Once again, Fantasy Flight has taken the Star Wars ball and run with it! The first module set in the Age of Rebellion chapter of the most recent Star Wars RPG is very well balanced between railroad and sandbox, combat and exploration/investigation, and foot and ship encounters.
I’ll try and avoid spoilers for those who plan on playing this. While it is meant for a band of fresh rebel recruits, it can easily be adapted for rebels with a few missions under their belt, or fringer converts from Edge of the Empire. The book (like Edge predecessors Beyond the Rim and Jewel of Yavin) is divided into three acts.
From just the module’s description and art that accompanies it, things will not go well for the base at Arda I in the first act. Unlike individual adventures released for this system, but identical to previous longer modules, the action does not start in media res. The party is given some time to explore the base and the terrain surrounding the base before the battle.
The battle itself is almost a picture perfect example of a railroad, but necessarily so. It also introduces the mass combat rules featured in the book, which provide a great system to estimate large scale battles happening around the PCs based on troop numbers, experience or skill (i.e. regular rebel infantry or elite rebel commandos), vehicle assets present, and skill of the leaders of each force.
Also provided is a handy chart for using advantage/triumph and threat/despair that result from the mass combat check. It looks like a pretty handy way to simulate a huge battle without rolling a crazy amount of individual checks, and captures the cinematic feel this system strives for.
The second act is all about establishing a new rebel base on the swampy planet of Jagomir. This act offers an interesting balance of exploration in scouting the local fauna and points of interest, interspersed with investigating increasing disturbing evidence of a traitor in your midst back at base. I really like this approach, in that in a single session you could do a little of each, allowing both you combat PCs and your more social PCs a time to shine.
The third act is on yet another planet, allowing the PCs to cover more galactic ground than in previous adventure modules, and has a much more sandbox-like feel, allowing the party to explore different districts of a city in their efforts to thwart the traitor from reporting back to his imperial handlers. It offers a lot of different approaches for success to try and anticipate what the party will come up with, or nudge them along if they get stuck.
Throughout the adventure there are several sidebars for rewarding 2 or 3 duty points for especially heroic actions, and there is a suggested 5-10 duty award in addition to the regular XP rewards at the end of every act. Some of the sidebars are pretty vague about the success conditions, not setting a specific difficulty to convince a smuggler to aid in the evacuation for instance. I still need to read up and duty again before we play more than the beginner box so I can get a clearer understanding of the mechanic.
A lot of the scenes, especially the investigation, will require significant GM prep. I would suggest at least running the beginner box to become familiar with the system before running this. Not for novices. My only other gripe is that the big area maps of locations are way too small in the book. You can just barely make out they would be gorgeous in higher resolution, blown up. Hopefully FF will release high-res images on the support page. Those are pretty minor in the scheme of things. Overall, this will provide many sessions of varied, exciting adventure! I would recommend picking it up.
Just one month until the 3rd Annual Asheville Comic Expo! Once again, the Skyland Games crew is organizing the RPG gaming, and just like the rest of the show, tabletop RPGs will be bigger and more diverse than previous years! We’ve got a warhorn going so you can reserve your spot at the table. This year we’ll have Star Wars Edge of the Empire and Age of Rebellion, as well as several Dungeon Crawl Classics tables, a 5E starter set table for those eager to try the newest edition of D&D, and of course the ever popular Pathfinder tables.
In addition to the awesome artwork on display in artist alley, a lot of special guests are attending this year. It’s a great opportunity to meet writers and artists from Marvel, Dark Horse, IDW, DC, and some really great indie work!
Of course it wouldn’t be ACE without comics and a lot of awesome cosplay. Get some more use out of that awesome get up you made for DragonCon or GenCon and enter the costume contest! It has been a really impressive showing in previous years.
This year the convention will be upstairs in a larger space! Previous years it was held in what can generally be described as the basement of the Civic Center, but no longer! 2014 we are moving out of the basement! Check out the awesome comics, elaborate costumes, gorgeous art, and play some games! Come out and support this awesome endeavor to make ACE 2014 the best yet! See you there!
Last week, Scott D wrote his ARTICLE about the pleasant surprise he experienced with the D&D 5TH EDITION STARTER SET. Well, I was there! He was the Dungeon Master and I was actually playing; enjoying it all. (Having been unable to consistantly play RPGs for a little while, it was refreshing to be able to play.)
I will say that I purposefully did not partake in the playtest of 5th edition in the last year or so. First off, I was playing other stuff like Pathfinder and Edge of the Empire and Dungeon Crawl Classics. Secondly, I did not want to be one of those guys to be sitting at the table and say, “Oh, that changed from the second revision? Well, that totally screwed up my strategy.” And finally, I just did not know if I believed in Dungeons & Dragons anymore.
While playing the Starter Set I came to the conclusion that I liked the new edition. It fits right in the middle of everything that is out there right now. You do not have to be a calculus professor to crunch the numbers and you do not have to rely on the dice for every single decision that is made about your character. It fits in between all of that, with, from what I could see, the potential to swing in either direction, depending on your group’s play style. It has easy to understand mechanics and more story-telling opportunities over the long term that could easily entice new players to join the fold.
I jumped at the chance to play because it was so new to me. I had only downloaded the BASIC RULES that day to familiarize myself so I would not slow play down and became hooked (Especially when I got to character creation; more on that later.). See when I play Pathfinder and see the problems that so many have with keeping the rules straight from 3.0 to 3.5 to Pathfinder, it is sometimes a turn off. Especially if it takes 10 minutes to find the correct rule. And then there are the arguments about which edition is better. I was not looking for that; I wanted that fresh RPG feeling. And I think I got it.
Honestly, I was not sure that I believed in Dungeons & Dragons any more. My personal RPG journey did not start like most did in Dungeons & Dragons (I actually started with TMNT), so even when I played it, it was always reluctantly. I went through a tiny bit of AD&D, 3.0 quite heavily and then onto 4th Edition. Now do not get me wrong, I enjoyed the vast majority of my experiences with D&D, but I always felt like there was something out there that had to be better and more fulfilling than the current edition. I know I just played one session of 5th Edition, but it has something about it. I just cannot put my finger on it… yet.
Well, enough of all that sappy, critical thinking mumbo-jumbo. Let us get to the fun stuff! I thought the pre-generated characters in the Starter Set were interesting, but they lacked oomph. They lacked complexity. They lacked… my touch. So I took the bare-bones character creation rules in the free rules set (Those are the only rules available right now; payday cannot come quickly enough for the PLAYER’S HANDBOOK.) and turned them upside down. My first creation attempt was lacking until I decided that there just had to be an entire party created.
I only provided blurbs about each character because I wanted you to get a general sense of who they were but not totally define who they are and how they came together. Every DM and every group would play them differently. And that is why I am liking this 5th Edition of Dungeons & Dragons; definition without definitions.
For your enjoyment:
- Sgt. Carse Youngblood is a young, upstart officer in the king’s army charged with investigating arcane threats to the crown.
- Azure is a somber elf obsessed with exacting revenge on the dark elves; all in the name of Shevarash.
- Bilgar Hilrock is a studious dwarf bent on reviving a university dedicated to dwarven warfare.
- Gilygan Hairyfoot is a tender-hearted Yondalla-loving halfling cobbler who once stood up to a greedy tax collector.
Download their character sheets HERE!
There are probably more than a few reviews of the 5th Edition D&D Starter Set out there by now, and the last thing I thought I’d be doing is writing one. But as I sat in the Wyvern’s Tale last week, someone mentioned that the books in the set were valuable as handouts to other players getting started with the full game, and this marginal additional value was enough to tip me over into buying the set to examine.
I was skeptical. Extremely skeptical. I’ve been playing the game for coming on 30 years now, and I’ve seen editions and changes come and go, but 4th edition really made me sick to my stomach. We played it, but it hurt, and it didn’t ever take the place in my heart that other editions had. Further, it made me realize that something I love is in the hands of dubious custodians. I think others felt that way, hence 4E’s short life. Despite two years of playtesting by the general public, I still doubted the efficacy of a process that may have Hasbro / WotC’s dark masters rubbing their hands and scheming changes that focused more on money than a good product. I had participated in the playtest, and knew that the game I had played seemed a little goofy, reminding me of 1st edition, or perhaps Basic D&D, and locking gears with my 3.5 / Pathfinder knowledge.
So it was with this dubious reluctance I slapped down a $20 and got the beginner box, and scheduled a game with a mix of gamers (it being a bit of an off week). So, what’s the dope from a dubious grognard? Your mileage may vary, but I was pleasantly surprised, and I don’t know how I feel about that.
THE DIFFERENCES In a nutshell:
- Less emphasis on tactical combat to speed play.
- Fewer Opportunity attack events
- Greater mobility (move, attack, move though you could threaten an OppAttack if your target’s still alive)
- Less articulated modifiers, but GM has flex to give advantage / disadvantage
- Rogues get sneak attack if ally is engaged with same target, flanking not required
- Every Stat has its own saving through – So you could make a Strength save, for example.
- Less general modifiers – you get a progressive general ‘proficiency’ bonus which goes towards most things and changes with level
- Numbers are all lower – AC, bonus to hit / damage, saving throws and DC’s, all are very low – think 10 being average, 15 being hard and a 20 being incredible.
- Spells are different – Select a limited number of spells, then pick from that refined list on the fly to fill a caster level slot. Lower spells used in higher slots are modified to be more powerful.
- Less Skills – with much more emphasis on Stat based checks
- Simplified Mechanics – Most modifiers, weird rules, and so on are replaced by Advantage / Disadvantage where you roll two dice and either take the higher (when you have ‘advantage’) or the lower (when you have ‘disadvantage’).
- All characters can heal up to their hit dice with a short rest, but don’t get those back until a long rest. Clerics do cast regular healing spells, however, instead of the ‘healing surge’ system that pissed everyone off in 4E. It’s similar, but more tolerable.
While that all seems like a lot, that’s more or less it for the time being. Armed with that knowledge, you could sit down and play. Feats appear to have less of a role, but classes do have abilities they unlock with leveling which seems to make some pretty impactful change to the character. There are a variety of nuances which the beginner box doesn’t fully explore, and the rules themselves (downloadable here) will take some exploring before I could report on them.
So those are the changes, but what’s in this box anyway?
WHAT’S IN THE BOX
Set of dice, Starter rules, and an adventure, plus a lot of cardboard to give the set some girth. That’s a bit of a cheap trick, but it expected it based on weight. 5 Pregenerated charcters (two fighters, rogue, mage, cleric). Rules are just enough to play, though we accessed the SRD as we went along for this and that. The rulebook should remain somewhat useful for reference to a new player who doesn’t want to hunt through the SRD.
PLAYING THE GAME
There are a lot of folks who argue the pro’s and cons of a simplified game. I like Pathfinder and other more technical games because 1) I know the rules pretty well and 2) it gives me a complex and nuanced simulation level game that sometimes results in a few surprises plus 3) I feel the technical nature of the game brings nuances in character development to the surface and lets those characters/mechanics/players shine.
That said, another argument, perhaps equally valid, is that those mechanics and distinctions are a distraction that can be replaced with good roleplaying. Further, that when those complexities are stripped away, you can focus on character development, role-playing and story, with GM having more free reign to tell an interesting story rather than be forced to say, “No, that can’t happen” etc.
I could feel the pull of that later argument in playing the Starter Set. The game plays pretty quickly, though I did have to completely improvise as the first thing that happened in combat (a player jabbed a horse to have it run over some adversaries, and there sure as hell were no rules to dictate that). Still, it was fine, I made up some stuff and the game played on. Players didn’t have to pour over character sheets or rules, and play continued with people getting more into their characters (pregens, none the less) than I would sometimes see in other games. Adversaries remained quite dangerous, but death was largely manageable (but present as well with a particular bugbear doing some lovely crit damage to the mage along the way).
The adventure itself, is set in Forgotten Realms. I’ve never been a fan of the Realms, really (Greyhawk being my cup of tea) but it was familar, and didn’t have the oddities that 4E embraced. It had a very solid, basic fundamental Tolkenian base, and that was good for what it was. The first part of the adventure itself is a standard mini-crawl with a brief outdoor encounter. While nothing special, I was pleased with it, and it hit the fundamentals in a way that spoke to me as a long time player. Further sections of the story (which we have not played) promise a series of urban non-combat encounters and an overarching story line that plays in the NPC backstories nicely. It’s a non-fussy non-fancy strong but basic mini-adventure path that most players should enjoy.
The play of the game itself made me remember those years of playing 1st edition and having to make things up, but playing and playing fast. As with any good group, a lot of fun was had, people threw themselves into their characters, and a great time was had by all. The reduced tactical nature of the game definitely created a sort of oddness about play, but tactics still remained relevant, and players maneuvered for advantage to to avoid disadvantage, which gave it some teeth it might have lacked without those distinctions. Players would think outside of the box and add a little gusto their usual play, fishing for advantage. Sometimes I would give it but most of the time I would not, as the bastard in me dictated. No one seemed ruffled by that development.
AFTERMATH AND ASSESSMENT
Wrapping up, everyone clearly had a good time. Many of these were old time players, but some were newer, but the reaction was largely the same. I found myself oddly enthralled by the play of the game, and eager for more. This, I did not expect. Not at all. We’re 4 1/2 modules into Reign of Winter, and I started to feel a little guilty about my pull towards this new system. New things are often exciting, but the sense I had was really a yearning to revisit in and feel out more of these changes and how effective they could be.
Grognards, I know. What is wrong with this guy? Well, it comes down to, at least at this stage, this is a fun game. The only thing I would say is, it doesn’t necessarily feel like D&D. Or if it does, it doesn’t feel to me like my primary game. Time will tell its potential, and it’s going to have a lot to prove when it comes to high level play and warding off power creep. The game is easy going, lite, and fast. It doesn’t dwell in detail, and is streamlined for a more casual gaming experience. And I think that’s what it comes down to. This may be just a game that you play sometimes; a game you play when you want to drink a beer and kick back, rather than crunch numbers. You could play with a larger group, jump in and have a great time with it. You could play at a drop of a hat, and not have to weigh spell selections or use a program to put a character or NPC together.
That said, there are a number of cons to keep in mind. I don’t feel like it is going to have the same ability to sustain interest as higher levels are obtained. I think that the simplicities may begin to show wear at the higher levels, but to be honest, t’s too early to tell just yet. It doesn’t feel like it has the gravitas to support a major campaign. That said, we played bigger campaigns in the old days in a system not too dissimilar from this, so really it comes down to the player and the GM.
And perhaps that’s the major thrust of all of this: You can simplify or complicate any game to any degree, but the quality of the game and the experience is going to rely on the GM more than any other factor. You could have a great complex game that ran smoothly, or may be a confusing mess depending on your GM. D&D 5E is more simple, but the quality of your experience is going to rely on who is running your game, and their ability to react to the more rules-free environment.
In the age of the internet, there is going to be some nerd rage out there. I would temper that. The Starter box is totally optional, but good for dipping your toes in the water early on with minimal investment of time and resources. Give it a shot, and don’t get wound up as to whether it’s going to replace anything or not… the system is different, and should be treated like a different fantasy game than your 3.5 / Pathfinder game (just like Tunnels & Trolls, GURPS, and DCC). Take it at face value, and who knows, you may be just as surprised as I was.