Baby Yoda FFG build

February 21, 2020 1 comment

I would like to see the baby. Fair enough. The surprise star of the first season of the Mandalorian brought many fans joy and made a lot of people curious about the show through some truly adorable memes.

“The Child” was one of the more interesting to try and stat up, since we don’t have any other examples of that species outside of Yoda. From Yoda’s stat block in Allies and Adversaries it looks like his career is Mystic Seer judging from his talents such as Natural Mystic. I decided to go the same way with the Child. I also started with 110 initial xp and 123123 as initial characteristics, which seems plausible as a starting point for Yoda as well.

Initial xp went to boosting characteristics: Intellect, Willpower, and Presence. I chose the few initial skills granted by his career and spent the rest on talents to up his force rating, and purchase a few Force powers: Bind, Heal/Harm and Protect/Unleash, all of which we see him use on screen in one form or another during the first season.

I did homebrew one talent that doesn’t exist in FFG Star Wars: Magic Hand Thingy. Named after what Greef Karga calls it when the heroes are pursued by Moff Gideon in his TIE fighter. Here is the description: Spend all remaining strain to roll double your force rating in dice and pass out. Pips may be spent to add range, strength, control, and/or magnitude.

This power is meant to represent the few scenes in which the Child performed some crazy force feat, then immediately passed out: levitating the mudhorn, healing Greef’s nearly fatal wounds, and shielding the heroes from a flamethrower.

I think it is a nice thematic way to bring that power to the table and gives the PC playing The Child a great opportunity to turn the tide when the chips are down. See what you think.

I’ll be running two sessions of my Mandalorian game at Mace West in Asheville, NC next week! Hope to see you there!

The Mandalorian – Mace West Preview

February 3, 2020 Comments off

MACE West is less than a month away! The annual western addition of Mid-Atlantic Convention Expo returns a bit earlier than in previous years (February 28 – March 1), but in the same space at the DoubleTree in Asheville, just outside the Biltmore estate.

Registration is already open. Get your tickets, sign up for games, and I’ll see you there!

I’ll be running DCCL Acting Up in Lankhmar, as well as two slots of my FFG Star Wars adventure that picks up immediately where the Mandalorian TV season 1 ends (spoiler warning if for some reason you have failed to devour the first season of Mandalorian).

After watching the last few episodes a few more times, I would still like to stat out IG-11 and Kuill, but they are both pretty much irrefutably dead after the last episode. One could argue you could rebuild IG-11, but his self-destruct device was purpose-built to avoid capture and his design being copied. The only reason Kuill was able to rebuild him earlier in the show was thanks to Mando’s well-placed headshot.

The pre-gens for my table of Mandalorian Season 2 will be: Mando, Cara Dune, Greef Karga, The Armorer, Paz Vizla (Mandalorian heavy), and the Child. Today I’ll share my build for Carasynthia Dune of Alderaan.

I considered making her a Soldier Heavy from Age of Rebellion, but went with Soldier Commando instead. Especially considering the addition of Paz Vizla, who is most definitely a Hired Gun Heavy, Commando seemed like the best choice for her. Added to the core Solider skills of Athletics, Brawl, Knowledge (Warfare), Medicine, Melee, Ranged (Light) and Ranged (Heavy), Commando adds another Brawl, another Melee, Resilience and Survival. The skills alone do well to describe what we have seen on the screen so far. The talents only further support Commando as the best choice for Cara. As a human you can take two non-career skills, and I chose Gunnery and Cool. I’m building these pre-gens out with initial XP+200. I used her initial 110 as a human to increase her Brawn up to 4 and Agility up to 3. I eventually purchased the talents to get to Dedication and increase her Agility to 4.

As one may expect, there are plenty of ranks of Grit and Toughened in the Commando talent tree. I purchased a few of those, as well as Point Blank which adds damage to Ranged attacks at short and engaged range. Durable reduces crit results suffered by 10. Armor master increases soak by 1 when searing armor. Feral Strength adds 1 damage to Brawn and Melee attacks. Perhaps most thematically, Heroic Fortitude allows Cara to ignore effects of crits to Brawn and Agility until the end of the encounter. On balance, I think this build fits quite well for what we’ve seen from Cara on screen so far.

Her equipment posed a few interesting challenges. Most notably, her heavy rifle does not appear to have appeared in the Star Wars universe before. The power cell is similar to the RT-97C from Battlefront, but it is under the rifle which features two barrels and a carrying handle she uses to stabilize it while firing. To stat it out, I started with a Heavy Blaster Rifle and added an Augmented Spin Barrel, Forearm Grip, and Optimized Energy Cell. The one from the show doesn’t actually spin, but mechanically it just adds one base damage while providing an additional barrel. The Forearm Grip reduces the difficulty for engaged range heavy checks, and the Optimized Energy Cell accounts for the massive power cell and ensures she will rarely run out of ammo.

I gave her Rebel Heavy Battle Armor (Soak 2) which when you add her 4 Brawn and Armor Master gives her a very beefy 7 soak. Beyond that, I added a simple blaster and a vibroknife as backup weapons. In the show her pistol has a cool looking scope on it, but I didn’t find a weapon modification that described that well and fit on a pistol.

Once I stat out the rest of the PCs I’ll post them here. As of this writing, there are still a few slots left for the tables I’m running. There are a ton of great gaming events happening all weekend: board games, historical wargames, and even a greek pantheon themed LARP. See you at MACE West!

Categories: Uncategorized

FFG Star Wars Mandalorian Stats

January 7, 2020 Comments off

It is difficult to find a bad review of the flagship Disney+ original The Mandalorian. Most fans were cautiously optimistic, and even some critics of the recent movies were swayed by this return to a gritty, compelling mix of eastern (samurai) and western (cowboy) influences in a live action, episodic show.

SPOILER WARNING: If you haven’t seen the first season of The Mandalorian, just pony up for a month of Disney+ and devour all eight episodes. We’re going to be discussing characters and plot points, so again, you have been warned.

The first few episodes focus on the titular character, but by the end of the first season, there are several characters that could make excellent PCs for an Edge of the Empire game. This is the first post of a series that will eventually make a complete party of six characters: Din Djardin, Cara Dune, IG-11, Kuill, Greef Karga, and of course, The Child.

Let me walk you through my process for Mando. I looked at a lot of careers and specializations, but ultimately went the most obvious route of Bounty Hunter: Gadgeteer from the core Edge of the Empire book. This is actually a pretty tough talent tree due to diverse characteristics for core skills and not great for people looking for an optimized build, but I felt it fit the character to a T. I used the Mandalorian species from Friends Like These which provides all 2s for characteristics, 105 starting XP, and one rank in any combat skill or one rank in two knowledge skills. I chose Gunnery since that is missing from the core skill set of the Gadgeteer. For initial skills I chose Perception, Piloting (Space), Piloting (Planetary), Ranged (Heavy), Ranged (Light), and Brawl.

I choose to build him out with 200 earned XP to represent his experience as a hunter before we meet him in the show. I boosted Brawn, Agility and Willpower to 3 with the starting XP, leaving me 15, which I used to pick up a rank of Mechanics and Melee. Making a bee line down the talent tree (with a few detours) for 200 XP I chose two ranks of Toughened, Jury Rigged, Armor Master, Tinkerer, Dedication (Agility), Point Blank, Spare Clip, and Improved Armor Master. These talents are well represented on screen by the amount of abuse he can take, his versatile gear (more in on this in a moment), and how often his armor saves his bacon. This left 40 XP to buy up a few more ranks in Ranged skills, Piloting (Space), Vigilance, and Athletics.

Let’s talk gear. As one would expect, the Mandalorian has several tricks up (or on) his sleeve. Luckily, a few of these were already started up in Boba Fett’s gear in the Allies and Adversaries sourcebook. This provides the weapon stats for the wrist-mounted flame thrower and whipcord Mando uses in several of the episodes. There are also templates for novice and veteran Mandalorian armor (2 Soak, 1 Defense) in the excellent Gadgets and Gear sourcebook, which provided details for the integrated tracking system that mechanically provides another rank of Vigilance. We see this on screen when he is tracking the (warm?) footprints of Cara Dune outside the backwater tavern in which they first meet.

His rifle posed an interesting challenge. Astute fans will recognize both the rifle, pistol and even overall look is a nod to the Star Wars holiday special. There are no FFG stats for that crazy tuning-fork that I could find.

In episode 3, Cara refers to it as a Pulse rifle, which made me think of a Pulse Cannon which does have stats; stats that fit remarkably well. Apparently I wasn’t the only one confused, as the storyboards in the credits from that same episode make the rifle look like a pulse cannon, albeit with the shock fork at the end. To account for this, I provided the Pulse Cannon with a Shock Pulse Emitter that provides Stun 4, Disorient 1 in melee. The pulse cannon itself can be fired normally for a decent 9 damage shot, pierce two. It should be noted it is slow firing 1, which is not ideal, but pretty well represented on screen as he aims between shots at long range. The rifle can also be primed to use its entire energy cell to gain Breach 1, Vicious 3. While not exactly a disrupter, you have a much better chance of vaporizing some Jawas if you are adding 30% to crit rolls.

I just gave him a vanilla blaster pistol, mostly because I couldn’t find any pistols that really looked like his and he already has a ton of weapons. I also included the vibroknife we see on screen in the mudhorn fight.

The “whistling birds” threw me for a bit of a loop. While mini-rockets are detailed in No Disintegrations, none of those really fit what the armorer creates for him. I used the stat block for the armor-piercing rocket and made it limited ammo 6. It looks like the actual launcher from the show has 10, but that seems a bit overpowered to put in the hands of a PC. There also isn’t really a mechanic to take out 4 guys simultaneously like he did on the show, but I would house-rule an extra rocket could launch for every two advantage on the attack roll to try and simulate that.

So here is my build. I feel like it may not be mechanically optimized, but represents what I saw on the screen. What do you think? Suggestions?

I had this post planned before the tragic news of Fantasy Flight Games shutting down Fantasy Flight Interactive and gutting the RPG department. Those designers created one of my favorite RPGs of all time in the form of Edge/Age/FaD. I plan on playing this game for years to come, and hope all those excellent people land on their feet and keep creating great stuff.

Building Bad: Tips on Creating Memorable Villain NPC’s

January 6, 2020 Comments off

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It’s easy, relatively speaking, to run a villain in most campaigns.  You’ve got technical application of the rules, some rudimentary tactics, and keeping track of stats, spells, and wounds, sure…. And sometimes that can be burdensome, but any GM worth their salt should be able to readily handle that aspect of the game, if not right away then early in their GMing career.

But how do you take a pile of stats and make it memorable?  Make it truly villainous?  here are a few tips to creating a bad guy that your players will love to hate.

Reputation / Infamy

You hear about a villain, or their actions, before you ever see them:  You come across the scene of the murder.  You hear the villagers talk about the tradgedy the villain has brought to bear (even if they don’t know that’s who is behind it).  People talk in hushed tones about the warlord  in the neighboring province.  Villagers tell tale of the creature that lives in the woods.

This is best delievered as background noise, tavern rumors, or news reports.  Better yet, it’s learned when the party is busy with another problem.  It builds a richer world, one fraught with problems where the party can only do so much.  The villain is a problem that the party has to work itself up to.  Haunting scenes of death and destruction or chilling tales from victims or survivors build the villain’s reputation.

Villains use others to do their dirty work.

While some villains may be solitary, many villains that wield enough power will draw followers that seek to benefit from the riches or influence their dastardly patron.  Others may see a chance for wanton violence in the company of someone who has mastered it.

This could be as minimal as a hobgoblin or bugbear that commands a small horde of semi-faithful goblins.  It could be a petty crime lord that pays a biker gang to ferry his contraband and protect his holdings for a cut of the take.  It could be an army.  In this agency, there is power over the innocent.  These perhaps not-so-powerful followers can affect change by virtue of their numbers.  They can destroy a village, derail a train, and in big enough numbers, crush a nation.

Use these minions to exact the will of the Villain, spy on their enemies, and create confrontations that remind the party the villain is active without putting the villain himself at risk.  Furthermore, these minions brag about their patron villain.  They want people to know that they are to be feared and respected because of their patron’s power.  Let your minions tell tales of their patron villain, threaten his wrath, and predict his retribution.  You’re building a relationship between the villain and the party without the villain saying a word themselves.

Villains attack heroes where they’re most vulnerable.

Only so much force can be brought to bear agains the heroes themselves.  They are, after all, the heroes!  They were built to overcome adversity.  When a villain cannot eliminate the heroes, they can make them pay.  Often, they have friends, family and loved ones that don’t have the same capability to fight back.  And there’s nothing to make a villain more hated than attacking or exploiting the innocent, especially if the heroes are close to the victims.

Villains live to fight another day.

There is no single thing that drives a party mad more readily than a villain slipping through their grasp.  Villains should plan ways of making their escape so that the heroes cannot follow until it’s time to stop telling their story.  Dedicated retreat can be difficult to counter, especially for a Villain applying a little forethought.  Take note, however, that if you do this, there are two rules you have to follow: One, the escape must make sense in some form or fashion or the party will see the escape as a cheat. Make sure evidence of their escape plan is clear and reasonable. Two, you must eventually let the heroes catch the villain.  The contract you have with the players as a GM is that you will give them the opportunity to be heroic. Give them that opportunity, if not right away.

Villains use their resources to make your misery their hobby.

Villiains have time and resources that allow them to do things that an average hero wouldn’t even consider.  It might be having their goons ransack the heroes’ base, burn down a town, or spread nasty rumors about them.  They can take their time or drop a little money into making the heroes miserable, including impersonating them while doing their worst.  Fire is cheap.  The watch and judges can be bribed. While the possibilities are endless, the goal is to anger the party, not to kill them.  They are owed a confrontation, and their anger is the spice that will make that fight all the more satsifying.

Villains aren’t just cruel to the heroes.

If a villain is cruel, there are plenty of ways to show it.  Sometimes, this involves slaying their own underlings for their own incompetence.  For the chaotic evil out there, it could be slaying bystanders for almost no reason at all.  In most cases, it’s going to be a villain taking the most direct route to solving a problem, even if that means a few people have to get hurt along the way.  Show these victims to the players in your story so that they get the depth of what a jerk your bad guy really is.  If possible, let your villain do this infront of them, but just out of their grasp.  Use the innocent as human shields to cover the villains escape or distract the heroes from seeking their vengeance.

Villians love to hear themselves talk.

There’s nothing more disappointing than fighting your way through multiple floors of a dungeon or secret base and finally cornering the villian you’ve been hunting for weeks to only have him or her wordlessly wade into combat with you without uttering a word.

This is the easiest, cheapest way to make a villain 100% more satisfying.  Call it a surprise round where the villain takes his whole action talking, or do what I do and say it’s a special “drama round” where you apply GM fiat to tell a cool story.  However you make it happen, have your villain at least say a few lines:

“Miserable stinking imbeciles!  You think you can defeat me?  I am Lord Castigar!  I have slain hundrends of so called heroes like yourselves.  Come at me, if you wish to die!”

It doen’t take much to improv some witty (or not-so-witty) dialogue.  But don’t stop there.  Each round, on the villains action, give them some more lines.  Goad the players, mock them, have them explain the cunning nature of their plan, or if things are turning agains tthe Villain, have them start to negotiate.  And when they negotiate, see if there is a way to be reasonable.  See if you can actually tempt the player into taking the deal.  Don’t be surprised if your villain tells the heroes, “Wait! Stop!” and they actually do it, and hear him out (with hesitation).  There’s something about our human natures that make us willing to hear reason, if its possible, and a villain can use that to his advantage.  A real villain will always welch on the deal anyway, so its nothing to make a few promises and then try to get back to their position down the road.  A good villain bides his time. And if they can’t, you have to remember the last thing…

Villains are people too.

Well, some of them are demons, or space monsters or whatever. But the best villain is a villain that can exist in reality.  Sure, there are murdering psyhopaths that cut a swath of death a destruction through the universe for no reason, but the best villains are ones that could exist, that do exist.  They’re usually greedy, money hungry or power hungry people who bend a few rules at first to get what they think they need or deserve.  Soon, when this becomes easier, or if the reward is just too good, they make bolder moves and more people get hurt.  Maybe life has taught them lessons that make empathy a sign of weakness, and they’ve moved beyond being concerned with how others are affected by their actions.  But a complex villain, one that might yet be turned away from their path, or might show vengence another evil for reasons all their own, that’s a truly well developed villain.  They have reasons for acting how they do, and don’t see themselves as evil so much as driven, regardless of the consequences.

In the end, every villain wants to live.  If the choice is obvious death or the possibility of surviving, 9 times out of 10 a villain will choose life unless losing everything is too great of an insult to their vanity. And then, its up the heroes to show mercy, or perhaps begin the road towards villany themselves. Every villain has to start somewhere, and its a fine line between vengence and wrath.

DCC RPG Annual Vol. 1 Review

November 22, 2019 Comments off
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It has been almost a year since we have published anything on this blog. Life can get busy, but I have a particularly adorable excuse. My wife and I have wanted to adopt for years, and in October 2018 we got the call. We’ve spent the majority of this last year learning how to be parents. It has been amazing to see this little zero level gain new skills and bring such joy to so many people. Now that we have mastered parenting (ha!), we both wanted to get back to creative pursuits and hobbies.

While I may have not blogged about RPGs, I certainly haven’t stopped playing them or buying stuff! Just counting Goodman Games kickstarters that have shipped since I last posted we have had MCC, DCC Lankhmar, and most recently the DCC Annual Vol. 1. I’ve decided to try and catch up in reverse chronological order, so we’ll start with the Annual.

For those of us die hard DCC fans, the “Annual” had been talked about in hushed tones on the now defunct G+ (RIP) since at least 2013, if not earlier. The years went by and still no Annual. Was the gongfarmer’s almanac the annual? No, that was community-created content. The Annual would be from the core Goodman Games writers. It eventually became synonymous for things that would be nice to have, but would not likely see the light of day; the vaporware of RPGs.

Then in late October of 2018, the kickstarter for the Annual was launched. I backed at the foil level. Due to a shipping/fulfillment snafu, I only received my physical copy recently. I had skimmed the PDF version, but didn’t do a deep dive until recently. The tome weighs in at 208 pages.

The chapter numbers mirror the core book, which seems confusing and unnecessary. While the first section is a welcome addition expanding the official material on the pantheon of gods just mentioned by name in the core book, starting on Chapter 5 seems like on odd choice. It would be one thing if this was a direct expansion of the core book and you could plug these sections in to the original, but since they are two separate volumes it just makes navigating the Annual a bit weird.

That said, the contents of the strangely numbered chapters are pretty excellent. Chapter 5 provides background information for several of the gods mentioned in the cleric section of the core book such as Cadixtat, Justicia, Shul and Malotoch, however it does not detail all of them. It does provide some satisfying backstory for those included, as well as several Lay on Hands manifestations to add some more flavor to the next healing attempt. Most provide a few deity-specific divine favors and titles for the first five PC levels. Each entry also includes specific disapproval tables, and spells for levels 1, 3 and 5 called canticles.

Chapter 6 extends the Quests & Journeys chapter of the core book by quite a bit. Included is a fairly detailed table of 24 mini-adventures that could be run in between larger quests. This is followed by several pages detailing a lost utopian land of Mu. While not providing a specific adventure, it provides descriptions of the inhabitants, crystal technology, and interesting places upon which a judge could launch any number of quests.

Chapter 7 is labeled Judge’s Rules like the core book, but is a collection of more patrons for wizards and elves. Several of these I recognize from specific adventures, while others may be new or just unfamiliar to me. Each entry includes some background information, invoke patron results, patron taint, spellburn results and patron spells for level 1, 2 and 3.

As in the core book, Chapter 8 is dedicated to Magic Items. This includes a very detailed section on crafting magic rings with a vast number of tables to ensure each ring created would be unique. The next section describes patron weapons which is a process (and tables!) that describes imprisoning a PC in an item for angering their patron. This curse always has a condition upon which it may be lifted. It also has rules for wielding patron weapons, and a mechanic in which a patron weapon could exert its will on the wielder and dominate the bearer. There is also a table of magical books and a few that have detailed descriptions of magical effects from reading them. My favorite part of this chapter is the named swords section. It dedicates an entire page to each sword. Half of the page is a detailed illustration, the other half is a lengthy backstory and list of powers.

The last main chapter provides options for making monsters more memorable. There are several long entries of individual creatures, but also sections which include tables to make what could be mundane creatures into something unique. This includes tables for randomizing bugs, reptiles, constructs, giants, therianthropes (were-creatures) and general mutations. The chapter concludes with a section on monstrous patronage. This allows a judge to provide some supernatural aide for monsters similar to PCs invoking their patrons. This could be fun if used sparingly, and would be pretty terrifying on the player side of the table the first time it is used.

The book closes with Appendix M – Moustaches. This is a hilarious group of rules and tables about moustaches culminating in the moustache duel. “But sometimes things get ugly, and then folks with a ‘stache must have a clash.”

I think it is great this book finally went into production. It is an excellent collection of details and tables to expand DCC, without feeling like it is adding complicated sub-systems or dreaded rules-bloat. I would recommend it for fans of DCC who want to add a bit flavor and detail to their PCs, monsters, magic items and moustaches.

Categories: Uncategorized Tags: ,

Dungeons and Donations: Encounter at Barrier Peaks

December 3, 2018 Comments off

Dungeons and Donations starts this Friday at The Wyvern’s Tale in Asheville, NC and on twitch.tv for an amazing fifth year! This year will feature a slightly modified version of the classic adventure Expedition to the Barrier Peaks. Judging from the theme on the website and the staff shirts, it looks like an old school Star Trek aesthetic.

For those unfamiliar with previous years, Dungeons and Donations is a 24-hour D&D 5e marathon that benefits Extra Life, the gaming charity for Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals. In the past the graphics for the stream itself had a retro SSi-Gold Box type of feel that added to the nostalgia of playing through such classic adventures as Tomb of Horrors, Keep on the Borderlands, Shrine of Tamoachan, and White Plume Mountain.

If you are anywhere near the Asheville area, you can play and be on the stream! See how long your character can survive the deadly perils that await the party.

If you can’t make the trip, you can still affect the game! Donations can purchase boons (help the party) or banes (hurt the party). A $5 donation will buy a roll on either table. The peril level dictates what options are available based on how many people are in line waiting to play. The longer the player line, the more deadly the banes. If less players are waiting, the more beneficial the boons!

Can the heroes survive the alien ship and save the children? Join us this Friday for another year of incredible fun! For the children!

Categories: 5e, DnD, Epic, News, Retro, Technology

The Black Hack 2e Review

November 6, 2018 Comments off

 I had heard of the Black Hack in various Old School Renaissance (OSR) communities on the now doomed G+ RPG communities, but hadn’t looked in to it until recently. The publisher had a kickstarter over the summer that flew completely under my radar, but since the 126-page second edition PDF was only $6, I decided to take a gamble.

I am so pleased that I did. I have no experience with the first edition of the Black Hack, but the amazing resources in the second edition provide an easy to learn system for players, and a wealth of creative tools for GMs. This is one of the few systems that I would *not* bring pre-gens for in a convention setting. The entire player section of the game is a scant 30 pages, and character generation is TWO. Each of the included classes (the classics: Warrior, Thief, Cleric, Wizard) has a simple character sheet and just enough options to give your character a few interesting bits of equipment and mechanics. Each of the four classes can be printed on a single sheet, front and back, and the player will have just about everything they need.

This system is a great example of the mechanics aiding creativity and story-telling, and not getting in the way with endless fiddly bits. For example: one of the core mechanics is the attribute test. Your attributes are generated via the classic 3d6 method. Roll under the attribute called for in the test, you pass. Roll over, you fail. Initiative is a great example of this: roll under your Dexterity. Pass? Go before the baddies. Fail? Go after the baddies. Quick. Easy to remember. Fun!

It also makes use of the popular advantage/disadvantage mechanic used in D&D 5e. Since you want to roll under your attribute, you would take the lower result for advantage, and the higher result for disadvantage.

Another nice mechanic it uses for item tracking is the usage die chain. This is used to track anything that has a number of uses like arrows, holy water, oil etc. When you use the thing, roll the associated usage die. If you roll a 1 or a 2 it goes down one step in the chain: D20 > D12 > D10 > D8 > D6 > D4 > expended. For ammo it is only rolled at the end of the encounter. This is a nice way to reflect a limited resource without the dreaded Dungeons & Accounting that can take up so much time or is completely ignored by players and GMs in other systems.

The art is very cool black and white pieces from Karl Stjernberg, David Black, Sean Poppe, and Jeff Call. A lot of the best work is reserved for the monster and opponents section.

But the best part is reserved for the GM. This system has incredible resources to generate just about anything you could need for a game session: NPCs, hex maps, wilderness, dungeons, settlements, taverns, quest hooks, whats on the body etc. Some are straight rolls of a d12 or d8, others use 2d6 on a matrix, others are drop tables that have different results based on where the die lands on the page. This is the most succinct, concentrated creativity toolkit I’ve seen in any system. Even the monsters and opponents section includes tables to make every encounter unique.

If you’re in a creative rut, this is about the best $6 you can spend. If you’d like to pre-order the printed version and missed out on the kickstarter (like I did), check out the pre-order page. See you around the table! I’ve got some adventures to generate!

The Queen of Elfland’s Son Review – DCCRPG

September 30, 2018 Comments off

DCC 97 has been out since June, but somehow I missed it when it came out during Free RPG Day and just picked it up today. This is the first release to offer the awesome PDF code for RPGNOW in the front cover as announced at GEN CON. Any new DCC adventure from 97 on will include a code to redeem on RPGNOW for the PDF version. This is the best physical/digital offer I’ve ever seen since you can support your FLGS, and get a handy digital version for printing out handouts or maps. Kudos to Goodman Games and RPGNOW for putting together this deal. Once again, they are about a decade ahead of Paizo and WotC when it comes to innovation and rewarding their judges/GMs.

This release also features a very cool, very pulpy cover from the artist Sanjulian. I don’t know if it was commissioned for this adventure or was recycled from another work. It is pretty cool looking, but doesn’t make a lot of sense for this particular adventure, unlike the custom Kovacs covers that usually show something from the module like an encounter or iconic creature.

The interior contributions from the usual suspects like Kovacs, Poag, and Cliff Kurowski are excellent as always. The cartography for this one is by Poag and is a nice blend of the heavily-illuminated style of Kovacs and digital clarity of maps from DCC adventures in the D&D 3.5 days.

The adventure itself is inspired by the Appendix N entry The King of Elfland’s Daughter by Lord Dunsany. This marks the first DCC adventure in which I have read the inspirational material before the release of the adventure. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it! It is by no means required to enjoy this adventure, but there are a few nods to the source material and it is fun to see how Michael Curtis has incorporated some elements from the book in to the adventure.

This is a first level adventure that would work very well as a first foray after a funnel. The village of Eng isn’t really the focus of the adventure, and could either be substituted out for a different starting hamlet or fleshed out to provide a starting base of operations for adventurers. This adventure weighs in at 20 pages, including maps, and would likely work for a typical 4-5 hour convention slot. It has a short introduction, and two main parts. Without getting in to spoiler territory for potential players, there is a nice mix of investigation, combat and social encounters to allow every role a chance to shine.

A sequel to this adventure is alluded to a few times in the text, so it looks like this will at least be a two-part story, but this one stands on it’s own just fine. This would be a great adventure for those new to the DCC system as the adversaries are fairly straight forward, while still providing a few surprises for experienced delvers. Ask your FLGS to order this one, and cash in that PDF code! See you in Elfland!

Categories: Adventure, DCCRPG, Reviews, RPGs

Cyphers and Masks Review – Star Wars Age of Rebellion

September 3, 2018 1 comment

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The most recent sourcebook for Fantasy Flight Games Star Wars RPG is an Age of Rebellion sourcebook expanding on the Spy career. I’ve been looking forward to this book almost as much as the bounty hunter book for Edge of the Empire, and it does not disappoint. It follows the familiar format of other career source books: three sections, the first with new species and specializations, the second with new gear/vehicles/weapons and the third focusing on the GM and integrating spy characters into larger campaigns.

If you are more selective about your sourcebook purchases, I would still suggest giving this one a look. It includes some interesting new species such as the nearly synonymous-with-spy Kubaz, the insect-like Melitto, and mantis-antennae-having near-human Balosars. Those “antennapalps” provide two advantage on vigilance checks, which may prove handy since willpower is not generally a strong stat for spies. Kubaz have enhanced vision which can cancel out two setback dice from perception checks due to environmental factors. The Melitto have sightless vision and never need light. Seeing as it looks like they lack a mouth, Melittos could make cool silent snake-eyes type spies.

swa53_art_specialization-courierThe three new specializations are courier, interrogator and sleeper agent. Thanks to some generous 5 XP skills, courier is a more compelling choice than you might think at first blush. To the base spy skills of Computers, Cool, Coordination, Deception, Knowledge (Warfare), Perception, Skullduggery and Stealth, Courier adds Athletics, another Deception, Streetwise and Vigilance. With 5XP talents Well-Travelled and Pilot Training, this quickly becomes a very well-rounded tree mostly focusing on agility and intellect. Well-traveled makes Knowledge Core Worlds and Outer Rim career skills. Pilot training does the same for Piloting Space and Planetary. There are some parkour talents like Freerunning and Swift for personal movement, as well as some that apply to either personal or vehicles like Shortcut and Lose Them. This makes courier a solid choice for a pilot/analyst in your rebel spy cell. The only glaring omission is any kind of weapons skill, but that can be addressed with a dip into the universal recruit tree from the Age core book.

Interrogator is a surprising choice for a PC specialization, but could be an exciting one the way they have it written here. To the base spy skills add Charm, Coercion, Medicine, and another Perception. This makes the interrogator the de facto “face” spy, relying more on social skills rather than subterfuge. The talent tree has a good cop side and a bad cop side, as well as talents about called Resist Questioning and Made You Talk. One of the most interesting is a 25XP skill called Pressure Point that allows the PC to make a brawl check that does stun damage equal to ranks in medicine ignoring soak. This could be used to judo-chop some minions or knock out a weakened rival or nemesis for questioning. Other than the scout, this is the only other Spy spec with access to medicine, and with access to two ranks in Surgeon may be the best healer of the bunch. Every rebel spy cell could use a doctor/face.

swa53_sleeperagentSleeper Agent has some very cool benefits. To the base skills add Charm, another Cool, Discipline, and Knowledge (Education). The tree has some slicer talents like Codebreaker and Bypass Security. For 5XP you can pick up Well Rounded to pick up any two skills and make them career skills. This is a cheap way to pick up some weapon or piloting skills. Ideally these would match what your roll is in the Empire: Pilot, Soldier, Mechanic etc. The 25XP talents are especially cool: Inside Person and Inside Knowledge provide advantages to checks associated with a certain installation or large ship. You can also use it to find an item previously stashed in a location, which has cool story possibilities.

Just as one would expect from any classic spy movie, the gear and gadget section does not disappoint. Weapons that fire invisible blaster bolts, wrist mounted razor launchers, hidden garrotes, and convertible pistols that can be switched to a sniper rifle with two maneuvers (thanks Cassian!) and some stealthy armor. Gear and tools include a fake tooth with a poison crystal inside, cybernetic implants of tools and lock picks (go-go gadget hydrospanner!), disguises both holographic and implanted, concealed escape kits in the heel of a boot, explosive belts etc. Its just like walking into the lab of a Bond movie, as it should be. There are several droids detailed here, from interrogation, slicers, incredibly strong assault droids, and armored messenger droids. RA-7 stats are included as well. This was the inventory droid from Star Wars Rebels.

swa53_species_2A fair amount of space is dedicated to weapon attachments and enhancements to help conceal or break down weapons so they can be smuggled in to places they shouldn’t be. The vehicle and ship section just has one speeder and one star fighter with a lot of hard points to be used in customization. The vehicle attachments include lots of interesting options for cloaking, retractable weapons, and espionage electronics. You could certainly create something reminiscent of classic Bond cars filled with gadgets.

The third section details campaign ideas and potential rewards for spies. It outlines potential pitfalls GMs could run into with groups that have a lot of direct-action PCs and one Spy that relies on stealth. Given the variety of skills in this career I think you could run a really fun rebel spy cell with PCs made exclusively from spies. This section also provides some really helpful suggestions for spending dice results for computers, deception, skullduggery and stealth checks.

As expected, this was one sourcebook worth waiting for. The team at FFG is not running out of gas for this Star Wars line. I have yet to buy a book in this line that isn’t worth every penny. Even if you don’t collect them all, I highly recommend this one due to how well they stuck to the theme and the surprises along the way.

Categories: Books, Reviews, Star Wars

Review: Legend of the Five Rings Beginner Box

August 28, 2018 Comments off

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First, a little history…

Legend of the Five Rings is role playing set in Rokugan, which is similar to Japan during the Tokugawa shogunate, but with fantasy elements.  The setting features noble samurai,  wise monks and mysterious shugenja (priests)  that wield swords, fists, and spiritual powers (respectively) to obtain honor and fame in the honor-bound feudal setting.  Each character derives from a powerful clan (Crane, Crab, Lion, Phoenix, Dragon, Scorpion, and Unicorn) each with  their own motivations and agendas.

The game got its start in 1995 with AEG, which released a role playing game along with a collectible card game that was fairly popular at the time (and which persisted until 2015).   Fantasy Flight has acquired the rights to this rich setting, and launched things last year at Gen Con with an oriental styled parade from the street through Gen Con itself, gathering quite a crowd.

Here’s a fleeting picture I snapped at the time:

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2017 Rokugan Parade

Fantasy Flight is doing some pretty impressive stuff with the property, including kicking off the new card game (which is about a year old, and I’ve heard good things, but haven’t played). But more importantly for Skyland Games readers, they have been working on a new version of the RPG rules which have been in beta testing for some time now.  You can download those beta test rules HERE.  However, smart money might just guide you to pick up the Beginner box which just came out.  I did, and I’d say on the whole it was worth it, unless you’re sure sure sure you want to play and can’t wait for the final rules to be released next year (TBD as of this article).

The Beginner Box: Contents

The L5R Beginner Box is an attractive set, coming with maps of the larger region, maps of a medium sized city / village, and a map of a large castle not actually featured in the boxed set itself (but available for some online content I’ll discuss later).

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It also features a full set of Legend of the Rings dice, which are unique to the system. As with FFG’s Star Wars beginner boxes, the dice are about a $13 dollar value, which begins to justify the total MSRP of $39.95

The game includes an adventure that presumes no knowledge of the rules or how to play, and teaches both game master and players how to play as the game continues.  While theoretically that would allow you to start playing almost immediately, in reality the GM is going to need to read through the entire booklet to grasp the concepts before sitting down to run.

Without giving anything away, the adventure “The Topaz Championship” is a coming-of-age ceremony for persons of the samurai caste, which includes in this case a Phoneix clan shugenja, a Dragon clan Monk, a Crane clan Courtier and a Lion clan warrior.  The adventurers find themselves travelling together and form an unlikely bond when strange events occur that unite them in a common purpose.

The adventure itself is not the strongest adventure out there, but does unfold the concepts nicely and provides a way to ease into more and more of the rules as you play.  It starts with introducing setting and role playing concepts, then evolves into skill challenges, then non-lethal combat, then lethal combat.  Each character booklet presented to each player gives a skeletal version of the rules, indications of what the symbols on the dice mean, and what various actions can be taken.  A small more detailed rules-lite version of the full rules is also in the box, which allows for more nuanced play outside of the extra-lite rules in the adventure itself.

The Rules

The Beginner box gives us a good idea, if not a perfect idea, of what the game will look like upon release.  First I should note that, though the system holds similarities to the Genesys game that is the framework for many future releases from FFG, it is not that system, which to me was a bit of a disappointment.  While I have no desire to return the the days of d20 where everything was a d20 system and rules became painfully bland, there is some lack of utility in being similar to but different than a new standard from the same company.  Presumably, the rules presented are tied deeply into the concepts of the whole setting in a way to will prove meaningful enough to justify a new play format.

First, players have stats that derive from the Five Rings, (as set out by Musashi in 1645).  Fire = Passion; Earth = Discipline; Water = Adaptability; Air = Precision; Void = Spirituality

These are your core abilities, rather than agility, strength, etc.  The characters also have skills, ranging from law, to martial arts, to courtesy.  Many of the skills are not what you would call your standard fantasy adventure game skills.

Making a check requires rolling black ring dice, in addition to white skill dice.  One for each point you have in the ring or in the skill.

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You may keep as many dice as you have values in the ring you are using.  The versatility of the system is that it allows you to often parlay the way you are approaching something to make it something you are good at. For instance, if you want to knock someone down, you needn’t use Fire + Unarmed Combat (charging at them), you could instead nimbly dodge their blows, striking only with precision (Air+Unarmed Combat) or use their own momentum to throw them off balance (Water+Unarmed Combat).  Some approaches are more effective than others.

Dice have four results:

  • Success:  You need enough of these to reach your target number set by the GM
  • Exploding Successes: You count this as a success and then roll the die again, opting to keep this next roll as part of the first, or dropping it.  These subsequent rolls can go on into infinity and aren’t counted against you as part of your ring limit.
  • Opportunity: This works, as far as I can tell, like advantage in Genesys or FFG Star Wars, but perhaps with more restrictions depending on the type of ring you were using.  Rules are skeletal here, and may be expanded on in the main book.
  • Strife: This is emotion or stress that causes you to lose your cool.

Unlike those other systems, there are no difficulty, challenge or setback dice.  Also, strife appears along with positive dice results (like success, exploding success, and opportunity) thereby baiting the player to take those results.

Strife isn’t the end of the world, but if it surpasses your Discipline result, you can become compromised, which precludes the character from using results that have strife on them (which really cuts your opportunities).  That character can try to handle their situation until they regain composure, or they can become “unmasked” and clear their strife, usually with some loss of honor from their unseemly behavior.

Pros & Cons:

The game seems to have some potential, but as a new player to this version of the game, getting used to the idea of justifying your ring choice presented a little bit of a stumbling block.  With some more play, I’m confident that the game will feel more natural. In some ways it encourages roleplaying the type of character you are to fit your actions, and rewards creativity.

Dice in these games are always an issue.  Many of my players immediately splurged on the dice app available on Google Play and Apple.  These apps help to solve the problem of keeping track of what you previously rolled when you get a good run of exploding successes and start to run out of dice.  With a game at this point in development, everyone would have to own a beginner box to have dice of their own, and that’s not going to happen.  So it’s either pass those dice or get an app (for now).

The setting itself is unique, and as a student of Asian culture, I love a lot of the details, though these might be a little cumbersome for the unintitiated.  I’m unaware if any fantasy history has carried forward over the past 23 years.  People have loved this setting for decades and might not want to let that history go… like this guy:

The game is more serious than a lot of other fantasy settings, as it deals primarily with the conflict between desire and duty.  As such, L5R is likely to be a subtle game, and is really going to be the best fit with experienced gamers, or players that are naturally more serious and have a flair for the dramatic and the setting itself.  Beer and pretzel gamers are probably less likely to enjoy the subtlety of the concepts and the balance required in the game play.

In the past, I’ve always found the game a little tricky to prepare.  The characters are almost by definition at odds where their houses are concerned, vying for influence in Rokugan, and that’s going to make things a little tense and maybe a little uncooperative.  For that reason, it’s not going to be the game for everyone and it may be hard to prepare an adventure yourself with a party so divided.  Fortunately, one can usually fall back on duty to guide the party to a common goal, even if they can’t agree on how to get there.

Fantasy flight has released a free downloadable adventure and additional characters, which I have heard good things about.  The map of the castle in the beginner box is for that adventure, and the characters are set to proceed with unifying purpose which originates in the beginner box, making it worth the quick playthrough.

Total beginner box playthrough time is going to take from 4 to 8 hours.  No word on how long the expansion material will take. This play time will be greatly enhanced by the GM reading the optional expansive rules book in the box and understanding those concepts before sitting down to play.

TLDR:  The Legend of the Five Rings Beginner Box teaches a subtle nuanced game to fans of the genre with minimal impact on players and GM alike, and is worth the price of admission for players who can’t wait for the full rules coming out in the months to come.