Everyone else is watching the Super Bowl. I'm playing with dice. Nerrrrrd.
I haven't yet got a chance to play Edge of the Empire, Age of Rebellion, or Force and Destiny. Their mechanics are still arcane to me and try as I might to understand them without experiencing them firsthand, this is all still just theorycrafting. However, it's theorycrafting with a basis in observable fact, so hopefully I can be forgiven for this, my first speculative gamer blog. Especially since I'm not talking mechanics this time.
The Star Wars Roleplaying Game (not to be confused with other games of extremely similar titles) is the latest in a long line of Star Wars RPGs for tabletop. Its dice system is weird and its character progression system is difficult to standardize, but I love it anyway. It's a marvelously fresh change of pace from the last decade of Wizards of the Coast d20 stuff. Its most recent core book, Force and Destiny, deals with Force-users as main careers for the first time in the game's history. Fantasy Flight likes groups of six-times-three, so out of their six Force careers, there are six lightsaber forms.
They left out Form VII, because it's set in GCW. No one knows Vapaad and Juyo is for bad guys. Stop whining.
I may not have a perfect understanding of the game's mechanics, but I can read, and 90% of these talent trees is just applying basic gamer logic to a new medium. So I'm going to look at each lightsaber form specialization's talent tree, summarize it, and connect it with the flavor of existing forms in EU writing. Don't worry. For those of you who don't like tl;dr messes, I'll use spoilers for organization. Now, let's begin.
Form I: Shii-Cho
The Way of the Sarlacc, the Determination Form, "why reinvent the wheel?"
The "Shii-Cho Knight" talent tree is contained within the "Warrior" Force-user career. It uses Brawn as its main attacking attribute, since Brawn is what all melee attacks normally use. Shii-Cho has a fantastic assortment of talents, both offensive and defensive. It's a rugged talent tree that offers you physical durability and offensive options in the form of disarmament and multiple-enemy offense.
Something unfathomable I noticed immediately on looking at the tree was the lack of "Reflect" talents, which means that this tree has no ability whatsoever to contend with blaster fire. FFG actually included an explanation in their sidebar. "The fighting style was developed before blasters and does not take the lightsaber's ability to deflect energy blasts into account." This is a dramatic departure from EU canon, in which Shii-Cho was most often a youngling's first experience with blaster deflection. It was likely a game balance choice, though, so I'll let it slide. If you're thinking about playing the game, consider switching a coupe of the Shii-Cho Knight's "Parry" talents for "Reflect" talents to make it more canon-friendly.
The overall impression of this style - nine defensive talents, five offensive, three "other" - is simplicity. This is perfect. This is exactly what Shii-Cho should be about. It has a few tricks for contending with multiple enemies, but largely it's just about ruggedly duking it out in melee. There are no bells or whistles, no super special awesome secret techiques, and no esoteric life lessons you take from it. It's a style that teaches you how to swing a lightsaber effectively and how to survive melee combat.
Its strength is in that simplicity. There is simply not any combat situation that you could point to and say "this is ill-suited for Shii-Cho." Another form might do it better, but Shii-Cho would suffice anyway. It's effective regardless of the opposition, with a combination of attack and defense that can persevere over any normal obstacle. Sure, it may not be awe-inspiring to watch, but it's plenty awe-inspiring to see someone use something so simple to overcome *ANY* threat.
Drawbacks? Simplicity. Out-of-combat, naturally, Shii-Cho offers nothing. Even in combat, though, its options are relatively thin. A disarm maneuver, a multi-target swing...and that's about it. Most of the time, you're just going to be hitting someone with a laser stick. Shii-Cho lacks the "toolbox" maneuvers that the other forms offer their students, which could result in situations like an Ataru dervish running rampant all over your face or a Makashi psychopath feinting through your guard for a lethal blow. Most other forms have their own way of answering these maneuvers with either special defenses or equally-powerful offenses, but Shii-Cho doesn't. Its only option is "hit 'em with a laser stick."
Of course, an experienced character probably has a few tricks of their own from their other classes...
In Summary: Shii-Cho is a simple, direct, and generically effective style that performs well in almost any situation, and is only limited by its lack of special tricks.
Other Forms: In relation to other forms, Shii-Cho is the "average" upon which they're judged. It's the middle ground. It does just a small bit of most things, acquits itself well enough against all of them, but doesn't really dominate any form. It'd need to have special tricks or, indeed, even basic distinguishing features to do that. XD
Form II: Makashi
The Way of the Ysalimiri, the Contention Form, "master of one."
The "Makashi Duelist" talent tree is contained within the "Mystic" Force-user career. It uses Presence as its main attacking attribute, which makes me think of Cary Elwes in the best possible way. Makashi is an extremely specialized form focused on contending with a single, melee opponent. It is the very, very best in the game at that one thing, but it has even fewer resources for things outside its sphere of influence than Shii-Cho does.
The first thing I noticed on Makashi was my favorite Makashi buzzword: "feint." It has 'em in abundance, and as far as I can tell it's the only lightsaber form that includes feints in its progression. Feint is, however, a defensive talent in this game, which lends to what seems to be the overall Makashi focus on dominating melee combat. In a lightsaber battle without lightsaber-resistant armor, the first one to get hit loses, and Makashi is all about not losing lightsaber battles. In fact, basically all it does is lightsaber battles. Unlike with Shii-Cho, the lack of blaster deflection talents here is intentional; Makashi was always intended to be horrible against blasters.
Overall, this style - eight defensive talents, five offensive, five "other" - is "mastery." A Makashi duelist is intended to find a single target in melee and eviscerate the living hell out of them. It gets a generic lightsaber boost, making it generally better at landing hits than the other forms, and while not the rugged, enduring mountain that is Shii-Cho, its stamina is nothing to sneeze at. Makashi is meant to weather down an enemy's guard as efficiently as possible, then go in for the kill with its potent finishers.
The strength of Makashi is obvious. Lightsaber vs lightsaber confrontations become much, much more dangerous for the enemy. With Makashi's ability to effectively handle defense under pressure and consistently put the opponent's defense under just as much pressure, it's extremely adept at quickly whittling down one opponent for a lethal killing blow. It gets a disarm maneuver as well, so non-lethal takedowns are possible. Being one-on-one with a Makashi fighter is something the enemy does not want to experience, as Makashi can dish it out and take it just as well...in -melee-.
The drawbacks, though, are absolutely immense. If you haven't taken any other lightsaber training, you will have *NO* deflection abilities at all. A stormtrooper with surprisingly good aim could turn you into swiss cheese in a moment. You don't get a lightsaber throw, either, which means you're SOL for ranged options. Additionally, Makashi is intended to fight a single enemy per battle. Its special tricks won't help its endurance against multiple foes, and a surrounded Makashi duelist is a dead one. If you face multiple attacks per round, it doesn't matter how good your parry is - you're going to wear down very, very quickly.
In Summary: Makashi is a highly specialized dueling form that excels at taking on a single enemy in melee. It's entirely useless or even actively detrimental in basically every other situation.
Other Forms: Naturally, being a lightsaber form focused on lightsaber-to-lightsaber combat, Makashi at least trades even against almost every form. It has a particular advantage against Niman and Shien, neither of which can contend with its powerful defenses or lethal finishing attacks. Against Ataru, it's more like rocket tag. First one to run out of stamina loses.
Form III: Soresu
The Way of the Mynock, the Resilience Form, "patience is a virtue."
The "Soresu Defender" talent tree is contained within the "Guardian" Force-user career. It uses Intellect as its main attacking attribute, which honestly strikes me as a little odd. Guess they had to put it somewhere. Soresu is another highly specialized form, as you can imagine. I'm probably not surprising anyone here when I say that it's the single best defensive form in the game. It doesn't matter if you're facing multiple enemies, a single enemy, melee weapons, blasters, or anything else. Soresu can tank it.
First impressions? Jeezus that's a lot of "defensive stance" talents. What strikes me as odd is the final talent in the tree. I recognize it's a gamist thing, meant to represent "tanking" by forcing an aggro drop on one enemy. "Hit me now and no one else." It confused me greatly for a moment, until I thought of it in a dramatic light. The talent in question is called Strategic Form, which brings to mind the idea of a Soresu fighter cornering a single enemy, or holding a chokepoint, somehow forcing them to waste their effort on the invincible tank rather than the other, more dangerous fighters.
The word for Soresu - with a paltry thirteen defensive and a record-breaking three offensive talents, along with four "other" talents - is "endurance." It's pretty obviously designed to do exactly what you'd expect Soresu to do. Its only offensive abilities lie in counterattacks, period. You can attack if you want to, but its capstone abilities reward you for patiently waiting out your enemy's attacks. Naturally, this isn't the best way to handle most encounters, but it works wonders when you're stalling for time, have no intent to "win," or against tons of enemies all at once. Basically any time that death is less appealing than defeat, Soresu shines.
I'd be restating what I've already said if I just said that "Soresu's strength is personal defense." Soresu's strength is being a fortress. Outlasting an enemy. It isn't a duelist locked in a battle with another duelist, but a castle under siege. Soresu thrives when it can outlast an enemy, whether you're buying time for something else to happen, protecting someone else from harm, or simply attempting to wear down your opponent through attrition. Eventually they're going to get tired of hitting you only to get hit back. Eventually their defenses are going to fail. Then you can finally close it out.
Likewise, I'm sure the drawback of this form is pretty self-evident. It's way too easy to prolong a fight too much. If -your- body is the one that stops working, all of that defense isn't going to do you much good. It obviously has no ranged attacks, because it has no attacks at all. Anyone who can bypass your lightsaber's defense is going to have a very easy time of eviscerating you, because unlike the other forms, your lack of aggression makes it difficult for you to handle such challenges before they become problems.
In Summary: Soresu is a tank form. It can withstand almost any possible offensive and offers minor counterattacks, but it lacks the ability to actually defeat enemies most of the time.
Other Forms: Soresu fairs particularly well against Ataru. While all forms are limited by how much stress you can pull out of your own body, Ataru is by far the worst about it, and will be quickly left defenseless as its devastating avalanche of attacks falls like so much rain on the unrelenting bastion of a Soresu defense.
Form IV: Ataru
The Way of the Hawk-Bat, the Aggression Form, "blow your load."
The "Ataru Striker" talent tree is contained within the "Seeker" Force-user career. It uses Agility as its main attacking attribute, surprising no one and making me smile. Much like Makashi before it, Ataru is highly focused on a single target. However, it's not nearly as specialized in melee combat to the exclusion of everything else. It pays for this in massive stamina strain.
The unique thing that caught my eye here is another buzzword, like Makashi. Something Ataru duelists on the board may be familiar with. "Dodge." Since I've written an Ataru warrior before (though it's been a while since Fabula used Ataru to a great extent) I enjoyed seeing this. It's a bit of an abstract way of referring to it. Much like Makashi is hardly the only form that uses feints, Ataru is hardly the only form that uses dodges. However, avoiding attacks rather than withstanding them is a key trait of Ataru, and I'm glad to see it represented.
I really did expect Ataru to have more offense than anything else, and I wasn't disappointed; seven offensive talents, seven defensive talents, four "else." In a word, "dynamic." Unmitigated, unbridled beatdown. This isn't to say that it doesn't have defensive options. In fact, unlike Makashi, it actually has deflection talents in the tree, and dodge can be used against any attack. In general it's a more balanced form to take than Makashi...but only barely. It's still all about ending a fight, and ending it quickly. All of the offense and defense talents require copious amounts of energy to use. You will run dry very quickly.
Ataru's main strength, apart from being more versatile than Makashi but accomplishing the same thing, is in its special maneuvers. The ability to engage a melee enemy from a long distance away through a sudden, powerful jump or dash is handy against any ranged target. Spinning, exhausting, but dangerous whirlwinds of attacks from the "saber swarm" maneuver are also incredibly deadly against most enemies. Getting hit once with a lightsaber is bad enough, but two or three times in the space of a couple of seconds is just crippling.
The main weakness? Everything you do draws heavily on your own physical strain. You'll burn through however much stamina you have in under a minute laying the raw beatdown on the baddies. This is largely the only weakness of the form, but just like Makashi, don't let that fool you into thinking it's perfect. Even moreso than Makashi, multiple enemies spell doom for an Ataru stylist. A single enemy wears them down quickly; two or three is a good time to throw in the towel.
In Summary: Dynamic and explosive, Ataru is all about an immediate and decisive victory. It will utterly fail to provide anything for you if you don't conquer your opponent quickly.
Other Forms: Ataru and Makashi continue to be glass cannon rivals, each maintaining the ability to eviscerate the other immediately should a single mistake be made. Ataru does, however, have a dominant lead over the other three forms...which it only bought with its embarrassing performance against Soresu. As mentioned above, a Soresu defense can weather an Ataru assault easily, leaving the Ataru fighter drained and the Soresu duelist with a cocky smirk.
Form V: Shien
The Way of the Krayt Dragon, the Perseverance Form, "chronically contemporary."
The "Shien Expert" talent tree is contained within the "Sentinel" Force-user career. It uses Cunning as its main attacking attribute, an attribute which could have been but for some reason wasn't used for Soresu. Like its older cousin Soresu, Shien is very defensive, but it includes enough offensive and counterattack tricks to be much more well-rounded than the older form.
I'm not going to lie and say I wasn't actively looking for mentions of Djem So in this tree. I found them. Don't worry, this is ALL of Form V, not just the old bits. Shien is highly focused on blaster defense, but it's got plenty of melee defense to balance it out. It gets the cousin development to the Soresu "spend less energy when blocking stuff" talent, only Shien's applies to blasters. And, as stated, it's got plenty of little perks for melee combat. I'd expect nothing less from Form V, a style which was made as a refinement of an older style and which was then refined *AGAIN* because its users felt it was too out of date.
By far the most balanced assortment of talents I've seen so far, Shien has six offensive, ten defensive, and four "misc" talents in its tree. Here, I'd have to go with "fluid." It's very obviously a defensive form, but it doesn't neglect to make concessions for aggression along with that. Unlike Soresu, which is focused on weathering the tide of battle, Shien wants to control that tide. It abuses openings in its enemy's defenses after they attempt to attack, closes to melee range, and beats the living daylights out of them with incredibly powerful swings.
Strength is the name of the game in Shien, and strengths it does not want for. The perpetually modernized Form V has kept up with the times to deal with lightsabers, blasters, melee combat, and ranged combat. It feels a bit like Shii-Cho 2.0, or Niman's bigger, meaner cousin. Solid melee prowess on top of phenomenal ranged defense makes for a fantastic pairing and generally a fill-all position for a duelist who wants to be prepared for anything.
I actually had to think on what Shien's weaknesses might be, at least in this system. Normally the answer is "mobility" but that's not uncommon here. The only form that had any mobility in it was Ataru. I've decided that Shien's issue is that even though it has tremendous melee -potential-, it's still a defensive form. Shien isn't a form that presents you with a lot of options to initiate aggression against your enemy. Your main offensive options are counterattacks, which can be difficult to use against another defensive duelist. Additionally, Shien is good with counterattacks, but its primary defenses are for ranged enemies. A strong melee offense will still overwhelm you.
In Summary: A fantastically balanced form that can do most things you'd want a lightsaber form to do pretty damn well. Hits hard, retaliates often, but has difficulties against melee specialists.
Other Forms: Any Soresu fighter who's too dumb to rely entirely on counterattacks will quickly become meat for a Shien stylist. It trades well with Shii-Cho and Niman, but has difficulties with the overwhelming melee assault of Ataru and Makashi.
Form VI: Niman
The Way of the Rancor, the Moderation Form, "eet-sa me, Mario!"
The "Niman Disciple" talent tree is contained within the "Consular" Force-user career. It uses Willpower as its main attacking attribute, which is simply perfect for a Force-heavy build. Much like Soresu, you probably already know what I'm about to say about Niman. Much like Soresu, Niman is well-characterized in EU lore, though it's not so well...observed? I dunno. We know what it does but we haven't seen it do it. Niman is the form you take if you want to do a little of everything, but not weigh yourself down with specialization.
I didn't really know what to look for in the Niman tree, but I found it anyway. At the very highest rank, Niman gives an increase to Force power. This is unique among all lightsaber form specializations, and really encapsulates what Niman's all about. Form VI is a toolbox style. It includes bits and pieces that you can use to solve your problems, rather than concrete answers. How you put those pieces together determines how well the form works, meaning that even here,
Out of all forms, I expected Niman to have the greatest number of "misc" talents, and the smallest number of offensive ones. I was not wrong: Niman has a paltry four offensive talents, eleven defensive, and tied for five "else" with Makashi. The thing is, these other talents for Makashi were about stamina and focus. For Niman, they're about talking with your enemies, sensing their state of mind, and coming to non-standard resolutions to problems. So unlike Makashi, I'm sticking with my favorite word for Niman. "Toolbox." It is a set of tools with which you can achieve your ends, whatever those ends are.
Niman's strength is, obviously, its versatility. It includes offensive options for disarms and mixing telekinesis into your attacks, defensive options to avoid the most dangerous strikes your enemies can throw at you, and non-combat options to allow you to talk them to surrender, or at least conclude the encounter without having to kill someone. In general, it's the single most Jedi form I can imagine, and really does lack any major weaknesses...
Apart from its relatively weak offensive options. In the EU, Niman is comprised of maneuvers and techniques from Shii-Cho, Soresu, Ataru, and Shien. Three of those forms are inherently defensive, so it shouldn't be surprising that more effort is put into Niman's resilience than its potency. Even then, though, it's not as good at defending as Soresu...and certainly not as good at attacking as Ataru. Jack of all, master of none, etc.
In Summary: It's Niman. It's good at everything, not great at anything, and gives you neat tricks to pull off that don't involve stabbing people.
Other Forms: All of the other forms are specialized in something, which sort of makes Niman rather the odd man out in this lineup. That said, it performs perfectly well against Shii-Cho and Soresu, and can generally hold its own against Djem So. Furthermore, through creativity and inventiveness, Niman has the tools (tools! Tools!!) necessary to pull out some pretty surprising tricks against even powerhouse duelist forms like Makashi and Ataru. Niman is capable of what you make of it. It is not inherently good, but it can be -incidentally- fantastic.
Again, there is no Juyo specialization. Can't say I'm put off by that, either. :p
Before people who tried to tl;dr each section above with "In Summary" and "Other Forms" start attempting to accuse me of speaking heavily for Makashi and Ataru, or speaking heavily against Niman and Shii-Cho, I'm doing neither of those things. There is more to being a duelist than simply fighting in one-on-one duels, and out of six forms, Makashi and Ataru fail in any situation apart from their carefully-constructed area of expertise. That's the penalty of specializing. You get your butt kicked when you're not doing the single thing that you're good at.
How do we apply this to RP? We don't. Or maybe we do. How you do or don't apply a lightsaber form to your writing is up to you. It's important to realize that even though each form has its strengths and weaknesses, here, they're simply styles of writing. We have no mechanics on this board, no dice or statistics. Makashi users don't get +5 vs lightsabers and -5 vs blasters. Niman users don't get +1 to everything. They're simply styles, how you decide to write your character. I just thought it'd be fun to write about lightsaber forms while talking about tabletop stuff, so I did that.
Maybe you shouldn't read into it too much. :p