Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Review of Under a Black Sun - A free Star Wars Edge of the Empire Quickstart PDF

Under a Black Sun is a PDF produced by Fantasy Flight Games.  It includes quick-start rules for the Edge of the Empire (EotE) rpg, four pre-generated characters, and an adventure.  The PDF is currently available on the FFG website in hi-res and lo-res formats.  There are also separate PDF files for each of the pre-generated characters from the module, plus two additional characters who are not in the module but are designed for it.

The artwork for Under a Black Sun is amazing and evocative of Star Wars.  The cover features Han Solo and Chewbacca standing against a background picture of Curoscant.  All of the images appear to be pictures that have been re-purposed from the Edge of the Empire core book.  The pictures are full color illustrations of characters and scenes from the Star Wars universe.

The module starts off with a credits page and then goes into an explanation of what type of game Edge of the Empire is.  On the same page there is a description of what materials you will need to run the adventure.  The Edge of the Empire rules system uses special dice, and you will need at least one set or the Star Wars dice app for iOS or Android.  You will also need some tokens.  The module includes a chart that you can use to translate regular polyhedral dice into Edge of the Empire dice.

It is time for a little aside on the Edge of the Empire dice system.  I own a few sets of EotE dice so I had plenty to use for our game.  The dice have symbols on them.  Some symbols represent a positive result and some represent a negative result.  In the game you are rolling a bunch of dice and comparing how many symbols you get.  You create a dice pool out of positive dice that represent your skill and aptitude and negative dice representing the difficulty of the task and hazardous conditions.  After you roll positive and negative symbols cancel each other out and if your roll is net positive you succeed.

Those wacky dice!

The system takes a while to learn and I am not completely sold on it yet.  I can not imagine playing Edge of the Empire with a standard set of polyhedrals and translating them via the chart.  It would feel like using the Rosetta Stone to play an rpg.  However, I applaud FFG for including the dice conversion chart so that the average gamer can try out the system before they sink money into specialized dice.  My recommendation would be to fork over $5 and buy the dice app.  The app will calculate the results of your dice roll for you.  The app also rolls standard polyhedral dice as well as dice for all of FFG's Star Wars games such as X-Wing, Armada, and Imperial Assault.  A set of Star Wars dice costs $14.95 and are only good for FFG's line of Star Wars rpgs, while the $5 dice app will at least let you roll dice for your D&D game.

Back to the book.  After explaing the dice and materials you will  need the module then launches into the rules.  We get an explanation of how the dice work,  Besides the success/failure mechanic, the dice also have advantage and threat symbols.  These symbols do not affect the success of your roll, but if you have more advantage symbols something positive will happen and if you have more threat symbols then something negative will happen.  Advantage symbols can also be spent by the players for in game effects such as critical hits and bonuses.  The GM can spend threats to hinder the players by giving enemies bonuses or making the characters' actions more difficult.  There are a few more cases but that is the basic mechanic of the game.

The rules then describe characters and skills.  Characters have six characteristics and a set of skills.  Each skill is linked to a characteristic.  When a character wants to do something they use their skill and characteristic to build a dice pool.  The module then describes combat.  Combat uses initiative, free actions, maneuvers (move actions in d20 speak), and actions (standard actions in d20 speak).  Range is figured in abstract range bands (i.e. short, medium, long, etc.).  There is a critical hit table and a description of different types of enemies (minions, rivals, and adversaries).  The rules mechanic that I like the most is obligation.  Characters in EotE are supposed to be scoundrels, rogues, and shadowy figures.  Each one has an obligation stat which represents how in debt, whether financially or socially, they are to a person, group, or personal code.  In the module each character can add upgrades to their character at a cost of increasing their obligation score.  The higher a character's obligation score, the higher the chance that their obligation will come into play during the adventure.

The module has a one page description of Coruscant, followed by the adventure.  The plot involves the characters being hired to track down a bounty hunter.  I won't go too in depth into the actual adventure to avoid spoilers.  What I will do is cover some highlights and things that I liked about the adventure.  It starts the players off right in the middle of an action scene.  The adventure has an opening, middle, and climax.  The GM has various options to add during the adventure.  The adventure is not linear and the characters have a good degree of freedom as to how to pursue their goal.  The GM is given multiple optional encounters to include.   There are specific examples for the GM as to how to have the characters' obligation come into play at certain points.  There is a good mix of combat, social, and skill based encounters.  This adventure is a great way to try out the EotE system for free.  At the least this adventure could be reworked by a GM and used with another system.  At face value it gives players and GMs an opportunity to see the EotE system in action and play through an authentic Star Wars adventure.

Pros: With the inclusion of the dice conversion chart this module is truly a free way to try out the EotE system.  The adventure is well written and the production values and art are phenomenal.  The quick-start includes all the rules you need minus character creation and advancement.  The module oozes Star Wars flavor and the modular nature is a plus.  A hard working GM could possible squeeze one or two more sessions out of this adventure.

Cons:  The dice system used in the game has a learning curve.  I felt like it slowed the game down.  I also felt like it didn't live up to its full potential.  My players never rolled enough advantages to score a critical hit with their weapons, and the advantage/threat mechanic felt like a burden.  The characters provided in the adventure are a good mix, but it is vital that the splicer (hacker) character be included among the party.

Final Thoughts:  This is a great free product from FFG.  It is a near complete taste of the EoftE rules.  Despite our mixed reaction to the system my group had fun with the adventure.  If you are curious about FFGs new line of Star Wars rpgs then this is definitely worth downloading.  FFG also sells a beginner box for EotE for $29.99.  While that set includes a set of dice, it is still more of an investment that downloading Under a Black Sun.  If our are a Star Wars fan or even a sci-fi gamer then there is something here for you.

You can download Under a Black Sun and character sheets here.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Holiday Geek Gifts for $25 and Under Guide for 2015

The winter holidays are coming up and one of the joys of the season is giving gifts to the people we care about.  I wanted to share a few gift ideas that are appropriate for geeks and gamers.  I have tried to only include items that I have personal experience with, and to limit the list to items that cost no more that $25 (not including tax or possible shipping fees).  As always, I encourage you to shop at your local game store whenever possible.  If they don't have an item in stock ask if they can order it. Whether you need a gift for a GM, friend, yourself, holiday party host, or secret Santa recipient, this list will have some ideas for you.  All prices given are MSRP.

Role Playing Games - Need a gift for a table top rpg player?  Many rpg core books will usually run around $40-$60.  However, there are some quality inexpensive products out there.

FATE Accelerated Edition - FATE Accelerated by Evil Hat Productions is a great way to experience the FATE rpg.  The book sells for $5.  At that price you can get one for everybody in your group.  The rules are great for players who like action and narrative-style gaming, and they are flexible enough to handle multiple genres.  You will need FATE dice to play, but normal six-siders will also work.

Savage Worlds Deluxe: Explorer' s Edition - Savage Worlds by Pinnacle Entertainment Group is a generic system that focuses on action.  I played in a game where Jem and the Holograms were undercover CIA operatives giving a concert in Cold War Russia.  The paperback rule book is $9.95.  The only other thing needed to run the game is polyhedral dice, a deck of cards, tokens.  Rules for miniatures are included but optional.

Burning Wheel Gold - Buying for a connoisseur?  Burning Wheel Gold is a narrative rpg that uses a d6 dice pool.  This is the system that powers the Mouse Guard and Torchbearer rpg.  Burning Wheel is designed for epic, dramatic fantasy.  The physical hardcover book is gorgeous.  Price: $25.

Palladium RPGs - I know Palladium has some critics out there.  I agree that their rules are a bit dated, but their concepts are fun.  I recommend Robotech: The Shadow Chronicles rpg.  The softcover core book costs $16.95.  Another good choice is After the Bomb, where you get to play mutant animals in a post-nuclear war world.  Just to be clear, After the Bomb has rules for creating turtles who are mutants and are also ninja.  Price for the core book, $24.95.


Dungeon World and Monster of the Week - Dungeon World (Sage Kobold Productions) and Monster of the Week (Evil Hat Productions) are published by different companies but are based on the same game engine.  Both use the Apocalypse World rules system.  Dungeon World is a fantasy game while Monster of the Week is for Buffy the Vampire Slayer/X-files style monster-hunting games.  Both are narritive systems and both books cost $25.  Note: Evil Hat Productions will give a PDF for their games when you buy it from a brick and mortar store,


RPG Accessories - What about the gamer who has a bunch of books already?  How about some accessories?

GM Screen - I used to think that GM screens were unnecessary.  Then I bought the Pathfiner GM Screen and I used it every time I ran a game, even when running online.  GM screens are full of useful charts and are great gifts for GMs.  The current D&D screen is $14.95 and most other screens run from $15-$20.

The Noteboard - The Noteboard is a fold-up dry-erase board.  It is blank on one side and has a square grid and hexes and the other side.  It fits into a black bag that can also fit a marker, dice, and a mini.  It is perfect as a portable battlemat.  You can order one direct from the maker for $13.50 (which includes shipping).

Meeple Miniatures - Smoking Salamander, makers of the rpg Tiny Dungeon ran a kickstarter for Fantasy Adventure Meeples.  I backed it and I now have the cutest party of meeples ever,  These character meeples are shaped like your average board game meeple, but they are painted to look like D&D characters.  The nice thing about meeples is that they are sturdier than your average mini.  A set of adventures will run you $14 from Meeplesource.com (shipping not included).

Gamescience Dice - Gamescience dice are unusual, great dice.  I recommend watching Lou Zocchi's video for more information.  These dice will stick out in any collection.  They have precision edges and are made of quality plastic.  They also make some unusual dice, such as d7s.  Please note that some of the dice that they sell are not inked.  A set of seven polyhedrals will cost $13, but I definitely recommend that you browse around the site as they have some cool stuff. Their dice can be ordered off of the Gamescience website.

These are a few ideas for gamers.  Have any suggestions of your own?  Happy holidays, and remember that friendship is one of the best gifts that you can give.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Kickstarter Shout Out - North Wars: The Martian Conquest

I am always on the lookout for a good alien invasion rpg.  There is currently a FATE-based one on Kickstarter.  It covers an alien invasion scenario, although it is a little unorthodox.  The game is called North Wars - The Martian Conquest.  The game is loosely based on the movie Santa Claus Conquers the Martians.  The artwork for the game looks insane.  They will have yetis as player characters, Santa as a wizard, and an invading Martian army that looks like it could give the Justice League a run for their money.

You can pledge for a PDF for as little as $1 and you can pledge for the printed book and PDF for as little as $6 plus shipping.  It is being done as pay-what-you-want so you can always add more to your pledge.  Check it out for some holiday themed awesomeness.

North Wars Kickstarter