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Disciples of Harmony review

June 7, 2017 Comments off

The fine folks at Fantasy Flight Games are at it again, this time with the Star Wars Force and Destiny sourcebook for the Consular: Disciples of Harmony. This book follows the now tried-and-true format of three sections: new species/specializations, new gear/vehicles, and a GM section about consular-focused encounters. Out of Edge of the Empire, and Age Rebellion, Force & Destiny is the line I have actually played and run the least, but every line in FFG Star Wars has such great stuff it is worth picking up. This book is no exception.

The first section has some interesting and to me, surprising choices for new species. This book adds the Arkanian, Cosian, and the Pau’an.

Arkanians are usually white-haired, white-eyed, 4-fingered near-humans that are known for superior genetic engineering and generally superior attitudes to other beings. Space Aryan would not be my first choice for a Jedi, but the book goes on to explain force-sensitive Arkanians seek a perfect understanding of the force through analytical research, allowing them to transcend they typical scientific perfection their people are known for and attain a more complete perfection though the force. They start with a 3 in Intellect and 1 in Presence. Beyond that, they have Dark Vision which removes two setback, and start with a rank in Medicine. I suppose this could work well for a conceited Healer, and could be a good choice if you are looking to role-play someone with a superiority complex. Alternatively you could go against type, and be the black sheep Arkanian who is actually nice.

Cosians are a reptilian species that have kind of a beak, a tail that ends in a hairy tuft and blink up instead of down. Some may recognize this race from Jedi Master Tera Sinube from Clone Wars. Out of the three, this choice seems to be the most natural for what I think of as the consular role. Hailing from a planet in the deep core, Cosia is a verdant planet and their villages are interconnected in massive trees on the surface. They start with a 3 in Intellect and a 1 in Brawn, as well as a free rank of Knowledge (Lore) and the racial trait Strong Backed, which gives them an Encumbrance of 10 + Brawn.

Pau’ans are the creepy race of (most notably) the Grand Inquisitor from Star Wars rebels. I had no idea what race he was, nor that all of them are that ghoulish in appearance. This makes them somewhat of an odd choice for one of the more diplomatic and “face” careers for Force and Destiny. They originally hail from the planet Utapau, but the various clans have been driven from their home world by the Empire. They start with a 1 in Brawn and a 3 in Willpower, but interestingly start with +12 wound threshold and +8 strain, which makes them a bit more balanced than at first glance. They start with a rank in Negotiation or Coercion, and have sensitive hearing which gives them a boost die on Perception and Vigilance checks as long as they have their protective earpieces. With those removed, they suffer an automatic threat as their ears are overwhelmed. This would certainly make an intimidating character or NPC, but seeing them in a diplomatic role is still a hard sell for me. Still, I’m glad to have the option for other careers/specs.

The new specializations compliment the core consular specs of Healer, Niman Disciple, and Sage quite nicely. The new specs are Arbiter, Ascetic, and Teacher. The challenge with the core consular specs is the career seems to focus on 3 characteristics: Intellect, Willpower, and Presence. While choosing one of the specs will allow you to narrow down to two main characteristics, if you are cross-specing within consular, you’ll want at least a 3 in each.

Arbiter is the classic role of Jedi as mediator or judge to resolve disputes. To the base consular skills of Cool, Discipline, Knowledge (Education), Knowledge (Lore), Leadership, and Negotiation, Arbiter adds Knowledge (Xenology), Lightsaber, another Negotiation, and Perception. The skill tree is a nice balance of defensive combat talents like parry and reflect, as well as “face” talents like nobody’s fool and a new one called savvy negotiator. My favorite new power on the bottom row of the tree is Aggressive Negotiations. Once per session you can perform a hard lightsaber check to reduce the difficulty of all Negotiation checks for the encounter by 2. Not downgrades… difficulty. That is one impressive lightsaber show!

Ascetics are essentially monks that eschew possessions and have studied the force in hermit-like isolation. To the core skills they add Athletics, Discipline, Resilience and Vigilance. Clearly this build relies more on Brawn than the others. Surprisingly, the only talent with an inherent conflict cost is in this tree: Mind Bleed. This allows a character to reflect physical damage on an attacker by suffering an equal amount of strain. It also requires the PC to have 2 or less encumbrance. The character suffers a number of strain equal to the wounds suffered from the attack. The attacker then suffers wounds equal to the strain suffered. Pretty dark stuff. The tree is also loaded with grit, so between being a brawny and gritty tree, its kind of dark being an Ascetic too.

The Teacher adds another rank of Knowledge (Education), Knowledge (Lore), Leadership and Perception. This would be an interesting choice to take as a first spec, as an inexperienced PC will have much to learn. Mechanically it is pretty nice since Well Rounded is a 5xp buy on the tree which allows you to choose two additional skills of your choice to make career skills. It also allows you to lend your expertise through talents like Skilled Teacher which allows you to suffer strain equal to ranks in Skilled Teacher and provide an equal number of successes to the ally’s next check. This has some very cool role-play opportunities. Teacher is probably my favorite out of the new three. Lots of interesting talents deep in the tree as well.

The weapons/gear/vehicles sections of Force and Destiny books are rarely the highlight, but this has a few really cool additions, including a lot of non-lethal options which can be fun for bounty hunters or those trying to not gain the conflict associated with murdering people. The concussive rifle is like a noise blunderbuss, and there are a few nice new grenades in the Spore Stun grenade, and the Spray Foam grenade. But the really cool addition is the melee Z6 Riot Control Baton, famously from the scene in Force Awakens with Finn and the lightning-baton wielding First Order trooper. This will be fun to arm potential foes of the PCs as it has the Cortosis quality, Disorient 2 and of course, Stun Damage. Armor includes a diving suit for aquatic diplomatic missions, as well as in interesting Reflect Body Glove that provides very low-profile armor, but degrades with each hit. It may be repaired with an average Mechanics check. The book adds some interesting lightsaber crystals in the Cracked Crystal which according to the text is from the debris of the first Death Star’s destruction in Yavin and a Corrupted Crystal, which is essentially a dark side crystal you can “reclaim” once your PC’s morality rises above 70. Seems like some cool role-playing options there. The vehicles are predominantly very low crew/passenger capacity. This would be cool for games with one or two PCs, but would seem to have limited usefulness in larger groups. The capital ship section is pretty cool, with stats for the iconic Consular-class cruiser first seen in the Phantom Menace. Its got a cool sealed conference room pod that servers as an escape pod in a pinch. This book also details stats for the Jedi training cruiser Crucible – which would be an awesome adventure in itself!

The GM section discusses incorporating three types of mentor NPCs to the campaign, each with different styles and examples from the movies and shows. There are some helpful tables that suggest styles and complications to bring your NPCs to life. They also include example stat blocks of each type: Trainer, Consultant, and Challenger. Most interesting to me was some details on alternative force traditons: Baran Do Sages, Dagoyan Masters, Gand Findsmen, and Sith Lords. Provided are benefits and drawbacks to studying with each group, as well as an XP cost to eventually overcome the drawback. The benefits include reduced XP costs to learn certain powers that correspond with the different groups. I hope they have similar stats for the Nightsisters adventure that is coming out soon! One really nice section discusses knowledge checks. It provides two possible approaches to encourage knowledge checks and make them more dynamic, and is illustrated by my favorite illustration in the book: a human consulting a datapad while his Nautolan friend holds off a Stalking Acklay. The final section talks about making diplomatic encounters exciting and provides a table of possible success/failure/advantage/threat/triumph/despair results. I’m still not convinced any amount of political maneuvering will be more fun than a firefight, but at least it gives you more tools to help spice them up a bit.

Overall, this book surprised me with how much great stuff they packed into 96-pages. I would highly recommend this book for those looking to diversify their encounters and include some really intriguing options beyond force-sensitive PCs. Despite the entire shelf I now have dedicated to this system, quality has not gone down. Time to clear another shelf!

Categories: Books, News, Reviews, Star Wars

Tales from the Loop Review

May 7, 2017 Comments off

Tales from the Loop is a fantastic combination of nostalgia, now, and near-future inspired by the evocative art of Simon Stålenhag. The kickstarter benefited from serendipitous timing of the first season of Stranger Things becoming a sensation that taps into these same themes. The RPG book itself provides two full settings (one in the islands outside Stockholm, Sweden, the other a small desert town called Boulder City outside Las Vegas) and adaptations to allow the four included adventures or mysteries to be set in either location. Much like The End of the World series from Fantasy Flight games, the book encourages you to adapt the adventures to your home town.

Players create characters from ages 10-15 that fit classic 80s movie archetypes: Bookworm, Computer Geek, Hick, Jock, Weirdo, Popular Kid, Rocker, and Troublemaker. Each have a few skills that they specialize in, and character creation looks pretty quick. The system uses attributes in combination with skills and items that provide a number of d6s. Success on a check is determined by rolling a 6 on a d6. Additional successes can be used to help out other party members or other beneficial effects.

The system seems to strike a nice balance that caters to the themes of the book, while not being too abstract or too gritty. For instance, when you choose the age of your PC, that is the amount of points you can assign to your attribute scores. for every year younger than 15, add one luck point. This luck point can be spent to re-roll a skill check. While older kids are more experienced and skilled at things, younger kids tend to find a way to weasel out of a tough spot. Elegant.

The included scenarios (or mysteries) deal with a variety of subjects: animal-cybernetics, dream manipulation, time-travel and accidentally letting dinosaurs back through a portal. All of them are structured as investigations with suggestions for how different events and NPCs can connect to each other, ultimately leading up to a showdown with the central conflict, and a brief denouement. In the examples of play, the game master is encouraged to let PCs set the scenes and describe a bit about their daily life. The character creation process helps inform these scenes as players choose their character’s problem, drive, iconic item, and relationships to other kids. These kind of adventures work really well for convention slots, but there are several suggestions on how to weave them together into a “mystery landscape” that could form a satisfying campaign.

The layout and aesthetics of the book are some of the most attractive I’ve seen for an RPG, and the included map of both settings is outstanding. Character sheets and maps are available in the support section of the Free League site. Avoid the bottom section if you are not running the game, as it includes spoiler-laden maps and illustrations that will be great for the GM. I highly recommend this book if you are looking for some weird and fantastic 80s adventures, in the theme of some of the most fun movies and TV shows of all time!

Review: Tales from the Yawning Portal

April 2, 2017 Comments off

tales-from-the-yawning-portal-cover

Alright, let’s jump right in….

What’s in it?

Tales from the Yawning Portal is Wizard’s latest release for 5th Edition, and is the same high production quality as their other releases.  Unlike previous releases, it is a series of unconnected older adventures that have been converted up to 5th edition from previous editions of the game (ranging from several OD&D mods to some early 3rd edition modules, and some playtest content).

The adventures featured are:

  • The Sunless Citadel
  • The Forge of Fury
  • Against the Giants Trilogy
  • The Tomb of Horrors
  • The Hidden Shrine of Tamaochan
  • White Plume Mountain
  • Dead in Thay

There is also a brief chapter for magic items (15 of these) and a chapter for monsters (39 of them).  Also, starting of the book is a brief flavor detail for, you guessed it, the Yawning Portal Tavern.

Those are the facts.  Now, the real question…

Should I Buy it?

This book is for grognards wanting to spare themselves the minimal trouble of converting a few old classic scenarios for their group, many of whom may not have played the mods.  Alternately, it’s for newer players that have heard about classic mods and want to take a crack at them in 5E and see what all the fuss is about.

Tales from the Yawning Portal takes the heavy lifting out of conversion, cleans up some weird oddities from older mods, and generally makes the older content much more approachable for a newer player, primarily because old originals are perhaps hard to find and the trouble of converting some of these classics may be a little daunting.

So, do you need to buy it?  No.  You definitely do not.

Should you?  Only if you want to revisit these classics.  I personally do, but that’s not going to describe everyone.

This is a collection of classic mods first and a general game supplement second, or perhaps even third.  In some ways I appreciate the fact that Wizards isn’t spamming their release schedule with Fiend Folios and Magic Item Compendiums in droves, forcing us to shell out for semi-mandatory releases.  On the other hand, I feel like getting 39 monsters at a time is a somewhat slower financial torture.  That, and now if I want to find a monster, I have to flip through Volo’s Guide to Monsters, or now Yawning Portal to find what I’m looking for in addition to the Monster Manual.  It’s not really convenient or logical.

In a lot of ways, 5th Edition is a response (perhaps a kneejerk response) to the vitriol that arose as a result of the new ideas of 4th Edition.  4th Edition is commonly summarized as “a great game, just not dungeons and dragons”.  As a result, 5th edition has a much more old school feel, without all that horrible THAC0.  This is a slapshot right down the throats of all those geezers like myself that just want to play ancient modules until we die, and make other people play them too.

The great thing about this book is that you get a lot of content, and a lot of short usable play hours with it.  You can play pieces of it without having to feel married to it for a year (a complaint that some of us are feeling in our current Out of the Abyss campaign).  Being able to play a few sessions, then stop, can be very welcome when seeking published content.  Also, they snuck the ENTIRE GIANTS TRILOGY in here!  That is Fricking Awesome!  So there is good to be had.

The monsters, however, as well as the magic items, are there to support the rest of the published works and don’t really stand on their own as a supplement (nor do I believe they were held out to do so).  Overall, it’s great to have on the shelf, but the home campaigner or the long haul campaigner is going to scratch their heads at this release. This is nostalgic potpourri and historical esoterica.

So, proceed with the knowledge of what this book is, and see if it is worthy of your shelf.  It’s on mine, and I’m glad for it and look forward to sharing some old classic content with my group for a couple 3-shots.

A parting note:

One last thing I wanted to mention, and can’t seem to find a place to fit into this review, is the curious disappointment I have that the Yawning Portal, famous for it’s connection to Undermountain, is not at the head of a book for UNDERMOUNTAIN!  It’s a fun way to connect these modules as tales from tavern-goers but something I hope Wizards will attempt in the months and years to come.  That’s a classic that definitely belongs on the shelf.

 

 

Categories: 5e, Adventure, Books, DnD, Reviews, RPGs, WOTC

Star Wars Edge of the Empire – No Disintegrations Review

February 11, 2017 2 comments

swe16_book_leftThe day has finally arrived, and FFG has saved the best for last. No Disintegrations, the last career sourcebook for Edge of the Empire has finally hit the shelves, and it was worth the wait. This book follows the now very familiar three-section format. The first details new race and specialization options, the second focuses on gear and vehicles, and the third provides GMs with adventure ideas focused on the particular career. As someone who has been running plenty of bounty hunter games, I was eagerly awaiting this release over any other in the FFG RPG line, and it does not disappoint.

First up: new species. The Devaronians debuted in the Force and Destiny book, Nexus of Power, and are the devilish looking aliens first seen in the Mos Eisley cantina scene. Most notably, the species possess two livers, and add an automatic success to Resilience checks they make. Don’t get in a drinking contest with the devil. They also start with a 3 in cunning which will serve them well in a bounty hunting role. The other two races are new additions to the FFG Star Wars system: Clawdites and Kallerans. Clawdites are known for their shape-shifting doppelganger abilities, as showcased in episode II of the movies by Zam Wesell, the Clawdite hired to assassinate Padme. Mechanically, to change their appearance from their natural somewhat reptilian look, they suffer 3 strain and make an average Resilience check. Starting out with a rank in Resilience as their other species feature helps. These guys start with a 3 in cunning as well, and with their Changeling ability, offer a very compelling option for a bounty hunter. Kallerans were introduced in the Kanan: The Last Padawan comic. They can breathe through their skin which presents quite the paradox: they are strong but fragile, starting with a 3 in Brawn but only adding 8 for their initial wound threshold. Compare this with a Wookie adding 14 to their initial wound threshold and it is tough to make the case for a Kalleran PC. They have hypersensitive antennae which provides them with a rank in the Heightened Awareness talent, so could make an interesting force-sensitive PC, but seems like an odd choice as a bounty hunter.

zamNew specializations in this book include the Martial Artist, Operator, and Skip Tracer. Martial artist has a lot of interesting talents focusing on unarmed strikes and parrying in melee and brawling combat. Clients often pay more for live acquisitions, though this particular specialization may appeal to more than just bounty hunters. This may be a compelling choice for smaller parties that require more well-rounded PCs instead of specialists. To the core bounty hunter skills of Athletics, Brawl, Perception, Piloting (Planetary), Piloting (Space), Ranged (Heavy), Streetwise and Vigiliance, Martial Artist adds another Athletics, Brawl, as well as Coordination and Discipline. Your key attributes would certainly be Brawn followed by Agility, but this would make you a good pilot and a good shot in addition to being the muscle. If you are looking to create an all bounty hunter group with highly specialized PCs, hand the piloting keys over to the Operator. They add Astrogation, Gunnery, as well as additional ranks of Piloting (Planetary) and Piloting (Space). With a nice mix of talents from Ace:Driver and Explorer: Navigator, your key characteristics would be Agility followed by Intellect. Talents like Debilitating Shot allow the operator to disable vehicles with gunnery checks, as well as Shortcut and Improved Shortcut making them superior racers and ideal during vehicular pursuit of an acquisition. The Skip Tracer may be the most versatile of all three, but it is also the least focused. They add Cool, Knowledge (Underworld), Negotiation and Skulduggery, all new skills to the bounty hunter tree with two out of the three relying on Presence. With talents like Bypass Security, Good Cop, and Hard-boiled this would make a solid choice as a leader for a bounty hunter group, and certainly who you would want in the room while negotiating the contract, but suffers from being a Jack of All Trades, Master of None. This would be a fun choice for a small group focusing on investigations/noir kind of adventures, but it will take a lot of experience before they are as good as a larger group with more specialists. Ideally, you would want a 3 in Presence, Agility, and Cunning, which will give you a good pool for most of your career skills.

The two signature abilities are Always Get My Mark and Unmatched Devastation. Always Get My Mark is a narrative ability that basically fast forwards the plot until you start an encounter at your mark’s location. The book mentions the inherent issues with this as it has the ability to essentially skip the majority of an investigation/pursuit adventure and suggests this will always be a negotiation between the GM and the PC. I guess it could be cool, and I’ve never had a single character long enough to buy into one of the narrative signature abilities, but it doesn’t do a whole lot for me as a GM. It seems the cons far outweigh the pros. Unmatched Devastation is the more combat-oriented power, allowing a PC to make an additional combat check against the same target with increased difficulty and must be made with a non-ship/vehicle weapon not already used this turn. The “there was a firefight!” (NSFW language) scene from Boondock Saints immediately jumps to mind. With upgrades you can choose more targets and draw more weapons as well as move as an incidental for two strain. This ability would certainly allow a notorious bounty hunter to carve through crowds of mooks and create some truly memorable battles – especially for well-armed, outnumbered hunters.

swe16_weponsNow to the gear! The second section of the book is definitely the highlight for me, as we now have official stats for Mandolorian armor and attachments, a few nice rifles, and five flavors of mini-rockets for either under-rifle launchers, pistol or wrist mounts: Anti-Armor, Explosive, Flechette, Incendiary, and Ion. There are also rocket attachments to increase range and improve accuracy as well as adding the Guided quality. They are awesome! There are a couple of melee weapons, including an ion pike that only does ion damage, but does 10 pierce 4! That would be a must have for a droid bounty. There are a few new interesting armor types, but of course the most intriguing is Mandalorian Armor with its five hard points. Armor attachments include micro-rocket launcher, integrated holsters, and repulsor-assisted lifting which reduces encumbrance so you can add more stuff! There is so much great gear in this book: holonet homing beacons, rocket boots, a holographic disguise matrix… the gear section is amazing.

But that is only half of it! In a brilliant stroke of brand synergy, the ships and vehicles section gives you EotE stats for almost every Scum ship in the X-wing miniatures game, since that faction is made up of all the famous bounty hunters from Star Wars. It stats out IG-88’s Aggressor Assault Fighter and provides a mechanic that makes it more maneuverable with safety limiters turned off, which causes 3 strain to organics, but only 1 to droids. The signature craft of 4-LOM and Zuckuss G1-A is provided as is the Kihraxz star fighter, YV-666 Hound’s Tooth and the soon-to-be-released C-ROC scum capitol ship.  It also stats out a few ships from recent Rebels episodes like the Mandolrian Protectorate starfighter and the Shadowcaster. The vehicle attachments include a minelayer and six types of mines! Unlike typical weapons, mines require a hard Piloting (Space) check and their damage equals the base for the mine plus uncancelled failures. Uncancelled threats can be used to trigger various qualities for the different types of mines.

swe16_shadowcasterThe third section of the book is focused on the GM, and includes a lot of information for running investigations (which a lot of bounty hunts could certainly be) this is almost word-for-word identical to the section in Force and Destiny Endless Vigil, which is a bit disappointing. They do go into a bit more depth towards the end about creating obstacles and transistions between scenes, as well as creating an investigative campaign. If you were interesting in building these types of adventures and could only own one, I would certainly recommend this over Endless Vigil. Beyond that, there is some specific information for what benefits and risks go with being a guild bounty hunter as opposed to freelance, and outlines a few example investigative campaigns. The book ends with a section on rewards for different types of bounties and provides a table of sample bounties and modifiers in addition to exploits. Exploits provide a mechanical benefit to the bounty hunter based on performance after bringing back a Major or Legendary target. Some of these include: Humane: boost die to negotiation checks for bounties, but setback die for coercion checks about physical violence. Professional: may ask for a 10% advance on the next bounty after delivering a target within three days. Oppressor: hunter was a part of the rebel alliance or affiliate organization – adds 10% to bounties posted by the empire and increases the difficulty of social checks with rebels once.

Bottom line: This book is epic and amazing. If you only own one sourcebook for Edge of the Empire, this should be it.

Review: Volo’s Guide to Monsters (5E)

November 6, 2016 2 comments

volo

TLDR: If you’re running 5E, you need to buy this book.

When I heard that the next book in the 5E lineup was Volo’s Guide to Monsters, I was a little disappointed.  I’ve never been much of a Forgotten Realms fan, and Volo’s Guide sounded like it was going to be a fluff piece with articles similar to the old Dragon Magazine “Ecology” pieces.  While that’s great for magazine content, I didn’t get too excited about the prospect of a $45 book with minimal new information.

Fortunately for me, Wizards really outdid themselves in packaging a variety of things in this book that make it a very valuable addition to my growing 5E collection.

Volo’s Guide starts with the following disclaimer in small, easily missed print, under the cover attribution:

Disclaimer: Wizards of the Coast does not vouch for, guarantee, or provide any promise regarding the validity of the information provided in this volume by Volothamp Geddarm.  Do not trust Volo. Do not go on quests offered by Volo. Do not listen to Volo. Avoid being seen with him for risk of guilt by association.  If Volo appears in your campaign, your DM is undoubtedly trying to kill your character in a manner that can be blamed on your own actions.  The DM is probably trying to do that anyway, but with Volo’s appearance, you know for sure. We’re not convinced that Elminster’s commentary is all that trustworthy either, but he turned us into flumphs last time we mentioned him in one of these disclaimers.

I enjoy the fact that wizards is having fun with this volume, and it made me enjoy getting into the book a bit more than if I hadn’t noticed it.  I also appreciate Wizards sold a special limited edition FLGS cover for only $5 more (pictured above) to help the local shops get a leg up.

The book is broken into three parts: Monster Lore, Character Races, and a Bestiary.

Monster Lore

Monster Lore, the first 100 pages of the book, is what I had expected, but some crunch where I otherwise expected fluff for lifestyles of Beholders, Giants, Gnolls, Goblinoids, Hags, Kobolds, Mindflayers, Orcs and Yuan-Ti.

Examples of neat details that might constitute crunch include beholder charts detailing size, shape, texture, and a great random name generator, with tactics, variant eyestalk abilities, minions, treasure and a lair map.  History, mindset, and biological function is laid out in a depth previously unvisited in text as far as I’m aware, allowing the GM a deeper background on this favorite of monsters.

The Chapters going forth are what I’d call asymmetrical, being that they don’t follow a routine pattern.  Chapters on Giants have more details about origins, their habitat and personality traits. Gnolls have details on tactics, random traits and features, and tables to help build a gnollish warband.  Mind Flayers have some magic items listed that are specific to their culture.  Yuan-ti have a variety of charts detailing their variable physiology.

Each race detailed has a map of their typical lair, which gives some great examples where the trappings of the race might be otherwise somewhat mysterious (Mind-Flayers in particular).

Overall, these chapters are well written and flesh out the background of these common and popular monsters.  Is it essential? No.  Is it helpful? Yes.  My fear had been that for $45.00 I was going to get that, and that be it. Fortunately, it goes on.

Character Races

Now we start to hit things I can work with, and things that people invariably try to do on their own with varying degrees of success.  I happen to currently be playing a kobold priest of Kurtulmak in our Out of the Abyss game, and have been playing a kobold trapper race variant my GM got off the internet somewhere.  I yearned for canon guidance on what a kobold PC should look like.  Fortunately, Volo delivers.

Races detailed are Aasimar, Firbolgs, Goliaths, Kenku, Lizardfolk, Tabaxi, and Tritons with a separate section for “Monstrous Adventurers” giving blocks for the already detailed bugbear, goblin, hobgoblin, kobold, orc and yuan-ti pureblood.

I’ve always been a guy that likes the idea of playing the monster as a PC, and this opens doors for me.

Bestiary

This, by far, seals the deal for this book being a must-have for the dedicated 5E player.  100 pages of new and classic monsters that were conspicuously absent from the Monster Manual.  A few personal favorites include:

  • Barghest
  • Bodak
  • Catoblepas
  • Darkling
  • Baubau
  • Devourer
  • Flail Snail!
  • Froghemoth!
  • Several new Variant classed giants, very cool
  • Girallion
  • Flind
  • Leucrotta
  • Quickling
  • Shadow mastiff
  • Spawn of Kyuss (Greyhawk?)
  • Trapper
  • Vargouille
  • Vegepygmy!
  • Xvarts (Eric Mona must have been involved in this)
  • Yeth Hound
  • Many more!

Also a number of “Beasts” (including a rot grub swarm) and 21 new stock NPCs which are sure to prove super useful on an ongoing basis (in particular, it appears a mage of each spell casting school, archers, archdruid, war priest and so on).  Not mentioned in my list are also special “classed” versions of various orcs, yuan-ti, hobgoblins, and so on, as well as some subcategories of other races like beholders that will prove useful in putting on games that utilize those species.  This is where the book proves out its crunchiness but give me stat blocks that I can use to have a more interesting game.

Overall

Wizards has done a good job of bringing a little more than just the basics to each book it has published.  Each adventure module has had a few spells and a few more general stat blocks that make each book tempting to pick up.  This book, as a sourcebook, doubles down on that principle making there elements that you just can’t afford to miss.  This book has extended value for the GM of your group, but remains optional for the player short of playing a racial variant.   That said, I think anyone who picks it up is going to find it’s a great addition to their collection.

All Praise Kurtulmak!

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Star Wars Force and Destiny – Endless Vigil Review

November 2, 2016 1 comment

swf30_book_leftThe recent release of Endless Vigil puts a focus on urban encounters and investigations for the sourcebook for Sentinels. There are some very compelling and some questionable bits to this book, but first let’s talk about the main additions for PCs. This book continues the now very familiar format for career sourcebooks. The first chapter is PC options, the second equipment/vehicles, and the third provides some GM guidance and encounters.

The races are all new to the Force and Destiny line, with the only FFG Star Wars repeat being the Gand, found in the Edge of the Empire core book. The new additions are the Muun (tall, skinny, banking-clan race), and the Pantoran (Blue-skinned race featured heavily in the Clone Wars animated series and the Jewel of Yavin adventure). The Gand is statistically identical to the Edge entry for them (as you would expect) but it does provide some insight on Gand culture and their curious relationship with the Force. The Muun start out with a 3 in both intellect and cunning, balanced by low starting XP and a 1 in both willpower and presence. They would make a very fun archetypal Sherlock investigator; calculating and analytical. The Pantorans make excellent leaders and negotiators, starting out with a 3 in presence and a free rank in negotiation or cool.

Adding to the Sentinel core specializations of Artisan, Shadow, and Shien Expert, Endless Vigil presents the Investigator, the Racer, and the Sentry. While Sentinels have always been the street-level Jedi compared to higher-profile careers like Guardian or Consular, adding these diverse specializations to this career allow you to create a well-rounded character. From the core book, Artisan focuses on using the force to manipulate mechanical objects. The Shadow focuses on stealth and subverting criminals by meeting them where they are. The Shien Expert allows a PC to focus on lightsaber combat utilizing their cunning and reflecting ranged attacks. The new specializations are just as diverse. The core skills  for the Sentinel are Computers, Deception, Knowledge (Core Worlds), Perception, Skulduggery and Stealth.

swf30_vigil_artThe investigator adds Knowledge (Education), Knowledge (Underworld), another Perception and Streetwise. The talent tree includes several ranks of grit and toughened to beef up strain and wounds (likely handy for a mostly intellectual character) as well some interesting talents towards the bottom. There are a few instances of Street Smarts and Keen Eyed which remove setback dice to Streetwise and Underworld checks and Perception and Vigilance checks, respectively. The real signature talents arrive in about the 20 XP level for this spec. Clever Solution allows you to use Cunning rather than the typical characteristic linked to that skill. The onus is on the player to explain how Cunning applies to the situation they are trying to get out of. Sense the Scene allows investigators to identify the emotional characteristics of one person involved in a crime. This talent seems overly specific unless you were running a noir/private investigator campaign. I would probably allow this to be used any time the investigator tried to use perception to sense emotion in a social encounter. Valuable Facts (originally detailed in the talent tree for the Sage) is an excellent addition as it allows you to add a triumph to an ally’s skill check during an encounter. Elementary, my dear Watson.

The racer seems like an odd choice for the Sentinel career. It does open up many of the typical vehicular talents found in Edge and Age in such careers as Smuggler and Ace. This does fill a bit of a gap in the core Force and Destiny book as there is no other “wheelman” spec in this line. This career adds Cool, Coordination, and Piloting (Space and Planetary) to the core list of Sentinel skills. In addition to typical pilot talents like skilled jockey, full throttle and shortcut, racers also excel at foot races with the new talent Freerunning and Improved Freerunning. This allows racers to spend strain and move to any location in short or (with improved) medium range. May the Parkour be with you! On the bottom row of the tree, once per session Superhuman Reflexes allows a PC to cancel a despair result and add successes equal to ranks in Cool. Intuitive Evasion allows racers to commit a force die to upgrade incoming combat checks for one strain a round. This could be a fun choice if you had an all-Jedi table. If you mix the three (Edge, Age, and F+D) you’ll likely have better pilots if you are flying/traveling as a group.

The last new spec is the Sentry. This one adds some more lightsaber combat focus, as well as the only tree to feature a talent with inherent conflict. Specialization skills include Lightasber, Coordination, another Stealth and Vigilance. Unlike the Shien Expert which seems mostly defensive in nature, the Sentry has a few ranks of Reflect, but also includes an inexpensive path to Saber Throw and Improved Saber Throw. Beyond that, conflict-causing talent Fear the Shadows allows Sentries to make a hard deception check and cause a single minion group or rival to flee an encounter. This spec stacked with the Shadow spec from the core book would make one serious batman-like Jedi. As the saying goes, be yourself, unless you can be Batman. Then always be Batman.

swf30_art_moonsThe signature abilities are My City and Unmatched Vigilance. My City allows you to spend two destiny points, and make a hard core worlds or outer rim check. If successful for the remainder of the session you can spend two strain to recall or learn the location of any individual, group, or establishment within the city and any relevant information. Upgrades reduce the difficulty or change the skill to streetwise. Unmatched Vigilance allows you once per session to spend two destiny points to rearrange the initiative order for the first round of an encounter. PCs still make checks, and it returns to normal after the first round. Upgrades can increase the duration of the effect and allow PCs to choose Vigilance or Cool regardless of what would typically be appropriate. I’ve never gotten far enough in a characters development to utilize signature abilities, but compared to others in the soldier book for Age for instance, these seem somewhat underwhelming. Unmatched Vigilance when upgraded to three rounds would be a pretty big game-changer, but My City seems too specific to be useful unless you had an urban focus to the campaign.

The Force power introduced is Manipulate, which allows Jedi to affect machines, healing system strain and committing force dice to increase hull trauma thresholds. This again, seems a bit odd to me. The racer, this Force power and Pod Racing (we’ll get there) all seem shoe-horned into this book. Mechanically it is interesting, and works well with both the racer and artisan specs for the Sentinel, but it just doesn’t seem like a power that is in the typical spirit of other Force powers like sense, move, influence, etc. It’s fine, it just doesn’t seem to fit as well as other powers.

swf30_art_robotsThe gear section adds a few interesting guns including the NX-14 Needler which ignores setback dice from personal deflectors and is Pierce 3. Another eye-catching weapon is the lightwhip which is essentially a lightsaber whip with ensnaring abilities. They also include stats for a Crossguard lightsaber hilt (Kylo-style) as well as a Pistol hilt that allows stun bolts at short range just like Ezra’s saber in Rebels. There are a few droids stated out, including pit droids for podracing and  two Nemesis level droids: once security and one infiltration. One particularly interesting piece of gear is the Merr-Sonn model 31 Palm Stunner. These look very similar to the devices installed in triple-zero in the outstanding Marvel Darth Vader comic. It can’t be used in combat, but instead depends on an opposed Skulduggery vs. Resilience check on an unaware target. If successful it deals 12 stun plus any uncancelled successes! That would drop all but the most hearty rivals and nemeses.

There are a few new star ships including the venerable Eta-class shuttle and the obvious A-wing precursor, the KSE RHO-1 Limulus-class courier. The vehicle section is dominated by the podracing section, and includes just about all the pods from episode one. My questions is: why? Why is podracing in the Jedi book about urban investigations. I get that it is part of Anakin’s origin story, but it feels very shoe-horned in to this otherwise cohesive book. The third section includes a pretty interesting adventure seed with some possible threats that centers around podracing, but not enough to justify the page count spent in the equipment section. Having run the race in Jewel of Yavin, it is a challenge to keep the rest of the party involved when the main action is a race happening far away from the majority of the party. It’s not impossible, it’s just not what I’m looking for in a Star Wars RPG. If you’ve been waiting for more stats on pods to run a race during your Star Wars game, this is the book for you.

The third chapter does have lots of great stuff focusing on urban environments. Included are tables for suggested dice results in the city. These can work as great prompts to get your players creative juices flowing, while providing the GM with some guidance as to what is reasonable for two advantage compared to two triumphs. It also includes suggestions for threats, failure and despair as well as possible urban challenges: complications with law enforcement, crowds, speeder traffic and vertical spaces. Each of those include smaller tables with similar suggestions on how to spend dice results. There is a great section on developing networks of contacts, and tables about gathering information and investigations. It wraps up with a section on lightsaber hilt crafting and includes templates for precision, defensive, double-bladed and pole light sabers.

Overall this is a pretty excellent edition to the Force and Destiny line, with lots of great material for GMs and players alike. With the odd exception of the off-theme podracing rules, a great buy for those interested in Jedi in the big city!

Categories: Books, Reviews, RPGs, Star Wars

Star Wars Age of Rebellion – Forged in Battle Review

August 30, 2016 Comments off

swa42_book_leftGood sourcebooks give you usable material for your campaign and characters. Great sourcebooks inspire brand new campaigns. The Age of Rebellion sourcebook for soldiers Forged in Battle falls into the latter category. This book follows the now familiar format of three sections: new player options with new races and specializations for the career, new gear and vehicles, and finally a section for GMs about adventure seeds and building missions around soldiers.

From the jump, before we even get in to the new races this book describes potential duty posts. Each of these could be their own campaign, or at very least the premise to start a larger story arc: Local cells, sector forces, specforces, shipboard operations, intelligence services, and special operations. Between the soldier specs in the core Age book and the ones in this one, you could have a very capable versatile squad, all with the same career! This book is packed with the perfect blend of fluff and crunch. For those unfamiliar, fluff in an RPG typically refers to flavor text and window dressing that paints a vivid mental image, but has no mechanical/statistical information. Crunch is generally the numbers and stats of gear and mechanics of new talents and anything that interacts with the actual mechanics of the game.

swa42_new-speciesOn to the goods: There are a bunch of great backgrounds for the various specializations, as well as soldier-specific duties. This book then details four new races: Elom, Elomin, Kyuzo, and Shistavanen. Much like the Edge of the Empire technician sourcebook Special Modifications including Northern and Southern Mustafarians, Elom and Elomin are from the same planet, but are vastly different species. The Elom and Elomin are so different they merit their own individual stat blocks, not just different starting features. Eloms are pretty much mole people that can dig underground through loose soil as a maneuver. Elomin look a lot like Zabrak, but just because they have four horns out of the top of their heads. Kyuzo is the race of one of my favorite bounty hunters from the Clone Wars, Embo. Included in the gear section are stats for his hat that can be used as a Captain America style shield/throwing weapon, and occasionally downhill sled. It also goes in to detail about Clovocs of the Kyuzo that sound basically like ninja clans that specialize in a certain weapon, and may align themselves with different leaders in Kyuzo society. Lots of adventure seeds in those sidebars. Finally there are the Shistavanen. If you want to play a wolfman in Star Wars, this is your ticket. Alternatively if you wanted to play a wolfoid from Metamorphosis Alpha or a Vargr from Traveller, but the GM is running Star Wars, check out the Shistavanen. One really cool feature is they can use Survival rather than Cool or Vigilance for initiative to literally sniff out trouble.

swc23_planningtherescueThe specializations include one repeat and two new trees. The repeat is the Heavy from the Edge Hired Gun sourcebook, Dangerous Covenants. This tree is all about using the biggest weapons to take down the biggest targets. To the core Soldier skills of Athletics, Brawl. Knowledge (Warfare), Medicine, Melee, Ranged (Light) Ranged (Heavy) and Survival, the Heavy adds Gunnery, Perception, another Ranged (Heavy) and Resilience. Not bad for the big blaster obsessed players out there.

The second specialization is the Trailblazer. This is a nice combination of combat and outdoorsy skills. To the core skills, this adds Knowledge (Outer Rim), Perception, Stealth, and another Survival. Interesting talents early in the tree include Prime Positions which allows this PC or an ally within short to increase the soak against ranged attacks by 1 per rank. There is only one rank in this tree, but I imagine we’ll see this pop up in future supplements as well. Cunning Snare can be used to create a trap once an encounter. This can cause wounds and disorient based on the Trailblazer’s cunning, and how badly the triggering NPC fails his vigilance check to spot it. On the bottom line of the tree is Ambush, which allows you to maneuver from cover and add damage equal to your stealth skill on an attack within short range. I really like this specialization as a backwoods Rambo-type. In fact, I would be surprised if Rambo wasn’t an influence when it came to this spec as well as some of the gear later in the book.

The last spec is the Vanguard. They add another Athletics, Cool, Vigilance, and Resilience to the core skills. When I think of a vanguard, I think of the tip of the spear, always leading the attack. This tree includes a lot of focus on the guard part of Vanguard with two ranks of Body Guard available, as well as new talents Improved Body Guard and Supreme Body Guard. These allow you to to take a hit for an engaged PC you protected with the body guard maneuver. Supreme allows you to protect as many engaged characters as ranks in Resilience. My favorite new talent from this tree is Suppressing Fire. This allows you and allies within short to spend advantage on failed combat checks to cause 1 strain per rank. With two ranks in this tree and it applying to other allies, this is one awesome power to take out minions in a hail of concentrated fire. One of the talents at the bottom is Seize the Initiative. Once a session if you make a hard athletics check, all PCs can take their turns immediately. Now that is a Vanguard.

swa42_trenchwarfareBoth signature abilities are pretty cool in this book. The Bigger They Are… allows the character to try and take down vehicles, ships, or creatures of silhouette 2 (3 with an upgrade). If a knowledge warfare check succeeds the PC and friendlies within medium can attack with personal scale weapons, ignoring armor or soak. This calls to mind the scene from the new Rogue One trailer when the soldier launches a missile at the side of an AT-AT head. If I’m not playing in an Age Special Forces campaign before Rogue One, I imagine I will be shortly thereafter. The second signature ability is Unmatched Courage, which allows the PC to ignore effects of critical wounds for the duration. With upgrades, this allows you to not become incapacitated after your wound threshold is exceeded. You still suffer crits for any additional hit, but you keep going.

The gear section includes a number of nice new rifles, and massive guns for the Heavies. Of note is the T-7 Ion Disruptor that featured prominently in an episode of Rebels, and was used against the Lasat in a massacre lead by Agent Kallus. There is also a pulse cannon that has an option to expend all its ammunition in one shot to add Breach 1 and Vicious 3. It is slow-firing, but not a bad idea to keep one around in case you need to make a big hole in something. The Imperial heavy repeater slugthrower has a similar quality in which you can expend all its ammunition to add Blast 7 and Concussive 1. The armor section includes some new stealthy suits, as well as Rebel Heavy Battle Armor and Imperial Hazard Trooper Armor that includes protection from hazardous environments, as well an internal comm that can reach low orbit and a targeting system that removes two setback from darkness, smoke, or similar environmental factors. The Shistavanen Combat Utility Blade features many possible configurations but may contain a fire-starter, a hydrospanner, water contaminant detector and functions as a toolkit to repair devices and droids, but adds a setback die to such checks. It also adds a boost to survival checks. So pretty much a Rambo knife. Also of note in the gear section is the modular backpack. The basic storage unit just adds encumbrance capacity as normal, but there are other units that help control temperature in hazardous environments, power weapons or tools, mobile communication hub,  sensor suite, or oxygen supply. Lots of cool options to kit out your squad with different gear depending on the mission.

swa42_at-tewalkerVehicles include the 6-legged Clone Wars era AT-TE, as well as an Imperial Troop Transport that sounds like the one used commonly on Lothal in the Rebels TV show, as well as a repulsor tank that looks a lot like the old Cobra H.I.S.S. tank. Also from the Clone Wars era, LAAT/I and LAAT/C used as both troop and vehicle transports in the prequels and Clone Wars shows. These would be a fun way to get into and out of battle.

The final section is dedicated to the GM and how to integrate soldiers in missions that focus on other careers as well. Included are sample missions and possible strike targets, asset denial, and a Coup D’Etat of a planetary governor. Beyond those scenarios it provides ideas for different battle environments like trench warfare, urban fights, and raiding operations. Near the very end there is a really cool section on building fortifications as well as suggested ways to spend advantage/threat and triumph/despair on those constructions. It also details how to spend different results in different environments from city battles to boarding actions and wilderness combat. The very end of the book describes soldiers learning talents after recovering from critical injuries. The idea being that which doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. It is an interesting concept, and could definitely add a lot of flavor to a soldier since you’ll likely be in the thick of it for most adventures. It also talks about possible trophies that soldiers may collect like an Imperial Officer’s cap and how they could add a boost die to coercion checks against imperial troops.

Overall this book is jam packed with awesome material for GMs and players alike. If you are playing a combat-focused Age game, this is a must-have. If you are interested in putting together an A-Team or X-COM style squad of soldiers with various skills that when combined can pull off amazing missions, this is the book for you. Between Sharpshooters, Medics, Heavies, Commandos, Trailblazers, and Vangaurds, I would argue Soldier is now one of the most diverse and well-balanced careers in the entire FFG Star Wars system. You will be hard-pressed to find another career in which every PC could play a soldier with a different specialization and end up in such different roles. Highly recommended.

Categories: Books, News, Reviews, RPGs, Star Wars