Howdy, and a happy Friday and end-of-the-month to you.
Hopefully a fair number of folks that are interested in such things have checked out the latest version of my Ways of the Force fan supplement for FFG's soon-to-be released Edge of the Empire RPG.
There were some significant changes between the initial release version and the current version (1.02), and I'm planning on at least one more revision, which will be shortly after the actual EotE corebook gets released, and will consist of updating the page references (and possibly some talent names) to match said corebook rather than the Beta rulebook.
One of the bigger changes was a total revision of how the talent Deflect Blasters worked. And it's met with a few questions on why the change, both in forums and direct/private messages. So I thought I'd try and shed some insight.
The whole notion of a "blaster deflection" talent got it's start thanks to Chris "GM Chris" Witt of the Order 66 Podcast, the first podcast dedicated solely to Star Wars RPGs. Chris had started a forum thread over at the d20 Radio forums about his ideas for a "blaster deflection" talent. There was quite a bit of back and forth between him, myself, and other posters such as Awayptyrwpn and Phil "DarthGM" Maiewski, with different suggestions and approaches on how to reflect such a classic Jedi ability within the framework of EotE's rules.
For reference, here's the effect text for my take from version 1.0:
Once per round, when the character is targeted by a ranged attack, upgrade the difficulty a number of times equal to character’s Lightsaber skill rank. If this attack was made using a blaster and generates 2 Threat or 1 Despair, the character can deal the weapon’s base damage to a single target within Medium range. The character must be actively wielding a lightsaber staggered (see pg141) in order to activate this talent. This talent cannot be used against a ranged attack made using a starship-scale weapon.
Okay, first problem is that by the time the Jedi Initiate gets this talent, they've probably got at least 4 ranks in the Lightsaber skill, if not 5 by this point. So this means once per round, the Jedi gets to force a bunch of difficulty upgrades on a single target, turning what could be a very simple shot at medium range (base of 2 difficulty dice) into a very difficult shot, with the difficulty now being 3 challenge dice (assuming 4 ranks in Lightsaber) plus 2 setback dice from Lightsaber Defense. And that's not counting other means of increasing the difficulty of a ranged attack, such as Dodge (which also activates as a reaction to being attacked) or Side Step (does require a maneuver to set up), or most likely for a Jedi-in-training, the "danger sense" Control Upgrade for the Sense Power, granting at least one difficulty upgrade, or maybe two if the Strength Upgrade has been purchased. In a one-on-one fight, the Jedi has a huge advantage over a ranged attacker, and with that many challenge and setback dice, having the attack miss and provide the necessary Threat or Despair to trigger a free attack is a pretty sure thing.
So yeah, this was turning out be problematic, and fell into the category of being "too good to pass up." In the v1.0 set-up for the Jedi Initiate talent tree, I buried Deflect Blasters in the top row away from the Force Rating talent, but that just delayed the inevitable of a pretty broken talent entering the game. Based on feedback I'd gotten from the FFG and d20 Radio forums, I decided to start from scratch on designing my Deflect Blasters talent. I'd initially balked at the notion, but the more I read the dice rules in the Beta rulebook, the more sense that using a competitive check made. It was simple to apply (no extra difficulty upgrades), and simply relied upon the Jedi scoring on more success than the guy shooting at them to succeed. I did a brief bit of playtesting and some dice math review, and overall this looked to be an ideal solution to the dilemma of creating a talent that allowed for ranged attack deflection and blaster attack reflection, but wasn't super-powerful. And here's the current text:
Once per round, when the character is targeted by aranged attack, the character can activate this talent to make a competitive check against the same base difficulty, using their Lightsaber skill against the attacker’s combat skill, with a successful check resulting in the attack not dealing any damage. If the attack was made using a blaster, then on a successful check the character can choose to target a single target within Medium range, dealing damage equal to the damage value of the original attacker’s weapon, with each remaining success adding to the damage total. The character must be actively wielding a lightsaber and aware of the attack in order to activate this talent. This talent cannot be used against starship-mounted weapons
Now, looking at the text I wrote with slightly fresh eyes, I can see where some concern might come up that my current version of Deflect Blasters looks too weak, especially when compared to the prior version. After all, a really good marksman has a decent shot at beating out a Jedi Initiate on that opposed check... but I also think that's how it should be. Granted, in a lot of the Star Wars media we see Jedi casually deflecting blaster fire like it's no big deal, but consider most of the time the Jedi in question are A) fighting mooks who barely pose a threat, and B) the Jedi in question are either seasoned Knights or gifted prodigies, so of course it's going to look easy.
Maybe a few in-game examples of how this would work out might help to demonstrate why I think this current version of Deflect Blasters works a lot better and isn't quite as weak as some might think. For this example, I'll be using a vastly experienced version of my initial EotE PC, a young Jedi Initiate-on-the-run by the name of Valin Starsmore. His relevant stats are thus:
Soak Value 3 (Brawn 2 + heavy clothing)
Lightsaber 4 (he's gotten pretty good at this point)
Lightsaber Defense 2 (giving him a +2 bonus to melee & ranged defense)
Deflect Blasters (recently acquired)
Quick Draw (his staring career/spec is Smuggler/Scoundrel)
Sense Power with the "danger sense" Control Upgrade and the Duration Upgrade.
Example 1: Valin is snooping around the streets near a crime-lord's private estate, looking to find out what happened to his friend Gizmo, a slightly odd Twi'lek bounty hunter that has been missing since she went to the crime lord's estate. His Jedi senses (pretty well-honed thanks to 2 ranks each in Uncanny Senses and Uncanny Reactions) alerts him to the presence of a trio of guards (stats as per Apprentice Hunter on pg201 of the Beta, but equipped with heavy blaster pistols and having Perception as one of their skills). Seeing as how the guards have their blasters drawn and pointed at Valin, he wastes little time, drawing and igniting his lightsaber (an Incidental thanks to Quick Draw) then activating his combat awareness (activating his Control Upgrade to let him upgrade the difficulty twice of two separate attacks against him each round). The guards are at Medium range currently, but the foliage that Valin was hoping would obscure him also counts as difficult terrain; he won't be charging into the fray just yet.
The minion group of guards now get to act, and they waste little time in taking aim with their blasters and opening fire on the young Jedi. They're at Medium range, so they're base difficulty is 2 purple dice, with 2 setback dice applied from Valin's two ranks in Lightsaber Defense. Not wanting to get perforated with blaster fire quite so soon, Valin opts to use both his Deflect Blasters talent and his danger sense ability. The minion group will be rolling 2 proficiency, 1 ability die, and 1 boost die (Agility 3 for base of 3 ability dice, two upgrades for each minion after the first, and a boost die from aiming) against a difficulty of 1 challenge die, 1 difficulty die, and 2 setback dice. Valin meanwhile will only be rolling against 2 difficulty dice with a pool of 3 proficiency dice and 1 ability die.
Valin: 4 successes, 1 failure, 2 advantage, 3 threat (net result = 3 successes, 1 threat)
Guards: 2 successes, 1 failure, 3 advantage, 5 threat (net result = 1 success, 2 threat)
Valin wins with 2 successes, but suffers a point of Strain (from the 1 Threat) as he frantically intercepts the incoming blaster fire, managing to deflect one of the bolts back to deal 9 damage to the minion group. That's enough damage to drop one of the guards (Soak 3, Wound Threshold 5), with GM applying the 2 Threat as a setback die to the group's next attack roll. One down, two to go, but Valin knows he's going to have to act quick before reinforcements arrive...
Example 2: Having dispatched those pesky guards, Valin has now found his way inside the crime lord's main villa, but has found proof that Gizmo is on the premises; the busty Twi'lek hunter is in trouble, and Valin's not about to let down one of the few friends he has. The Force is with Valin, and he finds both the crime boss and Gizmo, with the Twi'lek lashed to some type of automated torture rack while the Bothan crime boss is leisurely sipping from a wine goblet while asking a series of questions, with a surly-looking Trandoshan standing not too far off. Deciding it's time to act, Valin activates his lightsaber, the distinctive snap-hiss of the weapon getting the attention of both the Bothan crime boss and the Trandoshan. Luckily Valin was already prepped for a fight (having activated the Control Upgrade for his Sense Power), as the crime boss manages to score more successes than Valin on their respective Vigilance checks, though Valin does have 2 advantage that the GM lets him spend to give himself a boost dice on his next roll.
The crime boss (a Nemesis) has Agility 3 and 3 ranks of Ranged (Light), as well as the Quick Draw talent, enabling him to stand up (maneuver), draw his heavy blaster pistol (incidental) and fire at the interloping Jedi, who is at Short Range (1 difficulty). Again not wanting to get shot, Valin applies one of his two uses of danger sense towards the crime boss' shot as well as his one use of Deflect Blasters (the lack of an obvious blaster and the oversized vibrodagger on the Trandoshan's hip suggests a melee threat).
The crime boss' dice pool is 3 proficiency dice, 1 challenge die, and 2 setback dice. Vallin's dice pool is 3 proficiency dice, 1 ability die, 1 boost die, 1 challenge die, 1 difficulty and 1 setback die. The crime boss has two ranks in Adversary, and Valin's Lightsaber check is targeting him, so the talent would apply, plus the crime boss has armored clothing to grant a free rank of defense . Valin decides to bolster his chances by flipping a Destiny Point to upgrade his remaining ability die to a proficiency die.
Valin: 1 triumph, 4 successes, 2 failure, 3 advantage, 1 threat (net result = 3 successes, 2 advantage, and a triumph result; i.e. the kid got one hell of a good roll)
Crime Boss: 4 successes, 1 failure, 1 advantage, 3 threat (net result = 3 successes, 2 threat)
Since Valin and the crime boss got the same number of successes, it's a draw. In this case, Valin didn't get hit, but neither did he get to redirect the blaster shot back at the crime boss. The crime boss suffers 2 Strain from the Threat, while Valin uses his 2 Advantage for a free maneuver to engage the crime boss in melee, and that Triumph to narrate that instead of hitting the crime boss, the deflected blaster shot instead pegged the torture rack that Gizmo is on, giving her an upgrade to whatever skill check she wants to make to escape. Which might be good since that Trandoshan's got a nasty sneer as he reaches for his vibroknife...
Example 3: With some help from a badly injured Gizmo, the crime boss and his Trandoshan bodyguard have both been dispatched, though Valin suffered a few cuts from the big lizard's vibroknife during the fight. Now, they need to get to the villa's speeder hanger to steal a ride so they can make a quick escape and rendezvous with Omaha and his YT-1300.
Unfortunately, Valin's Obligation came up prior to the start of the adventure, and the Bounty on his head has caught the attention of a Journeyman Hunter (pg201 of the Beta) who traded out his disruptor rifle for a blaster rifle and has a pair of Street Toughs (pg199) packing blaster pistols.for some added muscle; after all, the Empire pays good credits for Jedi renegades, and the toughs were dim-witted enough to accept only a fraction of the reward on Valin's head.
Valin's Force senses alert him to the danger a few scant second before the bounty hunter opens fire (his Vigilance check beat the hunter's Cool check by a wide margin), so he's got just enough time to draw his lightsaber and activate his danger sense while quickly moving behind some foliage for cover. The bounty hunter spends a maneuver to Aim before squeezing the trigger on his rifle.
The bounty hunter and Valin are at Medium range from one another. Figuring the bounty hunter's the bigger threat than the pair of street toughs, Valin is going to yet again use Deflect Blasters (while wondering why everybody is so keen on shooting at him today) as well as his danger sense to make the hunter's shot that much harder. However, the GM decides to spend a Destiny Point to upgrade one of the hunter's ability dice for this shot.
So the journeyman hunter is rolling 2 proficiency dice, 1 ability die, 1 boost die, 1 challenge die, 1 difficulty die, and 3 setback dice. Valin's rolling his usual 3 proficiency dice, 1 ability die, but 1 challenge die and 1 difficulty die due to the hunter having a rank in Adversary.
Valin: 3 successes, 2 advantage, 2 failure, 0 threat (net result = 1 success, 1 advantage)
Hunter: 3 successes, 1 advantage, 1 failure, 3 threat (net result = 2 successes, 2 threat)
Valin's luck runs out, and the hunter clips his shoulder, dealing 10 damage (base 9 for the rifle, +1 for the remaining Success after applying the 1 Success from Valin's check. Given Valin's low Soak Value (he's quick, not brawny, that's gonna leave a mark! Good thing he's got some stimpacks on hand, as he's gonna need them if this keeps up. Gizmo grumbles about this being "some rescue" as she takes aim with the heavy blaster pistol she looted from the deceased crime boss.
So I hope these not-so-little examples show some insight into why Deflect Blasters isn't the end-all and be-all talent that it was initially. While I won't type them out here, I did run each of the above examples using the original version, which for Valin would force 4 difficulty upgrades on his selected adversary. The guards would have been rolling against 4 challenge dice, the crime boss against 3 challenge and 1 difficulty, and the journeyman hunter also against 4 challenge dice. Let's just say the odds greatly favored Valin in each scenario, and out of several test dice rolls, he only took damage once (against the crime boss) while the rest of the time he not only avoided damage, but also got the free attack as the bad guys rolled enough Threat for him to trigger that part of the original Deflect Blasters.
Now, one thing to also consider is that Valin was able to make use of his Sense upgrade as well to boost up his defenses. Granted, things might have gone a bit more in his favor if he had the Strength Upgrade on his Sense power; maybe he'll buy that one with the XP he's earned from this adventure and put that Force Rating talent off for another day...