Monday, December 26, 2016

What Do I Know About Reviews? Force and Destiny: Nexus of Power

Much like the quest of a Force sensitive individual who is being pursued by the Inquisitorius and is attempting to piece together useful information about Force traditions in a galaxy that is fraught with danger, I have finally completed my month long quest to finish this book and write a review. Upon finishing it, however, I cannot move things with my mind or see the future. But nobody tried to kill me either--I just had job interviews, testing, a general life chaos to deal with.

A Place In Time



Nexus of Power came out in March of this year (2016 as of the writing of this blog post). That means unlike some of the other Fantasy Flight Star Wars books that I have reviewed, this book was published not only after the Disney purchase of Lucasfilm, and not only after the Legends designation was created, but after The Force Awakens had already been in theaters.

Because of this, the book contains references to a lot of more recent Star Wars material. Lothal, the location from Star Wars Rebels, makes an appearance. References to Yoda's spiritual journey to find immortality, detailed in the "lost season" of the Clone Wars (which first aired on Netflix) also play a significant part in the content of the book. Other Clone Wars content, such as the infinitely fascinating and ultimately frustrating Mortis arc contribute to the lore referenced in the book. Finally, the Dark Side shrine located under the Jedi Temple on Coruscant, first referenced in the Tarkin novel, makes an appearance as well.

Legends and Mythic Forms



This book continues a tradition introduced in the Force and Destiny Core Rulebook, which references Legends material regarding Force traditions and the history of the Jedi, Sith and other groups, but then casts what was history in the Legends continuity as essentially parables or myths in the modern era. This means that GMs can decide if they want to assume that the events from Legends literally happened in their campaign, or if the general stories from the Legends continuity might be told, but either aren't true, or aren't able to be verified.

Specifically, the book references the "Qel-Droma Epics", which contain the stories that we would know as the Tales of the Jedi comics from the 90s, but then mentions that the "Revan Mythologies" may not be a separate story so much as a more modern retelling of the same fall and redemption arc. This is actually a pretty fascinating way to frame these stories for games set in the Rebellion era of Star Wars, because it actually feels like an authentic scholarly discussion of ancient religious texts.

Physical Manifestation

This is a Fantasy Flight book. Do you want to guess how it looks? How the artwork is? The layout? Continuing the broken record, all of these are really attractive. One interesting note is that the sections that detail "myths and legends" have their own distinctive formatting (like the core rulebook), almost as an indicator to pay special attention to these sections. The book is 144 pages, like the other "location" sourcebooks in the Fantasy Flight Star Wars lines.

Introduction

This section has a one page fictional account of a Force related trial, and then details what you can expect in the book. The layout of the book is similar in form to the other "location" sourcebooks from the Fantasy Flight Star Wars line, but unlike the Edge of the Empire books, it follows the same pattern as the Strongholds of Resistance, detailing locations based on a theme rather than on galactic region.

The theme, in this case, is worlds strong in the Force. This is especially reinforced with the section on Vergences, locations where the Force manifests in especially potent ways. In addition to a chapter on specific planets, there is a chapter on Vergences (some of which are located on the planets in the previous section), a chapter on player options (character species and gear), and modular encounters.

Worlds of the Force



This section details Illum, Naboo, Dagobah, Weik (a new location detailed here for the first time), Lothal, Bardotta, Auratera (another new location), Aleen, Devaron, Iktoch, Empress Teta, and Ossus. Unlike some of the other location source books, where there are a few pages at the end where a wider selection of planets is detailed in a paragraph or two, in addition to all of the planets that get full, multi-page entries, only the longer entries are present in this section.

The first thing I will say is that I like having a wide range of somewhat detailed entries for planets that aren't the big name planets from the movies available to use in game. It's very easy to go blank when creating an entirely new world, and not every planet needs to be Coruscant or Nal Hutta. That having been said, there are a few worlds in this section that don't seem to fit with the theme of the book. Naboo, in particular, doesn't really seem strong in the Force so much as the place where Palpatine is from, and while they mention the Emperor's Retreat a few times, no real details are given.

Weik is a planet that has dark ages level of technology, where the Force is seen as magic, and there are multiple Force using traditions that labor under this assumption. There was also a crashed starship that is where a Jedi/Paladin hybrid order is based, and I feel like I'm nitpicking when I point out that the artwork shows a Star Destroyer bridge. For how long ago this should have happened, that really shouldn't be a Star Destroyer in the artwork. I want to warm up to Weik, but I can't get past the idea that it's not just a low tech world that thinks the Force is magic, it's an intentional wink towards the RPG industry by presenting a D&D style world in Star Wars. That feels too "on the nose" to me.



Auraterra is a much more interesting new planet. Having gone back and forth between being a Sith and a Jedi held planet, the Jedi finally just removed it from the star charts and hid it from everyone. There is a Vergence on this world with a Jedi temple on one side and a Sith complex on the other, and it just feels very evocative, like a fun concept to play with, especially if the Jedi did something similar with other worlds.

The description of Dagobah actually makes me want to have PCs go there, not to run into Yoda, but to encounter the weird ecosystem, traveling Force manifestations, and maybe even run into THAT tree.

Empress Teta and Ossus have fairly brief overviews of what may have happened on those planets based on the Legends continuity, but the level of information actually feels very consistent with Legends locations that have been introduced in new canon material like Rebels. The interesting part about these entries is the information regarding what the galaxy really knows about them.

There is a lot to like in this chapter, but a few worlds could have used more detail and sample encounters, and a tighter focus on the theme might have been nice.

Powerful Vergences



Before I even get to my summary, I'm just going to say this is my favorite part of the book. Vergences are places where the Force manifests and acts differently. This may cause people in the Vergence to see visions, confront their fears, or gain a boost to Force powers when they use them in a specific way.

Following Vergences from location to location, world to world, may be a less precise way of learning about the Force than finding a living instructor or learning from archives or a holocron, but Vergences aren't easily destroyed by Inquisitors. They can give vague hints or powerful boosts, so tailoring Vergences to individual campaigns is a great way to make the campaign unfold in a particular direction. Not only does the chapter detail Vergences big and small, but there is a section on creating your own Vergences, which I think can potentially add a whole lot to a Force and Destiny campaign.

The description of the Wellspring of Life makes me want to run a campaign just based on the PCs trying to figure out how to learn the process of becoming Force ghosts, and the way Mortis is presented actually makes me want to use it. Having it appear as a moving Vergence not bound by a specific location, and having it show the PCs what you want it to show them, makes it a lot more interesting than it was when it was the focal point of a confusing Clone Wars story arc.

Player Options



This is the section where we get new species and gear that goes with the planets, species, and traditions introduced in the rest of the book. Like the planets chapter, this one strays from the theme a bit. The focus seems to be on supporting the planets introduced rather than reinforcing the "strong in the Force" theme.

The species introduced are Aleena, Bardottan, Devaronian, and Gungan. I'm not a Star Wars fans that wants to excise all Prequel references from Star Wars material. I'm all for having Gungan stats. That said, 75% of the species presented are kind of odd ball species that are usually played for comic relief, and that means the species are not much of a draw to this book unless you really want to be the goof ball in the party, or you really want to play against type.

A lot of the gear presented is low-tech, based on the planets introduced. It's a minor quibble, but I'm not sure why gear like this has to be named based on it's planet. It makes sense for there to be greatswords in a book with a world that is based on D&D tropes, but why not just call it a greatsword, instead of a Weik Greatsword? That seems to imply that if greatswords show up somewhere else, they might not have the same properties as a greatsword from Weik, but I don't think that's actually the intention.

If you really wanted stats for Ezra's energy slingshot, they are in this book. While I know that the game stats differ quite a bit, it's a little off-putting to see the similar Bardottan Electrolance and Gungan Electropole both take up a slot in the same equipment section.

Where the equipment gets interesting is in the "Drugs and Poisons" section, where we get things like sulfur inhalers that only work for Devaronians, Frangawl Force Powder, which is powdered Force ability extracted from sacrificial victims, and Longsight.



The Relics and Talismans range from interesting and fun to base part of a campaign around, to super specific to a location.Some are especially useful as inspiration for similar items the GM may customize for their own campaign. For example, there is a legendary lightsaber that has stats outside of what you could customize a lightsaber to do normally. My favorite is probably the cultist's sphere that is used to drain the Living Force from victims. Oddly, all of this seems to be less "players options" than "GM Plot Ideas," but they have the same format as gear in the game.

There is a section that I would like to see in future "location" sourcebooks, which is Location-Specific Motivations. These can be used for PCs that are from or have a specific tie to one of the worlds detailed in the book. I think it's a great way to present new roleplaying options to players in a way that increases the usefulness of the new material in the book.

Modular Encounters



This section returns from other location based sourcebooks, with "plug and play" encounters that you can slot into existing adventures, that can be fleshed out into full adventures, or that can be used as a bridge between adventures. The number is closer to what we saw in Suns of Fortune, rather than the fewer, more fleshed out, encounters in Strongholds of Resistance.

Some of these feel very rushed as presented. "Destiny tells you to do a thing, and you make some rolls, and make a check flavored by your Morality strength and weakness, and have some extra XP." Others feel very random. "A Force sensitive person attacks you. They may have a backstory. The plot says they get away if the GM gave them a backstory. The end." It's not that there isn't good stuff in those encounters, but for the players to encounter that good stuff, the GM has to do a lot more work than to just dropping the encounter into a night of gaming.

Other encounters aren't based on a planet so much as a type of place on a planet. These usually have to do with finding an ancient Jedi site, and figuring out how to get in or what to gain from that place. There are some really nice guides presenting training trials to players seeking to sharpen their Force skills, and some interesting Force power applications that are outside of the box in these. That said, in one of these encounters, Dark Side Force Adepts that work for the Empire and wander around performing rituals to corrupt Light Side sites are mentioned, but not detailed--I want to see those guys! That's great material for an ongoing campaign, not a throwaway explanation for why there are weird creatures running around.

The Naboo specific modular encounter doesn't feel like it needs to be on Naboo, and feels like it takes place on Naboo to further justify Naboo's inclusion in the book. It's not a bad encounter, just not overflowing with Naboo atmosphere. The Weik encounter is okay, but doesn't thrill me, except that it does make me want to see a literal crazy old wizard leave the planet and work as someone's Force sensitive henchman, while still insisting on using spellbooks and components. The fish out of water element is more interesting to me than the planet itself.

Honestly, I think this section would have been stronger had they done the same thing they did with Strongholds of Resistance, and have fewer, more fleshed out encounters that were more strongly tied to Vergences and Jedi trials. Those seemed to be the best encounters in this section.

The Son



The book loses a lot of focus when it deviates from it's theme. Some of the material included feels more like it was general Star Wars material that some book in one of the Star Wars line "had" to cover, rather than strongly supporting the theme of "Worlds Strong in the Force." The player options aren't overly exciting unless you have a very specific theme you wanted to pursue for your character. Some of the modular encounters feel thin and rushed.

The Daughter



Vergences are exciting, and feel like they should really be making an appearance is just about any Force and Destiny game. The way some famous locations are presented, they feel like they could be the high point of a campaign. Visiting Dagobah or Illum or Ossus could have a lot of meaning to players that invest significance in those places. The way Legends material is referenced and framed is inspired, and is a great template for including that kind of material in a campaign. The trials and the way the Force is used to solve puzzles in some of the Modular Encounters is wonderful.

The Father

There is so much to like in this book. The Vergences, some of the famous locations, and the examples of how to create trials testing your PCs are items that will keep you building more and more for your campaign for quite a while. I just wish some of the modular encounters had been cut to make some of the others stronger, and that the player options felt more compelling. There was a little bit too much in the book that felt like it was perfunctory instead of supporting the strongest ideas present. The ideas that are strong are really, really strong.

*** (out of 5)

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