As most of you will already know yesterday was June 15, however what many of you may not know is that yesterday was also free RPG day. Free RPG day is essentially an open beta test for new role playing game modules that are in their final development process and I was just lucky enough to get in on the playtest for Fantasy Flight Games new upcoming product Star Wars Edge of the Empire Roleplaying Game. Now going into the experience I was a little wary because I’d done some research on the new system and it is quite different from the now discontinued Saga edition that I’d grown most accustomed to. Of course I had my misgivings about Saga as well having come from the even older d20 system from before so I felt like I had to give this version a chance.
The adventure we were started with was called Shadows of Black Sun and takes place largely in the underbelly of Coruscant. I was a little frustrated that particular day because of some errands I’d had to run before and so I picked the character Tray’Essek, a Trandoshan Hired Gun with the Marauder specialization (basically a brawler) so that I could focus almost exclusively on cracking heads. Joining me were a couple other players who picked the premade smuggler though they changed the species to Twi’lek and altered the gender to be female and the premade Rodian trader with no adjustments except taking on extra obligation for more equipment. Having read about the obligation system already and how it could have unpleasant consequences I opted to stick with the base level of obligation. Once we’d made our character selections the GM (game master) wasted no time and we found ourselves running from security guards after an alarm was tripped during a data heist. The only escape seemed to be a droid piloted speeder taxi and we all piled in and took off, but a lucky shot from the guards took out our pilot droid and our Rodian made a leap for the controls. I pulled out my antiquated slug thrower (basically a gun) and covered our escape while our Twi’lek smuggler shot out a nearby advertisement sign showering the area around us with sparks blinding both us and our pursuers. As our sight recovered we managed to pilot into a tunnel leading to the under-city only to find it blocked by a massive duracrete slug. Some fancy flying maneuvered us through a tight gap allowing us to pass, but damaging our engines severely. Only the combined efforts of two of our party members were able to keep the speeder in the air long enough to land the smoking hulk out front of the chop shop where we were to drop off the stolen data. From there we’re sent on a mission to recover stolen spice from the Black Sun Organization and bring the bounty hunter culprit behind the theft back for punishment (if we don’t do the punishing ourselves). The story evolved from there and found each of us growing more comfortable with our character’s niche and how we were going to play them. In the end we were successful, tricking the bounty hunter into an ambush where we stunned him and bound him to be delivered along with the spice back to our employers.
The New Mechanics
There are three major changes from the older roleplaying games that are worth noting in a review of Edge of the Empire which while a little awkward at first really serve to speed up the gameplay and make it a lot easier to determine the outcome of an action.
Narrative Dice System – instead of using numbers, adding the roll with all the bonuses and comparing that to DC (difficulty class) as with an older system, this version of the game uses a unique narrative dice system that has symbols on each face of several types of dies that quickly tell you whether or not an action succeeds. There are four main symbols to worry about. The first two are successes and failures. When you make a roll you count the success symbols and subtract the failure symbols. If you have at least one success symbol left the action succeeds, otherwise it fails. The other two symbols are advantage and disadvantage symbols. These modify the outcome with unintended side effects. For example a successful role with a predominance of disadvantage might cause you to successfully pop out of cover and shoot your foe, but leave you off balance till the start of your next turn making you easier to hit. The mechanics, once you have the hang of it are pretty easy and describing what happens and why becomes the harder part. Don’t worry too much if you haven’t been able to get a set of the special dice just yet, the adventure includes a conversion chart in the very front so you can use your standard d20 dice if need be.
Obligation – one of the key elements of the new system is called obligation and it’s simply a measure of how much history your character has that may one day come back to haunt them. Every character has some sort of obligation as part of their back story (like Han Solo’s debt to Jabba the Hutt). On your first mission your character has the option to increase their obligation to get extra talents or equipment to make the mission easier, but this means there’s a better chance that that character’s obligation is going to somehow cause an extra complication during the story. This is a great campaign element as it creates side stories as you go, and your actions can even cause you to gain further obligation as the story continues. The easiest way to explain this is to think about the way Bio Ware makes its games. All your supporting characters have some sort of history which creates a problem that they need your help with in the form of a side quest. The obligation system is essentially the same concept.
Simplified Measurements – the method for determining distance and difficulty is now significantly simpler than it once was. There are five different difficulties represented by dice. Simple is one difficulty die (8 sided), medium is 2, hard is 3, etc. Range is done in the same fashion with short being 1, medium 2, and so forth. To move to a different range category is no longer a matter of squares but rather one or two maneuvers (the equivalent of move actions from the old system) and viola, you’re closer and the shot is easier or vice versa.
Based on my experience with the game so far I have to say that I’m very impressed with what Fantasy Flight is doing with it. As a GM for the old saga system I can easily see how much simpler writing a campaign for Edge of the Empire will be in comparison to writing one for Saga was. The idea of a role playing game is for everyone to have fun, and I think Fantasy of Flight is on the right track for that with Edge of the Empire. I look forward to my next few experiences with the game as I pick up the starter box and play through the included adventures (including the free downloadable one from their website) and eagerly anticipate the release of the core rulebook once beta testing is complete. My only hope is that they’ll offer some sort of conversion system so the old resources are still useful in some way so that they’re not just sitting on the selves gathering dust in my N3rd C0rn3r.