Age of Rebellion is the second of three Star Wars RPG product lines from Fantasy Flight Games (the three they’ve announced, anyway). Like its predecessor Edge of the Empire, it made its beta debut at GenCon, and received its full release a little less than a year later. Age of Rebellion is a 460-page, full-color hardback that retails for about $60.
Note: I imagine that many of you who will be reading this have, or are familiar with, Edge of the Empire, and will need no introduction to the basic concepts and mechanics of Age of Rebellion, which are almost identical. Good chunks of this review will be old hat for you, but you will likely want to visit the Duty section (the last part of the Basic Mechanics), the Characters section (to see what the careers and specializations are and learn about Duty), the Force section (to see what the new Force-sensitive specialization and powers are) the Gear section (to see what vehicles and starships are included), and then all of the sections at the very end to see what planets, concepts, and adversaries are included, plus any opinions I may happen to have.
Disclaimer: Although I did not work on this particular book, I have done playtesting for Fantasy Flight on other Star Wars RPG books. I do not believe that this has any effect on the content of this review, but I note it in the event that it’s the sort of thing you think might.
As noted above, Age of Rebellion is the second of the three announced Star Wars RPG lines. All three lines are set exclusively in the Rebellion Era, and specifically immediately after the end of Episode IV (Alderaan and the first Death Star have been destroyed, and folks are starting to take the Rebel Alliance seriously).
While Edge of the Empire covered those who operated at the fringe of the galaxy, Age of Rebellion covers those who are actively involved in the struggle against the Galactic Empire – typically this will be directly as part of the Rebel Alliance, but characters might also start out as part of an independent rebel operation. Their adventures may include Starfighter attacks on Imperial facilities, infiltration of Imperial bases, organization of Rebel cells on oppressed worlds, or negotiations to bring entire worlds into rebellion and the Rebellion.
Art, Editing, Writing, Etc.
The art for the FFG’s Star Wars RPG, which draws on the same pool as Star Wars: the Card Game, continues to be just amazing. Layout and graphic design were solid as well. FFG’s usual high standard of editing was in effect, and I noted little in the way of errors despite the size of the tome. Writing was solid too. It’s a core book, so there’s less room for freeform stuff, but I was pleased all around. Pretty good rules clarity, not a bunch of purple prose, and the flavor was conveyed well where there was room.
Basic Mechanics (~25 pages)
The Basic Roll
The mechanics for Age of Rebellion are virtually identical to those for Edge of the Empire (and both owe something to FFG’s version of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay). For any skill roll, players will have a characteristic 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 talents, equipment, and such can alter the composition of this dice pool – adding boost dice or removing setback dice, reducing difficulty, upgrading dice (for example, from a green d8 to a yellow d12), 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 leftover either way it will affect ancillary results of the task. For example, success on a slicing (hacking) roll with a lot of threat might mean that the character succeeded at obtaining the target information, but then tripped an alarm. In combat, the most basic use of threat and advantage is to heal or inflict strain.
Percentile dice are also required. You’ll need to buy custom dice for the rest, available from FFG for $15 retail, or in the form of an app (standard price of $5).
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 (one die rolled per character at the start of each session). 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 the 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.
The single mechanical difference between the systems of Edge of the Empire and Age of Rebellion is that the Obligation mechanic from Edge of the Empire has been replaced with Duty in Age of Rebellion. All characters start the game with Duty, which represents the primary way in which the character seeks to contribute to the Rebellion. Duties include achieving combat victories, recruiting more people to the cause, sabotaging Imperial facilities, or foiling Imperial efforts to infiltrate the Rebel Alliance. Each Duty has a numerical value (default of 10 to start), and at the start of each session the GM rolls to see what effects, if any, the characters’ Duty will have on their mission. If the group’s collective Duty value is high enough, they each increase their wound thresholds by one for the session. If a particular character’s duty is triggered by the roll, that character gets an extra increase. The GM may also attempt to work that duty into the events of the session.
Duty can also affect the PCs’ relations with NPCs – a Rebel leader may not be willing to get involved with them unless their Duty is high enough, or an unaligned smuggler might not be willing to interact with a high-Duty group likely to attract Imperial entanglements. The characters can increase their Duty scores during gameplay, and if they do so consistently enough, they can reach a new Contribution rank in the Rebellion. In addition to representing an increased level of overall respect for the PCs, each time the party increases its Contribution rank the Alliance will provide them with additional materials to use in support of the cause, such as new personal gear or a starship.
Characters (~110 pages, including the Skills and Talents chapters)
In addition to their Duty (and some sort of background and 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 characteristics (Brawn, Presence, Intellect, Cunning, Agility, Willpower – standard starting value is 2), 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 and another small perk). The available species are Bothans, Droids, Duros, Gran, Humans, Ithorians, Mon Calamari, and Sullustans.
Characters then choose one career (out of six) and then one specialization (out of three per career) 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 skills provided by the 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: Ace (Driver, Gunner, Pilot), Commander (Commodore (capital ships), Squadron Leader (Starfighters), Tactician (ground forces), Diplomat (Ambassador, Agitator, Quartermaster), Engineer (Mechanic, Saboteur, Scientist), Soldier (Commando, Medic, Sharpshooter), Spy (Infiltrator, Scout, Slicer).
The starting xp pool can be spent to raise characteristics (expensive but important), 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 starting with less Duty.
In addition to the Force-Sensitive Emergent universal specialization (discussed below), Age of Rebellion includes the Recruit universal specialization. This specialization contains a lot of handy talents that can represent any character getting basic training and experience with the Rebellion. It is most notable for having a lot of talents that add to wound and strain threshold, and lots of talents that grant extra career skills (making those skills affordable to increase). So if the party’s diplomat wants to be able to pick up a blaster rifle and contribute more in fights, she might buy the Recruit specialization and then the Tactical Combat Training talent, a pair of purchases that will have paid for themselves by the time she has taken the Ranged (Heavy) skill from 0 to 2.
Each character gets a small amount of credits to spend on starting gear and, finally, the party as a whole gets a ship or fixed base of operations. There are three options presented – a Lambda-class shuttle, a squadron of Y-Wings (a slow, two-seat fighter/bomber; the party gets half as may Y-Wings as they have characters), or some sort of base customized to suit the PC’s missions.
The Force (~10 pages)
The Force is present in Age of Rebellion, but (aside from the Destiny Points) is pretty limited – your semi-Jedi characters will have to wait for the Force and Destiny product line. Characters can, however, choose the Force-Sensitive Emergent specialization (which always counts as an in-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 – Move, Enhance, Foresee. 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 Emergent tree that gives another one, but gunning straight for it means sinking 75 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, of course, there’s that whole “the Empire is going to try to kill you if anyone finds out you can use the Force” thing.
Equipment/Gear/Ships (~70 pages of gear/weapons, droids, vehicles, and starships)
As one would expect, Age of Rebellion includes a gear list, vehicle and starship lists, 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 (you can add attachments to weapons, which just costs cash, and then modify those attachments, which requires skill rolls). 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, which can provide some minimal damage reduction or make you a bit harder to hit. Armor can be customized in the same manner as weapons. There’s also a section of non-combat gear – coms, survival equipment, scanning and espionage equipment, tools, some cybernetics (mostly limb replacements), medical supplies, etc.
The starship and vehicle lists hit the iconic highlights one would expect, covering the military vehicles and ships featured in the films (and some that weren’t). In the vehicle section you’ll find cloud cars, T-47 snowspeeders, speeder bikes, AT-ATs, and AT-STs. In the starships you’ll fight A-Wings, X-Wings, Y-Wings, B-Wings, TIE Fighters, TIE Interceptors, TIE Defenders, TIE Bombers, Lambda shuttles, CR90 Corellian Corvettes, Consular-class assault cruisers (featured as a Jedi ship in the prequel trilogy), Nebulon-B Frigates, Dreadnaught heavy cruisers, Interdictor cruisers, Imperial– and Victory-class Star Destroyers, MC80 Mon Calamari star cruisers, and several other ships like assault craft, armed transports, and light capital ships. The customization system for starships and vehicles works the same as it does for weapons (except everything costs 10 times as much).
Except for the rules for player characters, droids are addressed only the Adversaries chapter. They come in categories (five of them), rather than specific models – so there’s an astromech droid stat block, but no R2 unit stat block. There are no rules for modifying NPC droids specifically – PC droids are modified just like normal PCs (they can do pretty much whatever the PC can, with regards to equipment, it’s just a system upgrade instead of a separate piece of gear).
Combat (~50 pages for combat, dealing with the environment, and travel)
It’s usual for an RPG that the most detailed rules are for combat, and Age of Rebellion 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 seem 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 (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.
Advice for the GM (~40 pages)
As per usual for an RPG core book, Age of Rebellion includes advice for GMs – basic things like group-based character creation, running a campaign, managing the party, using XP, incorporating player motivation into the plot, and so forth. It also includes game-specific notions like how to interpret dice rolls, destiny point management, how the PCs fit into the Rebellion, types of missions the Rebels engage in, and incorporating Duty.
Gazetteer (~60 pages)
The setting information section is divided into two chapters – The Galaxy and The Rebellion. No one book could possibly go into all of the detail that has been created about the Star Wars Expanded Universe (EU), but Age of Rebellion has a nice galactic map and overview of different areas of space – Deep Core, Core Worlds, The Colonies, Inner Rim, Expansion Region, Mid Rim, Outer Rim, Wild Space, Unknown Regions, Rebel Territory, and paragraphs on some other notable locations (e.g., shadowports). Each of those areas lists half a dozen to a dozen locations. As compared to Edge of the Empire, this is a much-reduced emphasis on the Outer Rim – the Core Worlds, Colonies, Inner Rim, Mid Rim, and Outer Rim all get lots of attention in Age of Rebellion. Where Edge of the Empire has sidebars about possible jobs, Age of Rebellion has Rebel-themed flavor passages like intelligence updates and mission debriefings. Eight planets also get full-page write-ups – Alderaan, Byss, Chandrila, Dac (Mon Calamari), Hoth, Imperial Center (Coruscant), Sullust, and Yavin 4.
The information on the Rebellion includes a history of the organization (starting will before the Alliance to Restore the Republic was formally founded), how the civil and military aspects of the Rebel Alliance are organized, the sorts of rebel bases the characters might rotate through, and Rebel military and intelligence tactics.
Adversaries (~25 pages)
This is where you’ll find your NPCs, both helpful and harmful (despite the chapter title, this is not just a collection of opponents). 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. The categories of NPCs covered here include fellow members of the Rebel Alliance, civilian Imperial personnel, military Imperial personnel (including several kinds of Stormtroopers), underworld figures, droids, citizens of the Core Worlds, and “galactic oddities” (such as your random Jedi-in-Hiding who is totally not just Obi-Wan Kenobi, even though his picture is right there in the book). Sadly, the entry on nerf herders does not indicate whether they are assumed to be scruffy-looking, or if this is a modifier you would have to make on your own.
Adventure – The Perlemian Haul (~20 pages)
As is standard for Fantasy Flight RPGs (and more and more RPGs generally, it seems to me), Age of Rebellion includes an adventure. This adventure involves the PCs attempting to secure some cargo that is currently in Imperial hands, and I shall not discuss it further so as to avoid spoilers.
Age of Rebellion v. Edge of the Empire
As you may have noted from the above, the only mechanical difference between Age of Rebellion and Edge of the Empire is Obligation v. Duty. If running a “mixed” game, the GM will simply decide whether to use one, both, or neither – everybody might have Duty but not Obligation, everybody might have Obligation but not Duty, everybody might have both Duty and Obligation and the GM just checks for both at the start of the game, or everybody has one or the other and the GM just checks for both at the start of the game (ProTip: choose Duty for your character). Careers, skills, starships, and so forth can be used interchangeably between the two games (note that there are some specializations, such as the Slicer, that appear in different careers in different books – they are identical, and a character is not permitted to take the same specialization twice from different careers).
Age of Rebellion unsurprisingly matches the high standards set by Edge of the Empire – the art is still amazing, the layout and editing are still good, and it’s still Star Wars. If I had to choose only one of the two, I would pick Age of Rebellion, because it more embodies the central conflict of the movies – plus it’s the one with all the Rebel and Imperial Starfighters (really, how if you’re choosing only one Star Wars RPG book, how can you pass up the one that has X-Wings in it?). In reality, of course, no such choice need be made, and I would anticipate throwing in whatever content from any of the various Star Wars RPG supplements seems like it will be handy for the adventure/character at hand.
My one bit of grumpy remains the same for Age of Rebellion as it did for Edge of the Empire – I wish they had put more species in the core books (by way of comparison, the last non-FFG Star Wars RPG, the WotC Saga Edition, had 17 PC species options in the core book). And I’m pretty sure that the reason for not including more of them in the core books is so that they can be included supplements, thus making those products more attractive purchases.
Unlike my review of Edge of the Empire, I am in a position to comment on the system as a whole, not just a book. I find that the system works well for the setting, and does not have any major holes. I suppose I sometimes find the advantage/disadvantage symbols to be more of an extra mechanical layer, rather than a narrative aid (when you want a little narrative nudge, they’re nice, but sometimes you just want to know if there was a failure or a success, and the presence of those advantage and disadvantage results makes you feel compelled to do something with them). But that’s more of a quibble than a problem.