Alan Watches Star Trek: The Next Generation

TNG_headSo, horrible geek confession, but I’ve never watched all any Star Trek other than The Original Series in series chronological order. Not to mention movies or other tie-in media.  But hey, The Next Generation is on Netflix, and I have always have a hankering for science fiction, especially Star Trek.

So I decided to chronicle my feeble attempts to dig into a show older than I am, and see what I get. I will try to watch a chunk and post them as large blog-posts with my thoughts and impressions, and see what we get from that. Expect several episodes a blog-post.

bdbd12a07a0e022966f4cdbb864076f12a632d36Season 1, Episode 1 & 2: “Encounter at Farpoint”

Wow. Long episode. I was not prepared for this. Also, maybe it’s cuz I’m 30+ years behind the airing date, but there feels like there’s very little character development. I mea, I see this Geordi La Forge character wearing a visor thingy, and it seems to let him see other wavelengths? Also, Data is an android (ok, sure, I knew that), but why is he here? Why does he exist on this ship? Who the crap built him?

Also, Q shows up and just randomly decides he wants to mess with The Enterprise. Ok. Omnipotent being is swayed by Picard. Yeeah.

Oh. SPACE JELLY FISH! That can poop out a space station. Why isn’t this two episodes? I mean it basically could be split down the middle into two. No problem. But hey, Q, shows up to book end the episode, so I guess it’s one!

Rating: Meh. This wasn’t mindblowingly good in any way. Maybe a 2 of 5 stars. Turns out it’s two episodes when I check the episode guide. Whoops. There’s almost no real character here, you just kinda…crash headlong into behavior and tropes. It’s…kinda confusing.

Season 1, Episode 3: “The Naked Now”

Ah! Here we go. This feels like an episode of classic Trek. Collapsing stars, trapped science vessels, boldly going. Frozen people. Hey! It’s the helmsman with the visor. He caught a frozen person.

Oh. People are being weird, and there is a tie in to the original series now. But the tie-in is really only fan service. Cute.

Oh, awkward security chief and android romance scene.

Hey! Young Wil Wheton got infected. He’s like some techno-genius, and made a…tractor beam? That seems REALLY dangerous to let someone have in a ship. Especially a kid. I mean, what if he starts shoving people into bulkheads or throwing them around the ship.

Oh. Everyone is gonna die unless Super-Android, and Genius Boy can save the day, which they do. With (gasp), a tractor beam. And everyone is really cured.

Rating: Wtf. I literally have no idea what I watched. We met the chief engineer, and I feel like there was actual character development, which was sorely needed, but I suspect all the character development I saw is…false? Everyone was forced to act out of character, and I just don’t know.

Season 1, Episode 4: “Code of Honor”

Alright. So, we fly to a planet where they base their culture on customs similar to ancient Africa. This culture has a needed vaccine, and after we all meet, the leader decides to kidnap the impressive Chief of Security for the Enterprise…who…gets kidnapped. Thus not being very impressive as the chief of security. Hm.

Oh, now the chief wants to marry Tasha Yar, for some political shenanigans. Fight with poisoned weapons, and stuff, death, and legal jiggery-pokery. Picard goes full Kirk and does generic Starfleet captain trickery.

Rating: I don’t know what to think, but this episode felt crazy racist. Maybe I missed something key? But hey, we get more La Forge and Data character development. Which is far more than everyone else is getting.

Summary

Well, I’m only four episodes in, and there’s…22 more to go. Ok, how did this show MAKE it? Was it simply carrying on through nostalgia? Was there a dearth or good television at the time? Also, what the crap? Is character development not a thing on 80s TV? Do they not believe in establishing dialogue?

Oh man. I actually find myself dreading the rest of the show (I mean, I’ve seen it before out of order, so I know there’s good there, but I have to get there).

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RPG Review: Age of Rebellion from Fantasy Flight Games

Age_of_Rebellion_Core_RulebookAlright. We’re back for part 2 of my Star Wars Review Trilogy (wow).

This time it’s Age of Rebellion up for review (following Force and Destiny). Age of Rebellion is set in the time-frame preceding the Original Star Wars Trilogy, much like Force and Destiny, but with a very focused look at The Rebellion, and the soldiers, diplomats, and such that make it up. Age of Rebellion came out before Force and Destiny, and after Edge of the Empire, so it appears we’re taking a reverse viewing of these books, back to the beginning!

This book is being reviewed after 4 weeks of a Star Wars campaign powered by this system, so it’ll have a more nuanced look at the rules.


1.) Size and Production Quality 

Much like Force and Destiny, Age of Rebellion is a 440ish page hardcover that retails for 60$. The interior is full-color, and the layout and graphic design are great. It’s pretty clear this book is in the same line as F&D and you’d be hardpressed to find difference in the layout.

8/10


2.) Artstar_wars__age_of_rebellion___setenna_hase_by_anthonyfoti-d7r3avd

Much like F&D, the art is fantastic. Top notch art direction set in the Star Wars universe captures the feel of the setting, and imparts a definite and different feel than it’s successor.

10/10


3.) Content and Rules

 

In my Force and Destiny review, I discuss my views on their dice mechanic, so I won’t replicate them there.

In a lot of ways, this book is almost identical. You have six careers, each with 3 specializations. The Jedi focus has been replaced with a focus on soldiers, commanders, and military minds, and the game has a very strong bent towards rules that enable you to buff allies, lead troops, and conduct tactical plans before combat begins.

It’s got a very militaristic style of campaign, with missions, objectives, and more like that. I don’t think the game suffers for it, but it’s certainly a game that requires a particular desire to play in that sort of campaign.

Morality from Force and Destiny has been replaced with Duty, a focus on what drives your character to join the Rebellion, and also impacts the level of equipment you can requisition.  It’s entirely possible that I misread the intent behind this section, but it appears that as you increase your Duty, you get access to better equipment, less oversight, and more.

Additionally, the Duty mechanic requires the Gamemaster to focus on a particular group member’s duty each session, which seems like it could cause a issue, if the duty can’t be easily slotting into the campaign story the GM wants to tell.

7/10


4.) Game Master Section

 

The GM section is very similar to Force and Destiny, and delivers the same tone. My only issue is I wish it would have delved a bit into the make of the military arm, political arm, and espionage arm of the Rebellion, and given me some terms, and more detail regarding that.

7/10


5.) Pre-made Adventure

The premade adventure is a very military-esque mission, focused on the needs of the Rebellion and very basic and easy to play. It’s fairly uninspired, and it didn’t grab me as much as the pre-made in F&D did.

5/10


Total Score: 37/50

 

Not quite as good as Force and Destiny, and the more I’ve played this game/its counterparts, the less enamored I am with it. The mechanics are very good, but the multitude of symbols makes the game difficult for newer players to grasp quickly, and the spending of said symbols additionally causes similar problems.

If you like Star Wars, and non-Jedi characters, and are going to play the FFG game, this book is a must have, and you won’t regret getting it.

RPG Review: Force and Destiny from Fantasy Flight Games

650x650_c13baceb7d11ef628be0d2c5ead3e94f4b5040456b3ed0559772cca5Well. Force Awakens is out. Star Wars is on the forefront of the pop culture consciousness in again. So I’m going to review the 3 corebooks of the 3 lines of Fantasy Flight Games Star Wars RPGs: Edge of the Empire, Age of Rebellion, and Force and Destiny.

Also I got all 3 for Christmas, and since Force and Destiny deals with a subject dear to my geek heart, it’s first. That subject is Jedi, that awesome combination of mystical laser sword wielding samurai, and paladins.

That’s right. Space Paladins.

At the time of this review, I’m running a Star Wars campaign using these books, so I’ll be reviewing them with an eye towards that purpose more than I usually do.


1.) Size and Production Quality 

Force and Destiny is a massive 440+ page, full color, hardcover book. And it’s heavy. Pages are thick, well constructed. My only concern was the fact that after I’d received the book, and opened it for reading, I can already feel the binding starting to crack and give way. Little concerned for the life span of such an expensive book. Buying it would be 60$ just for a replacement.

8/10


2.) Art

The art in the book is fantastic. Simply stellar art, both displaying familiar and new characters. There’s excellent depictions of various game states, character options, and species. The variety is just astounding, and I don’t think a single piece was a miss for me. Plus lots of Jedi art is always great.

10/10


3.) Content and Rules

FFG’s Star Wars ruleset is…interesting. It’s an excellent example of the “fail forward” mentality that is gaining more and more traction inside the RPG design industry. The system is a little less intuitive than others I’ve read and played, but after a few minutes and reading the play through examples a few times, it flows really smoothly.

My only complaint with the execution and intent of the rule system is the need for special dice. The book does have a table for conversion of the custom dice into regular dice, but it involves a much more time consuming study of your roll, instead of the speedy narrative result one would like to see. I feel like purchasing the dice for this game is pretty essential to a good experience (at least in my opinion).

The inclusion of the “Morality” system to determine your character’s strengths, weaknesses, and where they fall on the “Light/Dark” spectrum of the Force is exceptionally well done. It competes for the best morality style system I’ve seen implemented in an RPG.

The spread of character classes (6 classes, each with 3 specialties…I’ve seen that before…) is deep. Each character class has 1 “Lightsaber combat” specialization dedicated to the combat aspect of the lightsaber. The other two specializations are dedicated to other parts of the archetypes the class fulfills.

Example: Warrior Class has 3 Specializations: Shii-cho Knight, Starfighter Ace, and The Aggressor.

It works pretty well in execution, allowing for a focused and trained starting character. The rules for switching between Specializations are well done and fairly easy execute, allowing for a good build of your character into your preferred idea.

The biggest deterrent regarding the content of the book is the lack of a “1 Page Character Creation” reference. The rules for creating a character are spread over several dozen pages, and require a lot of flipping around and searching in text for rules regarding how skills and talents are acquired and spent.

7/10


4.) Game Master Section

In a book that is so focused on the “fail forward” idea of gameplay and interpreting unusual dice results, the GM section is the most important tool for imparting how to leverage the results you get, and this book doesn’t disappoint. It’s full of great advice and more than enough ideas to turn the game into a great story opportunity.

It’s well done and useful. It’s not perfect. There’s a few things that assume you know RPGs and in a IP this popular, I think you’d wanna be a little more new player friendly.

9/10


5.) Pre-made Adventure

The pre-made adventure in the book links to the one in the GM screen, allowing for you to have players gather the components to make their lightsabers, and explore the history of the Jedi order and what the Force is. It’s exceptionally well done, and works greatly in tandem. As a stand alone intro adventure, it is still excellent, but does lose a bit of its “oomph”.

8/10


Total Score: 42/50

This is a pretty good score, as it should be. It’s an excellent book that completely captures the essence of Star Wars. Historically, I am unsure how it holds up to legacy items like the WEG Star Wars (I’m putting that on the calendar for a retrospective sometime soon), but Force and Destiny is a book I’m proud to own and have on my RPG shelf.

Having ran the game, it flows well. My biggest complaint, is that the game gets bogged down in “Spending” these symbols the custom dice generate, and that can slow the nature of combat.  A simple half-page cheat sheet, published for free by FFG would alleviate that problem and remove most of my worries.

RPG Review: Corporia

It’s no secret I like Knights. And I’m a rather huge sci-fi nerd. So when the kickstarter for Corporia popped up on one of my interwebular forays, I was intrigued. Scanning the kickstarter, I then read the synopsis, and I was moved past intrigued into the realm of purchasing.  This is essentially Camelot meets Shadowrun. Here is how the author describes it:


Corporia is an urban fantasy tabletop role-playing game set in the near future, featuring the return of magic and the Knights of the Round Table. It’s what happens when you mix Camelot with a spoonful of Torchwood, add a pinch of cyberpunk, a dash of Joss Whedon’s Angel, and a sprinkling of Shadowrun


 

Well. I can play a cybernetically enhanced, reincarnated knight of the round table? What is stopping me!

Nothing actually. So I forked out my money (gladly) and now my copy is here! So let’s break the book down!

1.) Production Quality: The book is a little smaller then I anticipated, and a bit thinner. Not poorly made, I just wasn’t anticipating the size. It also came a little warped from transit, but that’s nothing some use won’t straighten out. The pages are nicely made, the lay out is read and refreshing. Overall, 8/10 here.

2.) Art: Um. So ALL the art in the book is still photographs. While it is different and very eye catching, (I understand the intent is to make the corebook look like an employee manual), it get old, and frankly starts to look cheap. I could easily pick out the water and NERF guns they’d obtained from Wal-mart and spraypainted to look like weapons. It was a clever attempt, but I can’t help but feel that it could have been better delivered.

On the upside, the cover is probably one of my favorite RPG covers since Michael Whelan’s Stormbringer cover so kudos there. 4/10 (The cover was three of those 4 points).

3.) Fluff. This game has fluff, and what they have is good, but it’s intentionally kept light to be played in so the GM can change whatever he wants. I always consider that a win. 10/10

4.) Mechanics. The mechanics are solid. Interesting, different and effective. Character creation was a little clunky the first time through, but by the third try it was flowing nice and smoothly, and was easy to teach to new players. The actual play mechanics took a bit of working to get into the groove of using, but once we did, they were nice and fun. A better play by play example might have alleviated the problem. I’m not sure. 8/10


 

So. Does Corporia deliver on all my knights and cyberpunk goodness I’ve wanted? Pretty much yes.

Personally, I think the game would benefit from several “1-Page” adventures or a campaign book.  Maybe I’ll just set out to make one. That’ll be easier.

Overall rating? Frankly, I’ll get it a 7/10. The art is my only real complaint, and I can’t wait to migrate my regular group to Corporia for our gaming needs.

If you wanna pick up a PDF copy, here it is:

Drive Thru RPG

RPG NOW

And you can visit the companies website at: http://www.brabblemark.com/

 

 

Mercenary Mondays: Defining Schlock

Ooof.

What a weekend. Captain America: The Winter Soldier came out. It rocked. Launched a new campaign with my “once a month on Friday group”. We settled on Iron Kingdoms. You can expect a write-up about that shortly, but I suppose that’s not why you’re here is it.

You wanna here me talk about the Schlock RPG.

Alright, alright. I’ll get to it.

When you set out to make anything new, roleplaying game, film, story, anything, you need to have a plan of attack. A idea of where you’re going. When making a new RPG, we need to decide what direction and goals the game needs to have.

There’s a lot of options. Some games just provide frameworks of rules (Dungeons and Dragons, GURPS, etc.) These rules are designed to be used in whatever setting, story or style of play you want. Their feel is up to the players. Other games, especially licensed games, have a very specific set of goals. A Song of Ice and Fire RPG is a very different animal then a generic fantasy framework. A Star Wars RPG has a very different tone then a Firefly RPG and the rules are often times constructed around that conceit.

So, in approaching Schlock, we really have to narrow down what makes Schlock unique among scifi, and how that should define our rules/approach to the game.

So, I sat down, and reread Schlock from the very start to (at the time) the current point in the story, which was 2/3 of the way through the Broken Wind storyarc. Here is what I took from my reread of the Schlockiverse.

1.) Schlock is grounded. Bear with me as I explain my thinking through this. Schlock is grounded in it’s characters and their struggles. Any RPG of Schlock needs compelling characters for it.

2.) Schlock is hard-(ish) sci fi. Unlike Star Trek or even Star Wars, Schlock takes it’s internal science very seriously and is very grounded in real science. I used the “-ish” above because I am not an astrophysicist and I don’t always know.

3.) Schlock is violent. Whoa…major characters die regularly in Schlock, and they rarely get to come back. Alright, so character death needs to be a real concern, but we also need to include the advanced science stuff.

4.) Funny. Schlock is funny (clearly, it’s a comedy after-all). Whew, funny is always hard to translate into RPGs. However, Schlock’s comedy is more dry humor then slap-stick. (We’ll come back to this in a full post on it’s own. It deserves it.).

5.) It’s about a group of people. This is different. Schlock very much thrives on the idea that this is a company of soldiers working together, and any game based on Schlock will need to grab that feeling and tone.

 


 

Alright, so that’s core to the Schlock RPG. It needs to be hard grounded SciFi that’s driven around characters. Easy enough from a design perspective, but then the rule set needs to fit with the idea of complications, good storytelling, and fun.

But the thing that make Schlock unique above all else, is being in a mercenary company. So, the biggest focus in Schlock is that your character, isn’t the most important thing to the game. That’d be the mercenary company you work for. Because that’s who pays you to be a trigger-jockey.

So how do we approach such a thing? Well, first off, making your merc company is an integral part of character creation, and  the company gets it’s own character sheet. It defines a lot, and your characters are somewhat defined by the roles they fulfill for the mercenary company.

Your character does not level in this game so much as your mercenary character levels and gains more benefits to impart to your characters. With the advent of soldier-boosts, cybernetics, and more, sophont potential has pretty much been capped or rendered effectively moot. Your character does improve, but it’s not via experience points. Experience is spent to gain more advantages for your charter.

So far, it’s been a lot of fun, and the focus on the group mechanics of the charter have allowed us to mitigate some of the difficult parts of many roleplaying games. New character integration, splitting the party and more, becomes rolled into the charter rules and usage.

It really is an exciting new game to play, and I can not wait to get a chance to show you all!

 

 

Mercenary Mondays: Dice!

Note: Mercenary Mondays is an going series of posts about the Schlock Mercenary Roleplaying Game and it’s behind the scenes development!

As any good roleplayer knows, dice are the key element of any game. The chance of randomness, failure and success is delivered, and interpreted through dice. The Schlock Mercenary Roleplaying Game uses 3 six-sided dice (abbreviated as 3d6). All rolls in the game use this particular combination of dice.

3d6

The particular color combination you see in the picture to your right is important. The odd color out is what we call “the complication dice”. It’s the dice that tells you when bad things happen! I’m not going to go into mechanical specifics, because that’s not important here. The important part is why did we chose this particular dice mechanic of 3d6 over the many other options. To do so, let’s look at the various options we have.

One of the classic dice options is the single dice roll. The most common iteration of this dice mechanic is found in the d20 system used by Wizards of the Coast for their Dungeons and Dragons products. You also find it in several Eden Studios games, and various offshoots of the d20 system (Mutants and Masterminds, any of the OSR revival products). The benefit of the d20 (and by proxy any single dice roll system) system is two-fold. The first is that every time you roll the dice, you have a 5% chance of any given number out of the 20. This provides a wide ranging level of effects and results.

The second is much simpler. You always roll the same dice. Never having to count, or pool your dice is easy. Never underestimate simple.

However, the d20 system has some pretty hefty drawbacks. The first is the same as a benefit. You generate a large number of with ranging effects. It’s possible to hit that 20 result, do great, or hit the 1 result, and do awful. You can have the same chance every time. The second is the reliance on one particular dice. That can be problematic occassional.

The next option is the dice pool system. West End Games, White Wolf, and Shadowrun are all examples of a dice pool system. The general idea is that you generate the number of dice you roll (either in d6, d10s or others), and roll the entire pool of dice, attempting to achieve success through either a target number, or looking for a set amount of results. The dice pool system has a major benefit in that you have a strong amount of averages. Check out the graph below: 
dice pool

As you can see on the graph, the multiple dice mechanic causes a bellcurve. A bellcurve provides more reliable results, and a greater chance of average success which is something we wanted in Schlock from day one.

However, we aren’t using a dice pool, instead, we’re using a fixed roll system, where in every roll in the game uses 3d6. This gives us the bellcurve of the dice pool, with the simplicity of the d20 roll. Several other games have used similar systems (Hero, the ill-fated Fuzion system) and the average curve of success allows encounters, stats, and characters to be balanced and built the same from the ground up.

I hope that helps you understand why we used the particular mechanics we did, and what they bring to the game! As usual, any questions? Throw ’em at us below.

Mercenary Mondays: Trust!

Note: Mercenary Mondays is an going series of posts about the Schlock Mercenary Roleplaying Game and it’s behind the scenes development!

This is what my Google Drive is currently showing. Yes, that’s probably what you think it is…or what the title says in the picture below.

ImageIsn’t that just super exciting? I wanted to start off with a discussion of the underlying principles of my design theories behind the Schlock Mercenary RPG. Here is a link to Jeff Grubb’s theory of “high/low trust” roleplaying systems. To paraphrase for the tl;dr crowd,

   
“The idea of a “High Trust” game involves that the players are setting down with a general idea of what their purpose is – both from the idea of genre and the rules themselves. Yeah, the mechanics might be cheesed, but that’s not the point – you have a big ball of examples and different ways to resolve them. The GM has to think on his feet to resolve issues, as do the players, and often the GM and the players are teaming up to figure out the best way to resolve a situation. 
At the opposite end are “Low Trust” games, which try to map out all the possibilities and set down specific rules for handling different situations neatly and effectively. 4E is pretty solid on that, but we can also add Champions from back in the day and GURPs as well.”
  

The idea of high trust and low trust RPGs are simple in theory. High trust = generally less rules. Low trust = generally more rules. That’s a gross oversimplification, but one that is necessary. Here is why. When Howard came to me and brought up the idea of doing the Schlock Mercenary RPG, I leapt at the chance. Not only did I get to work with a good friend and man I respect, but I get to create my own system inside an established universe? What more could I want?

Well, let me tell you. Things are not always as they seem, and quickly, I could see the daunting task I had accepted. Howard had crafted an extensive universe with a very specific feel. Humor through violence, satire, and wordplay was the order of the day, all against a massive space opera backdrop. Not to mention, he had a very specific mechanic designed around roleplaying and complications that can arise. So suddenly, I’m working in someone else’s sandbox and I have to play inside these rules they’ve set me. Hm. When you say it that way, it sounds much less appealing.

However, salvation is near at hand, and in the first conversation with Howard regarding the ideas for the rules, I pitched some changes to his ideas to help it fit the game better, and suddenly, we’re playing in the sandbox as a team. How does this relate to “high trust/low trust”? In a collaborative effort, you have to have a high trust team. A team with less rules, and more conversation to help guide the flow.

So here we are, about five months later, and the Schlock Mercenary RPG is well under way. We’ve had a public alpha test for charity. We’ve done about three months of alpha play ourselves at this point, and we’ve made some pretty serious progress.

But there’s struggles, and it all comes down to the core concept of the game. The issue becomes one of science fiction. By nature, scifi is a genre that is bound by it’s rules. Science is a real thing, full of fabulous actions, reactions, consequences and explorations. And by nature, one would assume, that a science fiction roleplaying game, would be one bound by rules. How does FTL work? Armor? Weapons? Cybernetics? Hacking? AIs? These are all real questions and theories that impact the world of science. How does one approach this? By nature, my first inclination was to begin working on a mighty tome of theory and science, to lend itself to marauding mercenaries. Alas, who would buy such a thing? Surely fans of the Schlockiverse would, but what about gamers? What were we going to do that was different to make our RPG better then anything before us.

Science fiction is too broad. It’s too varied. Star Wars. Star Trek. Farscape. BSG. Stargate. Just in those alone, you approach hundreds of theories, and ideas, and some of them are very strongly based in reality (some, not so much. Looking at you Star Trek).

If any of you have ever played the seminal scifi rpg Traveller you might understand my approach to the theory of the game. Traveller is a hard science fiction game. Science fiction can be either hard or soft. Hard SciFi is low trust. Full of rules, and math, and calculations. Soft SciFi is low trust. Star Wars (before all that midichlorins bull crap). Jedi and the Force work, simply because. Traveller has finite rules. You can only travel so far. You can only fly so fast. You even have a mortgage on your spaceship. You can only carry so much cargo, and fuel, and you need living space, and there’s actual percentage profit tables.

That’s not how we wanted to do it. This game is for players to tell the stories they want. So how do we set them up for that? Modularity (new word, made it up). There are lots of rules, and moving parts, but by keeping the base mechanic simple (3d6 + one number), and creating the rest of the game around the concept of a modular game, you can keep it as high or low trust as you want. Think of a lego house. The base rules of the game form the base (the large green platform you build on). The rules for races are one block you attack. The rules for starships are another block. So on and so forth until you built a house. And suddenly, all these modular rules become the full complete game. But you can take some parts out, and the house doesn’t fall apart. Same with the game. You don’t wanna do the starship rules? Great. Pull ’em out. They stand on their own anyways. Same with cybernetics. Any part of the game can be removed if the players and GM decide they want to modify it. Schlock veers towards the high trust end of the spectrum (especially in the complication mechanic), but we’re using the ruleset to cover all the major parts you’d expect from a space opera.

I’ll be attempting to do a weekly update regarding the Schlock Design process as we go through. The game is still in early alpha, and things are changing frequently, but hey, it’s always fun to see.