Retrofit: TITLE CRAWL

After I post the second entry, I'm going to come back and title this RETROFIT IV

YOU BEAR WITNESS to a new column here on T&D, Retrofit, and a new contributor, Andy Kotch. I have participated in several of Ross’ past gaming endeavors as a player, including the ambitious homebrew of FFG’s Star Wars RPG: CRUSH THE REBELLION!I usually run games for a small group of old friends and we collectively jump from system to system (space pun) with new campaigns every few months. After delving into the Age of Rebellion starter box, they were eager to give Star Wars a shot.

I didn’t want to simply run CtR. As much as I love the Empire, I was burnt-out on the infinite riches and shocking abuses of power. I wanted to try a different aesthetic, and after polling my players a bit, we all seemed down for a fringe-worldy, get rich or die tryin’, morally gray campaign in space. Fortunately, that’s all the best aspects of Edge of the Empire (and I guess Firefly). The herculean task now lay before me: adapt the thoroughly evil and quasi-legal quest for POWER of Crush the Rebellion into a rough’n’tumble space-cowboy hunt for RICHES.

That is the focus of this column: re-writing and re-purposing what exists of CtR into what I have dubbed “Blaster At Your Side”.

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Stat Block Organizational Tool

Friend of the blog, map maker, and adventure writer Will Patterson has pulled together one of the great resources found here at Triumph & Despair and has taken it to the next level. The link below provides you with the Stat Blocks featured here, but in an easy to use Excel Worksheet with quick pull-down menus to easily look up and bring up an array of stat blocks.

Related, I have been asked by some, “will you update your Age of Rebellion stat blocks to reflect the Core Book? Will you provide Force & Destiny stat blocks from the Beta?”

  1. Probably not. The core books differ so little from the Beta’s that it really doesn’t spark my interest. I hate minutia and boring things, and this seems like an exercise in both. I feel like a great many of the fans of Star Wars RPGs are in it to fulfill some need to codify everything in the Star Wars galaxy in some sort of weird encyclopedic fashion, this being an example of such. I really dislike that attitude, I find it constricting and limited, and so I will not be adding fuel to that fire. Go do meaningless tasks yourself.
  2. Maybe! Keep on the lookout. I have a copy waiting for me right now and, if the stat blocks are new and different enough from previous Beta’s, then it will pique my interest and I’ll do it. I only blog about things I enjoy, let’s see if Fantasy Flight can pull the hat trick.

Features

Lando_smoothieYet another port from Dungeon World are character features. Features are a quick way to add a distinctive flair to your character’s appearance and perhaps mannerisms. Features are best added into a game at the very beginning, however there is no penalty to integrating them mid-campaign. Players may choose a set of feature descriptors based on any one of the Careers or associated Specializations their character has access to and may change their feature descriptors when an appropriate milestone has been reached in the story, such as gaining access to a new Specialization. Each set of descriptors is grouped into three’s, allowing players to make an interesting decision about their character without being overwhelmed by a myriad of options. The descriptors used are also purposefully vague enough to be applied to any number of myriad alien Species, but still carry enough detail to be meaningful.

For each category, choose an option for your character, or make one up that sounds way cooler; this is not a comprehensive list.

This method of assigning features to a character ties those features into the character’s Career in lieu of the character’s Species. I thought long and hard on this decision and came to it purposefully. Describing one’s eyes, hair, etc. in terms of their Species may be interesting to some, that kind of technical detail doesn’t add much to the story and doesn’t tell us anything interesting beyond a minor anecdote. I’ve never cared if your wizard has grey eyes or blue eyes, so I’m not going to start caring about the shade of green of your Rodian’s skin. I do, however, care about how your character takes care of themselves and what feelings their features project onto others.

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Bonds

BDW13Another useful game element ported over from the *World series of roleplaying games, Bonds help your Star Wars roleplaying characters, of any system, form a more cohesive and meaningful team. In contrast to the original games’ layouts, Bonds in Star Wars are connected to your character’s Species, further reinforcing what is, for most Star Wars roleplaying games, an element with little overall impact outside of the aesthetic.

Find your character’s Species and write down their Bonds on your character sheet. At any point during play that feels appropriate, establish a Bond with another character and write down his or her name in the blank. Bonds are generally formed with another player character, but can be formed with powerful NPCs as appropriate. Bonds should normally be established early on in a campaign, but can be added in with minimal fuss to an already established Crew. This list of Bonds is limited and, quite frankly, derivative. Get creative and describe new Bonds for your character that you think are important to the story. Also, don’t be afraid to take a Bond that is shown in the list of another Species. This article is a suggestion and a starting point; it doesn’t dictate how your character feels.

For Galaxy Masters, keep an ear out for when your players use their Bonds to help develop and enrich the roleplaying atmosphere in your game in a meaningful and interesting way. Also, listen for how these Bonds can be used to your advantage, inspiring plot devices for you to use that, by their very nature, you already know some of your players are interested in. Reward and encourage such activity with a minor boon that makes sense to you in the fiction; such as a +2 to a die roll, a added Boost die, or an extra couple of experience points. Characters with Bonds have a special connection that affects how they interact with each other.

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Motivation & Experience

epi418Gaining new power and abilities through accumulating experience points and raising in level is perhaps the oldest form of motivation and meaningful progress evident in roleplaying games. New things are fun and a character rising in skill can feel like a tangible reward and a sign that you are doing well in the game. Compared to some other roleplaying games, FFG Star Wars is very nebulous in its guidelines for handing out experience points, with a wide range of values automatically distributed without qualification and arbitrarily set by the Galaxy Master. While I do appreciate the design intent of simplification, I feel that the games I tend to run deserve a more rigid set of incentives for advancement. Taking a cue from some more experimental indie RPGs (Torchbearer and Dungeon World), I’ve put together some solid guidelines as an alternate method of awarding experience points and incentivizing good roleplaying.

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Critical Cards

losehandAs Galaxy Master, I like to run a very face-paced game of Star Wars. I don’t sit down. I treat my GM Screen as a clipboard and little more than a hard surface to help jot down notes on paper. I drink coffee and energy drinks at 6:00 PM just to get amp’ed up for a game. I don’t stop the game to discuss or analyze rules in a book. I listen to thrash metal and hard-beat industrial.

I cannot be bogged down by rolling on a critical injury table.

This function of FFG Star Wars has long been a speed bump in my GM’ing style. To get around it and keep the game pounding at my preferred breakneck speed, I devised a clever little system of Critical Cards (click to download) to replace the drudgery of rolling d100 and looking up the results in a chart. I implemented this first in FANE of the SITH LORDS and it worked amazingly well. Wow, it has been a long time since I’ve made them. Jeez, why didn’t I post these sooner?

Galaxy Masters wishing to use these instead of the traditional system should print out several copies, two at the least, and shuffle them up. Create one deck for Critical Injuries, those affecting an individual Crew Member, and Critical Hits, those affecting vehicles and starships. Whenever something or someone would suffer a critical, roll just a d10. Previous criticals held by the target, the Vicious weapon quality, and Wounds or Hull Trauma suffered above the target’s threshold all add a +1 to the roll, similar to the rules-as-written critical mechanics.

  • If the total of the roll is 8 or lower, use the end of the Critical Card that has a white background; a Minor Critical.
  • If the total of the roll is 9 or higher, use the end of the Critical Card that has a dark gray background, a Major Critical. Disruptor weapons always use the Major Critical end of the card.
  • If the total of the roll is 15 or higher, the subject is completely destroyed or instantly killed.

This system is intuitive to use, quick to deploy, and gives the players physical reminders of their debilitating conditions. It also opens up an avenue for customization for the Galaxy Master, tweaking the composition of the Critical Cards deck to suit his or her desired level of lethality. For example, during my CRUSH the REBELLION campaign it was made well known that the Critical Cards deck would be stacked with an overabundance (about three times as much as normal) of Maimed critical injuries. What can I say, I like my games of Star Wars to have a lot of lightsaber amputations.

ldvyields2The Critical Cards as presented do not fit the percentages and ratios presented in the rules-as-written charts exactly. I do not care and neither should you. This system overall is a little more swingy, risky, and dangerous; an injury of Dead can theoretically be applied on just the first critical injury delivered. If you’re uncomfortable with that, tweak the die roll thresholds (9 and 15) to be a little higher, or remove those offending cards from your deck.


C is for Characteristics

4105bd4d5c854fd89537b249e6bbcc19When designing a deadly, challenging B is for Beast or N is for Nemesis, it is often helpful for the Galaxy Master to begin by envisioning what extreme Characteristics their creation should have. These types of superlative enemies should always have an array of talents, tricks, weapons, and defenses that present a challenge to the players that have broken the rules, gone beyond the envelope of “fairness”. Most importantly, these additions make this creature into something totally awesome. The techniques described in this post are in large part an extension of the design of the major enemies in Fane of the Sith Lords, such as The Emperor, Mara Jade, and the Four-headed Hyper-evolved Dianoga.

Under the FFG Star Wars RPG, a typical creation made in this manner will have one of four options for their brutal base Characteristics:

  1. one characteristic at 7
  2. two characteristics at 6
  3. four characteristics at 5
  4. a mix of the above

In addition, every frustrating enemy must always have one or two Characteristics at a lowly 1. Your creature should have an unfair advantage, a true challenge to be overcome, but also a distinct weakness that can be exploited by clever and persistent players. The fun in using these horrorific creations is not in punishing the other players or reveling in your own ability to “win”; satisfaction is instead found in seeing the players pull out a glorious victory in the face of certain doom.

At this stage, a Galaxy Master should also begin imagining the fiction that informs and supports the Characteristics. What makes your creature’s abilities so extreme? Is it cybernetic, Sith-touched, genetically modified, from another universe, incredibly ancient, or something else?

Lastly, make sure to enforce your narrative with real bite by applying concrete, definable new abilities and weaknesses to reflect your creature’s Characteristics. An enemy with Willpower 7 is just one that rolls a lot of dice, but a foe that can drain the life force of living creatures is an opponent that will never be forgotten. An array of special abilities and weaknesses has been provided below to help inspire your own designs. It is recommended that a truly frightful enemy be provided with a minimum of 3 such abilities.

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