Star Wars: Saga Edition – Annotated Playtest #2

Our Dawn on Zebulon prelude campaign for Star Wars: Saga Edition hit Episode II last night, and I think to say we’ve hit our stride. Even with two new players joining the session with no Saga experience, our second game went as well as the first.

Unlike our initial game, which focused on three Jedi padawans and their training droid, JPD-14, hunting for the wreck of a starship on the jungle world of Zebulon Prime, this time around our heroes were divided between two padawans and the hired crew of a the star freighter Aeon Harrier.

These new characters – a pilot callsigned Highlife (human noble 1, played by Cory),  his wookie friend Shim’kworr (Wookie scoundrel 1, played by Brendan) and ship mechanic Zulen Tek (Arkanian offshoot scoundrel 1, played by me).

Battle over Zebulon Beta

The game opened with the Harrier coming under attack by another ship form the same pirate band that the padawans tangled with the week before. The ships were more evenly matched than in our earlier engagement, with the attacking pirate vessel – the Obsidian Phoenix – having better shields and an identical weapons to the player’s ship. As a result, while the heroes did get off a good shot against the enemy, it wasn’t a critical, and it barely damaged their opponent. The fight ended with a draw as Highlife chose to withdraw from the battle and flee for Zebulon Beta.

Once again, our starship playtesting paid off; our vets were able to walk the rookies through the fight. Moreover, we got a taste of what a trained pilot could do in space; Highlife’s “Vehicular Combat” feat allowed him to avoid one hit per round, assuming he made a successful Pilot check opposed by the enemy’s attack roll.

Given the lethality of starship combat, this is huge. A starship’s shields and damage reduction can help negate some, or even most, of the damage from a hit, but the best strategy is not to get hit in the first place. The combat itself was pretty generic – no space debris or environmental effects – but I wanted to keep it simple for Cory and Brendan, since they haven’t had a chance to do any starship stuff before..

We’ve now run four starship combats, and I’ve got to say, I love them. Starship-scale combat is more or less the same as character-scale combat, with some new maneuvers, feats and flavor text and that makes transitioning from one to the other feel natural. Other starship combat systems I’ve played try so hard to accurately reflect what happens in space (with inertia, vectoring, etc.) that all the fun gets sucked out of the game.  That’s not the case with Saga Edition; it transitions easily between character and starship scale, and – just as importantly – it gives everyone something to do onboard. I can easily see running a starship combat every session or two.

This encounter also sets up a possible ship for the crew to buy, which is one of the midterm goals for the group. The Aeon Harrier’s captain is an NPC named Orax Davkin who’s been making grumbling noises about retiring. He just might be willing to sell the ship to his crew, particularly after a few weeks of having to deal with the threat of pirates.

Showdown in Jolus

In Episode I, our padawan heroes uncovered a pirate base on Zebulon Prime and all but destroyed it. They also discovered the identity of a traitor: Torg Shepherdson,  the assistant portmaster of the Jolus starport on Zebulon Beta.

Torg went to ground after news of the Jedi raid on the pirate base became public knowledge, and two of the padawans  – Rade Casa (human Jedi 1, played by Erilar) and Quest Fios (kel dor Jedi 1, played by Damon) – were charged with tracking him down.

They ended up running into Highlife and Shim’kworr at a cantina called the Durosian Gremlin, exchanged their tales of piracy, and decided to team up to track down Torg.

This ended up being a wild encounter. The padawans and the starship crew tracked down Torg in a holo lounge (featuring Twilik dancers of course). A battle of wills ensued as Rade spotted a shifty-eyed individual sitting in the corner, looking nervous at the arrival of the Jedi. He tried persuading him – through a combination of the force and persuassion checks – into giving up Torg, but it wasn’t until Highlife came over and revealed the man was Torg that they really got anywhere.

What made it an exceptional encounter was Rade’s Jedi and skill abilities that allowed him to mentally beat up Torg, forcing him down the condition track, and making him take ever greater penalties to the traitor’s own skill checks. It was only Torg’s exceptional deception skills that kept the Jedi from discovering his lies earlier.

Once revealed by Highlife, Torg surrendered. The heroes took him outside, intent on taking him to the constable’s office where he could be formally arrested.

That’s when they ran into the Scarbrother Gang, a would-be swoop gang that apparently had designs on both the Jedi and their prisoner. A firefight broke out as the gang members started shooting stun blasts at the heroes.

This was our first use of stun in game. It’s a good mechanic; most weapons can be set to to stun, which provides players with an alternative to simply blowing away every enemy they encounter.  The mechanic takes advantage of Saga’s condition track. Each character in the game has a damage threshold; if they take more  damage than their threshold, they move a step down the condition track. This causes them to take increasingly severe penalities to attacks, skill checks, defenses, etc.; if they move five steps down the condition track, they go unconscious.

Players roll full damage for weapons set to stun. Opponents only take half-damage from the it, but the full amount of damage that would have been dealt is compared to the victim’s damage threshold; if it’s exceeded, the victim moves down the condition track. As a result it’s possible to disable without killing him (though he’ll still be pretty beat up at the end of the fight).

The condition track itself is a solid addition to the game. I was afraid it might add too much paperwork, but it’s easy to keep track of and it does something D&D has always had a problem with: degrading a character’s effectiveness as he takes damage.

As the Jedi maneuvered to counter that threat, a shot rang out from one of the buildings. A red burst of energy streaked down from one of the buildings, targeting Torg, but Rade was able to use his lightning fast reflexes (and a Destiny point, in keeping with his “Rescue” destiny) to absorb the shot. It badly wounded the Jedi, but it would have killed Torg outright.

Another first: using a destiny point in game, and as a GM, I liked it. It gave Erilar a chance to be true to his character’s beliefs, and gave him a mechanical, in game benefit for doing so. Of course, as a GM I need to keep in mind exactly what his ultimate “Rescue destiny” might be, but I liked how this provided the first step down a much longer path.

The shot was fired by a sniper on the roof. At first, the heroes thought this sniper was just another member of the gang, which led to the Wookie firing off his jetback and flying up to the roof to engage him. Bad move; the sniper was in fact a bounty hunter charged with taking down Torg and capturing the Jedi.

The bounty hunter –  a Zabrakian solider named Koth – was the first exceptional opponent that the party has ever faced; he was several levels higher than them, and had an array of tricks to use in attempting to take them down. This combat saw him use his rapid fire feat, which subtracts -2 from his attack roll, but gives him an extra die of damage. This is an example of how Saga Edition speeds up combat; instead of using the iterative attacks from previous editions which tends to slow down combat, it features feats that trade attack penalties for increased damage.

It is still possible to get off more than one attack in a round, if you have the right feats, but it’s rare (at least relative to D&D 3.x and earlier d20 Star Wars games.

It was more than the Wookie could handle, as a single shot from the bounty hunter’s heavy blaster rifle was enough to take him down. Highlife attempted to help his friend by jumping on to a speeder bike and crashing it into the bounty hunter, but it wasn’t enough to take the villain down.

This part of the encounter led to our first attempt to use Saga’s collision rules. They proved to be a little wonky as they’re designed to model crashes between to like-sized ships, rather than a vehicle and a person (or even a starfighter and a capitol ship). As a result, the rules have both parties taking an equal amount of damage from the collision, which led to jokes about throwing Ewoks out of the cargo hold to collide with (and badly damage) Star Destroyers.

While we do see an A Wing take out a Super Star Destroyer in Return of the Jedi, in the game it seemed like someone riding on a swoop bike should be able to crash into a humanoid opponent without taking too much damage themselves. It’s something we’ll need to research more.

The Jedi were more successful in foiling the bounty hunter’s efforts. In addition to Rade jumping in front of his heavy laser blast, Quest Fios deflected not one, but two stun bolts. Frustrated,  with the Jedi closing in on him and the Scarbrother goons having been force slammed int submission on the streets below, the bounty hunter used his own jetpack to escape from the scene.

Damon’s incredible luck with Quest continues. The first blaster shot he deflected was a critical hit, yet he managed to match (and thus block) my attack roll of 25. The second blaster shot I rolled was a natural 19, with a final attack roll of 24. He blocked that one too. All of this has cemented his role as the best of the padawans, and the jokes about him being a Jedi Knight are continuing.

The padawans and their allies won the day, and they were able to turn their prisoner over to the constable. He in turn revealed the identity of the bounty hunter Koth. One of padawans’ Jedi Master teachers also came into town after the battle, taking charge of the situation and praising them for their good work.

All in all, another good session. Something else that I think is notable about this and the first campaign session is that they both ended more or less on time, and where I wanted them to stop. Too often in D&D (even 4E) the game would get bogged down in combat, and we wouldn’t get through everything I wanted to.

My goal here isn’t to railroad the players, but I am trying to more self-contained episodes with Star Wars. There are story arcs, but ultimately I want to go into each story fresh, without having to deal with too much baggage from the previous adventure.

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