May 26, 2014

Savage Worlds Kickstarter - East Texas University

Wow, two posts in one day?  What gives?

Well, I've been kinda remiss in mentioning a Kickstarter that I backed several days ago.  Those who know me know that I've been a long-time of Deadlands, back from the Classic version through Hell on Earth up to Deadlands Reloaded and Deadlands Noir.

The fine folks at Pinnacle are at it again, this time with a Kickstarter for East Texas University, a horror-themed setting for Savage Worlds.  I'll let them do the explaining...

Now what's interesting about this Kickstarter is that the backer rewards are driven not by dollars pledged, but by the number of folks who've pledged.  The product has long since funded (having reached nearly five times the goal as of this post), and it certainly looks to be a fun setting to use either for one-shot adventures, an extended campaign, or perhaps even as a resource for a Deadlands adventure in a more modern setting.  And since it's all Savage Worlds, it wouldn't take much work on the GM's part to incorporate elements from Deadlands (particularly DL:Noir) into an ETU game to give an extra helping of weird.

$20 gets you a PDF of the core rulebook plus the digital rewards (currently unlocked are the soundtrack and a collection of ready-to-play archetypes), and an extra $15 on top of that also nets you the Plot Point Campaign book, giving the GM a ready-made series of adventures that should keep your group going for a good long while if their prior Plot Point Campaigns are anything to go by.

Me?  I'm pledged at the Masters level.  One of the things I regretted with the Deadlands: Noir Kickstarter was that I wasn't able to pledge enough to get physical copies of the books, a mistake that I'm not making this time around.  I will admit that the dice and maps are also tempting, but we'll see how things go in terms of my personal finances (GenCon is on the horizon after all).

So if you enjoy horror-themed games, check this one out.  It looks to be a real killer.

He's no Jedi... at least, not yet.

It's always a satisfying moment when a character you've created so long ago at last takes that major step towards realizing their full potential.

As some may know, way back during the Edge of the Empire Beta, my friend Ben "Cyril" Erickson proposed a one-shot scenario to try out FFG's new system.  This was done as one of our players (Rikoshi) had some scheduling conflicts on Sundays with his Shadowrun group, and by running EotE this allowed the rest of us a chance to game without putting Rikoshi's character on the bench for a session.

As has been tradition since I first played a Star Wars RPG (WEG 2nd edition way back in 1993), I wanted my first character to be a Force user of at least some type.  Well, seeing as how FFG hadn't pulled back the curtain on Jedi as playable characters, that left me with the option of the Force Exile.  I was tempted to use the Morningfire surname as I'd done many times in the past, with my first WEG PC being a Young Jedi named Ryu Morningfire (hey, I was big into Street Fighter II at the time, sue me).  My first OCR PC being a Jedi Guardian named Donovan Morningfire, from whom I've pretty much taken my fan community handle (it's reached the point that more people know me as Donovan or Dono than by my proper first name), and was carried over to the RCR as well.  The first Saga Edition character that I played that wasn't a conversion from the OCR/RCR was Zayne Morningfire, a Legacy Era descendent of Dono that wound up becoming an obscenely powerful Force user thanks to a combination of unusually good dice rolls and a homebrew talent that didn't look anywhere near as broken on paper.

So yeah, the temptation was there to once again use the Morningfire surname for this EotE character.  But, this character wasn't a Jedi, hadn't really even been trained as a Jedi, so my using Morningfire for a character that wasn't a Jedi just didn't feel right.  A leafing through some old WEG characters that I'd created by never played provided the right inspiration at the right time, and so Valin Starsmore, a Force-sensitive street rat (Human Smuggler/Scoundrel/Force Exile) was created.

Well, as I noted in a prior post, Valin has made his return to active play as part of a new campaign, this one blending elements of Edge of the Empire with Age of Rebellion, with the young Force user having found himself keeping company with a group of Alliance operatives.  While we've yet to really strike a major blow against the Empire (yet), that's mostly as the GM has been running us through the Long Arm of the Hutt module, taking us through the events on Ryloth and Geonosis aboard the YT-1300 that we'd appropriated at the end of the first adventure (Escape from Mos Shutta) but have since retro-fitted, repaired, refurbished, renovated, and rechristened the Rascal's Folly.  According to Rala, our Chiss field officer, there's a story behind the name, but we're still waiting on the details.

However, the past couple sessions have seen us taking a detour from the events of LAotH, first with a trip to Nar Shaddaa to satisfy an Obligation we'd incurred during the prior session, with events quickly spiraling out of control (and it was NOT Valin's fault in the slightest!) and us having to make a hurried departure with Ubese hunters and ISB operatives on our trail, simply because we'd agreed to ferry a Bothan historian to an undisclosed location (that one can be blamed on Kyun, our Sullustan tramp freighter 'captain' who agreed to the charter without getting input from the rest of us).

Well, our most recent session was this past Saturday, and it started off with the Bothan, a rather timid-seeming yet excitable fellow by the name of Lorik Feryess revealing that our destination was the planet Tython... which drew a bunch of blank stares from the entire party (nobody passed the Knowledge: Lore check the GM asked for).  A bit dismayed, Lorik revealed that Tython was said to be the birthplace of the Jedi Order, and had served as the Order's home in the aftermath of the Sith Invasion and the following Galactic Cold War.  With Valin's interest in the Jedi and his own limited training in the Force, that part got his attention.

As a team of archaeologists, our party needs a lot of work.  Getting to Tython wasn't too hard as Lorik was able to provide astrogation coordinates, though the data was horrifically outdated and gave Kyun fits trying to properly chart a course (took him several hours due to all the Threat he'd rolled on his Astrogation check, and that's counting his Galaxy Mapper talent).  Finding the temple in question that Lorik wanted to investigate was another matter.  As the temple was located quite a ways off and there wasn't anyplace to park the ship, we wound having to walk, though we at least didn't get lost.  After some run-ins with the native fauna (including a bunch of savage mutants that called themselves Flesh Raiders) we finally made it to the temple itself.

Said temple was really more of a training outpost, one located on a rocky outcropping with barely enough room to land a landspeeder much less a YT-1300. Lorik seemed content to explore the grounds around the area while leaving it to us to explore the temple proper.  And so we ended up on what amounted to a dungeon delve, leading most of the group to conclude that Lorik sent us ahead because he was too frightened to go himself.  Of course, the exterior wasn't exactly danger free as Valin had inadvertently triggered an archaic training droid, forced into a brief sparring match using what Lorik identified as an archaic training lightsaber.  It was a weapon that Valin felt oddly comfortable using in spite of having never seen it's type before, though he noted it was similar to the sparing sticks he'd used during self-defense lessons with his mentor, the man that had helped Valin gain a basic understanding of the Force and whom the young lad suspects may have been a Jedi that survived the purging of the Jedi Order.

After dealing with various pitfalls, we reached the "heart" of the temple, which was where ancient data recordings the group had salvaged lead us to believe the major archeological find would be located, and even picked up a few other items along the way.  However, the problem we soon ran into was that the access doors to the main "treasure trove" were sealed tight and any attempts to force them open failed, up to and including our sassy demolitions expert trying to use a shaped detonite charge.  As most of the group tried to figure out a way in, Valin opted to do a bit more exploring on his own, and came across the remains of a library, with the "books" having long since succumbed to the ravages of time and the lack of a controlled environment.

However, something in the room was able to recognize that Valin was Force-sensitive (or just noticed that he was the only one carrying one of those training 'sabers) and revealed a well-hidden door as a recorded voice instructed "Approach the entry Padawan, and be tried."  Not sure if anyone else would have been able to enter, but based on an intuitive feeling (which he's come to trust), Valin stepped through the door and embarked on what I can only take to a set of Trials.  This itself was handled as a one-on-one session between me and the GM, with the rest of the players observing from the sidelines if they wished (a couple of them had gotten to wondering where Valin had wandered off to, and found the library just in time to see Valin step through the door before it slammed shut behind him).

I have to say, going through these Trials was an interesting experience, with each Trial reflecting some facet of the Jedi Code (which Valin had long ago learned and taken to reciting portions of during stressful situations), and I think lead to some character growth as he was put in situations that forced him to really consider what those sentences meant.  He succeeded, though the Third Trial was rather nerve-wracking, and was rewarded with the means to open those impenetrable vault doors (a rather hefty ornamental sword) and perhaps more precious, a crystal of a type quite similar to the one he wears around his neck, but larger, in pristine condition and noted as being suited for usage in constructing a lightsaber.

The main treasure for the adventure was apparently an ancient Jedi holocron along with a host of other historical items pertaining to the lore and history of the Jedi Order.  You know, the sort of stuff that belongs in a museum; I even had Valin make a remark about how someone he'd met briefly on his travels, a Bothan archaeologist named Priska, would have been thrilled with a find of this caliber (you're welcome Linda).  Attempts to reach Lorik via comlink weren't working (presumably something was interfering with the signal down here), so we grabbed the holocron and a few other portable items and headed out.

Sadly, it seems that we weren't quite as adept at covering our tracks when fleeing Nar Shaddaa as we'd hoped.  We exited the temple just in time to see Lorik being gunned down by a combined force of Ubese hunters and Imperial stormtroopers, with the Imperial agent in charge ordering his troops to take us out.  They failed, though we were able to learn from one of the few surviving Ubese that they'd been ordered to kill Lorik and his associates, then plant a series of beacons that would allow the Vindicator-class heavy cruiser that was in orbit to make a pinpoint tactical strike and ensure the temple and any traces of the Jedi Order were obliterated.  Against Kyun's opinion, we opted to salvage as many of those books and cultural items as we could from the reliquary, figuring we could use the troop transports our enemies had used to ferry the goods back to our ship.  We had just managed to clear the immediate area when destruction rained from the skies in the form of turbolaser fire; apparently enough of the beacons had been placed to give the Imperials in orbit enough data for an accurate firing solution.  The return trip was a lot faster, and we did manage to escape, though we had to outrun that Vindicator (callsign appropriately being "Merciless" with some jokes about Captain Ming being in charge) and half a dozen TIE fighters in the process, but we escaped without too much damage to our ship.

After escaping, we had to figure out what to do next, particularly as Lorik was the one who knew where we were going to deliver the various historical items we'd found (and get paid, which Kyun insisted was the important factor).  Apparently Lorik had some foresight that he might wind up dead on this trip, and left us a recording on the ship's computer that gave us our next destination and point of contact, those being the planet Dac aka Mon Calamari and an eldery Mon Cal woman by the name of Plashi Wul.  She'd take the recovered items off our hands and provide the agreed upon credits along with a bonus for any significant finds.

Later that night, Valin opted to privately inspect the holocron, which to this point he'd avoided touching.  As he figured, the device "awoke" when he tried to reach out to activate it via the Force, and Valin got a brief and unexpected lesson on the Jedi, having some actual facts to now work with instead of the half-truths and suspicions he'd been working from.  Of course, Rala had figured he'd do something like this, but given the rather dismissive attitudes most of the group held towards the Jedi at least understood why Valin wasn't forthcoming with his abilities.  She did make it clear that as far as she was concerned, the holocron was going to be among the items turned over to whomever Lorik's backer was, since that was part of the agreement they'd made with the now-dead Bothan.

So, what does all this mean for Valin in game terms?  Well, he's got that archaic training lightsaber to work with, and the GM is allowing Valin to gain the Lightsaber skill as a career skill, effectively allowing me to replace Insight from the Force Emergent specialization with the Jedi Training talent from my Ways of the Force fan supplement, granting him both Discipline (which I'd gotten from Insight to begin with) and Lightsaber as career skills.  Between the session's length and the bonus I got for Valin's motivation coming into play, it was enough for him to increase his Force Rating to 2 and take a rank in the Lightsaber skill.  Plus, the GM will allow Valin to learn enough from the holocron to eventually construct his own lightsaber as well as pick up any of the Force Powers in the two core rulebooks (EotE and AoR Beta).  And with a suitable crystal in hand, two of the major hurdles to Valin building his own lightsaber (the first being learning how) have been met.  Of course, there's still plenty to spend XP on even without Force & Destiny being released yet, such as honing his Discipline and Lightsaber skills and bolstering his Force Powers (thinking of picking up Foresee next though Enhance is awfully tempting, plus I need to snag some Strength Upgrades for Move and the offensive Control Upgrade for Sense).  But I got a feeling it won't be too many sessions for Valin trades that heavy blaster pistol of his to another PC.

Of course, one very interesting element to Valin's background that got revealed was that the small crystalline pendant he carries was of a similar type to the lightsaber crystal he'd earned through those Trials, raising a serious question about just who his parents were and how they'd have come into ownership of a lightsaber crystal.

So after several sessions in this campaign and a number of "Infinities" adventures, Valin has finally taken that big step into a much larger galaxy.  While there is a certain level of excitement on my part that he's finally on track to becoming a Jedi, there's the knowledge that such power is going to result in our group earning the notice of people we'd rather didn't take notice of us.  After all, there's still Teemo the Hutt out there, and he seems to have posted a sizable bounty for the heads (just the heads) of three members of our group (Valin's not one of them).  Plus there's that Imperial cruiser that's probably got us on file now, and the Imperial in charge of the ship who was quite keen on wiping out traces of the Jedi Order, even ones that were thousands of years old.  Yeah, that's not going to be an issue later on in the campaign, not one bit *cue rolling of eyes*  And there's still his Bounty Obligation to contend with, as I'm sure the ISB's going to take notice that a person that's wanted for connections to a "known terrorist and fugitive" was sighted fleeing from the sight of a ruined Jedi temple just prior to its destruction, so there's that to deal with as well.

Truthfully, this kind of felt like Valin's "day in the limelight" episode.  For most of the campaign, he'd kind of been playing second fiddle and simply going along with what the group wanted, so it was nice to have an objective that he as a character would be really interested in completing.  I'm really hoping that Valin doesn't wind up being a full-time spotlight character as a result of the changes this last session has introduced, and have communicated that to the GM.  And while Luke has been and probably will always be my favorite character from the original Star Wars movies, I'm really not keen on playing a rehash of his story from the movies.  Though at least I can safely presume that Valin's current love interest (Jynx, a cute and flirty Mirialan Hired Gun/Demolitionist) isn't a blood relation of any sort.

Hard to believe this campaign's only been going for only seven sessions, and that Valin's come so far between the campaign's start and where he currently stands.  And with Force & Destiny on the horizon (allegedly a Beta will be released at GenCon, and the final book will like drop around this time in 2015), there's still plenty of room for Valin to grow as a character while pursuing his motivation of eventually becoming an actual Jedi Knight.  And I really do hope this campaign lasts long enough to realize that particular ambition.  And I'm already looking forward to how the rest of this particular adventure plays out.  Call it veteran gamer's instincts, but I think there's going to be at least one more Force-related surprise in store for our group and Valin in particular.

May 19, 2014

D&D 5e... So. What?

Fair warning, if you're a dyed-in-the-wool D&D fan that's been frothing at the mouth for the next edition of D&D since they announced the Open Playtest, you should probably just skip this post entirely.  In fact, just pretend it didn't exist, and we'll both be happier for it.

So, the news has been dropped that the next version of D&D (which I'm calling 5e for simplicity) will be released this summer, starting with a Beginner Box in July and followed with a new release each subsequent month.  Obviously being D&D (aka the 800 pound gorilla in the RPG industry), this is fairly big news for a lot of folks.  After all, it's been quite a while since WotC last published a D&D gaming product for retail sale.

Personally, my reaction to this news could be summed up in two words...

So. What?

I'll be honest, the last time I played D&D and actually had fun was in a Dark Sun campaign which was under the 4e ruleset (Human Stone Fist Monk with Wilder theme if you're curious; much boot to the head).  I know that opinions on 4e are rather... divided, but while it didn't wow me, neither did 4e leave me entirely cold, though admittedly I never saw it as an actual "role"-playing game really being more of a tactical combat simulator that used physical maps, tokens, and dice instead of being reliant upon a computer.  It's not a system I'd be in a hurry to play again, but I don't loathe it either.

But the fact remains that as much as 3rd edition was a base-breaker for the D&D fandom, 4e was even more so, due to the many significant and rather radical changes in how the game worked.  3e was itself different, but still had ties to prior versions of AD&D, just as AD&D 2nd edition had ties to AD&D 1st edition.  4e was such a different animal that it was hard to find a middle ground.

Brian Casey aka Fiddleback made a tweet this morning that really caught my attention, which he expounded upon here at the Mad Adventurer's Society:

He and I are of a similar wavelength in regards to the upcoming/inevitable 5th edition.  In particular, I'd like to call to attention his point about how much the gaming industry as changed since 4e was released.

Ten years ago, we didn't have things like Kickstarter, and the number of viable indie RPG companies was fairly small.  RPG publishing was predominately big companies like Wizards of the Coast or Alderac Entertainment Group or White Wolf, companies that had been in business for quite some time.  But things have changed.  Paizo went from being a magazine publisher to being the folks publishing one of the two largest RPG product lines on the market (where they stand in regards to WotC is a matter of opinion that varies from one person to the next).

One of my favorite companies to support, Evil Hat Productions (i.e. the folks behind FATE and the Dresden Files RPG) probably wouldn't have been able to make it in the RPG industry as it existed at that time, or at least wouldn't have the degree of success they've been having.

But with the advent of Kickstarter and IndieGoGo, it's a much different industry.  Indie RPGs are now a heck of a lot more accessible, and you can get a lot of bang for your buck when you make a pledge to support a given funding campaign.  I got a pretty good amount of swag from Evil Hat's FATE Kickstarter, as well as Green Ronin's Mutants & Masterminds 10th Anniversary Kickstarter and the Deadlands Noir Kickstarter (oh how I wish I could have pledged more back then).  And there's been a couple of minor projects that I gladly supported simply because they sounded interesting.  Some of them came to fruition, some didn't.  I guess I've been lucky in that I've only had a single Kickstarter go sour with the money taken and nothing to show for it. The fact still remains that the gaming industry is no longer reliant on those big companies to produce RPGs that we're hoping to like.  Now, smaller companies can more easily find those "niche markets" for their ideas that a decade ago probably would have wasted away in obscurity.

There's also the simple fact that for most companies, PDF publishing and Open Gaming Licenses are a huge thing.  Putting together a semi-professional looking PDF and submitting to sites like DriveThruRPG isn't that difficult and the publisher gets to skip over a number of other costs, such as printing and shipping.  And with just about every gamer having some form of internet access and a portable device these days, getting those PDFs and using them at the table is quite simple.  And like Kickstarter campaigns, it's pretty easy for someone with a real niche product to find folks that are willing to buy a PDF of it.

So where does that leave Wizards of the Coast and 5e?  More than likely, facing an uphill battle if they want to re-establish the massive customer base they had back when 3e was at it's height.  Response to the recent Open Playtest materials has been as mixed as the post-release response to 4e was, with some folks loving it, some folks hating it, and some folks simply wondering why they should care anymore?

Me, I'm in that third camp.  I tried out the materials for the Open Playtest under a couple iterations, but I found myself often wondering "why should I even care at this point?"  I already had access to all the books for what I honestly feel is the best version of a d20 system out there in the form of Star Wars Saga Edition, which is one of the few d20 games that I'd play or run at this point, with Mutants & Masterminds being the other.  And the answer I ultimately came to was "I shouldn't."

I've got two bookcases packed with a variety of RPGs that I very much enjoy playing or at the very least enjoy just occasionally reading through.  I've got a number of PDFs for several of those games and several more sitting on my hard drive.  But my D&D books?  The 3e books are pretty much gone (and I had a lot of those at one point), with only two 3e books surviving my purge of "stuff I no longer need."  I've still got 4e books that are semi-accessible, but honestly I don't have that many of them (the core set, each of the various PHBs, the two Essentials player books, and a couple supplements is all) and it's been quite a while since I picked up one of those to just read through it.

So as far as D&D 5e goes, I'm a lost cause for anyone trying to convince me to pick up the new rules.  At most, I might pick up a copy of the PHB if I can get a really good price on it, but that's not likely as none of the folks I game with have an interest in any version of D&D these days.

And that's okay, because unlike the RPG industry of old, there are a wealth of options out there for the discerning gamer.  So while D&D is likely to remain the "face" of the RPG hobby, particularly to the mainstream media and those on the outside looking in, that doesn't mean that gamers have to overjoyed or even be interested that a new version of D&D is on the horizon.  Will D&D probably be the "introductory" RPG for a number of gamers in the years to come?  Probably, though Pathfinder is probably catching up given the number of gamers that cut their teeth on 3rd edition D&D.

Personally, I feel there are much stronger options to introducing folks to the gaming hobby that D&D.  Green Ronin's Dragon Age and Pinnacle's Savage Worlds are two of them.  There's also Fate Accelerated Edition if I need to come up with something on the fly, though I'll admit my comfort level with that system is not the best in terms of being a GM.  But that's my opinion, and I'm sure there are plenty of folks that feel there are other systems that would be better for an introduction to the RPG hobby.  But that's the beauty if it all, is that there are so many other options.  I suspect that had the number of options that exist today been around when I got my introduction (D&D Red Box) was a much smaller guy, my head likely would have been spinning.

Back then (a lot longer ago than I'd like to admit), there really wasn't much choice beyond D&D.  At least in the areas I grew up in, you were lucky if the local bookstore carried anything more than a few D&D books and some dice; if you wanted something other than D&D, you were pretty much out of luck.

But *cough* number of years later, I can very easily walk past a table where any version of D&D is being played, pausing perhaps briefly for a second or two to see what's going on, and then move along.  During GenCon last year, I very briefly swung by the WotC set-up, took a couple of pics of the big-ass drider statue, and left the area with zero interest in playing a session of D&DNext.  I tried the playtest material, wasn't really enthused or frankly impressed by the state of things towards the end, and unless WotC has done some really major revisions, odds are that 5e is going to be many of the things that I simply didn't care for.

For those of you out there are chomping at the bit for the next version of D&D, I hope you enjoy it.  But I've got a sinking feeling there's going to be nearly as much divisiveness over the new edition as there was each time a new edition of D&D got released, ranging from the folks that liked the old(er) edition to folks that are disappointed that this new edition failed to live up to their expectations or simply doesn't deliver the D&D experience they want.

And for me, given how non-relevant D&D is to my gaming these days, I again ask "so what?"  I've got plenty of other RPGs that I very much enjoy playing, with currently being in two FFG Star Wars campaign (and am eager to get my hands on the Age of Rebellion core rulebook within the next couple weeks and hopefully the Force and Destiny Beta this August) and a Mutants & Masterminds campaign (hard to top the chance to play Spider-Man, quips and all).

Edit: Well, it seems that WotC did one of the last things I'd have expected, that being to offer the "basic" rules as a free PDF download from their website, covering levels 1 thru 20 but keeping things very "bare bones" much like the old Basic D&D box sets did.  You'll have your standard four classes (fighter, rogue, cleric, wizard/mage) and races (human, elves, dwarves, halfings) to start with, so it'll be enough to give those curious a chance to see if the new D&D is something they'd want to follow up on or simply pass over.

At the very least, they'll have folks willing to check out the new D&D, which will likely provide a much needed boost towards the goal of making D&D as relevant to gamers as it was back in the 3.X/d20 hey-day.  I'm still not sold on the product (again based on the last iteration of the Beta playtest rules), but I'll at least check out the Basic PDF and see if the system is something I'm willing to put money towards.