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So, I said I would talk about FFG’s new Star Wars Beginner Game awhile back. I’ve been out of the loop in the blogosphere for a few months, and I suspect this has already been done to death, but I wanted to give a bit of commentary on it from a player’s point of view.
I played through the Box Set adventure twice, once by myself and once with our old WFRP group. Since I’ve most recently been playing Vampire, my tactics were a bit different when by myself than when with the group; I ended up exploring quite a bit more and doing more RP than fighting. Still, the two experiences had some key similarities that reveal quite a bit about the system itself. I didn’t GM this, nor did I look extensively through the books. Star Wars is my husband’s specialty, and I’d never want to GM it for him because he’s the sort who knows that “they don’t have that kind of electronic lock on Tattooine” and so on. So fair warning: this isn’t a review from a GM’s point of view.
Like all FFG products, Star Wars has outstanding production value. Included are full-color premade character folios with a couple of levels of stats, a picture of the character, and the character’s history on the back. Lavish full-color maps of the city and starport also add quite a bit to the game, although the scale doesn’t accommodate minis well, if that’s the direction you want to head. I only gave a cursory flip-through to the books, but they seem just as lovely as everything else FFG creates, with lots of full-color images on every page. The colored, custom dice are high quality, as is the dice app, which we had to use because you can’t yet buy dice separately and we needed more than two sets to make a four-player game run smoothly. (To be fair, we’re quite a dice-greedy group; normal humans could probably just share.) The dice app includes some “fun” SW sound effects that are way too distracting for the gaming table, but it’s easy enough to turn down the sound on your phone.
The included adventure cleverly introduces new players to the game. Each new encounter teaches you a bit more of the rules. By the end, you’ve mastered not only social and combat tactics, but you’ve also had a chance to try out space combat. Each section includes complete descriptions of the logic behind the rules so that the GM can explain to the players not only their options, but also how the game works from the GM’s side of the screen. It’s a neat idea that other games with unusual mechanics might consider.
Players have a clear goal with several obstacles that can be solved either through violence or wit, and there’s a section where the players can wander around the town and get into trouble they create if they wish. If you’ve spent your entire life under a rock and don’t know much about Star Wars, I fear for your sanity, but you’d get a pretty good introduction to the feel of the series from the adventure. The one thing that didn’t thrill me was the fact that the “wander about” section feels forced and mechanical since you’re supposedly running from a powerful enemy. Why would I take time to go window shopping with a crazy pursuer on my heels? Further, since there’s not a lot of ‘there’ to this adventure, so you’re unlikely to get into deep RP, but again, since this is an intro, that might not bother you.
What can I say? It’s watered-down WFRP, but not necessarily in a bad way. FFG has removed the stance trackers, party sheet, cards, and the million fiddly tokens, which, in many ways, is a relief. (I know, I know. I defended those bits vehemently elsewhere on this blog and on the internet, but they annoyed even me after awhile.) You build dice pools in much the same way as in WFRP, adding ability dice and proficiency dice to represent your character’s core capabilities in an area, boost dice to show effects in the general area that would aid in his/her action, and difficulty, setback, and challenge dice to represent the NPCs and environmental factors that would oppose your action. Rolls then indicate successes and allow players and GMs to spend additional rolled points on other effects. As with WFRP, the system works well if you have a group that wants to narrate its own outcomes, because the dice give both players and GMs the flexibility to have a bit of wiggle room in their interpretation of events. The premade character sheets show you clearly what types of dice will make up your pool, so players can easily get everything ready before their GM adds difficulty/setback/challenge dice.
The Destiny Point tokens provide a nice mechanic for bonuses. Tokens begin either on the Light Side or Dark Side; players can use the tokens to give their abilities a boost when tokens are turned to the Light Side, but each time they use a boost, they must flip the token to the Dark Side; then the GM has the ability to use the same boost for one of his rolls.
Overall, game play is pretty straightforward and streamlined. As I say, I think the system intends for players to narrate their successes and GMs to push back a little by narrative negatives, adding a dimension of gameplay around the negotiation of outcomes itself, although that’s not really how our group has played in the past, so it’s not how we played Star Wars.
Play went relatively smoothly for us, but then again, it should have gone relatively smoothly for us, since we were already familiar with WFRP. Our group playthrough skewed towards the silly, with one of our players deciding to change the medical droid’s background so that he had once been a sex droid. The Wookiee PC character invites all kinds of hilarious language barrier problems, so if you’re not up for that kind of hilarity, you might want to take that character off of the table. On the other hand, the SW universe invites that kind of silliness to a certain extent, so that tendency isn’t as game-breaking as it might be in another genre.
Missing From the Box:
There are no chargen rules in the Box, and the Bestiary only includes a handful of enemies. Having adapted a bunch of 2e WFRP before to FFG’s system, I suspect that NPC creation isn’t too hard; you can take material from other systems and pretty easily scale it for this edition, which my husband did when he added in a handful of encounters to the middle of the adventure. Not having the bestiary isn’t a big deal, then, especially if you have the old d20 Star Wars books and can crib from them. Chargen is a bit more of a problem. You could easily work out characters similar to those in the Box, but obviously there’d be no way to branch out to new skills.
FFG’s SW seems like a solid system with many of WFRP’s strengths and fewer of its bits. FFG has already released a longer adventure arc for the premade PCs that a GM could follow until the complete set comes out in April, so if your group eagerly wants to keep this rolling, it certainly can. The opening adventure felt a bit canned, but then again, all opening adventures feel a bit canned, and FFG’s main goal was to teach the system, not come up with a stellar storytelling experience. I haven’t taken a look at the rest of the existing story arc to see how it plays out. Having worked with the premade material for WFRP, I do know that FFG has a tendency to release uneven adventure content; GMs will find a few moments of utterly brilliant writing mired under a whole bunch of junk meant to justify new mechanics. On the other hand, perhaps Star Wars will remain free of some of that nonsense since FFG doesn’t seem to want to follow its earlier “buy lots of bits” strategy and therefore won’t have to use adventures to justify a million new mechanics.
I can certainly say that I’d be up for playing this system again, although I must admit that after playing Vampire, it felt really mechanics-focused. On the other hand, it’s hard to tell if that’s because of the system itself or because the designers wrote the first adventure to highlight the mechanics…or because practically anything might feel really mechanics-focused to me at this point.
This week, my husband and I are vacationing at my in-laws’ place. They live in an area of the Adirondacks that one might describe as “remote.” It’s not quite shack-in-the-woods remote, but the nearest townlet, about fifteen minutes away, consists of a bank, three or four stores, two gas stations, and lots of Burma Shave-style signs with religious slogans along the road. While I enjoy my time here spent hiking, swimming, and boating, it does always confirm that I’m a city girl. On the other hand, I always see some hilarious things that would make awesome adventure hooks. Today, I present you with four things I’ve seen so far that would make stellar Warhammer FRP adventure hooks:
- A man burning the corpse of a horse in the front yard of his house. One of the horse’s legs sticks out of the flames at a jaunty angle.
- A tiny shack with barely enough room for one man to sit suddenly appears in an unowned part of the woods where there was no shack just a few months ago. My husband and I happened upon a charming bench near a pond in a previously uninhabited part of the forest, and just when I was about to sit down, he suddenly whispered, “Stop! There’s a hut behind you.” I thought he was making a Star Wars joke, but the reality was much creepier.
- A live dog strapped to the top of a car, (or in Warhammer, to the top of a carriage.) I could see my PCs stalled for half an hour of hilarious roleplay trying to figure out if they should save the dog, or if they should set the carriage on fire because the dog’s likely a demon and the people in the carriage follow some lord of Chaos.
- A group of stern-looking children striding purposefully towards a stand of trees in the middle of nowhere carrying nothing but a long chain.
And really, there’s the real joy of vacationing: the stories you bring back. Most people want to tell those stories to their families and friends, but some of us twisted souls want to get together and retell slightly more violent versions of our vacation tales as we sit surrounded by piles of dice, stacks of cardboard scenery, and sets of miniatures.
I’m going into week two of being terribly sick, so I’m grouchy today. Instead of fighting it, though, I thought I’d take advantage and talk about some of my pet peeves that I usually avoid because I’m in a good mood when I write about RPGs. I’ll be honest; I’ve been relatively lucky as a female gamer. I’m not sure if it’s because I’ve come up through a very male-dominated branch of academia or whether it was something about my upbringing, but I don’t tend to get patronized at the table or treated badly when I post on boards (although I do tend to be relatively careful about which boards I choose to visit; Paizo, for instance, is absolutely a no-go for me.) Still, even for me, there are three assumptions that get made about me because of gender that I absolutely hate.
#1) Because you’re a woman, you’ll just LOVE the chance to babysit my kid at the gaming table!!
Okay, so…no. I work with (much, much) older children, but I’m not keen on the little ones. I know most normal humans find it adorable when little Tommy mispronounces his pasta as “basghetti,” but I’m not normal. My initial reaction is to wonder why mom didn’t correct him so he can become more facile with language at an earlier age. I don’t think it’s “just kids being kids” when tiny Amy spills on the character sheets; I wonder why dad let tiny Amy, with her limited motor skills, have juice at the gaming table filled with papers and minis–and yes, I’m pissed about having to redo my character sheet. (I’m equally pissed when a drunken adult does the same thing–I’m equal-opportunity grump when it comes to people Messing with My Stuff.)
For some reason, kids have a tendency to flock to me during gaming conventions. Here’s the thing, parents: just because I’m not openly hostile or rude to your kids doesn’t mean I don’t resent it if you don’t pull them off of me and redirect their attention to someone or something more appropriate. All too often, I’ve seen kids dragged to gaming conventions or taken to games in which they can’t participate or can’t participate fully because of their age. My heart goes out to kids whose parents didn’t bring them something to do, but just because I gave the child a sympathetic look, it doesn’t mean that I want to provide him with something to do. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve ended up with strangers’ kids glued to me for the duration of a convention day just because I wasn’t a chilly ass to the kid. You brought him, you pay attention to him. That’s what you signed on for when you became a parent. I just want to get back to concentrating on my game, and the only reason I’m not being a jerk about it is because I think the kid will take it more personally than the parent will.
#2) Because you’re a woman, you obviously put the sisterhood of women above all else and want my girlfriend/aunt/friend/cousin at your table because she’s a girl, too!! You can talk about shoes together!
Also no. Here’s the thing: I like having a relatively gender-balanced table. Right now, I’m really grateful that my game includes a vibrant, intelligent, witty, educated female player whose great social skills often pull the party out of tight situations. But while I like having another female at the table, what I like most about her are all those other descriptors; I like her as a person and as a player, and that person/player just happens to be female.
I think gender balance can open some opportunities for game play that might not otherwise exist. I know that there are bits of story I couldn’t have presented as easily without a female player; the men wouldn’t have made the same assumptions about the hook or have been as interested in it at least in part because their cultural programming is different from hers. On the other hand, I don’t just want any player in the world because she’s female. If you’re disruptive, easily distracted, uninterested in narrative, rude to the other players, or self-centered, you’re a nonstarter for me regardless of gender. If you think that because I’m a female GM that game day is the time to have girly talk, we have a problem, because I’m way more interested in getting my scenery on the table than chatting about nail polish. And while I’m more than happy to help ease women who haven’t had a solid background in fantasy or in gaming into the worlds and rules of RPG play, I’m not more than happy to act as a crutch for a player with crippling self-doubt because of her gender or who can’t be bothered to put in some of her own time to play catch-up if necessary. I’d expect the same of a male gamer who didn’t know anything about the rules or setting; I’m not patronizing enough to have different expectations for females.
#3) You must really be excited that WotC has Shelly Mazzanoble out there representing you! Isn’t it great to have high profile women in gaming?
Again, not so much. For various reasons, I have very little in common with many of the high profile women in the RPG industry and blogosphere. I’ve already posted about how I feel about Shelley Mazzanoble. In fact, since I’m grumpy, I’ll take this opportunity to talk about exactly the kind of move she makes that drives me crazy. Check out this quote from Dice Monkeys’ interview with her:
9. There’s been a lot of talk recently around the blogosphere about women’s portrayal in the art of RPGs. They’re seen as eye-candy rather than as serious warriors like male characters are seen. What’s your opinion?
I think this is a very worthy discussion and one that our Art Director gets into every day. Not too long ago we were looking at art from 1st edition books and laughing hysterically. The women were not warriors. They looked like victims, complete with palms over forehead and looking upwards at their male counterparts to save them. Since when does being well-endowed imply weakness? But that was a product of the time and the times are a changing. In a good way. The art of D&D today will look very different from the art of D&D tomorrow. And it will look very different ten years from now. Art will continue to change and evolve as long as these discussions are happening. Why does the armor on a barbarian female leave her navel exposed while her male counterpart is fully covered? Why does the female wizard look like she stuck her dry-clean only robes in the dryer? First and foremost, your armor should protect you! It’s not an accessory you put on to go clubbing.
Personally I would never let my character go out in tight leather armor and a breastplate. I’d be like “Button up, young lady! You’re not going into the dungeon looking like that!” But that’s just me.
Instead of saying something meaningful here about how WotC’s art directors actually address the issue, she pretends that the problem with images of women in games an “old school” problem that we no longer have anymore. Golly gee, that problem’s so archaic that we can just laaaaugh at it! Please. If we take hobby books as a whole, you’ll still find more women without clothes than with–and don’t get me started on miniatures. It’s not “yesterday’s issue,” and it makes the problem worse when a prominent female in the hobby says it is, even if it’s in her company’s best interests to pretend that the problem doesn’t exist.
I respect Shelly’s right to describe her own experiences playing DnD and I respect the women who identify with her; what I dislike is the fact that she’s being held up by WotC as the face of female gaming. I find 99.999% of what she says profoundly alienating (and I have a feeling she’d say the same about my writing, to be fair.) Because we have such drastically different interests as gamers and as human beings, I wouldn’t invite her to my game, and if I were the sort of person who tended to think in terms of reductive social identifiers, I might be loathe invite any other woman to my game if her books represented the only sample I had of the intersection between “women” and “RPGs.” I get what WotC tries to do with her writing; they’re trying to claim a demographic that they haven’t had as purchasers before, but why not have several different kinds of women stand up and become the voice of female players? After all, we have a bevy of different kinds of male voices represented in WotC’s magazines and online sites; why not at least a handful of women, each with a different but equally strong perspectives?
To go feminism 101 for a second, Judith Butler and other post-structuralist feminists of the late 80s and early 90s worked tirelessly to undermine the assumption that there is “a female identity.” No single identity defines women’s needs and desires; for heaven’s sake, we’re 50% of the population. How could we possibly agree on anything? The only thing we have in common is the assumptions you (male or female) bring to bear when you sit down at the table about who we are. So, you know…don’t.
I’ve been too swamped at work this week to have thought about RPGs much, unfortunately. Here’s the news from my end of the earth:
#1: Like everyone in the whole world, I want one of these. The ePawn is just awesome, and I’m glad they’re keeping the price down so that it’s within reach of many gamers. If you haven’t seen the ePawn in action, do go look at the videos on their website; it’s definitely an interesting product.
I’m also hoping that the fact that they use Mansions of Madness in some of the promo materials means that they’re working out some deals with FFG.
#2: Speaking of FFG, I’m a little miffed that we haven’t heard anything about the release date for the Black Crusade Collector’s Edition. I ordered that thing, oh, I don’t know, about a bazillion years ago, and there’s been no word for months about its release date. I guess it turns out that it’s going to be “sometime in February,” but for such a pricey item, it’d be nice if they were a bit more forthcoming about how they’re calculating release date schedule. Oh, well. It’s FFG. I can stay mad at them until I go to their website, then I see their great art direction and end up forgetting what was making me mad in the first place.
I have some very strong opinions about what Apple’s textbook announcement means for schools, but I won’t go into them here for fear of alienating my readership. (Short version: the tool is great, the public schools are irreparably broken.) We’ll use the iBooks Author tool at my workplace, though, and as one of the local Apple Fanatics, I knew I’d be asked right away for my opinion about the program, so I wasted no time in downloading it. (Translation: I wanted to play with it, and I justified spending the day messing with it by convincing myself it was “work-related.”) I spent some time considering all the professional things I could do with it, but at the same time, I kept thinking, “This would be great for presenting RPG scenarios!”
As with most Apple software, the iBooks Author program allows you to create content from templates that ensure your work will look professional and attractive. If you know Apple software well, the tools work roughly the same as those in Keynote or Pages, so you won’t have a huge learning curve. Best of all, though, the multimedia options in the new iBooks Author app make it easy to include the kind of sound and interactive images that make a GM’s job much easier. Literally all relevant information–including sound effects, background noises, notes, charts and tables, slide shows to present to the players, and maps with GM notes–can now easily fit into a single package to distribute to other GMs. I spent a little time this morning with my camera, GarageBand, and the iBooks Author tool to get a sense of the kinds of things this might do for RPGs. Here are some screenshots from both my iMac and my iPad that give you a sense of what it’s like to create and distribute content through this program.
The first thing that struck me was that the program allows you to make an image that has clickable call-outs. It occurred to me immediately that those would be a great way for a GM to see a map and notes; she can click when information’s necessary or just see the image if she needs to see the overall terrain. Making an image with a call-out is as easy as dragging an image into the box, clicking the + in the Inspector to create a new call-out, assigning a place for the text and the pointer, and then entering the text:
Want to add an image or sound so that you can show it or play it for the PCs? Again, you’ve got drag-and-drop functionality for most types of files, and you can turn the title/notes on or off for each piece of media you add. Comment if the GM needs the info, or leave it simple if not:
Editing and adding text to the map call-outs is a snap:
Here’s the authoring tool showing a page that features a map with call-outs, a sound file, and a chart:
But how does it look on the iPad, you’ll ask? Great, of course!
In this image, the GM has clicked on the chest to get more information about what’s inside:
Want to add notes about things you’re likely to forget while running the scenario? iBook’s got you covered:
You can also view and search your notes all in one place for convenience. (For those of you who are actually students, the iPad will automatically turn your notes into flash cards to help you study!)
Overall, I think this tool will work wonderfully for schools and GMs alike. I’m considering writing a Skaven adventure soon-ish, and I may distribute it in this form just to see how it works. In the meantime, check out the iBooks Author tool for yourself, since it’s free!
My husband and I often end up at the mall. We live in the sort of area where most people think they’re too good for mall shopping, but we both have a raging technology habit to support, so continual trips to Best Buy are simply unavoidable.
I assume everyone does this, but I just want to check: you continually search for NPCs at the mall, right?
There are two kinds of NPCs at the mall. The first simply adds local color. If you asked these NPCs about the town, they’d ply you with a bunch of junk lore and maybe throw in a couple of tidbits relevant to the overarching plot, but it’d be next to impossible to tell the two apart. These NPCs are mostly dressed normally–in fact, hyper-normally for your area–but always have that single ornament that signifies their character type. Look: check out that man standing next to the Brookstone in the perfectly boring collared shirt, the brown leather jacket, and the nondescript jeans, who just happens to have a deflated inflatable plastic fish sticking out of his pocket. If you roll particularly well, perhaps he’ll give you that fish and you can use it in a future encounter.
The second kind of NPC at the mall is the plot hook. She’s outrageous. You literally can’t miss her. In fact, the Great GM in the Sky generally gets so desperate to make you take the hook that he makes it awkward not to interact with the plot hook. Behold! There’s a forty-something woman in a Hello Kitty sweatshirt and a tiara carrying a large Target bag entirely stuffed with leopard print slippers. Which part of that mess will begin your adventure? The tiara? Is it magic? The shoes? Are there twenty five missing children who need those slippers to turn them back into humans after the evil wizard made them orangutans? Is the woman being forced to wear the Hello Kitty sweatshirt as a punishment for something she did long ago? When you investigate her crime, will it turn out not to be that bad after all?
My husband and I spend an inordinate amount of time in public playing “spot the NPC.” Often we supply the lore that we think “local color” NPCs would give. If we locate our plot hook, we spend another chunk of time writing the adventure around him.
Naturally, I assume that this is what everyone sane does at the mall. That fact may not reflect well on my own sanity, now that I think about it.
It’s been a busy week, made more complex by a cold and now by a case of food poisoning. Nurgleriffic! If I don’t get well soon, I’m definitely going to have to draw a corruption card.
Just a quick post to praise Pantheon Press’s two item expansions to their Fortune’s Fool RPG, available here. As I’ve said before, part of the reason I love the setting of this game because it doesn’t shy away from issues of religion, and its well-researched historical background pulls out some of my favorite fun tidbits of European history. These two item expansions, Pax Romana and Vaults of the Vatican, make use of some of the most delightfully bizarre hagiographical and literary stories of the age as they provide your campaign with a wealth of magic items inspired by saints, writers, and heroes. Both documents are delightfully illustrated with full-color historical images, and come in PDF form so you can easily view them on your iPad, which is always a bonus, as far as I’m concerned. Best of all, they’re free! So if you’re jonesing to sneak in a new RPG goodie before the holidays, you can treat yourself (and your PCs) without guilt.