Wednesday, November 26, 2014

At the Ready

Ulla Pirim settled into the cockpit of the X-Wing fighter, fastening the five-point harness for the acceleration chair as he surveyed the control console. All systems seemed to be functioning normally, since no red telltales were illuminated. Satisfied, he pressed the stud that activated his subspace comm.

“Tierfon Base Command,” he declared, “this is Blue Five, activating repulsorlifts.”

“Roger that,” a familiar voice responded. “We're ready for you.”

“Then here we go.” Pushing forward on the throttle, Pirim eased the starfighter out of its stall in the underground fighter base. In his mind's eye he could already see the distinctly-shaped TIE fighters that lurked in space beyond the planet's atmosphere, with the unmistakable wedge of an Imperial star destroyer hanging in the void behind them. Pirim saw himself shooting out of Tierfon Base's hanger, streaking out to meet them, opening up with his four wingtip-mounted lasers and perhaps even the proton torpedoes. It would be a pitched battle, one filled with desperate maneuvers and shots both lucky and unlucky. He didn't know whether or not he would survive it, nor did he expect to do so.

Slowly he steered the X-Wing past the last of the stalls in Tierfon's spacious hangar. Then, after a quick pivot, he let the craft settle back onto its landing gear and then hit the combination of switches that put the starfighter into standby mode.

“Tierfon Base Command,” he announced, “Blue Five is in the ready position.” Satisfied, he ran a loving hand over the ship's controls, and then popped the canopy and exited.

“Roger that,” Command responded. “Thanks, Pirim. Over and out.”

Ulla Pirim
NPC Starfighter Technician (Minion)

Brawn 2 Agility 2 Intellect 2
Cunning 2 Willpower 2 Presence 2

Soak: 2
Wound Threshold: 5
M/R Defense: 0 / 0

Skills [Group Only]: Computers, Mechanics, Piloting (Planetary), Piloting (Space), Ranged (Light).

Talents: None.

Abilities: None.

Equipment: Rebel Alliance uniform, datapad, toolkit, Light blaster pistol (Ranged [Light]; Damage 5; Critical 4; Range [Medium]: Stun setting).

Ulla Pirim is one of the many beings who provide support services for the Rebels operating out of Tierfon Fighter Base. He is primarily tasked with helping to maintain the X-Wing fighters and other vessels stationed here. Although he dreams of being assigned to one of those ships and taking the battle to the Empire, he knows that such jobs are best left to others; instead, he takes pride in knowing that the vessels are ready when needed. Ulla is a bit of a hero worshipper, and loves to hear the stories of starfighter pilots and Irregulars in the base's common room.

Making Tierfon Base Feel Like Home
The character presented above is a good example of how NPCs can be used to create a sense of familiarity in an Age of Rebellion campaign. For example, pilot characters could each have their own technicians who support them, ones who might comment on damage to vessels after a mission or ask to hear tales of derring-do. Similar NPCs could include the crusty quartermaster who assigns equipment and laments about lost gear; the medic who patches up the PCs' wounds; a commanding officer who offers commentary about a mission that went awry; and even rival pilots and members of other teams.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Another Look at Duty

Apparently details about the accrual rate of Duty during play were left out of the Age of Rebellion core rulebook. A big mistake in proof reading, I guess. This link goes to the FFG forums, where you can find another link to a podcast interview with one of the developers. In that podcast are a few tidbits about Duty.

The Problem

Suffice it to say, according to the FFG developer interviewed in that podcast, players can earn 1-10 duty points per major accomplishment on behalf of the Alliance. I would suggest that the completion of an adventure story arc would qualify. My goal here is to figure out how Duty and XP are related.

If we assume a standard Star Wars adventure is supplied in three acts, wherein each act is composed of 2-3 major encounters and a handful of minor ones, we would guess that each adventure would net the PCs something like 35 XP. (10 XP per session/act, +5XP for completion of a story arc). This same completed adventure would yield between 1-10 Duty points. I guess we'll say 5, as we should save the "10" for blowing up the Death Star. The rate of assigning Duty is up to the GM.

This becomes a real problem if we assume that Duty is 7 times more rare than XP (i.e. giving only 5 Duty points per completed Story Arc that yields 35 XP for the PCs).

To simply become trusted members of the Rebel Alliance, AOR CRB Table 9-3 says you should have a Contribution rating of 2+. A fresh party of 4 PCs would have to have accrued 40 Duty each to get to this point. In our example, they'd have to have gained 280 XP; that is, they'd have to have completed 8 full adventures for the Alliance before they are even looked at as not suspicious. Even worse, adding 280 XP to a starting character in this way still only makes them a "Sergeant to Warrant Officer" rank in the Alliance Military. Adding 280 XP to a starting character would make for a very powerful yet low ranking PC, indeed!

Think about the stat block for a PC trying to be Admiral Ackbar, for instance. If he gained his "Contribution Rank" of 14+ in this way, he would have accrued at least 340 Duty points, meaning his character would likely have earned 2380 XP. Unbelievable!

Taking a look at the Commander: Commodore specialization, a great choice for our Ackbar wannabe, you can max out the full talent tree for a mere 300 XP, and get the maximum 5 ranks in all 8 career skills for only 600 XP more. Accounting for the something like 100 XP already spent during character creation, the maxed out character still has 1580 XP to spend somewhere else. That's more than enough to max out another career's talent tree and skills!

Let's be generous and say the GM grants the full 10 Duty points per completed story arc. This only cuts the problem illustrated above in half. It's much better, of course, but still not ideal.

The Pattern from Table 9-3

New Recruits (2 spots, Contribution rank = 0-1)
Tested Soldiers (3 spots, rank 2-4)
Veteran Soldiers (4 spots, rank 5-8)
Top Brass (5 spots, rank 9-13)
Alliance High Command (rank 14+)

The last entry simply lists a Contribution rank of "14+". We could assume that the pattern would continue, however, and the highest table entry would have 6 spots, and therefore a rank range of 14-19.

Using this logic, we can take a Contribution rank of 19 as the absolute maximum and see where the argument takes us.

Fixing this Mess

Let's assume that if a PC ever did max out their talent tree and career skill ranks, they'd be the highest ranking individual of that type in the entire Alliance. They'd be the most qualified, anyway! Furthermore, I do not assume that any heroic character from the Rebel Alliance High Command has actually maxed out their talent tree and career skills.

That suggests that ~900 XP = Contribution rank of 19.

As a group of PCs, you only get to a Contribution rank of 19 by accruing 100 Duty points 18 times, plus (100 - starting party Duty) once. Regardless individual choices at character creation, this is something like 1800-1860 total Duty points.

A group of 4 PCs would have to earn 450-465 Duty points each to get there, suggesting 2 XP = 1 Duty.

A group of 6 PCs would have to earn 300-310 Duty points each, suggesting 3 XP = 1 Duty.

Using this method, a party of four raw recruits to the Rebel Alliance become trusted collaborators after they complete two-and-a-half missions or so. They require 40 Duty points each to make it to Contribution rank 2, and each Duty point is worth 2 XP. Thus 80 XP, divided by 35 XP per completed story arc = 2.3 full adventures.

A party of four PCs could be eligible for placement within Alliance High Command (Contribution 14+) after gaining 1300 total Duty points (325 each); something like 650 XP, or 18.5 complete adventures, or 56 gaming sessions: more than a year of playing weekly.

That might be a bit fast for some, I guess, but to me it seems better than the rules as written.

Starting at Higher Levels of Contribution Rank

This is where I really wanted to end up. I want to figure out how much extra XP to give PCs who start out as trusted members of the Rebel Alliance.

For instance, I do not envision that any SpecForce team members have a Contribution rating lower than 2. That doesn't make sense to me. Each of them would be a highly trained, highly skilled, and highly trusted individual.

The weird thing is this depends a bit on party size.

Group of 2 PCs @ Contribution rank 2 = give each PC an extra 80 XP

Group of 3 PCs @ Contribution rank 2 = give each PC an extra 77.5 XP

Group of 4 PCs @ Contribution rank 2 = give each PC an extra 80 XP

Group of 5 PCs @ Contribution rank 2 = give each PC an extra 75 XP

Group of 6+ PCs @ Contribution rank 2 = give each PC an extra 84 XP

I would likely go out on a limb and say just 80 XP extra for newly created PCs that are already "trusted members of the Rebel Alliance".

The Rest

If you'd like to make a high ranking starting character, here are the rest of the CR vs Bonus XP values. BTW, if I were a betting man, I'd guess this whole game is mathematically balanced for 4 PCs.

New Recruits/Untested Collaborators
CR 0 = + 0 XP (Enlisted personnel)
CR 1 = +30 XP

Tested Soldiers/Trusted Collaborators
CR 2 = +80 XP (SpecForce minimum)
CR 3 = +130 XP (Flight Cadet, i.e. rookie starfighter pilot)
CR 4 = +180 XP (Junior Officers and most starfighter pilots)

Veteran Soldier/Important Collaborator
CR 5 = +230 XP
CR 6 = +280 XP (Starfighter Squadron Leader)
CR 7 = +330 XP
CR 8 = +380 XP (Senior Officers)

Top Brass/Vital Collaborator
CR 9 = +430 XP
CR10 = +480 XP
CR 11 = +530 XP (Flag Officers)
CR 12 = +580 XP
CR 13 = +630 XP

Member of Alliance High Command
CR 14 = +680 XP (Top rank in a given service branch)
CR 15 = +730 XP (theoretical only)
CR 16 = +780 XP (theoretical only)
CR 17 = +830 XP (theoretical only)
CR 18 = +880 XP (theoretical only)
CR 19 = +930 XP (theoretical only)

One more note: the chart above only applies to PC heroes who quickly earn their stripes (literally) through actions above and beyond the call of duty (no pun intended). I think there is a slower, non-XP related method for NPCs to rise in rank in the service to the Rebel Alliance without accruing all sorts of awesome life skills (like Talents, Skill Ranks, etc). I do not think that all NPC Junior Officers in the Alliance Naval branch have earned (and spent on their stats) an extra 180 XP, for instance. Some of them have been in the military for a long time, and have slowly risen up the chain of command. This chart is only for PCs, like Luke Skywalker, whose meteoric rise through the ranks was fueled by heroic action.

What are your thoughts on the matter? Share them in the comments section, below!

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Training Exercises

The most recent episode of Star Wars: Rebels struck a chord with me. Entitled “Breaking Ranks,” it saw young Ezra Bridger infiltrating an Imperial training facility by impersonating a cadet. In addition to undertaking his mission, he participated in some training exercises. This reminded me of the episode “Clone Cadets” from season 3 of The Clone Wars. In both cases, we see characters practicing situations in controlled environments. Using these simulations, in my opinion, can have numerous benefits in a campaign.

1. They help make Tierfon base feel like a familiar place.
Most assignments will take the PCs away from Tierfon, to other worlds. Including scenes in which the heroes do some training onplanet helps to reinforce the notion that it is their home. That way, no matter where a given adventure is to take place, the PCs also see some action close to their base of operations.

2. They incorporate NPCs for troupe-style play.
A previous article mentioned the benefits of troupe-style play, in which Tierfon is filled with a variety of characters. Since most of these NPCs aren't involved when the PCs take off for missions on other worlds, a bit of training allows these characters to play a regular role in adventures. This could include a physically fit, demanding drill sergeant; a tech-savvy, but socially awkward engineer; a boastful, yet skilled pilot; etc. Such characters could be conducting the training exercises, or could compete against the PCs in them.

3. They take the PCs out of their comfort zones.
It is an important element of game balance that characters have strength and weaknesses. Hopefully, any given mission provides opportunities for all of the PCs to shine. On the other hand, putting the characters into situations where some of them will fail can make for good roleplaying opportunities. Nothing adds flavor like a little humble pie.

4. They create a sense that the PCs are part of a military organization.
All too often, Rebel agents—especially irregulars—seem like loose cannons, ones who are unconnected to any kind of governing body. Having to take some time for training, especially while having a drill sergeant shouting “Move it, move it, move it!” during the exercise, can help ameliorate that perceived disconnect.

5. They can act like a pre-title sequence.
The James Bond movies are a classic example of this. Sometimes missions start with a briefing which, although important, isn't filled with action. Starting with a training exercise can allow for some dice rolling and fun before getting down to business.

6. They can provide a chance to troubleshoot difficult situations.
Should the PCs be facing a truly difficult challenge, they might be given an opportunity to try out a simulation of it before attempting the real thing. This could be especially useful for starfighter combat situations, which can prove lethal if the heroes aren't properly prepared.

Some Sample Training Exercises
Detailed here are some options for training exercises that incorporate different Age of Rebellion skills.
  • Astrogation—Navigate a difficult hyperspace jump via a simulator, especially when timed, with the results (good or bad) being provided.
  • Athletics—Scale a rock face, swim a body of water, or navigate an obstacle course, perhaps while carrying a heavy pack.
  • Brawl and Melee—Win non-lethal bouts against other competitors.
  • Computers—Bypass a security code before an alarm is triggered.
  • Coordination—Traverse a narrow ledge, a tight passage, or something similar. (This could be part of the aforementioned obstacle course.)
  • Discipline—Stand at attention for an extended period of time, perhaps in cold or hot conditions.
  • Gunnery, Ranged (Heavy) and Ranged (Light)—Win skeet-style shooting contests against other characters.
  • Mechanics—Field strip and rebuild an item in a set amount of time.
  • Perception—Watch out for approaching SpecForce operatives who, in heavy camouflage, are approaching the characters' position.
  • Piloting—Handle various simulated situations, possibly including one that is impossible to beat.
  • Resilience—Run a long and grueling course.
  • Skulduggery—Bypass mechanical security or filch an item from an unsuspecting associate.
  • Stealth—Sneak up on other candidates who are making Perception checks to notice approaching “enemies.”
  • Survival—Spend a certain amount of item in the wilderness with limited supplies.
Indeed, a GM could fill a session with these kinds of training exercises, and perhaps even award experience points to the characters for undergoing them.

Keeping Track of the Results
As a final note, the GM might want to keep track of the best results achieved for each of these challenges. Tierfon Base could have a Wall of Fame, posting the names of those Rebels who have proven most capable in each category.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Resources, Resources, Resources

With this post I'd like to start a list of useful links for running Age of Rebellion adventures and campaigns. These are sites maintained by other people that have lots of good information. I'll keep updating as I find more, too.


Fantasy Flight's AoR Message Board
This is the place for discussing rules questions, adventure ideas and the like.

d6 Holocron
This one has plenty of resources for the old d6 SWRPG from West End Games. Two favorite supplements of mine are the Rebel Alliance Sourcebook and Rules of Engagement.

The Official Star Wars Website
I'd be remiss if I didn't mention this.

This is probably the greatest repository of Star Wars information on the Internet.

The Force.Net
A great source for news about developments in a galaxy far, far away.