Thursday, August 8, 2019

The Smuggler Template Revisited

The New Smuggler Template (This will be its final home, so any new revisions will happen here)

Every month, my Patrons get to vote on a template to revisit and update to integrate them into the setting and any rule-changed I've made.  This month, they voted on the Frontier Marshal, of all things, until the Smuggler snuck in and snatched the win out from under him.  Seems about right, if you ask me.

Nonetheless, I find it interesting that the Frontier Marshal and the Smuggler both did so well (as did the Bounty Hunter) given that they're both Rim templates, after the Diplomat won so handily.  I suspect it's because seeing how the Diplomat integrated into the setting was an eye-opener for a lot of my patrons, and now they're curious how the Rim templates will work.

Alas, they won't be as tightly bound as the "Core" Templates.  The point of the "Core" templates is that they represent templates that work for a powerful organization in the setting.  They are the soldiers of the Empire, the diplomats of the Alliance, the spies of the Cybernetic Union.  The "Rim" templates, by contrast, represent the underbelly of the criminal underworld of the Galaxy.  As such, they are inherently more generic than "Core" templates.  Consider, for a moment, how different a human smuggler would be from a Ranathim smuggler.  Both of them have fast ships, loose morals, and an itchy trigger finger.  Thus, there's no real need to tie them to a specific entity.  There's no such thing as an "Imperial" smuggler who is different from an "Alliance" smuggler.

Or... is that so?  As I thought more about the Frontier Marshal, back when I thought he'd win, I found that I could come up with multiple different variants.  And then, when the smuggler won, I found I could come up with variants for that one too.  These variants need to represent "must have" guides for trying to build specific, weird examples, like Duty or Rank or some unusual  benefits from a particular odd race, as well as pointers to interesting ideas someone might not have had before, while still maintaining the option to "create your own."

It seems I had quite a bit to revise after all!

What Changed?

The smuggler turned out to be an interesting exercise, because it highlighted to me how much the game has actually changed.

First, I wanted to ditch the templates-specific power-ups.  I see power-ups moving in a different direction: I want to encourage either specific powers (psionic powers, communion, cybernetics, or martial arts) for deep investment, or to encourage people to broaden their skillsets.  A 500 point "normal" character is more likely to be a single template (say, a smuggler) with a lot of cross-training ("...who is a bit of a con-artist and a scavenger") than to be deeply invested in their own template ("A SMUGGLER!"). This means creating deeper investments in the template as power-ups had to go and, anyway, I found I tended to repeat myself a lot.  For example, the Gunsling power-up came up again and again, which suggests to me that it needs to be made broadly generic: frontier marshals, smugglers, bounty hunters, and security agents might all be "gunslingers."  So, Corvette Tinkerer and Gunslinger are out, with Corvette Tinkerer integrated into the template, and Gunslinger tossed out completely (at least for now).

Second, space combat has changed.  This matters to the Smuggler, because he's one of the space combat experts.  This required me to re-invent the space combat techniques.  Before, I required these.  Now, they're an optional investment of your advantage points.  I've also integrated the perks from before into the advantage options.

Finally, a few minor nitpicks: I've given them the option of my new Debt disadvantage, I reduced the cost of their required Area Knowledge skill to better allow for characters who want multiple Area Knowledge skills.  I've also tweaked their secondary skills, though I was surprised to find that they already had access to Free Fall and surprisingly high levels of Vacc Suit and Spacer.  They have the option to invest more heavily into Beam Weapons, a concession for removing Gunslinger as a default option.

Specialized Smugglers

With these revisions, I seek to integrate these characters more deeply into the setting. With Diplomats, I did this in two ways: who they worked for, and what they did.  I considered these for smugglers, and soon discarded the latter option.

It's not that smugglers don't haul different things, because they do.  Smugglers working for a rebellion might smuggle guns or medical supplies.  Smugglers who work for criminal cartels might smuggle drugs, guns, or engage in human trafficking.  Those who work for the Alliance might also engage in "human trafficking," but this sort likely involved smuggling spies or aristocrats past the watchful eyes of the Empire, or helping a prisoner escape.  Those who work in the Sylvan Spiral might smuggle the dangerous beasts of the Morass out to other worlds.

The problem, instead, is that I don't see smugglers specializing in this.  You're not going to meet a smuggler who concerns himself only with smuggling the beasts of the Sylven Spiral and nothing else.  Certainly not as a player character.  Most smugglers are going to take whatever comes their way, especially the more flexible, heroic smuggler.  After all, there may be a drug runner who has mastered a single route, and has made a living of running drugs from one specific planet to another specific planet as their workaday job, but that's hardly a heroic character, at least not one worth focus my template-building attention on.

However, the other specialization has some merit.  Most smugglers, the default smuggler, is an outlaw who answers to himself.  He might be explicitly criminal, or he might be "just a businessman" who uses forged credentials or friends in high places and a veneer of honesty to slip past inspection.  This is the smuggler of the past, and it's been codified into the "Outlaw Smuggler" lens.

But what about smugglers that explicitly work for a cartel? We might expect these to be known criminals, to have rank in a criminal organization and to have a Duty to their cartel.  A similar, but less illegitimate example might be a Guildfleet smuggler: Traders rely on the goodwill of their host system, which often means they run low on supplies and must be willing to trade with anyone to keep money flowing.  This makes the Trader Smuggler not just a perennial stereotype, but a semi-legitimate example of a Smuggler.

Then I had to ponder "smugglers" with the backing of a legitimate organization.  How do the Alliance get to the parts of the galaxy beyond the Glorian Rim? Smugglers, of course.  How does Syntech gear keep slipping past the Alliance and into Imperial hands?  How do the princesses of the Shinjurai royal family explore the galaxy without Alliance escort?  Again, smugglers.  Every major company or house has a reason to make use of their criminal skills, but naturally, they wouldn't want to be tied to them.  As a result, I've created the "Deniable Transportation Expert," someone who doesn't serve a major organization in an official capacity, but in an unofficial capacity.  They can ask for help, but don't expect to get much from their patron, while their patron asks a lot of them, and will burn them if caught.  Not an especially rewarding profession, but one someone might undertake for patriotic reasons.

The smuggler really suffers from a lack of choices when it comes to spaceships but once I have a few more worked out, I'll come back to the Smuggler once more and make minor adjustments.

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