I’d been planning on addressing some further issues about the release of Exalted 3rd Edition, such as it is. It would appear that Ironbombs shares many of my numerous and multifarious dislikes about the direction that Onyx Path took with the game, and this lit something of a fire underneath my currently simmering discontent.
White Wolf (and their current incarnation as Onyx Path) is an interesting case study in the contrast between seemingly solid products and utter failure in delivery. Their Kickstarter record alone paints a fairly awful picture of their actual reliability, and this is their main method of raising a dead company from the ashes of weird corporate shuffling.
Their very first Kickstarter was the V20 Companion, a follow-up to the massive 20th Anniversary Edition of Vampire: the Masquerade, and this ranks as one of the worst products the company has ever produced in their otherwise agreeable history. Luckily, it wasn’t a product that I bought into (I had been unaware of it, for whatever reason, seeing as I had lain hands on the V20 book itself), as it was a wildly overpriced and largely unusable product whose only interesting aspect was apparently the appendix that talked about all the interesting stuff that they hadn’t actually put into the book.
From there, they’ve made a regular practice of putting out new books exclusively through Kickstarter, following up later with POD versions through DriveThru.
There’s an entire subordinate discussion about the reality of POD-only books that I may or may not have already chewed apart, but the gist of my disdain* is this: Without a market that caters to the hobby and gaming stores, these books are kept out of the hands of new customers. Only the people that are already familiar with these games are going to buy them, and there’s an entire generation of gamers that is cut off from access to these products. Even if they are introduced by some older veteran, their ability to purchase is limited to precisely one outlet, without any ability to find deals or discounts. In a small and struggling industry, this is allowing the companies to only produce what they specifically have already sold even as they eliminate the warehousing aspect, but it eliminates many of the avenues of growth from the companies.
Anyway, Onyx Path has gained a deserved reputation for failing to meet deadlines on their products with an alarming regularity. Before the boondoggle that was Ex3, there was the 20th Anniversary Edition of Werewolf that took eighteen months to fulfill, despite being wholly written at the time of the Kickstarter (and hilariously promising delivery within a month of the Kickstarter’s end). Similarly, the Hunters Hunted II book took fifteen months to see delivery (again, fully written at the time of the campaign and arriving a full year after the promised deadline), which was a better turnaround, but still… They were getting better about this by the time the W20 Changing Breeds book came around, in that it only took a year to deliver (still promising delivery about nine months before they were able to), but a pattern had been set by this point.
Onyx Path, as a company, is a weird successor to the highly regarded White Wolf games company that built a solid niche in the 90’s era. The company was sold off to CCP, the Icelandic video game company responsible for the space spreadsheet MMO, Eve Online. The idea, at the time, had been to vaguely merge the companies for the sake of developing a new MassMOG based on the Vampire property. This product barely got past the ‘proof-of-concept’ stage of things before being ash-canned, and the fine print of the corporate hierarchy left the RPG licenses in the hands of a company that apparently had little interest in actually continuing the table top RPG lines. (Go figure. It’s a small, niche industry with narrow profit margins, especially compared to the weird financial juggernaut that is Eve Online.)
The result is that Onyx Path is licensing their products from CCP, with whatever fees that might entail. In that way, it makes a certain sense that they are operating the way they are.
The reality is that they are a ragtag group of freelancers that are loosely tied to a central structure. There are, perhaps, a half-dozen actual staffers that make up the company, and the rest of the writers are contract monkeys who turn in a manuscript and walk away. And in essence, this loose structure is what is masquerading as an actual game company these days. The sheer, obvious incompetence is hilarious in its audacity. Because they are coasting on the reputation of a larger, better company (the White Wolf of the past), they are able to pretend that they are tapping into the same sort of permanent staff and accumulated expertise. The truth of the situation is wildly different. And no product better illustrates the level of incompetence nearly so well as Third Edition Exalted, or Ex3.
1.) Let’s start off with the unfortunate art choices. Exalted has always been a game of evocative art, erring on the side of anime sensibilities. Most of Second Edition’s feel was established by artists like Melissa Uran and the UDON Studio. Some covers (for better or worse) contracted out to well-established and highly regarded artists like Adam Warren (of Dirty Pair and Empowered fame) and Kim Hyung-Tae (who did the character designs for Magna Carta, the PS2 game). (Odd note: Before they outsourced to Kim Hyung-Tae, I had picked up a Magna Carta art book as my handy reference guide for new players to show them how I saw Exalted. It was actually sort of nice to be validated, even if his particular cover illustration was in questionable taste.) It was colorful, high action, and gave a taste of how awesome the game could be.
In contrast, Ex3 has already hit a wall with their art, being as it looks like it hit the high points of a DeviantArt search. There are some arguably good pieces (such as the homage to the Kowloon Walled City illustration of Wu Jian), but there are plenty of awful Poser illustrations to offset the good stuff. One egregious example of poor choices incorporates a recycled image of the Scarlet Empress from a previous book, with a half-assed PhotoShop attempt that makes Creation’s Greatest Enemy look vaguely pregnant. There’s even a weird depiction of one of the better established Sidereal antagonists looking like the head of Onyx Path and stealing a half dozen pieces of art from other sources. (This one has already been stricken from the eventual book, even as the near-plagiarized images are allowed to remain.) And none of this is to get into the truly bizarre and obnoxious piece that one forum termed “Banana Hammock Exhibitionist Display!” (I feel that description speaks for itself.)
There’s also the issue that the weapons section of the book looks like some trashy late-90’s videogame render. These entries are supposed to represent the panoply of Exalted power that a player character brings to bear upon their opponent. Instead, it looks like these images were edited off someone’s Geocities page, just above the 3d spinning envelope that represents the email link. In comparison, Second Edition looked like it was modeled on a Prima Guidebook for a videogame. It worked. This, in comparison, looks like canned ass.
I don’t think it needs to be re-stated that this is a game that raised $700K for development and artwork. The head of the project is the former Art Director for White Wolf. There is literally no excuse for this book to look this bad, especially when much smaller companies with far less of a potential art budget are able to produce better and more stylistically appropriate art for their games. (Seriously, do a Google Search for Enascentia. It’s an Italian game for Savage Worlds that follows similar design principles, being a high fantasy RPG with anime influences. It raised a little over 1% of the money that Ex3 raised, and it is doing a better job of looking like Exalted than Exalted is doing these days.)
2.) The backer PDF is being treated like a Beta.
Swirl that around in your mouth for a moment. Let it reach the back of your tongue and soft palate. This is a game that was “The Most Playtested Game Ever” when it was being pitched to a skeptical public. This is a game that ostensibly took some 30 months for development and layout. (The truth is, for whatever reason, the actual layout process was done last, rather than being developed in parallel. You know, like a professional company might try to do?) This is a game that was supposed to revitalize the industry and the company and excite all of the former skeptics and naysayers in the ranks.
And yet, the most recent updates on the Kickstarter are trying to “encourage all backers […] to send notes on any technical mistakes you might find” to the company to fix the errors that still remain in the book. Yes, this is a game that charged over $100 to anyone who wanted a physical book, took two and a half years to get to this point, and now wants its backers to work for free to fix the errors that still remain in the text.
Keep in mind: This text is the same text that was leaked by a playtester back sometime around late February of 2015, meaning that, in the intervening eight months, this is all the better job they can do of editing this mess. By all accounts, the minor tweaks that have been done to the text are negligible, and the whiny “damage control” that a couple of the writers engaged in (noting that the release of an unfinished game would diminish the impact of the final product) was nothing more than an exercise in casting themselves as martyrs.
3.) The backer PDF is weirdly pre-final.
I would suppose this is a nitpick, but I’ll stand by it. For backers, this is the first chance that they have to read through the book, gather ideas and set about working up their first stab at a newly christened Ex3 game. By rights, this should be a real product. Even setting aside the final editing pass that it needs, this PDF lacks a number of necessary tweaks to be final. For one thing, it lacks a bookmark system, which would allow users to quickly move from section to section. Logically, this would have the different chapters, as well as specific sub-headings dealt with (I’m thinking of the bloated Charm section, specifically; given that this is over 200 pages alone, it’s hell to try to find a charm set without a lot of paging and searching).
The official response (apparently) is that this will be added in later, since it would otherwise be too much work. In response, one backer took about three hours and linked a full bookmark index into their PDF, posting it on the web for other users.
So, yeah. Two and a half years to put together a semi-final version. At least eight months with this text. And nowhere in this time period could anyone spare three damned hours to make this product accessible to the people that had already put their money down on it?
In the mean time, there’s an extra page thrown in after Chapter 5 which throws off the two-page layout. This borks it for anyone wanting to use two-page view on their PDF viewer, which again makes it difficult to use for a game, especially if you’re reading it off a decent tablet.
4.) Twenty-one pages of Backer Names.
All right, so I get it. People want to be credited for their participation. I can’t blame them for including this information in the book, as it offers a Kilroy bonus to the people who pledged and want to be recognized. I mean, hey. I’m in there, and everyone who bought this book has my stamp on their copy, however small. (Stupidly, they managed to miscredit most of the backers of the book. I am amongst the vast multitude who pledged for a physical book yet get credited for pledging for a PDF. The difference of cash outlaid is about three to one.)
My problem stems from the base idiocy of having to splay this information across four damned columns. I guess I should be glad they didn’t use 12-point font, but in comparison, the KS version of Ryuutama displayed their backers in a single column, small type, and only took six pages to do it. And this is in a 6×9 book, rather than tome that Ex3 will arrive as. They could have cut the “end credits” section of this book by half, minimum, allowing more space for additional content. Or as a counterargument, this could have been one of many attempts to bring down the rather sizable bloat that this game ended up with.
5.) Charms. The fucking Charms, man.
Along with being “The Most Playtested Game Ever,” this edition was supposed to fix the problems of the Second Edition game.
I will say this again. This was a massive warning klaxon for me, the Cloister Bell of how bad things were going to get. (And you, right there? The guy that got that reference? Nerd.) I knew that, as soon as anyone came out trashing a wildly popular game as being awful, unplayable and the only people qualified to fix it were the ones hawking a new edition. It didn’t help that one of the largest problems that was pointed out was Combat, which our collective group had managed to figure out and houserule enough to make it fast and easily dealt.
Another distinct problem was the Charms.
I’m not a banner waving champion of First Edition Exalted, as many of my peers tend to be. I liked it well enough, but I never had any proper chance to play it to the same extent that I played Second Edition. I spent more time with Second Edition, I had a great time playing it, and I will defend it on those merits. That said, I understand completely many of the arguments against Second Edition from those that had been long time players. The crux of many arguments came down to the Charm bloat that came with the revisions.
Rather than offer broad, customizable Charms that would offer a range of options and outcomes for the Second Edition version of the rules, the decision was made to try to account for every single possible outcome and nuance. This meant that the number of charms skyrocketed, and the Charm Trees (essentially the flowcharts that allowed a player to make sense of their advancement options) grew huge and weird. A given ability might have a dozen Charms associated with it, depending on what sort of flavor you wanted to attempt. Not only was this a headache for players trying to make sense of where they needed to end up for their vision of their character, it was made things immeasurably more difficult for GM’s to cope with. Not only did they have to keep some idea of what the player characters were capable of, they had to build workable and challenging NPC’s for their campaigns.
Given that each book had a set of new and distinct Charm Trees to properly model specific powers of the given Exalt type, a game of mixed types might have the GM tracking literal hundreds of Charms at any given time. (For the maths portion of our lesson, let’s consider: There are 25 separate Skills. Each Skill has something like ten to fifteen separate charms, not counting Excellencies. Some range closer to twenty. Therefore, in a given Exalt type, there may be upwards of 300 Charms. There are, as of the final books of Second Edition, seven discrete Exalt types. This is not to mention Martial Arts Charms, which are multitudinous.)
Logically, one of the core goals of making a game more playable would be to address this particular issue, ne?
That, my child, is where you would be dead wrong. Not only does Ex3 do nothing to deal with the issue of Charm bloat, it makes it far worse. Looking through my copy, the Charm Section starts on page 250 and runs through page 423. Further, the Martial Arts section (along with Sorcery, which might as well count) runs from there to page 491. This is nigh on 250 pages of Charms, which is only made worse by another fascinating design choice, which I will cover in my next bullet point.
In glancing through the book again, as I write this, I realize that they couldn’t even manage to make the Table of Contents right. There are errors abound in this section, which would seem like five minutes work for anyone with two screens and a modicum of ability. Seriously, how hard is it to get page numbers right?
6.) There are no Charm Trees.
Yeah. This is one that’s getting under people’s skin already. For better or worse, Exalted has always required Charm Trees to navigate the intricacies of advancing a character’s special abilities and powers. It’s one of the notable features of the game, and over the years, I’ve gotten quite fond of it. I feel that it says something that Fantasy Flight Games has adopted a similar model to their character advancement in their various Star Wars lines. It’s quick, visual and allows the players to easily reference what their options are as they go along.
According to Richard Thomas, the head of Onyx Path, the game developers made the decision to “streamline the Charms to no longer need Charm Trees” and hence, there would be no option to add them to the book as it stands. (This is a direct quote on the Kickstarter update page.) It’s really hard to come up with a response to this that doesn’t range into absolute profanity.
Condescension is one thing. This is a clear case of pissing down my back and telling me that it’s raining.
The reason that Charm Trees aren’t included in this book is because they would be impossible to create with any logic or coherency. Given the snail’s pace of development, the incompetence of the layout and markup, and the rank idiocy of the editorial staff, simply trying to make sense of the Charm Trees would have delayed the book another year. I’ve seen attempts at the Charm Trees on the forums, and they are awful, mainly because the source material is incoherent and nonsensical.
It is, in fact, the exact opposite of what Richard Thomas blithely offers as a reason. The Charms were not streamlined. They were made worse, by an order of magnitude. By way of example, the Archery Charm Tree from the 2nd Edition main book had some 13 Charms, not counting associated Excellencies. Another four were added in the First Age boxed set. In Ex3, we’re already looking at 26 distinct Archery Charms. And this isn’t to get into the new pseudo-charms (Evocations) that you can acquire for your legendary weapons. (I will admit, this is a neat, new mechanic where every artifact has the potential to get its own Charm set. It would be actually worth implementing if they hadn’t gone stupid with the base Charms.)
Another example, picked somewhat at random. In 2nd Edition, the skill Performance had five Charms. Another five were added in the First Age set, and Abyssals offered two more. So, twelve in total. In comparison, Ex3 goes absolutely stupid with things. They put forth 36 gods-damned Charms for Performance, dividing them into Music, Dance, Acting, Oratory and … Sex.
Yeah. Sex. The edition of the game that was first brought to people’s attention with their Rape Charms has decided that they needed to throw this particular twist into the game. Apparently this is an attempt to drive home that Exalted is a “mature” game for discerning individuals. Or some shit.
There are some vaguely hilarious subtexts to this, which only make the idea even more stupid. For example, a Solar getting his groove on can invoke the Masterful Performance Exercise as part of his “performance,” allowing him to re-roll and eliminate all results of “1” in the process. Combined with another Sex Charm, this makes their Social Influence (on the specific target, naturally) ridiculously effective. This almost begs for a late night infomercial.
Another Sex Charm offers up this particular gem: “This intense lovemaking lasts at least three minutes […]” Whoa there, big guy. Let’s not get crazy here.
Solar Exalts, the Three Pump Chumps of the gaming world.
The worst part is that these complaints are just the start of things. I’ve glanced at different sections and read through parts, trying to find improvement, yet all I’m faced with is continuing disappointment. I’d gone into the entire endeavor with a guarded skepticism, hoping that I would be proven wrong along the way. Instead, I’m left with a sour taste in my mouth and the growing dread that my fallback plan – scavenge the text for useful nuggets to convert back to Second Edition – was going to fall flat.
I wanted to like this book. I did. But three years of anticipation (the Kickstarter was announced well before it actually launched, at least six months in advance; there used to be a calendar on the Onyx Path site that outlined their unlikely and overblown plans for future products) have have not been bourne out to any satisfactory extent. Instead, each new update has hardened my basic cynicism toward the game, and every snotty and self-important post by the line developers has shown that this was handed to the exact wrong people.
There had been a point where I had been tempted to build out a PDF to detail the epic Exalted campaign I ran back in the day. I had wanted to share this vision with a community and offer something back to a group I had assumed would be a like-minded collective. Instead, I realize that the fanbase of the game, such as it is, is heavily populated by tiresome fanboys who crow about the things in the game I find awful, and the reigns of control of this property have been handed to the loudest of these idiots.
Instead, I made a point of not detailing our campaign. It has become a legend within our small and closeknit group, a private experience that can be shared with other people while still being kept out of the public eye.
If this is the shape of Exalted these days, I shudder to think what the gibbering masses would do with it anyway.
*Mind you, The Gist of My Disdain also happens to be the name of my Stabbing Westward Tribute Band.
Sadly, this particular day is the easiest entry in the whole schema thus far. Most of this has to do with the fact that I’ve been languishing in something of a limbo since I moved, stranded without any semblance of a solid gaming group as I settle into the new house. Granted, the old group that I had held together for several years finally started drifting apart, so I was going to be faced with this dilemma anyway. This sort of thing seems to happen on a periodic basis, just because people tend to shift in and out based on work and school, but it doesn’t make regular groups any easier to keep solid.
As such, instead of the two to four groups I used to run with in a given week, I’m down to one. Occasionally, we’ll get a second session in, for a different game, but it’s not terribly consistent.
Most Recent RPG Played
Oddly, this happens to be for a game that I hadn’t been terribly interested in, initially. One of our crew picked up the latest iteration of Outbreak: Undead last year at Gen Con, the stand-alone book for Outbreak Deep Space. He tends to be a fan of zombie games in general, with a prodigious All Flesh Must Be Eaten collection (one of the few systems that most people own more of than I do) and a scattering of others.
I should note that the new Outbreak edition is coming out shortly, with Pandemic Organized Play system. It’s a bit like the old Infiniverse newsletters that WEG used to do for Torg, with some interesting tweaks. The new edition looks amazing, with a lot of solid refinements that will move the game forward nicely.
Anyway, Outbreak Deep Space is a fascinating system, being as I was largely unfamiliar with anything of the original system in the first place. It uses a percentile system, which is nothing unusual in its own right, but it really starts to get innovative with the Descriptor system. Descriptors run along the same lines as Tags in Fate, where certain qualities of a person’s equipment or background can come into play in different ways.
Consider a character that has spent time in the military. Along their career progression, they’ve picked up some bits of knowledge about firearms, the ability to weather harsh conditions, and a certain amount of tactical knowledge. In play, the character can draw on certain Descriptors to help them in other tasks. The firearms knowledge, for example, can be used as a static value that can add to their actual shooting skill, as well as rolls to recognize certain models of pistol or rolls to effect repairs to their weaponry. The Descriptors aren’t tied to a specific roll, instead being able to be used in relevant situations.
Being a zombie game, at its heart, there is a lot of focus on certain tactical decisions within the game, such as how well the characters equip themselves and what sort of strongholds they employ to gain some measure of safety against the undead hordes. In space, this comes in the form of the starships that come into play, which can serve as more broadly universal facilities than buildings might in a normal, contemporary Outbreak game.
There are some rough edges to this edition, to be sure, but there seems to be some movement toward a revision and update of this edition, moving toward more setting specific game lines. (These are the things you learn when you can actually track down and bend the ear of the designer themselves.)
The other games that I’ve been involved with lately (though not as recently as the Outbreak game) are Star Wars by Fantasy Flight and Pathfinder. We’ve sort of rolled a lot of the different aspects of the FFG line of games into one central whole, with my character, a Falleen Jedi, alongside an Ewok marauder and a murderbot. There’s a lot of Edge of the Empire and Age of Rebellion aspects being bandied about, making the game a proper gestalt. Eventually, I would love to see a comprehensive edition of this game that incorporates all three game lines into a single line, but I can understand why they split it into separate books. If nothing else, the Jedi rules needed more time to distill and tweak. They’re easily the largest headache for any designer.
Somewhere, it has been said that the ultimate purpose of all role-playing games and systems is to be able to create Jedi within the rules. I can’t argue this. As such, when it’s part of the oblique purpose, you have to be able to do it correctly in the end result.
I’ve also had occasion to play Pathfinder, but that’s less of a revelation and more of an admission that I still game with normal gamers here and there. I’m hoping there will be opportunity for a larger, more dedicated game to be run (one put together and run by someone else for a change, I would hope), but that’s hinging on greater logistics than I can wield at the moment. Too many balls in the air and all that implies.
Going forward, the games I would love to be able to play occupy a much more fanciful niche. I’d like to see a longer, more involved game with the Unisystem rules, like Conspiracy X or possibly All Flesh Must Be Eaten perhaps. The few times I’ve sat down to play Unisystem, I’ve enjoyed it, but they’ve been few and far between. There’s also the Cipher System, which includes Numenera and The Strange, neither of which I’ve been able to find in any of my gaming groups.
And finally, I’ve been looking to some future point where I might be able to either run or play something using one of Green Ronin’s non-D20 systems, either AGE System or Chronicle System, which run Dragon Age and Song of Ice and Fire, respectively. I’ve run a couple of sessions with ASoIaF, here and there, and I’ve liked everything about it, but all of the sessions have been distressingly short-lived. The backstory and world-building that the game implies have been spectacularly solid in the sessions I’ve run, but nothing ever lasts beyond a couple of sessions, for one reason or another.
So, anyone who’s paying particularly close attention (I know who you are, all … three (?) of you) will have noted that I am slamming through these #RPGaDay2015 entries in fairly fast succession. The day’s not over yet, and here I am, working on the third entry.
It’s not a huge mystery. I really hate being late about this, and what with Gen Con and not really paying attention, I’m nigh on a week behind. I mean, it might be fine with Ironbombs to be a couple of days late, but here in the Library … something. Either that, or I’m so sick of Ironbombs snagging all of the good games away from me that I’m not going to play catch-up any longer. (The truth being, with this blog close to a year behind on keeping a real schedule, I’m just glad to have some measure of inspiration at all. And this is enough to keep me in front of the keyboard for a couple of minutes, all things being equal.)
This one is a weird one, for me at least. I tend to buy so many games that there isn’t a lot of new stuff that goes into the Library. More often than not, I tend to buy games to patch holes in my collection, which doesn’t really feel new so much as it feels like an addition to what has previously been established. That said, I think I can make a good claim.
Favorite New Game (within the last 12 months)
My current favorite game happens to be one that I don’t yet own, technically. And it’s only been released about a week back.
This honor goes to Fantasy Flight Games’ Force and Destiny RPG, which I have been playing since the Beta ruleset was released a year ago at Gen Con. Right or wrong, I find Fantasy Flight’s strategy of putting out a hard copy of semi-finished rules to be a fascinating idea. Paizo does similar with their playtest versions of upcoming character classes (most recently, the Occult Adventures collection, their own version of Psionics), but there’s an attendant murmur within the fan community of whether or not these actually serve as a bed for playtesting Beta rules or not. FFG does put out incremental updates to specific rules and sich in their Beta versions, so I think there is a fair amount of feedback within the forums. For whatever that is worth.
For my own part, I enjoy the early access to the material for my own sake. I haven’t been active on the forums to see what the moods within the community are, nor have I spent much time trying to suss out what changes are needed to make this game into something other than what I familiarized myself with after the last Gen Con. Really, all I did was get a handle on the specifics that were introduced for the broader Jedi campaign and ran with it. If there was something that seemed out of place or egregiously overpowered, I checked against the forums as needed or did my own edits as I went along. I know Star Wars well enough that I didn’t need to reference too much beyond Wookieepedia, and these rules are pretty conducive to kit-bashing as the need arises.
There are a couple of serious contenders to being my new favorite game, and they deserve some mention herein.
First up against the wall would be Anima: Beyond Fantasy, but this doesn’t really rate as being new, so much as it’s new to me. I picked the entire line up during an online fire sale, where everything was marked down to a mere fraction of what it originally retailed for. I get the idea that Fantasy Flight is burning all of their extraneous merch lines, of which this one would have been more expensive than its profit margins would have allowed for. And I can’t blame them for this, since it’s a weird niche product anyway — an English translation of a Spanish game that tries its best to emulate Japanese fantasy. And it’s pretty crunchy, as well, with an ostensibly percentile based system that goes off the rails almost as soon as complexity and variant power levels are given text. I’m a huge, huge fan of the detail that I’ve seen in the game, but it’s going to require some serious devotion to crack the code enough to play the damned game. And let’s not think of how much work it’s going to take to allow me to run it for a new group, let alone explain the rules quickly and simply.
Next, there’s the Cthulhu assortment. Again, I managed to find an internet fire sale, reducing all of these titles to an much more manageable price point. I bought all of these on the same shipment, which means that I’ve only skimmed some occasioned bits of text of each, but it gives me some fascinating insight as to which ones I’m more likely to run at a given point.
Working roughly backwards, we start with The Laundry, based on the book series by Charles Stross. I have yet to read through these, but they come highly recommended by one of my regular gaming group. The plot concerns an underfunded section of British Intelligence that deals with Mythos threats. On the surface, this puts it as being a version of Delta Green, with parts of Necroscope and Night Watch, only with more bureaucracy and a slightly tongue-in-cheek outlook on things. It’s a neat game, from what I’ve looked through thus far, but it suffers from being a standalone game, rather than a Call of Cthulhu supplement. As such, there are rules from the Cthulhu main book included to allow the game to run without referencing anything else.
Then comes Achtung! Cthulhu, which casts the Cthulhu Mythos against a more or less Pulp version of World War II. Easily the prettiest game line of the three within my Cthulhu assortment, this game suffers not from being a standalone, but from trying to dual-stat the damned things. I hated it when games in the Deadlands line did this, and it’s not any better here. A good portion of my discontent hinges on the fact that I rabidly dislike Savage Worlds, so having to share space on the page with that game means that there’s wasted space in the book for my purposes.
And finally, there’s Cubicle 7’s take on the same material as Achtung! Cthulhu, in the form of World War Cthulhu. This is good, good stuff, but where Achtung! would have you mix and match whatever interesting pulp ideas come to mind, this is treated a lot more drily.
The big difference between these two games comes in how the war itself is given treatment beside the in-universe truth of the Mythos. For Achtung!, there’s no problem coming up with some convoluted plot involving the Thule Gesellschaft and Nyarlathotep. If it sounds entertaining, throw that shit in! In comparison, World War Cthulhu goes to great lengths to note that it was actual, human evil that bombed London and set up Auschwitz and Dachau, so involving the Cthulhu Mythos cheapens what they consider the true horror of the setting. If Himmler was corrupted by whispers from Azathoth, that offers him a ready excuse for his actions. Instead, the game goes in the direction of setting the two horrors beside each other, forcing a balancing act between a pair of different (yet no less abhorrent) evils.
I can’t say which of these games ranks higher in my estimation, but I have the feeling I would be more likely to run Achtung! on a regular basis. I’d certainly use elements of WWC, but it comes across as being much more grim and scarring.
So, yeah. Those are my runners-up for Favorite New Game. I’m sure, had I read through them and run them after I’d gotten them, they may have displaced Star Wars, but right now, my priorities lie with the bird in the hand.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.`
Drinking with Game Designers. Full stop.
Yeah, that’s a piss-poor entry, even my by admittedly loose standards. Let me see…
Let’s go with a loose, overall set of impressions, shall we? This way, I can cover some ground of what the various game publishers have been doing, and in the process, I can talk about things as they come up. Have no expectations about the content or quality, and you shall be less disappointed than otherwise.
First off, the con was slammed. The press release from Peter Adkison (nice guy, met him once, and he also happened to attend my friends’ wedding) that immediately followed said that it was up 10% from last year and has more than doubled over the past five years. It was wall-to-wall people, everywhere you looked, and yet, I was still able to hook up with many old friends from years before, just happening past in the aisles. The con personnel are getting crowd control well in hand, and even picking up my badge from the Will Call line took no time at all.
What’s more interesting is that Paizo is starting to get a handle on how popular their booth is, seeing as they always used to run out of their pins within a couple of hours of the exhibitor hall opening. This year was literally the first time I have ever been able to pick up all four days’ worth of commemorative pins. (Don’t ask me why this matters to me; I don’t have any real answer.) They had to run a line outside of the hall, out in the main corridor, but when I wandered in to look at some of the years’ merch, it moved pretty fast, all things considered. I didn’t go at exactly peak times, but there were plenty of people waiting with me, and it only took twenty minutes, all told.
And while I love Paizo dearly, they still have occasion to let a mistake past, despite otherwise having raised the bar to nigh insurmountable levels for most other publishers. It’s oddly amusing to see this happen, precisely because they hold themselves to such standards. This year’s new hardcover release was the the Advanced Class Guide, where they meld the basic classes into what amounts to being hybrid classes. It’s a nifty book, well worth the time and money (this is where I could bitch about how one should only pick up a book of theirs if it’s Advanced, while carefully steering clear of the Ultimate ones; it’s a topic for another time), but the first print run is listed as being an Adventure Path on the cover. It’s a simple logo switch that happened some time in production, but there it is. The second print run will be rid of the offending text, so snatch up your ‘collectible’ copies while you can.
Competing with Paizo for the long lines is Fantasy Flight. Unlike Paizo, they couldn’t route people out into the outer corridor, so they had people snaking around their booth and demo area for most of the con. They managed to get people through that line pretty quickly, assisted by a ‘get to know the people in line with you’ card game. In theory, there was a prize for managing to collect the right base of cards, but that was well beyond the ten or twelve people we were in line with.
I didn’t pay much attention to the rest of the booth at Fantasy Flight, since I had a singular mission, but they did come out with a number of new minis for the X-Wing game, a new fleet tactical game for Star Wars and the new edition of Dark Heresy. I might have considered a YT-2400 – I’ve always had a soft spot for Dash Rendar’s Outrider and we managed to make it our main ship in Edge – but they were already sold out by the time I got to the line. (The same holds true for AEG’s Limited Edition wooden box release of Doomtown. I want badly to get hold of the game, but not at the original price of $120, let alone the notably multiplied eBay markups.)
The Beta for Force and Destiny is a fine thing, as it captures all of the flavor and variance of the old Knights of the Old Republic video game, between the character careers and the lightsaber modifications. I’m sure that some new stuff will be thrown in for the final edition, being that this is merely the Beta, but what I have in front of me is enough that I’m already jonesing for a proper game to go.
I picked up my backer copy of Primeval Thule at the booth. They made a couple of interesting design choices in the book, just from my initial perusal. Since they managed to get the support for three different editions of the damned thing, between 13th Age, Pathfinder and 4e, they had to make some editing decisions in the process. What this boiled down to was a choice to make an appendix that the relevant parts of the book referred back to in-text. This way, only one part of the book needed to be changed between the editions. I’m still debating if this was an elegant or lazy way of doing things. And in doing so, I’m sort of leaning toward elegant, just on the basis of the novelty of it all. We shall see if this judgment holds.
They did commit a cardinal sin with the book, however, by including in-text adventures. Over the years, I’ve found that I would rather have such things appear as web enhancements, like D&D 3.5 did with many of their products. (A practice that I feel started with Deadlands, back in the day.) Rather than waste valuable pages on an adventure that may only be run once, if at all, I would much rather have the illustrative introductory adventure show up in some other form, when I’m paying for the book to have as much reference material as physically possible.
… and just like that, I find myself standing at the brink of a Wick hole.
This is a lot of the problem I’m finding I have with Wicked Fantasy, overall. There’s a lot of wasted space in the book that might have been used for actual interesting things. I don’t need to know what the Orkish word for blood is. I want to know what sort of vaguely Klingon-inspired weapon they’re going to use to spill it. What do their villages and family units look like? What is it about this world that makes these orks darker and edgier and more dangerous than the orcs of pretty much every other D&D game? Instead, we get … words … about words. There are between fifty and seventy wasted pages of bad fanfic that serves no concrete purpose and does nothing to illuminate the world. The page count on this idiot book could have been cut in half, and I would have come out better for it.
Man, I hate that book. I would burn the damned thing, if that didn’t go farther to illustrate the wasted money.
Anyway, my point remains. If you’re going to insist on an adventure to properly introduce a game, then it shouldn’t have to take up real estate in the book itself. Especially not in this day and age, when a good portion of book sales seems to come in the form of digital copies anyway. It’s almost enough to make me want to invest in a tablet PC to be able to carry even more reference material wherever I go.
I invested heavily in Fate books, finishing out my Dresden Files collection (of two books; I know…) and picking up a copy of Fate Core. My main bill at the IPR booth was acquiring materia for other people, including a copy of Tenra Bansho Zero for one of the guys. In doing so, I accidentally ran into Andy Kitkowski, the translator for TBZ and the upcoming Ryuutama. He had come back from Nihon for the sake of Gen Con, dragging along Atsuhiro Okada, the actual writer and designer for Ryuutama. It was an interesting chance meeting, and I took the opportunity to have him sign a couple of the post card GM handouts for me. Alas, since Ryuutama has yet to hit print, there was nothing for me to have Okada sign, alas.
The final note, as I’ve largely lost the thread of where I was going when I started this post, was that I saw something truly fascinating at the greater DriveThru booth. As has become usual for White Wolf/Onyx Path, there was no actual product of any weight to be had at the booth. It’s Print on Demand and digital distribution, after all, why bother with trying to sell it at the convention? They did have some product on display, but very little of it seemed available to sell. One thing, in particular, did catch my eye, however.
And this is so much gaming esoterica, I grant. It was a copy of the oft-lamented BESM 3rd Edition, the final product of Guardians of Order, after the weird horror that was the Game of Thrones RPG that everyone seemed to have tried to buy yet no one ever ran. BESM 3rd was the full sized red cover version of the rules that somehow ended up in the hands of White Wolf for distribution. It came out in January of 2007, got snatched up by the fan base and has never been seen since. Naturally, it’s still ridiculously expensive (to the point that a copy of the original printing, even this long out of print, is only about twice as much), but it’s once again available.
All in all, there was a lot more that passed outside of my perception at the convention, since I had specific goals and aspirations. There were events for D&D 5th that I blithely ignored, there were new products from publishers I have nothing to do with, and there were games running that I didn’t attend. But the things I saw were worth my time, and some of them will even merit further study in future entries.
The other night, we managed an abbreviated session of Fantasy Flight’s Star Wars – Edge of the Empire. Being a holiday weekend, we all had other obligations on the following days, so there wasn’t time for the main session we’d had in mind. Right now, we’re running two separate campaigns of EotE, largely because I managed to convert one of my players over to the system pretty early. He sees it as a chance to better learn the rules through running the game, and I have a rare chance to actually play the damned thing. It’s a strange phenomenon, let me tell you.
Being on the other side of the screen has afforded me a number of interesting insights into the mechanics of the game, particularly in terms of how important equipment modifications and and attribute arrays are. The attribute part is fairly self-evident, given that it’s relatively difficult to upgrade once play has begun as you have to dedicate something like 75 Experience Points (with a base of 10 to 20 awarded per session) in each specific Career Specialization. And a little experience with the system tells us that even though it may be generally possible to play a character with the absolute minimum for attributes, it’s a better idea to have at least two points per, else things start to get problematic.
It was the equipment modifications that caught me off-guard, in all truth. I’d glanced over the rules in my first pass through the book, but it hadn’t seemed like it was something essential. It was only when it showed up in play did I realize how much of a real difference these rules offered.
Baseline equipment – which includes weapons, armor and vehicles – comes with a number of hardpoints which vary based on the type and quality of the equipment in general. These hardpoints offer a discrete number of modification slots that can be fitted with attachments and accessories. Since weapons are the most likely to be initially modified, I’ll use them as the go-to example for the moment.
Say your character has skill in Ranged (Heavy), which covers the ability to shoot most sorts of rifles and heavier armaments of the like. For a starting character, the best options for blasters are regular Blaster Rifles and Heavy Blaster Rifles. The differences with these weapons are actually relatively minimal. The Heavy Rifle does one more point of damage, but it weighs significantly more and has a special quality (Cumbersome) to make it more difficult to wield in combat. (Encumbrance is actually a part of the game, but it’s minor and fairly easily dealt with. For the most part, it’s in there to keep characters from rattling around the galaxy with eight different guns strapped to their belts.) The increased difficulty of using it is balanced with it having the ability to fire fully automatic. This is pretty significant, to be honest.
Just looking at the numbers, however, is enough to drop the Heavy Rifle from consideration. Using a stock Heavy Rifle is actually fairly unlikely for most characters, as the normal starting Brawn for most races is under the requisite threshold. With that in mind, it’s probably acceptable to go with the normal Blaster Rifle instead.
This is where the equipment modifications become important. As it happens, simply adding a strap to the Heavy Blaster is enough to mitigate the difficulty of using the gun by removing a point from the Cumbersome keyword. And as it turns out, further tweaks to this strap are enough to imbue the weapon with the Quick Draw quality, which appears elsewhere as a Talent that can only be bought in a couple of career specializations. So, for the price of a couple of hundred credits, a gun that was originally too heavy for a normal character to easily use in combat becomes ridiculously useful, as it no longer has any real drawback in combat and is given a significant advantage in the process.
Similar modifications can net such advantages as better up-close weapons and vastly improved tactical ability, most of which just require a competent technician to modify for use. Each upgrade requires an ever-increasing difficulty to install, but the effects make this something of a necessary thing, as they can quickly shift the balance of combat towards the characters.
Finally, I came to sort of epiphany on the Obligation system for the game. As I have noted, this is one of my favorite elements of EotE, as it gives the GM a dynamic method for generating adventures and keeping the characters aware of the things that have brought them to this place. Edge of the Empire is, at its heart, a game about broken characters, and the Obligation reinforces this element of the backstory.
As written, the characters are free to choose their starting Obligation based on the various sorts of backgrounds that make sense to the player. This means that a sample group of four characters will have four wholly separate skeletons in their closet to work out over the course of play, which is fine and good, were it not for the whole ‘having a ship’ thing. See, the final part of the whole character creation thing has the characters picking out a ship for their group, assuming that the cost of such is balanced by the previously allocated Obligation. Mechanically, it works out pretty well, but thematically, it has a couple of holes.
Most of this comes in the form of not being able to reconcile the alien who has important familial ties and the hardened criminal that’s fleeing the bounty hunters after he murdered someone back on his home planet with whomsoever they’re owing money to for the privilege of having a home base and means of transport.
For my own part, I’ve decided to house-rule it so that the required Starting Obligation takes the form of Debt to a specific source, thereby allowing the ship to provide adventure hooks in and of itself. While there’s plenty of room to adjust things (like the case of Lando, where ships and executive positions are gained through games of Sabacc), it gives a starting point for the game and a sense of why the ship itself binds them together.
Many years ago, I went to visit some friends of mine that were having a get together. We knew each other mainly through online forums and the like, and this was a great chance to hang out and game. The guy that was hosting the lot of us had pulled out an old adventure module that he wanted to run, and we made up characters accordingly.
What made it interesting was that he’d pulled the module from an entirely different game system and was running it in a system that all of us knew and loved. Had he not had the module in front of him, it would have been hard to know that there was any conflict. It was a good adventure, with an intriguing plot, and we had a lot of fun playing through it.
Looking over the release schedule for 5th Edition D&D and noting the run-up advertising on Wizards of the Coast’s online PDF store where they intend to make all of the old material available digitally, I’m generally struck by two things. First, there doesn’t seem to be much in the way of real innovation for this new edition (but I’ve already covered that ground), and they’re grasping at the straws of All That Which Has Gone Before to keep their corner of the industry afloat. No one really looks back on the various adventures or supplements from 4th Edition (or 3rd Edition, for that matter) that were produced by Wizards with any real nostalgia, and all the great material seems to date from the Gygax Era primarily, with some affection attached to the settings brought out in 2nd Edition.
Secondly, I’m given to think that the availability of these modules from back in the day will probably be a good thing, though not in the way that Wizards would intend. Personally, I’d love to have good quality electronic copies of these modules, so I could convert them over to Pathfinder. I mean, I’ve already made the effort to run a bunch of 3rd Edition adventures in Pathfinder, so it’s not any stretch to convert over earlier stuff. Most of the monsters in the early books have made the subsequent transitions into modern age equivalents, so that’s not any real problem. The main focus of a lot of these adventures tends to be plot or architecture rather than stat blocks anyway, so for my purposes, the conversion isn’t the crucial part so much as the narrative.
The same sort of logic can be applied to most games and modules. I’ve spent years running old Top Secret modules as Torg based espionage adventures, and that’s proven to be wildly successful. It means much less preparation on my part, and my players can be often counted on to have never seen Top Secret in the first place, let alone be familiar with the text of the adventures. It works on a number of levels, and the quality of these now-ancient books is high enough that they’re still really fun. And the previously mentioned get together had us playing a Star Frontiers module with D6 Star Wars rules and characters.
Another forum that I’ve browsed has debated working on an up-conversion of old WEG-era Star Wars modules and boxed sets to use with Fantasy Flight’s Edge of the Empire game. There doesn’t seem to be much forward motion on these fan conversions, but then again, EotE is only about a year old at this point, so there’s still time. (It doesn’t help that Fantasy Flight has been slow to put out the various supplements. Sure, the quality is extremely high, but we’ve only seen three non-adventure books thus far, with a new one just announced.) Of particular interest is the idea of bringing the boxed sets into the new system. Most of the rest of the Expanded Universe material will make it eventually, like the myriad of alien races, but there’s never going to be an official update of things like DarkStryder or Lords of the Expanse.
For those who are unfamiliar with the products, Lords of the Expanse was an interesting setting within the Star Wars galaxy that had noble houses feuding in a sector that was largely removed from the larger conflicts of the Empire Era. Most of the action was concerned with secret societies, political machinations and working to manipulate the lurking Imperial presence within the sector.
In contrast, DarkStryder was a mammoth project, set in the early days after the Battle of Endor and the collapse of the central Imperial government. Most of the characters were part of a New Republic strike team that was sent into an Outer Rim sector to apprehend a hold-out Imperial Moff. When the Moff escapes, destroying most of the extant survey maps and leaving behind remnants of mysterious technology, it’s up the characters to mount a pursuit into unknown space. They have a heavily modified capital ship in the form of the Moff’s personal strike cruiser, but they need to recruit members of the local populace in order to properly crew the damned thing. This opens up all manner of weird secret agendas as some of the recruits are secretly part of the Moff’s own political machine.
The campaign divided itself along rankings, as each of the players were expected to play a member of the command crew, a member of the mid-echelon crew, and a character of their own creation within the crew. The command crew characters had semi-scripted expectations for certain scenes that the players were trying to fulfill, the mid-echelon crewmen were given a fair amount of leeway, and the enlisted characters were offered free reign. It was something of a troupe-style set-up, but most of the emphasis for the adventures was among the lower ranking characters. And to capitalize on the novels of the time, the opening fiction was written by Timothy Zahn, who wrote the well-regarded Thrawn Trilogy.
For my own part, I’ve always wanted to run these modules. DarkStryder opens out like an adventure novel, with the familiar space combat, mystery and archaeology aspects, conspiracies and treachery. The Fantasy Flight ruleset is more than adequate for the job, with a little work to make sense of the weirder aspects of the setting, but the biggest hurdle that I face with it all is having the time and wherewithal to be able to run it properly. Besides the boxed set and the adventures therein, there are also three separate books, all of which run about 100 pages or more. This is not a minor undertaking, and it represents the best that WEG had to offer at its height. I would not approach this lightly or without the proper group to pull it off.