Our group recently completed Beyond the Rim. This will be a detailed review of the content and as such, spoilers will abound. If you plan on playing this, I would not suggest reading further. If you plan on running, or are considering buying it, read on.
Just us GMs, now? Good. I’ve been a big fan of Edge since its debut, and have played quite a bit with various groups both running and playing, so at this point I feel like I can give a proper review of this adventure compared to other published material for Edge. Overall I was a bit disappointed. It isn’t bad, per se, but needed a lot more home-brewing than I would have imagined at first glance. I’ve run the beginner box and the free RPG day adventure, and while smaller in scope (if you don’t count the very generous Long Arm of the Hutt extension to the beginner box) they both seemed to capture the spirit and the flavor of what I think of as Star Wars more than Beyond the Rim. Granted, Beyond the Rim is more of a wilderness/survival adventure, but even the opening act doesn’t really start with a bang. When I think Star Wars, I think action! This start with more of an exploration of the setting and NPCs.
In my opinion, the best Star Wars adventures/books/movies/episodes all start with a little bit of setting the scene, and then an explosion or a battle. In medias res is always the order of the day. This adventure starts with a The Wheel, very cool location, but as written, it takes awhile to get to any action. Most of the first act is just exploring the wheel, shopping for supplies, learning who is who and what to do when, THEN the Yiyar clan makes their move for IT-3P0. GM confession time: I did not tie in the obligations and sub-plots as well as I probably should have. The first session of this for our group was the first Edge session for many players so there were more pressing concerns like, “What do all these crazy symbols mean on the dice?”
We had all that ironed out by the time we got to the second act. Here again, it starts out with a series of dice rolls to scan for the wreckage on the planet. YAWN. I spiced it up by immediately having the empire attack with a lambda-class shuttle. The party failed to detect the maintenance droid attaching the tracking device (hey, I warned about the spoilers), so rather than start the session out with a bunch of rolls to determine how much time you waste tracking down the wreckage, I started with a battle! I would highly recommend this to make sure you have your players attention when starting Act 2. It was pretty awesome.
The second act is really the heart of the adventure, as the party searches the planet, gets jumped by wild beasties of Cholganna, and explores the various wreckage sites. By far, the highlight was surprising the party with the cybernetically-enhanced nexu. Nexu themselves are challenging for the party, but with the enhancements it made for a very challenging and memorable fight. Our astromech droid combat-sliced into one of the collars controlling the nexu and made it his pet for awhile, before setting it free. He was nearly smashed in the process, but it was pretty incredible. We also had fun encounters with the Yiyar clan and the Nightflyer, and had a fun time exploring the survivors camp and learning more about Captain Harsol and Cratala. Once the empire arrived, that battle could have been closer, but I held the second lance of scouts in reserve to warn Imperial stations about these troublesome interlopers.
The third act was a lot of fun as well, because finally we start off with a battle! Not only that, but we had a fascinating astrogation roll to start out the session. Astrogation in this instance determines which side of Raxus Prime you end up on: the side near the IsoTech base, or the side near the Imperial shipyard. The check was a spectacular failure, with threat, but also a triumph! We interpreted that as them dropping in to normal space and immediately smashing into one of two TIE fighters patrolling the area, destroying it completely. That led to the very cool chase scene thru the canyons, and I utilized the ships from the X-wing game to represent distances and relative positions.
The team had a bit of a break once they landed and explored scrapheap point. Some of the team went off to gather some salvage, while others remained behind to repair their ship after the chase with the TIEs. This lead to a really close battle, because half the party got jumped by “Too-low” Talo and his “Jawas” and the other half were attacked by the Trandoshan mercenaries. It was touch and go for a bit, but the party persevered, and were able to launch the Blockade Bandit and their own freighter while under imperial attack. Our astromech M1-K3 made such a great missile spoofing roll (two triumphs) I ruled the imperial patrol craft ended up shooting missles at each other as the corvette split the space in between them. A very cool ending!
Overall, I think Edge adventures are what you make them. But in this case, I would encourage GMs running this to try and start each session with a bang, boom or battle! I would NOT recommend this as people’s first adventure with the Edge system, and would recommend the very awesome beginner box instead. I may run this again for a different star wars group I’m playing with. We’ll see how it stacks up when run a second time. It took about five four-hour sessions to run. At an MSRP of $29.95 and weighing in at 96 pages, I think its worth buying. Just make sure you have plenty of time to read everything over, and spice it up if you get stuck in what could be a dull spot.
Iron Mask Miniatures‘ recent Kickstarter of a Dwarven version of the Three Musketeers was just delivered and I’m thrilled with the results. I pledged $40 for the mid-level reward of four musketeers with several optional hands, rapiers and daggers. One thing I really like about a miniature line is the ability to customize, and this set comes with more options than I know what to do with.
The miniatures were sculpted by John Pickford, a Citadel miniatures sculptor well-known for his many many iterations of all things dwarfish (and goblin). There’s many more models and options available, including ogres (employed by the Ogre Cardinal Richlieu, of course) and female dwarves representing characters from the Three Musketeers, including the Queen and Milady deWinter.
If you follow the Iron Mask Miniatures’ blog, you can see the progress of the stretch goals in production. I am keen to purchase more, and he is working on a “proper web site” to sell more, but in the meantime, if you are interested — you can follow the instructions here: ORDER INFO. I hope he gets his store up and running soon!
Finally, last week I told you all of two Kickstarters currently funding: Lark and Eagle is a comic book written by our own Steve Johnson and Role Play is a series of “dice portrait” illustrations on tee shirts by Lee Bretschneider. There’s two weeks or so left on Lark and Eagle, but only two days on Role Play. Don’t miss out on either of these great Kickstarters!
In other miniature news: I’m currently working on Baba Yaga for Scott‘s “Reign of Winter” Pathfinder Adventure Path. She’s a fun old gal to paint, but since I took the base off I’m having issues keeping her upright to paint. We’ll see how it goes. I’ll post more pictures of her as I go along, but here’s how she came out of the box (minus the base), and I added in the tiny little pin for her arm.
While not strictly gaming related, one of our Skyland Games guys has created his very first Kickstarter: the comic book adventures of Lark & Eagle. The story is about two down on their luck heroes given a second chance to earn redemption after a disastrous mission by a new reality television show called “Hero Overhaul”. The comic is written by Steve Johnson and will be illustrated by Toro Diego and lettered by Tom Orzechowski.
Another friend of mine, Lee Bretschneider has his own Kickstarter currently funding: Role Play, a series of dice portrait tee shirts. Lee is an awesome illustrator and was the creator of one of my favorite tee shirts: Go Gnolls! Being a former Seminole and avid D&D player (plus an afficiando of all things gnollish), it speaks to me. I’ve worn the other one down to where it’s beginning to fade, so it may be time to hit Redbubble and pick out a new one.
Last weekend, I attended MACE in Charlotte, North Carolina. MACE has been held for the last couple years just a few hours away from home, but I’d never attended although the other Skylanders had. Steve and I both attended and I had a blast. All the Pathfinder I could care to play and/or run, plus boardgames, Mecha- Warhamm- Warma- Hordes… or whatever it’s called, and even some LARP, MACE has something for everyone. At least in the Pathfinder Society tables, I found it to be a total “couples con”. Every single game I ran or played had either one or two couples at the table. I’m not saying it’s unheard of, as we have a married couple in our local home game, and we have a few that attend our Pathfinder Society Lodge days at The Wyvern’s Tale, but couples playing (at least that many and that consistently) was a new experience for me. It’s always good when your significant others are involved in your hobbies, and a convention is a good place for a weekend getaway too.
In January, several of us are attending SCARAB in South Carolina. I went last year and had a great time, and this year they are moving the convention to a bigger and better space. I’m still wiped out by my weekend game-fest, but looking forward to this one coming up… and with luck I’ll be wearing my new d12 tee shirt and reading the first issue of Lark & Eagle while I’m there.
It’s Veteran’s Day here in the US, and it occurred to me that we put a lot of emphasis on not only honoring our veterans, but also on the benefit of that experience in differentiating proven soldiers from rookie soldiers. We see this in movies, books, games and just generally in real life. How do we bring that to a game like Pathfinder RPG without demonstrating a difference in level or other relative power? Sure, there is a reason why we call them “Experience Points” but here are a few penalties you might apply to the untrained farmboy picking up a sword for the first time:
Condition: Rookie – Characters 0-1st level suffer from the Rookie condition at the GM’s pleasure, and when heading into battle are forced to make a Will save based on 10 + (Opponent Hit Die) + (Opponent Charisma). Success leaves the rookie unaffected. Failure makes the Rookie subject to one of the following conditions (roll or DM’s choice):
01-10 Frightened - Character immediately makes a second Will Save based on the same DC. Failure indicates the character is so unmanned by the daunting adversaries before them, they attempt to desert. Success leaves the character Shaken.
11-20 Shaken - Character has mastered his fear, but it still shakes his hand. If character rolls Natural 1 on an attack roll or takes more than 10% total hit point damage during combat, make another Will Save or become Frightened.
21 -30 Sickened - Nerves about the battle to come lay hold of the character, turning their stomach and making their weapon arm unsteady. This lasts 1d6 rounds.
31-40 Unprepared - Character has prepared with such nervousness that the are subject to the “Don Hastily” penalties for wearing armor until they can take 1d6 to adjust (tighten straps, refasten buckles, etc.). For mages and other unarmored casters, this reflects disorganized materials, foci, etc. and requires a DC 10 + (Spell Level) Concentration check as they grope for materials and recall phrases on the tip of their tongue. This can bee offset by 1d6 rounds of adjustments to their spell component pouches, scrolls and foci.
51-60 Uncoordinated - Character is so intent on his opponent, he fails to work with other fellow combatants on the battle field. Character does not threaten for purposes of flanking for duration of the battle.
61-70 Hesitation - After Defendant commits to an action, defendant must make an additional Will Save if they choose to attempt a different action, or must continue in their present action for an additional round.
71-80 Overconfident - The character recklessly attacks the first available opponent by moving as close as possible to the enemy and attacking. While this carries with it no inherent penalties, it may put the character in a strategically undesirable position and subject to attacks of opportunity, etc.
81-90 Premature Celebrant - After felling their first foe, combatant must take a full round action to celebrate (perhaps prematurely), fists raised in glory, before taking their next action.
91-100 Death Before Dishonor! - The character is so determined not to be a coward, they cannot withdraw from an enemy without succeeding at another Will save, regardless of what is best for their fellow combatants.
I take it upon myself to champion game systems I think are great. I’ve been talking up Dungeon Crawl Classics since the beta, and have recently played a lot of Star Wars Edge of the Empire. Reading rulebooks cover to cover can be a really arduous task, mostly because they are meant as reference guides rather than gripping page-turners. Recently my wife asked when I was going to read a “normal” book again. Frankly, it’s been awhile since I have and there are a few reasons for this. Kickstarter is a main culprit. I’ve cut back recently, but I used to relentlessly hunt down cool gaming projects and new systems. Soon I realized I had more systems than I’ve even fully read, let alone have time to play! On the other side of the coin, reading these systems gives me new perspective on my current games, and a lot of them draw on universal themes that can be applied to many systems.
For instance, I really enjoy the character creation statement from Numenera (and now The Strange). For the uninitiated, Numenera characters can be described succinctly using a simple statement: (Character) is a (Adjective) (Noun) who (Verbs). The pre-gen character I played during our session at the Wyvern’s Tale was ‘Leve is a Strong-Willed Nano who Wields Power with Precision.” In Numenera those elements also have mechanical benefits, but it also works to sum up your character and let’s other players know what he is about in just one sentence. To me, it is an awesome balance between a four-page backstory that no one ever reads or remembers, and a mechanical description of your PC (I have a 3rd Level Paladin with 18 Charisma). This could really be applied to any game. In Edge of the Empire for instance, I have a Rodian Smuggler that is as handy with a blaster as he is in the cockpit of a starship. Not as succinct, maybe, but you get the idea.
Another example is FATE. FATE is a fairly rules-light system that utilizes fudge dice (or now FATE dice) that are typical six-sided dice, with either a +, -, or nothing on the side. The core mechanic is that tasks have a difficulty number. Whenever your character attempts an action that is either actively opposed by an NPC or passively opposed by the circumstances surrounding the action, you roll 4 dice and add (or subtract) the result to the corresponding skill for your character. This result is compared to the difficulty number, and if you beat it, your character succeeds! The most important element I took away from FATE is *when* to call for a roll. The idea is to only roll when failure is interesting. I mentioned this briefly in my thoughts after running a few Edge sessions, but it is really true for any system that uses dice for task resolution. In my experience, when a character wants to do something, a GM is usually better served by letting them attempt it. Maybe they are coming up with a cunning plot to get around whatever obstacle the party is currently facing. If it seems like a reasonable request, allow it. If it would be an interesting twist if the situation went one way or the other, call for a roll. Example: The player asks if he can locate a cart or wagon outside of the tavern. Is it reasonable that a cart or wagon would be outside a tavern? Probably. Is it interesting if there isn’t a cart? Not really. Sure, ok, yeah, there is a cart, with a sad looking donkey attached to it. Player wants to steal it to pose as a farmer to get past the guards at the gate. This situation calls for probably a whole series of rolls, each with their own twist on the narrative. Does the owner notice the theft? Do the guards believe the characters ploy? Either of those would be tense rolls for the entire group, and could send the story in exciting directions!
I still have yet to thoroughly read Savage Worlds, TechNoir, Wandering Monster High School, Cortex, Tunnels and Trolls, and Burning Wheel. Plenty of more systems to keep me busy for a long time! Even if I never get the time to play them, I feel like I can learn from them and apply those concepts to games I do make time to play.
A lot of times when you have a published campaign, especially some of the ones I’ve seen from Paizo, there are richly developed NPC villains that may have complex and fascinating motivations…. that the PC’s will probably steamroll right over without ever getting a glimpse of it.
Perhaps one of my favorite examples of this was in the old Living Greyhawk module The Reckoning wherein a party of would-be waylayers are involved in a love triangle that can somewhat irregularly shift the targets of their attacks in mid-combat if you injured their would-be lover. I ran the combat several times, and only once did anyone figure it out.
So how do you draw this material to the surface? Sometimes it’s right in the module: a journal, a note, or some box text. The other tools at your disposal vary depending on the resources you have at the ready, but a few ideas follow that can help tell your module’s story in its richest form.
Clues: Sometimes, present or not in your module, you can take certain liberties to make sure that the party comes into the information and motivations of your NPCs. Perhaps an infatuated mercenary has sketches he has made of the beautiful mage that has hired him, or a pile of half-burned or crumpled attempts at poetry in the fireplace or behind his bed. Something you, as the GM, should become used to is the feeling that you are hammering your players over the head with these clues. In my experience, if you feel like it’s plainly obvious, your players will feel very proud of themselves when they deduce the “secret” after 10 minutes of contemplation. It’s plain as day from your side of the screen, but they’re dealing with a lot of abstract stimuli.
Monologuing - This is perhaps the worst kind of obvious tripe, but trust me, its a tool in your GM toolkit that you need to use. An epic boss fight NEEDS to have this happen, so the villain takes on robust character and the PC’s can feel their hate for this guy. Further, it keeps him from being just a bundle of stats. I’ve fought several major villains who never said a word, and it amounted to bad GM’ing. But, the key here is DON’T JUST RESERVE THIS FOR MAJOR NPC’s. Trash talk happens, and it warms up NPC’s beyond just statistics, especially when they really have something to say. It needn’t be a speech, but a few words to tell that character’s story. With the star-crossed lovers, shouting out the name of the love lost as he is struck, or muttering, “I won’t leave her” may seem (again) heavy handed but it’ll be received as just enough for the players to get on the same page as you.
The Rumor: Maybe the player hasn’t seen something, but rest assured in a small town, or in a society where information is currency, a barkeep, courtesan, beggar or child may have seen the way one NPC regards another, or perhaps overhears something said in anger or frustration. This could be delivered naturally as part of some other interaction with the information holder in question, or could be as obvious as a Knowledge (Local) roll, probably depending on how much time you want to spend on it.
Cutscene: This can be done live, though it is often hard to do well. In a game where we rescued the Juliet to the bandit chief’s Romeo, the GM successfully pulled off a complex dialog by making little puppets with his hands. While hard to take too seriously, we got the story of their lost love that we might not otherwise have noticed, and it changed the fate of the bandit chief when we escaped and had the upper hand. He eventually evolved into an ally, which made a much better story than another defeated CR 3 encounter left behind in our wake.
It is more easily done through a message group, email, or dedicated site for your game (like the Google sites we discussed in Customized Gaming or, our favorite, Obsidian Portal). Here, you have the opportunity to plan what you’re going to say, describe details and actions, and even let the players read minds (“Milady, there is no Thieves Guild,” the Watch Captain lied, thinking how he might spend the silvers that threatened to burst the seams of his coinpurse.”)
The content of a cutscene is just like we see in a movie. It is material that the characters do not see but the players are made aware of. It is not for all players. Some may not like it, some may not be able to separate what they know from what their characters know. But showing how they have left behind a clue for a pursuer, for example, may explain to them the unlikely events that follow when the bounty hunter appears on their doorstep, etc. These take some skill, and some good players.
Now that we have the HOW, the next question is the WHAT. What do you put in these cutscenes, these hints, these rumors? The answer is “Just enough.” A few simple guidelines:
- Never spoil any surprises – You can hint, but don’t solve the mystery. A cutscene or clue is to bring the player and the character up to speed with story developments, but not to catapult ahead to a conclusion. Think Empire Strikes Back when Obi-Wan says, “That boy is our last hope” and Yoda’s response, “No, there is another.” Whet their appetite.
- Know your players – Some people cannot handle knowing something and not using it. If you’re running a cutscene that contains sensitive information, beware of players that might metagame their way out of a challenge. Either know they’re good for it, or if not, lock them in before hand, then spring it on them right away, or don’t give them enough in the cutscene to metagame with.
- Don’t overdo it – This tool may have been around forever, but the way we’re used to seeing it in the 20th and 21st centuries is through film. Use it to tell your story, but be mindful of pacing, necessity, and its overall influence on your game.
Plan it out, then give this a try next time you read the rich background of someone who is going to die after about 3 rounds of combat. See if it changes the way the characters deal with that NPC, and check to see if the players do anything differently either. You might be surprised at the outcome.
So as to not bore you all with another set of Pathfinder Pregen Parties, I decided to go with an article about Kickstarter. As a group, we at Skyland Games all have new ideas gushing out of our heads and no way to produce a decent product without having large sums of cash on hand. And yes, it can get messy in the man-cave with all those ideas just lying on the floor of the man-cave.
The advantage to Kickstarter is that you do not need a lump sum of cash handy or try to find an investor that will loan you what you need without taking a large chunk of the profits. I am more inclined to donate a little money for an idea that I think is neat and could go farther than just the Kickstarter campaign. Crowdfunding works on so many levels, whether the project is big or small, with the possibility of your idea exploding and reaching many more people after the campaign.
I love the idea of crowdfunding. Well, I love the idea so much that I am starting my own Kickstarter campaign in a couple of weeks. But I am breaking off from our group for this project and going with a comic book. Being that I severely lack in drawing skills, I have found an awesome artist and I can concentrate on telling an amazing story with complex interesting characters to entertain millions. Well… maybe a couple hundred folks.
What I have figured out from following other Kickstarters is to be prepared for anything and everything. Make sure you provide examples and samples in your campaign to build excitement and have good, meaningful rewards to show appreciation to your backers. But the one thing that backers need to understand is that you are not purchasing the product, you are donating funds and receiving a reward. Also be prepared with a couple stretch goals so that you are not caught without the ability to add a little more to the project, whether it is another item or upgrading the quality of the product. And be prepared to go through with it. Don’t be afraid and just do it!
I think this is hitting a high note with me today because I just got the preliminary character sketches back, and… let’s just say – ‘Wow!’