Friday, June 18, 2021
Tuesday, June 15, 2021
Monday, June 14, 2021
Thursday, June 10, 2021
Description: A straight-bladed single-edged longsword with a plain crossguard and hilt wrapped in a strange pale blue leather. When examined under clear skies strange runic writing appears down the length of the blade. Those able to read arcane languages can read the runes' message as "Let the Skies Bleed!" Magical senses reveal a very strong aura of elemental and weather manipulation magic.
Powers: The Sky-Cutting Sword has a potent attack & damage bonus (+4 in D&D terms) against all winged creatures and air elementals.
Once per day while beneath the open sky, the wielder can spend a full round using the sword to wound the sky itself. A lightning bolt strikes up from the ground through the user (dealing damage equal to 1d8 x 10% of their maximum hit points, or a near-mortal wound if your system uses wound levels instead) and up the blade, slashing open a gash through which an impossibly dense storm bleeds through. A torrential downpour begins immediately, and violent winds and thunderstorms rage overhead for 1d6 hours. The area affected starts at one mile in diameter and doubles each hour thereafter.
Rainfall can exceed 1" per hour, which is likely to cause severe flooding. Wind speeds can reach or exceed 60 miles per hour. Depending on the season and natural climate, rain may be accompanied by hail, freezing rain, or snow. There is a 10% chance of a tornado forming for 1d6 x 10 minutes at some point. There is also a 10% chance the storm will leave behind whatever bizarre Forteana the GM prefers.
Possible Origins: The magic involved in making one of these swords dates back to the Primordial Age when the elements themselves were at war. Only the greatest artificer would dare to even attempt to make a Sky-Cutting Sword in the current day, and the rituals used are both lengthy (taking at least a year and a day to complete) and likely to attract supernatural attention from various elemental entities.
Complications: The most obvious problem is the aftermath of unleashing an uncontrolled and massively disruptive storm that may cause severe damage to the surrounding area. Using this power in a settlement is likely to be grounds for execution, and that's if you survive the lynch mobs if you've been identified as the cause of the event.
In addition, simply carrying this blade will guarantee extreme hostility from elemental creatures of air, and from most winged creatures who recognize it for what it is. Creatures associated with other elements my seek to obtain the blade for their own use, or plot to involve the bearer in their own schemes against elemental rivals.
Using the "wound the sky" power almost guarantees that someone (or something) will take notice and begin seeking the cause.
Design Commentary: Interestingly, non-elemental creatures that fly without wings aren't affected by the weapon's attack bonuses at all, although that doesn't guarantee they won't take offense at the bearer for other reasons.
Tuesday, June 8, 2021
This was originally going to be a post about backgrounds in Stargrave, but after thinking about it it didn't seem there was enough to say about them to be a stand-alone article. I'll say a few things about background choices and then move on to some thoughts about building your officers (Captain and First Mate) for a crew.
The mechanics of the game make your background choice less impactful than, say, the choice of your wizard's school in Frostgrave since there are no opposed or allied power sets. Every background gives you eight powers to choose from out of the current list of 52, some shared with one other Background and some unique. All other powers have the same +2 to their TN, and only a few (the ones with Armor Interference) have any real restrictions on them (ie wearing armor impacts those powers' TNs).
Also unlike Frostgrave, your Captain and First Mate can have different backgrounds, and therefore access to different powers without a TN penalty. I suspect doubling down on the same background is viable but limits your play style quite a bit, while careful combinations of backgrounds and power selection with experience is likely nearly as strong and much more versatile.
Backgrounds also provide varying stat bonuses, most of which are pretty similar and all of which give you some choices about what to bump up. The noteworthy exceptions are the Veteran (which is the only power that lets you opt for initially increasing Fight by 2) and several that give you a bonus to Will (which doesn't help much in combat but makes you better at unlocking loot). The former is pretty attractive. The latter, rather less so unless you've filled your gear slots so a deck and/or picks aren't an option and skipped on the Break Lock and Data Knock powers.
Building Your Officers
So that's backgrounds covered. Moving on to officer builds, there are three primary things to consider - background stat assignment, power selection, and gear loadout. The background is set in stone once gameplay begins, powers are also set after initial selection but you'll gain many new powers over time, and gear can be changed in every game without cost.
Stat assignment is pretty straightforward, and usually involves choosing one or two stats from a short list to increase by one. Fight is usually the obvious choice since it improves your defense against both shooting and melee attacks as well as making you more effective offensively in a a brawl. Shoot is pure offense, and may not be getting used as often as you'd think since you're generally going to want your officers to using powers rather than shooting - at least until you bump up your Shoot a bunch with experience. Movement can only be increased once to its max of 7 and you're going to use it constantly in most games, so it's a good early choice. Most backgrounds don't let you choose to upgrade Health, and even when it is an option it's a terrible alternative to any of the above. If you gained (say) 3 Health instead of just 1 it might be worth thinking about but as written, stick to Fight, Move or Shoot at start.
Power selection involves a lot of choices and really define your tactics, but there are some general points to consider:
Out-of-game powers can't use exertion to reach their TN and you can only attempt each one once per game per officer, so they're fairly unreliable compared to in-game powers. A TN 14 power out-of-game power fails 65% of the time (which is pretty dreadful) and even the TN 10 ones fail 45% of the time. Mystic Trance lets you use many powers just before the game starts, but it's even less reliable since you first have to activate Trance (65% chance at base TN) then the second power, so that's two activation tests you have to succeed at. These powers are attractive because they don't eat actions during the game, but they also don't earn you XP and are a poor choice to put TN improvement advances into since that improvement will only affect a single activation test compared to the many tests an in-game power my take. Many out-of-game powers gain boosts from specific ship upgrades, so you can spend credits to improve them during a campaign.
You can (and should aim to) earn 100 XP per game by using powers, which is part of why taking other actions with your officers is often a poor choice. At max, that's a third of the total 300 point XP cap per game, so pretty significant. Two powers (Break Lock and Data Knock) don't earn activation XP this way - but they instead earn twice as much XP for unlocking a loot token, so you could theoretically earn a separate 100 XP for using them during a game - but 20-60 XP is a more reasonable expectation.
Both officers should seriously consider taking one low-TN power with broad use conditions to act as a "go to" ability to activate on any turn that their harder or more specific powers don't seem like better choices. The standout choice for this is probably Target Designation, which applies a savage debuff and never exceeds a TN 12 even for a First Mate who isn't a Veteran and can be as low as TN 7 to start. Regenerate and Energy Shield are also good but may be unusable if the user isn't being damaged. Others with slightly higher TNs worth considering (especially with the right background) include Antigravity Projection, Coordinated Fire, Heal, Life Leech, Lift, Remote Firing (assuming you have robots in the crew) and Transport. With experience, higher TN powers can easily become reliable "go-to" abilities as long as they don't have narrow use conditions.
Your First Mate should really focus on starting powers with low-TN (base 8 and 10) powers. Wait to add the harder ones with earned experience since powers acquired during play won't take the +2 TN modifier starting powers do for a First Mate.
All powers that heal their user have a lower effective TN than stated, since you can (and should) use exertion to pass a failed activation test up to just below the amount being healed. Roll one or two points below the TN of Regeneration and you might as well exert to pass, since even a little healing is better than none at all. Heal is even better, allowing you to potentially exert by up to four points while still having a net gain in Health. Life Leech can also do this, but you risk the target preventing the healing by successfully resisting.
Common gear is free for your officers so you take what you want, but one of the most important choices is going to be what armor you use. Many (but not all) of the "space magic" powers suffer penalties to TN based on the armor you wear, so if you're running with them going "naked" is a perfectly valid choice. Bonuses to your armor value from powers don't apply that penalty so you can still combine Armor Plating and Temporary Upgrade to get up to Armor 12 if you want. Advanced tech armor equivalents don't get the same free ride, sadly. Experienced officers may have such good power TNs that the armor penalty becomes bearable, although remember that you can't improve past TN 4 - so full combat armor would still leave you failing on 1-7 no matter how good you are.
Combat armor is incredibly good, using 2 gear slots to give you three slots worth of built-in gear and weaponry as well as nearly maximum allowed armor and no speed penalty. If it wasn't for the upkeep cost the suits would be auto-includes, and even with it they're certainly worth thinking about unless you're a space wizard. If you find yourself having to choose between paying upkeep on an officer's suit or a soldier's, pay for the soldier every time. Officers can just downgrade to light or heavy armor as they like if the money isn't paid, whereas a soldier winds up being replaced by a recruit for the battle which is a huge loss of effectiveness.
Taking a big gun of some kind is always an attractive option, but until you've bought up your Shoot stat keep the opportunity costs of firing versus using a power firmly in mind. If you do take a heavy weapon, consider what specialist soldiers your crew contains and whether you want to lean into a weapon they're already bringing or if you want to bring more variety, eg a flamethrower to discourage the enemy from rushing your Gunner or Grenadier.
Of the non-combat gear available, medic kits are a very strong utility choice for officers. They give you a 2" radius bubble around your base in which you can use any action (even trading in your normal movement) to pick a figure (including the user) and remove stun, poison, and the wounded condition all at once. That's pretty strong, and in an absolute emergency you could even do it twice in a single activation if you're got multiple patients in range. Officers generally have better things to do with their regular action (ie using a power) but it's not uncommon for their move to be somewhat extraneous and the medic kit can give you something else to use it for. Combined with a 3" power move your MEDIC! bubble is now 5" in radius, which is a big chunk of the tabletop.
Also expect your gear loadout to change from game to game. Not only will you find better stuff as loot, different scenarios may call for different equipment. Don't cost yourself a game by getting too set in your ways about officer loadouts.
Tuesday, May 25, 2021
Background: Robotics Master
Pre-game or contact range power that lets one robot always be eligible to activate with the user in the appropriate officer phase. Usual limit of three soldiers per officer applies. Quite useful for letting a distant loot hauler or backfield shooter activate before the soldier phase. Gains a bonus to activate pre-game from the same ship upgrade that benefits Create Robot and Re-wire Robot. Combo with Command to let you activate with two distant soldiers at a time, and with Drone to let you more easily shift Remote Guidance to another robot in-game.
Background: Robotics Master
This is the Heal power only for robots. Slightly less useful overall since you can't heal living models with it (most importantly your officers) and robots are never wounded so they need healing a bit less than squishy organic types. On the plus side the activation number isn't affected by armor, so feel free to suit up.
Fantastically versatile power that lets the user gain one of a menu of useful attributes at a time. You can use it both pre-game (with the usual "no exertion" restriction) to start with an attribute and during the game to gain a new attribute if circumstances call for it. A real toolbox power that will almost always help at some point during the game.
Background: Robotics Master
Very difficult pre-game power that lets you slightly tweak certain stats of a robot soldier. The change is permanent and can only be done once per robot. Gains a benefit from the same ship upgrade that Create Robot and Remote Guidance do. Pretty good for any robot when it works, although I question whether you'd ever want to improve the Armor stat instead of Fight. Be a more viable option if Armor got a larger bonus.
Backgrounds: Mystic, Psionic
Difficult, somewhat unreliable, and mildly strenuous power that grants a small movement effect and forces the target to drop any loot they have. Not great if you want to use it on friendly models but extremely nasty against enemy loot haulers. Potential game-winner, but it does suffer from armor penalties to activation that make it absurdly difficult to use.
Very strong and easy to use debuff to a model's shooting defense. Doesn't stack but can be in place on multiple targets at once. Will often result in more overall damage than actually attacking yourself even when you're sporting a +6 Shoot stat. Can be stripped by Cancel Power.
Mildly strenuous power that grants an immediate shot with a grenade or launcher that automatically lands on target regardless of line of sight. Can be fired from the user or another model in contact during a group activation, and the latter doesn't even count it as an action. Extremely dangerous to bunched up enemies, and combos well with using a drone to apply the effect to a backfield grenadier.
Difficult but versatile power that applies one of a menu of stat bonuses to the user. Only one bonus can be on at a time but you can change it by using the power again. Much like Re-wire robot I question why you'd ever choose to improve Armor rather than Fight with the rules as written.
Mildly strenuous power that grants the user a very potent melee weapon, on par with the best in the game. If you want to murder people in close combat this is a great power, but consider whether spending your officer actions of brawling is the best action economy.
Difficult pre-game power that grants any two crew models poisoned attacks for the game. Pretty good most of the time but weak if you have to face a lot of robots, other immune creatures, or even just someone with a lot of medikits to cancel the poison effects. As with all pre-game powers you can't exert to activate this.
Mildly strenuous medium range movement shenanigans power. Only works on friendly crew and has line of sight restrictions that powers like Pull and Lift lack, and it forces loot drops so not much use for your haulers. Doesn't suffer from the armor penalties most movement powers do, which is arguably its best selling point.
Turns a hand weapon you're carrying into a lightsaber. Extremely strong melee weapon that gives a huge defensive bonus against shooting attacks from many weapons. Defense buff doesn't stack with cover mods but it's so good you can stand in the open without losing much. Turns off if you're ever stunned. Limits you to using 1-slot weapons while the power is active so leave your flamethrower at home. Significantly, there's no activation penalty for wearing armor with this power, because Darth Vader, that's why. Stacks well with the shooting defense buff from the Camouflage power.
Wall of Force
Difficult, mildly strenuous power that creates a wall which blocks movement (including climbing) and shooting but not line of sight. Grenade weapons can arc shots over it, and any shot at the wall itself has a small chance to end the power. You can have multiple walls in play at once, which is some serious battlefield manipulation. Likely to win games by blocking (or shielding) loot haulers on both crews. Weirdly immune to Cancel Power, which seems like a mistake design-wise.
That's my early takes on all the powers in the Stargrave core books. Next Stargrave post will probably be a look at similar look at Backgrounds and how they influence power and gear selection.
One thing that might be of interest is that there are exactly 52 powers in total, which means you can randomly generate them by using a deck of standard playing cards. There's currently no reason you'd ever need to so, but it might come in handy at some point in the future.
This is the gold standard of healing powers in terms of versatility and potency, but it comes with the drawback of penalizing you for wearing armor. Still well worth considering even for non-Mystics unless you've gone crazy with the number of robot soldiers you're using. This is one of many powers that combines well with Drone, which can let you extend your range enormously.
Creates line of sight blocking terrain that can be moved through in exchange for modest strain and a small chance of the power expiring each turn. You can have as many walls in play as you like, which makes this a pretty hard counter for crews relying on conventional shooting to do damage. Beware of grenades and fire coming from elevated positions.
Self-healing power that discourages wearing armor, a recurring theme with Mystic and Psionic powers. Requires a living target who may resist the effect to cancel both the damage they take and prevent you from healing. Can be used on allies in a pinch, but they won't be working for you afterward. For medic duties Healing is stronger, more reliable and has much better target options, but LL lets you deal damage and heal yourself in a single action.
Strong movement shenanigans for friendly crew but penalizes user for wearing armor and models moved with this power can't take actions afterward. This makes it somewhat less useful for speeding up loot haulers outside of combined activations or Drone tricks. Weirdly better for first mates than for a captain, since you can ignore the "no action" penalty on figures that have already activated that turn and mates go after the Captain Phase.
Pre-game power that lets you use another power pre-game just before the first turn. This has a lot of potential combos, although you can't affect enemies or target points on the table with the second power. At its most basic you can use it to put up a buff on a friendly model (including the user), but you can also do things like summoning a Drone, using Create Robot (although you'd need to leave a crew slot open to do so and it still wouldn't appear in this game), or using a movement power on friendly crew. Unique in that one of the ship upgrades can be taken twice to let both your officers gain a large bonus to use this power. As always with out-of-game powers, remember that neither this power nor the one it may enable can use exertion to activate.
Backgrounds: Cyborg, Veteran
Self-only buff that greatly increases the damage of your next shooting attack with some weapon types at the cost of modest strain. Stacks with other damage bonuses but not itself, and fizzles if you miss your next shot. The extra damage is meaningful when it works, but the requirement to use this as its own action rather than it granting an immediate shot makes it a fairly inefficient way to use an officer action.
Super-flamethrower attack with minor strain cost and the usual activation penalty for the user wearing armor while using "magic' powers. Remarkably brutal against bunched-up soldiers, in part because flamethrowers are darned good to start with. Obvious drawback is the short range of the flame templates, and thankfully it can't be channeled with the Drone power.
Difficult, modestly strenuous and somewhat unreliable but versatile movement shenanigans power that works particularly well for accelerating loot haulers. Weirdly difficult to use on yourself if you've increased your Will stat - although amusingly, you could use a token from the Fortune power to reroll your resistance stat to try to fail.
Difficult, highly strenuous power that brings a dead non-robot friendly crew back to life adjacent to the user. Text raises the question of whether all members of a crew counts as "soldiers" for this power or if you aren't able to raise a fallen officer. Situationally pretty good either way when you can get it to work, although it benefits a lot from the crew having some healing effects to go with it. Like many Mystic powers the user is penalized for wearing armor.
High-strain power that also suffers an armor penalty for activation but significantly reduces damage from the next shooting attack that deals any damage at all to whatever model you use this on. Can be stripped off by Cancel Power. Sometimes a real life-saver but hard to use repeatedly without healing powers to manage the strain costs. More versatile and generally more powerful than the similar Energy Shield, and the two do stack with each other.
Backgrounds: Cyborg, Rogue
Personal movement trick that uniquely lets you leave combat and mitigates terrain effects at the cost of modest strain. Best way to get out of an unfavorable melee combat situation. Has some positional restrictions but becomes more versatile if you've been tagged with Antigravity Projection or have the right Restructure Body bonus beforehand. Maddeningly out of alphabetical order in the powers listing, this appears on pg.114 after Restructure Body, a full page after where you'd expect it to be.
Of the various healing powers this is by far the easiest to use but lacks potency and target selection options. Often a difficult choice between using this power or making an attack instead, although as always the 3" power move factors in to that decision.
Background: Robotics Master, Veteran
Lets a friendly robot soldier make an immediate medium range shot with a solid attack bonus. Works best with robotic Burners (where they actually hit better than normal), Grenadiers, and Gunners but anything with a gun is fine, including "non-combat" types like Medics or Runners. Killing someone with a Drone (which, again, should have the Robot attribute) this way is grounds for post-game celebration.
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