Review – Edge of the Empire Beta (Star Wars RPG)

               At GenCon 2012, Fantasy Flight Games announced a new Star Wars RPG line (or set of lines, depending on how you look at it), and released a Beta version of the first core book, Edge of the Empire. I snatched one as soon as I saw it, and although it is a Beta copy (for example, there’s very little art and I assume the final product will be longer) and shouldn’t be judged by normal review standards, I thought folks might be interested in knowing what’s coming down the pipeline. Edge of the Empire Beta is a 224-page full color softcover that retails for $30 if your local store chooses to get in on the action.

The Concept

Edge of the Empire is the first of three planned Star Wars RPG lines. It covers character who live on the fringe of the galaxy – smugglers, bounty hunters, colonists, and so forth. The characters are almost required to have some sort of criminal involvement. The adventure at the end of the book is designed for a group of smugglers, so some sort of Han-and-Chewie-before-Episode-IV might be the default sort of party.

The other two lines are Age of Rebellion and Force and Destiny. The former covers (shock) members of the Rebel Alliance in their fight against the Empire, and the latter is Force users. There’s nothing specific about it in Edge of the Empire, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s also a power-level progression between the lines like there is from Dark Heresy to Rogue Trader to Deathwatch. I also wouldn’t be surprised if we eventually get a Star Wars RPG line playing as the Empire (the counterpart to Black Crusade, I guess), but there’s no indication of that right now.

All three lines are set exclusively in the Rebellion era.

Basic Mechanics

The Basic Roll

A lot of the mechanics in Edge of the Empire will be familiar to those coming from FFG’s Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, and that starts with the core dice-rolling system. For any skill roll, players will have an ability and a skill. The higher of those two numbers dictates how many dice are rolled and the lower dictates how many of those dice are upgraded from normal green d8 “ability dice” to superior yellow d12 “proficiency dice.” Inherent difficulty or opposition adds purple d8 “difficulty dice” or (if hard enough) red d12 “challenge dice.” Circumstances may also add light blue d6 “boost dice” or black d6 “setback dice.” Character abilities can alter the composition of this dice pool – adding boost dice or removing setback dice, reducing difficulty, upgrading dice, and so forth.

All of the dice are custom, with four different symbols. Positive dice have success symbols and advantage symbols. Negative dice have failure symbols and threat symbols. The d12 dice also each have a single Triumph (a super-success/advantage) or Despair (super-failure/threat) symbol, as applicable. The successes and failures rolled cancel out and the roll succeeds so long as a single success remains. The advantages and threats also cancel out, and if there are any left over either way it will affect ancillary results of the task. For example, success on a slicing (aka hacking) roll with a lot of threat might mean that the character succeeded at obtaining the target information, but then tripped an alarm.

Percentile dice are also required. The Beta book comes with a sticker sheet to make your own version of the custom dice, and you can download a PDF of the page to print out. There is an app die roller as well, but it costs $5.

Destiny Points

There’s one final custom die, the Force die, which is used for the limited Force applications in the game and also to generate the initial destiny point pools. The Force die has its own symbols – white circles for light side points, black circles for dark side points. Those destiny points are flipped back and forth between the GM and the players during each session. Light side points are used by the players to boost their own dice pools, increase the difficulty of enemy actions, activate certain abilities, or just get lucky (“oh, look, we did randomly pack those rebreathers that the players didn’t know we would need”). Whenever the players spend a light side destiny point, it is converted to a dark side destiny point, which the GM can then use against the players (at which point it flips back to the light side and is ready for use again). The game is intended for a relatively regular flow of destiny points back and forth.

Obligation

Characters will all start the game with Obligation. There are a variety of options, such as a debt, having a bounty on your head, a duty to someone, a family issue, an oath, etc. The stronger the obligation, the more likely it is to come up each session, which mechanically applies additional mental strain on the characters. For storytelling purposes, the GM would then also try to work a particular character’s obligation into ongoing events (perhaps he has the chance to pay off part of that debt he owes).

Obligation also serves to distinguish the party’s notoriety – the higher the total obligation, the easier it is to deal with criminals and the harder it is to work on the straight-and-narrow. Because of this last twist, it feels like the “standard” sort of obligations are more likely to be criminally-related ones – owing that Hutt money, having that bounty hunter after you, having a life-debt to someone else who is a criminal, and so forth. There just doesn’t seem to be the same sort of flavor/mechanics link when the obligation is something like Responsibility (take care of my kids).

Characters

In addition to the obligation (and some sort of motivation), characters start with a species, a career, a specialization, and a pool of XP to spend. Species defines the base values for the character’s six attributes (Brawn, Presence, Intellect, Cunning, Agility, Willpower – usual starting value of 2), the starting wound and strain thresholds (10 + Brawn/Willpower is typical), the starting XP pool (usually 100XP), and one or more special traits (usually starting with a free training in a particular skill). The available species are Bothans, Droids (Class IV), Gands, Humans, Rodians, Trandoshans, Twi’leks, and Wookies.

Characters then choose one career (out of six) and then one specialization (out of three) from that career. Careers each mark eight skills as “career skills” that are cheaper to train, as well a rank of training in four of those skills (player’s choice). The specialization grants four career skills, as well as a rank of training in two of those skills (there may be overlap between the broad career and the specialization). Each specialization is associated with a Talent Tree, which contains 20 special abilities – the character doesn’t get any talents for free, but may buy them later. The six careers (and associated specializations are: Bounty Hunter (Assassin, Gadgeteer, Survivalist), Colonist (Doctor, Politico, Scholar), Explorer (Fringer, Scout, Trader), Hired Gun (Bodyguard, Marauder, Mercenary), Smuggler (Pilot, Scoundrel, Thief), Technician (Mechanic, Outlaw Tech, Slicer).

The starting xp pool can be spent to raise characteristics (expensive), train in skills, buy talents, or buy another specialization. Buying another specialization is not restricted to the character’s career, although it is cheaper if it is. Buying additional specializations doesn’t gain the character anything right away – it simply provides additional career skills (so future purchases will be cheaper) and access to an additional talent tree. Characters cannot take values too high during character creation, but for the most part everything costs the same during character creation as it would with normal experience later (the big exception being characteristics, which can never be raised with XP after character creation). A character can get a few more XP (or a few extra credits) by taking on more obligation.

Each character gets a small amount of credits to spend on starting gear and, finally, the party as a whole gets a ship. There are three options – a YT-1300 Light Freighter (aka, the Millennium Falcon (random observation: how terrible would it be if Lucas had given that ship some really lame name and all of us Star Wars geeks hated it, but had to recite it over and over?), a Firespray System Patrol Craft (aka, Boba Fett’s Slave 1), or a Ghtroc 720 Light Freighter. The Falcon clone seems to be the default ship.

The Force

The Force is present in Edge of the Empire, but (aside from the Destiny Points) is pretty limited – those semi-Jedi will have to wait for the Force and Destiny product line. Characters can, however, choose the Force Exile specialization (which always counts as an out-of-career specialization). It grants the character no bonus career skills, but does give him or her a Force Rating of 1. In addition to the talent tree, having a Force Rating lets a character purchase Force powers – Sense, Influence, Move. These are not particularly impressive, limited most of all by the fact that activating them means you roll one Force die per Force Rating, which for almost all characters will translate to one Force die (there is a talent in the Force-Sensitive Exile tree that gives another one, but gunning straight for it means sinking 100 XP into it, and that doesn’t count the cost of the Force powers themselves). And the Force die has more Dark Side faces than Light Side faces, which are only useable if you have Destiny Points to flip and are willing to eat strain damage. And even when they work, they aren’t exactly Jedi-level tricks unless you’ve sunk a bunch of XP into upgrading the power.

And, of course, there’s that whole “the Empire is going to try and kill you if anyone finds out you can use the Force” thing.

Options and Gear

There are lots of Talents and a good number of Skills, and these are (of course) all described. There’s also an expected gear list, vehicle/starship list, and some droids. Every piece of equipment has a rarity (which affects the difficulty of the roll to find it), and some is Restricted if you’re going to buy it on the legitimate market. There are an array of standard weapons, and they are also fairly customizable. I don’t think there’s anything noteworthy and generic missing from this list, although it’s not too extensive (Star Wars itself never fixated too much on specific kinds of hand weapons, but if you’re looking for that specific DL-44 heavy blaster pistol that Han was carrying, you’ll have to wait for some sort of supplement). There’s even a lightsaber, although there is deliberately no skill associated with it – use at your own risk.

There is a limited armor selection (armor does not seem terribly effective – even the best armor doesn’t come close to keeping up with weapon damage, which is consistent with what we see in the movies). There’s also a section of non-combat gear – coms, survival equipment, macrobinoculars, some cybernetics (mostly limb replacements), etc. There’s also some black market gear – drugs and outlaw tech.

The starship/vehicle/droid lists are less impressive, although this may just be to keep the focus on the smuggler-level scale while saving some of the more well-known material for the Age of Rebellion books. So you’ll find Cloud Cars, Imperial speeder bikes, sandcrawlers, Lambda-class shuttles, TIE/ln, Y-Wings, Z-95 Headhunters, Corellian Corvettes, and Nebulon-B frigates, but not snowspeeders, AT-ATs, AT-STs, X-Wings, A-Wings, B-Wings, any TIE past a standard TIE Fighter, or any sort of Star Destroyer. Nor are there write-ups for the unique ships (so there’s the YT-1300 model, but no specifically Falcon version of it). Droids comes in categories, rather than specific models – so there’s an astromech droid stat block, but no R2 unit stat block.

Combat

Personal Combat

It’s usual for an RPG that the most detailed rules are for combat, and Edge of the Empire is no exception. The game’s focus on roleplaying extends even here, and things are relatively abstracted. There’s no miniatures combat aspect to it, starting with the Range system, which (for mechanical purposes) reduces positioning to vaguely how far away you are from each other. This general philosophy is also seen in things like cover – yeah, there’s cover, but unless you’re in a bunker or something wild like that, it’s just a straight one setback die penalty to anyone shooting at you, without (mechanically) worrying about things like what the cover is made of, what percentage of your body it covers, or other details you might use in another more tactical system.

Initiative is handled in a pretty unique way – at the start of a fight, everyone rolls initiative, and then is slotted out by the number generated. But instead of locking a particular PC into that slot, the slots are just for “PC” or “NPC” – when a PC slot comes up, the PCs can pick any PC to act (likewise for the GM and NPCs). Characters still only get one chance to act per round.

Every structured gameplay round a character gets one maneuver and one action, plus any number of incidentals. Actions are anything that requires a skill roll, including attacking. The action slot can also be used to take a maneuver. Maneuvers are used to move, but also to assist, aim, guard, engage in complicated gear management, and the like. Moving between Ranged Bands at long ranges requires more than one maneuver. An additional maneuver can be had in exchange for strain (mental damage, basically), but no character can ever get more than two maneuvers a turn.

Attacks are like any other skill check, although there’s a lot more detail (for example, there are much more specific uses for advantages, such as activating critical hits or weapon qualities). Range is important, since you have to be engaged for melee combat and longer ranges add difficulty dice to ranged attacks. Armor can increase the difficulty of a shot and/or soak damage. Characters get into real trouble once their wounds reach the wound threshold (usually 10+Brawn), which incapacitation and Critical Injuries start to occur – they don’t go away until healed, you get more every subsequent time you get hit, and the effects get worse and worse based on how many you already have. It seems like a couple of solid shots from a blaster rifle is likely to take down most characters.

Characters can heal from medpacs (using a Medicine check), bacta, or (what seems really, really important), stimpacks. Stimpacks seems to serve as healing potions, giving an immediate return of wounds plus a chance to cure a critical injury – all for just a maneuver. They get less and less effective the more that are used, however, so they are not a panacea.

Starship Combat

Starship (and vehicle) combat is based on the same framework as personal combat, but with extra complexities (especially when capital ships are involved). Starship combat adds in Silhouette (mostly synonymous with Size, this modifies attacks to reflect that bigger ships are easier to hit, and replaces the range modifiers on attacks), Speed (a ship can’t just accelerate and decelerate willy-nilly, and Speed affects what sort of distance-changing maneuvers can be performed), and facing/fire arcs (especially for capital ships). Snubfighters have a lot more maneuver/action options than capital ships, although capital ships will presumably have a lot more crew on board to take actions and maneuvers.

Bestiary

OK, OK, it’s really Adversaries, but calling it a Bestiary amuses me more. NPCs come in three flavors – minion, henchmen, and nemeses. Minions are squishy (duh), don’t have skills, and can be rolled/killed as a group in order to move things along. Henchmen don’t instantly die when they take a critical injury, but any strain damage is applied as normal wound damage and they auto-die when they hit their wound threshold. Nemeses follow all the normal rules that PCs do. Edge of the Empire contains ten pages of potential foes/contacts, including smugglers, thugs, informants, spaceport crew, droids, and (if you really want to mess the players up) an Emperor’s Hand, Imperial Moff, or Forsaken Jedi.

An Adventure

As is usual for FFG RPGs, there’s an adventure in the back of Edge of the Empire, which I shall not spoil beyond groaning at the pun-ish title of Crates of Krayts. Ouch. A smuggler’s delight.

Lack of Opinions or Verdict

This is where I’d normally have some sort of strong (or not-so-strong) opinion, but I don’t really have one yet. I’m hyped to see a new Star Wars RPG, and to see what FFG does with it, but I can’t really fairly pass judgment on a book without a finalized text, with minimal art (although I will say that the art from the Star Wars LCG is pretty snazzy, and I imagine we’ll get a lot of crossover with that, and an absence of movie stills) and that will, I presume, grow significantly in page count and/or be part of a larger WFRP-style box. Hopefully, however, the information above will have conveyed enough information to let you, dear reader, know whether your interest is piqued.

Leave a Reply