Saturday, February 27, 2016

Tierfon Mission: Underground

Here's the first in a series of mission scenarios for Age of Rebellion; it sends the PCs from Tierfon base to the primitive world Flakax to make contact with potential new allies there.



Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Meet the Fleet, part 2


The lowly TIE fighter, backbone of the fleet, frontline of the Navy. I have Academy Squadron, a dozen ships, all rookies. Cannon fodder, really. I got four of them in the pair of starter sets I own. The rest came from the TIE expansion packs. I have four more alternate paint scheme craft; two of which came with the Gozanti-class cruiser I bought (the other two came from eBay, from someone else's Gozanti-class cruiser).

Such an iconic craft, the Sienar Fleet Systems TIE/ln. You really do need a horde of them to zoom about, spitting fire at the heroes. Nate and I have played some cooperative games using the fan-made "Heroes of the Atauri Cluster" rules. What fun! We'll have to try all eight T-65Bs from Tierfon's Black Squadron against their equivalent weight in TIEs. Would be glorious, indeed. Another cool one would be Rogue Squadron vs Eyeballs. All the named X-wing pilots you can muster against a faceless wave of bad guys. Probably wouldn't happen just like in the X-Wing novels, though. This is not a very nostalgic game. Heroes can be vaped just as easily as no-name pilots.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Lando, ol' buddy...

Just finished this 2014 "Legends" edition of The Lando Calrissian Adventures by L. Neil Smith, originally written in 1983.

This was, without a doubt, the strangest series of Star Wars stories I have ever been a party to, with the possible exception of the Star Wars Holiday Special (Happy Life Day, Itchy, Lumpy, and Bea Arthur!). As I mentioned before, even the names of the individual books would be enough to make a sci-fi nerd pause: Mindharp of Sharu, Flamewind of Oseon, and Starcave of ThonBoka. How about some more odd names: Vuffi Raa and Rokur Gepta. Or "Sorcerer of Tund". Let's just say the only two things in the entire tale that seemed even moderately familiar to a modern Star Wars fan were the Millenium Falcon and good ol' Lando.

To be fair, at the time these were written, the entire Star Wars canon consisted of (in order);

Star Wars: From the Adventures of Luke Skywalker (1976)
Splinter of the Mind's Eye (1978)
The Han Solo Adventures trilogy (1979-80)
The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
Return of the Jedi (1983)

Basically you had three books of the Original Trilogy and four books of "something completely different". I have read Splinter, at some time in the distant past, and I guess I will read it again for completeness, but as I recall it is quite different than the OT. Same with the Han Solo stuff: jetting off to who knows where (Corporate Sector), adding whole new aspects to the universe rather than mining the same old, same old.

That being said, I did find it odd that these Lando tales had so little in them that was recognizable as Star Wars. No mention, really, of the Emperor, or a Rebellion (nascent or not). Instead they were heaped with strange situations and more hard, classic sci-fi (and somewhat outlandish) fare.

There were parts I thoroughly enjoyed. Lando's incessant stream of one-liners and quips, particularly his jabs at his newfound droid companion. His self description as a con-artiste.

Lando's clothes. He constantly worries about his space velvet semi-formal outfits. Funny, and in character.

Sabacc at every opportunity. Every opportunity. With everyone, from shipboard cooks to the ultra-wealthy social elite to the police, including the strangest possible collection of opponents (and locations in which to play).

Cigars. Lando has a cigar for every occasion. He has them stashed in a safe, tucked under control panels, wedged into his spacesuit (he even modified his helmet to accommodate smoking while spacewalking!). Lando sells cigars, borrows cigars, shares cigars with enemies and friends. When his cigars get crushed, he rolls improvised cigarettes from the tobacco...but its not the same. Thus, he dreams of getting more cigars (and does).

Lando's get-rich-quick schemes, that pan out, then fall apart, over and over.

Strange that such a ladies man never picks up any female companionship in the entire trilogy. I suppose it's because he's always out in the middle of nowhere on the edge of civilization.

Many parts were annoying. No real integration into the rest of modern Star Wars lore (which, as I tried to say out the outset, may have been on purpose. At the time they'd be trying to expand Star Wars into something larger than the films, rather than add in subtle detail and nuance to the existing story lines). The main bad guy was confusing and seemingly invincible on one hand, then anti-climatically ended without so much as a whimper.

Too much use of phrases and figures of speech from Earth. The endearing Star Wars in-universe references which became such a hallmark of later novels are missing at this point. I could've used a few mentions of bantha steaks or nerf burgers.

Since the action takes place out in the middle of nowhere, with such a small cast of characters, I kept getting the feeling that I almost don't care what the heck happens. The book feels bleak and empty in some ways, probably due to a lack of an ensemble cast or because the action revolved around Lando accidentally becoming a power villain's nemesis. Lando doesn't even know the bad guy's so worked up about it, initially.

Glad I read it, but now I have to read some more to get the regular Star Wars feel back into mind. That may or may not happen as I dive into the Han Solo Adventures (I have read at least part of them in the past) and the Original Trilogy novelizations. Maybe after that I will pick up Splinter again, then watch Ewoks Caravan of Courage, the Star Wars Holiday Special (here I come, animated Boba Fett and strange erotic(?) scene with Chewie's grandpa!). then the Droids cartoon ....

Friday, February 19, 2016

Meet the Fleet, part 1


This is the first in many posts about the sizable* fleet of X-Wing miniatures I have collected over the last few years. First up is the home team, Black Squadron, currently based at Tierfon. Eight Incom T-65B X-wing starfighters, split into two subgroups: Aurek Flight and Besh Flight. 

In terms of the collection, I got two of these guys in X-Wing Starter sets, one of them with the GR-75 Rebel Transport, and the rest in X-Wing Expansion Packs. I stopped at 8 for two reasons. There are 8 craft based at Tierfon, and there are 8 unique named pilot cards for the miniatures game.

Can't go wrong with these wonderful ships, in my opinion. I'm not much of an actual player of the X-Wing game (I wish I had time to play more), but I love choosing a named pilot, an astromech (usually the correct astromech for that pilot), and a proton torpedo and heading out to vape some TIEs.

As for the actual minis, I see I might need to break off and re-align the mounting peg on at least one of these guys, so they can fly straight. I had to do that on a few other ships so far.

Here's to the T-65! A rugged workhorse of the rebellion.

*How sizable? Well, less than some, I'd wager, but I currently have 73 vessels in my employ. With designs on gathering a few more soon, of course! 

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Lettin' Loose! (Episode 7 SPOILERS!)

Don't tell me that's another Death Star. Oh no. Please no. Not again....

I said I would reserve my spoiler-laden review of The Force Awakens until the new year. Here we are, almost mid-February, and I am willing to let 'er rip.

I liked the movie in many ways. I was happy to meet a few new characters (Poe, Finn, Rey, BB-8) and I loved seeing some old friends (Han, Chewie, Leia, the droids). The beginning of the movie is wonderful, right up until the Starkiller Base.

I can't stand the idea of Starkiller Base for a large number of reasons: the first of which is it represents a weak plot device. A re-tread of a re-tread. Please. No more superweapons. PLEASE.

Worse yet, this particular superweapon is MORE SUPER-ER than the Death Star. They even have a hologram (and a speaking line) to prove it. We are supposed to believe that a splinter faction of the Imperial remnant that fled to the Unknown Regions has somehow, in less than 25 years or so (you have to have the OT civil war end with the Galactic Concordance, followed by the Military Disarmament Act) built a weapon larger and more capable than what the Empire achieved. Not very likely, even in space opera fantasy. Terrible storyline is more like it.

Starkiller Base somehow shot across ~60,000 light years (literally half the distance across the galaxy, through the galactic core) to hit characters on Hosnian Prime we barely even glimpsed, yet alone met. I was not sure exactly who just died until I read the Visual Dictionary. At least the Death Star had the courtesy to actually show up near the planet it was about to vaporize. Sniping from the edge of nowhere seems less...compelling.

On top of the poor story telling relating to who was being shot, we have an absolute train wreck, details-wise. Somehow people 20,000 light years away from the target (Han et al on Takodana), off-axis from the shot (the line between Takodana to Hosnian Prime is perpendicular to the line between Starkiller Base and Hosnian Prime), see the light from the superweapon streak across their sky (right to left...IMPOSSIBLE...look at the galactic map) and hit what appear to be a cluster of moons in orbit around Takodana. What? Wait. Who just shot whom? And where are Han and Rey? What? Who? How did they observe that from that distance? What is going on here?

Next up, Starkiller wants to take a big shot: this time they hope to line up for a 100,000 light year (the galaxy is 120,000 light years, end-to-end) shot on the Resistance HQ of D'Qar. Again, shooting through the galactic core. Somehow people on D'Qar know this, in real time, and can get a countdown clock going.

Almost everything good about this movie was a remake of A New Hope. I mean, droid with secret plans meets a special, Force-sensitive yet untrained outsider protagonist on a desert planet and must get back to Rebel HQ... you have heard that before, right?

Other parts were bad precisely because the tried to remake A New Hope. Countdown clock to Death Star...I mean...Starkiller Base comes leaping to mind.

Captain Phasma is not a "captain" in rank. She is apparently the head of all First Order stormtroopers, yet in the novelization, the movie, and the book Before the Awakening she appears to either conduct or oversee individual troopers' training. According to my guesses at Stormtrooper rank structure, she'd have to be something like a "High Colonel" to lead a ~10,000 strong Stormtrooper Legion. Higher equivalent rank to lead more troops (something like an Army General).

Then we have the problems of radio communications between forces on the ground on D'Qar and fighters currently in hyperspace, the X-Wing's ability to "linger" in hyperspace until they wish to exit in order to attack, and Han's dangerous misuse of the Falcon's hyperdrive levers...twice! These things strike me as Jar Jar Abrams taking George Lucas's toys and roughly bashing them together just for the hell of it. It was a safe (read "remake") movie. The places where is wasn't original, it frequently wasn't good.

Another thing: the totality of the Resistance "fleet" is apparently two squadrons of T-70 X-Wings, led by Poe. Red Squadron and Blue Squadron, led by a guy calling himself "Black One" (?). Fifteen starfighters, zero capital ships. That is the definition of a crappy "fleet" in my book.

I do like Kylo Ren. I like that he is a dark sider worried about "falling" to the light side. That's a cool twist. I am conflicted about who his parents are, and I am very troubled by the fact the Luke couldn't hold it together, training-wise. The Luke I see at the end of Jedi would be able to re-build the Jedi order. Eventually. He wouldn't fail then run away and hide.

Overall, besides Starkiller Base, I liked it. I didn't love it. I went twice. I would almost go again, just to spend some time with Rey and BB-8 on Jakku. Hang out with Han and Chewie on Takodana. See Finn's funny and misguided attempts at being chauvinistic, start to worry when we meet the rathtars and the poorly named space gangs. Then daydream about how Episode 8 can't possibly include another superweapon. Right?

ASIDE (In defense of properly applied Superweapons)
The first Death Star was cool. No doubt about it.

The Second Death Star was a trap. The Emperor knew that the Rebels would have to respond in force if they knew a second one was being built. The trap almost worked to gather and destroy the Alliance.

Any more Death Stars, or Starkiller Bases, or Sun Crushers, or whatevers can please go away. You are not a Dark Lord of the Sith, you are not the Emperor of the galaxy, and you cannot handle the logistics of building such a thing. It is beyond you. Let's leave it at that.

Now, as for The Force Awakens, what could we have seen instead? Why not certain confirmation that the First Order has been not following the terms of the treaty they signed. They have secretly built a mighty fleet (compared to the deliberately de-fanged and moth-balled New Republic Navy). They have also infiltrated and corrupted many in the Senate. They use their new power to strike Hosnian Prime, not with a superweapon shot from the next galaxy over, but with a conventional fleet action surprise attack. They pull some strings behind the scenes, get some key defense resources reassigned or whatever, then roll into orbit with a fleet and lay waste to the surface. Then they flee before any help can be scrambled from individual member planet defense forces. You wind up in the same sort of place, but you don't need a stupid superweapon to do it. You also don't need to have a ex-stormtrooper, who worked as a janitor, know how to disable the planetary shields. Or at least threaten the Captain who's not a Captain to do it for him. So. Annoying.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Surprisingly Wonderful!

Just finished reading this delightful book: Battelfront: Twilight Company, by Alexander Freed (2015). I must say I was pleasantly surprised with how much I liked this one. Being a tie-in to a video game and being an obvious nod to the more violent Disney-ification of Star Wars as of late, I was prepared to dislike this novel.

It won me over in many ways. First, there were a few new words. I learned at least 3 new words while I read, which is a measure (to some degree) of the 'seriousness' of the writer in question. Sounds a bit funny, of course, but I like when I learn something while reading, even something as minor as some extra vocabulary.

Great use of tech and equipment and ships. Great additions of numerous worlds where the company saw action, most of the names new. Great use of existing Star Wars storylines, weaving the tale into the existing fabric of the Galactic Civil War. As you might guess, this book follows a group of Rebel Alliance infantry as they fight across the stars.

There were a bunch of ground combat scenes, of course, and many beings on both sides of the war perished. Not too much in the way of egregious violence or graphic battlefield imagery, thankfully. The book hovers around a semi-dark place, in terms of tone, but never falls fully into the abyss. Always buoyed by some hope and the inspiring spark of resistance so central to the Rebellion.

I have to say that I was reminded throughout of Dan Abnett's incredible Gaunt's Ghosts novels. Realistic peeks into the inner workings of more or less hard sci-fi ground combat units. Freed similarly pulls no punches when it comes to tense conflict where the outcome is balanced on a razor's edge. Hard battles where even main characters meet their ends. Freed fills the pages with a big and interesting cast of characters bound by their shared mission and determined to slog it through, sometimes fighting more for the sake of the friends beside them than for the over-arching 'cause'.

This was a tale from the lowly infantryman's point of view. Barely a mention of high ranking Alliance personnel. Nothing too planet shattering (see what I did there?) in terms of objectives completed or enemies defeated. A good, rugged tale about, as the back cover of the book says, "The bravest soldiers. The toughest warriors. The ultimate survivors." 

Right up there with "Lost Stars" and "Lords of the Sith" as the best of the Disney canon thus far. Followed in second place by "Tarkin". Third is "A New Dawn". Fourth is "Heir to the Jedi". Last place is "Aftermath". Unknown where to rank "Dark Disciple"...I am not that interested in finding out, either.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Luke Tells Us a Story

Just finished reading "Heir to the Jedi" by Kevin Hearne (2015). Set just a bit after the destruction of the first Death Star, this novel follows Luke on a series of side treks, biding his time until The Empire Strikes Back, I guess. Fan favorite R2 is there, so that's good. Although Luke can't innately understand his hoots and bleeps yet, so that's too bad.

The delivery of the story is a bit odd: first person, past tense. Luke is telling us what happened. I did not find this as distracting and jarring as Aftermath's present tense (and punctuation soup served with random word salad).

Heir was a  decent read. It seemed a collection of side trips, sometimes with different genres applied. One such trip is a sci-fi horror episode seemingly out of character with Star Wars in general. Others seem a bit pointless, like going to Rodia to look at a catalog of weapons the Alliance might purchase.

Luke comes across correctly, as I see it, even if we're oddly lodged in his head the whole time. A love interest is found, lightening the proceedings, and lost, providing some tragedy and depth as well as returning Luke to "single" from "it's complicated". A tricky story to write, as you know where the main character has to end up in less than 3 years time. He can't do anything here to outshine his performance in the movies, either.

As for the strange parts: many mentions were made of "noodles". Luke seemed to be eating noodles, moving them or his fork with the Force, and spilling noodle broth on himself on every other page. Also overdone was the word "nerf". We had nerf nuggets, nerf steaks, and nerf...noodles. This is a common problem with Star Wars writers, in my opinion. They overuse a few key words or aliens or whatever. Many excessive mentions of "rancor" were seen as well. I'd say a good goal to shoot for would be 50% old words and 50% new in this regard.

More blood! More gore! Again with the out-of-character Disney Star Wars fixation on graphic violence! Head shots are incorporated into every fight scene. Luke gets sprayed with brain matter at least twice. Slugs are shot into heads, through eyes, etc. Calm down, Disney. I don't get why new Star Wars needs to be so dirty, gritty, and realistic. Give it a break...this is fast and loose space opera, not Band of Brothers!

I am glad I read this one for the sake of completeness, but I'm still on the fence as to whether I'd add it to my "preferred canon". The love interest character may push it over the edge, as I am a hopeless romantic. To sum up: definitely not as bad as I thought it would be. High praise, indeed.