Category Archives: Star Wars

Memetic Transference — #RPGaDay2015, Day 1

So, funny thing…  Out of the clear blue, I get an update through my feeds, telling me that Ironbombs has done some recent posting, all with this blogger meme from Autocratik (I swear, I love the Sovietization, but I want to put two “k’s” into his web address).  And being Ironbombs, he’s a couple of days late to the party.

Naturally, this means that, if I am to engage in this as a dust-clearing exercise, I’m going to be closer to a week behind.

Oh, well.  No one has ever accused me of being hot on the button on these things.

Day 1 – Forthcoming Game You’re Most Looking Forward To

Had it not already been scooped by Ironbombs, it would probably be Torg Eternity.  I had the chance to talk to several of the developers at Gen Con, and the tweaks that are being made to this system and setting are enough to make me giddy already.  I own several copies of the original run (including the now-rare and inexplicable Revised & Expanded hardcover from the Gibson Era of West End Games), but from the sound of it, those are going to be pleasantly obsolete within a short time.  There are a number of things that I’ve been cautioned not to reveal until the involved parties have made announcements (it’s kind of nice being a known quantity to some of these guys), so I’ll hold off on the juicier aspects.  Suffice to say that, of all people, Greg Gorden is fully in support of the new direction of things, so any lingering doubts have vanished with that.

I will be honest, though.  I didn’t think this day would ever come.  The original incarnation of West End Games went bankrupt in 1998, languished in the hands of a weird French gaming company for a couple of years, and was eventually sold to Purgatory Publishing in 2004.  Torg itself languished until the “Kansas Jim” edition was published in 2005, which had the support of a couple of lackluster PDF modules and little else.  Even at the time, it felt like a quick and dirty way to sell warehouse stock.  This is not to say that it wasn’t a quality book.  It just needed more support than the hand-waved scraps it was given.  And then, in 2010, Ulisses Spiel got hold of the license and little else was heard.

It’s interesting, really.  There wasn’t much press regarding the acquisition of Torg by a German company, and once they’d finalized the sale, there wasn’t anything further on the public side.  Apparently, they had contacted many of the old WEG luminaries some years back, only to be met with a collective shrug.  It wasn’t until some of these same writers (on their own initiative, from what I was to gather) changed their minds and started assembling a stable of interested contributors that it got traction.  And here we are.

So, what is my actual game of interest?

Ryuutama, of course.

I put in post-Kickstarter money to Kotodama when I found out about this game, based on everything I read about the game in the aftermath.  It hasn’t been exactly speedy in its release, but I can hardly blame these guys, being that it is a side job for them.  (I actually talked with Andy Kitkowski at Gen Con one year, along with Atsuhiro Okada.  Nice guys.  The pity was that it was just a chance encounter, rather than something I was more prepared for.  Someday, I would love to have drinks with these guys, just hanging out and talking games.  Preferably somewhere in Tokyo.  But I digress.)

As I’ve said earlier, I am singularly ill-suited to run this game without a lot of prep.  It’s nothing like the sort of games that I would normally find myself putting together, but the challenge that this poses offers me some interesting insights.  It’s not often that I find myself in a gaming situation where I have to give this much thought to how a game should run or what sort of obstacles I should populate it with.  It’s actually sort of refreshing.  (All too often, I tend to tweak a game’s setting to conspiracy and eldritch horror; as one friend said, we only really run one type of game.)

The nice thing is that, apparently the print edition of Ryuutama is going to be showing up at the distributor sometime in the next month.  And unless I utterly borked up my order, I’ll be getting a copy of both the limited and the general release version.  You know, the shelf copy and the play copy.  From that point, I can dedicate myself to learning a new system and figuring out how to run it as it was meant to be run, rather than than how my natural tendencies would have me doing.

Other contenders for this honor:

Blue Rose, the AGE edition.  I put in for this Kickstarter, despite the fact that I have never a) played the original, b) played anything with the Dragon Age RPG rules that this is based on, c) paid any attention to the Titansgrave hoopla, or c) actually had a group for which this game might be appropriate.  The truth is, much like Ryuutama, I want to see things that I otherwise have not been likely to put into my own home games.  I’ve heard great things about the AGE system, outside of the Dragon Age setting, to the effect that it is supposed to be one of the better fantasy engines around.  And trying to put paid to some different gaming tropes would be a fine thing, just to shake things up a bit.  I’ve done the D&D tropes to death over the years, so breathing new life into these games is somewhat necessary.

Force and Destiny.  I don’t know as this counts, precisely.  For one thing, it officially released about a week ago, and I doubt very much that it differs in any substantive way from the Beta that I’ve been running games with over the last year.  That said, it will be nice to finally have my hardcover going up on the wall, to join the ever-growing FFG Star Wars line.  And what the hell, I’m sure that there are enough tweaks to make the new edition shine.

Apocrypha.  This one is a weird one, to be honest.  A card based RPG that might actually have some staying power.  There have been some other attempts at card-based RPG’s in the past, such as Dragon Storm, which had fairly limited success.  The backstory reads like a World of Darkness campaign, which is interesting in its own right, and the game is put together by Mike Selinker’s Lone Shark Games, who are generally responsible for Paizo’s spate of card games.  (Which, to be honest, may well be card-based RPG’s, but since I don’t personally know anyone who’s actually bought and played them, I’m not going to commit 100% to that idea.)

Lone Wolf Adventure Game.  I can’t exactly claim this one anyway, since I managed to pick up my Kickstarter copy at Gen Con.  (Signed by Joe Dever!  Whoo!  Very nice man, who seems mildly nonplussed to be so universally regarded.)  I haven’t perused it as yet, but I want to devote some time to it when I can.  The rest of the KS rewards are coming at some future point, so I guess I could have hinged my entry on that ideal.

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The Economics of Dice

Lately, I’ve run into an interesting phenomenon, due to the peculiarities of Fantasy Flight’s Star Wars line.  As noted previously, the system requires a set of specialized dice suitable only for the Edge of the Empire and Age of Rebellion games.  (When Force and Destiny releases next summer, that will make three game lines, even though they’re all generally playable as one system.)  The dice are available in packs of fourteen for about $15 per set, retail, or $5 for the phone app.  By my reckoning, a player generally needs two sets to be able to assemble the requisite dice pools.

Having gamed as extensively as I have, I’ve amassed a sizable collection of dice over the years.  This includes the old gem dice that I ordered through the mail for TSR’s Marvel Super Heroes game, the decidedly sharp-edged D20 that came un-inked as was the fashion, and the various dice sets that I pick up at the different conventions.  I think nothing of acquiring a new set of dice when the whim strikes, and putting out some scratch for several sets of Fantasy Flight dice was just a side step in my normal habits.

It’s a safe bet to declare that I have over a thousand dice.  And most people I know acquire dice similarly.  Some have very specific requirements for new dice, making them match the products they’re using or specific ideas they have about a game in question.  This was much of the reasoning for picking up Q Workshop dice.  If you’re running Rise of the Runelords, get the officially licensed and properly thematic Runelords dice.  (I haven’t lapsed into this mode, personally, as it could get rather expensive to lay hands on the dice for each individual Adventure Path.  I did buy the Carrion Crown dice, however, but that path has stretched out over the course of three years.)  Similarly, I’ve seen brightly colored dice for superhero games, dark and moody D10’s for White Wolf games, weird green and black dice for Cthulhu and so on.

So, in some ways, it’s kind of funny to hear people whine about having to buy different dice for EotE.  And yet, it’s the common refrain for people who want an excuse to avoid the game anyway.  They can’t be bothered to pick up a set of dice for a game, even though the rule books themselves are factors higher in price.  If you’re willing to put out $250+ for the rule books, what’s $30 for a set of dice?  (This works on standard retail pricing and my contention that two sets are necessary for play.)

Part of it falls back to the specialized nature of the dice.  Outside of the core product, there isn’t much utility for the D6’s, D8’s and D12’s that make up the dice packs.  (And if you’re integrating the X-Wing Miniatures Game, the new D8’s that come with that.)  Logically, you could simply use the charts in the main book and convert your extant dice to the purpose of the new game.  And while this is possible, it’s not a wholly ideal solution, as the chart consultation is a headache and slows down the otherwise fast and loose aspects of using the new dice in the first place.

This argument doesn’t get very far with me, however, given my years of White Wolf and WEG’s D6 Star Wars.  The Storyteller System often required dice pools of a dozen D10’s (or more, if you were playing Exalted), and it wasn’t unheard of to need 20 D6’s for some games of Star Wars.  (There’s also the bizarre footnote of R. Tal’s Dragonball Z game, which technically required several thousand D6’s for a proper Saiyan battle, but there were a number of ways to get around rolling and tallying literal buckets-full of dice.)  And while it was technically true that you could re-purpose your Storyteller dice into an average D&D session, it was pretty unlikely.  If you were playing a game that wasn’t using a standard loadout for dice, you needed to buy dice specifically for the game, no matter what.  I have known people that keep specific dice for specific campaigns, to take it one step farther.

Over the years, my dice have ended up carefully segregated.  My Storyteller dice congregate in one specific bag, where I have another that is devoted to the plethora of D6’s I have amassed over the years.  There’s a bag devoted to D&D/Pathfinder dice of different sorts (mainly according to the specific colored sets), and so on.  My EotE dice have their own dedicated dice canister, as just another set of dice for a specific game.

What I found most interesting in the most recent whinge about having to buy new dice for a new game was that the person that was making the noise was one that didn’t have a lot of room to complain about spending too much on the hobby.  He is well known in the local area for his gaming excesses, between premium hotel rooms at the larger cons and booze to the level that it would cover a car payment.  He’s fully able to drop $4,000 on something like Gen Con, as it’s what he saves up for over the course of the year.  Another $15 for dice is hardly going to break the bank entirely.

And sure…  we all remember being 15 years old, when something like a core rulebook was something that was worked toward and greatly anticipated.  Back in those days, dice were something rare and particular, but that was just part of the overall value and novelty of the hobby at that age.  After a while, a groove is worn in, and there’s no longer any question as to the expense of the hobby.  It’s an expected truth, and for a lot of people, that means that they will concentrate on one game or aspect of the hobby to the careful exclusion of everything else.  Most people have a solid D&D or Pathfinder collection, where others pick up the necessary White Wolf offerings that they need to play.

For me, it means that I’m not going to spend a lot of money on cards or miniatures, since that would cripple my ability to maintain my library.  But then, I’m weird that way.

Session Deconstruction: Star Wars – Edge of the Empire #4

While events conspired to keep us away from Star Wars last week, what with bizarre work schedules (one of the players had to be to work at 2:00am, being as his co-workers wanted to be out at noon on Saturday) and a gaming convention that another was traveling to, this week fell together nicely.

I’ve been putting together a campaign in broad strokes thus far, pulling details from some canned modules in order to give my players a feel for the worldset and the dice mechanics before we drop into the larger aspects of a metaplot.  I’d read through a lot of the details of the various adventures from the different fora, lighting on a workable plot structure to hang the adventure from in the mean time.  Since I’d played some of the different adventures as a player, I wasn’t interested in trying to run these same events for new players.  (This is mainly because I had my own impressions and allegiances to the characters within, and running different characters through the places I had memories of seemed a bit … odd.)  Right now, they’ve gotten about half-way through the third module and are gearing up for the final battle at the main villain’s base.  It’s not a terribly complex module.

This adventure starts with the characters arriving on planet for whatever reason.  I had short-cut the hook to force them to seek out the main conflict as part of their assignment, so it was no particular surprise when they found their main contact dead in an alley.

Sorta.

This was an element that annoyed me when I read the adventure originally, and as I was to find out, it annoyed my players in much the same way.  The plot hook takes the form of broken and dying protocol droid that they find in an alley at the spaceport.  The way the module’s written, this is something of a chance encounter which solidifies the main plot for the characters and brings them into the larger intrigues.  For my purposes, it was one of the two droids that the characters were originally sent to make contact with.

As an aside, the plot has been coming together as such:  In the first module, Under a Black Sun, the characters work for a syndicate that’s looking for a courier that betrayed them.  This established the working relationship that I wanted to build out from there.  The second module, Debts to Pay, sent them to a mining complex that their employer needed an update from.  Being the only real colonization on the planet, I figured that the oridium was valuable enough that their criminal overlords would want a discreet way of moving it to a larger trading hub.  This put them on the trail of a new astrogation route to facilitate the transfer.  That’s where they show up in Trouble Brewing, as they’re looking for the droid that has the information they need.

It ends up being a little weird that the droid in question is an agromech droid, given that he’s got an extremely complex astrogation processor for a farm droid, but that’s weirdly nitpicky and well outside the threshold of care for most.

So anyway, they find this droid dying in an alley.  The way the module is written, there is literally nothing that they can do to save the droid.  He gasps out his message and expires on the spot.  This is pretty annoying when it’s done with an NPC that the characters would otherwise try to save (Aerith from Final Fantasy comes to mind), but it’s even worse when it’s a mechanical being that logically shouldn’t have any volatile memory (think about how badly munged up C-3PO was in Empire).  I tried to handwave it with broken memory chips and fading power supply, but I was greeted with a whole lot of annoyance about not being able to salvage the core workings and keep the droid intact.

More than likely, I shall retcon this particular detail so that they can bring the droid back to original function.  It was a bit of a stupid element in the first place, and even I couldn’t make a good enough case that it made sense as I was trying to run the damned thing.  I probably should have stuck with my original instincts and let the droid live.

There were a couple of random encounters to offer flavor to the spaceport of Formos, which were interesting and went a long way to give a sense to things.  What I found interesting was that one of the players lit on the idea of the planet being strikingly similar to Pandora from Borderlands 1 & 2.  I couldn’t refute it, being that it was a dusty and inhospitable sort of place filled with spacers, criminals and psychopaths.  And given that I may end up basing a lot more adventures on the planet as they set up shop, I can use the references to my advantage.

I did leave out a couple of things from the original text.  In much the same way that every adventure wanted to refer back to Hutts, there are an awful lot of references to Toydarians in these modules.  I have a great antipathy to any mention of Toydarians (the race that Watto belonged to in the abominable prequels), if only because they’re such a horribly racist portrayal.  The same goes for Nemoidians and Gungans.  Only Jawas are spared editing, simply because it’s comparatively subtle.  Otherwise, there’s the notation that the spaceport lies near Kessel, and my experience of the Kevin J. Anderson novels are enough for me to want to avoid dealing with the rat’s nest that are the spice mines.  (And the spice that comes from there is a lot more generic, rather than Anderson’s ham-handed attempt to bring the spice melange into Star Wars canon.)

Eventually, the characters find their way to the main cantina.  There commenced an unnecessary amount of nattering about the nature of musical instruments in the Star Wars universe, none of which had any relevance to the plot.  Such is the nature of my group, where they get caught up in minutiae at points.  They talked briefly to an information broker, dealt with a couple of social encounters and chose to trail some smugglers back to their nearby base on suspicion of being connected to the larger plot.  When their distrusts were borne out, they casually walked in and outright killed the biggest, meanest guy in the room.

Weird and anti-climactic moments are becoming part and parcel of the Wookiee’s methodology.  Before they had gotten to the planet, the Wookiee had decided to upgrade his vibroaxe, giving it a serrated, monomolecular blade.  This had the effect of combining nicely with its extant stats to reduce its threshold for critical hits to next to nothing and boost up the potential critical damage greatly.  In practical terms, it meant that almost any successful hit was going to guarantee a critical hit, and it would be brutal in its application.

For Edge of the Empire, the Critical Hit table ranges to 150%, necessitating a percentile roll to determine severity.  It is technically the only way that a character can outright die.  Without modification, that means that a normal range only will bring you to 100%, which is serious but otherwise non-fatal wound.  With his talents and modifications, the Wookiee was already sitting at a solid boost of +50% to any roll on the chart.  And EotE has a rule that states if you trigger multiple crits, these just add further percentage boosts.  With all of this in place, the final roll topped out the chart, triggering an instant kill on the spot.

This is not to say that a Wookiee with a cyberarm wouldn’t have killed the gang leader outright.  It’s just notable that I never had to bother, since the Critical Hit was enough to drop him on the spot.  And all of this happened before any of the assembled gang members could react.  A seven foot tall mass of rage and fur walks into the room, decapitates their leader and calmly informs them which side their bread was buttered on.  I couldn’t imagine that any of the assembled goons were suicidal enough to try putting  up a fight as a result of this.  They gave up without a fight, and the session ended roughly there, with the raid on the main smuggler base being set up for the next session.

What did I take away from this session?

Well, I have to admit that even if I think I can sell a stupid idea to my players, such as the irrevocably dead protocol droid, that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea.  Odds are, if I think it’s stupid when I originally read it, it’s probably pretty stupid when I try to make it happen in the game.  Having the droid end up dead served no purpose for the sake of the story, so there wasn’t any reason to keep the players from being able to work their mojo and save its life.

Oddly, I think that may have annoyed my players enough that they just wanted to beat something in response.  Where last session, they were fairly willing to do things intelligently, there was a greater tendency to want to bring the noise this time.  (See previous notation on the dead gang leader as an example.)  They had debated murdering the rest of the assembled gang members, until it was pointed out that the local Imperials might be willing to do something with them.

Finally, equipment continues to be the most important part of the game, trumping most things like skills or talents.  The Wookiee’s vibroaxe made extremely short work of the one NPC, and there wasn’t anything I could throw out to slow that train down.  Not that this is a surprise to me, mind you.  My Selonian Bounty Hunter had a similarly tricked out weapon near the end as well, but I ended up using it sparingly.  Between that and her heavily modified gun, there wasn’t much that I couldn’t bring down with enough concentrated fire and a little bit of luck.  Sure, my Smuggler could talk the ears off a Gundark, but if shit properly hit the fan, the Selonian’s weapon load-out was brutal enough to back it up.  The same thing was true of their ship-based weaponry.  (Which also pointed to how important Attributes end up being alongside a properly built set of gear.  But that’s a discussion for another time entirely.)

All in all, things go well.  The next session will bring the end of the current module, and once that’s out of the way, I’m likely going to have to launch into unknown territory.  I have a number of ideas in mind, but it’s going to hinge on what sort of direction the players themselves take.  We’ll see what happens.

Session Deconstruction: Star Wars – Edge of the Empire #3

Well, at this point, I can safely say that this game is the high point of the week for a couple of people.  The game ran smoothly enough for the first two sessions, but with the most recent session, everything seemed to come together in higher resolution.

A lot of it comes back to the way the characters were introduced and started to develop over the course of play.  (See recent posts on Cliches and the related topics of Player Buy-In and Character Introduction.)  All of my players were wholly on board with the game itself, but their characters were a bit more nebulous as they started out.  A good portion of this had to do with the varying levels of experience with the system itself.  I say this because, as I noted in the last entry on this game, two of the players are heavy Star Wars nerds who haven’t played this system.  The third guy is less enmeshed in the deeper history of the Expanded Universe, but he’s played a lot of EotE.  Of the three characters, his Wookiee with a Vibroaxe is a lot more clearly drawn and fleshed out.  The Human Slicer and the Selonian Smuggler tended to be drawn in broader strokes, with the details showing up over the course of play.

In the case of the Slicer, a joking comment from the guy playing the Wookiee cast him as the hacker from Kung Fury.  (If you haven’t availed yourself yet, check out the trailer on YouTube.  I look forward to the final production for no very well established reason.)  This characterization took hold, all the way down to the Nintendo Power Glove as integral to the character’s style.  Now, it’s become a way to inject flavor into different scenes and pushes the player to come up with different aspects to role-play.

As to the Selonian, she’s growing into her role as the pilot and shifting heavily in that direction as the game goes on.  That player hasn’t had as long in the trenches, having joined after the intro adventure, but the character is making more sense as play continues.

The Wookiee, in the meantime, is the de facto leader of the group, calling most of the shots and making decisions for the continuing campaign.  Yeah, the player is far more used to the way I run Star Wars these days, but it’s fascinating to watch him key into critical plot elements as they pop up.

When we last left the characters, at the end of the second session, they were in the process of doing the initial survey of the mining operation, having discovered a number of dead miners immediately.  There was no particular logic as to what had happened, but it had become immediately clear that something was amiss.  When they picked up this session, they started digging into the causes.  They discovered a deactivated administration droid who had been shut down for the sake of the main antagonist’s plots.  Generally, the plot of the module revolves around the different essential droids of the operation deciding to rise up against the organics and escape.  As such, the rest of the module deals with shutting the droids down or killing them outright to insure the survival of the mine.  After all, they were sent here to collect the annual profits and make sure that everything continued to run smoothly.

This is where the module actually gets really interesting.  Since all of the droids are largely essential to the operation of the mine, wiping them out as opposition is actually an extremely bad idea.  If the players take this course, these are assets of the mine that have to be immediately replaced.  (The end of the module almost requires a spreadsheet to keep all of this in perspective.)  There’s a stock of money in the office safe, some of which is earmarked for wages for the mine workers, some of which is set aside for equipment needs and the rest of which is there for the crime lord.  If the players choose a combat approach to things, this drains away extremely fast.

Weirdly, the module assumes worst case scenario on much of it, factoring the resolution in light of the characters being either greedy or careless.  As such, there are contingencies for nearly every scenario, save that of relative success.

I’m pretty sure you can see where I’m going with this.

With a Slicer on the crew, the technical aspects of dealing with the droids shifted to the foreground.  The first couple of droids ended up running afoul of jury-rigged restraining bolts and the careful application thereof.  Once they got hold of the actual weapon that deployed the restraining bolts, it was all over save cleanup.  The actual final confrontation was cut short by a delicate Stealth check from the bolt-wielding Slicer, followed by an unsubtle Coercion check on the part of the Wookiee.  With the droid mastermind on the floor, they were free to start the various data restores to bring the droids back into general compliance.

As written, the module edges toward being a horror adventure.  It’s been referred to as ‘The Haunted Mine’ by people I know that are familiar with the adventure, and there are plenty of aspects that can be played up for that purpose.  Contrary to my general nature, I chose not to run it as such, since the most I could have expected out of it was to set the characters on edge with occasional checks against their minimal (and generally untrained) Discipline.  For characters as low a level as this group currently is, it would have been an exercise in frustration, as I heaped Threat Dice on them for failed checks or accumulated Setback.  Strain was already becoming a problem for them, to the point that the Wookiee was knocked out at one point and the Slicer was on the verge of passing out himself.

This is something that I’m going to have to play around with, as I go along.  When another guy was running EotE, he handed out Strain on a fairly constant basis to correct for both our skill in combat and our ability to avoid it as necessary.  I can definitely see the logic to it, given the parallel tracks of Wound and Strain, as a means to reign in power-built characters, but I know better than to rely on it too heavily.

As I go along, there seem to be a myriad of tethers that can keep characters in check.  Wounds and Strain function directly on a round by round basis, where Obligation and Money can help to direct the overall arc of the campaign itself.  If pressure needs to be brought on a group, it’s usually through the hook of Obligation, either by working to pay it down or through having an element of a character’s backstory show up to force direction.  Money goes hand in hand with Obligation, often being interchangeable.

The end of the module assumes that the characters come up short on money due to having destroyed a good portion of the mechanical workforce and some of the materiel.  Instead, they ended up paying out bonuses to the surviving mine personnel and coming out with more money for their crime lord employer.  There’s nothing in the module to offer any suggestion of how to deal with this.  Not only did they not screw up in the slightest, they came out ahead in all things.  This was even after I made up a couple of expenses to upgrade the mine.

As I noted in the last analysis of EotE, the default assumption is that the characters are broke through most of the game, so it’s a little weird to consider that my players would manage to operate at a surplus.  And I get the feeling that most people approach the game with this idea well in mind.  Through the local grapevine, I had heard that another group nearby had caused their gamemaster no end of trouble when they managed to lay hands on a ship large enough to launch fighters out of.  Apparently, this had flipped the power dynamic to the point that the GM no longer had any way to influence the characters in the directions he wanted.  I’m intrigued by this idea, but I still reserve enough tricks up my sleeve to be able to keep even that level of materiel from being game crippling.

The next session or so are going to revolve around the third canned adventure I was planning to run, which will work itself into the broader campaign arc that I have in mind.  Sadly, this week looks to be a wash, given that real world obligations have derailed most of the players from being able to attend.  I haven’t decided what I’m going to occupy myself with in the mean time.

Session Deconstruction: Star Wars – Edge of the Empire #1 & 2

Lately, I find myself in a bit of a strange bind.  Since I’m looking for a house, that’s taking a lot of my time and creative energy away from me.  There are too many factors to balance that I can’t simply carve out the requisite time to be able to sit down and write.  Or at least, not on the subjects that are required for a novel, per se.  It doesn’t help that I’m in the pre-production stage of putting the new novel together.  I finished the old one, distributed it with a couple of people and the process of building a query letter is also firmly in the ‘once-I-have-things-settled-on-the-house’ area.

At the same time, I’m finding myself with a stock of things to talk about, blog-wise.  For the first time in quite a while, I have a surplus of blog entries written out, with more pushing in around the edges.  I guess the habit of writing on a daily basis has sorta taken hold on me, given my previous rate of production here and on novel-related ephemera.  At the same time, I don’t particularly want to go back to a daily deadline with these, since I know things are going to get in the way of my goals.  A weekly entry seemed like a good idea, and I am loathe to break that schedule too badly.

As a sort of compromise, I figure I’ll put in an extra feature – a sort of post-game recap of the one game that I’ve got going at the moment.  (Technically, I’m running two regular games, but the biweekly Carrion Crown game has been going for three years at this point, so I don’t know as that grind is necessary to talk about at length.)  The game in question is a recently built Star Wars game, using FFG’s Edge of the Empire system.  I’ve talked about the system at different points, and I only grow more fond of it as time progresses.  As to why I’ve put together a new game of it, I’ll get around to talking about that … oh, next week.

The game has been running for two weeks thus far.  I put together a new group, comprised of one of my current players, one of my old players from a little over ten years back, and the guy that originally introduced me to role-playing in the first place.

It’s … a bit of an odd group.

For what it’s worth (and like I say, I’ll get into this part a bit later), the current player is the last man standing of what had been a pretty solid group up until recently.  When the last other player departed, we decided that, rather than scrap the idea of a regular Friday game entirely, I’d cast about to see what I could assemble from the other possibilities.  The second player is a good friend of mine who had moved off to The Big City a little over ten years back, only to return about six months ago.  I had largely fallen out of touch with him over the years, what with being in Asia and generally not having a lot of time to look him up when I wasn’t.  Sure, my wife’s parents were less than twenty miles from where he was living, but I never managed to cross paths with him while we were there.

As to the third guy, he and I had fallen out of touch a while back.  After his first marriage ended, I’d tried to give him a hand getting back on his feet.  It was one of those situations where no good deed went unpunished.  I ended up writing him off before I went abroad, and it was only after his second marriage fell apart that we’ve been talking again.  (These aren’t specifically related, but that was the impetus for him to reach out again and look to reconcile.)

I suppose it’s something peculiar to our local group, but the saying goes that we can forgive anything except a bad game.  Oddly, the guy that coined that ended up running one of the worst games any of us had collectively been in, right before he melted down and burned his last bridge with the larger group.  C’est la vie, I guess.

The first session had two of the three players, as one was coming down from dental surgery and begged off that week.  We built characters, decided on the era of play and started throwing dice.  I was running a canned adventure from one of the available official modules, just to make things simple.  I’ve gotten into the mode of starting things off with the FFG stuff, just to test the waters and see what the players are up for.  I figure I’ll run one or two more before deciding what direction to go in from there.

It’s an interesting notation, in its way.  Fantasy Flight has done some fascinating things with the way they craft their adventures in Edge of the Empire.  When I convinced one of my older players to run it for us, he dove directly into the canned adventures to get an idea of how the flow was supposed to go and to see what sorts of tempo the game designers had in mind.  And the adventures that he’d lain hands on were startlingly good, even as far back as the original beta of the core rules.  The module was fast, loose, action-packed and filled with really interesting locales from the various media of the galaxy.  There was investigation alongside the shoot-outs, some ship combat and plenty of opportunity to play the action hero in the midst of it all.  It was actually sort of impressive.

It also laid the groundwork for the larger plots that the GM put together.  The important NPC’s from that adventure were tweaked into the other adventures, and it established enough of the backdrop that we could range about within the plots that we had already set in motion.  Naturally, I took this success as a cue and worked up my new campaign with the same sort of ideas in place.

The first session was a simple sort of intro adventure, taken from one of the Free RPG Day modules that I never got the chance to find locally.  (As an unneeded commentary on the hellhole that I currently live in, the only store to actually participate in Free RPG Day in my area is also the only one in about two hundred miles.  There’s not much to go around, once the regulars have stopped in for their swag.)  Since it was meant to get people buying the product line, it’s fairly fast and fun, geared toward extremely basic characters.  I didn’t bother with the pre-generated characters that had been included, assuming rightly that they wouldn’t be terribly interesting or long-term.

What’s interesting, as I look over the pre-gens, is that none of these characters make any sense from the established rules that I’ve been using.  I could understand it, were this an early beta or the like, but the rules were codified enough to release the core rules within a month or two.  (Furthermore, they re-released this module on PDF after the rules had been out for a little while, and the pre-gens are still really, really weird.)  A similar thing holds for the characters in the Beginner’s Game Box Set, where the rules that govern these characters are similarly weird.  In the case of the Boxed Set, the characters are given advancement trees that are wildly dissimilar.

Digress, digress, digress.

The module itself is extremely simple and geared pretty heavily to the locales, rather than any intricate plot.  It starts in media res, with the characters fleeing a data theft that they were given as a job.  They’ve successfully stolen the data, the enemies were alerted to what’s going on and a chase ensues.

I wish I could say this went well.  That is to say, the players had fun, but their characters suffered.

One of the players had power-built his character (which seems to be part of FFG’s philosophy in their pre-gens) by stocking most of his points into attributes and leaving the rest of the character to natural advancement.  This ended up giving him a fairly respectable dice pool for most of the important actions.  Being a Wookiee Melee Specialist, this meant that he was mainly focused on beating people with his vibro-axe.  The other character was a stock human Slicer who had a scattering of skills, largely average attributes and some as-yet unnecessary talents.  And for whatever reason, neither one could roll a success to save their lives.  It was actually fascinating to watch.

When they finally made their escape, following two largely unnecessary combat sequences, they learn that they need to do some investigation and track their quarry down to wherever he’s holed up.  And again, when it comes to throwing dice at actions, they’re able to maintain a legacy unmarred by success.  The fact that they accidentally over-bribe a passing informant is all that leads them in the right direction.  Doing so shortcuts the rest of the adventure and leads them directly to the main villain of the scenario.

Oddly, this is where everything comes together.  They manage to succeed admirably in evading security, tracking the logical hideout of the bounty hunter and finding their way to him.  Granted, they managed twice to accidentally set off the traps that have been strewn in their paths, but the end result isn’t changed much as a result.  I figure this is going to turn into a tense scenario like the first combat, only to have the Wookiee hack the villain’s arm off and intimidate him enough to give up.  They return the stolen goods to their employer without incident, and all is well.

There’s an odd aspect to this adventure, having read through a number of other modules and various suggestions in the core rules.  The adventure that’s featured in the core rule book of EotE makes a fairly succinct point of denying the crew as much of their reward as they possibly can.  When they manage to apprehend their target, they’re essentially told that they’re working for free or that actually making good on the money they were promised is next to impossible.  Yet in the end of this module, the conclusion notes that they will come off with a solid amount of money without problem.  By way of comparison, the reward is about five to ten times as much as the bounty the core book wants to deny them.  And in a similar manner, the module I’m working the characters through now offers a similar screw job where they may be able to walk away with a tidy sum, but the consequences for doing so mean that they’re going to end up in much worse straits in the immediate future.

That’s the thing, though.  I get that Edge of the Empire characters are supposed to be scum and villainy who have to work for their every meal.  Between Firefly and Cowboy Bebop, it’s a common theme of the genre.  What I don’t get is that FFG is going out of their way to make sure that they will never get ahead, no matter how hard they try.  Or that when they do manage to do so, it seems like a pre-beta mistake in writing.  Add into this the fact that decent equipment is the core of the game, and it starts to get weird.  (By way of explanation, it’s been noted that investing several thousand into your gear will compensate for much of the early power disparity for the low level characters.  A good gun or a set of custom armor will get a character much farther than skills or attributes alone.  The same holds true for customized ship systems, but that requires a whole lot more outlay.)

That was the first session.The second session, which ran this last Friday, added our third player, likely the final addition to the group.  This netted us a Selonian Smuggler, which makes it official – if I am involved in an Edge of the Empire game in any way, there has to be a Selonian involved somehow.  My Bounty Hunter in one game was a female on the run from her clan, and a friend of mine played a Selonian Soldier searching for information on the destruction of one branch of her clan in the game I ran.

As I go along, I’m building out the crime syndicate that the characters are working for.  At the moment, it’s shaping up to be a Rodian Crime Boss with a mass of scar tissue along the side of his head, a cybernetic eye and a propensity to quietly threaten them with untold consequence if they don’t manage to succeed.  It’s going well, all told.  I made a mistake early on, when I didn’t pay nearly close enough attention to the details of the module (and didn’t check on a specific mention in the module), so I’m going to modify the picky aspects of it for the subsequent modules.

One of the problems I have with the FFG adventures is that, if you aren’t completely aware of the reference that they’re making in the text, there’s a good chance that you’ll miss the larger backstory.  The case in point that I was referring to earlier is the Pyke Syndicate.  The module notes that they’re a group of spice smuggling crime lords, and the syndicate is made up of members of the Pyke species.  In my skim through to prepare the adventure, I had missed the species angle to things and assumed that it was more of a family thing.  When I started researching bits later, I realized that it was a reference to a Clone Wars episode that I had not watched and there’s much more to the syndicate than I had put into the adventure (and the build out of their criminal contacts).  As such, the details that I built out specifically contradict the species and syndicate as they already exist.  Since none of the actual Syndicate show up in the module (they’re more of a shadowy employer that works through go-betweens), it hadn’t been a problem.  Now that I’m involving the characters more readily in these affairs, I need to retcon a couple of names.

As things go, the characters haven’t gotten terribly far in the module as yet.  It opens out with the characters on their way to meet with their employer.  (In the original text of the module, they’re working for a Hutt.  This is another bit that starts to wear on me.  I realize that the Hutt crime families are built out pretty heavily in the expanded universe, but it seems like about half the modules lead back to a Hutt in one way or another.  In about six modules, I want to say that they mention four separate Hutt crime lords that the characters are either working for or running from.)

Early on, there’s a conflict between some Gamorreans and the crime lord over finances.  It’s supposed to be a subtle thing that the characters pick up on as the action mounts, but the Wookiee noticed it right off and picked a fight with a couple that were waiting around for the action to start.  Largely without provocation, he demanded to know if they had ‘paid the looking tax’ for loitering outside the boss’ mansion, beat them senseless and threw them at the boss’ feet.  This had the interesting effect of shortcutting the action and removing a third of the adversaries from the upcoming fight.  Needless to say, they had things well in hand when the rest of the group showed up.

Well, up to the point that the Wookiee got his arm cut off.  Live by the sword, and all that.  He took a chunk of Obligation and ended up with a cybernetic replacement (something that he had talked about getting anyway), and they were sent off to deal with a labor dispute at a mining complex.  We called the session a little after they arrived, and I’m figuring that the rest of the module will be finished in another session.

So, what observations can I draw from the first sessions?

This is essentially the second campaign I’ve started for Edge.  And as I go along, I’m more and more impressed by the ease at which the rules come together for new players.  Character creation is ridiculously simple, the dice rolling is both fast and intuitive and most of the players are immediately familiar with the source material.  The more I look at it, I think there’s an inherent assumption that most of the opening experience points are going to go into Attribute buys, as it’s the one thing that is actually difficult to do later.  As such, it seems like the spread is somewhere around two to three of the six attributes are expected to have raised to three.  If a player chooses to keep their attributes close to stock, it’s a bit of a disadvantage over both the short and long term.

For starting characters, there needs to be at least three players to have any balance.  All characters need some sort of combat ability, no matter what.  From there, it’s assumed that one character will be able to pilot, one will take care of technical matters (including first aid and general knowledge) and one will have the ability to talk.  If any of these are not well represented, the adventures will get hung up in fairly short order.

Of my players, two are pretty heavy Star Wars fans.  At the same time, they’re the two players that haven’t played this system before.  The third player has been in two separate games, having built a number of solid characters, and he’s able to speed up the dice and move the action along for me.  It isn’t as though the system requires a lot of heavy explanation as it goes along, but an experienced player helps free me up for other tasks.

…and I pushed this past 3,000 words.  If I go any farther, I’m never going to get around to talking about Session #3, wherein the focus of the game starts to come to the fore.  I shall pick this up next time.`

Star Wars – From the Other Side of History

Over the years, I’ve run and played quite a lot of the various Star Wars RPG’s.  Until the time of the Prequel Trilogy, it was one of my favorite movie series, and I delved pretty deeply into the lore of the setting.  While it was originally bourne of outright fandom, the role-playing game from West End Games offered me something of a practical outlet for my unnatural obsessions.  It helped that WEG themselves were pretty hardcore in their general fandom as well, to the point that their source books were handed out as reference guides to incoming authors.

As such, I’ve spent a lot of time with players who wanted to build their own versions of the ragtag group of heroes that will ultimately scrape through and save the galaxy from the predations of the so-named evil Galactic Empire.  While fine and good, this particular genre of games has something of a shelf life for anyone who’s seen it all already.  When I realized that there was a particular antipathy settling into my bones towards the normal sort of Star Wars game, I began casting about for something different to allow some fresh air into my games.

The remedy that I settled upon was the idea of an Imperial based game.  There was plenty of source material that was available for such an endeavor, between the novels, comics and WEG source books, so it just fell on me to sort through and figure out which sort of game was best suited for a new group.  A lot of the original thinking for this particular game idea was sketched out while I was living overseas, and since I lacked the proper gaming group to be able to fine tune these ideas, I simply worked out most of the campaign ideas with an eye to running it in the future.

For better or worse, I managed to run part of my original idea with one of my local groups, but the logistics of the group ended up stalling it partway into the first act.  A lot of the baseline ideas were solidified, but there was never any sort of forward motion into the later parts of the longer campaign.

The idea was that the characters would start out the game as relatively fresh Stormtrooper recruits, assigned as part of the main detail on a sector-based Star Destroyer.

And yes, recruits.  As I’ve stated before, I loathe nearly every aspect of the Prequel Trilogy, so any canon that is derived from those movies is almost instantly stricken, as it manages to contradict both its own internal logic and much of the Expanded Universe that came before it.  For that matter, I made a firm point of removing the latter half of Return of the Jedi from canon as well, for a number of reasons.  Moving on.

The first act of the campaign would entail setting up the worldview of the Galactic Empire from the standpoint of the Imperial Marines, as they had to act as the peacekeepers throughout the galaxy where some million separate worlds had to peaceably coexist.  From their outlook, the Rebel Alliance was a band of hostile terrorists seeking to undermine the authority of an interim Emperor who was desperately trying to hold everything together as internal struggles threatened political stability.

The punchline to all of this was that it was entirely true, even in the scope of what Star Wars and Empire Strikes Back portrayed.  Everything that these Stormtroopers were fighting to maintain was according to a secret agenda that the Emperor himself had set up, based on knowledge that only he held.

See, if you return to the original themes of the Empire, as established in the first two movies, the idea of the Emperor as a powerful Jedi actually weakens the movies.  Darth Vader is not a powerful or highly respected individual in the A New Hope; rather, he is a mocked and derided character, a superstitious and broken old man who clings to an ancient religion even as the galaxy moves on without him.  At the same time, the New Order itself is clean and sleek and full of technocratic authority.  Even Leia recognizes this when she’s captured by Vader and brought to Grand Moff Tarkin, as she refers to Tarkin as ‘holding Vader’s leash.’

At the same time, Vader is noted as being utterly faithful to the Emperor.  Given that A New Hope is directly pulled from the plot of Akira Kurosawa’s Hidden Fortress, the allegory of Vader being an aging samurai warrior whose loyalty to his daimyo is absolute, there’s specifically no reason for making the Emperor into a Dark Jedi, as he’s already powerful enough with his political influence.  Physically, he may be a frail old man, but he wielded enough influence to dissolve the Galactic Senate with very little opposition, and it is this same presence and influence that keeps an aging warrior like Vader under his sway.

I’ll leave the Nixon allegories out of this, for what that’s worth.

So, let’s work with the idea that the Emperor was acting on a different agenda.  The Clone Wars are in the recent past, something shadowy and vaguely embarrassing to the galaxy that avoids being brought up.  Tarkin himself has taken command of the Death Star, an Imperial military project that the Emperor authorized for some specific and currently unknown purpose.  According to other sources, there exist a number of weapon stockpiles scattered across the Galactic Rim, in places such as Mount Tantiss on the planet Wayland.  All of this points to a secretive build up of forces somewhere outside of the military command.

The second act of the campaign would follow the characters on a series of missions set by the Admiral in command of their ISD home base.  Having found a couple of these mysterious storehouses of materiel and clone tanks, there would be enough evidence of some deeper agenda, which the Admiral would task the characters with investigating.  Along the way, there would be seeds of a larger conspiracy, as specific agents of the Emperor would be involved in keeping the secrets, without working to sabotage the efforts of the player characters.

The third act would come after the assassination of the Emperor, whose confirmed death would invoke a final directive to the active Imperial forces.  This would reveal the nature of the weapon stockpiles, as they were put in place to defend the galaxy from an external force that threatened to pull everything down around them, now that the Emperor could no longer work to dismantle this threat.

Overall, I figured that each act of the campaign could cover specific time periods.  The first part would take place before the events of A New Hope, and the final part would pretty much be set in motion after the (heavily revised) events of Return of the Jedi, with narrative skips to cover the intervening years between parts.  The exact nature of the extra-galactic threat would come down to whichever villain I felt would best fit, whether it was a Ssi-Ruuk sort of adversary, only writ large and fearful, or something closer to my own interpretation of the Yuuzhang Vong.

As it happened, I only managed something like a third to half of the first act, where the characters had been firmly established as proper Imperial Stormtroopers, and they’d become marginally aware of the larger aspects of what was going on behind the scenes.  It was a fantastic game, but there was too much fracturing in the group to be able to hold a long term game together, and accordingly, it fell apart after a fair number of sessions.