So it's been a week since I purchased my copy of the Force and Destiny Beta at GenCon.
Needless to say, I had a lot of fun at GenCon, even at those times where I was literally just walking the halls in search of neat and/or interesting costumes to take pictures of (and there were a lot). I got to play FFG Star Wars under several different GMs, from d20 Radio co-host Phil "DarthGM' to FFG lead developer Sam Stewart, and quite a few other folks in-between. With one exception, all of the sessions I played were fun, even the Force and Destiny demo which I did twice (mostly to get a chance to play the Soresu Defender character the second time around).
But onto the meat of this post, that being the twice-mentioned Force and Destiny Beta rulebook. I was able to snag a copy on opening day thanks to being a VIG companion and thus getting early access to the Exhibit Hall, but I didn't get a chance to really sit down and read the book until much later in the evening. I'm not going go into a blow-by-blow breakdown of every element of the book, and instead will just be discussing my thoughts on each portion as I get to it.
On first brush, I was pleasantly surprised by the introduction of the Morality mechanic. Instead of the typical "dark side score" mechanic used by both the D6 and d20 versions of Star Wars, FFG opted to go for a scale not all that different from the Dark/Light scale used in the KOTOR video games; the lower your Morality, the closer you are to falling to the dark side, while the higher your Morality, the more in-tune you are with the Force. It's rather interesting how your actions, particularly the darker ones, can generate what are called Conflict points, and at the end of each session, a PC would roll a d10 and compare it to their Conflict total (which gets reset) to see if their Morality moves up or down. Unlike prior systems which simply punished Force user PCs that got out of line, the Morality system can very much reward those players who adhere to the ideals of the Jedi Order and thus generate little to no Conflict points during a session. While there is the typical "fallen to the dark side" range of the Morality scale (less than 30), there's also a corresponding "paragon of the light side" range (higher than 70), with each extreme having an effect on the party's Destiny Pool at the start of the game as well as an impact on the character's Strain Threshold.
Where EotE offers characters the chance to increase their Obligation or AoR characters to decrease their Duty in order to start with more XP or more importantly additional credits, F&D instead has each player start at 50 Morality and gives a list of options for +10 XP, +2500 credits, or +5 XP/+1000 credits, all without having to alter your Morality score. There is the option to drastically reduce or increase your starting Morality, putting you on the cusp of either falling to the dark side or being a light side paragon.
The species included only had one real surprise, in that they made the Mirialans a separate species instead of just a Near-Human (and thus falling under the rules for Humans), but the rest weren't a big surprise, such as Cerean, Togruta, Nautolan, Kel Dor, and Zabraks, with Twi'leks and Humans getting a reprint from the prior core rulebooks. The species shook out quite a bit differently than what Cyril and I had done for the Unofficial Species Menagerie, which was a welcome surprise.
On the careers, I will admit to being surprised to not see an actual Jedi career, although interestingly six of the seven Forms of lightsaber combat are represented (the only one missing is Juyo/Vaapad, which makes sense as it was a very rare Form even during the height of the Jedi Order, with Vaapad being Mace Windu's personal creation and only shared with a very small handful of individuals). The character creation chapter makes it pretty clear that the PCs are not Jedi, but instead are Force users that in some cases have managed to scrap together a few bits and pieces of Jedi training (such as a Lightsaber Form).
About the Lightsaber Form specs, I was at first disappointed to see that only the Niman Disciple has the Force Rating talent, but upon further consideration I came to agree with the decision. The Form specs are each dedicated to a means of enhancing a character's prowess with a lightsaber, making a dangerous weapon even more so in their hands, so it stands to reason that for most of them, they'd be focused more on physical combat than on Force usage.
I'll admit to not being crazy about the Ataru Striker being attached to the Seeker career, but that might be more due to my namesake Jedi PC from the d20 system being an Ataru master and his core concept not being at all in line with the Seeker and what it offers for career skills; Dono is really more of a Warrior in terms of career than a Seeker, seeing as how he started life as a Jedi Guardian in the OCR.
One element I do like about the Form specs is that all of them bar Shii-Cho Knight has a talent that lets you use a Characteristic other than Brawn when using the Lightsaber skill, going beyond the expected range of either Brawn or Agility for attacks.
I will admit to being surprised at how the designers opted to handle blaster deflection, as well as cutting down on the "first hit wins" problem that lightsabers had in EotE and AoR. The book introduces the Parry and Reflect talents, each of which allows the character that's equipped with the appropriate weapon to suffer strain to reduce the damage of a melee (Parry) or ranged (Reflect) attack by a set amount. I must admit it's astonishingly simple, and I can vouch that it works quite well from first-hand experience. There's also Improved versions of each, which allow the character to make a counter-attack when they use the corresponding base talent to mitigate the damage taken. I've got a few qualms with how the talents are laid out, particularly in that some of the Form specializations don't have blaster deflection, such as Ataru and Soresu, both of which have their iconic characters (Qui-Gon/Yoda for Ataru and Obi-Wan for Soresu) making pretty frequent use of reflected blaster fire to attack their enemies.
Speaking of lightsabers, a major change is that the stats of your basic lightsaber have been reduced dramatically, going from Damage 10 and Crit Rating 1 to Damage 6 and Crit Rating 2, along with the 2 ranks in Vicious being removed; this I truly do think makes a lightsaber are far more balanced weapon, and I wish it had been implemented during the EotE Beta. I know that I'll be using the basic lightsaber stats from here on out. But even with the reduced values, a lightsaber is not available as starting gear, or at least a lightsaber with a working crystal (you can pick up a basic lightsaber hilt for 300 credits, but it's not viable as a weapon until you can obtain an appropriate focusing crystal).
But what's also interesting is that FFG opted to go with a "crystals as weapon attachments" mechanic, though thankfully they've made it so that you only get one crystal as opposed to the KOTOR video games where you could slap multiple crystals and upgrades into a lightsaber to twink the hell out of it. Each crystal comes with a default rating for damage, crit rating, and weapon qualities, and the character can then further modify the crystal to improve it. Fun fact: if a PC manages to fully modify an ilum crystal (the default crystal for all lightsabers), their lightsaber will have the same stats as the lightsaber found in the EotE and AoR core rulebooks.
Another interesting element is the option of what they're calling Knight-level play, which provides the character with 150 additional XP (which is specified as not being able to be spent to increase Characteristics) and either a basic lightsaber or 10,000 credits' worth of gear. For those groups that want to skip the "training wheels" stage of character play, this is right up their ally. The one drawback though is that character advancement is going to slow down a bit, as the PCs are going to be able to delve pretty far into their specialization's talent trees. It also doesn't specify if the "no more than 2 skill ranks" restriction still holds, something that may need to be addressed, as it could be abused to max out the ranks in a key skill for the character.
The new talents are pretty interesting, such as the Parry and Reflect that I mentioned previously. Each of the new specializations has something interesting to offer, such as the Artisan's Imbue Item talent that lets him commit a Force die to instantly jury-rig a piece of nearby gear, or the Pathfinder and their ability to obtain an animal companion.
The big draw in the equipment chapter is of course the lightsabers, which as I've noted earlier have been reduced in power quite dramatically, to the point where a GM doesn't have to feel bad if they put their party up against a lightsaber-wielding foe. Aside from the basic model, there's also the double-bladed lightsaber as well as the short lightsaber aka shoto, with other melee weapon offerings being cortosis weapons and the electrostaff as used by General Grevious's MagnaGuards in RotS. There's not as many ranged weapons in this book, with many of the Ranged (Heavy) entries from EotE and AoR having been removed. There's a couple of new armor options, such as the Concealing Robes (think standard Jedi robes from the prequels) that make it harder for others to identify or even notice you, a handy thing for a Force user trying to stay off the Empire's radar, and Armored Robes (think the get-up that Jedi Knights wear in the Star Wars: The Old Republic MMO). There's nothing super-special for most of the Gear chapter, except for rules on holocrons and a few sample Force talismans (both good and bad). There are a couple of new attachments even for the non-lightsaber crowd, such as the shadowsheath (checks to detect the weapon are much harder) and the stun pulse (gives the weapon the Stun active quality).
There are a handful of lightsaber focusing crystals to pick from, ranging from the basic Ilum crystal to the potent Krayt Dragon Pearl, as well as a number of lesser modifications such as dual-phase emitter and curved hilts, as well as the Superior Hilt Customization to cover the character fully personalizing their lightsaber, enough to grant the Superior quality to the weapon, which is a pretty big deal since it's extra damage and a free Advantage on checks, though it's just as expensive.
The combat and starship chapters are largely unchanged from the rules presented in the prior core rulebooks, although the Vehicle Profiles chapter does offer a few new options, such as a passenger landspeeder (one pilot and 4 passengers) and the Gallis-Tech 48 Roller wheel bike, similar to what Grevious used in RotS (though without the funky leg things or on-board weapons). In terms of starships, there's the Delta-series, such as the Delta-7 Aethersprite (which is astoundingly close to what I posted on this blog a while back in terms of stats). For transports we have the G9 Rigger and the HWK-290 (for which FFG was a bit more generous overall than I was in the version I created), as well as a couple other options such as the Simiyar light freighter (a Mon Cal design) and the ZH-25 Questor, the later of which would be perfectly viable for an EotE group looking for something other than a YT-1300 to start out with.
The Force chapter not only collects the five prior powers (Enhance, Foresee, Influence, Move, and Sense) from the prior books, but also introduces several new ones. On this point, I don't think I was even remotely close. For instance, FFG rolled Force-based healing and damage into a single power, and made resisting a power something that anyone can do, though rebuking a power has been rolled in with a Force lightning type of effect (though you need a very high Force Rating to select said power). What's interesting is that several of the new powers have different effects depending on whether you used Light Side pips from the Force die to generate your Force points or if you converted those Dark Side pips. For instance, the Bind power simply lets you hold a person in place, but if you used any Dark Side pips to generate the necessary Force points then the target also takes damage, which effectively makes this Vader's Force choke. Many of the new powers require a Force Rating of 2 or better, putting them in the hands of experienced PCs only. I must say this is a very interesting idea, and it certainly curtails the number of new powers that a PC would need to purchase while also offering them some pretty brutal options to deal with foes if they simply make use of the dark side aspects of those powers.
Back to Morality for a moment, the GM chapter offers a handy little chart that lists what how many Conflict points certain courses of action are, ranging from earning 1 point from resorting to violence as the first solution to a problem (even if that problem is stopping a bunch of bandits from shooting and burning a camp of innocent tribesman) up 10 points for torture or the murder of a helpless person. Interestingly, many of what would be seen as "standard operating procedure" for adventuring groups will net you some Conflict points, making you more likely to slip closer to the dark side of the Morality scale, which I think does an excellent job of reflecting how the light side/dark side paradigm operates in the films; Obi-Wan probably only nets a point or two of Conflict each session at most, while Anakin in his rush to resolve problems through the most expedient means possible likely generates several points each session (unless Obi-Wan's around to reign him in). Also, the Fear check mechanics have been updated to account for Morality, as rolling a Despair on a Fear check generates a point of Conflict, a nice nod to the line of Fear leading to Anger.
The Adversary chapter has a number of new NPCs as well as returning favorites such as stormtroopers and street toughs. There's a number of generally low-grade Force user NPCs, most of whom only have a minor ability along with being at Force Rating 1, though a couple are Nemesis-tier foes such as the Murderous Fugitive (FR 3 and a Force Lightning effect). Most of the droids are new, such as the IG-100 MagnaGuard (Nemesis tier and a freaking brute in melee combat). New monsters are included, such as an Acklay (the thing Obi-Wan fought in the gladiatorial pit in AotC) which is pretty nasty (not quite Captured Rancor nasty, but not that far off either) and even the Vornskr and Ysalamir (which simply negates all Force effects within Short Range of it).
But the capstone to this chapter is the Inquisitor creation guidelines. And after putting a few of these big bads together, let me say that they can be very nasty, even if they don't have any active Force powers or use a lightsaber. This section also has a sidebar discussing the option to allow a major NPC that's going solo against a group of 4 or more PCs to get an extra turn each round, making them more of a threat against a group (who might otherwise simply bury a lone villain with the sheer number of attacks per round they'd get).
The book wraps up with an adventure, called Lost Knowledge. I've not read this in-depth, but for the most part it's not really anything special, although the final encounter does have an interesting wrinkle to it and part of the rewards offered for completing the adventure is a new type of lightsabrer focusing crystal; it's not as good or modifiable as an Ilum crystal, but it beats not having a lightsaber at all. From what I could tell, it's geared towards starting level characters, as Knight-level PCs are going to likely crush the opposition as they're written. Still, it looks pretty solid, and I'll probably wind up running it at some point.
A bit disjointed, but those are my thoughts on the Force and Destiny Beta. I've been looking forward to this book every since the product line was announced, and I must say it didn't disappoint. Even the few things that I didn't totally agree with didn't detract from my enjoyment of the material, and most of those are either so minor as they can be overlooked or I've started up threads in the F&D Beta portion of the FFG forums to discuss proposed changes to the material. Note I said changes, not fixes. The material as it's written works very well, and some of the changes I've in mind for the material could very well fall into the realm of "personal preference." Though going by the number of likes I've gotten on some of those threads, the proposed changes seem to be pretty darn popular. And since a number of FFG folks recognized my forum handle, at least there's a good chance that the designers will see these proposed changes and consider them for implementation. Hey, my suggestion of changing Knowledge (Galactic Civil War) to Knowledge (Warfare) made it into the AoR core rulebook, so you never know ;)
Now that being said, there is the matter of Ways of the Force. While it probably won't go away, there won't be a "version 1.41," but rather a "version 2.0" to account for how Force and Destiny handles a number of things. Top of the list to go bye-bye are going to be the Jedi Initiate and Deflect Blasters, as well as the Healing, Injure, and Rebuke powers. I will probably also tweak the Force Techniques section to make them into things that anyone with sufficient Force Rating and appropriate powers can do but without needing to pay an XP cost as well as adding a couple effects. Not sure on where the Force Mystic or Dark Side Acolyte are going to wind up, but I got a feeling that other than loosing at least one rank of Uncanny Reactions and Uncanny Senses each, they'll still be around. As for those lightsaber-related talents I created, that I'm not sure on. I'd promised myself that I wouldn't fall prey to the lure of creating a Jedi career, but now that the curtain's been pulled back on dedicated Force users with Force and Destiny, that means that I have a lot more tools to make use of for creating a Jedi career system. How it'll shake out, I frankly have no idea.
I'll likely be posting some of the various characters I've made using the F&D Beta rules over the next few days, as well as a recap on my GenCon experience (which again was well worth the money spent). So until then, remember...
The Force will be with you, always.