Saturday, March 31, 2018

Flat Plastic Miniatures First Look

I've been flirting with introducing at least some "tactical map" encounters in my upcoming face to face Midgard D&D game. While I like the flexibility of theater of the mind, and I think that sometimes setting up a battle map reinforces a meta-narrative ("the battle map came out, guess we have to resolve this with combat"), I can't deny that for some set-pieces, having visual, tactical representation is a satisfying option.



I have a bunch of D&D minis from my 3rd edition days, but it always feels like it takes forever to sort through them. Even having them sorted by "creature type" baggies like I do, some minis just always seem to "hide" when I really want to use it for an encounter. Additionally, purchasing those minis still left me at the whim of random chance for what I had to use.

My first alternative was to start picking up the Pathfinder Pawns line of miniatures. I have the minis from the starter kit, the Bestiary Box 1 and 2, and the Villain Codex box. These are a lot more affordable than trying to buy the random pre-painted miniatures, and it's easy to find out what is in the boxes. The artwork is high quality. But the cardboard thickness means that these still take up a pretty hefty amount of space, but nowhere near as much space as the randomized plastic minis I have.

Enter the Arcknight

I had seen the Arcknight Flat Plastic miniatures a few years ago when it hit Kickstarter, but I was definitely not running anything on a tactical map at the time. I mainly started paying attention to these again more recently because Sly Flourish helped to curate a starter set of miniatures, and I saw some of these in the wild at one of the local game stores last year.

Because of this, I dove in. I saw some pretty positive reviews. I saw some impressing looking videos unboxing these miniatures. So I invested in the DM Starter Set cultivated by Sly Flourish, the Flat Plastic Miniatures Core Set, and, because Midgard, the Southlands Bundle.

Some observations on purchases:


  • While there are pictures of each of the individual sheets in the bundle, there isn't a handy list telling you what is in each package
  • The website can be a little overwhelming, with a landing page and a whole bunch of individual options you can click on, but not really a good "pitch page" or cross-selling descriptions
  • I ordered the miniatures last weekend, and they came about a week later, so I'm pretty happy with the turnaround

I want to do an overview, but I got a lot of stuff in this order. I was really amazed that all of it fits in a box that was smaller than a normal hardcover novel, which boded well for the storage space for the miniatures. All of the following observations are based on about two hours of sorting, and it would take a lot longer to do an exhaustive analysis of each set, but I wanted to get some impressions out there.



Southlands Miniatures

The Southlands set was obviously a little different, because it utilizes art from the original Southlands Bestiary from the Midgard line. Because of this, the artwork is mirrored on both sides of the mini, instead of having a front and back, and instead of color line art, the artwork is a reprint of the painted art from the book.

  • Overall, the art looks good on the miniatures, but there are a few where the detail level of the painting gets muddied when reproduced on the miniature
  • The Southlands pack that I received all had thicker plastic sheets than the other miniatures sets, which made them harder to punch out--on one sheet I actually had to use scissors to cut the miniatures free because the perforation wasn't deep enough
Sly Flourish DM Starter Set

The Sly Flourish curated DM Starter Set has a good range of miniatures in it, focusing on a lot of iconic monsters from D&D history. This seems to skew towards providing a good smattering of PC miniatures, some cultists, and a range of monsters that you might find in the D&D Starter Set for 5th edition, with a couple of other giants and dragons and a beholder thrown in for good measure.

Flat Plastic Miniatures Core Set

Then, we come to the Core Set, which is actually composed of the following sets sold as a bundle:
  • Ancient Evils
  • The Grove
  • Mankind
  • The Underground
  • Wildlands
The feeling I get from most of these sets is that they are less trying to emulate D&D or Pathfinder iconic monsters, and instead creating more general miniatures based on a theme. Lots of undead and tentacled things in Ancient Evils, lots of elves, centaurs, and druidic minis in The Grove, lots of random citizens and PC fantasy types in Mankind. 

The Underground has a lot more D&D/Pathfinder specific miniatures, with drow, duergar, illithids, various demons, behir, basilisks, umber hulks, myconics, cloakers, oozes, a beholder, bulette, carrion crawlers, cloakers, troglodytes, aboleths, and gricks making an appearance.

Wildlands is kind of a mixed bag, being both "general fantasy" with lots of goblins, orcs, large animals, and ogres/giants that don't look like they are meant to map 100% with how any giant/ogre species are portrayed in the most popular level based fantasy games, and a few elementals. There are a few minis in the set that look like, say, a tentacled cat monster, or the kruthiks that first appeared in the 3.5 Miniatures Handbook. Oh, and some dinosaurs.

As a true core fantasy set, I think it functions well, but as a core Pathfinder or D&D set, it does feel like its missing a lot of variety of "uncommon and/or not as exotic" monsters that are staples of level based fantasy games, like gnolls, some giant types, genies, bugbears, etc.

I'm happy with the quality, the art, and the product, but I feel like the variety and utility could have been a little better in the "mid-range," even though I'm having a hard time properly defining what that is without creating an exhaustive list of whats in the Monster Manual for D&D or the Bestiary for Pathfinder.

Accessories



The various sets have different bases provided. Without getting a bundle, you generally only get the "medium-sized" bases, but the bundles have larger bases, with what might be termed "large" and "huge" bases. All of the bases are clear, and one of the things I like about how the bases work is that it is very easy to take some of the larger miniatures and use either the large or huge base. The miniatures don't look "wrong" on either size base, and if base size matters for the game, you can easily scale the "not medium" miniatures up or down. This can be handy for monsters like dragons and their age categories, or the shift in monster size between 3rd edition D&D/Pathfinder and their large giants, and 5th edition D&D's huge giants of that same giant type.

There are also flight stands with two different height elevations. While they won't be extremely effective at showing exact elevation, they are handy for showing when a monster just isn't sitting in its space, and so isn't affected by ground terrain or damaging effects. The biggest downside is that the base for the elevation markers is a "medium" base.

Positive Takeaways

Lots of affordable, attractive minis that are easy to store. Lots of versatility when it comes to using the bases to display different things like flight or the size of a creature. 

Negative Takeaways

This could just be a massive failing on my part, but with the miniatures bundles on the website only showing pictures of what is included, its hard to remember what picture went where, and it feels like a list naming miniatures, even if they didn't use the "brand name" of some of the creatures, would be a lot more useful and functional.

Underdark creatures get the lion's share of "unique to level based fantasy" monsters being represented, with a lot of mid-range creatures lacking in representation. Of the sets I looked at, more modern PC player race options like tieflings or dragonborn don't get a lot of love. That's not to say there aren't sets on the website that feature them, but not in the core or DM Starter sets.

The vast majority of the miniatures were in easy to punch out plastic, but the whole Southlands set, and at least one sheet in the core set was on thicker plastic that was more difficult to punch out.

Because This Deserves Its Own Category

There are a lot of humans, dwarves, and elves in this set, as well as a few halflings/gnomes. With the exception of the duergar/drow miniatures, there is not a lot of variety of skin tone on the miniatures. Some of the human minatures have more of an olive complexion, and a few have lighter brown skin, but the vast majority are pale to average white complexion. None of the elves, dwarves, or halflings appear to have darker skin tones.

I don't want to paint with too broad a brush, so I will point out that if you look on Arcknight's site, other lines, such as the Supers or modern Civilians line do include people of color. Its hard to evaluate some of the lines from their website, because they don't have pictures of the individual sheets posted for that product. 

That said, if you are a person of color looking for representation in miniatures, or even if you aren't, but you want to represent your PC as having a wide range of skin colors, the miniatures that I have seen aren't going to serve you particularly well.

Final Thoughts

I'm not framing this entirely like one of my usual reviews, because I haven't had time to dig into the individual miniatures, and because I wanted to encompass the entire process of shopping and sorting the miniatures that I bought. So I don't want to give any level of recommendation, other than to point out the positives and negatives of these miniatures.

I love how these look and how portable they are. I really wish I could give a stronger overall recommendation, but between the difficulty in finding exactly what is in each set, and the fact that some gamers aren't going to find the representation that they desire in the sets, I can only say that these have an amazing amount of potential, and you may want to give them a look, but there are areas where the line could improve that would make me feel much better about directing others to them.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Looking Forward To A City Campaign


Since my upcoming Midgard game is going to be city focused, and I had some thoughts on why I went that direction, and what I’m hoping it brings to the table.

Fantasy Cities--A Love Story

The thing that I fell in love with most in the Forgotten Realms early on was Waterdeep. As a youngster, I had never really been exposed to a fantasy city that was an adventuring area all on its own. Between Waterdeep and the North, Elaine Cunningham’s novels, Volo’s Guide to Waterdeep, and the City of Splendors boxed set, I felt like I knew that city. The wards had a different feel to them, I knew how the guilds worked. I understood how the city could both have and not have a thieves’ guild.

I mention Waterdeep first, because I was exposed to it first by getting into D&D, but in high school, I also fell for Lankhmar. Because I wanted to be a “proper” D&D player, I tried to start reading the Appendix N books, but I had a hard time getting into them. I could see where some of them influenced D&D, but they weren’t where my head was at in that phase of life.

Then I read my first Fritz Leiber book. This was a D&D novel. I loved the characters. I loved the city. I loved the weird love/hate thing going on with it. I loved the guilds and the power groups, and the weird local rituals and the subtle differences between the Gods of Lankhmar and the Gods in Lankhmar. The districts had different personalities.

Those two experiences informed what I wanted out of fantasy cities from that point on. If I couldn’t see a personality in the city, and I couldn’t see the different wards and districts and how they made up the tone of the city, I didn’t really see the point of it. Heck, one of the reasons I wasn’t as thrilled with Neverwinter Nights as a game was that they used the city ward names, but it didn’t “feel” the way the city felt to me when I read Volo’s Guide to the North.

What Is It About Cities in Fantasy?

There are some things I’m hoping to pull from these fantasy tropes to use in my campaign. Despite having different personalities and different wards, there are some common themes that come up in the best fantasy cities that I’m hoping to tap into.

     Consistent home base
     Distinct districts with personalities
     Subtle, weird clues about sinister things that can get lost in a busy city
     Lots of varied contacts that can be the “face” of various elements of the city

I’ve talked about this with people recently online, and I actually like adventuring parties meeting in a tavern or an inn. I think that trope has taken on some negative connotations because it has become too much of a shorthand for starting an adventure cold. What I like about a good inn or tavern in a fantasy setting is that it has personality of its own. It has certain people that go there. It has a specific staff. It has its own history and quirks. That’s why I like to find an inn or tavern with something I can latch onto for a home base that the PCs can use.

I like districts to be distinct and to have their own personalities and themes because then the PCs can wander into another part of the city, and still be in the city, but feel like they have gone somewhere. They can feel like they have their comfort zone in their home base, in their home district, and walk a few streets over and be out of their element. Multiple city districts show the things that are important to a city, as well. Lankhmar has a whole “forbidden zone” district, as well as a district devoted to decadent pursuits. Waterdeep has a whole ward that is essentially a graveyard/park, and it conveys something about the city that this district isn’t really seen as a creepy, dangerous place overall.

In a small town, if outsiders show up and start doing business, it is a lot easier to figure out that they might be part of a thieves’ guild or an evil trading coaster. If practitioners of a new religion show up, it is a lot easier to pick up on the idea that they might be evil cultists. In a city, is way more likely that new merchants roll into town and that new sects will become popular, so it becomes easier to both hint and hide strange goings on. If the new, popular cult turns out to be evil, it feels like a story thread paid off in a city, but if it just fades away, it seems like business as usual.

There is also something about a city that makes the “face” of something more emblematic. Arnwright the Smith in a small town is Arnwright, and he’s smith. Arnwright the Younger, Guild Bonded Smith in Good Standing, conveys something about the setting, in addition to being a “face” that the PCs can interact with. By tying him to an organization, it conveys the idea that it’s hard to survive and get noticed in a city without having ties to something bigger. 



Looking at Zobeck

Looking at Zobeck in the Midgard setting, it ticks off a lot of these boxes very easily.

     Zobeck has interesting local history (overthrowing the Stross family, for example)
     Zobeck has distinct city districts (it has a Kobold Ghetto for goodness sakes!)
     Zobeck has distinctive guilds and organizations
     Zobeck has its own niche (gears!) that set it apart from other cities
     Zobeck has colorful local establishments that can serve as an adventuring party’s home base

Because I don’t want to tip my hand too early about what I want to throw at my players while they are in Zobeck, I’m not going to go too far into the threats I have planned, but the city has a ton of built in hooks that I’m looking forward to using.

The base of operations for the adventures, at least to start, is the Silk Scabbard, a tavern/brothel/gambling den/fighting pit that sits and the edge of a couple of districts and attracts a wide range of people from different social strata.

This allows me to introduce a variety of faces from rich families to working guildsmen to visiting dignitaries. I can have “regular” staff that interacts with the group. If the PCs ever want to just blow off steam, they can gamble or take a turn in the fighting pit, and both are easy to adjudicate.

Beyond the more standard fantasy city tropes, Zobeck has the Kobold Ghetto, which is only open to strangers at night, and isn’t really built for larger races. It has a ton of competing Kobold Kings of various gangs for the group to interact with. Additionally, there is a university district with tons of scholars and studious mages milling about where a lot of supernatural mischief can be cut loose or researched.

Being a city literally in the middle of the campaign setting map, there is ample opportunity for the PCs to run into people from other cultures around the setting, and possibly pick up a job or two traveling to those places and doing a thing before they come home. Even if they never leave, the rest of the campaign setting can “live” through visiting merchants and nobles brining news of what’s going on outside of the city walls.

What If They Want To Leave?

Eventually, encountering the rest of the world, or traveling abroad to do exciting and profitable things, maybe the PCs will want to leave Zobeck behind. I’m not going to worry about it too much until the time comes. I’m fairly certain if they spend most of their 1-5 level adventures viewing the setting through the lens of the city, then the city has served its purpose.


Sunday, March 25, 2018

Slicing the System--Adding In Rules for Operating Expenses to Age of Rebellion

Age of RebellionOperating Expenses

What follows is my attempt to address some of the issues I mentioend in my post mortem post for Age of Rebellion. It clarifies that the PCs will have a budget, provided by the Alliance, and that the any personal pay they might receive is outside of the scope of the campaign, while still attempting to maintain the actual measurement of credits, and the functionality negotiation and talents that are geared towards negotiation, so that the skill and the Quartermaster specialization retain their usefulness with minimal alteration.


Whenever Rebel Operatives are assigned a new mission, they are given credits equal to 1000 credits x [Number of Rebel Operatives] x [Contribution Rank]. If the contribution rank is 0, this equation is 500 credits x [Number of Rebel Operatives]. This amount is added to a pool of credits known as Operating Expenses.


When a Rebel Cell is attempting to acquire gear after they first receive their new mission, they can make a list of items that they want to spend credits with the Rebel Alliance. This does not represent spending credits, but lowering Operating Expenses by an amount equal to the gear acquired.


The operative attempting to acquire the gear still makes a Negotiation check to see if they can find the right people in the Rebel supply chain that have access to the gear they are seeking. If they have any talents that reduce the rarity of items, that talent works for this check as well.


Once gear has been located, the operative securing the gear can still use a Negotiate check to lower the cost of the gear, as normal, but in this case, they are negotiating how much they can requisition, instead of how much they are paying for items. Once the final price has been reached, subtract that number of credits from the Operating Expenses pool.


  •      Rarity modifiers on page 165 of the Age of Rebellion core rulebook do not apply for establishing prices


Once all the gear has been acquired from the Rebel Alliance, the operatives can draw out as many of the credits in Operating Expenses that they wish to have with them for the mission. This can be put into a bank account that they can access via non-identifying codes, or be put into liquid assets such as nova crystals. The whole group needs to decide on how much to withdraw from Operating Expenses, and how to distribute those credits, and once those assets are spent, they are not replenished until the team has been assigned a new mission.


Additionally, if the team does not draw the credits from their Operating Expenses before going on the mission, they do not have access to those credits during the mission, as the assets are safely stored with the Alliance during that time.

Imperial Assets

Imperial assets that are seized during the mission and then turned over to the Alliance, so that the PC operatives no longer have access to them, can be sold to the Alliance as a larger Operating Expenses pool.


  •   Anything recovered that was already part of the mission parameters cannot be used to add to the Operating Expenses in this way (i.e. if the PCs were sent to recover a hover tank, they dont get credits for the cost of the hover tank for recovering it successfully)
  •    The PC turning in the recovered Imperial assets can use Negotiate just as if they were selling items, to potentially gain more credits in Operating Expenses than they would have without negotiating
  •    Rarity modifiers on page 165 of the Age or Rebellion core rulebook do not apply for establishing prices

Mission Downtime

Unless there is a compelling reason that missions should take place immediately following each other, it is assumed that there is about 7 days of downtime between missions where characters can perform tasks.


This time can be spent healing from wounds, tending to others, or crafting or upgrading gear. If crafting is what the downtime is being used for, an item that takes longer than this amount of time can be worked on incrementally during this time.


During some points in a campaign, a GM may skip a certain amount of time and assign more downtime.

Operatives and Personal Pay

Members of the Alliance are dedicated troops working against the Galactic Empire, but they do receive some pay for enlisting with the cause. That said, the amount of pay is assumed to be enough to cover room and board, a limited amount of recreation between missions, and the rest is set up in various accounts across the galaxy for after the end of the war.


In general, Age of Rebellion characters will not be receiving their individual pay, or keeping track of it during a campaign. Any significant amount is going to be difficult to access, as it is spread out in various accounts to avoid Imperial tampering, or is being paid directly to family members in secure locations.


Because of this, differences in pay scales between ranks and fluctuating pay based on cashflow issues the Alliance might have dont play into the day to day activities of Rebel Operatives in an Age of Rebellion game.



Let me know what you think of this modification to the rules, and how well you think it might work at the table. If you happen to use it in your games, please let me know how it worked and where it might need improvement. Thanks!

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Post Mortem--Fantasy Flight Star Wars RPGs


I’m calling this a post-mortem on FFG’s Star Wars line, but I’m really focused on the end of my time running Age of Rebellion. To be fair, it hasn’t been the longest run. For my full FFG Star Wars resume, I’ve played in two short Edge of the Empire campaigns, ran one with the Beta rules that lasted about four or five sessions, and then ran two 12-episode campaigns with the rules. I’ve run one 9-episode campaign of Force and Destiny that came to completion, and played in another Force and Destiny game while it was in beta. I ran a three-session mash up of all three games that fizzled out. Then we come to Age of Rebellion.

I played in one Age of Rebellion game that lasted about two sessions before I inherited the game from another GM. That game went about four sessions before it ended, because I inherited a traitor sub-plot and it kept coming to the forefront of the game and made it harder to run. Years later, after watching Rogue One and Rebels, I decided to buckle down and run a successful, start to finish, Age of Rebellion campaign. It didn’t work. Here are some thoughts on why.

Commonalities

I have argued in the past that I like the idea that Edge of the Empire, Age of Rebellion, and Force and Destiny are three different games, because it’s hard to come up with a unifying, ongoing campaign that bridges all those aspects of Star Wars. A GM can come up with a good framing device, but I liked the idea that the game already provided them.

I’ve also played and run several of the FFG Warhammer 40000 Roleplaying games, which had similar, but not identical, resolution mechanics. I’m bringing this up, because I think FFG may have overcorrected for some of the quirks of the 40K line with the Star Wars line.

The big difference between the games comes down to a narrative subsystem, and where the extra, but interchangeable, details are placed. In other words, a character from any of the RPGs could play in any of the other RPGs, with no mechanical conversion, except that different characters will have Obligation, Duty, or Morality as a subsystem, which only comes up in certain situations.

Edge of the Empire has more non-military starships, and gear centered around exploring, gambling, and subverting law enforcement. Age of Rebellion has more mainline Rebel and Imperial ships and gear. Force and Destiny has more available Force Power trees and more details on things like lightsabers. But all those things use common terms and means of determining their use.

One other thing that is common to all three is that you track individual credits, and you use those credits to buy things and get better gear. Gear porn is a thing, even for a game that has some heavy narrative elements like the FFG Star Wars games. I’m not going to say that gear porn doesn’t have a place in Star Wars. The movies alone hint at a lot of customizations and modification of weapons and ships. That said, we may revisit using credits, specifically, to measure how all this works.

There is also a system built into the Negotiation skill for getting items at higher or lower prices, and a rarity system that makes items scarce in different places in the galaxy. Additionally, there are price modifications based on rarity in the gear section, and all of this appears in all three games.

Core Stuff I Like (But Isn’t Perfect)

I love the narrative dice. If you don’t know, there are three levels of positive dice, and three levels of ways you determine how many of each you roll. You can come up with successes, failures, advantages, threats, triumphs, and despairs. The neat thing about these rolls is that you can have success or failure and still have complications or boons arise, independent of that success or failure.
negative dice, and in various

The biggest issue I’ve ever really had with this system is that sometimes you can generate a massive amount of threat or advantage, and it’s hard to adjudicate large amounts of those without feeling like you are subverting what’s cool about rolling a triumph or a despair. When you have one of those odd rolls when you get 8 advantages outside of combat, it just feels like some of that is wasted no matter how you narrate that “extra.”

I’m not sure how it would work, but in some ways, I almost wish there was a banking system for those rolls like the threat and momentum pools in the Star Trek Adventures RPG.

If you aren’t the kind of person that wants to interpret potentially chaotic situations, I can understand that this system may not be your favorite. That said, I kind of love trying to figure out what it means when a character is successful, has threat, a triumph, and a despair. Because clearly SOMETHING happened on that character’s turn.

Disturbance in the Force

I like the general idea of the Force rating, and that’s how many dice you roll, and for each pip corresponding to the side of the Force you are using, you can activate the power and some kickers to go with that power.

When I first read the power trees in Edge of the Empire, I thought there were some fuzzy descriptions. “Sometimes” a target can trigger an opposed test to see if the power worked. If you do that with a power that also requires a skill check normally, are you just rolling that skill check, and checking against what the power says, and the opposed check, and if so, how does the difficulty listed in the power work.

So, there were some fuzzy areas, but my thoughts were that it was due to Force powers not being the “point” of Edge of the Empire. Unfortunately, but the time Force and Destiny came out, there were still some vague descriptions of how some of those powers worked.

In addition, the Force power trees are really confusing to read. In trying to impose an “efficient” structure on the trees, you don’t have enough information in one area to quickly reference what the powers do, and when expressing those powers on an NPC (if you are the GM), they are a nightmare to decipher.

Then, there is the Adversary issue. Adversary is a talent only NPCs have, to help make them simpler to stat. It just makes going after them more difficult, by increasing the difficulty of doing anything to them. Except, as written, it doesn’t apply to Force powers. If you Adversary 4 legendary bounty hunter doesn’t have ranks in Discipline, they are still getting tossed around by your Force user.
Genesys makes it clearer that you “could” allow Adversary to work on “powers” in that book, but the clarification for the Star Wars line would have been nice.

If Money is All You Love . . .

All three games run on credits. By that I mean, you need credits to get stuff, and upgrades to stuff, stuff to do things. You don’t even have starting packages of things you get, you get X amount of credits and you buy until you want to stop buying.
and you need

I think that works great in Edge of the Empire. It makes perfect sense in that context. Smugglers and Bounty Hunters are looking for a big score. Colonists are trying to scrape by day to day. Haggling for prices, filling a cargo hold in once place and hauling it to another place . . . all of that is what Edge of the Empire is ostensibly about.

It’s still functional in Force and Destiny, because the default assumption is that your small band of Force sensitives is running from Inquisitors, and trying to balance their learning about the Force with the mundanities of survival, and Morality can even play into how well you balance making credits with learning about the cosmic truths of the universe.

Where I don’t think strict credit tracking works is in Age of Rebellion. The core book describes the default assumption being that the PCs are elite operatives that only get nudges from the Alliance on how to do their missions, so that they can have a large amount of agency in how they do what they do. The problem is, to do what they do, they need credits.

Additionally, there is a core specialization in Age of Rebellion, the Quartermaster, that plays with the negotiation rules.

Every time a group hits 100 total Duty, they go up a Contribution Rank with the Alliance, and they get either one big item for the group, or an individual piece of gear. But between hitting those contribution rank increases, the group is basically self-sufficient. To get operational funds, they must get stuff from the Empire or other places, resell it, and get what they need.

Age of Rebellion kind of assumes your characters are “true believers.” Either they really hate the Empire above all else, or they really believe in freedom, but they are willingly fighting for the Rebellion. The Rebellion gives them their starting ship, and then nothing until they “prove” themselves at every 100 Duty. It’s almost unavoidable that discussion turns towards “how much does the Alliance really value us,” and toward spending time stealing, selling, and buying gear.

You, as the GM, can give the PCs items and gear, but that’s not really the assumed baseline. What’s the difference between the mission gear you give them and the gear they get from contribution ranks? We know the Alliance has limited resources compared to the Empire, but at the same time, it feels strange that each individual cell is still self-funding once they are an Alliance. That feels more like the whole game is Saw’s Partisans, not the Rebel Alliance.

This is why I brought up the FFG 40K games earlier. At times, while they had a similar resolution mechanic, they had a lot of variability in how characters advanced, and how the subsystems worked. I think FFG saw how divergent some of the games got over the fiddly bits, and wanted to make the Star Wars game more unified, but went one step too far.

Deathwatch, the 40K game based on Space Marines, had a requisition system based on how much glory that character had earned. The more over the top and the more famous the space marine had become, and the more legendary the gear that he could draw for a mission would become. The Only War game, based on the Imperial Guard, had a different requisition system, which could have characters under-equipped, or accidentally given proscribed, heretical gear. Both of those requisition systems made perfect sense for those games, and neither of them should have had the same system as the Profit Factor system used in Rogue Trader, which was based on how well business ventures were going for the crew.

In my opinion, Age of Rebellion really needed a requisition system that got away from tracking individual credits. Even if you want you crew of Rebels to “fund” the alliance, they should be hijacking Imperial freighters, not tracking how much the goods on that freighter is worth, and having someone negotiate extra so that they can take their own cut. As it stands, tracking credits too closely almost makes characters feel more like Edge of the Empire Privateers working for the Alliance, than actual members of the Alliance.

Very Specific Side Note—Dawn of Rebellion

I was going to review Dawn of Rebellion, but I’m not sure how to approach it. If you don’t know, Dawn of Rebellion is the first “cross game” sourcebook they released for all three product lines, focusing on information from Rogue One and Rebels, and looking at the galaxy before the destruction of the Death Star.

Licensed products have a line to walk. There is table functionality, and there is fan service. Dawn of Rebellion tried to do both, and it feels thin. I won’t go into too much detail here, but what I was hoping, when the product mentioned things like House Organa, the Free Ryloth Movement, and Saw’s Partisans, was that we might get some information on how to play as members of those cells.
We didn’t really get that. We got descriptions of the organizations. We got stat blocks for some of the NPCs associated with them. There is a great section at the end, on how to run the game with a television series structure, but I wanted more of that. I wanted something like the big list of short mission ideas in the d20 Star Wars era Galactic Campaigns.

But, we get stats for Krennic, and Vader, and the Death Star. But even leaning heavily on the fan service side of things, we don’t get stats for the heroes of Rogue One. The book went into production before some of the best story arcs in Rebels started, so we don’t get information on Mandalorians, Imperial Supercommandoes, or even species stats for Noghri or Lassat.

It feels light on both table useful direction, and fan service stats, to me. Its odd, because we knew when Rebels was ending. It wasn’t a surprise like the Clone Wars. I don’t know why this book came out when it did, with so many loose ends hanging.

In the end, it feels like a lot of good bits that somehow never got pulled together into a cohesive whole (which, to be honest, is the feeling I’ve been getting with a few of the newest products).

Always In Motion, The Future Is

I don’t know when, or if, I’m going back to running FFG Star Wars games. At this point, I am much more inclined to run an Edge of the Empire game than the other lines.

To be clear, ending my most recent Age of Rebellion game came from several items, none of which is the sole determining factor:

  •          Scheduling issues from holidays, illness, and conventions
  •         The GM doing a bad job recapping the theme and tone of the campaign when new players were added or after a break
  •         Lack of enthusiasm for newer products
  •         My villain's plot having way too much resonance with the concluding arc of the Rebels series
One or two of these wouldn’t have been a problem. All four made it hard to recover and move forward.

Fantasy Flight has the last of the “splat books” for all the careers on the schedule now for all three games. I’m not sure what that means for the future of the line, but if they end up doing a second edition of the game, there are some things I hope they address.

  •         Better defined and described Force powers and procedures for adjudicating them
  •         Sub-systems that are going to be used in all three games being defined in the core books instead of partially in three different splat books (looking at you, crafting)
  •         Simpler explanation of vehicle combat, and an emphasis on running vehicle combat as chases except when they aren’t instead of the other way around
  •         A requisition system for the “military” branch of the game line that doesn’t make the team feel like their organization doesn’t particularly support them
  •         A banking system for advantage and threat to help with rolls that generate a ton of those resources


That said, I can’t presume to know if FFG would even do a second edition of the game. They seem to introduce Star Wars lines that compete with themselves, then retire the less popular of those lines, and it makes it hard to get a handle on what the strategy is these days.


Wednesday, March 7, 2018

X Marks the Safety Spot (Fun With Misdirected Gnomes)

Respecting other human beings is very important, and sadly not a universally held value. Making others feel welcome in the gaming community is a hot topic, which is odd, considering the gaming community can’t grow if we build a wall around the hobby. This particular post is going to wrap its arms around some of my favorite people talking about a topic, and my personal experiences with that same topic. We’ll be casting a wide net, but hopefully we’ll be pulling it in tight towards the end.

External References

There are two main sources that sparked this article. The first one is Phil Vecchione’s safety article on the Gnome Stew website (http://gnomestew.com/game-mastering/gming-advice/why-safety-tools-are-important-to-me/ ) , and the responses to that article. The second is the 300th episode of the Misdirected Mark podcast ( http://misdirectedmark.com/ ), which discusses safety at the end, in reference to the article and discussion above. There was also some follow up discussion between Phil and Chris Sniezak which which is only available to those that viewed the live show recording, or Patreon supporters of the podcast.

Quick Summaries

For anyone familiar with the sources referenced above, please let me know if I’ve misrepresented anything in the discussion.

Phil is a huge proponent of using safety tools at the table, including using visible artifacts at the table, such as the X Card. Phil’s article explains the benefits of using safety tools at the table, and some of the most commonly available forms of physical objects utilized as safety tools.

In response to his article, there was pushback of varying degrees about using safety tools. Some responses were more vehement and were framed as safety tools being objectively bad for society as a whole, while other responses that were reticent, but were more focused around losing control of the table to players.

Phil’s response to the initial respondent was a bit more vehement, but the more moderately toned responses garnered actual back and forth discussion. Phil attempted to ascertain if the respondent actually knew how most safety tools were used at a table, and if not, how they may not do what the respondent thought they did.

In the discussion on Misdirected Mark, Chris agreed that safety was important, but expressed that he doesn’t use physical safety tools, but rather safety procedures, such as line and veils and periodic table check-ins. He further mentioned that some people may have developed a natural antipathy for physical safety tools at the table due to second-hand narrative about those tools.

This is where things get interesting, because I think, just like in the Clone Wars, there are heroes on both sides. Some people in the chatroom were strong advocates of physical safety tools being present, and many expressed a lack of concern for accommodating people that have any level of antipathy towards safety tools.

Phil advocated for education, but pushing out some people from the RPG community, and Chris advocated for reaching out to people that have said antipathy, but not by trying to get them to realign their thinking on physical safety tools, in particular.

Lines in the Sand

Some people are just problems in any community they participate in. They are never going to be worthwhile participants, and they are going to make an environment hostile. These are people that have firmly decided that they don’t need to play with people that don’t match their views on gender, race, religion, or politics. Anyone not standing in the place where they are standing is wrong, and need to be demonized for "not getting on board."

I don’t think anyone thinks that someone that has carved out that hard-line position is someone who will benefit from time and patience. If they have some kind of change of heart or conversion, its going to have to come from within, with personal circumstances beyond the people they interact with in the hobby.

Standing on the Line

I’m going to posit something that I believe to be true, and I welcome people to discuss this with me and tell me where my reasoning may be flawed.

  • We live in a world that has become more cynical, which makes people very skeptical of things they have not yet encountered
  • We live in a world where very negative voices have a very broad platform to say many, many negative things
  • If someone is not already vigilant against picking up outside influences, humans tend to pick up vocabulary, terminology, and quirks mirrored around them

Taken collectively, I think this creates a group of people that aren’t hardened against their fellow human being, but may have picked up some vocabulary and habits of some of the worst elements of modern culture, and who may naturally be wary of anything they are told will fix societal ills. Even if they wish society were a better place, their natural cynicism tells them that nothing is going to fix the garbage fire of modern society.

My belief is that these are the people that may learn a knee-jerk reaction against something that is regarded as a positive thing. But these are also people that are not hardened against other human beings, only the idea that the world can get better. I firmly believe that we have an army of people that aren’t empathetic, not because they do not wish to be, but because the armor of cynicism has dulled that part of them that can reach out, for fear of vulnerability.

Supposition City

I hope I’m not crossing a line by saying that I think Chris Sniezak has a more natural tendency to be able to speak his mind than I do. I tend to be diplomatic to a fault. I tend to hang back in difficult discussions until I can find a “hook” to vector into the conversation. I think there are times this is good, and there are times it takes me too long to react to something that was best handled immediately, in the moment.

I bring this up because, for someone like Chris, who is more likely to speak his mind and who is more outgoing, I think using safety tools that are not physical objects works very well. He can ask up front where people’s lines are. If someone gets close to that line, he’s not going to hesitate to jump on that situation.

Me? I’m more comfortable inhabiting the space "one step back" from the actual situation. If I see a safety concern, I am more comfortable engaging a mechanism, which I’ve already established has some particular rule attached to it, because, to me, it feels less like jumping to a conclusion or doing the wrong thing, and more like tapping the brakes on my car because there might be ice on the road.

The Right Tool For The Job

Safety tools, whether they be procedural or physical objects at the table, are tools. The usefulness of tools is based not just on their functionality, but with the comfort level and preference of the person using the tool.

To move it to a less charged space, I still can’t get comfortable with virtual table tops for running online games. I’m obsessive about bells and whistles, and if I can’t get a VTT to look and react exactly the way I want it to react, with no interruption in flow when I’m running a game, it distracts me. That has nothing to do with potential players, who may not care if it takes me 30 seconds to get a map to display, or if we have to re-roll initiative.

That doesn’t mean I think people using VTTs are making a mistake or doing it wrong. That doesn’t mean I can’t see how awesome they may be for the future of roleplaying. That doesn’t mean I don’t run games online using my own workarounds.

When it comes to the X-Card ( http://tinyurl.com/x-card-rpg ), specifically, it is not my favorite tool. I think it was a great innovation, and it has started a lot of excellent conversations on safety. It has fostered empathy. But it is a very binary tool. Visually, it only communicates “there is something in the game I do not want in the game.” If someone is uncomfortable, they should not have to explain themselves, but there may be times when there is room for more nuance.

I tend to like the Script Change tool ( http://www.briecs.com/p/script-change-rpg-tool.html ), because it does have a little more nuance to it. Sometimes people need a break, but they don’t need anything removed. Sometimes people are okay with an element being in the game, as long as its not the focus. Sometimes we just need to start over and make sure everyone is good with how a scene is playing out.

I’m not saying this to say one is better than another, just that we all have preferences. Some GMs may not want physical tools at the table, but may use other safe practices. Some GMs may not see the need to use safety tools, because they have never encountered a situation where they felt safety tools were needed. If you don’t feel safe gaming at that table, there is nothing wrong with you, but that GM may not be a person that is actively excluding or regressing the hobby. Someone that has never needed to erase something that they have written isn’t going to see the virtues of using a pencil over a pen.

Takeaways

From all of this broad range of discussion, I’ve been trying to come up with some takeaways. Here is a stab at them, but these are only from my point of view.

  • Not everyone that has an aversion to safety tools is a bad actor in the RPG hobby
  • Not every GM that doesn’t use physical safety tools at the table is promoting exclusionary play
  • If you don’t feel safe at a table that isn’t using physical safety tools, there is nothing wrong with your decision to leave the table
  • If someone at your table asks to use physical safety tools for themselves, when you aren’t providing them as a GM, denying them is telling them that they can’t tell you when they are having a problem with the game, because that’s all they are doing, just with a physical object instead of words
  • Some people have bad habits and may someday get rid of those bad habits
  • It is not your responsibility to teach anyone to set aside their bad habits, but others might want to do so
  • If someone wants to do something or not do something at their table, and it isn’t harmful to anyone at their table, and you aren’t likely to be at their table, try not to tell them, in absolutes, that they are wrong

I could have a bad read on any of these takeaways. I’m human. I try not to be cynical, even when I really want to collapse into cynicism. It is always possible that I’m over-correcting to avoid that cynicism. But the biggest thing is that I want to keep learning as much as I can about others, and how to utilize empathy to make the world better. I know I fail at it, a lot. I just don’t want to quit trying.

Let me know where I’ve gone off the rails. I want to hear from you.