Monthly Archives: July 2009

No, I don’t think I can, but I know they can

Time for me to take this blog in another direction I have yet to take it. Into the realm of television, the idiot box, the boob tube. My fiance loves to have it on while she’s working around the house, so it’s on anywhere from 12-15 hours a day I would guess. A lot of it is crappy day time tv, television court room shows like Judge Alex and Judge Judy. There’s also a lot of Family Guy and King of the Hill after 6 PM.

However, there is one show that my fiance will refuse to miss a second of: So You Think You Can Dance, which airs on the Fox network, and last summer, after we had been dating for a while, she had me sit down and watch a few episodes with her, and wouldn’t you know it? I actually enjoyed watching it. Now we’re nearing the end of the second season that I have actively watched and while it’s been fun watching, and even more fun seeing some routines done last year performed again by last years contestants, I’m kind of disappointed to see it end next week (though Fox is doing a brand new season this winter).

Most people may brush this off as “just another American Idol” type show, and to some extent, yes this is true. However, when you think about it, aside from the $250,000 awarded to the dancer America votes as number 1, things are very different for these winners. They aren’t going to go on and make millions and millions of dollars recording and selling albums that their eager fans will snatch off the shelves of their local Best Buy. No… as a matter of fact, most of them are going to go on and have, albeit very successful, very “comfortable” careers. The median earnings of a dancer that wasn’t under a union contract in 2004 was $8.54 an hour, with the top dancers earning around $15.62 an hour, something an unskilled laborer can make standing outside working road construction. And most of a dancers work is going to be very short term, most likely a few months, but even as short as a week or a few days. Choreographers are the same story, with the median around$33,670 a year. The top 10% of this group doesn’t even approach six figures, topping out at just above $50k a year.

A lot of these contestants don’t even dance for a living because they know they can’t make it on those earnings. Janette Manrara for example, a contestant this year who was just cut a week ago, worked for a bank as an accounts specialist (I believe, it could have been some other title, but that’s the gist of it). However, she loved the dancing so much (something she never studied formally, but was ingrained in her from her family’s Cuban traditions) she tried out for the show, got into the Top 20, and was a fabulous contestant who never failed to disappoint. Now, according the show’s Wikipedia page, she’s a dancehall instructor back in her hometown of Miami.

So, in short, are these dancers doing this for the exposure? Most likely, but more importantly, and it’s plain to see each week in the passion, energy, and heartfelt emotion that they leave up on that stage, they are there because they truly love what they are doing, and once they hit that stage, everything else takes a backseat. It’s an absolutely awesome thing to watch.

So this Winter, when Season 6 hits the airwaves, do yourselves a favor and sit down and watch, even if you aren’t fans of dance. I wasn’t when I started watching. And trust me: it’s an amazing feeling when you see your first routine that leaves you breathless. I know it was for me.

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Grappler Ships in Star Wars?

I’m a big fan of the anime series, Outlaw Star. I can’t really tell you what drew me to it in the first place, but I can tell you one of the things that really kept my attention after I started watching it: Grappler ships.

Well, it didn’t take me long upon looking at the starship stat blocks in the Star Wars Saga Edition roleplaying game to realize that vehicles had grapple modifiers that were virtually useless unless the enemy happened to be focusing tractor beams on you. So I began to think, how could I involve grapple modifiers into starship combat more often? And then it hit me, grappler arms. So, with fluff befitting the current campaign I’m running, I present the rules to grappler arms.

Grappler arms are a unique weapons system designed by the engineers in the Mandalorian Navy in an effort to allow their pilots to obtain more glory in starship combat. Grappler arms are very short range weapons that when used effectively, turn the starfighter into a very dangerous opponent, however, also making them very dangerous to the pilot using them.

Grappler arms are equipped wtih a gravitic scrambler that helps them to punch through an enemies deflector shields and latch onto the hull. Then, through use of either the razor sharp claws on the “fingers” or gravitic pulses, allow the grappler ship to tear their opponent to pieces.

Grappler arms allow a pilot involved in a dogfight to make a grapple check as a full round action, and if successful, deal damage to his target. As a bonus, the target only applies half of his SR to the attack thanks to gravitic scramblers installed on the arms and the target doesn’t get to apply his DR to the attack. The arms can either be used to deal 4d10x2 points of damage using gravitic pulses to break apart the ship’s superstructure, or use the clawed “fingers” to tear the enemy apart, dealing 3d10x2 damage, plus the starfighter’s Strength bonus (added after the multiplier). The grapple can be maintained every round, just like a grapple at character scale, simply requiring a new opposed grapple check to be made. The target, on his turn can attempt to escape, either by making an opposed grapple check of his own, or a Pilot check opposed by the Grappler Ship’s grapple check. Failure to escape causes the target to move -1 step down the condition track as it strains the ship’s engines and superstructure.

Grappler arms are an Illegal weapons emplacement that take 2 emplacement points. The cost is dependent on the equipment bonus to grapple check the arms provide. If you want a +2 bonus, it’s going to cost you 5,000 credits base. It’ll be 10,000 credits base for a +5 bonus, and a hefty 50,000 credits base for a +10 bonus.

Adding grappler arms toa  ship does weaken the overall structural integrity and reroutes a lot of the power circuits, causing the shield generators to lose efficiency, cutting the ship’s DR and SR in half (rounded down to the nearest multiple of 5). However, most of the pilots using them find the benefits of being able to dispatch your opponent more quickly far outweigh the risks of the weapon system.

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The Ghosts of Alderaan

In lieu of putting up a blog topic yesterday, I’m hitting you with a couple of quickies tonight. If you’re like me, I’m sure you too are frustrated with the lack of adventure support for the Star Wars Saga Edition roleplaying game. It is starting to become more and more apparent that Wizards of the Coast (WotC) isn’t going to give us a new rendition of the Living Force campaigns like they did for the RCR days and the most they are going to give us in the books is mini adventures and plot seeds, almost as if daring us – the players – to develop our own content.

The folks over at d20 radio have answered this challenge en masse. With several one shots already up for download a few more on the way, and a couple announced but not written, it’s beginning to become a great resource for GMs looking for adventure content. I’ve already posted my piece over there, but in order to keep more people informed, I will be posting my progress on the one shot I have announced here as well.

Here is the synopsis:

The Ghosts of Alderaan
This will be  a Rebellion Era game, most likely set between Episodes V and VI.
An adventure for PCs of level 8

Rumors abound of malevolent and vengeful spirits haunting the asteroid field where the planet of Alderaan used to occupy, craving revenge for their unwarranted deaths at the hands of the Death Star, and indeed, several ships travelling near the area have disappeared. Is this just a group of enterprising pirates and other outlaws preying on ships that venture too near the asteroid field? Or is there something much darker happening in the darkness where a jewel of bright green and blue used to shine? This is what the PCs are there to find out.

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Project Chrono: 4th Edition

A while back while I was playing through Chrono Trigger for the millionth and a half time, I got the idea to try and reconcile it into a pen and paper and quickly settled on the d20 system and quickly moved from basic d20 rules to the Saga rule set. The game was progressing nicely and even featured a free form, skill based magic system designed to let all characters build and cast their own spells, using the same template for the “techs” they developed over the course of their adventuring careers. It made it through it’s alpha test, with very few hiccups on the character spectrum, though I wasn’t quite happy with the way combat worked.

Fast forward to about a week and a half ago. I’m at work catching up on my backlog of podcasts, working my way through some episodes of Radio Free Hommlet (the d20 radio hosted DND 4th Edition podcast) when it hits me. This system is absolutely perfect for a game like Chrono.

Consider this a teaser and an official announcement of one of my many pet projects. I’ll hopefully be looking at dissecting the 4th Edition system and math and working on building classes and abilities to fit the feel of the Chrono Trigger world. I’ll keep you posted here as developments happen.

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The polls are open and the race is on

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So that’s the way it was

You won’t find me going into topics like this very often, if at all, but I just couldn’t help myself today. I really feel that something needs to be said.

One only needs to have have turned on the television in the past week to know that Walter Cronkite died last week.His funeral was today, and compared to the memorial service and continued media circus surrounding Michael Jackson’s death, the coverage is rather stark indeed. Hell, even right now there is another Michael Jackson special on TV Guide (though blessedly, it’s a different one than the two they’ve been cycling for almost three weeks now).  Now, I won’t deny the fact that the circumstances surrounding Michael Jackon’s death are somewhat strange and that he was very much in the public eye on and off over the course of his storied career. However, it just strikes me as very strange, and an interesting look into the psyche of the average American.

Walter Cronkite was a man that most people in my generation never knew, however, our parents and grandparents welcomed him into their living rooms every evening in order to find out what had happened over that day. He was with them for the tragedies as well as the triumphs. He brought us two of the news stories that everyone in our parents and grandparents generations remember where they were when the news broke. He wept with the nation when Kennedy was assassinated, and he was there when a man (an American man at that) first stepped foot on the moon. He was a man that everyone in our nation knew, and most importantly, was infinitely more identifiable to the average American than Michale Jackson. And last Friday, he signed off for the final time.

I just wanted to – in my own little way – give a more fitting tribute to a man who I feel deserves a little more than he got.

And that is the way it was.

-Ben

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Echoes of Betrayal, Light of Redemption – 1 of 3

For those of you unfamiliar, the website, OC Remix, a website dedicated to remixes of vido game music, just launched their 14th Album Project, Echoes of Betrayal, Light of Redemption, a remix of the Final Fantasy IV album by Nobuo Uematsu.

Now, anyone who has ever met me will be able to tell you that this if my favorite of the Final Fantasy series, the first one that I ever really sat down and played, and it has a special place in my heart. The story is timeless and the characters engaging and believable, from a man driven to seek ultimate power for revenge of a fallen daughter to the selfless sacrifice of a man to save his friends and loved ones. I’ve played the game many times, both the American and Japanese versions, on the SNES as well as the Playstation, and it is one of my goals in life to get as many people to play this game at least once.

Now to talk about the original album. I feel this is one of Uematsu’s best works to date. From the sweeping sounds of the main theme to the beautiful simplicity of Rydia’s theme, to the pulse pounding battle music (which I might add, they used the main theme of for Final Fantasy IX), this album had it all.

In this post, I’ll discuss the first disc of the three disc album. Eventually, I’ll do a review of the second and third discs as well as the bonus tracks. But first some overall feelings of the album. A first listen through of some of the tracks didn’t blow me away like I had hoped it would, but that was just me putting the OST on a pedestal. After sitting down and really giving the first disc a thorough listen, I have to say I’m quite impressed. Several of the standout tracks include:

Audio Fidelity’s remix of the Kingdom of Baron, titled the Might of Baron, which takes the brass heavy, imperial sound of the original and keeps the spirit the same, adding a driving guitar and bass line which adds wonderfully to the main theme. About three minutes into the piece, the guitar and bass lay out and a soaring brass line takes over to make way for the return of the guitar/bass line, with the guitar taking center stage for the next minute or so. This leads to the last minute of the piece which sees the brass lines and the guitar line trading back and forth, the guitar lines taking the track out.

Tweek’s remix of Battle 1, titled of Fiend and Man is a fantastic piece sure to get the adrenaline going. Starting with guitar distortion and feedback before kicking into the very symphonic battle theme with the pulsing back beat ever in the ear of the listener. The overall tempo is slowed down a bit, showing where Uematsu got much of his inspiration for the later, much more recognizable “One Winged Angel” from Final Fantasy VII. The theme trades between the orchestral sounds and a few guitar lines. About two minutes into the piece the theme changes, prompted again by guitar distortion and feedback. The backbeat changes, and the song loses a great deal of it’s intensity, instead changing to a feeling of dread, still very effective. At just past the three minute mark the original intensity of the piece comes back and closes the piece out at 3’36”.

Cyril the Wolf’s remix of Rydia’s theme, titled Emerald Beauty is one that took me a couple of listens to truly enjoy. The first minute of the piece keeps the elegance and simplicity of the original while adding some nature sounds to the background. At just past the one minute mark, the theme is taken over by saxophone. Just after two minutes, the guitar that opened the piece comes back with a solo lasting until about the 2’40” mark when the saxophone takes a solo, both of them providing a different feel to the main theme, ala a small jazz quartet. The last few minutes of the song are rather unremarkable, leading us back to the saxophone taking the original melody to the end of the piece at 5’42”. The first minute is truly the greatest part of this piece, which is a shame. This piece has already had a number of beautiful remixes done to it already, both by fans, and musicians contracted by Uematsu, and it’s been done better before.

Children of the Monkey Machine and audio fidelity’s remix of the Bomb Ring, titles RDX Necklace is… interesting. Those that have listened to some of CotMM’s other mixes on the site know that his mixes are… different. They generally have a strong industrial sound to them, and this track is no exception. I don’t usually enjoy these kinds of songs, but the fact that the original theme, is so starkly apparent over the growling industrial base sounds that just engages my ear for some reason or another. I can’t even really explain it. The track clocks in at 4’36”.

OA, Nutritrious, and the Fabul Mens Choir close out the first disc with a remix of the Fabul theme, titled Fighting For Tomorrow. From the initial gong sound starting the piece to the sounds of the choral singers and the distinct sounds of the instruments, this piece does a wonderful job of capturing the feel of Fabul’s distinctly eastern influences in the game. The first minute and some change is fairly subdued, with the sounds of the mens’ voices and the percussive instruments building up for the main bulk of the piece. After a small break, we get the action of the piece, when Baron’s forces attack Fabul to capture the wind crystal. The guitar and percussion lines start driving the piece, punctuated by the choral voices, really giving a sense of urgency to the piece that is reminiscent of the desperate defense of the castle in the game. Every once in a while, the sounds of a koto, a Japanese musical instrument can be heard, bringing the main line of the piece out again. The piece ends, rather abruptly at the 5’30” mark.

Those are just a few of the selections from the first disc. A review of the second and third discs will follow in the future.

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A fine podcast indeed… if anyone would ever listen.

I would just like to take a moment and talk about the guys over at d20 radio – specifically GM Chris and GM Dave, the voices behind the Order 66 Podcast, a cast dedicated to “the power, the passion, and the glory that is Star Wars Saga Edition roleplaying” to borrow their phrase. They’ve been casting for a little over a year and a half now and have built up quite a fan base and a wonderful forum community (even if no one ever listens to the show, and you’ll just have to start listening to get that reference).

To make a long story short, these fine gentlemen have been nominated for an ENnie award. For those of you in the gaming community who don’t know, or those outside the community, the ENnies are a fan voted awards show hosted by the website EN World (http://www.enworld.org/), and put on every year at Gen Con where the winners are announced.

Fan voting starts on Friday, July 24th, and these two guys do an amazing job with the show, really care about their listeners as well as the subject matter they discuss, and really deserve to walk away with a win this year I feel. So, if you’re a fan of the show, vote for them. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, then wander over http://www.d20radio.com and check out the Order 66 Podcast and give it a listen. Even if you’ve never played a game of Star Wars Saga Edition and never plan to, but are still a fan of Star Wars, the show is still worth listening to.

So this Friday, head over to http://www.ennie-awards.com/ and let your voice be heard.

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Rebellion Era Sourcebook Insights

Like the rest of you Star Wars Saga fans out there, I picked up my copy of the Rebellion Era Campaign Guide today. I’ve read through the new talents, feats, and paged through the rest of the book. However, one thought struck me after reading through the racial feats:

I want to play a Gamorrean.

I’m gonna give you guys a second to recover from that.

That’s right. I want to play a Gamorrean. Their new racial feats are just that good.

Make your big stats Strength and Constitution (Though don’t skimp on Dexterity if you can. I’ll get to that later.) and take Primitive Warrior as your 1st level feat in order to give you a +1 damage die bonus for the simple weapons that you will be using over your career. Equipped with a Dire Sword, they are doing 2d10 + 2x their Strength bonus at 1st level. Your 3rd and 6th level feats are already chosen with Increased Resistance and Quick Comeback, in either order. Take Scout as your 1st level class, train in Endurance, and take the Aggressive Surge talent from the Unpredictable Talent Tree. For your character level feats after that, I’d recommend Extra Second Wind a number of times and Unstoppable Combatant in order to make more use of those Second Winds. After 1st level, it’s Soldier all the way. The Commando Talent Tree is going to be your friend. Tough as Nails at 1st level and a few picks of Indomitable. If you do have the luxury of having a good Dexterity score, consider the Ambusher talent tree for more extra damage against your opponents. Resurgence, Recovering Surge, and Fast Surge are all key choices for Soldier bonus feats and if you have the extra bonus feats, Assured Attack isn’t a bad choice, especially if you grabbed some of the Ambusher Talents.You can’t go wrong with Improved Defenses, and maybe a pick or two or Improved Damage Threshold. If you grabbed some of the Amubusher Talents, Skill Focus (Initiative) early in your career can help you to make the most of them, especially considering that Dexterity isn’t your bread winning stat.

Unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of prestige classes for this build, but it does leave you open for more Soldier bonus feats and more picks of the Indomitable talent.

Following this build, you won’t necessarily be dealing the most damage, but you’ll be a tough combatant to take down, and even tougher to keep down. And if you have the Aggressive Surge talent and the Resurgence feat, that’s a free charge attack after taking a second wind and a move action to use how you will.

So yeah… I want to play a Gamorrean.

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What if?

One thing that I really enjoy doing either with world history or established canon is playing the “What if?” game. I especially enjoy doing this with the Star Wars movies and Expanded Universe. What if Han never had his flash of conscience and didn’t return to the Death Star? What if Vader had found Obi-Wan before he had deactivated the Death Star’s tractor beam? What if Luke fell to the dark side and became Vader’s apprentice? What if Luke had failed to redeem his father aboard the second Death Star and died at the Emperor’s hands? There are hundreds, thousands, maybe even millions of things to do with this, and it was this exact little exercise that lead to the seed idea for my new campaign:

What if the Mandalorians had won their war with the Old Republic in the events preceding the events of the first Knights of the Old Republic game?

I don’t think the Crusader clans would have been able to hold onto the planets they had taken, but the Neo-Crusader clans would had both the discipline and the numbers to hold on and consolidate their winnings.

With the forces of the Old Republic destroyed and the Jedi Order severely weakened, the forces of the dark side took the opportunity to strike, further splitting the already weakened order, and sending the survivors of the Jedi Civil War that followed the Mandalorian Wars into hiding effectively ending the ancient tradition.

Over the next thousand and some years, the Mandalorians remain on the throne, putting out small Rebellions in the Outer Rim territories they control and consolidating their hold on the planets they succeeded in taking from the Old Republic, while taking precious few other planets in their time. The Emperor on the throne remains one of the Neo-crusader’s from the clans that originally took their war of conquest to the Old Republic, and their forces become stronger and stronger, remaining a key part of the Mandalorians’ control of the Empire, becoming an Empire reminiscent of ancient Rome.

However, the time eventually comes where a small unorganized rebellion based on a world not directly in the Mandalorians’ Empire grows in strength and actually attracts a number of Jedi Masters to the group along with still rich and powerful noble families from the Old Reppublic. The rebellion, actually organized by the remnants of the Antarian Rangers from before the fall of the Jedi, quickly gains a foothold and begins growing at an exponential rate. Using the influence of the Jedi and the bank accounts of the noble families, they find unexpected allies against the Mandalorians in the Kaminoans, who they contract to build a series of clones for them to act as soldiers for the coming war they will wage with the Mandalorians. Using the clones, the rebellion grows in numbers and brings more and more of the Jedi out of hiding.

However, as many of the Jedi join the rebellion effort, some of them find the use of clones a personal affront to the sanctity of life. Banding together to form a sub-sect of the Jedi Order, they break from the rebellion effort and form a group known as the Jedi Crusaders, standing against both the Mandalorian Empire and the clone army of the rebellion. This leads to breaks and splinters of Jedi apprentices and their masters, including an embittered Jedi Knight named Obi-Wan Kenobi who watched as his former master Qui-Gon Jinn and Qui-Gon’s new apprentice, a younger Jedi named Anakin Skywalker.

And this is not even mentioning the fact that the Sith are still out there, waiting for their moment to once against strike and try to destroy their ancient enemies, the Jedi, in whatever form they may take.

It is into the volatile situation the characters find themselves thrust into, waking in a slave ship in Wild Space, a powerful sense of purpose about them.

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