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Moon-Slaves of the Cannibal Kingdom review

May 15, 2017 Leave a comment

The latest Dungeon Crawl Classics adventure from Goodman Games packs an incredible amount of memorable adventure in its 24 pages. It is pretty much impossible to provide a substantive review without providing some serious spoilers, so if you plan on playing in this adventure do not read on.

Just us Judges? Good. #93 Moon-Slaves of the Cannibal Kingdom is similar in scope and structure to Harley Stroh’s #78 Fate’s Fell Hand. Rather than a battle between three wizards on a demi-plane of phlogiston, the PCs will discover three sisters on the Tolomak islands, each with their own motivations, minions, and powerful allies. This works very much like a jungle-island sandbox/hex-crawl that allows the PCs to discover various locations and factions and react to them however they would like. The beginning of the adventure suggests you could run this in a 4-hour convention slot, but I don’t see how you would do more than scratch the surface of the materials provided in that time frame. This could easily be a mini-campaign in its own right, stretching several gaming sessions. If you’re looking for bang for your adventuring buck, look no further.

However, I would not recommend this for novice Judges, or those with only a bit of time to prepare. This is one for experienced Judges who can manage a lot of variables at the same time, and roll with whatever the players are going to throw at them. For instance, there are three moons that shine down on the islands – blue, green and red. Depending on what day it is, key NPCs will be in different locations, the moon-bird will have different powers, the contents of the fountain of liquid moonlight will have different effects and a portal will appear in one of 7 locations. Each sister has motivation, quirks, initial and later attitudes, minions and allies. One of those allies is the 20′ tall ape on the cover of the adventure (one of my favorite single-panel Kovacs covers in awhile!) who has his own motivations. Luckily these details are organized at the beginning of the adventure in brief rundowns of the key NPCs and a chart for the cycles of the moon. By the way, the ship that brought the PCs here is about to mutiny, so they may be stranded on these volcanic jungle islands if they don’t get back soon. Also, if the PCs manage to destroy the apparatus keeping the entire volcano in check, it could be a very dramatic TPK. All of this is awesome, but a lot to keep in mind.

I generally buy DCC adventures for the maps (its one of the things that drew me to the beta in 2011) and this one is no exception. Their are four pages of Kovacs maps in the back, including a players map of the islands inside the front cover. There is also a section between the two main islands in which the author encourages Judges to adapt adventures from both Goodman Games or third party publishers and makes suggestions as to what may work and how to adapt them to the environment. This may be made easier for those folks who were in on the 4th printing kickstarter and got a pile of adventures along with the core rule book.

Overall, it is great to see the DCC line still coming out with excellent adventures while expanding offerings into upcoming Mutant Crawl Classics and Lankhmar lines. If you are up to the challenge, set sail for the Tolomak islands! Watch out for cannibals.

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.

Age of Rebellion – Friends Like These Review

January 29, 2017 Comments off

swa41_book_leftThe latest release for Fantasy Flight Games Star Wars Age of Rebellion is the adventure Friends Like These. This review will endeavor to be spolier-light, but not spoiler-free so if you have any intention of playing this, and don’t want any information about the plot points, stop reading now.

Just us GMs? Good. This adventure is geared towards experienced rebels with the recommended earned XP at 150. The main mission is to gather what nearby allies and resources you can marshal to defend a foundry and turbolaser factory from impending Imperial attack. It is pretty well structured to provide a good amount of detail for likely approaches PCs will take when faced with the encounters while allowing a fair-amount of sandbox play with page references to various sections based on PC choices.

There is quite a bit of negotiation and social challenges in this adventure as well as personal and mass combat. There are several opportunities for any type of role to shine, but I would say it favors leader/face types of classes. The entire adventure is a race against time as Foundry Four on the planet Xornn has been tipped off that Imperials have discovered they are retrofitting freighters with turbolasers in support of the Rebels. An ambitious Imperial Captain is hoping to capture a navicomputer that holds the coordinates to the main rebel fleet and deliver this vital data to the Emperor. The Rebels are sending a massive fleet to counterattack and save the base, but it will arrive 5 hours after the Imperials. Can the heroes gather enough allies and prepare fortifications to hold out?

Each segment of the adventure has times associated with it, and PCs must weigh what they should spend that time on in order to give them the resources they need to hold out against the Empire. Eventually the PCs will discover the only options who can get there in time are 800 Mandalorian mercenaries and the Zygerrian slave armies of Prince Molec. Most Rebels aren’t too keen on slavery and so the adventure puts the PCs in a position of picking between bad options: collaborate with an empire built on slavery, or attempt to liberate those slaves against very long odds. The book allows for either approach, and highlights one of the strengths of this system: putting PCs in a no-win situation and letting them debate at the table how they want to approach the encounter.

swa41_mandaloriansThis adventure is a bit different from the others as previous books were divided into three acts, and this is divided into four. It isn’t any longer than any of the other adventures, still weighing in at 96 pages, but is structured as fortifying Xornn, dealing with the Mandalorians, choosing how to handle the Zygerrians, and then the climactic battle. Included in the book are stats for creating a Mandalorian human PC. This seems a bit odd, considering PCs should have 150 earned XP going in to this adventure, but I supposed you could create new PCs specifically for this adventure. You would think they would then detail some Mandalorian gear, but other than a few bits in NPC stat blocks, there are no other details in this book. There is a page dedicated to slaver tech and weapons, but not Mandalorian arms and armor. I guess we’ll have to wait for No Disintegrations on that.

Overall, I think this will be an excellent adventure to run. I do wish there were more detailed maps for Foundry Four and the orbital and surface battles for act IV. There are some areas and details mentioned that are not very clear on the maps provided. Beyond that, I would recommend this for AGE GMs looking for a diverse adventure that will allow various types of PCs to shine, but I would discourage novice GMs from running this as there is a lot to keep track of and different paths your PCs can take. Once you’ve run several sessions and have a good feel for the curve balls your group and some wacky dice rolls can throw you, it will be a story your players certainly remember!

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

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!

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