Monthly Archives: January 2014

Design Diaries: The Final Edge of Fantasy

It should come as no surprise to anyone that has followed anything I’ve done in the past year or so that I am a fan of Fantasy Flight Games Edge of the Empire and Age of Rebellion. More importantly, I’m a huge fan of the things that Jay Little did when designing the mechanics that go on behind the game. The “narrative dice” as they are called help to make every single roll of the die important not only to the characters, but to the story as well through the use of several different axes of success and failure. Hearing about the idea of an action failing but still having something positive come out of it was exciting to me. Seeing it in action was mind-blowing in it’s simplicity. Since then, I’ve run the hell out of the game.

But like many others out there, I saw the potential of this engine to run games other than Star Wars. A lot of people started using it to play fantasy games. One poster over at the d20 Radio boards was simply running a general fantasy world. A few other posters were working on running a tabletop game of The Elder Scrolls with the system.

My mind went to a different kind of fantasy when I started thinking about what this game could do. My mind went to something I had spent countless hours in my youth and even into my adult years playing. Something that had gone through so many incarnations in it’s lifetime. Something that had gone from straight fantasy to science fiction and everything in between. My mind went to Final Fantasy.

The thing that drew my mind immediately to the idea was when I saw how Edge of the Empire handled the Force. When rolling to activate a Force power, you gather up a number of white 12-sided dice equal to your character’s Force Rating, and roll them, sometimes by themselves and sometimes as a part of bigger action depending on what you’re trying to accomplish with that particular use of the Force. Each face of the Force Die generates either dark side points or light side pips which are used to power these abilities. As you invest XP into improving your Force powers, you need to generate more and more of these points to activate the upgrades. Each face of the die has either one or two of these pips on them. The total number of pips is the same between the two, but the distribution is different. There are more faces with dark side pips then there are with light side pips, but that dilutes the potency of the dark side results, meaning that you will have a greater chance of rolling one dark side pip than two, whereas with light side pips you have a much greater chance of getting the more potent result of generating two. A character generally cannot use dark side pips to power their Force powers without suffering some ramifications in game from “touching the dark side.” And seeing as a character that is just starting out with the Force only has a Force Rating of 1 and thus only rolls one Force Die when activating his powers, it becomes easy to see that the temptation to use the dark side results will be there. This not only serves to almost perfectly model the use of the Force during the era the game is set in when the Emperor had all but eradicated the Jedi and their vast libraries of information and knowledge on the Force, but also, rather ingeniously I might add, gives a nod to the classic line in Episode V when Luke asks Yoda if the dark side is stronger.

“No. No. No. Quicker, easier, more seductive.”

Absolutely blew my mind when I first heard Jay Little describe it like that.

“But enough of that!” your saying. “This post is supposed to be about Final Fantasy! Right?” Well, yes. Technically. But how the Force Die was used in the game was the launching point of of this mental exercise that later developed into a full-fledged system hack, so bear with me. Some of you more astute readers may have already picked up on where I’m going with this. If so, good for you. You get a gold star*

Final Fantasy has always had a rich tradition of magic in it’s games. And more often than not, there’s a clear delineation between black magic and white magic. Black magic is the stuff that tends to hurt people and white magic is the stuff that tends to heal people.

There are two kinds of pips on the Force Die. One that is a white circle, and one that is a black circle. One side to power white magic, on side to power black magic. Obviously is wasn’t going to be quite that simple in practice, but in concept, the idea was the perfect springboard. The distribution would work quite well in theory – while the level of success would be skewed slightly towards the black magic spells, the number of points generated on those dice would make it harder to hit the required number to activate all the upgrades a high level caster would want.

The spells themselves could all be presented as the Force powers are – a basic ability that you can buy and then a series of upgrades you can purchase to modify the spell instead of just being able to cast more powerful versions of the spell like you get in the console titles. For example, looking at the classic Fire spell for an example, the basic power would simply allow you to cause damage to a target within a short distance from you. You can then spend XP on upgrades to increase the damage of the spell, making it more potent. Or you could spend it to hit more targets, or to hit targets that are farther away. What about giving it the Burn quality?

I’ve got some more notes typed up, but seeing as this post has already broken 1000 words, I think it’s best to save those for a later post. Hopefully this has whet your appetite somewhat.

*Gold star is non-transferable and not redeemable for any other rewards. Gold star has no cash value. Offer void outside of the continental US, MA, and the District of Columbia, or where prohibited by law.


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Heroes On Demand: Roq – Human Shockboxer

Author’s Note: This series originally had it’s inception over at The GSA at the very skilled hands of my good friend and fellow “incorrigible system tinker monkey” Donovan Morningfire, and it quickly became a very popular series that gave several of the site’s regular contributors – including your’s truly – a go to piece when things were rushed or in between larger pieces. And so, I have chosen to continue the find tradition here with some all new builds. Expect to see characters for different games covered as I feel the urge to write them up.

It’s the day you’ve been waiting for all week. Friday night. You’re looking to leave the work week on the floor behind you along with the carcasses of your enemies as you knock back a couple of brews with your buddies and sling some dice. Then your blood runs cold and a chill runs up your spine. You’re starting a new game tonight! And you don’t have a character!!!

Don’t worry. I’ve got you covered.

Roq – Disgraced Shockboxer

Roq had it all. He was finally a contender and was living the high life. The cuts and bruises, the concussions, the broken bones had all been worth it. His days were spent at the gym, his evenings in the shock boxing ring, and his nights at home with his wife and their newborn son. He loved every minute of it.

But it wasn’t meant to be. His lifestyle caught up to him. He began to spend more than he was bringing in, and both he and his manager saw that his star was beginning to descend. He began to get desperate, and did something that he still regrets to this day. He agreed to take a fall in the second round for a big payout and put a new, young shock boxer on the map. But the kid wasn’t cut out for it, and he wound up putting him down in the first round. Stories say the kid still hasn’t come out of the coma. Roq still swears that the kid should have never been in the ring with him. The syndicate head that wanted him to throw the fight lost a lot of money on the fight, and decided to take it out in blood. Roq returned home to the sight of a massacre. Several armed thugs were in his apartment, the bodies of his wife and son laid out on the ground. The put a gun to Roq’s head and he closed his eyes, accepting his death. And then the man with the gun said these words:

“I’m going to let you live. But we’ll be watching you. Not every day, but when you least expect it, we’ll be watching. If you try to connect with anyone, get any closer than paying a street vendor for a meal, and they will die. But it won’t be us killing them. It will be you. And we won’t stop until you stop. Until you choose to take your own life, we will not rest. You screwed with the wrong people. You have until tomorrow to leave this place before we start killing your neighbors.”

And just like that they were gone. Roq took what few possessions he could carry on his back and left. He’s since fallen off the radar. He hears his name every now and then, sees a story reference that fateful night in the ring, and he considers stepping in front of a train from time to time to be with his wife and child. But he doesn’t. He knows that he needs to take revenge on the bastards that did this to him, did this to his family. He’s not sure how, but he knows why.

Game System: Star Wars – Edge of the Empire by Fantasy Flight Games

RoqSpecies: Human
Career: Hired Gun
Specialization: Marauder
Obligation: Debt (+5 magnitude)
Motivation: Family

Brawn 4
Agility 2
Intellect 2
Cunning 2
Willpower 3
Presence 2

Skills: Athletics 1, Brawl 2, Coercion 1, Cool 1, Coordination 1, Discipline 1, Resilience 1, Vigilance 1

Talents: Toughened

Wound Threshold: 16
Strain Threshold: 13
Soak Value: 5
Defense: 0|0

Equipment: shock gloves (Brawl; Damage 4; Crit 5; Range [Engaged]; Stun 3, brass knuckles (Brawl; Damage 5; Crit 4; Range [Engaged]; Disorient 3), heavy clothes (+1 soak value), 4 stim packs, hand held comlink, 2 doses of synthskin, memento of his wife and child, 46 credits

Design Notes: Roq is an homage to several movie characters I’ve encountered over the years. The first is fairly obvious, and he takes his name from it. The second, and the core of his story, obligation, and motivation are taken from Jason Statham’s character in the movie Safe.

Roq’s obligation is a little twist on the debt. Even though he cost the crime lord a lot of money when he didn’t throw the fight like he was supposed to, his debtee isn’t interested in taking his credits. Instead, this is a debt that can only be paid in blood, and when his Obligation gets triggered, you can be sure there will be some goons looking to make good on their promise of killing those he gets close to. Paying down this Obligation can run the gamut of taking down high ranking members of the organization to taking steps to protect him and his friends by changing his identity. And should he forget why he puts up with it, there is always the memory of his wife and child who were violently taken away by these thugs to remind him.

Roq is designed to be an up close and in your face fighter. He’s not afraid to mix it up when blasters are drawn, and he’s confident of his ability to put down most foes before they can put up much of a fight. He can withstand quite a beating in combat, with a higher than average Wound Threshold and Soak. His main strength is his physical strength. Keeping along the Marauder tree will only help him put out more damage in combat through several picks of the Feral Strength and Lethal Blows talents. The many instances of Toughened and a few picks of Enduring on the same tree will continue to help him absorb more and more punishment to last a few more rounds in the ring. But he’s no slouch in the Willpower department either. This helps him keep an eye out for danger, keep a level head when danger does rear it’s ugly head, and also makes him an intimidating son of a bitch, all of which will help him stay alive. For further development, Roq could easily flow into the Commando specialization from Age of Rebellion, which would bolster his already high levels of damage resistance and melee prowess into nearly unstoppable levels. He could also benefit from some of the talents in the Bodyguard talent tree, and his high Wound Threshold and Soak make him a natural protector for squishier party members.

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Design Diaries: What’s in an Engine?

There has been a project kicking around my head for some time now, something that I’ve come back to time and again with new thoughts and new angles. The key focus around this engine has always been about including Tension as a tangible mechanic in the resolution of scenes and actions, but I was never sure how best to approach that, and nothing has ever seemed to stick. But over the past few weeks of brainstorming, I think I’ve finally hit on something that feels like it might be the angle I was looking for. I’ve since then finally been able to sit down and hash out a couple of details, and have the outline of a game engine that I think may have some legs after testing and development. However, in the spirit that is alpha development, I thought I would throw my musings and brain scribbles up here for you to read and respond to.

The base dice mechanic is relatively simple, and is a highly distilled version of the One Roll Engine mechanic, in which the players will throw two different d10s. One of these is the Power Die and the other is the Finesse Die. Each of them will have different uses in different aspects of game play, but at the core of it, the Power Die represents how well a character performs a task and the Finesse Die represents how quickly a character performs a task. When an action is taken where a dice roll becomes necessary, the player grabs his two dice and looks to beat a total of 10 on those two dice. If he is successful, the action succeeds. If he doesn’t beat a 10, the action fails.

Certain actions are more difficult to perform than others. A lock on a door may be particularly well made, or a wall constructed to be more difficult to climb. These types of actions will be represented by having minimum success thresholds assigned to them. These will either be a Power Threshold or a Finesse Threshold, based on the nature of the task and the action. Picking the lock of a very sturdy door would be an action that carried a Finesse Threshold. Breaking it down would carry a Power Threshold. Thresholds are rated between a 2 and a 10, and in order for an action carrying one to be completely successful, the relevant die needs to equal or beat the Threshold in question. If the Threshold isn’t met, but the action would still have been successful otherwise, the character can choose one of two outcomes. He can choose to have the action simply fail. Or he can choose to have the action succeed, but at a cost.

Let’s look at an example – Jarrek the thief has just stolen a valuable gem from the treasury of a local noble, but managed to raise the alarm. Now he is trying to make good his escape from the manor while being pursued by several of the noble’s house guards. He comes to a locked door at the end of a hallway. He has a small lead on the guards and decides to try to quickly pick the lock in order to hide in the room and throw the guards off his tail. The GM decides that this action is going to carry a Finesse Threshold of 3 since the lock is fairly well made and Jarrek is trying to accomplish the task quickly and under pressure. He rolls his dice and gets a 9 on the Power Die and a 2 on the Finesse Die for a total of 11. Normally that would be a total success, but since his Finesse Die did not meet or beat the Finesse Threshold, he can decide to either have the action fail or succeed at a cost. He decides that he’d rather not let the guards catch up to him, so he chooses to succeed at a cost. The GM thinks for a moment and then describes Jarrek deftly picking the lock, opening the door a crack and slipping through while the guards run past. However, in his haste, he didn’t realize that he was standing at the door to the bedroom of the nobles daughter, who happens to wake up as he steps in the room and sees him…

At the core, I want this to be a very simple system, keeping the actual resolution on the narrative side instead of the narrative side, but I also want to include a sense of… economy for lack of a better word to the game, and as such have devised a series of pools, between which points will flow back and forth in a zero-sum fashion. When points are spent from one pool, they go to another pool. Right now there is the Player Pool, the GM Pool, and the Tension Pool.

The Player Pool is the communal pool of points that the players all share amongst themselves. They can choose to spend points from the pool to do a number of things. The first thing is that they can spend points in order to lower the base difficulty of an action at a one to one rate of exchange. If a player decides to spend two points from the Player Pool on a action to lower the difficulty, he would only need to roll an 8 or higher to achieve success. Alternatively, the player can spend 2 points to lower the Success Threshold of an action by 1. Points that are spent from the Player’s Pool go directly to the GM Pool after the action is resolved. The GM on the other hand, can spend points at the same rate to either increase the base difficulty of an action or to increase the Success Threshold of an action by 1. Points that are spent from the GM Pool go directly back to the players pool. Points can be spent on the same action, and the player and GM can cancel the effects of each other’s actions by spending points, but points do not officially move until the action is resolved.

But what about the Tension Pool? This represents the risk/reward element of the game in such a way that the basic dice system doesn’t. Some actions require the player to “wager” a number of points on it. He moves these points to the Tension Pool and then attempts the action. If he succeeds, he gets his desire. If he fails, the action fails and the points are spent without effect. Certain character abilities will also utilize the “wager” system as an activation mechanic. The GM is then able to spend these points from the Tension Pool in order to increase the danger present in the scene, whether by introducing new threats or by activating abilities in present threats making them more dangerous. He might spend Tension Points to have a monster use a high powered attack. Or he might turn a small fire into a conflagration that begins to envelop the room. Points that are spent from the Tension Pool go back to the Player Pool when the action is resolved.

Tension at work.

But Tension itself is a dangerous thing. The bigger the Tension Pool, the more potential there is for things to go wrong. The following values have not been determined, but for every “X” points in the Tension Pool, the base difficulty of all actions increases by 1. For every “Y” points, the Success Thresholds of actions increase by 1, and actions that didn’t previously have a Success Threshold have one at 2. These uses only affect the players at present, and so they have another action with which they can try to mitigate the effect of Tension on the scene. They can attempt an action directly against the Tension Pool, increasing the base difficulty of the task by the number of points they want to remove. They cannot spend points from the Player Pool to lower the difficulty, but the GM can spend points from the GM pool to increase the difficulty. If the player’s action is successful, that number of points is removed from the Tension Pool and split evenly between the Player and GM Pool, with any remainder going to the Players.

This idea is still very much in it’s infancy, but like I stated above, I think it has some traction, and I’m excited to see what directions it takes me as it grows and evolves. Feel free to leave me comments on what you think works, what doesn’t work, and any other suggestions. I can’t promise I’ll use them all, but I will read and consider everything.

Until next time.

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Star Wars Edge of the Empire – Enter the Unknown

Enter the Unknown Cover ArtI finally got my hands on a copy of this book on Friday, and spent the weekend devouring it cover to cover, and I have to say that I am very, very impressed with the quality of material that Fantasy Flight Games has put forth in their first supplement. If I can look forward to the rest of their releases being just as good, they’ve made the decision to spend my money on them instead of another company a very easy one.

Enter the Unknown is billed as a sourcebook for the Explorer Career, and it does a phenomenal job of focusing in on this Career and the various Specializations that fall under it. The book itself is divided into three sections. The first section contains details on creating an Explorer character and includes write ups on various backgrounds that characters may have come from and ways they may have gotten into the lifestyle. This is followed up with Explorer focused Obligations, including several that aren’t included in the Edge of the Empire Core Rulebook: Fervor and Sponsorship. It also includes a new type of motivation that was written with the Explorer firmly in mind – Discovery. Whether it’s finding the ruins of a lost civilization that he’s been seeking his entire life, finding ancient tech that can be adapted to modern uses, or simply finding out what he is capable of, this helps provide the Explorer character a direction during play.

The chapter also includes three new species that fit the vein of the Explorer Career as well as three new specializations for it. The species are the Chiss, the Duros, and the Toydarians. The Specializations are the Archaeologist, the Big Game Hunter, and the Driver. Both the Duros and the Driver are exactly as we see in the Age of Rebellion Beta, so if you’ve read that material, there will be no surprises for you here, but the other two species and Specializations are brand new. The Archaeologist is you typical Indiana Jones type of character – someone who can one day be an academic sitting behind a desk and the very next be exploring a recently unearthed tomb of a long dead warlord on the Outer Rim. The Big Game Hunter is a very straightforward talent tree, and it includes everything the name conjures up. He’s tough, he’s good with a gun, and he can find, stand up to, and take on the toughest creatures in the galaxy – whether they be man or beast – without flinching. The Driver is the consummate wheel man. He is to speeders and swoops what the Pilot is to snub fighters and tramp freighters, and is capable of pushing vehicles beyond their factory limits as well as making them operable again when he pushes them just a little bit too hard.

The final thing included in the first chapter are our first glimpse at Signature Abilities. They take a lot of play and dedication to get to, and they are expensive to purchase and upgrade, but they are good. A player chooses which signature ability that he wants to attach to the bottom of one of his in-career talent trees. Each Signature Ability includes a basic form, and then has eight upgrades below it that can be purchased, making them an interesting cross between talents and Force powers. The two Signature Abilities included in this release are Sudden Discovery and Unmatched Mobility. These abilities are activated through the expenditure of Destiny Points, and each provide their own unique and powerful effect on the game. I won’t go into any more detail on them, but lets just say that I am very, very pleased with our first look at these and can’t wait to see more of them down the line.


Just one of the sights an Explorer gets used to seeing.


The second chapter of the book is nominally targeted towards Explorer characters, but most characters will find something of use in it, whether it is a new weapon or piece of gear. Simply put – there are a lot of fun new toys in this section of the book. There are several new blaster weapons, slug throwers, and melee weapons (including the vibrospear!) as well as a few new pieces of armor, and a lot of gear including portable perimeter fences, distress beacons, beast calls, and any number of other things designed to help someone survive in the unknown. It also includes several new droids designed for hunting and exploration as well as a dozen new profiles for vehicles and starships from fighters all the way up to capital ships. We are even treated to seeing the fan-beloved Ghtroc 720 make its reappearance into the game after it was cut from the Core Rulebook.

The final section of the book contains about 25 pages of advice for the GM on running adventures and campaigns for groups that contain one or more characters of the Explorer career, including how to get them into the action, how to keep them in the action, how to develop rivals and antagonists, adventure seeds and a small handful of groups that could be used as sponsors for the party. This section also includes some general advice on creating memorable NPCs that won’t overshadow the player characters as the stars of the game, tips and tricks on including horror and foreshadowing effectively in your game, and tips on designing an adventure.

All told, this book was well worth the price. It really sold me on the Explorer Career in a way that the Core Rulebook had been unable to – so much that I think the next character I roll up will use one of the new specializations. If you have any interest about any of the material that was announced with this book, do yourself a favor and pick it up. Fantasy Flight Games really outdid themselves in defining just what a sourcebook is and should be with this release, and it gives me a lot of hope that we’ll see a long and most importantly healthy line of products for not only Edge of the Empire, but also for Age of Rebellion and Force and Destiny when we get those full releases. 

Until next time. I’ll see you out among the stars.


Filed under Edge of the Empire, Roleplaying