Tuesday, December 22, 2009


I am a huge fan of Director James Cameron. I became so when I first saw 'Terminator' in 1984. He was solidified as my favorite director with 1986's 'Aliens'. About the only movie of his that I didn't like was 'Piranha II: The Spawning'—and even that had its funny parts. I just want to say all of this so you'll know that I am, indeed, biased in my views towards his latest film, Avatar.

The simplest measure of a film (for me) is whether or not you enjoy yourself at the theatre. In this case, I did. I saw Avatar in Imax 3D, and visually it blew me away. While I realized that the film could be considered 'slow' in places, I found myself not minding at all. I became immersed in the setting and the story and was totally along for the ride.

That having been said, I realize quite well that the story of Avatar was mediocre. It was something that had been seen before in a lot of movies—like a mash-up of "Fern Gully", "Dances With Wolves" and "The Last Samurai". But that didn't matter so much to me, because however predictable the story was, it was still well told and beautiful to watch. Was it my favorite movie of all time? Or even in the top 10? No. But it was one of the best I've seen this year, for sure—and honestly, it was a movie experience unlike anything I've ever had. The 3D was not just a gimmick, it was so fully integrated that it felt 'natural'—but at the same time added a lot to the experience.

I suppose a lot of my positive reaction to the film has to do with the management of expectations. Just from the trailers I had divined that the story probably wasn't going to be too deep. It wasn't, so I wasn't 'let down' at all. That may sound like a bit of a cop-out, but I've found that expectations can really ruin a lot of movies—and I don't think they're always all that fair. I look to Star Wars as an example of this. As a kid, I had NO idea what the movie was about before seeing it. If I were exposed to the same movie for the first time today, I wonder what criticisms I might have. Taken at face value the story line of Star Wars is pretty simplistic, too—Rescue Princess from bad guys. Blow up bad guys' space station. It wasn't THAT original, either—with elements having been taken from various Japanese films and other mythological sources—as well as the whole Nazi thing. It makes me wonder how I would view Avatar today if I were a 7-8 year old. A friend of mine (Todd) said about the same thing when commenting on his experience at Avatar—in fact, that's what prompted me to write this.

In looking back at Avatar, I am pleased to find there are very few plot holes. For the most part, the actions of the characters in the movies were believable, based upon their own experiences. The one argument someone brought up to me was that in the final battle scene of the movie, the humans could have probably avoided a lot (if not all) trouble by simply flying at high altitude to drop their bombs. But my argument against that was that they were overconfident—and based upon battles earlier in the movie, they had every reason to be so. So it made sense within the experience of the movie.

Another strong point of the movie was something I consider a James Cameron hallmark: Strong Characters. I'm not just talking the main characters here (who were all very well acted), I'm talking even the peripheral ones. Oh sure, a lot of time isn't devoted to them, but you at least get an idea of personalities that make them believable as people. I mean, all the folks in the corporate base could have easily been played as corporate drones. But when you see them watch the horrors of battle—of a war THEY brought on a native species—you can see the sadness in some of their eyes, the disgust. And you can see a few who seem to have no problems with it. It just makes things feel 'real'. A real stand-out among the characters in this movie was its villain—the Corporate Military Security guy. He wasn't your typical moustache-twirling villain, evil for evil's sake. He had his own motivations and even some admirable qualities that gave him depth. For instance, when informed that someone is stealing one of his vehicles, he doesn't issue futile orders to his underlings to "Stop them!", then look on impotently as the good guys fly away. Rather, he grabs a gun, kicks a door open and opens fire himself. Hell yeah. Bad ass. Too bad he's the bad guy.

Anyway, I am rambling and could probably go on for quite a while about this. Suffice it to say that Avatar is a movie with a simple story that is told beautifully. What's not to like about that?

Monday, December 21, 2009

Review: Operation: Elrood

Thus far, my reviews have been more or less chronological in order, exploring the modules as they were released. Due to a reader request, however, I am stepping outside of that format to review Operation: Elrood. Though released in 1997, this is a module very much in the style of the early 90's supplements—perfect bound softcover that is a compilation of adventures. However, the three adventures included in this module are all interconnected into something that is either one 'mega-module' or a small campaign. Though released towards the end of West End Game's run with Star Wars, Operation: Elrood feels very old-school to me, making use of the episodic format with a fair number of cinematic cut-away sequences to frame the events of the adventure. It dispenses with the 'Adventure Script' beginning seen in many early Star Wars modules, however—and actually, I'm fine with that. Even in a cinematic game like Star Wars they always seemed 'awkward' to me.

The titular 'Elrood' is both a sector and a planet—part of a setting introduced in the "Planets of the Galaxy, Volume 3" book released in 1993—a book that should have been named "Elrood Sector Sourcebook" since that's what it was. It seems strange to me that this module was released so much later than its source material, as it could have made a great intro adventure to that setting. It is interesting to note that these adventures (more than many previous) were built as much upon the 'expanded' mythology of the RPG as they were on the movies. In fact, the central 'feud' is between an Imperial Captain and group of pirates who's saga was told in the original Star Wars sourcebook (1987), as a sidebar under the Victory-Class star destroyer. It just shows how much depth the game was beginning to build up—and I for one enjoyed what WEG did to expand the universe—unlike much of the crap that followed (oops, I think I just blew my 'objective critic' credentials).

After a brief overview of the Elrood Sector (basically a couple-page summary of the stuff in the Planets of the Galaxy book) the mini-campaign starts off with an adventure entitled "Industrial Espionage". Essentially, the PCs (as rebel agents) are working with a mining corporation to help secure the rights to a mineral rich world before a hostile Imperial-backed corporation can do so. Sounds simple, but the actual plot-line has a lot of twists, turns and side-stories. There is a team of fellow rebel agents that need rescuing from a band of pirates, a lost ship (with hyperspace coordinates) to recover from a Squib 'crime boss', and an aquatic mining outpost to capture (with or without the aid of fierce native eel-man tribes). Oh, and there is also the possibility of a traitorous droid popping up at the worst possible moment and a 'test of manhood' to prove yourselves to the natives and...well, I think you get the point. This adventure is chock full of good stuff. And in the grand tradition of this particular RPG, the author comments throughout that emphasis should be kept on keeping things moving quickly, even at the expense of 'details' like rules.

Another major strong-point of this adventure is the effort put into presenting consequences for alternate outcomes to the different situations—depending upon what the players do. Like all 'story' adventures, there is a definite path from encounter to encounter, but how the players HANDLE those encounters can greatly affect the outcome—or even how subsequent events in the 'chain' play out. To me, this is a MUST in story-based adventures—otherwise, players are simply along for the ride.

The second adventure in the book revolves around the hunt for a fellow Rebel Agent (the Spy). This is facilitated by a cowardly and treacherous underworld informant (the Fixer) and complicated by a vengeful crimelord (the Chud- or rather, Lud Chud is his name. No, he's not a Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dweller—though he does eat humanoids, interestingly enough). As with the previous 'act', this adventure is action packed—with the characters chased by assassins, aided by secret cults, smuggling themselves onto an imperial held world, delivering vicious zoo creatures and staging a rescue (or full scale battle) in a gigantic gladitorial arena.

Unlike the previous act, however, things felt a bit more 'scripted' in this one. The story felt rather too 'tight' for my tastes, with very little wiggle room presented for alternate paths. I think part of this has to do with the 'maguffin' of the Fixer. This NPC is the primary device used to keep the plot moving. And though he proves himself to be a very 'iffy' ally, the PCs are supposed to just 'accept' this and (according to the story line) put an awful lot of trust in him at times. I'm not sure most gaming groups would be quite so accepting. And if something did happen to the Fixer, there are times where it might mean the adventure would come to a dead end. Of course, all of this can be fixed if the GM plans ahead for possible 'alternate paths' taken by the PCs. But when you compare this adventure to the previous (and its carefully thought-out alternities) the difference seems more glaring than it might otherwise.

Another criticism is the fact that the players wind up losing their ship at some point in this adventure (at least, they do if the story line is followed 'as written'). I've spoken about this particular point in many past posts (how's that for alliteration!)—PC ships should not be disposable. And if they are, then a disposable ship should be 'issued' to the PCs at the start of the adventure. Okay, so to be fair the PCs get a chance to regain their ship at the end of the adventure, but knowing my own PCs, the loss of a ship is not to be taken as lightly as it seems to be here (meaning my players would likely get sidetracked on this, adding an unnecessary wrinkle to an already complicated plot).

The culmination of the mini-campaign has the players working directly with a planetary Rebel resistance cell in their efforts to infiltrate several high-security installations and (ultimately) sabotage a crippled Star Destroyer. As it turns out, this is an incredibly dangerous and complicated task—as it should be. In fact, this is probably one of the most difficult Star Wars adventures I've ever seen. There are so many variables—so many times where plans can go awry—that just looking at it, it seems impossible that anyone could succeed. When you throw in the fact that there is a traitor in the midst of the rebels, it seems unwinnable. And yet...it isn't.

As with Act One of this mini-campaign, the author provides all KINDS of helpful hints on what to do if this or that plan falls through. What is left is a very challenging adventure that relies more on players' judgement and characters' non-combat abilities than it does skill with a blaster or lightsaber. I feel this is important—because the payoff of the adventure (the Death of the Star Destroyer) really SHOULD be a huge accomplishment. Believe me, by the time the PCs are through with this adventure, they will feel like they have earned it. And importantly—it is possible to fail—something that isn't entirely common in many Star Wars adventures.

While I have pointed out a couple shortcomings in Operation: Elrood, overall I found the adventures to be very well done. I only wish I'd gotten this module earlier on in my gaming career (when our game was a weekly, rather than a yearly, event). I have never run these adventures, and in fact before reading the book thoroughly for this review, I had only ever skimmed over it. I was pleasantly surprised to find something of such high quality—though in retrospect, I shouldn't have been so surprised. Most WEG products were of exceptionally high quality and this one is no... exception.

Though I didn't go into this with each individual adventure, I would like to speak for a moment on the strength of the NPCs in this module. Not only were quite a few of them very well outlined (even the ones the PCs don't interact with directly) many of them were a-stereotypical- like the Gamorrean slicer and technical expert, Ratoog. Definitely not something you see every day. Though I almost ALWAYS find myself modifying stats to suit my own campaign, the inclusion of 'stat blocks' for the more important NPCs was a nice touch- if only as a place to build from.

Along with the people, a great many new (and older) vehicles and pieces of equipment are detailed, adding to the growing amount of 'gadgets' players can come upon in their adventures. I was pleased to see that most of these were very well 'grounded'—utilitarian items rather than 'super-guns' or 'mega-armor'. In fact, through many of these adventures, it is assumed the characters will be mostly unarmored, lightly-armed and undercover.

Another major selling point for me is the sheer number of different challenges faced by the players—not just combat scenarios, but all manner of roleplaying and tech-skill and stealth challenges as well.

One last point that I found interesting was the fact that the use of Force powers was not prominent at all in any of these adventures. While I found that refreshing, I also found it a bit odd. In many situations, it seems as though the author expects there to be no Jedi in the group at all (save for a couple mentions of lightsabers). There are quite a few encounters in the game where Force powers could readily be used to meet challenges—but this is not addressed at all, it seems. It isn't exactly a shortcoming of the adventure, but a GM with Force users may need to (while preparing for this adventure) remind themselves what wrinkles may occur when Force powers are thrown into the mix. It was also interesting to me that one of the NPCs who makes an appearance in the adventures (Imperial Captain Tanda Pryll) actually DOES have minor Force powers—but this seems to have been skimmed over entirely.

All in all, however, I feel that Operation: Elrood upholds the finest traditions of the 'classic' WEG game. And indeed it exceeds them in the complexity and (overall) open-endedness of its story-line. It is also, as I noted above, probably one of the most 'difficult' adventures any group is likely to face. As I also stated, I wish that I had this module much earlier in my campaign. I could totally see my guys going through it (though probably not QUITE according to what the author had in mind- but then, that's part of the fun). Who knows, maybe I can work this into some kind of campaign in the future?

P.S. To Paul Klein who requested this review. Sorry for the delay in getting to it, but I wanted to do it right, and between work and the holidays, that took a while. Hope you enjoy!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009


I will admit that in 1977, when I first saw Star Wars, the idea of a three-dimensional video recording was pretty cool. But then, that was in the days before we had two-dimensional video recordings. Likewise, throughout the original films, the whole hologram thing was pretty well done. Of particular note were the scenes in Empire Strikes back—the giant hologram of the Emperor, speaking down (literally) to Darth Vader. Very cool and dramatic. I can see why the Emperor would use such transmissions, as they make him seem larger than life and quite imposing. Then there was the scene where Vader was dressing down the captains of his fleet on the bridge of his Star Destroyer—only the captains were all holograms, standing at attention. As the scene opens, we see one of the Star Destroyers' bridges getting taken out by a huge asteroid. Cut to the interior and we see the holographic captain of this vessel lift his arms in terror, then disappear. It was almost a throw-away little scene, blink and you miss it. But it was really freaking cool. In Return of the Jedi, the whole Death Star battle briefing is done with holograms. I can totally see the utility of that.

Skip ahead to the prequel series and we see quite a bit more holographic technology. Again, some of it is very cool. The holographic Darth Sidious is again made to look more threatening by being a ghost-like kind of entity and yet quite 'present' among his minions. Likewise, we see a meeting of the Jedi Council where some of the members are attending 'remotely' via hologram. All of these uses seem practical enough in their own settings.

But there are some cases where the use of holograms just seems excessive, silly and/or impractical. Throughout the prequels, for instance, people seem to use holograms as the sole way of communicating. Why? Why do you need to see a full 3D representation of someone when all they're doing is calling you to tell you that they're going to investigate such and such. And then you have Palpatine, giving Order 66 to his clone troopers. Why a hologram? In fact, it looks downright...silly. With millions of tiny little Emperors giving out orders to the troops. I was struck by the same thing in Empire Strikes Back, when a tiny Darth Vader is demanding an update on the assault from General Veers. This kind of representation does little to maintain the frightening image of Vader or the Emperor. In fact, they're almost 'cute'. Awwww... look at little Vader! Isn't he cute when he's angry! Who's a cutie! You are! Yes you are!

In ESB and RotJ both we see that there is 2D visual communication available (in the scenes where Vader kills Admiral Ozzel and when Han pretends to be an AT-ST pilot and tricks the guys into opening the shield bunker). This would seem to require less effort, technologically speaking, and still suffice for most communication needs. In fact, with these visual comms it seems you could do a lot more things—like say...pan your 'camera' around and give the party on the other end a visual of what you're looking at. You apparently can't do that with holograms—as witnessed in the scene where Kenobi is attacked on geonosis and chased 'out of camera' by a destroyer droid. And when you throw in the fact that holograms are apparently in 'black and white' only (okay, blue and white) they just seem a lot more limited. For that matter, considering the apparent level of technology...why can't holos be 'in color'? The one in the death-star attack briefing in RotJ was?

In any case, I am rambling. Suffice it to say that I think the 'coolness' factor of holos has been overrated. I don't see why they'd be used ALL THE TIME for mundane communications as they seemingly were. I can see them being used in three dimensional briefings and in situations where you want to at least mimic a physical presence in an area, but otherwise they just appear frivolous.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Basilisk War Droid

So it seems like I spend a lot of time bouncing back and forth between Mandalorians and Jedi. And that is strange to me, since I wouldn't consider myself a huge fan of either. But.. there you go. In any case, this post is probably going to be a pretty short one. In the Tales of the Jedi comics (set 4,000 years prior to the movie timeline) an interesting new 'gadget' was introduced to the Star Wars universe—the Basilisk War droid. It's initial appearance (the top frame of the included picture) it...well...it didn't exactly blow me away. I mean, it looks like a...giant shrimp or something, with a bunch of gun barrels for a head. Just...bleh. Still, I always did like the concept behind it. Kind of like a giant, robotic warhorse that can also fly. Pretty cool. I was especially struck by the way one of the characters (Canderous Ordo) in Knights of the Old Republic spoke of the droid and his experiences actually 'riding' it in from orbit. Damn cool. If only it didn't look like a freaking crustacean.

The second appearance of the Basilisk was in the game Knights of the Old Republic II. And whoever designed that game either also disliked the original design of the robotic beast or was just too lazy/pressed for time to design it. Rather, they took the design of a much later vehicle (the Virago heavy starfighter from Shadows of the Empire) and just...called it a Basilisk. While I was kind of glad they at least didn't use the Giant Shrimp, I was still unsatisfied.

Thus it was, that when I re-introduced the Basilisk into my own campaign (found in an Ancient Mandalorian cache) I thought I would re-concept it. I always thought of it as more of a panther-like thing so... well, there you go. While I consider myself a passable artist, I am just not up to the task of designing my own robotic critters from scratch. Or maybe I'm just too lazy or pressed for time. In any case, I am also pretty good at photo retouching (part of my job) so I took some drawings I found on the web and mashed them together. Considering its for my own use and gratification, I'm posting them here.

You decide. Which one looks cooler and more 'Mandalorian'—Basilisk Mk I or Basilisk Mk II?

Friday, December 11, 2009

The Movie Timeline

Though never explicitly stated in the movies themselves, various timelines for events have since surfaced and I believe that Lucas has (for the moment at least) given his nod to make the current accepted timeline 'canon'. That didn't happen for quite some time, however—and certainly not during my childhood or even early adulthood.

Thus, there was always some ambiguity about just how much time passes between the movies of the original trilogy. It was generally accepted among my friends that 2 or 3 years passed between the first and second movie—and this was later backed up by the 'official' timeline. This passage of time seems most obvious when looking at Luke—who has gone from a 'raw recruit' in the first movie to the Commander of his own fighter squadron. Han's presence, however, throws a bit of a wrench into all of this—because if several years HAVE passed, you'd think he would have at least tried to settle his debt with Jabba. But maybe that can be explained away, too—maybe he tried to pay the debt but Jabba raised the 'interest' on it...or...whatever. In any case, most folks seemed cool with the idea that 'a couple years had passed' and so was I.

Where things got a bit confusing was the timeline between (and indeed DURING) the second and third movies. In Empire Strikes back, we see two main storylines progressing—Luke training on Dagobah and Han and Leia on the run from Darth Vader. On he one hand, Luke's training seems to be taking weeks—if not months (at least that was my impression) while on the other Han and Leia seem to be traveling just a few days to Bespin—where they spend only a day or so before being captured. And yet, in the midst of his training, Luke senses their plight and flies off to help them. Does this mean that Luke only had a couple days training before leaving Yoda? If so...wow. Fast learner. The explanation I came up with was that...they just didn't show the trip and how long it took for Han and Leia to get to Bespin.

A really geeky (no, make that nerdy) site that I visit occasionally—Star Wars Technical Commentaries—had an alternate explanation for this supposed time difference between the two stories. One that is very interesting. What they propose is that since the Falcon's hyperdrive was out, they had to use sublight engines to make the journey—thus bringing relativistic physics into the picture. Simply put, to the folks on the Falcon, only a couple days passed while their ship was traveling close to the speed of light. Meanwhile, time for Luke was passing as normal and several weeks/months passed (I'd say at least two months). I usually don't like the more 'scientific' explanations for things. But in this case, it seems to mesh well with what we see in the movie. So why not?

And then finally, we come to the ambiguous time between Episodes V and VI. There are all kinds of stories (Shadows of the Empire being one such) that detail things that happened between the movies. And yet to me it always seemed strange that a period of weeks (if not months) had again passed. I mean, it wasn't as though Luke and Leia didn't know where they were taking Han. And yet we have this supposedly drawn out chase with Boba Fett trying to get to Tatooine and rival hunters and friends of Han trying to stop him. As little time as hyperspace travel seems to take in the movies, I'm surprised Fett didn't arrive at Tatooine on the same day he left Bespin.

In any case, even if Luke and the others did know where Han was, I can still see them taking some time to plan and prepare. Afterall, Luke and Leia were both commanders in the Alliance. They no doubt had SOME other duties to fulfill before running off on what was essentially a personal matter. I also always kind of thought that Luke at least went back to talk to Yoda, if not complete a bit more training. Meanwhile, Lando and Chewie could have been doing recon stuff, planning how to get Han out. It may have taken some time for Lando to get into the Palace and funnel information back out to his compatriots. So... okay, maybe now I can start to believe that a month or even two pass.

Of course, these questions of timing only came up MUCH later in my Star Wars fanhood. The movies are so great that it never really mattered WHILE I was watching them. Indeed, it wasn't until I started up my Star Wars gaming campaign that I decided to try and 'lock down' some dates to work with—as it was always my intention to run a group through the times of all three movies.

What's the point of this post? Well, just me rambling, I guess. And if you've gotten this far- HAH! Gotcha.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Review: Twin Stars of Kira

The Twin Stars of Kira is another of the "New Republic" branded books. It is a mixture of sourcebook and adventure compilation set in an area of space around the titular 'twin stars' of Kira (two different systems in close proximity to eachother). As there is a great bit of difference between the various chapters of this book, I will discuss each in turn.

The Introduction
This section contains a quick overview of the section of space in which the adventures of this book are set. It also includes a map of the region—actually one of the first space-sector maps ever produced in the RPG. This is interesting in and of itself, in that the RPG had been intentionally vague up till this point about such specifics.

The Package
This is a short adventure designed specifically for smuggler types. It revolves around seemingly simple pick-up and delivery that (of course) has all kinds of complications. The strength of this scenario is its open-endedness. The PCs can handle the situation in a variety of ways—some of which are rather morally ambiguous (essentially, its a test of whether or not they value money more than doing what is 'right'). The weakness of the adventure is the scene in which the player's ship is sabotaged. As far as this adventure seems concerned, this will happen no matter what precautions the smugglers may have made. This seems jarringly 'pre-ordained' in an otherwise non-railroad adventure.

Lazerian IV
This section is more of a planet profile than an adventure (though it does have some adventure hooks at the end). It details a planetary monarchy that is (even in the New Republic era) a staunch Imperial supporter. As such, there are interesting hooks about a 'Republic resistance' movement striving against the monarchy. There is also an old Jedi ruin on the planet as well as a valley in which grow strange, force-related crystals. And to top it off, the oceans of the planets are actually home to a sentient race that has, thus far, remained undiscovered by the surface dwellers. Lazerian could easily be the basis for a small mini-campaign involving a struggle for freedom against its nobility. All in all, a rather interesting planet profile with lots of good ideas.

Den of Spies
Another relatively short adventure designed for a smuggler crew. In this case, the PCs become involved in a three-way espionage war between the Empire, Corporate Sector and New Republic for the control of a contested planet. The twists, turns and complications of the adventure are its strong points—and are also amusing in their absurdity (nearly every NPC met in the adventure is an agent for someone else—and some of those are even double agents). I also enjoy the fact that how the adventure plays out really depends on the actions of the characters. That being said, there is a plot point that states one of the PCs droids will be used to smuggle an important component. This assumes the group has a droid and also assumes that it will be used without anyone (including the droid) noticing. Again, that kind of assumption may have to be looked at and worked around.

For a Few Kilotons More
Though again designed for a smuggler crew, this adventure is easily translatable into an intelligence campaign. In either case, the PCs become involved in assisting a Republic-Sympathetic corporation that has been suffering from mysterious 'accidents' that have impaired its operations. What this essentially amounts to is riding shotgun on a speeder-truck caravan of unstable crystals that can explode if jostled or heated up. And as with most smuggler adventures (at least in this book) there is a major twist and betrayal that the PCs are likely to discover. Again, many of the events are left very open-ended and it is possible that too-trusting PCs may be in for a very bad surprise indeed. All in all, I don't have any major gripes with this adventure, it is simple, but with a nice twist. About the only negative I do have is that the reasoning for the convoy is a bit shakey. Why wouldn't/couldn't the players use their own ship to move the cargo instead of using the trucks? I recall having to make up some technobabble explanation for this when I ran the adventure. So GMs be aware.

Ropagi II
This, like the section on Lazerian, is a planet profile rather than an adventure proper. In this case, it details a world of highly intelligent and pacifistic beings (two species actually, a near-human race and a race of floating jellyfish critters) who seek knowledge through removal from conflict. At first this may seem like a rather poor location for adventure, but as it turns out, the 'brainiacs' on this planet need 'people of action' to carry out their less scholarly activities (trade, etc.) so the world has a bustling and even somewhat rowdy 'offworlders' city—a good layover or base of operations for a tramp freighter crew. The section also provides details on a couple interesting NPCs—the tough-as-nails security chief of the offworlders section, Leesa One-Eye, and Kird Telak, the leader of a band of ruthless space pirates (Telak's Terrors) who base themselves in the system. It is an interesting and unique planet that is easy to insert into any campaign.

Treasure Hunt
While I like the overall idea of this adventure, the execution of it leaves a lot to be desired in my book. Simply put, it is just too silly. The general plot is that the characters become involved in a search for a long-lost treasure ship—up against a rival starship crews and a band of space pirates. Sounds cool, right? But it begins with a lisping squirrel-man (Captain of the Tathty Acorn) getting the group involved. It then includes a giant starfish-man who wears a fedora hat and another alien made out of molten metal (a-la Terminator 2). Oh, then there is the spider-alien guy who's ship is called the Black Widow. Get it? Bleh. In any case, the adventure /is/ salvageable—but I don't really like the ending. Its the typical "most of the treasure gets destroyed" scenario, added to the "what treasure the PCs do get is taxed to hell so they only get a little money out of the deal". This all seems too bait and switch. I'm not saying you just GIVE the PCs a lot of money, but at least give them a remote change of a huge payoff, if they're lucky AND smart. And as a GM you should be prepared for what might happen if your PCs suddenly DO get rich.

Pet Show
Much like the above adventure, I like the concept of the Pet Show a lot more than the execution. The plot involves a group of Republic (or even Rebel) spies trying to embarrass an Imperial Governor by sabotaging his entry into a planetary 'strange animal' competition/show. Unfortunately, the plot just feels railroady—with the author several times describing what the players 'should do' and even how they will react to certain situations. Plus, the whole adventure feels just a little frivolous. Perhaps this is the intention—to be a little light-hearted romp like an episode of Hogan's Heroes. But I would almost like to see there be some consequence to the mission other than an irate governor. Perhaps instead of just being disgraced, he is disgraced in front of an important superior and demoted or something. Maybe that's just me, though.

Freedom Strike Seltos
This is one of my favorite adventures in this compilation. I feel that it perfectly captures the changing nature of the New Republic era galaxy. In this case, the PCs are agents for the New Republic, sent to investigate a possible Imperial saboteur among the government of a newly joined member world. There is a feeling of diplomatic caution—the PCs must accomplish their mission without pissing off the local government—or indeed without the locals even really knowing that they're there. The idea of an "Imperial Resistance" operating out of a wilderness base is cool, too—completely turning the typical Star Wars plot on its ear. The set pieces of the adventure are great, too—undercover infiltration and investigation, attacking an enemy base and liberating hostages from a high-rise. Pretty good for just 11 pages.

The Iskallon Factor
This adventure suffers from the fact that it feels like a straight rip-off of a Star Trek villain—namely, the Borg. The Iskallon are a race of humanoid-cyborgs who hope to grow by assimilating others and their technology into their society. The plot has the characters tricked into visiting the Iskallon's home system. There, they are captured and slated for modification into cyborgs. They must then escape. The artwork in this adventure even goes as far as to show some of the aliens looking almost EXACTLY like Picard did in the classic episode where he is assimilated. I am all for stealing ideas, but this just felt too blatant to me. Plus the adventure has a couple deal-breaking cliches in it for me: 1) The players ship MUST be sabotaged for the events of the adventure to play out as written, thus making it 'inevitable' and 2) the players MUST be captured. So.. yeah, resistance is futile. You will be assimilated into the railroady nature of this adventure.

So, there you have it. Overall, The Twin Stars of Kira has a lot to recommend it, but it also has a couple 'stinkers' in there that left a sour taste in my mouth. When compared to the excellent quality of most other Star Wars RPG books up to this one, the drop seemed noticeable to me at the time (though moreso then than it does now).

Top Ten "Coolest" Star Wars Characters

As with all top ten lists, this one is highly subjective. And when I say 'cool', I don't mean entirely in a 'Fonzie' kind of way (as you will see from the list below). Rather, I take 'cool' in this case by the more dictionary definition of: "characterized by great facility; highly skilled or clever" as well as other intangible things that appeal most to me. So without further ado... (drumroll)

10. Cad Bane.
Okay, this surprised me, too. A newly introduced character from the animated series? I mean, a year ago I pretty much hated that show, but now? It's growing on me—and Cad Bane is one of the reasons why. He's a badass bounty hunter who cuts a classic 'cowboy' figure without looking stupid. That he was modeled after classic western bad man Lee Van Cleef is, in retrospect, obvious—and again surprisingly cool. It helps that he's incredibly clever and dangerous—a gunman who can outsmart and often outfight even multiple Jedi. No small feat. It does my heart good that here we see an example of what a good Jedi foil is. It helps stick a pin in the arguments of all those 'Jedi are invincible' types.

9. Bollux/Blue-Max
Something of a cop-out, since they're two different characters, but on the other hand, one of them is actually housed in the chest of the other. This droid duo was introduced in the Han Solo trilogy (no, not the lame 'Corellian' trilogy). They were THE droids of that Saga, taking the place of R2 and 3PO and doing a good job of being both comic relief and indomitable allies. They played off each other very well, with Bollux as the drawling, old, beat-up working-class labor droid and Max as the young, enthusiastic, top-of-the-line micro-computer hacker. In what could have been a 'disposable' role as the sidekicks of Han Solo, they turned out to be awesome and memorable characters in their own right.

8. Darth Revan
This one was actually a difficult call—because Revan is a video game character who's personality (and even sex!) varies depending upon who plays him (or her!). That having been said, I was completely enthralled with the character concept—and caught wonderfully off-guard when it is revealed in the game that the 'my' character used to be THE Dark Lord of the Sith, and was now suffering from amnesia. That's just... cool. Very cool. Not that I ever have (or ever would) play a 'bad' character, but to suddenly have this 'dark past' thrown into your character concept was such a memorable thing. And then there are the dialogue choices you can make in the game. I don't know about anyone else, by my Revan was kind of a smart-ass, and I loved that.

7. General Veers
I've spoken about his coolness in a separate post. He's probably the only competent Imperial officer we see in the original series. But it goes beyond just that. He freaking leads the assault personally, and even as his walker was being fired on (and others of his walkers were being destroyed), he was all calm and badass and confident. "The shield will be down in moments. You may start your landing."

6. Baron Fel
The first (but not only) Corellian on this list. He's the Empire's top fighter ace, leading his wing of elite TIE Interceptor pilots. Obviously modeled after the Red Baron, Fel cuts a kind of tragic figure, being clever enough to realize that the Empire is evil, and yet stubborn enough to think that may change (at least, that was my impression of him). I never cared for his whole 'married to the long-lost sister of Wedge Antilles' plotline, but it didn't stop me from enjoying the character.

5. Mira
I generally don't like the 'cliche bad girl' type (you know, the Mara Jade, tough, good at everything, cynical, yadda yadda), but for some reason, Mira (from the video game Knights of the Old Republic II) was different. She WAS tough, and cynical and a Mandalorian to boot. By all rights, she should have annoyed me. But.. she didn't because there was something appealing about her (I mean besides the fact she was a smoking hot redhead). She was honest (bluntly so) and even personable once you got to know her. I think I liked the fact that she was 'grounded'—she didn't have all the 'baggage' or drama of the Handmaiden or Visas Marr (the other ladies in that game). And if I'd had my druthers, she would have been the top choice for romance. But alas, twas not to be. Mira put it best when she said. "I'd break you, old man."

4. HK-47
You're going to find a lot of KotOR characters on this list—and for good reason. They are some of the most unique, funny and best written characters in the Star Wars universe. HK-47 is a prime example of this—and goes completely against the type of character I would normally like. He's an a-moral, bloodthirsty assassin droid who hates all 'meatbag' life forms. And yet he is hilarious and endearing in his own right. He had me laughing out loud on many occasions, but at the same time, he wasn't just comic relief. He was a badass, too.

3. Jolee Bindo
The last (and top) KotOR character on the list. Jolee was a cantankerous old Jedi who, after an adventurous youth, had a falling out with the Jedi order and turned hermit. I love him because he was a maverick. He was a Jedi who actually DID something. He became a smuggler to aid those in need (and ignored by galactic politicians). He fell in love and took a wife—completely against Jedi tradition. He was a HUMAN, not just a Jedi. And yeah, that eventually got him into trouble—the whole tragedy with his wife turning to the Dark Side. But that only gives him more pathos—and wisdom. Of all the characters in KotOR, I found myself really 'feeling' for Jolee and wanting his 'approval' as a kind of father figure. His whole take on love and emotion versus the Jedi code was truly awesome, too: "Love doesn't lead to the darkside. Passion can lead to rage and fear, and can be controlled, but passion is not the same thing as love. Controlling your passions while being in love, that's what they should teach you to beware, but love itself will save, not condemn you." When you add some really cool wisdom like this to the humor Jolee always produced you have one really, really cool character.

2. Wedge Antilles
Again, I have spoke at length about why I find wedge to be awesome. It may surprise my friends that Wedge is only number 2 on this list. But when you see number 1, you'll realize why. Oh, and by the way? Another Corellian.

1. Han Solo
Though Luke Skywalker has always been (and will always be) my personal hero, there is no denying that Han Solo is, by far, the coolest character in the Star Wars universe. From the name to the ship to the awesome lines, there are none greater. I don't know what else I can say that everyone doesn't already know. Oh, and he gets the girl, too. The one in the hot gold bikini. Awesome.

Honorable Mentions
As spunky and downright useful as this guy is, it was a hard choice not to have him on the top ten. But in the end, I had to make the cut. But consider him number 11!

Gallandro the Gunman
A villain in the Han Solo novels, he only missed the top-ten because of his goofy moustache (come on, he wore it with little beads tied into it? Lame).

Emperor Palpatine
You have to give it to him. He was smart as well as evil. In fact, I loved seeing his plan unfold in the prequels. It was one of the best things about those movies.

The Jedi Exile
From KotOR II. I didn't find the character quite as compelling as Revan, but the way he/she told the Jedi council to STICK IT (by jamming his/her lightsaber into a stone pillar and then walking out) was awesome. Because my GOD, did the council in that game NEED to be smacked. Bunch of self-righteous windbags.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Automatic Weapons

But enough already about all this Jedi stuff. Lets talk about something I have never really seen done well in a game system before: automatic weapons. I recall the GDW system (Twilight 2000 and Dark Conspiracy) having especially clunky systems. In fact, in the original Dark Conspiracy game, fully automatic weapon fire was almost completely left up to chance to score a hit. Skill had little to no affect upon it. I have tried on several occasions in the past to come up with my own system, but these too have always come up short. It wasn't until I spoke (at length and in-depth) with my friend Philip (who spent several years in the 82nd Airborne) that I finally started to get a grasp on something that was abstract and yet 'realistic' enough to satisfy me.

In my game, Automatic weapons essentially break down into two modes of fire.

This covers weapons that fire a 'short' or controlled burst. This mode of fire is used to try to increase the chance of hitting a single target—possibly with several shots. The exact bonus to hit is determined by the number of rounds fired in a controlled burst. Generally speaking, lighter weapons fire more shots in a burst than heavier. Consult the chart below to find the bonus for number of rounds in a burst.

3-Rnd Burst = 0D+2 Bonus to Hit
4-Rnd Burst = 1D Bonus to Hit
5-Rnd Burst = 1D+1 Bonus to Hit
6-Rnd Burst = 1D+2 Bonus to Hit

Once you've determined the bonus, you add it to the shooter's marksmanship (Blaster) skill and roll to hit as normal. From there, you consult the chart below to see how many rounds hit.

Hit Roll <= Difficulty = No Hits
Hit Roll > Difficulty = 1 Shot Hits
Hit Roll > Difficulty +5 = 2 Shots Hit
Hit Roll > Difficulty +10 = 3 Shots Hit
Hit Roll > Difficulty +15 = 4 Shots Hit*

* Of course the total number of hits cannot exceed the number of rounds fired in the burst.

This covers weapons that fire an extended burst designed for area suppression. The idea here is to fill an area with shots in the hopes of hitting anything trying to move through it. For the sake of simplicity, all weapons capable of firing in this mode fire 15-Round Bursts. The area covered by this fire is roughly 5m wide by 2m deep. This results in a 2D Bonus to hit. The procedure for autofire would go something like this:

1) Roll to Hit: Marksmanship (Blaster) skill + 2D burst bonus - Any penalties for wounds, multiple actions, etc.

2) Determine Difficulty to hit the target area. This is solely dependent on the range of the area from the shooter.

3) Compare the hit roll to the difficulty number and consult the following chart to see how many rounds actually hit the area

Hit Roll <= Difficulty = No Hits
Hit Roll > Difficulty = 1 Hit
Hit Roll > Difficulty + 5 = 2 Hits
Hit Roll > Difficulty + 10 = 3 Hits

4) Now compare the Hit roll (from Step 1) with the defense roll (dodge + cover) of any targets within the area. If the hit roll exceeds the defense roll of a target, that target is hit. NOTE: It is possible to hit an area and still miss everyone in that area if they dodge well enough.

5) Finally, divide all hits in the area evenly among all the targets in that area that were actually hit. Any odd/remaining hit will strike the person with the lowest dodge/defense.


1) Bob is battling 3 stormtroopers.

2) Since the three stormtroopers are all in close proximity to eachother (all w/in the 5 x 2m area), Bob decides he will use autofire to take out all three (or at least get them to keep their heads down).

3) Drew fires off a 15-round burst from his light-repeating blaster. He rolls his marksmanship skill + 2D extended burst bonus and gets a 28.

4) The range to the three troopers is medium- the GM determines Bob needs a 14 to hit.

5) Since bob beat the difficulty number by 14 points, he scores three hits in the area.

6) The three troopers dodge the incoming fire. They roll their dodge skills.
Trooper 1 rolls a 29
Trooper 2 rolls a 24
Trooper 3 rolls a 12

7) Since Trooper 1's dodge roll was higher than Bob's to-hit roll, he avoids being shot. Troopers 2 and 3, however, are hit. Thus, three hits were scored on 2 targets.

8) Applying the 3 on-target shots against the 2 people in the area that were hit. Thus, Trooper2 gets hit once and poor trooper3 gets hit twice.

In a standard Star Wars game, the 'stock' light repeating blaster is capable of firing both controlled bursts and autofire. The heavy repeating blaster can fire only in autofire mode.

In general, a person may fire no more than 3 controlled bursts or 2 extended bursts in a single combat round.

Rules for other automatic weapons (such as slughthrowers) will have to be determined by the GM—but in practice, I've found this system to be workable and relatively balanced. The bonus to hit is offset somewhat by the faster consumption of ammo—even with weapons that have 100-round magazines.

I have also found that these weapons make a good foil for a lightsaber wielding force-user. This seems to be backed up in the prequels at least when Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan have to retreat from destroyer droids and their automatic blaster-fire.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Lightsaber Forms

Though I've spoken at length about Force powers and the sometimes chore of ensuring their balance within the game. There are some additional rules that I just can't help but tinker with, even if I'm not exactly sure how much they can impact that balance. The area of lightsaber forms is one such rule set.

Essentially, this means that Force users can learn different fighting styles with their lightsaber. Each one (theoretically) has its own benefits and drawbacks. The forms I am going to detail below are compiled from a couple different online sources, so if the names or details don't exactly match whatever you know, that's why.

Shii-Cho Form
Description: This is basic lightsaber combat
Benefits: None
Drawbacks: None
Prerequisites: 2D Lightsaber (Melee), Control, Sense

Makashi Form
Description: This form focuses specifically on hand-to-hand duels, to the detriment of defense against ranged attacks.
Benefits: +1D on Defense vs. Lightsaber/Melee
Drawbacks: -1D on Defense vs. Ranged Attack/Reflection
Prerequisites: 3D Lightsaber, Control, Sense

Soresu Form:
Description: This form focuses on tight defensive maneuvers, at the expense of offense
Benefits: +1D on Defense vs. All Attack forms
Drawbacks: -1D on Attack/Reflection
Prerequisites: 3D Lightsaber, Control, Sense

Shien or Djem Sho Forms
Description: Two similar forms that focus on turning an opponent's attacks back against them.
Benefits: +1D on Reflection
Drawbacks: -1D on Attack
Prerequisites: 5D Lightsaber, Control, Sense

Ataru Form:
Description: This is an acrobatic style, utilizing telekinetically enhanced leaps and mobility to aid in attack—though the user does suffer on defense due to the focus on moving into attack position rather than maintaining a defensive posture.
Benefits: +1D on Attack
Drawbacks: -1D on Defense/Reflection
Prerequisites: 5D Lightsaber, Control, Sense, Alter

Sokan Form
Description: An interesting form that offers no benefits to attack or defense. Rather, it allows its user to maneuver an opponent across a battlefield and into a position that may be disadvantageous to them.
Benefits: Whether his attack hits or misses, the user of this form can force his opponent to move up to five meters per action in a desired direction.
Drawbacks: None
Prerequisites: 5D Lightsaber, Control, Sense

Juyo or Vaapad Forms
Description: One of the more dangerous forms (in many ways). This centers around focusing emotion and aggression to press the attack. The danger here is that this use of negative emotion might draw upon darkside energy, thereby tainting the user.
Benefits: +1D on Attack and Reflection; Power of attack forces an opponent to make a DEX check (w/o multiple action penalties). A roll of less than 6 results in a knockdown. A roll of 6-10 results in a the Defender being forced back 2 meters. A roll of 11 or higher means no other effect
Drawbacks: User must make a difficult Willpower check (w/o multiple action penalties) to avoid gaining a darkside point when activating this form.
Prerequisites: 7D Lightsaber, Control, Sense
Special Note: The benefits of this form are ONLY active when it is used by a light-sider. It is all part of the 'lure' of the dark side—hoping to tempt a being with power. Once you are in the thrall of the dark side, these benefits are lost (as all Darksiders are assumed to use agression and negative emotion as a matter of course).

Jar'Kai Form
Description: A form that is very difficult to master, but quite effective. It involves the use dual-wielded lightsabers to enhance either attack or defense.
Benefits: +1D to Attack or Defense/Reflection (decided at start of round)
Drawbacks: -1D to Attack or Defense/Reflection (the opposite of whatever the bonus is)
Prerequisites: 9D Lightsaber, Control, Sense

In game terms, whenever a Force user initiates lightsaber combat, they have to choose which form they are going to utilize. It is possible to switch forms in the middle of a combat, but this requires an action and another roll to initiate lightsaber combat.

As far as learning/acquiring individual lightsaber forms goes, it would be handled in much the same way as learning/acquiring Force powers—however you handle that in your individual campaigns (i.e. through training with a master, through purchase will skill points, etc.)

You'll note that in almost every case, I have specifically tried to give a drawback for each bonus. The Force user is already such a powerful character type that it just doesn't seem to make sense to give them MORE advantages and bonuses without anything to balance it out.

I am only slowly introducing these forms to my game, and so far, so good—but I still wouldn't consider them fully play-tested.

Mandalorian Mania

It all began in 1978. That's when the Star Wars Holiday Special came out. In this otherwise frighteningly 70's 'variety show' was included a short cartoon detailing a bounty hunter trying to capture the heroes. This was the first appearance of Boba Fett and his armor. Around the same time, the Boba Fett action figure came out (though I only ever got my hands on the one WITHOUT the actual, firing backpack rocket). And so, in this relative obscurity, Mandalorian mania had begun. I remember my friends at the time being very impressed with Boba Fett, even though nobody knew exactly what he was supposed to be.

Mandalorian Coolness (IMO): 6/10

When the Empire Strikes Back came out, and Boba made his first 'real' appearance, the mania only grew. And honestly? I...never really understood it. I recognized how cool the armor looked (the helmet especially). I even had to give a nod to the fact that—yeah, Bounty Hunters were a cool villain type. But that's where it ended for me. Many of my friends, however, were completely enthralled. Boba was the favorite figure when we'd play with our toys (mine was a taun-taun, as I recall..). Though I was only ten when ESB came out, I remember thinking that Boba Fett really didn't DO anything. He stood around looking sort of menacing and took a few potshots at Luke (and missed), but that's about it. Okay, so you can give him a nod for being able to track Han Solo down, that show's he's smart. But badass? No. Never really proved it in this movie. Hell, he didn't even take Solo and the others down by himself. He called the Empire to help him. Kind of a punk move when you think of it (even if it was probably the smartest thing to do).

Mandalorian Coolness: 5/10

Fett (and other Mandalorians) continued to make appearances in the Marvel Star Wars comics series. And in fact, these are probably some of the better showings for Mandalorians. One in particular stood out in my mind—Fenn, the freedom-fighting Mandalorian fighting to release his people from Imperial slavery. That was an interesting storyline, even if it did later raise all kinds of continuity problems. My impression of Mandalorians improved slightly. Probably because one of them was actually portrayed as a hero.

Mandalorian Coolness: 6/10

In Return of the Jedi, I was all set for a showdown of SOME sort—and I imagined the Boba Fett would have some part to play in it. This turned out to be true, but...lets just say that Fett didn't make a very good showing. At first, he just stands around, looking menacing again. Then, during the fight he has a series of mishaps. He uses his jetpack. Cool. He uses his entangling cable thing. Cool. Oops! Luke cuts the cable. Oops. He trips/falls and gets dazed for a bit when the skiff gets hit by heavy gunfire. Okay, now he's back up! He gets a couple shots off at Luke.. and misses. Even though the Jedi's back is turned. Oops. Crap. A mostly-blind Han Solo accidently hits his jetpack and he flies through the air, screaming and waving his arms. He continues to scream and flail as he hits the sail barge and falls into the Sarlacc. The end. Yeah. So..yeah. Again, not impressed with Fett.

Mandalorian Coolness: 4/10

But you can't keep a Mandalorian down, it seems. After RotJ, Fett made appearances in the Droids cartoon (set prior to the events of the original movies) and was 'reborn' in subsequent comics and novels—the general (though sometimes conflicting) storylines saying that he manages to escape from the Sarlacc. Alright, I'll play along. Sure. But still not impressed—but the mania persisted. The ultimate triumph of style over substance in my opinion.

Mandalorian Coolness: 5/10

With the re-release of the original trilogy in the late 90's, Lucas evidently decided to stroke the Fanboy's Boba lust by adding additional scenes of him. So in Episode IV we see him.. walk menacingly past the camera. Wow. In Episode VI we see him flirting with the chicks in Jabba's palace. You know, I actually approve of that. Gives Boba a bit more swagger in my opinion. But I know of at least one Fanboy who was dismayed at this—thought it betrayed the 'quiet menace' of the character. Whatever.

Mandalorian Coolness: 6/10

Though Episodes I and III had nothing to do with ANY Mandalorians, Episode II introduced Boba's dad, Jango. And you know what? I think they did a good job of making him a badass. A smart, sneaky badass at that. He didn't want to face a Jedi in direct combat (smart), but when he did, he pulled out all the stops. Flame throwers, rocket launchers, tangle cords, jetpacks—hell, even shipboard artillery. And lets not forget those Bah-WONNGGGG! bombs he dropped in the asteroid field. Hell, we even see Jango blow away one Jedi and do a sweet pistol twirl afterwards. Now that really IS badass. Unfortunately, he seems to get too cocky and leaps down into the middle of the battle to deal with Mace Windu. Admittedly, he attacks the Jedi when he's distracted. But once that failed? Man, he should have run. As it is, he gets trampled by a critter then beheaded (still, he does get that 'one shot kill' thing with the critter first. Again. Badass). Boba on the other hand? Eeeeee. He comes off as a rather annoying child. "go get 'em, dad!" Thankfully, his annoyance factor does not detract too much from Jango's coolness.

Mandalorian Coolness: 7/10

After the movies, we are left mainly with novels and comics to build on (and detract from) Mandalorian Mania. These are really a mixed bag—some I enjoyed, others I thought were dumb. Overall, they didn't affect my like/dislike of the race. And then? Knights of the Old Republic. Here, we are introduced to Mandalorians as a race for the first time, mainly through a major character, Canderous Ordo. We hear that they actually almost conquered the Galaxy (remember this is 4000 years prior to Star Wars). That's... pretty badass. We also see that they're a kind of nomadic warrior race with a very rough, brutal sense of honor. All of this is actually pretty interesting—despite the fact that my first reaction to the mandalorians was an inward groan of "great, more 'fan-service". More than anything else, I'd say that KotOR and KotOR II really turned me around on the Mandalorians as a race. I'm still not a big Boba fan, but I can now more fully appreciate the race/culture—as it has some SUBSTANCE behind it now, and not just a cool looking helmet.

I would also be negligent not to bring up the fact that one of the characters in my Star Wars campaign is a Mandalorian. From the early 90's until the present, that character has evolved along with my impression of his 'kin'—to the point now where...you know what? I like Mandalorians. I may not be manic about it? But they're neat. Dented helmets and all.

Final Mandalorian Coolness: 9/10 (Yelsainians and Corellians are still the best)