Friday, December 18, 2015

Star Wars Force Awakens: A new Era for Adventure?


So for the last few weeks I've been thinking "hey when Force Awakens is out I should really run some D6 SW rpg again, and won't it be cool to use the new era as a springboard for adventures cause it's so hot right now".

Only... now that I've seen Force Awakens... I'm not thaaaaaat inspired by it as an rpg setting, at least not more than I am by the Star Wars Classic Era games. And I've been mulling this over for the last day or so.

Why is it that I'm not champing at the bit now I've seen it? There's lots of cool non-time specific era stuff to yoink into any Star Wars game:

• The concept of Jakku - scavengers ekking out a living in the shadows of ruined battlecruisers - is great (I have a Junk World in my homebrew Star Wars Malicrux sector where scavengers pull apart beached warcruisers, stealing from the tanker strippers you get on the beaches in India)

• Tons of new races glimpsed, just waiting to be detailed, oh and droids too.

• Hints at the criminal gangs like the Kanjiklub and the Gauvian Death Enforcers

• Those Space-Otyugh (Rathars, I think?) that Solo's transporting - the best space critter seen in any of the SW movies

• Mas Kanata's smugglers den... she's been around for a thousand years (sold pot to Yoda during his college years, I hear) and according to Lupito N'yongo has run the place for a hundred years, so there's no reason it wouldn't exist during Classic or Clone Wars games. "Ya'll meet in a bar..."

• Lord Snoke... (hear me out on this) could possibly be a giant, or he could just be doing the Wizard of Oz trick and just be a little guy behind smoke and mirrors. But if not, and that hologram of him was 1 for 1 scale.... well now we have giants in Star Wars. Cool.

• The First Jedi Temple. Well that's got to have been a round for a few thousand years. So yeah, suitable for any era (I totally reckon they shot scenes from SW VIII while they were there, btw)

• Some excellent new Force Powers for the rare Jedi character out there (Boltholder, Force Paralysis, Seize Memory), plus an excellent demonstration of a latent Force Sensitive awakening.

• Some highly dodgy hyperspace hijinx your desperate smuggler can try and pull off.

... and so on. Bound to be tons more stuff in there that I'm forgetting that can be ripped out and dumped into your game.

But as for playing during the new First Order Era?

One of the few complaints I have about Force Awakens is how thin on the ground it is with its locations and the greater galactic scope. It really highlights one of the strengths of the prequels: Lucas' world building and expanding of his galaxy was really great, and Force Awakens was comparatively really dull. A desert world (been there way too many times already), a world of lakes and forests (been there), a world of snow and ice (been there, too), an urban world (briefly!) and an Imperial military complex (been there, lots). Say what you want about the prequels, but boy did Lucas take us to some really interesting places (same goes for the Clone Wars series, and for the new Rebels series). Even the planets and locations in the Nu Trek films are way more interesting than Force Awakens.

And the complaints aren't just about physical locations. The set up— there's a new Republic, which seems to have a democratic government going down, and there's the First Order trying to tear them down but they're only soso powerful, and they're being thwarted by the Resistance (who's relationship with the Republic is... weird to say the least, why not just be the New Republic Armed Forces or whatever) — the set up ain't very clear, and it's very cursory.

Compare that with say the set up of New Hope: there's a tyrannical galactic empire that's grinding everyone under its boots, the remnants of the Old Republic being swept away, criminality is flourishing under draconian rule, and there's a fledgeling Rebellion trying to fix this crapsack setting. There's more impetus to adventure implicit in the Empire's domination of the galaxy. There's a much grander sense of scale too, even if we don't see Coruscant, the Senate, the Emperor the Imperial Academy. "If there's a bright center to the galaxy you're on the planet that it's farthest from." "I've been from one side of the galaxy to the other and seen a lot of strange stuff." There's an awareness of how small these players feel they are in the grand scheme of things (only they aren't small, after all).

The galaxy in Force Awakens feels small. And incomplete.

Maybe we'll just have to hang out for the next two films to fill in those gaps before we go galavanting around this new galaxy. Maybe I can just make my own shit up to fill in the gaps. But if I have to run a Star Wars game... the new First Order era isn't calling to me, yet. There is little in the new era that makes it stand out from the previous eras (whether it's KOTOR era, or Clone Wars era, or Classic era). There is nothing unique about it that would make the gaming experience much different to those other times. All you'd be doing was changing names.

So how do you fix it?

When they were during production one of the early snippets I caught about Force Awakens was that the galactic war was far from over despite the destruction of the second Death Star, and that the war dragged on across the galaxy for decades. And that really sounded fascinating to me. Imagine a protracted civil war between government forces, numerous anti-government factions, meddling by external powers, and throw in a bunch of wild and crazy experimental game-changing technological weapons. Basically... take your cues from what's going on in say Syria. 

Now take Syria, and make it Syria.... IN SPPPPAAAAACE. A galaxy wide civil war. And then make that war play out over three decades across the stars.

What a horrible, terrible place the galaxy would be.

What I hoped we were going to get was two major players - the New Republic and the remains of the Empire - utterly exhausted by the war, having to deal with interference by vested interests — say a Hutt mercenary army or other criminal enterprise trying to capitalise on the chaos and expand their territory by invading wartorn worlds and offering new security. Imagine the state of the galaxy: everything's shot to pieces, or been consumed by the warmachine, or completely disrupted and malfunctioning, of crumbling edifices, ruined starports, and countless bodies everywhere, a scavenger galaxy where dysfunctional governments are usurped by gangs and warlords and everyone lives under the rule of the gun. And suddenly two fleets appear in the skies overhead, and for days the locals live in terror first of wreckage raining down on their world, and then the takeover by the victors above as they strip the world bare of any fuel and parts and food and munitions and people to continue their idealogical genocide.

And maybe that's what the galaxy of the new First Order era is like. A small pocket of civilization at the heart of the Republic, where things are goodish, and several pockets of draconian rule under the Empire.... and everywhere else is utter shit. A points of light campaign on a galactic scale.

Jakku seems a bit like that at least. 

Anyway... that's what I'd do to the rest of the galaxy, what I'd do to make it stand apart from the other eras. There would be a lot more scavenging, kludging, cobbling, and starving; a lot more desperation, despair, and cruelty on all sides, a miserable place where all hope for the return of the Jedi. 

Tuesday, December 8, 2015


So finally after months of pussyfooting round I finally got to run the first session of Swords of Nordheim using D&D 5th and a bunch of houserules (modified races and classes, mainly, plus the use of futhark runes as character inspiration).

Two old mates of mine: Steg (also in Sydney) and Wes (currently working in Tokyo), who I've known and gamed with for twenty years or so, ran using Google Hangouts (man their "downgrade" is making it hard to stick around on G+.... sigh). Hopefully a couple more players will be join us soon.

And to push myself with the arty stuff and with the writey stuff I'm going to keep a session recap, complete with quick illustrations (I need to work on being faster with the pen). Lessee how long I can stick this out.


Nordheimer Warrior of Noble blood, drew the rune of Eihwaz merkstave, and favours the god Heimdall above all others. A master of games (few are his equal at shatranj) and a likeable son of the local lord. The broadsword and round shield are his weapons and he wears a fine chain shirt into battle.

Trollblood Berzerker who trained as a Weaponsmith, drew the rune of Isa merkstave, and favours the goddess Sif above all others. His trollblood manifests as hideous claws that he must sever each morning before he goes to work in his smithy, where he hammers out the finest swords in his town. The sword and round shield are his weapons, but he eschews armour in his berzerker rage.

Jotunblood Huntress who sails the coast hunting whales, drew the rune of Nauthiz merstave, and favours the god Uller above all others. She is descended from Sea Giants. The Harpoon is her weapon, and the hide of her kills protects her. (I like having a DMPC in my games, especially if there's only a couple of players, and they're almost always heavy hitters just to help the PCs stay alive. And no, they're not snowflakes. They die very well, thank you).

(Merkstave means the rune has negative connotations, and the choice of favoured god from the Norse pantheon confers a minor blessing on each character)

The names are all from here: Viking Fantasy Name Generator


Steg punched a bunch of storyhooks into his brief character background, and here it is verbatim:

His father, a devout man, was famous for his own adventures twenty years gone. But last summer some old friends of his father's, some familiar to Gunvor and some not, turned up late one evening. The last trace of his father was a hastily scribbled note: “Eerika Bergljotdottir stirs in the Doom where we trapped her. We journ to Helmsborg to seek answers. Godsmun Bjornen Triggson gave oath this could not happen unless Strength in Life, Strength in Battle.”

So the player characters are the sons and daughters of Kirby's friends who have gone missing for several months, and I threw them straight into rowing their faering boat across the frigid waters to where their parents were last known to be heading: the island of Eerika's Doom.

The Island awaits...


We started late and there was the usual first session muckaround to begin with, so we didn't get terribly far into it (which is good, cause I was underprepped and I can bang some stuff out in time for next week's game).

The three adventurers made it to the island and dragged their faering up over the rocky shores and into the tussocks beyond, then headed to the headland promontory away to the east to get a better view of the island. Through the slowly parting mists they saw a large rocky hill rising from the centre of the island, granite and barren, and were about to head off there when Torrad spied a wooden dragonprow poking up from the forest near the harbour on the far side of the headland.

They investigated, and found a small knarr fit for a dozen people had been pulled ashore and covered over with tarp and hidden by branches. They searched the ship, found no-one, but guessed from the rotting food stores that the crew had intended to stay for some time but had not returned to their ship. At best guess it had been hidden for several months; a small campfire was found but had been partially grown over. The three adventurers also found a couple of odds and ends (I'd forgotten to roll on the trinkets table and got them to do so in game). Then headed off to the rocky hill and found it soon enough.

As they scrambled about the hill, they found the rock was exceptionally cold to the touch, akin to touching bare flesh on frozen steel, and that there were no signs of animal life. Again Torrad's keen eyes spotted the flight of rough hewn stairs running up the side of the hill, and ascending it they came to a wide landing and a low stone cliff, into which some masterful hands had carved a wide opening that descended down into darkness.

At the bottom of there were two heavy stone doors, shut tight; but with a hefty push the doors parted to reveal a long hall lined with statues of excellent craftmanship, dark passages descending between each pair of figures. It appeared to be a burial mound, but the funereal boat was not lying along the floor. Instead it had somehow been inverted, so that the tip of the mast touched the stone ground, and the ceiling lay many feet deep in the thickest grip of ice. Only the prows emerged from the glacial grasp, and the ice ran down along the walls to smoother the upper halves of the statues.

The hall was incredibly cold, the air hurt to breathe, and touching anything froze the flesh.

Torrad persevered though, and using a torch and dagger managed to chip the ice away from one of the statues, that (serendipitously?) revealed the statue was a goddess, and was indeed his patron Sif, the goddess of War (have an inspiration point for that). The others went looking for their gods. Drifa found and freed Uller, the god of Hunting, but none of the statues were of Gunvor's patron Heimdall.

Instead Gunvor found Heimdall's face carved into the massive stone doors at the far end of the hall. Fitting, that the god of guardians would be found protecting the inner sanctum of the burial mound. Gunvor gave it his best to open the innder doors, but Heimdall was having none of it.

A quick investigation of the six other passageways leading out of the main hall reveal each descended to yet more stone doors. One was open, but at Torrad's insistence they chose the door guarded by Sif.

With a bit of effort (the ice that gripped the ceiling ran down each passage and partially covered the doors) they managed to open the passage and found a tomb inside. The walls were again lined with statues, this time of nobility, looking down on a massive sarcophagus. Gunvor and Torrad were about to push the lid off it when Drifa spotted a secret door up in the passageway, but they pressed on with the task and with a massive crash the stone lid fell away.

Inside was the fully armed and armoured skeleton of a Jotunblood warrior, easily over nine feet tall. Long dead, Torrad decided to bequeath his armour to Drifa, and the warrior's fine looking sword to himself; he snapped the Jotunskel's head right round as he was removing the helm.... only to see the head turn slowly back and the horror rise up out of its resting place.

The Jotunskel (reskinned Minotaur Skeleton p273MM, increased AC to 14, decreased damage to 1d8+6).

It mouthed breathless words as it snapped Drifa's harpoon in half, swatted away the first sword blows, and then attacked. Maybe because Torrad was the one who defiled his tomb it concentrated its wrath on him and brought its own sword down on the trollblood hardest. The first blow to hit dropped him two thirds of his hit points, but the combination of Gunvor's swift swordwork, Drifa's horns and Torrad's rage wore the creature down, and it was finally felled by Gunvor's sword to the neck. As the decapitated head rolled away, its still mouthed its silent words. "You shall bear these arms at Ragnorok," was what it appeared to say, watching as the victors looted its fallen body.

We called it a night there. Midnight; tired Jez, more prep needed.


I didn't get anywhere near enough prep time as I would have liked, so grabbed the old crypt map I'd made a few years back to showcase the DungeonFu GoogleDocs I'd made... so far this is what they've explored:


Trinkets from the boat:
- a brass king from a shatranj game (Gunvor)
- a mysterious iron holy symbol of an unknown god (Torrad)
- a large scale from a Vaengrwyrm (Drifa)

From the Jotunskel:
- one suit of chain mail and warhelm (fit for a Jotunblood)
- one fine heavy broadsword (+1 damage)
- one fine dagger
- a magnificent bejeweled belt
- one wooden round shield marked with a doubleheaded orca
- a fine silver necklace bearing an amulet of Thor's hammer Mjolnir


Exploring the Island: 150XP
Defeating the Jotunskel: 450XP

TOTAL: 600XP/3 = 200XP each