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Review: Xanathar’s Guide to Everything

November 13, 2017 Comments off

TLDR: You’re going to want to buy this.

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There was a lot of buzz for Xanathar’s Guide to Everything before it was even in print, so I anticipated this was going to be worth a look.  It reminds me a lot of what Unearthed Arcana (the book, not the webcolumn) was like for 1st edition.  Was it optional?  Yes.  Would you be missing out on a lot of content that is considered generally mainstream to play without it?  Heck yeah.

General Details

Xanathar, a secretive beholder crime lord, keeps notes on everything (he believes).  Hence the name of the book (his goldfish is his most prized possession, and that’s what’s on the stylized cover you see above).  As with Volo’s Guide to Monsters, there are little notes that run as commentary throughout the book, usually a sort of joke or snipe about the subject matter.  As the material is largely mechanics and game lore, it’s less relevant than with Volo’s but still fun.

The book is 192 pages, full color, lots of art, slick non-glossy pages (which I like).  You’re going to get this and think it feels kind of thin, however.  While the book feels light, it has a lot of content, and they pack quite a bit in those pages.

The book has three major division: Character Options, Dungeon Master Tools, and Spells, but also has two valuable Appendices.  Here’s the breakdown of the sections.

Character Options

Subclasses

By far one of the most valuable sections of Xanathars is the Character Options chapter.  This opens 31 new subclasses for the primary classes listed in the Player’s Handbook.  That’s right: THIRTY ONE.  Note that’s not 31 new classes, but subclasses (like Bardic Colleges, or Barbarian Primal Paths, etc).  I like this because I think that too many primary classes waters down your base classes and leads to unexpected bloat.  Some of these may be familiar as they have rolled out through playtesting in the Unearthed Arcana column.

A few favorites include the Bardic College of Whispers, the Grave Domain Cleric, the Samurai and Cavalier Fighter archetypes, the rogue Swashbuckler, and the War Magic Wizard. Adding rules to differentiate these classes and giving them a new feel works well, without making a GM learn entirely new modes of play functionality.

Flavor – Charts – This is Your Life

In addition to subclass details, they also offer fluff fans fun and interesting (but very brief) charts for fleshing out details about their characters and their backgrounds.  More experienced players may feel these sorts of things are unnecessary, but it definitely gives some players new ways of looking at details about their characters that will flesh them out in interesting ways.

Some sections are meatier than others. The Druid Section of the the Character Option chapter lists charts, for example, of what beasts you encounter in what environments for the purposes of exposure to allow wildshape.  You could make it up, but this is just damn handy.  Other elements, like how you learned to be a druid, are more storytelling.  Each class has this sort background material.

This culminates with a subsection called “This Is Your Life” which allows your background to be determined by charts, at your option.  This goes through siblings, parents, family history, and motivations based optionally on class or background.  I’ve always been a fan of a certain online character background generator myself (NSFW for language).  I seem to recall something like this in an older volume of D&D (maybe player’s handbook 2???) but can’t remember which book.  If you know, post in the comments.  In the end, it can be fun, and they’re clear not to be pushy about using it.  Do it, or don’t if you don’t want to.

Racial Feats

One thing you won’t hear me complaining about is more feats.  I especially like the idea of Racial Feats that continue to expand the characteristics of the races in game.  These add additional ways for characters to stand out and differentiate themselves from one another given the more simplified options of 5th edition over early incarnations like 3.5 and 4th editions.

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Dungeon Master’s Tools

Rules Clarifications

As a gamer who runs a lot of games, this section is precious to me, as it answers some questions that speaks more to design philosophy on dealing with rules questions. This chapter shotguns out some rules issues right off the bat with little ceremony, including:

  • Simultaneous Effects
  • Falling (over time and large distances)
  • Sleep Details – Involuntary Waking, Sleeping in Armor, Going Without Sleep
  • Adamantine Weapons
  • Tying Knots (both tying and slipping out of them)

There are two larger sections that go into greater detail as well:

  • Tool Proficiencies – This large section rethinks Tool Proficiency, going into specific items included in certain kits, and spelling out what a player can do with skills and tool proficiencies.  A valuable section that will assist GM’s and players alike in seeing how these should be played.
  • Spellcasting – Concealing and identifying spellcasting, measuring ways of determining gridded templates (with illustrations)

 

Challenge Ratings

One of the most important changes listed here is the Encounters Section.  This lists a new way of calculating encounter challenge ratings that seems to more accurately address the threat of solo monsters based on group size, as well as other types of encounters.  This section probably is an admission that prior CR calculations were not correct and did not accurately reflect appropriate difficulty.

Paired with this is a comprehensive list of wandering monster encounters by level and geographic environment.  For those that use such charts, it’s a masterpiece.  Very convenient.    While not previously a fan of wandering monsters, I’ve found it a useful tool when players are lollygagging or doing things in a stubborn and ineffective time-consuming way (i.e. camping after every encounter, spending an hour bonding with items in a dungeon, camping in a dangerous place, etc).  The lists are detailed, and the setting dressing it provides also fleshes out your world and the creatures in.

Other Sections

Traps Revisited — A sizable section deals with how traps should be dealt with to make them interesting, including details about constructing elaborate traps and the rules that tied therein.  This is more interesting in that it seems to suggest that the standard application of a rogue disarm role should be avoided in favor of a more descriptive approach.

Downtime Revisions –  This section elaborates on revised downtime rules, including the development of a rivalry, buying magic items, carousing complications, and so on.  Helpful if you find yourself using these rules.  We never seem to get to them in my groups, however.

Magic Items – A section here on magic items deals with suggestions on awarding magic items as a GM, and a type of common magic item that has magical effect and flavor without game-breaking power.  A new relisting of magic items by type and rarity, with notation as to whether those items require attunement, is a handy reference.

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Spells

With over 90 additional spells for all spell-casting classes, this chapter alone makes this book a must-have. I haven’t combed through these to see if they have been duplicated in other volumes, but there certainly enough new ones to make it a reference for any spell-caster when picking their list.  Some of these are old classics that have been revamped for 5th edition, others are brand new.

Appendices:

Appendix B is a voluminous list of names from different cultures to help players with naming a character.  It’s a great list, as it goes, with real world cultural names as well as fantasy names.  This is going to make one of your players very happy.

but more importantly, Appendix A is about Shared Campaigns.  

Shared Campaigns

Skyland Games originally began as a gaming group that decided to split off from Living Forgotten Realms organized play to start our own shared campaign.  Part of this split was because of frustration with the management of LFR and the various bookkeeping requirements thereof (and scenario quality, truth be told). We started our own round-robin style of gaming allowing everyone to get some play time, as well as build a common story together.  We’re big fans of it.

What’s proposed here contemplates a Living campaign like Adventurer’s Guild, but could be used for a round-robin home game as well.  It makes use of a benchmark system for leveling based on the number of hours a scenario is designed for and its relative challenge level rather than on the XP value of monsters.

Common rewards are determined at levels, including a treasure point system for awarding magic items from a pre-determined list of magic items agreed upon by the collective DM’s of the campaign. Gold can be spent on common items and maybe a small list of alchemical items.  Major magic items require treasure points, earned through play.

This appendix, however, poses a question: Is this the future (or maybe the present) of Adventurer’s League?  I haven’t been to a game in ages, so I couldn’t tell you if they had moved to this system.  If so, does the abstraction make the game less enjoyable?  I think each player might have a different answer to this question, but if everyone can pay their dues and get the items they want in a timely enough fashion, the abstraction may be worth it.  These guidelines won’t make you purchase the book, but are worth a read for any player.

Summary

Xanathar’s Guide to Everything seems largely about utility and fleshing out things that originally were left to player and GM to determine.  Some might see that as an imposition, but I find it incredibly useful.

A complaint I’ve heard about 5th edition is that the lack of specialization makes many characters seem the same.  I’d point out that, as a player for three decades now, we started with a lot less and never really thought to complain about it.  5th edition is a great expansion on what we started with, but doesn’t lend itself to the hyper-specialization that you see in 3.5 Edition D&D or Pathfinder.  These new subclasses, feats, and spells in no way serve to make 5th Edition D&D more like 3.5 or Pathfinder, but they do give a greater degree of options to make a character stand out and build on unique themes.  The content provided in this tome is very significant, and is a should-have if not a must-have moving forward with 5th Edition.

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Free RPG Day Preview – TimeWatch Resources

June 12, 2017 Comments off

Free RPG Day is this Saturday, and it looks to be one of the best in a long time! The Sanctum Secorum podcast has a list of DCC/MCC games happening around the world, and for a more general listing of stores participating check the Free RPG Day locator. Locally in Asheville at The Wyvern’s Tale, Mike will be running Gnole House, a DCC adventure from Goodman Games and Kevin (me) will be running a TimeWatch adventure called Font of Knowledge from Pelgrane Press. It is also the Tale’s 5th anniversary celebration! There will be swag bags to the first 25 people to show up and a ton of games listed on the warhorn. It is going to be an amazing day!

I also wanted to provide some resources for the TimeWatch offering, should you be running it this weekend. They don’t contain any spoilers you wouldn’t know already by just reading the adventure blurb, but I scanned in the pre-gen characters (not great, but better than nothing) which include a brief description of the character and how they relate to the other pre-gens. Without these printed out beforehand it would be extraordinarily difficult to run on the day itself, and they were not present on the TimeWatch resources page. I also did a bit of google prep, as suggested in the module, to find an actual 13th century illuminated manuscript, and created a comic sans version of the latin version of the bible. Having this visual to illustrate the hilarious concept of what a jarring historical change this would make should be an awesome moment at the table.

I’ve never played or run the GUMSHOE investigative system used in TimeWatch, but it seems to be a nice balance of player resource management, stitches (stitch in time saves nine, works like bennies in Savage Worlds or FATE points), and a healthy amount of GM fiat. Check out this article from Pelgrane Press about the system and download the cheat sheets if you want to know more!

Hope you are looking forward to Free RPG Day, and if you’re at the Wyvern’s Tale we’ll see you there!

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Star Wars Rogue Two – Less is More

March 31, 2017 Comments off

Recently I put together a FFG Star Wars adventure for Mace West called Rogue 2. The synopsis was brief, and apparently intriguing enough to fill the table months before the con:

“You are part of an elite commando team for the Rebel Alliance. The Empire has demonstrated the fearsome and devastating power of the Death Star. It is up to you to stand up for freedom in the galaxy. Your comlink indicates a summons to the briefing room with High Command. This next mission is going to be something big. Hopefully you’ll live long enough to tell about it!”

I studied episodes of Rebels, as well as Episode IV and what I could remember from Rogue One (this was shortly after the theatrical release) and did some research about what could happen in the short time frame between Rogue One and A New Hope. In one of the behind the scenes clips for Rogue One the writers revealed they wanted to include  Wedge Antilles in the planetary shield battle on Scarif, but realized he would have never seen it since at the beginning of the battle of Yavin he says, “Look at the size of that thing…” So where is Wedge during Rogue One?

Enter Rogue Two: The Antilles Extraction. Those of you familiar with how I have run several Bounty Hunter missions will know I like to plan for a three-act structure, maybe with an optional fourth, if there is time. I play-tested this once before the con, then ran it at the con, and both times we ran out of time in our 4-hour block before getting to Act III. That being said, the sessions were great fun, but one day I plan on getting to the third act. Here is the basic outline:

Act I – Planning/Infiltration

Act II – Rescue/Escape

Act III – The Emperor’s Snare – Interdictor Showdown

With just a few other notes, a very basic map, and a small deck of probable baddies/NPCs from the adversary decks, we were off! I’ve found the more I run this system, the better it is to provide a small sandbox like a map of a ship or facility, then literally let the dice fall where they may. Relying not only on my creativity, but leaning on the players to help interpret FFG dice results has been some of the most fun I’ve had running or playing an RPG… ever.

While my actual adventure notes were pretty slim, I did a bit of research before the session to help flesh it out on the fly during the session. Researching prison facilities in Star Wars led me to discover an old Dark Horse comic called Han Solo at Stars’ End which was based on a novel by Brian Daley. I didn’t go so far as to read the novel, but I used some of the visuals to inspire the map of the exterior of the facility. The shape of the prison is a tall silo that reminded me of the cells from an episode of the Clone Wars that required floating repulsor sleds to reach them (S3E7). Beyond that, I wanted a reason Wedge and his squad were captured alive, and what better than an Interdictor cruiser to capture both ships and pilots.

 

ACT I

The first part of the session is planning the infiltration and requesting additional gear from Rebel High Command. The briefing is short on details, just the rudimentary reconnaissance scan gathered from an A-wing at long range. Mytus VII is a moon-like rock with no atmosphere and little natural gravity. I provided the squad with a choice of two available ships for infiltration: a U-Wing (with some home-brewed stats borrowed from forums) or a captured Imperial Lambda shuttle. Beyond that, they could make reasonable requests for other equipment that may be around the Yavin IV base. The playtest group requested a few speeder bikes (non-military versions, granted) and the con group requested ascension cables (which came in *very* handy). Now to plan the approach: land outside the facility and approach on foot or speeder? Land at the end of one of the tubes? Brazenly fly into one of the hangars? Any of these are options using this approach. The pre-gens I provided did not include any humans, which limited their options for posing as imperials in stolen uniforms, so both groups opted to land their U-wing (both chose the U-wing) well outside the facility and made a stealthy approach. The con team had the foresight to request an astromech droid to keep the engine running and stand by to fly in and pick them up. How they get in from here is entirely up to the table. The playtest group took out a pair of bored guards at the end of a landing tube, and stealthily made their way in to the main facility. The con group set some remote explosives on the outside of one of the tubes to the hangar, and took out a gunnery crew in one of the turbolasers.

ACT II

Now the team is in the facility, they need to find which cells have their rebel pilots and successfully extract them from the vertical tower of cells in the center of the complex. Optionally (if they are somehow captured) they could be facing off against gladiator droids in the arena on the very top level of the central tower (this is in reference to a scene in the comic) but this did not come up either time I ran it. Leaving the interior of the facility vague gives the game master great flexibility to improvise. Elevators or turbolifts can be anywhere you need them to be, as well as interior doors, tunnels to the turbolaser batteries, utilities like power and gravity generation may be in the basement. If your team seems stumped, provide them with options in a rudimentary directory (“Hmm, this says central generator on B1, arena on level 42, Warden’s Office on 41…” etc.) they can pull up from any terminal or datajack. Regardless of how they eventually get there, this will lead to an encounter with Imperial Dungeoneers in repulsor sleds. Judging from the visuals in the Clone Wars, I set up a central control tower, and at least three sleds with two dungeoneers on them a piece. Since this is an Imperial facility, I replaced the floating little cam bots in Clone Wars with interrogation droids, which make for pretty nice rival-level adversaries. This is generally where the stealth part of the mission breaks down. Alarms start going off, you can send in squads of storm troopers and their red-pauldroned sergeants as back up. Both times I ran it, this involved a few PCs in the central tower identifying the cells of the rebel pilots, and a few PCs going from cell to cell, freeing them. The con team set the gravity generators into a diagnostic mode that turned the gravity both off and on every two minutes, adding to the chaos. Once you retrieve Wedge and his squad (4-6 pilots) they reveal they were captured by the Emperor’s Snare, an Interdictor Cruiser that ripped their squad out of hyperspace. Their ships are still intact, and recoverable, if the team can capture the impound hangar. This can lead to a battle with TIEs on the base. I would encourage GMs to use group checks to narrate how the squad is doing rather than rolling a bunch of checks for NPCs, and let the PC squad take ship actions as normal. The rebels will likely outgun the Imperials until…

Act III

The Emperor’s Snare drops out of hyperspace on the horizon. Now both the commandos and the pilots are trapped unless the commandos can board that Interdictor and shutdown the gravity wells! I wrote this before watching the amazing Rebels Season 3 finale in which Interdictor cruisers play a big role, but if you are looking for inspiration for this chapter, check out the end of Rebels season 3! Having run out of time both times I ran this scenario we never actually made it this far, but I would suggest more group checks for the rebel pilots while having the PCs make some daring checks to board the bridge of the Interdictor and either shut it down or (more likely) sabotage the gravity wells before escaping. If the U-wing is still intact they may be able to take that, or if its destroyed in the ensuing battle, have them find some other shuttle or escape craft in a battle to the hangar bay. In a truly Rogue 2 like twist, the commandos may be captured or even killed in the attempt to disable the Snare and ensure the pilots get back to Yavin for the battle against the Death Star!

I hope you enjoy this adventure outline. I’m providing the map I used as well as six pre-gens for potential commandos below. Happy gaming, and may the Force be with you!

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The Death of Jar Jar Binks

April 21, 2016 4 comments

NEpVH1HqB1S5sx_1_bThe weekly Bounty Hunter game at our FLGS The Wyvern’s Tale continues to be a hit! Never have a seen so many sign up so quickly, as when I announced the target would be the notorious representative from Naboo, Jar Jar Binks. With the release of Nexus of Power, we now have PC stats for Gungans, as well as Gungan weapons, details about their culture and significant locales on Naboo. I’ll provide links to the three NPCs I stated out at the bottom: Gungan Guard, Boss Nass, and Jar Jar himself.

I employed my typical three scene strategy for this week’s episode, but quickly adapted to a new setting for the final scene based on what the players wanted to do once we got to Otoh Gunga. This mission was sponsored by the ISB, and as this particular chapter of the Bounty Hunters Guild had run afoul of the ISB last week, the ISB would provide the equipment for the mission, but the pay was just a matter of settling a previous debt. Most players would probably take a shot at Jar Jar pro bono, anyway. The imperials provided a commandeered Mon Cala explorer sub (from Stronghold of Resistance) as well as a Verpine Shatter Rifle, and a Verpine Shatter Pistol on loan. Due to the rarity of these weapons and the listed cost of 30,000 and 15,000 credits, respectively, I allowed the players to chose whether to bring the weapons or not, with the caveat that if they were lost or destroyed, it would incur a personal 30 or 15 point obligation to the ISB. The PCs took them anyway!

Colo_claw_fish_SWK_magazineThe first scene involved the team descending into the depths and navigating to Otoh Gunga, the underwater capital of the Gungans. This involved piloting planetary checks that became more difficult as the PCs descended into the depths. Failures and threats could do hull damage or system strain to the sub, despair causing a vehicle crit. Successes and advantages could allow for finding shortcuts, and safely maneuvering the sub, while a triumph may give them the drop on the first encounter: colo claw fish! While these creatures are not much risk to the sub, I had a great time describing their bio-luminescence. It also served to illustrate there are big, bad terrible things in the water.

The second scene was the team arriving in Otoh Gunga, and meeting with Boss Nass. There was some negotiation and skullduggery around carrying weapons around town, and certainly into the meeting hall. Once that was settled, the team learned that Jar Jar was in Otoh Gunga, but that he had been a headache to the Boss and sequestered in a remote section of the city. This involved several negotiation, deception and charm checks, and allowed the “face” characters to really shine.

The third scene I had planned was going to be a chase through the streets of Otoh Gunga, culminating in an underwater chase, ultimately resulting in Jar Jar and his aiwha mount (Stay on Target) being eaten whole by a sando aqua monster (think underwater godzilla). The team would then have to battle this giant beast underwater and retrieve proof of the kill.

kill-jar-jar-binksInstead, the team wanted to see about entering in a bongo race. So sure enough, there just happened to be a bongo race at Otoh Gunga Garden (info in Nexus of Power), and who would be in attendance, but Jar Jar himself! I intended this to start the chase to get to the sando aqua, but we had such a great time in the stadium we ended up with a Sudden Death (campy Van Damme/Hockey movie)  type of assassination-in-a-stadium situation. This involved the team covertly getting into the catwalks for the lighting in the stadium to line up a shot on Jar Jar’s VIP box seats, and the ensuing mayhem when the team missed the shot. Eventually they chased him down and brought back his tongue as evidence for the ISB.

The reason the team missed the shot is due to how I built Jar Jar. At first I thought I would try and pick what I feel to be one of the more useless classes, the Colonist Performer. It ended up working perfectly, as performers have talents like distracting behavior (ideal for Jar Jar) that adds automatic threat to rolls, as well as coordination dodge, which allows you to add automatic failures to a roll when spending a destiny point. This allowed me a modicum of control as to when they finally made their takedown, and narratively, allowed me to describe some appropriately infuriating Jar Jar hijinks! It was definitely a memorable session, and one I am likely to run again.

Here are the Gungan NPCs I stated out:

Gungan Body Guard

Boss Nass

Jar Jar Binks

 

Strongholds of Resistance Review – Star Wars Age of Rebellion

December 30, 2015 Comments off

swa30-book-leftThe latest addition to the Age of Rebellion line details Rebel strongholds that can be used as adventure locations, and to give Age characters a bit more detail for common home worlds of typical rebel races like Mon Calamari, Gran, and Sullustans. Interestingly it also details a few famous rebel locations from the movies like Echo base, Yavin 4, and the flagship Independence. Beyond this, it details a few new races, gear, ships, and some modular encounters similar to those found in Suns of Fortune, and Lords of Nal Hutta.

The first section of this book is much like the Galaxy chapters of the main core books. Each world described starts with a fact sheet detailing population, languages, major cities, imports/exports, and what the world is generally known for. This book allows for a lot more detail than can be afforded in any entry in a core book. For instance the entry on Chandrila (Mon Mothma’s home planet) has details on the capitol of Hanna City, as well as nine points of interest that could serve as adventure locations. It also provides information about a few lesser cities, and the crystal canyons, as well as a few native peoples and creatures that could be encountered in the cities or the wilds. Sidebars enrich the environments with a few extra details like a hovertrain that connects agricultural communities, and rumors of an ancient Jedi tomb in the crystal canyons.

Kinyen, the Gran home world is given similar treatment, as is the aquatic planet of the Mon Calamari and the Quarren, Mon Cala, and the volcanic, industrial world of Sullust, home to the Sorosuub corporation, and Sullustans. Ord Gimmel is included as well. It is apparently a chief provider of hyperdrives, but has a weird history in that it was forgotten by the republic and cut off from the galaxy for a period of time. Its not clearly explained how this could have happened. Seems like an odd choice. The Roche Asteroid field is the home of the Verpine which are also provided as a playable race in this book. They are technologically-minded, and had a lot to do with project Shantipole and the development of the B-Wing fighter. There are creature stats for both mynocks and an “enormous space slug” that has vehicle stats rather than typical creature stats and is silhouette 7! That is no cave! Other planets include Thyferra, home of bacta production, Yavin 4, the former rebel base, and the rebel flagship Independence, home of the rebel high command. There are also a few paragraphs on minor locations like Barkhesh, Chardaan, Contruum, Hoth, and Kolaador.

swa30-caveshipsThe second section of the book goes in-depth about rebel bases, large and small. These can serve as templates for the PCs’ own base of operations, or serve as adventure locales for different missions. It starts big with Echo base on Hoth, and provides suggestions for participating in the evacuation, should the GM want to recreate the famous scene from Empire Strikes Back. The next is an asteroid base on Polis Massa that mainly serves as an archaeology research station. Interestingly, it does detail a secret rebel base, but none of the elements are pictured in the diagram; another odd choice.

The Tierfon Outpost is a nice example of a smaller base that could be encountered. It has a barracks, command center, medical suite and hanger, as well as 8 fighters (Y or X-wings) and shuttle or freighters for deliveries, as well as a few speeders for ground transport.

The final base provided is the Defiant Core base, which is formed from a clone wars era wreck of a Separatist destroyer, that carved a valley into the planet’s surface and ended up in a cave. Interestingly, it is provided in several stages, which represent the development of the base over time, with more assets and staff.

swa30-speciesThe third section is about player options with new races, gear, and ships. The Quarren we have already seen in Fly Casual, but the Polis Massans are new, along with the Verpine. The Polis Massans lack vocal cords and are mainly concerned with archaeological and xenological research. They start with a rank in medicine and a 3 in intellect and willpower, as well as a form of short range telepathy to communicate. Not my cup of tea, but could make an interesting intellectual type. The Verpine is known to excel with technology. They start with a rank in mechanics and a 3 in agility and intellect, as well as compound eyes that allow for a boost die on perception checks when examining something up close, and can produce radio-waves to communicate to other Verpine and specially tuned comlinks. This would definitely be my choice for a PC out of the three.

Notable gear includes a droid disruptor, that fries circuits rather than just overloading them like an ion gun. Also the Spore/B stun grenade which relies on spores to stun targets, but if you roll a despair on a challenge die, you suffer 6 strain and begin to suffocate. A hard medicine check is required to restore regular breathing. Powerful Mon Cala Leviathon power armor provides not only protection but built-in weaponry like a mini torpedo launcher and deadly duo-flechette rifle. Don’t pick a fight with the squids! Other cool new entries include jump boots, that operate similar to a jetpack, but for limited jumps up to 35 meters, and the Verpine Headband which allows PCs to exceed their strain threshold, and just take wounds instead, while suffering from the disoriented condition.

swa30_10524_hiddenoutpostThe last section describes a few encounters that can serve as a side-quest or solid game session worth a material each. The first one includes battling TIE phantoms in an asteroid field, as well as the stats for the deadly ships and a few very talented imperial pilots. Another deals with diplomatic negotiations between Mon Calamari and Quarren on Mon Cala, which was definitely an episode of Clone Wars, but could still be fun. The third is supporting the Sullustan resistance on Sullust, and the last describes a plot to wipe out Imperial Intelligence operations on Ord Gimmel.

Overall this is a great resource for both players and GMs alike, especially for rebel campaigns looking for mission ideas, or base schematics. It can also provide a lot of backstory and detail to rebel characters from these planets, and serve as a well of inspiration for unique adventure locations.

 

Keeping the Peace review – Star Wars Force and Destiny

December 21, 2015 Comments off

swf24-book-leftKeeping the Peace is the brand new sourcebook for Guardians, and the first career expansion in the Force and Destiny line. It follows the typical format of adding 3 new specializations, 3 new races, 2 signature abilities, and the force power Suppress. There are also sections with new vehicles, equipment, character motivations and ideas for the GM for encounters and campaigns that use Guardian themes.

First off let’s start with the player options. New species include the Iktotchi, Lannik, and Whiphid. All of these have Jedi masters associated with them. Iktotchi Saesee Tiin appears as one of the members of the Jedi High Council. Even Piell is the most famous Jedi Lannik. Master K’Kruhk is the most notable Jedi Whiphid, though he seems to be the more obscure of the three.

Iktotchis are pretty unique thanks to their precognition power that allows them glimpses of the future. Mechanically, this allows them to perform a free maneuver when a triumph is rolled during an initiative check or have an ally within short range perform one. Narratively, this can be used to great effect by a crafty GM to give this PC just a glimpse of something good or bad about to happen. They also start with a rank in Vigilance, making this an ideal race to choose for a Guardian.

Lanniks look like tough little gnomes that, according to the profile in the book, come from a surprisingly belligerent warrior society. Mechanically they start with a rank in streetwise and have an interesting trait called Indomitable which allows them to remove two setback dice caused by critical injuries, fear, or being disoriented. Not bad!

whiphidWhiphids are essentially wookies with a tusk attack. They are also known for surviving difficult environments, and as such start with a rank in survival and add one automatic success to survival checks. They can also survive several weeks without food thanks to reserve blubber. Their tusk attack is +2 damage, vicious 1, crit rating 4. That is one of the more powerful natural racial attacks.

On to the three new Guardian specializations. This book adds Armorer, Warden, and Warleader to the existing Peacekeeper, Protector and lightsaber style Soresu Defender.

Armorer is an interesting mix of staunch tank/defender mixed with mechanical tinkerer. The core Guardian skills are Brawl, Cool, Discipline, Melee, Resilience, and Vigilance. Armorer adds Knowledge (Outer Rim), Lightsaber, Mechanics, and another Resilience. The stand-out skill being mechanics, as not a lot of Jedi careers are mechanical in nature. It includes a fairly convoluted and linear skill tree that introduces a Talent series of Armor Master, Improved Armor Master, and Supreme Armor Master. These allow this PC to soak more damage with existing armor, culminating in the ability to suffer 3 strain to reduce a critical by 10 for every point of soak. This is a pretty compelling option, in that you will be really tough in combat, but also have lots of use modifying equipment and possibly making ship repairs. Nicely balanced.

Warden defends by intimidating foes to not act. The additional career skills are Brawl, Coercion, Discipline and Knowledge (Underworld). Its an interesting concept that introduces the second talent that costs conflict to even know about: Baleful Gaze. Interestingly its a power you can trigger when targeted by an attack, spending a destiny point allows you to upgrade the attack by number of ranks in Coercion. I don’t know if I’m crazy about this one to be honest. Causing conflict by giving enemies dirty looks? Hmm… I do like some of the other force talents in the tree including No Escape, which allows the PC to spend two advantage from a Coercion check or two threat from a foe’s Discipline check to take away the enemy’s free maneuver for that round.

swf24_12298_laststand_cristibalanescu_big2Warleader is my favorite of the three. It is tailor made for the Iktotchi and has some interesting talents that can provide bonuses for allies. The skills it adds are Leadership, Perception, Ranged (Light) and Survival. Prime Positions is an interesting talent that relies on there being cover during a battle, but allies that take cover within short range of the warleader add one to soak per rank of Prime Positions. Another cool talent is Prophetic Aim that disallows despair from ranged attacks to be used to target engaged allies. The Coordinated Assault maneuver allows for allies engaged with the PC to add an advantage to attacks made until the beginning of next turn, which can make crits easier and narratively just sounds cool. This is the stand-out specialization from this book for me.

I haven’t played a single character long enough to qualify for signature abilities yet, but this book introduces two for Guardians: Fated Duel and Unmatched Heroism. Fated Duel allows the guardian to force an enemy into a duel that prevents others from stepping in. While I understand what they are going for from a Star Wars perspective, in an RPG setting this seems forced and kind of silly. It would allow a guardian to take on a big bad at the end of an adventure and allow his allies to regroup, possibly sacrificing himself in the meantime, but seems to have limited utility.

Unmatched Heroism allows the guardian to redirect attacks that are made on allies within short range to be made on the Guardian instead. This seems way more appropriate for an RPG setting and the Guardian role, as you can protect allies in dire situations, and would definitely be my pick out of the two.

lightningThe new force power is called Suppress, and its pretty awesome as a Guardian power as it allows you to reduce the effectiveness of incoming offensive force powers (force lightning, move, etc.) by adding failures for every pip on the force dice generated. This may reduce or completely nullify the incoming attack. Thematically cool, and could manifest in a variety of ways, like force lightning being absorbed in a lightsaber for instance.

There are a few new weapons, and quite a bit of armor for the Armorers in this book. It introduces two new lightsaber styles, the Guard Shoto which looks like a nightstick and the Temple Guard Lightsaber Pike, which looks a lot like Darth Maul’s dual-bladed saber. There are also a lot of armor attachments that can modify armor abilities or add some add a special quality to the suit.

swf24_ghostVehicles stated out in this book include the General Grievous wheel bike, and surprisingly the VCX-100 light freighter, better known as the Ghost from the new Star Wars Rebels show. Surprisingly the stats do *not* include the little Phantom shuttle that makes the Ghost such a compelling choice for parties, since it allows the versatility of having a little shuttle away from the main ship, and allows it to serve as a small escort fighter in a battle. Despite that, the stats are pretty solid and it would be a fun ship to have as the party’s mode of transport.

The last section is aimed more at the GM and details Guardian encounters and adventures, as well as story elements that could feature a Guardian prominently. Themes like monster slaying, impossible odds, and arming the townsfolk (seven samurai style!) can provide a lot of great adventures for the entire group. My favorite element of these books is there is something for both players in GMs in every addition.

While there are some odd choices in this book, if you just saw the new movie and NEED everything Jedi related, this book has some great new options that will keep your game going strong!

Star Wars Age of Rebellion: Desperate Allies Review

June 30, 2015 Comments off

swa31-book-leftI picked up Desperate Allies on Free RPG day at our Friendly Local Gaming Store (which was a blast!) as well as the Force and Destiny Beginner Box. I’ll wait to review F&D after I run it once or twice, but I’ve now had time to read over the Sourcebook for Diplomats and have a few thoughts I’d like to share.

First off, let’s get to what this book adds to the game. The new races are Caamasi (weird fuzzy bird-like species from a world nearly annihilated by the empire), Neimoidians (Trade Federation! Boo!), and Gossam (silhouette-0 bug looking guys). The Caamasi have an interesting ability, in that they can (once per session) create a Memnis or perfectly recall certain events that can be shared with other Caamasi or a force-sensitive character. That has some cool story implications, and could be really fun for either an investigation or negotiation mission. The text for the Neimoidians pretty much says good luck playing one, since most have bad memories of the Trade Federation during the clone wars. Seems like a strange choice for a rebel, but if you’re looking for a challenge, you could go this route. No great special ability to speak of: start with a rank in deception or negotiation. The Gossam could be cool, since they are silhouette 0. They also start with a rank in deception.

swa31-mission-briefing-artThis book adds the standard 3 specializations to Diplomat. From the core Age book we have Ambassador, Agitator, and Quartermaster. This book details the Advocate, Analyst, and Propagandist. Something that jumped out at me about these options are they seem to play 2nd fiddle to a main “face” character. Several of the talents from the Advocate’s tree in particular modify another character’s roll. All Diplomats start with their choice of Charm, Deception, Knowledge (Core Worlds), Knowledge (Lore), Knowledge (Outer Rim), Knowledge (Xenology), Leadership, and Negotiation.

Advocate adds Coercion, another Deception, another Negotiation, and Vigilance. This is definitely the bad cop, in a good-cop bad-cop style deal. This spec is mostly about seeing through deceptions while crafting your own. I don’t feel like this would be the strongest choice, unless your campaign was mostly diplomatic missions. I think these skills have their place, but this is Star Wars! This spec just doesn’t do much for me.

Analyst has the most initial appeal to me. To the main skills, Analyst adds Computers, Knowledge (Education), Knowledge (Warfare) and Perception. The consumate skill-monkey and researcher, this could make a really fun droid character to play. If you wanted to be a bit more well-rounded, you could buy in to the recruit spec from the core book and hold your own in a fight. The analyst is likely the character with their face buried in a terminal during a firefight that your more martial characters are buying time for. Seems like a great addition to any rebel cell.

Propagandist has some interesting possibilities. To the core skills add another Charm, another Deception, Knowledge (Warfare) and Perception. They have a talent called Positive Spin which increases Duty by 1 per rank, allowing the party to “advance” more quickly in the ranks of the rebels. Towards the bottom of the tree there are interesting talents to influence NPCs. Bad Press allows you to make a Deception check once a session to decrease the wound threshold of members of an organization. Seems like if that organization was, I don’t know, THE EMPIRE that could be a bit over-powered. I’m sure its up the to the GM’s discretion, but wow. The illustration has a little floating camera droid I thought sure there would be stats for, but I haven’t been able to find any, if they are in the book.

no-time-to-panicThere are a couple of signature abilities for diplomats that this book provides. One is Diplomatic Solution which allows you to spend 2 destiny points and make a daunting charm check to turn a combat encounter into a social encounter instead. I think this is pretty clever, and definitely fits the flavor of the class. The other is Unmatched Insight which allows you to know background information of people you are negotiating with, that could be used as leverage.

In the equipment section there are a few blaster pistols,  bunch of great new non-lethal grenades (sonic, data-purge, and nightmare), and a whole section on Protocol Droid NPCs, much like Astromechs were in the Ace book. There are a number of interesting melee weapon additions, mostly stealthy in nature like needle gloves, a sword cane and a stealth vibroknife. Also, the armor section has some interesting entries in the Flare Jacket that allows once per encounter to trigger charges that can stagger foes (or really anyone) within short range, as well as a holographic suit that can be used for very quick costume changes, and the hauling harness (think Ripley’s cargo loader) that increases encumbrance capacity by 6, but also upgrades combat checks *twice*. Some other interesting additions include an ascension pistol (dedicated grappling-gun), security sweeper for surveillance devices, and a sound dampener that adds two setback dice to checks made to detect noise from the area in which it is used.

Included in the vehicle section are some luxury land speeders, as well as the J-Type diplomatic barge maybe better known as the Naboo cruiser, as well the the precursor to the more famous Lambda, the Kappa-class shuttle. There are a few interesting starship modifications, but the one that really piqued my interest was the holonet pirate array. This allows you to either communicate or monitor communications through the heavily restricted Imperial Holonet. Lots of cool adventure ideas came to mind once I read over the full description.

table-of-contentsThe last section details diplomatic mission ideas. A lot of these remind me of certain Clone Wars episodes: Maintaining Relations, Insurrection and the Empire, Diplomatic teams. At first I thought that diplomatic missions would be pretty dry, but when you think about it, so many parts of Star Wars have to do with diplomatic negotiations, and making sure they proceed without a hitch. There are lots of great adventure seeds for different Diplomat specs and different motivations or duties. There are a few full multi-scene adventures that could be used as a quick outline for a session or two. Some of the most fun I’ve ever had in an RPG is when the party has a home base. In Edge, you are encourage to make your ship your home and place of refuge. In Age, you are encouraged to build a rebel base. This book talks about not only creating a base, but adding upgrades to it like medical facilities, hangers, an armory, training facilities, command and control. You could make this like base management from X-COM. Finally the book wraps up with a few campaign ideas revolving around diplomatic missions, and mentions awarding diplomat characters with non-material awards like contacts, honors, and favors from NPCs to be called in at a later date.

Overall at first blush I thought this book was not going to be the strongest choice. I have to admit diplomat did not hold a lot of interest for me when I first reviewed the core book. After reading this I have a new appreciate for the nuance that could go into a diplomatic character, and the wide variety of missions that could come out of this material. This is a great addition to the Age of Rebellion game, and I would highly recommend it.