Category Archives: House Rules

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.


H is for Hot rod

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image from inside a WWII-era B-29 bomber cockpit (from http://justacarguy.blogspot.com)

I’ve been thinking a lot about how Han Solo’s space ship, the Millenium Falcon, stands apart. The very first ship shown in Star Wars, which came to be known as the Blockade Runner, was originally built to be Han’s ship, or what the film crew referred to as the “Pirate Ship.” Lucas’ model maker Joe Johnson, explained:

“It was supposed to look like a ship that had been assembled from other ships… George wanted it to look like it’d been hot-rodded, so we put we put bigger engines on it and stripped things off of it.”

The 90’s cult-classic video game Star Control had a similar way of thinking about the protagonist’s main space faring vessel. Throughout the course of the games interstellar campaign, the player is able to add , piece by piece, onto the frame of the starship. Slowly, the craft is built into a devastating warship of the player’s own design; reflecting his or her own style and the benefits granted through playing well and finding the game hidden secrets. Remembering back, this was an immensely satisfying way to play a video game and an element of game design that I often try to imitate.

falcon cockpitThus, for Star Wars: Edge of the Empire, I have created a set of House Rules to allow for greater depth of starship customization at character generation at the start of a campaign. I took the time to backwards-engineer the starting stats for the 3 potential starting ships in the Edge of the Empire Beta (sorry, the Silhouette 5 Wayfarer is out of the scope of this article) and created a baseline, minimalist starship which could then be upgraded outside of the realm of Hard Points by a one-time opportunity pick-and-pay method. The goal here is to foster emotional investment on the part of the players into their starship by giving them a more direct hand in establishing that starship’s abilities, much the same way that a typical character is created. Opening up this level of customization is an oft-tread path towards game imbalance and out of control build combinations. I welcome such sights and challenge readers to find out the most outrageous strategies using this system and to share them here in the comments.

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13th Age Star Wars Icons

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In what is now an ongoing series of porting over cool mechanics from other modern RPGs, today I want to look at grabbing Icons from the fantasy roleplaying game 13th Age and adapting it for use in the kind of campaign I would like to run. The 13th Age core rulebook, as well as various sources on the internet, have a much more extensive description of how to use Icons, when to use Icons, and other tips and tricks. Here, I will simply give a barebones overview of my own particular method.

Icons are the powerful forces in any given campaign setting. They are the powerful benefactors, machiavellian secret guilds, and dreaded nemeses of the world; often with divine or semi-divine powers. In a Star Wars setting, Icons take the form of the most iconic figures in the galaxy; Luke Skywalker, Rebel Alliance Intelligence, The Emperor. They also occupy roles that are closer to heart to the Player Characters, representing personalities that may be small-time in the galaxy, but are of the utmost importance to the protagonists of the story; their mentors, family, friends, and old rivals.

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Torchbearer Towns in Star Wars

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About a year ago, the dungeon crawling fantasy RPG Torchbearer was released and I absolutely love it. One of the key concepts in Torchbearer is the idea that adventurers are not knights in shining armor, they don’t venture into dangerous dungeons because it’s fun or noble, and they certainly aren’t in this life seeking fame and glory. No, like Han Solo in George Lucas’ “used universe” of Star Wars, the protagonists here are just trying to survive. They don’t have any fat inheritances or cushy jobs waiting for them back home. They ply the most dangerous routes and explore forbidden alien ruins because that’s the only way they can scratch out a living in this cold, unforgiving universe. This, I can totally dig.

Torchbearer also tends to lead with the fiction, smoothly integrating game mechanics into a description of the world. My favorite example of this, something that really blew me away when I first read it, is how Towns are designed in the game system. The Town that a character grew up in lends distinct mechanical effects based on descriptions that, on the surface, are interesting, intuitive, and evocative. This article is the start of my answering the question, “What if Torchbearer was set in space?”

The following is a list of seven generic home locations for Player Characters. Each of these locations describes a type of home location that Player Characters hail from, though the player or Galaxy Master should use be using these descriptions as a starting point in describing specific locations in the galaxy in detail. Where a character grows up has a lasting impact on his or her life; and as such, each character gains 1 rank in a skill of their choice as well as 1 rank in a Talent of their choice from those listed for their home location. Galaxy Masters worried about game balance should just stop and chill out. Each of these home locations serves the greater narrative in describing a brutal, bleak galaxy oppressed by the totalitarian Galactic Empire. There are no safe zones, the Rebellion exists as scattered, terrified cells across the outer rim, and life for everyone besides the uppermost echelons is miserable. It’s a much darker take on the traditional Star Wars themes, but I think one worthwhile and enjoyable, something to mess around with and use to contrast the norm. It is part of a philosophy I call SpaceCore.

WHERE IS YOUR HOME?

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