Star Wars RPG, Fantasy Flight style

Hey everybody!
Game Day is upon us once more here at spalanz.com, and today I’m taking a brief look at the Star Wars role playing game system from Fantasy Flight Games, which is kinda involved, so this blog may get a little sprawling! I’ve previously looked at Star Wars RPG systems from West End Games (here!) and Wizards of the Coast (here!), so this is just the latest in the illustrious line of such products! Let’s get to it!

Star Wars RPG

The Star Wars license has been held by FFG since 2011, though they had a few problems with both their card game and the X-Wing miniatures game, so they didn’t actually publish any games for roughly a year after procuring the license. At GenCon 2012, they unveiled the RPG system as a tri-part thing, three distinct books that would focus on three distinct aspects of the galaxy far, far away, but all of which would be compatible with each other. The first of these to come out was Edge of the Empire in 2013, which dealt with the galactic fringe. It was followed by Age of Rebellion in 2014, which dealt with the military of the rebellion, and finally Force and Destiny in 2015, dealing with Force users and the Jedi remnant.

Each of these core rulebooks also came with a Beginner Game, which featured maps and tokens, as well as a slim beginner adventure that teaches you the game as you play, and of course the dice you need. The Star Wars RPG was designed by Jay Little, who had previously been behind the Warhammer Fantasy Roleplaying series, and is a huge lover of custom dice.

But before we get into that, let’s take a look at the character stuff!

When you play the RPG system from Fantasy Flight, you create your character as is standard for such things, picking a species and career, the latter giving you a choice of three specializations. For example, using the Edge of the Empire book, you might choose to be a Twi’lek Explorer, which will give you a choice of following the Fringer, Scout or Trader specializations. Each of these three has a unique talent tree in the book that describes the arc your character can expect to follow. The way that character creation works in this system is quite closely driven by story, and the book constantly asks you to think about this when you go through to make your character.

In addition to this, there is a further level added to the creation of your character that is somewhat unique to each strand of the RPG. For Edge of the Empire, that level is called Obligation, and represents “a debt, nemesis, duty or other motivating factor that drives your character’s efforts on the fringes of galactic society.” (The mechanic returns as Duty in Age of Rebellion, and Motivation in Force and Destiny). A lot of RPGs use this story element to help propel the story forward, and a good GM will be able to weave these sorts of strands together as a part of his or her overall narrative to tell a truly immersive story.

Star Wars RPG

So, what about the dice?

There are a number of different dice in the game, which all help to tell the narrative of the game you’re playing. Narrative dice? Yep, you heard that right. As a player, you have a pool of these dice that you roll when specified by a particular task. Dice can be added to or taken away from your pool by the GM to help reflect the narrative better.

The blue and the black d6 are boost and setback dice, and are added to the pool to reflect the fact that your character might be particularly good at what he or she is doing, or might be trying to accomplish a task under fire.

The green and the purple d8 are ability and difficulty dice, and reflect the core of how good or bad at accomplishing a task your character may be.

Finally, the yellow and the red d12 are proficiency and challenge dice, and act as modifiers to the d8 versions, either reflective of just how good or how bad your character may be.

There are, of course, a whole bunch of symbols on these dice, and the way they interact can appear a little daunting at first. However, once you get into it, the dice are actually fairly straightforward to deal with. Adding and subtracting dice, cancelling one result with another, it all becomes fairly straightforward. The beauty of the system, however, lies in the real narrative possibilities of these dice – they don’t just tell you if you succeeded or failed at a task, but help to tell the story by telling you how well or badly you did:

The dice do take some getting used to, don’t get me wrong, but they’re certainly one of the most interesting aspects of this game system!

While the Force can be used in Edge of the Empire, it didn’t really come to the fore until 2015’s Force and Destiny. Force powers work much like any other skill, of course, and you roll the white d12 to see how many Force points you roll to use on powers. Force and Destiny brought the Heal, Misdirect and the classic Battle Meditation powers to the fore, with each power following a tree akin to the career options, and as your character advances through the game, he or she can essentially level up within a chosen discipline.

The RPG has had a fair number of expansions for each of the three strands at this point, with adventure modules and sourcebooks for many of the career options available to help immerse yourself in the Star Wars universe. Naturally, Edge of the Empire has seen the majority of these, though the others are catching up. The interesting thing to note about the way these expansion books work is how specialized they are. While there have been a handful of sourcebooks on locations (such as the Corellian sector’s Suns of Fortune), and of course, adventure modules, the sourcebooks are predominantly focused around a career path, meaning that you won’t want to buy every single book if you’re playing a Colonist, for example. I find this interesting because it’s a much more consumer-friendly way of expanding the game than previous editions, which have usually incorporated rules that everybody would want to get their hands on within all manner of different books. Unfortunately, I haven’t had a RPG group for a while now, so I don’t know if this is still the case, but I’ve heard of groups where the GM buys everything and lets the group make use of it, as well as people picking and choosing what they get. If you’re heavily invested in just one player character type, then, you could feasibly get away with just buying one book, plus the core rules.

FFG have also released The Force Awakens beginner game, which has so far not led into a fourth branch of the RPG, but rather felt more like a bit of a cash-grab. It’s a good way to introduce people to the game system who may have only jumped in once the film was released, of course, though the system is otherwise flexible enough that I would imagine you could set your games wherever you liked in the timeline. Notably, while some mention of now-Legends stuff has been made, there aren’t any “Knights of the Old Republic sourcebook” style products; instead, the system feels a little bland by giving you all the tools you need to create an adventure entirely of your own choice. I say “a little bland”, because I think I’d prefer to tie my adventures more firmly into the narrative – certainly, that’s how I’ve run campaigns in the past – but by structuring the game in this way, FFG have actually left the universe pretty wide open. I mentioned in my Saga Edition blog that WotC ended their run on the RPG with a sourcebook that provided you with all of the tools you would need to forge a narrative entirely on your own; well, FFG started at that point, and have continued to provide books that are more along the lines of helpful nudges than hard-line stuff.

Star Wars RPG

All in all, I have strangely mixed feelings about the FFG role playing game. I want to like it – heck, I want to love it – but I’ve never quite been able to truly dive in. I think I enjoyed my time with Saga Edition so much, I just want to keep a hold of my d20s and never let go! That is my idea of a Star Wars RPG. Strangely, then, I think I’ve become the crazy old guy who shouts at the kids with their new fancy dice (though I’m not as bad as the guys who still play the West End Games version…)

Welcome to New Phyrexia

Hey everybody,
I’ve been thinking about doing something on the plane of New Phyrexia for a while now, as it’s one of the more fascinating aspects of Magic the Gathering lore to me. So sit back and enjoy the oil-slicked ride through metallic hell, as we take a look at what once was Mirrodin!

New Phyrexia

New Phyrexia was the 55th expansion for Magic the Gathering, released in May 2011 as the third set in the Scars of Mirrodin block. The storyline of the block is really what I want to focus on today, though I also have a deck that I’d like to share involving some of my all-time favourite cards from the set.

So, back in the day, the arch-villain of MtG lore Yawgmoth had been using the process of phyresis to cure ailments among the Thran people of Dominaria, a controversial process that earned Yawgmoth the worship of his creations, but he was declared a traitor among the Thran themselves. Yawgmoth took his knowledge to the plane of Phyrexia and refined his ideas, creating an entire kingdom of these half-dead, half-metallic things. Over time, the Phyrexians plotted to invade Dominaria and claim the plane for their own, but in this they were thwarted by the temporal bridge between Dominaria and Phyrexia being sealed.

New Phyrexia

During the Brothers’ War, Urza and Mishra inadvertently reopened this portal, allowing the Phyrexians access to Dominaria. The Phyrexians, under the leadership of the demon Gix, sided with Mishra, however their plans of invasion were once again thwarted. This pitted Urza against Phyrexia for a long conflict that eventually saw the artificial plane reduced to a smoldering ruin.

Centuries later, the golem Karn built a new plane of mechanical perfection, initially named Argentum, and left the construct Memnarch as ruler. Memnarch, however, was corrupted by a black oil from Phyrexia and transformed the plane into Mirrodin, in an attempt to become a Planeswalker like Karn. The oil was somehow sentient, and sought to rebuild Phyrexia on Mirrodin. However, rather than reproducing the original hive mind of Phyrexia, the rebuilding has influenced all five colours of mana, leading to five factions within the military conquest.

These factions are led by the Praetors, which are introduced into the game via their Legendary Creature cards: Elesh Norn, Jin-Gitaxias, Sheoldred, Urabrask and Vorinclex.

New Phyrexia

I think the Praetors are perhaps the most iconic part of the set, with pretty much all of the cards still seeing a lot of play in formats like Commander. Each of the five has a huge effect that impacts the board, often in quite an obnoxious manner:

Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite – buffs your creatures while causing all of those creatures controlled by your opponents -2/-2;
Jin-Gitaxis, Core Augur – you draw cards at the end of your turn, while reducing your opponents’ hand size by seven;
Sheoldred, Whispering One – returns a creature from your graveyard at the beginning of your turn, and forces your opponents to discard theirs;
Urabrask, the Hidden – gives your creatures haste, but causes your opponents’ creatures to enter the battlefield tapped;
Vorinclex, Voice of Hunger – doubles the mana your lands produce, but causes your opponents’ lands not to tap on their next untap step.

These guys can be particularly oppressive, though obviously being creatures, they can be vulnerable.

New Phyrexia

The defining mechanic of Scars of Mirrodin block was Infect, of course – creatures with this mechanic deal damage in the form of -1/-1 counters to other creatures, and poison counters to players; if a player ever has 10 poison counters, he loses the game. While Infect had been featured on black and green creatures in Scars of Mirrodin, then white creatures in Mirrodin Besieged, it finally made it also into red and blue in New Phyrexia.

The set also included “Phyrexian mana”, coloured mana that could alternatively be paid for with 2 life. A very black effect, Phyrexian mana actually appears on 34 cards across all five colours. Additionally, we get some returning mechanics, including Proliferate, which adds another counter of a kind already present on a card or player. Which makes it the perfect partner for Infect, and brings me to my deck!

New Phyrexia

CreaturesĀ 
Butcher of Malakir
Captivating Vampire
Crimson Mage
Falkenrath Exterminator
Guul Draz Assassin (2)
Indulgent Tormentor
Malakir Bloodwitch
Massacre Wurm
Mephidross Vampire
Nirkana Cutthroat (2)
Ob Nixilis, Unshackled
Onyx Mage
Quag Vampires (3)
Rakish Heir (2)
Sheoldred, Whispering One (2)
Stromkirk Captain (2)
Vampire Hexmage (2)

Instants
Grim Affliction (2)
Uncanny Speed
Vampiric Fury (2)
Volt Charge (2)

Enchantment
Lightning Talons (2)
Raid Bombardment (2)

Land
Akoum Refuge (2)
Blackcleave Cliffs
Blood Crypt (2)
Dragonskull Summit
Lavaclaw Reaches (2)
Molten Slagheap (2)
Sulfurous Springs (2)
Swamp (6)
Mountain (6)

This deck has been evolving from something much more Phyrexian, into a more general kind of black/red punishment style of deck. I was trying to evolve it into a Modern viable deck, looking at more lower-CMC cards, and I’ve purposefully started to invest in shock lands for this reason! Sheoldred is still in charge here, of course, and rather than going a bit half-assed with some Infect creatures, I’ve instead decided to use Proliferate cards to work in tandem with the Vampire mechanic of adding +1/+1 counters when they deal damage. Proliferate will also work with the storage lands, and the level-up cards, though I’ve since removed some of these.

There are still a couple of cards that I’m thinking about swapping out, but it’s been fun to pilot so far!

Battlelore!

Hey everybody!
It’s part two of my game day blog special thing, looking at two games on the Battlelore system. Following last week’s look at Battles of Westeros, it’s time to take a look at the fantasy version, Battlelore itself!

Battlelore

The second edition of the game, Battlelore came out late in 2013. Set in the same universe as the hugely popular Runebound, but featuring the factions that we’ve all come to expect from Terrinoth in this post-Runewars age, the game pits the human Daqan Lords against the abominable Uthuk Y’llan. The game is a pretty strategic tabletop wargame, and prior to the launch of the Runewars miniatures game earlier this year, I’d have said it was probably the premier such game from Fantasy Flight.

If you’ve read my Battles of Westeros blog from last week, you’ll have a fair idea for what to expect from this game, as well. I think Battlelore is the more enjoyable game, in part because the fantasy theme elevates it somewhat from the gritty battles in the earlier game. There are also a number of different elements changed in Battlelore that make it just more interesting, to me! Let’s take a look at some of them now.

Battlelore

The system is of course going to be similar to BoW, so it should be no surprise that there is a Command Card system that is used as the main mechanic. You order your troops about the field by selecting from a hand of cards, and then over the course of the round those orders are carried out. That does make it sound quite simplistic, of course, and I think it’s important to note that there is a tremendous amount of strategy involved here, as you try to ensure you manoeuvre your troops into the best possible position.

Battlelore

The troops have similar-looking cards to those in BoW, but I just want to talk a moment about the deployment here. The game also comes with those smaller cards shown at the bottom of the above picture. These deployment cards all have the same back, and at the start of the game you pick these cards out and place them in the hexes on your side of the board face-down. There are also Decoy cards, so an element of bluffing is introduced as to where your big threats actually are.

There is also a really cool element to both army building and scenario generation for the game. Similar to BoW, there are scenarios to play through, though rather than having the prescriptive feel of Westeros, here the scenario is generated by players each taking a scenario card, which shows one half of the battlefield board, and marks out their deployment zone as well as detailing victory conditions. It’s a really interesting way to ensure the game feels fresh whenever you play.

Additionally, armies are generated by a points-based system. Those small deployment cards show the points of each unit as a “muster value” in the bottom-left corner. Armies are generally costed up to 50 points, and the game comes with a few suggestions for each of the factions within.

 

Battlelore

So how does combat work?

Well, there are fancy dice that you throw, the number of dice being equal to the attack value (in the red circle) of the attacking unit. The dice have sword symbols for melee attacks, and bullseye symbols for ranged attacks, and for each hit you score, you remove a model from the unit. Each unit in Battlelore also has special abilities that can take place during combat, adding to these basic mechanics. It makes combat fairly straightforward overall, anyway!

If that’s the battle, what about the lore?

Battlelore

The dice also have a weird diamond symbol on them, which is the lore symbol. This allows you to gain one lore token – these tokens are then used to play Lore cards that can have different effects over the course of the game. Each faction has their own distinct deck, which allows for the theme to come through quite strongly here. As you can see in the picture above, the cards show when they can be played, but there is still a very strong element of strategic depth to how you use these effects over the course of a game.

In a fairly broad nutshell, that’s it! Battlelore is not the sort of game that I get to play a lot, primarily I think because of the wargame aspect it has. Similar story to Battles of Westeros, really! However, it is a great deal of fun to play, and there have been a good deal of expansions to the game over the last four years, from “Reinforcement Packs” that feature a single miniature that you can draft into your army, to the Undead faction released back in 2015. The symmetry with Runewars has been off for a while of course, as we still haven’t had the Latari Elves released for the game – and now that the Runewars miniatures game has landed with such force, it has me wondering what the future of Battlelore will be. I can’t claim to have any insider knowledge, of course, but anecdotal evidence seems to be supporting the idea that Runewars miniatures game is selling well, perhaps due to its appeal to the disenfranchised Warhammer Fantasy players. Given the fact that Runewars miniatures and Battlelore have such close parallels as to almost be the same game, it makes me wonder if we’ll actually see any further support for it, or if instead the game will just quietly sit in the inventory as Runewars had been for so many years before it.

I suppose only time will tell on that front!