Sunday, April 23, 2017

Balance in the Force... and Destiny

Couple of things here, before we get started.


"You must unlearn what you have learned."
- Yoda


George Lucas said that the Jedi view of the Force in the prequels was the correct one. He only made the statement once, and I want to acknowledge that he said it. It... doesn't really mesh with everything we've seen of the Force, but Lucas is the man, so... There it is.

I'm going to stray from that maxim; but I'm also going to admit that the trailer for Episode VIII, the Last Jedi seems to contradict everything I believe about the Force - or, at least, it gives the impression that we are (or, at least, I am) woefully uninformed as to the true nature of the Force.


Also, I'm not going to be able to say everything I want to about this without there being spoilers for Star Wars. Just - any of it. It might get spoiled here.

You have been warned.
The threat of change in the upcoming movie, makes the writing of this post feel a little premature. I'm gonna do it anyway, however, because I've recently come across people interested in playing "Grey Jedi," and I'm not sure how a Balance in the Force (as understood by many Star Wars Gamers) fits in with the Morality System of Fantasy Flight's Force & Destiny. So this is me trying to reconcile my own opinions about the Force with the nature of the Force as it is expressed in canon, and tying that all together in the Force system in the Force & Destiny Roleplaying Game.

Okay? Well then: Here we go.


"The Force is what gives a Jedi his power. It's an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us; it binds the galaxy together."
- Ben Kenobi



I still don't know how to tackle the question of Balance in the Force.

It's difficult not to think of the Force in the terms of Jedi and Sith. These two factions are the lens through which most of us have viewed the Force. So maybe we should start there. The Jedi tell us there are two sides to the Force: Light and Dark. The narrative of Star Wars tells us those two facets of the Force are represented by the Jedi and Sith respectively.

The Jedi
The Jedi seem to represent the Light - guardians of peace and justice in the Old Republic (before the dark times). By the time of the events leading to the Clone Wars, the Jedi seem to have lost their way and allowed themselves to be caught up in the bureaucracy and politics of the Galactic government. By their own admission, they had become arrogant and stubborn).

Before they lost their way, however, the Jedi were bound by a code. Not the prodigious codex eluded to in the prequel films, but a short, simple axiom.
There is no Emotion; there is Peace.
There is no Ignorance; there is Knowledge.
There is no Passion; there is Serenity.
There is no Chaos; there is Harmony.
There is no Death; there is the Force.
Whether a guide for meditation or instruction for how a Jedi was to live their life, the Jedi Code was meant to assist the Jedi in mastering the Force, while avoiding the Dark Side. It points to an inward focus. It seems to me that as a Jedi, one seeks to control oneself. There isn't even any directive about the exterior world other than that inferred by what a peaceful, knowledgeable, serene, harmonious Force User might do.

The Sith
Born of an ancient, rogue faction of Jedi, displeased with the restrictions on using the Dark Side of the Force (an oversimplification, I know - but it serves our purposes here). The Sith were unapologetically evil. Self-serving, self-aggrandizing, megalomaniacs, the Sith were prone to give themselves over to their passions and their lust for power. I might be a little biased.

A Force User need not be Sith to be "Dark," but the Sith were the embodiment of the Dark Side. Where the Jedi sought to guide and instruct the Galactic Society, leading the way to Peace and Justice, the Sith enforced Order through Tyranny. Their own Code was a direct counter to that of the Jedi.
Peace is a lie; there is only Passion.
Through Passion, I gain Strength.
Through Strength, I gain Power.
Through Power, I gain Victory.
Through Victory, my Chains are Broken.
The Force shall Free Me.
I never understood the attraction to the Sith. I get the desire to "play" the bad guy; but a literal reading of the Code of the Sith always looked (to me) like the battle cry of the try-too-hards. This me-me-me objectivism in a universe where immorality has real, tangible penalties is karking ridiculous. There is a reading of the Sith Code that allows one to exist in the Star Wars Galaxy without falling to the Dark Side; but it requires quite a lot of mental and moral gymnastics.

The Sith Code is focused outside the Self. It imposes a prison upon the Sith and then promises to free them; the entire philosophy of the thing literally has its foundation in Mein Kampf. There's nothing more I really need to say about it.

The Grey
The Grey Jedi - those who claim to walk the line between Light and Dark without striving to attain the former or succumbing to the latter stem from an individual character's reaction to the Jedi and the Sith. For the purpose of this writing, I'm not choosing to discuss so-called Grey Jedi like Qui-Gon Jin who were called so just because they disagreed with the Jedi Council.

There was no Order of Grey Jedi. In the Legends canon, you can find a few that came close. In the poorly conceived and lackluster Dawn of the Jedi, the so-called precursors to the Jedi Order (and by extension the Sith) were the Je'Daii. An order of Force Users born out of a necessity imposed by the very nature of the planet on which they lived (If even a single Force User strove too far into the light or fell too far to darkness, the planet itself reacted with massive Force storms and earthquakes and other nonsense. It really was a dumb story).

The Je'Daii had a code as well - which, as good as any - might as well serve for our glimpse into the Grey Jedi.
There is no ignorance, there is knowledge.
There is no fear, there is power.
I am the heart of the Force.
I am the revealing fire of light.
I am the mystery of darkness.
In balance with chaos and harmony,
Immortal in the Force.
These "I am the's" in these codes always rubbed me the wrong way. This is an Oath, not a Code. There's very little instruction here. Also, I find myself at a loss for trying to interpret it. My disdain for the concept of Grey Jedi grows deeper and deeper, the more I look into this, and my total lack of enthusiasm for the Dawn of the Jedi comic book - I'm leaving this here as the only example of a "balance" code that doesn't stem wholly from Fan Fiction.


"Daniel-san, must talk... Walk on road, hm? Walk left side, safe. Walk right side, safe. Walk middle, sooner or later, get squish just like grape. Here, karate, same thing. Either you karate do "yes", or karate do "no". You karate do "guess so", just like grape. Understand?"
- Kesuke Miyagi


What is Balance as it relates to the Force?

For the longest time, I tended to believe that the Light Side of the Force was the Balance of the Force, while the Dark Side is an imbalance. The Force just is the Force, in much way the Tao is just the Tao. I'd still like to believe that; but it's no longer something that meshes with the canon.

One way to look at the Balance of the Force is to see how the Chosen one brought it about. This has to do with the Force itself and whether or not It is in Balance. According to the Jedi (and Master Lucas), Anakin Skywalker was the Chosen One - foretold in prophecy - who would destroy the Sith and bring balance to the Force. Great. That's what we're looking for - or, I guess, part of it.

But what is Balance in this context? Does the question of Balance in the Force have to revolve around Anakin's status as the Child of Prophecy? Does the Dark Side have to exist? I had answers to these questions. Then I started reading. I watched a few videos. I re-watched the Septology (discovering that word also made me chuckle a little). And, of course, I read the rules for Destiny, Morality, and the Force as presented in the Force & Destiny Roleplaying Game.

Did he do it? Did Anakin fulfill the prophecy? Again, Master Lucas says yes. If you're not clear on how destroying the Jedi and establishing a new Sith Empire managed to pull it off, you're not alone. Also, there are quite a few interpretations about just how the prophecy was fulfilled:

One: Anakin Skywalker culled the Jedi to just two - the Same number as the Sith.
After the slaughter of the Jedi, only two remained - Skywalker's former Master, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and Master Yoda. Two Jedi = Two Sith = Balance. I don't buy it. What about Kanan? Asohka? Heck, even Ezra? What about the Inquisitors? What about all the other light and dark force traditions out there?

And even if the Jedi were wrong about the "destruction of the Sith" and the prophecy was only about bringing balance to the Force, Balance between the Jedi and Sith does not equal Balance in the Force. It balances two opposing factions within the Force, sure. Is that all this Prophecy was about? Again, I don't think so. But, it might be. And it might also be the reason the prophecy has nothing to do with our discussion about the Balance of the Force within the context of the game or a discussion about Grey Jedi.

Two: The Dark Side was wiped out completely and only the Light exists.
Does Balance have to mean the Light Side and the Dark Side are balanced? As I said, up until the Mission to Mortis episode of The Clone Wars, I was always under the impression that the Force was balance and the Dark Side represented an imbalance. To me it was silly to call it "the Light Side." It was just the Force. I think this stemmed mostly from the way Obi-Wan talked about the Force in Episode IV.


The point here is, Mortis changed everything for me, for awhile. Here we see the physical manifestation of the Force in the form of three nigh-immortal Force Users - The Light, The Dark, and the Balance. Master Lucas had a hand in the Clone Wars, and Mission to Mortis suggested this simplistic Light/Dark/Balance nonsense was the point. I was severely put off my oatmeal for a week or so - my brain doing mental gymnastics to make the Star Wars universe make sense within the context of my understanding.

I still don't think it was real. The Ones weren't Force Gods. The Destiny episode from 2014 showed us how real a manifestation of the Cosmic Force can seem to even the greatest of Jedi. I think Anakin, or even Anakin, Obi-Wan and Asohka had a run-in with a vergence in the Force, where they touched the Cosmic Force and were tested by it.

This is a round-about way of saying that I don't think this is the correct interpretation either. This would mean that Anakin fulfilled his destiny when he killed the Emperor, and died. No more Sith. No problem. Balance. This was what I thought for the longest time. Snoke kind of puts that to bed. His appearance means Anakin's purpose is solely tied to the Sith and Jedi and not the Force as a whole. And again, we're talking about one religious sect in a galaxy of Force Users. I don't feel like bringing Balance to the Force has anything to do with the Jedi and the Sith.

I am, however, willing to concede that the Prophecy of the One stems from a singular religious Order, and may - in fact - have been specifically dealing with the affairs of that Order. In this case, I still think number two is the answer. Snoke is a Dark Sider, but not a Sith. Prophecy fulfilled - as far as the Jedi are concerned.

Three: Balance refers to the internal struggle of all Force Users.
I don't think this has anything to do with the Prophecy; but I do think it might have something to do with where the franchise is headed, and it's the most interesting aspect with regards to our discussion here about Balance in Force and Destiny.


In the Destiny episode of The Clone Wars, Yoda is experiencing a manifestation of the Cosmic Force. He is attacked by an embodiment of the Dark Side within him, though he does not - at first - recognize it as such. He fights it. And the more he fights it, the stronger it becomes, until he realizes what it is he is fighting, and accepts that it is a part of him; though his training and discipline allow him to control it, and it does not control him. This is a wonderful window into the Balance of the Force within oneself.

Hello there!
There's a version of the Jedi Code (the version Xen Ma'lak adheres to), which is stated thusly:
Emotion; yet Peace.
Ignorance; yet Knowledge.
Passion; yet Serenity.
Chaos; yet Harmony.
Death; yet the Force.
You can't be afraid of the Dark Side - even the Dark Side within yourself. Rather than suppressing, or ignoring it, you're supposed to accept - not embrace - but accept that the Dark Side is a part of you.

Here I'll share a bit about the way I've chosen to interpret the Jedi Code as written above:
  • You have emotions. We are emotional creatures. That's fine. So be it. Strive always to make Peace with your emotions - to experience them without allowing them to control you.
  • Do not, however, allow that peace to be born out of ignorance. Accept that you will be ignorant. No living organism can know everything. But in accepting your ignorance (knowing that you know nothing, and all of that), seek out the Knowledge necessary to bring yourself better in-line with the Will of the Force.
  • Do not, however, allow your Passions to drive you as well. Notice these are different than emotions. Perhaps you can think of them as obsessions - even minor ones. You're going to have them. As a function of your emotional make-up, you are going to become driven by some purpose. Deal with it. Seek the Serenity necessary to fulfill that purpose, or to accept the truth when it is no longer yours to fulfill. Don't let minor passions drive you about - all this way and that after ten-thousand small things.
  • Do not allow the chaos - either in your minds and hearts or in the galaxy around you to sweep you away either. Be in harmony with the chaos. The entirety of creation will be a roiling storm around you, and yet you will be as One with the Force - in Harmony with whatever may come.
  • Do not, however, seek Death. You will not simply shrug your shoulders and allow things to just happen. This is a function of chaos and no way serves Harmony or the Force. Do not "Let Go, and Let the Force" to paraphrase a common maxim. You are a part of the Living Force, and it will obey you. Death will come when it comes - to all of us - in its own time. This is the way of things. The Living Force feeds into and becomes the Cosmic Force, and as One with the Force, so too will you. Death is not the end of things, but a beginning.
We are Luminous Beings - not this crude matter. I think this is the meaning of seeking Balance in the Force. Acknowledging the darkness, but adhering to the light.


"Your focus determines your reality."
- Qui-Gon Jin


Force & Destiny: Destiny

Destiny is an interesting mechanic in the Force & Destiny RPG, which facilitates player agency within the game. Destiny can be seen as one of the mechanical arms of the Cosmic Force in play.
"You mean it controls your actions?"
"Partially. But it also obeys your commands."
The Destiny Pools allows us to take a look at the Balance of the Force in action. The player draws on the Light Side of the Force, by spending a Light Side Destiny Token, which is immediately replaced with a Dark Side Destiny Token. The Dark Side grows stronger. The Dark Side has its way with you, and the Light blooms in its place.

Is it a model for seeking Balance within the Force? No. Not for individual Force Users. Within the framework of our understanding (and the mechanics of the game), accessing the Dark Side of the Force does not nurture the Light Side within you.

Like... At. All.

If we look at the Destiny Pool as an example of the Balance of the Force, we have to remember that we're seeing one facet of an inscrutable, indefatigable, cosmic phenomenon. The give and take of the Dark and the Light is only a glimpse at the mechanics of the Cosmic Force.


"There’s no mystical energy field controls my destiny! It’s all a lot of simple tricks and nonsense." Han says right after spending a Destiny Point to calculate the hyperspace jump to Alderaan and escape an Imperial Star Destroyer. The GM, I'm almost sure, flips a Dark Side Destiny Token and says, "Ben, you feel a disturbance in the Force - um - like, millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced."

The Force giveth, the Force taketh away.

"Fear leads to Anger. Anger leads to Hate. Hate leads to Suffering."
- Yoda

Force & Destiny: Morality

Qui-Gon Jin said once (in one of the Legends comics, I think), "a Jedi is not a creature of morals."

The larger point was that a Jedi serves the Will of the Force, and sometimes the Will of the Force calls for the death of another, or you have to steal something, make someone who doesn't accept Republic Credits, or flub a chance-cube roll.

Regardless of whatever particular set of skills he might have, Qui-Gon was wrong. The Jedi view of the Force may have been the right one in Lucas's eyes, but as far as Force & Destiny goes, Qui-Gon was racking up the conflict.

In the Star Wars Galaxy - and in Force & Destiny specifically - the Dark Side is a real thing. Not only is the Dark Side real, but it is (or, at the very least, it feeds and feeds off of) Evil. With all the moral ambiguity and shades of grey and what-have-you, there is a very real good and a very real evil, and the measure of that moral spectrum is the Force.

When a character in the Force & Destiny game acts against her moral code - against the objective moral code present in the mechanics - she gains a point of conflict, and the potential for her Morality score to drop. The lower a character's Morality score is, the more the character is giving themselves over to the Dark Side - the closer they come to losing themselves to Evil.

Notice, however, that the evil act itself doesn't instantly test the character's moral barometer. There's a randomizer at the end of the session which determines how the character's contemplation of their situation has changed them. They've either learned a lesson from the fallout of their actions and grown from the experience, or they've ignored those lessons (or worse, reveled in the darkness), and lost some ground.

Then, in a triggered Morality situation, the effects are compounded - the result of your die roll minus your conflict is doubled. The character has learned an important moral lesson - whether right or wrong, they have the potential to shift considerably in these situations. Evil acts in these situations have the potential to stunt a characters growth or cripple them to the point of "falling to the Dark Side," where the character can no longer call upon the Force as they once did, and must instead draw almost solely on the Dark Side.

Within the constraints of the Morality system, then, is it possible to find Balance? It depends on what you mean by "balance."

Are you trying to make an excuse for spending Destiny Points and Dark Side Force Pips - claiming to be the elusive (and totally misunderstood) Grey Jedi - who draws from the Dark as well as the Light?

"When you look at the Dark Side, careful you must be... For the Dark Side looks back."
-Yoda

No. It is not possible. I think if you are intimately familiar with it, you could game the system for awhile - spending just enough Dark Side Points so that the law of averages keeps your Morality score at a more or less stable level. But sooner or later, the Dark Side will take its toll - whether from you and your Morality Score, or from those around you. Every time you spend those DSPs, you're also spending a Light Side Destiny Point. Handing the Gamemaster a ready-made tool with which to punish you and your allies. Every time.
"Yes, a Jedi's strength flows from the Force. But beware the Dark Side. Anger, fear, aggression; the dark side of the Force are they. Easily they flow, quick to join you in a fight. If once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny, consume you it will, as it did Obi-Wan's apprentice."
- Yoda
If you're careful - and I mean very careful, I can see how it might be possible to maintain an average Morality score; but the world(s) around you will to suffer for it.

But Balance can also mean, simply the stability of one's mind or feelings. As far as Morality is concerned - ignoring the little white and black pips on the Force Die for a moment - Balance in this case can be an acceptance of the darkness in the Galaxy, and within oneself, and a willingness not to let it control you. Adherence to the empirical moral code of the galaxy.

In this case, sometimes, it may be necessary to take on conflict to do what must be done. The Dark Side exists in every character in the Star Wars Galaxy. But focus determines reality. How you react to the darkness within you, whether you let it feed off you and grow until it consumes you and drives you to madness and destruction, or if you recognize it and tame it, that determines whether you fall to the Dark Side or strive for the Light. That is your balance. Maybe that is where true Mastery of the Force comes from.

Thanks to Wookieepedia, Geek University, Lore Guy, Nick Lucid, George Lucas and all the others.

Friday, April 21, 2017

The Sad Tale of Rando Sandyman

He was trampled by a cow and he died. The moral of the story is that you shouldn't second guess yourself. If you want to go on an adventure, like the big folk or the elves, you might as well go, because the world is a dangerous place and hiding in your hobbit hole doesn't guarantee your gonna live a long life.




Played my first game of The One Ring tonight. I mean - maybe the second night, if you count character creation; but this was the first story night.

I'm playing the hobbit in the party, Poppy Noakes, a sort of minstrel / storyteller stricken with wanderlust and cursed by the Bilbo's tales to set out from the Shire to write stories and songs of her own.

Our tale takes place five years after the Battle of Five Armies. The rest of the party was a pair of elves (one from Mirkwood and the other from Rivendale), and a Dwarf of the Lonely Mountain. It was a lot of fun.

We didn't even really get together as a party - though we spent most of the evening in the same tavern in Priestly, south of Esgaroth. The dwarf and I had hit it off right away, but the elves were elves. I got to hear a good story from a group of drunken dwarves, and then I told a story of my own and went to bed.

Then the town got raided by orcs. Damn orcs.

Might be down primarily to the GM; but five hours of gaming and only one fight (at the end of the night). It was fun.

I might have said that already.

I liked the character creation system - getting little racial bonuses and picking from a set of "class" features to customize your character. I liked the sort of free-form combat system (being very good at song, I spent a good portion of our short fight rallying the troops so they wouldn't be so beat up). I did sort of wish my dice pools were bigger; but I almost always wish that unless I'm playing Shadowrun. I did like the Feat die with its Gandalf Rune and the Eye of Sauron.

I rolled a lot of really low numbers on several dice rolls (it was slightly frustrating) - and I think everyone was right when they said combat in this system is deadly (though I think the GM let our Weary characters recover from being Weary whenever I used Rally to increase their Endurance - that might've been against the rules).

Who's side are you on?


I had to actually tell the story my character told to win over the dwarves I'd been drinking with at the Galloping Gelder; but the soup was hot and the room was massive! Actually, it was regular sized, but all the furnishings were hobbit-sized so it made it seem like a mansion.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Focus Determines Reality: Star Wars RPGs

It's hard to address the question of Star Wars roleplaying systems without coming off like a Fantasy Flight Fanboy. I'm going to do my best, but at some point it's going to devolve into gushing over the newest Star Wars Roleplaying Game(s). I'm not even going to apologize.

I've played a lot of Star Wars. I had my first action figures in 1977 or '78, and they saw a lot of action. I've played all three officially licensed games and a handful of GURPS ports, I played a Gamma World campaign that was heavily influenced by Star Wars, and I've played a Monk/Warlock in D&D who was a Jedi who fought dragons.

I'm just going to focus on the three official games: West End Games' Star Wars Roleplaying Game, Wizards of the Coast's similarly titled entry, and Fantasy Flight Games' trilogy of games (which are really just one game from three different angles, so I'm going to call it one... probably FFG Star Wars).

West End Games | Star Wars d6

I played the Second Edition of the WEG Star Wars Roleplaying Game.  The blue one, though we - of course - bought the revised and expanded rules when they came out (I missed the in-universe advertisements).

This was the granddaddy of them all.  The d6 System was fun because you got to throw around big handfuls of dice (for the things you were good at), and you got to be literally whatever you wanted (I'm still salty about there being no official Jawas in the FFG game). I wish Squibs had made it into the new canon.

How Did It Play?

I think it played pretty straight forward.  You had a series of attributes, basically, and all of your skills were each tied to one of those. To do anything that required a roll, you grabbed a number of six-sided dice equal to your Attribute + your Skill and rolled them.  There were these little "Partial Dice" called pips - three to a die, if I remember, each pip added +1 to a roll. You were rolling to beat a target number.

West End Games gave us the Control, Sense, and Alter paradigm for Force Powers, and I still think of Force Powers in that regard.

What Was Great About It?

Exploding Dice! The 2nd Edition introduced the Wild Die, which was a different color die that you rolled as part of your dice pool. If the Wild Die came up 1, you removed it from the total along with the highest die you rolled. If the Wild Die came up a 6, you added it to the total and rolled it again! If it came up 6 again, you added it again, and so on. It made it seem like - even if the odds were against you - you really could do anything.

WEG had no class system, no Fighters or Scoundrels or What-Have-Yous. You picked your race and then spent your Character Points to make the character you wanted to make. There were templates, to help you figure out who your character was - and to base them on character tropes you might know; but I can't recall if I ever used them (certainly not for the characters I really remember playing). I didn't learn how to see class-based role playing games as nonrestrictive until FFG's Force & Destiny, so this was a major selling point for me.

Being a Force User in the WEG d6 system was also great. At first it was frustrating, because you had to balance your Force Powers with your "normal" abilities (you got the same amount of XP - Character Points, I think - as everyone else). At character creation, you were generally less capable than others in the party, but - like the Wizard in D&D - you quickly rose in power, so that you could really own a battlefield or a dinner party.

I'm going to gloss over the massive amount of material available to players and game masters, the source books and anthologies and all the tons of material which basically laid the foundation for the Legends canon (the Expanded Universe before Disney stepped in).

What Was Terrible About It?

Force Users were really over powered. Oh man. What made being a Force User great for that player had a lot of potential to detract from everyone else's enjoyment as the game devolved into "A Jedi and his Companions." A good GM, and a party willing to play that dynamic could mitigate the imbalance, but many of us had no idea it was going to turn into that sort of game until it was too late, and feelings were hurt. This game was exceedingly unbalanced.

When you got those really big dice pools (which I love so dearly), you could more easily afford the penalties assessed for taking multiple actions in a round. As the player characters got better and better at what they did, combat got a little silly - and took a long time just to get through a single round. The game might not actually have been as "crunchy" as other systems, but it really started to feel that way.

How Does It Compare to d20?

West End Games Star Wars was vastly superior to d20. It was more unbalanced, but the rules system was easier to understand, and it felt more like Star Wars. Also, this might just be from my personal experience; but I found it much easier to tell stories in the WEG system than in d20.

How Does It Compare to FFG?

If I couldn't play Star Wars using FFG, I'd probably play WEG. Again, the balance issues of WEG stand against it. FFG has handfulls of dice too; but rolling all the extra dice doesn't bog down the flow of the game the way it could in the d6 system.

Wizards of the Coast | d20 Star Wars

It's probably a little unfair of me to lump all the d20 editions together as one. Saga edition was vastly different (and vastly superior) to Wizards of the Coast's earlier editions.

For a D&D nerd like me, having just spent quite a load of time learning the (then) new 3rd edition rules - it was quick and easy to adopt the variants in their version of Star Wars.

How Did It Play?

Fine? I played weekly with a pretty great group of guys, so my complaints about this system are things I only noticed in retrospect. It's space D&D, though, so there are classes.  There are Feats, which are a great carrot (in a carrot and stick analogy) for advancement. I remember really craving new feats when I played 3rd edition and Star Wars both.

Starting, 1st-level characters felt a little more capable than they did in WEG's d6 system, and even the canon characters didn't seem to be super-all-powerful demi-gods, the way they did before.

One my favorite all-time games of Star Wars, was a pick-up, one-shot game in the revised 2nd edition of d20, where the players ran characters from the movie in a remake of A New Hope. I'll spare you the details. It was fun, though; and I'm not sure it would have worked as well in the other systems.

d20 Star Wars had quite a few supplements, and some interesting ideas, but mostly I found it much easier to base my games and populate my worlds around the supplements put out by West End Games when I was running d20 campaigns.

What was great about it?

This feels unfair; but I don't know that there was anything "great" about d20 Star Wars. It was nicely balanced, so that characters could all participate and contribute regardless of their choice of character class. I always thought the most fun of D&D 3e (and subsequently d20 Star Wars) was character advancement. Stories were fun and all, but - to me (and I admit I might have been wildly wrong about this) the game was about character advancement.

All in all, without having played the game in almost a decade, I think d20 Star Wars was adequate. It was the system they adapted for the Knights of the Old Republic games, so it's got that going for it, which is nice.

What Was Terrible About It?

I might've summed this one up above. I find my brain still sometimes focused on character advancement, rather than character development. The rules were just as convoluted in Star Wars as they were in D&D (when 3rd Edition D&D became 3.5, d20 Star Wars also got an update - but they didn't really get better. Just different).

We played one epic campaign of d20 Star Wars, and quite a few partial games that didn't really go anywhere. We sort of just stopped playing Star Wars at some point, and (right or wrong), I always kind of blamed the d20 System.

How Does It Compare to WEG?

The d20 system was more balanced than WEG, and if you're familiar with D&D 3rd Edition, or even Pathfinder, the rules in Saga Edition are probably not going to be too difficult to understand. d20 might be a little more simulationist, but I think WEG was actually the more crunchy of the two.

How Does It Compare to FFG?

It doesn't. Oh boy. This might be the point where I'm going to start geeking out about Force & Destiny. Honestly, though, the more I think about it, the less I can come up with in defense of the d20 system.

Fantasy Flight Games | Age of Rebellion,

Edge of the Empire, Force & Destiny


There's no way you could be blamed for thinking Fantasy Flight Games' line of Star Wars games was a soulless cash grab. It seems like a recipe for disaster. Three separate core rulebooks. Proprietary dice. Classes. Duty? Obligation? Morality? I understand why there are so many players who are reluctant to take a look at it.

There is no excuse for how good this game is. It makes no sense to me as a gamer. Like, at... all.

How Did It Play?

The word "narrative" is bandied about quite a bit, and I think that's a key element of the FFG Star Wars systems. It can be a little jarring for players who are used to the more simulationist games. There's a thing about the game that forces the player and the game master both to stretch their imagination a little more than they might otherwise have done. Giving a player more control over the setting and even the plot (as opposed to just playing their character's reactions to them) puts an unsuspecting player in the hot seat. It can be uncomfortable at first; but once it clicks with everyone at the table, it's amazing.

What Was Great About It?

Balance. I haven't played a game with characters from each of the different books - by which I mean, I haven't played an Edge of the Empire character in a Force & Destiny game, or something like that. But it seems to be a decently balanced system, overall. My longest-running character (shout-out to Xen Ma'lak on the Dice For Brains Podcast) is a burgeoning pacifist who abhors violence, but can still (pretty much) hold his own with the more violence-focused characters. Worst-case scenario, I feel useful in every fight situation that comes up, and I'm having fun doing it.

Character advancement is fun and pretty straight forward. They don't discourage multi-classing (picking up additional specializations - even those from outside your chosen career), and I think it might be a bad idea, "Jacks of All Trades" and all that. But using and improving mastery of the Force is pretty simple, and even the really hard to obtain advances to your character (better Characteristics, more Force Dice) feel worthwhile, and the talents you pick up on your way there, are always useful.

The Destiny Pool is genius - giving the players opportunity to affect the game world in a way that gives their character an advantage AND tying that pool to the GM's ability to do the opposite makes the Destiny Pool an amazingly fun tool. So long as both GMs and Players remember to use the Destiny Pool, it's a really interesting mechanic.

What Was Terrible About It?

It takes a little bit of time to get used to the new dice, but I think that's only because they're different. I think new players have a much easier time of it. Success, Failure, Advantage, Threat, Triumph, & Despair. These are the six outcomes on the dice, and it's theoretically possible to get five of them at a time. Most of the trouble I think comes from the first few sessions, when players are trying to figure out what cancels what, and how do we use our Triumphs, Advantages, Threats, and Despair.

As I've said, I haven't tried to run characters from the different books in the same campaign, so I don't know how Morality, Obligation, and Duty would function together. Also, I get Morality, and I enjoy playing Force & Destiny in part because of it; but I haven't had a chance to use Duty or Obligation. Obligation makes perfect sense to me, but I'm not sure whether I like Duty as a system. I look forward to giving it a shot, however.

How Does It Compare to the Others?

I really like FFG better than any other Star Wars RPG system. It feels more like Star Wars, once you get into the guts of a story. It plays pretty straightforward, once you get your head around the mechanics. I just feel like I've had more fun playing Force & Destiny (and its contemporaries) than any other Star Wars game I've played to date.

If you've got a good group of gamers together, you could tell good stories and have great fun with any of these systems. It mostly does come down to who's at the table; but for my table, I prefer FFG to the others.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Not Quite TeenWolf


I was going to write a TeenWolf fan fiction (I didn't know what fan fiction was, I was just going to rewrite TeenWolf, because it seemed like fun).  In my version, Scott was an actual werewolf who was murdering and eating people, only his brain couldn't handle it, so he created the TeenWolf stuff to cope. I didn't write it; turns out there was a crappy TV show version that was close - though not really.  Not at all like what I was envisioning. Anyway, this was the opening...

The thing you have to remember is that lycanthropy (being a werewolf) is a curse.  A curse that has plagued our family since the 1500s.  Sometimes it skips a generation, most times it doesn't.  It affects all of the sons of the Howard Family; and once, in 1890, a daughter.

The curse is insidious.  Dangerous.  It's more than just the transformation from man to animal.  Or, rather, that transformation is more than physical.

In my mind, the weeks leading up to and following my first transformation are a psychotic blur.  On the one hand, I know the truth - the horrors that stalked little Beacontown that year - injury, death, and worse.  I have memories of those horrors; but they are the impassioned, disjointed nightmares of the wolf.  On the other hand, is the delusion.  The mind of man is not meant to run wild in the world.  And when a man becomes the wolf, some part of him breaks.  A coping mechanism.

My delusion protected me from the evils perpetrated by my monstrous inner beast; but they left me completely unable to cope with the town around me - I was paralyzed by a fear I could neither comprehend nor share.  Beacontown was held in the tyrannical grip of a monstrous beast-man.

I thought we were trying to win the basketball championship.

If it hadn't been for the love and caring of James Styles (my good friend) and Bethany Scott (my best friend "Boof" who would become Bethany Howard, thank God), I would have been consumed by the wolf; I would have never known the truth, and I wouldn't have been able to spend my life trying to make amends.

Which, of course, I can never do.

My story is not the light-hearted coming of age story I'd thought it to be, but a nightmare tale of horror, terror, and depravity.  I do not want to face it, even now; but you have to hear it, boy; because sometimes the curse skips a generation; but most times, it doesn't.

The delusions never go away, of course.  But they become manageable.  You learn to differentiate the lie of your mad-cap adventures as the TeenWolf from the truth of the monster within; and you use the lie to keep from going insane.

The first time I felt it - before I had any notion there was something to feel, was at the season opener against the Dragons.  But it scared the shit out of me, and I suppressed it.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

A Yard of Graves

Nathaniel Starnes lies roughly six-feet below the grass here at our feet. By the date on his headstone, he's been lying in that position for roughly 13 years. He's wearing what was - at the time of his burial - a brand new suit, in a style he never would have bought for himself, but which his mother quite adored.

Nathaniel Starnes was a poet. He wrote some of the most beautiful, most profound, most heart-wrenchingly humanverses you will never read. He scribbled them on napkins and bits of scrap paper; but he never thought they were good enough. The majority of his work is now buried beneath all the refuse and rubbish of the county landfill, seventeen miles from here.

Right next to Nate - his friends called him Nate - is Carrie McCarthy. Carrie wanted to be a writer too; but she never wrote anything. She spent years daydreaming about the novel she wanted to write. She knew her characters so well she knew their birthdays. Not just what they looked like, or what they did but how they felt. She understood their hopes and desires - and all things that stopped them from achieving their dreams. Her widower found a box of notes and outlines, but didn't know what to make of them. They now lie, forgotten, below sixteen bags of garbage in the same landfill as the majority of Nate's poetry.

Carrie's been dead for six years now, buried under the earth; and no one will ever read her novel.

Dr. Martin Mallory is buried over there. Five months dead and barely out of med-school. Martin had an almost innate understanding of the human body and the maladies that effect it. He was toying around with an idea about how to trick cancer cells into turning on themselves. I don't understand the specifics; but apparently he would have paved the way toward a cancer cure in the next few years. He never told anyone about it, though. He thought it was just too easy. It couldn't be that easy. He was sure he was missing something; and he didn't want people to laugh.

No one laughed when the lowered his coffin into the ground over there, and covered it with dirt. He's gone now. They're all gone. And they took so much with them that we'll never know.

Danny Carson over here - six feet down. He died in 1985. He never would have written anything profound, or discovered anything that would've changed the world. Danny Carson was funny, though. He had such a great sense of humor. He was pretty good with an engine, too. Liked to fix things.

He dreamed of being a stand-up comic. Sometimes he would try to work up a good routine. He jotted down notes about all the funny things that happened throughout the day - about all things that happened in the world that weren't funny, unless...

But again, he was worried that people would laugh. Well... not like that. He never really believed he was funny. He thought people would laugh at him, instead of his jokes.

There's nothing wrong with fixing cars. It's a vital service; and Danny was good at it, as I've said. He would've been an amazing comedian, though. He might not have changed the world, but he sure would have made people laugh. Now he's gone. No one will ever see the world in quite the same way again.

All of these graves. All of these unrealized dreams; all now forgotten. All the things they never did. All this waste. That's the thing that's wrong.

A graveyard is not just where we bury the dead. It's where dreams lie unfulfilled. It's where goals wither away to nothing. A graveyard is a monument to all things we never did because we were afraid, or unsure, or... just didn't have the time.

We don't teach each other how to believe in ourselves. We go to school to learn math and how to read and write, but how do we learn confidence? How do we learn the determination necessary to follow through on all the things we wish we could do? All the things we should have done?

Sunday, November 15, 2015

WP - 010 - Gotham's Protector

Heh heh heh. Hah. Ha Ha Ha!
Wake up, Bruce. It's time to go to work. I know you can hear me out there, Bruce. I can feel you getting complacent. But it's more than a feeling. I know, Bruce. I see you. The Janitor, Oscar - the one you busted six years ago, trying to boost televisions from the Gotham Mall...
Oscar had his cell phone on him tonight. He was watching you on that show. The one about rich people who aren't caped vigilantes. I saw you. Silly, Bruce. I saw you with that Blonde. You really think you can just DO that? Just be Normal? Very stupid, Bruce. Deep breaths now. In... Out... In... Out...
This is going to hurt.
In... I shouldn't have started that toss-up with Eddie in group today. I didn't think a few days in the jacket would be much of a hassle. If I'd known you were slipping - I should've realized.
Ouch!
It doesn't get any easier, Bruce. Dislocating a shoulder. I wasn't born with double joints, you know. I mean... of course YOU know. I'm not even particularly flexible. This isn't talent, Bruce. It's skill. You can hear me out there, can't you? Of course you can. Do you see what you've done for me? How you've helped mold me. You've made me better, Bruce. But you'd better wrap things up with your little Missy. I'm coming for you.
Wriggling out of the jacket has gotten to be pretty easy, actually. Slow breaths again. It's resetting the shoulder - That's the part that really sucks. Heh heh. No, Bruce. It doesn't quite suck out all the fun. Ack! I wonder if you're going to be dumb enough to try and lie down with this one? I hope I can get out in time to remind you. I hope... This is what you give me, Bruce.Hope. Can you hear me? I might have to kill this one.
Yes, Bruce, yes. The key. I took the key from Tetch. He got it off one of the guards - um - Wilson? Yes. I better tell you about Wilson tonight. If a two-bit buffoon like Hatter can get his hands on the key, Wilson's going to have to go.
Cash is on tonight. Better avoid Cash. He was in a mood this afternoon. He's not one you'll deal with, though. He's a good one. I should kill him. I wonder if I could push him to be more like you? No... Like the Birdbrain, maybe. But there's no one like you, Bruce.
Shh... Be quite now. Don't want the alarms going off until I'm over the wall. What? Shh. No. I know I can't get over the wall, it's a metaphor, you nincompoop. You really are slipping aren't you? I've been in here too long. I think you're actually starting to get dumber.
No, no. Don't be like that. I only call you names because I care. I can't tell you how mad I was when I saw you wearing your mask. Pretending you were one of THEM! What's got into you!?!
Ouch!
No. No, it's... I'm alright. I punched the metal of the drain pipe. Pretty dumb of me, really. Your complacency is catching. They probably heard that at the front gate. This might be the last time I get to use this tunnel. It's a shame.
Bruce, you do not want to know how much I had to pay Croc to rig this grate so I could open it and get out when I need to. When you need me.
I hope they didn't hear me. Don't want you waking up too soon. We have to get you back on the streets, Bruce; but you must be punished, I think. You have to remember about the City, Bruce. You have to remember Gotham.
And I'm going to remind you tonight. You can't rest, boy. You can't just... Date. You can't hide behind your millionaire playboy mask and think I'm just going to lie around in my cell and let you pretend you're one of them?
You're not one of them, Bruce. You're the hero. How many people are dying tonight because you wanted to be one of them - even for one night? How many of the good ones are dead in the street already because You Forgot What You Are! This city is a cesspit, Bruce. How many more are going to die before you remember, and we dance our little dance again?
No. Gotham needs it's protector, Bruce. Gotham needs it's Dark Knight. Heh heh.
You're going to remember tonight. It's going to hurt you a lot more than it'll hurt me; but you're going to remember. And then our city will be safe again.
Can you hear me, Bruce? You will. And you're going to remember, Bruce.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Where the brave shall live

I don't really know what it was like before.  Dying.  Discovering that there's more.  The Ride of the Valkyrie.  I don't think the Meadhall has changed - at least - it looks like a Viking Meadhall to me.  On the whole it's like this giant party on the front lines of a battle we're going to fight in the morning, only morning never seems to come.  It's all training and drinking and eating...  Holy shit, the food here is so good!
I never really studied vikings or mythology.  I mean, I watched that show on the History Channel.  My brother DVR'd it and we watched it together the last time I was stateside.
Huh.  I guess I'll never be stateside again.  I wonder why that never occurred to me before.  I hope my brother dies in glorious battle and gets chosen.
Okay, so here's how I died:
In Battle!
Sorry.  Whenever anyone here asks you how you died, the answer is always, "IN BATTLE!"  It's kind of stupid, I know.  We all died in battle.  It's literally the only way to get here.  It's just one of those stupid things *Einherjar* do.  It's like a motivational check - the closest thing I can think of back home in *Midgardr*, would be "oorah."
Also, Einherjar...  That's what we call ourselves.  The one warrior.  Each of us is the One Warrior.  The Single Soldier, the once fighters.
Yeah, I'm learning the Old Norse.  You have to.  There are so many Einherjar - brothers - here from all over the world.  All across the vast expanse of history; and the gods sure as hell aren't going to waste their time learning all the tongues of men.  So the Norse tends to be the common language around here.  I mean...
There are cliques, sure.  But it isn't like High School.  Isn't even like the Corps.  It's fluid, I guess.
I served with this old badass Gunny my first tour in Iraq - **GySgt Starke**.  He was one of the first of the Einherjar to greet me in the Meadhall.  He was in tight with the old-school Americans, his fucking Grandfather is here (how awesome would that be?).  Anyway, I usually end up hanging out with a bunch of American and British World War Vets.  I like to drink with these Hessians, too.  Donar - their unofficial leader - took a liking to me when I called him out on his bullshit this one time, and the Hessians all laugh at the way modern German sounds on my tongue - we communicate alright, though.  I guess I also hang out with these Afghanis sometimes, after I ran into a soldier I sent here myself a few months before punching my own ticket.
**Aarif** is a fucking riot, man.  So funny.  His English is pretty good - a lot better than my Norse, anyway.  He comes running up to me about a week after I got here, and he just punches the shit out of me.  We start fighting, and I didn't have any idea what the hell was going on; but I fought back.  I mean... It's what you do, right?
So here I am in Nordic Heaven fighting for my life against this Afghan Muslim shouting "Allahu Akbar," and shit - shouting about "you killed me, you American sonofabitch," and "why did you send me to Valhalla," - and don't you ever tell him I said it, but he was beating the shit out of me.  And he had me in this crazy leg lock and he just starts laughing, and brushing away my strikes and telling me to calm down.  **Gunny Starke** was there then, laughing.  I was so confused.
We drank mead together, and none of it mattered any more.  I mean, it never mattered, really.  We fight, we died.  Now we're brothers.  Once upon a time, we were Fighters.  I killed this man, **Aarif** - punched his ticket on the Valhalla Express - and somewhere out there, the man - the men - who punched my ticket will show up, if they're lucky.  Maybe the man who killed me is here already.  I didn't get a good look at them, though.
Most of us don't.  And even if you do know who killed you, maybe they won't even show up.  Some go to **Freyja's** war fields.  And the poor bastards who don't get to die in battle - the ones who live long enough to grow old, or sick?  We don't mourn the lost.  We live forever.
But it was real depressing to find out that most of my heroes aren't here.  I don't want to talk about that.  We don't mourn the lost.
So I died in battle.  IED.  Pretty cunning trap, really.  I mean, I think we were on point - heads in the game.  Riding patrol north of Jalalabad, Croft says something about getting laid, Benjamen tells him to shut up and **BOOM**.
The chaos of war.  Ears ringing.  Head foggy and lost and clear and focused all at the same time.  Checking injuries, checking our brothers.  Frankenhummer's dead.  We pile out and assess.  Then the shooting starts.
I couldn't tell you if I was the first or even the only one to go down.  The initial impact hit my body armor.  It's like being punched in the chest.  I got riddled with bullets, though. Shoulder, arm, twice, leg.  The one in my head shut it all down.  I was cold.  There was a motorcycle or something - like one of the big Harleys.  I don't know.  Maybe the engine on the humvee was still going.  I think I tried to raise my rifle; but there was a big piece of my wrist missing when I looked down at the hand holding it.  I couldn't grip my weapon right.  I didn't hear it drop in the dirt; but I remember thinking about how pissed Staff Sergeant Burroughs was gonna be.  Disrespecting the rifle.  I fell down.
That motorcycle was getting louder.  Everything was kind of grey.  Or red.  Hazy.  I was trying to stand up.  There was gunfire around us, and I could here my brothers shouting something - yelling at me, I think - but it was like listening from underwater.
"I'm good," I said, lying.  "Drive on."  They didn't hear me.  I mean, I get it now.  I was already dead.
       
Her name is **Alex** - uh - *Something*.  As the sounds of battle faded and her bike got louder and closer, I found some strength.  I pushed myself up to my knees in time to see her ride up on me.  Glorious.
The bike was huge.  Way too big for her 5-foot frame, with these big ape-hangers and all this chrome and steel that didn't belong in the desert.  At first I thought she was American - she was wearing desert fatigues, but she was out of uniform.  No armor, no battle rattle.  Long-ass blonde hair in this sexy braid that went all the way down her back.  Just a rifle slung over her shoulder, sunglasses, these big, goofy leather bracers.  This big ass sword was strapped to her hog, like something out of one of my sister's anime movies.  Even in steel toes, her feet were tiny.
"*Get up,*" she said, climbing off the motorbike.  She pulled a black bottle from one of the saddlebags, and tossed it to me.  "*Drink*."
I did as I was told.  The fighting seemed to have stopped, we were just standing there in the desert wreckage.  The sounds of my brothers arguing about something, yelling at someone - I think they were trying wake him up.  Damn.  Someone else must've gotten hit.  It was all kind of distant, though.
The bottle was ceramic, stoppered with a cork.  It was sweet, like apples or honey.  Kind of tart too.  Good.  That was the first time I ever drank Mjød.  It's like bread and butter now.  Mother's Milk.  I took another big swig, and noticed the girl looking at me.
I wiped my mouth on the back of my hand.  My wrist...
I still hadn't figured it out, really.  Until I saw that my wrist was fine.  I asked the Valkyrie if she was an angel; but she laughed at that.  That was how I learned what a Valkyrie was. We rode across the desert on her monster bike.  We rode through forests that couldn't exist - vast and beautiful and untouched by the 21st century, and along a beach at one point - before turning inland and then up into the mountains.
The Meadhall - it's not just a Meadhall.  It's this whole massive compound.  **Alex** told me it isn't the only one.  Isn't even the biggest.  It's ours though.  Barracks, Mess, Armory, Stables, Garage.  We have these bivouac party stations set up all over.
Most of my time is spent training with weapons I haven't imagined using since I was 9.  Swords and axes.  Shields.  Fucking spears.  The new guys help the old guys get better with modern tech.  The old guys help the new guys improve their archaic weapon skills.
This guy Tanaka-San.  He says he's a farmer; and I know the Samurai in the East Field don't like him; but I swear to god - or Odin... whatever - I swear he's a fucking real life ninja!  He's teaching me how to fight with whatever.  A bunch of us spend time up on the high plain learning how to look at every tool as a weapon.  Recognizing its effectiveness, it's weakness.  Internalizing principles that will allow us to use any weapon or tool or rock or stick as if we were born to it.
But here's the thing that scares me - the thing we shout down with our drinking and revelry.  Here's the thing that wakes me screaming in the night.
What the hell are we fighting.  Ragnarok is coming.  What the hell is Ragnarok?  We have here the bravest, the mightiest, the quickest, the strongest warriors in the entire history of humanity - and all we do is train and practice and drink and party.  Then we train some more.
It seems like a party, I threw that in there, because I don't want you to get the wrong idea.  It's not a bummer.  But every warrior here.  Every Einharjar is learning how to be a better fighter.  We distract ourselves with mead and Valkyries (when they'll have us), and we boast and talk and lie to ourselves that we're not scared shitless; but what the hell are we doing this for?  And what's going to happen when it's over?  What's going to happen when we win?
Because I don't ever want this to end.
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