Monday, August 31, 2009

My D6 System: Defensive Skills

In the original Star Wars RPG, every attack skill pretty much had a separate skill that was used to defend against it. Brawling had Brawl Parry. Melee had Melee Parry. Blaster had Dodge. The more I got into playing the game, the less some of this made sense to me. Ultimately, I did away with the 'parry' skills, making Brawl and Melee skills used for both attack and defense. Dodge remained, of course—but this situation still didn't satisfy me entirely.

The Dodge skill was the major point of contention here. Why SHOULDN'T you be able to Dodge a Brawl or Melee attack? Well, there was ONE reason for it—if you made Dodge the only defense skill then it would cause problems with game balance (people could dump all their points into Dodge and become untouchable). So what I came up with is the following:

Ranged attacks (Blasters, Arrows, Grenades, etc.) are avoided using the Dodge skill.

Melee attacks (Lightsabers, clubs) are avoided using the Melee Skill (to parry) OR the Dodge skill. However,  in this case, the Dodge skill roll is penalized -1D. The reasoning for this is because of the close-up nature of melee combat—less room to maneuver and 'dodge' in, etc.

Brawl attacks are avoided using the Brawl skill or Dodge skill (again at -1D as above). Brawl attacks can also be parried with Melee weapons—at the full level of the defender's Melee skill. The difference here is that a successful Melee defense versus a Brawl attack means that the Brawler is actually damaged by the Melee weapon (hit as they were trying to come in for the attack). 

In my game, use of the Lightsaber Combat Force power seems to be different than I have read about in other campaigns. I have been allowing a Force user to take one defensive 'parry' that can work against both hand-to-hand (Brawl and Melee) and Ranged (Blaster, etc.) attacks. A Jedi rolls both Sense and Melee (what I use for Lightsaber attacks) as his/her Defense for the round (minus any multiple-action penalties, of course). Versus Brawl/Melee attacks, the two numbers are added together. Versus ranged attacks, only the Sense roll is used. In essence, I see the skill almost as 'raising a shield' versus all incoming attacks. Since the Jedi's actions are guided by the force in this instance (no physical perception or reactions could allow them to catch blaster bolts) I feel this is justified. While in theory, it may seem as though it makes Jedi invincible, once again this has not proven to be the case. In many cases, versus ranged attacks, most of my Jedi still spend an additional action to dodge (since in many cases, their Dodge skill is higher than their Sense—and even when it isn't, they find that Dodge is often necessary versus area-effect attacks and the like).

Star Wars Pet Peeve #182: The Mega-Race

This is another Timothy Zahn angled peeve, though honestly he isn't the only one who's done it before. What I mean by 'mega-race' is a species that is presented as so bad-ass that 1) They're almost unbelievable and 2) Everyone wants to play one as their character type. The prime example of this is the Noghri, introduced in the Heir to the Empire trilogy. Here we have an entire race of guys that are consummate assassins and warriors, even able to take out an enraged wookiee in hand to hand combat. Other examples would be the Barabel (a giant lizard-like humanoid species with natural armor and claws and teeth, etc.) and the Defel (a stocky, beast-like humanoid with fur that absorbs light, making them essentially walking shadows). Both of these were introduced in the RPG, but later expounded upon in novels (in the Zahn novels, for instance). 

In all of the above cases, I don't have any problem with the concept of the races, per se. In fact, they're rather interesting. But when given game stats, each of the above were given a hell of a lot of special abilities, and without any really commensurate drawbacks. From a game balance perspective, this made them a headache for players who wanted to use them (and considering all the perks, who wouldn't?). All of this really hit just as I began my online MUSHing career (multi-user, text-based roleplaying). These races quickly just became banned from play because all the 'twink' characters wanted to play one. To my gaming group, this kind of playing quickly became something of an in-joke. In fact, there was one 'Poster-Species' for this kind of playing. It was (I  think) a creation of the Admin of the first Star Wars MUSH. These were the Darians. They were a race of heroically proportioned (most were around 8-9 foot tall) humans who could shapeshift into giant panther humanoids. Most of the main people running the Empire (supposedly a xenophobic, human-centered empire) were Darians. And strangely enough, every week they seemed to develop some new racial power. Lowlight vision, enhanced senses, leaping ability, the ability to partially transform only parts of their bodies (grow cat claws while remaining human, for instance), the ability to shoot fire out of their mouths and piss acid... Okay, so I made up the last two, but I think you get my point. They became a joke. 

And what REALLY peeves me about mega-races in general is the war of escalation that seems to go on with each successive one introduced (the Yhuzon Vong are a good example of this). Each has to be bigger and badder than the one before. It is ultimately self defeating. But alas, even I am a bit guilty of this in my own campaign. The Nagai are about the most 'mega' species I've ever conceived of. But there is no way in hell I'd ever allow one (at least a full-blood) to be a PC, and I'd like to think I've given them at least something of a game balance in their lack of practical and tactical sense (they're essentially spoiled children). But anyway, I'm cutting myself some slack since it's my blog.

Friday, August 28, 2009

REVIEW: Planet of the Mists

Another of the 'second generation' of Star Wars adventure modules (perfect/spine-bound booklets, as opposed to the saddle-stitched originals), Planet of the Mists is just a bit different than many of its predecessors or even contemporaries—though not necessarily in it's story line. In fact, the plot is actually rather 'stock': Sent to investigate Imperial activities in a remote system, the character's stumble upon a mining operation. Not only is it of strategic importance to the Empire, but the processing plant is seriously damaging the environment of the planet. And so the players must team up with the local natives and come up with a plan to take out the installation with only limited resources. Standing in their way are teams of elite swamp-troopers, mercenaries and killer droids—all commanded by a ruthless overseer who is also a darkside Force user.

What sets Planet of the Mists apart is it's relatively non-linear progression (or at least that's how it went down in my campaign). Yes, there are set-piece events and the like, but after the initial set-up, things are pretty much wide open. After the initial crash landing and encounters with the Imperials and natives, it is entirely up to the party as to how to proceed. There is the 'suggested' plot line of sneaking into the base, stealing weapons to arm the natives, then launching an all-out attack. But there are dozens of different ways the players could approach the situation. For the most part, it seemed to me that the Imperial installation (the complete floor plans of which are included in the adventure), was a giant sandbox just waiting for the character's to wreak havoc within it. I know my character's certainly did.

All that having been said, a lot of this was really my 'perception'. By this time in my game-mastering career, I was learning to take a lot more ownership of modules than I had in the past, and I remember doing so with this one. There was a whole sub-plot written into the adventure about the character's getting captured and interrogated—and then hopefully turning some of the mine-guards against the Imperial overseer. But in my running of the adventure, this just seemed 'forced'—so I followed the instructions written right into the adventure: If the characters go off the 'path', then figure something else out. By this time in their playing careers, most of my PCs were very creative, so they certainly DID go off the path. Looking back on it, there were things I would have done differently, but for the most part, it was a nice change of pace in what could have been a cookie-cutter adventure.

Another stand-out in this adventure were the Non-Player Characters. They were interesting and original, starting with the introduction of Imperial Swamp-Troopers. These were Imperial Army guys (as opposed to Stormtroopers) and were thus a bit more crafty than their white-armored opponents. They also had some really cool gear. I know that MANY of my players stole and used the Swamp trooper blasters (which were a combination heavy-blaster pistol and grappling gun—which could also be used to entangle(!)). Then there were the Twin 'Bad-Girl' sisters, Darci and Marci Sertim. They were mercs in charge of the 'civilian' half of base security. Okay, so maybe I just have a thing for 'bad girls' (I loved Zardra the bounty-huntress, for instance), but I found these two interesting. I also liked the fact that the players could possibly sway them to their side (this didn't quite happen in my campaign, as you'll see below). Vost Tyne, the Imperial Overseer was an interesting bad guy, too. Kind of a Grand Moff Tarkin, but with some minor force powers. This makes him different from your typical 'bad guy' officer or your typical 'big bad sith guy'. He was a little of both. Plus, he had this backstory with the Sertim sisters. Something like he'd tricked them into serving him by saying that the Rebels had killed their older sister, when he had actually done the deed. This information (should the PC's find it) is what could turn the Sisters to the character's side.

But Planet of the Mists wasn't all sunshine. I can trace most of my frustrations back to what I consider 'cliches' of Star Wars adventures. I can appreciate these events as staples of Star Wars adventuring, but when they're used in every other adventure, they start to get real old. The first of these was (surprise, surprise), the CRASH LANDING that starts off the adventure. My GOD this is used a lot in the game, in fact, it was used in almost all the adventures leading up to this one chronologically: The Isis Coordinates, Domain of Evil, Graveyard of Alderaan. ALL of those either began with or contained a scene where the character's ship is crashed and all but destroyed. In my mind, this is just wrong. In Star Wars, ships gain a kind of character in and of themselves (i.e. the Millenium Falcon). And to destroy them so casually and regularly is a pain in the butt. I had to come up with all these convoluted ways in which the ship could survive. Sometimes I would ignore the crash entirely (as I did in the Isis Coordinates). In the case of Planet of the Mists, I simply had the player's ship disabled. They landed in pretty good order, but were still somewhat 'trapped' by the ring of Ion mines above. I had to trust in the player's sense of duty for them to want to take out the Imperial base, rather than in 'forcing' them to do so by giving them no other way out.

The other cliche that this adventure suggests is the old 'players get captured and interrogated' spiel (which was also used in The Isis Coordinates). This kind of thing is ALWAYS a pain to deal with, as players do NOT like being captured. In fact, they'll go to great and sometimes desperate lengths to avoid it. Being relatively fresh from the near party kill that happened in the Isis Coordinates, I resolved quickly not to include a 'mandatory' capture scene in this adventure. But as I pointed out above, the author of the adventure was flexible about this, too. So Kudos to him. 

This being a very 'sandboxy' adventure in my campaign, it played out a lot differently than many previous ones. In fact, it turned out to be a somewhat 'dark' adventure. Two of my characters actually gained dark side points from this one—and not through any plot contrivance, but rather through their own actions. In that way, the adventure was a lot more moralistic than it might have been otherwise. In one instance, Harry Hugganut was shooting at the villain, Vost Tyne, among a crowd of innocent mine workers (these guys were basically slave labor) in the midst of a chaotic battle and evacuation. Harry, one of the best shots in the group, was supremely confident in his skills, and so he took the shot, even after I warned him that a miss could easily hit an innocent. He missed. He took down one of the mine workers and Tyne got away. He got a dark side point for that. I remember that his player was a bit shocked (both at the miss and the point). But he also seemed just a bit remorseful (at least IC)—quickly using his medical skills to try and patch up the guy (as I recall, he stabilized him). 

The other 'dark' instance was again at the climax of the adventure. During the infiltration of the base, the Character's managed to parlay with the Sertim sisters, and actually talked one of them (Darci) over to their side. Marci, however, was having none of it. This created an interesting schism between the two sisters that came to a head during the final dogfight in space. The PCs were chasing a fleeing Vost Tyne. They disabled his ship and he ejected in an escape pod, along with Marci Sertim (who was half-hostage, half-ally at this point). I don't remember exactly what happened, but in the heat of battle, Rick Oman fired on and destroyed the escape pod, killing Tyne and Marci. I believe his reasoning was that he didn't want them to escape to plague the group another day. But even so, it was a pretty cold-blooded act, and it earned him a Dark Side point as well. It also cast a bit of a pall on the end of the adventure that I found kind of interesting. It was also kind of dramatically appropriate. At this point, the PCs had been fighting the Empire for years and were perhaps getting a little jaded and cold-hearted. 

In any case, despite the cliches, I thought Planet of the Mists was a good, solid adventure. And the way I ran it, it was a nice change from the 'usual'. It reinforced to me, however, the unpredictability of a sandbox style game—and the dramatic results it can bring. In this case, I liked it, it brought just a bit of 'grit' to my usually squeaky-clean Star Wars campaign. And I think it was something of an eye-opener for the players as well—to realize that not everything they do is automatically 'good'. Well, I hope it was, at least.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Star Wars Pet Peeve #237: Wookiee Claws

From their introduction (or rather, from the backstory that trickled out from uncertain sources after the first Star Wars movies) Wookiees were designated as arboreal creatures. Judging from their appearance, I would equate them to any other large, tree-dwelling primate. They have opposable thumbs, long, gangly arms and legs and perhaps even opposable toes (we never do get a great look at Chewie's feet). I had no problem believing that they were capable climbers.

And then came the Zahn novels (Heir to the Empire). Now, overall, I  liked these books, but like many creative folks, Zahn had to put his own spin on things. And so, when the Character's paid a visit to Kashyyyk (the Wookiee homeworld) there was a whole scene involving tree climbing. And wouldn't you know it, but Chewie and all his pals suddenly sprouted these HUGE retractable claws so that they could climb. At first, I was somewhat indifferent. Okay, I thought, so they have claws. Guess we just never dealt with that in the movies. I could buy into it. But then came the whole convoluted reasoning behind WHY we'd never seen Wookiee claws before—it was 'dishonorable' for Wookiee's to use these claws in combat for....whatever reason. I think it was something like "It lowered them to the level of a beast". That just sounded stupid. Both from a gaming standpoint and a logic standpoint. I mean, Chewie had no problems with going berserk, and in the game, that was a Wookiee 'special ability'. So flying into a mindless rage was fine, but using claws was a no-no. WTF?

In any case, Wookiee claws are just another example of something that didn't need explaining suddenly getting an explanation that was stupid (midicholrians are the prime example of this). I am peeved and I officially reject this 'reality' and substitute my own.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Otherspace III

I have alluded to this several times in past posts, so I think its time that I finally get around to talking about it. In reading my various review posts (here and here) you may have noticed that I enjoyed the "Otherspace" series of adventures for the Star Wars RPG. I enjoyed them so much, in fact, that I wrote my own sequel to them, to make it a 'Trilogy' of stories (Star Wars is good for trilogies). 

I originally ran the adventure for my gaming group at a small convention back in college (Vermincon 2.0, I believe). At the time, all I had to guide me were my jumbled series of handwritten notes. But we had a blast anyway. To me at least it stands as one of our more memorable adventures—likely because it was one of the most 'epic' that the party had ever undertaken (they controlled the fate of two entire galaxies, after all). 

Once the adventure was over, I had the crazy idea of writing it up and sending it in to West End Games to try and get published. But between school and my own laziness, it never quite seemed to happen. It took me years to write up the first four of the five episodes of the adventure, and by that time, West End Games was already going into the crapper, money-wise. Several computer migrations later, I wasn't even certain I had any workable files left. But lately I have been able to scrape most of them back together and into shape. 

And in reading back over it, I find that...well, I don't hate it. I have gone back and made a few revisions, and I'm likely to go back and do some more. It should  be noted that I wrote this whole thing years before the prequels. Even so, I included a Jedi Knight from the Clone Wars as well as an entire ship and crew from that era—lost in the "Otherspace" dimension. The prequels open up a lot of new opportunities I hadn't considered for this adventure. Perhaps most of the crew are actually Clone troopers? Perhaps even one of the main characters (Captain Marsten) should be converted into a Clone commander? The ships could all be clone-wars era stuff? Maybe... doesn't change the main STORY much, but it would be cool to include.

In any case, I have YET to finish the fifth and final episode of this adventure, but I'll post what I have (in its rough format) on a link here for any interested parties to take a look at.

Oh, and P.S. The artwork is mine, but it too is very rough—just a placeholder in most cases for what I want to put in there in the 'finished' version. 

Where Are They Now: The Independents

Part three in my series of 'where are they now', detailing some of the independent (non-aligned) character's from the movies and novels. As with the other installments, this is a snapshot of how things are 13 years after the Battle of Yavin in my campaign galaxy.

Talon Karrde
Once quite proud of his almost anonymous status, Karrde has, through his actions in the Thrawn crisis, become a lot more 'public' of a figure than he ever intended (at least in the underworld community). He still heads up one of the largest underworld organizations in the galaxy, but unlike many of it's competitors, Karrde's "Smugglers Alliance" concentrates its efforts on (mostly) "victimless" crimes like smuggling and the occasional theft—and of course on the selling of information. The organization does suffer a bit from having an 'almost legit' reputation, but they still turn a hefty profit on their well-executed operations (as frustrated lawmen across the galaxy can attest). Karrde himself is much as he always has been—quiet and intelligent, adapting quickly to situations as they arise. The Nagai invasion has, once again, placed him on the side of the New Republic and it's allies. But again, it is for pragmatic reasons. The alien Nagai have already proven they won't do 'business as usual', so it's the 'smart thing' to back the New Republic.

Ploovoo "Two-For-One"
Just a mid-level crime-boss during Han Solo's pre-Rebellion smuggling career, Ploovoo somehow managed to survive all of his enemies and become the head of underworld operations in the Corporate Sector. Before the Nagai invasion, he was even able to expand outside of his normal area of operations. Unfortunately, open warfare finally broke out in the Corporate sector (after a brief period of it being under the control of a Nagai puppet government). Unlike Karrde, Ploovoo has taken the short-sighted route, trying to profit as much as possible during the turmoil, trying to play one side against the other by selling information both; smuggling refugees for exorbitant fees (and sometimes selling them into slavery); scavenging battlefields for salvage (and sometimes eliminating any 'survivors' found on the scene). Unfortunately for Ploovoo, he isn't quite as cunning as he thinks he is. It is only a matter of time before one side or the other takes action.

Prince Isolder
Though his mother is still in charge of the powerful Hapes Cosortium, Isolder is assuming more and more of the duties of rulership. Though his courtship of Princess Leia caused some turmoil, the situation worked out well for both royals in the end (both are now happily married and remain friends). Isolder has taken a considerably more 'pro Republic' stance than his mother, and, with time, it is possible that the Cosortium will eventually join. As it stands now, they are a staunch ally and Isolder himself leads a fleet of ships alongside the New Republic Navy in its battle with the Nagai. In fact, he led a fighter squadron personally during the battle of Arkanis.

Dash Rendar
Dash is, perhaps, one of the personalities least changed by galactic events. He remains a smuggler, mercenary and free trader, working on the outer rim. Though his sympathy lies with the New Republic, he just can't see himself working 'within the system'. Still, he's not above doing the odd job for NRI.

Boba Fett
Fett survived his encounter with the Sarlacc, though the experience left him scarred—physically and emotionally. Fellow hunter Dengar is the man who actually found Fett and helped him regain his health. The two of them partnered for a time, working in the shadows of the growing New Republic. But for Fett's part, it was always a partnership of convenience. Until he was back to his old fighting prowess (and was able to recoup some of his losses) he just had to bide his time. It wasn't until the Clone Emperor's bid for power that Fett made his presence known again with an attempt on the lives of Han Solo and Leia (Fett holds regrets). Unfortunately, this series of encounters didn't work out well for him, either. Unmasked, Fett returned to his life of bounty-hunting—often working against the New Republic and its allies. Though initially used by agents of the Nagai, Fett turned against the aliens when their true nature became known. It was then that he made the decision to try and unite the Mandalorians under his rule and launch an apocalyptic 'last attack' of Mandalorians against this new enemy (and indeed against the entire galaxy). Thankfully, this mad plan was thwarted by Rick Oman. Unfortunately for Fett, he didn't survive the final duel.

A viscious bounty-hunter with a hatred for Wookiee's, Bossk continued to work as a hunter and slaver long after the fall of the Empire. Only recently did he return to his homeworld, hearing rumors that the leaders were planning to use the distraction of the Nagai invasion to launch an all out assault against the Wookiee homeworld of Kashyyyk. Bossk now serves as a general in the Trandoshan army and is eagerly looking forward to the invasion.

Though a competent hunter, Dengar has never achieved the fame of many of his contemporaries. The closest he got to the 'spotlight' was serving as Boba Fett's partner and henchman. Though the two didn't exactly 'get along', Dengar really didn't have any better prospects, so he resigned himself to 'henchman' status for as long as the pay was good. And that lasted right up until Boba Fett made his bid to become 'Mandalore', and lost. Dengar quietly slipped out the back door, then, taking what he could with him. Where he'll turn up next? Nobody knows. 

Though IG-88's ship was destroyed by Boba Fett during an encounter over Tatooine (IG-88 was trying to steal Han's carbonite-frozen body and claim the reward, himself), this malevolent mechanical can not be counted out. In fact, even as rumors that Fett had survived the Sarlacc were surfacing, a new droid matching IG-88's description was seen as well. Whether this is just another copy of the model or the original droid 'reborn' in a new body is unknown. But whatever the case, he is just as deadly.

This unlikely pair—a logical protocol droid turned hunter and a mystical 'findsman'—have retired from the hunting business. In fact, they've gone somewhat 'legit', selling their services as private investigators throughout the New Republic. Never as bloodthirsty as many of their contemporaries, the droid and the Gand have officially turned over a new leaf, as it were—content to work within the new system.

Thursday, August 20, 2009


Some may call me wishy-washy, and maybe I am. But if I am, then at least I'm consistent about it. Ever since the prequel trilogy was released, I have gone back and forth as to whether or not I liked it. As each film came out, I went through stages of liking, then disliking, then liking, then hating, then settling on it was 'okay'. And then when all three were out and I had a chance to mull them over as a whole I went through the same game again. 

When I first started this blog, I was in one of my kind of 'negative' periods—though I think a lot of that had to do with the fact I had just played 'The Force Unleashed' and was in the throes of anger and disgust at that piece Indeed, looking back on my initial posts, I was lashing out on just about everything from Novels to Cartoons. Thankfully, my rage against unleashed subsided and I saw that I was becoming one of 'those people'. You know, the kind who instantly classify anything new as crap. In my review of the Clone Wars cartoon I was finally able to curtail my anger and take a step back. And what I saw wasn't without merit.

I am a deeply nostalgic person. Anyone who knows me knows that. And as I've said many times before, it is difficult for ANYTHING to live up to something you grew up with—something that formed some of the basis of your childhood. And so I really do have to cut the prequels some slack. I still don't feel that they measure up to the original trilogy, and I still have some major problems with them (midicholorians), but overall? I enjoyed them. And overall I felt that they got better as things went on. I would even put Revenge of the Sith on par with Return of the Jedi. Both had some really great moments and some really silly moments.

I still maintain, however, that a lot of the Expanded Universe stuff just isn't that great. Namely, most of the novel series. But again, looking back on it I have to say some of that is just my personal preference. For instance, the Rogue Squadron novels weren't badly written, they just weren't anything I particularly cared to read about.

So what am I saying? I don't know. Just that while I do get grouchy sometimes, I am really NOT one of those 'hate anything Star Wars done after 1983' people. I would just enjoy it a lot more if were better than what it is. Look no further than the KotOR series if you want evidence of that. It was Star Wars AND original AND incredibly well done. Love every bit of it. I just hold Star Wars projects to a very high level—and thus far, most things have fallen well short of that level.

So here you have it, me at the 'accepting' stage of my wishy-washyness. Give me a few more months and I'm sure I'll be tearing the throats out of Gungans with my bare teeth.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Lightsaber Duels

As much as I love the simplicity, speed and cinematic flavor of the D6 system, there are some areas in which it just doesn't quite represent what we see in the movies. The most glaring of these (to me) is in lightsaber duels. In the movies, we see duels that go on for quite a while—several minutes at least. In game terms, this equates to dozens of rounds. Yet I quickly discovered in my game that duels were usually very quick and very deadly affairs—with the first person to land a hit usually winning. 

The mechanics of the system I was using (based on modified first-edition rules) were as follows:

Attacker gets Lightsaber skill + Sense skill to hit; 
Defender gets Lightsaber skill + Sense skill to parry

Whoever rolls higher, hits

Damage of a successful hit is 5D (the Lightsaber's base damage) + The Control skill of the attacker

Thus, if an attacker has a 5D Control skill, they would do 10D of damage on a successful hit. Compared to the average PC strength of 3D, this 10D Damage is devastating—in 1st Edition, this would usually result in the incapacitation of the person being hit. In 2nd Edition, this would usually mean the person hit would be killed.

So here you can see my quandry. One hit in a lightsaber duel = death or incapacitation. And all you need to do to his is roll 1 point higher than your opponent to hit. Thus, lightsaber duels are deadly and quick. This would be great if it were a game about Samurai, who were all about the 'one hit, one kill' thing. But this is Star Wars, where we saw all kinds of titanic duels going on (Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan vs. Maul; Yoda vs. Dooku; Anakin vs. Obi-Wan; Obi-Wan vs. Vader; Luke vs. Vader; etc.) None of these fights were over in just one round of combat.

For this reason, I have been tinkering with the system to figure out some way to mechanically 'allow' what we see on screen to happen in the game. The change I made was to lightsaber damage. Damage remains at 5D + Control Skill of attacker—but the defender is allowed to SUBTRACT his Control skill from the Attackers. Thus, if you have a person with a 5D Control skill hitting a person with a 4D Control skill, the attacker would only do 5D + 1D, rather than 5D+5D damage. If you have relatively evenly matched opponents, this works nicely to prevent the damage from climbing to instantly lethal levels. But it didn't satisfy me entirely.

In the movie duels we see the fighters battling back and forth—one seeming to gain advantage, only for the other to regain it later. We see them throwing in kicks and punches and telekinetic pushes. If you go 'by the book' with these kind of things, odds are your Jedi is going to get his hand lopped off if he tries to punch his opponent. In fact, its almost a sure thing. What I came up with is this (and it is still a work in progress):

STEP 1: Gaining the Advantage
If two Force users square off, they enter into 'duel mode' (cue 'Duel of the Fates' music). Opponents roll initiative as usual and the winner may attack. The first person to attack does so normally—but the defender gains a +10 bonus to their defense roll. The attacker rolls against the defender and consults the following chart:

If attacker's roll is 11 or more less than the defender's roll + 10
— Attack Blocked
— Does not gain the "Advantage" (explained later)

If attacker's roll is between 10 and 6 less than the defender's roll + 10
— Attack Blocked, however
— Attacker gains the "Advantage Bonus+5"

If attacker's roll is between 5 and 1 less than the defender's roll + 10
— Attack Blocked, however
— Attacker gains the "Advantage Bonus+5"
— Attacker can make an attack of opportunity (explained later)

If attacker's roll is equal to or greater than the defender's roll + 10
— Attack hits, roll damage as normal
— Attacker gains the "Advantage Bonus+10"

After the initial attack, one of several things will happen.
1) The first attacker will gain the advantage, in which case, proceed to step 2.

2) The first attacker will fail to gain the advantage, in which case the second duelist will get to make his attack and see if he gains the advantage. If he does, proceed to step 2.

3) Neither duelist will gain the advantage. In which case, start over from step one.

STEP 2: Dueling with the Advantage
In a duel, the duelist with the Advantage automatically win the initiative vs. their opponent. 

The advantaged duelist also gets an initial Advantage bonus of +5 or +10 to hit their opponent.

Both duelists are still at a +10 bonus to their defenses, however.

The advantaged duelist would consult the following combat charts:

If attacker's roll + Advantage Bonus is 11 or more less than the defender's roll + 10
— Attack Blocked
— Subtract 5 from Attackers Advantage bonus (loses ground)

If attacker's roll + Advantage Bonus is between 10 and 6 less than the defender's roll + 10
— Attack Blocked (maintains status quo)

If attacker's roll + Advantage Bonus is between 5 and 1 less than the defender's roll + 10
— Attack Blocked, however
— Attacker gains an additional Advantage Bonus +5 (presses advantage)
— Attacker can make an attack of opportunity (explained later)

If attacker's roll + Advantage Bonus is equal to or greater than the defender's roll + 10
— Attack hits, roll damage as normal
— Attacker gains an additional Advantage Bonus +10

When the Disadvantaged duelist gets his chance to attack, he consults the following chart:

If disadvantaged duelist's roll is 11 or more less than the advantaged duelist's roll + 10
— Attack Blocked
— Add 5 to Opponent's Advantage bonus (loses ground)

If disadvantaged duelist's roll is between 10 and 6 less than the advantaged duelist's roll + 10
— Attack Blocked (maintains status quo)

If disadvantaged duelist's roll is between 5 and 1 less than the defender's roll + 10
— Attack Blocked, however
— Subtract 5 from Opponent's Advantage bonus (reverse)
— Attacker can make an attack of opportunity (explained later)

If disadvantaged duelist's roll is equal to or greater than the defender's roll + 10
— Attack hits, roll damage as normal
— Subtract 10 from Opponent's Advantage bonus 

STEP 3: Shifting Advantage
As you can see from the above, the Advantage bonus will fluctuate during the duel. It may increase or decrease due to attacks/actions by either the Advantaged or Disadvantaged Duelist.

If the Advantage bonus ever reaches zero (0), then the duel begins again at Step 1.

If the Advantage bonus ever reaches negative numbers, then the Advantage actually switches from one duelist to the other, with that negative number becoming the Advantage bonus of the formerly disadvantaged. For example: Darth Vader has a +5 Advantage vs. Luke. Luke makes an attack and manages to hit (exceeds Darth's roll+10). Not only would he do damage to the dark lord, he would also reduce his advantage to -5. This would turn into a +5 Advantage for Luke and Darth would now be Disadvantaged.

It is possible throughout the duel that a duelist will get the chance to make an "attack of opportunity" (AOO). This represents a little extra 'oomph' outside the normal lightsaber combat. This could take the form of a punch, or a kick, or a telekinetic attack—pretty much anything other than another lightsaber or weapon strike. NOTE: A character is not REQUIRED to make this attack—it is just an option. 

If a character opts to take this extra attack, they may do so, but they must subtract dice as normal for wounds/stuns or taking multiple actions. Thus, if they had already declared 2 actions in a round (an attack and a parry), the attack of opportunity would be made at -1D. NOTE: Taking an AOO does NOT penalize any other rolls during a combat round. It is essentially a 'free' action, so it does not take up any other actions the character may have declared at the beginning of the round.

While normally, the defender could use his lightsaber to parry pretty much any hand-to-hand attack, not so with this attack of opportunity. The defender must use other combat skills to avoid the attack (whatever it may be)—thus, they could use brawl parry or dodge or their own telekinesis to resist hostile force pushes, etc.

And so...that's it. I still haven't fully tested it in actual game (I used earlier/modified versions of this), but it seems promising. It adds a layer of complexity, yes, but...for the moment at least I can't think of a better way.

Oh, and for multiple duelists (say a 2 on one situation) it could be handled in a couple ways.  First of all, the two partners could just use combined actions against their opponent. Or two duels could be going on simultaneously between the duelists, with different advantage/disadvantage stuff for each (i.e. you could be at an advantage versus one opponent, but at a disadvantage against the other). 

One more house rule I came up with related to Lightsabers was that Force users could add or SUBTRACT their Control Skill from Lightsaber damage. The theory behind this is that they may only wish to do a limited amount of damage to disable someone without killing them outright (for good Force users) or they may want to toy with their opponents for a while (generally for bad guys). 

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Where Are They Now: The Empire

Grand Admiral Pellaeon
Though he is 'feeling his age', Admiral Pellaeon is the current leader of the Empire's ruling military council. A professional soldier, he continues to see the Empire as a viable form of government—even though he laments the loss of its former power. Still, he is glad to be (mostly) rid of Sith influence and he has come to accept the fact that victory over the New Republic is not a possibility (at least not at this point). So it was that (prior to the Nagai invasion) he actually responded to the Republic's offer of a peace treaty. Despite the alien onslaught (and the Nagai's best efforts to subvert it), Pellaeon has managed to maintain a military alliance with the New Republic—forming a unified front. But behind his back, many younger, more ambitious officers scheme against him and his 'moderate' views.

Grand Admiral Daala
Speaking of schemers... Admiral Daala, since her long exile at the top secret 'Maw' installation, has returned to a position of command in the Empire—despite her numerous military setbacks (in fact, she is now sporting a nasty lightsaber scar due to a run-in with Adren). She is remarkably good at playing politics. Realizing that Pellaeon has the power right now, she plays up to that—seeming to be a staunch supporter. But in the meanwhile, she is building up her own power-base. She sees the Nagai invasion as an opportunity to weaken the New Republic, possibly paving the way for the Empire's resurgence. Unfortunately for her plans, however, the Empire has taken just as much damage as their rivals.

Grand Marshall Tagge
An old army veteran, Tagge is Pellaeon's Army counterpart. The general somehow managed to survive the rebellion—including a very close call on the first Death Star. Since then, like Pellaeon, he has grown more conservative and 'moderate' in his outlook. Though he (like Pellaeon) would probably call it 'realistic'. Tagge is in a somewhat unique position, however, as his family actually controls a massive corporate interest that helps supply the Imperial (and many independent) militaries. This means he has more political 'juice' than a General might otherwise have. Though a competent tactician, many of his commander consider Tagge to be overly cautious (though considering the dwindling resource of the Empire, this may be more from pragmatism than timidity).

Lira Wessex
Though mourning the death of her husband (a former Imperial Governor), Lira Wessex remains the Empire's premier capital starship engineer—designing a whole new wave of starships for the fleet. In this position, she also has a remarkable degree of control over the nationalized industries within Imperial space—including former Kuat Drive Yards installations. A canny politician as well as businesswoman, Lira is well aware of the behind-the-scenes power struggle brewing between Pellaeon and Daala. For the time being, she has refused to closely ally herself with either—waiting to see which will come out on top.

Rear Admiral Motti
Nephew of the Admiral Motti who was killed at the battle of Yavin, REAR Admiral Motti was promoted through the ranks at record speed—though not due to performance. Rather, Motti epitomizes the 'high-Imperial' officer: a boot-licking toadie to those higher in rank, but always quick to betray when he sees a chance for self advancement. His name carried him far. His conniving mannerisms took him the rest of the way. Now, as he sees the heights of power within his grasp, he has begun to realize his own limitations. This has left him an over-compensating, nervous wreck. Simply put, he is NOT a good commanding officer or a soldier. He has survived thus far by exploiting the strengths of his subordinates. But officers like this are slowly being weeded out of the ranks of the Imperial military—by the pressures of constant war as much as a conscious effort on the part of high command. Thus, Motti is at a point where he either has to rise to the occasion...or fall.

General Veers
I detailed part of his background in a previous post, but I'll repeat a bit here. Veers initially left the Empire during the turbulent 'Warlord' period following the battle of Endor—disgusted with what the Empire had become. At first he went into self-imposed 'exile', but his warrior nature soon got the better of him and he began to run a team of mercenaries. Through an encounter with a Rebel agent (Adren), he wound up re-examining his life. Finally, after the Thrawn and Dark Empire crises, he made up his mind and cleaned up his act. He rejoined the Empire under Pellaeon and resumed his duties as a field commander in charge of a Walker assault legion equipped with the latest generation of combat machinery. Though still quite ruthless in battle, Veers' overall nature has been tempered a bit by the dose of 'reality' he experienced during his exile. Despite his role as a battlefield commander, Veers also serves as a strategic advisor to the Grand Admiral and Grand Marshall, and remains a staunch supporter of both.

General Zel Johans
One of the Empire's best field Generals, Johans is nearly as famous as Veers, and just as deadly efficient. He has turned down promotions in order to retain command of the Elite "Hell's Hammers" repulsorlift assault unit—which has now grown to the size of an entire Legion. Though a firm believer in hard-hitting shock tactics, Johans is also known for fostering a close, almost familial relationship among the people in his units. This, and their fighting prowess, are the main reasons they survived the turmoil of the fall of the Empire and the rise and fall of its many would-be Emperors.

Admiral Tomax Bren
The premier assault starfighter tactician and strategist of the Imperial Fleet, Admiral Bren finally gave up direct command of his elite Scimitar Assault Wing due to injuries sustained in combat. He is, however, now in direct control of the task-force to which the Wing is assigned. He is an advisor to and friend of Grand Admiral Pellaeon—though he does have some philosophical differences that are starting to drive a wedge between them. Bren retains his quite ruthless nature and has ambition. He sees the alliance with the New Republic as expedient for the moment, but still desires to see that power crushed and the Empire restored to its 'rightful' place. To this end, he has been in talks with the equally ruthless and ambitious Admiral Daala.

Baron-Captain Fel
A true legend among the Imperial Fleet, Baron Soontir Fel is, without a doubt, the best Starfighter pilot in the Empire, and one of the best in the Galaxy. Though he was captured by—and even flew with—Rogue Squadron during the fall of the Empire, Fel (much like Veers) remained drawn to the ideals that the Empire had professed to stand for. And so, when Pellaeon finally assumed control and offered alliance with the New Republic, Fel offered the Grand Admiral his services once more—on the assurance that he would be given command of his beloved 181st Starfighter Wing. And so the Baron has returned to the fold, remaining an Idealist in a dangerous political situation. Still, he feels that this is where he can best serve—being an example of how to be and Imperial and still have honor. Of how to create a government of order and strength without it becoming a ruthless dictatorship. In short, he is trying to affect change from within—and in the end, it may be an insurmountable task.

Kir Kanos
One of the most deadly Imperial Royal Guardsmen ever trained, Kanos is a warrior through and through. His loyalty to the Empire was shaken, however when a fellow guardsman, Carnor Jax, attempted to assume the throne after the death of the Emperor—betraying and slaughtering his former comrades to ensure they would not stand in his way. Kanos survived and vowed vengeance for his Emperor and for his brothers. His one-man crusade to bring down Jax was ultimately successful—and in the process, he slaughtered many on the corrupt Imperial ruling council. Even though he occasionally worked alongside Alliance (and later New Republic agents), Kanos refused to ally himself, feeling his loyalty was still to the Emperor. Like many Imperials, however, he was forced to re-examine his life and his loyalty. For the time being, at least, he now serves the Empire as a whole, as opposed to one man. But his indoctrination and the grim realities of his life have left him with doubts and deep hatred still towards the people who killed his master—which includes the heroes of the Rebellion. Kanos is in charge of the Elite 'Imperial Guard', which has been reorganized as a shadowy special-forces unit, reporting directly to Grand Admiral Pellaeon.

Commander Juno Eclipse
One of he best starfighter pilots in the Imperial Fleet, Juno was re-assigned from her original post to serve as one of Vader's personal pilots. She accompanied the dark lord and his various shadowy servants on many secret missions during the latter days of the Empire. With the death of the Dark Lord, Eclipse fell out of the service for a time, working as a mercenary and smuggler out on the rim as she came to grips with some of the atrocities she'd been a party to. Ultimately, she returned to the Empire under Pellaeon. Her ability and dedication have earned her the position personal pilot to the Grand Admiral (though he often assigns her to work with his Imperial Guard on special operations). 

501st Legion
Formerly known as "Vader's Fist", the 501st is now known as the "Empire's Fist". The unit consists entirely of ultra-elite clone-trooper veterans of the Clone Wars. Some are original members, but many others had been transferred in from units that had been destroyed during the Rebellion and subsequent conflicts. Indeed, the 501st is probably the last legion to be comprised of these 'original' clones. Aging as they are, however, and through time and attrition, it is only a matter of time before the Ranks of the 501st will have to open to non-clones. But for the moment at least, they are undoubtedly the most skilled and experienced unit in the Empire, and they are proud of that fact.

Top 10 Star Wars Babes

Bear with me, folks. This is going to be an extra geeky post—though pretty self explanatory. In compiling this list I finally had to make the distinction between 'Babes' in the movies and 'Babes' in the Expanded Universe. Below are my lists for each, based upon my own subjective tastes:


10. Zam Wessel. Yeah. She was cute and all—and had that 'bad-girl-assassin' vibe going. But she was a freaking lizard (see? told you its usually some kind of big lizard). 

9. Rystall. One of the Dancers in Jabba's palace—you know, the one who was flirting with Boba Fett? Not bad, despite her cranial horns. Though... the hoofs would take some getting used to.

8. Tonikka Sisters. The two chicks hanging around the Mos Eisley Cantina. Weird looking maybe, but they are some of the only females shown in the movies—especially the first movie.

7. Ayy Vida. One of the Denizens in the Bar Scene of "Attack of the Clones" and the first of many Twi'lek's on this list. But please don't hold that against me. Remember that the majority of the women shown in the movies WERE Twi'leks.

6. Oola. Another Twi'lek and dancer in Jabba's Court. She's the one who met a very unfortunate end in the belly of Jabba's Rancor.

5. Beru Lars (the Young Version). She was cute! Too bad she aged poorly.

4. Mon Mothma (the Young Version). Ditto the above.

3. Aayla Secura. Yet ANOTHER Twi'lek. But this time, a Jedi Twi'lek! Nice. Too bad about the whole being gunned down thing.

2. Padme Amidala. Yes, I know. Padme is WAY hotter than Princess Leia. But Leia had more personality...and a gold bikini.

1. Princess Leia. Gold Bikini. Nuff said. Wait, no. She was just an awesome character all around. Love her.


10. Juno Eclipse. I hate myself for even saying this (because I HATED the Force Unleashed), but I have to admit that Juno was indeed hot. And it wasn't her fault that the main character and storyline of that game sucked so much.

9. Deena Shan. This is one from the Star Wars: Rebellion comic series. She started off as a bright, idealistic young Rebel agent, but quickly developed depth through some tragedies. Plus, she looks good in body-armor. I also liked the fact that they could introduce a character who was NOT a love interest of one of the FCs, just a 'co-worker'.

8. Shira Brie (Lady Lumiya). Introduced in the Star Wars Marvel Comics, this was the first real 'Sith' presented after the death of Vader and the Emperor. She also used a 'Light Whip'. Nice.

7. Jaina Solo. Han and Leia's daughter. I don't much care for the whole storyline presented in the novels, but I've always liked the kids.

6. Dani the Zeltron. Another Marvel Comics character. She was hot. She was dangerous. She was awesome comic relief. She harbored a major 'crush' on Luke Skywalker—which completely discombobulated the young man. Great stuff to read.

5. Mara Jade. You're an emperor's hand. Here, take your standard-issue skin-tight bodysuit, lightsaber and bad attitude. Yes. She started the cliche, but despite that, I've found some redeeming characteristics for her in my campaign. Still not sure about the whole 'marrying luke' thing, though.

4. Winter. Another creation of the Zahn novels (like Mara above). This one I like a lot more, though. She was friend, confidant, bodyguard and sometimes body-double for Leia. She was badass, but without the attitude.

3. Brianna the Handmaiden. A character in 'Knights of the Old Republic II', she was as deadly as she was innocent to the ways of the galaxy. That's actually a rather appealing combination. Plus? She liked to work out in a bikini. Nice. Oh. And she wore a version of Leia's Gold Bikini. Also nice.

2. Mira. ANOTHER character in KotOR II. This one is a feisty red-headed bounty huntress. I'm a bit surprised that she beat out Brianna for the number two spot—but in the end, I liked the blunt and straightforward nature of her personality. But alas. She would not requite the love of my character in that game. As she put it: "I'd break you, old man." Oh, how I wish she would.

1. Bastilla Shan. The romantic interest in KotOR I. Yes, she was stuck up and stubborn. But I loved her for it. And the development of the relationship between characters in that game was the best I've ever seen. It was funny, and poignant and highly entertaining. 

So anyway, there it is. And I'm almost ashamed to make this post. But only 'almost'. Enjoy!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Review: Graveyard of Alderaan

This is another of the book-format adventures that came out during the early 90's—and as with its contemporaries (Isis Coordinates, Domain of Evil, Death in the Undercity) it has some interesting new ideas, but also some flaws. I will explore both in this review.

In Graveyard of Alderaan, the characters (while taking some R&R) stumble upon a startling news (delivered by a dying messenger) that a miraculous discovery has been in the asteroid ruins of the planet Alderaan: the Royal Palace has been found—and with it survivors. The characters head to Alderaan to investigate—only to run afoul of an unscrupulous band of salvagers. Eventually, the remains of the palace are found. The rumors are true—but unfortunately (as Admiral Akbar would say) "It's a trap!" From there, the heroes have to brave both the dangers of the palace and relentless Imperial pursuit in order to find out just what secrets the palace holds...

As you see, this is a pretty straight-up plot line and the adventure actually does a great job of providing a lot of different RP opportunities, combats and problem solving scenarios. But then, these are the kinds of things I expect from a Star Wars adventure, so it isn't really extraordinary. One of the first things that DOES stand out is (oddly enough) rather tangental to the plot. The character's begin the game on an Ithorian 'Herd Ship' (a spaceborne city/starport). Full maps and short but colorful location descriptions are provided for the ship—presenting a setting that can be re-used throughout the campaign. Though it plays only a small part in this adventure, it is a great 'mini-sandbox' (much like the Kuari princess in Riders of the Maelstrom), filled with shopping and entertainment diversions that help players develop character.

Another stand-out feature of Graveyard of Alderaan is the 'Cut Away' device. Used in practically all Star Wars adventures, these are essentially paragraph-or-two 'scenes' (read by the GM at appropriate moments throughout the adventure) that show what is happening elsewhere in an adventure, outside of the characters' direct knowledge. What makes Graveyard's use of this device unique is the fact that many of the Cut Aways deal with the main Heroes of the Star Wars Saga. We learn that Leia, Luke, Han and Chewie have ALSO learned of the possibility of survivors in the Alderaanian palace—and are actually on their way. So essentially, by 'springing the trap' first, the character's have a chance to save the the feature characters! To make matters more interesting, it is even possible for the Empire to mistake the PCs as the 'Heroes of Yavin" themselves. This worked great in my campaign, as we had a female, a smuggler, a Wookiee, and even a starship similar to the Falcon—close enough to cause some confusion.

This Feature Character angle is played up through the whole adventure. Culminating in the final scene when "Lord Vader" arrives on the scene at the same time as Leia, Luke and the others. Everyone (hopefully) escapes, however—and back at base, the characters get a chance to share dinner and conversation with Princess Leia (who is sadly curious about what the PCs found in Alderaan). I've said it before, and I'll say it again I LOVE it when adventures tie back in to the movies and include brushes with the FCs. In fact, this is one of those scenes that directly backs up my own 'policy' on using FCs. It was hilarious in my own campaign when the players realized they were suddenly face to face with Vader's flagship. As the group escaped, Arianne was leaning in to the comm to speak her usual 'ego signature' taunt ("Love and kisses!") when most of the table (and their characters) leaped forward to stop her—"We do NOT taunt the dark lord of the Sith!"

Another great hook of this adventure is the surprise 'prize' the Character's can rescue at the end—in the form of an ancient Alderaanian War  Frigate—packed with military equipment. The story is that this ship was sent into hiding years ago, when Alderaan adopted its pacifistic stance—on the off chance that such weaponry would ever be needed again. Though it is only one ship, the equipment would still be a great help to the Rebellion. At the time I ran this adventure (in the early 90's), there was little information on the 'pre-history' of the Star Wars Galaxy, so I was kind of vague as to what 'ancient' military equipment looked like. If I ever ran this adventure again, I could think of all kinds of neat 'artifacts' for folks to find. From 'KotOR' era stuff to Clone Wars gear. Could be darn fun—even if the players themselves didn't end up with the gear, it would be cool to have a team of rebels armed with 'ancient' stuff show up later to help the PCs out of a tight spot (a squadron of KotOR era 'swoops' or the like). In fact, I kind of expanded on this very idea in my recent session with Steve2 (Rick Oman). He managed to find an ancient warship and weapons cache hidden by Canderous Ordo of KotOR fame.

So, with all this goodness, you may be wondering what my negative criticisms are. I'll start with one that is more annoying than anything else—the 'Players Lose their Ship' cliche. So many adventures have the PC's ship crashing or getting captured or being otherwise lost. Ugh. I wanted my players to get attached to their ship, not have to get a new one every time they get out. In this case, played according to 'plot' the players would likely have to abandon their ship once they become trapped in the Alderaanian Palace. Sure, they may be able to come back for it later, but its an annoying little side note that I dislike. I can't remember how I got around this one in my campaign, actually. Drawing a blank. If I had to do it again, though, I'd likely have the players get assigned a 'disposable' for some reason prior to going on this adventure.

But this criticism pales in comparison to my main problem with the adventure—namely the holographic 'ghosts' the Empire planted in the palace to 'break the will' of Princess Leia. In essence, part of the Imperial plan was to have these 'ghosts' appear and lament the fact that Leia was the reason they all died. While I see what the author was going for, it just doesn't work. My players instantly smelled a rat the first time they saw these 'ghosts' and began looking for holo-projectors. Once they found them, the impact of 'mental torture' was defused. Sure, it may have hurt Leia to see these things (if she had fallen into the trap first), but I'm pretty sure she woul d have figured it out, too. Having Force sensitive people in the party only hastened the exposure of this trick, since they couldn't pick up any 'life sense' information on the spirits at all. I remember trying to help the illusion a bit by having the palace still be tinged with ACTUAL spiritual energy—afterall, billions of people were killed on Alderaan. The whole place was like a 'scar' in the Force. In retrospect, it may have been more interesting to actually include a few REAL ghosts just to mix things up. Perhaps even have them intervene against the Empire.

Another area where the adventure may be lacking is its lack of any really memorable NPCs—though this may just be in my own mind—since the inclusion of the Feature Characters kind of makes everyone else fade in significance.

In looking back at the adventure as a whole, I find that I like it quite a bit—despite its faults. In fact, this one helped make up for the shakiness of 'The Isis Coordinates' (which was the first adventure to make me question just how good Star Wars adventure modules really were...)

Monday, August 10, 2009

Balancing Attributes

Helping to run an active Star Wars MUSH (online RP game), I was introduced to a lot of the best and worst tendencies of gamers. As mentioned in previous posts, one of my biggest pet peeves were the min/maxers who based their choice of Race mainly on what kind of 'super-stats' they could get. When you combined those people with the given stat maxima of several 'mega' races...well, you got trouble. I'm thinking here of races like Barabel and Coynite and Togorian and a host of others. Twinks would invariably go for one of these races then pump up their Strength and Dexterity attributes as high as they could go. So in some cases, you had things with 5D strength and 4D dexterity. Huge, fast killing machines.

From a game balance point of view, this irked me. But it also bothered me from a sense of realism. You had to look no further than Chewbacca for an example of 'realistic' attributes. Chewie was big and strong, but he was also just a bit 'lumbering' in his movements. There seemed to be a trade-off and balance there that worked with the physics of his size. He was strong, yes, but not as fast as his companions.

So, in the interest of both game balance and my own subjective sense of 'realism', I implemented the following rule:

A character of ANY race may not have more than 8D Total divided among their Dexterity and Strength Attributes. Thus, you could have a 4D Strength and 4D Dexterity (being pretty strong and pretty quick) or a 5D Strength and 3D Dexterity (very strong and moderately quick) or a 6D Strength and 2D Dexterity (extremely strong, but kind of slow). 

There was grumbling about this, of course. But I've held firm. It works for me—and it makes sense. I mean, you've got a body-builder with a 5D strength (like Ahhnold), he just is NOT going to be able to move like a small quick guy with a 5D dexterity (like Jackie Chan). Given the at lot of alien races share similar physiology to humans... and ALL share the same physics...well, like I said, its subjective, but if feels right to me.

Oh, and P.S. In my game, I've actually changed with the main six attributes are—so in the above example in my campaign, it would be Agility instead of Dexterity (in my campaign, Dexterity is separate from Agility). See this post if you're interested.

Oh, the humanity!

I've heard other people talk about the human-centric nature of the Star Wars galaxy before. Some seem to dislike it, most seem to accept it. I fall into the latter camp. I imagine there are a couple explanations as to why the main characters in the movie were all human. First of all, special effects at the time the first movies came out just weren't up to the challenge of creating a LOT of different races in a 'realistic' manner. A quick cut to one here and there was fine, but just looking at the scene in the cantina will very quickly point out that most aliens just couldn't stand more than a second or two of scrutiny. Chewie was the exception to this. He never felt fake to me. Yoda? Well.. he was a very well DONE muppet, but he was still a muppet. And the Ewoks? Well, Wickett was believable enough, but you could see the zippers and seams in some of the others.

But limits in costuming/special effects technology was likely not the main reason for the main characters being human. Simply put—people can relate to other people a lot better than they can to something that isn't human. At least, that's my belief. By having humans as the main characters, you can project yourself into their place and understand the things they're going through—and Imagine what it would be like if you had to. I feel that a lot of that would be lost if, say, Han Solo had been a lizard-guy (it's always some kind of big lizard!). 

Strangely enough, in my own campaign this turned out to be true as well. Without any guidance from me, almost all of my players chose to play human (or at the very least near-human) characters. Ruukhan the wookiee was the exception to this, but after a while, his player DID switch to a human character (Horatio). In the case of Bob the Tusken, I sat down with him prior to the game and we both worked out essentially what Tusken's were—humans (or near-humans) who wore elaborate desert garb. That's it. No tusks or scales or anything else. Just humans who evolved to live in the harsh desert of Tatooine. 

Now, I'm not sure if this human-centric thing was because of the way I ran my game or not. Maybe I was secretly prejudiced against aliens, but I don't think so. I tried to keep things interesting for ALL my characters. What it seemed like to me is that folks enjoyed playing them for a while, but maybe couldn't relate as strongly to them as they did to human characters? I don't know. Just my best guess. Todd, if you're reading, I'd be curious to know.

In any case, it is this relatability factor that keeps humanity on the top of my list of favorite Star Wars races. That's not to say I don't enjoy playing lots of Alien NPCs—they make for great contrast and add a lot of character to the game—but they don't quite hit home as directly a plain, boring humans.

Oh, and p.s. — one of my biggest pet peeves in Star Wars gaming (and I really only ran into this online) was the tendency for 'twinks' to choose races based solely upon stats and special abilities, and no real desire to play as an alien. I can't tell you how many goobers wanted to play a Barabel or Defel or Noghri or Esoomian or Togorian or even Gamorrean simply because they thought it would be a 'super character'. But like I said, thankfully, that never happened in my tabletop game.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

My Geek Runneth Over

For all my fans out there (you know who you are)—if you're interested in delving into the non-Star Wars side of my brain, please check out my other blog. Here, you'll find all the other crap that I think of that isn't in the slightest related to Star Wars. I began with exploring one of my current projects: My fantasy world. But I'll probably be blabbing about a lot of other stuff, too. Enjoy.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Mass Effect and... KotOR?

Mass Effect is the best computer/console RPG I have ever played—and this includes the incredibly well done Knights of the Old Republic series (though it was close with KotoR I)

In the game, you take the role of Commander Shepard, the first human agent for a galactic power known as the Citadel Council. Your mission is to track down a rogue former agent—but you very quickly discover a much larger threat looming behind the scenes. Accompanied by your rag-tag crew, you set out to save the galaxy—despite the odds and the fact that your own superiors don't believe the threat.

Mass Effect is a product of BioWare—the people who also created KotOR and Jade Empire. I am constantly amazed at just how good their products have turned out to be. They seem to hit the aspect I enjoy most about RPGs—the RP part of it. Where as most RPGs are more centered around killing stuff to gain experience to build up your character to kill more stuff to gain more experience, BioWare focuses instead on character interaction and moral choices—and the impacts of those choices on the world around your character. I feel that the people who complain about the combat being not as 'cool' as first person shooters or that the equipment you get isn't as varied as they would like are missing the point. BioWare games focus on story and character more than stuff. And if some of the side-missions are clunky or all the guns look the same, I don't particularly care. But then, that's just my preference.

As with KotOR I very quickly got the feeling that I was 'inside a movie'. It gave me goosebumps. Games don't usually do that. The absolutely awesome character graphics and voice acting certainly helped in this regard. The game pulled me in—kept me chomping at the bit to play again. Indeed, I spent more than one night staying up till the wee hours of the morning playing. There were even scenes in the movie that had me cheering out loud—especially towards the climax of the game (the scene where Captain Anderson punches Ambassador Udina springs to mind here). Yes, I was cheering at a video game. Geeky, yes, but true.

How does any of this relate to Star Wars? Well it really doesn't, except to make me sad. Why sad? Because it makes me think of what COULD have been done with KotOR II (if BioWare had been given a more realistic schedule for production) and what MIGHT have been done with KotOR III if BioWare hadn't suddenly switched their emphasis to an MMO.


I feel like a grumbly old man for saying this, but...I just do NOT get the appeal of MMOs. Maybe KotOR will be different than others, but somehow I doubt it. In any case, it will never be as immersive as one of BioWare's other RPGs. I mean, the first time you battle alongside 'Brewski_LeBurp' the Jedi and he totally PWNs some NOOB the fourth wall will probably come crashing down hard.

I guess what really bothers me the most is that KotOR I was so awesome and KotOR II was so awesome (up until the last few hours of the game) that I was left wanting more. Plus, they 'ended' the series on a cliffhanger—with the heroes of BOTH games heading off into the unknown regions to battle a threat to the galaxy that was even greater than that posed by the Sith or the Mandalorians.

THAT is what I'd like to see. Not only does it sound cool, but it would provide some closure for the story arc that I grew to love. When I see how they're doing things with Mass Effect 2, it makes the fact that KotOR III is not on the horizon all the more disheartening to me.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Enhanced Coordination

The release of the Heir to the Empire Star Wars novel trilogy in 1991 was the first 'big thing' to happen to the Star Wars universe since Return of the Jedi in 1983. Luckily, it turned out to actually be okay (I won't go so far as to say it was great, but... well when you compare it to the other schlock that followed, maybe it WAS great). With the novels came the release of sourcebooks for the D6 Star Wars RPG—and with the sourcebooks came stats and information on all kinds of new and interesting things. Among them were some new force powers that the author of the books (Timothy Zahn) had made up. One power in particular stands out in my mind, both because it was so pivotal to the plot of the books and because it made a sudden and very large impact on my campaign—so much so that I had to ban its use.

This power was called "Enhanced Coordination", and this is the description given of it in the rulebook:

"The use of this power allows a Force user to coordinate the activities of a group in order to increase their effectiveness at a given task. This power was often used by the Emperor to increase the fighting ability of his troops, mentally driving them on and supplementing their will to fight. This power may only be used on individuals who are in agreement with the intent of the Force user, and it in no way grants the user mental control over the troops affected. Rather, it links the troops on a subconscious level, allowing them to fight more proficiently and with better organization. If this power is successfully called upon, the Force user picks three specific skills. The skills must be the same for the entire group. For every 3D (rounded down) in those skills that the troops have, they receive a bonus of +1D. The Force user may keep this power up, although he must make a new power roll whenever new troops are added to the power, or skills are to be changed. This power affects only Dexterity, Technical or Strength skills."

The difficulty numbers required to activate Enhanced Coordination are as follows:

Control Difficulty: 
    Moderate, modified by proximity
Sense Difficulty:
Alter Difficulty: 
    Very easy for 1-10 troops
    Easy for 11-100 troops
    Moderate for 101-500 troops
    Difficult for 501-5,000 troops
    Very Difficult for 5,001-50,000 troops
    Heroic for 51,000-500,000 troops

At first glance this may seem to be only a moderately useful power—good at bolstering minor NPC troops. That was essentially what it was intended to do. But in my campaign, it didn't take long before one of the Jedi (Jared) thought to use it on our party. His Force skills were plenty high enough to 'Coordinate' the 6-8 people in our party, and by that time most of the group had skills in the 7D to 8D range. When you use this power with characters like that, you wind up with people with Blaster, Dodge and Lightsaber skills around 9D to 10D. A whole party of people like that. I very quickly saw just how unbalancing that would be to the game and had to disallow its use.

It wasn't until recent years, as I was working up my own 'Jedi Handbook', that I revisited this power and looked for a way to salvage it. Finally, I think I did just that—creating something that is useful in the spirit to which it was intended without being unbalancing.

How the power now works in my game is this: "it links the troops on a subconscious level". This means that everyone in a coordinated group has complete, subconscious 'situational awareness' of the rest of his team—as if they had a low-level telepathic connection. Thus, everyone in a team knows where the others are, what condition they're in. If a scout notices an ambush on the trail ahead, he doesn't even have to say anything to the rest of the party, or even use hand-signals. They just know. Likewise, if presented with a situation where there are multiple enemy targets, members of the coordinated team will automatically know which targets their team-mates are zeroing in on, so nobody will needlessly 'double up'. 

From a purely 'gamey' side of view, this power essentially allows players to 'legally' offer hints and suggestions to each other via table-talk—explaining it away in-game as that subconscious link. I don't allow incredibly complex messages or conversations to be held—just a few words here and there.

And finally, in those situations where troop morale might become an issue, Enhanced Coordination helps to offset fear and dismay—mostly just by letting the troops know, on a very solid level, that they are not alone in the midst of the terror and chaos of combat. 

You'll notice that this revised power does not have any skill or attribute bonuses to it (though I might consider giving a D or two to willpower if I ever had to check for morale). But despite this, I feel (and so do the few characters who have use it) that he power is still very useful. Plus? It does just what Zahn described in his novels—bolstering the coordination and will of his troops to fight.

In my book, this power also takes the place of the 'Battle Meditation' power, which evidently did almost the same thing anyway.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Where Are They Now: The Rebels

As with my previous 'where are they now' post, this is just a snapshot of some of the major Rebel PCs and where they are now in my campaign, some 13 years after the destruction of the first Death Star.

Mon Mothma
One of the founders of the Rebel Alliance, this elder stateswoman lived to see it's victory and the rebirth of democratic rule of the galaxy via the New Republic. But the years of constant turmoil took their toll—as did an Imperial plot to poison her. Though unsuccessful in killing her, the attack caused serious health problems. This as much as anything else was a catalyst for her stepping down from the Chancellorship—and turning it over to her Vice Chancellor at the time—Leia Organa-Solo. Though still available as an advisor to the new Chancellor, Mon Mothma enjoyed her well-earned retirement and has recuperated much of her former vigor. Though it isn't a very public thing, there are also rumors of a deepening of the relationship between Mon Mothma and Garm Bel Iblis—her former Senatorial rival. Since the Nagai attack, she has once again stepped into public life, this time volunteering her formidable talents to the efforts to relocate refugees displaced in the war.

Admiral Akbar
This now legendary Mon Calamari warrior has resisted all efforts to draw him into the civilian government of the New Republic—either as a representative of his people or the Minister of Defense. Rather, he has stayed where he feels he serves best—now in complete command of the New Republic Navy, serving as its Grand Admiral. A truly masterful tactician, Akbar's experience has been rounded by both victory and defeat—and he has taken each lesson to heart. As the true scope of the Nagai invasion began to set in, the admiral once again found himself in a difficult spot. Yet despite the initial setbacks, he was able to rally the fleet to fight a nearly galaxy-wide conflict. He took personal command of the fleet at the pivotal battle of Arkanis, commanding its capital warships in a delaying action that gave the heroes of my gaming group time to set up a trap for the Nagai.

General Madine
General Madine is now Grand Marshal Madine, in command of the New Republic Army. Much like his counterpart, Admiral Akbar, Madine has decided that this is where he may best serve the new government. Also like Akbar, he is one of the younger former Rebel leaders, and as such is very vigorous in his command style. On a strangely diplomatic note, he has done will in convincing some Imperial 'Warlords' to come back into the fold of the New Republic—simply by showing that a former Imperial like himself can serve with honor.

Garm Bel Iblis
Though he was one of the founders of the Rebel Alliance (alongside Mon Mothma, Bail Organa and others), this maverick Corellian Senator broke ranks with his fellow conspirators shortly after the formation of that Alliance. His brash command style just didn't fit well with Mon Mothma's more careful and measured approach—and from this clash of personalities, mistrust grew (Iblis began to feel that Mon Mothma was using the Alliance to further her own ambitions). He established his own rebel force, but it never had the following or impact that the Alliance did. Eventually, in helping the New Republic battle Grand Admiral Thrawn, Iblis was won back into service—finally getting over his problems with Mon Mothma (in fact, the two of them are rumored to be in a relationship now). He currently serves as Vice-Chancellor to Leia Organa-Solo and in that role he has re-written the book on how this office works. Iblis is a tireless watchdog of the Galactic Senate—unafraid to call things as he sees them, helping to ensure that 'politics' never get in the way of government (as much as possible, that is). He also serves as a kind of troubleshooter—often making personal appearances at major galactic events to ensure both public attention and top-performance by the various New Republic Agencies.

Borsk Fey'lya
This ambitious Bothan came to power after the establishment of the New Republic, serving on its provisional council. An expert political manipulator, his machinations contributed greatly to the difficulties suffered by the New Republic during the Thrawn crisis. Due to the clever intervention of Leia and her unlikely ally, Talon Karrde, Fey'lya's corruption came to light in a particularly public fashion. Politically, it nearly ruined him. But in the end, it may have been a good thing—as it highlighted clearly that eternal vigilance for this kind of corruption would have to be maintained or the New Republic would likely fare no better than the Old. A humbled Fey'lya eventually returned to service, however—offered by Leia a cabinet post as the Minister of State. Some (such as Garm Iblis) questioned the wisdom of this, but Leia was adamant in her belief that everyone deserves a second chance. Thus far, Fey'lya seems to be making the most of this chance—working hard with the Republic's many Independent partners to ensure alliances and support in the midst of the Nagai invasion.

General Dodonna
A veteran of the Clone Wars and the Rebellion, General Jan Dodonna finally retired from active service after the defeat of the forces of the Clone Emperor (during the Dark Empire crisis). He has since taken the role of Commandant at the New Republic Naval Military Academy, Coruscant. Thus, this 'old warhorse' is now responsible for training a new generation of naval officers—combining years of experience and tactical knowledge with the keen creative insights he was famous for during the Rebellion.

General Rieekan
Though perhaps best known for his 'defeat' at the Battle of Hoth, those who study military matters realize that the tactical skill of this man was the only thing that kept this defeat from being a crushing rout. By a skillful channeling of the Imperial assault towards the shield generators—and and away from the evacuation ships—Rieekan ensured the escape of the majority of the Base's personnel. But the cost was grave. Even years later, the faces of the soldiers lost in this battle, and dozens more through the course of the war, still haunt the General. Though he has considered retirement on several occasions, Rieekan's sense of duty and dogged determination have not allowed him to. He now serves as one of the New Republic Army's most experienced Generals, in command of several sectors holding out against the Nagai onslaught. Though faced with an enemy unlike any he's had to deal with before, Rieekan has been able to adapt his tactics quickly to meet the threat and his forces have the highest success rate of any front-line Republic force in the war to date.

Wedge Antilles
This one...requires a post all of his own. Suffice it to say that Wedge has turned down various promotions in order to remain where he feels he does the most good: behind the controls of a starfighter, backed up by the legendary Rogue Squadron. He's come a long way from the skinny kid who followed Luke Skywalker into the Trench of the first Death Star and is now considered to be one of the best fighter pilots and squadron commanders in the Galaxy—rivaled only by the Empire's Baron Fel (more on him later, too). 

So there you have it, just a few snap-shots of some major NPCs in my campaign. Hope you enjoy.

p.s. Oh.. and is it just me? or was young Mon Mothma kind of hot?