Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Review: Supernova


It has been a while since I did my last review. Part of the reason for this is that I got pulled into other projects, but I'd say another part is that I have reviewed most of the products that I am most familiar with. Thus, it takes me a while to re-read the books enough to make a fair (or at least informed) review. Supernova is a perfect-bound book in the style of many of the later West End Games adventures supplements—a collection of shorter adventures that are related.

The framing device for this particular collection of adventures is the world of Demophon—a planet in a system who's sun is about to go supernova. The first part of the book covers this system, offering details on the planet and the situation that will become important later. There are six adventures in the collection, and I'll go through each one in turn, starting with...

In this adventure, it is assumed that the player characters are free-traders, come to Demophon to make some quick money by hauling goods off the doomed planet. Things quickly become more complicated when it is discovered that the 'goods' are actually crates filled with refugees—people whom the Empire did NOT want to leave the planet due to their rebel sympathies. After a harrowing escape, the PCs make it off planet and transport the refugees to a safeworld. There, they are asked to make a return trip to Demophon to rescue the man who helped the refugees escape in the first place—a kind-hearted businessman now likely being held by the ISB (Imperial secret police). From there, the story assumes the players book passage on a passenger ship back to Demophon, do some investigating, then plan their infiltration of ISB headquarters. After the rescue, the PCs must figure out some way off the planet—either by stealing an Imperial shuttle or returning to the transport they arrived on.

Now, in reading this, you may have already seen a few problems. The assumptions that this particular plot makes feel very railroady to me. And neither do I like the fact that the PCs are assumed to be smugglers/tramp freighters. The latter is just kind of a peeve of mine—I always prefer to at least give the option of being freighters OR Rebel operatives (not that the adventure isn't easily adaptable to either). The whole thing where the players book passage on a LINER to go BACK to the doomed planet in the midst of an evacuation just seems goofy to me as well. Because yeah... a bunch of people booking passage ONTO a death world isn't suspicious at all.

To it's credit, however, the last part of the adventure (the break-in to the ISB headquarters) is left pretty free-form. Quite a few options are presented for gaining entrance, and hints are offered at how to handle each. The method of break-in and how the players act inside are all 'unscripted'. There is also a HELL of a lot of information on various NPCs, vehicles and locations, as well as a highly detailed map of the interior of the ISB base—this latter could easily be re-used for other adventures (considering the Empire's fetish for pre-fabricated bases).

Overall, I would say that Infiltration is an 'okay' adventure. It will require some tailoring to mesh with different campaign types and in all honesty, the break-in at the ISB base could be a death-sentence for foolhardy players or even inexperienced characters—so GMs beware (and players) beware.

The Mynock Conspiracy
In this adventure, the players are assumed to be Rebel agents, making contact with sympathizers on a very odd agricultural world (odd because all the farming takes place on floating platforms in the super-fertile atmosphere of a gas giant). Things quickly turn bad when the sympathetic ag platform is found nearly destroyed—evidently by a virus that turns droids homicidal. From there, the party is hired by one of the other ag companies to investigate this apparent sabotage—and stop it from happening again (and perhaps use it against the bad guys).

This adventure has only a very loose relation to any of the others in this collection. It just happens to be in the same sector as the other planet(s) in questin. That doesn't really /bother/ me, but it is a little confusing. Likewise, the fact that the party in this adventure is assumed to be a rebel team, while in the first, they are assumed to be smugglers...well, it doesn't do anything to help the cohesiveness of the collection.

As with the previous adventure, however, this one is rather linear in its design—often making assumptions about how the Characters will act or react. But there are enough options provided for GMs to keep it from being TOO linear (though I wouldn't remotely consider it a 'sandbox' type adventure). The adventure concept is interesting enough, combining various different elements: from the spooky investigation of a 'dead' base; to tense negotiations with suspicious corporate types—trying to convince them of the danger before it can claim them, too; to the possible infiltration of a hostile facility for some 'in kind' payback.

Overall, this is a good little stand-alone adventure. It could easily be inserted into any Rebel or Smuggler campaign and it offers an interesting selection of adversaries and obstacles—not just your typical shootouts and dogfights.

This adventure once again finds the party traveling to the doomed planet of Demophon—this time to the once pleasant domed city of D'larah. The party is assumed to be a freighter-crew, hired to evacuate a family—an apparently simple mission that quickly turns nasty as they encounter a city in the grip of panic. Desperate citizens and criminals attempt to steal the party's ship or their money, or both. Is the hard-pressed police captain really an ally? Or does he have an angle...and the family the party came to rescue isn't exactly innocent either.

Right off the bat, I have a couple minor problems with the set-up of this adventure. First of all, if this IS played as part of the whole 'collection' of adventures in this book, it would come after the PCs (and their ship) have TWICE caused quite a disturbance on the planet Demophon. Yes, I realize that planets are big and that the chaos surrounding the evacuation of a planet can disguise a lot, but it would seem to me that the first adventure (Infiltration) would have made the party number one on the Imperial hit list. It would make more sense to me to have this adventure be the FIRST in the series rather than the last.

Another issue is that the party is once again classified as a freighter crew, not rebels. Again, this is minor, but the fact that this seems to switch back and forth every other adventure points out quite blatantly that the book was not conceived of as a cohesive 'campaign', but just a collection of somewhat related adventures. Normally, this is fine, but in this case, by making a planet 'too hot to go to' in one adventure, then having the players return in another as if nothing happened, it stretches believability and makes the adventures difficult to run for the same group.

While I am normally all for background material in my adventures, I can't help but feel that the four pages devoted to describing the city of D'larah, its government, politics, organizations, etc., was a bit excessive for a 'disposable' location. I mean, the city, the planet, the entire system is going to blow up. Why do we need ALL of that detail. It isn't as though we can have the players return here for further adventures at a later date.

Though at first glance (and as written) this adventure seems rather linear, I feel the framework allows for a lot of variation. In fact, if I had run this adventure for MY group, I know several major 'events' never would have happened. But that's the way things go when you allow for players to 'jump the rails' of a story line. There is one event in particular that I think most adventuring parties would thwart—the part where the party's ship is stolen while they are out and about in the city. I can't think of many groups who would leave their ships completely unprotected, especially when landing on a planet where people are desperate to get off world—and indeed, someone tried to steal it the moment they landed. The 'assumption' that the ship is just stolen is a big one. The party may have left one person behind to guard it, or an NPC or even droids.

But, for all these negatives, there are things to recommend the adventure. The plot is solid enough, and has some good twists and turns (though the 'triplecross' may be a bit misleading—its not as convoluted as that). The encounters are varied and include moral choices (do you shoot the sweet old couple that is trying to rob you in order to raise money to escape the planet?), which is always a good thing. The NPCs have motivations and secrets, making them more than just obstacles or allies—easier for the GM to hook into and play with a purpose.

Overall, its a good enough adventure, but GMs with healthily-paranoid parties may find that the entire third act (ship theft and recovery), just doesn't happen—at least not as written.

The Evacuation of Jatee
In this adventure, the party (assumed to be working as operatives for the Rebellion) is sent to a remote asteroid in the Demophon system to evacuate a fellow agent and her 'friends' who had been sabotaging Imperial mining operations. Upon arrival, the party's ship is destroyed and they must make use of armed power-suits to navigate the asteroid and find their evacuee. Unfortunately, the party discovers that there are a lot more beings to evacuate than one agent and her 'friends'. Thus begins a quest to recover a suitably large starship and find a safe place to move all of the evacuees.

This adventure is the worst in this book, and probably one of the worst produced by West End Games. It has many glaring plot holes and contrivances intended to force the players into one particular course of action. As far as the plot holes go—you would think that when being sent on an evacuation mission, someone would ask the question "exactly how many people are we trying to evacuate?" and you think that the agent on-site would at least give SOME indication as to how large a ship to bring. But no. Neither Alliance command nor the on-site agent think to ask or provide this information—so when the party arrives, they find themselves woefully unprepared for the magnitude of the task.

And then there is the ship the players are assigned. Setting aside the fact that most PC groups would have their own ships, the one the players are given is barely functional—and yet intended to run a gauntlet of Imperial security droids and the like. The NPC commander says this is because they can't spare any resources. Right. So... why exactly is this barely functional ship equipped with numerous suits of combat power-armor (which, according to the stats provided, are each worth 30,000 credits—more than the cost of a used starship). Why? Because the plot says so—and because the ship will be destroyed and the players will have to use their suits to battle the bad guys. It is one big excuse to (for whatever the reason) use power armor. In fact, once the group gets to the evacuation site, the agent there has even MORE and different suits of power armor for them to use. It is a contrivance and a blatant one at that.

And that's just the first part of the adventure. From there, you have a pretty straight-forward "raid the Imperial base" scenario, to steal a starship. The stolen starship, of course, has a tracking device on it—which it is assumed will not be discovered by the players. Thus, they have to battle their way out past more Imperial security droids. This done, they retreat to a safe planet to offload the refugees—only to immediately find that the planet is being scouted by an Imperial ship (which they need to somehow deal with). And after THAT, the safe planet is attacked by Pirates who think the PCs are after their buried treasure (or some nonsense). There is no real 'flow' to the action in the latter half of the adventure. The climax that should have come when the players escaped from the doomed asteroid is then followed by this string of anti-climaxes that seemed 'tacked on'.

Since I am generally an optimist, I CAN see the kernel of goodness amidst this mess. The idea of a 'full-scale' evacuation is an interesting enough one. And the plight of those being evacuated is a poignant one—because not everyone is going to be able to leave. Thus, there is a bit of drama when the players realize the magnitude of what they're doing. I remember actually running this adventure for my group. But unlike other adventures, of which I have very vivid memories, I don't really remember much of this except that it fell kind of flat because I was using it as a 'last minute' adventure—one I hadn't prepared for and one I didn't realize was as big of a mess as it is.

As a GM, I would be wary of using the adventure as written. It could be made to work, but it would take effort to do so. I would also consider cutting out the whole power-armor angle, as it just makes NO sense in the context of what is going on. At least not to me. This is ironic, I feel, since the armor seemed to be the whole point of the adventure from the author's point of view.

The Beginning of the End
The final chapter in the Supernova collection, this adventure has the players making one final run to the doomed world of Demophon, this time to recover a lost rebel agent. With the situation growing ever more critical, the players must infiltrate the city of Byrne and follow a trail of clues to find the lost agent. Along the way, they will be faced with the apocalyptic chaos of a city on the edge—looters, desperate survivors looking for a way off planet, ruthless Imperials striving to keep order with the last few evacuees (and get off the world themselves) and even a band of bloodthirsty (and greedy) pirates.

In rather stark contrast to the previous adventure, this one is probably the best in the collection. Here, we have a true sense of desperation and doom. The epic scale that is so much a part of Star Wars is on display here—with an entire world and millions of people going to die. And the players are actually flying INTO this mess. Though there is a trail of clues to follow in order to find the lost agent, the encounters along the way are rather open ended, offering a 'flexible' storyline.

Unfortunately, the story makes one very bad 'assumption'. It isn't a deal breaker, but it is annoying in an otherwise solid adventure. This assumption is that the players are going to just land their ship at the starport and, when demanded by the Empire, simply turn it over to them. In a situation as desperate as this, I would imagine that MOST PC groups would choose to land their ship outside of town and try to sneak in. I also imagine most groups would NOT simply surrender their ships. And yet, the author seems to take this as something the PCs will just do in order to facilitate his story. This point could easily be cut out of the adventure and it would work just as well (though it may make the final encounter with the pirates a bit less desperate, as the PCs will have their own way off planet and wont have to rely on 'acquiring' one as the adventure outlines).

It has taken me quite a while to get to this review of Supernova. This is partly because it was one of the later books produced by West End Games. But it was also because of the personal dislike I have for this collection. Honestly, I can't tell you why I have this prejudice—perhaps it stems from my running of the Evacuation of Jatee (which left a sour taste). In re-reading the adventures, I have found some things to like, and yet still I am left with an overall 'meh' feeling towards this book that isn't entirely warranted. Perhaps if I had gone into it knowing that some of the adventures within were crappy, I would have had a better time dealing with it—and could have prepared better. Consider this fair warning, and GMs out there reading this. As Luke said: "There is good in you. I can feel it." It is just going to take some work on the GM's part to bring that good out.

Sail Barge

As mentioned in my previous post, I was doing some research into the Sail Barge to see just how big it was. Official size was listed as 30m in length. Wrong. Its more like 45—this judging from the size of people on it's deck in shots from the movie. This revamping in size moves it from the 'Large' to the 'Very large' size category—which seems to make sense.

Hammering Out the Details

In organizing my Star Wars Rules compendium (yes, I do start all posts this way- at least, recently...)...

I have found that putting things down 'on paper' has made me rather paranoid. No. Not paranoid—anal retentive. Considering all the inconsistencies I have found in various source materials, I am now skeptical of just about every source there is, from West End Games to Wookieepedia to the various Guides and Cross-Sections books about Star Wars. There are often conflicting stats and specifics given for things (as I've discussed before). So what I'm doing now is trying to filter all of this down into something that 1) Goes along with what we see in the movies (this is almost always #1), and 2) Works for me logically (since this is MY take on the Star Wars universe).

Right now, all of my paranoid-retentiveness is focused upon scale. Just how different vehicles and critters relate to each other size-wise. And THIS all stemmed from revamping the scale system for the Star Wars game. I had never really thought about it before, but in that system, the Millennium Falcon (30m x 26m) is on the same Scale as an X-Wing (12.5m x 11m). While I realize that the larger things get, the less the difference in scale really matters (is it that much harder to shoot a 1000m long ship vs. a 1600m long ship?), it is a matter of 'relativity', especially in smaller-scale vehicles that could easily be entering direct conflict with player characters during the game. When you bring it down to THAT level, it IS a lot more easy to hit a Freighter like the Falcon than it would be to hit an X-Wing.

And so, geek that I am, I embarked on making a spreadsheet of the various vehicle sizes, trying to get at least an idea of what is bigger than what and what things are kind of the same size. From there, I could group them into more coherent categories that work for me. Of course I couldn't just base things on length, width and height—'bulk' had to play into it as well. Not really liking math, the system I used was crude, but...seems to be effective enough. In the process, I discovered some pretty interesting things (well, interesting to me at least).

Apart from the size discrepancies I mentioned in my last post (of which there are a LOT), I found many vehicles and critters just aren't the size I thought they were. One thing that surprised me was the overall size of a TIE fighter as compared to an X-Wing. I had always though the TIE was quite a bit smaller than an X-Wing in terms of total mass. This is not the case. They're actually pretty much equal in size. And the AT-AT Walker, which I had always thought was the largest of vehicles, is actually a good bit smaller than your average YT-1300 transport in terms of overall bulk.

And so, armed with this new information, I think I've come up with a pretty good scaling system for vehicles, divided into 5 main sizes (just as there are 5 main difficulty numbers in the game—neat, huh?).

Very Small Vehicles — These are things like Speeder-Bikes, STAPs and your smaller swoops.

Small Vehicles — This includes things like small, civilian landspeeders (like Luke's) and airspeeders (like the ones in the Coruscant chase scene in Episode II), as well as your more exotic things like "vulture" droid fighters, small podracers (like Anakin's) and AT-RTs (those small, 'ridable' walkers).

Medium Vehicles — This is the broadest category, ranging from the compact Snowspeeders and Jedi Starfighters through AT-STs, X-Wings and TIEs all the way up to the heavy-hitters like repulsortanks, the ARC-170, B-Wing and TIE Bombers.

Large Vehicles — This category includes most of the big combat vehicles—AT-TE and AT-AT walkers, Juggernaut Tanks, the LAAT combat gunship airspeeders (introduced in Episode II). It also includes smaller starships, like Boba Fett's Slave-I and Lambda-Class shuttles. Gunships like the Skipray and Starwing fall into this category as well—significantly larger than the fighters they often duke it out with. I was also surprised to find Jabba's sail barge fit in this category. But the given dimensions seem accurate, making it actually smaller than the Falcon and other 'light' transports (I'm still looking into this as we speak).

Very Large Vehicles — For the most part, this category includes only freighter starships. The YT-1300 (like the Falcon) is at the lower end of the category, with bigger Ghtroc and Barloz ships in the middle and the Luxury-3000 yacht at the top. The Sandcrawler is the only ground vehicle to make it into this section, being a LOT larger than I thought it was. Yeah, it's about as tall as an AT-AT, but it is SOLID all the way to the ground, meaning a lot more bulk.

Now, I won't go into a lot of detail (yet) about the exact mechanics of scale, and how they work in the game system I am writing up, but suffice it to say that size WILL matter. Ahem. At least in terms of combat. Yeah, your big old YT-1300 may be souped up with all kinds of guns, but it AINT a fighter. It presents a much bigger target. In a way, this is kind of a relief to me, as in my own gaming experience, freighter 'gunships' seemed always to make more 'sense' than your typical fighter. They were just as fast, more durable, had a lot more firepower, etc. Now? Well, they're going to be 2D more easy to hit than a fighter. Oops. That's mechanics. More on that later.

Oh, and in case you're wondering where critters fall in this scale? Well, I have to use different terminology to describe their sizes, but below is an example of how they fit in if they were measured against 'vehicle scales':

Very-Small — Womp Rats and other 'human sized' critters

Small — Kaadu (Gungan mounts), Eopies, Wampas, Tauntauns and even the Dewback

Medium — Banthas, Rontos, Rancors and the Gungan's big 'Fambaa' pack beasts

Large — The Opee Sea Killer (Crustacean-lookin fish from Episode I) and Krayt Dragons

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

wrong! Wrong! WRONG!

So in my rulebook revamping I have been working on vehicle and critter sections. I have always known that a lot of the game stats given for things were a bit wonky. Well, in my 'research' I have found out that a LOT of things are wonky, not just the stats found in gaming books. The biggest thing I've noticed are dimensions. Maybe its just men and their tendency to exaggerate.. lengths. But more likely, its just folks not bothering to check made up numbers with the.. made up things they're trying to measure. My god. Am I really this geeky? Yep. I am. But.. let me give you a few examples:

The A-Wing Starfighter. It's official stated length is 9.6m. Unfortunately, that just does NOT jive with the various visual representations I've seen of the thing—and just how small it seems to be in relation to the pilot. In 'reality' the A-Wing is probably closer to 5 and a half meters. That's a pretty huge difference. And there are a lot more like this- like the Super Star Destroyer, for instance, which has been sized at anywhere from 8km to 19km.

But one of the most glaring mistakes I found was in the size of the Rancor. The 'official' height of the beast is listed at 10 meters. Looking at the movies, you'll see this aint even close. It seems more plausible to me (and was borne out with a bit of 'research' that the Rancor is actually about 10 FEET high. Oh, us silly Americans and our misunderstanding of the metric system.

Anyway, it is just an observation—one I discovered while trying to (for the first time ever) try and really get an idea of how the sizes of different vehicles and critters relate to eachother (still fine-tuning the various 'scales' in my game). It has been an eye-opening (if incredibly geeky) exercise.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Page Examples

Here are a couple of example pages from the book. One of my pet peeves as a GM was having information organized in an easy-to-use format. For the sake of consolidating pages and the like, I understand why things were done the way they were in the last 'revised and expanded' rulebook, but I always disliked it when a planet file or alien race description would either run unevenly between two columns of the same page or (worse) cut from a page on one spread to a page on the following (meaning you have to flip pages). When I want to use information in a game, I want it all readily available. This is the reason for the column format I am adapting. While I admit it may not be as dynamic or even aesthetically pleasing as the 'flow' of the last D6 rule book, I feel it is a lot more reference friendly in these self-contained blocks.

You will also note that I do not go into extreme detail on any subject—planet or alien. I give what I consider the basics. If a GM wants or needs more, he can delve into online information sources or just make things up based upon the information given.

You may also note that some of the information presented diverts from canon. That is intentional, as this is MY take on the SW universe. I do not contradict things shown or spoken about in the movies. The one exception to this being the omission of midichlorians. Which are stupid. Very stupid. In any case, enjoy. And if you have feedback, hit me with it.

Writing is a Challenge

Even when you know what you want to do and have plenty of examples to base your 'rules cyclopedia' off of, writing is difficult. For me, it isn't 'writer's block' or anything like that. Rather, it is a matter of constantly having to pull back from a much, much larger work than the one I originally intended. Editing things DOWN is the name of the game, and very difficult for a completionist like myself.

Therefore, I have to keep reminding myself that this is meant to be a more 'succinct' rulebook, incorporating all the various house rules I've been using. It is not supposed to be a mega-encyclopedia. That having been said, I find myself enjoying writing everything BUT the rules section. Ironic. Or, if not ironic, just kind of amusing.

The chapters on Alien races and planets and equipment are all so much fun to write. Detailing the basics of how the D6 system is less so—because I already KNOW the system. But then, this is kind of necessary (to me anyway) in case the book ever falls into the hands of someone who's curious but has never played before. So this weekend, I finally buckled down and got through a chunk of the rules. They're like the 'healthy veggies' I don't want to eat. The rest of the book is the delicious steak.

The other issue that has come up isn't about's about art. I'm a visual person. But it was my original intention not to use any artwork in the book. I have since abandoned that plan. Again, since I never plan to 'market' this book, or even post it anywhere online (its going to friends and friends of friends), I don't feel quite as guilty about using art that has been posted elsewhere online—namely, on Wikipedia and Wookieepedia.

In any case, for those interested, I'm going to be posting a few example pages in future posts.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Episode I Notes

As I delve further into my 'rewrite' of Episode I, I've noticed a few trends emerging—things I am going to want to pay attention to as I continue. As with the rest of this project, this all stems from my personal views on the movie, so I know its all very subjective. But this is my blog, so...subjectivity is the name of the game. In any case, here are some major things I'm concentrating on:

1) Portray the Jedi as badass, yes, but also as 'human'. To me, this entails a bit more humor in their dialogue and a bit less mystical BS. There was one part in the movie where Qui Gon was talking about how the Force would 'lead them' through the unknown, underwater caverns of Naboo. I was like...huh... how does THAT work? I would hate for the Force to become this nebulous deus ex machina—a thing that suddenly provides hitherto unknown 'super-powers' whenever a situation calls for it. Likewise, I would like to think that however philosophically-minded the Jedi are, they would also appreciate common sense and make use of helpful technology. To me, this makes them more 'approachable' as characters and easier to feel for.

2) Jar Jar. As I have stated before, I'm not against comic relief in a movie. But there are a couple caveats to that: a) comic relief should actually be funny, b) funny should entail more than just slapstick, and c) even the comic relief should turn out to be likable and occasionally competent. To have someone who ALWAYS screws up tends to make me dislike that character. Thus, one of my biggest challenges is to balance Jar Jar as both laughable and likable.

3) Give the normal guys a chance. Part of what I enjoyed about the Original Star Wars trilogy was the fact that the Heroes were in it with 'normal guys' who actually seemed to know what they were doing (Wedge, Biggs and Red Leader, for example). In the Early parts of Episode I, we see Naboo Soldiers just standing around as the Jedi battle all around them. I remember thinking to myself...come on, guys, do SOMETHING. Tackle the droids at least, you outnumber them! Later in the movies, Characters like Panaka do seem to come into their own, but if they were given moments earlier in the film (even background moments), then they would have a bit more depth to them.

4) Give the bad guys teeth. In Episode I, the rank-and-file villains are exceptionally non-threatening. Viceroy Nute Gunray and his compatriots are all cowards. That's fine, or would be if it wasn't for the fact their soldiers all look like banana-headed marionettes. Villains should not be used as the main source of comic relief (at least not in my book). All the 'roger roger' crap is annoying. Yes, the droid army itself is kind of creepy when we see it at the end of the movie, but up until then? Meh. Why couldn't the battle-droids be threatening instead of goofy? But overall, this is a minor issue, because the Sith in the film do a VERY good job of being bad. You get a true sense of how evil and manipulating Sidious/Palpatine is and Darth Maul is like nothing we've ever seen before—a seething engine of destruction and hate. He deserves a much better death than the one given to him at the end of this movie.

5) Angst and Romance. These were things decidedly lacking in Episode I. Anakin being a 'sweet little kid', while a poignant contrast to what he would later become, was something that quickly wore thin. It also wasted a lot of opportunity for the development of a relationship between him and Padme—which had to be rushed so much during Episode II that it just didn't 'feel right'. It is my intention to introduce Anakin as a teenager (perhaps 16 or so) and to give a hint at a connection between him and Padme so that there is something to build off of in the Second movie, rather than just starting from scratch.

6) Character moments. My favorite moments in the Original trilogy were those brief times when the action paused and the characters talked—often trading clever one-liners. I realize that in an action movie, you never want to slow down TOO much, but I felt these moments were lacking overall in Episode I. It is my intention to try and revitalize those moments in Episode I, and maybe even inject a couple new ones.

Well, anyway, that's it for now. More later.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Episode I: What I would do differently.

As I've stated many times in the past, my 'relationship' to the Star Wars prequels is one of ups and downs. There are times I have hated them. There are other times where I think they're not so bad. But no matter what 'mode' I am currently in, there is always the question of: what would I have done differently. Being the huge geek I am, I have actually gone to the trouble to put some of my thoughts down on paper. In essence, I am re-writing Episode I (at least in outline form). And why not share it with all the dozen- with all the .. with the one or two people who actually read this blog.

Before we get started, just a few things on my process. There are some scenes in the movie (quite a few, actually) that are fine just the way they are. These I will leave in normal type. There are other scenes I would alter or add. These are done in bold type, usually prefaced with the word CHANGE. I have also divided the movie up into manageable 'scenes' to help break it into bite-sized chunks.

The main challenges I see in 'my' version of Episode I are almost all character related. First of all, I want to make the characters a bit more relatable and fun. Maybe introduce some of that banter the original movies were known form. Secondly, Jar Jar is getting a major overhaul. I don't mind a comic-relief character. Not at all, but the annoying voice needs to be toned down and he needs to have SOME redeeming characteristics and perhaps even a few moments to shine. Thirdly, I am going to do what they should have done with Anakin in the first place: make him an angsty teenager rather than an angelic little boy.

Thus far, I have only gotten through the first act of the movie—the Jedi's arrival on Naboo and rescue of the queen. I will cover the rest of the movie in further installments. So, without further ado...


…A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…


[Opening Crawl]

Episode I

The Phantom Menace

CHANGE: Turmoil has engulfed the Galactic Republic. Economic disputes in the outlying systems have spurred the greedy Trade Federation to send its warships to blockade its chief rival in the region, the peaceful planet of Naboo.

While the Senate of the Republic endlessly debates this alarming chain of events, the Supreme Chancellor has secretly dispatched two Jedi Knights, the guardians of peace and justice in the galaxy, to settle the conflict…


A consular ship approaches the imposing Trade Federation blockade. The Jedi Ambassadors get permission to land from the smug Neimoidian, Nute Gunray, Viceroy of the Trade Federation.

CHANGE: Give Trade Federation Nemoidians a more sly (and less goofy) accent

Get first glimpse of droid troopers as the consular ship sets down in the Trade Federation hangar bay.

CHANGE: Droid troopers are skeletal and threatening in appearance (rather than goofy). They stand in rigid formation, eying the arriving ship ‘balefully’. Show the cockpit crew of the ship exchange nervous glances after peering out the window.


The ambassadors are met by a protocol droid and escorted into the ship. As the droid leaves, Obi-Wan states he has a ‘bad feeling about this’, prompting a Qui Gon to tell him to keep his mind on the ‘here and now’. They then discuss the current situation and Qui-Gon states that “the negotiations will be short”.

Meanwhile, Nute Gunray and his aides are informed that the Ambassadors are Jedi. They are concerned (to say the least) and send their droid to stall while they contact someone known as ‘Lord Sidious.’ As the Jedi wait, they sense ‘an unusual amount of fear’ for such a routine situation. Meanwhile, Gunray contacts the mysterious lord sidious, who menacingly orders him to launch the attack—and to kill the Jedi.


In the Hangar bay, the Consular ship is suddenly destroyed by a laser cannon turret dropping from the ceiling. In the conference room, the Jedi suddenly find themselves locked in—with poison gas quickly filling the air.

Battle droids gather in hall outside chamber, prepare to enter in formation. Poison gas rolls out as doors slide open, then sabers ignite and battle erupts.

CHANGE: Droids do not speak. And most certainly do not say ‘Roger Roger’

Nemoidians freak out about Jedi escape, call in reinforcements as they watch the Jedi via security cameras, battling their way towards the bridge. Nute Gunray’s aide laments their fate “We will not survive this”, even as the nemoidians call for more droids and seal themselves in.

The Jedi ttempt to break through door until droidekas arrive and chase them off. Both escape into ventilation system. CHANGE: Gunray, out of fear and bravado, orders droids into the shafts after them.

Later, slipping out of the vents, the Jedi stumble across invasion force loading up. After observing for a while, they decide to stow away onboard ships and meet back up on the planet. Obi-Wan observed wryly: “You were right about one thing, master. The negotiations /were/ short.”

Meanwhile, Queen Amidala calls the Nemoidians. The Viceroy bluffs about ambassadors ‘never having arrived’. Once the transmission ends, the nervous Gunray orders a communications blackout on Naboo.


Queen Amidalas council meets with static-filled holo-image of Palpatine, who protests ignorance as to why the Jedi haven’t yet arrived when his transmission is cut off. Federation is now jamming. Could be a prelude to a full-scale attack. Queen Amidala refuses to take military steps, believing in the peace process. “I will not condone a course of action that will lead us to war.”


Droid army descends on planet in huge fleet of landing ships. Scenes of war droids deploying, scout STAPs, landing ships disgorging troops.

CHANGE: The Nemoidians on the ship are informed there is no sign of Jedi. They must have stowed aboard landing craft. Gunray order droids on the surface to eliminate them with all possible force. On Naboo, battle droid STAP patrols wheel around in eerie, precise unison, fanning out into the swamps.

The progress of droid army causes stampede of swamp animals. Pick up with Qui-Gon fleeing.

CHANGE: Qui-gon about to be overrun by Droid war machines when Jar-Jar (already hiding) pulls him into a shallow muck-pool to hide. Jar-Jar gives Qui-Gon a keep silent gesture, then sneaks off through the underbrush, bidding the jedi to follow as Droid patrols zoom in to sweep where they were just hiding.

CHANGE: Qui-gon and Jar-Jar talk. Jar-Jar’s accent is ‘toned down’, less annoying. Qui-gon is quietly thankful. Jar-Jar is quietly accepting—tells story, he is an outcast from his people, who live further in the swamp. Qui Gon asks why he is an outcast and Jar-Jar explains that he… how do you say it..has bad luck. To prove his point, a random fruit falls from a tree and hits Jar-jar on the head, splattering both him and Qui gon. Jar Jar sighs and gestures, as if to say “see?”. Qui-Gon will smile wryly and reply, “Well, I still consider myself lucky to have found you.”

The conversation is interrupted by Kenobi’s arrival, pursued by droid patrol. Qui-gon destroys the droids, then makes introductions.

CHANGE: Jedi discuss what to do next, have to keep moving. Qui-gon brings up Jar-jar’s people. Jar-Jar is reluctant, but agrees to lead the Jedi there for the sake of their safety—and to worn his own people of the invasion.


Arrive at lake in midst of swamp, Jar-jar tells of his people’s dislike of outsiders. Don’t expect a warm welcome. Kenobi replies wryly. “Don’t worry, this hasn’t been our day for warm welcomes.”

Swim after Jar-Jar. Slow reveal of gungan city. Make way into bubble-domes to seek audience with Boss Nass. Nobody is given a very warm welcome.

CHANGE: Jar-Jar is confronted by Captain Tarpals, who wearily reminds him of his outcast status. Qui-Gon asks what it is that Jar Jar is guilty of. Tarpals begins to list things on his fingers, as he lists each one, Jar-Jar tries to explain what really happened. A stern and serious Qui-Gon listens, while Obi-Wan is more sympathetic, nodding animatedly (and a bit amusedly) in agreement with Jar Jars explanations:

Tarpals: (listing) depressurizing the city market bubble…

Jar Jar: It was a faulty power-coupling! And I barely touched it…

Tarpals: …starting a Fambaa stampede…

Jar Jar: How could I know that Kloo-horn would sound like a mating call!

Obi-Wan: How could he?

Tarpals: …crashing a bongo into the Boss’ favorite yobcrab patch…

Jar Jar: Another faulty power coupling!

Obi-Wan: (nods) happens all the time.

Tarpals: …twice…

Jar Jar: …okay, now second time WAS my fault, but—

Obi-Wan: Everyone makes mistakes..

Qui-Gon: (gives Obi-Wan a stern look)

Tarpals: …and now you bring outsiders to Otoh Gunga, you know how the bosses feel about that…

Jar Jar: Yes, but—

Tarpals: No more—you all go see Boss Nass now.


Taken to the throne room/council chamber of Boss Nass. Nass says they don’t like outsiders. Qui-Gon tells them about the invasion going on—and the danger to the Naboo. Nass is indifferent—his people do not like the Naboo (“they think their brains so big!”).

CHANGE: Meanwhile, Jar Jar tries to shrink into the background, edging away from the Jedi until he runs into a stern Captain Tarpals.

Obi-Wan explains that the fates of the Gungan and Naboo are intertwined, but Nass remains unconvinced. Seeing that the conversation is going nowhere, Qui-Gon urges Nass to “Speed us on our way” (perhaps giving him a slight mental nudge with the force). Nass agrees to let them go- giving them a Bongo for transport and directions to go through the ‘planet core’.

CHANGE: It is then that Nass notices Jar Jar and gets irate. What is this one doing here!? What did he crash into this time!? Jar Jar tries to stammer a response, but Qui Gon cuts him off, explaining. “Jar Jar helped us escape the droids in the swamp—and led us here at our request…I understand that he has had some… trouble in this city, so perhaps it would be best if he came with us…we could use a guide afterall?” Jar Jar blinks, seemingly grateful until the guide thing is mentioned. “Wait…Guide?! But.. I don’t know anything about-“ Nass is quite pleased with the suggestion. “Yes! Jar Jar! Guide! Go…with our blessings.” He leans forward to stage-whisper to the Jedi. “I would not let him drive…” Qui-Gon smiles wryly .”I’ll Keep that in mind.”


Onboard the bongo, the two Jedi and Jar Jar head off into the ocean.

CHANGE: Jar Jar laments as they descend into the caves: “I have a bad feeling about this…ooh, goober fish!” He adds the latter as he sees a school of fish outside, obviously easily distracted.

Unseen by the heroes, a large Opee Sea-Killer begins to hunt them.

CHANGE: Obi-Wan attempts to question Jar Jar as to what dangers the will face on the journey. Jar Jar elaborates. “Oh, well.. lets see… there are all kinds of things down here… things with tentacles…things with spines…things with nasty sharp pointy teeth…” As Jar Jar lists them, we see out the back window as the Sea Killer closes in. The Opee latches onto the bongo. Jar Jar screams. “Things like that! Things like that!”

Even as Obi-Wan struggles to shake the bongo free from the Opee’s jaws, a larger monster swims by and eats it—freeing the sub in the process. “There’s always a bigger fish.” Qui Gon comments calmly as they continue on their journey. Jar Jar, hands over his eyes, asks weakly. “Are we there yet?” The two Jedi exchange a wry glance before continuing on—diving deper into the tunnels.


The Neimoidians report to a hologram of Darth Sidious that the invasion is on schedule. He in turn reports that he has the ‘senate bogged down in procedure’. Sidious assures his co-conspirators that Amidala is young and naieve and will be easily controlled. Once the hologram fades, the Neimoidian councilor expresses nervousness about not reporting the incident with the Jedi. Gunray replies hastily: “No use in telling him about that until we have something to report.”


CHANGE: As the bongo carrying the heroes makes its way through a labyrinth of underwater tunnels, the power suddenly shorts out. Jar Jar reflexively lifts his hands and states defensively “I didn’t do it!” Obi-Wan smirks faintly and sets to work at a control panel, trying to fix the problem. Jar Jar takes the time to ask how the Jedi can find their way in this maze- but before they can answer, he guesses. “You can… sense the path through the waters, no?” Qui Gon starts to interrupt, but Jar Jar continues in a ‘mystical tone’. “You are Jedi so the force will just ‘lead’ you to where you want to go…” Obi Wan, still working, grunts and points to a still blinking light on the dash-board. “Actually? We’re using this homing signal from Theed city.” Qui-Gon nods. “Yes. That.” “Oh.” Jar Jar replies, a little crestfallen.

Obi-Wan finally gets the bongo working again- only to find that they’re face to face with a huge Colo-Clawfish. They manage to evade it until a larger predator once again makes a meal of their pursuer. As Qui Gon starts to offer some reassurance to Jar Jar, the latter just holds up a hand. “Yes yes. Always a bigger fish…I got that one.” Qui-Gon cracks a smile.


A sweeping panorama reveals the massive droid army approaching the city of Theed as their fighters soar overhead. It continues as they march unopposed into the city and to the palace itself. From a window, Amidala watches pensively as the droids spread out and the Trade Federation Viceroy lands.

CHANGE: As the viceroy steps down from his shuttle, a Battledroid commander approaches—again, it is one of the more foreboding skeletal humanoid designs, rather than the goofy designs used in the film. The voice is likewise deeper and more forboding, reporting in clipped, metallic tones: “We have secured the palace. The Queen has been captured.” The Neimoidians celebrate “Ahhh, Victory!”


We see the heroes bongo rising from the depths, eventually surfacing in a secluded canal within the City of Theed.

CHANGE: The Jedi and Jar Jar quickly dismount the vehicle and move into hiding as Droid patrols sweep by overhead. From hiding, they spy groups of prisoners being escorted by droids. The Jedi exchange a concerned look, then sneak off, with Jar Jar in tow. The latter exhales “Is it too late to go back to the big fish?”


The Viceroy and his droids escort the Queen and her entourage down the steps of the palace, explaining how they will thwart Senate intervention by having the Queen sign a treating legalizing their occupation. The Queen says she will not cooperate. The Viceroy threateningly assures her that seeing the suffering of her people will eventually convince her to change her mind.

CHANGE: Smugly, the Viceroy turns the Naboo over to his droids saying “Take them to holding camp four.” The droids do not speak. They certainly do not say “Roger Roger”, instead they just menacingly lead off their prisoners.


We follow the Queen’s entourage as they are taken through the city, past several other groups of prisoners and a seemingly overwhelming number of droids and war machines. Eventually, they are taken down a more secluded street where we see the Jedi and Jar Jar hiding. They follow along stealthfully and prepare an ambush by leaping off of an overpass walkway.

CHANGE: The Jedi prepare to enter the fray, with Qui Gon telling Jar Jar to ‘stay here and keep your head down’. With that, the Jedi leap down, battling expertly with their sabers and telekinetic force. Jar-Jar, meanwhile, peeks up from the window to have a look, accidently dislodging a huge planter that falls and crushes a pair of the droids. Obi Wan turns just in time to see this and Jar Jar gives him a ‘thumbs up’ as if he meant to do it all along.

The Jedi quickly usher the Queen and her entourage away. Panaka and his guards arm themselves from the fallen droids.

CHANGE: In the background, Jar Jar attempts to jump down from the bridge, only to trip and fall, only half-catching himself enough to slow the drop. This draws a raised eyebrow from Panaka. Obi Wan just shakes his head to the man and murmurs. “Don’t ask.”

Once off the street, Qui Gon explains himself and his mission as ambassador for the Chancellor. The queen’s man notes tartly that negotiations seem to have failed. Qui Gon replies that they never took place. They need to contact the Republic. Panaka says all communications are down. The next option is to flee the planet—and off everyone goes to the main hangar.


Federation droids organize groups of prisoners in the hangar as the Jedi and Queen’s entourage arrive outside the doors and look on. Panaka feels there are too many, but Qui Gon is confident and suggests that the Queen come to Coruscant with him. This sparks a debate. The Queen is unwilling to leave, despite the threat to her life. Qui Gon points out that there is something more to this situation, as it makes no sense for the federation to be acting like this—his feelings tell him that the Federation will destroy her, even though the Viceroy says he needs her to sign their treaty. The Queen’s aid, considering this, urges her to go, to appeal to the senate and help their own representative, Palpatine, get action from the Republic. The queen considers—exchanging a glances with one of her handmaidens—and with that girls approval, decides to go and plead her case to the senate.

The group enters the hangar. Panaka urges quietly that they rescue the group of pilots there. Obi Wan says he’ll take care of it. Meanwhile, Qui Gon moves to the droids guarding the ship.

CHANGE: The ‘officer droid’ in charge challenges Qui Gon—who explains his official position as ambassador and that he’s taking the Queen to Coruscant. This sets the droids circuits to whirring for a second or so before it raises its weapon. The others follow suit in eerie unison. “…or not.” Qui Gon quips before blasting the group with telekinesis. Obi-Wan, meanwhile, launches into the droids guarding the pilots. The droids prove to be too slow for the Jedi, who attack with blinding speed and deflect the droid’s shots. This gives Panaka, his men, and the rescued pilots a chance to act as well, helping bring down all the droids in the hangar with blasters or by physically overwhelming them.

Everyone quickly hurries aboard the Queen’s ship and they lift off.


The heroes hurry to the bridge of the ship as it races up through the atmosphere and into space. They quickly run afoul of the blockade and start taking fire. The ship’s hull is hit.

CHANGE: Jar Jar, looking on from behind the Jedi (and generally trying to stay out of the way), Jumps at the sound of the bridge alarm, exclaiming reflexively. “I didn’t do it!”

The pilot reports that the shield generator has been hit. We cut to a scene of Astromech droids being deployed to fix the damage—including R2-D2. The droids get picked off, one at a time as those on the bridge comment on the dire consequences of not getting the shields back up. R2 works diligently, despite the fire, managing to fix the generator. Back in the cockpit, the pilot exclaims “That little droid did it!”

With shields set to maximum, the pilot makes a daring run over the massive Federation battleships and through the blockade.

As they flee, the pilot reports that the hyperdrive has been CHANGE: Damaged, not ‘leaking’, they can’t jump far. Obi-Wan, working one of the consoles, suggests Tatooine as a place to stop for fuel and repairs. It’s controlled by the Hutts, though, a fact that Panaka objects to, but Qui Gon sees it as the best option.


Viceroy Gunray delivers the bad news of the Queen’s escape to Sidious, who is adamant she be found and forced to sign the treaty. When the Viceroy makes excuses, Sidious brings forth his apprentice, Darth Maul, and states that HE will find the queen. As the holo fades, Gunray expresses distress that the deal is “getting out of hand”.


Artoo-Deetoo is brought before the queen and commended for his bravery in saving the ship. CHANGE: Cut out the bit with the Queen ordering Padme to clean up R2. Qui-Gon then steps forth to explain the situation to the queen, who agrees to go, despite Panaka’s misgivings.

CHANGE: Later, the “handmaiden” Padme makes her rounds of the ship, checking in on those crewmen and soldiers wounded during the escape. She makes a point of stopping by R2 and dusting off some of the carbon scoring on the little droid. Glancing back to the wounded men, she exhales—obviously concerned. She leans her head wearily against the little droid, who bleeps consolingly.

At this point, Jar Jar shows up, quietly introducing himself to the young woman, who asks him how he came to be traveling with the Jedi. Jar Jar tries to explain. “Well, I was out walking in the swamp, then a droid army showed up so I helped them escape and took them back to my city, only they didn’t want to..” he trails off and replies finally. “Short answer? I have bad luck.” At that, Padme laughs a little.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

"Essential" Star Wars

I have been making headway on my Star Wars rules-cyclopedia thing (hence the drop off in activity here), and as I have, I find myself coming up against the same issues again and again. Star Wars is such an expansive setting that it would be very easy to 'overload' a rule book with all manner of information. And so as I tackle each section, I find myself having to take a step back and edit things down—to focus in on what I consider the 'essentials'—those things that really make Star Wars unique and memorable to me.

It seems to apply to every category, too—from weaponry to alien species to which planets to include. It's difficult, but at the same time kind of fun. I realize that the choices I am making are somewhat subjective, and that they're going to shape the game 'in my own image' (which may or may not appeal to some Star Wars fans), but then that's kind of the point. This is going to be an expression of the game I have played in the galaxy as I perceive it. But even knowing that, I am trying to stay as true as possible by using one main standard to base my decisions on: The movies themselves.

As much as possible, I am trying to include things that were seen in the movies—or at the very least mentioned. Secondary to this are more subjective things from the Expanded Universe (mainly things from the Han Solo and Heir to the Empire novels and Rogue Squadron comics—those few bits of the EU that I actually enjoy). And tertiary to this are ideas I can salvage and modify from the crappier bits of the EU (for example, I hated The Courtship of Princess Leia, but there is nothing wrong with the concept of the Witches of Dathomir or Warlord Zsinj).
As I try to decide which things to include and which not, it is these 'filters' I turn to.

But, right off the bat I determined there would be some things that would NOT be included in my Star Wars rules. I have discussed most of these at length in various other posts, so I'll only recap here. In my rules you will NOT find:

1) midichlorians
2) flying R2 units (except in zero-gee)
3) midichlorians
4) a "pastoral wonderland" Corellia, half inhabited by giant otter-people
5) midichlorians
6) force powers that seem more like magic spells
7) midichlorians

So anyway, this is just my thinking as I proceed with this project—a little update if you will. Right now I am working on a lot of different sections all at once. As I get 'bored' (or stumped) with one section, I'll move on to another. So far, it seems to have worked and keeps me engaged. Currently I'm juggling three four main sections: Alien Races, Combat Rules, Planets and Equipment. I realize that this is just the 'tip of the iceberg' as far as the whole book is considered, but I feel I have a good start and I'm still enthusiastic. So.. yay! Talk to you later.

p.s. NO Midicholorians.

p.p.s. Oh, and I have decided to write the rulebook and setting from the point of view of the 'Classic' era, picking up right after the Battle of Yavin and the destruction of the First Death Star. It just felt 'right' to use this setting (as this is how the game and movies were first introduced to me). This may alienate folks who prefer the prequels, but.. meh. I think it's easy enough to translate the base information if you want a prequel era campaign.

p.p.p.s. In case you're wondering—I don't anticipate a lot of folks will ever use this book. Mainly just my friends. Since I have no right to publish any of this stuff officially, it is (of course) going to be free to anyone who asks (in PDF form, of course). But then, I don't see myself getting done with it for a while in any case.

Thursday, April 1, 2010


This is just a short post (really busy day/week/month). I've been commenting on another blogger's site (B/X Blackrazor), regarding it's poster's efforts to create a Space Opera system of his own, based upon the old D&D 'basic' rules system. Being a fan of that system and Star Wars, I am curious to see what he'll come up with (though I don't think it could replace my beloved D6). Still, it's fun seeing someone else's take on the setting and the techniques necessary for a game to 'capture' that feel.

The author of this site (JB), is a big proponent of Sandbox games over Story Games (a subject I've spoken on many times before, so I won't repeat... much). What I do want to reiterate is that I don't think Sandbox and Story are mutually exclusive—at least, not if stories are done right (i.e. you give the players a situation and let them SHAPE the story, rather than just run it down a single 'rail').

The fact of the matter is, I wouldn't have it any other way. Hands down, the BEST moments in my campaign have been when the players come up with some idea out of left-field that just stops me dead in my tracks. I mean, I like to try to think of all kinds of 'contingencies' when I'm planning out an adventure, but I'd say that about half the time they come up with something I hadn't anticipated and I'm left scrambling. Thankfully, I enjoy scrambling (even if I do sometimes have to call a five minute break to figure out what the heck is going to happen next).

Some prime examples of these 'surprises' (from my main Vermillion campaign) include:

Bob's plan to sell the Imperials a broken prototype shield belt.

Oman's 'omega particle' dectector.

Adren's 'hobby' of redeeming villains rather than capturing/killing them.

Horatio's...well, just about every plan he's ever come up with.

Arianne's trip to 'chez domination'.

Hugganut's Sabbacc playing skilz.

Oman's plan to send an alien invasion fleet into another dimension.

Bob's water-bucket-cloaking-device analogy.

Jared's attempt to 'disbelieve' a Rancor.

Adren punching Arianne.

Bob explosively decompressing a chamber containing hundreds of Stormtroopers (as well as himself and a couple others in the party..)

Arianne attempting to shield a cruiser from the (2nd) Death Star with her Gunship (ballsy move, even if a bit futile)

The team 'accidently' blowing away an innocent secretary while on a black op infiltration mission.

The team attempting to escape a high-rise by cutting down through 47+ levels with a lightsaber (while on the same black op infiltration mission...after it had already blown up in their faces)

Oman and Martell suddenly breaking off from the rest of the group to conduct their own investigation of "The Game Chambers of Questal"

There are many, many more of these 'surprises' and as you can tell, they were very memorable. All of them happened in what I would term a 'story-based' campaign. It is pretty evident (to me at least) that 'story' does not equal 'railroad'—at least not how I run it. The surprises are what give life to the game. They are what I look forward to the most. They are the essential element in any RPG—and they are NOT curtailed just because there is a plot involved in an adventure or gaming session.