Saturday, March 16, 2013

Fight or Flight (Edge of the Empire Recap, 3-14-13)

When last we left the intrepid crew, they were impersonating another crew of smugglers, installing a program into a Moff's droids to slave rig his capital ships and steal them for the Zann consortium, and they had just been accused of being impostors by another group of smugglers that just jumped into the system before they had been cleared to leave.

The Moff promptly called the group and said that he knew what they were up to . . . that they had stolen the cargo from another group of smugglers, and that they had intentionally not installed the correct program for the droids so that they could negotiate the price, and invited them back on the ship to finish the job right.

Both smuggler ships were directed to the landing bay on the Nebulon B-2 Frigate, and Prawn, the Rodian pilot, made a piloting check to "fly casual" to that the other smugglers would get the berth to the inside of the ship, and thus left the party's ship with a clear shot out of the hanger.

The other ship bumped the rack of TIE fighters hanging over the bay, and strangely the rack malfunctioned as the smugglers bumped it, making one of the TIEs fall halfway off the rack and making it impossible for the TIEs to immediately launch without repairs, causing the other smugglers to be reprimanded harshly by the deck officer.

Everyone except the Jawa left the ship to negotiate with the Moff, and Max Damage, big fan of the Empire, was immediately taken with all of the grand positive traits of the Moff, and wanted to do all he could to make things better for the man  (despite needed to set him up for massive failure, which he now felt really bad about).

The party got the Moff to pay them the other smuggler's fee, and Sleerin, the Squib trader, convinced the Moff that the other smugglers were dangerous to be let loose, and offered to take their ship and make sure it was never seen again, if the Moff could take care of the smugglers themselves.  The Moff agreed to throw in the other group's ship, so long as they changed it's transponder so no one would look for it.

In the mean time, the Jawa, not knowing that the YT-2400 was now owned by the party, crept onto the other ship and rigged it so that instead of warming up to launch, a start up sequence would power up the lasers and fire.  In the mean time, the deck officer was so upset by the events of the past hour or so that he had to go have a drink and figure out how to get the TIE rack working again, thus leaving the landing bay.

Prawn convinced the Moff of human superiority by taking so long to program the droids, but thankfully he had built a device to painfully shock him to remind him not to screw up a second time, and he set the droids up, and also added a subroutine to have them all battle one another to the death like gladiators after they finished slave rigging the ships.

Payment set, job done, the crew set off to take their old ship and their new ship out of the hangar bay.  Osskwo and Tash started to set up the YT-2400, but Tash had seen too many ships that had been customized to assume there wasn't some quirk or nasty surprise on the ship, so he took a look around. Everything looked okay, but Nkit called and said, "sabotaged," so he looked again, and found the Jawa's handiwork before the ship could randomly fire off into the bay.

The group took off for Nar Shaddaa, and Sleerin nearly sold the YT-2400 for as much as a new ship, and the group also purchased a Firespray to escort their YV-664 on missions, as well as some upgrades, and repaired the damage the customs corvette did to their main ship.  While working on the ships, the group received a call from the Zann Consortium and were told all worked out with the plan.

Following up on a message that Max received, the group headed to Ord Mantell to help a friend of Max's relocate a group of alien orphans that were going to be put under the control of an Imperial bio weapons think tank.  While Max is assured of the supremacy of humans, and like the Empire, he also thinks that alien species have to be taught how great the Empire is and treated with kindness, the way you would a child, so if the orphans were being properly trained in how to be Imperial Citizens, he was all for this plan.

Loading up the enclosed Orphan Habitats, the group headed to Dantooine to a remote outpost that would serve as the new home to the orphans.  Upon arriving, however, the group learned that the new facility was overrun by Laigreks, and the head of the as yet unfinished facility asked for help clearing out the infestation.

The crew pinpointed the nest quickly, and destroyed it with the ship weapons, but then Nkit, Prawn, Max, and Osskwo entered the facility to clear out the bugs that were left.  The Laigrek swarm savaged Nkit badly, and injured Max, and Prawn heroically withdrew at full speed from the advancing insects, not allowing his concern for his fellow crewmates to interfere with the logic of self preservation.

Osskwo took out most of the swarm, but the Laigrek queen broke through the wall, and it chased Prawn, Osskwo, and Nkit out of the facility after charging over Max, but once he had a clear shot, Tash opened fire with the Firespray's laser cannons and turned the queen into a fine mist as she emerged from the cover of the facility.

Dice, Mechanics, and All of that Jazz

We only had one full on fight in this session, with the Laigreks, but I really like how the dice pools work, and how the advantages and threats and the Destiny Points work to tell a narrative.  As I mentioned in the session, in Saga, I would set a DC, and someone with a skill would make the check, and they either passed or failed.

It could be fun, and sometimes we would embellish exactly what happened, but with these mechanics, spending the advantages and threats and using the Destiny points just begs for storytelling.  Max thinking the Moff was a shining example of the Empire was a result of his poor roll and why he did so badly.  The deck officer leaving to get a drink was a result of Nkit's stealth check.  Prawn's gladiator sub-routine for the droids was a triumph.  The whole debacle with the other crew of smugglers had to do with the advantages from Prawn's piloting check.  Even negotiating over the price of a ship and components was kind of fun due to using those elements in Sleerin's haggling.

The system does help to make those non-combat rolls not only fun, but part of the ongoing narrative.  I'm digging the system.

Making a Career Out of Not Embarrassing the Inquisition (Dungeon Crawl Classics Recap, 3-7-13)

When last we left our intrepid bad of Dungeon Crawling adventurers . . . four out of six of them had died finishing up the threat that lie at the bottom of a huge chasm.  Not at all due to the mega-sleep spell cast by the party's elf.  Coincidentally the only other survivor of the incident being an elf.

However, crisis averted.

As the two elves crawled out of the collapsed hole, they found out that the village of Doomshadow was being reawakened by Inquisitor Sard utilizing a fancy chime of awakening.  The villagers, as well as visitors that had arrived in the town because of the celebratory games/potential virgin sacrifice were also awakened.

The previous town mayor had died due to the mercurial magic of one of the deceased members of the party and his unfortunate luck.  The newly promoted former deputy mayor thanked the surviving adventurers, and decreed that the old mayor would have wanted the games to go on.

Granshee, an elven barrister, and master of the complaint letter, also received his writ from the Inquisition proclaiming him free from the taint of Chaos and corruption . . . despite his beak, glowing pulses of energy, and hooves.

Aelanthea was the only other surviving party member, and also an elf, although Granshee became increasingly bewildered that everyone thought there was only one elf in the party.  Aelanthea and Granshee were introduced to the wandering adventuers Drewman DeAlfa, a halfling, Wilbur, a cleric of Great Cthulhu, and Hywell Von Hywell, a man that less kind souls would call a thief.

Hywell and Drewman both set to plotting how they might acquire the Inquisitor's chime, but neither managed to get the perfect opportunity.

During the games, Wilbur had a problem with his bow during the archery contest, and the newly promoted mayor received a fatal injury.  As this was part of the games, no legal ramifications were visited upon Wilbur, and the Exchequer of Doomshadow moved up to the position of Mayor, and celebrated the rest of the games barricaded in his house.

Granshee rested from his grand sleep spell, the party participated in the games, and Inquisitor Sard came to Granshee with his problem.  Within the borders of the Imperium, the Inquisition functioned under the offices of the Empire, and the Empire had decreed that too many villages had been put to the torch to cleanse them.  This meant that Inquisitor Sard's job would become more difficult, as he would actually have to find the specific sources of corruption, instead of rooting them out using the age old effective tool of mass bonfire.

He was concerned that Chaos tends to follow adventurers, and he had requisitioned enough funds from his church to pay the adventurers to sail to the Great City, a free city outside of the Imperium, which had a cathedral of the Lords of Order willing to pay adventurers that took Sard up on his offer to relocate.

Granshee agreed, and forgot to inform his companions of this stipulation of their leaving.  Wilbur discussed the matter with Sard himself, and obtained a separate letter declaring the new members of the party a second adventuring party, and thus worthy of a second "relocation" payout.  There were only slight hard feelings between the new members of the group and Granshee.  Only slight.

On the way to the docks, the party ran into a wandering mercenary looking for work.  The group offered to make Undrel into a henchman for a half share of party treasure, and he took the job, as his prospects in the region didn't seem particularly bright.  Undrel was left off of the list for either "adventuring party" and not told about relocation reward that the groups were about to recover.

After the trip across the sea to the Great City, the group decided to collect their prize  (while Undrel was busy with the horses), and set out to Mustertown, in order to follow up on rumors of adventure there.  The group had had a few successful adventures, but they were young, and sure that they wouldn't draw the ire of the mysterious spirits of the area that misliked skilled adventurers setting out from the Sending Stone.

Upon arriving at the Sending Stone, the group was stunned that they all appeared to be seasoned compared to the poor dregs trying their hands at the adventures offered by the Sending Stone, but they decided to visit the Lady to have their fortunes read.  She was kind to all of them, but they all received amazingly vague fortunes, with the exception of Undrel amazing fate to one day rule a kingdom, replete with various very specific milestones along the path.  Still, the party and the Lady seemed to get along well, and they set off.

No one killed them for being too experienced, so the expedition started well.  Landing in a swamp, they battled a mix if Crocodiles and Armadillos, and survived relatively intact.  Entering an ancient ruined colosseum, most of the party was moving forward very carefully, but Wilbur, craving secrets for the Great Cthulhu, bravely strode forth, leaping over a wall and a barricade of spikes to reach the center of the arena.

Wilbur fell through the center of the arena after getting shocked, and fell into a room surrounded by skeletons.  The power of Cthulhu compelled two of them, but he was still surrounded by a half dozen of the animate remains.  Before his companions could see what became of the priest, a dozen opossum men charged them, and battle was joined.

The opossum men were defeated, but the group had yet to rejoin Wilbur under the area.  Whatever happened, however, they knew they had found a nice little sculpture of a tree to bring back for the Lady, so at least that was a load off their minds.

Mechanical Parts

I printed out a random region map from this site:

Which was rather awesome.  I then took those locations on the map and placed most of my DCC material in various locations on the map where they made sense, and threw some rumors at the PCs, letting them follow up wherever they wished to do so.

Since they were already in the city, they followed up on the rumors corresponding to the Perils of the Sunken City adventure, and I figured I could make it work well enough, since three of our five in attendance were 1st level, and the final two were 2nd level.  I don't know if I forgot what the cutoff was for the Warden "ejecting" adventurers, but in my mind I set it at 3rd level.

Since Undrel was hired on as a henchmen for a half share, I'm letting him advance at half XP of the party, instead of never advancing and getting a flat rate.  He's an adventurer through and through.

I used the alternate skill check rules from Crawl! magazine to set the DCs for the competitions during the games, since it seemed a bit more dynamic to roll against the PCs rather than give them a set DC to see if they won any contests.

While I think its possible to run a campaign with a bit more serious tone using DCC, I think most of us are fairly happy with the degree of silliness in this game at this point, if only because it makes this campaign a nice pallet cleansing after years of this slot at the FLGS being used for Pathfinder games.

Learning the Game, or Why Does My Brain Hate Me?

A couple of experiences in the last few months have brought something to the forefront of my twisted gamer brain.  I realized a long time ago that the perfect reference product for an RPG was much different than the perfect book to read in order to learn the system in the first place, and I really empathize with anyone trying to walk the line between the two and put out a good product to break into the RPG marketplace.

But I was reminded of this divide between learning and reference over the last few weeks when looking at a few products.  I've been running Edge of the Empire for a few months now, and I really enjoy the game.  I do remember that when I first picked up the Beta rulebook, it took me a while to really comprehend how to do everything.  It's not that the system is complicated, but it just seemed like there were so many new concepts being thrown around and only causally touched on, that I felt lost.

It didn't feel like the game introduced something, made sure I was familiar with it, and then introduced the next term.

Fast forward to my reading of the Dresden Files RPG, and I felt something similar going on.  I loved how it presented the source material, and I was really interested in creating a city and getting some collaborative input from the players as part of that process, and it kept me reading.  But each time I read about some concept relating to a game term that I wasn't familiar with, I felt a little lost.

Now, I will fully admit, I have Gamer ADD  (not to mention the "real" non-gamer version), and when I see a concept introduced, I want to know what it means, and I want to understand that mechanic and to "master" it.  When I have too many concepts floating around half understood, I get frustrated, and sometimes it's hard for me to stay patient and trust the rulebook to introduce these things to me when the time is right.

I know that I can skip ahead and read about those concepts, but then my problem becomes even worse, because once I start skipping around a rulebook, I continue to skip around a rulebook, chasing after terms and pictures and concepts like a dog chasing a squirrel wrapped in bacon.  And once I've read a section, out of order, I don't feel like rereading it, but if I don't reread that section, then I feel like I'm going to not fully connect things because I'm not reading that section in context.

Probably just me, I know.

However, what reminded me of the split between learning/referencing was that in both of the above cases, I have read something recently that alleviated the problem I as having with comprehending the game at a pace that wasn't frustrating me, versus the number of new concepts being introduced.

When it came to Star Wars, I had already essentially gotten a grip on the system, but upon reading through the 48 page basic rulebook in the Beginner Game, it occurred to me that introducing just the rules, the concepts, and how everything worked, minus character creation and obligation and most (but not all) of the setting information, it clicked very quickly how everything worked together.

Similarly, when I started reading the Fate Core rules preview that I got for backing the Fate Core Kickstarter, a lot of the concepts that were introduced but not really fleshed out until later in the Dresden Files book really started to gel for me, just seeing the system itself.  The system, by itself, without the bells and whistles that are setting specific, and without the pauses that are set into the book for tying the setting to the rules, made much more sense, from a purely "comprehending the game" point of view.

It makes me wonder how much harder it would have been to understand AD&D if the Forgotten Realms setting had been hardwired into the rules in a stand alone book, with a discussion on the Weave and a history of wizards as part of the class description, for example.  I have never ready through them, but it also makes me wonder about how quickly I would have picked up Savage Worlds if I had been exposed to it as part of the Solomon Kane stand alone rules instead of getting my $10 Explorer's Edition that just presented the rules by themselves.

I'm not really proposing an answer to this problem, or even really proposing that this problem afflicts anyone other than me.  Heck, I don't even want to say "or people like me," because I don't want to wish multiple versions of myself, in any degree, on the world.

Selling a discreet set of rules as the Dresden Files RPG is going to be a quicker sale than selling a Dresden Files sourcebook for the Fate RPG, for example.  I mean, I know I started looking at Fate because of the Dresden Files, and not the other way around.  I really enjoy just reading how Fantasy Flight presents setting material in their 40K books, and I'm assuming Star Wars will be no different.

But part of me does wish that the RPG industry was big enough that it made more sense to have "teaching rules" and "reference rules" and even "integrated setting/game rules" all as discreet, viable options for more games across the board.  I am interested to see that this does appear to be happening a little more across the board, and I'm hoping that eventually I'll be able to check out Green Ronin's AGE system or the Chronicle system as base components minus the Dragon Age and Song of Ice and Fire trappings  (not that there is anything wrong with them).

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Double Smuggling and Wild Guesses (Edge of the Empire, 2-28-13)

After our exciting race last session, in order to keep things nice and balanced, the "face" side of the team got to prove themselves to the Zann Consortium.  In this case, our Force sensitive Squib trader and the Twi'lek wiseguy got to take center stage for the first part of the session.

The pair was given a mission to convince a reluctant Corellian shipping magnate to work with the Consortium running guns.  They had to meet up with him in an upscale Corellian style restaurant on Coruscant and convince him to take the shipment, and negotiate the terms.

Before they went to talk with the magnate, however, the Twi'lek decided to visit a Snivvian information broker that he knew to try and find some personal information on the Corellian shipper.  The Squib bargained the Snivvian's price down, and made a good impression to boot.

 Not only did they find out the information they were looking for  (personal information on the shipper's family), but they found out that he had a mistress as well.  Armed with this information, they decided to head to the restaurant.  At which point they ran into the shipper's bodyguard, a Echani mercenary armed with a force pike.

The Echani was an intentional call back to a previous campaign, where the party Jedi mind tricked an Echani into giving them information, and she showed up later in the campaign to kick in his teeth.

Strangely, the Echani found the Squib to be adorable and cuddly, giving the group time to talk to the shipping magnate.  After presenting the shipper with the whereabouts of his family, and then talking about how unfortunate it would be if his wife and mistress showed up at the same hairdresser, the shipper caved, and negotiated terms with the Squib.

The whole team having proven themselves, the group got their first look at the "big picture" that the Zann Consortium wanted them to accomplish.  Two feuding Moffs enacted embargoes against one another.  One Moff wanted droids from the other Moff's territory to retrofit his large fleet of smaller capital ships.  The Moff hired smugglers to pick up the droids and deliver them to his to work on his flagship, so that his fleet could be slave rigged and more efficient, in a effort to make his rival look worse to Imperial Center.

The Zann Consortium wanted the PCs to impersonate the hired smuggler, pick up the droids, take them to the Moff's command frigate, and then upload a program to the droids that would indeed allow them to slave rig the ships, but then would jump them to a point in Wild Space where the Zann Consortium can hijack them and acquire a small fleet of lower end capital ships.

Tash, one of our human Imperial sympathizers, was a bit torn on this mission, but decided that the Moff deserved what he got for feuding with a fellow Imperial, and felt better about the mission.  On top of this information, the Squib found out that his master might be on Raxus Prime in the Outer Rim, and the Twi'lek received a belated message from his dead boss instructing him to pick up a briefcase on Zeltros.

The group decided to try and do this quick, so they headed for the droid factory, putting aside the other leads for now.  Upon arriving, another crew of "independent shippers" that knew the crew (that the team was impersonating) showed up, and they attempted to blackmail the crew.  The disguised Tash managed to randomly pull the actual location of the real crew out of his void by guessing that the crew had cut short their vacation on Zeltros to make the delivery.

Unfortunately the crew forgot to plot an alternate course out of the system to deliver the droids to the embargoed system, and the local customs corvette extrapolated their course, and ordered them to stand down and prepare for boarding.

Not wanting to answer questions or be probed, the crew took off, trying to put some distance between the two ships and jump out of the system.  We got to have some ship to ship combat, and tried out the old cannons.  The Trandoshan got a few shots in on the corvette, and the YV-664 took a few licks, and everyone got used to space combat a little.

One big thing that is going to take some getting used to is the fact that accelerating does not equate to changing range bands  (i.e. you can be flying faster within the same range band, like a ship circling another in a dog fight), and it also took a bit of explanation to get everyone used to the limit on pilot only actions on a ship.

The group showed up in the rival territory, and the Moff's ship informed them that the warrant on their ship was being listed as regional, due to their "boss's" influence, and so they only needed to worry about travelling in original territory where they picked up the droids.  They were then directed to the command frigate to set up the droids.

The team set up the droids, but the Rodian made some mistakes on his programming check, and got a ton of advantages, but a net failure.  I let the team leave the ship, and then had the other smugglers show up (the blackmailers) to refute their identities, since the other smugglers had time to call Zeltros and find out that the real crew was still there.

I'm not happy with how I resolved this situation.  Initially I wanted to have the PCs have to fight their way out of the frigate if they set up the program improperly, but as we were getting close to the end of the night, I didn't want to start another fight, but I still wanted their to be consequences for the failure.  So I set up the cliffhanger ended.  I could have had the stormtroopers pulling blaster rifles on them as a cliffhanger, but I liked leaving them multiple options for escape instead of just an impending firefight.

Still, I didn't like that the failure consequence that I handed the players was so disassociated with the roll.  There is no way the programming check had caused the smugglers to show up.  The best I can come up with is that the programming took so long to set up that it gave them time to show up.  In the end, however, what I really did was do something with a failure that I should have done with accumulated threat instead of a failure.  Not happy with my own decision there.

Stuff that Worked Great

I really like how the mechanics work for generating story elements.  Not just explaining the threats and advantages and how they explain how well or poorly your action worked out, in addition to simple success and failure.  I like the elements that arise from spending fate points.  The Snivvian wasn't just an information broker, he was an old associate of the Twi'lek's that had worked with him before.  I like how the mechanics help to remind you to define elements in that way.

Stuff that Didn't Work Great

The game system wasn't really the villain in any of this.  I made some GM faux pas that I'm not thrilled with that I'd like to avoid in the future.

The first one is that I'm having a hard time making sure that all of the players get a chance to do what their characters are good at in various encounters every session.  Last session I did a better job of letting the techies, stealth guys, pilots, and combatants shine, but now that we had almost the whole crew together, I did a much poorer job of making sure we had a "sure thing" combat encounter for our combat oriented character, and those that lean that way.

The game system is good in that it allows for resolving a lot of non-combat situations so that you can run a game where the faces and non-combat types have good options for resolving situations, but it's too easy to forget to "hard wire" some combat in.  Not only does that make sense for the needs of the combat style PCs, but it's also much more Star Wars.

Finally, I'm not thrilled with the final encounter, as I spelled out above.  Specifically, I'm not thrilled with the fact that in order to give the PCs more options at the start of next session, I essentially railroaded them into a single story outcome that broke the conventions of the game.  I don't want to burn their trust in me as a GM by enforcing arbitrary story options after having them roll for a resolution.  They deserve better than that from me, and at this point in my GMing career, I should know better than to do something like that.

So while I'm happy with how the session played out, overall, I've got some work to do as a GM to fix the problems that I, personally, created, and some long term work to do to reassure the players that I won't make those mistakes again in the future.