Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Granting a Quick Death to Enemies of the Klingon Empire!

It's been a while since I did a non-Federation ship for my SHIELDS UP! house rules and for good reason.  Simply put... most fans choose to create Starfleet fanships and it's alot harder to find Klingon and/or Romulan designs let alone ones whose images I can convert to a FASA art style!  Luckily for me, the Star Trek Online game came out with a TOS era expansion a year or two back which got me to take a closer look at their ships.  While not technically a part of the expansion, the Kamarag cruiser in the base game definitely had a TOS/TMP feel to me and the overall ship style looked like it could easily be converted to a FASA ship sheet design. 

I decided to make it an elite heavy/medium cruiser (depending on the era) with an emphasis on speed and stealth.  I try to incorporate less frequently used gear on my ships so the KWF-1 engine (only used in one ship in the official Recognition Manual) seemed like a good choice along with a 2/3 ratio shield generator for the earlier versions.   Debuting not long before the first Romulan/Klingon technology transfer, the D-15 Quick Death cruiser class incorporated and pioneered the use of torpedoes and cloaking technology in the Klingon Empire.  The B variant is identical to the A except that it adds 2 superstructure and the RPL-1 plasma torpedo and KCC cloaking device. While quickly overshadowed by later D-7 and D-10 upgrades, it got a significant upgrade a decade later which put it midway between the aforementioned ships in terms of total firepower.  With the subsequent C variant, I decided to break with the mould of a single forward photon torpedo launcher and use a dual magazine but single launch tube torpedo on the command pod for some more focused firepower along with higher numbers of medium (instead of heavy) disruptors as well.

For a full size version of the jpeg version of the sheet, just right click and open it in a new window.  The pdf is available for free download at the link above as well.  Special thanks to Crypic Studios for coming up with some cool Trek ships designs for STO and to for the sheet template I use.  As always, feel free to comment below and let me know if you find any typos or errors that I missed and I hope you enjoy it!

Friday, April 6, 2018

Roll for Combat Starfinder Podcast Review

So my last post was a review of the Starfinder game and my opinions on it initially were rather mixed.  Because a large part of that was because of a well meaning but suboptimally run first game, I wanted to make sure I gave the game another chance.  In preparation for the second game that I'll be GMing, I decided to search youtube for an experienced group running through the same adventure to gauge how well they handled the same/similar situations.  On of the best fits I found was the Roll for Combat podcast linked below.

The group in the podcast feels like they've been running games together for a while and they've been running Starfinder for the past 6 months since pretty much the release of the game.  That experience definitely shows and there isn't any of bickering and rules arguments that you might tend to find in groups with younger or inexperienced members.  The sessions progress quickly and both the GM and players play their roles and characters like a well oiled machine.  Zany things do pop up occasionally like the impromptu building of a half goblin droid (long story!) but they're entertaining and the group and GM adapt well to fluid situations.  That last part is something that my own group (and myself in particular) need to get back into the hang of as we're all rusty and I personally haven't regularly roleplayed for over 5 years.  I've found that listening to their podcasts after reading through the appropriate adventure section helps with figuring out how I might eventually run the same scenario when our group catches up and to avoid potential pitfalls along the way that we might cause ourselves as newcomers to the game.  As part of the expansion of their podcast, they just announced that they'll also be doing Starfinder Society games in addition to the Dead Suns Path they're currently doing.

For those interested in following them in between games, they're fully connected to a plethora of different media (social and otherwise) like Facebook, iTunes, and Discord.  They even got an old grognard like me to join their new fangled Discord which feels like a mix between a live chat and older bulletin board systems.  It'll definitely take me a while to get the hang of that seeing as how I'm still trying to get into the swing of things on seasoned platforms like Facebook so I'm mainly lurking for the time being.  Another benefit to listening is that the group runs some *VERY* generous contests on a regular basis like an Amazon gift card giveaways weekly and even a fully expense paid trip to Paizocon this year.  I can't think of any other podcast that isn't owned and run by a large company that gives so much to their community so regulary.

My only minor complaint is more regarding the medium they post in (pure audio podcast) rather than the content of the podcasts itself.  While audio does come in handy in certain situations like commuting (and I myself listened to one episode while exercising), I do occasionally have a bit of trouble following along with which player is saying/doing what and linking it to the character when they use their real life name instead of the character's.  If the podcast were instead recorded and posted in video format on youtube (whether all together physically or the players webcaming in virtually), it would be a bit easier to follow along without concentrating on who is doing what.  I suspect that with further listening that this will become progressively less and less of a problem for me though.

Overall, I give the podcast a 9 out of 10 rating and they've definitely firmed up my decision to give Starfinder a second chance for our own scifi campaign.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Starfinder RPG and Dead Suns Campaign First Impressions

We had our first game and it was... interesting.  We played the introductory Dead Suns Part 1 adventure path by Paizo with a party of 5 players and a decent mix of races/classes/abilities (two soldiers, one operative, one envoy, and one mystic).  About the only core role/class we were missing was a technomancer i.e. space wizard equivalent.  The setting and rules are so so and what you'd expect from Golarion in space overall but the balance in the adventure path was off (even factoring out mistakes made by the GM that artificially inflated the difficulty).

First off I'll comment about the general overarching game mechanics.  They're pretty much what you'd expect from a D&D3X style system and it's easy to catch on to the basics if you're familiar with the older variants.  That said... there are many significant changes like being able to multiattack with penalties as a full round action without having to first unlock the second attack at high levels.  There are also minor changes like diagonal movement costs and magic missile not scaling with level.  For vets of multiple prior related editions, remembering whether the second diagonal costs normal or double movment (which seems to flip flop between various editions).  All in all, it's familiar and comfortable but certainly not revolutionary or groundbreaking in any way.  It's D&D3X in space for better or worse. 

The art in the books though is full color and top notch assuming you like the style (which I do).  The races introduced feel different and are most certainly not just the old fantasy tropes with a "space" adjective added in front of them.  If you do want to play those legacy fantasy races, the core rulebook does include them later on in the rules but I'm glad that they're not the focus.  Each class is unique and varies enough from the old fantasy equivalents to feel like they're their own thing. 

Unfortunately, I find the setting to be a bit of a let down despite the above.  It's basically an advancement of the old Pathfind Golarian setting which admittedly I was never a fan of it but neither was I critical of it.  There are new races and planets like I mentioned but the core setting and default start is basically just a big space station right above Golarion (or more correctly where it should be as it disappeared) and there are other planets that are just fantasy tropes in space (like the planet of space undead ruled by space lich overlords).  Maybe it's just me but I kept finding myself thinking "oh, that's just the space *fill in the blank* equivalent".  That's due in large part because of the actual Golarian/Pathfinder parts ported directly over as well as those just heavily influenced by the fantasy setting.  I would personally have preferred a completely independent setting but I recognize the obvious potential business benefit of leveraging a previous industry sales leading game (Pathfinder) for easy conversion into your new project.  While that gives the game relatively easy access to a large playerbase right out of the gate, I can't but help feel that the setting and game will suffer for it in the long run.  YMMV.

Finally we come to the Dead Suns adventure path.  In short, as an old 3.X GM and player for years, I found the balance in the adventure path to be suprisingly off but a large part of that was because of two big mistakes by the GM that inflated the difficulty unncessarily.  The first encounter after the players introduce themselves to each over is CR4 (and that's assuming you think that rating is accurate..see below).  Your first interaction before any real roleplaying with NPCs is to get your feet wet with an "Epic" difficulty level encounter for 1st level characters and presumably new players to the game.  The GM was supposed to only attack us 1/6 of the time but he must have missed that part in the setup (and combined based on common sense two encounters into one the next time). 

Regardless of his mistakes, the CR 1/2 (as in one half) street level gang thugs we were facing had the equivalent stat wise of dex 18 weapon spec and focus shooting.  No big deal, right?  Just use some social skills to beat the encounter nonviolently, right?  Yeah, they also had the equivalent of Cha 20 and full class skill rank in intimidate to boot.  Their actual stats were nothing close to that but their end bonuses for both attacks, damage, and some skills were significantly higher what was possible for us as 1st level player characters.  They were markedly better than CR1 opponents should have been let alone the CR1/2 individually they were listed as.

The GM commented that his main group had a very hard time with the scenarios as well.  I asked another Starfinder GM and he said that Paizo does that with most of the official encounters and that he personally actively encourages his player to NOT fight but find away around combat.  That wasn't an option for us in the first encounter as it was literally scripted that the shooting started right as we arrived and we were caught in the crossfire.  That trend continued throughout the game and the Deus Ex NPChinima had to save us yet again later that night in the next big encounter.

I'm willing to give the game another try (and will actually be Gm'ing next time as we convinced the GM to join us for a single game only).  Although we didn't reach 2nd level yet, I forwarded the group a "loan" of 300 xp to reach 2nd level to see if the equity between characters and published encounters is more balanced later on.  I suspect I'll still have to adjust on the fly some of the crazy bonuses down a bit though but we'll see.  All in all, at best the experience overall was mediocre although I will admit that it was nice to sit down at a table with fellow gamers and do anything for the first time in years.  I'd give the game overall 2 1/2 stars so far but the Dead Suns campaign only 2 stars due to the perceived lack of balance for a supposedly introductory 1st level adventure.