Friday, February 26, 2010

Clone Wars Mandalorians

Though I've only been sporadically watching it, this year's season of Clone Wars has actually been pretty darn good. They seem to have finally decided to stop straddling the line between 'kiddie show' and 'more serious stories'. And thankfully for me, they've tilted more towards the latter. In fact, over the course of several episodes, I didn't once have to endure any droid 'comic relief'. Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not entirely sold on the series yet. They don't have my full trust—but they are slowly earning it.

The latest episode I watched detailed a planet and people who have become important in my campaign: The Mandalorians. I have to admit, I was skeptical at their initial presentation as pacifists, trying to sit out the Clone Wars. That goes against EVERYthing the Mandalorian culture was set up to be in the Knights of the Old Republic and indeed in all the comics. Thankfully, the show put an interesting spin on that—the planet Mandalore has evidently been ravaged over years of constant conflict and its current ruling party (and figurehead, the Duchess of Mandalore) are trying to change things—bucking the warrior tradition of their people in order to save them from their own violent impulses. And as you would expect, there is a group of extremists, the Deathwatch, who have a problem with this.

Thus, you have a whole setup that puts Mandalorians on BOTH sides of the conflict—the "Good" mandalorians on the side of the Republic and the "Bad" using the Separatists as a means to seize power from what they perceive as a weak regime. It all seems to work—rather well, even. And they didn't dumb down the story at all to make it digestible to younger children. This is good, because with the action in the show, there is plenty enough to keep the younglings entertained, even if they don't entirely grasp the story—I mean, you have Jedi and Armored Mandalorians battling eachother in the streets of Coruscant. How cool is that? (Answer: Very cool. Obi-Wan in a fist fight with a commando, great stuff).

What makes me most happy about this is that they seem to be adding some depth and value to an existing aspect of the series—without completely running roughshod over all the story that has been built up around them prior. A respect for the source material is refreshing. Oh, I'm sure they'll do SOMETHING that I don't like eventually...but for now? I'm going to sit back and enjoy this surprise boon of Star Wars that doesn't suck.

Game Systems As Languages

In reading other blogs over the past couple days, I've come upon discussion of the 'language' of certain games and how it creates a sense of solidarity, a common ground, from gamer to gamer—even those of slightly different 'generations'. This is certainly the case in my experience, especially when you're talking about how gamers talk to each other. I personally don't have a lot of contact with gamers outside of my own circle of friends, but I did notice a bit of a disconnect the last time I went to a convention (last month) and had some people throw some d20isms at me, as if I knew what those things meant. It was a bit strange, especially when it was a setting that I was so intimately familiar with—Star Wars.

As other gamers put it, they really don't hold a 'grudge' against people who play other systems. I know I don't. Its just that I see so much good in the 'language' I was brought up with—like the D6 System for Star Wars—that I want to share it with other folks. And I am continually baffled when people reject it. But then, that's not the system they were 'brought up' with, so I have to understand where they're coming from, even if it is frustrating to me.

But then, I think I'm used to that kind of thing in other aspects of my life. Take my computer for instance—I am an Apple guy. I KNOW that PCs can do just about everything I want out of a computer and at half the price, and yet I still LOVE Apple. Is it logical? No. It is a 'gut feeling' kind of thing. Apple connected with me on a personal level, just as the Star Wars D6 system did. I KNOW the d20 system is workable—and like all systems is as good or bad as the people who run it MAKE it. And yet it doesn't feel right to me. It never connected and never will the same way WEG's game did.

Yeah, its part nostalgia, I totally have to admit that—but that doesn't make my feelings or my judgement 'wrong' as to the merits of the system. Anyway, its just a random thought I had and had to put down in writing.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

A New Galaxy

Whether or not I actually wind up running a campaign in it, the thought of expanding the scope of the Star Wars game to a new Galaxy is an intriguing one. I've already considered a lot of options I'd include in such a campaign, but one of the first things I want to nail down is the political situation of the new galaxy—or at least the region of it that the campaign would be set in.

Now, while I consider myself a creative person, the prospect of designing an entire Galaxy 'from scratch' is a daunting one—especially when there are just so many good ideas for alien species out there. The only problem I run into is the question of whether or not stealing ideas for races from other sources is too cheesy. Considering the fact I've done it before, I'm inclined to think that no, it isn't—at least not for me. I just hope my players would feel the same way. But then...isn't that the reason I bought so many sourcebooks for other games I had no intention of playing? Don't I always say that Star Wars is an all-inclusive setting? So...yeah, okay, maybe it won't turn out to be awkward. You'll no doubt recognize many of the names I've chosen—particularly if you've ever played the 'Master of Orion' game (though many of the details have been changed).

In any case, the races I'm thinking of including are as follows:

A race of humanoids evolved from avians (very similar in look to the Shi'ar of Marvel comics). They are an aggressive, expansionistic species with a large empire, maintained by their highly skilled fleet. Their empire is very multi-cultural, though—with many 'subject species' within, operating at varying levels of citizenship. The Alkari have their own school of Force users, directly opposed to those of the Elerian Confederacy (see below). The 'signature' power of this school of force is Pyrokinesis—the "Flame of the Alkari". I would see their Empire being rife with political intrigue—not only among the Alkari themselves, but their subject races, each vying for control or perhaps even independence. Some of the main subject species would include:

The Darlok
A race of lizard-like humanoids with shapeshifting abilities (very similar to the Marvel's Skrull in abilities, if not appearance). The Darlok are a sneaky race and many serve within the Alkari intelligence network. Their natural abilities make them wonderful spies. Unfortunately, they aren't entirely loyal to their Alkari masters...

The Bulrathi
A race of hulking, ursoid-humanoids known for their strength and ferocity in close-quarter battle. Units of Bulrathi serve as shock-troops in the Alkari Army. They are a proud race not entirely comfortable with serving 'under' another, thus they are always testing the Alkari's control. If they were a bit more tactically adept, they could be a very real threat to Alkari domination...

The Gnolam
A race of diminutive, rat-like humanoids known for their aggressive economic practices. They are traders and businessmen extraordinaire and serve in bureaucratic posts throughout the Alkari Empire. They aren't known for being particularly brave physically, but can be vicious indeed in their dealings with others. It is even thought that Gnolam politicians and businessmen are the true power behind the Alkari throne.

The Elerian Confederacy is one of the chief rivals of the Alkari Empire. The Elerians themselves are a near-human race, blue-skinned and usually fair-haired (resembling the Kree race from Marvel comics). They are highly advanced both technologically and intellectually. They also utilize a form of low-level telapathy to aide in communication among themselves. Most Elerians are scholars, statesmen, scientists or artisans, but they cultivate an elite military group among themselves—soldiers talented in the Force and making use of a style that seems particular to their species—Cryokinesis. These soldiers are supported by highly advanced military technology as well as 'auxiliary' troops provided by other races. The Elerians are a largely matriarchal society. Like the Alkari, there are many other races operating within Elerian space, each with a voice in their planetary assembly. These races are:

The Mutzachans
A race of diminutive, hairless humanoids with enlarged and elongated skulls. Though few in number, the Mutzachans efforts in science have greatly aided the Elerian developments. Some have also shown great Force aptitude.

The Mrrshan
A race of feline-humanoids, the Mrrshan are a semi-nomadic (gypsy) race of individual family clans—traveling in their makeshift fleets throughout Elerian space. They are an odd mixture of warlike-barbarian and pleasure-seeking hedonists, alternately making their living by either hiring themselves out as mercenaries or entertaining in large-scale, impromptu fairs. Though not an 'official' member of the Elerian Confederacy, the Mrrshan are becoming a vital part of its military, serving as scouts and commandos.

A race of large, silicon-based, rock-like humanoids with a slow-moving culture that is particularly 'alien' to most species. They mostly seem to want to be left alone, but often come into conflict with other powers in their constant search for worlds with mineral wealth—which is necessary to them as a food source and means of reproduction. They are seemingly quite primitive, technologically, and yet they are able to create giant, asteroid-like starships and crystal-based weaponry. Despite being incredibly resilient, the Silicoids are slowly being edged out by other species in terms of territory and power.

A race of xenophobic insectoids. The Klackon are less technologically advanced than either the Alkari or Elerians, but make up for this with sheer numbers, industrial output and fanatic loyalty to the 'brood mothers' who rule their race. The Klackon have several highly developed 'hive worlds' supported by stripping the resources of many more 'colony' planets. It is in the search for more resources that the Klackon run into conflicts with other races—often resulting in sharp and brutal invasions by the insectoids.

Though small in number, the Phentari have a large reputation as highly intelligent and ruthless killers—in fact, they are admitted cannibals, having no qualms feeding on their own or any other race. They come from aquatic stock, vaguely resembling bipedal squids—though they are seldom seen outside of their environmental suits. Nobody knows exactly where their homeworld is—and rumor has it they actually destroyed it in a civil war. The race is scattered now among the various powers of the Empire, its members often taking positions in the underworld as assassins, bounty-hunters or criminal masterminds. Some of the race have exhibited extraordinary mental powers—the ability to control or even 'fry' the minds of other species. (For you D&D folks...picture something like a cross between a Mindflayer and Kuo-Toa)

A fast-breeding race of ferociously powerful lizard-men. Thankfully for the other species in the galaxy, the Ssakkra are technologically primitive—barely above stone-age on their home planet. Unfortunately, other species (the Alkari in particular) have taken Ssakkra from their home planet and trained them as soldiers to use in interstellar conflict. Though primitive, the Ssakra are not stupid. Some have already gained their independence (in one way or another) and can now be found working in the underworld of various species. There is even rumor of a Ssakkra Pirate Lord operating his own ship. Were the race as a whole capable of space travel, it is possible they could colonize and out-breed other species within a few generations, thus, their expansion off-world is a touchy subject.

An 'artificial' species, the Phalanx are actually sentient programs capable of inhabiting mobile mechanical 'frames' in order to interact with their environment. Nobody is quite certain who created the phalanx, though it is surmised that they rose up and destroyed whoever it was long ago. For the most part, the Phalanx are reclusive—refusing contact with other species. Nobody knows what their goals may be, but they do not seem particularly expansionist. They are, however, quite able to defend themselves if pressed—fielding ships and weapons the equal of anything else in the galaxy.

Yep. The same ones from the novels—only a bit different. I see these as being the 'big baddies' of this Galaxy, slowly working to conquer all 'lesser' races—thus providing the catalyst for a lot of conflict in a campaign setting. While I may have had problems with the novels that these guys came from, I do like the concept of an entire species who's technology is based upon organics—this sets them apart from almost every species and in particular, I can see them having major problems with the Silicoids and the Phalanx, both of which are 'non-living' in their eyes.

Anyway, these are just my initial thoughts on the matter. Is good for me to put them down in writing so I can come back to them later.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

In praise of D6

I know I'm in the Minority here, and I know my gaming tastes aren't the 'norm', especially when it comes to other game systems and settings, but in flipping through the Star Wars D6 rulebook (the revised, 2nd edition one), I came across something that again affirmed why it is I love this system so much. It was in the introduction section of the book, essentially laying out what the basics of the game are from a players perspective. It is probably one of the best and most direct explanations of what role-playing is and really captures the mood of the Star Wars system in particular:

"You'll be playing a character—a person who lives in the Star Wars universe. While playing, you pretend to be that character.

There is no board to move tokens on. Instead, one of your friends will be the gamemaster. The gamemaster acts as a storyteller and referee, describing each scene to you and the other players. Now imagine how your character would react to the situation. Then, tell the gamemaster what your character is going to do.

When you describe what your character does, the gamemaster will tell you when to roll the dice, and tell you what happens as a result of how well (or poorly) you roll.

In a way, you, the other players and the gamemaster are creating your own Star Wars movie with your characters as the star!

Winning. There are no winners and losers. Having fun is what counts.

Cooperate. If the characters are to stand any chance of succeeding in their adventures, you and the other players have to work together.

Be True to the Movies. Remember, you're playing Star Wars! Be heroes. Use snappy one-liners. And above all else, have fun!

Become Your Character. Don't be afraid to ham it up a little! Speak like your character and adopt his mannerisms in your movements and actions. You can act out scenes—for example, if you're a gambler, you could have fun trying to con the other characters. However, never act out scenes that could be considered threatening or dangerous.

Use Your Imagination. Your character can do whatever you can imagine someone in that situation doing. If you can imagine it in the real world (or the Star Wars universe), it can happen in the game!

Keep Things Moving. Don't worry about the rules. Simply tell the gamemaster what you want your character to do, ad he'll tell you what to roll and when."

-- Star Wars Core Rulebook, Second Edition, Revised and Expanded

Is this very basic? Yes! And that is the point. There was a very conscious effort in this game to make it accessible to new players—people who have never played ANY roleplaying game before. In this age of seeming 'decline' in tabletop gaming, it is important to make a game easy to learn. Now, as far as the individual points of this excerpt go...

Winning. Yeah, this is pretty much the standard line in all RPGs, even if it does sound more like the coddling 'everyone is a winner!' politically-correct line that some people try to force. But it's true in an RPG. You 'Win' by having fun. That is the goal of the game (and I don't want to get into the whole 'Tyranny of Fun' thing again, so I'll move on).

Cooperate. Yes. As much as some people think that 'party conflict' is fun, it is ultimately disruptive to running a campaign—especially a Star Wars campaign that is supposed to be heroic (see below). Inner-party tension? That can be fun, as long as it is in-character. But when every game session turns into one character trying to kill the other? Well...that isn't Star Wars.

Be True to the Movies. Hell yes. This is one of the main reasons I can't even fathom trying to run an 'evil' Star Wars campaign—because the movies are about HEROES and GOOD triumphing over evil. This is a personal bias of mine, to be sure, but...well, there it is. The reason I wanted to play Star Wars is to be a big, damn hero. Not to explore the depths of depravity of the Sith. That's just not my bag, baby. Not the type of campaign I'd run.

Become Your Character. To me, this is kind of the point of Roleplaying. Creating and playing a character role. If you aren't doing this, then you're just playing a wargame. Again, not the type of game I want to run. On the flip side, I don't much care for 'costumes' or 'LARPing', so...there is a limit.

Use Your Imagination. Of all the 'core' aspects of the game, this is one of the trickiest. On the one hand, you want your players to dream up heroic things to do. On the other hand, they'll occasionally come up with something that you (as a GM) would just deem...impossible—or something the stats of their character just couldn't support. While I agree with the free-thinking aspect of this, I would make a point of telling my players to temper their imagination with a dose of realistic expectation based upon their current stats and skills. But then again, when you throw Force Points into the mix...well, things are a lot more possible then. Oh, and as a GM, if a player attempted something I thought was outside of their ability to do, I would first TELL them that, out of character, before allowing them to go through with it—especially with new players. You don't want to frustrate people by saying. "Sure, you can do anything!" then have them roll and fail miserably all the time. Sends the wrong message.

Keep Things Moving. HELL YES. This is the reason I prefer D6 to any other system—the emphasis on speed and simplicity. It is especially true in a cinematic setting like Star Wars—known for its fast-paced action scenes and story-progression. You don't want to get bogged down in a full-scale tactical simulation every time you get into battle. Of course, the higher in level you get with Star Wars, the more dice are involved—and the slower things go. But there are solutions to that, too.

Anyway, these are just my thoughts on the matter and my gushing again at how much D6 rocks as a system for me and my gaming style.

Monday, February 22, 2010

RANT: Role Playing

Once again, I delve into kindof-not-Star Wars territory. This is about video games in general, brought on about comments I've read online about Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2. Both of these games have been generally classified as RPGs (Role Playing Games). And yet so many posts are criticizing them (and in particular, ME2) for not being that...pointing out that because there are limited numbers of 'skill trees' and an abbreviated 'inventory system', Mass Effect 2 can not be termed an RPG.

To me, an RPG is just that... a ROLE PLAYING Game. Where you take on the ROLE of a character and PLAY him (or her) through a GAME. To me a ROLE is all about character and the choices you make defining them. Is your guy a jerk? Does he make the galaxy and those around him miserable? Is he a great guy? Does he help out everyone and leave them all with warm fuzzies? It is these interactions with the people and the environment around your character that defines a ROLE. By this definition, I think ME2 qualifies—in spades.

Since when does a freaking inventory—a list of crap your character carries—define a genre. Maybe it's a matter of semantics. Maybe inventories and skill lists are the defining thing most people require in their RPG. Fine. Whatever. So call ME2 a 'Story Shooter' or a 'Cinematic Actioner'...but honestly, I think that heavy inventory games should be the ones changing their names to something more descriptive of what they are—"Inventory Managment Simulation".

To a lesser extent, this also applies to skills. People are commenting on the 'drastic limitation' of skills from ME1 to ME2. Oh come on. Do you really need individual skills for First Aid and Medicine and Electronics and Decryption. I for one was glad that computer hacking and security bypasses could be done by your main character—not requiring you to ALWAYS have a tech expert with you in all situations for forfeit even a CHANCE of opening something. And again, skills do not define a ROLE nearly as much as the choices that character makes. They are a means to an end, nothing more.

And for those people out there who think that the 'story' aspect in RPGs need to be less of a 'straight line'...again I say, give me a break. The ME games are like playing within a movie. That is the appeal of them for me. To turn it into something like Fallout 3, where you wander from place to place shooting things and taking their stuff greatly reduces the dramatic impact of a story. Again, if THAT is what defines an RPG to folks, then I'm glad ME2 isn't one and maybe it should change its name. I could care less if I am 'railroaded' down a specific chain of events, as long as I get to make the story along the way suit me and my own aesthetic tastes—to feel as if the hero of the story is making the decisions 'I would make'. That is what immerses me.

Creative Ownership

This is just something I had been thinking about in regards to creating something for the public. A lot of people believe that George Lucas no longer 'cares' about the universe he created with Star Wars—that he is now just 'cashing in' on his creation without thought for how it is perceived by others. Every new thing he introduces into the established 'canon' of his setting seems to tick someone off (myself included in some instances). The same has been said about other creative minds—for instance, about George Romero and his zombie movies. Again, here is a case where a director pretty much created a genre and a 'universe' for it to live within. As with Star Wars, people grew up with this setting and come to expect certain things from it. And so when a director returns to it with more ideas, he is bound to alienate fans who have really internalized things.

Even though I am occasionally a disgruntled fanboy, I can really see where as a creator it is a fine line between listening to your fans and listening to your own ideas. In most cases (and especially, it seems, in the case of Lucas and Romero) the creator simply ignores (or has to ignore) the cries of his fans and just do what they want to do. I understand that, even though it frustrates me. It has to be frustrating for the creator as well. You have people clamoring for more and when you give it to them, they are suddenly all over you about how it isn't as they imagined it would be.

The only way around 'fan clamor', it seems, would be to hit the public with a setting all at once, and then duck out, never to revisit. I mean, you didn't really hear people complaining about how the Star Wars universe had changed from Episode IV to Episode VI because it was all NEW at that point—people hadn't had a chance to set their own conceptions in stone yet. But you throw a couple decades of 'living with' the movies and then try something new? Bam. You got problems. The real question, in regards to Star Wars, is whether or not they should have just left it alone and not told the prequels. On a bad day, I'm inclined to say they shouldn't have. But on most days, I can see a lot to enjoy about the prequels, and I'm glad they did it.

So...what does all this mean? Heck if I know. On the one hand, I wish directors like Lucas (and even Romero) would really listen to what their fans are wanting. I would hope that they realize that their creations have gone beyond just being 'their vision'—they've become part of society and part of the lives of the fans themselves. On the other hand, fans are often stupid (myself included) and if listened to could lead a franchise down horrible paths. I mean, if we (as fans) were that smart and creative..why didn't WE come up with Star Wars and do it ourselves?

Gah. It's a dilemma. But it would still be nice if directors at least seemed to take fan opinions (or a consensus thereof) into account, even if it's only a little here or there. Hrm...or maybe not, otherwise Episodes I thru III would have been all about Mandalorians... but wait.. they were, weren't they? I mean.. II and III anyway...

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Shades of Grey

While Star Wars is, on the whole, a very black and white setting, I find myself greatly enjoying the introduction of shades of grey into it. It is strange that this should happen right around the time that Mass Effect 2 came out, since that is what I consider one of the great strengths of the game. And yes, this is another ME2 related post, so sue me.

In Mass Effect 2, the moral choices you are presented with are really quite compelling—mainly because for many there is no one 'right' answer. There are very few situations where one decision is clearly 'good' and the other 'evil' (as is the case with so many other games of this sort). You aren't talking of the difference between a heroic paladin and a mustache-twirling villain. For instance...


At one point, you have to decide between either killing millions of a hostile race or essentially brainwashing them to your side. Both choices are questionable morally and I found it an interesting exploration into my own way of thinking. Just how idealistic are my thought processes? In-game and 'in character', I tend to be very idealistic. But taking a step back, I find myself very much 'nagged' by pragmatic solutions to problems—things that may not 'feel' right, but would 'solve the problem'. It is a tribute to the writers of the game that they can make such compelling arguments for BOTH sides of an issue. Indeed, at the climax of the game, I found myself in a very 'real' quandry. The illusive man (played by Martin Sheen) nearly swayed me to his pragmatic cause, even though it felt wrong morally. I am very interested to see how this decision will impact the next game. In the end, it did come down to idealism on my part. As Commander Sheperd put it: "We're going to win this war. And we're not going to do it at the expense of my race's soul." (or something to that effect). While it feels good to support that kind of idealism in a game, it really gets me thinking what I'd do in 'real life' if faced with such moral choices. Would love to think I'd be as noble, never know.

But what does this have to do with Star Wars? Well, I'll tell you! The whole idea of a 'pragmatic' secret society trying to save the Galaxy "whatever the cost" is now central to my current campaign. And believe it or not, I came up with the idea BEFORE ME2 came out! No, really, I did! Corewatch (the name of the shadowy figure in charge of this secret society) presented my PCs with a very similar 'grey' choice. With the superweapons he has at his disposal, he stands a real chance of making an impact in the war against the Nagai. And yet, such practices are VERY questionable morally. I was glad to see my players react thoughtfully, even if they DID ultimately go with the 'good' choice and condemning the use of bio-warfare and other things. Honestly, I wasn't entirely sure how they'd react. I mean, there was some compelling evidence on Corewatch's side...but in the end, they went with what 'feels right', rather than what the 'numbers support'.

This kind of grey area isn't something I like to inject into Star Wars ALL the time—because as I've said many times before, Star Wars is NOT a 'gritty' setting. I like the start contrasts of good and evil on the whole, but it's fun to switch things up from time to time.

Monday, February 15, 2010

The Future of Star Wars

In my talking about 'Controlling the Universe'—and in my own divergence from canon, I have lately been considering what MY Star Wars galaxy is gong to look like in its future. I have already decided that I will not be 'rehashing' all the cliches of the setting again. I do not see the Republic falling after 40 years and chaos reigning thereafter. Rather, I see the start of another 'Golden Age' of the Republic, a rebuilding of all that has been lost during the war and a return to consolidation, expansion and exploration.

This, of course, goes directly against established canon. And more so, it seems to go against the central theme of the setting Star WARS. Without a 'War' it really still the same game? Well, my answer to this is—there will always be wars. But in the future I see, they would be limited in scope. There would still be friction with the Empire and the Sith. Various corporate and independent powers could still cause trouble.

But honestly, I am getting a little sick of the constant titanic-scale combat being waged through the galaxy. First the movie trilogies, then the Ssi'Ruuk invasion (Aliens from the boonies), then the Thrawn invasion (Imperial remnants), then the Dark Empire invasion (Imperial Remnants), then the Yevethan Invasion (Aliens from the boonies), then the Vong invasion (more Aliens from the boonies), then the Swarm War (more aliens from the boonies) then another Republic civil war, then a Sith invasion... gah. By that time, the economy of the galaxy, not to mention it's infrastructure, should be shot to hell. And also, as you can see from the above, things start to get repetitive.

So, what is the answer for me and my own campaign? How can I have a 'Golden Age', while still maintaining a 'Star Wars' setting. The lower-scale conflict thing mentioned above is a good start. This ensures there is still danger and intrigue going on, even if folks aren't out blowing up entire planets. Spy and diplomatic work will be paramount—establishing and maintaining peace across an entire galaxy will be very tricky indeed. Threats can still be of a very high-level, but the 'war' against them will largely be waged in shadow. This is especially true of such threats as the Sith—who will be a constant menace to the Republic and its Jedi guardians.

I also see the emphasis of the setting going from war to exploration—opening up all sorts of opportunities for people to face unknown challenges. I would hesitate to swing too far into the 'Star Trek' aspect of something like this—because the genres are VERY distinct from eachother. But in all honesty, an Exploration campaign in Star Wars is very workable—just look at the Darkstryder campaign. The idea behind it is largely exploration (even if they did gum up the works a bit by forcing a specific plot-line).

It was this exploration aspect that really got me thinking. In my game, it has been established that there /IS/ intergalactic travel. My main villain race, the Nagai, are from another galaxy, having crossed over from their own to conquer the Republic. The Republic itself has experimental trans-galactic technology as well—in the form of a 'Star Gate' (though at the time of writing this, they have only just been testing it). If you throw this into the mix, then you could easily expand the scope of Star Wars by opening up a new 'frontier' in a new Galaxy. Imagine exploration teams in this new place, encountering new races and governments—and threats. There are all kinds of political ramifications of this, especially if there were some new 'bad guy' organization in this new place. Does the Republic stand by and let peace-loving races be overrun? Does it ally itself and risk (another) intergalactic war?

Well, it is Star WARS, so, yes, I imagine that would happen. And this time, it would be DIFFERENT from rehashing the same old stuff. From a GM viewpoint, its like having my cake and eating it too. I mean, on the one hand, I have a relatively stable Galactic Republic, able to exist, grow and heal the wounds of decades of war and turmoil. But on the other, I have a 'brand new Galaxy' that may very well be on the verge of its own titanic scale war. New enemies, new power structures, new dynamics. Plenty of room for small groups of explorer/soldiers to make a big impact and become heroes on a Galactic Scale. And all in a way that doesn't follow the tired thread of '...another alien race invades' or 'the empire/sith rise...again'.

What could some of the powers in this New Galaxy look like?

Well, why not new Force User traditions—completely unaffected by the Jedi/Sith thing.

Imperial Renegades? Maybe a rogue Imperial faction/fleet tries to carve out a corner of this new galaxy for itself—providing some familiar faces, but in unexpected places.

The Vong? I hated the novels, but I loved the concept of the race. What's to stop them from being the 'big baddies' of THIS Galaxy?

A gagillion new Alien species and governments. I picture a much less unified Galaxy, with lots of smaller 'empires' (and races), rather than one galaxy-spanning organization.

Corporate Exploiters. Big corps from the Star Wars Galaxy trying to exploit new markets—often at the expense of safety and ethics.

These are just a few things off the top of my head, but I know I could easily add to this list. The prospect of it excites me. In fact, on the way back from South Dakota, Steve2 and I talked a lot about this—and even the prospect of starting a 'new' campaign—playing the sons and daughters (or other 'descendants') of the original Vermillion campaign characters. Just push the timeline ahead 20 years or so and there you are.

Of course, this wouldn't come at the expense of the 'old' campaign. Nobody is ready to give that up, I don't think. I'm certainly not. But I think it would be a fun and interesting addition to the story we've created thus far. I had meant to email the guys with this first, but hell, I'll post it here and email them later and see what they think about a 'new campaign'...and about the idea in general.

Happy Chancellor's Day!

I am going to celebrate my nation's great leaders by...working! But in the meanwhile, enjoy the photo of the coolest head of state ever—Chancellor Leia Organa-Solo of the New Republic. Statesperson. Soldier. Patriot. Idealist. Mother. Jedi. Gold-bikini-wearer.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Mass Effect 2


This has nothing to do with Star Wars, but I can't help but gush. I love Mass Effect 2. For me it is about a perfect mix between computer role play and first-person shooting. I happen to love both. BioWare has once again blown me away with the level of detail and the quality of acting and writing. As many reviewers have said, the overall story line (uniting the galaxy to fight a mysterious, overpowering alien threat) is something we've seen before. But the quality of the production and the strength of the supporting characters is such that it sets it far apart from other titles in the genre. I couldn't agree more.

Never before in a game have I felt as keenly 'absorbed' as I have in this one. The fact that you can actually lose members of your team in action gave the whole thing a very dramatic and unsettling feel. For instance, when you first meet one of your buddies from the first game (Garrus), he gets badly shot up. I remember having this sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. I didn't know if he was going to 'die' or not—and I found myself very emotionally involved, hoping he'd pull through. The relationships you can form with the rest of your team throughout the game likewise make the possibility of their demise a real punch in the gut—especially during the final act, where everyone is in very 'real' danger of dying. Sure, there are some characters I identify with more than others, but the fact that each has such depth really makes the thought of losing them a painful one.

In short (too late), this game does what all good action (and even horror) movies should do—it gives you time and a reason to care about the various characters, thus making the danger they face a more palpable and meaningful thing. Through the entire climax of the game, I was quite literally on the edge of my seat—and that's not a common thing, even with RPG games, where you usually know the 'mechanics' behind each encounter.

In the above paragraph, you'll note I used the term 'movies'. That was no error, because even more than it's predecessor, Mass Effect 2 plays like a movie. And I don't just mean the cut-scenes. I mean the various missions, the decisions you make, the twists and turns in story and relationships—they are all very cinematic in nature. Unlike many so-called RPGs, this game lets you PLAY the character rather than just watch cut scenes where he (or she) does cool things. And that is a huge distinction for me.

Many of the criticisms I've seen leveled at the game kind of amuse me—and frustrate me. There were a lot of complaints about Mass Effect 1. In ME2, they seemed to address most of them. And now people are complaining about how they fixed them. Man, you really cannot please everyone. On the one side, you have people who want a more 'pure role playing' game—who hate the real-time combat. Some of these also mourn the loss of huge inventory lists and being able to (or forced to) cycle through lists of equipment and upgrades in order to equip your guys and gals with the next best thing. On the other, you have shooter fanatics complaining about the lack of differentiation in firearms and the 'over abundance' of dialogue. And I guess those are really at the heart of the matter—when you try to fit two disparate play-models into one game you risk alienating people at either end of the spectrum. Thankfully, I enjoy both, so I'm in the happy middle-ground between the two.

Honestly? I do enjoy tinkering with party inventory and even a longer list of skills, but neither of those things were ever central to my enjoyment of a game. In fact, there were times in ME1 where the inventory tinkering actually got in the way, breaking up the flow of the game in some very dramatic moments (YOUR INVENTORY IS FULL! isn't a fun thing to get in the middle of a firefight). About the only criticism that I've head that I agree with is the boredom of scanning planets for minerals. It isn't a very large step up from driving around in a truck hunting for them. But does that get in the way of me enjoying the game? Hell no. So QUIT WHINING people. Geez.

But beyond game-play mechanics, and even acting and story, there is an attention to detail in the game that is just amazing. And we're talking 'blink and you'll miss it' type things. I don't know if most people even care about them, but the fact they're there shows a deep level of commitment by the makers of the game and add a depth that I personally enjoy a lot. There are emails you receive through the adventure—some from people you encountered in ME1. They have no big effect on your current mission, but they're fun to read. There is the picture of your 'significant other' (whoever you may have romanced in ME1) sitting on the desk in your cabin. And later, if you choose to pursue a romance with someone else, you return to find your SO's picture is now face down on the desk. Nothing big, but it's there nonetheless. And it's cool.

Oh, and then there's the humor. Holy crap this game is funny. From your pilot's interactions with the crew and onboard AI to some of the comments and 'in-jokes' your team-mates make. I have laughed out loud many times during play. But then again, this goes hand in hand with great writing and acting. Most dramatic situations, especially serious and horrific ones, need comedy—both to lighten the mood and to contrast with the bleakness and danger of the story—thus sharpening it.

I could gush all day about this game, and indeed about BioWare, but I'll cut it short (too late), since it really isn't a Star Wars post. I have been won over by this company and the high quality of the games they put out. Knights of the Old Republic. Jade Empire. Dragon Age: Origins. Mass Effect and now Mass Effect 2. It is rare for me to put a lot of trust into a company, but BioWare pretty much has it at this point. Lets just hope the creative minds at BioWare continue to win out over the suits and number crunchers. Because in the end, creativity is what sets BioWare apart, not flashy marketing or cookie-cutter re-hashes of the same thing.

P.S. For all those folks out there who have complained about BioWare games being 'predictable', I say 'Phooey'. Yes, there is a distinct 'formula' that seems to go along with BioWare games, and an expectation of some kind of 'plot-twist' in the last third of the game. But expecting a twist and KNOWING what the twist is going to be are two different things. So far, they've really done a great job of switching it up from game to game. They're never going to have the same impact as the 'Revelation' in Knights of the Old Republic, but they're enjoyable nontheless. So.. phooey on you, haters.

P.P.S. And another things...I just love folks who go onto forums for games like ME2 and speak with such authority on things they really have no idea about. People who speak in absolutes about situations or decisions on which they have no basis other than their own opinion. To you folks I say *flapping hand open and closed* Shut your WHORE mouth!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Basilisk War Droid—Mk II

I've spoken about the Basilisk before—my likes and dislikes of it. Here now are the final 'stats' of the Basilisks that I am using in my current game. Note: They are a very odd conglomeration of vehicle, droid and mount, meaning they have some odd, overlapping stats.

In actual use, the Basilisk has proven formidable, but surprisingly not out of balance. It is essentially a light-tank with its own built in 'crew'. It's versatility is probably it's greatest asset, able to maneuver on land, in the air, and even in space. Though able to dish out and absorb a great deal of damage with infantry units, anti-vehicle weaponry can quickly disable a basilisk. Linked in to it's rider's helm-computer, control of various systems can easily transfer between rider and the droid brain itself—allowing either to control the piloting/operation of the droid body and its various systems (sensors, weapons, etc.)

While originally provided with a very simplistic personality, the Mandalorians have (at the request of their leader) upgraded this by adding on to the basic systems. This has resulted in some very odd quirks coming to the forefront. Chief among these is a 'willfull' and 'arrogant' personality that can make repairing the droids something of a chore. It also requires that riders win the 'respect' of their Basilisks before they can operate at peak efficiency together.

TYPE: Mandalorian Basilisk Mk II War Droid
SCALE: Character
LENGTH: 4 m (Not including tail)
PASS.: 1
COVER: 3/4
CARGO: 10kg
CONS.: 1 Week
SPEED: 4 (Space); 200 kph (Air); 90 kph (Ground/Water)
ALTITUDE: Ground Level—1km; Capable of Atmospheric Re-entry
HULL: 7D (+2D) Armor (Character Scale)
Passive: 10 (0D)
Scan: 20 (1D)
Search: 40 (2D)
Focus: 2 (3D)
Arc: Forward
Scale: Character
Dmg: 9D (Energy, Claws)/7D (Energy, Teeth)
Arc: Rear
Scale: Character
Dmg: 7D (Physical)
Spec: Entangle Attack
Auto-Blaster (Mouth-Mounted)
Arc: Forward, Sides
Scale: Character
Range: 60/120/360m
Dmg: 8D
Spec: Capable of Burst and Autofire
Breaching-Torch (Mouth Mounted)
Arc: Forward
Scale: Vehicle
Range: 2m
Dmg: 6D
Special: Capable of cutting controlled hull breaches
Missile-Pods (Shoulder-Mounted-Disposable)
Arc: Forward
Scale: Vehicle
Dmg: 7D
Ammo: 4 (2-Per Launcher)

Strength 7D (+2D Armor for Damage Resistance)
Dexterity 2D
Agility 3D
Intelligence 1D
Perception 3D
Charisma 1D

Dodge 5D
Melee* 8D (Usage of built-in Brawl/Melee systems)
Piloting* 5D (Covers only flying 'itself')
Gunnery* 6D (Usage of built-in Ranged weapon systems)
Climbing 6D
Jumping 6D
Running 5D
Stamina 8D
Stealth 4D (Maximum for this skill due to size)
Zero-Gee 3D (Movement in space w/o Thrusters)

Armor-Tech 3D (Diagnostic only, unable to self-repair)
Blaster-Tech 3D (Diagnostic only, unable to self-repair)
Droid-Tech 3D (Diagnostic only, unable to self-repair)
Survival 3D

Comm. 3D (Utilizing built-in comm-systems)
Sensors 3D (Utilizing built-in sensor-systems)
Observation 3D
Search 5D
Tracking 4D

Friday, February 5, 2010

Controlling the Universe

In my many years of gaming within an established setting like Star Wars, I've come to a few realizations about my preferences in RPGs in general. Keep in mind that in this post, though I speak in 'absolutes', I am really only speaking for myself and my own tastes. Now, central of these realizations is that there should be a time where the GM takes control of a setting and truly makes it his own. In settings where there are constant outside developments (like the Star Wars Expanded Universe for example), this is going to require some kind of mental editing. With the slew of 'backstory' that keeps filling in the Star Wars saga, many things you have come to accept are suddenly turned on their ear—and sometimes not in a way you particularly enjoy. In fact, some revelations may completely overturn the decisions you made early on. You can respond to this change in one of two ways: alter your universe every time some new novel is written or pick and choose which new things become part of your universe—and decide HOW they become a part.

The problem, as I see it, stems from a Trend in gaming that began in the mid-eighties in TSR. For the first time, you began to have series of novels set within the gaming worlds they created. Dragonlance and the Forgotten Realms are prime examples of this. You not only have sourcebooks coming out to describe the world, but you then have major characters and plotlines written within those worlds. This is all fine and dandy—to a point. I mean, I loved the Dragonlance novels, and I would STILL love to run a campaign set during that story (with parallel heroes, rather than the 'main characters' of the novels). But for me, there would come a time where I would have to stop letting the authors dictate the course of the world, otherwise, my players would be doomed to obscurity and impotence as they weave around the major plot lines, but have you real way to affect them. In short, I feel that if you follow the course of a bunch of novels, you are turning your PCs into a 'supporting cast'. For some? That may be what they prefer. I do not.

The Battletech setting is another prime example of Novels dictating the game. When Battletech was first released, it did an AWESOME job of providing an incredibly in depth background to its setting—giving you a snapshot of people, places and happenings at one particular time (in this case, the year 3025, on the brink of what could be the 'final' war to reunify the 'Star League'). This left all KINDS of options for what to do from this point. And then....novels happened. And a sourcebook happened, jumping the setting ahead 25 years and describing, in some detail, that 'final' war and its effects on the setting. And even before all this could settle in, a new series of novels and sourcebooks introducing MORE sweeping changes as the 'Clans' invaded the known galaxy. It was really at this point that I first attempted running a game within the setting. We began shortly before the Clan invasion and played for a bit into it. It was fun. But more novels and more sourcebooks kept coming out. And in them, so MANY details were provided that it would make it next to impossible to run a major battle or campaign, because it would be completely stepped on by the official 'canon' of the setting.

The 'end game' of a campaign for me is what is currently going on in my Vermillion Star Wars setting. With the players operating as major leaders and heroes on a galactic scale—nearly on the same level as the heroes of the movies. This gives their actions a LOT of weight and impact on the world around them. Now, I realize that not all campaigns will go on for 19 years, and that most never even get close to an 'end game', but it is always nice to have that option.

When the Star Wars RPG came out in 1987, it was already 4 years 'after the fact', as far as the movies were concerned. And there were VERY few novels or even comics expanding upon that setting. Thus, when my campaign began in 1991, I had a pretty well established setting, but one where I knew the major events and could work around them—and add to them—without fear of breaking 'canon'. Coincidentally, right about the time my campaign was moving past the movie storyline, the series of Zahn novels (Heir to the Empire) came out, detailing events five years after Return of the Jedi. With some discussion with my players, we decided to jump our own campaign ahead those five years and play within THOSE events. Again, with all three novels out by the time we did that, we could easily weave our own stories in with those presented.

It was after Heir that the REAL slew of novels and comics began. I stuck with it through some of them (Dark Empire, Jedi Academy), but I very quickly found it to be frustrating, constantly scrambling in response to what someone ELSE wrote—and often to things that I felt were down-right stupid and poorly written. How could the players ever be free to really 'do things' if I as a GM was not in control of my own setting. That's when I made the conscious decision to break things off right at that point and forge my OWN story—largely based upon the actions of my players, and on my own views of what the SW universe 'should' be. And honestly? I can't think of another way to run a game. Reading novels/comics is one thing. Gaming is another. The former are GREAT as a source of information, but should never be allowed to overshadow the latter. After all, the point of games like Star Wars is to be a hero, not an 'extra' in someone else's story and universe. So my advice to other GMs is, take what you can from a setting—then make it your own.

Thursday, February 4, 2010


This isn't directly Star Wars related, but since I was just at a 'con', I'd like to talk for a moment about gamers. Now, I've known for about as long as I've played that the hobby attracts a certain kind of person. And for the most part, those people are just average guys (and a few gals)—a lot like I consider myself to be. But then there are the stereotypes that the general public associates with the game. I could protest as much as I wanted that they aren't true for the majority, but I can't deny that your stereotypical gamers do exist. In fact, I met several at 'Vermincon' (a convention in Vermillion, SD) last weekend.

On the one hand, it is actually pretty good for my self-esteem. I mean, I'm nothing special. I could lose a few pounds. But you know? I have a house, and a job and (as of tuesday) a new car. I've never lived in my mom's basement. I'm not doing too bad. I don't know, maybe the guy with the gut, walking around wearing a snuggie as a robe all day is secretly a millionaire playboy, but...I kind of doubt it. Then there are the guys with the weird pimp hats and/or cloaks (though, in their 'defense' they were LARPers.. no gamers). Yeaaaahhhh. Oh, and the guy who just came up to Steve2 and I, out of the blue, asking if he could 'run a weapon by us'. Whatever THAT means. He starts by referencing a TV show I didn't know, then makes some long-winded and oblique references to a sling-shot and spurs. After five minutes of 'conversation' with no end in sight, Steve and I managed to excuse ourselves...and ran. Yeah.

On the other hand, its people like the aforementioned—who do indeed seem to be in the minority—that seem to draw all the attention and reinforce the stereotypes that make me keep my gaming habits pretty much 'in the closet'. It probably sounds terrible of me for saying this, but damn it, it would be nice to just be able to do something I enjoy without being labelled a 'freak' just because of Snuggie guy or Sling-shot-spur-guy. I mean, there are PLENTY of other (personal) reasons I could be labelled a frea- err.. but, I digress.

Oh, and then there are the anecdotes. Okay...let me go over this for any gamers who might be listening. Anecdotes are best when they're short and punchy. Quick set up, punch line, then 'g'night' everybody!'. I do not need a complete history of the character you were playing at the time, or a treatise in the gaming universe they lived in. Don't get me wrong, I LOVE swapping gaming stories. Love, love love it. But going into too much detail is...well, too much. Thankfully, my immediate buddies seem to realize this, and tell some really great anecdotes (aside to buddies: *flaps hand open and closed* "Shut your whore mouth!").

Suffice it to say that the situations above both amuse and frustrate me.

Now, beyond the previous superficial stuff, I encountered a few other things that were both humorous and a bit irritating. The first of these was the d20 discussion—primarily regarding D&D 4th edition. It is no secret that the d20 system is not my preference. But if other people like it? Well. More power to them. What I do NOT like is people condemning a game system as a whole because of their personal preferences. There were a few discussions on this, most of which I side-stepped as much as possible. But the attitude was still prevalent in some.

I guess what I found most irritating (and funny) was the attitude and advice given to me by another gamer. I have nothing against the guy. He runs Star Wars d20. He uses the ALL the source material in the Expanded universe as Canon. That's his preference. Fine. But while swapping stories with him, I began to detect a bit of an 'attitude'. To me, it seemed he was rather disapproving of my campaign, or at least the details in it. See, someone at WotC (in what I deem to be their attempt to D&Dize Star Wars) decided that Tusken (and several other races) just could not be Jedi. As far as d20 goes, Tusken are essentially Orcs. Mindless, brutal opponents. Thus, the fact that we have a Tusken in our party, and he is a Jedi, rubs this gamer the wrong way.

Now, in the D6 sourcebooks, they have this lovely little short story about a young Moisture farmer getting trapped out in the desert at night and accidently stumbling upon a Tusken singing over the corpse of its dead bantha—giving it a burial tribute. It was just a snippet of information, but added a great deal of depth to the Tusken as a whole. It made them more than 2-dimensional bad guys. Yes, they were barbarians, and occasionally brutal, but they weren't evil (at least not all of them). So sue me if I prefer this version to the d20.

At another point, this gamer (after watching a bit of our session), actually took me aside to point out that the NPCs my guys were fighting were actually much less powerful than the PCs. I knew full well that was the case. In fact, that was kind of the point. At the power level of my campaign, not every NPC or challenge is going to be at an equal level to the PCs. If I did so, then the game would be a constant (and frustrating) escalation where the players powers would ALWAYS be at parity with their opponents. They would never get the chance to 'cut loose'.

The NPCs that the group were fighting were very good for NPCs, with 7D skills and training in combined fire. And my players, even as they defeated them, noticed that their opponents were well above average, even if they did beat them handily. And that was kind of the point of the encounter. To introduce the fact that they have an enemy/rival out there with access to some really good people. My players are smart enough to realize that these NPCs DO present a very real threat to the 'average' guys that make up the rest of the Republic and its allies.

So, yes. I had a reason for introducing less-powerful people. But that goes against what is evidently a d20ism: The Challenge Rating. This is something that is supposed to ensure that players always fight things roughly equal to their ability to face them. I am not a fan of this system. In fact, having encountered it in RPGs before, I find it very frustrating. Take 'The Force Unleashed' (please!). As your guy gets more and more badass powers, he finds himself facing more and more people who are partly (if not entirely) immune to them. To this, I say—what is the freaking point? It is much more realistic (and satisfying) to have the players encounter challenges below AND above their abilities. It is more dramatic and dynamic that way. And I DO occasionally throw stuff at my PCs that is too much for them to handle, whether it is sheer numbers or incredibly skilled opponents. The key is—they (usually) know, In character, when to cut and run and when to stand and fight.

Honestly, and I don't want to sound 'pompous' or anything here (too late!), but I think there are stages that most gamers (and GMs in particular) go through. Like the gamer in question here, there was a time where I took any rule doled out by West End Games (the maker of the SW D6 Game) as LAW. But as I matured as a GM, I began to realize that not everything works as written, at least not to my liking. I also realized that with experience, I probably knew as much about the game as its designers did. I felt more comfortable to branch out on my own, as it were—both in the rules and the setting itself.

So in short, thanks for the advice, but I think I'm doing okay.

Ahhh, Gamers. Gotta love 'em. From a distance, of course.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Some Funny Anecdotes

As always seems to happen with a gaming group, much of the table talk revolves around humorous observations and side-tracks to what is going on in the game. This was certainly the case with my recent gaming in South Dakota. But apart from the hugely funny table-talk, there was quite a bit of in-game humor as well—and from some rather unexpected sources.

Out of Character, Horatio's explorations into just how cool his character was were just cracking me up. Everyone kept chiming in throughout the game for the titles of his imaginary memoirs. Chapter 22: Awesome. Chapter 23: Still Awesome. Chapter 24: The battle of Tatooine (and I'm still awesome).

Then there was the running gag of "This is /not/ ideal."—a reference by Steve2 and me to an episode of Man vs. Wild where the dude is suddenly confronted by sheer cliffs on all sides and the river he was following flows under them, into a cave. His understated response to this is: "This is NOT ideal." No. Not ideal at all. And many instances in the adventure were not 'ideal' either.

In-Character, Oman had 'upgraded' his Basilisk War Droids with increased intelligence and personality modules. This resulted in some very prideful and downright argumentative droids (though they remain quite useful). Oman is still in the process of trying to win the 'respect' of his droid. And judging from their exchanges, this could take a while. A good example of their current 'relationship' is the way they refer to each other. Wrex, being about 4,000 years old, considers himself a 'veteran' and is proud of the fact he knew the last "Real" (as he puts it) Mandalore (Canderous Ordo) all those years ago. When referring to Oman as Mandalore, he takes great pains to inflect the word so that you can just hear the "finger quotes" around it. For his part, Oman calls Wrex "Old Man", in response to his advanced age (though honestly, he has no room to speak!)

And when confronted with possible biological contamination during the adventure, Wrex thought it was appropriate to tell Oman all sorts of horror stories about 'organics' suffering from such diseases—"are you sure the seals on your suit are tight?" "you know, I once saw a guy hit with the genebian plague... bled right out of his suit. Was a real mess..." Yeah. Wrex is proving to be a real smart ass.

Then there was the time where Bob the Tusken was trying to explain the interaction between a ship's hyperdrive and it's cloaking device—utilizing the analogy of pouring water between two buckets of water. This received blank stares from the rest of the group, who had no idea what he was trying to get at. This also led to a time later in the adventure where bob is once again philosophizing in-character, trying to help the Nagai discover "culture". From the cargo bay of the ship, Wrex (who had been listening in) shouts wryly. "Hey, Bob, why don't you use the bucket of water analogy again. That worked so well the last time..."

Oh, and as far as funny goes—see the above. A Tusken raider lecturing someone on culture.

Ah yes, and one more from Bob—while speaking with the Nagai, he is trying to describe several different ideas and makes reference to Horatio's girlfriend Reen as: "One who Horatio banging." Guess he forgot to turn up the gain on his translator box for that one...

There were a lot more laughs all around, but those are the only ones I remember at the moment...and I thought I'd hurry and write them down before I forgot!

Fun in Dakota

Well, I'm back. And I had a great trip to South Dakota—and an awesome time gaming. I guess you could officially say that I went to a 'gaming convention', but in all honesty, I was just there to play and hang out with the 'old gang'. And just like last year, it turned into one heck of a gaming experience.

We played again with our original characters in a campaign that is now about 19 years old. And as you'd expect, 19-year old characters are pretty damn experienced by this point. Thus it was a challenge for me to try to come up with challenges that didn't just flex the 'stat muscles' of the characters, but rather got them to do a lot of thinking and decision-making.

In my last post, I threw out a lot of the ideas I had bouncing around for an adventure to run. And miraculously I was able to work in just about all of them. Yeah, I was really pushing to do so, but my players seemed to enjoy it and I had a whole hell of a lot of fun.

Since this is my blog, and thus my place to ramble, I'll give an account now of just what happened, starting with a quick recap of where things left off last year:

It is now roughly 13 years after the battle of Yavin. As far as 'canon' goes, I incorporated the Heir to the Empire Novels, the Dark Empire comic series (but not Dark Empire II) and the Jedi Academy Novels. After that? No. I am not going by any of the written novels, mainly because I feel they are, to put it nicely, rubbish.

The New Republic is approximately 9 years old and has weathered various crises and come out the stronger for it. About 6 months prior to the current timeline, the Galaxy was on the verge of peace, with the Imperial Remnant and the Corporate sector (chief rivals of the NR) both meeting on Coruscant to sign a treaty that would essentially end the civil war. Unfortunately, a new menace chose this moment to strike—attacking the conference itself and sewing chaos and confusion in thousands of other systems around the galaxy via a well-planned undercover destabilization effort. Following close on the heels of this, the enemy made itself known via a full-scale invasion. The Nagai (detailed here and here) swept through Republic, Imperial and Corporate space alike, with advanced technology and numbers that caught the Galaxy by surprise. Through the efforts of a great many heroes (some of whom were my PCs) the onslaught was finally halted when 2/3rds of the Nagai fleet was re-routed to another dimension (Otherspace). Having gained some breathing room, the Republic has recovered and begun to strike back, all the while holding together the fragile Empire/Corporate alliance versus a common foe.

The adventure began with the individual stories of the main PC's involved:

Rick Oman (aka Fenn) is back home with his people, struggling with the various issues of a suddenly reunited Mandalorian 'nation'. There are frictions between the clans, governmental issues, societal issues, political issues. And all of it falls on the shoulders of Oman—who must also deal with the fact that the war against the Nagai is RIGHT on his front doorstep. There was some great RP here (on the car trip from Denver to South Dakota)—from the laying down of new laws and societal restructuring to a very humorous news interview in which Oman tried to describe (without compromising any top secret information) the rumors behind his time-traveling accident. This prelude culminated in a huge battle, with Oman leading his Mandalorians in a boarding action on one of the Nagai 'worldships' that leads to its destruction. It is here he makes an odd discovery as well—a Nagai shipyard 'growing' new ships from a destroyed planet seems to be producing inferior craft.

Bob the Tusken is also home with his people. Having seen the scope of Galactic warfare, he has decided that the Tusken must do their part for the greater good as well (oh, and gain some 'loot' while they're at it). Thus it was that he sought to prove himself as a "Khan" and unite the various tribes in a manner that had not been done in centuries. To do this, he set out to find and defeat a Krayt dragon. And defeat it he did, in single battle. Bringing the bloody head (and some holo-recordings of him fighting it) back to his tribe as proof of his worthiness, he began the process of creating the great horde (and also began talks with the Republic for a way to transport them to where they would be needed).

Arianne is assigned to a desk job with New Republic Intelligence (giving her time to be with her family). But even as she works at this, she finds that not all is right within the NR. There are subtle signs of manipulation from within. Mysterious orders are routing and re-routing personnel and seem to be trying to shift Jedi NRI Agents AWAY from the front. Signs point to a traitor within the ranks, but the lone agent uncovered manages to escape.

Horatio Flynn has returned to his independent roots, hiring out as a scout for the hard-pressed New Republic fleet. He spends his days onboard his ship, deep within Nagai space. While sitting dead and masked in space, his sensors monitor enemy activity—giving Horatio time to work on his memoirs (never mind the fact he's only in his mid-twenties...and is far from famous). But what is otherwise a dull routine is soon interrupted by signs of trouble within the Nagai fleet. First they destroy one of their ships as it begins to behave erratically, and then he sees another fleet completely abandon a planet—mere hours after picking up an odd energy signature in orbit.

It is at this abandoned planet that the four heroes finally cross paths again. Arianne, Bob and Oman are assigned as Intel support for a full-scale assault on the planet, and as the fleet and troops move in, Horatio (having been watching in deep space) joins them. (At this point, the GM breathes a sigh of relief as he finally has all his people in one place). With the Nagai fleet having suddenly abandoned the planet, the assault on the surface goes well—that is, until the NR forces on the ground discover signs of biological warfare. The Nagai and their ground-troops are found to have been almost entirely exterminated by contagion, while a good 10-percent of the population seems likewise infected. After a brief quarantine, however, it is found that the disease must have already run its course, as no NR soldiers come down with it, even though 1 in 10 of the civilians that had been showing signs die from it.

While the plague is being studied, the team is sent on another mission—a Nagai has asked to be 'taken in' and try to work out some kind of peace treaty. She says she represents a 'fifth column' among the Nagai and could help in stopping the war. Her retrieval on Ord Mantel is a bit bumpy, with the Empire attempting to butt in and a Nagai assassin attempting to silence the traitor. As the team prepares to leave with its 'guest', however, a new wrinkle is thrown into the works. Evidently, the Nagai recognizes Horatio—he bears an uncanny resemblance to one of the greatest Nagai leaders of all time. And what's more, the Nagai traitor insinuates that she was, in fact, the lover of this great leader and she believes Horatio to be a great ancestor of the man she knew, who was lost thousands of years ago while attempting to cross the galactic barrier. Horatio responds with a combination of abject terror (at the thought that he may soon have a lot of unwanted responsibility) and his usual self-centeredness (he always knew he was great, now its official).

Even as they turn the Nagai over to NRI for debriefing, the team is put back on the case of the biological warfare incident—discovering that the disease in question bears the trademarks of an Imperial Scientist who had been imprisoned for years prior. This prompts a visit to the prison, only to find that the Scientist in question is missing—having been 'transferred' in response to a mysterious order. The group also finds that another dangerous prisoner (Rina Nothos) is also in the process of being transferred. This leads to a battle with an imposter team of NR soldiers in the hangar bay. They are defeated and Rina is put back into prison. Questioning shows that the soldiers are actually ex-rebel agents—highly experienced and loyal to the Republic, but unwilling to talk about their mission here.

Seizing the opportunity, the team board's the shuttle that the fake guards were going to move the prisoner in. They rendezvous in deep space with another Republic vessel and discover that it's captain, too, is in cahoots with the conspirators. The team takes control of THAT ship (after a tense stand-off with its captain) and continues down the trail of clues, trying to follow them deeper into what is becoming a very large problem. It is as this point that a high-tech Stealth corvette disables the PCs new ship and invites the team onboard to 'talk'. Though allowed to keep their weapons, the team is very tense as they meet with the captain of the Stealth ship—a highly decorated Republic officer by the name of Kerri Lessev (an NPC I stole from Cracken's Rebel Operatives).

The group travels onboard this ship to a secret base where they meet a shadowy figure who identifies himself as Corewatch—the name of a highly skilled operative who worked for the Rebellion throughout the war, but was presumed dead around the time of Endor. Through his holographic proxy, Corewatch informs the PCs of his plan. He intends to resurrect the philosophy of the mythical 'Genoharadan' organization—a shadowy group of bounty-hunters and assassins who claimed to once 'control the course of galactic history', from behind the scenes. In this case, Corewatch's goals are noble—to stop the Nagai threat and finally return the Galaxy to peace after so many years of conflict. To do this, however, he feels that he cannot operate within the ideological restraints of the New Republic he claims to love. In short, he is going to save and maintain the Republic by doing the things it will not officially allow. All he wants is for the PCs to step aside, or better yet join him—but he knows from their records that this is unlikely. He gives the players a tour of his facility, revealing to them that this new Genoharadan have access to many of the Galaxy's most lethal superweapons—the anti-Nagai biological agent being just one of many.

The ideological debate this sparked between Corewatch and the players—and indeed between the characters themselves—was at the heart of the situation. How far would they be willing to go to stop this. What are acceptable losses? Ultimately, the PCs decide to take Corewatch down, and even manage to plant a seed of doubt in another of his top agents (the former-Imperial Noghri assassin, Ruhk). Through the Force, the Jedi of the group manage to contact the outside world—summoning help in the form of Luke Skywalker and a squadron of Jedi Knights. But corewatch strikes first, attacking them in their 'guest chambers'. Someone mysterious aids the PCs, though, allowing them to escape the Asteroid even as Luke and the NR hit it from outside. Utilizing a teleportation device, the group makes it back to coruscant and files a full report.

In the absence of the PCs, the Nagai traitor has given some very useful information that backs up things that Oman had seen much earlier in his battle with the Nagai. The ores found in this galaxy are evidently not of the right composition to build their starships. The ships growing now are much less effective than the originals—which have actually been taking heavy losses in the war thus far. The Nagai further intimates that her people are searching the galaxy now for planets with the right elemental makeup. And now they have set their sights on the seemingly unstrategic world of Tatooine. Though the ore on this world has proven sub-standard for use in Galactic technology, its unstable nature is evidently just what the Nagai need.

Realizing that Horatio could be a great asset when dealing with the Nagai, it is decided to allow him to undergo a Nagai ritual that will 'activate' the dormant genes of his body—or kill him if it proves he is NOT an ancestor of their great leader. Horatio survives. And as such, finds himself suddenly in the position to being the long lost heir to the Nagai throne—sort of. To make matters more complicated, Horatio finds himself torn between his love of his Jedi girlfriend, Reen, and the jealous attentions of his new Nagai friend, who wishes to rekindle a romance with her 'reborn' lover.

With all the ships at the front, the Republic is left to scramble to scrape up enough ships and men to respond to the threat to Tatooine. The PCs are sent ahead to the system to help prepare and assemble the piecemeal fleet and army responding to the call. Bob the Tusken returns to his gathering horde—who's mettle will have to be tested not abroad, but right here on their own world. Meanwhile, Arianne and Oman strategize and organize the fleet, preparing this time to Capture it's flag 'worldship'. Central to this plan is the attempt to smuggle Horatio onboard the Worldship to link up with Nagai trators already onboard—and hopefully turn others to his cause.

The Nagai fleet arrives and attacks Tatooine, seemingly without resistance—striking just where the Traitor said they would. A giant crystalline drill is fired into the planet, striking part of the mostly deserted city of Mos Espa. Thousands of ground troops are sent in to make a perimeter around it to defend from ground attack. The fleet in orbit spreads out to defend itself as the NR fleet emerges from behind the planet's moon to engage them. The battle is soon joined on both fronts as the Tusken horde emerges from hiding in the wastes outside of Mos Espa and charges in to do battle (flanked and supported by NR troops). The battle is costly on all sides, with the second-like Republic vessels taking the brunt of the damage. Oman, Arianne, Horatio and the Nagai trator fly through the chaos of battle and onto the world-ship, making their way towards it's control node while the main boarding force battles its way via another route.

On the ground, the unexpected Bantha cavalry charge proves devastating to the Nagai ground troops, breaking their ranks. Bob leads a republic demolitions team into the drill to shut it down. Above, Horatio and the team link up with more of the fifth column and battle their way to the control node to confront the commander of this task force. There, Horatio does the unexpected, heroically (using a force point and some great RP) commanding the Nagai to lay down his arms and swear loyalty to his true ruler. Surprisingly, the Nagai does just that. Now in control of the World ship, Horatio uses its firepower to get the attention of the rest of the alien fleet. He gives them the ultimatum of joining him—or dying. Some join. Some flee. Some die. In the end, the Republic wins the day—though once again at great cost.

And so, the Galaxy continues to balance on the brink. The outcome of the war is still in question—especially considering the possibility that the Nagai fleet may yet find a way to return from their extra-dimensional prison and rejoin the battle. And the matter of Corewatch has yet to be resolved. Though the New Republic believes it has severely hampered his operations, he is still out there. And what of the Horatio's precarious position as 'true leader' of the Nagai? Will he live up to the responsibility? Or is he merely a tool for his supposed allies. We'll have to see what happens... next year.

So, as you can tell, we had a VERY busy 2-3 days of playing to cover all that ground. At times, I felt like I was rushing (and I was), but overall I am very pleased—especially with the roleplay of my players. They were all very much 'on' and my summary of the adventure truly does them little justice. What stood out for me with this adventure were the following:

Epic Scale
More than ever before, the PCs were operating at a very 'strategic' level. They were in the thick of things, but they were also responsible for very large operations and quite a few troops. The stakes were likewise very high—entire fleets, planets and even races were affected by their actions and decisions.

Roleplay Heavy
Hand-in-hand with the epic scale of the adventure came the fact that role play and decision making was a LOT more important than combat in this adventure. Indeed, apart from a few sharp, short encounters, much of the game involved strategy, ideology and social interaction. Bargain, Con, Command, Persuasion, Tactics and even Philosophy skills actually got used—a lot. And everyone really had their moments to shine. Arianne had some great ideological debates with both Corewatch and one of his underlings (Ruhk). Bob had a very poignant and meaningful conversation with the Nagai traitor about how to find an 'identity' as a people. Oman had a truly awesome interview with Galactic news in which he came off as a rather good statesmen on the one hand an a kook on the other. And Horatio? Well, the smart-ass was a smart ass. The running joke after he found out about his Nagai heritage was the chapter titles in his memoirs: "Chapter 25: Still Awesome." etc. But more than this, he really stepped up to the plate when it came to his new position as 'heir to the throne'. Its really funny to see how he reacts—and will react—to this kind of responsibility and pressure.

Once again, it was a truly awesome time. I will probably have a ton of posts about it in the future. But for now, I'll stop rambling. Hope you enjoy.