Monday, March 14, 2011

Those Wonderful Toys

What I Bring to the Table
When I attend my bi-monthly Dawn of Defiance Campaign game, I drag two suitcases stuffed with materials, plus a laptop bag and a Star Wars lunchbox containing my dinner. Recently, I added a tri-fold foam presentation board, which really makes the walk from the parking lot to Baldy Hall frustrating. I use the presentation board to tack up stat blocks for all NPCs for the current encounter. Now I don’t have to flip through index cards or sheets of paper to keep combat flowing. This was a great two dollar investment. I just need to figure out how to load my materials on the dolly so the walk to and from the car is less of a headache.
One suitcase holds the complete SAGA library. If there are questions about talents, feats or powers, I want the answers at my players’ fingertips. Notice, I didn’t say “my fingertips.” I put the players in charge of finding the answers in the books. I consult the Excel SAGA Classes and Index worksheet, which is always open on my laptop. Also, I trust my players to manage their own characters, leveling between sessions. Having the full SAGA library available during breaks and before game play helps them plan their characters’ future development.
I also carry two binders. One binder holds a printout of the original module. The other contains the module’s encounter pages, NPC sheets, module revisions, new skill challenges and breakdowns of each NPC’s feats, talents and powers. I began to revise encounters much more heavily since the group effortlessly walked through the first couple sessions. Now, everything gets rewritten. Every NPC gets revamped.
Most of the suitcase is crammed with the sewing kit boxes I use to hold my minis. One box is for Imperials, one is for PCs and rebels. The third is for scum and villainy. I just added a Tupperware box for droids, starships and beasts. This makes finding appropriate minis easy.
I also use a small dry erase board. For each encounter, a player volunteers to keep track of initiative. Especially since I use a house rule where we reroll initiative every round, it’s very freeing to not track initiative myself. I’d rather direct most of my brain power to interpreting the rolls to tell a better story than figure out who goes next.
I also have the Paizo battlemap I can draw my maps on. My wife is concerned with the Office Max bills attained from printing up my custom maps on photo paper, so the Paizo map is getting increased use. However, nothing quite feels as awesome as running an encounter on a map I designed in Dundjinni. My family was generous enough this past holiday to get me all the Maps of Mastery maps. These are gorgeous and will play large roles in upcoming encounters. There are also many wonderful maps available on the web, such as the ones at the Holocron. Why reinvent the wheel when you can just download a quality set of snowtires? These are large maps, usually designed for minis play. I use Photoshop to break them down to 8x10 sheets. Again, my Office Max budget has become a problem.
I don’t understand why GMs don’t bring toys to the table. I bring a toy lightsaber for my Jedi PC’s player to wave around. I haven’t been impressed with the toy blasters. When I find one in my budget that doesn’t look like junk I’ll bring one for the soldier and scoundrel to share.
I also bring the Toy of the Week. In the first Dawn of Defiance module, there’s a scene where the PCs chase scouts on speeder bikes, so I brought in a scout trooper action figure and speeder bike toy. When a scout crashed during the chase, I pushed the button on the back of the bike, causing it to separate into pieces, sending the scout flying. The players loved it. When the PCs went to Darga the Hutt’s palace, I used the Episode 4 Jabba action figure as a puppet. When the PCs spoke to Darga, they talked to the toy. The toy moved about when Darga spoke. I’m learning ventriloquism to take this effect to the next level. The toys capture the fun of childhood, playing with action figures. I consider rpgs an extension of this activity. Also, it gives the players something real and visual to interact with, to add something physical to a game composed of abstractions.
I’m going to spend a lot of time discussing my fave three gaming suitcase items: the random hit die and Gamemastery Critical Hit and Critical Fumble Decks. Too often running combat becomes tedious. It’s too easy to fall into the habit of saying, “Roll your attack. Nope, you miss. You hit a wall or something. Who’s next? Roll. Does this beat your reflex defense? He hits you. Take damage.” That doesn’t add any drama or excitement. As Gamemaster, it is my job to translate die rolls into a story. Enter the random hit location die. It’s a twelve sided die that lists body parts. Someone gets hit in combat? Roll the die. It tells you where they got hurt. In my games, it’s a running joke everyone in the Galaxy is limping, because the die seems to come up left foot or right foot an awful lot. We’ve changed right foot to crotch shot.
It is not enough to say, “You shot him in the left foot.” You have to work for it. How did this happen? Previously in the round, an ally may have gotten shot and called out in pain. This startled the currently attacking PC, causing his otherwise steady hand to waiver. Were enemies attacking the PC this round? The PC may have been busy dodging blaster bolts, and his hand dropped a smidge as he fired.
It doesn’t have to be negative conditions that caused the foot injury. The blaster bolt may have hit a column the enemy was taking cover behind. Shrapnel splintered off and slashed the bad guy’s foot. In my House of Wookiees Campaign, the PCs were in the Jedi Temple during the Dark Times. Vader showed up with the 501st. The Gungan PC, Ssoy, had just acquired a lightsaber and was dead set on using it to hurt Vader, even though Vader was over ten levels higher than his character. Ssoy’s player used a destiny point. That’s an automatic critical injury. I rolled the random hit die. Left foot. On the fly, I came up with this: Ssoy leaps at Vader, swinging high. Vader raises his red blade to block. But, Ssoy lets gravity carry him down beneath the blade. He twirls his saber so it points down. Gravity adds to the force of his attack as he drives it through Vader’s boot. The Dark Lord of the Sith bellows in agony. The sound is so terrible, Ssoy thinks his heart will explode.
That beats the crap out of: You hit Vader with your lightsaber. Roll double damage. Oh yeah, you hit him on the right foot.
Yes, this kind of improvisation takes work, but only by relentlessly practicing interpreting dice rolls in your games will you be able to keep combat graphic and exciting, avoiding the tediousness it can easily devolve into.
In my games, when PCs roll a natural one or twenty, the players get to draw from Gamemastery’s Critical Fumble or Critical Hit card decks. Double damage is nice for critical hits, but it doesn’t have the cinematic flair I want for my games. It also doesn’t help tell the story as well as a “shot to the throat” or “the blaster backfires, causing critical damage to the shooter.” These extreme moments are the life blood of movie serials. I turned to the Gamemastery Critical Hit deck to spice things up.
If a PC or BBEG rolled a natural 20 on his attack check, the player got to draw a card. To make sure the deck maintained the flair I was after and didn’t cheat the PCs from the double damage they’ were promised by the Core rules, I made a house rule where each card caused a minimum of double damage.
These decks were created for Pathfinder. Because that’s another d20 game, it’s fairly easy to adapt the cards to SAGA. Some cards reduce Ability scores. I simplify these cards by causing the PC to drop down the condition track an appropriate amount. I don’t want to slow combat down by refiguring stats. In fact, any cards are more detailed than bleeding or straight damage results in condition track penalties. The important thing is to apply the KISS principle while preserving the card’s intent.
The Critical Hit deck has categories for Bludgeoning (dropping boulders onto the target), Piercing (blaster fire), Slashing (lightsabers or vibroweapons) and Magic. I don’t use Magic for critical hit Force powers because the effects rarely match anything that I would imagine the Force doing. Critical hit Force powers get double damage as normal.
My players loved this card system, especially during those epic game nights when everyone scored a 20 with each roll of the die. I decided to return balance to the Force. I acquired the Critical Fumble deck. Its categories are a bit more straight forward for adapting to SAGA: Melee, Ranged, Natural and Magic. The Critical Failure Magic effects make more sense for Force usage, but to provide balance to the Force, I don’t use either deck for Force power critical hit or fumbles.
Some of the fumble effects are frightening. A player can actually do critical damage to himself! Players fear these cards. With melodramatic dread, they procrastinate reaching to draw their PC’s fate. Usually, my players have only drawn cards that leave their characters shaken (which I rule as flat-footed and a trip down the condition track), but I know someday, maybe even during a starship encounter, the Crit Yourself card will rear its ugly head. Even if it doesn’t, I love seeing the psychological effect drawing the Critical Failure cards have on my players. It’s part of the fun of being a Gamemaster.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Get Caught Up

The Podcast picks up at the beginning of the third module, Queen of Air and Darkness. Read of the party's exploits to date in preparation for the show's launch. Visit here for the skinny.

Meet the PCs: Tor'kal Kir'tem


Tor is about 6 feet tall, average for his species. He has pale golden fur with three dark stripes that flow from his head down his back. He wears a simple mechanics jumpsuit that sits uncomfortably on his body as if he is unaccustomed to it. A “hydrospanner” is clipped to his belt and Tor favors is like it is delicate or sentimental.
Current stat block as of 10/11/10 (haven’t applied XP from last session yet, will change to account for this shortly) is as follows:
Medium Caamasi Jedi 3
Destiny 3; Force 4
Init 3; Senses Perception +10
Languages Basic, Caamasi, Shyriiwook
Defenses Ref 16 (flat-footed 14), Fort 14, Will 18
HP 39; Threshold 14
Speed 6 squares
Melee unarmed +3 (1d4
Melee Lightsaber 3 (2d81)
Base Atk +3 Grp +5
Atk Options -
Special Actions Adept Diplomat (reroll Persuasion, keep better), Pacifism (as standard make Persuasion, enemy –1 condition if attack), Memory Sharing (as full-round can share memory with other Caamasi or force user [DC15 Utf]), Adept Negotiator, Telekenetic Savant
Abilities Str 10, Dex 14, Con 10, Int 12, Wis 18, Cha 12
Force Powers Known (Use the Force +12): Move Object, Negate Energy, Force Slam, Mind Trick, Ballistakinesis, Surge, Force Shield, Rebuke, Force Blast, Combustion
Talents Adept Negotiator, Telekenetic Savant
Feats Force Sensitivity, Force Training(2), Weapon Proficiency (simple weapons, lightsabers), Skill Focus (Use the Force)
Skills Acrobatics +8, Perception +10, Use the Force +12
Possessions Lightsaber, comlink (short), Glowrods (10), Fusion Lantern, Liquid Cable Dispenser, Repulsor Pads (3), Synthrope, Aquata Breather, Medpac, Mesh Tape, All-Temperature Cloak, Datapad (basic), Bindercuffs, Stimulants


The Caamasi Jedi escaped Order 66 because he was on or past the outer rim alone, attempting to expand his knowledge of the Force in order to create a Holocron, much in the way his species values sharing memories. Feeling the disturbance in the Force of the jedi being killed, he returned to try and see what he could do to help any remaining jedi and bring the Emperor to justice. However, compounding on the loss of the jedi, the Empire destroys Caamas only a few months after Order 66. This monumental wave of loss in addition to the loss of the jedi gives a lot of trouble to the Caamasi jedi. Normally extremely peaceful due to his race and training, he must now struggle with the pain and loss of all he knows, lest he become tempted to give in to his anger at all.
He is very defensive minded. Since he wants to make a holocron, he’s trying to learn as much about the Force as he can. As such I’m aiming him towards higher Force use like the Force Adept/Disciple Jedi Knight/Master Prestige classes.
1. He loves the Force and what it represents. He will always try to preserve balance in the Force. He loves sharing knowledge (part of the reson he wants to create a Holocron), and as such, he is very protective of children as they represent innocence and are sponges for learning.
2. He hates anyone that directly participated on the decimation of his homeworld. Despite normal Caamasi forgiveness, he can’t stand anyone who helped carry out the destruction of his people.
3. He is working with the group because he believes it to be the best way to help bring down the corrupt Empire and try to restore peace to the galaxy.

Meet the PCs: Khalik Coric

Khalik Coric is the adopted son of an engineer employed by the Incom Corporation and is quite a capable engineer himself. Khalik had been designing starships with his father’s help since he was 13 and is widely regarded by rest of his team as something of an engineering genius. Though Khalik does have an arrogant streak, it is not without good reason as his engineering prowess can match that of even professional engineers.
In 22 BBY, Senator Bail Organa had privately commissioned Incom to develop a new type of fighter for the Republic to use in the Clone Wars, unbeknownst to then Chancellor Palpatine. He wanted a powerful and versatile fighter to be used in many different battlefield roles, hoping to use it to give the Republic a decisive advantage in the war. Sadly, Incom’s first few designs were failures. The prototype starfighters proved to be far too expensive to field at anywhere near the numbers Bail had in mind. Most of the prototypes were scrapped and the designers were forced to go back to the drawing board. It seemed impossible to have such a high quality fighter with such a low production cost. At least until Khalik spoke up.
Khalik proposed a revolutionary experimental design that used much less material at a seemingly insignificant cost to it’s overall capability. Many of the senior members of the engineering team scoffed at his idea seeing as how Khalik was only barely 14 at the time. There was no way a child could see what they couldn’t, right? It wouldn’t be until near the end of the Clone Wars that Khalik’s starfighter would be given serious consideration, and not by the people he wanted.
Once the new Empire caught wind of the boy’s revolutionary design, they demanded that Incom create thousands of these fighters. Khalik convinced the rest of the team to refuse, even as the Empire threatened their arrest. Khalik then found one of the most unlikely of allies in a representative from Seinar Fleet Systems who hid Khalik and his team from the Empire by splitting them up and securing them new jobs across the galaxy, Seinar’s reasoning being that if Incom were to create these fighters for the Empire and they turned out to be as revolutionary as Khalik thought they would be, the Empire may well terminate their contract with Seinar for a new one with Incom.
Unfortunately, the best job Seinar was able to secure for the underage genius was as an apprentice mechanic on Alderaan, which Khalik only accepted because it was the only option that kept his fighters out of the hands of the Empire. He quickly and gleefully abandoned the job however when Bail Organa approached him with another, more adventurous opportunity
1. What does your character Love?: Khalik loves to tinker with things more than anything else. Though he got his start designing starships, he seems to be especially fascinated with droids, particularly ones sporting heuristic processors. He always does his best to repair any damaged droid he comes across. He hopes to one day design a droid of his own and, should he accomplish that goal, would likely risk his life to protect it against his better judgement.
2. What does your character Hate?: The Empire not only cost him his job, but his father as well. His father refused to divulge his son’s design to the Empire after witnessing their atrocities firsthand and was eventually eliminated.
3. Why is your character willingly (and eagerly) working for the [rebellion/empire/guild/organization/order/etc./whatever-group-the-PCs-are-actively-working-with]?: Bail promised to get Khalik his old job back as well as protect him from the Empire. Khalik wants to take this chance to give the Empire a well-deserved kick to the ribs.

Meet the PCs: Fenn Ya'Bag


Fenn Yab’ag CL 6
Medium Bothan noble 2/scout 4
Destiny 1; Force 8
Init +8; Senses darkvision; Perception +15
Languages Basic, Bothese, High Galactic, Huttese, Neimoidian, Ugnaught
Defenses Ref 18 (flat-footed 16), Fort 16, Will 20
hp 42; Threshold 16
Immune +5 to Fortitude Defense against extreme heat and cold effects
Speed 6 squares
Melee unarmed 2 (1d43) or
Melee vibroblade -3 (2d6+3)
Ranged DT-12 heavy blaster pistol 4 (4d63) or
Ranged frag grenade 4 (4d63, 2-square burst)
Base Atk +4; Grp +6
Special Actions Improved Sleight of Hand [TUR p.26], Keep Together [GOI p.22], Lead by Example [TFU p.25]
Abilities Str 11, Dex 15, Con 9, Int 13, Wis 11, Cha 15
Talents Fade Out [GOI p.22], Keep Together [GOI p.22], Lead by Example [TFU p.25]
Feats Improved Sleight of Hand [TUR p.26], Linguist [Core p.86], Master of Disguise [GOI p.28], Skill Focus (Deception, Perception, Stealth) [Core p.88], Skill Training (Initiative) [Core p.88], Weapon Proficiency (pistols, simple weapons) [Core p.89]
Skills Acrobatics 3, Climb +1, Deception +15 (20 when creating a deceptive appearance or forged document; may use Stealth 13 to create a diversion to hide instead), Endurance +0, Initiative +8, Jump +1, Knowledge (galactic lore) +9, Knowledge (social sciences) +9, Perception +15, Persuasion +10, Stealth +13, Swim +1, Use Computer +9
Possessions all-temperature cloak, antiox breath mask, aquata breather, breath mask, combat jumpsuit (
4 armor), comlink (miniaturized), DT-12 heavy blaster pistol, electrobinoculars, field food processor, 3 frag grenades, fusion lantern, motion sensing visor, 2 rolls of mesh tape, security kit, sensor pack, syntherope, vibroblade

Meet the PCs: Carson

Carson has a rather average looking appearance. He stands at about 5’6", with a lighter complexion as he spent much of his time in recent years in senate chambers and conference rooms on Castell. He always made tried to make the best impression through appearance, wearing the best suit he could afford. After he was exiled from his planet, he simply began wearing an old mechanics jumpsuit that he had found as he searched for a way to get revenge on those that stole his planet from him. If you’re going to business in low places, you may as well look the part.


Carson was born on Castell, an industrial planet that sat on a lucrative trade route. He grew up as the Commerce Guild had begun to buy the planet out of a depression. He saw first-hand how the Commerce Guild cared for his fellow Castellians and vowed to make a difference against it. He took a liking to medicine and the life sciences during his schooling, and was a physician by the time he turned 25. He graciously accepted a job to work on local health-care policy. He had several influential policies put in place after only 5 years or so. As he went off to a conference on building health-care policy for multi-species populations, a group of Bothans, members of the legendary Bothan spynet and funded by the galactic empire, initiated a smear campaign against him on homeworld. A friend of his informed him of this treachery, urging him not to come back until it had cleared, considering a warrant had been placed for his arrest. Left without a home and livelihood, he took to the galaxy to bring his revenge down on the Empire.

Meet the PCs: Bariss Gigrig

Bariss is 6 feet tall and 14 years of age, with light green skin, and also the Duros’ natural baldness and red eyes with a permanent look of distrust. He wears common clothing with a heavy blaster pistol strapped on his side, a vibroblade in his belt, and most of the time he has his double barreled blaster carbine hung over his shoulder (alas, no more). While he might be easily mistaken for a random alien off the street, Bariss is actually an expert pilot.
Medium Duros Pilot, lvl 7
Exp: 25998/28000
Destiny 4 Force 8
Languages: Basic, Bothese, Durese, Huttese
Defenses: Reflex 23 (flat-footed 20), Fortitude 18, Will 20
HP 32; Threshold 18
Speed: 6
Initiative: 11
Perception: 9
B.A.B.: 5
Grapple: 8
Attack Options:
DT-12 Heavy Blaster Pistol
Frag Grenade x2
Stun Grenade x2
Point Blank Shot
Skill Focus
Starship Tactics
Vehicular Combat
Vehicular Surge
Weapon Proficiency (pistols, simple weapons)
Precise Shot
Improved Defenses
Fool’s Luck


Born on the planet Duro, Bariss was raised by a loving although a bit “odd” family, and was trained to have more options than just being a pilot (which is evident with his above normal intellect or book smarts). However, his home life was disturbed when some of his family members, being politicians, noticed a change in the play-out with things going towards more human relations and less alien in more than just the visual fields. Being Duros, Bariss’ family decided to make Bariss a pilot, they knew that Bariss had a knack for flying, it’s in his blood. That coupled with not knowing what may happen, Bariss’ father apprenticed Bariss several years before Bariss’ home training was complete, onto the Banshee, under Cpt. Sirona O’Keefe an old “friend”. Bariss even with his youth’s mentality realized that he was being sent away from his family for his safety. He has never forgotten the measures that his family undertook to make sure of that. That he was prepared to take care of himself, and for him to not be limited to a planet, which his family originally had visions of him doing. Bariss made up his mind that if the day came he would use his abilities, and perhaps his own ship, to rescue his family from the same threat that they made sure he would be ready against.
After two years of working for O’Keefe Bariss has a great pilot’s respect for his captain and her main political associate, Senator Organa. He knows that they are against the elements that threaten his family. Bariss is loyal to his family, his captain, and to Senator Organa, and will work efficiently towards their goals.
Due to his working with O’Keefe, Bariss has a great knowledge for military tactics of practically every sort. The bulk if not all of Bariss’ actions are tactically oriented and are at least meant to be efficient for the goal at hand/in the future.
1. He loves to fly, piloting droids…not so much.
2. He hates anyone who endangers those precious to him, i.e. Empire (and mostly everyone in it).
3. He is working with the group because O’Keefe believed it a good idea, she has her many reasons, and Bariss knows several of them will be helpful if he needs to make sure of his abilities to rescue his family.