Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Great SF Games to steal- err..."borrow" from

Though I do love fantasy settings and RPGs, my 'true love' has been (since 1977) Star Wars and Science Fiction or Space Fantasy type settings. In my youth, however, I had very little exposure to gaming outside of D&D. The nearest gaming shop to my home town in South Dakota was three and a half hours away and the closest book store (90 miles away) only carried a limited selection of gaming books (pretty much just TSR products). I didn't have a subscription to any gaming magazines and there was no internet (god, how did I even LIVE!?) I pretty much had to stumble over something before I knew of its existence.

Star Frontiers
Such was the case with Star Frontiers—TSR's foray into the world of Spacefaring Sci-Fi (I don't really count Gamma World or Metamorphosis Alpha in this genre, for various reasons). The game system had its faults, but was playable enough to suit me. I loved the setting, most notably the races presented. The selection of adventure modules was pretty nice, too—running the gamut from corporate warfare to exploration to alien invasions (including a full-scale planetary battle!) to murder mysteries. Still, it never quite captured the 'feel' of the Star Wars movies. What was great about the setting, however, is the ease with which I have been able to incorporate many Star Frontiers aspects into my Star Wars game. I made an extensive posting on how Star Frontiers can be adapted for use with Star Wars here, so I won't go into it any further.

But Star Frontiers wasn't the only Sci Fi game I came across during my gaming career—nor was it the only one to influence my Star Wars game. In the rest of this post, I'll briefly touch on each of these games and what I was able to take from it.

I had heard about the Traveller setting here and there throughout my early gaming experience, but had never had the resources or opportunity to buy the game. When I finally did, I made the mistake of picking up Traveller2300—thinking that it was an updated/revised version of the game. It was not. It was it's own entity and one not...entirely to my liking. Still, a couple of the sourcebooks I picked up had cross-game appeal—namely the Equipment Guide and Vehicle Guide. The illustrations in these are great and the equipment is easily translatable. You know, looking back on it, I think my main problem with the game was the fact that the French were the greatest power in the known space. How frightening is that?

World's Beyond
I found this gem in the college book store during the early 90's. It's a complete setting and rules all in one, complete with a selection of alien species, construction rules for ships and some very nice maps of those aforementioned ships. My friend Doyce actually ran a short-lived campaign with this system (borrowing my book to do so). It had some neat artwork, some interesting gadgets and a few adventure ideas—but in the end, I still most admire it for its Starship floorplans, which I have used in subsequent games.

Battlelords of the 23rd Century
This was a game my sister Jessica bought me for Christmas one year—she saw the book in a gaming store near her—saw aliens blowing eachother up with blasters and the cover and said "That looks like something Roland would like." And she was right. I can't speak for the game system (having never really learned/played it), but there was a wealth of fun gadgets within. Indeed, it seemed to me that most of the book was taken up with descriptions of weapons and armor. The game itself seemed PROUD of its 'all combat' focus (a bit too proud for my tastes) but again, it had enough interesting stuff (and alien races) to make it useful. Bits and pieces were scraped up by Doyce for use in our World's Beyond campaign (he had an unnatural love for 'Ram Pythons'—giant, muscular barbarian lizardmen) and I've taken some weapon ideas from the books, myself.

I have no idea what edition of the game we played, but at least it more closely resembled the 'real' Traveller than 2300 did. This was another game run by Doyce and (alas) terribly short lived. In fact, I think Character generation took longer than our actual playing time. I only remember this game because I rolled up possibly one of the most bogus characters ever for it—and all completely legal. On a 1 to 10 scale, my dude (a space marine) had two tens and a 9 for his primary attributes, and nothing else below a six. In any case, I eventually picked up my own copy of the game some years ago. I enjoyed the background material for it and the races—they're good idea generators for sci-fi gaming.

Star Ace
I ran into this one pretty late in my gaming career—a very Star Wars-esque game by Pacesetter (the defunct company that did 'Chill'). It even goes so far as to have an evil empire being resisted by an 'Alliance'. Plus there are a race of giant bear-men (wookiees). So it may come as no surprise that a LOT of the materials for this game translate very well into a Star Wars setting. There are some adventures that rely heavily on references to Earth, so that would have to be changed, but other than that? No worries at all.

Though I never really got into this game, I did buy a couple of the books. I am a fan of the artwork—particularly of the various vehicles, robots and armor. Many of them area easily translatable into a Star Wars setting—in fact, I used the 'Deadboy' armor as the design for one of my Sith Villains (unfortunately, he didn't live up to the 'dread' this armor seemed to inspire). The Skelebots were also cool, as were the 'Bottweilers' (robot attack dogs)—and dozen of other things.

So there you are—and as you can see, I'm a huge fan of stealing from anywhere I can to fuel my own ideas. And on a final note, I'm not saying that all these games were 'great', but rather, that they've all got some great things to steal ;)

Friday, November 20, 2009

Star Wars Pet Peeve #101: Battle Droids!

From the moment I first saw them in Episode I, I was not impressed by battle droids. They just...well, look goofy—like a skeleton with a banana for a head. Not exactly the most imposing things in the galaxy. Some backstories I've read for them say that they're supposed to look like skeletal insects, but I don't see it. When you throw in their annoying 'roger roger' voices, they lose even more respect. Subsequent movies and cartoon series do little to better this impression. In fact, the droids seem to be played for even more 'comic relief'—offering snarky comments that seem totally out of place.

The saying is that a person can be measured by their enemies. What does this say about the Jedi, then, when they're hacking down hordes of goofy banana-headed, cowardly and inept opponents. Kinda makes them look a bit silly, too. I just do not understand why the droids were designed like this, from a film-making perspective—unless they truly were just for comic relief. In that case I think they failed (except maybe for 6-7 year olds).

On the flip side of this were the Destroyer droids, and later the 'super' Battle Droids. Both of these designs seem suitably menacing enough. The first really does have an 'alien-bug' look to it—and they were shown to be feared and deadly. The latter cuts a menacing, hulking profile that I would more readily equate to combat 'hardware'. But sadly enough, when they fight alongside the banana-head droids, they seem to call even more attention to the silliness of that design.

If the film-makers had given the battle droids a more human-like 'skull' head, I think my perception of them would be quite a bit better. Likewise, if they focused more on the 'inhuman' precision of the things, rather than trying to give them 'wacky' personality, they might actually seem like a threat. Again, one of my biggest peeves with the prequels is their wordiness. Why did the droids have to talk at all? Couldn't they just communicate via radio with eachother? in binary? Anything other than that 'roger roger' crap.

In one of the forums I frequent, one of the posters commented how the personalities of battle droids might actually have an explanation. They're cheap—meaning their programming and 'personality-matrix' probably isn't the best. If they go for a few months without memory wipes, perhaps they just naturally develop snarky and self-interested attitudes—just like R2's supposedly get quirky and stubborn. Well, its an explanation at least.

Monday, November 16, 2009

More on Enhanced Coordination and the Empire

I've already discussed my mixed emotions on the 'Enhanced Coordination' Force power—and the modifications I had to implement to make it playable. In doing so, however, I came to the realization that the original source of the power really made no sense.

As a quick recap, 'Enhanced Coordination' was a Force power suggested by Timothy Zahn in the Heir to the Empire trilogy. Essentially, he stated that the Empire was victorious and effective because 'behind the scenes' the Emperor's will was driving them on—helping to coordinate their activities to destroy all enemies of the Empire. This was achieved by a low level telepathic link to thousands of his soldiers across the galaxy—even if he was in another starsystem or sector.

The more I thought about this, the less it made sense.

First of all, just what large scale enemy did the Empire ever face? None. At worst it had to put up with a rebellious planet or group of planets. The Rebel Alliance was not able to face them in open combat (at least not for any length of time). The Emperor built up a gigantic military that could crush any direct opposition. Why then would he even NEED to 'drive them on with his will' in a personal sense. Unless, of course, he had a personal involvement in a specific battle, I'd think the Emperor would have other things he may want to do than to coordinate a few thousand of his BILLIONS of soldiers.

Secondly, if the Emperor DID step in personally on occasion, then it didn't really seem to help him. At least not based upon what we saw in the movies. Maybe you can chalk the Hoth victory up to some unseen 'dark will' driving the troopers on, but to me it just looked like a well coordinated and overpowering attack. But even THEN, they failed to achieve their primary objective and destroy the Alliance. Then you look at the battles of Yavin and Endor and you see two complete routs, with incredibly outnumbered Rebels carrying the day.

I think the main reason Zahn made up this ability was to give some explanation as to why the Imperial fleet fled Endor rather than staying to wipe out the Rebels—as they likely could have, considering the state of the Rebel fleet. There are (in my opinion) a lot of other reasons for this that do NOT involve the loss of the Emperor's 'Will to Win', however:

1) Breakdown in communications. Within the last few minutes of the battle, the Imperial forces lost their command ship, the deathstar and their base on the planet. Considering how centralized their command structure was, this would cause a lot of confusion.

2) Breakdown in morale. The trap that was supposed to destroy the enemy suddenly turned very bad. An emotional response at all of this is likely to be extreme. Even if fear and panic were set aside, when commanders get a bloody nose, the natural inclination is to fall back and regroup.

3) Politics. It has been stated (and shown) that the Emperor kept his underlings in line by fear and by pitting them against each other so none would become powerful enough to threaten him. When you remove the Emperor (and Vader) from the equation, you find yourself with a fleet full of hyper-competitive, backstabbing, power-hungry officers and nothing to keep them in line. Odds are that before the first of the Death Star debris impacted Endor, half the officers in the fleet were jockeying for position—thinking about the possibility of their own rise to power.

When you put all of these things together, you have a really good reason why the Imperial fleet decided to cut and run—and all of it without a Force power to explain it away.

Oddly enough, it is in the prequels where you see a more likely use of this power—in the form of the Jedi generals. I could totally see Enhanced coordination working in these more limited forms, with Jedi in the field using low-level communications to help them better command their troops.

Anyway, just some thoughts on the subject.

A Funny Force User Anecdote

In one of my shorter campaigns (run recently and in a separate 'universe' from my Vermillion campaign), my buddy Philip was running a young Jedi type named Mason. His skills were at the 'useful' level at this point. Where he was able to do a lot of stuff, but still had to be careful what fights he picked.

In one mission, he needed to get information on the doings of an important businessman. Somehow, he got in to the guy's office and had a talk with him—all the while looking for a 'personal item' that the person had—one that might be used with the Postcognition Force power. Finally, he saw that the guy's personal data-pad seemed to be very important to him so he managed to pilfer it. He retreats and starts to focus his Force powers- trying to look into the man's past and glean some clues as to what he may be up to. Unfortunately, he was not rolling well that day (i.e. the Force was NOT with him)... and he was frustrated in his attempts...until he suddenly realized he was holding the guy's personal datapad.

A little digging later, he found out all kinds of clues by just reading the datapad and...felt a little foolish for not just doing that in the first place. We all had a good laugh about it. But this isn't the first time someone has been distracted by their own powers. Its a funny tendency I think we all have to look for complicated solutions to more simple problems. Especially in gaming, there is the tendency to want to use your special powers or equipment—and you may lose sight of what you're really trying to accomplish.

Personally? I'm glad. It's funny ;)

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Force Powers

In preparation for meeting my old gaming group this coming January, I am once again trying to get some rules refined and grouped for mutual reference. Chief among these projects is the revamping of the Force Powers for the Star Wars D6 system. As the amount of source material for the game grew, so too did the list of powers. In many instances, I simply incorporated these powers as they were introduced, trusting that they had been adequately thought out and play tested for balance. I quickly found out that this was not the case (see my post on Enhanced Coordination for instance). More to the point, I began to notice a trend towards the more and more 'fantastic' Force powers. Creating and controlling gigantic storms that can devour entire starships? Creating illusionary copies of yourself? Generating energy shields around your body? Using the force to translate written text so you can read it? It all...started to just be too much for me. The Force was becoming more and more 'magical' and less and less like the movies. Even though my players really don't make use of any of the above powers, it still irks me a little that they exist.

So that brings me back to my current revamping. I am seriously cutting down on the number of Force Powers, while at the same time adding a few. The major guideline here is to keep the Force as close as possible to what we saw in the movies. There are exceptions to this rule, however, due to my own personal taste. In this post, I'll go through the list of what I'm keeping, and try to point out why I am. I may also point out a few omissions and discuss why it is those powers were excluded.

These were the powers we saw in the movies and that really seem to form the basis of the concept of what a Jedi is. I am ALMOST tempted to limit the powers in the game to just these, but...nah. I do like a little more variety. These core powers are as follows:

Absorb/Dissipate Energy
Shown in the scene where Darth Vader absorbed the energy blasts from Han's shots on Bespin. I've found it to be a pretty balanced power—its difficult to do versus blaster shots, as it should be, but can still be useful versus other thigns (Radiation, sunburn, etc.). It also makes sense based on the 'energy field' explanation of what The Force really is.

Affect Mind
This is a must have power. It's the 'These aren't the droids you're looking for' talent from the movies—used many times. It works well.

A troublesome power from a GM's viewpoint—as is anything that allows a person to see into the future. Luke used it on Dagobah and saw his friends being tortured on Bespin. The whole using it to see the past or present also seems to suggest it could be a form of clairvoyance...which makes it even MORE difficult to handle. But it IS shown in the movies. I tend to treat it more as a story element, giving the players possibly prophetic dreams or visions from time to time.

Force Leap
Many people seem to consider this just an aspect of Telekinesis—and I would agree that this would be the force to propel the Jedi, but it 'feels' better to me to have it in its own skill.

Force Lightning
THE signature Dark Jedi power. A must have for any Sith. And it also makes sense considering the 'energy field' aspect of the Force.

Force Sprint
This one was a surprise to me when I saw it in Episode I. And we never saw it used again in any of the other movies. Still, it makes sense in a toned down version—basically, it's just telekinetically enhanced running.

Life Detection/Life Sense/Sense Force
Each of these are different powers (and remain so in my game) but they all seem to mix together in the movies at various times. Yoda says that through the force you can sense living creatures. Ben and Vader sense eachother on the deathstar. Luke senses the darkness at the tree/cave on Dagobah. All examples of one or the other of these powers.

Lightsaber Combat
One of the most commonly seen powers in the movies—and the absolute CORE of the Jedi's powers.

Again, shown many times in the movies—and another cornerstone of the Jedi power. Also one of the more difficult powers to judge. It is one I am always wrestling with, because I do NOT want it to be turned into what it isn't in the movies. It shouldn't allow Jedi to 'fly' or rip Star Destroyers out of orbit, etc. etc.

Telekinetic Kill
Darth used this power EXTENSIVELY. Again, I could almost see it being just plain 'Telekinesis'. But it is distinct enough in my mind to warrant its own skill (just like Force Leap and Force Sprint)

Telepathy (Projective and Receptive and 'Beast Languages')
This is only shown ONCE in the movies (at the end of ESB) but it has evolved quite a bit in my campaign, to the point where I allow Telepathic folks to conduct conversations rather than just one or two word messages. Yeah, I know this is not what was shown in the movies, but...meh, I enjoy it, so I'm keeping it. At times, it seems the Jedi ARE able to 'read' people as well (or not—as in Yoda's inability to get a good read on just what Palpatine is thinking), so I buy into the receptive (mind reading) aspect of it as well.

These are powers which may be extrapolated from things we see in the movies, but are not implicitly demonstrated or pointed out. These include:

Control Breathing
I never mind powers like this that make sense and are 'useful' but not overpowering. This just lets you hold your breath for extended periods of time. End of story. It is debatable whether or not Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan used this power during their escape from the poison gas during Episode I. Some would say that was 'Detoxify Poison', but.. well, it's a toss-up.

Danger Sense
This one makes sense. Though (like many powers) never explicitly used, who's to say some of the Jedi's "I have a bad feeling about this" stuff wasn't Force based?

Instinctive Astrogation
Another power that may or may not have been shown in the movies—namely in the scene where Luke travels to Dagobah, stating to Artoo that he'd 'like to keep it on manual control for a while'. As X-Wings supposedly do not have navigation computers (according to the RPG) this would seem to support this power's existence. I'm a bit iffy on it, but again, it isn't an unbalancing or completely oddball power, so I'm willing to go with it.

This is a group of powers that are never shown in the movies, but sound plausible based upon the Jedi's 'mind over matter' philosophy and training. If you buy into that, then most of these powers make sense. If not, then you may want to exclude them.

Accelerate Healing
It doesn't miraculously cure injuries—rather, it is just a meditation that helps a body's own systems work better. Works for me.

I include this power in this category because it is essentially a modified use of 'Control Pain'. It is well explained as being able to escape bonds by 'contorting in painful (but physically possible) ways. That right there makes the power plausible for me and not 'magical'.

Control Disease
Again, makes sense if you consider it as focusing the body's natural immune systems—not just 'magically curing' an ailment. Could help explain Yoda's longevity.

Control Pain
The ability of a Jedi to focus on the task at hand, unclouded by other things (like emotion) seems to suggest they may also have the mental discipline to ignore pain. Works for me.

Detoxify Poison
Though I've enjoyed using this in my campaigns, the more I think about it, the less I like it. It's another of the 'body control' powers, but a bit less believable in my book. With control disease, at least, you're using the bodies own systems to fight. With this, it is more vague—are you actually altering the molecular structure of the poison to make it inert? are you creating anti-venoms in your blood? What? It is... iffy, but.. well it's mostly used in my campaign to resist alcohol. Not terribly unbalancing there.

Hibernation Trance
A very 'zen' power—and if you buy into the mind-over-body thing, then it makes sense and doesn't seem too physically implausible.

Remain Conscious
Mind over body, pure and simple. Ignoring injury and pain to keep going. Makes sense.

Remove Fatigue
Mind over body again. Makes sense again.

All of the powers under this category seem to be either related to the above powers or are somewhat plausible in their own right. I allow the use of them in my campaign, but often have to put some restrictions on just how they're interpreted as opposed to the somewhat vague explanation given in the source material.

Dim Other's Senses
Another very iffy power. Some folks point to the whole Ben Kenobi being able to move unseen through the Death Star (despite being old and somewhat clumsy) as multiple uses of this power. I can buy it as a simplified use of 'Affect Mind', but even remains troublesome for me.

The more I think about this power, the less I like it. The idea of being able to go into a trance and empty your mind—becoming more focused and 'zen'...that works. But the whole game mechanic of adding 6 to ANY Force skill roll for a time after its use is...well, it just seems 'cheap' to me, like an extra bonus for no real effort. Sure, at low levels a PC may get 'stuck' in their trance, but at higher levels it is just an almost free bonus. No sir, I don't like it.

Enhance Attribute
In a way, this kind of works into the 'mind over matter' philosophy. Maybe it's just using the Force to physically enhance things: bolstering strength or agility, etc. But again, it seems almost to be a super-power, and I don't much care for that.

Enhance Coordination
I've talked about this power in other posts. I won't elaborate here. It works if you revamp it.

Force Harmony
This lets light-side Force users combine their powers to resist the affects of dark side powers used against them. It makes sense and doesnt' seem unbalanced. All the same, it hasn't been used much by my players. Odd.

Force of Will
I like...and dislike this power. It makes sense to be able to focus your will to resist force powers being used against you, but I am not sure of the game mechanics behind it.

Magnify Senses/Shift Senses
Though I at first loved this power, I am a little more leery of it now from a 'realism' aspect. Just how does this work physically? Does it create a force energy 'lens' in front of your eyes to help better focus them? Does that 'lens' alter in order to allow the user to see into the infared spectrum? Or does it simply 'tune into' the natural energys (sound waves, lightwaves, etc.). If it's the latter, then...maybe I don't feel quite so bad about it.

Merge Senses
As describe, this power involves being able to 'see through the eyes' of an animal. It makes sense as a form of Telepathy, actually. Though it implicitly says it can only be used on animals, I wonder why not on sentients?

This is a cool power. But I'm still not sure I like it. As presented, it seems to be simply a modified use of Farseeing. Still, it can be very unbalancing if not carefully thought through. It seems almost like a 'cheat' way to solve mysteries. But at the same time, if you're very picky about what can be 'read' for impressions of the past, then it can work—by offering hints rather than simply revealing everything.

Predict Natural Disaster/Weather Sense
Meh. Neither seems to be particularly useful. But on the flipside, both seem somewhat plausible and not at all unbalancing. Why not.

Short Term Memory Enhancement
This is an oddball. It really doesn't seem to relate to any other powers—or maybe its just another version of Farseeing. If viewed in that light, I can understand and accept it—using the Force to 'go back in time' in your own mind and relive/review previous events.

Transfer Force
To me, this is at once a very cool and cinematic and also very...'magical' (which I dislike). Essentially, this is a power that lets a Force user give part of their life force to stabilize someone who is dying. It...kind of makes sense if you buy into the 'will to live' metaphysical stuff. It is also another way for players to spend their Force hell, why not.

These are powers that enhance a Jedi's already formidable combat abilities. As such, they are suspect to me. And yet, they have their redeeming qualities and perhaps make sense based upon what we see in the movies.

Combat Sense
This one was a little iffy, as you cannot really point to it being used in the movies. But at the same time, its relatively balanced. It can only be used versus a limited number of foes, and if your opponent is a Force user, they can essentially negate the bonus by using their own Combat Sense.

Force Wave
This is essentially area-effect Telekinesis, used for shoving folks around. I honestly feel this would belong under TK rather than being its own skill, but.. I don't know. Still thinking.

Martial Arts
It seems to make sense that if a Jedi can use the force to enhance his abilities with a lightsaber that the same might be true with hand to hand combat. This was shown in the Clone Wars cartoons in a scene where Mace Window takes on a bunch of battle droids. It works pretty much like lightsaber combat (i.e. add Sense to your attack/defense roll and control to your damage), but it doesn't allow the deflecting/reflecting of ranged attacks. I would, however, allow it to be used to safely parry melee attacks—though perhaps not lightsabers.

Projected Fighting
This is essentially punching people with Telekinesis—i.e. using your brawl skill at range. I hesitate to allow this power, because it almost seems to take the place of Telekinesis. I will have to think on this a lot more.

Melee Combat
Lightsaber combat without the lightsaber. This makes a lot of sense, actually. It would function just like lightsaber combat, only a Force user would wield a conventional melee weapon instead. Again, the ability to parry ranged attacks would be limited (or eliminated).

Many of the Darkside powers listed in the various sourcebooks seem to be just variations of existing powers. Some make more sense than others. Since I do not allow PC Dark Side Force users in my campaign, I don't really have as many issues with these powers, as I know I will not 'abuse' them.

Aura of Fear/Cause Fear/Waves of Darkness
This is just Affect Mind by another name in my book. Only as listed it is an 'area effect' type thing (the Aura anyway). I can see allowing this.

Control Mind
This seems to be a natural extension of Affect Mind. Overall, I like it.

Drain Attributes (Darkside Web)
I can see this as somewhat viable—if explained as leeching energy from someone else.

Drain Life Essence
This is like a large-scale version of the above—feeding off the energies of an entire population of people. The difficulties involved, however, seem to suggest only the biggest bad guys could get much use out of it.

Drain Will
Again, I can see this. Picture a Dark Jedi monologuing prior to a fight—but underneath the words, he is secretly trying to erode his opponent's will to resist. Heh, in fact, it makes the monologuing have a point for Dark Side villains.

Feed on Dark Side
This gives a darksider the a Force point for each Darkside point he goads someone else into using. Fun stuff, and you know...maybe this WAS shown in the movies, in RotJ where the Emperor finally got Luke to try and kill him.

Force Storm
This one is a bit much—even if I did allow it in my campaign. It is so difficult as to preclude it's use by all but the more powerful bad guys. Still, I don't think I'd use it again if given my druthers.

Inflict Pain
If you buy into the fact that a Force user can control pain, I don't see why the opposite can't be true. In fact, the idea of causing pain without physical injury is very insidious. Good stuff.

This power I have a problem with. It is easier and more powerful than either Force Lightning of Telekinetic Kill. I guess it has the restriction that you have to be 'touching' the individual, but that just seems odd in and of itself, since most other powers can be used at any distance with a good enough roll. The more I think about it, the less I like it.

Memory Wipe
Another seeming use of Affect Mind or perhaps Telepathy or both. Not a bad dark side power. Some might argue it could be used for good, but I'm of the opinion that purposefully reshaping another person's mind can open a whole pandora's box of how far do you go.

This is the Dark Sider's version of emptiness—a trance they go into that gives them bonuses for a time afterwards. Unlike emptiness, however, this power has a check and balance. When the Rage bonus subsides, the user actually takes physical injury from it.

Transfer Life
A very creepy power that is balanced by the extreme difficulty involved in using it. It adds a great 'possession' aspect to the powerful Dark Jedi's repertoire.

These are the powers that I flat out despise and think are stupid and 'magicky'.

Force Shield
While I buy into the 'energy field' aspect of the Force, I draw the line at actually being able to generate a force-field around yourself that can defend against all kinds of attacks. Such a thing would completely overtake the whole 'Absorb Disspiate Energy' power and seems to be designed simply to make Jedi even MORE tough in combat.
Reduce Injury
A force power designed simply to facilitate a game mechanic. Just how in the hell would a Jedi 'train' to opt to have his hand chopped off instead of being outright killed. It makes no sense and again seems to be designed to give the Jedi even MORE ability to survive combat. Like they need it.

Resist Stun
This is essentially raising a shield that prevents ANY stun damage from affecting a character. Why? I don't know. I just lump this under 'control pain' and 'remain conscious'—and do not allow the power to be kept up—otherwise, it is just like raising a 'force field'—which I don't like.

Right. Because the Force somehow allows a character to read a language they never saw before- or understand and speak a language they've never heard. I could see this as an aspect of telepathy (in regard to understanding the meaning behind someone's spoken words), but yeah.. not its own skill and certainly not something that is as (relatively) easy to use as this one.

There are some powers that seem to make sense based upon what we've seen Jedi do in the movies, and what we may accept them doing (like the 'zen' powers). But overall, I'm iffy on allowing them, because they make things more 'magicky' than I want.

Cryokinesis and Pyrokinesis
Both of these seem to be a specialty of Telekinesis, whereby you are either exciting or slowing down the activities of molecules in a subject—thereby freezing or heating them up. I can see where it makes sense, but I do not like the idea of fire and ice wielding Jedi :P

This is something I'm just now experimenting with—and I got the idea from the Clone Wars cartoon where an Ithorian Jedi uses a 'sonic blast' to attack his enemies. Based upon the Ithorian's supposedly powerful voice, and the fact he was a Jedi, I can see the logical of having that natural volume 'force amplified'. However, I wouldn't want to see everyone be able to use that power. Likewise, for the Tusken Jedi in my group, I gave him a special Telekinesis power called 'Sandstorm', which allows him to pick up sand/dry dirt/etc. and blanket an area with whipping winds and particulates that obscure vision and cause distraction. I like this idea thus far, but would definitely want to keep it limited—i.e. each person MIGHT have one 'special' power based upon their background or species, but they would not be universal.

Anyway, I'm sure I've left something out. But these are my thoughts thus far as I proceed with the project.

Monday, November 9, 2009


No, this isn't a continuation of my previous religion-oriented posts (hallelujah!). Rather, it is something that I have been thinking about very directly in the past few days—specifically in regards to gaming. Moral choices are a cornerstone of gaming—it is the thing that really separates gaming from other forms of entertainment. In movies, you watch as others make choices and live with the results. In gaming, YOU get to make those choices for your character and see how things work out. Some people (like myself) tend to keep their character's choices pretty close to their own viewpoints—i.e., how THEY would react in a given situation (or at least how you hope you would). Others enjoy playing completely against type—or explore the darker or more selfish sides of their personalities. Both approaches can be very fun.

But more than just 'fun', moral choices can add depth to a campaign, making it more than just 'kill the bad guys, take their stuff'. The reason I bring this up now is because I am in the midst of playing a console game: Dragon Age: Origins. More than just about any other video RPG I've ever played, Dragon Age truly centers around this idea of 'morality'—while at the same time never forcing you down one path or another. In fact, it has no 'good' or 'evil' system in place—and the choices your character faces are often very murky. Occasionally, you'll even come upon something that really doesn't have a 'right' choice. Something bad happens either way. And what I find myself doing is actually FEELING good or bad about what choices I made and the results of those. There is no 'game mechanic'—penalty, bonus, etc.—to go along with these choices. The are there simply to get you to think and feel 'in the moment'. The best RPGs are like that. Whether you play them across the table with your friends or in the digital world of make believe. The ability to feel immersed is real thrill (for me) of gaming.

All that being said, I'm not looking to 'escape' anything through gaming. I have both feet very firmly planted in the real world. Immersion is just a way to explore situations and hardships you yourself will probably never have to in real life—and in a way, it teaches you about yourself and your moral boundaries—where you draw the line. None of us can ever really say how we'd react in a certain situation. We all hope we'd be the hero, the person who does what is right, but until you actually face a situation, you never know—but through gaming, at least, it can get you thinking. And I love that.

So yeah, I'm rambling, but I wanted to throw some words up to at least try to sort out my feelings on this stuff. And it gets me thinking about Star Wars and my upcoming gaming sessions in it. When it comes to Morality, the Star Wars universe is pretty black and white. There are usually very clear distinctions. I like that about the setting. It makes for grand, heroic roleplay. But at the same time, I think morality is still key. Afterall, the central theme of the movies was the fall and redemption of Anakin Skywalker—who's moral choices first condemned then saved him.

At higher power levels, morality becomes more and more important—because simple physical challenges aren't...well, as 'challenging' as they used to be. A lot of old-school gamers talk about the 'endgame' of the original D&D game—where high level characters begin to rule their own lands, raise armies, wage wars, all of that. I'd have to say that's pretty much the phase my Star Wars campaign is in. The characters are movers and shakers on a large scale. Their actions have far-reaching impact. The challenge for me now is to start hitting them where it hurts—their moral soft spots. I want to start presenting them with a few shades of grey, and see where that will take them. At the same time, I feel it is going to be a bit difficult—because I really do NOT want to make Star Wars 'gritty' and realistic. Its...well, its something for me to consider as I'm planning.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Christianity and Star Wars

My last post got me to thinking about my beliefs and upbringing—and how it does relate to many different elements in my life, including Star Wars and role playing. Again, I'm not trying to get too metaphysical or preachy here. Just pointing out some interesting things I discovered.

Now, even as a Christian, I always wince whenever some Christian organization comes out with an 'official' stance on anything remotely related to role playing or most movies. I mean, just look at all the crap that Chick Publications puts out with its "Dark Dungeons" tracts and things like that. Its uninformed hysteria and fear mongering and outright lies, designed specifically to manipulate people into thinking and acting the way certain people want them to. Likewise, the furor over the Harry Potter books being 'devil worship' or the condemning of anything that doesn't take religion 'seriously' (say for example, Family Guy or South Park) just turns my stomach. Are people seriously that insecure in their faith that they can't see past semantics (the word 'Witch' for instance) or have the ability to laugh at some of the stereotypes of their faith?

Thus, it was with trepidation that I visited a website that took a look at the Star Wars movies from a Christian viewpoint. The Website (Decent Films Guide) has a tagline that reads: Film appreciation, information and criticism informed by Christian faith. It sounds straightforward, but I couldn't help getting an 'ominous' feeling about it. As I read the article covering the Star Wars films and their Moral and Spiritual issues, however, I was actually pleasantly surprised. Here we have a self-proclaimed Christian site that takes a very objective and rational approach to discussing the movies. Even the whole 'virgin birth' of Anakin issue (a huge thing with a lot of devout Christians) was dealt with in a very fair and logical manner. I was flabbergasted. I had expected the worse (despite my optimism) and was rewarded with something good.

Lets just say it was a nice surprise. I'm not certain of the site is as even handed about other films and issues, but I am glad it was about this, and if anyone is interested, please check out the following link. Yes, it is 'slanted' to a Christian point of view, but that's the point—that's the target audience. And I would give kudos to any devout family that actually took the time to do research and make their own decisions before blindly labeling something they know nothing about as 'bad'. God gave us minds and I'm pretty sure he wants us to use them. Faith is odd, it's believing in something you can't see, but at the same time, it shouldn't be 'blind'. That's a difficult thing to reconcile.

And...I'm getting metaphysical and preachy. So I'll stop. I will end by posting the final conclusion that the author of the Decent Films article made:

"For those who are adults and who are secure in their faith, there is little in the films that would stop one from using critical thinking to spot and bracket the problematic elements, while enjoying the other aspects of George Lucas's outer-space fantasies."

You'll note the whole "who are secure in their faith" and "using critical thinking". Got to love the fact that someone believes the two things are not mutually exclusive.

Monday, November 2, 2009

I am an optimist

Maybe that's why the Star Wars setting is so appealing to me. Yes, there is suffering and loss and dark times and seemingly insurmountable odds. But in the end, the good guys win. In the end, there is a 'happily ever after'—even if it isn't always long-lived. I think that this is where I differ in outlook from a lot of gamers. The thought of a cruel and uncaring world where the best you can hope for is mere survival for another day is...well, depressing. As is the thought that the world is inexorably falling towards doom and there is nothing you can do about it.

In a post over at Grognardia, James M. discusses his love of the Fall season and all its philosophical and emotional implications. For the most part, I agree with him. I love Fall. I love the idea of the end of 'easy' times—of preparation for a time of trial and difficulty. The idea of an 'end' to the way things were and a harsh reality to face is great (yeah, I have central heating/cooling and live in Florida, but like I said, this is all philosophical). However, I would not have the same feeling about Fall if I knew that Winter truly was 'the end'.

I love stories that begin in the "Fall", where things appear to be okay, but seem to be turning for the worse. The Dragonlance Chronicles, for instance, begin in the Autumn—where the heroes gradually discover that things are going from bad to worse. The second book in the series (Winter Night) details some of the darkest days of the story, through a bitter winter full of defeats and loss. The third book in the series (Spring Dawning), shows things starting to turn for the better until, through great struggle and sacrifice, victory is finally achieved.

In many ways, the Star Wars saga follows the same path. The second movie (beginning in Winter/Hoth) is very much the lowest point for the heroes of the saga. The third movie (with the verdant greens of Endor) is very much the dawning of a new day—the 'spring' of a new Galaxy free of tyranny.

If either of these sagas had just 'stopped' in the Fall or Winter, I know I would not have liked them nearly as much. Why? Because I AM an optimist. Don't get me wrong, I know that bad things happen (and will continue to happen) in the real world—and that for a truly dramatic story to be told, 'bad things' have to happen in fantasy worlds as well. But my personal preference is to always cast a ray hope for the future. Something that is worth all the effort that heroes are putting into achieving it—something more than just 'survival'.

The video game Fallout 3 serves as something of a showcase for these thoughts and emotions. The game is very immersive. The graphics are incredible. The options and breadth of the game are interesting. And yet, I simply stopped playing it. Why? Because it was so unrelentingly, hopelessly depressing. There were NO signs that things would ever get better. And in many of the quests, the best you could hope for would be "at least things didn't get worse". But evidently, that's what most people enjoy. The videos I see posted on You Tube are all about how much fun it is to blow up random people and sell children into slavery. I guess I'm just not part of that crowd.

I guess that's another reason I never got into the C'thulu game or game style. There, it is pre-determined that you will fail. Perhaps not right away, but eventually, you will fail and the world will fall inexorably into chaos and ruin. I appreciate the pathos of it—the heroism of people who KNOW they are fighting a losing battle. But at the same time, it isn't the kind of world I want to play in. Nor is it the kind of world I want to live in.

I've never considered myself devoutly religious. I was baptized in the Episcopalian faith and grew up going to a small protestant congregational church in South Dakota. I enjoyed my time in church—the fellowship and indeed fun I had there. But that hasn't stopped me from having questions about faith—from trying to reconcile my rational view of the universe with the existence of a supreme being. I'll admit that my faith wavers from time to time. And yet I always return to it. I do believe there is good in mankind—and that it IS the reflection of something greater than ourselves. I believe it IS important to aspire to that kind of behavior, even in the midst of this often harsh 'real life'. I don't expect god to 'come in and make everything good', but I do think that people can and do rise above their animal instincts to become that something better.

I don't mean to get all metaphysical here. Or to preach my beliefs being better than anyone else. This is just the way I feel, and one of the reasons I AM optimistic in how I look at life and one of the reasons I like to see optimism in my fantasy.

So now, perhaps, you can see why I don't enjoy a lot of the apocalyptic and 'gritty' Star Wars story lines in the Expanded universe. As I've stated before in other posts, I think that the Star Wars galaxy and the heroes of the Rebellion deserve a happily ever after (or at least one that lasts longer than what's presented in the novels).

So here's to a glorious Fall season—and I'm looking forward to Spring.