Star Wars Wednesday - Chevin and Species Creation

Back in November, a member of the WotC Community forums asked if I would take a look at a couple of species that were never updated to Star Wars Saga Edition. I’m always on the lookout for good Star Wars Wednesday material, so keep the suggestions coming.  I’ll go a step further here, and talk about the species creation process I typically used while working on the game.

This week will be the Chevin, best known for the character Ephant Mon. He’s a large, rather elephant-like creature and one of the menagerie of beings surrounding Jabba the Hutt in Return of the Jedi. Though he doesn’t do much more than stand around in the movie, he is one of the more unique looking background characters, once you notice him.

OK, we have our species. First I grab the obvious source material I have at hand: WEG’s Galaxy Guide 4: Alien Races - oops, make that Galaxy Guide 12: Alien Enemies and Allies (it’s even on the cover), WEG’s Star Wars Trilogy Sourcebook Special Edition, WotC’s d20 Ultimate Alien Anthology, and The New Essential Guide to Alien Species. I have a few other books, but a quick scan tells me that these cover what I need. You know, I seem to remember a Chevin somewhere in Saga Edition. Not having access to Lucasfilm’s Holocron…

To the cloud!

That is, Wookieepedia’s Chevin entry. Now, Wookieepedia is a great resource, but not one that we would or could rely on for official source material. However, skipping down past the written description, there are two invaluable sections: Appearances and Sources. Appearances list the stories (no matter what the form) that include the subject of the entry. Sources list the sourcebooks, essential guides, RPG books and other reference material relevant to the entry.

First, I see no Saga Edition sources in either list, which seems to confirm that it hasn’t been covered in the game. However, I finally put my finger on it and remember that there was a Chevin gamemaster character early in the Dawn of Defiance campaign series. In fact, it was in the very first adventure, Traitor’s Gambit.  That will be very handy later on.  I’m sure someone will update Wookieepedia eventually – I’ve seen Dawn of Defiance references in other entries.

I own quite a few of the other books and stories listed in Appearances and Sources, and if I was writing this for publication, I would pull them all down and give them a quick once over. If I didn’t own them, I’d try to find out how significant an entry there was, maybe ask my fellow authors and editors if they own them.  However, there is usually a lot of duplicate information, so I think the ones I have out already will do for our purposes. Three Sources do attract more attention – Heroes and Rogues, Shadows of the Empire Planet Guide and Hideouts & Strongholds – all WEG books I authored or contributed to. Anything to do with the Chevin would be marginal in them…but where the heck was one in Hideouts & Strongholds? A quick check reveals in the very first entry, I created a character called Buula Nen, Chevin pirate chieftain, head of Buula’s Raiders, and owner of a fortified asteroid base. Nice. I remember this place. Maybe I’ll update him for a future Star Wars Wednesday.

Research can lead you deep down the rabbit hole. It’s fun, but can easily distract you from the task at hand. So, I quickly review Ephont Mon’s Wookieepedia entry to see if there are any other major sources, then move on.

I look at the entries in my main source material, noting any development or changes over the years. At this point, I would usually write the species description, based on this research. It usually includes a couple of paragraphs broadly describing the species, then getting into specifics with personality, physical description, home worlds, languages, example names, and adventure notes. Since I’m pretty sure most of the readers of this blog either know most of that already, or now know where to find it, I’ll skip ahead to the game stats. The main takeaways are that Chevin are big, probably slow movers, very resilient and cunning.

Now, going back to Traitor’s Gambit, it includes an official Saga stat for the minor Chevin character Ganga Lor (nonheroic 3/noble 2). It obviously does not include a fully developed species write up, but has the minimum needed for an encounter or two. I deconstruct it to see if I can discern some of the author’s intent and learn the following by eliminating the character’s class abilities, etc.:

Size: Large.

Starting Languages should be Basic and Chevin. It seems to have an extra language, but I don’t see any reason to grant a third language from those remaining on the list.

Reflex Defense indicates a natural armor bonus of +1 (10+2 Heroic Level – 1 Dex modifier +1 Noble class bonus +1 natural armor -1 size = Ref 12). He has DR 2 and +5 Damage Threshold (due to Large size).

Speed 10 squares? Seems a bit much for a plodding species. We’ll come back to that later.

His low Dexterity score might indicate a -2 species penalty, and his Constitution score suggests a +2 species bonus. However, his stats and ability scores are pretty basic, so reading the tea leaves here gives a limited view.

No special qualities are listed.

Next, I go to the d20 Ultimate Alien Anthology. Personally, I like to maintain continuity from previous editions whenever possible. There are times when it makes sense to make big adjustments, because the game systems are different, or there’s been some story development that necessitates updating the stats. The Saga developers were not opposed to changes that improved game play.

Looking at the Chevin entry, we see it includes ability modifiers of +2 Strength, -2 Dexterity, +2 Constitution, and -2 Wisdom. In Saga Edition, we don’t often use more than two or three ability modifiers, so I’ll stick with just the -2 Dexterity penalty and the +2 Constitution bonus. While one might argue for the Strength bonus, I see no need for the Wisdom penalty, especially as the background material speaks to their often scheming nature.

Next, the size is listed as…Medium? Interesting. The illustration on the adjacent page clearly shows the Chevin to be much larger than most humanoids. Both Ganga Lor’s stat block and the Ephant Mon mini from the Miniatures game indicate a Large size, so I’ll go with that.

Speed says 10 meters, which translates to 6 squares in Saga, average for humanoids.  This is less than the 10 squares in Ganga Lor’s stats, which seems too high to me. As the Chevin are described as plodding, it is tempting to reduce the Speed to 4 squares, like the stats in the Miniatures game for Ephant Mon. However, he walks with a cane, so how much of that is age and personal fitness versus species traits? You can make an argument for either 4 or 6 squares. Since the story info also talks about them outmaneuvering their quicker humanoid opponents by cleverness instead of speed, I’ll run with 4 squares…um, so to speak.

Natural armor +1 is retained.  Their free language is obviously Chevin and I’ll add Basic, which is pretty standard for most Saga species.

Finally, I’ll add a species trait unique to the Chevin, one that the player must make an active choice to use. While not every species entry has this (many are static stat adjustments), it’s nice to do when it is a) appropriate, and b) fun. The Chevin's toughness seems to be well covered by natural armor and DR. I was originally tempted to give them some ability to move up the condition track, but now that’s a bit too much. Instead, I’ll boost their cunninginess a bit with a trait called Scheming.

One thing about traits – they are not talents or feats, and they are theoretically usable both in and out of combat and encounters. When designing your own traits, minimize things like “once per encounter,” or “as a standard action,” when possible. Now, do as I say, not as I do, because I'm going to use them anyway. Remember, traits are often unlimited in use, so be careful not to add overpowering bonuses, or advantages that are too good in the long term.

So, the results:

Chevin Species Traits

Chevin share the following species traits:

Ability Modifiers: -2 Dexterity, +2 Constitution. Chevin are naturally tough, but not agile.

Large Size: As Large creatures, Chevin take a -1 size penalty to Reflect Defense and a -5 size penalty to Stealth checks, and they gain a +5 size bonus to damage threshold. Their lifting and carrying limits are double those of Medium size.

Speed: Chevin base speed is 4 squares.

Thick Skin: Thanks to their tough hide, Chevin are naturally resistant to many forms of physical damage.  They gain a +1 natural armor bonus to Reflex Defense and Damage Reduction 2.

Scheming: Chevin are opportunistic, always seeking advantages over their opponents. As a standard action, a Chevin that makes a successful Perception check against a target’s Will Defense may then reroll one subsequent Deception, Perception or Persuasion skill check (except Use the Force) against the same target until the end of the encounter, but must take the second result even if it is worse.

Automatic Languages: Chevin and Basic.

Age by species (usually listed on a table in the book, we’ll use the Ultimate Alien Anthology version): Child 1-12, young adult 13-18, adult 19-155, middle age 156-211, old 212-256, venerable 257+

Now, what is missing? Playtesting, editing and development.

I can do some minor playtesting on my own or with a group. Editing and development is normally handled by WotC staff, usually Rodney Thompson. He usually had a better overall feel for the direction of the game, because he knew their upcoming plans and had access to more feedback from players. Development tries to catch broken mechanics or improve on a mechanical concept from the original design. I don’t have any of that here, so I’ll rely on feedback from players to see if this design is working as intended. Or if I’ve overlooked something.  Or can't do math today.

So, give it a try and let me know how the Chevin stacks up in play.

Edit: Deleted Use the Force reference. It was from an earlier version of the trait that slipped through. See editing note above.