Deathwatch!

Hey everybody!
It’s another game day here at spalanz.com, and for today’s blog I’m doing something a little different, looking at a game that I’ve never actually played, and don’t think I ever will! But expect a lot of waxing lyrical over the next few paragraphs, as I take a look at the Deathwatch RPG!

One of Fantasy Flight’s four RPGs set in the Warhammer 40k universe, Deathwatch allows you to take on the role of a space marine as part of a Deathwatch kill team, in a variety of adventures, foremost of which are purging the xenos from the galaxy.

The game is played in a d100 system, where you roll 2 d10s and add a modifier, hoping to roll under the target number. For example, your base stats are generated from rolling two d10s and adding 30. The check you attempt will then be against one of these stats, with a modifier to show how easy/hard it is (+30 for easy to -30 for very hard). So if you try to trick somebody who isn’t paying attention, you may have to roll against your fellowship characteristic with a modifier of +30, your target number could therefore be as high as 80. This core mechanic is somewhat confusing to someone like myself, who grew up on the d20 system, but it’s always good to try out new stuff!

There are a few things that work alongside this, and one that is worth mentioning here is the Demeanour mechanic. It’s basically a nice way to get people to do some real roleplaying of their characters at the table – each character has two demeanours, a personal one and a Chapter-based one, but you can only use one of these once in any one game. While some people can be uncomfortable with this sort of thing, I suppose it’s important to point out here that it is a role-playing game, so you should expect to role-play at least a little… To me, at least, it sounds really cool!

Each space marine character has a set of nine characteristics, which manage to evoke both the tabletop wargame as well as classic roleplaying archetypes: weapons skill, ballistics skill, strength, toughness, agility, intelligence, perception, willpower and fellowship. The interesting thing, for me, about the system is its use of solo mode and squad mode, as mentioned in the video trailer above.

As a starting point, FFG published a web scenario, Final Sanction, which acts as an introduction to the game, and is highly recommended for getting into the game. It pits several pre-generated characters against a genestealer horde in a run-down manufactorum complex, that staple of Warhammer 40k lore!

Deathwatch RPG

The game is set in the Jericho Reach, and a wealth of supplementary material has been published that explores that setting, including Necron Tomb Worlds and Tyranid invasions. The core book comes with rules for creating marines from one of six Chapters (Black Templars, Blood Angels, Dark Angels, Space Wolves, Storm Wardens and Ultramarines), though these supplements feature many, many more – my personal favourite was finding out that Novamarines are presented in Honour the Chapter!

One of the draws of this game is always going to be the wide variety of space marine chapters you can choose to base your character upon. Having them all come together as a Deathwatch kill-team is going to cause some problems for unit cohesion, but this is where the solo mode shines, as you can retain that sense of your own chapter tactics, while in squad mode you can work together with your battle brothers to achieve the mission objective. It sounds really awesome, I have to say!

I came to this game late in 2014, when I was first getting into the 40k universe with my Necrons, and was hungering for knowledge about the faction while waiting for the new Codex to drop. The Outer Reach really fired my imagination, not least because of that amazing cover art, and over the months since I’ve bought a few of the books available (as shown above!) While, as I said at the beginning of this blog, I don’t think I’ll ever get the chance to play this game, and it looks like FFG might actually have abandoned it now, it remains an idea that really interests me, and the books remain a constant delight to read through for background, etc.

The Original d6

Hey everybody!
After all of the Star Wars excitement of the past weekend, it’s time for a very special game day today – it’s a blog that I’ve been ruminating over for close to two years, in fact! Let me take you back in time, to the late 1980s, and the original Star Wars Roleplaying Game from West End Games!

Star Wars RPG

This bad boy dates back to 1987, and it still gives me chills to pick up any of the books produced to support the run. I may as well tell you now, this blog will be quite heavily biased in the game’s favour!

The game system is based on West End Games’ d6 Roleplaying System, originally developed for a Ghostbusters RPG. The system is fairly straightforward to use – the core rulebook features a number of templates for characters to use from the off, or you could also create your own character from scratch. Your character has six attributes – dexterity, knowledge, mechanical, perception, strength and technical – along with a number of skills that are grouped under each attribute. These attributes all have a code against them that shows the number of six-sided dice (d6) you roll when making a test involving that attribute, often along with a modifier that would be applied to the final result. When rolling for tests, you need to equal or exceed the opposed result in order to succeed at that test.

Star Wars RPG
My own character sheet from my one and only foray into the WEG system!

That’s pretty much all there is to it. There are some rules for the Force, though as this was in a time where the original trilogy was the only thing around for fans of the franchise, there wasn’t a lot to go on and so the rulebook doesn’t spend a lot of time on it. Interestingly, though, the rules state that you can learn a Force skill from a character who is willing to teach you – implying that anyone can use the mystical energy field! Something important about this system, however, is its categorization of Jedi powers into three groups: control, sense and alter. These are so often used nowadays in Star Wars gaming, it’s interesting to note that this is where that categorization started!

Of course, the main focus of roleplaying games in the Star Wars universe is combat, which is divided into action segments. During each segment, a player can use one skill or attribute, or move – the latter usually having an adverse affect on the dice rolling. Initiative is handled weirdly – weirdly, in comparison to other systems – in that players roll together when they’re doing something that will affect each other, and whoever has the higher result is deemed to have initiative and thus gets to have their action happen. I can’t think of another system that I’ve played that doesn’t have Initiative on the stat line, anyway!

The rules are otherwise fairly simple, and the core rulebook provides a solitaire choose your own adventure-style game to get you familar with them before you play, which I think is really nice! WEG later published two full-length solitaire adventure modules, written by none other than Troy Denning (author of Star by Star, among others!)

The rulebook features a fairly comprehensive GM section, including advice on everything you could need to run an adventure. It also has a short adventure included, “Rebel Breakout”, which gets you into the feel for how WEG adventures work, broken into a series of encounters within larger episodes. These are often broken up with useful sidebars with information you might want to use, and also blocks of text you can read aloud as GM to set the feel. Along with an extensive bank of character templates is a series of adventure ideas you can use to populate your own games!

Star Wars RPG

As I said before, the West End Games line features a whole raft of supporting material, from sourcebooks to adventure modules that you can use as preconstructed adventures, either to play as a stand-alone experience, or to slip into an ongoing adventure. In the early days, they also produced the above Campaign Pack, which came in a number of components – a GM screen, an adventure book, rules upgrades, and a fold-out map of a starship. The adventure book features advice for running a campaign as well as a short adventure, similar to the book included with the Gamemaster Kit, which features the Bissillirus Campaign. I wanted to mention this specifically because of the enormous production value of the product – the book fully fleshes-out the Trax Sector in a manner that would become commonplace for further WEG content, as well as providing some advice on building Rebel cells presented as in-universe advice from General Airen Cracken.

This brings me on to an extremely huge point about West End Games’ books – they effectively created the expanded universe with this enormous wealth of content, from creating new worlds to filling-out background on existing worlds. They also started the trend of providing names and backstories for all of the extras and bit-players in the movies – who’d have thought this guy, who was little more than set-dressing for Return of the Jedi, would become so important to the EU, as none other than the head of Alliance Intelligence, Airen Cracken himself!

General Cracken
No, not Lando – the guy in the background!

Oh yes, their service to Star Wars lore simply cannot be understated! In addition to providing the backstory, however, they also created the lore through the Star Wars Adventure Journal – a quarterly “magazine” that featured all sorts of stuff, from campaign settings to short fiction. I’ve mentioned this before, of course, back when I read some of that fiction (such as Command Decision), and while the Journal only ran to fifteen issues, it nevertheless has a whole host of amazing stuff to enjoy.

Returning to the subject of fleshing out existing stuff, I want to talk a bit about perhaps one of the more famous adventure modules WEG produced: Tatooine Manhunt!

Star Wars RPG

This was published in 1988, and I believe was the first full-length adventure module they produced. The Ralph McQuarrie cover art is another hallmark of the line, along with the fold-out map (double-sided – the reverse has the city of Mos Eisley itself, with local landmarks labelled).

The adventure follows a band of rebels (the players) aboard Kwenn Space Station who, learning that the Clone Wars veteran Adar Tallon has been discovered to be alive and well and living on Tatooine, and that the Galactic Empire has put a bounty on his head, travel to the desert world in an attempt to rescue him from the Emperor’s clutches.

The book introduces us to several bounty hunters – the cover art is misleading as, while it represents the blueprint for Vader’s bounty hunters in Empire Strikes Back, the hunters featured in the module are entirely new characters. Notably, we have the first appearance of Jodo Kast, a Boba Fett impersonator who would go on to have a fairly detailed history in Star Wars. WEG used him in several other books as a Boba Fett stand-in, and he has crossed over into both novels (the short story Side Trip, by Timothy Zahn and Michael A Stackpole, features Grand Admiral Thrawn using the personal of Kast) and comics (Twin Engines of Destruction saw the then-canon death of Kast, at the hands of none other than Boba Fett himself). Adar Tallon would also go on to a fairly interesting career in the lore, and also made it into comics for the Republic series, Dreadnoughts of Rendili.

I barely got to play with this system while in college – West End Games lost the licence to Wizards of the Coast in 1998, who produced three editions of the RPG, latterly Saga Edition, which I’ve already covered. But d6 West End Games will always hold that special place in my heart, both for the enormous impact it had on the Star Wars universe, and also for having gotten me interested not only just in Star Wars gaming, but in creating my own stories within the galaxy far, far away.

I’m only scratching the surface of the amazing source of Star Wars lore that the West End Games stuff supplies, and will likely be showcasing more of these books as time goes on. It’s become something of a Christmas tradition for me to reacquaint myself with one module (last year, it was none other than Tatooine Manhunt!) so I’m sure I’ll be sharing the wealth in the future!

Titansgrave

Hey everybody!
It’s time for another game day blog here at spalanz.com, and today I’m doing something a little different, as I ramble about the amazing series from Geek & Sundry, Titansgrave: The Ashes of Valkana!

So I know I’m a bit late with this, the series having ended back in August, but I’ve inexplicably only now been able to actually catch up with this! Well, finished watching it last week, but anyway.

I love a good roleplaying game, so when it was announced during the funding for season 3 of Tabletop they were going to produce a RPG show, I was really intrigued. I mean, most of the joy of playing in a RPG campaign comes from the imagination as you weave this tale with the group. So how would that translate to the show? Well, “fabulously” is the answer there!

If you have watched only one of the ten episodes from this series, you’ll see the amazing way in which footage of the group is interspersed with full-on art depicting the action, combined with the special effects that make this almost like a real tv show.

But what about the game?

The RPG itself is the relatively straightforward d6 Fantasy AGE system from Green Ronin Games. I’ve talked about RPGs briefly here, so moving on from that, the system uses three six-sided dice, one of which is a different colour, when completing any skill tests. If doubles are rolled, the differently-coloured die is used to give the player stunt points, which can be used to make the test more interesting that merely pass or fail. It’s quite a straightforward system that seems to allow more focus for storytelling than for working out dice results, as is sometimes the case other systems. This really shows in the show, where the characters roll the dice, a pass or fail is determined, stunt points are applied if rolled, then the story advances with what that roll actually meant.

For me, this is where the show really shines as a truly beautiful creation. Watching Wil take the group through the story he has come up with, from the relatively inane saving of the beer quest, to the fight with the hellions and all the way up to the battle with the Prophet, it reminds me of just how amazing a role playing game can be – not just as a game, but as a whole experience. The structure is classic, throwing more and more at the characters as they level up, and allowing plenty of player-creativity as the story moves along. Indeed, I was quite surprised by the ninth episode, which almost does away completely with the latter, and takes on the mantle of a choose your own adventure, almost. While I’ve played that sort of RPG before, it’s usually done because the players aren’t coming up with enough story by themselves, and yet we’ve obviously seen the group is more than capable of doing this.

The setting is also worth mentioning as being astonishingly interesting. Wil says it was inspired by Thundarr the Barbarian, though that was a little too old for me – I grew up with He-Man, which is another of these science-fantasy type shows, so I still feel a little bit of nostalgia creeping in by watching this. Inspiration aside, it’s awesome to see the sense of history and the dramatic depth come out as the show moves ahead. While in retrospect I felt that the confrontation leading up to the finale could perhaps have benefited from a greater sense of mystery, with the players uncovering information as they moved through the story, it nevertheless felt like a really immersive experience just as a spectator!

I don’t get to play RPGs any more, so I haven’t bought the book for this game. However, it looks like it’s certainly worth checking out, and I cannot wait to see what’s in store for season two!

Titansgrave

Happy Free RPG Day!

Hey everybody!
It’s June 20th, so that means: Free RPG Day! It’s the eighth such day this year, where publishers print small modules or adventures designed to grow the number of folks playing RPGs, which I think is just superb! I’m celebrating by taking a look at the brand-new Force and Destiny beginner game from Fantasy Flight Games!

Star Wars Force and Destiny

The third and final iteration of their Star Wars RPG line, Force and Destiny brings Force-users into the game properly (previous rulebooks included basic information on Force-users, but this is where you really get the meat for such characters).

The beginner game features two books, including a pared-down version of the rulebook (which will be out later in the summer, if they hold true to form), along with an adventure book that details how the beginner game unfolds. Alongside this, there is a short pamphlet that features an introduction to the game, including an iconic opening crawl to be read beforehand:

All of that is aimed at the Games Master. There are also four character “folios”, pre-generated characters designed to let players get into the game without going through character generation for themselves (this usually forms the bulk of the rulebook, after all):

Star Wars Force and Destiny

And finally, we have maps, tokens, and specialist dice:

As with all Fantasy Flight products, this game looks beautiful. I believe the beginner games are pretty basic, designed more to give players the introduction to the game than to really set the world on fire, and most people seem to get them for the maps and, at one time, as an easier way to get more dice.

FFG’s Star Wars RPG uses custom dice designed to make things easier to tell the story, rather than simply focusing on numerical targets as with the Saga Edition RPG, for instance. So you roll to see if you succeed at a test, and the dice will not only tell you that, but also just how well you succeeded or failed. Or you might succeed, but something else goes wrong. It sounds like a really excellent way to tell the story, and I’m hoping that it won’t be too long before I can get to try this out for myself!

swc130-obi-wanghost

The adventure features seven encounters designed to tell the story of a rescue mission undertaken by the four heroes who have folios in the box. The first four are fairly straightforward things, designed to get new players (including new GMs) comfortable with the RPG experience. There is an interlude, which demonstrates levelling-up a character, and while it’s not online yet, there is also mention of a follow-up mission called Lure of the Lost, as well as two more character folios for download. This follows the previous Beginner Games with having more content while we wait for the main core rules to arrive.

The rulebook here is a mere 48 pages long, so around 400 pages shorter than the main core rules will be! It features just enough information that should allow players to have further adventures with the system beyond that included in the adventure book, so we have rules for talents and equipment, as well as NPC adversaries the GM can throw at the players. The map is double-sided, so you can play with different locations if you so wish, as well.

All in all, it’s a great little product that should get people up and running in the game system, even providing stuff to allow you to go beyond with more adventures. Obviously it’s no substitute for the core rulebook, but it’ll do the job for new players while providing veterans with enough to keep them going. Highly recommended!

meditation

If you’re wondering just what the hell all this RPG stuff is all about, and struggling to see how rolling some dice can be any fun whatsoever without any kind of board or card additions, then I suppose this is the ideal opportunity to show you this. Following on from the success of Tabletop, Wil Wheaton has now got the fabled RPG show up and running, Titansgrave! I finally got round to watching the first two chapters last night, and it was insanely good – take a look here if you don’t believe me!

Titansgrave sounds like a truly great series, it definitely has the right sort of folks to make it a classic for me, at any rate. Certainly looking forward to seeing how the series shapes up from here on, anyway!

Free #RPG day 2015 #swag

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Learning 40k, and other sundries

Hey everybody!

Hope you’ve all been having a tremendous weekend – especially filled with lots of tabletop awesome yesterday, of course! I only managed one game yesterday, unfortunately, though it involved Runebound, so that’s always great! I have the intention to play at least one game today as well, so we’ll see how that goes.

Chronicles of the Gatekeeper

We’ve been seeing some interesting stuff coming out of Fantasy Flight lately – at least, to me it’s interesting! The new Force and Destiny RPG looks fantastic, and while I love the galactic fringe, I’m really feeling inspired by the way FFG have been infusing this idea of Jedi-in-hiding and such throughout their LCG so far. A new adventure book has been announced already, which seems almost tailor-made for integrating into either of the other two Star Wars RPG lines, provided of course that you have a Force sensitive character among your party. I particularly like the idea of seeing relics of the Clone Wars era, which is something I thought was nicely-implemented in the new Darth Vader ongoing series from Marvel. The book isn’t due until the third quarter (so, Christmas!), and of course we have yet to see the core rulebook released, but it introduces an interesting possibility for the game as a whole, and I’m excited for it.

Star Wars role playing games are something that I really enjoy a lot, and while I haven’t yet had the opportunity to try the new one from FFG, it still excites me to see new content for it, if only to provide something interesting to read!

Descent Dark Elements

FFG have also released a third co-op scenario expansion for Descent, Dark Elements. I played the first one last year, and the second a week or so ago, and can highly recommend them to anyone and everyone, really! What’s particularly exciting about this third one is that it uses stuff from the expansion Labyrinth of Ruin. Expansions for expansions are rare in the board game world, as returns are assumed to be smaller due to the dependent nature of the beast. However, given that the Descent co-op expansions use the in-house manufacturing process, I kinda hope that they’ll produce a slew of the things, as while they still have design costs, the fact that they only produce these things to order should help to mitigate the risk of not selling as well as more mainstream game expansions. Anyway, enough rambling from me on this – it has merriods, so it should be awesome! I’ve treated myself to it, along with some of the Lord of the Rings print on demand stuff, so stay tuned for more of that!

Warhammer 40,000

I’ve been trying to learn the rules to Warhammer 40k over the weekend, as the manager of my local games shop has offered to play a game with me on Friday. I’ve got to say, this is one overly-complex rules set! Aside from the fact that it’s a tabletop game with nearly 300 pages of rules across two hardcover books, it seems to require a lot of time and effort, which I’m not sure will be worthwhile. I’m open to persuasion, as always, but it strikes me that it might be a bit too long-winded. We’ll see, of course.

From what I’ve gleaned, it’s a case of moving, shooting, and melee – I don’t have any C’tan, so I won’t be engaging in any psychic warfare (I think). Moving seems fine, as I move 6 inches, and terrain can interact with that. Shooting seems to be overly-complicated for what it is – check range, roll to hit, roll to wound, remove models. It sounds simple, except it really isn’t, due to the various stats that interfere in bizarre ways, predominantly ballistics skill. I mean, my Necron Immortals have a ballistics skill of 4, which means they hit on 3+? Why can’t ballistics skill just be what you need to roll to hit on, and eliminate the unnecessary step of subtracting from 7? BS, indeed!

I’m still not entirely sure what’s involved for melee combat – I got distracted by the issue of Challenges, which sound like a lot of fun! It’s something that has drawn me to 40k from the beginning, the idea of a more narrative style of play, and I thought this seemed to be quite thematic in how it encourages role-playing. There is some element around Morale, apparently, and if your guy refused a Challenge, his leadership value is ignored for Morale checks, which seemed nice and thematic! Simple things…

I’ll be playing my Necrons, of course, and I think I have roughly 1000-points of army ready. I’m going with Immortals as the troop choice of course, and I’ll have some Lychguard in there as well. I’ve recently finished the Catacomb Command Barge, which will also feature, as will a couple of Lords and a Cryptek. I’ll have a write-up for you all on Friday, with pictures if I remember, so you can see how it went!

Until then, I’ll be enjoying my usual round of board and card games, and hopefully today I’ll be able to get in a couple, if nothing else. Whatever you’re doing this Sunday, I hope it’s awesome!

Saga Edition

Hey guys!
As always, Tuesday is Game Day here at spalanz.com, and today promises to be something…different. For months now, I’ve been posting about games on here, with lots of pictures of the components, and an overview of why I like them and whatnot, but today, I’m taking a look at a Role Playing Game. Indeed, the Role Playing Game – at least, the only one I’ve ever been able to play! Today, I’m looking at Star Wars: Saga Edition!

Star Wars Saga Edition

The first question I asked myself when I was preparing this blog was: Why am I doing this? All of the other games that have featured on my blog have been in-print, but Star Wars Saga Edition officially ended over four years ago. As such, it can be fairly difficult to come by – especially if you actually want a new book. However, one of the reasons I do these game day blogs is to talk about games that I love, and it would be remiss to not include this game, because I love it!

So first of all, let’s talk about RPGs. I’ve talked about RPGs before, of course, including this short description back in June:

For the uninitiated, Role Playing Games are actually really awesome. You need a good Games Master who is more concerned with storytelling and ensuring everyone has a good time than with the rules being correct, and you need a group of people who are somewhat invested in the story and their characters than they are in just goofing around, but all the same, when you get the right mix of folks around the table, it can be really magic. Prepare for a couple of hours of being lost in your imaginations! Ah!

Basically, a Role-Playing Game is a game where you play a character but, rather than moving that character around a board, you tell the story of what you are doing. In a very real sense, it is an experience akin to telling stories around the fire, or whatever.

I’m in charge!
One person in the group plays the Games Master, who is nominally “in charge” of the proceedings. Something that is very important here is that the GM is not the enemy. Yeah, he controls any enemies that you may face, but his role is better described as a referee. In short, the GM controls the world that you’re playing in. A good GM is one who is primarily concerned with everybody having a good time, and telling a good story, as I said back in June. He or she is responsible for everything that can happen, so you’ve got to be a hell of an improviser.

When I played Star Wars Saga Edition, I was the GM, and as much as I loved it, it’s also hard work. Being responsible for the world the other players are playing in, it’s up to the GM to create the adventure that you play that week. To a large degree, you need to be able to account for all possible avenues the game can proceed along, so it’s no use in preparing just a linear scenario where your players must do x to then be able to do y, but don’t have the option of being able to do a, b or c, as you haven’t got notes for that. I’ll talk more about my experiences shortly, but it really sticks with me when I first took up the mantle, and my group decided they wanted to do something completely different to the adventure I’d prepared. Gah!

So, as much as you’re telling the story, you’ve got to be prepared to let the story tell itself, also. Knowing your group will help enormously with this. It’s always best, then, to have a scenario prepared that you want to happen during the course of the session, but also have a host of notes on other stuff that could just as easily splinter off from that scenario. For instance, my first game involved the heroes having to make it off-planet in a ship, but they were completely disinterested in pursuing the option I’d prepared, which would make it easier for them to hire a ship, so I had to make my grizzled spacer captain into more of a pushy sort who was touting for business, and have him approach the heroes. Hardly a massive plot point, but without it the story would have never gotten off the ground (pun intended).

GMing is a lot of work, but it can be immeasurably rewarding, as well. And if those notes you prepared for potential side adventures aren’t used, they’re never wasted, as the situation may come up when you want them in the future. Always keep everything!

It’s all about the characters
The main focus of role-playing for many people, however, are the characters that each player creates. Character generation is one of the most fun aspects of this sort of game, and even though I was a GM, I used to create all sorts of characters just for the joy of it (and they never went to waste, let me tell you!) In any given system, a player will basically fill out a template of what his character can do. Basic stuff like name, age, species, gender, height/weight and so on flows into what skills your guy has – are your strengths physical or mental? Are you good on your feet, or are you really persuasive? There are usually six core attributes that RPG systems account for:

strength, constitution, dexterity, intelligence, wisdom and charisma

Each of these are scored, and from this your character becomes good at certain skills. There are two big influences on these attributes and skills: species and class. For example, in Star Wars, Wookiees are really strong and really dexterous, so have high scores in these two attributes. Classes denote what you do, with classic examples such as Mage/Priest, Cleric, Ranger etc, and these will also lead you down a certain route as regards your attribute scores and, subsequently, your skill scores.

Once you’ve got your character set up, and you have a fair idea of what he or she is good at, you’re ready to play the game!

Playing the game
Depending on how the GM decides to run the game, you can role-play anything and everything, or just the important parts. To give an extreme example, the GM may just tell the players “You walk into the cantina…” or he might say “You need to make a Perception check to discover the location of the nearest cantina. You then need to make a Dexterity check to see if you can open the door…”

Checks? I hear you cry. Well, this is where your skills come in. In order to do something, you need to check if you can do it. For example, in order to see if your character noticed something, he needs to make a Perception check. This is done by rolling a die – in the case of Star Wars Saga Edition, all skill checks involve rolling a twenty-sided die, or d20 – and adding your skill score to the result. If you equal or exceed the difficulty class (DC) of the check as set by the GM, you pass. As I said above, depending on how the GM is running the campaign, you might have to check for everything, or you might only have to check for certain things, such as when you’re in danger.

Star Wars Saga Edition

As an aside, I would often make my group make Perception checks seemingly at random – “You’re walking down the broad central street of the town. Make a Perception check. All done? Marvellous. So you’re walking down the central street…” – but a lot of this informs the GM on the level of detail you give to your group. If someone beat the DC of the check, then any subsequent attacks aren’t entirely a surprise, or whatever.

Perception checks are one of two checks that you’ll most often find your characters making in a RPG such as Star Wars Saga Edition; the second is the Initiative check. While Perception measures how much the characters are aware of their surroundings, Initiative determines the order in which things happen – most commonly, attacks.

Attack!
Good RPGs will have a mixture of intrigue skills, information-gathering, and combat. Even bad RPGs will still have combat, however. This is where your Strength and your Constitution attributes come into play – your Strength will determine how good you are at attacking, and your Constitution determines how much damage you can take. A wide variety of weapons is often available, and these will add bonuses to your dice rolls, as well as special effects such as being able to ignore armour and the like. Your basic Strength score will, of course, determine how good you are with your bare hands.

Attacks can be where people confuse the role of the GM with that of the enemy, as the GM is controlling any non-player character (NPC), most often these being your adversaries. While the players are rolling their dice in the open, some GMs can be quite maddening, making their rolls behind a screen, and constantly making little notes here and there. However, there is always a purpose! Mostly, it is to ensure the encounter runs reasonably as planned: if you intend for the heroes to fight a boss’s bodyguard in order to impress him into giving the players some information they need, it’s no good if said bodyguard kills all of the players in the first round of combat. As a GM, I have often fluffed my rolls in order to make a game run more smoothly. So we’re not cheating – we’re actually helping!

It’s all about the experience
When players successfully overcome challenges, whether they’re fights or something else, they most often gain experience points (XP), the amount being dependent on the challenge level (CL). These go to form a bank, and when a player reaches a set amount, he can go up a level. In Star Wars Saga Edition, there are 20 levels a player character can achieve, and each one comes with all sorts of boons, from simple bonuses to attributes, to increased options for skills and even classes. Especially in Star Wars, Jedi characters cannot learn certain Force powers if they are not of a specific level.

Levelling up your character is one of life’s true joys!

So that’s RPGs in a nutshell!


 

Star Wars Saga Edition

Star Wars has seen many incarnations of role-playing games, starting with West End Games back in the 80s. Saga Edition was published from 2005-2010 by Wizards of the Coast, who held the Star Wars licence from the late 1990s. It was their third iteration of the RPG, and the fifth version of Star Wars role playing to that point.

Wizards of the Coast are perhaps most famous for their Dungeons & Dragons line, which has just recently entered its fifth edition. Saga Edition is based very strongly on that game’s 3rd edition, so in that respect it is very similar to the Pathfinder RPG. Over the course of the run, fourteen hardcover books were published, giving the rules for different eras in the timeline as well as specific classes etc.

Star Wars Saga Edition

The game was initially quite heavily-supported by the company through online content, though as time went on this dwindled to a stop. It’s always a shame when this happens – let me tell you why…

You’ve hopefully picked up on the notion that RPGs involve a lot of written content, with the GM becoming something of a writer, producing characters and locations and encounters in order to create a successful game. In order for any of these to function in the game, they need stats – NPCs need stats to at least be able to fight the heroes; locations need stats to interact with the encounters that take place there, which in turn have DCs based on what precisely is going on, which all go together to produce XP for the players. Now, GMs can do all of this, sitting alone amid piles and piles of books, making sure they have all the information to hand to know exactly how effective Darth Vader is in combat. Or the game designers can just tell you how effective Vader is in combat, leaving the GM free to come up with an exciting story as to why the heroes come up against him.

It’s not exactly about just getting free stuff, though, but about a company producing loss-leaders. For example, Wizards released the Knights of the Old Republic Campaign Guide in 2008, and accompanied it on their website with a host of additional content such as stat blocks for a variety of creatures and hardware that didn’t make it into the book. That stuff was made for free and, while the odds that a KotOR book wouldn’t sell well when the video game was still a hot property were very slim, it nevertheless creates something of a hype when a company has free stuff on their website, but you need to get the campaign book itself to make maximum use out of it. It creates fan goodwill, and increases the chances of people buying into the game if they can see that game is well supported.

Star Wars Saga Edition

Initially, then, Wizards were producing all sorts of stuff like this. The RPG also made efforts to cross-fertilise with the Star Wars Miniatures game, a skirmish game where players fielded armies of miniatures and basically tried to wipe each other out. When a new batch of miniatures was released, stat blocks would go up online to allow players to use the characters in their RPG games. Indeed, Wizards did originally seem to have in mind that people would use the miniatures and the maps to play the RPG, but that died a death.

Star Wars Saga Edition

Something really impressive about the level of support Wizards initially gave Saga Edition was the amount of new stuff that became available for free. I’m not just talking about new ships you can use, or new NPCs you can fight – they even gave us new species we could use. Character options like this are phenomenally useful!

Star Wars Saga Edition

They also gave us scenarios and campaigns on the website, including Irridonian Darkness as another KotOR tie-in. Luckily, a lot of this content has been preserved by the fans, as it is really top-notch, but when the gave up the licence to produce Star Wars games, they obviously had to cleanse their website of all content.

Star Wars Saga Edition

The jewel in the crown of all this, for me, is the Dawn of Defiance campaign. A 10-part campaign that was designed to take players all the way from level 1 to level 20, it first appeared in November 2007, and it was all for free.

Star Wars Saga Edition

Star Wars Saga Edition

Support like this  really impresses me, and makes me want to play in this system. And I’m not the only one, of course. Companies don’t always get it, and Wizards certainly lost their way towards the end of their run, but a well-supported game system will be well thought of by the fans, and attract increasing numbers to it. However, Wizards just seemed to lose interest in the licence towards the end of their run, something that particularly came out in the miniatures game, but also in the uneven quality of the last few books for the RPG.

I’ve expressed quite a lot of negativity towards Wizards over the years, all based on the way they handled the licence in their last year with it. Officially, they “ran out of ideas” as to what they could do for new content. A strange excuse for a creative company, but anyway. The miniatures line suffered, and the RPG stopped seeing web content. However, their final book, The Unknown Regions, was perhaps a fitting end for the run, as it gave GMs the tools with which to generate any sort of situation they could ever think of. So, while I have been disappointed in the past, I must admit to being really impressed by the way they ended the game.

I love role playing games, however, and can never let my feelings for how a company handled a game from letting that game speak for itself. Role playing games are just such a wonderful way of playing games, allowing you to exercise your imagination, tell stories, and even act out at times – it’s just so much fun! Star Wars is an incredibly rich and vibrant world, and getting to play in that world is just far too much fun sometimes. Getting to create your own character and living within that world, even if it’s just for a couple of hours a week, can be an amazing experience, and I can recommend it to anyone.

RPG communities are unlike regular game communities. They’re places of creativity, where people go to share ideas, as well as experiences. In this way, it’s also interesting to note that RPGs never truly die, even when the company has stopped supporting it officially. You can meet people all over the world who are still playing Star Wars RPGs using the West End Games version from 1987. Saga Edition has had a lot of support in the five years it was being published, and it still retains its place on my shelf even when I haven’t played it for months.

So there you have it, folks, my high-level view of role playing games in terms of Star Wars Saga Edition. More than ever, I’m keen to get back into role playing games, and have been looking at a few lately, notably the Warhammer 40k books from Fantasy Flight, but also the ‘new’ Star Wars RPG. I’m hoping that sometime soon I can convince enough people to try something with me – even if it means being the GM again…

If you don’t believe me on how fun these kinds of games can be, however, just watch this:

Pathfinding thoughts

 

Hey everybody!
As it’s Sunday, I thought I’d share some of my gaming ramblings. Because I know how much you all love them!

Largely, my weekend has consisted of close-reading Homer’s Odyssey for my degree, however. I’ve got to say, I’m not a fan of Lattimore’s translation, but unfortunately it’s the set book, so I guess I’ll just have to get on with it. I think I have two essays to produce on this, then it’s moving on to Classical Athens and the joy that is Aristophanes! I say this without a hint of irony: ignoring issues of translation, Aristophanes wrote some really very funny plays. I studied three for my A level back in the day, but enjoyed them so much that I read the other surviving eight for my own enjoyment. Reading Aristophanes, for me, is what makes the Classical world so utterly amazing – that I can still be in hysterics at a 2,430-year-old play really does speak volumes.

Anyway!

I think I mentioned the other day my glut of Pathfinder stuff? It seems that Paizo are producing a lot of material across their entire line of games at the moment, perhaps in time for christmas, with a fair few RPG releases as well. Something that has me baffled is the new Monster Codex, which seems like it might just be a reinvention of the Bestiary. Might be something I try to take a look at in real life before I decide if I want it. Something that does look interesting is the Advanced Class Origins supplement, designed to work alongside the Advanced Class Guide. I’m a complete sucker for anything that works off existing material to enrich the roleplaying experience, so am quite tempted by this!

I’ve been taking a look at the Class decks for the Adventure Card Game, and am pleased to report that they look pretty awesome! The idea behind the decks is that you get four heroes (one of whom is a new version of an already-released character) with a whole slew of stuff – spells, weapons, armour, items, allies and blessings. Some of these are new, and some are already-existing options. However, the cards are organised by adventure deck number, so when you make it to, say, The Hook Mountain Massacre, you add in to the pool all of the cards with a 3 in the top corner, along with the cards from the third adventure deck, increasing your deck-customisation options! Marvellous.

I have yet to make it to Skull & Shackles, however, but then I’m still only on the first adventure deck of Rise of the Runelords, so such a languid schedule shouldn’t really surprise anyone! I do like the look of some of the cards in this new box, though, I have to say…

Skull & Shackles

After a bit of rummaging around online, I’ve also read they’ve announced the third box in the Adventure Card Game line, Wrath of the Righteous. This was the thirteenth adventure path in the RPG (Skull & Shackles was the tenth, if you recall?), which brings us fairly close as the current, Iron Gods adventure path is only #15!

The Worldwound tore reality apart at the dawn of the Age of Lost Omens, murdering the nation of Sarkoris and unleashing a ravenous demonic horde upon the world. Only the quick action of several other nations of knights, barbarians, and heroes stemmed the demon army and contained it within lost Sarkoris, and for the next century, crusade after crusade tried to defeat the demons only to fail time and time again. Their greatest success, the line of magical artifacts known as wardstones that stand sentinel along the Worldwound’s border, barely manages to contain the demons. So when one of the wardstones is sabotaged, a city falls and the demons within surge out in a massive assault like none before. Even before the Fifth Crusade has begun a city has fallen and some of the crusaders’ greatest defenders and heroes are slain. Can anyone rise up against the demon host to prevent the armies of Deskari, the demon lord of the Locust Host, from swallowing the world?

I’m quite excited,  as I’ve long been intrigued by the Worldwound setting, and the demons that are contained therein. Should be lots of fun!

Pathfinder RPG

All that talk of the Pathfinder RPG has also got me thinking, of course. I’ve yet to play the RPG, sadly, despite it having been on the radar for years. I’m still very much in the mood for a RPG, it’s just a matter of convincing the right number of people…

When all is said and done, however, I’m actually trying to cut back a little on my gaming spending right now. Seems like I’ve been buying a lot of things of late just because they look good, which I suppose isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but I’m starting to think more about the practicalities and whatnot, as I find myself with a whole host of games that I don’t get to play. There’s also the fact that I’m essentially diluting my games collection, by spending so much time playing new games and not getting to play those that I love. While Lord of the Rings is a case in point, there are a whole host of amazing games that I’ve barely played all year – Warhammer Invasion has been out 4 or 5 times, and I’ve only played Runebound, and Fortune and Glory, once! So I feel something must be done!