Star Wars play report: The pursuit of Udin Heek

Now that I am stockpiling all of these cool images, stolen from around the internet to use while gaming, I also have everything I need for actual play reports that hopefully don’t completely suck.

1 - Imperial courier Udin Heek

In one of my recent sessions with London, Wuta the Ewok and Camie the Laconic Scout were given the task of tracking down this guy: Udin Heek, Kubaz spy and Imperial agent. He had stolen a datafile with the names of dozens of Rebel agents, and we had to keep him from delivering it to Imperial high command.

2 - Gozanti cruiser in flight

Fortunately we were in the Outer Rim where hyperspace travel is not always as smooth and dependable as one might like. We learned that Udin Heek’s convoy was crossing the Golar system to get to a hyperspace beacon which would allow them to jump straight to the Imperial core systems. Heek himself was rumored to be traveling on a Gozanti cruiser like the one shown above. Gozanti cruisers have a reputation for being slow but heavily armed; they were specifically designed to protect convoys against raiding starfighters (sort of like Lancer frigates in miniature, for you arch-geeks out there).

5 - Recon X-Wing landed

Starfighters are what we had, though, so we did our best. Somebody had to fly a recon X-Wing close enough to each ship in the convoy to tell if there were any Kubaz aboard (this idea brought to you by every third mission in X-Wing and TIE Fighter). That job fell to Camie, while Wuta led the smashy/fighty elements.

The space battle was one of those close affairs that can be awfully hard to set up. If you get a dozen or so ships on each side and play straight, it’s all too easy for the fight to turn into a rout for one side or the other. Happily, this one ended just as I’d hoped it would: the Imperial convoy was destroyed, except for Udin Heek’s ship, which managed to escape to a nearby moon, Greenhold, and the Rebels were victorious but too battered to immediately pursue.

That’s nice because I had a whole gob of plot prepared if everyone ended up on the moon. But if you’re wondering what would have happened if Udin Heek’s cruiser had caught a stray protorp, well, I would have let it blow up. My Star Wars galaxy may not be a pure sandbox, but I don’t cheat players for the sake of the story, either.

7 - Greenhold Navy fighter

As it was, the PCs just barely managed to get their fighters back to base without anyone else dying (a couple of fighters got blown up in the convoy attack). General Tackmore warned them that the inhabitants of Greenhold didn’t appreciate armed visitors. So we went down to the moon in an unarmed Gallofree Yards Medium Transport (the kind from The Empire Strikes Back). Maybe an unlikely choice for this mission, but we made up a list of unarmed Rebel ships and threw dice, and that’s what we got. On the way down, we were met and escorted in by fighters from the Greenhold navy, shown above.

8 - Galeport

They escorted us to the floating city of Galeport. We landed and got through customs, and then the next order of business was to locate Udin Heek and his Imperial henchmen. We reasoned that a small company of Imperials in an out-of-the-way shadowport would be anxious to blend in, so their first priority would be getting some native garb. So we went to the clothing district to look around, paying special attention to stores that sold work uniforms.

After a few hours of searching we found a group of awkward outlanders that we were pretty sure were some of our Imperials. We tailed them to a tapcafe and set up what we thought was a covert watch outside. But some of their buddies coming from another direction spotted us, and that led to a big noisy fight in the street. We won, but we had to leave quickly before the city militia arrived. We did have time to search a couple of the Imps, and found a keycard to a room at the Galeport Arms.

8b - kaadu

Naturally, our visit to the Galeport Arms turned into another fight. And it was wacky fight, plagued by bad dice rolls that translated as missed shots, dropped weapons, tripping and falling, and other antics in the uncanny valley between slapstick and shooty death.

At the end, the bad guys got away on some kaadu (the armless dino-duck shown above, minus the Gungan), and Camie and Wuta commandeered some kid’s haycart-pulling falumpaset. Why a falumpaset? Mostly because the word “falumpaset” makes London laugh out loud. There followed a mounted chase from the hotel district to the docks at the edge of town.

8c - Greenhold windriders

At the docks, the bad guys dismounted and took off in some windriders, which are the Galeport versions of these skiff concepts from ROTJ. Wuta and Camie had little choice but to give chase.

This was supposed to be a swashbuckling sky pirates sort of running battle, but it devolved into a grind. In keeping with the anti-outsiders-with-weapons stance I had established for Galeport, I had the PCs leave their weapons on board their ship. They had been able to buy some new hurt-sticks in the city, but only melee weapons and stun clubs, no blasters or anything useful for ranged combat. Naturally the Imperials had smuggled some blasters through customs and Wuta and Camie had filched a couple of small blasters from defeated foes, but they weren’t powerful enough to really put people down quickly. So there was a complicated series of boarding actions and desperate swordfights, which sounds awesome in theory but devolved into lots of repetitive dice-rolling in practice (for me, anyway–London is still so new at this that the idea of rolling the dice 20 times to mow down a long line of bad guys is awesome–so I feed on that). At the end of it all, the only Imperials left were Udin Heek and one henchman, and Wuta and Camie had them disarmed.

9 - AT-AT Villa

Then some armed windriders from King Mannix’s guard showed up, and their crew told everyone to throw down their weapons. For the crime of bringing our offworld fight into King Mannix’s peaceable kingdom, all four of us–Udin Heek, lone Imperial henchman, Wuta, and Camie–were taken under guard to the King’s walking capital city (illustration above from Ryan Church’s “Celestia Galactica Photografica” section of the Star Wars Visionaries comic collection).

10 - King Mannix

We were all hauled before King Mannix, a Nautolean (Kit Fisto’s species). He had managed to keep his people out of the galactic civil war and he was pretty unsympathetic to our explanations for why we had to bring the fight to his moon. At the end of the deliberations he decreed that we would face trial by combat; each side had one hour to choose a champion to represent them in the arena.

12 - Nexu 2

The arena fight was a deliberate subversion of the usual trope, since a regular fight-to-the-death would be completely out of character for a pacifist society like King Mannix’s. Each champion would face a single Nexu in the arena; the secret engine of the scene was that the Nexu were tame, and would not attack unless they were attacked first. The Imperials lost the coin toss so we got to see this firsthand. When Udin Heek went for his club the Nexu got growly, and when he pulled his hand away from his weapon it calmed down. But “make peace with the monster” was not in Udin Heek’s behavioral repertoire, so eventually he tried to club the Nexu. The Nexu knocked him down and batted the club away with contemptuous ease, and then hauled him by his collar before King Mannix.

I was hoping that London might have cottoned on to the game, but when it was Wuta’s turn in the arena, he only put his club away long enough to get close to the Nexu, then tried a surprise attack. It didn’t go any better for him than it had for Udin Heek. All four of us, Imps and PCs alike, got tossed into jail, on one of the pendant platforms hanging from either side of the walking city.

lambda2

That night there was trouble in the walking city. Out the small, high, barred window of our jail cell, we saw an Imperial shuttle fly over the city and set down on one of its landing pads. A little later there was blaster fire and alarms and confusion, and the energy screen blocking the door to our cell went down. We managed to get to an empty guard station and commandeer some pikes and projectile rifles. We ran into Udin Heek and his henchman, who had busted out of their own cell, and tailed them to the tramcars that led from the hanging platform to the upper city. We had a nice running battle that ended with the henchman’s demise and Udin Heek in cuffs. Then we helped the city guard fight off the stormtroopers from the shuttle, and snuck into the palace to take out the Imperial officer and stormtrooper squad that were threatening King Mannix.

As thanks for our valiant defense of his city, King Mannix let us take Udin Heek and his stolen data back to the Alliance. And naturally we kept his Gozanti cruiser for ourselves–stolen Imperial goods are to Star Wars roleplaying what treasure chests and dragon hoards are to D&D.

Posted in actual play reports, roleplaying, Star Wars | 1 Comment

Guest post: How Serenity ended up in Battlestar Galactica

I have blogged here before about my good friend and former roommate Jarrod Davis, who is a visual effects guy and who (ab)used his awesome powers to sneak the spaceship from our Star Wars roleplaying campaign into Firefly and Serenity, after which some other VFX artist put it in BSG. This is another such tale of cross-universe pollination, copied with permission from one of Jarrod’s Facebook comments.

Serenity in Caprica City

So we on the Crew were all about cameos, and I do believe it was Lee Stringer who had the idea to put the Serenity in the show [Battlestar Galactica] somewhere. It fell to me because I had these shots in the hospital where Laura Roslin gets her cancer diagnosis with all these windows that needed filling with spaceshippy goodness. Perfect opportunity of course.

So I do it. And you’ve seen it. And I think, hey eventually some nerd will see this and get a chuckle out of it.

WRONG.

The VERY NEXT DAY, Fireflyfans.net had a giant HD screengrab up on their site. “LOOK! SERENITY IN BSG! LOOK! L@@K! SEE IT!” and other such internetisms as are designed to capture one’s attention.

I was not expecting that.

Some weeks later, my boss Loni [Peristere] would relay this story to me:

He was meeting with Joss Whedon and Tim Minear (yes, the legendary writers and showrunners responsible for many of your favorite programs) about one of the shows we were working on or going to work on.

So, Joss says, “So… I hear that the Serenity ended up inside Galactica…?”

Loni: (laughing it off) “Oh yeah, hehe, Mal took a job that took ‘em out to the Twelve Colonies… hehe LOL”

Joss: “Hah, that’s cool.”
Tim: “No, that’s not cool.”

Loni: [???worried???]

Joss: “Wha? Naw, man, it’s cool…”
Tim: “No, it is most certainly NOT cool! You can’t just do stuff like that!”

Loni: [???shrinking... scared...]

Me, hearing this story later: [shrinking, scared crap-less, sweating]

Joss: “Calm down, it’s fine…”
Tim: “No, it’s not fine! You can’t just let them do stuff like this!”

Loni: [losing control of organs]
Meta-me: [losing control of organs]

Tim: [pause] Nah, I’m just screwin’ with you, it’s fine. [smiley]

Loni and Later-me: [flooding relief]

Posted in Battlestar Galactica, geekbrag, Whedonverse | 4 Comments

Cool concept art from The Star Wars comic

The Star Wars 0 cover

I’ve always been a sucker for movie concept art. It’s basically alternate history applied to film. And as a roleplayer, concept art is a goldmine–a lot of “official” RPG characters and vehicles were born from concept art (like the Star Wars ships from this post), and even back in the 80s those of us with the movie art books and sketchbooks were busy dreaming up names and stats for concept art that the big publishers overlooked.

The Star Wars 0 Aquilean fighters

Author J.W. Rinzler and Dark Horse Comics have gone a step further. While Rinzler was doing the background research for his book The Making of Star Wars, he came across the original story drafts that George Lucas wrote back in 1974. This isn’t super-secret stuff these days–lots of folks know that the early drafts had characters called Kane and Deak Starkiller, and that Alderaan was originally the Imperial capital planet. But Rinzler decided to take things a big step further. He got Lucas’ permission to develop those early drafts into a fully-developed alternative storyline, and he kept the original title, “The Star Wars”. The Star Wars is currently running as an 8-issue series from Dark Horse Comics. Issue 6 is due out in the next few days, and the whole series will be collected in graphic novel form this summer.

The Star Wars 0 Imperial air tanks

I’ve been a bit out of touch with the comics scene lately so I didn’t know about this until a week or so ago. Happily for me, my local comics store, A Shop Called Quest, still had copies of all of the issues, including issue #0. Issue #0 is basically “the art of The Star Wars“–a concept art book for the alternate-universe version of Star Wars. The meta-ness here is not lost on me.

The Star Wars 0 Imperial shocktroopers

(Also, I am fairly certain that the title The Star Wars will drive Mike nuts, since he’s already remarked that the television series Clone Wars [2003-2005] and The Clone Wars [2008-2014] can only be followed up by The The Clone Wars.)

The Star Wars 0 Baltarian freighter

I’m enjoying the comic book series, although I can see now that pretty much every decision that George Lucas made between 1974 and 1977 made the story tighter, grander, and just all-around better. Still, The Star Wars is pretty groovy. It definitely reflects the time before Star Wars became Star Wars, when it was basically “the 1970s does Flash Gordon”. Although there are hints of mythic resonance, the story isn’t burdened by it; it’s a lot looser and lighter than what it eventually evolved into. Oddly but appropriately, it gives me a glimpse into a universe in which Star Wars was not a genre-defining pop culture monument, but just an odd little nostalgic one-off that maybe did okay business but certainly didn’t change anything. Sort of like how Super 8 was J.J. Abrams’ homage to all of Spielberg’s early sci-fi movies and people thought it was cool and all, but you don’t see Super 8 toys on the shelves or people dressing up like Super 8 characters at conventions.

The Star Wars 0 Imperial capital

I suppose that’s why I can’t get entirely on board with the critics who try to write off Star Wars and Indiana Jones as nothing more than warmed-over pulp fiction and movie serial retreads. There was no great unexploited need for Flash Gordon, per se, as the critical and commercial failure of Flash Gordon (1980) and most of the other movies, ahem, inspired by Star Wars attests. The genius of Star Wars was to use Flash Gordon trappings to tell a fairy tale that looked–and felt–awesome rather than campy or twee (insert obligatory prequel-bashing here). The formula, “take something kids love and make it not suck for grown-ups”, is a pretty reliable path to success; see also Pixar (at least pre-Disney), The AvengersFrozen, The Lego Movie, etc.

The Star Wars 0 Imperial stardestroyers

Anyway, back to The Star Wars. Not only an interesting and thought-provoking story, but I’m also really digging the designs. The two-man Aquilaean “devil fighters” and the fighter-sized Imperial “stardestroyers” kinda blew my mind. The Aquilaean fighter in particular hits the right notes for me–it looks Star-Wars-y, but also how someone from the 1970s might do a space fighter if there was no Star Wars to draw from. It recalls for me the sleek, geometric perfection of the concept art of Syd Mead and Ralph McQuarrie. Which is perfect, given how much those two artists set the look for the sci-fi of that time, Mead with Star Trek: The Motion PictureBlade Runner, Aliens, and Tron, and McQuarrie with, of course, Star Wars.

Also, that ring-winged TIE-fighter-like concept ship is smokin’. I’ve seen roughly a zillion TIE fighter variants,* and I don’t think I’ve seen anyone do that before. How cool.

* Evidence, borrowed from here:

The Complete collection of TIES

Posted in Expanded Universe, Star Wars | 5 Comments

Tales of the Flaming Vagabond, Battlestar Galactica edition

Battlestar Galactica rag-tag ships

For the prequel to this post, go here. This round started when Stefan Garcia wrote:

Found this blog off of SVPOW’s latest post. Looks like the ship made it into the new Battlestar Galactica fleet (ship #4):http://www.flickr.com/photos/sastrei87/4349968535/sizes/o/in/set-72157623390074718/

That’s the composite image in question above. And #4 does indeed look like the Vagabond:

Flaming Vagabond 4-view

Which prompted me to write to Jarrod:

Did you tell me this and I forgot about it, or have you been holding out on me–or is the Vagabond now a background-ship meme outside of your control?

Which prompted Jarrod to write:

I don’t think I told you, and I don’t think I even knew. The process of populating a fleet or any large group of ships at Zoic typically worked like this:

“Hmmm… I need ships.”

File > Load Object
[navigate to where all the ships are]
[shift-select many objects]
Animate!
Render!

The best Vagabond model I ever made lived in the same directory as other cameo ships like the Lambda-class shuttle, Millenium Falcon, SR-71 and a handful of other geek-favorite ships (hey, we *were* the target audience for our shows). So, it’s not just possible; it’s quite likely that at some point, one of the BSG guys threw her into the mix. We also had a shipload of material from [previous science fiction television shows], but since they had their own identities, they lived in their own places, and unless they were only going to be 3 pixels on screen, we generally kitbashed them into new stuff rather than whole-hoggedly tossing them in.

Serenity terraforming station

If you want more secret easter-egginess, that I haven’t seen anyone discussing yet, look at the Atmosphere Processor on the ice planet in the opening of Serenity. Then take a good look at the Nostromo from Alien, especially the aft. I think you shall find many, many similarities…

Alien Nostromo model

The moral of the story seems to be that there is probably more vehicular cross-pollination between sci-fi universes than any one person knows about. And if you want to find it all, you really have to leave no pixel unturned.

Many thanks, Stefan, for the heads up!

Posted in Battlestar Galactica, Expanded Universe, ID4, roleplaying, Star Wars | 2 Comments

GMing with a tablet

So, here’s a new thing. I have been GMing since about 1990, and for the first 23 years I got along just fine without electronic aids. But in the past year I have found that having a tablet handy while I GM is so darn useful that I may never voluntarily be without one.

For starters, it means that I have a bunch of tables to hand, for when my PCs run into unexpected NPCs (roll, roll), or find opportunities to acquire loot. And I don’t have to print out all of my favorite tables in advance, or print out new versions as I update them.

But perhaps even more importantly, it means that I can have a large stock of images on hand to show players as various things come up in the game. This helps in a couple of ways. Now when I say, “The only speeders on this platform are a couple of clunky old cargo models”, I can show the players this:

Fringe cargo speederand they have a basis for a more meaningful decision. That helps make the imagined world more real. It also adds granularity and detail that the players can use in the game. For example, if someone gets flung over the side of one of the cargo speeders shown above, there are obvious handholds they can use to try to save themselves. And a bloodthirsty driver could use those forward-pointing landing skids as rams in a hostile encounter. And the one on the left has some protection for the driver, and higher walls.

Sure, I could describe all of these things in words, but I probably wouldn’t because they wouldn’t occur to me. A drawing, photo, or other piece of art brings a whole package of reality and detail, that both draws the players more deeply into the imagined world of the game, and gives them raw material to use in solving problems. In the old days I’d print out a handful of images of the most important NPCs and vehicles. Now I can have dozens or hundreds to hand, and I can show them off in full color on a zoomable display. That’s a nice trick, and it actually makes the game better. Who’da thunk?

Of course, the ne plus ultra of GMing with a tablet would be to have the entire RPG system on the device. But since I have all of the necessary bits of WEG Star Wars committed to memory, that’s a step I haven’t taken yet. I may yet, especially if I get into the new Edge of the Empire game. I do have some WEG sourcebooks loaded, thanks to the d6 Holocron, but so far flipping through digital sourcebooks is still a bit slower than finding things in their physical equivalents, so I haven’t made much use of them mid-game yet.

Posted in roleplaying | 1 Comment

Redoing some villians, venues, and vehicles from the Star Wars prequels

visionaries_darth_maul

A frequent theme when discussions of the prequels come up is that there is too much stuff. Like four different shiny silver spaceships in the space of three movies. Or three basically interchangeable henchmen: Darth Maul, Count Dooku, and General Grievous. I have a fix for that, that came out of an old email conversation with Mike.

  1. In Episode I, General DooMaulku is an apparently good man on Padme’s staff (just like Palpatine is an apparently good man). It would make sense for Palpatine’s apprentice to be from Naboo since Palpatine is from Naboo himself. Padme leaves him in charge when she flees, but he skips town and trails her to Tatooine, Coruscant, and Naboo, doing all the things we saw Darth Maul doing. When the blast doors open and Duel of the Fates comes on, there is General DooMaulku in his black robes, finally revealed as a Sith. He fights the Jedi, kills Qui-Gon, and is apparently fatally wounded by Obi-Wan (but secretly escapes).
  2. In Episode II, imagine Obi-Wan’s shock when he finds the partially rebuilt General DooMaulku leading the Separatists on Geonosis. GD performs Dooku’s role in this movie with minimal rewriting.
  3. In Episode III, Dooku doesn’t have much to do besides get killed. General DooMaulku fights Anakin in the observation tower, and blows out the window and escapes there, fleeing to the bridge. When Anakin and Obi-Wan get to the bridge, they face him again, but again he escapes. From then on, he plays out General Grievous’s role as seen in RotS. Before dying, he reveals to Obi-Wan that he was Palpatine’s apprenctice, but that Palpatine betrayed him in favor of Anakin. Now armed with the knowledge that Palpatine is a Sith Lord and is trying to seduce Anakin, Obi-Wan races back to Coruscant, only to find that he is too late (just as in the movie as filmed).

The image of the cyborged Darth Maul is from Aaron McBride’s story “Old Wounds” from the Star Wars: Visionaries comic book. That appearance was non-canonical, but the rebuilt Maul showed up in-canon in Star Wars: The Clone Wars.

This all came up because Mike pointed me to these videos, which are well worth watching (but have some NSFW langauge):

What if Star Wars: Episode I was good?

What if Star Wars: Episode II were good?

Naboo becomes Alderaan

That guy independently came up with the idea of keeping Darth Maul alive to have a good recurring villain, but he retains Dooku and makes him more interesting. He also suggests just changing the name of the planet Naboo to Alderaan, which Mike described in an email as “SO obvious that one wonders not just how Lucas didn’t think of doing this, but how he DID think of NOT doing it.”

That got me thinking about other ways to make the prequels mean more by proliferating less. Which led to this, again stolen from email:

Back when I argued that Ep II should have been set mostly on Tatooine, not Geonosis. So how’s this: all the stuff that happens in Geonosis in Ep II actually happens on Tatooine, including the big climactic battles. Replace the Geonosians with either Jawas or, more likely, Sandpeople. Having the big-ass fights on Tatooine explains why there is enough junk littering the desert to support a whole species of nomadic scavengers twenty years later.

Geonosis becomes Tatooine

The Jawa sandcrawlers are repurposed Republic troop transports. In Ep II we’d see them all pretty in Republic red, charging into battle alongside the Juggernauts/Clone Turbo Tanks from Ep III. Then in ANH we’d see them all old-ass and rusted.

ESB Imperial snow tank concept

Early ESB concept for an Imperial snow tank; It looks like a smaller version of an armed sandcrawler to me.

Regarding the specific decision to move the Clone Turbo Tank up from Ep III to Ep II: it would make more sense in terms of the evolution of weaponry. As it is, we see the proto-AT-AT six-legged AT-TEs in Ep II, then take a step back from walkers to rollers with the Clone Turbo Tank in Ep III. Much better to have the rollers in Ep II, then in Ep III the first-gen walkers could basically be Clone Turbo Tanks with legs. The Turbo Tanks are close enough to AT-ATs in geometry that you could just make longer and fewer legs to get from the Ep III six-legged version to the ESB four-legged version.

So, there are some imagined fixes that I’ll never see. But it’s a fun exercise.

Posted in Expanded Universe, prequels, Star Wars, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Circling around the Edge of the Empire

Star_Wars_Role-Playing_Game_1987

If it’s not already clear from my previous posts on the subject (like this one and this one), I am a hardcore fan of West End Games’ d6-based Star Wars: The Roleplaying Game. Here are some things I like about it:

  • The core mechanic is super simple. All of the stats–for PCs, adversaries, droids, vehicles, starfighters, lockpicking, social interaction, strength, damage, you name it–are in the form of nD6(+1 or +2 maybe). Like 3D, 3D+1, 3D+2, 4D. Roll that number of d6s (what muggles call regular-ass dice), add one or two to the result if that’s indicated, and you’re done. There is a single, simple difficulty scale (Very Easy: 5; Easy: 10; Medium: 15; Hard: 20; Very Hard: 25; Heroically Difficult: 30), or use opposed rolls for combat and other adversarial interactions. Your blaster is 4D+1 and the stormtrooper’s dodge is 3D–roll to hit. Your cannon’s damage code is 3D and the Imperial speeder bike’s body strength is 2D–roll for damage. And so on.
  • All you really need to play are character sheets and dice. After you’ve played about 5 sessions you can write down a character sheet from memory, and the dice can come from anywhere. More than once I played a pick-up game where we had zero official WEG gaming materials.* I’d write down character sheets while other folks stole dice from whatever games were in the closet. Heaven only knows how many unloved Yahtzee boxes gave their dice to Star Wars: The RPG.
  • That said, there was a vast amount of supporting material. As in dozens of published adventures and even more sourcebooks and supplements. Want to play a bounty hunter? Here’s a book full of how-tos, notable bounty hunters, some bounties to chase, and gear for the hunt. Repeat almost ad nauseum for smugglers, explorer, spec ops, etc. Thankfully almost all of this stuff is archived on the d6 Holocron site.

* Someone somewhere wrote that the history of D&D was a struggle between enthusiasts that wanted to treat it like a hobby, and a company (or series of companies, really) that wanted to treat it like a business. That seems apropos here. I did buy a ton of WEG Star Wars stuff, but IMHO stuff you buy should make the game better, not make it possible.

So anyway, WEG Star Wars is simple enough to learn in five minutes, deep enough to keep you going for years, has lots of stuff to buy (or download scans of, now) if that’s your thing, but in a pinch you can play with a few sheets of notebook paper and the dice from Monopoly.

Tragically, WEG folded in 1998. After that the Star Wars RPG license was picked up by Wizards of the Coast, which grafted the Star Wars setting onto their D&D rules. This worked with varying degrees of success, depending on who you ask. I dunno, I never tried it.

game-layoutNow the license has passed to Fantasy Flight Games, which has a reputation above all for giving gamers big boxes of stuff with high production values–possibly more bits than any game actually needs, and not cheap, but not cheaply made, either. Some people love ‘em for the nice kit, some people hate ‘em for making games too fiddly and charging for all the bits. The first wave of Star Wars RPG stuff from FFG is in the Edge of the Empire setting–basically scoundrels on the make in the Outer Rim–with settings covering the Rebellion, Clone Wars, etc. coming along in due course. Notably, there is an Edge of the Empire beginner box set (shown above) with pared-down rulebooks, starting characters, some sweet maps, and dice.

As an outsider looking in, the dice are the biggest potential hang-up. They’re not d6s, they’re not even regular “funny dice” like d4, d8, d10, d12, d20 like D&D and many other games use, they’re special proprietary dice just for this game.  They have symbols that require interpretation, and they interact with each other in potentially near-infinite ways.

To be fair, some people really seem to like this. Almost all of the reviews say that the dice are rough going at first but after a session or so they get to be second nature, and they really do enhance the storytelling in useful ways. But I have to admit that I have a gut-level dislike of the dice, for several reasons.

First, here’s the WEG 1st edition rulebook on modifiers and rolling dice (page 89):

If you can’t quite remember the modifier for shooting at a prone target, don’t spend a lot of time flipping through the rules looking for the right table. Combat happens fast–finding rules is slow. To preserve the atmosphere of fast action, you’ll have to act fast. If you don’t remember the modifier, use something reasonable and keep things moving. You decide; which is better?

Gamemaster One: “Okay the target is prone. There’s a difficulty modifier for that, now what was it? Hmmm. Don’t recall. Let’s see (flip, flip, flip). Page 142…yeah, okay, the table is…there we go. Aha. Okay. Plus five. Now what was the range?”

Gamemaster Two: “Okay! Your blaster goes ‘pyew-pyewpyew’. The target’s prone, so you need to roll a–oh, uh–a 15. (Clatter of dice.) Too bad. The stormtrooper rolls away from your shot, brings his blaster down level and…”

…and here’s the dice rolling example from the FFG website:

FFG Star Wars dicepoolScrew that.

Second, the dice are not cheap. The list price for one set is $15, although you can get them for $10-12 if you look around. They also have a dice rolling app that they will sell you for about $5. So you’re out $5-15 just to friggin’ roll dice–and unlike a $5-15 set of normal polygonal dice, these are not dice that you can use for any other game.

Third, you must have the dice to play. Suppose you’re at a friend’s house and everyone gets a hankering to play Star Wars. With d6, you’re probably good to go, as long as your friend has at least one other game in the house from which to steal dice. With FFG, you’d better have the app on your mobile device or carry your proprietary dice around everywhere you go, or you and your buddies will be doing something else.  Screw that noise forever twice (as Zak said about a different problem in a different game).

So if I’m so philosophically opposed to FFG’s proprietary expensive dice, why I am even thinking about their game? Why not skip the nerdrage and go think about something else? It basically comes down to three things:

One, I have read enough positive reviews of the FFG system to be intrigued. One guy on this (hilarious) RPGGeek thread even wrote, “I used to swear by WEG – but Edge does what I want at least as well, and easier” (emphasis added). Someone else backed him up. That got my attention. Even I have to admit that a long series of opposed rolls with big handfuls of dice can be a grind-y and uninspiring way to get through a battle.

Two, I’m a sucker for well-made game stuff, and like just about everything FFG touches, their Star Wars kit is just gorgeous. I’ve been seriously thinking about picking up the Edge of the Empire beginner box set just for the maps alone. Here’s a scan of the Mos Shuuta map from the box set. By the time I made large-format color prints of this and the other three maps that come with it, I might as well skip the piracy and shell out the twenty-odd bucks for legit copies, not to mention all the other goodies that come in the box.

Mos Shuuta map 966And finally, it’s more than a little hypocritical for a guy with probably $400 worth of WEG Star Wars books to complain about plunking down $15 for some dice. I gave WEG a shot and found it worth investing in, I owe FFG at least a try before I dismiss it.

So, I’m squarely on the fence. Persuade me or dissuade me–the comment thread is open.

Posted in roleplaying, Star Wars | 8 Comments