July 4, 2017

May the Fourth (of July) Be With You!

Okay, it's a stretch for the pun, but it's a pun and that makes it worth it.

If you're a resident of the United States, then you're probably at least aware of this being our Independence Day, or as some have called it Brexit 1776, if not out actively celebrating it.

Frankly, I'm not sure there's a whole lot to celebrate. We have a belligerent man-child sitting the Oval Office, a post turtle that's been put into a position he is not even remotely qualified for, and a large portion of our duly elected leaders seem hell bent on screwing over the people that they're supposed to represent.  Yes, the "wealth care" bill that the GOP has been trying (and thus far failing) to ramrod through has stalled out yet again, but I'm dreading that this bill may well pass; it may not impact me directly, but it's going to literally be the death of several people I know and count as friends, and will make things that much harder on friends of mine that are struggling with both health issues and to make ends meet.

On the other hand, I count myself fortunate to live in a blue state, where the bulk of our senators and congresspeople are concerned with the well-being of their constituents, even if with a few of them it's only to ensure that they can continue to be re-elected.  I'm also in an area where the bigotry and hatred that keeps cropping up since the cheeto-faced man-baby took office is not nearly as pronounced as it is on other parts of the country; I won't say it's not present, because I've seen it but I've also seen (and been counted among) good people standing up and against that sort of narrow-minded discrimination that racists and bigots are more open about now that one of their own has (in my view) stolen the election due to meddling by a foreign power.

But, I digress, as there's enough gloom and doom going around as it is.

As I'm sure many of you know, Fantasy Flight Games has announced Genesys, a generic version of the narrative dice system (NaDS?) used in their Star Wars RPG.  The response I've seen has been generally positive, with a number of folks suggesting possible theme books both official and fan-created for a variety of ideas, ranging from FFG properties such as Legend of the Five Rings (almost a given I would think) and Midnight to odd-ball ideas such as professional wrestling.  Me personally, I'd like to see FFG revisit their old Horizons product line, which was a series of "one and done" splats for 3rd edition d20, with the one I would especially love for them to redo being Mechamorphosis, which was essentially Transformers: The RPG with the serial numbers filed off and a different backstory for why the 'mechs were on Earth.

I only got to play Mechamophosis for a few sessions, with the GM having largely put the serial numbers back on, but I had fun playing Charger, a brash yet well-meaning young(ish) Autobot whose alt-mode was a ridiculously souped-up muscle car whose crowning moment was an impromptu demolition derby against a pack of Not!Dreadnoks.  In retrospect, I abused the hell out of the system, namely that by 'bot had DR10 versus anything that wasn't Cybertronian tech in origin and that damage from human-based tech was dropped by 10, meaning I could get into collisions all day long and suffer little more than a scratched paint job.

For those that participated in the open beta for Fantasy Flight Games' Force and Destiny, some of those who were on the FFG forums might recall that during that process, I had proposed some alternate layouts for five of the six the Lightsaber Form specs; at the time I felt that Niman Disciple was the only one that really didn't need any work, and it's a view I still hold today.  Granted, a large part of the layout changes was to accommodate a proposed change to how the damage reduction values for Parry and Reflect were calculated, which obviously FFG didn't go for.

At this year's GamerNationCon (a blast as always), I got to talking a bit with Will aka Taigia Reilly about a few different topics, one of which was that he liked the alternate layouts that I had proposed for the Ataru Striker during the Force and Destiny Beta.  Which after the con got me to thinking about what other tweaks I would make the remaining Lightsaber Form specializations?

So, over the past several weeks I've been playing around a bit with some of the Lightsaber Form specializations, seeing what worked with regards to the alterations and what didn't.  Overall, the versions that FFG published in Force and Destiny are pretty solid.  Now, if you've been following this blog in any way, shape, or form, then you're probably aware that I have what could be called a fundamental difference of opinion on the Shii-Cho Knight specialization, mostly centered around how FFG gave it zero ranks of Reflect and thus no protection against ranged attacks.  To be clear, I'm not saying that Sam or whomever wrote up the spec did it wrong, just that the author and I came to different conclusions from the same source material.  For easiness' sake, I'll be including what is probably my final take on a revised Shii-Cho Knight in this post, as well as discussing later on why I made the changes I did.

For the specializations where I changed the layout or talent selection, I've placed a hyperlink to an image of the revised spec's talent tree, which is stored on my Dropbox account.  Kudos go to OggDude, as the talent tree images were created using his Character Generator program; if you don't have that program and you're using a computer that runs Windows, do yourself a favor and grab this program as it incredibly useful and makes storing and sharing characters so much easier.

Ataru Striker
Overall, this is a solid spec, capturing the core idea that Ataru is physically demanding and not well-suited for facing multiple foes at once.  So really, the only alteration I made was to drop the third rank of Parry and replace it with the Improved Reflect talent, since a large part of Ataru's development came from the thought that Soresu was far too passive but still incorporating some of Form III's defensive elements.  With this change, I also severed the connection between Row 4 and Row 5 in the first column, so if your Ataru Striker wants to get Improved Reflect, they'll need Dedication to accomplish it (see what I did there?)  I had considered removing the connection between Row 4 and Row 5 in the second column as well, but I didn't care for the idea of forcing the PC to have to go through Saber Throw in order to get Dedication, especially since if the PC wants to get the most mileage out of Improved Reflect, they're going to be burning strain for both their Dodge and Reflect talents.

Makashi Duelist
The layout of the specialization is by and large perfect, capturing Form II's feel as a duelist-orientated style.  However, that doesn't mean it's without something I perceive as a problem, one that got high-lighted during the Force and Destiny Beta campaign that I ran for some friends.  One of the characters was a Nautolan Mystic/Makashi Duelist, infamous for his giant grin (one PC even seriously considering painting an image of the Nautolan's grinning mug on the front of the ship).  Overall, the character did really well, even making good use of a double-bladed lightsaber until the weapon got updated to have Unwieldy 3 instead of Unwieldy 2.  However, the issue came up that his primary means of defense against melee attacks was the Feint talent, which looks great on paper, but does you no good if you continue to hit your opponent, which in turn means the player has spent XP on talents they can't really use.

So, my proposed alteration for Makashi Duelist is instead for the Feint talent, namely to allow the character to spend 3 advantage or a Triumph from a Brawl, Lightsaber, or Melee combat check regardless of whether they hit or miss.  It does mean that in a melee fight, the Makashi Duelist is going to be very difficult to score a solid attack against, and that if you do hit there's a good chance they'll be able to use Improved Parry to score a hit in return, but really that's the Makashi Duelist's thing, is to be a very daunting opponent in a one-on-one duel, and that a true master of Form II is a tough nut to crack when it comes to crossing blades.

Niman Disciple
Sticking to my guns here, and I'll say that Niman Disciple is picture-perfect as far as the Lightsaber Form specs go with regards to talent layout, talent selection, talent mechanics, and bonus non-career skills.  So no revisions from me on this one.

Shien Expert
Another specialization that's got zero issues with regards to what talents it offers, how those talents work, and the bonus career skills the spec offers.  I could see some contention with the Counterstrike talent, as it requires your target to miss you, but that's strongly mitigated once you get Disruptive Strike, which if you've got a Force die (or two) available as well as Sense's defensive control upgrade running and have used Defensive Stance, you should have little trouble forcing your opponent to miss on their attacks, setting up Counterstrike for a free upgrade every round and saving you some pain both in terms of suffering wounds and spending strain.

About the only tweak I'd make with regards to Shien Expert is more to the Sentinel career, with that change being to remove Knowledge (Core Worlds) and instead add Streetwise to their list of beginning career skills.  The Sentinel, to me at least, has always been about walking the dark places that no others would enter, skulking around the shadier parts of the galaxy in an effort to find and defeat their foes.  Yes, I know that Shien Expert gets the Street Smarts talent, and that Shadow has Streetwise as a bonus career skill, but Knowledge (Core Worlds) still feels like the odd duck out in what is generally a very rogue-like/investigative career, and Streetwise makes more sense as it's a means to gather information from the locals.

Shii-Cho Knight
Okay, so this is a specialization that I've been tinkering with for a while, mostly to find space to incorporate two ranks of Reflect so that the PC has some measure of protection against ranged attacks, to account for the blast-deflect training that is an integral part of the more modern Shii-Cho curriculum.  Now, I suppose that one could just design a brand new spec and call it something like Shii-Cho Champion or Shii-Cho Crusader, but I didn't want to redesign the entire car when it was the tires that were a problem.

The first change was that I swapped out the rank of Parry in Row 1 of Column 1 for a rank of Reflect, letting the PC grab both Parry and Reflect very early on.  However, contrary to earlier takes on a revised Shii-Cho Knight, I put the second rank of Reflect all the way up on Row 5, replacing the rank of Durable and also severing the Row 5 connection between Column 1 and Column 2.  Given that Form I Shii-Cho is supposed to be the fundamentals of lightsaber combat that all the other Forms are built upon, I didn't want this spec to be too good melee protection, so I wound up dropping out the rank of Parry that's found in Row 5 of Column 4 and putting that second rank of Durable in its place, while also severing the Row 5 connection between Column 3 and Column 4 and adding a connection between Row 4 and Row 5 in Column 4, so that it's liked to Sum Djem instead of Dedication.

This is probably the one revised Lightsaber Form specialization that I've done the most playtesting with, given that my long-time friend Linda Whitson was gracious enough to let me play a Shii-Cho Knight in her Age of Rebellion campaign (where none of the active PCs were built using AoR careers).  The character in question, Kyren Stryder, has worked out pretty well, though amusingly he didn't get an opportunity to really make use of a lot of his talents until long after he'd gotten them, as he didn't draw his lightsaber (which none of the other players even knew he had!) until about halfway into Linda's running of the Dead in the Water adventure from the AoR GM Kit.

Soresu Defender
Again, overall this specialization is generally solid.  There's a few quirks, namely how Defensive Circle can be kinda underwhelming if most of your party already has a defense rating, such as from wearing armor or being behind cover or using weapons with the Defensive and/or Deflection qualities, which is compounded if your dice rolls tend not to generate much in the way of advantage, which more often than not a Soresu Defender will likely need to help recover strain during a fight.

Really the only that struck me as being "off" about the specialization was how the ranks in Reflect simply felt clustered too close together, especially towards the top while the half the ranks of Parry the spec offers are planted in the first row.  So what I did here was replace the rank in Parry located in Row 1 of Column 2 with a rank in Reflect, and then changing the rank in Reflect from Row 2 in the same column to a rank of Parry, which I think makes a nice synergy with the fact that Improved Parry is now most easily accessible after buying Parry as opposed to buying Reflect.  I also swapped out the Row 3 rank of Parry that was in Column 4 for a rank of Reflect while replacing the Row 4 rank of Reflect in Column 2 for a rank of Parry; this does have the effect of placing two ranks of Parry right next to each other, which could be solved by swapping its location in the tree with Confidence, but at the time I wasn't overly crazy about pushing Confidence up to Row 4, though with having Discipline as a bonus career skill and most likely having a high Willpower to bolster your strain threshold, having to wait a bit longer to purchase Confidence isn't that big of a drawback, and I may just wind up doing that.

The last notable change I made to Soresu Defender was to swap out the Defensive Stance talent in Row 4 of Column 4 for a single rank of Side Step, kind of taking a page from Shien Expert's playbook, which makes a degree of sense given that Form V grew out of Form III's defensive elements; plus, much like Shien Expert having that rank of Side Step gives a Soresu Defender PC a better chance of getting Improved Reflect to trigger without necessarily having to invest XP into the Sense power for the defensive control upgrade.

One of the players in my current Force and Destiny campaign did make the suggestion of dropping Supreme Parry in favor of Supreme Reflect, but I honestly think that's going a bit too far, and that such a degree of expertise at deflecting blaster fire is Shien's hat, where Soresu is more of the "I can Parry all day!" given its a direct transition from Form II.

So, there you have it, my proposed revisions for the six Lighsaber Form specs from the Force and Destiny core rulebook.  To re-iterate, there's nothing wrong with any of the specializations as they exist in the book, as each of them does a very good job at what they're intended to do.  I'm simply offering these up as possible alternatives for a player of such characters to consider or GMs to perhaps ponder implementing in their own campaigns.

One a side note, I was working on revising and updating the three Lightsaber Style specializations that Phil "DarthGM" Maiaweski had created as part of his Edge of the Jedi fan supplement back before Force and Destiny was published.  However, the main problem I kept running into was they consistently failed the "why would my character NOT take one of these specializations?" and frequently looked more a like a grab-bag of "good talents" with a theme than actually being a viable specialization in its own right.  Then again, I did already sort of a "lightsaber generalist" specialization in the form of the Jedi Initiate universal specialization that was part of the final release of my Ways of the Force fan supplement, and that itself was enough of a bear to turn it into a viable specialization that wasn't simply a talent grab-bag.

I am tempted to put together a "Saber Rake"-themed specialization, based upon the dueling culture of the same name that was first introduced in WEG's Lords of the Expanse box set for their Star Wars game.  I'm hoping we get official stats on lightfoils in the Mystic sourcebook (which to me would be a good place for dueling-themed weapon given it's the parent career of the Makashi Duelist), but we'll have to wait and see.

If you've made it all the way down here, thanks for reading, and if you're a citizen of the United States, be you proud, dismayed, concerned, native-born, naturalized, or otherwise, then I hope you have an enjoyable holiday, and may the Fourth be with you :D
see what I did there? ;)

June 24, 2017

A Pair of Character Oddballs

As any veteran RPG player will tell you, every so often you get one of those off-the-wall ideas for a character that just simply won't let you be until you put pencil to paper and actually write up that screwball character concept.  Now generally, a lot of those "oddball characters" that folks come up with generally aren't viable in the long-term; at best the character might make it through a one-shot adventure or a brief module, but the novelty factor tends to wear off pretty quickly for a lot of these builds.  Some however manage to stand the test of time, being so odd and off-beat that they become endearing to the group as a whole, or that they turn out to be surprisingly effective in their role.

I've seen several of these oddball characters make the grade, two of whom came from the same campaign, that being a Legacy Era campaign run by Ben "Cyril" Erickson using the Star Wars Saga Edition system.  The first of these notables were Kirkineery-tovante aka Kiri, a Squib Scoundrel played by Kevin "Rikoshi" Frane, whose in-character mannerisms and voice (this was played over Skype) made the character incredibly memorable, with the other being Niera Kurcz, an Arkanian Noble/Scoundrel played by Nateal "Tariel" Falk who in summation was rather odd; that she was a cyborg'd Force sensitive should give you a clue as to just how off beat this particular character was.  In comparison, the two PCs I played were rather bland and boring, though I did have fun.

One of the players in my regular Skype gaming group, Rick, has a penchant for coming up with some rather bizarre character ideas for what seems any system that he comes across, one of the more recent ones that he'd gotten to play being Felagi (or Ferngully as our regular Mutants & Masterminds GM Eric calls him), who was created for a cosmic-themed campaign and was built to primarily be a support character with minimal offensive abilities.  And to the surprise and delight of the player, Felagi turned out to be quite successful, and even managed to kick off an intergalactic fashion trend of wearing pirate outfits after pilfering such an outfit from a spacefaring squid man (Captain Kraken for those familiar with the Freedom City setting).

Now, why am I making this post?  Well, the reason is I've had a couple of these banging around in my noggin for a while now, and neither of them have been for Star Wars.  So, to get these particular character notions out of my head so that I can make room for things like working on my Force and Destiny campaign and/or the modules I plan to run at next year's GamerNationCon, I've put pencil to paper as it were, and wrote up those two oddballs.  And now I'm posting them here for others to read, hopefully enjoy, and maybe even make use of in a game.

First, since I was hooked on a feeling...

Krist Goodburrow (D&D 5th Edition)
Halfling (lightfoot) Sorcerer 1
Hit Points: 7 (1d6 hit dice)
Proficiency Bonus: +2
Speed: 25 feet
Alignment: Chaotic Good
Languages: Common, Halfling
Background: Charlatan

Ability Scores
Strength 8 (-1), Dexterity 16 (+3), Constitution 12 (+1), Intelligence 13 (+1), Wisdom 10 (+0), Charisma 16 (+3)

Racial Features (as per page 28 of the D&D 5e Player's Handbook)
Brave, Halfling Nimbleness, Lucky, Naturally Stealthy

Class Features
Saving Throws: Constitution and Charisma
Sorcerous Origin: Pelvic Sorcery (c/o Steve Kenson)
Spellcasting (Spell Attack +5, Spell Save DC 13)
Cantrips: Dancing Lights, Fire Bolt, Shocking Grasp, Thunderclap
Spells: Catapult, Color Spray, Expeditious Retreat
Skill Proficiencies: Arcana, Deception, Insight, Sleight of Hand
Tool Proficiencies: Disguise Kit, Forgery Kit

Sling, pair of daggers, arcane focus, explorer's pack, set of fine clothes, disguise kit, set of weighted dice, belt pouch containing 15 gold pieces

Notes: In case it's not obvious, the Pelvic Sorcery is a bit of home-brew material created by Steve Kenson, best known for being the primary creative force behind Green Ronin's Mutants & Masterminds superhero RPG, drawing its inspiration from the Guardians of the Galaxy film, notably Gamora's comment about how she wasn't about let herself be take in by Peter Quill's "pelvic sorcery."  It's actually a pretty fun sorcerous origin, offering some fun abilities from first level all the way up to 18th level.  I've no idea how well these would hold up compared to the official sorcerous origins in terms of actual game play, but I'm fairly certain that the character would be memorable.

And now for the other oddball character, this one from the wuxia-themed FATE Core game Tianxia.  And if you're asking if he's paid his dues, he'll look you right in the eye and say "yes sir, the check is in the mail."

Burdenless Jo
High Concept: Boisterous Drifter
Trouble: Loud-Mouthed Braggart
Aspects: Courage of a Thousand Fools, Fate's Favorite Punching Bag, "It's like Burdenless Jo always says..."
Refresh: 3
Jianghu Rank: 1

Great (+4): Drive
Good (+3): Athletics, Provoke
Fair (+2): Deceive, Fight, Shoot
Average (+1): Investigate, Notice, Physique, Will

Kung Fu Style: Stone Monkey
Technique: Stone Resists the Blow

A Fool's Bravado: You may use Provoke instead of Will to defend against Provoke attacks.
All In the Reflexes: If you successfully defend with style against a ranged projectile attack, you can sacrifice your next action to immediately inflict an attack on your opponent at the shift value of your defense plus two.
Talk Like The Wind: Gain a +2 bonus to overcome obstacles using Deceive, provided you do not have to talk to the person you're trying to deceive for more than a few sentences.

Notes: Now, it should be pretty damn obvious who this character is inspired by.  I've always been a big fan of John Carpenter's film Big Trouble in Little China, a film that may have failed at the box office but has certainly become a cult classic (Indeed!)  Granted, Drive as a skill probably won't see a whole ton of use in many Tianxia campaigns, but you put this man at the reins of a cart or means of conveyance and he'll be able to pull off some fairly impressive stuff.  Actually, Burdenless Jo is probably a more competent individual (even with his lower-than-typical score in Fight for a Tianxia hero) than ol' Jack Burton himself.  And with three Fate Points at the start of each session as well as Aspects that are geared to let the character earn even more of them, he should certainly be able to shake the Pillars of Heaven while dropping one-liners (pithy or otherwise) along the way.

May 26, 2017

Converted Dueling Styles for 7th Sea 2nd Edition

So here's something that I've been working on for a while, usually in a fairly casual basis.  Given that the latest installment of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise hits theaters today, it seemed appropriate to finally publish this.

7th Sea 2nd Edition - Converted Dueling Styles

A bit of background as to how this document came about: I had actually started this not-so-little conversion project way back in October 2016, long before the Explorer's Society option for publishing fan made 7th Sea material was officially a thing.  It started out pretty small, consisting of only a handful of adaptations of 7th Sea's 1st edition Swordsman Schools into workable Duelist Styles for the game's 2nd edition.  I did get a bit of feedback on the forum I initially posted the material at, some good, some bad, and some useful, but I ultimately chose to remove the material from that forum as things were starting to get a little too toxic for my taste.

One problem with the initial conversions was that I really didn't have a chance to play test these in mock combats as much as I would have liked.  Part of the reason it's taken me so long to finish up these conversions and then post them is that I've tried to run mock combats in a preset collection of scenarios (Duelist Hero vs. small Brute Squad, Duelist Hero vs. large Brute Squad, Duelist Hero vs. strong non-Duelist Villain, Duelist Hero vs. weak Duelist Villain, and Duelist Hero vs. strong Duelist Villain) to see how they shook out.  Overall, I'm pretty satisfied with how the various styles shook out.  They're not perfect, but as Steve Kenson (a game designer whom I deeply respect) said with regards to RPG design, there comes a point when you've got to say "it's good enough" and release it, otherwise you'll be "working on improving" the material forever.

From the very outset, I never intended to do conversions of every single 1e Swordsman School that got published (and there were a lot of them).  I mostly focused on the ones that I firstly found to be interesting and secondly that I could come up with something nifty for the style bonus.  One thing I tried to avoid was rampant re-skins of style bonuses for previously published Duelist styles.  If the only thing I could come up with for a style was a total re-skin, I simply dropped the the style.  There are a couple of exceptions as those Duelist styles I felt had enough in-game flavor to warrant their inclusion even if the style bonus wasn't anything truly original.

I did add a few converted Advantages, such as a revamp of the 1e Exploit Weakness Swordsman knack and the Left-Handed Advantage, as well as a little something for the professional pugilists out there that prefer bare-knuckles to bared steel.  I had considered doing a conversion of the Finnegan "Swordsman" School (aka Drunken Irish Boxing), but I ultimately opted not to, even if I did come up with a pretty nifty style bonus (which wound up being used for the Lucani style bonus instead).

Now, some of you may be aware that one of the initial releases for the Explorer's Society was the supplement "At Sword's Point," written by Rob Weiland.  What you may not be aware of is that I wrote a pretty scathing review of the product on DriveThruRPG (it's the only review of the product so far), due to the vast majority of the dueling style conversions being either clunky to the point of "why bother?" or being unimaginative tweaks of styles from the core rulebook.  I'm sorry, but if I'm going to take a Duelist style, I want to be able to do something that's not only cool, but isn't just a bland reskin of another style.  For instance, Rob's take on MacDonald, a style that favors using the Highlands claymore is just the core book's Ambrogia using different Traits.  There were a couple points where Rob and I had very similar ideas as to what a style's bonus should be (Lucani for instance).  To be honest, had this product been any good, I would have totally abandoned this conversion project of mine in favor of the "official version."  Yes, I gave it 2 stars, but that's only because I feel a 1 star rating is reserved for something that is complete and utter garbage that should have never been purchased in the first place.

I suppose one question that might crop up with regards with this document of mine is "why didn't you publish this as part of the Explorer's Society?"  Well, there are two good reasons.  The first is that I didn't feel this constituted an original enough work, since it's based very much off 1st edition material that belongs to John Wick.  The second is that trying to get this published for sale when there's already a similar product out there just felt incredibly tacky, as well as disingenuous given the rather scathing review I'd left for the product.  As to which one is "definitively better", Rob's "At Sword's Point" or my "Converted Dueling Styles," that's something I leave to the individual to decide.  If a table wants to mix and match, pulling Duelist styles from both files, then have at it.

So, there's the story on the how and why regarding the creation and sharing of this little project of mine.  I hope you find it useful, and that the Duelist style bonuses I've created don't prove to be more powerful than I anticipated.

As for the latest PotC flick... yeah, I think I'll wind up waiting for it to hit Netflix.  The trailers did little to make me want to see the film, and as much as I've enjoyed seeing Johnny Depp's performance as Captain Jack Sparrow, I think the character has worn out his welcome for me.

May 4, 2017

It's a Resistance, right? And May the 4th Be With You!

Firstly, happy Star Wars Day to my fellow Star Wars geeks.

Setting this up ahead of time to post, as my own plans to celebrate the day consist of a Star Wars movie marathon several friends at the recently finished home theater of one of our cadre, with pizza, popcorn, and soda a plenty.  Which in retrospect will mean having to face the Revenge of the Fifth, but it'll be worth it.

Since we'll be kicking off said mini-marathon with Rogue One and ending with The Force Awakens, I got the notion to post a collection of heroes that combine elements of those two movies.  Built using FFG's Age of Rebellion (as well as including elements from Edge of the Empire), these characters are akin to the crew of Rogue One in that they are a special ops type of group comprised of a variety of different character types.  However, rather than fighting the tyranny of the Galactic Empire, they instead are members of the Resistance, working against the First Order in an effort to prevent the galaxy from once again being engulfed in the flames of war, mostly following leads on trying to uncover what the First Order's plans are.

For each of these characters, I built them with an additional +25XP as well as an extra 1500 credits.  I've come to find that having that extra XP lets me better fine-tune a character concept while still keeping them at the lower end of the power level, and the extra credits means that these characters are sure to have the bare minimum of the various toys they'd need to fit their concept.  I also deliberately tried out different species, career, and specialization combinations that I otherwise would probably have never considered playing. I had used a few of these characters as alternate pre-gens for the Discovery on Jakku, the introductory adventure from The Force Awakens Beginner Box.  And for the most part, they worked out pretty good, most of them able to accomplish their intended roles, though sadly some poor dice luck at the worst possible time ruined a couple moments that would have otherwise allowed certain characters to shine.  There were a couple tweaks needed here and there, but overall I think each of these characters is a solid build and as a group would work great for either a one-shot, be it a published module or an off-the-cuff adventure, or as the basis of a campaign; even with the extra starting XP and credits, there's still plenty of room for each of these characters to grow and develop.  And while their respective Duty and Motivations make reference to the Resistance and the First Order, it'd be a trivial matter to swap those to the Alliance and the Empire and drop one or all of these characters into the midst of Galactic Civil War.

So without further ado, here are a quintet of  Heroes of the Resistance...


Cyrin Ulyette, Mirialian Ace/Hotshot
By far the youngest member of the group, Cyrin is the team pilot and mechanic, able to put most any starship through its paces and pull off hi-speed maneuvers that leave other pilots in her wake.

Dewwarra, Wookiee Soldier/Trailblazer
Still considered to be an inexperienced youth among his people, Dewwarra has quite a lot of first-hand experience in surviving a number of inhospitable places, and making sure that his allies survive them as well.

Inder Skirata, Mandalorian Spy/Infiltrator
Certainly not fighting the typical image of an armor-clad Mando warrior, Inder is something of an outcast from Clan Skirata, reliant more upon stealth to win the day, though he's not adverse to using brutal methods if that's what's called for.

Jhyo Bendaki, Twi'lek Commander/Figurehead
The nephew of a Rebel Alliance agent from the days of the Galactic Civil War, Jhyo has put his own spin on being in charge of this rag-tag little group, employing a mix of charm, confidence, playful insincerity, and bold words to keep his team motivated and ensure success.

RA-F1T5, Droid Diplomat/Analyst
Referred to as "Fitz" given the droid's reaction to some of the more out there antics of the other team members, this RA-7 protocol droid might be ill-suited to "aggressive task resolution" but he is quite adept at slicing data networks, and though not as fluent in multiple forms of communications as other protocol droids, his databanks are packed with a variety of information that can prove useful in most any situation.

As the group's starting resource for when I ran them through Discovery on Jakku, I gave them an extensively modified HWK-290 freighter, dubbed the Sly Flourish, which is also included.  She's a fast ship, quite maneuverable and packs a decent bit of firepower.  While she won't last very long in a straight-up fight, as a reconnaissance vessel the Sly Flourish does it's job very well, and is generally able to survive long enough to outrun most threats.

April 5, 2017

GamerNationCon 4 - Acheivement "A New Hope" Unlocked

Well, so much for plans of making regular updates...

It's been a couple days since I got back home from attending the fourth GamerNationCon down in Dallas, Texas, or as I prefer to think of it, the The True Best Four Days of Actual Gaming.  I'd posted on Facebook my initial thoughts back on Monday, but now that I've had a bit of time to recoup and consider, I thought I'd post more of why I intend to never miss this fun little con if I have any say in the matter.

Firstly, a big thinks to Phil "Darth GM" and his brother Andrew for being willing to split the cost of a rental car to help ensure that my buddy Eric and I would have a ride not only to and from the con site, but also a ride back to the airport come Monday morning rather than have to pay for a cab.  I can't fault Phil for "going Rogue" and taking a Nissan Rogue as his vehicle for a con that had a strong (or just stronger than usual) Star Wars theme.

The Wednesday before the convention is fun in and of itself.  Not only did I get some really good barbecue at an old-style BBQ pit joint, but got to catch up with friends that I'd not seen since last year, on top of getting to chat a bit with Guest of Honor Katrina Ostrander (aka Kat).  After dinner, spent some time in the hotel lobby chatting with Jim, Isaac, and Will about ideas for some new character types for Feng Shui 2, namely a Trick Shooter archetype that's less John Wu two-gun flash and more precision shooting with a sidearm; I'm looking forward to seeing the final product once they get it finalized.  Seems they also really liked the ideas I put forth for a "Drunken Boxer" move set for the Martial Artist, as I believe Jim is actually playing that character in a campaign that Isaac is running.

Okay, so one RPG setting that I very much like but rarely get a chance to play in is that of Legend of the Five Rings, formerly published by AEG but now under the stewardship of FFG.  A couple GenCons ago, I was pleased to find that Kat was herself a huge fan of the game and setting (on top of being a major anime fan), and she seemed quite intrigued at my suggestion of checking out at least the first of the live-action Rurouni Kenshin movies (it's really good, and ties the disparate plots of the first several manga volumes together in an enjoyable and surprisingly coherent manner, on top of the casting for most of the characters being spot-on, especially Kenshin).  Sadly, I didn't have an opportunity to register for either of the two L5R events she was running at the con, but fortune favored this mortal man and I was able to hop into her Thursday session.  I mush admit, I loved her method of allowing the players to create characters as part of the introduction to the game, where in I made a Kakita Bushi as part of a group of six that included a two shugenja (Kuni and Soshi), a courtier (Crane), a monk (Dragon), and a second bushi (Unicorn).  The adventure itself was more of an investigative affair, though there were a couple of scenes set up specifically for the bushi characters; I guess that Kat asking if anybody was making a duelist and her relief that I was doing so should have been a clue.  I'll say no more, as I might try running this myself and I don't want to spoil anything for my friends that read this who themselves may wind up being players.

A bit more on Kat's method of quick-building PCs, which she liberally borrowed from Apocalypse World (I may need to check that out).  She did a similar thing for her Star Wars sessions, one of which my long-time friend Linda got to play in, and she liked the concept as well.  I have to admit it's pretty inventive, and not only does it give the player a bit more investment in the character as it's one that they've made (even if the selections available are a bit limited by necessity) but it means the GM doesn't have to work as much to fill up a four hour time slot.  I'd asked Kat if she could e-mail a copy of the different character folios that she put together, one so that I could see all the different options, but also so that I could make use of them for running L5R games myself, as it'd save time that I'd have to spend creating pre-gens.

Also on Thursday I got to do a "slot zero" pick-up of my 7th Sea Second Edition adventure "An Idol Venture," which is an expansion/update of my initial 7th Sea mini-adventure "An Idol Pursuit."  Apparently it wasn't quite expanded enough, as the players completed the adventure in a little over three hours.  I suppose I could bolster up the combat sequences, as the PCs were generally able to crush them in a single round.  The players generally had fun, though sadly I think Isaac was a bit brain-fried from having stayed up to stupid o'clock in the morning the night before, as he had a hard time wrapping his head around how 7th Sea 2e handles approaches and combat sequences, which to be fair may have also been a bit my fault as well.  Still, the players had fun, even if one of them did seem determined to keep the spotlight securely on him at all times instead of letting other players have their turn to be awesome.  One of my players was Kat Ostrander, and was glad that she enjoyed the adventure, even if a few things from how I did things in the adventure through her (at least according to a Facebook post of hers).

Friday got off to a bit of a quieter start.  I made the walk with my long-time friend Linda over to Madness Games and Comics, which to be frank is less of a gaming store and more of a gaming mall, given the sheer size of the place and the volume of products for sale.  I wound picking up a pack of 10-sided dice so that I'd have a set for my own use while being able to share a set at the table for further 7th Sea sessions.  I was hoping to find a red-and-white set (colors of the Hare Clan from L5R), but settled on a gold and white set instead, as well as grabbing a couple of new shirts for myself and an Animal-themed shirt that said "Party Animal" for Linda's daughter Ari.  Then it was a walk back so that I could run my Star Wars adventure "Taris City Rumble."  I had tried to run a version of it at last year's GNC, but to no avail, so this year I preregistered it and wound up with a full table.  I'd made a number of changes from the initial version, including totally revamping the PCs, and I think it worked out for the best.  The table had fun, with an older gentleman really getting into character as the exiled Tapani noble, though I did wind up largely improvising the final leg of the module due to the players taking a rather unexpected approach to things, but it wound up being a fast-paced and suitably frantic scene with one of the PCs getting dropped and the half of the group who weren't spec'd out for combat taking on the NPC that was the major combat threat.  They did a pretty good job of holding said threat at bay until the Jedi character was able to leap in and blind the adversary with a rake of their lightsaber through the eyes with a critical injury that pretty much took it out of the fight.  The denouement at the end had the PCs sweating a bit, given the nature of who they had to interact with at the adventure's conclusion, which was fun.  Again, the players had fun, so I'd call that winning.  Still, it wound up running over, but I'm not sure if there's anything I could really trim from it without putting the party on rails, something I prefer to avoid doing if at all possible.

After that, I played in a Star Wars pick-up game run by Linda, her "Little Girl Lost" adventure which was based off an adventure she ran for the Skype group we're both part of.  Sadly, I think she overestimated the capability of the pre-gens she offered, most of whom were pretty much starting PCs in terms of XP and gear, as the challenges were a whole lot tougher than they really should of been, with Hard difficulty checks being handed out like candy, especially in the early going.  She did say that she spent some time talking with Keith Kappel, prolific freelance writer for FFG about things she did wrong and things that could be improved.  Given how much she doubts her ability to GM games, I give her a mountain of credit for being willing and able to GM for a group that was almost entirely comprised of strangers.

And to cap off the Friday night, I played in another pick-up game, this one being a D&D 5e adventure run by Brev Tanner.  I'm pretty good at improve as a GM, but I usually prefer to have some sort of outline written up ahead of time, but I was impressed at Brev for pretty much running the entire adventure by the seat of his pants.  He did use a quintet of pre-gens, with my playing a High Elf Monk (personally there's a few things I'd have done differently with the character, but I tend to feel that way about most pre-gens, and I'm sure there are folks that feel the same with the pre-gens I make; nature of the beast I suppose).  The adventure was a lot of fun, even if there were some things that were just plain wrong occurring, but kudos again to Brev for the different voices employed for various NPCs we encountered and interacted with.  I probably stayed up way too late, but it was worth it.

Saturday started with not enough sleep, but I managed to get in a brief session of Red Dragon Inn.  Normally I'm not much for board games, but I had some time to kill and the Whitson family were looking for another player to join them and Kat, and it was indeed fun.  Sadly, we had to cut the game short so that we could all attend Kat Ostrander's panel.  It was cool to get more of an insight into how she does her game prep, writes adventures, and the contrast of players who favor crunch-heavy RPGs as compared to those who prefer rules-lighter narrative-heavy RPGs and the contrast of what each camp sees as "winning" the game.  Personally, I'm of the camp that "winning" in an RPG means that every player in the game had fun, and it would seem the majority of the Gamer Nation is of a similar mind set.

After the panel, I got into yet another pick-up game, this time a Dresden Files RPG set in Las Vegas run by long-time d20 Radio alumni Tim Rayburn, formerly of the Radio Free Hommlet (who?) D&D 4e podcast.  Tim ran our group through character creation for a group that apart from myself and his wife Kate had never even seen Fate before.  It was a really fun adventure, and I had to chuckle at Tim remarking that the party (three of whom were investigators of some sort or another) were about to Greyhawk one particular scene.  I kind of feel like I took more of a lead than maybe I should have, but the other players didn't seem to mind, and it did help keep things moving, even if my PC did inadvertently stumble into a situation he really shouldn't have; it wasn't bad per se, just embarrassing.   Of course, this being set in the Dresdenverse and involving the Fae, the whole adventure revolved around a situation that could have been far more easily resolved by a couple of NPCs simply talking to each other instead of invoking an overly-complicated chain of events, which lead to my ending the session with the frustrated exclamation of "Fucking Faeries!" to the group's mutual laughter.

Saturday night's gaming wrapped up with my running a second 7th Sea 2e adventure, this one called "Once Upon a Harvest Moon."  The adventure was initially run as a one-shot for my Skype group for when our regularly scheduled game had to be put on hold due to a couple players not being available, and was itself based upon the adventure module "Lady of the Apples" for the Shadow of the Demon Lord RPG.  Set in Eisen, the adventure was generally dark and creepy, and thus slated for an evening time slot.  Overall, I think this session went a lot better than my Thursday session, with the chap that played the priest probably being the most memorable of the characters.  The one hiccup was that during the final scene, one of the players was paying more attention to her phone (trying to order food), which certainly aggravated me but I simply dealt with it.  I am seriously considering instituting a "no phones unless you're using it as a dice roller" policy at any further games I run.  I'm going to give the adventure write-up one more look-through, and then will probably post it here to the blog.

While I didn't get to play in any of Phil's sessions of his much-acclaimed Fallout module (based off FFG's Star Wars system), I did get to listen in on the tail end of his Saturday night pick-up, of which most of the players were varying degrees of inebriated, as was the GM, and I'm certain that made things lively.  While waiting for Phil to sober up enough to be in good enough shape to drive, I did get to converse a bit with a few different folks at the con, so it wasn't like I was hanging around bored.  Still, I wonder if I should have taken Linda up on the offer of a lift back to the con so that I wouldn't have another night of minimal sleep.  I did still manage to adhere to the 4-2-1 rule (4 hours' sleep, 2 full meals, 1 shower), so it's all good.

Finally we rolled into Sunday.  Apart from a last minute session of Artemis, I really didn't do all that much gaming, due to being a little out of it as well as wanting to put a few different RPG adventure ideas for next year's GamerNationCon onto paper.  I did stop over to where Kat was running her final L5R session, and for some reason to do a fairly decent impression of Samurai Jack's Aku, bellowing "Foolish samurai!"  One of the players rolled with it, and I'm not sure if Kat was more amused or annoyed; I'm going to lean towards the later as she wasn't feeling quite so hot after drinking as much as she had during Phil's Fallout module and Aku's voice doesn't exactly lend itself towards subtlety.

After the con ended was the auction, and the only item that I wanted (a pretty cool dice tower in the theme of a Death Star laser turret) went to somebody else, so I walked away with nothing.  Ah well, but at least Linda got herself a copy of the Endless Vigil sourcebook.

The con itself pretty much wrapped up with what I've taken to calling the "dead dog dinner," largely as we're all dead-tired, yet doggedly trying to keep the fun going as we have one final group dinner.  There was a bit of a hiccup, as the Italian place that Dave originally chose turned out to have been recently closed for business, causing a relocation to a different Italian place.  I joked to Dave that what had happened is that when he made his Foresee power check, he'd rolled straight dark side, with Dave laughingly adding that he also rolled a Despair.  If you're not familiar with those terms, they're to do with FFG Star Wars.  Still, it was a good dinner, and I got to spend a good chunk of time with the Whitsons before we parted ways.

Monday was the flight back, and apart from getting to the airport quite early (necessary due to Dallas morning traffic) the trip back was without incident.  No delays, no missed connecting flights, no misplaced luggage.  As I joked with Phil on Facebook, it was probably an April Fool's Joke by the forces that be in order to lull us into a false sense of security about future flights.

So yes, GamerNationCon IV was a rousing success, and I'm already looking forward to next year, to GamerNationCon V: The Order of the Gamers.  Got at least four adventure ideas that have a magic/mystical theme to them, with systems picked out for three of them (SWFFG, 7th Sea 2e, and Dresden Files Accelerated), which is probably where I should stop as I want to be sure that I've got enough time to play games; some folks might enjoy spending the entire con GM'ing, but I enjoy being a player as well.

December 31, 2016

As one year closes, another year awaits

Okay, so been a while since I last updated this.    This post will probably fall into the "& Etc" part of the blog's title, so bear with me.

I can't be fully honest as to what I expected out of 2016, but I think I can say there were a lot of surprises, and only a few of them good.

First off, there were the sheer volume of celebrity deaths, many of whom were far too young to be taken from us, running the gamut from David Bowie and Prince to Alan Rickman and most recently Carrie Fisher and her mother Debbie Reynolds.  There others to be sure, sadly far too many for a single year.  Being the life-long Star Wars fan that I am, it's safe to say that Carrie Fisher's passing is probably the one that hit me the hardest.  And while her "Hutt slayer" ensemble was indeed memorable, I remember her more as the sassy, spirited princess in a white gown with buns in her hair, who took charge of her own rescue.  Carrie's own life was a roller coaster to be sure, with ups and downs, but it's impossible to deny the influence that one role had in terms of the movie industry.  From what I've heard, she did finish up her work for Episode 8, so it'll be interesting to see how they address her absence come time for Episode 9.  May the Force be with you Carrie, drowned in moonlight, strangled by her own bra.  To us, she'll always be royalty.

To address the political elephant in the room, there's the very unwelcome surprise of the election of the thin-skinned narcissistic orange-skinned man-child Donald Trump, a man so unqualified to be leader of the free world he makes George W. Bush look like Franklin D. Roosevelt by comparison.  And on the backs of Trump's campaign of racism, misogyny, and ignorance rode a crop of Republican senators who failed to do their jobs under the Obama administration, stymieing if not outright blocking President Obama's efforts for no reason other than political affiliation and (if leaked details from former high-ranking Republicans are to be believed) the color of the man's skin.  I make no secrets about my being a liberal in terms of political views, and ascribe to Bernie Sanders' views in regards to democratic socialism (something this country already makes extensive use of).  And while Hillary Clinton was not my first choice, I still voted for her as she was probably one of the most qualified Presidential nominees we've seen in the past few generations.  But because of a screwed up Electoral College, we instead got a loud-mouthed braggart that has openly admitted to sexual abuse whose only "qualifications" was that he was white and that he was rich.  And to the surprise of nobody that actually bothered to look past Trump's rhetoric, he's breaking just about every promise he made on the campaign trail, and because of one comparatively small group of Americans that bought into his many hate-fueled lies, the whole nation and probably the world itself is going to suffer as that buffoon abuses the office of President to further enrich himself and leave the rest of us holding the bill.  As I mentioned to my dear friend Adie from across the pond, while I'm hoping for 2017 to feature a return of the reason and sanity that the world seems to have lost as 2016 comes to a close, I'm not holding my breath for a speedy return and expect it's going to be on hell of a bumpy ride.  Admittedly, as a white male in a solidly Democratic state I probably have less to worry about under a Trump presidency (ye gods I feel sick just typing those two words together), I'm more worried about my friends in the LGBTQ+ community as well as those who rely upon the Affordable Care Act, two groups the GOP have made no bones about putting in their crosshairs.

Okay, enough of that topic; it's a sunny day outside and I don't want to spend the last day of the year in a foul mood because of a ferret-wearing shit-gibbon and the dimwitted monkeys that support him.

Some of the good things that 2016 brought for me were the movies Captain America: Civil War and Doctor Strange.  Both were solid and fully entertaining movies, with Strange being far better than I was originally anticipating.  And while I was pretty much TeamCap in regards to Civil War, the Russo brothers were able to present the issue as not being entirely clear-cut, with both sides having valid points.  The major highlight of the film for me was of course the introduction of Spider-Man into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and I'm eagerly looking forward to seeing Spider-Man: Homecoming next year.  Also looking forward to Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2, especially after seeing the trailers.  Still unsure about Thor: Ragnarok, but I'll still probably go see it in the theater, but I'll admit that Thor: Dark World is probably one of my least favorite of the MCU entries; Norton's Incredible Hulk takes the cake there for me, and I find Mark Ruffalo to be a much better Banner.  Also on the movie front was the new Ghostbusters movie.  While it's not as good as the original Ghostbusters, this female-lead reboot of the franchise was very enjoyable, making me and Amy and Tiffany all laugh at various points, especially at many of the cameo appearances of the original movie's cast (I think my favorite was Dan Akroyd as a cabbie with Sigourny Weaver's scientist/mentor being a close second).  I really do hope this movie gets a sequel, as I really enjoyed watching this new crew go bust some ghosts.

As for Rogue One... I'll admit that while I did like the movie, I didn't enjoy it nearly as much as I enjoyed The Force Awakens,  Probably for the fact that (SPOILERS!) that none of the new heroes introduced survived to the end.  And while that sort of "kill em all!" approach might work for horror movies, I still don't care for that plot path.  It may not have been the screenwriters' intent, but the fate of the Rogue One crew honestly felt like they decided "well, this is the easiest way to explain why they weren't around in ANH" and thus avoid "so what was Jyn/Caspian/Chiffut/Baze/etc doing during the rest of the Galactic Civil War after that mission?" questions.  Now, I knew going in this was going to be more of a war movie, and that there was no way that everybody was going to make it out alive; if nothing else I figured Jyn Erso (died to redeem her father in wake of his role in building the Death Star), K2-SO, Chiffut (too cool to live), and Bodhi the pilot were going to be toast, but I was figuring at least Caspian would make it out with the plans, even by the skin of his teeth.  Apparently there was a different ending, which reportedly revolved around the Rogue One crew getting decimated by Lord Vader, but that got re-shot as it was found too dark/depressing.  As for Darth Vader, I think they did a great job bringing him to life on the big screen.  He didn't have a lot of screen time, but he made the most of what he did have, especially that end sequence where he just demolishes a squad of Rebel Troopers, and you can tell from their reactions that they know full well that they are completely screwed at that point.  I didn't have any problem with the CGI used to bring Tarkin and young Leia to the screen either; what little uncanny valley effect there was with Tarken worked to make him seem even creepier than Peter Cushing's incredible performance in ANH already did.

Back towards the end of March, when the horrors to come of 2016 were still far off and there was hope that a Russian-backed lunatic wouldn't be installed as this nation's leader, there was GamerNationCon 3: Beyond Thunderdrome.  I got to play in a number of Star Wars RPG sessions, including a fun adventure run by Christopher West set just prior to The Force Awakens with the PCs all being Resistance operatives, a pick-up run by Sam Stewart with a whole crap load of players, a pick-up run by Sterling Hershey based around material he wrote for the Nexus of Power supplement.  I was able to play in three of my good friend Eric's sessions, one being a D&D pick-up where I had a lot of fun playing a Human Paladin as well as two of his Star Wars games, playing a Jedi-type in each one, even if the PCs were very different builds.  Though the coolest moment for me was getting to help induct Rodney Thompson as an Honorary Member of the Rebel Legion for all the time and hard work he put into the Star Wars Saga Edition RPG, the game that pretty much was responsible for the creation of the d20 Radio Network and with it the Gamer Nation, a large extended family of which I am proud to call myself a member.  There was a lot of concern that GNC3:BT would be the final con, as the venue was due to lose it's lease and options for a new venue were not promising, but the Force was with the Gamer Nation as GamerNationCon 4: A New Hope will be happening, as the original venue was able to renew their lease for the foreseeable future.  So that's at least one thing occurring in 2017 that I can honestly look forward.

Another cool thing from 2016 was the unexpected early preview release of Evil Hat Production's Dresden Files Accelerated game.  This was a last-minute "why the heck not?" backer goal from Fred Hicks' wildly successful FATE Core Kickstarter, and apart from a general announcement of "hey, we're looking for playtesters!" not a peep had been heard.  And then, in the final weeks of the year, backers get an e-mail notice of "Hey, we've got an early preview PDF of DFA with your name on it!"  While I generally like FATE as a system, and liked the general simplicity of Fate Accelerated Edition, I am seriously loving Dresden Files Accelerated.  The changes made to both streamline the old Dresden Files game and account for new information has made for a very interesting game.  The concept of using Mantles to define your character is very cool, especially in light of the information on mantles in the Dresden Files setting that came to light during the Cold Days novel.  Wizards (or Magical Practitioners as their Mantle is called) no longer stand quite so tall above vanilla mortals in DFA, which is nice in terms of general balance, and the concept of scale in terms of rating levels of power works out very nicely, allowing for PCs to have a chance against heavy-hitters like Senior Council members and even the Queens of Faerie, even if that chance is slimmer than a pipe cleaner.  My buddy Doran has expressed interest in running a one-shot at some point in time, and I'm very much eager to step into the shoes of my old Dresden!Lite character Danny Copperfield, a Young Wizard of the White Council.  To my surprise and delight, it was amazing easy to convert Danny from his original Dresden File starting point (Submerged) to DFA and still be fundamentally the same character in terms of what he can accomplish.  I will most certainly be purchasing this in dead tree format when it comes out.

Cool RPG Thing #2 has been the Star Wars campaigns that I've been running and playing using Fantasy Flight Game's amazing system.  To be honest, I think FFG's Star Wars RPG is one of the most fun and mechanically interesting RPGs that I've ever played, and I've played a LOT of different RPG systems.  Admittedly, most of my recent characters have been Jedi of some stripe or another, with my TFA era rebuild of Valin Starsmor perhaps being my favorite, if only as I've seen him grown from a starting PC with only a few shreds of confidence to having just recently built his own lightsaber.  But also fun has been the Force and Destiny campaign that I've been running, set during the classic Rebellion Era.  The cast of characters is quite diverse and none of them are even remotely similar to one another; the three Force users are as different as can be.  After life circumstances caused us to take a brief break from the campaign, it was nice to get back into the swing of things last night.  I'm currently running a tweaked version of the Beyond the Rim adventure module (written by Mister Silver Chocolate himself, Sterling Hershey), and the group's had a lot of fun.  I've had to tweak a few combat encounters as the PCs have earned close to 400 XP by this point, so they're vastly more capable than what the module is written for.  For instance, Nolt (Zabrak Seeker/Hunter/Hermit) was able to legitimately one-shot an arboreal octopus that had completely gotten the drop on the party with a single shot from his generally unmodded blaster rifle; after what happened to Eric earlier in the month, I was glad to see him have such an awesome moment, along with a number of group laughs about how his character is already planning a summer home on Cholganna given how much of an untamed and hazardous place the world is.

And last but not least in cool RPG things has been the release of the second edition of 7th Sea.  I've discussed this before, but I had a lot of love for 7th Sea when it came out over a decade ago.  When you've got a game about swashbucklers, pirates, and magic, that's something that's hard not to love.  Now I'll admit in retrospect that the first edition of 7th hasn't exactly aged well in terms of mechanics, as a number of things were a lot clunkier than they probably needed to be and the product line was kinda strangled by a huge metaplot that players generally couldn't effect.  But the second edition is a very welcome addition to my RPG library, and I've had a lot of fun running and playing this game.  While it's very unusual, I do like that the moment you choose to pick up dice, your Hero is generally going to succeed at whatever task they're attempting, and that your dice results help determine how well you were able to avoid the consequences of your risky actions.  And yes, I am intentionally using a capital H for Hero, because in this game your character is very much a heroic figure of the likes you seen in the movies, being highly capable and thus far less prone to failing simply because of the vagaries of fate (i.e. bad roll of the dice).  The game's not 100% perfect as there's a few bits that still feel a little rough around the edges to me, but that's probably more still getting a feel for this system.  I do like the concepts of Pressure and Opportunities as they can be applied to Action sequences such as combat; we've got a Fate Witch in the Wednesday night game I play in that is able to create and employ Opportunities with impressive results without having to mechanically employ her magic simply by using her mundane skills but adding the narrative slant of her tugging/pulling/twisting the strands of Fate to get the desired results, which itself adds a creepily cool element to the character, reinforcing to the rest of the group just why people in her native Vodacce are generally afraid of drawing the ire of a Fate Witch.

Naturally, I am of course thankful for the friends I have, ranging from local folks such as Amy and Tiffany, who were kind enough to invite me into their home for a Christmas Eve dinner for another year, with the night ending my getting roped into helping Amy put together her LEGO Ghostbusters set, to the members of my Friday Night Skype group, with whom I've had many a fun night rolling dice and sharing laughs as we guide our characters through various adventures.

I do have some RPG mechanical stuff that I've been tinkering with off-and-on, ranging from converting a number of 7th Sea Swordsman Schools from their first edition versions to be used in second edition to some Dresden Files Accelerated characters.  The DFA characters I'll wait on posting until after the PDF becomes available for sale to the general public.  If you're a fan of the Dresden Files books or just the setting in general, then DFA is very much worth checking out as by all signs it looks to be a fantastic RPG.

Well, I think that's enough for me for this entry.  To be honest, I'm not sure when the next update will be, or what it'll cover.  Until next time, thanks for reading and let's hope 2017 becomes a year to earnestly look forward to unfolding instead of dreading what's to come.

November 6, 2016

Achievement Unlocked - Kyber Crystal Acquired!

Wow, so much for that string of updates I talked about back in September.

To be honest, I largely lost interest in trying to hash together Villains for 7th Seas, due in no small part to the very fun Star Wars campaign that my buddy Eric "Oghen" Brenders has been running for our Friday Night Skype group.

As I understand it, said campaign was really only meant to be a one-shot set shortly after the events of The Force Awakens, but the three of us had such fun playing our characters that Eric was able to branch it out into a running campaign.  Since that first session where a former Rebellion field medic, a runaway Tapani lady, and a street rat found themselves scrambling to rescue the orphans of a remote world from being "recruited" into the ranks of the First Order's stormtrooper legions, our characters have come a fair distance, and even picked up a Gungan mercenary as a fourth party member.

It's an odd and interesting group, with my friend Linda playing Jade Morningfire and myself playing Valin Starsmore.  We tweaked our character's respective backgrounds (and I tweaked Valin's build) to account for the 30 year time gap, and for the most part our characters work quite well in this setting.

With Valin, the biggest changes came from doing research on the new post-RotJ time frame, and from everything I could gather, the destruction of Luke's new Jedi training center/temple only took place about five years prior to the events of TFA.  Which meant that rather than learning snippets of lore about the Jedi and the Force, Valin could well have been one of Luke's students at the temple about the time the Knights of Ren came in and tore it all down.  Yeah, it's a bit of a cliche that Valin is now a survivor of an extinct Jedi Order (albeit one that hadn't quite gotten off the ground), but it worked, and it allowed for me to provide Valin with a training lightsaber, one that he had built himself as part of his limited training  There's still a lot he doesn't know, and it's kind of funny that with Jade being even more clueless about the Force (she initially had no no idea that her empathy and persuasiveness were linked to the Force) she looks to Valin as a source of answers, many of which he simply doesn't have.  Granted, he's been adhering to the old Jedi tradition of "certain point of view" and generally neglecting to mention to Jade (or anyone) that he had undergone training as a Jedi.  In terms of the character's mindset, I figured it was less a case of needing to hide as one might do during the Empire's reign, but more that by this time frame the Jedi were seen as nigh-legendary figures by those who believed, and Valin really didn't want to disappoint the believers with how badly his nascent abilities didn't match up to the stories.

Now the campaign itself is set within a remote section of Outer Rim Territories, and our group has become embroiled in the plot of a mercenary company seeking to gain power in the region by spreading a fairly nasty manufactured bio-toxin.  Doctor Kane Dyson (the former Rebel field medic) has been making some pretty solid progress on countering this bio-toxin, having thus far devised a vaccine but still working on a proper cure.  We got asked/hired by the medical facility of the ice planet Boreas to make a supply gathering run to a more upscale planet in the sector, one that could be best described as a corporate police state (FYI, GM is Canadian so anything political you might read into that was not intended), only to find out that a lot of what we were looking for had been stolen in previous weeks by "smugglers" that we guessed were actually agents of the mercenary company.  While lounging around in a really glitzy cantina (think Los Vegas nightclub), we were met by a friend (a rather attractive if tipsy/aloof Human woman) of one of the Doc's medical contacts, who let us know that what we were after was missing but that she had a means to help us gather some of what we needed by heading out of the spaceport and into a "restricted area."  Valin piped up that we'd be glad to help with gathering the supplies, earning a sly remark from the woman if he was trying to impress someone (either hero or Jade, though Valin denied that insinuation pretty quickly).

Now, worth mentioning is that through all this, Valin has been having visions revolving around the actions of an older human male in tattered robes, with the very real sense that I've been following this man's path in reverse, starting where he ended and gradually heading to the beginning.  Well, en route to the latest planet, Valin (and somehow Jade who got dragged along for the visionquest) saw the man's start of darkness as he used his lightsaber to butcher an entire settlement of sick people, with the older man's lightsaber starting to turn red and his eyes going Sith yellow in the aftermath of the slaughter.  And sure enough, the restricted area we were going to was the remains of the village where the events of the vision took place, and a subsequent use of the Foresee power confirmed there was indeed something in the center of the ruins, something important.

We get there, successfully avoiding detection, and under a section of cobblestone that looked very out of place, Valin started digging (unaware he was doing so at first), uncovering a small box.  However, before he could fully dig it out, a bunch of seriously archaic combat droids showed up, with the ever observant Gungan being anything but and thus the droids catching us by surprise.  Sensing that this was the moment that Valin had to choose between embracing who he really was or continuing to hide, he calmly stood and instead of reaching for his blaster, withdrew and ignited his training lightsaber, with the intent to simply draw fire from the combat droids in the hopes of protecting his comrades.  Granted, this wound up drawing the attention of the leader droid, who was similar to a MagnaGuard (but not as deadly according to the GM).  What followed was a pretty cool combat encounter, with Valin getting to make use of his Improved Reflect at least once while going toe-to-toe with the commander droid, with both Valin and the Gungan slowly whittling the droid down.  Now, in hindsight I think both myself and the GM overlooked that Valin's training lightsaber only did strain damage, and the Eric was treating it as wounds; I certainly could be mistaken on that count, but either way it was still a tense encounter, with Valin proving the victor after a freaking awesome combat check (six successes from a dice pool of 2Y1G1B1R1P1S) and taking the droid leader down after it had rather non-chalantly beaned the Gungan with its combat staff.  We were all banged up to some degree, though I think Valin came out the least worst for wear thanks to those two ranks in Parry and Reflect he'd bought along the way (he did take a critical injury during the fight, but not a horrible one), but we know the Gungan got the worst of it due to being knocked out and suffering a couple of critical injuries.

A few times during this fight, Valin felt a strong pull to whatever was in that buried box, sensing/knowing that the contents would help him to easily win this fight.  It's debatable if it was willfulness on Valin's part, but he refuse the promise of "easy power" in the belief that he if couldn't protect his friends without that added power, then he didn't deserve it.  Thinking on it, it's not unlike Karrin Murphy in the Dresden Files short story Aftermath (found in the Side Jobs collection) where she didn't go running to collect Fidelachius out of the belief that she had to prove that she didn't need the power of the sword if she was going to be truly worthy of it.   Well, with our foes defeated, Valin was able to finish unearthing that box, opening it to find an ancient lightsaber hilt that was covered in the blood of the slain.  Because Valin had remained true to the light and not succumbed to the lure of power, the hilt disintegrated into the wind, leaving behind a kyber crystal.

Now, I've played Star Wars RPGs for a great many years, and of all the different ways that my Jedi PCs (and I've played a lot of them) have obtained the proper elements to construct a lightsaber, this was probably one of the coolest.  And yes, there was a very real temptation on my part to have Valin go the quick and easy path and rip open that box.  Not sure what the result would have been, but seeing as how the kid knew enough about the dark side to know it was a bad thing, even going so far as to caution Jade about being wary of the dark side, I felt that he wouldn't succumb; in a way, it would have been better for him to have relied upon his own strength and failed than become reliant on the dark side and won.  So it wasn't just Valin obtaining a kyber crystal so that he can now build a proper lightsaber, but also an important step in his character growth, embracing that while he may not be a Knight, he is a Jedi, and that hiding away isn't going to do him or anyone else any good.  And that was where the session ended.

Now, I've had some time to weigh what type of focusing crystal I'd like Valin's newly procured kyber crystal to be, and ultimately settled on the Etaan crystal from Endless Vigil.  It's not got as much raw damage potential, but since he's a Shien Expet it wouldn't take much XP for him to get to Falling Avalanche so that he can get a damage boost when needed, sheer raw damage isn't really needed.  Plus, that extra rank of Parry and Reflect are mighty nice, though I'll have to hopefully succeed on modding the crystal to get those; the rank of Reflect I could do without since I plan on going into Sentry, but that rank of Parry will be mighty nice to have.  Have to say, if I can get that thing fully modded, it'll be a pretty sweet lightsaber, especially as I start adding in attachments like the curved hilt (though narratively it won't be curved, just a specially customized grip) and the overcharged power cell (a bit dicey since GM can spend threat to reduce the damage, but worth the chance), with the superior hilt customization likely being an end-game objective due to cost.

I did wind up buying a non-career rank of Mechanics, both as he's been picking up things in helping the Doc keep the beater of a starship the group travels around in up and running (no small feat) as well as remembering lessons he'd forgotten from when Valin built his training lightsaber during his time at Luke's Jedi academy.  Which if Eric permits, that yellow die will hopefully prove a boon when using the lightsaber hilt construction rules in Endless Vigil.  You know, it's kind of funny that prior to playing the Sentinel version of Valin, none of the other career sourcebooks for FFG's Star Wars line were ever of the "dude, this book has so much awesome stuff for my character!"  Hopefully my dice will continue their uncommonly good fortune and I can get some sweet bonuses for Valin's lightsaber hilt.  Seriously, I think the fact that I've used my dice in games in which FFG notables like Jay Little, Sam Stewart, Andy Fischer, and Katrina Ostrander may have had something to do with it.

Anyway, that's the long version of a very cool story of how one of my Top 10 favorite RPG characters has earned his (proper) lightsaber.

I've also been playing in a 7th Sea second edition campaign, playing Estevan Santiago de Montaya, and that campaign has also been a lot of fun.  Thus far, the GM has run us through a tweaked version of "Music of the Spheres" and part of "Lady's Favor" of the Erebus Cross series.  And much like his 1e incarnation, Estevan has been both fun to play and quite awesome in what he does, with my d10s rolling above the curve and netting him one or two raises above what his dice pools would indicate as the norm; giving flavor-filled descriptions of how he's tackling a given Risk probably helps since it's gotten him an extra die at times when it'd really be helpful.  I'll type up a post about that campaign later on in the week, probably sometime around the weekend.

Until next time, may the dice odds be ever in your favor.