Sunday, October 23, 2016

Stealing From Anarchy--Some Ideas from Shadowrun Anarchy Applied to the Star Wars RPGs

In Shadowrun Anarchy, the game is always moving in turns. Until everyone wants to interact at the same time, one player goes, and if they aren't in combat, once they take an action and do everything they want to do, it moves to the next player.

When all of the players are present and may need to quickly interact with one another and NPCs in rapid succession, the game moves into "Talk Time," and turns as rigidly moved from one player to another. Once it seems like players are doing individually important things again, you move back into the structured turns, which Shadowrun Anarchy calls "narratives."

So what does all of that have to do with Star Wars RPGs?

Star Wars is all about action. Things happen. Things move. The more traditional the game system is, however, the more likely you are to fall into traps like characters spending half a session shopping. When was the last time you remember shopping being a major part of a Star Wars story?

At the same time, credits and acquiring things are still a part of Star Wars. I have some other ideas for modeling this same thing, but there are always multiple solutions to a problem, and multiple tools that can be used in a project.

In the Star Wars Fantasy Flight RPGs, characters can't always assume that an item will be available. Items have a rarity, and if you look for it legally, you make one check to find it, and if you look for it illegally, you use another skill. Once you find the item, you can attempt to haggle if you want the item cheaper than it appears.

When a character wants to look for multiple items, and then look for it legally, fail, then look for it legally, then haggle for the item, this can take a lot of the wind out of the game. Sure, you can appeal to the character and ask them to move along to keep the pacing, but it feels like you are stifling what they want to do, since the game itself says you can do that thing.

In Committee 

When players are together and all interacting equally with NPCs and one another, the group is "in committee." In this instance, there aren't going to be a lot of checks going on, and those that are made will usually be ones that multiple players will be contributing to with assisted checks.

Solo Mode

In Solo Mode, characters explain what their character is doing. They can transition from one location to another, as long as it makes sense for the narrative (for example, the time it takes to go from the cantina to the spaceport doesn't matter, but it's one area transition to another--leaving planet wouldn't make sense to the narrative, however).

In addition to the one scene transition, the character can make one check that requires a die roll. Once that check is made, and the outcome is resolved, the scene wipes, and the next character describes what their character is doing, transitioning from one location to another, and making another check.

Just like in combat rounds, it doesn't matter what order people do things, but if player one goes, every other player at the table has to have their Solo round before that player can go again, transition locations, or make another check.

When a two players are in the same location, if it makes sense, the other player at the location can aid any checks that the player might make.

Shopping Lists

What if characters want to buy multiple things, and don't want to cycle through the group multiple times to get back to their turn?

If a player creates a shopping list, they can make their check to find the item, at the rarity of the most rare item on the list, with a setback die for each additional item added to the list, to represent trying to find one place that has all of the items they want.

So what do you think? Is shopping not an issue in your games, or do you have better tools that you use to keep the narrative moving? I'm curious to hear from you, and even more so if you implement a solution similar to the above.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

What Do I Know About Reviews? Shadowrun: Anarchy

Much like Adventures in Middle-earth, Shadowrun Anarchy wasn't on my big list of RPGs that I was attempting to get caught up on. I had heard of it a few months ago, and was kind of interested in checking it out, but it dropped off my radar until a few people in my online gaming chat circles started to talk about it again. After a couple weeks of successfully resisting the impulse buy, I finally gave in.

Shadowrun is one of the Big Names in the RPG industry, regardless of who is currently publishing the content. Much like World of Darkness, Shadowrun was one of those RPGs that gained a lot of traction and managed to shrink the domination that D&D held over the RPG industry. The other thing that is probably a bit ironic is that it is the biggest cyberpunk genre RPG, even though it's not "straight" cyberpunk by a long shot. Not too bad for a game that makes William Gibson cringe.

Shadowrun first showed up in 1989, and given that I was a subscriber to Dragon Magazine at the time, I couldn't escape it. I saw the ads, and I saw the products in game stores and book stores whenever I went shopping for the more traditional games that I was currently purchasing. Despite that, my group never really got into Shadowrun. At least not when we were all one group. When my friends went off to college, and we talked about separate gaming experiences, they had apparently picked up Shadowrun habits while out and about.

I was certainly interested, but initially the lack of disposable income (I wasn't ready to abandon D&D and Marvel Super Heroes to pick up something new), and eventually, the lack of gaming group, meant that I never checked the game out. Eventually, through the magic of video games, I was introduced to the setting, but I still had never purchased a Shadowrun tabletop product or played in a game.

When I returned to the RPG scene, I heard a lot of Shadowrun stories. People seemed to have a good time playing the game, but there were always--warning signs. Gamers would recount entire four hour sessions just spent planning a mission. Stories were plentiful about how combat was super lethal. Plans were so important that a player whose character screwed up their part "deserved" to have his character killed by the other PCs. Jokes about the number of six sided dice that needed to be rolled, and of course, about the density of the rules were common.

I wasn't overly moved to learn the game. But it still all looked so compelling, and I loved the video games. I really wanted some kind of "in" with the setting, something that wasn't just playing an RPG on my computer. I picked up the 5th Edition PDF, which looked gorgeous, but never quite made my way through it. Then I heard about Anarchy, which was suppose to be a "low impact alternate ruleset." I was interested, but there were so many other games out there. Then I started hearing people's impressions of the game. And now we're here.

The Book Itself

Shadowrun Anarchy is pretty consistent with books that I have seen from Catalyst Labs, which is to say, they are up there with the top players in the industry when it comes to attractive, well formatted books that sport high end, full color artwork. As far as I can tell, at least some of art is re-purposed from other Shadowrun material, but the art that appears is attractive and appropriate. It's grungy, shiny, colorful, and dark, all in equal measures, which makes sense for the setting. The book itself clocks in at 218 pages. All observations on how the book appears are made from the PDF, because, at the time of my review, the physical book isn't available.

Opening Fiction

The book has opening fiction. It takes up multiple pages, and uses some of the pre-generated characters from the Forces of Chaos section of the book, which is a nice touch. It's pretty standard if you are familiar with any cyberpunk tropes, but since this game is marketed, at least in part, to get new players into Shadowrun, it's probably not bad to reintroduce the basics. As with most fiction in game books, I prefer it right up front and not shotgunned throughout the rest of the book, and that's pretty much where Anarchy contains the fiction.


This is a really quick introductory section of the book that just quickly explains what each section of the book is about and then moves on.

Bleeding on the Edge

This part of the book is a quick primer on the Shadowrun universe, explaining why there is magic and weird creatures in the middle of all this cyberpunk. It outlines corporations, organized crime, gangs, law enforcement, political and magical groups, and daily life in the setting. All of this is in pretty broad strokes, but enough that someone picking up one of the pre-gens and playing through the mission briefs included in the book will probably "get" what is going on.

As an interesting side note, they do mention that Shadowrun is now "alternate history" urban fantasy cyberpunk, since the setting has remained relatively consistent with how it was envisioned in 1989, and introduced things like wireless access to computer networks much later in history than we have it now--and we also didn't get magic back in 2011, either. That we noticed.

Rules of the Street

This section explains the core mechanics of the game, how to roll the dice, and how to know when you were successful or when you failed at a task. Essentially, you build a dice pool based on a skill and an ability trait, and you need a number of 5s and 6s based on the number of 5s and 6s rolled by the opposing die pool, which is either a set number of dice or a dice pool built by an NPCs traits and skills. This can be modified by various Shadow Amps (anything magical or cybernetic you have as part of your character) and by other aspects of your character. You can spend Edge to change the success threshold of your dice roll, as well, and you can also spend plot points to alter your rolls, get extra actions, or movement.

There are quite a few ways that Shadow Amps, traits, and plot points can alter rolls. Enough that it's not easy to summarize them here. I will say this--from what I have seen of Shadowrun 5th Edition, this game is simpler, and easier to learn, but it's not exactly rules light. It's more on the low end of rules medium. The rules are logical, and intuitive, but there are a lot of ways to engage them.

Also, some terms start to be thrown around in this section that aren't as obvious until you see examples in later chapters. The section on building characters and the catalog of amps, traits, and gear at the end of the book make things much clearer, but the way the book presents some rules, you aren't sure if that clarification is coming. It may have been worth it to move that section forward in the book, especially for someone reading the book in a linear fashion.

Building Street Cred

This section goes into more details about how the rules presented in the previous chapter work at the table. By default, the GM doesn't do quite as much as a GM would in a traditional Shadowrun game. Their job is to present the scenario, and run the obviously appearing opposition. On each player's turn, called a narration in these rules, the character can use plot points to introduce more twists and turns into the story, and when characters make perception checks successfully, they get to narrate what they see.

The intention is for the players to add many of the details and surprises that a GM might normally be responsible for. This is the standard way that the Cue System works for games like the Valiant Universe RPG and Cosmic Patrol. For those not familiar with those games, it's not entirely dissimilar to Fiasco, where the players are expected to make their own lives more difficult and interesting, and the GM is only presenting the most obvious and straight forward of challenges in the game.

I think this could be a very interesting way to play the game, but this game is also meant to bring in people used to more traditional RPGs, as well as to possibly get some gamers from other editions of Shadowrun involved, so this section also includes a few notes on how to shift the game back to a more traditional PC/GM narrative structure. These rules give the GM a few more plot points to use and some more freedom on how to use them, and more narrowly defines how the PCs can use their plot points.

There are also alternate initiative systems, which involve moving from one side of the GM around the table, "cinematic" initiative, which should be familiar to players of Marvel Heroic Roleplaying, and traditional rolling. This section also mentions specific "Talk Time," when all of the PCs are interacting in a less structured manner, as every scene, not just combat, is assumed to use the same structure as combat rounds, allowing them to introduce plot elements via plot points, if they wish to do so.

Controlling Anarchy

This section gives GM advice on how to keep the narratives moving from player to player, how to ask the right questions to get details from players, and how and when to offer the players clues that they can latch onto in order to advance the storyline. It also introduces one of my favorite alternate rules--Target Tokens.

Using this alternate rule, if a player does the exact same thing in multiple rounds, that player acquires Target Tokens. If the player picks up three Target Tokens, the GM can cash them in to gain a bonus on actions against their character, since they have provided their opposition a discernable pattern of behavior.

Forces of Chaos

This section details character creation, for those players that aren't playing one of the characters from the section that provides pre-gen characters. There are rules for game "level," to show if the characters are brand new to their profession, somewhat experienced, or seasoned operatives. There are modifiers for what metatype the character has (human, elf, dwarf, ork, or troll) as well as attribute maximums for those metatypes. There are point costs for being awakened or emerged, allowing the character to chose magic Shadow Amps. Skill points are next, and then Shadow Amps.

The section on Shadow Amps is another one that can be confusing without the example Amps show up at the end of the book. While the cost in points (and essence, for cybernetics) is clearly laid out, examples definitely help to show exactly how the Amps should look and what they should do for their cost, especially when they can be custom built.

Essence measures how much of your metahumanity you lose to your cybernetic parts, and it creates a hard limit on how many cybernetic Shadow Amps you can have. Additionally, you take a penalty on rolls involving magic and healing based on how low this score gets.

One thing I'm going to throw in here that isn't apparent until later in the book is that while Shadow Amps are suppose to represent super high tech gear, cybernetics, magic items, and spells that the character knows, a few sample characters, as well as the examples at the end of the book, show "social amps." These are just basically things your character can do to interact with other characters. Given that there is a section for positive and negative qualities later on in character creation, it almost seems as if these "amps" might have been clearer if presented as qualities instead. Maybe it's just me.

Eventually you pick up two positive qualities and one negative (which you can later buy off with Karma), armor, and gear.

To finish up your character, you create cues, and then create your background, which includes dispositions. This feels a little redundant to me. Cues are kind of like catch phrases, and the point is to give you an idea what to do when it's your narration and you aren't sure what to do next. Dispositions aren't worded like cues, but they are suppose to be the things that your character is motivated by. Neither of these has a direct mechanical function, other than to flesh the character out, so it feels odd that these are two separate things, which have kind of a formalized way to represent them, when they are just there to help you define the character.

Finally, the chapter goes into character advancement, which is how much Karma you have to spend in order to upgrade your weapons or amps, or how much it will take to increase your skills. One note that isn't quite clear here, but is made clear later in the book, is that Karma is both your XP and your money, essentially. In the universe, you get paid X amount, but that translates into Karma you get for completing a run, and your character can negotiate the Karma they get much like they would scrip or nuyen "in character."

Street People

This section presents pre-generated characters, who can also serve as NPCs (and are referenced as such in some of the mission briefings later in the book), as well as definite NPCs, like bug spirits, corporate security, nature spirits, and dragons.

There is a huge selection of pre-gen characters, which makes this product very useful to just pick up and play, especially with how the mission briefs are presented later in the book. There is also a good cross section of the various metatypes and potential archetypes of runners from the setting.

The NPCs section feels a bit lighter. Even in the mission briefs, there are a lot of references to stat blocks that say to use "X, but swap out Y and add +2 to Z," which feels like it loses some of those great "pick up and play" kudos I just gave the game for all of the pre-gens included. There is a a fairly comprehensive conversion guide in the back, which should help a lot for building more distinct NPCs, but I can't help but wish for just a couple more pages of variety from the Shadowrun setting. Despite this, they do pretty much cover the basics, just not much of the exotic.

The Secrets of Seattle

I really like what they did with this chapter. While it could have been a fairly straight forward gazetteer of the Shadowrun version of Seattle, the end of each section makes the difference. Not only do they have a few comments "in universe" about what was just said above, which often highlights what the "adventurers" of the setting find most important, but each section has tags. These are several words that pertain to that section to remind you what sites are there and what the important themes of that section are.

It's not quite as extensive as what I have proposed in the past, but it is exactly the kind of tool I have been hoping more "setting detail" sections of books would adopt. Having the "bullet points" of what you were suppose to take away from the section appear at the end helps to digest the information, and makes it much easier to remember what was distinct about an area by just looking at the tags.

Happening World

This section has many, many mission briefs, which generally serve as an adventure outline for a mission that should be sufficient for a night of play. There are a few multi-part missions towards that end that can be chained into longer campaigns.

Most of them are simple and straight-forward, and there is a lot of "this is the main thing they need to do, make up the details as needed" to the mission briefs, but that is completely within the spirit of how the rules have been presented thus far. Additionally, the briefs usually give you names and locations, so you don't come up blank when pressed for more information.

However, the briefs also go one step further, with their own bullet points to reiterate the objectives, and tags to remind you of the elements that should be coming up in the mission. I really like this, both for keeping the session on track by reminding you of the objective at a glance, and for giving you a prompt when you need to improvise something. Look at the tags--has X come up yet? No? Then I guess it's time for that to happen.

Some of the briefs also start with a context or word watch section, which explain elements of the Shadowrun universe in more detail than the rest of the book might have, as it pertains to the particular mission at hand.

Some of the missions are just set pieces that can happen in between other elements of another mission brief, and the missions, have a lot of variety. There are standard cyberpunk style jobs, but there are also jobs that act as a sort of guide to daily life in the Shadowrun setting, and there are also jobs that deal heavily with the magical side of the setting. It was a broader range of missions than I was expecting.

If there is a downside to this section, it's what I mentioned earlier, in the Street People section, where NPCs will be referenced in the briefs, but then call for the GM to make multiple modifications to the stat block. This seems inimical to the improvisational feel of the game, as presented, and the more free-form structure of the mission briefs.

Anarchy and Fifth Edition

This section of the book gives you a guide to converting characters to and from Shadowrun 5th Edition, and makes a few notes on what books from the Shadowrun line would be the most useful to those wanting to use Anarchy in depth. I appreciated the candor about how some books might be too rules heavy to be of much use to an Anarchy-utilizing group.

I can't speak to how well the conversions from Anarchy to 5th Edition would work, since I never quite made it through that book. I have to admit, I'm kind of excited at the prospect of picking up a few of the suggested books and modifying the stats accordingly, which I guess is pretty good for Catalyst's bottom line.

For people playing Anarchy itself, however, the most important part of this chapter is probably the Anarchy Catalog, which is a list of all of the example Amps, Qualities, Weapons, Armor, and Gear, some of which only appear in this list. This includes "Critter Amps," which can be helpful in modeling monstrous things that weren't detailed in the NPC section.

My only real criticism of this chapter is that I wish the catalog had appeared in the character creation chapter to give some better examples closer to where they are most likely to be used.

Positive Mana

There is a lot to like in this book. It is easy to build dice pools, and fairly simple to figure out if actions were successful. The book "feels" crunchy enough to still be Shadowrun, despite using more narrative mechanics. While there are a lot of rules, the rules are intuitive in how they work, so it's not too hard to puzzle out all of those functions using logic.

Negative Mana

Because of where information is in the book, and the order that terminology is introduced, some people trying to puzzle out the rules may get lost before they find out how something is suppose to work. If you really, really want a rules light, narrative game, this one isn't quite what you may be looking for. Ironically, examples of how the game should work in the "default" mode, with more player control of the narrative, are a little light, and may be harder to pick up for people not used to more narrative based games, and the "alternate" standard GM/PC set up presented may be a lot easier to set into motion with the tools provided.

Fate of the Sixth World

I was feeling this product as a solid three stars until I started to see the tags, objectives, and variety presented in some of the later chapters, and the Anarchy Catalog, providing the solid examples that it did, pushed me over the top.

**** (out of 5)

Thursday, October 20, 2016

The Lost Mine of Phandelver Isn't Lost Anymore (Spoilers for D&D Basic Set Adventure)

For about 11 2-hour sessions, a group of friends online have been playing through Lost Mine of Phandelver. We've been playing this as an Adventurers League game, although I'm not sure how many of the players are going to be playing in AL games with their characters.

Cast of Characters

Ormar, Gold Dwarf Cleric of Kurtulmak (formerly Lathander, and Kurtulmak via Saint Hubal, Kobold Patron Saint of Allying with Bigger Folk for Gain and Prestige)--Ormar is a combat medic from the south who has traveled with a number of adventuring companies over the years. He's grumpy, but generally compassionate, but also just prone to doing weird, impulsive things.

Thokk, Tiefling Bard--Thokk likes to lie about everything, so his origins are a mystery. For a while, he was convincing people that he was a Warlock allied to Zargon the Returner. He also convinced people he was fleeing from, or working with, a goblin organized crime syndicate. He convinced the local bandits that one of his adventuring companions was a powerful sorcerer, and finally, he started spreading the world of Saint Hubal, kobold martyr.

Squinkie, Dragonborn Rogue--Squinkie is sneaky and a little bit paranoid. She likes to know that any time she meets someone new, she could kill them, and then can let them live if they don't seem to be a threat. Squinkie isn't a coward, however, as she tends to volunteer to scout in the most insane of situations, and is usually pretty good at it.

Lo-Kag, Goliath Paladin of Kurtulmak (via Saint Hubal, see above)--Lo-Kag started life as a Goliath sell sword that couldn't even speak common. A simple being that enjoyed testing his limits, he fell in with his fellow adventurers, but eventually the powers that be wished to be able to speak to him to make sure he understood his missions. Thus they hired a half-giant translator to speak with him, and Lo-Kag fell in love with the woman. To prove his love, he became more studious, learned common, and even studied culture in the North at a record pace. Moved by the sacrifice of Hubal, he became a man of faith, and won the heart of the translator who once dismissed him as a simple, yet charming, thug.

Tangled Narrative

Lo-Kag and Thokk were both rebuilt, Lo-Kag from being a low intelligence fighter, and Thokk from being a half-orc warlock. In both cases, we tried to work the rebuild into the narrative, and whatever doesn't make sense we chalked up to Ormar telling stories in bars and getting mixed up about what adventuring band he was currently with. "I could have sworn this was the group with the dumb fighter and the half-orc warlock." "No, that was the group you traveled with 20 years ago that died horribly." "Oh, yeah, right. Who is in this party, again?"

Adventures on the Road

The group started off as hirelings of Gundren Rockseeker, sent to escort goods from Neverwinter traveling to Phandelver, and they ran across an ambush, which appeared to have been sprung on their employer. Following a trail into the woods, they dispatched goblins and  hungry wolves, and rescued Sildar Hallwinter of the Lord Alliance, and found out their boss had been kidnapped by goblins allied to this band.

Local Heroes

In town, Squinkie and Thokk met with Halia Thornton, local Zhentarim contact, and were told about the Redbrand Ruffians, and that she wanted their leader dead, but the group more or less intact so that they could be hired as needed. Ormar met up with Daran Edermath, who shared some stories about undead haunting Old Owl Well. Lo-Kag attempted to get a job with the Lord's Alliance through Sildar Hallwinter, but had to wait for Ormar to translate for him.

Upon hearing about the Redbrand Ruffians, the group promptly set to work, and instead of just fighting them or tracking them to their hideout, Lo-Kag beat one of them senseless in the Sleeping Giant tavern, and Thokk convinced the rest that Squinkie was a powerful dragon-blooded sorceress, and that she was displeased with their activities. Terrified of the dragon-thing, they gave up information on the organization, and one of them started working as a mole for the adventurers.

The double agent smuggled the group into the Redbrand hideout, and tried to convert some of his fellows into agents to work for the adventurers. In the mean time, the adventurers killed the horrific one eyed Nothic, and rescued a goblin named Droop from his bugbear tormentors, and between the informant and Droop, the party crept into the Redbrand leader's quarters, and managed to kill the wizard, in the process finding out that he was a former Lord's Alliance agent, and that he was working with someone called "The Black Spider," who was organizing local bandits and goblin tribes into a single force.

Thokk convinced the town to spare the rest of the ruffians (so Halia could hire them), and the party negotiated that the lands near the abandoned estate where the Ruffians had their hideout should be managed again, and that Droop should serve as the overseer of the estate, with the Ruffians working out their criminal sentence as his caretakers. Halia reinforced to the Ruffians that they needed the legitimate cover and they could kill the goblin if they needed to. Droop was thrilled to have an important job and new friends.

Side Note--Both times I've run this adventure, the adventurers have more or less adopted Droop and tried to better his station in life. I kind of like that.

Urban Renewal

With the Ruffians managed, the Townmaster wanted to hire the party to look into orcs raiding near Wyvern's Tor, but Sildar had moved into the Town Master's hall and essentially displaced him and the local ruler while doing "official Lord's Alliance Business." Sildar also hired a half frost giant translator to help him issuing missions to Lo-Kag, and Lo-Kag became smitten with her immediately.

Squinkie found a kobold being tormented by some town folk, and used her fearsome reputation as a sorceress of great power to scare them away, and Hubal, the kobold, adopted her as his new mother. Hubal generally liked to eat any carcass that was lying around, but to make things more palatable the group taught him to add hot sauce to them. He became the group's mascot and followed Squinkie everywhere.

Droop's instructions helped to lead them to Cragmaw Castle, where the "goblin king" was consolidating local tribes under his control, and via his control, under the Black Spider. Thokk managed to talk the goblin sentries into bringing them into an audience with the goblin king, but the hobgoblin bodyguards were more wary, and just outside of his chambers, a fight broke out. The adventurers killed the goblin king, saved Gundren Rockseeker, and ran like hell because of how beat up they were and the fact that any reinforcements were likely to kill them outright.

Also, in the wilderness, the adventurers kept running into owlbears. Owlbears all over the place.

In town, Gundren and Sildar both fully displaced the Townmaster from his own hall, and asked the adventures to find the Wave Echo Cave so that they could secure the Forge of Spells for clan Rockseeker. And maybe find out of Gundren's brothers were alive. In the mean time, the townmaster convinced the party to look into the orcs, and they agreed to look into the undead at Old Owl Well.

While waiting for Gundren's map to the Wave Echo Cave, the group headed to the ruined tower at Old Owl Well, and ran into some ghouls (note: I substituted fewer ghouls for the larger amount of zombies in the original encounter). Upon defeating the ghouls, a wizard, wearing red, with head tattoos came out to greet the party, but Thokk decided he might be responsible for the undead, and attacked.

Thokk, Squinkie, and Hubal all ended up dead from an area attack, and the surprisingly cultured Red Wizard of Thay, Hamun Kost, apologized for the deaths, and told the surviving adventurers that he would gladly entertain them if they came back peacefully sometime in the future.

This is when the era of Hubal began. May his legend ever grow.

Back in town, the Harper agent and cleric of Tymora Sister Garaele offered to have the adventurers raised if they party agreed to meet with a banshee called Agatha and ask her about a lost spellbook. The surviving adventurers agreed, and Sister Garaele used her resources to have them raised (normally, the Zhentarim would have done it, but discussing it with the group, this solution fit the narrative better).

Surprisingly, the adventurers returned to Hamun Kost's encampment, and found out about his well appointed extra-dimensional space inside the tent, including a bath, and his lacquered skeletal servant, who brought them all tea and dinner. Kost mentioned that he, also, would like to know something from the banshee, in his case, who built the ruined tower he was camped near. He told the group that the undead weren't actually his making, but the remnants of a Netherese curse, and one he might be able to lift, if they could get the name of the wizard whose tower this was. He also mentioned that he really wanted the orcs to the south dead as well.

Suicide Mission

The group headed to speak to Agatha, the banshee, and strangely, Lo-Kag did most of the talking. Giving her the comb as a gift from the Harper agent, she shared the information on the spellbook, and she was about to dismiss the group, but they asked another boon.

Normally, she only allowed one question, but she told the adventurers that if they amused her, she would grant their wish, and if they failed, she would kill them all. The adventurers agreed, and Thokk sang about Hubal, patron saint of kobolds that found more powerful people to give them things and grant them prestige, who was immediately welcomed into the halls of Kurtulmak for his bravery and cunning.

Agatha was amused by the unlikely ballad, and also gave them the name of the wizard whose tower the Red Wizard was interested in. On the way back, they told the wizard his information, and he lifted the ancient Netherese curse. Additionally, they told him about Bowgentle's Book, which the Harpers were also looking for, potentially setting up a confrontation between the Harpers and the Red Wizards, but the adventurers really liked the Red Wizard when he wasn't killing half of them.

Provisions and Proselytizing 

Lo-Kag and Ormar started to think there might be something to this Hubal thing, and found that they were being granted divine power by Hubal's patron, Kurtulmak, for helping to spread Hubal's legend. Thokk sang more songs of Hubal in town, explaining how the weak should always look to make powerful friends.

Squinkie was now revered not just as a powerful sorceress, but as the mother of a saint.

Then the group set back out to kill the orcs at Wyvern's Tor.

I Told You So

Squinkie scouted out the orc camp, and even stole some weapons, but was eventually caught by the orc's leader (I subbed out a half-ogre ogrillon and an orog for fewer orcs in the encounter). Squinkie was badly hurt when she was discovered, but half the camp of orcs was sleeping, so once the two most powerful of the orcs were killed, the rest were easy to pick off.

The surviving orc told the group that the band was a scouting party from the Kingdom of Many-Arrows, but that they were traveling as envoys attempting to hire legitimate mercenaries so that they could register their formal grievance and declaration of war against Mithril Hall for breaking a treaty, so as to keep the rest of the Lord's Alliance from intervening. The party made him cut his ear off so they could get the bounty on him, and then let him leave.

When the townmaster was told they were a scouting party from Many-Arrows, he reveled in pointing out that Sildar didn't think it warranted Lord's Alliance attention.

Wave Echo Cave

Finally ready to retake Wave Echo Cave, the adventurers consulted with Gundren and left. On the way, they ran into a chimera that had killed a funeral procession carrying the dead body of a noble knight of the Order of the Gauntlet. The chimera nearly killed the party, but they survived, stowed the body to be safely taken back to town later, and acquired his sword, an enchanted weapon made to drive off orcs.

(This encounter was to give the PCs some of the treasure they had missed earlier, if they were willing to take the risk with the chimera, which itself was a thematic substitution for the green dragon that they could have run into had they wandered into another optional encounter)

In the cave, there were bugbears. So many bugbears. And there were undead. A flameskull, which Thokk used a spell to turn into a smokingskull so he could then taunt it, as well as zombies, and eventually a wight (I swapped out the wight for multiple ghouls in some of the encounters later on).

Badly hurt and in need of rest, the party retreated from the caves, and rested near where they had stowed the knight's body. The next day, they ventured back into the caverns, and were ambushed by bugbears and a drow, who, upon being defeated, turned out to be a doppelganger.

Side Note--As written, the Black Spider, the drow "boss" of the adventure, isn't all that exciting, and the moniker gives away what he is way too early. To rectify this, in my version of the adventure, the random doppelgangers in the adventure are all agents of the Unseen, a power group out of Waterdeep composed of doppelgangers and answering to mind flayers. The Unseen killed a group of drow, and used their reputation to take over the goblins and bandits in the area as they attempted to secure the Forge of Spells for the Unseen's use.

The adventurers spared the last bugbear, and bribed him with gold coins and cheese, to recruit other bugbears, in part by exposing the doppleganger's ruse to the bugbear. Also, Thokk, Ormar, and Lo-Kag attempted to convert the bugbear to Kurtulmak/Saint Hubal. He was a bit confused, because Hubal didn't preach being the Alpha Predator like Hruggek did, but was still okay with being sneaky. In the end, he recruited some other bugbears to hear the adventurers' offer.

The group set up an ambush on the Black Spider, sneaking in some of the bugbears to swap out for his bodyguards while giving cover to Squinkie to sneak in and attempt an assassination. The ambush set, the group kicked in the doors, with Ormar disguised as a bugbear for no particularly good reason but for even more chaos.

The bugbears helped to injure the Black Spider while the adventurers came in a finished him off, and Thokk and Lo-Kag attempted to convert the bugbears to the church of Saint Hubal while Squinkie became increasingly annoyed that she wasn't getting much help killing the last of the giant spiders.

Eventually the group found Nundro Rockseeker alive, kept that way so the doppelganger could find out what he knew about the Forge of Spells. Eventually, the group rested for a bit, and crossed the dungeon to confront the guardian of the Forge, and spectator summoned by wizards when the mines were still active. Nundro asked the adventures to come with him in case the guardian wouldn't stand down, but thankfully the guardian was convinced that Nundro was related to the miners that had once worked the mines, and let him pass.


Returning to town, Lo-Kag swept the interpreter off her feet with his tales of conspiracies that he helped to squash. Squinkie and Thokk reported the weaknesses of the Lord's Alliance to Halia and told her about the Unseen infiltration. Ormar held a huge festival for Saint Hubal in the town square and prepared the holy Hot Sauce for them.

The party used their clout to have the former townmaster appointed ambassador to the Lord's Alliance, and installed Droop and his new bugbear bodyguards as the townmaster instead. Townmaster Droop promises to be a boon to Phandalin, and in no way will be too busy to notice the Zhentarim activity that his former farm hands will be getting into.

Next Up

After a few week hiatus due to everyone in the group getting simultaneously busy, next month the group starts Princes of the Apocalypse. It should be an interesting experience with this group.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

What Do I Know About Reviews? Force and Destiny: Chronicles of the Gatekeeper

The weekend rolls on, and I roll out another review as my backlog grows ever smaller. This time, I gave the cover to cover treatment to the first stand alone published Force and Destiny adventure, Chronicles of the Gatekeeper.

This was interesting for me, because to the best of my knowledge, there haven't been many published Star Wars that focused almost entirely on a party of Force users. While there have been adventures in the past that could be seen as similar to Edge of the Empire style adventures or Age of Rebellion style adventures, I think having an all Force user party is something that most Star Wars RPGs didn't assume in the past. If I'm wrong, let me know! I'd be happy to look into whatever Force centered adventures may have come out in the past.

Chronicles of the Gatekeeper came out towards the end of last year (2015), just a bit ahead of the release of The Force Awakens in theaters, so this adventure was most likely largely developed with the idea of the EU being Legends. The Lucasfilm policy that games (video, RPG, or otherwise) aren't meant so much to be canon, as they are to represent "authentic Star Wars experiences," was already coming into play. The Fantasy Flight products now tend to intersperse some old EU material that has yet to be either entered into canon or contradicted, although really ancient stories, like information from The Old Republic, tends to get disclaimed as unverified ancient history and folklore in the modern Star Wars era.

Physically, the book is an attractive hardcover that meets all previous expectations for Fantasy Flight products. There is quite a bit of artwork that was clearly designed specifically for this adventure, and depicts many of the unique NPCs, new locations, and species that show up in the book. The page count for the adventure, as is standard for the Star Wars Fantasy Flight RPGs, is 96 pages.

Opening Fiction

At this point, the pattern has pretty well been established that the Star Wars adventures from Fantasy Flight will have one page introductory fiction that introduces NPCs from the adventure, doing something that leads directly to some aspect of the adventure. This one is no different, and it does a good job of setting things up and getting out of the way.


The introduction includes a plot synopsis, major NPCs, and a section on how to use this particular adventure if your players are running characters from Age of Rebellion or Edge of the Empire and include only one or two Force sensitive characters. Essentially that guide points out a few encounters that you may want to weigh a little more heavily to play up the other themes of that particular RPG.

Since Morality doesn't work exactly like Obligation or Duty in the other two RPGs, there is just a mention that there will be sidebars calling out particularly important scenes in each episode where Morality might come into play and characters might be more likely to generate Conflict.

The introduction ends with a new Force power tree that is essentially a specialized version of the Foresee ability that revolves around individuals instead of events. It's an interesting power, but aside from the range or the speed the ability can be triggered, only the initial tier of the power involves seeing the future in "plot" terms, and the other upgrades have to do with the mechanics of combat. This ability appears here because one of the reasons that the plot moves forward is to give PCs access to this particular Force power by tracking down crystals that will unlock information from a Holocron.

Episode I

Episode one includes an optional encounter where the PCs can acquire the Holocron to begin with. For brand new groups, you can assume that if they start with a Holocron, that the device is the device from this adventure. The Holocron then leads the PCs to a planet to start hunting down crystals that will complete it's knowledge of the Force power introduced at the beginning of the book, by retracing the steeps of a Jedi active during the Clone Wars.

The device leads them to a planet where they can either go in guns (or swords) blazing and take the item they are looking for, or they can attempt to be sneaky, or they can resolve a community crisis and overthrow a bad leader, and finally get the crystal. It's a pretty wide open approach, with details of the town and some key encounters that could happen, but with the PCs determining how they want to proceed. Part of this is to make sure they they have the chance to make moral decisions along the way.

There are mounted beasts they can rent and ride, a new alien species that is detailed as a PC species, if one of the players wants to make a new character from this planet, and an optional encounter with Imperials that might make things more complicated. Essentially, there are several encounters listed, with some listed as optional. If the PCs either are anxious to move forward or do really well in whatever plan they come up with, you can just circumvent the extra material.

The biggest quibble with this episode is that a few of the characters in the optional encounters are listed as "use statblock from page X of the core rules, but replace Y and Z," which makes for more work for the GM.

Episode II

There is a bit more investigation in this leg of the adventure, as the PCs can basically be jerks and bulldoze their way through, or they can spend time helping out the locals on Cato Nemoidia, gain their trust, and get pointed in the right direction. Depending on how helpful they are, they may not even need to make checks to get the information they are looking for.

This section of the adventure deals with the Jedi that recorded the Holocron, and his actions during the Clone Wars, which lead to his fall to the Dark Side. Ironically, if the PCs give in to the Dark Side and power through this section to get the information they need to find the crystal, they don't get the backstory that explains to them that they may be doing exactly what that Jedi did before his fall.

Cato Nemoidia is a planet with some interesting visuals and structures that has appeared a few places over the years, so it may be recognizable to the players. Depending on how much they want to help out and how much they play through the encounters in this section, this episode could resolve rather quickly. The amount that the players get out of this episode is going to depend a lot on how much they want to put in, and how much they are interested in the Clone Wars era of Star Wars. While there are some optional encounters that might lead to confrontations, depending on how they proceed, these may not happen, so unlike Episode I, there is no set climax to the episode, which may also be a negative for some players and GMs.

Episode III

To find the final crystal, the group is going to have to head to Moraband (sigh, yes, that's the same planet as Korriban). However, in the modern era, there aren't really any records of where Moraband is located, which means the PCs may need to make a side trek to find some pre-Clone Wars era navigation charts.

The GM is instructed to let the PCs try anything they want to find these charts, but if the situation is presented to the Holocron's Gatekeeper, it suggests a Jedi retreat on an aquatic planet. There are some rules for using a non-submersible ship to go underwater, and a big sea creatures that's too big to really fight, so the PCs will poke around trying to find something useful.

Interlude: Nerd Moment of Varying Importance

The key to finding the navigation data for Moraband is to find a ship in the retreat and get the old data from it's nav computer. The problem is, the ship in question is an Delta-7 Aethersprite interceptor. Those don't have hyperdrives, and thus, they don't have nav computers. They are only hyperspace capable if they are docked with a hyperspace ring, and their R2 unit will then serve as the nav computer. Thankfully, if this bothers you because you are as big a nerd as I am, the encounter actually also has the R2 unit that was with the ship in the same bay, needing repairs, so the encounter still works almost as written.

On Moraband, either a vengeful crime lord from Episode II, or a group of bounty hunters will follow you and confront you before you can look for the tomb of the fallen Jedi and claim his final crystal to allow your group full access to the Force power tree that he developed. One odd note about this is that the bounty hunters you may run into in this encounter are noted as being the same bounty hunters that were in the optional opening encounter, rather than the bounty hunter in Episode II that is specifically mentioned as existing so he can show up later in the campaign. Easy enough to switch the bounty hunters around, but it was odd, especially since the first group of bounty hunters will have no tie to the party if they didn't play the optional first scene.

The adventure mentions multiple ways that the PCs can zero in on the location they are looking for, either by using sensors or Force powers, or even having the Holocron try to reason out the most likely place for the Jedi to have gone. Like the previous two episodes, there is essentially a toolbox of encounters, several of which are marked as optional, that you can trigger as they march across Moraband.

The flavor of the planet is heavily influenced by the "Mission to Morriband" episode of the Clone Wars animated series, using the Dark Side Phantoms as the PCs' greatest fear come to life to attack them. There is an interesting mechanic for resolving attacks against them that I kind of like, involving their Willpower stat.

The final confrontation with a Dark Side Force user is described in a fairly epic manner, and also contains the ability to bring that character back to the Light, if the characters wish to make the attempt, even during the fight. If they go that route, some of the Dark Side Phantoms actually show up to remind him of all the evil he has done, so that there is a physically manifest battle for the character's soul that I really like.

At the end of Episode III, there is a section about the long term ramifications of the adventure, but instead of adventure hooks and contacts, it revolves around remembering to throw out some nasty nightmares and reminders of how psychologically grueling Moraband was, and how some of the locations the PCs visited previously could turn into hellholes or get better depending on how they blew through those sections of the adventure.

The Dark Side

There are a few places where it felt like things were thrown together in the adventure and a few details were missed, like the starfighter and the nav computer, the stat blocks, and the bounty hunter encounter towards the end. There is a large amount of information in this adventure that deals with the Clone Wars, so if players aren't so into the prequel era, that may not appeal to them as much. Episode II isn't a bad act at all, but how well it works is really going to depend on how much the PCs engage the plot and the NPCs, which means it could just shoot by unnoticed.

The Light Side

While the goal of the adventure is straight forward, the first two episodes are wide open with how the PCs want to approach their goal, which means they have lots of opportunities to engage in plans and moral choices. Episode I and III have very clear climaxes, and III especially is pretty epic in how it feels. The sections detailing Moraband can definitely be re-purposed to good use in other Force and Destiny adventures.

Final Verdict

This is a good, solid adventure to kick off the Force and Destiny line. There should be a lot of interesting choices to make, and it has a suitably epic conclusion. The only thing that detracts from the overall picture is that the reliance on Clone Wars era imagery and story elements, and the potential to leave a lot of good roleplaying material in the dust in Episode II. That means that it may not be as universally loved for the epic ending presented.

*** (out of 5)

Friday, October 14, 2016

What Do I Know About Reviews? Age of Rebellion: Onslaught at Arda I

After tackling two adventures for the Edge of the Empire system, I thought it would be interesting to look at the first adventure to come out of the Age of Rebellion game, that adventure being Onslaught at Arda I. Previously, I had mined it for the mass combat rules and action track mechanics that the adventure introduced to the game, but now I've read it cover to cover, and I've got some thoughts.

Onslaught at Arda I was the first adventure for the Age of Rebellion system, which was the second of Fantasy Flight's Star Wars RPGs to see publication. The "Legends Announcement," where the Star Wars EU was clearly branded as an alternate reality to what was going to be published and portrayed in Star Wars media from that point forward, occurred only a few months before Onslaught at Arda I saw publication, which means it was likely well into development by the time anyone could react to the news.

Unlike the earlier Edge of the Empire adventure and it's continuity sidebars, this product doesn't have any disclaimer discussing the EU or canon events versus the events in the adventure. Despite that, there is still a section that references events that happened in The Old Republic video game and uses a planet that was first mentioned in that game as one of the settings for the adventure. Arda I was previously referenced in the old Star Wars newspaper strips, but the action in the strips takes place on neighboring Arda II (or Arda-2 in the strip), so there wasn't much previous material with which to detail the planet.

Crude Matter

As goes without saying for most Fantasy Flight products, Onslaught at Arda I is a very attractive book. The format is consistent with the previous Star Wars RPG products, and the amount of art specific to this book and it's locations is considerable. The book itself, as is standard for the Star Wars RPG adventures, is 96 pages long.

Introductory Fiction

Like The Jewel of Yavin, the introductory fiction for this adventure is limited to a single page, and involves characters that will be NPCs in the adventures, explaining a situation that comes to light later in the adventure. For someone that isn't a fan of fiction inside of game products, I like this approach, and it's probably one of the most effective ways to utilize fiction in a game product.


As with most of the Fantasy Flight Star Wars adventures, the introduction gives on outline of the general plot of the adventure, a sketch of the most important NPCs in the adventure, and some advice on how to tailor the plot to the PCs in the adventure, using their motivations as a guide.

Unlike the Edge of the Empire adventures, where the Obligations are used to tie the adventure to the PCs as well as motivations, the section on customizing the adventure for the PCs focuses on their motivations. Duty, since it basically represents what the character specializes in and is focused on from a military perspective, is just kind of assumed to fall in line when their Duty comes up.

A lot of the introduction is spent introducing the Alliance traitor and giving his motivations, and he is actually somewhat sympathetic. They play with themes of collateral loss and how much chaos people are willing to accept versus how much freedom they are willing to give up. This same section definitely paints the ISB as nasty characters, doing despicable things to nudge the balance towards the Empire.

I felt a little bit of a red flag when the introduction mentions that the GM may want to come up with or adapt some scenarios that let them have the PCs meet and interact with the Arda I base crew, since interacting with the NPCs and getting a feel for them would be important later on. This concerned me because it makes me worry that the adventure isn't quite as complete as I may have hoped, and if I'm a GM that is running this because I don't have the time to work up a whole campaign on my own, telling me to do extra work to use this adventure means what is in the adventure should really be amazing to make me want to use it.

As a bit of a flash forward, the adventure itself seems to keep assuming the PCs are outsiders new to the base, with few notes on how to modify the adventure for them being "insiders," so I'm not sure those extra adventures are really needed.

Side Note: Duty Sidebars

The introduction mentions that there are sidebars that can be used to introduce little side actions that you can have PCs perform when their Duty triggers. Because they are first mentioned here and scattered throughout the book, I wanted to address this up front.

These aren't all that useful as side actions to throw in when Duty triggers, because not every Duty has examples in every act. Some of the sidebars seem interesting as ways for the PCs to gain more points of Duty, but in some cases, they can't even avoid the "side action," it happens as part of a main part of the adventure, so it not even something "extra" to trigger, it's just assumed to happen.

Episode I

Getting to the base on Arda I is suppose to require tricky flying, but the representation of this flying isn't presented in the same flavorful manner of, for example, the flight to the surface of Raxus Prime in Beyond the Rim, or the legs of the race in The Jewel of Yavin. In addition to the less exciting way of presenting this piloting challenge, as written, it's assumed that your characters don't have a piece of equipment they really kind of need if they are suppose to be assigned to this base, which feels really odd. It turns out, this kind of sets the tone for some of the biggest problems in this adventure, because your characters can make a check to jury-rig the piece of equipment, which promptly doesn't matter because of the plot.

After the introduction, the PCs are suppose to wander the base and meet up with the NPCs, so they have some names later on when it comes time to figuring out who the traitor is. Oddly enough, the NPCs mentioned in this section are only about half the NPCs that are potential suspects, with the other half not being introduced until Episode II, even though they are all part of this cell and should be present. I also wish they had assigned an NPC to give the PCs a tour of their new base instead of having the PCs try to figure out where to go and what to do without any prompting. There is an NPC perfect for this, but he isn't used for this role. Even later when he appears to be introduced as someone to help keep the PCs on track in their investigation, he just sort of tells them to bring him evidence, and there is no mention of him nudging them in the right direction if they go off track.

I did appreciate that there is at least a little bit of space spent on mentioning how this might play out differently if you want to use this as a bridge between an Edge of the Empire game and an Age of Rebellion game.

Part of this episode is designed to evoke the feel of Echo Base being assaulted by the Imperials in The Empire Strikes Back, and the subsequent evacuation. To this end, there are also mass combat rules introduced in this episode. I really like the mass combat rules. They are simple, have their own chart of how to spend symbols, and can be used to quickly determine big fights that are on a larger scale than the PC skirmishers. I also don't really like how they use them here. Essentially the PCs have multiple tasks to accomplish, and those tasks affect the mass combat roll--so far so good. But there are four stages to the assault, and for the first three stages, the main consequence of winning or losing is just a boost die or a setback die to the next check, and the final stage consequence is basically how many bad guys the PCs fight on the way out.

There is a thing the PCs are suppose to find that clues them in that there is a traitor, and they have three chances to trip over the thing, and the final time they trip over the thing, the actual traitor is right in front of them, but because plot they can't see who it is or chase them. I mean, at least have the GM flip a Destiny point and come up with a good narrative reason for the PCs to not be able to pursue.

There are flying and ground missions, but they all happen in sequence. X happens, then Y happens, etc. It would have been nice for some of these things to have been potentially concurrent, so that while the ground forces of, say PC soldiers and engineers do a thing, the pilots and gunners can do a thing as well, and if you don't have one or the other, they aren't doing a thing they aren't good at for a segment of the adventure.

There are named Imperial officers here, which I like, but no good way in the narrative to introduce who they are or any reputation they might have, so they might as well still be TIE Fighter Flight Leader. NPC statblocks also have a lot of clutter, with talents that don't seem relevant in the capacity that the NPC will be used. Do you really need to put talents into the stat block to show their ability to buy restricted goods on the black market, or could you just give them a high Streetwise skill and leave it at that?

Towards the end of the chapter, there is a whole page of information based on how much evidence the PCs have and how long they have been serving with the Rebellion about how hard it is to convince the leaders of this cell that there is a traitor. If you succeed, they admit there may be a traitor. If you fail, they don't think there is. Neither outcome affects the rest of the adventure at all.

Episode II

Episode II sees the PCs move on to a remote swampy world with lots of strange alien predators. Remote Rebel base? Check. Lots of strange alien monsters that can cause problems? Check. Good use of Star Wars tropes.

The episode is broken up into several missions that the PCs will be asked to do as their "day job" on the planet, and the second half details investigating into the traitor. The "day job" is pretty serviceable, and makes sense for a new Rebel base being set up. The investigation side has a lot of promise, but ultimately feels pointless.

There is a bit of a false start where the PCs are introduced to a Rebel officer who is suppose to be on the lookout for traitors and has a bit more pull than them. You get the feeling that he might be in the adventure to point them in the right direction if they don't have good ideas for the investigation. Instead, he's there to take the evidence they gather, and talk to the leadership for them. There is also a section about using various skills to ask around the base about a traitor, and all of the successful results lead to red herrings, but those red herrings might have useful information. So to proceed with the real investigation, you have to successfully get wrong information that will lead you to other NPCs that if you get a normal success might give you a useful clue, but the really useful clues don't come up unless you get multiple advantages or triumphs.

Why couldn't the guy looking for traitors just point the PCs to the second layer of NPCs right from the start? Maybe there should be some kind of mechanic for getting better clues from them than hoping for the good one with a triumph. The PCs also might trip over a few computer programs with much more direct clues, but the GM is warned off of doing this unless the PCs hit a dead end. Like getting a bunch of false leads after successfully making their rolls.

If you successfully present your case to the Alliance leaders, the traitor activates his plot armor and kidnaps one of the leaders, and the PCs can't stop him. Then they can go on a chase after him, and if they win the chase, he still gets away. On the other hand, if they present information on the wrong person as the traitor, they get thrown in the brig, then immediately released to go after the traitor when he escapes.

Episode III

This episode starts with one of the Alliance Leaders handing you an astromech droid and saying "the traitor is from this planet, we're 100% sure he's heading there, and this astromech will give you a route that will get you there before he arrives." No making a Knowledge (Outer Rim) to find a nearby Imperial world or finding a file to slice in his private journal. Then you make four hyperspace navigation rolls, and if you fail, you still get there before him, but with a little less time to do stuff. Also, they mention how long it takes with a Class One hyperdrive, but if you aren't using a ship with that rating, there isn't any note on it being harder to arrive before the traitor.

The last leg of the hyperspace jump has an alternate effect on a despair that introduces an encounter with a capital ship that should be terrifying, but is kind of hand waved. It feels like a complete waste of the ship, and the encounter notes don't even make note of scariest thing about the type of ship they use for the encounter.

This episode introduces the action track mechanic, which ticks off a box every time "something"  happens, and at the end of the track, an event is triggered. I like this mechanic, and hope to see it in future products, just like the mass combat rules in Episode I. It also feels like something that could have been used in Episode II, and I'm not really sure it creates the tension that it is suppose to in this episode. There just aren't high enough stakes for failures or events triggering to make it feel tense.

This episode has two more chases where if the PCs win, the plot still happens the same way, a Rebel agent that is detailed and I'm not sure how you actually meet her, and finally, a boss fight with something that feels like the tabletop equivalent of a Quick Time Event from a video game. In the end, if you rescue the Rebel leader, do you have to sneak out of the capital and escape the planet without anyone noticing you? Nope. Exactly the moment you defeat the boss and walk out of the "boss lair," the Rebels from your cell catch up with you, and despite the Imperial presence on the world, you succeed.

I actually like Ord Radama as a setting for possible insurgency, but the text mentions the names of The Old Republic (as in the video game) era ships and the statue of Darth Malgus without clarifying if people are suppose to actually know what these things are in the modern era. Even one of the boxes of flavor text mentions Darth Malgus by name, which either feels like a mistake or as if it's addressing the players and not the characters.

Imperial Protocols 

There are so many encounters that have no stakes. This feels very much like a railroad adventure. So many sections essentially have the PCs roll for things, and no matter what happens, the plot proceeds exactly the same way. There are some great tools for mass battles, timing events, and even having named Imperials that can serve as memorable bad guys, but as written, those tools don't do much in this adventure, and there isn't much opportunity for those named Imperials to actually have any drama associated with them.

Alliance Principles

Used for other purposes, the mass combat rules and the action track are great tools for the game, and I hope to see them used elsewhere. Jagomir and Ord Radama are interesting places to use as locations in a longer term campaign. The NPCs introduced in the investigation section are kind of interesting and give you a ready made group of people for your PCs to interact with so that their Rebel cell can be a place populated with actual characters and not just faceless Rebels.

You May Fire When Ready

There are some fun NPCs, and as a sourcebook for running missions out of the locations detailed, you can certainly get some utility out of this book. The tools included can be useful when repurposed. The adventure itself needs a lot of work on the GM's part, or players that don't mind the railroad, as it becomes more apparent across the episodes. The novelty of the adventure itself isn't so great as to make that work seem worthwhile.

** (out of 5)