RPG Review: Star Wars - Edge of the Empire
Uh, we had a slight weapons malfunction, but uh... everything's perfectly all right now. We're fine. We're all fine here now, thank you. How are you?
- Han Solo, Star Wars IV: A New Hope
In my somehow close to 35 years of gaming there's certain types of games I've played a lot of. There's D&D of course, as well as related games such as Dungeon Crawl Classics and ACKS. Over the past several years I've played a ton of Call of Cthulhu. Though it's been a long time since I played it, in the 80's, 90's and early 00's I played a ton of Star Trek, mainly by FASA and Last Unicorn Games, though with some Decipher as well (my group was among the playtesters for the Decipher Star Trek). And a ton of Star Wars.
I've played pretty much every incarnation of Star Wars. I played the West End Games version of Star Wars since it came out until well after it went out of print and even did a one-shot of it last year. It's one of my all-time favorite games. I played all of the Wizards of the Coast versions - it took them a while to get it right, but I think they did a great job in their final version, the Saga Edition.
I avoided the Fantasy Flight Games version for a while. I was a bit intimidated with the funky dice, especially given that the bulk of my gaming is done via Virtual Table Top and I wasn't certain how well that would work. But with a (knock on wood) reasonably stable gaming group we took it for a spin last spring and summer and then again in November. It's been nice having something go on for a while. I've been noodling with the idea of a changeover when my current semester of grad school ends in the early spring but even were I to do so, it would be with the intent of picking it up again - probably when the advertising and media frenzy for Star Wars: Rogue One takes off next fall...
So what's the deal with Edge of the Empire? I'll note that my review is about this - though I own the sister games Age of Rebellion and Force and Destiny, we've been playing Edge of the Empire. EotE is one of three Star Wars games published by Fantasy Flight Games. They are all compatible with each other but are all also complete games - it is a setup reminiscent of the manner in which Last Unicorn Games handled their Star Trek license back in the 90's. Edge of the Empire is about Han Solo-type characters - people operating on the fringes of the galaxy. Smugglers, scoundrels, bounty hunters, mercenaries, scouts, etc.
It's a thick book, over 450 pages long. It is nicely illustrated with artwork appropriate to this corner of the Star Wars galaxy. I don't recall and can't find photographs in the book - everything is drawn in full color - very nicely done as well. A major annoyance for me is that Fantasy Flight Games' license only allows for physical books, there is no pdf-version of the game or its supplements. That said Fantasy Flight Games does have an official dice-rolling app for Android and iOS. Also there is an amazing, though unofficial, Star Wars sheet for Roll20, handling all the funky dice.
We'll get to the funky dice shortly, first we'll go over characters. Characters are built primarily around three types of abilities:
- Characteristics - Your usual types of ability scores, things like agility, willpower, etc. Your rating in your characteristic determines the number of green ability dice you roll when attempting a task.
- Skills - A boost above your characteristic in certain tasks. For example, if you are untrained in computers you would simply roll your intellect rating, a bit like the old D6 Star Wars. A rating in a skill transforms the green ability dice into yellow proficiency dice and/or adds extra green or yellow dice.
- Talents - A bit like feats in D&D, lets you do things like gain bonuses under certain circumstances, reduce penalties, bend the rules a little.
So back to the dice. I've already mentioned ability and proficiency dice, used for raw ability and skilled ability respectively. There's also blue boost dice which indicate some positive bonus. Opposed to these are black setback dice (for negative circumstances), purple difficulty dice (for setting a task difficulty) and red challenge dice (for the most severe difficulties/circumstances).
When making a roll you are trying to collect successes and advantages, with the dices having symbols for these (and better dice allowing for more of these). Successes simply say whether you succeed or not. Advantages are used to get things like critical hits, bonuses to an ally's upcoming roll, or other special effects. A special type of symbol is a triumph which is both a success and a type of super-advantage.
On the "negative" dice are symbols which cancel these out - failure, threat, and despair. A threat is a bit like a fumble in most games - something went wrong. And opposing the triumph is despair. If, for example you were to roll four success, two failure, zero boosts, and one threat, your final roll is two successes (meaning you succeeded in your task) but with one threat (something went wrong - maybe for example you hacked into a computer but left a sign that you were there).
Your character starts with a profession and has a single specialization in that profession. This dictates what talents you can buy with experience and what skills cost the least to improve. As an example, bounty hunter is a career with specializations like assassin (bounty hunters who try to kill their targets) or gadgeteers (bounty hunters with lots of toys). You can buy new specializations, though the number of specializations you have increases the cost for new ones, as does picking a specialization outside your career.
There's different types of opponents - opponents like minions are pretty useless on their own but they can group together (like a bunch of stormtroopers). Other types of characters get more like PCs - for example some lack a stun pool (characters can take both stun and wound damage), making them easier to take out in a fight. Others are pretty much just like PCs.
Space combat is designed much like regular combat, which is a nice thing - no need to learn two totally different systems.
Beyond standard stats you have things like motivation (why you adventure) and obligation (at the start of an adventure the GM rolls dice to see if anyone's obligation comes up - like Han Solo running into Greedo looking to collect a debt. You also have Destiny - the ability to control events. There's a pool of light side and dark side points. If you spend a light side point it gives you some bonus (sometimes mechanical, other times narrative) and then becomes a dark side point. The opposite happens when the GM spends a dark side point. The number of dark and light side points is set at random at the start of each session.
That's the 30,000 foot view. It's a fairly crunchy game but it is also a rather narrative one. In combat, the system of advantages and threats is pretty well defined but outside of combat there's a lot of GM judgement called for.
I've found it plays well - combats don't drag forever (a problem I had with D&D 4th edition) but they also don't end immediately. The game definitely captures, at least for me, the Star Wars feel. It requires a GM able to think on his or her feet when it comes to translating dice but there is a lot of guidance provided. I've got the bulk of the supplements, and while they are handy, the game is absolutely complete by itself. It doesn't support Jedi characters though it does have the Force Sensitive Exile specialization, a specialization that is universal (i.e. belongs to effectively every career). This is not a character who is going to be leaping out of pits or deflecting blaster bolts, but it is one who can pull blasters out of hands or use Jedi mind tricks - at least eventually. You can also pull in Force-users from Force and Destiny, a game dedicated to that very purpose.
A few caveats should be noted. First, there is a bit of a learning curve. There is a Beginner Game for all of the Fantasy Flight Games' Star Wars RPGs and, though they lack character creation, do a great job of introducing concepts gradually. Even were you to forego those games, that is a good way to go - I waited a while, for example, before introducing Destiny. It is also worth noting that the game was written prior to the canon reshuffling, meaning some elements of it are now in the "Legends" continuity.
Overall, it makes for a fun game, which is the highest praise I can give any RPG.