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Star Wars: Far Horizons Review

September 15, 2014 3 comments

SWE10-Book-leftBefore we get to the review, Asheville Comic Expo is this Saturday! Your favorite local gaming bloggers (FLGB?!) will be organizing and running a lot of the RPG tables. If you haven’t reserved your seat for a game or two, check out the warhorn! Never signed up for any public games on warhorn before? Check out our handy guide from last week.

The most recent sourcebook for Star Wars Edge of the Empire is Far Horizons, which expounds upon the colonist career. I’ll be honest, I didn’t even know if I would pick this one up. Out of all the careers colonist is probably the least exciting option, and having to follow the awesome Dangerous Covenants? Good luck.

After flipping through it I became a lot more interested. From the core book the colonist specializations are Doctor, Politico, and Scholar. This book adds Entrepreneur, Marshall, and Performer. It also goes into some really great detail for new obligations and backgrounds for the existing specializations, as well as the new ones. New species are Arcona, Gran and Chevin.

Entrepreneur is similar to the trader, but with some talents that actually depend on the flow of credits. Sound Investments gains you 100 credits per rank at the start of every session. Greased Palms allows you to spend 50 credits per rank to upgrade a social check (Charm, Deception etc.) and Throwing Credits allows you to ignore the strain penalty from a triggered obligation. Most of the other talents on the tree have to do with finding items, and getting a better price for what you sell.

Marshall is a very intriguing class, especially for those smaller parties that need PCs with a balance of combat and social skills. Essentially the sheriff of a colony, how you would come to be part of a band of adventures can pose some very interesting plot hooks and obligations! There are plenty of talents in the tree to make sure your character can do well in combat like durable, grit, point blank, and quick draw. The most intriguing new additions are Good Cop and Bad Cop. Good Cop allows you to spend two advantage from a Charm or Negotiation check to upgrade a single ally’s subsequent social check, per rank. Bad Cop is similar, but you spend the two advantage on a subsequent Deception or Coercion check per rank.

Last of the new specializations is Performer. I had thought this would be the least interesting of the three, but with nice mix of social and melee skills, you can create quite an intriguing and well-balanced character. Not to mention all the interesting narrative benefits and complications that can come with being even a small-time celebrity. One of the interesting new talents for the performer is Biggest Fan. Once a session, a performer can make a hard charm check and if successful, an NPC in the current encounter becomes that character’s biggest fan. This can drastically decrease difficulty checks for social encounters, or the NPC may be willing to do favors for the character at the GM’s discretion. There is a big caveat that GM’s may rule some NPCs ineligible to be targeted by this if they are central to the plot.

There are two new signature abilities, which haven’t come in to play at my Star Wars tables yet, but are somewhat interesting. Insightful revelation allows a PC to learn valuable information about the current situation they did not previously have. All it will cost you is two destiny points and a hard knowledge education check. I get the spirit of this power, but it doesn’t seem like it would come up very much and doesn’t seem to me to be an apex ability if you’re telling a good story. The other one in Unmatched Expertise, which allows a PC to reduce the difficulty of all career skill checks by one for the rest of the encounter, again for two destiny points. This could be cool, but by the time you unlock this you are going to be pretty amazing at most of what you can do, and may have the unintended consequence of making boss fights a cake walk, or starting a difficulty arms race between the players and the GM.

SWE10_8148_Chapterplate1_MattBradburyThe next section in the book is new equipment and vehicles. Once of the most intriguing weapons is the sonic rilfe, which has the unique quality not being subject to light-saber deflection. This could prove handy for GMs looking to challenge young Jedi in the upcoming Force and Destiny chapter of the Fantasy Flight Star Wars RPG. Also interesting is the Riot Shield which adds to melee characters defensive options as well as the alternate version that allows for a slot to support a rifle, albeit at the cost of a setback die. The gear section includes a forensics kit if you want some CSI in your Star Wars, as well as a Thunderhead Portable Entertainment System which is sound amplification and lights for performers that would make one heck of a distraction.

The vehicles add a few options for parties that need a landspeeder, or one that is designed as more of a paddy wagon with six holding cells. There is also stats for a police interceptor landspeeder, as well as a few automated vehicles that include the stats for the vehicle in addition to the droid that drives it. There are a couple of light-freighter ships appropriate for PCs, most notably the HWK-290 from Dark Forces and flown by Kyle Katarn. The capital ships include a unarmed silhouette 6 freighter, and a silhouette 7 Luxury Starliner. A lot of awesome missions could happen on a star-cruise.

SWX12_5932_RoarkGarnet_TimothyBenZweifelThe third section of the book is geared toward the GM, but has a bunch of great advice for coming up with hooks and backgrounds for every colonist specialization. It also has some great advice about keeping social interactions interesting, and making medicine check more compelling for doctors by adding pressure based on location, time constraints, or triage. Towards the back of the section are Colonist Contracts, which are short 3-act synopses of adventures that include a twist or unexpected complication. This is a GM gold mine for ANY group, especially an episodic gathering at a friendly local gaming store. It also includes some longer campaign outlines with several episodes planned out.

Furthermore, there are rules and a system to setup a homestead or business as a base of operations. One of the most fun experiences I’ve had with a homebrew D&D campaign is when our party of Dwarves bought a tavern, and used it for a base of operations, and as a revenue stream. The same idea applies here and is really well laid out. It gives you prices in obligation or credits for upgrades and upkeep, as well as plenty of ideas for what the business could be about. Beyond that, there are colonist jobs, and what the typical pay would be if you have a day job, as well as suggestions at the very back for multiclassing in interesting combinations. Cybernetic Chop Doc? Start as a doctor, then add outlaw tech. Sector Ranger? Start as Marshall, then add Scout. Intelligence Agent? Start as a scholar then add thief.

Overall I’m way more impressed than I thought I would be with this book. It has excellent value for both PC and GM alike, and may be the best sourcebook yet. Fantasy Flight continues to hit homeruns!

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Warhorn101

September 7, 2014 3 comments

Warhorn.net is a great site for convention organizers and Friendly Local Gaming Store event planning. For the uninitiated, it can be a bit confusing to sign up, and reserve your seat at the gaming table. Somewhat recently the site went through a significant overhaul, with one main feature being that once you sign up for your free user account, you can use that same account for recurring game days at a FLGS or a yearly convention, like Asheville Comic Expo.

This is going to be a screenshot-heavy article, as I would like to detail the process on how you sign up for an account, and register for tables. Once you sign up, keep your login credentials handy, and you can use them for any events organized through warhorn. You can even add your Pathfinder Society Number and DCI (WotC/D&D organized play) numbers that will follow your login from event to event, but let’s not put the cart before the horse.

First, go to warhorn.net and sign up for a login in the upper right corner of the site:

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Fill out the form with your email, desired username, and password. You can use either your email or your username when you login to the site:

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It will now ask you to verify your email address. Clicking on confirm will send another confirmation email (check SPAM filters!):

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In your email you should see a message much like this. Click the Confirm my Account link in the email:

Screen shot 2014-09-07 at 12.25.40 PMOnce your account is confirmed, we can use warhorn Event listings to search for events in the area. They are divided into recurring game days (frequently at FLGS) or Upcoming Conventions:

Screen shot 2014-09-07 at 9.09.48 AMUse the search field just above dates to search for events happening in your area, or an area where you will be traveling:

Screen shot 2014-09-07 at 9.10.18 AMClick on that event to get more info and register for tables by clicking on the Register for this event button in the upper right. If you have questions you can also email the organizer on the far left:

Screen shot 2014-09-07 at 9.10.36 AMOnce you are registered, check out the Event schedule and sign up for tables:

Screen shot 2014-09-07 at 9.11.02 AMFor both conventions and recurring game days, games are typically listed by start time, and title. Open tables will list a “Play” if you want to be a PC or “GM” button if you want to run that table. It also gives you the option to join a waitlist if the table is already full. If there is a no-show, you are in!

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After clicking “Play” the site will ask you to confirm, just to make sure you got in on the right game:

Screen shot 2014-09-07 at 9.12.28 AMOnce you click Save it will reserve your spot at the table, allowing organizers to plan for more GMs if necessary, and allows you a guaranteed seat at your favorite game! If something comes up, or you want to switch tables before the event, you can always click “Withdraw” and sign up for something else:

Screen shot 2014-09-07 at 9.12.52 AMBe sure and check for recurring game days in your area as well, and support your FLGS!

Screen shot 2014-09-07 at 9.14.58 AMHope this helps, and remember, once you’ve created your account you can use it for any conventions or game days organized through warhorn. It’s also a great site to see events in your region you may want to travel for! In less than two weeks, the Skyland Games crew will be running the RPG tables for Asheville Comic Expo (ACE). Sign up at the warhorn, and we’ll see you around the table!

 

 

To Grid or Not to Grid

September 2, 2014 3 comments

Tactics.

‘Tactics’ has meant different things over the years in the context of fantasy RPG’s.  In first and second edition Dungeons and Dragons, tactics meant techniques and abilities, and were fairly rudimentary, getting a few bumps from various splatbooks and later with the Skills & Powers books.  In versions 3.0 to Pathfinder, however, tactics became more closely associated with tactical movement, movement on a grid, and it became fairly critical: flanking, five-foot-steps, attacks of opportunity, and templated spell effect areas could all mean the difference between life and death on the battlefield.

I remember starting to play 3.0 many years ago now and thinking, “Man, this combat is almost like playing an additional game or mini-game” which shows what a break it was from older editions.  It was thrilling at the time, but as time has gone on, the pros and cons of the grid weigh on me as a player, but even more so as a GM.

This came into sharper focus recently with our trial run of the Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition Starter Set.  We played with very vague illustrations of the rooms we were in, didn’t count squares, and approximated distances.  The game flowed well, played quickly, and we didn’t run into any problems. Players continuously improvised and thought outside of the box, trying to obtain ‘advantage’, where two dice are rolled taking the higher result (a primary 5E mechanic).

By contrast, the following week we returned to our Reign of Winter game where we encountered creatures that could create a cage of bones over the players with a touch attack.  The grid lead to accurate depictions of positioning, but as a result, a horrible slog ensued where players couldn’t act effectively due to the specificity with which we were able to chart their positions, many of them being out of reach of their opponents and of other players.

Some of my players hate the grid.  Kevin, for instance, and increasingly, Michael, find it frustrating.  We’ve played a fair amount of Dungeon Crawl Classics, and reversion to the grid has always been a mistake in that. DCC plays fast and loose, with crazy things happening all the time, and counting squares runs afoul of it’s old school roots and free wheeling ‘sure, try it’ attitude. Accordingly, they don’t recommend it.

Really, any time you’re counting squares (especially Pathfinder’s diagonal movement rules) you’ve stopped the creative flow of the game and the action, and have approached minutia that is probably  not enhancing the actual play of the game.

That said, sometimes you want something technical.  Sometimes being a few inches outside of that explosive radius is a high-five inducing event.  The grid keeps things fair, for both GM and player, and that can be important with the right group (and even more important with the WRONG group).

THE EXPERIMENT

So I decided to try 5th edition with various gridded and non-gridded play areas to see how the party responded.  At the table, we had old and new players, and players that were both for and against gridded combat.  The results were interesting.

THEATER OF THE MIND

First, I ran a session with no map.  Just words.  This is commonly called “Theater of the Mind” and worked well enough.  Play was quick, but in the end fairly featureless.  For whatever reason, players didn’t seem to put much into the attacks or the environment that brought anything new to the game.  I think, in some games, like DCC, you might see Deed Dice rolled that create critical hit scenarios that add flavor, but for the vast majority of games, TOTM combats really reflect the skill and energy of both GM and player.  The more player’s or Game Masters drop the ball, the less engaging that combat is going to be.

DWARVEN FORGE

I wanted to use maps or illustrations in my games to supplement game play, and avoid a lot of repeated questions about positioning. So, for the next encounter, I used a grid in form of Dwarven Forge game tiles.

If you haven’t been fortunately enough to get in on Dwarven Forge’s Kickstarters , you can still pick them up at their company store.  They are beautiful.  Perhaps their biggest shortcoming in my mind is they have partial squares against the walls, which make spacing a little vague, upon occasion, but that worked for the experiment.

Players were pleased to see the high-detail mapping, but quickly became constrained by the nature of the gridding.  Bottlenecks occurred frequently, and play slowed down significantly.  Further, players stopped jockeying for advantage and improvising, and fell back into the rather stolid roles of ‘move and attack’. It drained something out of it, despite the verisimilitude of the map dungeon dressing.

Ironically, I should note, that the bottlenecking served to help the party tactically.  Tactics sometimes help the character but detract from the player’s experience, which arguably is a lot more important.

PRINTED – NOT TO SCALE

Third, I used a printed map, but not to scale:

I found a few interesting things in this scenario.  My map had a grid, but I told the players it was not to scale (being 10 foot squares) and to disregard it.  Despite that, players still tried to force themselves to the grid.  Combats began to feel tight, despite there being plenty of room, and other distances got confused as players tried to leap over 20 foot chasms before remembering the distances involved.

Perhaps the worst part of this was a final confrontation with a dragon.  Players became lazy with positioning their miniatures.  When the dragon turned to use its breath weapon, revisionist history began to play a role:

“I wasn’t standing there, I was behind it”

“I would have been around the corner”

“I’m too far away”

I had to play evil GM (the “Dog” as we call it) and explain that based on their descriptions of their actions, these players were within the deadly area of this blast.  Some players took it in stride, others grumbled a bit.  I appreciated their frustration, as things got murky on this particular battlefield.

QUICK SKETCH ON TACT-TILES

Lastly, combat took place on set of Tact-tiles, with crappy hand drawn maps by me:

These expensive little guys have been in my collection for about a decade, and despite the upfront costs, they’re the best thing going.  You’ve just missed the kickstarter, but hopefully they will have fixed their supply issues and be back on the market soon.

Strangely, this hand drawn map did the trick. Noting that everything was only approximately to scale, we quickly worked to move miniatures without counting squares but being fair and mindful of the speed limitations of the character.  As GM, I attempted to err on the side that permitted the character to make the most of their turn, within reason, and sometimes adding complications along the way.

5E’s greatest strength will likely prove to be the advantage/disadvantage mechanic replacing a lot of detailed hand-wringing rules that discourage improvisation in the interest of fairness.  If the halfling wants to dash over the slick cobblestones to dive into range to throw his dagger, 5E lets that dramatic scene happen, and as GM all I have to do to comb in the complexity of that is to have them roll with disadvantage.  It’s a signficant penalty, but not insurmountable, and a hell of a lot better than saying, “No.  You double move and that’s it”.

There was enough accountability with my crappy hand drawn map that if there was an area of effect ability in play, the square counting got a lot more precise, with ties going to the player where a close call was concerned.  No one had difficulty with the rulings, and the game continued quickly.

THE TAKEAWAY

Your mileage may vary, but I saw merit in both systems at their appointed times.  A lot of this depends on your group: A Good or fair GM might be trusted by his players to do everything in the theater of the mind, with not even so much as a map or sketch to give players an idea of what was going on.  This can be excellent in more routine or featureless situations where players don’t need to know ranges, tactics are simple, and game play more fast and loose, but falls short where terrain features a large role in combat, or where positioning and visualization of the flow of combat is highly relevant to the outcome.

Off-scale maps seemed to create more of a problem than they solved.  Unless the map is to such a scale that players can’t try to position themselves on it with any relevance, I think it’s to be avoided.  Best to show a small scale map and then ‘explode’ the scene into something tactical when necessary.

My vague map seemed to work the best for this group, but I think probably with other groups or more technical situations, this could be problematic as well.  If it really comes down to a game of inches, GM and player alike are going to feel either guilty or cheated if a fireball catches the character and roasts them to ashes based on a flimsy or hypothetical map or position.

My solution is this: Map as little as necessary, but with precision for critical combats. Positions where combats are melee only and non spell effects or powers that relate to range are good for loose maps where position isn’t key.  You may still run into problems now and again, but the time you save and flexibility you pick up from that fast and dirty map is going to be worth it 9 times out of 10.

If instead you’ve got a boss-fight, a fight where terrain plays an interesting role, or where flanking and areas of effect are going to be repeatedly relevant, draw it to scale and play it to scale.  This requires a little foresight, but speed of play is key to keeping people entertained, and precision and tactics become highly relevant and add to the game where the single combat or combatant are the focus and potential endgame.

Future expansions of 5E have been rumored to contain additional tactical combat rules.  If so, you’ll be able to choose how that game, at least, gets played. We’d love to hear your thoughts about whether you prefer the grid or not, and why.   Let us know, and maybe I’ll try that out with my poor poison-cloud-choked adventuring group in a few weeks.