Saturday, July 23, 2016

Looking Back at the Various Star Trek RPGs



This isn't a full review of all the incarnations of Star Trek but rather some thoughts on my experiences with them. Modiphius has just announced that they will be producing a new Star Trek RPG which has gotten me talking with a number of people I know from previous incarnations.

So to begin, my background. Once upon a time (around 1975) I was a preschool and kindergarten kid living outside of Syracuse, New York. My mom would want a little bit of peace and quiet while she made dinner. And as it so happened, the show with the guy with the funny ears was on at that time, which apparently was capable of entertaining me. And the rest is history. I had no choice but to be a Trekkie.

FASA



I discovered the FASA game while I was in high school, had some games then and several more in college. FASA used a percentile based system married to using "Action Points" to keep track of action - every round you had a pool of action points you could spend, breaking down your round into minute detail. To be honest, we pretty much just ignored the whole action point thing... The skill system was a bit reminiscent of Call of Cthulhu now that I think of it, though Call of Cthulhu probably did a bit of a better job handling default skill ratings.

FASA Star Trek had two editions. The first edition was a bit less refined than the second, though the differences were pretty minor - I used 1st edition adventures with the 2nd edition pretty easily, without ever getting a copy of the 1st edition until the late 1990's. By default, the game assumed you were Star Fleet officers (the term evolving into Starfleet as time went on) in the period of the television series. No original series mind you - it was the only series for much of the FASA line. Supplements detailed the film period as well as traders, Klingons, Romulans, Orions, Intelligence Officers, etc.

When FASA first came out with their RPG I believe there was only the original series, the animated series, and I believe the first two films. They had to fill in a lot of details. They used a timeline which set the original Star Trek's first season as being in 2207-2208 if my memory is correct - certainly in the early 23rd century, something later material would contradict. They had to fill in details about the various rivals to the Federation. The Romulans were a spartan people who worshiped the "Great Brothers" - beings who transplanted them off of Vulcan in ages past. The Klingons were developed with John M. Ford of The Final Reflection and other works (including contributing to the Paranoia RPG). These Klingons viewed life as extension of the Komerex Zha - the great game. The Klingons of the films were "Imperial" Klingons while those of the television show were Klingon-human fusions - the idea being that they were genetically engineered to better understand and fight humans. Like much of what they developed, this was contradicted by the later material, but in this case they were fairly close to what actually came to be.

Their universe was a bit more militaristic than would later be portrayed, with military-only Starfleet vessels, Starfleet marines, etc. They lost their license early in Star Trek: The Next Generation's run after putting out a pair of references for that.

We had great fun using the FASA rules, both in the original era as well as in the TNG period as well. I wound up working out some pretty reasonable character generation options for Next Generation games. Character generation was definitely a highlight of the game - you had a lifepath system where you'd advance your character through the academy, cadet cruises, and tours of duty.

See also my review from 2012.

Last Unicorn Games


I'll always have a bit of a fondness for this incarnation of the game. I was fairly involved with the FASA Star Trek online community in the mid to late-1990's. I had my first webpage dedicated to reference material for the FASA game and had a fairly complete collection of ships on my old ziplink homepage. 

This incarnation of Star Trek came out near the end of Star Trek's peak of popularity in the 1990's. Unlike the FASA game, it was designed around multiple games, somewhat like what Fantasy Flight Games is doing with Star Wars. The first game, Star Trek: The Next Generation was designed around Starfleet officers in the TNG period. Their other two games were Star Trek: The Original Series and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. The DS9 game was a wide open game welcoming smugglers, mercenaries, freedom fighters, and Starfleet officers. While the authors took some liberties, overall these games stayed closer to canon. There were a number of interesting supplements produced in this period, detailing the Romulan Empire, the Andorians (a fantastic take on them, though sadly overridden by their role in Enterprise), Starfleet Intelligence, etc. 

The LUG games took some cues from the FASA game - it kept some elements of the lifepath system. The task resolution was a little bit weird - you rolled a number of d6 equal to your attribute, kept the best one, and added your skill rating. And one die was an exploding drama die. And there was some weirdness in calculating specializations which I'd need to dig the books out of basement storage to figure out...

I was very active in the community that built up around LUG Star Trek, becoming one of the moderators at trek-rpg.net. I had numerous contacts with the designers of the games and its fans - even now, some 18 years later (!!!) I'm still in touch with a number of people I've met through the game. A LUG Trek game aboard the starship Icarus kicked off my post-college gaming, something which has endured all this time. I still laugh about the numerous discussions about the "Kirk's ass" combat maneuver, which we named from Captain Kirk's move in "Journey to Babel" where he attacked an Orion disguised as an Andorian ass-first... We also had a fun Bridgetown DS9 game where a partially functioning Iconian portal was discovered at a rough and tumble port. 

Last Unicorn Games was acquired by Wizards of the Coast. It was an odd acquisition - the only product of it was a limited edition Dune RPG after which they lost the Star Trek license to Decipher. I've heard rumors that in the event of an acquisition Paramount could void the license but I've no idea to the truth of that...

Decipher




Breaking away from the multi-corebooks of the LUG line, the Decipher line, designed by many of the veterans of the LUG line, took many cues from the d20 system. It had some concepts akin to classes and levels, resistances that resembled saving throws, and lots of skills. From the corebook you could make lots and lots of characters. Task resolution was a bit less wonky than the LUG version with 2d6+skill rating used to resolve most tasks.

My group was involved in the playtest of the Decipher game. I don't think its a violation of the NDA that we were amused to discover a problem with the soak rules allowed a Klingon to walk away from a train landing on him. That rule was fixed in the released version. We discovered a Klingon game was a great way to really test out the action system. And it was a heck of a lot of fun. 

The core book, the Player's Guide, had a good system but suffered organizationally - it was pretty tough to decipher (sorry about the pun) the proper steps to generate a character. Actual play was really smooth as I recall, though sadly I didn't get to play as much of this game as I did others. My gaming group went through a number of hiccups at this time, with people moving, people having kids (raises hand), people losing their jobs (raises hand). The line produced a number of supplements, but it seems Decipher was having some pretty big money problems which led to a rather awkward release schedule.

Perhaps my favorite part of the game for me was the Starships book. For two reasons - I love starships. And both the late Corgi Loki and I are Easter eggs in it. On the section about the Constitution-class, under notable starships you will find: 
In 2269, under the command of Commodore Dan Stack, the Kongo successfully observed the primitive civilization on Muldoon IV, located between the twin stars Loki and Thor.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Examining D6 Force Powers within the Star Wars Canon



I recently saw on Blue Max Studios a reference to The Force Accounted, an analysis of all the times the Force is actually used in the prequel and classic Star Wars trilogies. The authors determine there are ten Force powers used in these six films. They are:

  1. Force Leap - A supernaturally high or long jump. Used very frequently in the prequels and occasionally by Luke.
  2. Sense - Amplified physical and metaphysical senses - sensing danger, disturbances in the Force, impressions of the feelings of others, visions of the future and events far away. This is probably how Luke blew up the Death Star, using his Sense instead of his computer as well as fighting blind in his training.
  3. Telekinesis
  4. Force Push - Arguably part of Telekinesis
  5. Force Lightning - Only used by Palpatine and Dooku
  6. Jedi Mind Trick - Interestingly, only used by light siders. Probably includes Obi-Wan sneaking around the Death Star and distracting stormtroopers with false sounds.
  7. Force Spirit - Communication with the dead. 
  8. Telepathy - Sending and receiving messages. Not done incredibly often in the films - Luke and Leia in Empire Strikes Back, Vader and Luke in Empire Strikes Back,  Palpatine and Anakin in Revenge of the Sith are the only two instances I can think of (the authors include actual mind reading under Sense).
  9. Force Choke - Usually used by those on the Dark Side, but used by Luke in Return of the Jedi.
  10. Burst of Speed - A quick sprint, as used by Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon in the Phantom Menace
It's a pretty comprehensive list, though I think there might be a few missing. I'm not certain how they'd classify Vader blocking Han's blaster fire and Yoda absorbing Force Lightning - it seems that the D6 game's Absorb/Dissipate Energy is still applicable. I'm also a little unclear how "Jedi reflexes" fit into this - Anakin and Luke's exceptional piloting abilities. It's possible that might fit under Sense as they are able to react to things before they happen. Burst of Speed seems an odd power in there too - only performed once and then never used again. If I were to divide these into the traditional D6 Control/Sense/Alter, I believe it would be:
  • Control - Force Leap, Burst of Speed, Absorb/Dissipate Energy (added by me)
  • Sense - Sense, Telepathy
  • Alter - Telekinesis, Force Push, Force Lightning, Jedi Mind Trick, Force Choke
I'd probably make Force Spirit more of a special effect/plot point - it seems unlikely a Force user would have cause to use it in a game.

Let's take a look at the Force powers as expressed in Star Wars RPG. I'm using the 1st Edition list (though sorted alphabetically).


Skill(s)
Power
Notes
Control
Absorb/Dissipate Energy
Seen in films (though not in The Force Accounted)
Accelerate Healing
Doesn’t appear to be direct evidence for this
Contort/Escape
Control Disease
Control Pain
Detoxify Poison
Hibernation Trance
Remain Conscious
Resist Stun
Sense
Instinctive Astrogation
Possibly appropriate though I’m not convinced Luke’s trip to Dagobah is representative of this
Life Sense
Used to track a specific individual; seems appropriate given Darth Vader sensing Obi-Wan
Magnify Senses
Doesn’t appear to be evidence for this
Receptive Telepathy
Seen in films
Sense Force
Seen in films
Alter
Injure/Kill
Doesn’t appear to be evidence for this
Telekinesis
Seen in films
Control + Sense
Farseeing
Seen in films; possibly make part of Sense
Projective Telepathy
Seen in films; possibly make part of Sense
Control + Alter
xxx Another xxx
As with Control equivalent
Inflict Pain
Doesn’t appear to be evidence for this
Transfer Force
Doesn’t appear to be evidence for this
Control + Sense + Alter
Affect Mind
Jedi Mind Trick; possibly make part of Alter
Telekinetic Kill
Force Choke power; would probably make just part of Alter

Looking at this, we see that the D6 game has a number of powers dedicated to mastery of the body - remaining conscious, resisting poison, etc. While I state there doesn't appear to be evidence for those feats in the films, none of them seem massively out of scope with what one might reasonably expect from a Jedi. There is some reason to believe some sort of injury treatment is applicable given Obi-Wan doing something to both Padme and to Luke in Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope. The healing powers of Jedi are probably limited to enhancing the body's natural abilities - massive healing abilities is actually suggested at being something that is part of the Dark Side in Revenge of the Sith.

The D6 game probably could use a bit of help with some of the more athletic feats performed by Jedi. The 2nd edition has the Enhance Attribute but I tend to think that's a bit overpowered. It probably wouldn't be massively out of balance to allow Control to be used in place of various athletic skills such as running and jumping, especially given my potential house rule as to always doubling the cost of improving a Force skill.

Force Push probably doesn't need to be a separate power from Telekinesis - perhaps it can be treated as a brawling attack using the Force. Light sided Jedi use this pretty frequently in the prequels, indicating it's probably not an automatic Dark Side Point. Force Lightning is not on this list at all, though other Star Wars RPG books have it should it be needed.

The D6 also doesn't quite explain the "Jedi reflexes" mentioned above. Here I'm inclined to possibly chalk this up to mere Force sensitivity and the possession of Force points, as well as a high rating/natural aptitude explained through the Force.

It does seem the 1st edition actually does an awfully good job representing the Force powers of the classic trilogy. 

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Film Review: Ghostbusters (2016)

"I guess he's going to Queens - he's going to be the third scariest thing on that train."



I'm not certain why but the reboot of Ghostbusters is a bit of a target for people who like using terms like "feminist SJW". So I'll air my own prejudices - I'm probably what most people who hate "social justice warriors" would consider a "social justice warrior".

With that out of the way, how was the film? I'll put it in the category of a lot of fun but not a masterpiece. It has some tough competition - the 1984 Ghostbusters is a comic masterpiece and it is difficult to conceive of a picture standing up to it. Overall, the original clearly remains superior but I don't feel the new film has anything to be ashamed of.

The basic plot is similar to that of the original - straight-laced physic professor Erin Gilbert is up for tenure when a ghost book she cowrote years ago with her childhood friend, Abby Yates, gets published. This does not help her tenure quest. The fact that her obstacle is played by Charles Dance (Game of Thrones' Tywin Lannister) helps immensely. 

Erin winds up getting into the ghost hunting business with Abby and her partner (in the research sense, though there is a bit of sexual tension there too) Jillian Holtzmann. These scientist/engineer folks are joined by NYC Transit Worker Patty Tolan. They also hire a dumb-as-rocks secretary, Kevin, played by the "unbelievably gorgeous eye candy" Chris Hemsworth (paraphrasing my wife who I'm starting to suspect has ulterior motives for wanting to see the Avengers and Thor movies). For those paying attention, the genders of all the main characters from the original film have been flipped - though the races remain intact, four white characters and one black one. 

I suppose the plot at this point is pretty obvious - there is an outbreak of ghosts in New York City and our Ghostbusters are putting a stop to it. Since it is a comedy, I guess the important thing is how well the humor works.

My wife and I were laughing quite a bit. Probably the highlight of the movie for me was Kate McKinnon's performance as Holtzmann. She was very much the Egon of the group with a very effective physical humor - dancing while shooting fire (and a fire extinguisher), awkwardly violating personal spaces, etc. She also had a killer delivery at the right times. It was also enjoyable to see most of the stars from the original film show up - especially Bill Murry as a professional skeptic. I was a little disappointed that the film was not simply a continuation of the original films, but I can understand the filmmakers wanting a clean slate. Thankfully, they took advantage of that with a setting that has no real belief in the supernatural. 

What of the "social justice warrior" aspects of the film? Clearly the gender swapping was a deliberate choice. I think it worked well - there were definitely certain moments that played differently given the Ghostbusters were all ladies. But it's not as if every scene was all "we are women, hear us roar!" There really wasn't much in the way of sexual relationships in this film - clearly Erin was lusting after Kevin, but it wasn't particularly important to the story as was the Peter Venkman-Dana Barrett relationship of the first film. If women in these roles help get my daughters into some geeky humor, so much the better. 

Maybe I'll look through my old West End Games' Ghostbusters stuff a bit more... 


Wednesday, July 13, 2016

RPG Review: Fate Accelerated


Fate is a difficult system for me to grok. I like it conceptually, but I have a difficult time when it comes to running it. 

Fate is what's considered a narrative game. Instead of modeling a simulation of the reality of the RPG setting, it is designed at supporting a story. I've seen arguments as to whether or not this makes it a "real" RPG. I think the whole debate is a bit silly, dealing with issues of "bad wrong fun". Truthfully the challenges I have with it are largely a function of me being a grizzled gaming grognard, gaming since the early 1980's. To paraphrase Yoda, I must unlearn what I have learned. I've a hunch that I'd actually have an easier time grokking Fate were I to know less. 

Overview

With that prelude behind us, let's take a look at the Fate Accelerated game. It is a variant of the Fate Core game. Fate Core looks a lot like what one would expect from an RPG book - pretty thick, lots of skills, stunts, etc. Fate Accelerated is much, much shorter, weighing in at 50 pages. Let's take a look at the character sheet:

And let us also take a look at a sample character:


OK we'll begin by walking through the character sheet. At the top of the character sheet we find Current Fate Points and Refresh. At the start of each session you start with your Refresh in Fate Points, unless you ended the last session with more. We'll talk about what those are for in a bit. 

A character in Fate Accelerated has five aspects - one high concept, one trouble, and three other Aspects. I'll quote page 8 of the rules below to summarize Aspects:

An aspect is a word, phrase, or sentence that describes something centrally important to your character. It can be a motto your character lives by, a personality quirk, a description of a relationship you have with another character, an important possession or bit of equipment your character has, or any other part of your character that is vitally important. 
Aspects allow you to change the story in ways that tie in with your character’s tendencies, skills, or problems. You can also use them to establish facts about the setting, such as the presence of magic or the existence of a useful ally, dangerous enemy, or secret organization.
It sounds as if aspects are just descriptors but they play a huge part in Fate. They are tied into Fate Points. They enable you to do things you couldn't otherwise do such as fly, cast spells, parry blaster bolts, etc. They are used by your opponents against you and by you for your own benefit. Therefore the best aspects are double edged. Looking at Abigail up above, we see she has an Aspect entitled "I hate those guys in Cyclops house". This tells us there is a Cyclops house and she hates them. Obviously they are going to play a major role in the game.  When performing tasks, Abigail can spend a Fate point to get a bonus if she can justify it with any of her aspects. For example, were she in a race to finish brewing a potion before a member of Cyclops house she could spend a Fate point to get a +2 bonus. On the other hand, someone trying to get her upset could use that aspect against her, giving her a -2 penalty or them a +2 bonus against her - but she gets a Fate point for the trouble. Or the aspect could compel her to do something she might not otherwise want to do - for example, were she to see a member of Cyclops house bullying a first year student, she might be compelled to intervene. If she does, she gets a Fate point. To resist, she has to spend a Fate point. As you can see, you want some bad things to happen to you. And your trouble aspect is designed to be a magnet for bad things (though a creative player could find ways to make it positive as well).

We also see Approaches. When performing actions, how you perform it is of highest importance. For example, Abigail is best at being Sneaky. If she casts a spell which relies on sneakiness she gets a +3 bonus. For example, an invisibility spell would likely rely on sneakiness. On the other hand, were she want to race on a broomstick she'd probably use Quick, where she only gets a +1. However, depending on the nature of the race she might be able to pull in other approaches. For example, if she were to spin her broom around and charge into a pursuer she might use Forceful. As one might imagine, this requires a lot of give and take with the GM. While I was referring to magic, she'd use these approaches for any action. For example, trying to walk across a sheet of ice would likely use Careful. Maybe she'd whip out a Fireball using Forceful to melt the ice - but that might have other consequences. 

When you roll in Fate, you roll four Fate dice (AKA Fudge dice). They are each marked with 2 plus signs, 2 minus signs, and 2 blank faces. You total the pluses and minuses with your approach rating as well as any other bonuses or penalties.

We've also got stunts. These allow for alterations to the rules. There are two types of stunts in Fate Accelerated. The one listed in Abigail's character sheet is of the type that once per game session allows her to have something happen automatically, with no roll required. The other type is one that gives you a bonus under certain circumstances such as:

A character can have up to three stunts to start and keep his or her Refresh at 3. Every additional stunt takes away a point of Refresh. As a character gains more experience their Approaches and Refresh can be increased. 

We can also see Stress and Consequences. Before we get into those its important to discuss the types of actions a character can perform in Fate Accelerated. I am going to give a very simple version of each of these. They are:
  • Create an advantage: Do something to create an aspect or discover one. For example, were the Dothraki Khals be screaming all the horrible things they are going to do, you might Flashily tip over a giant lamp to create the aspect "the tent is on fire!". Or you might sneakily feint in a sword fight to make your opponent off-balance. Succeed and you get a free invocation of the aspect as well as creating it. But at any point a character can spend a Fate point to use an aspect. 
  • Overcome: So your off-balance. Or the room is on fire. You can use Overcome to get rid of that aspect. Of course you'll need to narratively be able to justify it. You can also use Overcome to do something like pick a lock or dodge around or under a guard.
  • Attack: Not just with weapons, you can attack with words. You could, for example, try to destroy a foe's reputation. The Hulk would likely use Forceful to attack. Harry Dresden, not one for subtly, probably uses either Forceful or Flashy when shooting fire. See also Defend below.
  • Defend: You can automatically use a Defend action to protect yourself. As with all actions, you decide what approach to use for defending. The GM might rule some are inappropriate depending on the circumstance, or apply some penalty. 
Now that we've got the actions behind us, what are the consequences of being attacked? If your attacker beats your defense, whether with sword or with words, you take stress. However many points you are beaten by is how much stress you take. The first stress box can absorb 1 stress, the second 2, and the third 3. If you find a single stress box to fully absorb the stress you can also take consequences - a mild consequence can absorb 2 stress, a moderate 4, a severe 6. A consequence is a type of aspect, pretty much always negative, so foes can use it against you. Working with the GM you describe the consequence. Stress boxes recover at the end of the scene, as do mild consequences, assuming you get a chance to breathe. A moderate consequence clears at the end of the session after the current one and a major at the end of scenario. That should guide the description of the consequences. For example, a mild consequence might be a "twisted ankle". A moderate one might be something like "caught cheating on boyfriend". A major one might be "broken leg", "bleeding out from gunshot wound", "caught having an affair with an intern". It stays with you for a long time. It might be modified as time passes - for example "bleeding out" might become "partially healed gunshot wound". Someone could still use a Fate point to use it against you - or take a create an advantage action.

One thing you'll notice isn't in the book is an equipment list. Equipment is very much a freeform exercise. It can enable you to do things - for example, without a gun you wouldn't be able to take an action to shoot someone. And it could be an aspect if it is important enough to your character. It might also be part of a stunt.

So that's the very high level view. The book itself can be downloaded for free at RPGNow so it's absolutely something you could check out for yourself.

My Opinion

I mentioned I've had trouble grokking Fate. I've described it pretty well, so my challenge is not in the understanding the rules. What I have trouble with is properly leveraging aspects. If one is not used to this type of game, they are easy to forget about - at least in my experience. And if that happens the spending and gaining of Fare point rapidly slows down. Which is a bad thing in a game called Fate.

The reason I'm reviewing Fate Accelerated is were I to experiment in Fate, this is probably the flavor I would make use of. Fate Core is a lot more traditional, having skills in place of approaches. I think for me to fully engage in the assumptions of Fate I need to break a bit further away from the traditional models. I also like the extremely brief length of the book - not only is it just fifty pages long, but those pages are not dense and contain many "30-second summaries" of rules. This makes it a lot easier for me to point to the free download of the game to my players and have them able to be fully on board with the rules. Should we give it a try I'll do a follow-up of this review.

Overall, I like the simplicity of this set of rules. It definitely takes a bit of mental gymnastics and trust between players and GM. If you're looking for a tactical simulation type of game, you should run away from Fate (or grab a copy and throw it into the fires of Mount Doom). If you're looking for a narrative game, I think this would make for a good choice. I would strongly suggest all players be on board with a basic understanding the rules - my attempts at Fate Core games with people unfamiliar with Fate went so-so - not bad, but not with aspects and Fate points flying.

Disclaimer

I've been poking through some of my more narrative games lately (Firefly, Fate, and Urban Shadows) and had been thinking of giving a review. Evil Hat is soliciting reviews in July as entries into a contest. I'm going to enter it, but I don't think that constitutes a purchased review. Though I'd not say no to an advanced copy of Dresden Files Accelerated...


Monday, July 11, 2016

Using the Force in D6 Star Wars


Defending yourself with just 1D in Sense is not easy, as Luke discovers when training with a remote.

My previous post discussed the proto-D6 System as found in the Ghostbusters RPG. For those unfamiliar with the D6 System and the way it does the Force (or for a brief review) the essentials are:
  • You roll a bunch of six sided dice against a target number, typically ranging from 5-ish (easy) to 20 or even higher. Your rating is listed as something like 2D+2 which means roll 2d6+2.
  • By default, most normal/non-heroic people have 2D in most stats. 
  • Starting heroes will might have their best skill be at 5D or a touch higher.
  • You can take as many actions as you want in a round. However, taking two actions in a round reduces all dice codes by 1D, taking three reduces all by 2D, etc.
  • Starting with Force skills will lower a characters starting attributes. Unlike most skills they start off at 1D. There are three Force skills - control, sense, and alter.
    • Control lets you control the Force within you. It allows you to resist the effects of injury, accelerate your healing etc.
    • Sense lets you see the Force - see into the future, make hyperspace jumps without a computer, etc.
    • Alter lets you control the Force away from you. It is handy for lifting up rocks.
  • Many Force powers require using 2 or 3 skills. For example the Jedi Mind Trick, Affect Mind, uses all three. If you use them all in one round then you make three skill rolls, each at -2D. Or you could spread it out over three rounds (which could be a way of interpreting what Rey did when she used a Jedi Mind Trick in The Force Awakens).
From my own experiences, the Force system is probably the weakest part of West End Games' Star Wars RPG. It suffers from the famous linear fighters, quadratic wizards problem. Essentially, a Force user will most likely be weaker than his teammates. However, he will eventually reach a point where he is equal to them but very quickly will move to the point where he is parrying a half dozen blaster bolts, taking out every foe in one round with his lightsaber (which does an insane amount of damage), etc. When I was considering this problem after my Ghostbusters post I came upon a blog post by Blue Max Studios beginning an exploration into this very area. I'm very curious to see where this explanation leads to.

For myself, part of me speculates this might be an academic exercise - truthfully, I think Fantasy Flight Games catches the balance pretty well in their Star Wars RPGs and I suspect were I to resume our Star Wars game  I'd likely use their system.

But, I have a soft spot in my heart for the original Star Wars game and I might be swayed to break it out again. With that in mind, I can't help myself but to at least consider these issues.

The first question would have to be is it broken at all? Perhaps it is simply genre emulation and powerful Jedi should absolutely overshadow non-Jedi. I'm not certain that is true though. Considering all of the Star Wars films, I can think of a number of occasions when a non-Force user held his own against a Force user:
  • The Jedi Mind Trick never, ever works against anyone but a minor foe. Luke can't use it against Jabba, Qui-Gon can't use it against Watto. 
  • The best example is probably the battle between Obi-Wan Kenobi and Jango Fett in Attack of the Clones. Multiple battles actually, on Kamino and in space. They are clearly evenly matched.
  • Han Solo and Chewbaaca against Darth Vader in A New Hope. No one else even comes close to hurting Vader in the Battle of Yavin.
  • Chewbacca against Kylo Ren in The Force Awakens. Chewbacca lands a nasty injury on Ren which clearly affects him in his battle against Finn and Rey. Indeed, while Finn is clearly outmatched against Ren, he still holds him off long enough for Rey to take up the battle.

This is not to suggest a Jedi Knight should not be a powerful character. But at the same time, it is important to note that most of the opposition in the galaxy is the grunt variety - consider an aged Han Solo still being more than a match for the First Order's stormtroopers. There should be other powerful characters besides Jedi.

So what can be done to improve things? I'm not 100% sure. There's a few things that come to mind.

Lightsaber Combat


The first thing I think of is the lightsaber combat power. It is a power in the 2nd edition only. It requires a control plus sense roll to activate. Once up it allows the user to add control to damage and sense to attack and parry rolls and to use sense to parry blaster bolts. In my experience it was a bit of a problematic power. I would probably simplify things, using 1st edition as a baseline:
  • A character uses lightsaber skill for melee attacks and parries. One can mentally picture the skill coming from the Force. The enhance attribute power, in the 2nd edition, can also provide a boost.
  • A lightsaber does 4D damage. A character's sense rating can be added to this, up to a damage cap of 6D.
  • Sense can be used to parry blaster bolts (and to redirect them).

Scaling Advancement

While a Force skill is not quite as good as an attribute, it is definitely more useful than a skill. While the 2nd edition proposes doubling the improvement cost if a character lacks a teacher, I'd suggest doubling it with a teacher and tripling it without one. This will slow advancement down and also encourage skill points in other areas. To balance this I'd suggest making extremely high ratings both less required and less useful (i.e. over a certain point you have diminishing returns).

Enhancements

I mentioned the enhance attribute up above and I think it is an important power to have - indeed I think it is probably the most important power a Force sensitive character might have, especially if a character is not a Jedi. Consider Anakin, Luke, and Rey - even before they knew anything about the Force they were just good at things. I'd suggest a new Force power, enhance skill.

Enhance Skill 
Control Difficulty: Easy (10)
Effect: On a successful control roll one skill of the character's choice is improved by 1D for 3 rounds. If a Difficult (20) control roll is made the default improvement can be taken or the character can improve one skill by 2D for two rounds or improve two skills by 1D for two rounds. Only one use of enhance skill can be used at a time. It cannot be used to improve a Force skill.  

Multiple Skill Force Powers 

I'm a bit on the fence with multiple skill Force powers - like affect mind requiring a control, sense, and alter roll. Like I mentioned, one could view Rey's attempt at using it in The Force Awakens as spreading out the usage across three rounds. On the other hand, it seems a lot of unnecessary die rolling. I'd be strongly inclined to either:
  • Go the route Wizards of the Coast did and make all powers fit into one of the three skills
  • Have the character make a single die roll at the lowest relevant skill, comparing it with the various difficulties

Affect Mind

I think as seen in the films affect mind is a bit over powered - the Jedi Mind Trick, as mentioned, never really worked against anyone important. I don't have an obvious solution at this time, it's just something on my mind.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Ghostbusters RPG and the D6 System



In the early 2000s one of the complaints I recall about Wizards of the Coast's d20-based Star Wars RPG  was it was simply "D&D in space" vs. the previous Star Wars RPG as put out by West End Games. While I had a number of fun Star Wars games using the d20 versions, I have to confess to a bit of a preferences for the West End Games versions. Though in a sense, you could have called that game "Ghostbusters in space".

Alas, my copies of Ghostbusters suffered in the regrettable basement flood several years ago triggered by the kiddies forgetting to turn off the bathroom sink. Oops. I've managed to reassemble some bits of it and hypothetically speaking there might be some scanned copies out there. Of course with the new movie coming out I saw a copy of the original RPG going for $3000.00 on Amazon. I'm thinking some automatic pricing algorithm is going a little loony right there...

Anyways, recently flipping through the original version of the game I was amused to recall it was written by Chaosium. There is a certain amount of amusement knowing they did both Call of Cthulhu and Ghostbusters. I suppose that covers the extreme ends of the supernatural spectrum, from cosmic horror to a humorous take on the supernatural.

Also, unless I am mistaken, the Ghostbusters RPG represents the first appearance of the D6 System, made famous by the Star Wars RPG. It's in a basic and primitive form, though given it is for a humorous RPG, that is largely as it should be. It has four attributes - Brains, Cool, Moves, and Muscles. Each of these is rated by a number, representing the number of D6 you roll when a character uses that attribute, rolling against some difficulty number. You also have one talent for each attribute - essentially a single skill, which gives you a bonus of 3 dice when using that attribute for that talent.

Characters have Brownie Points which kind of work both like a sort of hero point mechanic as well as hit points. You can use them to get extra dice and to avoid nasty things happening to you. And when you are hurt, the damage comes out of Brownie Points - though the damage rules are very light, with just rough guidelines for how much damage you take from physical attacks. The rules for combat with ghosts are actually a bit more detailed - though given the subject matter for the game, that seems pretty reasonable.

And in a sneak preview of the Wild Die (which would not be used in the 1st edition of the Star Wars RPG), there's also the Ghost Die, with a ghost on one of the faces, indicating something pretty lousy has happened. Every dice pool needs to use it as one of the dice.

The tone of the game is very, very light, with anecdotes and asides from the main characters of the Ghostbusters film. You can play one of them or you can make your own franchise.

My own experience with Ghostbusters was of playing the occasional standalone game of it. For some reason I'm getting a vision of adapting a few Call of Cthulhu adventures for it.

It's interesting to note that with its first RPG of Paranoia and its second Ghostbusters, the first RPG efforts from West End Games were of a rather humorous nature - darkly humorous in the case of Paranoia. They both had rather good production values for their day, with Ghostbusters having many in-universe artifacts like franchise agreements, last wills and testaments, etc. One of the appealing things about the Star Wars RPG was its continuation of such production values and genre emulation, with dueling propaganda from the Empire and Rebel Alliance, advertisements for R2 units, etc.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

HP Lovecraft as an Unreliable Narrator

“Yeah, well, if you put too much faith in rumors in this game you’re going to wake up dead, like all the folks who thought H. P. Lovecraft was a tour guide, not a mad uncle in the attic.”

- The Nightmare Stacks by Charles Stross



I've been giving some thoughts as to resuming our group's Call of Cthulhu game later this year. I'm finding I'm missing the insanity that is the worlds of HP Lovecraft.

One thing that came to me a while back was how I'd reconcile the timeline. After all, the US Government raid on Innsmouth doesn't happen until 1928. The events of "The Dunwich Horror" also reach a climax in 1928. The Pabodie expedition takes place in 1931. We know who it is that deals with Wilbur Whateley and his brother. 

Unless, of course, I decide that Lovecraft can't be fully trusted. It's an idea I got from Stross' Laundry Files series and the Atomic Robo portrayal of Lovecraft. The idea is HP Lovecraft learns of the major events of the Mythos and turns them into stories - which may diverge from the "actual" events in our campaign. It's a totally unnecessary conceit, but it's the sort of thing that appeals to me with my need to make everything "fit".


And Lovecraft would be rather horrified by our non-exclusively white group of investigators. So were he to get wind of some of the stories he'd be sure to "clean them up" a bit. Was it really Henry Armitage who dealt with the Dunwich Horror? Or was it his African-American assistant librarian?




Image Credit - Atomic Robo, Vol. 3: Shadow From Beyond Time by Brian Clevinger and Scott Wegener