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.


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)

Gaming Wishes for 2017

I was about to title this post "Gaming Resolutions," but, let's be honest, I don't want to be quite that definite about these goals. Lots of stars have to align to make sure that gaming goes the way I want it to go, and so these are just what I hope happens, gaming-wise, and the direction I want to push my gaming.

Get Back On Track With My Read and Reviews

I definitely made some progress with my backlog of gaming material that I need to read, but December slowed any progress down to a crawl. I need to make some formalized time to do this, and to get away from any distractions so I can make progress, take notes, and take a bite out of that list.

Adventure in Middle-earth

I like both The One Ring and what I have seen so far of Adventures In Middle-earth. Ideally, I'd like to play both and get a feel for the differences and the way campaigns unfold in each. I'd be happy if I managed to do one or the other for a least a short campaign. I really want to find a group of people that both love Tolkien enough to want to play in the setting but love gaming enough not to get too upset with me if my version of Middle-earth drifts slightly towards the movies from time to time.

Run an Age of Rebellion Campaign Again--This Time Successfully

I've run campaigns of Edge of the Empire multiple times to resolution, and a short campaign of Force and Destiny that went pretty well, but my Age of Rebellion efforts, as well as my Inquisitors/Force and Destiny/Edge of the Empire/Age of Rebellion crossover game, didn't end in a satisfactory manner.

I still want to try the Rebel insurgents in an isolated system game, this time from the beginning, without inheriting characters from another campaign that already have some baggage attached to them. I also want to attempt a slightly more ambitious campaign, with the PCs being a special Alliance team shutting down half-built superweapons unleashed on the galaxy between the Battle of Endor and the Battle of Jakku.

Experience the Full Shadow of the Demon Lord

I really want to run a game of Shadow of the Demon Lord for 11 sessions (which is a campaign in that system, if you follow the expected play style). I've been really impressed with the game, have a ton of material for it, but it always seems to get overshadowed (ahem) by D&D. I don't want to run it at the same time I'm running a D&D game, or when my players have too much D&D in their systems.

Visit Dungeon World Again

I own Dungeon World, and have gotten to play it exactly once. I would like to run it, but like Shadow of the Demon Lord, I don't want to run it for people that are already saturated with D&D. I'm really interested to see how the game flows after running Monster of the Week and World Wide Wrestling a good amount over the last year, but I don't want it to be competing with D&D to make an impression.

Accelerate a Dresden Game

I really want to finally run a Dresden game. I've been excited to do so since I first got the full Dresden Files rules, but time and my lack of enthusiasm over the magic rules has kept me from making it a priority. The accelerated rules have me wanting to revisit the setting, and I really want to run a Fate game that isn't just a one shot.

On the Other Hand, Those One Shot Games . . .

I was going to attempt to run a series of one shot games last year, but never quite got far enough to do more than one or two of them. I would love to do multiple one shots based on the Fate Worlds of Adventure that I have as well as some of the Powered by the Apocalypse games that I have, but I need a steady schedule first, and I feel like the more regular campaigns I want to run will push this idea aside for a while.

Successfully Complete Storm King's Thunder

I'm enjoying Storm King's Thunder, and I want to run it to the very end of the adventure. I like 5th edition D&D better than my previous 3.5/Pathfinder/4th edition experiences. That said, I am also looking forward to completing the adventure so I can move away from D&D for a while again. I'm having a blast with it, but I always have this nagging thought at the back of my head that I'm playing it "safe" when I get too settled into D&D, and that I honestly like playing with new game systems.

Get Some Cypher Gaming Going

I have a lot of Cypher System material, and I really am interested in both the settings and the game rules. While I would prefer to play a campaign of The Strange, I'd be happy with a Numenera game, or even a short campaign based on one of the Worlds of the Cypher System I have coming when they are completed.

Explore Some Venues

Just like I want to get used to playing and running more game systems and settings, I want to expand my horizons on where I can run games. I'm still trying to figure out some options here. It's not a matter of not liking to run games online or at the FLGS, but exploring what can be done at other venues. One of the things I would like to do in the future is tour some of the potential locations I've been coming up with (library, student unions, coffee shops) and see how they "feel." I also imagine suitability is going to vary based on trying to run, for example Age of Rebellion versus a session of Action Movie World or Fate.

Get Some More YouTube Video Sessions Going

I actually enjoyed posting my Marvel Heroic games on YouTube. It's not that I think I'm a great GM, or that those sessions just had to be seen, but I did get a bit of feedback from people that weren't sure what to do with the game that appreciated seeing it actually being done. I'd like to do that with more games, and honestly, I like having the record of what happened that I can look up.