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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 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!

Rogue2map

GotalSaboteur

BothanQuartermaster

GranFigurehead

SullustanDriver

KyuzoHeavy

DurosInstructor

IthorianMedic

March 4th! GMs Day! Mace West Preview!

March 4, 2017 1 comment

drownedHappy GM’s day gamers! RPGnow is having a big sale, and many awesome publishers are participating. Get yourself or your favorite GameMaster something cool! I’m celebrating GM’s day by preparing for the games I’m running at an upcoming convention: MACE West 2017! This will be the third year the event will be held in Asheville, NC just outside the Biltmore at the Doubletree hotel, March 24-26th. The first year I attended I had a great time, and each year it keeps getting better and better! This year there are a staggering number of board games, RPGs, and other events listed this year at the OGRe.

The Skyland Games guys alone will be running Dungeon Crawl Classics, Mutant Crawl Classics, Age of Rebellion, Metamorphosis Alpha, Apes Victorious and Imperial Assault. Games are filling up fast, and we are looking forward to another great year at our “home” convention!

Kevin is running the Frost Fang Expedition, a 3rd party published DCC adventure that is almost purpose-built for cons since there is a ticking-clock element to the adventure. The full review is here, but the short version is this: if the heroes don’t succeed, rocks fall and everyone dies. Not everyone in the party, everyone in the town below the crumbling, floating castle. That old chestnut. He is also running one of the Metamorphosis Alpha adventures from the recent Epsilon City kickstarter, and a homebrewed Star Wars adventure called Rogue Two, in which a small rebel commando team is sent to Mytus VII, star’s end, to break out a group of rebel pilots including Wedge Antilles to aid in the assault on the Death Star.

Mike is running a homebrewed Mutant Crawl Classics adventure he will also be running at GenCon, but MACE West gets it first! Where the drowned god dwells looks to be an exciting post-apocalyptic underwater adventure! Apes Victorious from Goblinoid Games is based around Planet of the Apes and looks to be quite the enjoyable romp if you’ve ever wanted to play the role of a 70s astronaut marooned on future earth. This one is also on sale as part of the GM’s day event. If you haven’t played it yet, you can try out Goodman Games Lankhmar with Mike running Masks of Lankhmar, an adventure he was fortunate enough to playtest with the author Michael Curtis at GaryCon VII.

Scott is running three slots of Imperial Assault, and thanks to the hard work and excellent skill of local mini-painter Galen, they will be some great looking sessions! Minis in the front are some of the bones from recent kickstarters, but the back shelves are all Star Wars! There are more games and events than ever before, these are just the few events we are running. Check out the event pages on facebook and at Justus Productions to find out more. See you there!

minis

 

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!

Categories: Books, Reviews, RPGs, Star Wars