November 30, 2014

Star Wars - The Force Awakens: My thoughts thus far

If you weren't aware of the release of the teaser trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens, then I'm pretty surprised you're reading this blog post.

I won't bother linking directly to the trailer itself, since social media has pretty much been bombarded with links aplenty.

There's also been a lot of folks giving their two bullet's worth* on the trailer and dissecting it like a frog in a high school biology class.

Frankly, though he was a bit salty language-wise about it, I think that Kevin Smith generally has the right idea in regards to the teaser trailer: Shut the F*&$ up and rejoice at the fact we're getting brand new Star Wars movies!

I remember seeing the teaser trailer for The Phantom Menace, and when it ended with the iconic Vader breath I was pretty darn excited.  Granted, said movie had it's flaws (overuse of Jar Jar Binks and Jake Lloyd's horrific acting**), but I thought that for the most part, it delivered the goods, particularly the big lightsaber battle at the end.  Which, with be being a major league fan of most things Jedi, should surprise nobody.  I was the guy in a Star Wars RPG group that typically played a Force user, getting to the point that with one group, anytime we started up a new WEG campaign I was the guy designated to be the token Jedi given how well I knew the rules on the Force (sometimes even better than the GM did).  My first PC in each new Star Wars RPG had been a Jedi, with FFG's system only bucking that trend due to not having Jedi rules; wound up playing a Force Exile though.

I've seen some folks whine and kavitch about the cross-hilt lightaber we see in the trailer, and how "it's not realistic!" or "it's not practical!"  First, realism in Star Wars is at best a happy accident; those movies break the laws of physics faster than I can rip into a bag of gummy bears (and I freaking love gummy bears, especially the ones made in Germany with actual fruit juice instead of fruit flavoring).  Secondly, there were similar complaints when the trailers spoiled the fact that Darth Maul had a double-bladed lightsaber, and about the one point that most fans agree upon is that the battle sequence of Maul vs. Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan was the highlight of the film, particularly the Obi-Wan vs. Maul sequence after Qui-Gon is mortally injured.  I've got a clip of just that whole fight sequence that I ripped from YouTube, and have watched it plenty of times.

The rolling ball droid doesn't bother me on bit, nor does the blocky speeder design that one girl is riding.  And maybe there was a bit of lens flare while the Falcon is flying about, but it wasn't horrific (not nearly as bad as it got in the New!Trek films at least), and frankly that last sequence was what made the trailer for me.

So in short, I enjoyed the teaser trailer, and if there'd been a theater in my area showing it, I may well have gone to that theater to see it on the big screen.  I'd probably also stay for the movie, as given the price of movie tickets if I'm going to shell out that much cash then I'm going to stay for the entire freaking movie.

Now, the question that really needs addressing is: Can December 2015 get here fast enough?

Oh, a few of fan-made parody trailers that I've come across and enjoyed...

Disney Version:

George Lucas "Revised" Version:

George Lucas Special Edition Version:

LEGO Version:

*I blame the old Deadlands Mailing List for that one, since that's where I picked it up.
**Yes, I know he was a kid but there are child actors around his age that can actually freaking act.  I don't know whose grandkid he was, but he makes Hayden's turn as Anakin in Episode II almost tolerable by comparison.

October 28, 2014

Force and Destiny: On Lightsabers and Duels

Been meaning to get this one typed up for a while, just kept getting sidetracked for one reason or another.

I remember quite some time back, there was a lot of concern of lightsaber duels being far too deadly in FFG's Star Wars RPG, particularly with lightsabers in that game being Damage 10, Critical 1, and Breach 1 weapons, ensuring that the target was going to take a lot of damage and suffer a pretty nasty critical injury in the process.  There were a number of proposed "solutions" to this problem, with the most frequent one being to simply have lightsabers upgrade the difficulty twice (rolling two Challenge dice as the base for a Lightsaber combat check) to avoid the "first hit = victor" scenario that became a major issue for the WEG D6 Star Wars RPG in regards to the Lightsaber Combat power in the hands of a highly capable Force user.

Personally, I felt the real problem was that lightsabers in EotE and AoR were simply way too good, and should have been toned down to something more reasonable than "near-instant death on a stick."  I think the reaction of my GM for the (now on hiatus) Rascal Squad Age of Rebellion campaign in the session immediately after he allowed Valin to assemble a lightsaber of his own, having earned a suitable focusing crystal by completing a series of "trials" during the GM's modified running of the "Echoes of the Past" fan module.  He was rather shocked at how quickly Valin, who was not a major contributor to combat encounters compared to the rest of the group, had gone from "kid with a blaster" to "kid capable of wiping out minion groups in a single round" or "kid capable of crippling important adversaries with only marginal degrees of success."  After we finally concluded the last portion of Long Arm of the Hutt, the GM confided in me that he was starting to really regret letting Valin have such a powerful weapon afterwards.

Luckily, that session took place just before GenCon 2014 and the release of the Force and Destiny Beta.  One of the first things I noticed in the equipment chapter was that the Basic Lightsaber was far less powerful than the EotE/AoR lightsaber, with the damage nearly halved, the critical rating doubled, and a lack of the Vicious quality with the cost only being reduced by several hundred credits.  And that the other lightsaber types were of a similar vein; Breach 1 remained to make them dangerous, but these were not the "one-hit kill" weapons that the lightsabers in the prior books had the reputation of being.  What was interesting was that if the PC was willing to invest the time and resources (and had a bit of luck on their side), they could modify a basic lightsaber into being the potent weapon, so the option was there, though certainly not easy to achieve (at least not before the Beta Update #4).

Now, shortly after the Force and Destiny Beta came out, I managed to wrangle up the players from the Friday night game I was in and offered to run a one-shot using the adventure at the back of the Beta book.  Though I made a number of little tweaks here and there to the adventure, the players had plenty of fun and were eager to play these one-shot characters again (handing out double XP probably helped on that front).  One of the things I'd wanted to do was have the party's Nautolan Makashi Duelist (Kennis) get into a one-on-one lightsaber duel, with one pick-up session pretty much being cribbed from the FaD demos that FFG was running in the Dealer Hall at GenCon (a bunch of Force users are on this planet to find a small child, but are confronted by stormtroopers and one or more Imperial Dark Jedi).  I added enough other details to make the core idea fit into the loose continuity I'd established thus far (the group are all students of an Order 66 survivor and are working towards setting up a refuge/compound for those sensitive to the Force that is hidden from the Empire), but sadly Kennis' player couldn't make it.  Instead, Viado (Human Starfighter Ace who had just recently picked up the Shien Expert spec, a rank of Lightsaber, and nothing else) stepped up to duel the Imperial Dark Jedi that I concocted for that encounter.  The fight was pretty tense, with the party eventually ganging up and the IDJ and taking him down and Viado doing surprisingly well (though part of that might have been to lousy dice rolls on my part) though the fight did get a bit silly with the amount of disarms going back and forth.

Now this past Friday, I finally got to have a bona-fide lighsaber duel between Kennis and a Saber Rake NPC.  And the fight got pretty nasty, particularly for Kennis who got hit with multiple critical injuries and wound up loosing his non-weapon hand before other PCs stepped in to defeat the Rake.  Granted, it took a few rounds of back and forth, with the Saber Rake getting fairly beat-up as well even with his 3 ranks in Parry, 2 ranks of Adversary, and Melee Defense of 2.

To further add to this, Valin (who wound up getting a Mephite Crystal with a couple of modifications already made for his basic lightsaber) got into a couple of saber-fights, having delved into the Ataru Striker specialization.  However, the true test of Valin's skills was against an Inquisitor made using the rules in the back of the Adversary chapter of the FaD Beta, and to put it bluntly the only reason Valin didn't snuff it was that the option was there for him to make like Luke in ESB and take a "suicide plunge" out of a high-speed repulsor-train into a lake far below.  Now at this point, I'd bought far enough into Ataru Seeker for Valin to have two ranks of Parry and Reflect (but no Improved Parry), and I got my ass handed to me, simply because rolling against a dice pool of 2 Challenge dice, 1 Difficulty die, and 1 Setback die with a pool of 2 Proficiency dice and 1 Ability die put the odds pretty solidly not in my favor to both hit and have Advantage left over, and the fact that while I could impose the same difficulty dice pool on the Inquisitor, his 4 ranks of Lightaber and 4 Brawn meant he had a far better chance of hitting with Advantage left over.  In fact, I think the only reason that Valin survived at all was that the GM was having lousy rolls on the critical injury chart, even after spending 7 Advantage with a prior critical injury on what should have been a "kill shot" only to roll 08; this still was bad since it increased the difficulty of Valin's efforts to attack even more.  To say it was something of a rude awakening to just how far Valin had to go in becoming a 'saber-wielding badass would be an understatement.  I figured that in-character, it would lead to Valin being too focused on "fighting like a Jedi" and forgetting his background as a street rate, and that he'd adjust his tactics appropriately in the future to be more of a combat pragmatist.

Now while getting into a 'saber combat with Valin was fun, the fact remains that even before delving into Ataru Striker he had a lot of XP invested into Force Emergent and the Sense power, giving him a solid defense option in the defensive Control Upgrade with the Duration and Strength Upgrades as well as additional wounds and strain.  One of my friends has been gracious enough to let me bring a Force and Destiny PC that's much closer to being a starting PC into her Star Wars game, and while he's not had a chance to get into a fight or even break-out the lightsaber, I'm curious to see how it goes when said opportunities do present themselves.

So the point of all this?  In short, I think FFG got the settings just about right for Force and Destiny PCs to be able to engage in lightsaber duels, particularly once they've seriously invested in one of the Lightsaber Form specializations, but not have those duels being the "first hit wins" scenarios that they'd have been if they'd stuck to the EotE/AoR lightsaber stats.  And while I'm sure that there are some power-gaming twinks that are lamenting the lose of such "out-of-the-box uber-weapons," the game is overall better for replacing them with the basic lightsaber and its cousins from FaD.

October 12, 2014

Some gaming-related updates

So the past couple days have been fairly interesting gaming-wise for me.

Friday night, I wound up running a Force and Destiny game after finding out the person I thought was running thought somebody else was running.  I managed to pull a pretty decent adventure together with only 5 minutes of total prep time (and most of that was getting stats together for the initial encounter, a star ship battle).  There were a couple instances where I should have assigned Conflict, but I was a bit run-down mentally.  Still, the group had fun, so that counts as a Triumph in my book.

Also related to Friday after my FaD session wrapped, discussed with the players that were also part of the Mutants and Masterminds game that I was in.  Sadly, we concluded that one player, who was problematic in a couple different ways, had to go, but we are going to move ahead with playing, hopefully starting next month.  Not sure if we're doing the proposed "cosmic" mini-campaign or if we're going back to Emerald City Knights, but that can be hammered out over the coming weeks.

As for Saturday, the afternoon was spent playing in our EotE/AoR/FaD mixed group, and that session took a very unexpected direction.  Short version: our group of Rebel operatives got lured into an Imperial trap aboard a hovertrain, with the Imperials lead by an ISB Agent and most notably an Imperial Inquisitor.  For those that have read the Inquisitor creation rules in the back of the Force and Destiny Beta, you know how brutal an opponent an Inquisitor is.  Let's just say that my Minor Jedi character got a harsh lesson in just how far he has to go before being able to truthfully call himself a Jedi Knight after that particular duel, which did have underpinnings of the Luke vs. Vader fight in ESB.  Half the group's characters are dead, one was taken prisoner by the Imps and is probably not in for a happy fate, while my PC and our Chiss Commander were the only two to escape (albeit with significant injuries) by stealing a small 2-person scout ship (A-24 Sleuth) since the group's modified YT-1300 was under heavy Imperial guard.  From what we discussed after that session wrapped, it looks like we're doing a reboot of sorts, and going to switch over to an EotE-themed game with the party being a group of "independent spacers" rather than agents of the Rebellion.  They also didn't want to create new characters with the absurd (300+) XP required to put them roughly on par with the two escapees, so that means I'll be setting Valin aside for a little while.  Thinking I might actually try out a Colonist/Marshal for this relaunched campaign, as I've been wanting to give that specialization a spin given it's an interesting mix of social acumen and combat prowess.  Still, gonna feel odd not playing Valin, at least for a while.  But then again, the GM did say that once the group got within a reasonable XP range of him, I would be allowed to resume playing my Smuggler/Scoundrel/Force Emergent/Ataru Striker (who has earned 450 XP by this point).  I don't know how much XP the GM is going to hand out, and since we play bi-weekly (give or take), by the time I get to resume playing Valin, the actual core rulebook for Force and Destiny could be on the shelves.  Given that the EotE and AoR core rulebooks were released in July, I'm hoping it's not that long, but we'll see.

Saturday night was a Skype chat with a couple friends, discussing ideas for a Halloween-themed adventure to be run on either the 31st or the 1st.  I think Eric's got a really cool idea for a session, and my suggestion of using Fate Accelerated Edition seemed to really click for him.  So that will be something cool to look forward to.

For the Friday Skype group, I did get the various details (including settling on a name) for my replacement PC in the Age of Rebellion game.  I hadn't posted it here, but my PC in said AoR game, a Human Commander/Tactician, had died during an impromptu mission to free a bunch of resistance cell leaders and a teenage Force adept from an Imperial garrison.  He died from a vibro-knife to the heart wielded by an ISB Agent, keeping the guy from shooting at the rest of the team or prisoners before they all got aboard the Imperial transport we were stealing.  While I had planned/discussed with the GM the exit of my character well in advance, I find that I am going to miss Jacen, at least a bit.  But then, I'm not always comfortable with playing the party leader in an RPG, particularly if I've had a rough day at work beforehand; there were a few times where I honestly felt I was being overly bossy/pushy to the rest of the group (and to the GM a bit) to keep things on-track and moving towards our objectives even when not in combat.

So yeah, an interesting weekend in terms of gaming.

September 16, 2014

Force and Destiny: Dono Version 2.0

A while back, I took a crack at building my namesake Jedi PC from the days of WotC's d20 system, and while it was workable, I wasn't entirely happy with it.  So, being the unabashed tinker monkey that I am, I decided to try some other approaches to building a Force and Destiny version of Donovan Morningfire.  And here's the results:

Donovan Morningfire, Jedi Apprentice (Take Two)
Species: Human (bonus non-career skills are Knowledge: Xenology and Lightsaber)
Career: Guardian
Specializations: Peacekeeper, Ataru Seeker
Total XP: 270
Morality: 50
Emotional Strength: Bravery
Emotional Weakness: Recklessness
Motivation: Justice (Cause) 

Characteristics: Brawn 2, Agility 3, Intellect 2, Cunning 2, Willpower 3, Presence 3
Skills: Brawl 1, Cool 1, Coordination 1, Discipline 1, Knowledge: Xenology 1, Lightsaber 2, Perception 1, Piloting (Planetary) 1, Vigilance 1
Talents (Ataru Striker): Ataru Technique, Conditioned, Jump Up, Parry,  Quick Draw, Reflect
Talents (Peacekeeper): Commanding Presence, Confidence, Second Wind
Force Powers: Enhance (Control Upgrade: Coordination, Control Upgrade: Force Leap [Horizontal]), Move (Control Upgrade: Hurl Objects, Range Upgrade, Strength  Upgrade), Sense (Control Upgrade: Defense, Duration Upgrade)
Soak Value: 3
Wound Threshold: 12
Strain Threshold: 13
Defense (Melee/Ranged): 0/0
Gear: Basic lightsaber (Lightsaber; Damage 6; Crit 2; Range [Engaged]; Breach 1, Sunder), concealing robes (+1 soak), comlink (handheld), glow rod, 3 ration packs, 3 stimpacks, rebreather (as breath mask), utility belt, 200 credits

Okay, so this version's a bit more fragile given no ranks in Toughened or Grit to start out with, but he's certainly a lot more resistant to fear effects and has a good option for strain recovery with Second Wind, which he'll need to help fuel his Parry and Reflect talents.  He's still only got a Force Rating of 1, putting him strictly at Apprentice level, but it works.  Storywise, I just figure he had uncommonly good luck when rolling his Force die.

For his "group resource" I went with the Mentor option, given that his backstory (covered in the fan-fic "Unexpected Destiny") includes Jedi Master Quatre Zidann, who took an unsure-of-himself young boy and helped mold him into a brave (if still reckless) Jedi Knight.  As per the 2nd Beta Update for Force and Destiny, choosing Mentor provides a 5 XP discount on when initially purchasing a new Force Power, which gave Dono an extra 15 XP to play around with, most of which went into Force powers.  Should Mentor not be a group option for whatever reason, easiest fix is to drop the Force Leap upgrade from Enhance and his rank in Perception.

I did opt to keep that rank in Knowledge: Xenology, as for someone that wasn't always the sharpest of kids he was generally pretty-well versed in the traits and habits of the various alien species and cultures of the Rise of the Empire era, even picking up the Twi'lek head-tail language during his adult years.

Overall, I like this build a whole lot, and would love a chance to put Dono on the table in a Force and Destiny game.

September 7, 2014

Force & Destiny Pre-Gens: Human Sentinel/Shadow

Yet another pre-gen, and again one that's not a lightsaber user.  I took the core idea for this character from the notion of Mara Jade in her capacity as the Emperor's Hand, a role for which this character could very well fit, at least in terms of being a covert spy.

Human Sentinel/Shadow
Species: Human (bonus non-career skills are Cool and Melee)
Career: Sentinel
Specializations: Shadow
Total XP:115
Morality: 50
Emotional Strength: Caution
Emotional Weakness: Fear
Motivation: Survival (Ambition) 

Characteristics: Brawn 2, Agility 3, Intellect 2, Cunning 3, Willpower 2, Presence 2
Skills:Computers 1, Cool 1, Deception 1, Melee 1, Perception 1, Skulduggery 2, Stealth 1, Streetwise 1
Talents: Codebreaker, Indistinguishable, Sleight of Mind, Street Smarts
Force Powers: Misdirect (basic power), Sense (basic power)
Soak Value: 3
Defense (Melee/Ranged): 0/0
Wound Threshold: 12
Strain Threshold: 12
Gear: Blaster pistol (Ranged [Light]; Damage 6; Critical 3; Range [Medium]; Stun setting), vibroknife (Melee; Damage 3; Critical 2; Range [Engaged]; Pierce 2, Vicious 1), heavy clothing (+1 soak), comlink (handheld), breath mask, lockpicks, scanner goggles, stimpack (3), utility belt, 460 credits

Design Notes: Like I said, a prototypical Mara Jade type of character, though obviously she's much more focused on the "being sneaky" aspects than being an assassin.  She took a hit to her starting Characteristics, only having two scores at a 3 but she needed that XP for her starting Force powers and to get those two ranks in Skulduggery.

The lockpicks are something I scrounged up from older Star Wars RPG notes of mine, initially written for WotC's RCR version.  Here, they're meant to serve as a primitive counterpart to the electronic lock breaker; in effect a set of thieves' tools for breaking & entering as well as disabling primitive security methods.  Cost-wise I figure 100 credits is about right, with it being an Encumbrance 1 item.  It'd probably also be of some use in picking an electronic lock, but wouldn't qualify a bonus as per the "right tool for the job" sidebar in that instance.

September 6, 2014

Force and Destiny Beta Pre-Gens: Human Shii-Cho Knight

And here I am with yet another Force and Destiny Beta pre-gen character.

You remember when I said that they weren't all be lightsaber wielders?  Well, I've already given you a few characters that weren't, so here's one that is.  In contrast to Donovan, I opted to go with a "back to basics" lightsaber wielder, and you don't get much more basic in terms of lightsaber combat than Shii-Cho, also known as Form I or The Determination Form.

Human Warrior/Shii-Cho Knight
Species: Human (bonus non-career skills are Discipline and Vigilance)
Career: Warrior
Specializations: Shii-Cho Knight 
Total XP:115
Morality: 50
Emotional Strength: Bravery
Emotional Weakness: Anger
Motivation: The Jedi Code (Faith) 

Characteristics: Brawn 3, Agility 2, Intellect 2, Cunning 2, Willpower 3, Presence 2
Skills: Athletics 1, Cool 1, Coordination 1, Discipline 1, Lightsaber 2, Perception 1, Vigilance 1
Talents: Multiple Opponents, Parry, Second Wind, Toughened
Force Powers: Sense (basic power, Control Upgrade: Defense)
Soak Value: 4
Defense: (Melee/Ranged): 0/0
Wound Threshold: 15
Strain Threshold: 13
Gear: Training lightsaber (Lightsaber; Damage 6; Critical --; Ranged [Engaged]; Stun damage), concealing robes (+1 soak), breath mask, comlink (handheld), stimpack (x3), ration pack (3 days), utility belt; 800 credits

Design Notes: One beat-stick, straight up.  He's fairly tough, though a bit susceptible to blaster fire.  I opted to go with only raising his Brawn and Willpower since those feed into his Wound and Strain Thresholds in addition to the Discipline, Lightsaber, and Vigilance skills.  His only Force power is Sense, but he can use that to get a quick defensive boost, and could be a good reason for him to not immediately attack in the opening rounds of combat.  He's got a smattering of ranks in other useful skills, like Cool and Perception, but he is first and foremost a beatstick.

Now admittedly the training lightsaber isn't all that impressive, and I could see some folks thinking this character would be better off taking a much cheaper melee weapon like the truncheon to start with and then going for the +10 XP option rather than the +5XP/+1500 credits that I used.  But I really wanted this guy to start with a lightsaber, and given how lightsaber focusing crystals work in Force and Destiny, it's a simple matter for the Shii-Cho Knight to simply pop out the training emitter and slot in a proper focusing crystal once he happens to find one.

As far as crystal options go, the Krayt Dragon Pearl and Mephite Crystal are both solid options for sheer damage output.  The Lorrdian Gemstone offers some pretty solid defensive boosts, but the reduced damage can be counter-acted by the extended hilt attachment easily enough.

September 5, 2014

Force & Destiny Beta Pre-Gen: Twi'lek Sage

Another sample character from the Force and Destiny Beta.  Previously offered was a character that wasn't really "aware" of their being Force-sensitive, so this time I figured I'd offer up a character that very much is aware of the Force.

Twi'lek Consular/Sage
Species: Twi'lek
Career: Consular
Specializations: Sage
Total XP:110
Morality: 50
Emotional Strength: Compassion
Emotional Weakness: Cruelty
Motivation: Goodness of People (Faith) 

Characteristics: Brawn 1, Agility 2, Intellect 3, Cunning 2, Willpower 3, Presence 3
Skills: Charm 1, Cool 1, Deception 1, Discipline 1, Know: Education 1, Know: Lore 1, Leadership 1
Talents: Kill with Kindness, Researcher
Force Powers: Foresee (basic power), Heal/Harm (basic power)
Soak Value: 2
Defense (Melee/Ranged): 0/0
Wound Threshold: 11
Strain Threshold: 14
Gear: Concealing robes (+1 soak), comlink (handheld), portable healing kit, stimpack (3), 220 credits

Design Notes:For this character build, I wanted to do a "mystic" type of character, and while my first thought was to go with the Mystic career, it turned out that Consular was a better fit for what I had in mind.  The character is a mix of social skills and Force ability, with her two Force powers fitting into the notion of a "mystic" in that she can use the Force to heal or to cause harm while also being "aware" of the Force on a somewhat metaphysical level (thus the Foresee power).  For those of you with the book and checking my math, her rank of Researcher was bought at the 10XP instead of the 5 XP level, setting her up to take ranks in Smooth Talker and Confidence.

Given that Sage is one of two FaD specializations that offer the Force Rating talent twice (but no Dedication), this character is in a good position to become a very skilled Force user, so boosting up the Foresee power and taking the Influence are possible options.  She could also take Sense to boost up her defensive and offensive capabilities as well.  Of course, with the way that Heal/Harm is written, the temptation to deal significant damage to an adversary with a touch is going to always be present, especially as she purchases additional upgrades.