Wednesday, October 31, 2012

More Elf Sex

It has been a full year since your humble host started this blog.  According to Blogger stats, “elf sex,” as a 'search keyword' phrase, has been responsible for more pageviews on this blog than any other search keyword.  So, in the interest of giving the people what they want, your humble host hereby presents passages from The Fairy-Faith in Celtic Countries by W. Y. Evans-Wentz. Today is appropriate “for the fairy-mounds of Erinn are always opened about Halloween.” (p. 288)
From page 294:
While Aedh was enjoying a game of hurley with his boy companions near the sídh of Liamhain Softsmock, two of the sídh-women, who loved the young prince, very suddenly appeared, and as suddenly took him away with them into a fairy palace and kept him there three years. It happened, however, that he escaped at the end of that time, and, knowing the magical powers of Patrick, went to where the holy man was, and thus explained himself:—‘Against the youths my opponents I (i. e. my side) took seven goals; but at the last one that I took, here come up to me two women clad in green mantles: two daughters of Bodhb derg mac an Daghda, and their names Slad and Mumain. Either of them took me by a hand, and they led me off to a garish brugh; whereby for now three years my people mourn after me, the sídh-folk caring for me ever since, and until last night I got a chance opening to escape from the brugh, when to the number of fifty lads we emerged out of the sídh and forth upon the green.
From page 112:
Lachlann’s Fairy Mistress.—‘My grandmother, Catherine MacInnis, used to tell about a man named Lachlann, whom she knew, being in love with a fairy woman. The fairy woman made it a point to see Lachlann every night, and he being worn out with her began to fear her. Things got so bad at last that he decided to go to America to escape the fairy woman. As soon as the plan was fixed, and he was about to emigrate, women who were milking at sunset out in the meadows heard very audibly the fairy woman singing this song:—
          What will the brown-haired woman do
          When Lachlann is on the billows?
‘Lachlann emigrated to Cape Breton, landing in Nova Scotia; and in his first letter home to his friends he stated that the same fairy woman was haunting him there in America.’
Of course, other search keywords have brought visitors to this blog.  One can easily appreciate how most of these search keywords led a person here.  However, your humble host occaisonally notices a peculiar term among the search keywords.  A recent and amusing example is “maps of unexplored regions of the Amazon.”  Because, you know, who needs maps of the explored regions?

Sunday, October 28, 2012

'Kill Bill' Meets 'Escape from New York'

The third and last adventure in the Year of the Phoenix Adventure Guide has the title 'Beneath the City.'  In the prior adventures, the player characters learned of an impending Zoviet attack against the Nonnewaug Tribe of rebels.  This adventure is predicated on the PCs attempting to find and warn the rebels.  New York City was abandoned during the cataclysm and the Zoviets do not consider it cost effective to reclaim.  Thus, New York has become a city of ruins occupied by various small groups that are (normally) beyond the reach of Zoviet authority.  Because of increased rebel activity, the Zoviets have chosen “to make an example of the Nonnewaug rebels.”  As a result of “newly discovered discovered electronic detection methods,” the Zoviets know that the Nonnewaug are based on State's Island (formerly Staten Island).

The Nonnewaug stage a “test of loyalty” for the PCs.  Assuming they pass, the PCs are brought to State's Island where they attend a rebel War Council.  The Nonnewaug don't have time to evacuate before the Zoviet onslaught and – although they are “masters of guerilla warfare” – the rebels cannot hope to survive a direct attack from the assembled Zoviet forces.  While discussing options, the war council receives a report that the Zoviets “have set up a command center on the roof” of the Trade Tower.  Dietrick's illustration above notwithstanding, in Wixted's version of 2197, only one tower remains.

Anyway, the rebels devise a plan wherein the PCs journey – primarily via subway tunnels – through the wasteland of New York and destroy the Trade Tower with explosives they are to plant in the subway beneath.  The rebels will mount a diversionary attack to coincide with the collapse of the tower; therefore, timing is very important.

To get to the tower, the PCs must travel through the territory of someone Wixted has unfortunately named “Mac the Knife.”  Wixted doesn't provide much information about Mac – he's friendly with the Zoviets and he killed another NYC 'leader' in order to annex his territory.  The PCs don't encounter Mac during the adventure (at least there is no provision for meeting him); however, the PCs are ambushed by Mac's bevy of assassins.
          The Mac prefers using female assassins as they are, on the whole, more nimble and they are smaller so that they can fit through places that men would have difficulty going.
          The Mac also expresses a personal preference for female beauty, and his assassins are indeed beautiful.
          They are not stupid, and prefer flight to dying.  If outnumbered or losing, they fade back into the shadows, into the crawlspaces, and into the darkness, never to be seen or heard again.  The subway tunnels, especially, are their private domain.
          The assassin hides along the path of her intended victim.  At the appropriate moment (i.e., the target is within range, but hasn't yet reached the assassin's perch) a crossbow bolt is loosed.  Immediately afterwards, the assassin silently drops her crossbow and draws her knife, prefering [sic] the element of surprise.
Although only four assassins are present when they ambush the PCs, apparently there are a total of six – all of them represented by a single write-up.  Wixted does not provide them with names; the PCs are unlikely to learn their names.  For 'gamemastered characters' of this sort, Wixted recommends assigning a descriptive word for each.  “This reduces the tendency for the players to think of their opponents as numbers on a piece of paper,” Wixted notes on page 40 of the Adventure Guide.  The six assassins are identified as:  Silent, Tall, Blonde, Nimble, Deadly-looking, and Slender.

One of the ways Wixted tries to have Phoenix characters “come to life” is by means of a 'Personality Profile.'  A detailed examination of this concept is reserved for a future post; however, since they have the same write-up, Mac's assassins share an identical Personality Profile.  Their profile is:  Always Silent, Always Proud, Sometimes Sadistic, Never Cowardly, and Always Thorough.  They also share a passion for killing.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Shooting First

More Art by McQuarrie

A role-playing game based on a given intellectual property ought to be able to emulate situations from the source material.  It ought to be possible for characters in the game to do the same things that characters do in the source material; perhaps not beginning characters, but the game should accommodate the possibility of these circumstances and events.

In Star Wars (not 'Episode IV,' not 'A New Hope' – just Star Wars), there is some...interaction between the characters of Han Solo and Greedo.  In this post, your humble host speculates as to how the mechanics of Fantasy Flight's Edge of the Empire - Beta roleplaying game (hereinafter EotE-B) could be used to re-enact this scene.  Specifically, even though Greedo has a blaster leveled at Solo, the Corellian manages to surreptitiously draw his own blaster and successfully shoots Greedo without Greedo being able to retaliate.  Make no mistake – Han shot first.  Poor Greedo didn't fire at all.  It should be noted that realism – or lack thereof – is not at issue; if it happened in the movie, it should be possible in the game.

Essentially, Han fires a weapon.  Firing a weapon is an 'action' which a character can perform on his or her 'turn.'  The existence of a turn requires 'structured gameplay.'  As opposed to 'narrative gameplay,' 'structured gameplay' carefully measures time in terms of rounds and turns.

Events that occasion structured gameplay (e.g., combat) are called encounters.  At the onset of an encounter, 'Initiative order' is determined.  Each participating character makes a 'simple' skill check.  ('Simple' – in this sense – means that no Difficulty dice are added to the pool.)  Characters anticipating the encounter make a 'Cool' check.  (Cool is associated with the Presence characteristic.)  Characters not expecting the encounter make a 'Vigilance' check.  (Vigilance is associated with the Willpower characteristic.)  The character with the most successes goes first, with other characters going in order of descending successes.  Characters tied at a given number of successes go in descending order of advantage results.  No instructions are provided to resolve ties at this level (which I would imagine to be fairly commonplace).  Presence is a measure of “moxie, charisma, confidence, and force of personality.”  Willpower reflects “discipline, self-control, mental fortitude, and faith.”  (Perhaps your humble host is firmly entrenched in the 'old school' paradigm, but he would enlist Cunning for 'surprise' initiative and Agility for 'prepared' initiative.)

Without a doubt, Han is a Smuggler: Scoundrel.  The Smuggler: Scoundrel talent tree offers two instances of Rapid Reaction; one at the 5 XP level and one at the 20 XP level.  For each rank in the Rapid Reaction talent, the character may suffer a point of strain and add a success to his or her initiative check.  The same talent tree offers Quick Draw at the 5 XP level.  Normally, drawing a weapon counts as a 'maneuver,' of which there are a limited number in a character's turn.  With Quick Draw, drawing a weapon becomes an 'incidental' activity; incidental activities do not constrain a character's options during a turn.

Given the verbal tête à tête upon which Han and Greedo engage, Presence sort of makes sense for determination of initiative.  It's reasonable to assume that Han has more presence than Greedo and if anybody has the 'Cool' skill, it's Han.  Given the situation, Han would undoubtedly use Rapid Reaction to garner an additional success.   So, in terms of initiative, it's not surprising that Han prevails. 

Yet can we rightfully consider the resolution of the Han-Greedo confrontation to be a mere matter of initiative?  After all, Greedo is pointing a blaster at Han.  Page 129 of EotE-B stipulates that, under certain circumstances, “a character may even be able to perform a maneuver when it is not his turn.”  Although an attack is an 'action,' which is distinct from a 'maneuver,' page 131 mentions there are “abilities allowing [characters] to perform an action as a maneuver.”  Greedo would not seem to have such an ability, but having a weapon trained on a target ought to count for something.

Let us examine the circumstances of the event.  Han and Greedo sit at a table.  Han puts a leg up onto the table, thereby concealing his holstered blaster from Greedo's view.  In Greedo's line-of-sight, Han nonchalantly picks at the cantina's stucco with his left hand, thereby distracting Greedo from what he is doing with his right hand.  Han resorts to subterfuge to counter Greedo's advantageous position.

This can be construed as an 'opposed check.'  Han assembles a dice pool based on his 'Stealth' skill (which is associated with Agility).  The Ability and Proficiency dice that would normally compose Greedo's 'Perception' skill dice pool are instead converted to Difficulty and Challenge dice (respectively) in Han's dice pool.  ('Perception' is associated with Intellect.)  Given Han's efforts at obfuscation, a Game Master might downgrade one of “Greedo's” dice, thereby lessening Han's difficulty.  Han could even chip in a Destiny Point to upgrade one of the positive dice in his pool.

Once Han has 'won' initiative and prevailed on his Stealth check, “frying poor Greedo” becomes a rather routine use of a blaster.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Myrna Goes to the Post Office

As your humble host has indicated in prior posts, Martin Wixted imbued his game – Year of the Phoenix – with a considerable amount of flavor. Of course, this is commendable; however, if there can ever be too much of a good thing, that adage may well apply to what Wixted provides in Phoenix.

The Training Manual is a 48 page book providing details about character creation as well as an overview of game mechanics.  It is meant to be perused by players; as such, it maintains the pretense that the game is about 'space commandos' in 1997.  There is nothing to suggest that the game takes place in a post-apocalyptic future.  Unlike the Gamemaster Screen, the equipment list does not mention any guns made after 1997.  All of the examples and flavor text relate to the pre-generated characters as they undergo training for Space Command - Project Phoenix.  This is all well and good; however, there are superfluous details.  The 'centerspread' for the book consists of schematics for the Space Shuttle.  The back cover is a diagram of a space station – an apparently genuine NASA proposal circa 1986.  This is good stuff for the 'space commando' game that doesn't really exist.  The actual Phoenix game has no use for these 'props.'  Wixted could have substituted useful information (such as the Quality Results Table, a combat flowchart, character sheet template, etc.) without compromising the 'surprise' twist central to the game.

In a prior post, we discussed the flavor text related to the cataclysm; now we look at the other flavor text.  Page 2 of the Adventure Guide is a memo from 'Major Chernanko' to 'Colonel General Sadenjo' at headquarters.  (Wixted tells us on page 16 that a General Colonel is the Soviet equivalent of a Lieutenant General; perhaps that is Sadenjo's rank.)  The first part deals with an unidentified airship that crashed in the ocean.  (This is the Phoenix Shuttle.)  The major is concerned because the airship “demonstrates equipment possibly equal to, or slightly better than, that which we currently possess.”  (Technology has not yet resumed its pre-cataclysm level.)  The second part of the memo regards “difficulties” with the local populace.  “Executions were carried out, to little effect,” writes the major.  Because the executions were not effective, the major “has ordered the bombing of one of the larger villages.”  We are able to read the memo in English because a postscript (“Translated by Hugh Beaumont of the Dixies”) suggests it was intercepted by the resistance.

Page 10 of the Adventure Guide is a narrative about an average citizen named Myrna Greenwich.  We follow Myrna as she goes about her day, suffering the indignities imposed by communism.  First, she wakes in the midst of a power outage.  For the sake of exposition, she thinks about the frequency of such interruptions in service and she contemplates listing to her contraband radio.  At the Post Office, she must bribe a clerk to retrieve her mail.  Sadly, she has been denied a travel permit which would have allowed her to gain better employment.  Despondent, she imagines she is being followed by an operative of the CIA which, in this setting, is a subsidiary of the KGB.  She recalls that her brother disappeared after helping the rebels.  Her conversation with Henry the grocer takes place on two levels:  a loud, innocent discussion intended to fool 'agents' and an under-their-breath, covert discussion commiserating their fate under the oppressive yoke of communism.  When Myrna returns home to her building, she finds police officers ransacking a first floor apartment, the residents crying in a corner.  One of the police demands to see Myrna's papers and the contents of her bag.  He questions how she was able to obtain chocolate with a blue ration card.  This allows for an expository recollection of another police officer who took her ration card as well as her rubles.

One gets the feeling that Wixted didn't care much for communism.  In any event, he was successful at conveying a mood.  Unfortunately, the only audience was the gamemaster.  Yes, any half-way decent gamemaster would utilize the material in an attempt to convey that mood to the players but, in so doing, Wixted's enthusiasm is wasted.  With the bait-and-switch nature of the setting, Wixted tried to instil Phoenix with excitement – that was the selling point.  Sadly, the resultant, focused setting is the reason the game languishes in obscurity.  Given another setting, without the bait-and-switch, Wixted could have given us a lasting, viable game fueled by Wixted's passion for his creation.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Obama versus Romney in D&D Terms

Somebody thought it was a good idea to mix national politics with Dungeons & Dragons.  It’s OK though; it’s all done under the guise of art.
Last week, an exhibition called ‘Fiend in the Void’ (with a subtitle of ‘Based on the Romney Campaign’) opened at the Allegra LaViola Gallery in New York City.  At the opening, the artist Casey Jex Smith – determined which presidential candidate would get his vote.  Did he do so through a reasoned analysis of positions and issues?  Of course not!  Smith statted up Obama and Romney as Dungeons & Dragons characters and had audience members control them in a fight.  The (human analog of the) winner will receive Smith’s vote.  (Apparently, the artist is a resident of Ohio, a swing state.)  Please check out this Wired article, if only for the photo, and check out this earlier article for the comments.
Some may consider this as more of callous publicity stunt than a valid means of selecting who should be leader of the free (real) world.  Yeah, but is it art?  More importantly, why didn’t Zak think of this?
Anyway, Obama (a.k.a.  King Belian Shipsale), was victorious over Romney (a.k.a.  Lord Spelldyal).  Romney supporters should demand a rematch using a different edition.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Tao of Year of the Phoenix

Years before there was an Internet on which Alexis could ply his blog, Martin Wixted employed the word “Tao” with regard to engaging a role-playing game.  Specifically, one of the sections of 'The Art of Gamemastering' chapter in Wixted's Year of the Phoenix Adventure Guide has the title of 'The Tao of Rule Writing.'  In this post, we will examine Wixted's thoughts about rules and how they represent his philosophy of gamemastering in general.  That philosophy can most succinctly be presented in the Plamondon quote with which he begins the 'Tao' section on page 41; a quote which bears repeating in large font.
Consistency and realism are subservient to enjoyment, since they are intended to enhance it, rather than being goals in their own rights.
Additionally, Wixted comments, “[T]he rules help you have fun.  If everyone's having fun, you're playing the game correctly.”  He also says that “the rules serve as a buffer between [the gamemaster] and [the] players, and between the players themselves.”

Wixted compares roleplaying to improvisational radio theatre and explains that  the gamemaster is the director.  Wixted then goes on to describe three 'stages' on which the action unfolds:  the Big Picture, the Immediate Situation, and the Inner Self.  The Big Picture is, in essence, the campaign setting.  The Big Picture encompasses all of the events and things that could potentially affect the player characters, especially the events and things of which the players characters (or the players) are aware.  The Immediate Situation is “the area of the world surrounding the players' characters – i.e., what they can detect with their five senses.”  Finally, the Inner Self represents an “individual character's interaction with the world.”  Each player, of course, is responsible for the Inner Self of his or her character, but the gamemaster is responsible for the Inner Self of all other characters.

In the 4-page Player Handout, Wixted compared the rules for a role-playing game to a dictionary, a comparison he expands upon in the Adventure Guide:
...[T]here are a few words in the dictionary that you never use.  They are either too esoteric, too large, don't fit into your way of speaking, or maybe you just don't like them.  This is the way you may find a few of the rules in these booklets.  And because of that, you may never use them.
Leaving behind the dictionary analogy, Wixted further states that “rules are a tool.  As with any tool, they should be used or ignored as needed.”  Also, “too many rules can rob a game of its possibilities, turning it into a strategy prison.”

With regard to adding rules, Wixted encourages gamemasters to consider the following questions.

Is This Rule Necessary?  “The environment, geography, culture, or local/personal authorities can all influence or limit characters without a rule being imposed.”

Can a Player be Allowed to Choose a Response?  “Try relying on your players to make a reasonable decision.”

What Natural Forces Can I Use as a Pattern?  “Strive to make the rule as inconspicuous and culture-oriented as possible.”

What Real-World Facts Can I Use?  “Learn how the situation would be handled in this world and use that as a base.”  Wixted, with his pre-Information Age paradigm, cites the utility of the public library.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Atlantasia Anniversary

Time flies.  An entire year has passed since The Realms of Atlantasia:  The Game Master's Bible was published, taking the role playing game community by storm and changing forever how we think about gaming, ourselves, and our universe.  Although the author, John Holland, stated 'supplemental books' would soon be available, we are still waiting (sadly enough).  Aside from some “atlases,” we have been deprived of “The Tome of Dimensions; The List of Traps & Wards; The Book of Ancient Spells; The 3 Dictionaries (High Elvish, Dwarven, and Gnomish); Poisons of Atlantasia; The Advanced Apothecary; Advanced Weaponry; and, of course, The Eastern Realms.”  Of course.

Rather than despair about what we don't have, let's celebrate what we do have.  To commemorate this momentous occasion, here are a few more creatures from the “Encounter Compodium.”

Trachyss:  According to page 101, a trachyss is a beautiful, glowing midget with wings.  When encountered, a trachyss will offer two wishes to the player characters for every “wish” they “fulfill” for the trachyss.  Although unstated, it seems that the characters are supposed to grant the trachyss' wishes first, which apparently take the form of quests.  By agreeing to these terms, the characters will be “trapped.”  Specifically, they “will be on 1-12 quests for the trachyss before it lets [them] go (plus it will NEVER grant [them] any of [their] wishes).”  If the characters decline the offer, they are somehow required to give a ring to the trachyss.  (Trachysses like rings and will always have 1-8 magical rings.)

The trachyss is one of Holland's 'pets' – it is virtually impossible to defeat one.  It can only be killed by hitting it “with all four elements (min. lv. 3 mage/priest spell) at the same time.”  With regard to offense, “they shoot magic pulse as if 100 lv.”

Starchild:  These beings are from another dimension.  They are four to five feet tall (still taller than a trachyss) and are “surrounded by a glowing aura that emits an ultimately good radiance.”  Testing a starchild for alignment indicates “a light and loving being,” but this is a deception that the starchild uses in order to attack first.  When killed, the glow abates, revealing a “grotesque” form with “a bear-like face, a small body and long, distorted arms and legs.”

Bracer Fish:  To quote page 125...
This is a large fish (4' - 8' long) that got its name from the fight it puts up when it gets hooked (“if ya hooks one, git braced fer a fight”).
Hahaha.  Get it?

Stryker:  This is a porcupine-like creature that shoots poisonous spikes at an opponent’s face.  The number of spikes per volley is “10-20,” so I guess that’s 9 + 1d12 and reroll ‘twelves.’  The poison causes death “by the fifteenth cycle.”  A stryker has a 90% chance of hitting an opponent within ten feet.  I don’t know if that’s per spike or per volley.

Eyed Death:  These creatures appear to be rats; they can even be found living among rats.  Page 99 describes what makes ‘eyed deaths’ special:
When eyed deaths feel threatened four eyes emerge from the top of its [sic] head and these eyes will erupt with spells from each element (1 element per eye) in all four directions. They will rotate every ss.
One might assume that the supra-cranial eyes rotate, not the creature itself; however, Holland lists the particular eyes as:  front, right side, back, and left side.  Regardless, one eye attacks with “mud balls,” another eye attacks with a “minor fireball,” and a third with a “minor lightning bolt.”  The last eye is the most devastating – it issues forth “ice chards.”  I’ve heard of iceberg lettuce, but not ice chard.  Anyway, this leafy green vegetable inflicts 5 – 100 Life Points of damage; the minor fireball and minor lightning bolt inflict, at most, 40 points.  Does Holland mean ice shards?  Of course not!  Ice shards inflicting more than twice the damage inflicted by fire or electricity would be silly!  We all know that Atlantasia is “the most realistic fantasy based game around.”  John Holland says so!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Character Creation in Edge of the Empire (Part III)

Art by Ralph McQuarrie (1929 - 2012)
After last week's post, I thought some more about Saun Dann and decided to change a couple of things.  Specifically, I considered forged identification because “Identification is very important.”  The only skill that I could find that might cover forgery is 'Skulduggery.'  According to page 80 of Fantasy Flight Games' Edge of the Empire (Beta) roleplaying game:
Skulduggery encompasses a broad range of skills that are crucial to performing criminal actions.  These include the abilities to perform a crime as well as the mental familiarity with different techniques.  This ranges from picking pockets and locks, breaking into and out of secure facilities, sleight of hand, disguise, setting traps, and sundry other mischievous actions.
It turns out there is a 'Forger' henchman described on page 198.  Among the Forger's listed skills, 'Skulduggery' is the skill most likely to be used for forgery.  Even if Skulduggery didn't encompass forgery, this is still the type of skill Saun Dann might have.  The skill is associated with Cunning, which is one of Saun Dann's improved characteristics.  Also, Saun Dann's Convincing Demeanor talent removes a setback die from Deceit or Skulduggery checks.

Skulduggery is not an Explorer career skill.  This makes sense, but it seems odd that one of the Trader talents would enhance the use of a non-career skill.  Perhaps I'm expecting too much in terms of integrated synergy.  Anyway, purchasing the first rank of a non-career skill costs 10XP.  At the end of last week's post, Saun Dann only had 5 XP left.  Of course, I could swap out either Streetwise or Mechanics, the free non-career skills I selected for Saun Dann by virtue of his human 'Special Ability.'  Instead, I decide to forgo one rank of the 'Wheel and Deal' talent.

As a result of this alteration, Saun Dann now has two 'first row' trader talents:  Know Somebody and Convincing Demeanor.  Know Somebody is the only first row talent that has a link to a second row talent; that talent is Wheel and Deal.  (There is an instance of Wheel and Deal on the first row and a separate instance on the second row.  Saun Dann is bypassing the first row instance.  Yes, the second row instance is twice as expensive, but it's a bottleneck talent; Saun Dann has to take it in order to get any talents on the third row or any other talents on the second row.  Saun Dann can always buy the first row instance later.)  Because he has (second row) Wheel and Deal, Saun Dann can get a rank of Grit (a second row talent).

The final version of Saun Dann appears below.  Let's recapitulate the process that brought us here.  Characters start with 500 credits, but Saun Dann took on an additional ten points of Obligation to have 2500 more credits.

Saun Dann improved his Intellect and his Cunning ratings to 3; for each characteristic so improved, there is a cost of 30 XP.  As a human, Saun Dann has 110 'starting' XP.  After improving his characteristics, he has 50 XP remaining.

In terms of skills, he gets four career skills (Astrogation, Pilot (Space), Knowledge (Outer Rim), and Charm), two bonus 'Trader' career skills (Deceit and Negotiation), and a choice of two non-career skills because of the special ability for humans (Streetwise and Mechanics).  Saun Dann opts to purchase one rank each in two career skills (Cool and Perception) at 5 XP each and one rank of a non-career skill (Skulduggery) at 10 XP.  He has 30 XP left.

Saun Dann purchases two first row talents (Know Somebody and Convincing Demeanor) from the Trader talent tree at 5 XP each.  He then buys two second row talents ('Wheel and Deal' and 'Grit') at 10 XP each.

But wait, there's more!  Investing experience points is only Step 6 in the ten steps of character creation.

Next we determine Saun Dann's 'derived attributes.'  We discussed Wound Threshold and Strain Threshold previously.  His Wound Threshold is 12 and his Strain Threshold is 13 (including the bonus from Grit).  Soak Value is equivalent to Brawn and indicates “how much incoming damage a character can shrug off before being seriously wounded.”  Defense is zero by default but can be increased by certain talents, “wearing armor, or by adopting a defensive position in combat.”

In Step 8 of the character creation process, players determine the Motivation for their characters.  A p[layer can always choose a Motivation, but the rules provide the means to determine Motivation randomly.  There are three categories of Motivation:  Ambition, Cause, and Relationship.  If rolling on the random Motivation table, it is possible to have two Motivations.  After determining a Motivation category, a player must determine a specific Motivation.  Examples of specific Motivations are 'status' and 'wanderlust' (Ambitions), 'local politics' and 'droid rights' (Causes), as well as 'childhood friend' and 'mentor' (Relationships).  Given Saun Dann's association with the Rebellion, let's just say he has adopted the 'Overthrow the Empire' Cause.

Step 9 is called 'Finishing Touches' and consists of physical description and personality.  Physical description is easy:  Art Carney circa 1978.  I guess that wearing spectacles in the Star Wars universe is kind of distinguishing.  With regard to personality, we can say that he is a kind-hearted soul who affects an ingratiating – if not bungling – aspect in order to distract from his activities on behalf of the Rebel Alliance.

The last step in the character creation process is to select a ship.  Yes, each player character party starts the game with a starship.  The text explains that the cost of the ship is subsumed into the party's Obligation.  It's a far cry from trying to cultivate mustering out benefits in Traveller.  There are three ships from which to choose.  We won't select one for Saun Dann because the rest of the party needs to be taken into account.  However, we can quote the brief descriptions of the craft from page 68:
The [GHTROC 720 Light Freighter] is primarily a cargo hauler, but reasonably modifiable.  The YT-1300 [Light Freighter] is even more modifiable, making it the most flexible option for a group.  Finally, the Firespray [System Patrol Craft] is probably the most dangerous ship, but also the least modifiable of the three.  It's also fairly limited in the tasks it can perform.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Politics in Year of the Phoenix

or 'There Are No Blue States In 2197'

With the U.S. Presidential election a month away, now is an appropriate time to discuss politics in Martin Wixted's Year of the Phoenix role playing game.  The Phoenix boxed set comes with a 17” x 22” 'Map of Amerika' which I don't particularly care for.  So I crafted my own version and the results of my efforts can be seen above.

The “United Provinces of Eastern Russia” consists of eighteen provinces, more or less based on former U.S. States and Canadian provinces.  Connecticut has been renamed New Minsk and Alaska is now Aleyeska (similar to Alyeska).  The mid-Atlantic region south of Pennsylvania is called Tidewater and Richmond (your humble host's stomping grounds) is the administrative center of Eastern Russia.  Lake Geneva is the provincial capital of Wisconsin, Wixted's not-so-subtle dig at TSR.  Each province is run by a Deputy-Governer.  The Deputy-Governers are elected democratically; however, there is only one political party – Communist.

There are five other Zoviet satellites in North Amerika as well as several Free States.  There is much unclaimed wilderness.  Astute observers will note that the Atlantic Ocean is now the Atlantis Ocean.  This is how it appears on the original map.  Although the phrase “Atlantic Ocean” is used in the Adventure Guide, that book contains another map that shows the “Atlantis Ocean.”  I'm assuming this is an intentional renaming by Wixted; I have, however, corrected Artic to Arctic.

Wixted imbues his setting with a tremendous amount of detail; he even has a population/ climate and linguistic maps for North Amerika.  (The linguistic map seems to have an error; nothing in the provided background suggests why Spanish would be prevalent in New England and the Canadian east coast.)  Page 14* consists of an operational unit diagram for the Zoviet occupation forces – the North American Strategic Direction.  ('Nasties' – derived from N.A.S.D. – is “foul language” slang used by Amerikans to refer  to Russians.)

In a 'sidebar' on page 11, Wixted provides the following information:
          The Peoples' Province of Eastern Russia [sic] is in a state of flux.  Until last year, the military had unlimited power over any Deputy.  But that has been steadily changing.  Deputy-governors [sic] and Deputy-Mayors have been challenging the absolute power of the military, and have been somewhat successful in curtailing operations within their own province.
          Characters may be able to exploit this internal unrest.
With regard to the 'Free States,' Wixted supplies details such as how they govern themselves, their view of Zoviet rule, current actions against Zoviets, how strangers are treated, etc.  Here are the nine Free States listed in the Adventure Guide (in alphabetical order):
  • Allouettes:  French Canadiens.  “Currently regrouping.”
  • Creole Country:  “Cajun/Creole inhabitants of the swamps and land around Louisiana, East Texas, Southern Arkansas.  Includes several Indian tribes.”
  • Dixie:  “Simplistically described as a revived Confederacy.”  Dixie is a theocracy in  Year of the Phoenix.  The area of Dixie is quite large considering they only have a population of 1,000.
  • King Country:  “The majority are Black and Oriental holdings.  Most minorities who fled from Zoviet oppression have wound up here.”
  • Maple Leaf Confederation:  “Union of northern New England and Canadian maritime provinces.”  Possibly fluent in Spanish.
  • Mormons:  “Largest passive Free State, located around the Great Salt Lake.  Manufactures most of the Amerikan flags.”
  • Native Amerikan Alliance:  “Indians from numerous reservations in the Pacific Northwest...who avoided much of the cataclysm's effects due to their relative isolation.”  Their view of Zoviet rule is – “Typical treatment by white man.”
  • Nonnewaug Resistance:  “Located on the former Staten Island, they keep the Statue of Liberty Enlightening the World safe until the flag of freedom once again shines from sea to shining sea.”  This 'tribe' is featured in one of the introductory scenarios.
  • Star-six Country:  “Remnants of civilian and military population of Aleyeska.  Takes its name from the 6th Light Infantry Division and their star shoulder patch.  Strong martial spirit and traditions help them persevere through the harsh conditions.”

*  All page references in this post refer to the Adventure Guide.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Character Creation in Edge of the Empire (Part II)

Last week, we discussed species, careers, specializations, and skills in Fantasy Flight Games' Star Wars:  Edge of the Empire Roleplaying Game (Beta) – particularly with regard to character creation.  This week, we continue with our effort to define Saun Dann in game terms.

Beginning characters have experience points (XP) to allocate among various abilities.  Although called 'experience points,' they define a background for the character.  'Beginning' experience points function just like experience points awarded for participating in adventures except in one respect.  Only during character creation can experience points be used to improve characteristics.  Because of this, we should first and foremost consider applying experience points to Saun Dann's characteristics.

Saun Dann should have greater than average Cunning.  Increasing Cunning to 3 costs 30 points.  We could spend another 40 points to increase Cunning to 4, but perhaps we should consider another characteristic.  Among the skills he currently has, three are associated with Intellect – Astrogation, Knowledge (Outer Rim), and Mechanics – so it might be wise to invest in Intellect.  Thirty points brings Saun Dann’s Intellect to 3.

Saun Dann has fifty XP left to spend.  Let's look at talents.  Each specialization's talent tree has twenty available talents; some are duplicative of one another and can be purchased multiple times.  The twenty talents are arrayed in five rows of four talents each.  Talents have a cost based upon the row in which they reside.  Each talent in the top row cost 5 XP.  Each row adds an additional 5 XP; talents in the bottom row cost 25 XP.  A character can purchase any 'top row' talent in his or her specialization, but additional talents must be 'linked' to a purchased talent.  The various links between talents make talent trees resemble flow charts and the links may be structured so that a character may need to follow a labyrinthine path to 'reach' a desired talent.  For example, the Slicer specialization of the Technician career offers two (stackable) 'Technical Aptitude' talents.  One instance is in the top row and costs 5 XP.  The other instance is on the second row and costs 10 XP; however, the most direct path to the second row instance would require the character to spend over 100 XP in purchasing the 'prerequisite' talents on that path.

Let's have Saun Dann buy three of the four top row talents on the Explorer/Trader tree.  At five points each, that's 15 XP.  These three talents are:  Know Somebody, Wheel and Deal, and Convincing Demeanor.  For every rank of 'Know Somebody,' Saun Dann can (once per adventure) reduce the rarity of “a legally available item” he attempts to purchase.  For every rank of 'Wheel and Deal,' Saun Dann obtains “10% more credits“ when “selling goods legally.“  For every rank of 'Convincing Demeanor,' Saun Dann removes a setback die from “Deceit or Skulduggery checks.“

The remaining top row talent is 'Smooth Talker' and it seems kind of bogus to me.  If Saun Dann were to obtain this talent, he would choose a skill from among Charm, Coerce, Negotiate, or Deceit.  For the sake of example, let's have him choose Deceit.  When making a Deceit check, Saun Dann may “spend“ a 'Triumph' result to gain an additional number of successes “equal to ranks in Smooth Talker.“  It seems that 'Smooth Talker' is only useful with multiple ranks.  There is one more 'Smooth Talker' talent in the Trader talent tree and it does not appear in any other trees.

Saun Dann has 35 XP left.  He could acquire one of the other two Explorer specializations for 10 XP or he could acquire a specialization from another career for 20 XP.  However, there are no other specializations which would seem to be necessary for our conception of Saun Dann.

What about some more skills?  Well, as of yesterday's update, Surveillance is no longer a skill.  This would seem to reduce the efficacy of the 'Street Smarts' talent and the good people at Fantasy Flight have not yet given a substitute career skill to the Scout specialization.  Of course, this doesn't have anything to do with Saun Dann; I'm just griping.  Oh, I don't care about the Surveillance skill, but if Fantasy Flight is going to get rid of something, they should address all of the repercussions.  So, for Saun Dann, how about a Gambling skill?  Sorry, no Gambling skill in EotE-B.  Hello, Fantasy Flight!  How did Han get the Millennium Falcon?  How did Lando get Bespin?  It seems to me that gambling has a place in the Edge of the Empire milieu.  Well, 'Perception' and 'Cool' are both career skills for Saun Dann, so purchasing one rank in each would be a total of 10 XP.

Going back to the talent tree, Saun Dann can buy an additional rank of 'Wheel and Deal' for 10 XP and obtain the 'Grit' talent for another 10 XP.  (Grit improves Strain Threshold.)

Saun Dann has 5 XP left, but he can just have them “carry over into the game“ like it says on page 64.