July 4, 2017

May the Fourth (of July) Be With You!

Okay, it's a stretch for the pun, but it's a pun and that makes it worth it.

If you're a resident of the United States, then you're probably at least aware of this being our Independence Day, or as some have called it Brexit 1776, if not out actively celebrating it.

Frankly, I'm not sure there's a whole lot to celebrate. We have a belligerent man-child sitting the Oval Office, a post turtle that's been put into a position he is not even remotely qualified for, and a large portion of our duly elected leaders seem hell bent on screwing over the people that they're supposed to represent.  Yes, the "wealth care" bill that the GOP has been trying (and thus far failing) to ramrod through has stalled out yet again, but I'm dreading that this bill may well pass; it may not impact me directly, but it's going to literally be the death of several people I know and count as friends, and will make things that much harder on friends of mine that are struggling with both health issues and to make ends meet.

On the other hand, I count myself fortunate to live in a blue state, where the bulk of our senators and congresspeople are concerned with the well-being of their constituents, even if with a few of them it's only to ensure that they can continue to be re-elected.  I'm also in an area where the bigotry and hatred that keeps cropping up since the cheeto-faced man-baby took office is not nearly as pronounced as it is on other parts of the country; I won't say it's not present, because I've seen it but I've also seen (and been counted among) good people standing up and against that sort of narrow-minded discrimination that racists and bigots are more open about now that one of their own has (in my view) stolen the election due to meddling by a foreign power.

But, I digress, as there's enough gloom and doom going around as it is.

As I'm sure many of you know, Fantasy Flight Games has announced Genesys, a generic version of the narrative dice system (NaDS?) used in their Star Wars RPG.  The response I've seen has been generally positive, with a number of folks suggesting possible theme books both official and fan-created for a variety of ideas, ranging from FFG properties such as Legend of the Five Rings (almost a given I would think) and Midnight to odd-ball ideas such as professional wrestling.  Me personally, I'd like to see FFG revisit their old Horizons product line, which was a series of "one and done" splats for 3rd edition d20, with the one I would especially love for them to redo being Mechamorphosis, which was essentially Transformers: The RPG with the serial numbers filed off and a different backstory for why the 'mechs were on Earth.

I only got to play Mechamophosis for a few sessions, with the GM having largely put the serial numbers back on, but I had fun playing Charger, a brash yet well-meaning young(ish) Autobot whose alt-mode was a ridiculously souped-up muscle car whose crowning moment was an impromptu demolition derby against a pack of Not!Dreadnoks.  In retrospect, I abused the hell out of the system, namely that by 'bot had DR10 versus anything that wasn't Cybertronian tech in origin and that damage from human-based tech was dropped by 10, meaning I could get into collisions all day long and suffer little more than a scratched paint job.

For those that participated in the open beta for Fantasy Flight Games' Force and Destiny, some of those who were on the FFG forums might recall that during that process, I had proposed some alternate layouts for five of the six the Lightsaber Form specs; at the time I felt that Niman Disciple was the only one that really didn't need any work, and it's a view I still hold today.  Granted, a large part of the layout changes was to accommodate a proposed change to how the damage reduction values for Parry and Reflect were calculated, which obviously FFG didn't go for.

At this year's GamerNationCon (a blast as always), I got to talking a bit with Will aka Taigia Reilly about a few different topics, one of which was that he liked the alternate layouts that I had proposed for the Ataru Striker during the Force and Destiny Beta.  Which after the con got me to thinking about what other tweaks I would make the remaining Lightsaber Form specializations?

So, over the past several weeks I've been playing around a bit with some of the Lightsaber Form specializations, seeing what worked with regards to the alterations and what didn't.  Overall, the versions that FFG published in Force and Destiny are pretty solid.  Now, if you've been following this blog in any way, shape, or form, then you're probably aware that I have what could be called a fundamental difference of opinion on the Shii-Cho Knight specialization, mostly centered around how FFG gave it zero ranks of Reflect and thus no protection against ranged attacks.  To be clear, I'm not saying that Sam or whomever wrote up the spec did it wrong, just that the author and I came to different conclusions from the same source material.  For easiness' sake, I'll be including what is probably my final take on a revised Shii-Cho Knight in this post, as well as discussing later on why I made the changes I did.

For the specializations where I changed the layout or talent selection, I've placed a hyperlink to an image of the revised spec's talent tree, which is stored on my Dropbox account.  Kudos go to OggDude, as the talent tree images were created using his Character Generator program; if you don't have that program and you're using a computer that runs Windows, do yourself a favor and grab this program as it incredibly useful and makes storing and sharing characters so much easier.

Ataru Striker
Overall, this is a solid spec, capturing the core idea that Ataru is physically demanding and not well-suited for facing multiple foes at once.  So really, the only alteration I made was to drop the third rank of Parry and replace it with the Improved Reflect talent, since a large part of Ataru's development came from the thought that Soresu was far too passive but still incorporating some of Form III's defensive elements.  With this change, I also severed the connection between Row 4 and Row 5 in the first column, so if your Ataru Striker wants to get Improved Reflect, they'll need Dedication to accomplish it (see what I did there?)  I had considered removing the connection between Row 4 and Row 5 in the second column as well, but I didn't care for the idea of forcing the PC to have to go through Saber Throw in order to get Dedication, especially since if the PC wants to get the most mileage out of Improved Reflect, they're going to be burning strain for both their Dodge and Reflect talents.

Makashi Duelist
The layout of the specialization is by and large perfect, capturing Form II's feel as a duelist-orientated style.  However, that doesn't mean it's without something I perceive as a problem, one that got high-lighted during the Force and Destiny Beta campaign that I ran for some friends.  One of the characters was a Nautolan Mystic/Makashi Duelist, infamous for his giant grin (one PC even seriously considering painting an image of the Nautolan's grinning mug on the front of the ship).  Overall, the character did really well, even making good use of a double-bladed lightsaber until the weapon got updated to have Unwieldy 3 instead of Unwieldy 2.  However, the issue came up that his primary means of defense against melee attacks was the Feint talent, which looks great on paper, but does you no good if you continue to hit your opponent, which in turn means the player has spent XP on talents they can't really use.

So, my proposed alteration for Makashi Duelist is instead for the Feint talent, namely to allow the character to spend 3 advantage or a Triumph from a Brawl, Lightsaber, or Melee combat check regardless of whether they hit or miss.  It does mean that in a melee fight, the Makashi Duelist is going to be very difficult to score a solid attack against, and that if you do hit there's a good chance they'll be able to use Improved Parry to score a hit in return, but really that's the Makashi Duelist's thing, is to be a very daunting opponent in a one-on-one duel, and that a true master of Form II is a tough nut to crack when it comes to crossing blades.

Niman Disciple
Sticking to my guns here, and I'll say that Niman Disciple is picture-perfect as far as the Lightsaber Form specs go with regards to talent layout, talent selection, talent mechanics, and bonus non-career skills.  So no revisions from me on this one.

Shien Expert
Another specialization that's got zero issues with regards to what talents it offers, how those talents work, and the bonus career skills the spec offers.  I could see some contention with the Counterstrike talent, as it requires your target to miss you, but that's strongly mitigated once you get Disruptive Strike, which if you've got a Force die (or two) available as well as Sense's defensive control upgrade running and have used Defensive Stance, you should have little trouble forcing your opponent to miss on their attacks, setting up Counterstrike for a free upgrade every round and saving you some pain both in terms of suffering wounds and spending strain.

About the only tweak I'd make with regards to Shien Expert is more to the Sentinel career, with that change being to remove Knowledge (Core Worlds) and instead add Streetwise to their list of beginning career skills.  The Sentinel, to me at least, has always been about walking the dark places that no others would enter, skulking around the shadier parts of the galaxy in an effort to find and defeat their foes.  Yes, I know that Shien Expert gets the Street Smarts talent, and that Shadow has Streetwise as a bonus career skill, but Knowledge (Core Worlds) still feels like the odd duck out in what is generally a very rogue-like/investigative career, and Streetwise makes more sense as it's a means to gather information from the locals.

Shii-Cho Knight
Okay, so this is a specialization that I've been tinkering with for a while, mostly to find space to incorporate two ranks of Reflect so that the PC has some measure of protection against ranged attacks, to account for the blast-deflect training that is an integral part of the more modern Shii-Cho curriculum.  Now, I suppose that one could just design a brand new spec and call it something like Shii-Cho Champion or Shii-Cho Crusader, but I didn't want to redesign the entire car when it was the tires that were a problem.

The first change was that I swapped out the rank of Parry in Row 1 of Column 1 for a rank of Reflect, letting the PC grab both Parry and Reflect very early on.  However, contrary to earlier takes on a revised Shii-Cho Knight, I put the second rank of Reflect all the way up on Row 5, replacing the rank of Durable and also severing the Row 5 connection between Column 1 and Column 2.  Given that Form I Shii-Cho is supposed to be the fundamentals of lightsaber combat that all the other Forms are built upon, I didn't want this spec to be too good melee protection, so I wound up dropping out the rank of Parry that's found in Row 5 of Column 4 and putting that second rank of Durable in its place, while also severing the Row 5 connection between Column 3 and Column 4 and adding a connection between Row 4 and Row 5 in Column 4, so that it's liked to Sum Djem instead of Dedication.

This is probably the one revised Lightsaber Form specialization that I've done the most playtesting with, given that my long-time friend Linda Whitson was gracious enough to let me play a Shii-Cho Knight in her Age of Rebellion campaign (where none of the active PCs were built using AoR careers).  The character in question, Kyren Stryder, has worked out pretty well, though amusingly he didn't get an opportunity to really make use of a lot of his talents until long after he'd gotten them, as he didn't draw his lightsaber (which none of the other players even knew he had!) until about halfway into Linda's running of the Dead in the Water adventure from the AoR GM Kit.

Soresu Defender
Again, overall this specialization is generally solid.  There's a few quirks, namely how Defensive Circle can be kinda underwhelming if most of your party already has a defense rating, such as from wearing armor or being behind cover or using weapons with the Defensive and/or Deflection qualities, which is compounded if your dice rolls tend not to generate much in the way of advantage, which more often than not a Soresu Defender will likely need to help recover strain during a fight.

Really the only that struck me as being "off" about the specialization was how the ranks in Reflect simply felt clustered too close together, especially towards the top while the half the ranks of Parry the spec offers are planted in the first row.  So what I did here was replace the rank in Parry located in Row 1 of Column 2 with a rank in Reflect, and then changing the rank in Reflect from Row 2 in the same column to a rank of Parry, which I think makes a nice synergy with the fact that Improved Parry is now most easily accessible after buying Parry as opposed to buying Reflect.  I also swapped out the Row 3 rank of Parry that was in Column 4 for a rank of Reflect while replacing the Row 4 rank of Reflect in Column 2 for a rank of Parry; this does have the effect of placing two ranks of Parry right next to each other, which could be solved by swapping its location in the tree with Confidence, but at the time I wasn't overly crazy about pushing Confidence up to Row 4, though with having Discipline as a bonus career skill and most likely having a high Willpower to bolster your strain threshold, having to wait a bit longer to purchase Confidence isn't that big of a drawback, and I may just wind up doing that.

The last notable change I made to Soresu Defender was to swap out the Defensive Stance talent in Row 4 of Column 4 for a single rank of Side Step, kind of taking a page from Shien Expert's playbook, which makes a degree of sense given that Form V grew out of Form III's defensive elements; plus, much like Shien Expert having that rank of Side Step gives a Soresu Defender PC a better chance of getting Improved Reflect to trigger without necessarily having to invest XP into the Sense power for the defensive control upgrade.

One of the players in my current Force and Destiny campaign did make the suggestion of dropping Supreme Parry in favor of Supreme Reflect, but I honestly think that's going a bit too far, and that such a degree of expertise at deflecting blaster fire is Shien's hat, where Soresu is more of the "I can Parry all day!" given its a direct transition from Form II.

So, there you have it, my proposed revisions for the six Lighsaber Form specs from the Force and Destiny core rulebook.  To re-iterate, there's nothing wrong with any of the specializations as they exist in the book, as each of them does a very good job at what they're intended to do.  I'm simply offering these up as possible alternatives for a player of such characters to consider or GMs to perhaps ponder implementing in their own campaigns.

One a side note, I was working on revising and updating the three Lightsaber Style specializations that Phil "DarthGM" Maiaweski had created as part of his Edge of the Jedi fan supplement back before Force and Destiny was published.  However, the main problem I kept running into was they consistently failed the "why would my character NOT take one of these specializations?" and frequently looked more a like a grab-bag of "good talents" with a theme than actually being a viable specialization in its own right.  Then again, I did already sort of a "lightsaber generalist" specialization in the form of the Jedi Initiate universal specialization that was part of the final release of my Ways of the Force fan supplement, and that itself was enough of a bear to turn it into a viable specialization that wasn't simply a talent grab-bag.

I am tempted to put together a "Saber Rake"-themed specialization, based upon the dueling culture of the same name that was first introduced in WEG's Lords of the Expanse box set for their Star Wars game.  I'm hoping we get official stats on lightfoils in the Mystic sourcebook (which to me would be a good place for dueling-themed weapon given it's the parent career of the Makashi Duelist), but we'll have to wait and see.

If you've made it all the way down here, thanks for reading, and if you're a citizen of the United States, be you proud, dismayed, concerned, native-born, naturalized, or otherwise, then I hope you have an enjoyable holiday, and may the Fourth be with you :D
see what I did there? ;)