Friday, October 23, 2015

Tommy's Take on Star Wars Force and Destiny Beginner Game


Star Wars is kind of a big deal. I tend to be kinda ambivalent, though I love the idea of Star Wars. I own (and have played) Star Wars d6 2nd Edition, d20 and Saga Edition, and have enjoyed the former and the latter. As a belated birthday present, I received the Star Wars Force and Destiny Beginner Game, which I ran for my 11 year old son and one of my longtime gamer buddies.

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: This version of Star Wars uses neither the d6 system, nor the d20 system. It uses its own proprietary dice system, which includes green Ability dice, yellow Proficiency dice, blue Boost dice, black Setback dice, purple Difficulty dice, red Challenge dice and white Force dice, all of which are included in the Beginner game. The "good" dice have Success, Triumph and Advantage symbols on them, while the "bad" dice have Failure, Despair and Threat symbols on them. Typically, you assemble a dice pool of a Characteristic and a Skill, taking a number of Ability dice equal to the higher of the two, then upgrading a number of dice equal to the lower score into Proficiency dice. For instance, if you are trying to lie and you have a Cunning of 3, you get 3 Ability dice...but since you have a Deception of 1, 1 of those dice becomes a Proficiency die. However, you also add the Discipline of your opponent as opposition, using a similar formula based on Discipline and Willpower, upgrading Difficulty dice to Challenge dice. Lying to a Stormtrooper (Willpower 3, Discipline 2) means you roll 2 Challenge dice and 1 Difficulty die. Yikes...this is why Obi-Wan used The Force to trick Stormtroopers.

When you roll your dice pool, you need more Successes than Failures, but Triumphs and Despairs can trigger additional consequences (especially in combat, including Critical Hits, or adding Boost and Setback dice to people's next actions). Threats and Advantages are additional effects that are triggered, regardless of whether you succeed or fail. Using the above example: You do manage to lie to the Stormtroopers about why you are snooping around their base, convincing them you are an undercover Imperial Agent, so they radio the very high-ranking officer you were hoping to avoid, and summon him to greet you. If you also got a Triumph, maybe you convince the GM that you need a Boost die to spend when you have to lie your way past the Officer in a minute.

At the beginning of the session, all players roll the Force die (which has white and black circles, representing the Light Side and the Dark Side) and add that many Destiny tokens to the table (also included). When using The Force in the game, you try to first generate the necessary symbols by rolling Force dice equal to your Force rating, but you can use Dark Side symbols in coordination with Dark Side Destiny tokens to achieve the desired effect...but the Dark Side will start taking a toll. Now, you can't fall to the Dark Side in the Beginner Game, but in the full version, it is a very real possibility, and the Destiny tokens are always there for you to abuse and aid your slide.

Characters are defined by six Characteristics (Brawn, Agility, Intellect, Cunning, Willpower and Presence, most of which hover around a rating of 2-3), as well as a number of skills (close to 30, covering combat and non-combat). They also gain Talents from their Career tree. The Mystic, for example, can learn Uncanny Reactions, which gives them a Boost die on Vigilance checks (Vigilance or Cool are typically used for Initiative, so it comes up a lot), as well as the Sense and Move Force powers, and Talents that boost those abilities. Characters also have Soak Value (to resist damage), plus Wounds (essentially Hit Points, and this always stays on the low end) and Strain (which tracks exhaustion and gets used - and recovered - a bit more easily than Wounds).

The product itself is a handsome boxed set, with a set of full color cardboard tokens representing the characters and creatures in the included adventure, as well as the Destiny Tokens. A little example of play pamphlet is included, as well as a small rulebook and an adventure book. There is no character creation in the beginner game, so they included four premade heroes, with two more downloadable from the FFG website. All of the heroes are Force Users (or gain the ability over the course of the adventure), but none of them are Jedi, which I found interesting. Each character has a booklet of their own, with character sheets showing starting stats, mid-adventure advancement and a more open ended sheet for continuing to use the characters after the adventure ends. Each booklet also includes a backstory for the character, involving them in the plot of the included adventure.

The adventure itself takes place on a remote planet, with the PCs searching for a missing ally, while a a Dark Side User named Malefax is tainting the land from a temple he is corrupting. The adventure has 7 encounters, with a decent variety present, and bonuses and penalties that affect later encounters depending on how the PCs perform. My son was a Nautolan Warrior named Pon, while my friend Tommy played a Kel Dor Sentinel named Tarast.



*****SPOILERS FOR THE ADVENTURE BELOW*****



The adventure opens with the PCs arriving at the planet, separately (presumably, but this doesn't really matter), and leads in to them having to ascend a cliff face. Regardless of what they roll, they'll get up the cliff, but the ease in which they handle it directly impacts the next scene.

From there they get to negotiate with a Cerean Holocron Projection, whose initial attitude is determined by how easily they made it up the cliff, and is modified by how they approach him. Again, how this encounter ends can affect the later adventure, as he will not be helpful if he doesn't think them suitably heroic.

This manifests immediately in encounter 3, in which the heroes face off with hunters, and the beginning initiative is determined by whether or not the  Cerean Jedi leads the hunters to the heroes! This should be an easy fight (my players got a heads up, and my son went in fighting - as his character is built to do - while Tommy played it stealthy to help take them out). The railroad kicks back in after the fight, when they wind up in a pit.

This is the point in which the heroes access their Force Powers and have to try to make it out of the pit. I will tell you...these beginning characters in no way resemble the prequel Jedi, and are muuuuuuch close to maybe Luke, pre-Yoda, struggling to move his lightsaber. Of course, the temptation of using the Dark Side is there.

At this point, you can kick it off the rails, as a number of locations are loosely detailed in the book, so the heroes can freeroam a bit before making their way to the temple. The included encounters are lightly detailed, so a novice GM may struggle a bit, but the heroes can learn that the Dark Side is definitely influencing this planet in a bad way.

Once back on track, the PCs have to cross a guarded bridge. This is where we learned that Tommy's character was a lyin' SOB, as he did a great job of BSing the mercenaries guarding the bridge and getting past them with no issues.

The approach to the temple includes crazed wolves, so even if they avoid the mercs, they have more combat in their future, but the wolves are still meant to be fairly easy to beat.

Finally, they enter the temple and have to deal with Malefax and his bodyguards. First, Tarast managed to convince these guards to run off before they got sacrificed by the crazed Malefax. The fight itself was incredibly short-lived, with Tarast carving him up with a lightsaber. Turns out, very little soaks a lightsaber, and Malefax is pretty well meant to have the mercs with him to fight. Since he didn't, and since the lightsaber does so much damage, the whole fight was over before the second round ended.

The set also includes a double sided poster map of relevant adventure locations, and you can download a follow up adventure that picks up right where the boxed set adventure leaves off.

The booklets including the dice symbols and results made it super easy to track in play, and my player Tommy was actually doing a lot of the dice reading for me pretty fast.

My son loved it and Tommy liked it, with my son's only complaint being that he wanted to make his own character.

I liked the system, but sometimes narrating Advantage and Threat got problematic, so I would then default to giving them a Boost or Setback dice if I had nothing better planned.

Lightsaber combat is deadly (duh), but some kind of warning about how underpowered Malefax is for fighting the other two Force Users would have been nice, as I don't think the fight is meant to be a complete curb stomp. I've seen some folks complain about Malefax's name, but c'mon, this is a world with such subtle names as Darth Sidious and Darth Tyrannus.

The Dark Side corruption system is very nice and tempting, and always there when they need a hand. I never saw any of my players truly tempted, but I would love to see it in play in a longer term, higher stakes game.

CONCLUSION: Well, I liked it well enough that I own the Force and Destiny core book (when my son said he loved the game, but wanted to make his own character, it made pulling the trigger easy to do), and I now have the Age of Rebellion core and GM Screen, and Edge of the Empire beginner game, with the Edge of the Empire core on its way...so they kind of hooked me. Looking forward to lots of Star Wars fun with my kid.

The adventure (like all the books) is set in the Rebellion era, but it would be incredibly easy to move it around to whatever era you prefer, given the secluded planet angle (and the fact that Star Wars seems to have incredibly similar stand-ins for certain setting elements no matter the era). For a beginner game, I thought it was incredibly well made, with very instructive character sheets and plenty of hand-holding references for reading and interpreting the dice. So, thumbs way up if you're not completely sold on the previous Star Wars games, and/or if you want something a little more narrative in nature, the Force and Destiny Beginner's Game is a great way to dip your toes in the water. I got it as a gift, and jumped into the not-insignificant investment of the three corebooks (though I bargain hunt like crazy). It retails for $30, you can find it for about $20 if you bargain hunt, and if you like the game, you already have a set of the funny dice. Not a bad deal.