May 18, 2013

Lightsabers in EotE - A relic of a more civililzed age

Well, it's now been two weeks since I published my "Ways of the Force" fan supplement for Fantasy Flight Games' Edge of the Empire RPG.

And overall, the response has been positive.  To have someone say "normally I don't like fan supplements, but I really like what you've done with yours" says quite a bit about the quality of the work and that I fulfilled my objective of keeping as much in synch with Edge of the Empire's default setting and feel as possible.

Now, that's not to say everything was perfect.  Far from it in fact, and there's a few elements that have been revised based upon feedback provided, both on the d20 Radio forums and FFG's EotE message board.  Among those elements are Dark Side's Embrace and the Healing base power, the former actually providing a concrete benefit and the latter being reduced in effectiveness in order to step away from "magic healing."

However, one element that got some critique was the Build Lightsaber talent, mostly due to some folks feeling that it was either a "useless" talent or that it needed to provide a bigger bang.  Well, I figure here is as good a place as any to go into why I wrote up the Build Lightsaber talent the way I did.

Just so we're all on the same page, here's the game text:

Build Lightsaber
Activation: Passive
Ranked: No
Trees: Jedi Initiate

The character is now able to construct a lightsaber, a task that requires components worth at least 2000 credits and a number of days equal to 7 less the character's Force Rating.

In the Jedi Initiate specialization, it's nestled in the 2nd Row, but you've got to go through at least two 3rd Row talents in order to reach it, so it's not like you're going to have very many Jedi neophytes starting play with the ability to construct a lightsaber.  Note I say "construct," as this talent doesn't automatically provide the character with a lightsaber, just the means to build one of their own.  Now a GM could handwave the days needed to build a lightsaber, but they certainly should not waive the cost in components.

Some critiques suggested that, much like the d20 Star Wars games, a self-built lightsaber should provide some kind of perk, such as a bonus to hit.  The problem with that approach is that FFG made the lightsaber an incredibly potent weapon; even after the Beta Updates, it still has the highest raw damage of any melee weapon, it pretty much ignores character-scale Soak Values, and it has the lowest Crit Rating; any attack that hit is going to deal damage and like inflict a Critical Injury in the process.  For non-Jedi, you either need to spend a small fortune procuring a lightsaber on the black market, or hope the GM chooses to provide one as an adventure reward.

So to me, being able to build a lightsaber at a relatively modest sum during the height of the Empire's power and influence is enough of a benefit already.  Also, a self-built lightsaber providing any kind of special bonus only showed up in the d20 versions, due to d20 being a crunch-focused game built upon calculating modifiers and getting the largest bonus you can manage.  Back in the D6 version, what little rules there were for building a lightsaber simply said "congrats, you've built your own lightsaber."  And that was it; no special bonuses or perks, just the fact that your Jedi PC now had a lightsaber.  Which given that most of the D6 material was set during the Rebellion Era and the New Republic eras, when Jedi Knights were scarce, being able to build your own lightsaber was a pretty nice perk without needing any extra mechanical benefits.

Now if one were to add a mechanic-based perk to building your own lightsaber in EotE, the next question is "what benefit do you add?"  The first thing that might come to mind is the Superior weapon quality (pg107 of the EotE Beta), but a free Advantage on every attack plus a boost to damage is simply too good.

The next option is to model the benefit of a self-built lightsaber after the Jury-Rigged talent (pg95, EotE Beta), but most of that talent's benefits wouldn't apply, leaving you with just a bonus to damage.  I suppose you could tweak Jury-Rigged's text to allow the lightsaber to provide an extra point of Melee Defense or Ranged Defense, which might fit with the possible perks of Dooku's curved-hilt lightsaber and the advantage it provides the wielder in melee combat.

One idea I had considered during the earliest stages was simply giving a self-built lightsaber the Accurate quality, but a free Boost die on all lightsaber attacks felt just as overpowering as the giving a self-built lightsaber the Superior quality, particularly as you're more apt to roll Advantages, and per the reading of the Sunder quality, you don't have to hit your target in order to damage their weapon.  So either the Jedi hits and gets an extra Advantage or two to inflict a Critical Injury, or they have an easier time triggering the Sunder quality on their lightsabers.

One suggestion that I saw was to instead apply the perks of the Tinkerer talent and give the lightsaber a bonus Hard Point (it normally has none), allowing the Jedi to personally customize their lightsaber.  Now I'll admit that has some appeal, but the problem is that right now, the EotE Beta only has one melee-based attachment available, which provides the Superior quality, leading us to the problems documented three paragraphs up and making an already impressive weapon that much more deadly.  According to Sam Stewart, we should be seeing more melee-based attachments in the final version of the core rulebook, so this one may get a revisit depending on what those new attachments are, but it may also result in an increase to the cost of building a lightsaber as well.

Ultimately, I think trying to cram more benefits into a lightsaber, self-built or otherwise, is going too much down the d20 path, where equipment is only as good as the bonuses it applies.  Truthfully, given EotE's heavier focus on narrative gameplay, just being able to build one of these iconic weapons is enough of a benefit already.  Yes, it's incredibly powerful as is, and the Jedi Initiate has several talents that were designed around a lightsaber, but at the same time, openly wielding a lightsaber during the eras of play that most EotE games occur in is just asking for trouble.  There's a rather hefty Imperial bounty out for anyone caught in possession of a lightsaber (WEG put it at 25K credits), and anyone seen using a lightsaber openly, especially if they're any good at it, are going to stand out in most people's memory, far more than your average heavy blaster pistol-slinging smuggler or blaster carbine-toting bounty hunger or even a marauder wielding a vibro-ax.

So, that's enough on the "self-built lightsabers need a mechanical benefit!" front.  On to the other side of the coin, which is "why do you even need a talent for this?"

As I said in my prior post, one of my main design goals was to stick as close as possible to the general feel of the early Rebellion Era, the default setting of Edge of the Empire (at least if the time frame given in the Beginner Box is anything to go by).  During this time frame, a lot of Jedi lore was either lost, locked away, or outright destroyed by the Empire; after all, the Sith had spent a thousand years plotting their overthrow of the Republic and the destruction of the Jedi Knights, so Palpatine was certainly going to take steps to ensure the Jedi Order wouldn't come back overnight.

So what does this mean for an aspiring Jedi-to-be in an Edge of the Empire game?  Typically, this means that they don't have the benefit of being trained since early childhood in the Jedi arts, including the basics of maintaining and eventually constructing one's own lightsaber.  So this is knowledge the Jedi Initiate has to rediscover, either through trial and error or by coming across some hidden bits of Jedi lore that covers such things.  It's pretty specialized knowledge, on par (in my mind at least) with the kind of specialized knowledge it takes to properly jury-rig a weapon or armor for better performance or how to tinker with an item to cram more tech inside of it; these aren't things that just anybody can do.  And you can be sure that the more easily accessible venues to learn about building a lightsaber have been destroyed or put under Imperial lock & key.

One of the things I tried to keep in mind when designing my Jedi Initiate specialization was Luke's progression from naive farmboy that didn't even know what the Force was to freshly-minted Jedi Knight.  While it wasn't touched upon in the original theatrical version of Return of the Jedi, Luke didn't instantly know how to build a lightsaber.  Looking to the EU, he had to rely upon a set of instructions left behind by Obi-Wan Kenobi in the old Jedi's remote hut on Tatooine in order to build his own lightsaber, and it took him almost a week to do it (though how much of that was nerves and him taking the time to check and re-check everything is up for debate).

So, when it came to deciding how to cover the specialized knowledge of lightsaber construction in EotE, I opted to stick more to the existing EU canon than to d20, which could allow for a Jedi PC to build a lightsaber in a single day; it's one thing for a prodigy like Anakin to build a new lightsaber in a day or two, it's something else for a less gifted Jedi student working from cobbled together notes and their own intuition to do the same.

Now, could a GM provide a set of in-game instructions on lightsaber building to a prospective Jedi, and negate the entire need for this talent?  Yes, they certainly could, but I'd contend that the Jedi would only be able to build a lightsaber so long as they had access to those instructions.  Should those instructions be misplaced, stolen, or destroyed, then no more lightsaber building for that Jedi.  Having the talent means the Jedi Initiate has internalized the technical knowledge and intuition required to build a lightsaber, and needs only time and parts to build a new lightsaber should they be deprived of their old one.

There's also the fun aspect that those lightsaber building instructions may very well make reference to using specific items, such as crystals from the Adegan system or the caves of Ilum, both of which the Empire is aware of and guards heavily.  Those instructions might also say that you need to use a specific type of focusing lens or material for the grip, with no indication that other alternatives would be suitable.  A Jedi Initiate with Build Lightsaber talent has figured out enough of the process on their own that they'd know they could use other types of crystals (even synthetically created ones), and that the other elements don't need to be a specific make or model; it might take them a bit longer and the end result may not be as stylish as the Jedi lightsabers built during the Order's glory days, but it will get the job done.  Case in point, Corran Horn using a speeder bike handle as the grip for a hastily-constructed lightsaber in the novel "I, Jedi."  Your average Jedi Knight from the Old Jedi Order would likely be appalled at such a pedestrian design, but it worked for Horn.

Well, that's the long and short of why I wrote the Build Lightsaber talent the way I did.  Is it the most awe-inspiring of talents?  Nope, and that's fully intended, since it gives access to one of the more awe-inspiring weapons in Edge of the Empire.  And it opens up some of the Jedi Initiate's most powerful talents, such as the ability to deflect an enemy's blaster attack or to destroy their weapons in a single stroke.  So buy itself, the ability to build a lightsaber may not seem all that impressive, but that talent is something of a stepping stone to more impressive talents, as well as not being reliant on the GM for either a massive windfall to purchase a lightsaber or an adventure designed with the intent of putting a lightsaber in the would-be Jedi's hands.

I'll try to be a bit more regular in posting my thoughts and insights as to why I designed aspects of "Ways of the Force" the way I did.

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

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