Saturday, September 15, 2018

What Do I Know About Houserules? Age of Rebellion, Duty, and Contribution Ranks

I’ve been thinking about tailoring Age of Rebellion a bit more to cultivate the kind of experiences that I like to see, both in Star Wars and based on the other FFG Star Wars games. I’ve got a few thoughts on that which I’m still hammering out.

Modifications—Determine Duty (Age of Rebellion page 46)


Characters still pick their Duty as determined in this section of the book. Default starting Duty now becomes individual contributions to group Distinction. Characters can still lower their contributed Distinction to gain XP or Credits.

There are more details below, but Duty now figures into the amount of Distinction gained for successful missions and triggering Duty grants a boon to a current mission that matches the description of the Duty being triggered.

Contribution ranks still work as detailed in the core rulebook. The “Duty as a Threshold” section on page 49 works the same if utilized.

Duty and Distinction


Rebel operatives each pick a Duty at character creation. Whenever a mission is completed that advances that Duty, the party earns extra distinction.

Distinction is the level of success that the local Rebel operatives have had in their fight against the Empire. Whenever the threshold of 100 Distinction is reached, characters might receive more gear and advance in rank.

However, at each threshold of 100 Distinction, the local Rebel cell also generates an Imperial Entanglement. The Rebels have been so successful that the Empire has noticed their plans and how they operate, and the cell must now take drastic action if they want to survive.

This usually takes the form of fleeing from one base of operations to find another, losing a commanding officer, or losing a flight of fighters or a valuable capital ship.

Once the Imperial Entanglement triggers, PCs cannot earn more Distinction until they have survived the Imperial assault, have a secure base of operations, and can reestablish communication with Alliance High Command (or potentially just with local allies, especially in games that take place before the formal creation of the Alliance).

After all of this has happened, Distinction resets to 0, the PCs may select their reward, and a brief period passes as the Rebels rebuild and learn how to best capitalize on the successes that they have earned that brought the wrath of the Empire down on them.

Distinction Rewards


  • 5 points per PC Rebel operative that completes a mission
  • 5 additional points per PC whose Duty was utilized during the mission
  • 5 additional points if the mission was dramatically more successful than anticipated


Triggering Duty


Once per session, if a character’s duty comes into play, they may attempt to trigger their duty. Doing this is accepting a risk. If they roll above the party’s Distinction, they gain local aid for the mission.

If they roll below their Distinction, there is an immediate Imperial Entanglement, but this Entanglement is less dramatic than when the Distinction Threshold is reached. A stormtrooper patrol may recognize them, their informant may be an undercover ISB agent, or the spaceport may put a gravity lock on their starship that must be disabled before they can leave.

In either case, the party distinction is lowered by 5 points. The Rebel cell may be making fewer bold moves without local help, but they are also venting the pressure valve of Imperial attention before it can build up to an even greater explosion.

What is a Mission


Not every action that Rebel operatives take are considered a mission. If you go to the market to buy some fruit, and end up stealing a TIE Fighter, that’s not a formal mission. On the other hand, determining that a politician must escape a certain planet, stealing an experimental fighter, or destroying a communication depot, after the group has decided that this is a worthwhile objective, would all count as missions.

To count as a mission, the following must happen:

  • The GM presents the group with a mission from Alliance personnel, or the group and the GM determines that they want to complete a specific objective that would hinder the Empire or further the goals of the Alliance.
  • A clear objective must be set for the mission to determine if the mission is successful (i.e. is the mission a success if the experimental fighter is stolen and delivered or is it a success if the prototype is only destroyed).
  • The GM may set certain conditions that remove points of distinction. There should not be more than three of these conditions set per mission. If characters do not address those conditions, they still gain Distinction from completing the mission, if they complete the objective, but you subtract five points for each condition that wasn’t addressed.

An example of this in play might look like this—

The Rebel PCs have determined that destroying an Imperial garrison in the city would be a major blow to the presence of the Empire. The objective is set that once the structure of the garrison has been destroyed, the objective has been completed.

The GM then determines that there are two conditions to this mission:

  • The garrison commander should be captured
  • The local homes and businesses should not be permanently harmed

During the mission, the GM determines that the explosion that destroyed the garrison’s generator has damaged the foundations of a local apartment building, and lets the PCs know about this complication.

Additionally, blast doors start closing and the PCs see the garrison commander running down a hallway towards a hanger full of TIE Strikers.

If the PC engineer determines that there are automatic emergency structural supports that didn’t trigger, and that they can fix them, should they do so, they have addressed the complication. If the PCs allow the garrison commander and his pilot to take off in his TIE Striker, they have not addressed this complication, and the overall amount of Distinction awarded for the mission is reduced by 5.


Failed Missions


If PCs decide to abandon a mission, or the GM determines that the objective cannot be completed, the mission is considered to have failed. On a failed mission, if the PCs have any complications they have not addressed, they still take penalties, so it is possible to end a mission by losing Distinction, up to -15 points.

If the current Distinction is less than the amount that was lost (for example, if distinction is 10, and abandoning the mission incurs a -15 penalty), the group receives a Reprimand. For every three Reprimands on record, the group loses one contribution rank. If the group loses a contribution rank when their contribution rank is already a 0, the group is considered too much of a liability to continue as part of the Rebel Alliance.





Wednesday, September 12, 2018

What Do I Know About Reviews? The Feybane Gauntlet (Dungeon Masters Guild Adventure)

The Moonshae Isles have long been a special place in the Forgotten Realms. Originally created by Douglas Niles before the Realms became TSR’s new D&D playground, it is a setting heavily influenced by Celtic folklore. Over the years, it has often felt both an integral part, and forever separate, from the rest of the Forgotten Realms. While Baldman Games recently announced their agreement with Wizards of the Coast to produce exclusive Adventurers League content in the setting, that’s not the only product you can find on the Dungeon Masters Guild that utilizes this corner of the Realms.

The Feybane Gauntlet is a Dungeon Masters Guild adventure set in the Moonshae Isles, by Simon Collins. Full disclaimer, I was given a review copy to look at before writing this review.

What’s the Craic of It?

The Feybane Gauntlet is a 17-page adventure, with a handout page, a map page, and 3 pages of NPCs and monsters. The adventure uses primarily line art, and is set on a faded Celtic knot background, with green sidebars.

Introduction

The introduction includes a section detailing the assumed levels of the PCs and how long the adventure should take, then moves into a paragraph long adventure summary, and another paragraph on the isle of Llewellyn in the Moonshaes.

The adventure assumes that the adventurers need to enter a portal to another plane of existence that has been warded against the fey, who have a strong presence in the Moonshaes. There are three potential adventure hooks for why the PCs would need to brave this warded portal to another world, but none of them are expressly written into the adventure as core assumptions.

The Adventure

This adventure doesn’t waste much time. Once you have selected a reason that the PCs need to travel through the portal, you are given the name of the lord who controls the dungeon complex guarding the portal from the fey, an NPC for the PCs to interact with, and a mission to do to gain permission to enter the Feybane Gauntlet.

The side quest to earn access to the gauntlet is quickly resolved, but it doesn’t feel perfunctory and it also plays up one of the themes of the Moonshaes, the tension between the isles and the outside nations of Faerun. In this instance, the PCs will be tracking down evidence of an Amnian spy, but the flavor of the encounter is very much in keeping with previous Moonshaes material.

The bulk of what comes next is navigating the corridors of the Feybane Gauntlet until the PCs find the portal that the dungeon was built to guard. The adventure introduces lodestone as something particularly anathema to the fey, and while I like that touch, introducing it will mean that you have established a wide-ranging fact about fey creatures. There are also a few other materials introduced that specifically target fey creatures, but these take the form of local wards or special poisons. Player character elves are specifically noted as being susceptible to a reduced form of harm from some of these items, but a group without elves is going to miss out on some of the thematic danger. As an aside, I would almost be inclined to throw gnomes to the proverbial wolves as well.

The Gauntlet, itself, is a relatively short dungeon that has a few nice twists and turns in it. There is some combat, but much of the Gauntlet relies on traps, puzzles, and the Guards and Wards spell to make things interesting.

There is one trap that feels a bit rough, especially since the adventure only specifies “Tier 1 Characters,” and it requires a DC15 save with 55 damage on the line, and that trap is sandwiched (or at least it’s origin point is) between two other traps that become a lot more dangerous once this trap is in play. Given that falls into the “deadly” range for traps for characters 5-10, I would probably at least look at bumping it down to 4d10 (22 damage). While that’s still a lot, it’s way less likely to not only take a PC to zero, but to also do enough damage to kill them outright in one shot.

There is another trap predicated on the fey and being fascinated with human concepts of morality, and while I like the concept of the trap, given the very traditional and sexist behavior of one of the characters outlined in the scenario (even if they aren’t being portrayed in a positive light), I may have subverted tropes a bit to present the moral dilemma, both to make it more fun, and to avoid some awkward stereotypical situations. Without giving too much away, it’s a hypothetical situation presented as part of a trap, and the characters and their behaviors are presented in story form, with the PCs determining who is in the right and who is in the wrong in a given situation.

Unlike the traps presented in the adventure, the final fight is presented with suggestions on how to scale the encounter for PCs of different levels.

Conclusion

Where the portal leads is variable, depending on which option the DM decides to go with. There are alternate endings leading to the Feywild, the Shadowfell, or even a pocket dimension with portals to various outer planes. Depending on which one the DM chooses, the PCs may have one last fight on their hands, or at least a tense situation. Each of the locations has a new monster created for that location.

While the Feywild or Shadowfell ending works fine, I really like the conclusion that brings the PCs to the Ley Hound, a new creature that specifically guards portals to other worlds. This encounter essentially has the Ley Hound trying to talk the PCs out of using any of the portals, because mortals aren’t meant to casually stroll through the multiverse, and could provide some fun tension and roleplaying if the hook the group came up with at the beginning of the adventure is strong enough to really push them to enter the unknown to resolve something compelling.

The Path to Glory

This adventure does a very good job of providing a tightly focused dungeon, with a quick but effective opening scene, and an evocative resolution that could lead to long term campaign fodder. I’ve seen much longer adventures fail to encapsulate a few simple elements that are hallmarks of a setting the way this adventure does right at the start.

A Giant, Crushing Weight

The Lodestone vulnerability of the fey could be a fun addition to a campaign, but it may also be an element you don’t want to introduce, in which case, you lose a good amount of flavor in the adventure. The fable introduced in the fey morality trap plays with some unfortunate “inconstant woman” tropes, and at least one of the traps seems way dangerous for the level range of this adventure.

Qualified Recommendation--A product with lots of positive aspects, but buyers may want to understand the context of the product and what it contains before moving it ahead of other purchases.
If you aren’t looking for an adventure with Celtic or Fey themes, some of the nuance may be lost on you, but this adventure does provide a focused experience that cuts right to the chase, although you may want to tinker with damage ranges or a few minor story details before you use it.