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Enter the Unknown review: Star Wars Edge of the Empire

January 21, 2014 2 comments

SWE06-Book-Left(1)Fantasy Flight released their first character sourcebook for Edge of the Empire, Enter the Unknown: A Sourcebook for Explorers. At first I thought it sort of an odd choice, because as I go through the list of Edge careers, explorer probably isn’t even in my top 3. However, since Edge of the Empire is about the EDGE of known space and the outer rim, it does kind of make sense to dedicate more pages to those intrepid characters dedicated to charting new territory. This book includes not only new specializations for the explorer class, but new races, gear, and adventure seeds for the GM to create all sorts of explorer-centric stories.

First up, races. Enter the Unknown details stats for Chiss, Duros, and Toydarians. The most recognizable Chiss would be (the now non-canonical) Grand Admiral Thrawn. Arguably the most awesome empire villain since Vader himself. They are described as “cold and calculating” and known for the patience and tactical aptitude, which seem to me to be more traits of an individual than an entire race, but when one has as many races as the Star Wars universe, perhaps one needs to cut corners somewhere. It’s strange that they mention a cultural taboo of preemptive strikes, yet one of the racial abilities is starting with a rank in Cool, the skill you use for preemptive strikes. Hmmm. Cool is also based off presence, the one stat in which the Chiss start with a one. Since they’re so tactical, I would house-rule them to start with a rank in Vigilance as that is the more reactive skill. Other than that, they start with a three in Intellect, and their red eyes have infravision that removes a setback die from low-light conditions, and they all have blue skin and black hair. That makes the description part of the character sheet easy enough.

Next up: Duros. Considered one of the pioneer races of hyperspace travel, Duros are often confused with Neimoidians (trade federation). One of the most recognizable members is Cad Bane. These guys specialize in flying, mechanics, and most notably Astrogation. They have a rivalry with their astral-neighbors the Correllians which has become tense in recent years when the empire annexed Duro as a subject of Correlia rather than an independent world. That tension could be played up in-game once Suns of Fortune comes out. Duros is a natural choice as the party’s pilot, as they start the game with a rank in Piloting (Space) and always add one advantage to any Astrogation roll.

Finally, Toydarians. The most notable member of this race is Watto. Interestingly the first race to start with both two “ones” in starting ability scores, but also two “threes.” Interestingly, these guys would make great face characters, but be absolutely useless in a fight; like C3-P0 useless. They also hover with their little wings, so ignore difficult terrain, but can’t fly any higher than a few feet. Known mainly as lackeys for Hutts, and having some amount of force persuasion resistance, a Toydarian in the group could be a great Trader, Politico, or maybe Scoundrel, but leave the fighting to the other guys.

SWE06_5411_ScoutCollectorSurveyor_TimothyBenZweifel-2The next section details three new specializations for Explorers: Archaeologist, Big-Game Hunter, and Driver. The Archaeologist is very much in the predicable “Indiana Jones” rough and tumble school of Archaeology, but it provides a nice balance of educated loremaster with some field abilities. Surprisingly most of the skill tree is filled with Grit, Durable, and Toughened, with a few ranks of Knowledge Specialization and Respected Scholar in there for good measure. This would be a great addition to a small party that needs some knowledge skills, but not at the expense of losing a character that can hold their own in a scrap.

The Big-Game hunter has many of the same skills as a Scout, but is more combat-oriented. You lose the Scout’s skill in Medicine and Piloting (Planetary), but gain Stealth and Ranged (Heavy), both essential to this specialization. It reads a bit like a blend of Scout/Assassin, so those who want some survival skills, but also want to take things down at a distance, this is for you.

Lastly there is the Driver. This is a nice blend of Pilot/Mechanic in which you can gain talents like Full Throttle and Skilled Jockey, but also Gearhead and Fine Tuning. Pretty much the ultimate co-pilot class, as it adds Mechanics and Gunnery to the list of Explorer skills, it also adds a few to set it apart like All-Terrain Driver, Full Stop, and Natural Driver. Not as boring of a choice as I would have thought at first glance.

This book also adds Signature Abilities. The Explorer Signature Abilities are extensions to your Talent tree that have two prerequisite skills from the bottom row of the tree. These are meant to be ultimate achievements of characters that are at the very pinnacle of their field. After gaining the base Signature Ability for 30 points, there are two more rows of upgrades for 10 and 15 points respectively that make the ability easier to trigger or more powerful. One seems almost game-breakingly powerful, the other completely subject to the GMs whim. The first is Sudden Discovery, which allows a PC to pinpoint their exact location, discover a hidden item or location, or identify a safe and fast path thru any terrain. All this for two destiny points, and any results will be determined at the GMs approval. The only way I could see this being cool is if it was used as a last resort, and pulled the party out of the fire. The other Signature Ability is Unmatched Mobility which, a character can spend two destiny points to increase his maximum maneuvers in a round to 3 for 2 rounds. The modification tree below the ability add rounds to the duration or add free maneuvers (no strain) without increasing the maximum maneuvers. I could see how this could get abused, but may allow for some awesome results. Its hard for me to tell how these would balance out in game. I’ve played a lot of low to mid level games, but most of the PCs in my parties aren’t at the bottom of their talent trees yet. We’ll have to see some truly epic encounters to try and balance out these very heroic abilities.

gandThe gear section in the book has some excellent additions, including long range stun weapons, an extreme range sniper rifle, and the shotgun-like Hammer (Blast 6, knockdown). The melee weapons are weird, one is a fusion cutter mining drill, another is a massive chainsaw, and the third a somewhat pedestrian vibrospear. The armor section has some cool suits, including the shockrider crash suit, that sounds basically like a racing suit that reduces strain taken from vehicle crits and reduces fire damage by one. There is also mountaineer armor that provides two boost dice to Athletics checks to climb or rappel. There are a lot of great tools and equipment with an explorer theme like modular backpacks, long range scanners, hunting goggles, chem lures, portable perimeter fences, and specimen containers. Some are more fluff than crunch, but overall there seems to be a good mix.

There is an excellent section on starships and vehicles, including several that could be good ships for a party if you are already tired of the YT-1300 or YT-2400. The Loronar E-9 long-range scout looks serviceable, as does the Ghtroc 720 Light Freighter. If you can’t get away from the signature look of the YT’s but want something a little different, the YT-1000 stats are included in this book, and it looks very cool in my opinion.

The last section of the book is geared towards GMs and making explorer adventures, but also included in there are a lot of background ideas for explorer characters. It also has detailed sections about making characters memorable (which could be applied to PCs or NPCs). There are a few good adventure seeds, but one deals with a heist on Bespin, which, if you plan on running the upcoming Jewel of Yavin, might be a little too close to that plot; Or make a campaign of it, whatever makes sense for the group.

Initially I was on the fence about this book, and to be honest if I didn’t have an Amazon gift card from Christmas burning a hole in my pocket, I likely would have skipped it. I would have been sorry. This is an excellent expansion to the Edge of the Empire game, with an excellent balance of crunch to fluff. Even if you are not overly excited about the Explorer career, I would suggest picking this up for the character development sections, the ships and gear, and the adventure ideas. It adds some welcome diversity without being redundant. It should hold us at least until the next beginner box or core book for Age of Rebellion.

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Categories: Books, Reviews, Star Wars

Dice, and FASA, and Vikings. OH MY!

January 14, 2014 Comments off

DCCdiceA new year has brought a new horde of awesome RPG kickstarters! Here are a few the Skyland crew are keeping their eyes on, and a few bonus mini-reviews at the end.

First up, DICE! One of the chief complaints about DCCRPG is that it uses weird dice. Personally, weird dice was one of the first things that attracted me to D&D back in the 80s, and having new weird dice brings back all those feelings of mystery and intrigue of discovering the game for the first time. They are expensive, however. d14s, d16s, d5s, d7s and such aren’t produced in numbers that make them cost effective they way “standard” rpg dice are. There has also been a chorus of DCC fans who want a set of official Goodman Games dice to go with DCCRPG, or dare I say it, a beginner box-set? While a DCC red box is still just a dream, affordable funky dice can be yours, thanks to the Impact Miniatures 14-dice set kickstarter! There are tons of options to this kickstarter that allow you to get just the dice you want, and not have to buy in at a higher level just to get what you were looking for. Their “picks” system is confusing to some, but I’ll put it in terms RPG nerds can understand. Its a point-buy system. You buy a certain number of “picks” (points), then spend them on the stuff you want, just like building a character, but instead of a gnome illusionist, you end up with a pile of funky dice! The guys at impact have had success with kickstarter before for both minis and dice, so I have every confidence this project will go well. I’m really looking forward to having my DCC dice bag full of DCC dice!

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Next up, Earthdawn from FASA! Yes, THAT FASA. Probably best known for battletech/mechwarrior, shadowrun, and maybe Crimson Skies, FASA is back with a new edition of Earthdawn. I never personally played the original, but fans seem pretty passionate about the setting, and I’ve heard it mentioned many times when people are adapting a setting to a new RPG system. From what I’ve read it sounds like a “post-apocalyptic emerging from a dark-age” kind of setting, which reminds me (possible inspired the latter?) of Numenera. Dusting off a classic can have mixed results (see Traveller review) but I wish these guys the best. In a time when massive conglomerates are buying up the rights brands/settings we knew from years past, its nice to see a team battle back and reclaim a franchise.

Lastly, I have been a big fan of d20monkey almost from day one, and the man behind the comic is involved in designing the logo and graphic work for Iron Edda: War of Metal and Bone. The most recent project of Tracy Barnett, creator of several successful kickstarter RPGs like School Daze and One Shot, Iron Edda is a heavily viking-inspired setting using the FATE core system. It looks pretty intensely awesome. I’ve been looking for an excuse to get more into the FATE system anyway, and this might just be the ticket. Dwarves laying waste to the land in massive metal constructs? Undead giants? Ragnarok? Yep. Sign me up.

warnboneBonus: Super mini-reviews!

Book report: I just finished reading Hard Magic, the first book in the Grimnoir Chronicles by Larry Correia. In short, it’s a noir-type alternate history where average people have super powers or magic. Like x-men in the 1930s. Highly recommended. Check out a sample here.

iOS RPG: Cthulhu Saves the World. This has been out for over a year and a half on iOS, and probably longer on other platforms, but I just downloaded it the other day, and am loving it. I haven’t had this much fun with an old school RPG since Chronotrigger. It is a really good time! Bravo Zeboyd games!

Worlds Worst Dungeon Crawl Brings Out Players Best Game

January 6, 2014 1 comment

db_wwdc_ks_cover_500pxOur typical gaming night is Wednesday, which last week fell on new years day. With it being a holiday, some people could make it, some couldn’t, so we were looking for a break from the regular campaigns. Luckily, the PDF of the World’s Worst Dungeon Crawl arrived just in time for Christmas.

For the uninitiated, the World’s Worst Dungeon Crawl was a kickstarter by the Dungeon Bastard to create the most trite, played-out RPG tropes and put them all in one adventure, and still make it AWESOME! In short, he succeeded in spades.

Once I started talking it up in our group, attendance went from “I don’t know if I can make it,” to “Make more pre-gens as we will be packed around the table like a can of dice-rolling sardines!” We ended up with 6 players, but I did make a pre-gen Paladin just in case. As it turned out, no one wanted to play the blind cleric/archer with a 95% chance to hit one of your allies on a miss. Wussies. However, in true D&D style no one wanted to play the cleric, so points for that.

We went over the rules for Badass Hack, which is a simplified version of D&D with some excellent additions. My favorite was the introduction of Shame Points. The idea is to have the players do awesome, badass actions on their turn. They are completely arbitrary, and can be awarded anytime at the GMs discretion. Once a shame point is earned, the player has to roll a d20. If they roll under their current shame point total, they are kicked out of the game! To mitigate this somewhat, a player can assume another player’s shame and add it to their shame score, but the player who just got saved owes the other player BIG TIME.

DoomfireThis, along with the comedic awesomeness of the adventure, kept players focused and trying awesome stuff. It also encouraged good gaming habits. Roll a d12 instead of a d20 on an attack? SHAME POINT. Checking your phone when your initiative comes up? SHAME POINT. Negotiate with orcs instead of cutting a bloody swath through them? SHAME POINT. You get the idea.

Also, the GM can award a 1d6 bonus if an action is particularly awesome. This is called GOING EPIC. A half-orc bard with strings attached to his great-axe leaps from a mine cart while rocking a wailing solo on his axe, buries it into the skull of a kobold as his finale? EPIC.

This kind of carrot/stick approach to RPGs was fantastically effective. It lead to players trying to out-do each other, and look at the map to plan their turn, rather than their character sheet. No fiddly grappling rules, no underwater combat, just epic awesomeness! You want to do something, roll a d20. Was it a particularly fantastic plan? Add a d6 or 3.

We all had an uproariously great time, and as Scott said at the end, “It really has about all the rules you need.” If you didn’t get in on the kickstarter (SHAME POINT) I’m not sure what the Bastard’s plans are for general distribution. If enough people bug him, he may release it on some digital platform like rpgnow.com. In the meantime, if you see this game posted on a schedule for a con near you, sign up, and GO EPIC!