railed against was that the game uses custom dice rather than the classic d10s that prior versions L5R used in the long-standing Roll and Keep system.  Seeing as how FFG likely only bought the rights to L5R as a property and not the actual R&K mechanics from AEG, it's no surprise that they'd use a dice mechanic of their own making.  In fact, many folks (myself included) suspected that FFG would use the Genesys dice system, as that had by and large been tested and validated by means of their Star Wars RPG, with the Genesys dice being much the same but using slightly different symbols. Instead, FFG went with creating an entirely new set of custom dice, this one using just d6s and d12s.  At least with Genesys, odds are good that you'll be able to use the dice there for different settings, and for those of us that already have a bunch of Star Wars dice we can go ahead and use those (something I will probably do as I'm already very familiar with reading those symbols to get the results of a roll).

My own take on the current state of the L5R Beta is simply that there seems to be a lot of added complexity for no reason other than to add complexity.  A prime example is formal iaijutsu dueling, which in the previous L5R games by AEG were resolved with three rolls (Assessment, Focus, Strike) and unless the battle was to the death, once those were resolved the matter was settled.  Under FFG's system, dueling feels like it's more fitting for a western-based RPG replicating the back-and-forth of the famous duel between Inigo Montoya and Westley in The Princess Bride instead of the single stroke contest that the samurai-genre is well known for.

Another issue is that starting characters don't feel very capable, as the dice mechanics are skewed to very heavily favor Skill ranks (which use the d12s) over Ring rating (which use the d6s) and characters don't get to start with that many ranks in skills.  Easy solution here is to simply provide the PC with a small number of extra skill ranks, so hopefully FFG does something to address other than to say "if you want more capable PCs, simply start with more XP."

Now, I did manage to play a short session of the L5R Beta this past Saturday, with a friend running a modified version of Heroes of Rokugan II: Champions of the Sapphire Throne module "Writ of Justice."  Our party composition was rather interesting, consisting of a Kakita Duelist (myself), a Togashi Tattooed Monk (wandering kung fu fighter), a Kuni Purifier, and a Shosuro Infiltrator (cover was traveling performer).  Certainly an interesting and diverse group, with my PC winding up as the closest thing to a proper "face character" simply due to what skills were available and the general lack of being able to select skills outside of the presets that the beta schools provide.  While there were some hiccups in making the characters, they did turn out to be an interesting bunch, and were this 4th Edition L5R I'd certainly be looking forward to playing more sessions with this particular cast.

So, after having played at least one session of this new version of L5R, I'm still not convinced that it's something I want to continue playing, especially as I'm not at all found of the "forced social outbursts" that the current Strife mechanics enforce, as we had much of the group breaking their composure and displaying dishonorable behavior more often than any of us would have liked.  I know that it's probably far too late for any sort of changes to how the dice are laid out, but in all honestly the rate at which PCs gain Strife compared to how they lose it needs to be revised, or at the very least the rules on "outbursts" need to be addressed; I'm very much of the camp that simple dice rolls shouldn't dictate how a character reacts to a scene, and unless it's from a mystical source the most they should do is help inform the player how their character might react to given stimuli.

But ultimately, I think I'm at a point in my gaming preferences that I'd rather stick with systems that don't overwhelm you with options on how to resolve in-game challenges, and that's something this version of L5R does, is overwhelm the player and GM so many different ways that skills can work.  Again, it feels like complexity for the sake of complexity without really providing anything meaningful to the story being told.  And to be frank, if that's the sort of thing I'm after, I'll go play 4th edition Dungeons and Dragons, since the high degree of complexity that it had with regards to combat works with what the game was meant to be.

Given the limits of my own time, especially with working on my own Force and Destiny campaign and working on modules for next year's GamerNationCon (I may just scale back to two modules instead of the three I was initially leaning towards), I'm not really keen on learning the ins and outs of a complex set of RPG mechanics when they don't really provide a satisfying return on investment.  I was willing to learn the complex rules of FFG's Star Wars RPG because it proved to be a very fun experience, a high return on the investment of time made.  But for a setting that I don't see myself doing much gaming in to start with, FFG's Legends of the Five Rings just falls flat.