At some point this month (possibly even this week), there’s going to be a Game of the Year show from Aggrochat. I’ll keep most of my thoughts contained to that show (or possibly a post after said show), but I do want to place some special emphasis on one game from last year. In a year filled with many incredible games, one stands out as my overall favorite.
Hollow Knight was my favorite game of 2017, and also my favorite Metroidvania, period. (For anyone wondering, it’s displacing Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow.) It’s a beautiful and expansive entry into the genre, set in a kingdom of bugs. The art style is fairly unique: It’s hand-drawn with limited use of color. This is fairly subtle, but it’s enough to give most areas a unique feel. Things that hurt you tend to be orange.
A while back, Matt Lees mentioned (when talking about Hyper Light Drifter) that “It’s a bit like Dark Souls” basically translates to “I don’t know what I’m talking about.” I’m not really going to help matters at all: Hollow Knight bears a more than superficial resemblance to Dark Souls. Aside from the obvious “lose all of your currency on death” aspect, it really shows in the storytelling. You are dropped into the kingdom and a nearly empty town with no context. Bits and pieces of the story are handed out as you go, mostly from various NPC interactions. Taken as a whole, you can get a picture of the world (and the awful things that happened before you got there). You get the feeling of being alone in a very big world, thanks to how rare it is to see NPCs that don’t want to do you harm.
The thing that really puts Hollow Knight over the top for me is the incredible sense of exploration. The game is very nonlinear even for the genre, and the map is very large. Without sequence breaking, you need to get the fireball, the dash, and the wall climb. After this point, things get really open. You’re intended to go into City of Tears, but there’s very little preventing you from poking the other edges of the map and finding your way into some very dark places. On a smaller scale, the game is good at rewarding poking into things. Hidden rooms are blacked out until you either walk into them or break open the entrance. Tiny corners tend to have some sort of reward, usually in the form of a relic (lore and currency) but sometimes a captured grub or something rarer. I also found traversal a lot of fun once you have the dash and wall-jump, although no single ability stands out in this area. (Ori still holds the crown for most fun movement ability ever.)
All of this without even mentioning the charms, or the bosses, or the major secrets. I really had fun with this one, and you can probably hear me repeat a lot of this in a few days.
As is becoming tradition, for the end of January we recorded a two-part “Games of the Year” show, in which we talk about the things we enjoyed playing in 2016. Both parts are now out, but here are some things that I thought were amazing, but didn’t make the cut.
Stumbling into this game was a bit of a fluke. The game chosen for Game of the Month in January was pretty boring, and there was a lot of desire for co-op, so a few of us gave this another try.
It turns out that space ninjas are actually pretty cool. There are a variety of characters with different abilities, gun variety that gives Borderlands a run for its money, and a movement system and level design that emphasizes how acrobatic the playable characters can be. Unexpectedly, there’s also an actual plot.
I did mention this one on the podcast a few weeks ago, but it’s worth repeating. Owlboy is one of several games with a very long development history to release in 2016, and the only one so far that I’ve finished. (For the record, it was announced between Final Fantasy Versus XIII and The Last Guardian and released slightly before both.) It’s a platformer that superficially resembles a metroidvania, but is much more linear than most examples of that genre. There’s also not a lot of actual platforming, as the main character has unlimited flight.
This game looks amazing art-wise; the music is also excellent. There’s a lot of humor in some of the dialogue, but other parts are much more serious. I didn’t mention this because I thought it might become a game of the month, but that seems unlikely at this point.
Stories: The Path of Destinies
This probably isn’t going to make any “Best of” lists for 2016, but I still think it’s worth a mention. Stories is a mostly isometric action-RPG of sorts, that looks like diablo but plays kind of like the Arkham games when fighting things. There’s a heavy emphasis on positioning, counterattacks, and keeping your combo string going which makes it pretty fun.
The main draw of this game is that it plays like a choose-your-own-adventure book. A complete playthrough from the start to an ending is probably between 60-90 minutes, and is shaped by the decisions you make (usually at the start of each chapter). When you start, these are all going to be Bad Ends in some way or another, but each to you get to one, you can learn a “Truth” that can help guide you toward endings that you haven’t seen yet. Once you have all 4, you can get to the real ending (you can’t stumble into it before that). It’s not the first time I’ve seen this concept, but it is one of the best executions I’ve played.
This is a test, more than anything else. Once upon a Time Ashgar acquired ashfang.com because he couldn’t get ashgar.com. Then as he got older and figured out that some things can be obtained for money, he also got ashgar.com.
It’s about time I set up something here that isn’t a redirect.
If you’re aware of Monster Hunter, you’re probably also aware of Dauntless, a very similar PC game that’s coming “soon”. Dauntless was on display at PAX South, where I got a chance to try it.
Unfortunately, my first chance was pretty short. Like Monster Hunter, too many defeats for your team means your hunt can come to a premature end. This number seems to be 5, which sounds less punishing than Monster Hunter’s 3, but came extremely quickly. When you lose all of your health in Monster Hunter, you get a nice long while to think about your mistakes as you get sent back to base camp (in a cart, hence, “carting”) and have to run back to the party. Dauntless allows you to revive teammates on the spot, which leads to two problems: you can go down while attempting this revive, and the newly-revived, not-at-full-health teammate can go down again almost immediately. It sounds like getting back into the action faster is an improvement, but it doesn’t go well with the game as currently structured.
It’s not all bad. Areas seem to be a lot more open than Monster Hunter, the hunt area is contiguous instead of divided into subzones. Weapon selection is very limited right now (the demo only had 3 options), but more are on the way. The dodge roll has a lot more invulnerability, so it’s easier to use aggressively. Monster design is excellent, which is probably one of the most important parts.
I think Dauntless has the potential to be a good game, but in a demo setting with absolute beginners it didn’t feel great. I’m curious to see if they stick with this format, or adopt something like Monster Hunter Online, where downs only count against you personally (you get kicked out of the hunt if you go down 3 times). We’ll see what develops.
If you missed it, an earworm was inflicted on the Aggrochat crew a little while ago and refuses to go away. The song in question is a remix of Boney M.’s Rasputin, as seen in the following video:
Beyond being super catchy, this is actually a surprising feat of video editing The original song has nothing to do with Rasputin, or Russia, or funk. Love the Way You Move is about ~136 BPM and the music video for it is 3:40 long. The remixed song is closer to 150 BPM, and is also 3:40. But the music video has a lot of parts that match the beat, so just playing one over the other wouldn’t look very good.
As a result, the final version does quite a bit of audio and video editing. The most notable part is that any beat-matched sections are sped up to match the new tempo. This includes the working with tools near the beginning and all dance sequences (including the flashing siren near the end). The tradeoff for this is that most parts that didn’t need to match the beat were slowed down. This means the introduction, most of the middle section, and Putin’s arrival. In order to make this work, a little bit of audio editing was also necessary. Love the Way You Move has a 16-bar chorus, the chorus of Rasputin is only 8 bars. In order to make the end section fit, an extra repetition was added in.
Generally speaking, I’d like to know what my chances of success are for things I might do in a tabletop RPG, because I like making informed decisions. (That’s not to say I won’t do something off-the-wall with a small chance of success if it would be either awesome or funny.) I also like interesting dice mechanics. D&D 5e’s Advantage/Disadvantage system is actually one of my favorite things that was introduced in that edition. I have, several times, made use of anydice to either figure something out or compare options.
Dice pool systems obscure this somewhat by usually not having a fixed threshold, or not revealing the threshold if it is fixed. Even then, you will usually still know what an “average roll” looks like. Shadowrun 5 doesn’t use exploding dice for normal rolls and only counts 1s as special if you roll a lot of them, so generally speaking an average result is that 1/3 of your dice roll successfully. (Interestingly, the glitch rules make rolling small dice pools somewhat more risky than you might expect. Be aware of this if you have cause to roll a dice pool smaller than about 5.) Fate dice are even simpler, as no matter how many you have your average roll is going to be zero. (This is why Fate Points and aspects are so important in that system.)
And then there’s this
The new star wars RPG seems specifically designed to mess with my sense of chances of success. As we examined before, you’re slightly more likely to roll a success on a green die than you are a failure on a purple die, but the addition of advantage, threat, and the ability to upgrade/downgrade dice types all interfere with this. It’s also not a big enough difference to matter: 2 green dice vs. 2 purple dice is a little worse than a coin flip, since you need more successes than failures for a roll to succeed. 2 purple dice is a nice benchmark, since it’s the difficulty of a melee attack or a ranged attack from medium range against a target with no defense, which isn’t an uncommon situation.
In order to figure this out, I stuck some idealized SW dice into anydice. I made the assumption that as a starting character, you have a single point in the skill you’re attacking with, and a value of either 2, 3, or 4 in the relevant attribute. It’s possible for these numbers to be different on either side, but this should cover most starting characters. The results surprised me a little: With an attribute of 2 and a skill of 1, your odds of success are about 50%, and you don’t break a 75% chance to hit (a reasonable goal for D&D starting characters vs. AC 10) until you have 4 points in a stat (or enough skill investment to hit this dice pool from the other side). That last part is actually kind of important, because enough skill investment can do a lot for you. It starts earning you extra dice (instead of just better dice) once you pass the relevant stat value. Since you can raise skills easily with XP, it’s pretty important to do that with anything you’d like to use that you might not be naturally inclined to. Going from 1 point to 4 points in a career skill costs 45 XP, and that 4th stat point (at creation) costs 40 by itself, so this is a perfectly valid way to get good at something.
The framework I set up can be used for other rolls, but they tend to be a little less predictable, and you’re always subject to the GM’s whims (via Destiny Points) anyway. It also doesn’t take into account advantage/threat at all, especially considering that die faces with successes tend not to have advantages. It’s still an interesting bit of information, and it’s really hard to accurately guess. I hope your dice treat you well.
Each of the three core books has a unique mechanic for player characters, intended to guide their actions in subtle and sometimes not-subtle ways. Age of Rebellion uses Duty, to represent your affiliation with the rebellion. Force and Destiny uses Morality, which tracks where you stand with respect to the Light or Dark side of the force. Edge of the Empire Uses Obligation, which is a representation of the debt (real or figurative) that your character owes. This could be actual debt, or a price on your head, or even something like a strong sense of accountability to something. In addition to a description, it also has magnitude that may have mechanical effects. Higher values mean you’re more worried about whatever it is, and it’s more likely to come up in play.
The suggested order of character creation has you determine your obligation as the first step, which can be chosen or rolled randomly. We’re going to go with the Dutybound obligation for Aragos, representing the bounties he is supposed to be out pursuing while the party’s interests may or may not align with this goal. The starting obligation value for a group of 4-5 players is 10, but that number isn’t necessarily fixed. For additional XP or credits at character creation, you can take additional obligation, up to your starting value. The starting value of 500 credits is rather low, so for Aragos we’ll take 5 more obligation for 1000 more credits.
As for your character’s specific motivation, there is a mechanic to roll this randomly if you wish. I personally would rather just build it into the background of the character. This is really the only part that varies depending on the core book you’re using.
Unless you take additional obligation (or make similar decisions re: Duty or Morality), you’ll start with 500 credits, which really isn’t a lot. It’s somewhat unlikely that your character will be able to avoid conflict altogether, so you may want to put some of this into a weapon. Armor is more optional, as it tends to be heavy, expensive, and of questionable effectiveness, but you’ll probably want at least basic clothing. (Some specializations can use armor more effectively, however.) A comlink is also suggested, as it’s cheap and very useful. From there you can take other things that suit your character.
For Aragos, we’ll keep it relatively simple. A Blaster Rifle is 900, Heavy Clothing is 50, a Comlink is 25, and a Combat Knife is another 25 (I started with one of these and never used it). For other gear we’ll take 2 sets of Binders (50), A utility belt (25), Extra Reloads (25), a Datapad (75), a few Glowrods (30), Scanner Goggles (150), and a Backpack in case I have to carry all of that at once (50). That still leaves 95 credits for anything that might come up. You will also start with 1d100 additional credits that can’t be spent on starting gear, and whatever miscellaneous small items that you might think of that aren’t large enough to be tracked on your character sheet.
To finish up, a character needs a name, a description, and a personality. The Obligation and Motivation steps are actually somewhat helpful at filling in the gaps here, but this is really up to you. As mentioned, I tend to do that in reverse.
There’s also a group component, in that you can start with a particular resource that also varies by books. I’m not sure how this would be handled in a case where a group had mixed characters, but this is usually either a ship of questionable quality (except for maybe the YT-1300 in Edge of the Empire, and even then you’re gonna want a mechanic) or a justification for a party bonus (which may have other benefits). Decide among your group and GM what you’re going to take here.
Star Wars Fever seems to be going around the Aggrochat crew, and we’re all dealing with it in different ways.SWTOR has been a thing for several of us, as has Disney Infinity 3.0 (AKA the one that added Star Wars characters). Another thing is that because we’re about to hit a point of relative calm in Shadowrun, we’re looking at spinning up a Star Wars game. Character Creation is interesting here, so let’s take a look:
I’m going to cheat a bit here and just use the character I played in the Saga Edition. For some background, Aragos was a bounty hunter who was first and foremost, a sniper. Thanks to background, he was also a bit of a survivalist and big game hunter. As the game went on, he acquired more technical ability and eventually silly movement tricks. (In a game where standard movement was 6 squares, Aragos could move about 30 in a turn and still act.) But for now, we’ll start with the base. Our Saga Edition game used rolled stats, and Aragos ended up with all of his stats in the 11-15 range, so I was able to get fairly well-rounded despite the racial -2 INT.
There’s a suggested order for character creation that I’ll be largely ignoring, it’s more helpful when you don’t have a concrete concept in mind. As such I’ll be starting with species. I didn’t stat out a Cathar for nothing, so we’ll be going with that. Edge of the Empire also provides the useful Bounty Hunter career. Aragos had a bit of both the Survivalist and Assassin specializations, but Assassin fits better as the starting one. Skills come along with this: 4 from career, 2 from specialization, and one from species. These are going to be Perception (career), Streetwise (career), Vigilance(career), Ranged (Heavy) x2 (career, specialization), Stealth (specialization), and Athletics (species). It’s worth noting that the second rank in a skill is normally more expensive if taken later, so any ability to double up like this can save you XP in the long run, at the cost of reducing the breadth of your starting abilities.
That still leaves 90 XP to spend on attributes, skills, and talents. It’s worth noting that the only time you can spend XP on attributes is character creation, so you may want to dedicate a decent portion of your XP to this. Attributes aren’t cheap, at 10 times the new value. They’re also limited to 5 at creation. Career skills are 5 times new value, but cannot go above 2 at creation. Non-career skills cost 5 extra points per rank, so you should think long and hard if you want to take any of these (especially if you intend to take a specialization that includes them as career skills later, or you’re in one of the specializations that contains the “Well Rounded” talent). An exception might be for a combat skill if you are in one of the careers that doesn’t have one. For Aragos, we’ll buy off that intellect penalty and then some, spending 50 XP to get Intellect up to 3. 40 XP goes into putting more eggs in the “solve problems by shooting things” basket and raising Agility to 4. (Aragos did not start as a nuanced character.)
More to come…
I’ll go into Obligation and starting gear next time. From here, character creation diverges a bit depending on which book you’re starting with. The “mechanic” for Edge of the Empire is Obligation, so we’ll see what impacts that has on creation.
Not too long ago, Tam wrote about not being entirely beholden to the rules as written, in the context of progression speed. He was speaking mostly from a GM perspective, but as a player, it’s not unreasonable to come to the same sort of conclusions. One of the time-honored ways of doing this is via conversion. As systems come and go, things are printed that for some reason or another, don’t make the new version. Sometimes there’s a good reason for this (See: D&D 4e’s Warlord), but other times they’re just left behind (5e doesn’t have an Eberron book yet, so it doesn’t have rules for Shifters, Changelings, or Warforged, even though Warforged were in one of the playtests). If these things really interest you, it’s reasonable to make changes that make sense for whatever system you’re playing in, and run it by your GM to see if the result is reasonable. (Note: this is not a standing excuse to min-max a thing you don’t like. Expect your GM to recognize it if you make it such, and react appropriately.)
…which brings me to the actual topic of this post. A while back, we were in a Star Wars campaign based on the Saga Edition ruleset. We’re looking into playing in a new campaign based on the new Fantasy Flight rules, and I want to play a character similar to (but not identical to) the one I played previously. The first problem there is that I played a Cathar, and Cathar have not yet been printed for the new edition. (If I were a betting man, I’d bet that they’ll be in the Force and Destiny sourcebook focusing on the Seeker class, when that gets printed.) But given a base to work from (the Saga Edition Cathar), and given how races are structured, I think I can come up with a reasonable approximation.
The Easy Stuff
Races in FF Star Wars have 6 stats, which do not correspond cleanly to the familiar d20 stats: Brawn is a sort of mix between CON and STR, and CHA is split out into Cunning and Presence. Humans have 2 in each stat, but most other races have a stat at 3 and a stat at 1, with the rest staying at 2. Saga Edition Cathar had racial bonuses of +2 DEX, -2 INT, which corresponds neatly to starting Agility and Intelligence values of 3 and 1, respectively
Cathar in Saga Edition also get climb and stealth as automatic career skills, but skills are (usually) handled a bit differently now. Skill bonuses are granted as a free rank, and usually only in one skill. Some races get a choice of skills, and I think that approach fits here. This would mean Cathar get a free rank in Athletics or Stealth, but still cannot train either above rank 2 during character creation.
It’s possible to represent the Natural Weapon: Claws as a +1 damage on Brawl attacks, with a critical rating of 3. This is taken directly from Trandoshans.
The Hard Stuff
From there things get a bit complicated. Most races in SWRPG stop at 2 bonuses, and get 100 starting XP, a Strain Threshold of 10 + Willpower, and a Wound threshold of 10 + Brawn. These numbers appear to be used mostly as a balancing mechanism for other things that the race got. Humans didn’t get much else, so they get 110 starting XP. Hutts have extra stats and threshold values, so they get 70 starting XP. A Cathar with the above abilities, and the baseline XP, strain, and wound values is fine, but it does leave out the more interesting aspects of Cathar in Saga Edition.
Saga Edition had action economy that strongly resembles D&D 4e, with Move, Swift, and Standard actions. Cathar had the ability to make a claw attack as a swift action when targeting an enemy with a melee attack once per encounter. SWRPG doesn’t really represent the concept of 1/encounter well, and also doesn’t really treat its actions the same way. Instead, it breaks things up into “Actions” and “Maneuvers”, where Maneuvers are mostly “things that don’t require rolls”. There are two ways I could see representing this. The one that most resembles the old rule would be to allow Cathar to make a claw attack as a maneuver once per session, during a turn in which they target an enemy with a melee attack. That’s a bit clunky, so it might be better to let them treat their claws as having the “Linked 2” property once/session. This is potentially stronger, but also forces you to make the initial attack with the claws, when you may be carrying something better. (If you’re a force user, possibly something significantly better.)
Cathar also had a base movement rate of 8 squares, which was nearly unique to them. Humans and most other humanoid races had a base speed of 6 squares, and this difference was a large part of my race choice back then. My character’s ability to be almost anywhere on the battlefield in a single turn eventually became character-defining. Thanks to FF Star Wars using a more abstract movement system, there are limited ways to represent that. One option is allowing Cathar to move between medium/long or long/extreme ranges in a single maneuver, but that actually seems quite strong for a racial ability. A more reasonable alternative might be to grant them the Swift talent for free, which also has some precedent in other racial abilities.
Generally speaking, these are interesting ideas, but they’re beyond the scope of what most races have to offer in FF Star Wars. The only salvagable part from this session is getting Swift for free, and that should probably have a cost. With the Swift talent for free, more appropriate starting stats are probably 90 XP, Wound Threshold 9 + Brawn, Strain Threshold 11 + Willpower. Most races with a starting XP penalty pay for it somehow, and the talent and an extra point of strain seems like a fair tradeoff.
Wound Threshold: 9 + Brawn
Strain Threshold: 11 + Willpower
Starting Experience: 90 XP
Special Abilities: Cathar begin the game with one rank in either Athletics or Stealth. They still may not train Athletics or Stealth above fank 2 during Character Creation. They also begin with the Swift talent.
Claws: When a Cathar makes Brawl checks to deal damage to an opponent, he or she deals +1 Damage and has a Critical Rating of 3.
This hasn’t actually been approved yet, but we’ll see how it goes. Maybe I’ll play a human and it won’t matter anyway.
A little while back, I mentioned the trouble our Shadowrun crew was getting into. Here’s how it went:
Erase Police Records
Through sheer blind luck, I managed to roll my way out of getting arrested by the police, and got hired by them instead. (I still got the data I wanted too, but we ended up not using it. Pity.) Turns out that being allowed (even paid) to walk in is a great way to make sure that certain records aren’t there when you leave. This was done largely as a favor to the Prodigies, the NPCs that Tam is writingabout.
As a side benefit to the above, we managed to get to the docks a little early, arriving in time to set up an ambush. Turns out they weren’t quite prepared to deal with a jet and a ninja. This one went way, way better than expected, as we managed to keep the gangs from running off with the shipment and making enough noise that the police showed up in large numbers, just as we were leaving…
Break Into Mansion
…which meant that there was no police detail at the mansion when we arrived. This is really what we came to Boston for in the first place: our investigations led to us looking for data on Project Alchera, and this was allegedly where it was located. As expected, we ran into quite possibly the most hated shadowrunner team in Boston, as we knew they’d been keeping tabs on us. Turns out the Prodigies had a grudge too, and Alice managed to wreck the place with a rather large fireball (at some cost to her own well-being). We did manage to clean up the entire opposing shadowrunner team, which means we’re leaving the Boston scene a little nicer than we found it. After some additional nonsense involving cutting communications and thinking we were just going to get the data and get out, we ran into Alchera II.
Alchera II turned out to be a very cybered-up woman. She was in a tank and appeared unconscious, so our initial thought was to save her. Then she woke up, and everything went to hell. Lashing out with very odd powers, she blew up electronic devices in her immediate vicinity, while also attacking everything available on the Matrix, which included the technomancer of the Prodigies, Nick. Her downfall was her arrogance: she tried to do too many things at once and ended up taking counterattacks both in the matrix and her physical body. An EMP accompanied her death, so we may not have gotten all of the data, but we got enough to work from. Among other things, we found out that there were 8 more of these things.
Get the Magic Box
Unfortunately, we had to leave the formerly burning, soaking wet building in kind of a hurry, as our jet was being shot at on the way out. We’re currently lying low (or as low as it’s possible to get in a VTOL), so we’ll have to take care of this last job while on the road. There’s also the matter of getting paid for the jobs we did do…