Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Memorable RPG Moments, Part Deux

I will now continue with that I figure is going to be quite a few installments of RP moments—as the more I think of, the more I remember...


Not all of my RP memories revolve around the 'great plans' and victories of the characters. This one in particular...well, lets just say that things didn't go all that well. Oh, the mission started off good enough—travel to the planet Lianna, link up with rebels there, find out about an imperial cloaking device...right, good so far. And then...came the actual infiltration of the corporate tower where the plans were housed. I'm not sure that blame can go to any one character, or even any one skill roll. But things went south fast. 

First of all, the group decided to try to fool the security cameras by taking pictures...then...taping those pictures over the lenses of the cameras. That...well, I gave them the benefit of the doubt, but put the guards on higher alert anyway (then sent someone to go check on the strange images they were getting). And then, the group finally made its way to the upper levels of the building, where they proceeded to gun down a secretary, who was trying to hold them at gunpoint. In the character's defense, she WAS armed. But...evidently, they thought she was some bad-ass security guard and pulled out all the stops—The two best gunman in the party proceeded to lay down suppressing fire (which hit and nearly killed her) then shoot her as she fell. I fudged the dice rolls to ensure she didn't just die immediately—and the PCs did pause to stabilize her. They then went on to complete the mission—sabotage the plans. By this time, security had been alerted (blasterfire in the executive suite seems to draw attention). 

The players hadn't really come up with an exfiltration plan (they were pretty 'seat-of-the-pants' when it came to planning)... so when they got cut off by guards, the proceeded to cut their way out of the building...floor by floor...with lightsabers....down some 57 levels. Needless to say, that this took a while, allowing more guards to show up. The whole thing turned into a huge, running gun battle. I can't remember quite how the players got out of it, but it was messy and bloody. make matters worse, the head of the company was actually sympathetic to the Rebellion—and had given the players their initial information, hoping they would 'discreetly' break in and sabotage the plans. After this mess? Well, the adventure didn't have a happy ending. The CEO basically told the players to 'get the hell off my planet—and stay off'.

Thankfully, this mission was later ret-conned when I merged the Vermillion campaign with my Florida campaign. So now? It is just a...shared bad dream about what could have been...


From abject failure to the heights of victory. The Galaxy Gun mission stands out as one of the more cinematically dramatic moments in the campaign. This came after the 'merging' of the Vermillion and Florida campaign—and timeline wise, it came after the Dark Empire comic book (I stole the Galaxy Gun idea from 'Dark Empire II', but didn't use the rest of that comic, because I thought it was stupid). Essentially, what it boiled down to was this: The Empire, floundering once more with the loss of the reborn clone Emperor, turned to one of his superweapon projects in yet another bid for galactic dominance. The gun itself was really a gigantic space-station that fired capital-ship-sized hyperspace-capable 'bullets' that could destroy planets (by starting earthquakes and the like). 

The characters were sent to stop the gun. They managed to get onto the station and sabotage the whole thing, setting it to blow. During the chaos, Oman and Adren got separated from the group and trapped by guards—in the main control room for the gun. While Adren held them off, Oman managed to set the gun's barrel to fire a low power 'test' charge. As the guards swarmed in, the two of them leapt into the barrel of the gun and were fired out into space (both were in space-armor at this point). There, they got picked up by the rest of the group and everyone escaped as the gun went crashing down onto the planet.

It was just one of those moments where I went 'wow, yeah, that's really like something you'd see in a movie'.


No, this isn't about the actual Rogue Squadron. Rather, this is about the now famous incident where two of the group (Oman and Martel) decided they were going to break off from the main party and conduct their OWN investigations. This happened right in the middle of The Game Chambers of Questal module. The whole incident came about due to the RL mechanics of the gaming group. The group had been steadily growing, and as it had, people started getting less and less 'camera time'. As a GM, it was getting difficult for me to juggle things so that everyone had a moment to shine. And so it was that (understandably so) Oman and Martel just said: "No, we aren't going to follow the group. We're going to do our own thing." Essentially, I think they were feeling marginalized when compared to the leaders of the group—especially the Jedi (yeah, Jedi really can be show-stealers). 

What was really memorable (and amusing) to me was the tactics that the 'rogues' used to ignore telepathic calls from Arianne trying to 'rein them in'. So Oman and Martel (in a speeder they had stolen from a local rich jerk) cranked up the volume of their stereo to see if it could 'jam' the transmission. It worked. Oh, it irked Arianne some, worked.

The 'incident' did have the effect of doubling the amount of time it took to accomplish the mission, but it was also a kind of wake up call for me as a GM. I mean, I had a blast—and I know the players did—even the non-rogue group. Yeah, they had to take the back seat every once in a while, but...well, with a group that size, that's going to happen. From then on, I re-dedicated myself to try and give equal time to all the characters.


Yeah, it's something I've mentioned before (most of these stories probably are). But it still makes me giggle. The characters are on Hoth, in charge of the defense of one flank of Echo base. And then their own evacuation point is overrun. They're marooned. Or...are they? They'd seen a shuttle come down on top of the main base during the thick of the battle...that might still be there. Yes, it was all sound, in-character reasoning. But out of character? I recall Steve2 and Doyce looking at each other and stating in unison: "Vader's Shuttle!" after which they giggled like school-girls (okay, maybe not, but they were awfully gleeful in their chance to steal Vader's ship). 

After stealing said ship, they (at some point) painted their own bumper-sticker on the back of it, saying "'lil Executor". It was a running joke in the campaign thereafter that whenever Vader asked his minions to bring him his shuttle, he would always add (irritably) "if you can FIND it."


During one of Horatio's first missions with the team, he was sent to distract a female starport control room tech while the rest of the group did...something in the hangar below. Being Horatio, he naturally turned to his seduction skills. When things started happening in the Hangar, and his flirtations weren't enough to hold the tech's attention, he decided to 'accidently trip' and land on the tech's lips. "Oh no! We're fallingrmmm" As I recall, he actually utilized his 'brawl' roll. Succeeded. Then I had him do another seduction check. He rolled very well. Evidently, techie likes it 'aggressive'. Still makes me laugh.

Memorable RPG Moments

Digging through a box of old gaming stuff got me thinking about some of the more memorable moments in my RPG—some of which I have skimmed over before in this blog. But now? I think I'll delve into a few of them...


This is one of my favorite RP moments, hands down. Credit for the idea goes to Rick Oman's player, Steve 2, but credit for execution of the plan goes to the entire group—especially Harry Hugganut. The real irony here is that what is perhaps the best con that the party ever pulled off was dreamed up by the guy who had the maybe the worst con skill in the group. 

The mission was to capture an Imperial Moff. The group managed to infiltrate the Imperial base without too much trouble, but getting near the Moff was going to be tricky. Fortunately, they learned he was planning a trip that day. His shuttle was determined to be the target. Oman had, prior to this, rigged up a simple device that looked like a hand scanner. It had all sorts of lights and controls and alarm indicators—most of which were controlled by simple pressure on the device's handle. Essentially, when you pulled the trigger, the device made noises and lights—ominous noises and ominous lights.

After 'acquiring' some Imperial tech uniforms and hazardous material suits and gear (including several large containers and push-carts), the team proceeded with its scanning of the Imperial landing pads- including (surprise surprise) the Moff's personal shuttle. Utilizing their (fake) 'Omega Particle Detector', and some awesome con rolls from Hugganut, the party was able to convince the increasingly nervous guards that the whole area was contaminated and had to be 'treated' now before it grew to dangerous levels. The real kicker (as I recall) was something like "Do YOU want to take responsibility for the Moff's personal shuttle being contaminated!?" I remember laughing as the whole party began to chime in, calling out as they discovered pockets of 'contamination' here and there. Needless to say, the guards let the party do their thing.

Once aboard the shuttle, the party quickly 'subdued' the two pilots. Oman and Hugganut changed into their uniforms while the unconscious imperials were drugged and changed into the haz-mat suits (which had full-face covering, of course). And so, the decontamination team re-emerged—mission accomplished—only two of their number had been overcome due to prolonged exposure. This was (in retrospect) the weakest part of the deception. Afterall, the guards COULD have just switched the Moff to another shuttle. But a few good con rolls (made by Arianne, I believe) assured the guards that the shuttle itself was now safe and Omega particle free. Whew.

All that was left to do was to wait for the Moff to arrive. While the rest of the party quietly escaped the base, Oman and Hugganut posed as pilot and co-pilot. The Moff boarded (unfortunately with his bodyguard squad), the shuttle lifted off and made its hyperspace jump (to a rebel rendezvous). One raging, point-blank gunfight later, Oman and Hugganut captured the Moff—though they destroyed the shuttle in the process. Thankfully for them, the good ship 'Deus Ex Machina' arrived to find the shuttle and rescue the rebels and their captive. Mission accomplished. 

As a post-script to this adventure—In the wake of the capture of the Imperial Moff (Parlan as I recall) a flash memo went out from Imperial High Command to the entire military—"Re: Omega Particles: THERE ARE NO SUCH THINGS AS OMEGA PARTICLES! Anyone claiming to be scanning for them is to be detained or killed on sight!"


Continuing in the trend of Con's being pulled off by people with crappy Con skills, Bob the Tusken came up with this one...The Party was sent by New Republic Intelligence to participate in an underground auction for some cutting edge technology. The auction was being held by a crime boss who had 'acquired' the technology. The setting was a starliner flying through 'neutral' space. Representatives from the Empire and several criminal factions were on hand as well. Of course, this combination of hostile parties all in one place led to all kinds of mayhem and treachery. Ultimately, the party gained control of the prototype shield belt (a personal shielding technology) and its schematics. Unfortunately, the belt had been destroyed in the process of acquiring it. It was then that Bob the Tusken showed a very devious side to his usually 'noble-barbarian' thought process. 

The Imperial negotiators, though thwarted in their own attempt to steal the shield belt, were still onboard—and still had their money—several million credits worth. Bob's idea was simple: con the Imperials into buying the destroyed shield belt. First of all, the party pulled several key components out of the belt—just to make sure that even if the empire DID reverse-engineer the belt, they'd be missing key information. Secondly, they approached the Imperials with the deal. Though wary, the Imperials agreed to meet.

The most crucial part of the plan was going to be the 'test' of the belt that the Imperial were sure to demand. And so it was that Bob the Tusken (disguised as an Anomid, I believe) donned the belt and when the Imperials demanded a test, their leader was allowed to shoot bob with his blaster. While the rest of the team (again with Harry in the lead) provided the con rolls, Bob provided the ultimate 'proof' that he belt was functional. Utilizing the Force ability 'Absorb/Dissipate Energy', Bob was able to hold off several blasts (as I recall, he used a force point or two to help him do so). The Empire was impressed- and convinced. They handed over the money and took the belt. They really had no other options as the 'muscle' of their group had mostly been taken out during their earlier attempt to take the belt. 

The party beat a hasty retreat- even as the lead imperial donned the belt to test it on himself. Moments later, screaming in pain from the blaster-wound he'd just sustained, the Imperial sent his men after the party. But it was already too late. They'd vamoosed with the credits. Millions of them.

The party returned to the Republic not only with the schematics, but with all the money they'd been given to negotiate with—plus all the money they'd swindled out of the Empire. Needless to say, their superiors were impressed. So impressed that they gave the party a percentage 'finders fee' (though, as I recall, Hugganut had already taken a small 'fee' prior to handing the credits over). This amounted to hundreds of thousands of credits per person. Thankfully, my players being who they are, they didn't spend it all on super-weapons or armor. No. Hugganut and Oman went in together to buy a luxury yacht. Bob? I.. honestly don't remember what he did with his money. Probably something selfless, as he is totally not into worldly goods. 

Some might say that Bob's plan was a bit morally ambiguous—but honestly, that character's motivations were pure. He wanted to help the Republic and hinder the Empire. He accomplished both. 


Though not a 'caper' like the previous entries, this RP moment still makes me giggle (in a very game-mastery way). It happened during Adren's online RP with me (since she wasn't part of the original Vermillion gang). Adren had run-ins with various feature characters and tough guys before (usually in social settings) but her first real combat with one was when Boba Fett tried to bring her in for her bounty. Yes. THE Boba Fett. By this time, far past Endor, Adren was pretty bad ass (as all the Jedi in the game were getting). Going into it, I was a bit nervous about how Boba would fare, one-on-one against a Jedi. I stacked the deck a bit by thinking through a few anti-Jedi tactics—basically a lot of area-effect type stuff (flamethrowers, grenades, nets, etc.)

Fett finally caught up to Adren in a big inner-city garden-park type area. What ensued was a truly titanic duel—and surprisingly enough to me, a rather one-sided duel at that. Fett pummeled Adren from one side of the park to the other. Though I give a lot of credit to my own tactics, please also note that Adren really doesn't like killing people—especially people who weren't trying to kill her. Thus, her primary concern was escape rather than attack—and Fett took advantage of that. 

Ultimately, the duel found its way into the machinery room of a nearby building. There, in exhaustion, Adren used her Telekinesis not against the elusive Fett, but rather against a gigantic air-conditioning unit on the ceiling. She tore it down on top of him. The resulting deluge of machinery buried the hunter, allowing the exhausted Jedi to limp away. Yeah. She probably could have dug through the wreckage to find Fett and kill him while he was incapacitated—but that just isn't in Adren's nature. Again, I have to give a lot of props to my players. They really seem to 'get it' in situations like that. A dead enemy may be the more pragmatic approach, but it's certainly better for the drama of the story to let 'em live to plague you another day. Plus? Well, Adren's player didn't mind her character getting beat up if it was a cool story.


A1-TO was a surveillance drone owned by Harry Hugganut—and often voiced by his player, Rick. When he was voiced, it was always very much akin to 'Johnny-5' from the Short Circuit movies. "NO DISASSEMBLE!" was something A1 always screamed as he ran away from combat. As a joke, Harry programmed A1 to always refer to Arianne as one rank lower than her actual rank—whatever that may be at the time. That was funny. But what was hilarious was Rick's unerring ability to always remember this joke every time A1 responded to Arianne. It would usually go something like this:

Arianne: A1!

A1: Yes, Major!

Arianne: That's Colonel!

A1: Yes, Major!

Arianne: Hugganut, get yer damn droid fixed!

Yes, sophomoric humor, but man, it still makes me giggle.

I have  a lot more of these stories, but I'll continue them in another post. For now? Enjoy.

Monday, April 27, 2009

D6 vs. D20

Every once in a while, I will go back through old gaming books, reading bits and pieces just for the heck of it. Tonight I did that with my old (and, alas, falling apart) 1987 Star Wars 1st Edition Rulebook. I remember devouring this book when I first got it. It really opened up my eyes to an entirely new kind of gaming. D&D and even Star Frontiers all had a kind of 'formula' to them- sandbox type adventures and the like. I enjoyed them, sure, but only rarely did they capture the really dramatic 'cinematic' feel that I craved. 

And then I got this rulebook. 

Early on, in the section about game-mastering, the text spoke about making the game "feel like the movies". It offered suggestions on just how to do that: Encourage your players to 'banter' in character. Tie things back to the movie. Make the settings 'alien' and unique. Maintain a grandiose scale. Use 'pseudoscientific gobbledygook'. Never before in a game had I seen such attention being paid to capturing the feel of a setting. I mean this was even before they delved into the rule system. Yes, it is easier to do that when you have a very specific setting like Star Wars, as opposed to the more 'generic' D&D system. But it was still an eye-opener for me—putting 'mood and feel' before mechanics and systems.

In the same section is a list of 'Useful Things to Remember About Gamemastering'. One suggestion in particular that struck me:

3. Expect to extend the rules. No set of rules can be as ingenious as players. Use your common sense to handle problems that arise, and keep playing. Don't wast too much time looking up minor rules. Reserve the right to change your mind about rules judgments. ("This is my ruling tonight, but after I've thought about it, I may want to change my mind.").

This, to me, is another pillar upon which the Star Wars D6 game was founded. Speed, action and excitement over rules-mongering and 'charts'. After this, the rulebook goes on to to say:

...So don't worry; loosen up. Wing it. Rely on common sense and imagination. Don't get too hung up on making sure everything is just as it should be. Remember: the purpose of the game is to have fun. If our suggestions get in the way—toss 'em out. Having a good time is more important than any picayune details.

Simple suggestions, yes. But they really hit home with me. I know in my other gaming, I had been almost 'timid' about bending the rules, afraid that I wasn't running things the 'right way'. More than any other game, D6 Star Wars instilled in me the idea that the game was mine to do with as I pleased—that the rules were just a framework for my own style.

I'm sure I've already talked about this in my other posts, but it keeps coming up in my own thoughts—the way this game really 'set me free' as a game-master. Originally, that's all this post was going to be about. But the more I got into it, the more contrasts I could see with the current incarnation of the Star Wars RPG. 

The D20 system is a workable system from what I've seen (only played it a couple times, but I own a lot of the books). But for me, it really doesn't capture the 'feeling' of Star Wars. It feels like D&D... with lightsabers instead of swords. Stormtroopers instead of orcs and the Force instead of magic. 

Don't even get me started about the pages and pages of charts and stats. I would venture that at LEAST 1/3 of all the D20 books consist of blocks of charts and stats for NPCs of varying level. Where the D6 books provided deep source material for you to work with—broad strokes of stat-less information—D20 gives you pages of minutae and attack modifiers. Every book details new powers that give you some stat or attack bonus. Every book has new 'prestige classes', each with their own special stat bonuses and powers... Stats. Stats. Stats. Everything in the game seems to be reduced to a "you get a +1 bonus to do such-and-such". As a GM, I know I'd much rather have actual INFORMATION in these books—some in depth history on the various races presented. Some interesting story-hooks on how things can be used to make something more exciting or tie into a particular plot line.

Maybe I'm just being too harsh on D20—maybe I don't really know enough about it to make a judgement call. So consider all of this just the opinion of one grumpy 'old school' Star Wars gamer. I'll take D6 (with its emphasis on atmosphere, excitement and fun) over D20 (and its pages of stats and charts) any day.

Big Guns

One thing that the Star Wars D6 RPG never had was a really great system for capital ship combat. In the original rules, in fact, capital ships weren't even given hull ratings because it was arbitrarily determined that 'players wouldn't be going up against them in combat anyway'. While its true that large-scale ship-to-ship combat really doesn't capture the fast-paced feel of most Star Wars adventures, there were times in my campaign where I would have liked more structured rules so I could at least approximate it. Plus, statistics help GMs figure out just how ships match up to each other and what might happen if two different classes of vessel ever had to duke it out.

In my own campaigns, there have even been times when the characters have assumed control of capital starships and even commanded them in combat. The first of these instances was during the Vermillion campaign's time in the Minos Cluster. Arianne became 'captain' of a captured Lancer-Class frigate. A second happened when the crew tried to recapture the hijacked gunship Handree (in the Isis Coordinates module). And finally, Arianne became a ship captain once more- commanding the refurbished Handree during the battle of Endor, in a ship-to-ship duel with her nemesis Rina Nothos (who was commanding a Nebulon-B frigate, as I recall). 

The Star Wars Rules Companion offered up a sketchy set of rules for capital-ship combat. I used these through most of my campaigns, though they were slowly modified through gameplay. Certain things had to change, as we quickly found out that Corvette and even Frigate-sized ships were quickly outmatched by a few souped-up and PC-crewed armed freighters. This has lead me to tinker with a capital ship system of my own. My buddy, Steve2, recently came up with a new system that greatly augments the strength of capital starship hulls and ups the damage of capital-scale weaponry accordingly (especially proton torpedoes). The system is workable, but like many things, I feel the need to tinker with it some more. 

What I have come to a conclusion about, however, is something that is pretty much ignored in the D6 rules, and that is the existence of weapons on an even larger scale than your typical turbolasers or even heavy turbolasers (at least as presented in the D6 stat system). If you look at starship designs from the movies—the Original trilogy, but especially the prequels—you see a lot of capital ships sporting massive guns clearly designed for use against other capital ships. You get to see several of these in use during the battle of Coruscant in the opening minutes of Revenge of the Sith. Republic Venator starships and Imperial Star Destroyers both sport gigantic turrets on their flanks that would hold this 'mega' scale weaponry. To me, these weapons would be on a scale above 'capital ship' but below 'death star' in their damage and targeting capabilities. I haven't worked out the exact stats and applications of it all, but its interesting to consider.

E-11 Blaster Rifle

Just a short and nit-picky post regarding one of the most common weapons seen in the original trilogy—the ubiquitous E-11 Blaster "Rifle". Just about every stormtrooper carries one of these, and the heroes of the movies use them quite often as well. I think they look very cool, actually. I like them. But my problem comes with their classification as a 'Rifle'. I think it was the D6 RPG that first classified them as such, and the name has stuck ever since. It is quite obvious to me that the E-11 is a carbine—which is defined as a 'short, light rifle'. It has a folding stock, yes, but we never see it fired from the shoulder in any of the movies. As a prop, it was based upon the british Sterling Submachinegun—which is most definitely NOT a rifle. 

Yeah, I know, geeky AND nit-picky, but.. there it is. E-11 Blaster CARBINE. Harrumph. (Hmm, could this post have something to do with me having a headache and being grumpy? Yeah, that too.)

Friday, April 24, 2009

Shadows of the Empire

Set in the period between the Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, Shadows of the Empire was a multi-media promotion that came out in 1996—at least partially as a ploy to drum up enthusiasm for the re-release of the original trilogy. I was peripherally aware of SotE at the time, but being excessively poor and without real internet access in 1996, I was never quite sure what it was. I mean, I heard the names 'Dash Rendar' and 'Xisor', but I never really knew the plot. All that changed this week when I finally got ahold of the comic book adaptation of the story. 

In two words? Not good. 

The overall plot was fine. Good even. It showed pretty much what I thought would happen. Luke, Leia and the others do their utmost best to try and track down and rescue Han before Fett can deliver him to Jabba. It reinforces the whole concept of how close these friends are—and how much they'll risk for each other. There are interesting sub-plots woven in as well. One involves Fett's battle versus rival bounty hunters. Another shows the struggle between Vader and Prince Xisor (an underworld figure)—both vying for the 'top henchman' position with the Emperor. A third sub-plot involves an agent of Vader's trying to keep Luke from being killed by Xisor's agents and manipulations. The ideas are interesting and original...however...

Perhaps the novel is better, but the comic book read to me like it was written by 12 year olds. The dialogue is downright silly—stilted and over-expository. I don't mind that so much when characters are thinking things to themselves. An inner monologue is one thing—but Fett (who in the movies seems to be a man of few words) is spouting all kinds of stupid things—all in dialogue bubbles. Some people might say that this kind of writing is typical of comics, but I'd argue that many modern comics (the Rogue Squadron series for example) have very thoughtful dialogue most of the time. It isn't too much to expect solid writing in a comic book anymore.

For me, the original characters are rather hit-or-miss, too. Dash Rendar, for example, just shows up in one panel of the comic...and his presence or even identity isn't explained until a page later. And then a page after that, he just flies away and leaves the heroes in the middle of a battle. Not especially endearing. In the Wikipedia article of SotE, they explain him as a kind of 'Han Solo stand in'...but...why do we need that? Throughout the entire book, he doesn't really do much at all—though the other characters are quick to praise his presence with lines like "Well, its a good thing we have Dash's smuggler contacts..." I was thinking to myself...why couldn't Lando be the one with the smuggling contacts. He's a street smart hero. Why give away this role to a completely new character? And then there is Dash's apparent death at the end of the comic...where we don't really even see what happened to him—we only see Chewie and Lando wincing. Then Lando says something like. "Oh darn. He almost made it, too." After that? Nobody really seems to mention Dash. He seemed to be completely disposable—"Okay, bye Dash!"

Xisor's lieutenant, Guri was an interesting concept at least, but did absolutely nothing in the comic except say a few lines and then get knocked out by Leia. The fact she was a highly advanced killer bodyguard android didn't seem to factor into the story in any way, except in a thought-bubble where Leia thinks "Wow. She's and android." How did she even know?

And speaking of things people don't the heck did Lando, Leia and the whole crew suddenly jump to the conclusion that the 'Black Sun' was involved in the attempts on Luke's life. The Black Sun was supposed to be a completely unknown entity—an 'invisible' criminal empire. And yet, when they suddenly bring it up, they talk as if everyone knows what it is. In fact, nowhere in the comic do they really explain what it is. I wound up flipping back a few pages to check and see if I maybe missed a section. I would have been totally lost if it weren't for Wikipedia and other sources of information.

Xisor himself was tolerable as a new villain. I liked the idea of him and Vader both vying for status and position with the Emperor. But in the comic they never really explained why he disliked Vader so much (evidently Vader killed a bunch of his family at one point in the past- but as far as I saw, that was never mentioned in the comic). What did bother me was that the Emperor was portrayed as being duped by Xisor. That just makes him look weak and stupid. I mean, I could totally see the Emperor (aware of both Xisor's and Vader's treachery) playing his subordinates against eachother, but it would have been nice at least to have some indication (a crooked, evil smile even) that the Emperor knew what was going on.

There was another plot line involving one of Vader's agents that was okay. He infiltrates Jabba's organization to try and intercept Luke but winds up having to babysit him from afar—keeping Jabba's men from killing him. What I didn't like about this agent was that nothing was ever explained about his background or abilities or anything. I guess I'll have to check out Wikipedia for that, too.

I suppose a lot of these gripes have a lot to do with the fact that the authors of the comic had to fit a lot of story into a limited amount of time. This made for a very poorly paced story. The entire thing felt rushed—and that's an odd sensation when you're reading a comic.

In any case, I give the comic book adaptation of SotE an A for concept and a C- for presentation. I think I might have to pick up the novel now just to understand what was going on.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009


In Star Wars (the first one, Episode IV), Luke very briefly mentions his friends "Biggs and Tank" going away to the Academy. Biggs we wind up meeting later in the movie—having since defected from the Empire. Unfortunately, Biggs' story ends abruptly as he is shot down in the final Death Star battle. Tank? Well, we never hear anything else about him...that is, until the Dark Horse comics Star Wars series—Star Wars: Empire. 

The 'Empire' series takes place during the timeline of the original trilogy, following the stories of several original and obliquely referenced 'background' characters from the movies. One of the most interesting story lines (at least in my opinion) dealt with Janek "Tank" Sunber—the "other" childhood friend of Luke's. Tank had applied for pilot training, like Biggs, but had failed to meet the requirements so he instead opted for the Imperial Army. His story deals with his initial acceptance of the 'New Order', seeing his work as bringing peace and stability to the galaxy. But as things progress, he begins to see the cracks in the facade—the cruelty and corruption at the heart of the system that he has given his loyalty to. Things come to a head, of course, when he encounters an undercover Luke Skywalker and discovers that his childhood friend is now his enemy.

"Tank" is a kind of hero (or perhaps even anti-hero) that I can really relate to—and his story is a very interesting look at the other side of the galactic civil war. In the usually black and white Star Wars universe, he presents an interesting shade of military-grey. He is shown through his actions to be a good person. He cares for those under his command. He is loyal and hard-working, intelligent and capable. He has a conscience and a sense of right and wrong. He has all the qualities of your typical hero—and yet... he works for the Empire. 

I think the reason I can identify so strongly with Tank is that he sides with the status-quo—believing idealistically that it really does stand for what it says it stands for. And even once he begins to see the reality of it all, he tries to explain things away—to justify them. But as the war goes on, justification gets more and more difficult. And then, to find out that two of your best friends actually joined the other side? Yeah, that would give a person a lot to think about.

It was Tank's initial story that drew me into his character—essentially a remake of the movie 'Zulu', only with Imperials versus ferocious Amanin tribesmen. Great artwork and a great Star Wars adaptation of yet another type of plot (again, Star Wars is all inclusive). I was actually rooting for the Imperials! Okay, not the self-involved and cowardly officers, but the grunts and the 'worthy' guys, like Tank and his commander. 

As much as I enjoy 'true villainy' in my bad guys, it is nice to explore the whole aspect of 'humanity' and even 'nobility' among their ranks. It makes the whole thing all the more tragic to know that good people on BOTH sides of the conflict are dying because of the manipulations of a core of evil men (with Palpatine at their head). But then, that's the tragedy of real war, too—especially civil war. Tank's whole storyline really brought home to me the fact that Star Wars really is brother versus brother.

Unfortunately, it seems as though Dark Horse has cancelled any further comics in this setting. Seems they're going to be concentrating on the Clone Wars now. Sigh. Well, in any case, Tank has taken a large place in my personal mythos of the Star Wars galaxy. 

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Combat Walkers

Like most guys, I've always had a soft spot for giant machines. It began with construction machinery when I was a kid—big cranes, dump trucks and the like. It continued with glimpses of giant robots on after-school television and saturday mornings. Even so, I was (in the wilds of South Dakota) never really exposed all that much to Japanese Anime like Robotech or even Voltron. And then came the AT-AT walkers in Empire strikes back. They made a big impression on me (no pun intended) and they were probably the reason I eventually got into playing Battletech (a tabletop wargame with giant mechs piloted by people). Strangely enough, I never liked giant Robots (such as the transformers) as much as I did the piloted vehicles. I like the idea of the human element. Its just more interesting to me.

All this being said, walkers never really played a huge part in my Star Wars campaign, even though I did enjoy using them. I never really branched out from the two basic types of walkers: AT-ATs and AT-STs. It wasn't until much later that my thoughts turned to including something new. It began with the Expanded Universe inclusion of new walker types: the AT-PT (a tiny, personal walker) and the MT-AT (a spider-like, mountain-terrain walker). Hmmmm. Why wouldn't the Empire develop specialized walkers for specialized roles? And the first thing that came to mind was, essentially, a Battlemech. 

Looking at the Imperial line-up, you have the AT-AT serving as a troop transport and assault vehicle. The AT-ST is a recon and raiding type. What they seemed to be lacking is a dedicated attack platform. It was something I initially termed an AT-AP (the AP standing for Assault Pod or Assault Platform). There were numerous battletech and robotech designs that could easily be adapted to Star Wars and fit this role. It was a fun mental exercise to be sure, but I never really included any of these thoughts into my campaign—mainly because I wasn't certain how it would impact the setting as a whole. Any time you introduce something new into a campaign, there is always the chance that it might unbalance things. What I didn't want to happen was to turn Star Wars into Battletech. In retrospect, though, I think I was just being paranoid. The prequel trilogy seems to have proven this—combat walkers of various types seem to fit just fine into the Star Wars galaxy. I mean, the clone troopers even had an 'Attack Pod' with a big gun on it. 

And so in the Nagai War of my current campaign a new generation of combat mechs has taken the field. Quite appropriately, General Veers has taken command of the Empire's Walker forces, personally piloting a two-legged AT-AP in spearhead assaults against the Nagai ground forces. The Nagai themselves have a walker-like vehicle (based on a Robotech Zentraedi design) but the New Republic hasn't yet fielded any new Walker designs (though this may change in the near future). 

One interesting twist to all of this is the character Fenn (now 'Mandalore'), who recently recovered a dozen ancient 'advanced' basilisk war droids from a hidden weapons cache. Since neither the player nor I liked the original design of the Basilisk (come on, it looked like a giant space shrimp), these advanced, quadruped designs are more 'panther' or 'dragon' like in appearance. They possess rudimentary droid intelligence (above animal level, but just below human) allowing them to operate independently of their riders or in tandem with them. Like the original basilisk, these droids are capable of space operations and even low-level flight, making them a versatile, mobile, armored addition to Mandalorian infantry.

And even with all of this? It still feels like Star Wars to me. Giant machines. War-robots. It works. Again, I am amazed at how inclusive Star Wars can be. But then again, I've been blessed with great players who seem to 'get it' and work /with/ me (usually) to keep game balance.

Monday, April 20, 2009

REVIEW: Crisis on Cloud City


Crisis on Cloud City is a sequel (of sorts) to the Starfall adventure—teaming the characters once again with legendary Alliance Engineer Wallex Blissex. Once again, they're bound for trouble as they escort him on a secret mission to Bespin—to meet with a robotics researcher there who has an invention that must might change the course of the war. But things never go as planned. The Alliance isn't the only party interested in this mysterious technology—Wallex's daughter, the Imperial Lady Lira Wessex (also a character from Starfall) is on Cloud City, too. Unfortunately for both groups, the 'technology' has a mind and agenda of its own. Before long, the Characters are embroiled in a race against time to save the entire city.

Crisis combines some of the elements I love most in a good Star Wars adventure. First of all, there's the setting—A pre-Empire Strike's Back Cloud city run by its new Baron-Administrator, Lando Calrissian. So not only do you get to kick around in the 'back yard' of the movies, you also get to rub elbows with a major Feature Character. As I've stated (many times) before in this blog, forming a connection to the movies really helps immerse the players in the setting. At least it did for mine. And the writer's of the adventure do a great job in making sure that Lando doesn't steal the show. There is interaction, sure, but the players are there to do the legwork.

The inclusion of Wallex and Lira from Starfall is another great idea. It helps to create a sense of continuity in a campaign where the GM runs both of these adventures. I know that these modules really helped me with my game-mastering skills—they got my brain working on how I could weave my own non-player character in and out of the lives of the heroes. I know I've spoken of this many times before in this blog, but it always bears re-iteration— recurring characters build depth in a campaign by giving the impression of a 'larger galaxy' full of people who are all leading their own lives. It can make even a fantastical galaxy like Star Wars seem more 'real' and relatable— and interesting.

The villain of Crisis in Cloud City is one of the most unique in any Star Wars adventure. It isn't an Imperial or a Sith or a Space Pirate or a Bounty Hunter or any of the more cliche' types. Its a droid brain, an artificial intelligence that is slowly assuming control over Cloud City with the nefarious purpose of 'infecting' all of its inhabitants with a nano-virus that will turn them into mechanical beings—under its command, of course. In its most limited scope, the Villain poses a threat to millions of living beings—the entire city.  But there are hints of this threat going further. Afterall, if the Droid Brain succeeds here, wouldn't it be able to spread, like a virus, across the Galaxy? The stakes are very high and the player characters are the only ones who are in a position to save the day. This dovetails beautifully with one of my core gaming mantras—let the PCs be the big heroes. Doesn't get larger than saving the entire Galaxy.

As if all of these things weren't enough to recommend this adventure, Crisis on Cloud City puts a cherry on top of itself by adding a novel little game—Sabbacc. The original module came with an entire deck of Sabbacc cards as well as the rules for playing the game. One of the central scenes of the adventure has the characters sitting down to play opposite Lira Wessex and a disguised Lando Calrissian. GMs were encouraged to actually play out the hands of cards in real life while roleplaying out the scene. For players and GMs alike, being able to sit down in a 'social' setting with an enemy like Lira is always awesome—and very cinematic. You get a chance to exchange barbs with your enemies and really give each other reasons to be enemies. It is one thing to hate someone because of idealistic differences. It is quite another to dislike them on personal terms.

And now I finally get to the real (and very personal) reason I love this adventure so much. I have alluded to it many times in the past (and probably will again), but this was the place where, during the aforementioned "Live Action" Sabbacc game, Rick (the player of Harold Hugganut) cheated. We were several hands into the game. Lira and Arianne were exchanging insults. Hugganut was participating in the roleplay, but he was also in the game to win. And so it was when he was suddenly dealt a very bad hand. I made the mistake of taking my eyes off him for a brief second. And in that second, he palmed one of the bad cards he'd been dealt and slyly let it fall to the floor- where he put his foot over it to conceal it from sight. A couple of the other players noticed, and even giggled a little, but as I looked back to Harr- err.. Rick, his 'Sabbacc' face was perfectly intact. He won the hand.  And it was a big pot, too, as I recall. At the time, I remember marveling at his luck. A rogue droid broke up the scene shortly thereafter, and it was about this time that Rick let me know he cheated (as I recall, he calmly reached down and handed me the card he'd 'accidently' dropped). I laughed a lot. I even gave him an extra experience point. But, as all hell broke loose in the Casino, I was able to (In Character at least) one up him. As everyone else dove for cover, Harry dove for the loose credits. Unfortunately for him, Lando (still in disguise) had already scooped them up.

With such memories its little wonder that I can't really find any negative criticisms of the adventure. Yeah, maybe I'm a bit blinded by my own great experience with the module, but oh well. About the only thing I remember changing in the adventure is omitting a few of the smaller combat encounters. Like many of its contemporary modules, Crisis on Cloud city could have used a little streamlining in that department, but not much. All in all? Highly recommended.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Star Wars Babies

Well, its been almost a week, and no posts! Bleh! Sorry about that, all of my (undoubtedly) thousands of readers. Here's just a short one to let you know I'm still alive- just really busy. 

Certain recent events (a good friend of mine (Sharon) having a baby this week) have got me thinking about kids and the like. And even though I know this will never happen, its a fun mental exercise to ponder what a 'Next Generation' Star Wars campaign might be like. I know I even spoke briefly with Steve-2 about this at one point.

So lets see.. a group of Next Gen folks would include Oman's daughter—who is going to grow up to be a badass Mandalorian warrior. Being the 'first born' of this generation, she'd be the oldest of the group, and would probably be a bit more experienced than the rest.

Next in line would be Arianne's boy. No doubt he'd be the Jedi-Pilot type, unless he took a big divergence from his parents (which I don't see happening).

After those two? Well, heck...everyone else would have to get 'bizzay'. Two of the other characters are in prime position to start popping out kids. Bob the Tusken and his wife could have a kid, a nice half-tusken to carry on the name. Hugganut's player doesn't seem to shy away from kids, so I could see him having a whole litter of young-uns. Imagine a set of twins to carry on the Hugganut name? Twice the fun!

Of course, there /could/ be another coupling... Horatio and Reen, perhaps? Hmmm, interesting... werry interesting. A half-pirate, half-jedi? A dashing rogue with force powers? 

Now, as far as Adren goes, well, she'd either have to find a new baby-daddy (since her hubbie *sniff* got killed) or maybe she could get cloned again! Clones are like potato chips after all. Betcha can't make just one!

Then we have Shagg.. and Maybe Ruukhan... the Wookiees. Arooof. Ruuk has more history, and, considering his liaison with a female Wookiee hunter, its possible that he already HAS a kid out there he doesn't know about. Shagg? Well, he's probably too young to get married. I'll have to think on that one...

As far as the Galaxy they'd be living in? Well, it would be.. what.. 20 years ahead of the current timeline? or maybe 15. The 'big heroes' of the Galaxy would be retiring (or at least slowing down). Han and Leia's kids would be entering the world of adventuring- opening up all kinds of opportunities for crossover adventures with the 'Feature Kids'. What would be the 'threat' in this era? That's a bit more difficult to say. But possibly the Krath? I don't know, I'd have to think on that. But as I said, its a fun mental exercise.

Friday, April 10, 2009


Just a short post to talk about one of my favorite planets: Corellia. There was very little information about Corellia in the movies. In fact, the only direct mention I recall is when Han mentions "Big Corellian Ships". Later (somehow through books and the like) we find out that Han Solo is actually a Corellian. Initial, sketchy information seemed to suggest that this planet (and indeed the whole system) was a major trade and industrial center, mainly concerned with starship production. It was also suggested that Solo's attitude is generally shared by other Corellians—i.e. they're brash, adventurous and love their ships and vehicles.

In my mind, at least, the concept of Corellia as a system centered around the United States 'Rust Belt'—Pittsburgh, Toledo, Buffalo and, most importantly, Detroit. To me, the Corellians are the 'motorheads' of the Star Wars galaxy. They like their ships and speeders, they like sports and professions involving their ships and speeders. Smuggling was not uncommon to Corellians as a whole, again reinforcing the whole 'brash' concept of the culture. It reminded me of moonshine-runners in the American South, and how that profession turned into the sport of stock car racing. I don't think I'm too far off from George Lucas' original intentions on this, considering his own love of motor sports and speed.

The very name 'Corellia' speaks of a 'Core' planet, heavily populated, urbanized and industrialized- with lots of sprawling cities and starports throughout the entire system and in orbit of the major planets. I also saw this system as being predominantly human. I mean, every other species seems to have a 'homeworld' that is populated mostly by their race. Why not humans? And what system more aptly named for it.

So this was the concept a 'ran with' in my Star Wars campaign. There was nothing to contradict my assumptions for quite a few years. And then the Corellian novels came out and.. bleh. Corellia was a pastoral world of small farms and tranquil beaches, with all the nasty smelly industry up in space! And the system itself? Well, seems two of the planets there are actually the homeworlds of two different species of space-weasels/cute-n-fuzzy-sea-otter-type-critters.. who also live on largely pastoral planets. It just... went against everything I had ever thought of. And, as with many novels, it just seemed to be a convenient setting for some Author's plot idea so they just molded the setting to fit the story. I didn't like what I read of the novels, and I think a lot of it stems from the fact that mine and the author's views are so far apart. That's really 'my problem', but as with many things in the Expanded Universe, I can take it or leave it in my own perceptions of the Star Wars galaxy. I choose to leave it.

To me, Corellia will always be a 'big city' planet. The Detroit of Space- warts and all.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Top Ten Best and Worst Expanded Universe Characters

In keeping with the blog tradition of top ten lists, here is my take on the various expanded universe characters. You'll quickly notice that my preferences tend towards the 'old-school' universe, prior to the 1990's novel explosion. Also keep in mind that I've kept my choices limited to the movie timeline and not the Knights of the Old Republic era (otherwise, I'd be tempted to choose all the KotOR characters as my favorite...)


10. Garm Bel Iblis
The 'Commander Caine' of the Star Wars universe. A maverick senator who was responsible for forming the Rebel Alliance, but was so much of a rebel that he rebelled against that and made up his own organization. Gotta admire him for that. Plus, he added a bit more depth to the Alliance as a whole, helping to point out that even among the good guys there are differences of opinion. Plus? He's Corellian. They're cool.

9. Talon Karrde
A rather original crimelord figure—not flashy, just competent. Made a lot of sense to me for a crimelord to keep a low profile—and Karrde did. He seemed to have a bit of a 'good' streak in him, but it was never completely overshadowed by practicality or pragmatism. He remained a 'neutral', and that's rare in the black and white Star Wars galaxy.

8. Lumiya
Though she was never a major character in the Marvel comics, she made a big impression as one of the first 'bad guy' Force users other than Darth Vader. It didn't hurt that she wore a svelte costume and used a pair of energy-whips in place of lightsabers. Her duels with Luke Skywalker were epic.

7. Fey'lya
As much as I hated him while reading the books, the Game-Master part of me realized what a great foil he was. Much like Garm bel Iblis, he was a nice reminder of the fractious nature of the New Republic.

6. Danni
She was an over-sexed Zeltron babe with a crush on Luke Skywalker. She wore skimpy clothes and had a great figure. What's not to like? But seriously, the part of this character that really tickled me was that her infatuation with Luke was never requited—Luke was too embarrassed, flustered and/or too 'noble' to act on Danni's flirtations and come-ons—further cementing my concept of Luke as a character. He's not the 'different girl every week' kind of hero—he's the shy, 'old-fashioned' farmboy.

5. Tycho Celchu
I have to admit that my like of this character stems mostly from my playing him in Adren's RP campaign—but the personality I've developed for him comes from the Rogue Squadron comics, where Tycho is portrayed as a bit of a smart-ass hot-shot—a good balance and second in command for the calm and unassuming Wedge Antilles.

4. Skynx
A supporting character from one of the Han Solo novels (Han Solo and the lost legacy), Skynx was essentially a 'giant' caterpillar ('giant' meaning about 2 or 3 feet long). He was also a scholar of galactic history and a member of Han's expedition to find the lost treasure ship of Xim the Despot. Not only was this all a very original concept, but Skynx was great comic relief and an interesting character in his own rights. And I liked the 'twist' ending of the book, where the seemingly helpless scholar uses his brains to defeat the Galaxy's deadliest gunman (see below).

3. Gallandro
Aka Gallandro the Gunman. He appeared in a couple of the superb Han Solo novels. He was the Galaxy's best gunman. Period. He was smart, quick, dangerous and ultimately treacherous—a mercenary WITHOUT a heart of gold. He had an awesome showdown with Han Solo in one of the books and (surprisingly enough to me at the time) he won. Unfortunately, he underestimated a small caterpillar/sholar by the name of Skynx (see above)

2. Baron Fel
No doubt based on the 'Red Baron', the idea of a badass Imperial fighter-ace was a great idea. Throw an elite squadron behind him and pit him against Rogue Squadron? An even BETTER idea. The only drawback for me was the whole tacked on 'He's actually married to Wedge's long-lost sister' storyline. I didn't like that.

1. Bollux/BlueMax
No expanded universe character(s) have captured my affection as these two did. I lump them together for the simple reason that they are a 'duo' wouldn't be the same without the other. Bollux is a beat-up, drawl-speaking labor droid and Max is a tiny, hyperactive supercomputer (a box with an eye on it) housed in Bollux's chest. Both were introduced in the Han Solo novels and actually formed integral parts of the various stories. But they weren't just comic relief. On several occasions they showed their true heroic spirit, saving the day through dogged determination and smarts. In short, they weren't just stand-ins for Threepio and Artoo, they were original and interesting characters.


10. Dash Rendar
I guess I don't have anything against him personally, but.. c'mon. 'Dash Rendar'? One of the lamest names ever.

9. Prince Xisor
Again, I don't really dislike the character, but.. his name is  CHEESOR. It sounds like some horrible cheese-based supervillain who might be an arch nemesis of Mighty Mouse.

8. Mara Jade
She is low on this list for a reason. In her initial concept, I didn't completely dislike her. But she has since grown to ridiculous stature in the minds and libidos of fan-boys. Originally she was a mildly tolerable mary-sue character who was bogusly good at everything. But now she's the quintessential geek magnet—interchangeable with Lara Croft and that type—the cynical badass bitch. Meh.

7. Grand Admiral Thrawn
Again, he's relatively low on the list for a reason. Initially, I enjoyed his character in the Zahn novels. He actually did have some good tactical ideas. But his mystical 'Know the Art, Know the Psychology of an entire Race' philosophy rubbed me the wrong way. Being a student of art, I know first hand how full of crap most artists are. To make any generalizations about an entire species based on their art is just stupid. It might have been more believable if he had been a student of cultures in general instead of just art. And then there was the fan-boy explosion of popularity of the Chiss race—where all of them were just as badass as Thrawn. Annoying.

6. Thrackan Sal-Solo
Can't think of an interesting or original character? Just make them related to a more popular character! Overall, I just never liked the Corellian series of novels (what little I read of them) and this guy was an ass on top of that. And he continued to be an ass well into the New Jedi Order timeline, which I also disliked.

5. Jaxxon
Giant. Green. Rabbit-Man. The posterboy for the argument that Marvel comics Star Wars sucked. I don't think it did, but.. Jaxxon doesn't help my argument.

4. Corran Horn
He's Han Solo and Luke Skywalker all wrapped up into one! He's the bestest pilot in the whole Rogue Squadron! He's.. lame.

3. Kyp Durron
He's a punk kid who is responsible for destroying at least one (as I recall) planet- murdering millions of innocent people along with the bad-guy Imperials. I'm sorry, but...this kid should be in jail for the rest of his life. But he used the whole "Oh, I was under the effect of the Dark Side at the time..." that's B.S. People are still responsible for their actions. Period. Plus, for some reason, Han Solo loved this kid, making him something of a Mary-Sue sidekick. Distasteful.

2. Callista
She was (one of) Luke Skywalker's true love(s). Together, they would go hand in hand into the future, forever bound together by the strength of their emotions. Until the novel ended. Then they said. "Welp. Seeya." A truly forgettable Mary-Sue. Oh, and in case you haven't picked up on it yet? I don't really like Mary Sue's.

1. Starkiller
Bestest Jedi Evarrrrrrrr! Star of the Force Unleased Video Game! Yeah! He defeated Darth Vader.. then (after a five minute break) he defeated the Emperor! Wow! He's so cool! Oh, wait. No. Worst Character Evarrrr. See here for more of the bile I spewed at him.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The Mandalorians

I noticed that a lot of my posts recently have been about Force stuff and Force users. Well. Force Shmorce! There are a lot of cool things in the Star Wars universe that don't have anything to do with Jedi or Sith. Though I was never a 'fan-boy' of Boba Fett (afterall, he did go out like a punk), I have always been intrigued by the Mandalorians as a whole. As with many things in the 'frontier' days of the Star Wars setting, you kind-of had to make things up based on rumors and hearsay and snippets of information that may or may not have been 'Canon'. And as with most things, I kind-of filled in the blanks as I went, taking information from various sources as they were presented. This post is going to outline what my current concept of the Mandalorians are and how they fit into the setting as a whole.


The Mandalorians are a warlike nation of clan-based people consisting of members from multiple (though mostly human) species. Their culture revolves around that of battle and war, both a source of honor and pride in their community. Mandalorians took their name from the warlord Mandalore the First after he led them in the conquest of their current ‘homeworld’. Since that time, when a great leader emerges to rule over all the clans, he or she generally takes on the title of “Mandalore”.

Though they played a part in the Old Sith Wars of Exar Kun, some 4,000 years ago, the Mandalorians did not come to the forefront until a new warlord (assuming the title of Mandalore the Ultimate) led them in a bid to bring down the Old Republic and conquer the galaxy- a goal they very nearly achieved. The so-called Mandalorian War ended with their defeat at the hands of Jedi Generals Revan and Malak but cemented the fame (or infamy) of the culture up until the present day. 

Despite their reputation, after their defeat in the war, the Mandalorians went into a long decline- their clans exiled to Mandalore or scattered to hundreds of other systems in the Outer Rim. Many turned to piracy, brigandage or mercenary work. The latter, highly-skilled warriors-for-hire became known as ‘Supercommandos’, and their distinctive battle-armor became a cultural icon. 

Civil war and a backing of the Separatists during the Clone wars further shattered the Mandalorian’s culture and led to the eventual enslavement of their homeworld by the rising Galactic Empire. It was during this oppression that a resistance movement grew, led by several Supercommandos, including Fenn and Tobbi Dala. With the help of Princess Leia, and through the sacrifice of Tobbi Dala, the Mandalorians struck their first blow for independence in 3 ABY—overthrowing the tyrannical rule of ‘The Suprema’, an Imperial appointed slave-master. 

Unfortunately, internal strife and galactic instability kept the planet in a state of constant warfare for years—well past the fall of the Emperor. It was not until after Grand Admiral Thrawn was defeated that the New Republic was finally able to lend its support. A small task force under then-Colonel Rick Oman joined forces with Fenn and was finally able to free the planet completely of outside oppression.

Since that time, Mandalore has remained a free-planet, joining the Republic under the leadership of Fenn who (through a strange series of temporal events) actually turned out to be Rick Oman after the latter became trapped in the past. Gradually, Mandalore began to emerge from its near devastation—rebuilding its industry and infrastructure through the cooperation and assistance of the New Republic and many private investors (including Lando Calrissian). Helping to economically bolster this recovery, the Mandalorian Supercommandos have been reformed under Fenn. They serve alongside the regular military to defend the planet, but also hire out (in small units) as Mercenary forces for various Republic Sympathetic or Neutral parties throughout the Galaxy. 

Recently, as the chaos of the Nagai invasion swept the Galaxy, Boba Fett gathered around him the scattered remains of his clan and made a bid to become Mandalore of all the clans. Meeting in the asteroid ruins of the Malachor system, the heads of the major clans fought a trial by combat to decide the matter. Fett faced Fenn in the final trial and after an epic struggle, it was a battered Fenn who emerged victorious.

And so it is that the latest Mandalore has called all loyal clans to return to their homeworld and prepare for the coming counterattack on the Nagai.


Mandalorian culture is both clan and caste based. Clans are groups of extended families who all share allegiance to a specific clan name (usually the bloodline of a great warrior from Mandalorian history). Thus, several different family surnames can all be found within one overriding clan.

Within each clan are three major castes: Warriors, Scientists, and Workers. Though all are necessary, it is the Warrior caste that holds the power and prestige in the culture. These are the leaders and warriors that the society revolves around.

The scientist caste represents the ‘thinkers’ of the Mandalorian culture—this includes engineers, technical experts and medical specialists as well as more traditional scientists and scholars. Not surprisingly, much of the scientist caste’s work is geared towards supporting and improving the warrior caste’s performance in battle. It is the scientist caste that has developed and perfected Mandalorian battle-armor, and in the past they were responsible for innovations such as the Basilisk war droid.

The worker caste is the foundation of Mandalorian culture. Workers include miners, factory-linesmen, mechanics, traders, farmers, etc.—all the ‘mundane’ professions that modern galactic culture is made up of. Like the scientist caste, a large part of the worker’s duty is in supporting the warriors—constructing and maintaining weapons, armor and vehicles.

Despite the emphasis on the warrior caste, there is balance to the system. Each depends on the other for survival, and wise leaders throughout Mandalorian history have realized this. Though movement from one caste to another is a rare thing, it is not unheard of—Mandalorians are, afterall, a pragmatic and practical people. Ability matters more to them than tradition.

Throughout their history, Mandalorians often took slaves and captives during their conquests. But unlike many cultures, these ‘bondsmen’ were not doomed to a life of servitude. Through hard-work and aptitude, bondsmen were gradually accepted into one of the three castes. In this way, Mandalorian culture grew faster than it would have based solely on typical family procreation. It is also in this way that various non-human species were introduced into the culture—either as groups or individuals. To be Mandalorian is a way of life, not a genetic code.

In the modern era, since the reunification of the Mandalorians on their homeworld, the traditional practice of taking bondsmen has been curtailed. It has, however, begun to evolve into something else. Outcasts, vagabonds and young adventurers from across the galaxy have willingly journeyed to Mandalore in the hopes being accepted into the culture.

Though the many Mandalorians who endured the enslavement are hostile to the Empire, the culture as a whole does not entirely embrace the New Republic they are now a part of. Trust and respect come slowly to this proud culture, but with the leadership of their latest Mandalore, Fenn, it is possible that this once powerful people will rise again to a new ‘Golden Age’. 


Clan Mandalore

The current dominant clan with its main power-base on Mandalore itself. Most of this clan is comprised of ex-slaves freed by Fenn. As such, they are extremely loyal to their leader. Since many of the Warrior caste in this clan were killed during the occupation, a great many ‘non-traditional’ warriors have emerged, rising from different castes or the surviving children of warriors—and even some warriors from other clans who decided to return home and swear allegiance to Fenn. Overall, this clan is more forward-thinking and ‘civilized’ than the others.

Clan Fett

A collection of mercenaries, pirates, bounty-hunters and bandits—mostly ‘Clanless’ Mandalorian warriors. Formerly scattered around the outer-rim, the Clan was recently assembled by Boba Fett in his bid for power. Clan Fett has very little in the way of a support apparatus—being comprised mostly of warriors. This is perhaps the most fractious of the major clans, with only half answering Fenn’s call to return to Mandalore. All are fierce warriors, but with a decidedly vicious streak that could become a problem if left unchecked. 

Clan Ordo

One of the oldest of the Mandalorian Clans. Clan Ordo maintains its own homeworld (the aptly named desert planet ‘Ordo’). This clan perhaps best represents ‘traditional’ Mandalorian culture, with a thriving three-caste organization and balance. Though powerful, they are perhaps hindered by the often straight-line logic of their clan-heads and their love of combat (i.e. they tend to shoot first and ask questions later, not always thinking out the consequences of their actions). More tradition-bound than most clans, the Ordo tend to chafe a little at the thought of cross-caste promotion (at least into the warrior caste). During the reign of the Empire, they willingly (but grudgingly) submitted to the New Order and even worked as Mercenaries, but they bore no love for their Imperial task-masters. Currently, their world maintains neutrality—set apart from the Empire and New Republic both (though this may change with their endorsement of the new Mandalore and his open alignment with the Republic). 

Clan Nord

Tracing their lineage back to the legendary bounty-hunter Calo Nord, Nord is one of the craftier clans—preferring subterfuge and stealth to direct confrontation—a philosophy that is often at odds with Clan Ordo. The Nords operated throughout the reign of the Empire as a kind of underground syndicate—offering protection and ‘muscle’ to other criminal organizations. They were also reknown as assassins. Though Clan Nord has thrown in its lot with the new Mandalore, swearing their allegiance to him, there are some within the clan who are no doubt still scheming to gain power in some fashion. They are, at best, dangerous allies.

Clan Valen

Though operating as scattered bands, leading a nomadic existence across the outer-rim of the Galaxy, Clan Valen actually maintains a very traditional and tight-knit Mandalorian community. The small, family groups usually include members of all castes, working together at various mercenary jobs. Once a year, the families gather on one planet to make clan-wide decisions and maintain intra-clan relations, so no matter how far apart they operate, they still consider themselves one people. Their philosophical outlook also helps differentiate the Valens from other clans—they have a very mystical and metaphysical view of combat, fate and the galaxy as a whole, believing in ‘signs’, ‘portents’ and visions to an extent that makes the other clans question their sanity. Of late, their visions have told them to back the new Mandalore and, gathering now, they form some of his staunchest supporters.

The Deathwatch

Not an official clan, the shadowy and mysterious Deathwatch represents a dangerous philosophy that still exists among the Mandalorians. Though first begun decades ago to try and ‘preserve the warrior traditions’ of the culture, the ultra-violent beliefs of the Deathwatch have perverted over the years to near nihilistic levels. It is rumored that in his later years, Fett subscribed to this philosophy—that his efforts to become Mandalore stemmed from his desire to launch one final, glorious war of destruction against the entire Galaxy—Republic, Empire, Nagai, it didn’t matter. The goal of the Deathwatch (which has now become an underground cult) is to bring about a great galactic apocalypse in which only the strong will survive.

Friday, April 3, 2009

West End Erratics

As you may have guessed from my other posts, I hold West End Games (developer of the Star Wars D6 RPG) in very high regard. They produced a wonderfully rich and playable game based on my favorite movie series—and opened enough doors through their products to ensure that I had YEARS worth of material to help build my campaign. But as much as I love them, there was one thing that got to me over my years of using their materials, and that was their occasionally erratic stat system for various vehicles and even characters.

As far as vehicle stats went, the damage code for weaponry was all over the place. You had laser cannons that did from 2D to 4D damage, Turbolasers that did from 2D to 5D, etc. You can explain some of that away, of course, as different models of lasers, but... well, you'd think there would be some kind of standardized naming system like.. 'light' laser cannon for the 2D variety, etc. And then there was the Nebulon-B escort frigate that was.. well a complete piece of crap based on its game stats—completely under-gunned for the role it was apparently supposed to fill. A hull of 3D+2? A Corvette, half that size, had a 4D hull. 12 4D turbolasers? 12 2D laser cannons? That means it can't duke it out with bigger ships.. and it can't duke it out with starfighters, either. The Imperial sourcebook threw another wrinkle into things by declaring (for some reason) that the 20m long Skipray Blastboat and 30m long Gamma shuttles were 'Capital Scale'...which.. means that the Gamma actually had the same hull strength as a Nebulon-B...

This kind of stuff just made no sense, and in my campaign I quickly adopted a standardized system of weaponry and weapon damage and wound up revamping the hull codes on just about every capital ship out there, as well as many other small craft.

Character statistics were rather erratic as well. The feature characters (Luke, Han, etc.) were (I thought) rather well done. They had a broad variety of skills. Some at a very high level, others at modest but usable. Yes, they were a bit bogus. But that's fine. They're the 'Big Heroes' of the setting—and were something to aspire to. But in a lot of the sourcebooks, the supporting NPCs were completely sketchy and downplayed. The best example of this was one of my favorite characters: Wedge Antilles. The first stats presented for him had him having a 5D piloting skill (or thereabouts) at the battle of Yavin. Luke, by comparison, had around a 7D skill. From what I saw in the movies, Luke wasn't THAT much better of a pilot than Wedge (witness Wedge bailing him out of a dogfight). 6D probably would have been a respectable level for Wedge then. Okay, so they weren't very far off in their stats. But then you got the Return of the Jedi sourcebook...and according to that, after four years of constant combat and promotion to the command of one of the fighter wings at the battle Wedge had... a 6D piloting skill. Ridiculous. Wedge wasn't the only under-powered NPC in those books and the discrepancies only widened with further supplements.

Of course all of this can be explained away by the simple fact that many people were involved in writing and producing this game. And not all of them compared notes before things were published. I can also say that none of this really prevented me from enjoying the game, either. In fact, I kind of liked the exercise of bringing the various vehicles and peoples 'up to code' in my own system. I just think it is something that should be pointed out to GMs and players using the D6 system. If you're okay with the erratics, then no worries. But if you like a bit more logic in your stats then you may have some finagling to do.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Review: Starfall


Another of the early adventure modules for the game, released in 1989, Starfall is set entirely aboard an Imperial Victory-Class Star Destroyer. The plot begins with the Character's captured, sitting in the Star Destroyer's brig and awaiting their fate. It is explained in the prologue that they had been escorting Wallex Blissex (an Alliance Engineer and designer of the Victory-Class Star Destroyer) to a secret meeting with his daughter, Lira Wessex (an Imperial Engineer and designer of the Imperial-Class Star Destroyer). Something (and it is vague just what) went wrong, however, landing Wallex and the PCs in their current predicament. A chance attack by a Rebel task force damages the Star Destroyer, however, giving the players a chance to escape in the confusion. The remainder of the adventure revolves around the characters making their escape, dodging both Imperial troops and various dangers of a damaged and dying ship.

I enjoyed quite a few things about this adventure. First of all, it had a nice disaster movie feel to it—like a 'Towering Inferno' or 'Poseidon Adventure' set in space. This provides for a nice mix of physical and mental challenges along with combat. Secondly, it had a very tight timeline—the longer the players remain on the ship, the greater the chance they will be killed or captured. This keeps the plot moving rather quickly, and a sense of urgency tends to keep players more involved in what is going on.

The cast of supporting characters in this adventure is simply wonderful—even though the players don't meet several until the very end of the adventure. Wallex Blissex is a helpful guy and a wonderful tool to help keep the plot moving. He designed the ship the players are trapped on so who better to help lead them out of it? The villains are seen mainly through the Cut-Away device. In this case we see the ship's captain, Kolaff and Lira Wessex sniping coldly at each other while they plot ways to re-capture the characters. Lira comes off as a cold-hearted bitch while Kolaff comes off as a cold-hearted (and relatively competent) bastard. The running 'gag' with Kolaff is his intercom broadcasts to the PCs as they toil through the ship—giving them 'Combat Lessons' even as he sends his troops against them. Though a relatively minor encounter in the adventure, Lira's personal droid, T-3PO, became a fixture in the Vermillion campaign—a snide and bitchy female-voiced droid who grudgingly serves Arianne, even though she considers herself superior to...well, everyone. 

The final confrontation in the adventure was well done, too—with the inclusion of a fold-out map of an Imperial hangar and several top-down-view playing pieces of rebels, stormtroopers and AT-ST walkers for use in this battle. The full-color fold-out display of the Star Destroyer was nice, too, along with the various cut-out computer display screens and the like. I always enjoy having visual aides to help me out as a GM.

And finally, the post-adventure wrap-up included a nice little touch. In addition to simply getting an experience-point reward for the adventure, Wallex offers the characters each a specially modified piece of equipment as a personal 'thank you'. Some players took blasters with an extra D to damage, others took spy gear, etc. All in all, it was a unique addition to the standard reward system.

My main criticism of Starfall is the way it begins. To force the players into simply accepting that their characters were captured 'off-camera' is heavy handed—and might even anger some groups. As I recall, I ran a small intro encounter where we actually played out the capture and incarceration. This seemed to ease the players into the situation a bit more, even if they didn't like it very much. But then, capturing characters in an RPG is always a tricky thing. Players NEVER go down easy—and in some instances, I've had characters go all the way to the brink of killing themselves before allowing capture. Thankfully, my group generally accepted those few times I forced capture upon them—but that doesn't mean they liked the feeling (and I can't blame them for that). It is up to the individual GM to determine how to handle the capture, but they should be forewarned about the possible player fallout from it.

My only other real criticism is one of the sub-plots of the adventure—in which Wallex Blissex 'mysteriously' avoids using computers throughout the escape from the ship, preferring instead that the PCs do it for him. It is revealed later that Wallex is computer illiterate and can't actually use them. I find this very difficult to believe. How in the hell could he design something as complex as a Star Destroyer without being able to use a computer. It just seems implausible and doesn't really NEED to be part of the story anyway. This sub-plot might be used as a device to make sure that Blissex doesn't steal the spotlight from any tech-savvy PCs, but this could just as easily be explained away as he only has basic computer operations skills, and isn't particularly good at 'slicing'—or even that he's just a slow typer.

All in all, this is one of the better adventures, but it also requires a bit of finesse when dealing with the final (and only) face-to-face confrontation with Lira Wessex. It is somewhat important that the players not be allowed to kill her—not only because she is Wallex's daughter, but because she actually shows up in a future adventure (Crisis on Cloud City). I'd encourage GMs to think through this encounter before playing it—making sure they've planned for several contingencies based on their players likely actions.