Mike and I attended GaryCon VII (2015) together, and had an incredible time. While I bought up just about everything I didn’t already own that Goodman Games has released, Mike had the forethought to take one look at the rack of zines available, and pick up one of each. Since then, he got in on the Zine Vault kickstarter and recently lent me his collection to become more familiar with the medium.
I have paged through several, but Crawl #11 caught my eye and I read it cover to cover. Included are rules for naval warfare and nautical mighty deeds by Bob Brinkman, Fantastic Forms of Sea Ship Propulsion by the DCC editor (and Crawl! creator) Rev. Dak J. Ultimak, The Deep Elders by Daniel J. Bishop, and Life Aboard by Sean Ellis.
The last big pirate RPG I had played was the Pathfinder adventure path Skulls and Shackles. This (like most of my Pathfinder experiences) started really well, but got a little ludicrous as the story progressed. In contrast, Bob’s rules about ships, cannons, and alternative weapons like chain shot and greek fire provide a canvas on which a flavorful, action-packed adventure could be painted! These rules hit all the right notes without getting too bogged down in mechanics. Tables for both crits or fumbles with cannons and fire-throwers ensure the need for the last table: brutal injuries! Also included are brief descriptions of special maneuvers such as boarding, crossing the T (coming across the bow and firing), as well as ramming. The naval mighty deeds are the icing on the cake, and include tables for boarding, cannon shots, and general piracy.
Fantastic Forms of Ship Propulsion detail eight alternative forms of naval locomotion. These range from the sun and stars, to creatures acting as the motor such as turtles and eels. My favorite is the skeleton crew, which is literally a necromancer’s ship with skeletons at the oars. Each include possible complications of the alternative power sources. These could work well on the Purple Planet, or any sea adventure that needs an interesting twist.
If you are looking to add some elder god flavor to your next oceanic excursion, The Deep Elders describe starfish like servants of Dagon that glow with blue, green or yellow light and possess sailors. Those enthralled become puppets of the deep elders and may only be banished with very strong magic. There are interesting rules about starting over as a 0-level and choosing an alternate, or gaining levels of your demi-human class once possessed.
Sean Ellis writes Life Aboard, which is a great set of tables to simulate days or weeks at sea. The Ship Morale table affects the subsequent Wind Speed and On-board Events tables, as the crew is either motivated (or not) to get the most out of the ship and the winds that day. The events are well thought out, but include the use of a d18, which is not part of the standard DCC chain. I love weird dice more than most, but even I draw the line somewhere. Since both 1 and 18 are non-events, you could substitute a d16 for a lively journey, or a d20 to include more non-event days.
Overall, this is an outstanding value in either print or PDF form. Since this issue is focused around this one theme, if you are looking to run a nautical adventure using DCC, Crawl! 11 is an outstanding resource. Even if you hadn’t considered it before, I bet you are now. Great work!
By now, those of us who have purchased a sourcebook or two (or ten) for this system are familiar with the typical Fantasy Flight Games formula for their supplements to the Edge/Age/F+D system: Add a few new species, three alternate specializations for the career, and some specific gear, weapons, and vehicles that compliment the specializations. Throw the GM a bone with the last section on building encounters specific to the career, and maybe some adventure seeds and you have a sourcebook.
Until now. FFG broke the mold for the technician sourcebook Special Modifications. It is still in three familiar sections, and it adds a few new species, three new specs and some career-specific gear, but then it goes further. The crafting section at the end of the book allows for true customization and building of weapons, droids, gadgets, and even cybernetics! It provides several basic templates for each category, as well as tables to spend results from the crafting check to add qualities and characteristics to the creation. For weapons this means positive effects like Accurate, Knockdown, Ion, Ensare, Stun, Pierce, etc. On the negative side it could add inaccurate, slow-firing, difficult to repair, expensive, prepare, etc. This is a tinkerer’s dream, and allows careers like outlaw tech and gadgeteer a lot of awesome new options.
Just after the crafting section is expanded rules on slicing. It includes actions for both an ‘intruder’ and ‘defender’ which allows for the PC to play either side, and could involve several intruders and defenders depending on how complex you want to make the encounter. I think I personally would save this for a special occasion for a very important slicing mission, preferably during a fire-fight, so the rest of the party isn’t just sitting around. Otherwise this could fall quickly into the Shadowrun trap of PCs in cyberspace playing one game, and PCs in meatspace playing another. I do appreciate the stats and descriptions of computer spikes (previously seen in Jewel of Yavin) which I believe first appeared in Knights of the Old Republic as a way to slice into computer terminals.
Beyond that there are a ton of new vehicle and weapon attachments, and a few vehicles that can serve as mobile workshops, as well as a highly-customizable fighter that can use different attachments and modifications depending on the mission.
The three new specs are Droid Tech, Cyber Tech, and Modder. Cyber Tech focuses mostly on self-modification through cybernetics, but adds Medicine, Athletics, Mechanics, and Vigilance to the base skills of a technician. The tree also contains talents like Surgeon which helps on medicine checks, so this could be a strong choice for a mechanic/doctor combo. Droid Tech is the technician’s technician (with a focus on droids of course) adding another Mechanics and Computers, as well as Cool and Leadership. Some of the talents deal with directing NPC droids, so I would assume Leadership would play into that. Modder is similar to the Age spec of Rigger in the Ace sourcebook. To the regular technician skills, Modder adds Gunnery, Mechanics, Piloting (Space) and Streetwise. Seems like a very playable combo to me. Much like the Rigger, the Modder has many talents that focus on a signature vehicle.
The new species are Dug (Sebulba from pod racing), Besalisk (Obi-wan’s buddy Dex), and two flavors of Mustafarians, Northern and Southern. Despite mechanics and medicine both being intellect based, none of the presented species start with higher than 2, which seems surprising given the focus of the book.
Overall, if you have been holding back on sourcebooks, I would recommend getting this one. I would even go as far to say if you were to only get one sourcebook, I would make it this one, just for all the customization/crafting tables. At least until FFG finally releases the one career that doesn’t have a sourcebook yet: Bounty Hunter. I can’t wait!
One of the greatest things about role-playing is that the choices are not limited. You can elect to solve a problem different ways, act recklessly or thoughtlessly, and indeed can do something downright evil, and the GM has to adapt to that approach. It’s the one thing that, to my mind, will always keep role-playing slightly ahead of video games, no matter how interactive they tend to get. With the option of unfettered control, players can elect to play evil characters in RPG’s with some degree of success. However, evil campaigns are where the boundless possibilities of table-top gaming can become a two-edged sword.
It has been widely suggested that Gary Gygax original developed alignments with significant inspiration from Poul Anderson’s Three Hearts and Three Lions, which contributed the idea of Law versus Chaos and of forces aligning with that principle. Basic Dungeons and Dragons had Law, Chaos and Neutrality depicted handily by this, one of my favorite sketches from those books:
This, theoretically, should just about do it, but not to keep things too simple, our beloved Gary went and made this much more marvelously complex alignment chart, with Good and Evil, Law and Chaos on varying axes:
This added shades of nuance, and later became colored with tendencies. Lawful Neutral with Lawful Good tendencies etc. etc. This allowed for a description of many different layers of alignment, and theoretically should permit a player to describe his character’s beliefs pretty closely.
This level of detail originally existed to force characters to act in accord with their proscribed ethos, maybe as a story telling tool, maybe as a heavy-handed way of teaching players how to role-play. Some of it was simply a game mechanic or limiter on how players interacted with items and spells – numerous items would do damage to or be unusable by members of a certain alignment. I believe it was to limit capricious behavior by players who, having different consequences in-game than in real life, find themselves looting and killing more quickly than they typically would in other situations. It’s a clumsy tool for keeping the game on track.
THE ISSUES WITH EVILNESS
So what happens when you toss the limiting element of that out the window? An Evil Campaign incorporates alignments that don’t tend to go past Chaotic Neutral, and are traditionally very difficult to get off the ground. When alignment fails to work as a tool, all bets are off. Characters can burn buildings and torture the innocent to get their results, and a party full of such characters has no limitation or recourse, making the story telling a very difficult proposition for the GM.
It’s very strange for me to articulate this idea, that alignment is still a tool we need to keep things on track. But most stories that are written or created take the heroic point of view as a given, or at least the mercenary view as the farthest the players are likely to take it. While, Mercenary values should have some appeal to all parties, but there is an added consideration when Evil is at play… betrayal, backstabbing, and advancing the cause of the adversary are all on the table. Accordingly, Evil is very hard to consistently motivate.
It’s more relevant than ever because Paizo has recently released its Hell’s Vengeance adventure path, where, for the first time, the adventure path centers around evil characters. Serving the fiend-aligned throne of Cheliax, the heroes take part in a series of adventures to quell uprisings in the name of Iomade and so on. It promises to be an interesting experiment to see if an adventure series can be constructed in such a way so as to not break down in to absolute chaos.
Paizo is aware of the danger of such an event. In the introduction, they say that the key to not having everyone kill each other is for everyone not to be a jerk, and for the group to advance the mutual cause of fun. This is the best answer one can give, but I can tell you from personal experience that this is very wishful thinking.
BACK IN MY DAY…
Several years ago, I ran an evil campaign, known only as “The Evil Campaign”. People hungered for it, and for a few years, it was a favorite. It coincided roughly with the publication of the Book of Vile Darkness, which gave us some rich material to work with. The characters were nuanced, and the players some of the best I’ve played with. Thinking that these details were enough of a check on their own, I introduced the characters to the world without any safeguards in place.
They literally all killed each other within 30 minutes.
The only survivor was, fortunately, the mild mannered and charismatic necromancer, who had gathered each body as it fell and dragged it back to his laboratory. Struggling to find a way to bring the game back into some sort of order, I extended an invitation to this necromancer from an agent of Iuz the Old, and decided then that some sort of guarantee needed to be made as to compliance, since player restraint did not appear to be trustworthy. Acknowledging its cheesiness, I borrowed from SSI’s Curse of the Azure Bonds game, imprinting them with tattooed sigils that stay their hand’s when moving to kill an ally.
Through his clumsy but necessary mechanic, we were able to play for another year or two, though players worked to undo other characters in the game and constantly sought ways to kill one another, getting around the curse. While much fun was had, and there were moments of peace, it was in the nature of the characters to be at odds. It wasn’t bad role-playing, in fact it was quite good role-playing, but it was somewhat the nature of the beast. In the end, it was exhausting as a game master to keep the story moving in a predictable way allowing me to prepare, and we fell away from it. You could never tell what crazy thing the players were going to do next, but often it was to kill a major NPC because they looked at them funny.
That’s because often, as players, we hold Evil to a much higher standard than we do good. Players act as though evil aggressively seeks out mischief, chaos and death. And while it sometimes does those things, it more often strikes randomly as granted by opportunity. The true face of evil is not the monster that wants to kill, burn and destroy. It’s very seldom Rovagug or Tharizdun. It’s typically more like Doyle Hargraves in Sling Blade, or Nurse Ratched from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. It’s subtle, selfish, and sneaky. In a fantasy game, the evil out there operates in the open by virtue of acknowledging the power of law and working around it, nibbling at its edges, and slipping back away into the night. Evil people work together all the time, and while there are disputes, the first move is not always to kill each other. There are layers of frustration, and means of revenge that aren’t killing.
It’s a tough road to go down, but I look forward to hearing what players in Paizo’s Hell’s Vengeance AP experience. It’s got potential, and if someone could pull it off, it would be them. But I think more likely, we’ll see a pile of bodies by the end of the first book, and maybe another reskinning of the old Azure Bonds mechanic by a few GM’s. Look forward to hearing how good ‘bad’ can really be from our readers who have played it, and what they’d change if they could.
Lead by Example is the latest Sourcebook in the Age of Rebellion line for the Fantasy Flight Star Wars system. This book provides additional specializations for the Commander career from the main Age book. It also adds Chagrian, Ishi Tib, and Lannik to the species options. Lannik we’ve seen in Force and Destiny (Master Piell), the other two are new to the system. The new specializations are Figurehead, Instructor, and Strategist. Beyond this, it also details a few new bits of equipment and vehicles, and has a very detailed section on mass-combat rules.
Chagrians are an interesting species. The most notable example I can think of is Vice Chancellor Mas Amedda, seen at the right hand of Palpatine in several scences from the prequels. Mechanically, they start with one rank in Resilience, can breathe underwater, and start with one rank in the Knowledge Specialization talent. This provides an additional success when a triumph is rolled on a particular knowledge check, per ranks in the talent. Not terrible, but starting with a one in agility (somewhat inexplicably) and only 90 starting XP makes this a pretty weak choice, unless its an amphibious campaign. (All Mon Calamari and Quarren PCs would get a bit old).
Speaking of which, Ishi Tib are also amphibious. I couldn’t think of a prominent Ishi Tib off the top of my head, but apparently one was Jabba’s accountant, and another was in the Techno Union (which I thought was mostly droid-like guys). These beaky guys start with a 3 in intellect, and rank in Discipline, but must be “doused in salt water every 24 hours” or their wound threshold is reduced by 2. Luckily they are pretty brawny, but that quirk could be either a really fun role-playing opportunity or a tiresome chore. It almost seems like starting the character with an addiction obligation from Edge of the Empire.
Lanniks are tough little dudes, who for some reason do not appear to count as silhouette zero (though I think I would house-rule this). Allegedly a warrior race, to me they look like sad house-elves from Harry Potter. Once again, hamstrung by starting with 1 Agility and 95 starting XP (really? not 90, not 100?) They start with a rank in streetwise and an interesting trait called Indomitable, which allows them to remove a setback from crits, fear, or disoriented. Astute reader, and Order 66 podcast listener Edward Sawyer brought to my attention the species abilities in this book differ from the Lannik described in Keeping the Peace, and the devs have indicated the more favorable stats from Keeping the Peace should be used. This means 100 starting XP, and indomitable removes two setback. Maybe I will play a surly house elf…
On to the specializations. Figurehead seems to be a blend of a diplomat and military commander. To the core Commander skills of Coercion, Cool, Discipline, Knowledge (Warfare), Leadership, Perception, and Vigilance, this spec adds another Cool, Leadership, Negotiation, and Knowledge (Core Worlds). This would make a pretty excellent all-purpose leader – especially combined with the Recruit tree from the core Age book to round out combat skills.
Instructor is my favorite of the three. This is a classic drill sergeant archetype, but to the base set of Commander skills, it adds another Discipline, Medicine, Ranged (Heavy) and Knowledge (Education). It is nice to have another spec with the rare medicine skill, and the tree also has stimpack specialization a few times, not to mention grit and toughened, to make this a frontline, combat-ready leader.
Strategist seems to be geared towards the mass combat rules detailed later in the book. This spec adds Computers, Cool, Vigilance, and Knowledge (warfare) – so pretty much just Computers. The tree has a lot of research talents, so its a bit of a scholar/commander combo. To me, this has very limited playability unless the campaign was focused on mass combat and capital ship battles. While that is certainly possible in Age, its not a campaign that really speaks to me.
The mass combat rules are basically rolling opposed checks based on the strength of assembled forces, upgrading or adding boost and setback depending on various circumstances. Based on the results you can narrate the results of massive battles, while your PCs do their best to affect the outcome on a more personal scale.
I enjoyed the section at the back that discussed medals, including a few I recognized from playing X-wing way back in the day like the Kaildor Cresent and the Corellian Cross.
Overall, this book is for the completionists, or GMs that want to run a campaign that focuses on a macro scale for battles. The instructor spec is excellent, but I’m not sure if that is enough to justify this one. I’m looking forward to what the Technician book will bring for us in Edge, and of course, we’re all awaiting the Bounty Hunter sourcebook.