Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Tell Me About Your Character: Ep.2- A Galaxy Far, Far Away

And so it begins...

Box Text:
Following in the footsteps of Matt McFarland, my fellow Saturday Morning Gamers, Jonathan and Geoff, have begun to slog through their RPG collections and they are making a character for each game. My plan is to do the same, with a slight variant. A lot of my collection is made up of several editions of the same game or setting (D&D, Marvel, Star Wars, Star Trek, Shadowrun, etc.). So while I will document the characters and process for most games normally, for those with multiple editions I will be making one character and remaking the same character for each edition. Ideally, this should give some insight to some of the decisions the design teams made and how they differ even with the same subject matter.

Wherever possible, I am using randomized stats or whatever the most common methods were to build characters at the time and core books rather than entire game libraries to give the entry level experience. Oh sure, there will be some games that I'll pull out all the stops and use half a dozen game books to create a fleshed out character. But that will be a rare occurrence.

Also, I'm not going to be showing you optimized characters. First, that's not how I build characters, I'm a story guy. But more importantly,this column is about the process, not the result.

For now, let's dive into a character created from games spanning three decades and all kinds of dice mechanics.

We'll start with the character and concept first:

A long time ago...

Why Star Wars? Have you seen Rogue One yet? Hell yeah, Star Wars!

Disclaimer: If you haven't seen Rogue One yet, stop reading this. Leave your house, go to the theater, watch the great movie, and come back to thank me later. You can owe me later.

Soooooo.... I knew I'd be starting with the WEG Star Wars game and after decades of playing that system, I was more than a little familiar with the templates they designed for character creation. So, before I began to flesh anything out, I had my wife randomly choose a number between 1-16 (the number of templates in the main book). Her pick? 3. Brash Pilot.

So,that meant a rebel pilot character across all 4 games- this mattered especially for the Fantasy Flight game since it would decide which game I would be using (more on that later).

I'd always intended this character to be built as if I was playing the excellent WEG campaign,Darkstryder. For those of you that don't know about Darkstryder, the players have several characters aboard a modified Corellian Corvette called the Farstar. You are behind enemy lines, chased by an Inquisitor, possibly infiltrated by traitorous elements.. oh, and the Captain is dead. Basically,it plays like Battlestar Galactica in the Star Wars universe.

Yes, I changed the Farstar's mission patch to Aurebesh. Sue me.
Darkstryder is a low force campaign, so I would have had my wife "reroll" any of the three force-user classes. It's still Star Wars, so Force sensitive characters are okay.  Just no Jedi. That being said, I knew my pilot was going to be Force sensitive.

I also wanted to pull away from the Maverick/Top Gun style of over-the-top pilot that thinks they're the best even when they can't see the forest for the trees. I wanted someone more cerebral. Someone that could think, not just act. I was trying to build Apollo from BSG or Wedge Antilles, not the Last Starfighter. For me, this meant giving him somethingto fight for, but making that something that would make him think twice. Luckily, the Star Wars Universe has that in spades- especially with Alderaan.

I also needed a name. Wizards of the Coast is always my biggest help there when it comes to Star Wars. About a year after they released the Revised Core Rules, WOTC put out the Galactic Campaign Guide. It was meant to be a fast, easy reference for GMs to make quick NPCs, ships, planets, and encounters. But it has a bunch of random tables with names, personality types, quirks, etc. for every race available in the game at the time. And we like random tables. And so, Vyntal Drase was born. I also could pick out Personality types, Identifying marks, Height, Weight, Hair, and Skin color from WOTC's charts, so I did that ahead of time.

As a fan of BSG (both versions), and fighter pilot movies like Top Gun, I truly believe all pilots should have a callsign. And yes, I know in Star Wars they often just use their squadron designation (as in Red 5, Rogue Leader, Specter 4). That's a cop out because George Lucas sucks at this kind of thing. Fuck that, they get a name. Pilots thriveon that kind of camaraderie.

Problem is, I was at a loss. In the Rebel Legion (the good-guy arm of the 501st Costume group) I dress as a Rebel Pilot with the callsign Hooligan. While I could fallback to there, it doesn't fit the image of Vyntal I'd already begun to create in my mind. When I'm at a loss, I'll sometimes look through old toys from my youth. GI Joe, MASK, Robotech, Starcom, and Transformers have provided names to many of my favorite pilots, ships, and superheroes over the years. And they came through with the Aerialbot called Slingshot.

Who is Vyntal "Slingshot" Drase?

Vyntal (Vyn for short) grew up on Alderaan, the son of a pair of free traders. While Vyn could still barely walk, Castin and Iella took him throughout the core worlds as they continued to make contacts and move freight. By eight, he could already fly a shuttle and was considered one of the best pilots in the Drase's operation before his twelfth birthday.

Any dreams Vyn had of joining the Alderaan Space Control fleet when he grew up died a crib death as the Death Star destroyed Alderaan while the Drases were making a habitation module shipment to Corellia. Sure the Drase family spent half the year off planet, but Alderaan was their home and the terror of the Holonet's coverage of the disaster grew in the small family right from the start.

Castin wasted no time. He had contacts in the Rebel Alliance from years of delivering weapons and foodstuffs to their bases and ships throughout the known worlds. He hadn't chosen a side,until the Empire chose it for him. He signed up to direct supply lines and fly a freighter when needed. But Castin was wise enough to keep his family far from it all. Iella set up a speeder repair shop in Coronet City on Corellia until Vyn passed the age of consent. Two years later, Iella and Vyn joined Castin at the rebel base on Talus.

At nineteen, Vyn was considered a bit too untested to be trusted to fly one of the Rebellion's few remaining starfighters, but a few months of seeing his calculated and precise piloting of speeders and transports was all it took to get him drafted for heavier lifting.

It was his squadron mates that gave Vyn the name "Slingshot." Vyn had earned a reputation for always being in the right place at the right time. Sometimes, Vyn would seem to be far from a target or wingmate, but would appear just in time to blast a Tie fighter or drop the payload- whatever was needed. "It's almost as if Vyn knows what's coming before it happens," Lt. Lara Hannser once mused, "or he was shot out of a slingshot to get there just in time."

Star Wars: The Roleplaying Game (Second Edition)
By West End Games, 1992

West End Games released it's first edition of Star Wars: The Roleplaying Game in 1987. It was based on their earlier Ghostbusters RPG and created much of what became the expanded universe.

How much, you ask? When Timothy Zahn was hired to write Heir to the Empire and the rest of the Thrawn Trilogy, Lucasfilm sent him a care package of West End Games' Star Wars material to study and from which to base the background of his story. This included species names like Twi'lek and Rodian and much of what was created for this game still exists in Disney's canon for Star Wars today.

West End Games' Star Wars:The Roleplaying Game (sometimes called by it's current name, the d6 System) is a skill based system. Each skills fall under one of six attributes (Dexterity, Knowledge, Mechanical, Perception, Strength, and Technical) which are assigned numbers to tell you how many 6-sided dice to roll. All skills under an attribute roll at least that attribute's amount of dice when untrained, but if your character is trained in a skill, they can roll more (sometimes many more) dice. It's also possible to specialize in certain aspects of a skill to be better at some part of what that skill purveys.

For instance, a Smuggler is a fairly agile template and rolls 3 dice for a Dexterity check and adds 1 to the final result (this reads on the character sheet as 3D+1).  Her player might have sunk some points in the Blaster skill (which falls under Dexterity) to make the smuggler a really good shot at 5D+1. However, that smuggler has a trusty heavy blaster that never leaves her side, so the player adds a specialization in Heavy Blasters that is 6D+1. That means this smuggler rolls 6 six-sided to take a shot and adds 1 to the sum of all those dice. Like most games on this list, these results are rolled against either a difficulty number decided upon by the GM or opposed by an opponent's rolls.

Building Vyntal was going to be a breeze in this system. First, because I didn't want to make something from scratch, I chose one of the 16 pregenerated templates in the core book (There are actually many more in the revised edition and supplement books like the Tramp Freighter Captain or New Republic Pilot). These templates offer a wide range of character types and nearly every character in sci-fi could be created from these alone. In this case, Mary had chosen for me: the Brash Pilot template.

The template gave me Vyntal's base attributes, his skill list, starting equipment, and spaces for personality, background,connection to other characters, physical description, objectives, and even a place fora quote. These I filled in immediately from my concept, story, and things I rolled up in the Galactic Campaign Guide.

Following this,beginning characters have 7D to allocate to the skills on their template, but no skill can be raised past 7D and no more than 2D can be allocated to any one skill. Vyntal was going to be at his best in a cockpit, so I didn't feel the need to up his Blaster skill past his Dexterity's ample 3D. Dodge,however could use 1D. I applied 2D to Starfighter piloting then 1D to each of Starship Gunnery and Starship Repair. I wanted Vyntal to be able to talk to people, but not exactly a scoundrel so 1D was added to persuasion. And because pilots get in fights, I couldn't go wrong by adding 1D to Brawling.

Next, characters get to pick 3 skill specializations. Vyn has been flying X-wings exclusively for a few years now and knows their quirks better than his family's. So I gave him an X-wing Specialization for Starship Piloting and Starship Repair, and a Laser Cannon specialty for Starship Gunnery.

Finally, there's the Force. This is Star Wars, so it makes sense to show you how it affects character creation. For now, it just means that Vyn gets 2 Force points instead of 1, giving him the ability to roll more dice in certain situations more often than non-force sensitive folks. Eventually, this ability would affect Vyn a great deal as it opens up force powers and the ability to sense or change his surroundings with space magic. But for now, it's not that big a deal.

Star Wars Roleplaying Game (Revised Core Rules)
By Wizards of the Coast, 2002

After West End Games ended their relationship with Lucasfilm (and went bankrupt), Wizards of the Coast got the rights to Star Wars. Around the time of the release of Episode 1: The Phantom Menace, WOTC released the first edition of its D20 adaption of Star Wars with a second edition called Revised Core Rules a couple years later to clean up the system a bit.

For the most part, this game is the standard D20 RPG introduced with Dungeons and Dragons 3.0: it has the same six attributes, classes, levels, feats, and skills. Actions are resolved by rolling a twenty-sided die, adding your character's modifier, and comparing the results to a difficulty number or the GM's roll. Higher numbers win.

Where Star Wars diverged from its pedigree was in the details. The races and classes didn't quite resemble D&D, skills and feats worked the same but were flavored for the Star Wars universe, and Hit Points were separated into Vitality Points (for superficial damage) and Wound Points (for more serious injury).

This was my least favorite build. The Revised Core Rules doesn't feel particularly like Star Wars and actually suffers from its parent system. Sure, character creation is easy because I've built more D20 characters than all other games put together, but in RCR the characters only seem different in very small ways at low levels. Sure it can be argued that the variety in stats and feats is the qualifying measure, but it's only barely so.

So, Vyntal. In this version of the rules, I knew Vyn would need a lot of feats to make him even remotely a pilot. There's a real lack of specialty in this system, so basically other than one feat, I built him just like I would any other character with a gun that was something other than a scholar or face character. Vyntal is a Human Soldier with a high Dexterity, average Strength, and slightly better than average everything else. I didn't want to min-max too much here, because I envisioned him to be more of a person than a video game character.

Other than the normal soldier starting feats, he got Starship Operation and Force-Sensitive because they are part of his background already. For skills I went with piloting and mechanics, some astrogation and knowledge of planetary systems, and some talking ability. Nothing special, just the basics. But other than maybe a skill or two, it's the same I would build for an Endor Trooper, an elite officer, or some hutt's arena gladiator. That's the problem here. Maybe if this version of Vyn was played to high levels he'd feel more like a pilot, but that's like playing a video game for the end content only. What's the point?

Star Wars Roleplaying Game (Saga Edition)
By Wizards of the Coast, 2007

In 2007, WOTC did a line-wide overhaul of their Star Wars RPG. Saga Edition was more than just a streamlining. While gaming had moved to make more use of miniatures in RPGs, Saga embraced this. The Vitality/Wound system was flawed and cumbersome, so Saga returned to Hit Points. Classes were reduced to five, but they were given specialized "talent" trees that made characters from the same class vastly different. Saving throws were gone and replaced with "Defenses" that married the old saves to armor class. And skills were paired down with skill points all but eliminated, instead characters had "trained" skills that would advance as the character leveled up.

There were also some new tricks. Characters had a Destiny that had a rules component to give their characters onus to be part of the story and the feeling of the movies instead of gritty realism. Force sensitive characters had a skill that would handle most minor Force use as well as a repertoire of powers and other abilities.

Honestly, Saga Edition was an improvement on its predecessor in every way. If the design concepts that went into Saga made their way back into Dungeons & Dragons, I'd likely not be playing Pathfinder today.

Back to Vyntal.

I started by bringing over the same attributes I had in Revised Core. That wouldn't need to change much. But this time, with some pretty awesome talents waiting for him, we were going for the Scoundrel class instead of Soldier like the last version. All beginning characters get a talent from their class, so from Scoundrel I gave Vyn the Spacehound talent. Mostly this just give him the ability to deal with zero G environments and makes him proficient with starship weapons. But in a couple levels he'd get Starship Raider or Stellar Warrior to get bonuses to attack rolls and temporary Force points while on a starship- perfect for a pilot!

For Feats and Skills SAGAVyn stayed close to the RCR version. Force Sensitivity gave him the ability to use the Use the Force skill this time (which I took) and the Vehicular Combat Feat lets him avoid damage to any ship he pilots- much more useful than in RCR.

While not as specialized and not as good a fit as the West End Games version of the character, this is
a good compromise between the systems. It uses some of what made d6 work with one of the best versions of D20 ever. As this version of Vyn went up in levels, there would be more and more to add to make him an effective representation of his concept- especially once the Ace Pilot prestige class could be applied.

Star Wars Roleplaying Game (Age of Rebellion)
By Fantasy Flight Games, 2014

In 2010, WOTC decided not to renew their license for Star Wars. This was thought to be the death knell for the Star Wars gaming franchise. But lo and behold, here came Fantasy Flight with fancy dice and something new in 2012.

Fantasy Flight's Star Wars Roleplaying Game is actually three standalone games with each one meant to play a specific flavor of character and campaign. 2012's Star Wars: Edge of the Empire was tailored around smugglers, bounty hunters, pirates, and other fringe elements of the Star Wars universe. Star Wars: Age of Rebellion centered on soldiers, pilots, and diplomats of the Rebel Alliance in their struggle against the Empire. Finally, in 2015 there was Star Wars: Force and Destiny to play the last few Jedi hidden under the watchful eye of the Empire. Each game is interchangeable with only a few mechanics specific to each flavor (Duty for Age of Rebellion, Morality for Force and Destiny, and Obligations for Edge of the Empire). These rules really have more to do with how the gamemaster adds complications or boons to the group as a whole, so the various mechanics do little to interfere with each other in gameplay.

Each version of the rpg had a Beginners Box released with simplified rules, dice, pregenerated characters, and a multi-session adventure to play. There was also a fourth Beginner Game released in 2016 for The Force Awakens, but this was meant to pull from all three parts of the RPG instead of acting as a precursor to a fourth iteration of Fantasy Flight's Star Wars.

Fantasy Flight's Star Wars uses special dice similar to their last edition of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay. These measure results on two axis, success/failure and advantage/disadvantage. While normally only one success is required to succeed at a test, the other axis could mean you missed the target but pinned the enemy down so that your teammate might have an easier time hitting them on their turn (Failure and Advantage) or you climbed up the hill but accidentally kicked a rock making it easier for the enemies below to realize you're there (Success and Disadvantage), or some other variety. You get the idea.

When you roll dice in this game, you gather a dice pool. It's made up of Green d8's (Ability Die) from your attributes, Yellow d12's (Proficiency Die) for abilities you have some skill at, and light blue d6's (Boost die) from advantageous factors like higher ground, insight from previous turns, or the like. On the negative side there are purple d8's (Difficulty Die) where the harder it is to do something the more purples are rolled, red d12's (Challenge Die) for opposing skills ore really difficult situations, and black d6's (Setback Die) for when things really aren't going your way.

The results on the dice are Success (explosion symbol)/Failure (caltrop symbol), Advantage (a pip in a wreath)/Threat (a pip on the central facet of a faceted sphere), or Critical Success ("Triumph", a starburst in a circle)/Critical Failure ("Despair", a triangle in a circle). Blank faces confer no benefit or penalty. The result depends on subtracting the lower result from the higher result on an axis. A result of 5 Successes and 3 Failures is a Success of 2. A result of 2 Advantages and 5 Threats is a Threat of 3. However, Triumph and Despair do not cancel each other out and double as a Success or Failure result; a result of no Triumphs and 1 Despair is 1 Critical Failure / +1 normal Failure. These results mean that the character made the Skill roll with a bonus of 1 Success, but suffered 3 Threats and 1 Despair as well. The Game Master would interpret the result to indicate what problems and difficulties would happen next.

For example, a Rebel commando bumps into a squad of Stormtroopers turning around a corner and he shoots his blaster at them. The player rolls the 1 Success, 3 Threats, and 1 Despair from the above example. His blaster shot hits (1 Success) and does the blaster rifle's base damage +1 (from the number of Successes). The Game Master interprets the negative results to mean that the commando suffers 1 point of Strain (1 Threat), suffers 1 Black Die on the next skill roll (2 Threats), and the power cell in his blaster ran out and needs to be reloaded (1 Despair).

There's also a white d12 (the Force Die) that has the double duty of calculating Force Tokens (think Luck or Hero points) and powering Force powers. These don't get used nearly as much.

Characters have Attributes and Skills similar to previous Star Wars games. Their Attribute score (numbered 1-6) tells a player how many Green d8's to roll. If they are skilled in the skill requiring a roll, their skill's score tells the player how many of those d8's to make yellow d12's with a greater chance for success. There is some wackiness to numbers but after a roll or two it makes sense.

There are also derived abilities: Strain, Wounds, and Soak. Strain (seen in the example above) tells you how much physical, mental, or emotional stress the character can take before passing out. Wounds are all about physical damage, and Soak is the protection gained from clothes, armor, or natural toughness.

Fantasy Flight brought together all the things that worked in all previous Star Wars games and found a balance that should not have worked at all. But it REALLY REALLY does. Once again characters are really specialized, but in a way that makes sense and is really well balanced between careers and specializations. More than anything else, I've described it as WEG Star Wars through the lens of Saga Edition.

So, on to our friend Vyntal Drase.

Step 1 is to create a character concept/background. I did that three games ago, we're good.

So now it's to the Age of Rebellion specific mechanic: Duty. Of course all the characters in Age of Rebellion want to defeat the Empire. This is HOW your specific character expects to attain this and what they bring to the table. For Vyn it's easy- Space Superiority. He knows he belongs in the cockpit and what cards he has up his sleeve. This is also a team mechanic that stacks and can affect the team's resources within the Alliance, and the GM will make rolls to have it apply in game at random times. Working with an estimated group score, I figured on starting with 15 duty. This lets me spend some to make Vyn better. I spent 10 to give him more XP.

After picking a species (you, still a boring ol' human), it's time for career and specialization. The Ace career is full of pilots, drivers, beast riders and the like so Ace career, Pilot Specialization was a given. These allowed me to choose six trained skill levels after the two free non-career skill levels for being human.

Finally I get to spend the starting human XP and bonus Duty XP to flesh him out. So I raised his Agility (where piloting comes from) and Cunning (street smarts)a bit, added to his skills, and gave him a second specialization: Force Sensitive Emergent. Like the Pilot specialization this opened a talent tree to spend XP on. In this case,the Uncanny Senses talent to make him supernaturally aware- especially when flying.

A little fleshing out and spending some credits and we're all done.

This felt like the best version of the character. From the beginning, he felt as close to the core concept as the West End Games version and far, far ahead of anything WOTC offered. But while the WEG version would not change all that much as the game wore on, the Fantasy Flight version would adapt and grow similar to Saga Edition.

Annnnd that's all folks! Sorry it ran so long, but there was a lot to talk about.
The running list of characters can be found here. If you have any other ideas for games not on that list, or know what you'd like me to dive into next, drop me a line.



  1. I have looked everywhere to find the D20 sheet you used for Slingshot. Is there any chance you have an active link or even just a blank one you would post? Not the Saga Edition. The first one you posted with the black bold design at the top.

  2. I have no idea where I found it, but I still have a copy in my hard drive. Shoot me an email at Tsalamirgmail and I'll send it your way.