March 22, 2014

Ways of the Force, Version 1.3

Wow, four posts in the same month.  One might start to think the owner of this blog actually remembered that it exists ;)

It'd been quite a while since I'd last updated my Ways of the Force fan supplement.  I'd been working on altering a number of things, such as largely doing away with the minor Force powers and expanding two of them into full-fledged Force Power trees.

Ways of the Force, Version 1.3

I've also made some major revamps to the Force Powers, new and old, in light of clarification from FFG's own Sam Stewart in regards to how Force Power effects were activated.  To simplify, my understanding was incorrect, and that in light of that understanding, Injure and Healing were vastly more powerful than I was comfortable with.  There was also the matter that they had gotten perhaps too complicated, particularly Healing and my attempts to keep it from being too useful to a group but not so restricted as to make it nearly useless.  I think I've struck the right balance this time around with both powers, making them effective but not game-breaking.

The Jedi Initiate has also gotten a substantial change in layout.  I opted to go back to the original focus of this being a specialization that focuses on becoming a competent lightsaber duelist as one of it's primary aspects, and that improved Force usage isn't quite as major.  That's not to say that someone taking Jedi Initiate won't be slackers in the Force, but rather that lightsaber prowess is going to be a major part of the specialization.  So folks that are looking to be a Jedi but don't want to bother with the lightsaber talents, I'm afraid you're going to have to look to other Force-sensitive specializations to scratch that particular itch.

I've also recanted a bit on my earlier statement about not having any kind of skill check to construct a lightsaber.  For this version, I've settled on making it a single Discipline check, partly to avoid the issue of "how would my PC know how to build a lightsaber if they're not trained in the skill?" had I used the Lightsaber skill, but largely as a nod to Saga Edition and having it be a Use the Force check to accomplish that task.  Plus, Discipline ties into it being an important skill for Force users to have as well as the concentration and focus needed for a task that's noted as requiring a combination of great delicacy and precision.  However, that's not to say that it's an automatic thing either, especially if the player is impatient, as the check starts at Daunting, and only gets harder the quicker a PC tries to accomplish the task of building the 'saber; get too greedy and your Jedi-in-training could find themselves having to start completely from scratch.

Another major change has been to the Deflect Blasters talent.  I feel there comes a point that when you need more than a single paragraph to cover the effects of a talent, then you've reached the point of needing to split it into two talents.  And given some of the unexpected issues that cropped up, such as a PC using the talent to deflect a single shot from auto-fire weapon and then trigger auto-fire (something that was never intended), the split was needed.  So while it now takes two talents to allow a Jedi Initiate to deflect and reflect blaster fire (presuming they've acquired a lightsaber in the first place), both talents are better balanced, with the minor bonus that deflecting ranged attacks is now something that the character could start knowing how to do; after all, it's one of the first lessons that Luke learned on his path to becoming a Jedi Knight.

The two new powers are Rebuke (expanded from Resist Force) and Message (expanded from Projective Telepathy).  As for Sense Force, that's simply been moved to a sidebar (found under the Force Mystic) and is pretty much a function of the Sense power.

With Message, I had toyed with the idea of creating some kind of "battle meditation" effect, but I felt that such an ability was best left as a plot device type of thing, particularly with FFG having kept the uses of the Force in the powers they've published much closer to the general feel of the films while mostly averting some of the crazier stunts that have been seen in the Expanded Universe.  While Sense covers the "picking up thoughts" aspect of telepathy, Message is more in line of what folks think when one mentions "telepathy," though like Saga Edition I kept the power's effects fairly simple, with the intent that any conversations would be very simple; something akin to Luke contacting Leia and sending a general sense that he was in danger and that he was "underneath Cloud City," and hoping that she'd be able to take it from there to rescue him.

As for Rebuke, one complaint I've often seen is that there was no real way to defend yourself from a Force power.  It's not a major issue with Move (since any defensive traits that work against ranged attacks would apply), but it becomes a bigger on with Influence and Injure, both of which as written don't give the target any way to stop the damage inflicted.  I opted to keep the opposed Discipline check that Resist Force had, though this isn't too big of an issue for most powers (especially as I scrapped the opposed check that was part of Injure in the last version).  I've also broken out it so that the basic effect is simply to negate the effects of a power; if your Force user wants to pull a Yoda and hurl those bolts of Force lightning back, you'll need a Control Upgrade to do it.  One potential concern is that with enough ranks in Discipline and the way Rebuke's Strength Upgrades operate it could become very easy for a Force-user with this power to shove an offensive power right back down their opponent's throat.  Admittedly, this is offset somewhat by needing a Triumph on the opposed Discipline check and the chance for a Despair against more potent Force users as well.  I also opted to include the ability to absorb/negate energy attacks as the "capstone" ability of Rebuke, using the same general mechanics, such as the Force user making an opposed Discipline check, only this time the difficulty is the shooter's combat skill.  You could potentially use this to redirect a blaster shot with your bare hands, but by the time that most characters gain that particular Control Upgrade, they should be facing some pretty potent adversaries.

There have been a few other lesser tweaks here and there, but those are the highlights.  And, barring any major typographical errors, this will probably be the final revision to this document.

With a Force & Destiny Beta having been teased as coming out later this year (presumably at GenCon), that brings to a close the reason I created this supplement in the first place; namely as a way to provide players with further options to play Force users in and Edge of the Empire or an Age of Rebellion campaign.  A number of folks wanted some way to play an actual Jedi, not a "let's pretend" version that had either the Force Exile or Force Emergent specs and a few ranks in the Lightsaber skill, as well as an ability to perform Force-based feats that we saw in the movies but weren't covered by Edge of the Empire.  While some folks chose to focus exclusively on creating a Jedi career, I opted to split the difference and create a Jedi specialization as a nod to the limited training available during the Rebellion Era as well as create additional Force powers.

But, with Force & Destiny having been teased to cover Jedi and other Force-users, the need to add new material or revise the existing material becomes less and less.  Then again, I knew this was going to happen eventually, and thus had a degree of "planned obsolescence" from the very start.  After all, when it comes to choosing between officially published material and some random guy's fan work, most gamers are going to lean towards the officially published material.  And I'm okay with that.  On a personal level, I'm interested to see how different in the design and application of things like blaster deflection and rebuking enemy Force powers my stuff and FFG's stuff will be.  Amusingly, around July of last year, I'd been working on building an "enhanced movement" and "farseeing" power, and laughed with giddy joy at seeing that the Enhance and Foresee powers in the Age of Rebellion Beta were along very similar guidelines; my stuff would have gotten to that point in another month or two.  Part of me hopes I'll get to experience that a second time around with the Force & Destiny Beta.

In the end, I can only hope that in the time frame between when I first web-published Ways of the Force and when the Force & Destiny core rulebook gets released next year, folks have found the material I've created to be useful for their games, either in whole or just select parts of it.

Edit: For some reason, Dropbox disabled the previous link.  I've put a new one up.

March 18, 2014

A New Beginning for a retired character...

Wow, three blog posts in a single day.  You'd almost think I didn't have anything better to do ;)

Well, the prior post (GamerNationCon: An Opportunity Missed...) covered the downer part of the past few days, namely all the cool stuff I couldn't be a part of due to my flight plans being scuttled due to weather.

This one is instead going to cover the cool stuff that happened.  You see, while I wasn't able to make it down to Dallas to get my gaming fix in, I was still able to get plenty of gaming in this past Saturday.

As Thursday was winding to a close, I got an unexpected e-mail in my inbox.  The GM of a pre-existing EotE campaign that I'd tried to join (it was an utter disaster due to the GM not acting sooner to keep his more assholish players in check, particularly when they started harrassing the one female player that was new to RPGs in general) had passed along my contact info to another chap that was looking to start up his own Star Wars campaign.  Again, it was an entirely new group of folks I didn't really know all that well (I knew a couple from very casual interaction at the FLGS, including the GM), but as the saying goes, nothing ventured, nothing gained.  Besides, it wasn't like I had anything better to do at that point.

Talked with the GM, and got the ground rules on building characters.  Standard starting XP budget, an extra 250 credits for gear, players had the choice of Obligation or Duty, and any official material that FFG had released from either EotE or AoR was allowed, but no homebrew material.  While he's got plenty of GM experience, this would be his first time running FFG's Star Wars system, so he wanted to keep things from getting too wild, which is perfectly understandable, as "homebrew RPG material" can be viewed as code for "horribly unbalanced and broken power-gamer material."

My first question was would he allow a Force-user PC?  He thought about it, and said that he'd allow one, but that no way was he handing out a lightsaber, which I replied was not a problem as I had an old PC that I could very easily re-work into a starting character.  Matter of fact, a few weeks prior I had already re-worked said character to be a rules-legal starting character (including the part of only having the usual 500 credits to work with).  I sent him a PDF of the character sheet, and so my initial EotE PC, a teenage street rat named Valin Starsmore was reborn.  The only real difference was that Valin started out with a blaster pistol instead of a light blaster pistol and an extra stimpack.  It didn't make sense for him to be connected with the Alliance, so I took a Bounty obligation to reflect that the ISB is very interested in bringing Valin into Imperial custody.

Valin Starsmore got his initial start as character for West End Game's Star Wars D6 2nd Edition Revised & Expended system, modifying the Young Jedi template to remove Alter and re-distributing the Attribute dice into an array that wasn't quite as one-sided.  Sadly, the game that I was to play that version of Valin in never got off the ground, and so he went into my file of "characters that have never seen play."  Well, when I got my copy of the Edge of the Empire Beta, I set about looking for prior characters that I could see about re-inventing for this interesting new system.  Now I've a long-standing tradition of my first PC in any new Star Wars system being a Jedi of some type, often with the surname of Morningfire, with my online name being taken from the longest running of those, a Jedi Knight of the Rise of the Empire era named Donovan Morningfire (started as a Jedi Guardian under the OCR, was converted to RCR, and then finally re-imagined for Saga Edition).

Seeing as how FFG had opted to hold Jedi PCs until the third book in their Star Wars RPG product line, it didn't seem right to create a new Morningfire that wasn't a Jedi.  As noted, I was going through my file of "characters that have never seen play."  And there was Valin, a teenage street rat with a noted sweet tooth and very much lacking in self-confidence, with a note that the ISB had a warrant out for his capture as "person of interest" due to being a possible Force-sensitive and connected with his mentor (who had been a Jedi apprentice when the Jedi Purge kicked off back in D6, and was re-imagined as a Padawan that'd escaped Order 66).  And so Valin was remade as a Smuggler/Scoundrel/Force Exile for a one-shot game that Cyril ran.

And he was fun to play, even if he did a real hatchet job on trying to hit on Gizmo, Nateal's Twi'lek Bounty Hunter/Gadgeteer whom she had admitted "Presence of 3?  Yeah, she's pretty hot, busty too."  It was painful I'm sure for the other players (Wayne even noted that his character was ready to come over and show the kid how it was done), but given Valin's almost-crippling lack of self-confidence, it made perfect sense that he'd do a horrible job of trying to impress a hot chick; I've come to see Valin as being a prime example of Adorkable.  His only real Force ability in this incarnation was that he "could see things before they happened" and had a degree of hyperawareness (watch the Guy Ritchie Sherlock Holmes movies and note the scenes where Robert Downey Jr's Holmes is alone), with Valin's problem being that while he "saw everything," he wasn't always able to properly filter and process that information.  The adventure was fun, and while it ended on a possible hook for further adventures, that never really came to be.

Well, some time later, Cyril was going to start up an EotE campaign after his Saga Edition campaign came to a close.  Once again, I took up the role of Valin, only this time replacing Force Exile with the Jedi Initiate from my Ways of the Force, and adding the Move Power and an extra talent from the Scoundrel tree to his stats being the major changes.  Other characters were Priska, a Bothan Colonist/Scholar (and later re-worked into an Explorer/Archaeologist when Enter the Unknown came out) and Chavbagga, a Wookiee Technician/Outlaw Tech, as well as a Chiss Hired Gun/Merc Soldier that called herself Erina and an archeological assistant droid (Explorer/Scout) whose name I don't remember (sorry Rikoshi).  Sadly, that campaign came to an abrupt end due to GM burnout and some personality conflicts that one of the replacement players caused within the group.  It's been put on hiatus, but as much as I'd love for that campaign to resume, I'm not holding my breath.  Still, I was able to advance Valin a fair amount as well as test out the talent tree layout of my Jedi Initiate, which in turn lead me to make some drastic alterations, the point that I felt it'd be better to just remove that spec and replace it with Force Emergent instead as I wasn't sure what the next form of Jedi Initiate would look like and it wasn't fair to the GM to keep revising my character every so often.

Well, Valin saw new life this past Saturday, and was just as much fun, particularly as the rest of the group came across as very self-assured and assertive (if a bit violent) so it was an amusing contrast.  However, Valin did prove he's no slouch when it's time to get violent, and even managed to land the finishing shot on the major antagonist with the guy's own (dropped) heavy blaster pistol.  The GM ran us through a slightly modified "Escape from Mos Shutta" adventure from the Edge of the Empire Beginner Box, mostly as this was his first time running the system and I was the only person at the table with extensive experience with the system (a couple players had played the Free RPG Day adventure, but that was it).  We've got quite a mix of characters in this group, though there is a slight bias towards combat-savvy types, which makes sense as the GM had pitched this as ultimately being an "Rebel Special Mission Group" campaign, though he's admitted that he'll likely be sticking to published adventures until he's comfortable enough with the system before creating his own adventures.

One of the more amusing things to come out of that session was that one of the other PCs, a youngish female Mirialan Hired Gun/Demolitionist that goes by the name of "Jynx" took quite a shine to Valin, finding him and his sheepish personality to be "rather cute," and thus taking a few opportunities to flirt with the young Force-user.  Also, she definitely saw Valin use the Force to pull that heavy blaster pistol to his hand, so Jynx knows that Valin's not just a self-professed "street rat" with a very acute awareness for danger.  The session ended not long after, so we'll have to wait until next time to see what she does with that knowledge or if it changes her perspective on Valin.

On the off chance anyone's interested, here's Valin's character sheet, reflecting his abilities at the start of this new campaign:

Valin's Story:
An orphan for as long as he can remember, Valin grew up in the foster care system, being transferred from one home to the next home; as such, he never really had a sense of belonging anywhere.  That all changed when the groundskeeper at the latest foster care center, a middle-aged man named Cori, recognized Valin's nascent Force abilities for what they were.  Cori helped the youth understand and begin to control his fledging powers.  But when Cori was taken into custody by COMPNOR agents, Valin fled out of fear that he’d be next, spending the next several months living on the streets.  With only his wits and Force-enhanced reflexes to rely on, he did his best to avoid drawing attention to himsel, even as he kept looking for someplace to belong.  But he hasn’t forgotten what little he’d learned from Cori, and tries to conduct himself in accordance with the Jedi Code as best he can in these dark times of Imperial rule…

As the above shows,he's not a powerful Force-user by any stretch of the imagination.  With only the basic abilities of Sense and Move available to him (and though I did consider replacing Move with Enhance, I'm glad I stuck with Move given how the adventure played out).  We'd earned 25 XP during the session, which I spent thusly:

+1 rank in Ranged (Light)
Purchased the Sense Control Upgrade to allow him to upgrade the difficulty on an enemy's attack once per turn.
Purchased the Toughened talent from Force Emergent.

GamerNationCon: An Opportunity Missed...

If you follow me on Twitter (and haven't been chased away by all the cute critter retweets), then you probably saw that the past few days have had some major ups and downs for me.

For months, I'd been eagerly anticipating going to the first (and hopefully not only) GamerNationCon, or 3 Days of Gaming Goodness as it had also been called.  A big part of it was the opportunity to met folks from the d20 Radio forums, such as Wayne "Maarkeen" Basta and Kevin "Rikoshi" Frane amongst others.  The first blow was finding out that Ben "Cyril" Erikson couldn't make it down as his employer didn't approve his time-off request, though that itself had been preceded by the disappointment that his wife Nateal wouldn't make it due to the cost of plane tickets for them.

Well, this past Thursday, the Capital District of the semi-glorious state of New York got hammered with a major winter storm that forecasts had been saying "wouldn't be all that bad" up until the night before. Now, my flight was scheduled to head out Thursday morning and get me to Dallas in the afternoon.  So I was a bit upset to find that my flight had been cancelled, though I was able to rebook to a later flight that would have gotten me there in the late evening instead, but still there on Thursday so that I could enjoy the con and be there to run my two events.  Well, I show up at the airport, after driving through barely-cleared roads and spending 10 minutes trying to find a parking spot in the long-term parking lot, only to learn that my re-booked flight has also been cancelled, as had a bunch of other morning flights.  I tried just about every option I could think of, including seeing if they could get me to Little Rock that night, hoping that my friend Linda and her husband Mark wouldn't object to me catching a ride down to Dallas with them.  But the only way I was getting to Dallas would be through doing a lot of plane-hopping and overnight stays at either airport hotels or airports themselves, and without some extreme amounts of luck, I'd get there late evening on Saturday.  So yeah, not really worth the sheer volume of aggravation just to show up when the convention was pretty much over.  At least I've got a voucher for my flight that I can put towards the air fare of my trip to GenCon this August.

And from what I've seen on Twitter and heard from Linda, the 3DoGG was a blast, with some of the highlights being Jay "Ynnen" Little being made an Honorary Member of the Rebel Legion.  Part of the set-up to surprise him was that I was scheduled to co-host a seminar with him about "RPG Writing."  From what I've been told, he was quite surprised when a bunch of Rebel Legion folks came out and presented him with this plaque.  I really wanted to be there, as Jay Little is a very cool guy, but alas.

Rikoshi and one his friends also ran an Age of Rebellion module which I can only assume will be a blast to run/play given how much Linda was gushing about it when I talked with her last night.  It does require two GMs to run it, although a really good GM could probably handle the two separate tables that the adventure has.  Said GM will probably need a mental break afterwards though.

I'd been looking forward to running my Star Wars convention module "Tales of the Blue Zephyrs" at the convention.  I've run it a bunch of times, including as a pick-up at GenCon (which infamously was the only time the players got wiped out), and it's a pretty fun adventure, having started out under the Revised Core Rules then being converted to Saga Edition.  I also had a Dragon Age adventure, this being "Duty Unto Death" which was what Chris Pramas ran for Wil Wheaton and his crew on the "Table Top" web series, only I'd opted to create my own set of pre-gen characters.  And I'd plenty of folks looking forward to playing both of those.  But, thanks to the wonderful Northeast weather, those plans got scuttled.

As the Jedi adage goes, "we accept what we are given, we take what is offered."  I wasn't able to go to GamerNationCon, but I might just be able to pull it off for next year, and will probably adjust my plans to hopefully account for any weather issues so that I can avoid a repeat of this year's fiasco.

The HWK-290 for EotE, a second look

Quite a while back, I took a stab at converting the HWK-290 from WotC's RCR/Saga Edition to FFG's Edge of the Empire, and posted it to the Gamer Security Agency here.

For those not familiar with the ship, you can read up on it here:
HWK-290 on Wookieepedia

There's also some "controversy" on the ship's size, as new information has put the 29 meters that WotC used as incorrect, and that going by the information that FFG was provided by the Lucasfilm Archives, the HWK-290 is about half as big as WotC listed, measuring in at somewhere around 16.5 meters.

Well, I've been going back through a number of some of my earlier conversion work, both for starships and alien species, and trying to take a fresh look at my work now that FFG has released more material to be used as points of reference.  A lot of my earlier starship work was done when the only material available was the EotE Beta rulebook, so I was probably a bit more conservative than I needed to be.

One of the ships that got changed was the HWK-290, which at least until FFG publishes their own stats should work for small player groups:

HKW-290 Light Freighter
Hull Type/Class: Freighter/HWK-290
Manufacturer: Corellian Engineering Corporation
Hyperdrive: Primary: Class 2
Navicomputer: Yes
Ship’s Complement: One pilot, one co-pilot/engineer
Passenger Capacity: 1
Encumbrance Capacity: 25
Consumables: 3 months
Cost/Rarity: 95,000 credits/5
Silhouette: 3 
Sensor Range: Short
Speed: 4 
Handling: +0
Defense: 1/0 
Armor: 3
Hull Integrity: 15 
Strain Threshold: 12
Customization Hardpoints: 3

Ventral Turret Mounted Twin Heavy Blaster Cannon (Fire Arc All; Damage 5; Critical Hit 4; Range [Close]; Linked 1)

Compared to the GSA version, the ship has a lower Silhouette, matching it up with starfighters such as the Y-Wing as well as the video images from the Dark Forces game.  This also results in a much lower Encumbrance Capacity and Passenger Capacity since it doesn't have that extra 10 meters of length that the WotC write-ups gave it.  The consumables got chopped in half as six months seemed a bit more for a ship that's under 20 meters in length, but that should still be plenty to get from destination to destination.

I also updated the onboard weapon to be a turret mounted blaster cannon.  Also from the various visual references I could find online as well as the model for FFG's X-Wing game, I also added Linked 1 since it's a presented as having twin barrels.  Strain Threshold got a boost as well though Handling was reduced a notch.

For the price, I opted to take the average of the "new" and "used" price points listed on the Wookieepedia article; given the overall speed and maneuverability of the ship in comparison to the YT-1300 (which is bigger and packs more firepower), this seems about right.

Overall, it makes a decent ship for a small group, being roughly on par with the Firespray.  It'd also make a nice ship for a two-person Alliance Mission Ops group, as proven by the duo of Kyle Katarn and Jan Ors of Dark Forces fame.