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FFG Star Wars Mandalorian Stats

January 7, 2020 Comments off

It is difficult to find a bad review of the flagship Disney+ original The Mandalorian. Most fans were cautiously optimistic, and even some critics of the recent movies were swayed by this return to a gritty, compelling mix of eastern (samurai) and western (cowboy) influences in a live action, episodic show.

SPOILER WARNING: If you haven’t seen the first season of The Mandalorian, just pony up for a month of Disney+ and devour all eight episodes. We’re going to be discussing characters and plot points, so again, you have been warned.

The first few episodes focus on the titular character, but by the end of the first season, there are several characters that could make excellent PCs for an Edge of the Empire game. This is the first post of a series that will eventually make a complete party of six characters: Din Djardin, Cara Dune, IG-11, Kuill, Greef Karga, and of course, The Child.

Let me walk you through my process for Mando. I looked at a lot of careers and specializations, but ultimately went the most obvious route of Bounty Hunter: Gadgeteer from the core Edge of the Empire book. This is actually a pretty tough talent tree due to diverse characteristics for core skills and not great for people looking for an optimized build, but I felt it fit the character to a T. I used the Mandalorian species from Friends Like These which provides all 2s for characteristics, 105 starting XP, and one rank in any combat skill or one rank in two knowledge skills. I chose Gunnery since that is missing from the core skill set of the Gadgeteer. For initial skills I chose Perception, Piloting (Space), Piloting (Planetary), Ranged (Heavy), Ranged (Light), and Brawl.

I choose to build him out with 200 earned XP to represent his experience as a hunter before we meet him in the show. I boosted Brawn, Agility and Willpower to 3 with the starting XP, leaving me 15, which I used to pick up a rank of Mechanics and Melee. Making a bee line down the talent tree (with a few detours) for 200 XP I chose two ranks of Toughened, Jury Rigged, Armor Master, Tinkerer, Dedication (Agility), Point Blank, Spare Clip, and Improved Armor Master. These talents are well represented on screen by the amount of abuse he can take, his versatile gear (more in on this in a moment), and how often his armor saves his bacon. This left 40 XP to buy up a few more ranks in Ranged skills, Piloting (Space), Vigilance, and Athletics.

Let’s talk gear. As one would expect, the Mandalorian has several tricks up (or on) his sleeve. Luckily, a few of these were already started up in Boba Fett’s gear in the Allies and Adversaries sourcebook. This provides the weapon stats for the wrist-mounted flame thrower and whipcord Mando uses in several of the episodes. There are also templates for novice and veteran Mandalorian armor (2 Soak, 1 Defense) in the excellent Gadgets and Gear sourcebook, which provided details for the integrated tracking system that mechanically provides another rank of Vigilance. We see this on screen when he is tracking the (warm?) footprints of Cara Dune outside the backwater tavern in which they first meet.

His rifle posed an interesting challenge. Astute fans will recognize both the rifle, pistol and even overall look is a nod to the Star Wars holiday special. There are no FFG stats for that crazy tuning-fork that I could find.

In episode 3, Cara refers to it as a Pulse rifle, which made me think of a Pulse Cannon which does have stats; stats that fit remarkably well. Apparently I wasn’t the only one confused, as the storyboards in the credits from that same episode make the rifle look like a pulse cannon, albeit with the shock fork at the end. To account for this, I provided the Pulse Cannon with a Shock Pulse Emitter that provides Stun 4, Disorient 1 in melee. The pulse cannon itself can be fired normally for a decent 9 damage shot, pierce two. It should be noted it is slow firing 1, which is not ideal, but pretty well represented on screen as he aims between shots at long range. The rifle can also be primed to use its entire energy cell to gain Breach 1, Vicious 3. While not exactly a disrupter, you have a much better chance of vaporizing some Jawas if you are adding 30% to crit rolls.

I just gave him a vanilla blaster pistol, mostly because I couldn’t find any pistols that really looked like his and he already has a ton of weapons. I also included the vibroknife we see on screen in the mudhorn fight.

The “whistling birds” threw me for a bit of a loop. While mini-rockets are detailed in No Disintegrations, none of those really fit what the armorer creates for him. I used the stat block for the armor-piercing rocket and made it limited ammo 6. It looks like the actual launcher from the show has 10, but that seems a bit overpowered to put in the hands of a PC. There also isn’t really a mechanic to take out 4 guys simultaneously like he did on the show, but I would house-rule an extra rocket could launch for every two advantage on the attack roll to try and simulate that.

So here is my build. I feel like it may not be mechanically optimized, but represents what I saw on the screen. What do you think? Suggestions?

I had this post planned before the tragic news of Fantasy Flight Games shutting down Fantasy Flight Interactive and gutting the RPG department. Those designers created one of my favorite RPGs of all time in the form of Edge/Age/FaD. I plan on playing this game for years to come, and hope all those excellent people land on their feet and keep creating great stuff.

Building Bad: Tips on Creating Memorable Villain NPC’s

January 6, 2020 Comments off

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It’s easy, relatively speaking, to run a villain in most campaigns.  You’ve got technical application of the rules, some rudimentary tactics, and keeping track of stats, spells, and wounds, sure…. And sometimes that can be burdensome, but any GM worth their salt should be able to readily handle that aspect of the game, if not right away then early in their GMing career.

But how do you take a pile of stats and make it memorable?  Make it truly villainous?  here are a few tips to creating a bad guy that your players will love to hate.

Reputation / Infamy

You hear about a villain, or their actions, before you ever see them:  You come across the scene of the murder.  You hear the villagers talk about the tradgedy the villain has brought to bear (even if they don’t know that’s who is behind it).  People talk in hushed tones about the warlord  in the neighboring province.  Villagers tell tale of the creature that lives in the woods.

This is best delievered as background noise, tavern rumors, or news reports.  Better yet, it’s learned when the party is busy with another problem.  It builds a richer world, one fraught with problems where the party can only do so much.  The villain is a problem that the party has to work itself up to.  Haunting scenes of death and destruction or chilling tales from victims or survivors build the villain’s reputation.

Villains use others to do their dirty work.

While some villains may be solitary, many villains that wield enough power will draw followers that seek to benefit from the riches or influence their dastardly patron.  Others may see a chance for wanton violence in the company of someone who has mastered it.

This could be as minimal as a hobgoblin or bugbear that commands a small horde of semi-faithful goblins.  It could be a petty crime lord that pays a biker gang to ferry his contraband and protect his holdings for a cut of the take.  It could be an army.  In this agency, there is power over the innocent.  These perhaps not-so-powerful followers can affect change by virtue of their numbers.  They can destroy a village, derail a train, and in big enough numbers, crush a nation.

Use these minions to exact the will of the Villain, spy on their enemies, and create confrontations that remind the party the villain is active without putting the villain himself at risk.  Furthermore, these minions brag about their patron villain.  They want people to know that they are to be feared and respected because of their patron’s power.  Let your minions tell tales of their patron villain, threaten his wrath, and predict his retribution.  You’re building a relationship between the villain and the party without the villain saying a word themselves.

Villains attack heroes where they’re most vulnerable.

Only so much force can be brought to bear agains the heroes themselves.  They are, after all, the heroes!  They were built to overcome adversity.  When a villain cannot eliminate the heroes, they can make them pay.  Often, they have friends, family and loved ones that don’t have the same capability to fight back.  And there’s nothing to make a villain more hated than attacking or exploiting the innocent, especially if the heroes are close to the victims.

Villains live to fight another day.

There is no single thing that drives a party mad more readily than a villain slipping through their grasp.  Villains should plan ways of making their escape so that the heroes cannot follow until it’s time to stop telling their story.  Dedicated retreat can be difficult to counter, especially for a Villain applying a little forethought.  Take note, however, that if you do this, there are two rules you have to follow: One, the escape must make sense in some form or fashion or the party will see the escape as a cheat. Make sure evidence of their escape plan is clear and reasonable. Two, you must eventually let the heroes catch the villain.  The contract you have with the players as a GM is that you will give them the opportunity to be heroic. Give them that opportunity, if not right away.

Villains use their resources to make your misery their hobby.

Villiains have time and resources that allow them to do things that an average hero wouldn’t even consider.  It might be having their goons ransack the heroes’ base, burn down a town, or spread nasty rumors about them.  They can take their time or drop a little money into making the heroes miserable, including impersonating them while doing their worst.  Fire is cheap.  The watch and judges can be bribed. While the possibilities are endless, the goal is to anger the party, not to kill them.  They are owed a confrontation, and their anger is the spice that will make that fight all the more satsifying.

Villains aren’t just cruel to the heroes.

If a villain is cruel, there are plenty of ways to show it.  Sometimes, this involves slaying their own underlings for their own incompetence.  For the chaotic evil out there, it could be slaying bystanders for almost no reason at all.  In most cases, it’s going to be a villain taking the most direct route to solving a problem, even if that means a few people have to get hurt along the way.  Show these victims to the players in your story so that they get the depth of what a jerk your bad guy really is.  If possible, let your villain do this infront of them, but just out of their grasp.  Use the innocent as human shields to cover the villains escape or distract the heroes from seeking their vengeance.

Villians love to hear themselves talk.

There’s nothing more disappointing than fighting your way through multiple floors of a dungeon or secret base and finally cornering the villian you’ve been hunting for weeks to only have him or her wordlessly wade into combat with you without uttering a word.

This is the easiest, cheapest way to make a villain 100% more satisfying.  Call it a surprise round where the villain takes his whole action talking, or do what I do and say it’s a special “drama round” where you apply GM fiat to tell a cool story.  However you make it happen, have your villain at least say a few lines:

“Miserable stinking imbeciles!  You think you can defeat me?  I am Lord Castigar!  I have slain hundrends of so called heroes like yourselves.  Come at me, if you wish to die!”

It doen’t take much to improv some witty (or not-so-witty) dialogue.  But don’t stop there.  Each round, on the villains action, give them some more lines.  Goad the players, mock them, have them explain the cunning nature of their plan, or if things are turning agains tthe Villain, have them start to negotiate.  And when they negotiate, see if there is a way to be reasonable.  See if you can actually tempt the player into taking the deal.  Don’t be surprised if your villain tells the heroes, “Wait! Stop!” and they actually do it, and hear him out (with hesitation).  There’s something about our human natures that make us willing to hear reason, if its possible, and a villain can use that to his advantage.  A real villain will always welch on the deal anyway, so its nothing to make a few promises and then try to get back to their position down the road.  A good villain bides his time. And if they can’t, you have to remember the last thing…

Villains are people too.

Well, some of them are demons, or space monsters or whatever. But the best villain is a villain that can exist in reality.  Sure, there are murdering psyhopaths that cut a swath of death a destruction through the universe for no reason, but the best villains are ones that could exist, that do exist.  They’re usually greedy, money hungry or power hungry people who bend a few rules at first to get what they think they need or deserve.  Soon, when this becomes easier, or if the reward is just too good, they make bolder moves and more people get hurt.  Maybe life has taught them lessons that make empathy a sign of weakness, and they’ve moved beyond being concerned with how others are affected by their actions.  But a complex villain, one that might yet be turned away from their path, or might show vengence another evil for reasons all their own, that’s a truly well developed villain.  They have reasons for acting how they do, and don’t see themselves as evil so much as driven, regardless of the consequences.

In the end, every villain wants to live.  If the choice is obvious death or the possibility of surviving, 9 times out of 10 a villain will choose life unless losing everything is too great of an insult to their vanity. And then, its up the heroes to show mercy, or perhaps begin the road towards villany themselves. Every villain has to start somewhere, and its a fine line between vengence and wrath.

The Black Hack 2e Review

November 6, 2018 Comments off

 I had heard of the Black Hack in various Old School Renaissance (OSR) communities on the now doomed G+ RPG communities, but hadn’t looked in to it until recently. The publisher had a kickstarter over the summer that flew completely under my radar, but since the 126-page second edition PDF was only $6, I decided to take a gamble.

I am so pleased that I did. I have no experience with the first edition of the Black Hack, but the amazing resources in the second edition provide an easy to learn system for players, and a wealth of creative tools for GMs. This is one of the few systems that I would *not* bring pre-gens for in a convention setting. The entire player section of the game is a scant 30 pages, and character generation is TWO. Each of the included classes (the classics: Warrior, Thief, Cleric, Wizard) has a simple character sheet and just enough options to give your character a few interesting bits of equipment and mechanics. Each of the four classes can be printed on a single sheet, front and back, and the player will have just about everything they need.

This system is a great example of the mechanics aiding creativity and story-telling, and not getting in the way with endless fiddly bits. For example: one of the core mechanics is the attribute test. Your attributes are generated via the classic 3d6 method. Roll under the attribute called for in the test, you pass. Roll over, you fail. Initiative is a great example of this: roll under your Dexterity. Pass? Go before the baddies. Fail? Go after the baddies. Quick. Easy to remember. Fun!

It also makes use of the popular advantage/disadvantage mechanic used in D&D 5e. Since you want to roll under your attribute, you would take the lower result for advantage, and the higher result for disadvantage.

Another nice mechanic it uses for item tracking is the usage die chain. This is used to track anything that has a number of uses like arrows, holy water, oil etc. When you use the thing, roll the associated usage die. If you roll a 1 or a 2 it goes down one step in the chain: D20 > D12 > D10 > D8 > D6 > D4 > expended. For ammo it is only rolled at the end of the encounter. This is a nice way to reflect a limited resource without the dreaded Dungeons & Accounting that can take up so much time or is completely ignored by players and GMs in other systems.

The art is very cool black and white pieces from Karl Stjernberg, David Black, Sean Poppe, and Jeff Call. A lot of the best work is reserved for the monster and opponents section.

But the best part is reserved for the GM. This system has incredible resources to generate just about anything you could need for a game session: NPCs, hex maps, wilderness, dungeons, settlements, taverns, quest hooks, whats on the body etc. Some are straight rolls of a d12 or d8, others use 2d6 on a matrix, others are drop tables that have different results based on where the die lands on the page. This is the most succinct, concentrated creativity toolkit I’ve seen in any system. Even the monsters and opponents section includes tables to make every encounter unique.

If you’re in a creative rut, this is about the best $6 you can spend. If you’d like to pre-order the printed version and missed out on the kickstarter (like I did), check out the pre-order page. See you around the table! I’ve got some adventures to generate!

The Queen of Elfland’s Son Review – DCCRPG

September 30, 2018 Comments off

DCC 97 has been out since June, but somehow I missed it when it came out during Free RPG Day and just picked it up today. This is the first release to offer the awesome PDF code for RPGNOW in the front cover as announced at GEN CON. Any new DCC adventure from 97 on will include a code to redeem on RPGNOW for the PDF version. This is the best physical/digital offer I’ve ever seen since you can support your FLGS, and get a handy digital version for printing out handouts or maps. Kudos to Goodman Games and RPGNOW for putting together this deal. Once again, they are about a decade ahead of Paizo and WotC when it comes to innovation and rewarding their judges/GMs.

This release also features a very cool, very pulpy cover from the artist Sanjulian. I don’t know if it was commissioned for this adventure or was recycled from another work. It is pretty cool looking, but doesn’t make a lot of sense for this particular adventure, unlike the custom Kovacs covers that usually show something from the module like an encounter or iconic creature.

The interior contributions from the usual suspects like Kovacs, Poag, and Cliff Kurowski are excellent as always. The cartography for this one is by Poag and is a nice blend of the heavily-illuminated style of Kovacs and digital clarity of maps from DCC adventures in the D&D 3.5 days.

The adventure itself is inspired by the Appendix N entry The King of Elfland’s Daughter by Lord Dunsany. This marks the first DCC adventure in which I have read the inspirational material before the release of the adventure. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it! It is by no means required to enjoy this adventure, but there are a few nods to the source material and it is fun to see how Michael Curtis has incorporated some elements from the book in to the adventure.

This is a first level adventure that would work very well as a first foray after a funnel. The village of Eng isn’t really the focus of the adventure, and could either be substituted out for a different starting hamlet or fleshed out to provide a starting base of operations for adventurers. This adventure weighs in at 20 pages, including maps, and would likely work for a typical 4-5 hour convention slot. It has a short introduction, and two main parts. Without getting in to spoiler territory for potential players, there is a nice mix of investigation, combat and social encounters to allow every role a chance to shine.

A sequel to this adventure is alluded to a few times in the text, so it looks like this will at least be a two-part story, but this one stands on it’s own just fine. This would be a great adventure for those new to the DCC system as the adversaries are fairly straight forward, while still providing a few surprises for experienced delvers. Ask your FLGS to order this one, and cash in that PDF code! See you in Elfland!

Categories: Adventure, DCCRPG, Reviews, RPGs

Review: Legend of the Five Rings Beginner Box

August 28, 2018 Comments off

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First, a little history…

Legend of the Five Rings is role playing set in Rokugan, which is similar to Japan during the Tokugawa shogunate, but with fantasy elements.  The setting features noble samurai,  wise monks and mysterious shugenja (priests)  that wield swords, fists, and spiritual powers (respectively) to obtain honor and fame in the honor-bound feudal setting.  Each character derives from a powerful clan (Crane, Crab, Lion, Phoenix, Dragon, Scorpion, and Unicorn) each with  their own motivations and agendas.

The game got its start in 1995 with AEG, which released a role playing game along with a collectible card game that was fairly popular at the time (and which persisted until 2015).   Fantasy Flight has acquired the rights to this rich setting, and launched things last year at Gen Con with an oriental styled parade from the street through Gen Con itself, gathering quite a crowd.

Here’s a fleeting picture I snapped at the time:

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2017 Rokugan Parade

Fantasy Flight is doing some pretty impressive stuff with the property, including kicking off the new card game (which is about a year old, and I’ve heard good things, but haven’t played). But more importantly for Skyland Games readers, they have been working on a new version of the RPG rules which have been in beta testing for some time now.  You can download those beta test rules HERE.  However, smart money might just guide you to pick up the Beginner box which just came out.  I did, and I’d say on the whole it was worth it, unless you’re sure sure sure you want to play and can’t wait for the final rules to be released next year (TBD as of this article).

The Beginner Box: Contents

The L5R Beginner Box is an attractive set, coming with maps of the larger region, maps of a medium sized city / village, and a map of a large castle not actually featured in the boxed set itself (but available for some online content I’ll discuss later).

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It also features a full set of Legend of the Rings dice, which are unique to the system. As with FFG’s Star Wars beginner boxes, the dice are about a $13 dollar value, which begins to justify the total MSRP of $39.95

The game includes an adventure that presumes no knowledge of the rules or how to play, and teaches both game master and players how to play as the game continues.  While theoretically that would allow you to start playing almost immediately, in reality the GM is going to need to read through the entire booklet to grasp the concepts before sitting down to run.

Without giving anything away, the adventure “The Topaz Championship” is a coming-of-age ceremony for persons of the samurai caste, which includes in this case a Phoneix clan shugenja, a Dragon clan Monk, a Crane clan Courtier and a Lion clan warrior.  The adventurers find themselves travelling together and form an unlikely bond when strange events occur that unite them in a common purpose.

The adventure itself is not the strongest adventure out there, but does unfold the concepts nicely and provides a way to ease into more and more of the rules as you play.  It starts with introducing setting and role playing concepts, then evolves into skill challenges, then non-lethal combat, then lethal combat.  Each character booklet presented to each player gives a skeletal version of the rules, indications of what the symbols on the dice mean, and what various actions can be taken.  A small more detailed rules-lite version of the full rules is also in the box, which allows for more nuanced play outside of the extra-lite rules in the adventure itself.

The Rules

The Beginner box gives us a good idea, if not a perfect idea, of what the game will look like upon release.  First I should note that, though the system holds similarities to the Genesys game that is the framework for many future releases from FFG, it is not that system, which to me was a bit of a disappointment.  While I have no desire to return the the days of d20 where everything was a d20 system and rules became painfully bland, there is some lack of utility in being similar to but different than a new standard from the same company.  Presumably, the rules presented are tied deeply into the concepts of the whole setting in a way to will prove meaningful enough to justify a new play format.

First, players have stats that derive from the Five Rings, (as set out by Musashi in 1645).  Fire = Passion; Earth = Discipline; Water = Adaptability; Air = Precision; Void = Spirituality

These are your core abilities, rather than agility, strength, etc.  The characters also have skills, ranging from law, to martial arts, to courtesy.  Many of the skills are not what you would call your standard fantasy adventure game skills.

Making a check requires rolling black ring dice, in addition to white skill dice.  One for each point you have in the ring or in the skill.

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You may keep as many dice as you have values in the ring you are using.  The versatility of the system is that it allows you to often parlay the way you are approaching something to make it something you are good at. For instance, if you want to knock someone down, you needn’t use Fire + Unarmed Combat (charging at them), you could instead nimbly dodge their blows, striking only with precision (Air+Unarmed Combat) or use their own momentum to throw them off balance (Water+Unarmed Combat).  Some approaches are more effective than others.

Dice have four results:

  • Success:  You need enough of these to reach your target number set by the GM
  • Exploding Successes: You count this as a success and then roll the die again, opting to keep this next roll as part of the first, or dropping it.  These subsequent rolls can go on into infinity and aren’t counted against you as part of your ring limit.
  • Opportunity: This works, as far as I can tell, like advantage in Genesys or FFG Star Wars, but perhaps with more restrictions depending on the type of ring you were using.  Rules are skeletal here, and may be expanded on in the main book.
  • Strife: This is emotion or stress that causes you to lose your cool.

Unlike those other systems, there are no difficulty, challenge or setback dice.  Also, strife appears along with positive dice results (like success, exploding success, and opportunity) thereby baiting the player to take those results.

Strife isn’t the end of the world, but if it surpasses your Discipline result, you can become compromised, which precludes the character from using results that have strife on them (which really cuts your opportunities).  That character can try to handle their situation until they regain composure, or they can become “unmasked” and clear their strife, usually with some loss of honor from their unseemly behavior.

Pros & Cons:

The game seems to have some potential, but as a new player to this version of the game, getting used to the idea of justifying your ring choice presented a little bit of a stumbling block.  With some more play, I’m confident that the game will feel more natural. In some ways it encourages roleplaying the type of character you are to fit your actions, and rewards creativity.

Dice in these games are always an issue.  Many of my players immediately splurged on the dice app available on Google Play and Apple.  These apps help to solve the problem of keeping track of what you previously rolled when you get a good run of exploding successes and start to run out of dice.  With a game at this point in development, everyone would have to own a beginner box to have dice of their own, and that’s not going to happen.  So it’s either pass those dice or get an app (for now).

The setting itself is unique, and as a student of Asian culture, I love a lot of the details, though these might be a little cumbersome for the unintitiated.  I’m unaware if any fantasy history has carried forward over the past 23 years.  People have loved this setting for decades and might not want to let that history go… like this guy:

The game is more serious than a lot of other fantasy settings, as it deals primarily with the conflict between desire and duty.  As such, L5R is likely to be a subtle game, and is really going to be the best fit with experienced gamers, or players that are naturally more serious and have a flair for the dramatic and the setting itself.  Beer and pretzel gamers are probably less likely to enjoy the subtlety of the concepts and the balance required in the game play.

In the past, I’ve always found the game a little tricky to prepare.  The characters are almost by definition at odds where their houses are concerned, vying for influence in Rokugan, and that’s going to make things a little tense and maybe a little uncooperative.  For that reason, it’s not going to be the game for everyone and it may be hard to prepare an adventure yourself with a party so divided.  Fortunately, one can usually fall back on duty to guide the party to a common goal, even if they can’t agree on how to get there.

Fantasy flight has released a free downloadable adventure and additional characters, which I have heard good things about.  The map of the castle in the beginner box is for that adventure, and the characters are set to proceed with unifying purpose which originates in the beginner box, making it worth the quick playthrough.

Total beginner box playthrough time is going to take from 4 to 8 hours.  No word on how long the expansion material will take. This play time will be greatly enhanced by the GM reading the optional expansive rules book in the box and understanding those concepts before sitting down to play.

TLDR:  The Legend of the Five Rings Beginner Box teaches a subtle nuanced game to fans of the genre with minimal impact on players and GM alike, and is worth the price of admission for players who can’t wait for the full rules coming out in the months to come.

 

 

The pros and cons of sourcebooks and settings

July 23, 2018 Comments off

The Skyland Games crew was a bit divided about the release of the Han Solo movie. Some felt it was unnecessary and was a movie no one was asking for about characters of which we already know the fate. Others felt it expanded both the story and the universe in very cool ways. We can see an analog in RPGs and their respective supplements and expansions.

Today Wizards of the Coast announced two new worlds for 5e D&D: Wayfinder’s Guide to Eberron and Guildmaster’s Guide to Ravinica. The Eberron update is digital only (at least for now) and the book for Ravinica won’t be released until November and represents the first cross-pollination of Magic: The Gathering lore making an appearance on the D&D side of the WotC fence.

This news comes on the heels of Fantasy Flight Games reprinting a special 30th anniversary of the West End Games Star Wars RPG. Recently I purchased both it, and two Force and Destiny sourcebooks: Knights of Fate and Unlimited Power. Staring at my formidable shelf of FFG Star Wars got me thinking: at what point is a system too diluted by supporting materials?

Fans of RPGs are familiar with the cycle: A core rulebook (or three) comes out for a system. Adventures, supplements and sourcebooks follow. Perhaps errata or an updated print run or seven. Finally the bottom of the barrel is scraped (for D&D often in the form of the Tome of Vile Darkness), and a new edition is released. Most recently we have seen this with Pathfinder and X-wing.

Reading through the old WEG Star Wars is a pretty wild contrast from a recent FFG sourcebook. The bibliography (they included one!) at the back of the WEG sourcebook is most telling: the original trilogy, their novelizations, a Han Solo trilogy of novels, a Lando Trilogy, and some art books for visual reference. In fairness, that was probably everything in print about Star Wars in 1987. Almost impossible to imagine thirty years later.

The player section for the entire system weighs in at 24 pages, and a full one-third of that is dedicated to a solitaire choose-your-own-adventure style introduction to the concept of roleplaying: making decisions and rolling dice to see what happens.

“This is the weapon of a Jedi Knight. Not as clumsy or as random as a blaster. An elegant weapon… for a more civilized age.”   – Obi-wan Kenobi

Is the system perfect? Certainly not. There are awkward combat mechanics, especially when it comes to starship combat. However, it does get you into playing the game quickly, and emphasizes not stressing the details as the GM. Between the two 144-page books included in the 30th anniversary reprint, you have everything you need to evoke the feel of the original trilogy and have a fantastic game.

On the flip side of the coin, I love having a Star Wars sourcebook library that is now the size of an old Encyclopedia Britannica collection. Each book is filled with inspiration from settings, equipment, encounters, and adversaries. However, it can be daunting for new players creating a character. It would be an awesome compromise for FFG to produce not pre-gens, but templates similar to WEG: familiar archetypes to which you can add a few skills, a description, a background and a motivation and get to rolling.

For D&D, each world at the peak of system bloat that was second edition seemed to have its own feel: Dark Sun, Spelljammer, Ravenloft, Dragonlance, and yes, Forgotten Realms. I imagine these new 5e options will provide that same sort of tone-setting characteristics to make each memorable. Maybe that is one way to think of it – not as dilution, but a particular flavor.

Dungeon Crawl Classics has taken a similar approach with setting box sets: The Chained Coffin (Shudder Mountains), The Purple Planet, and very soon Lankhmar. Goodman Games has also recently released a post-apocalyptic version of their system called Mutant Crawl Classics (which is awesome and will get a much more in-depth review later).

Ultimately it comes down to playing the style of game you want to play. There are pretty excellent RPGs that fit on a single sheet of paper. In my years of gaming, it has mattered less what system or edition we were playing and more that we had an excuse to get together every week and have a great time. Nerds tend to desire an encyclopedic knowledge of subjects they enjoy. This works out nicely for publishers. Is it necessary? Maybe not, but it sure is fun.

Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes – Review

May 26, 2018 Comments off

The latest 5E D&D book hit Friendly Local Gaming Stores this week: Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes. I purchased this book thinking it would be essentially a supplementary monster manual along the lines of the classic Fiend Folio. In fact, this book follows the format provided in Volo’s Guide to Monsters.

The first section details classic D&D struggles of Demons vs. Devils, Elves vs. Drow, Dwarves vs. Duergar, Githyanki vs. Githzerai, and… Halflings vs. Gnomes?! Not really, but they wanted to include some new material for the little guys so they threw them together at the end. The second section is a more traditional bestiary with monster stat blocks, as well as stats for NPCs that the DM could use to illustrate the struggles detailed in the first half. There are brief sidebars representing personal notes from Mordenkainen about different sections of the book. Unlike the fun disclaimer in Volo’s or the entertaining condescending disdain in Xanathar’s, the sidebars here add little if anything. This is disappointing as a similar format was followed in one of my favorite 4E supplements, Mordenkainen’s Magnificent Emporium, and those side bars added really cool details and perspective.

There is a great deal of background information and flavor text detailing the various struggles illustrated in the first half of the book. This may provide excellent context for classic rivals like demons vs. devils or elves vs. drow and reasons behind these struggles. There is also quite a bit of detail associated with the pantheon of gods for each race including alignment, province (what they are known for) as well as suggested domains and common holy symbols. Each section spends some time on world-specific variants of races (Gully Dwarves in Dragonlance, cannibal Halflings in Dark Sun), but usually without stats to make them anything more than window dressing.

Peppered throughout the first section are a few player options and sub-races with traits and tables to help provide more character details for PCs, especially if you like playing Tieflings or Elves. Tieflings gain 8 optional sub-races to demonstrate allegiance or infernal origins associated with a particular layer of the nine hells (Asmodeus being the default described in the Player’s Handbook). New elven options include four distinct eladrin variants that correspond with the seasons (Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter), as well as a Sea Elf and the goth cousins from the Shadowfell, the Shadar-Kai. The Dwarven section provides the Duergar as a playable race. Githzerai and Githyanki traits and tables are provided as PC options as well. While additional halfling personality/ideal/bond/flaw tables are provided, the only new sub-race in the last chapter of the first section are deep gnomes (aka svirfneblin).

The bestiary second half of the book includes some fantastic dual-page artwork, as well as helpful indexes that sort creatures by type, CR, as well as typical environment.

This book is for DMs looking for inspiration using some of the classic D&D struggles detailed over the 40 years of monster manuals of every edition. It is also for players who may be looking for a particular sub-race they miss from a previous edition or more background details and inspiration for new characters. Should you buy it? Maybe. This one isn’t as essential as Xanathar’s as it isn’t as great a value for the money from a player options perspective. As a DM, if you already own the adventure Into the Abyss, there will be a significant amount of repeated stat blocks as all the demon lords are repeated here. If you’ve always wondered what the story was behind why demons and devils fight, or the origins of the elven diaspora, this is the book for you.

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