Review – Force and Destiny (Star Wars RPG)

Force and Destiny is the third of three Star Wars RPG product lines from Fantasy Flight Games (the three they’ve announced, anyway). Like its predecessors Edge of the Empire and Age of Rebellion, it made its beta debut at GenCon, and received its full release a little less than a year later. Force and Destiny is a 450-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 Age of Rebellion, and will need no introduction to the basic concepts and mechanics of Force and Destiny, which are almost identical. Good chunks of this review will be old hat for you, but you will likely want to visit the Morality section (the last part of the Basic Mechanics), the Characters section (to see what the careers and specializations are), the Force section (because Jedi), 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.

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The Concept

Force and Destiny is, like its fellow books, set exclusively in the Rebellion Era, and specifically immediately after the end of Episode IV. You may see, however, a decent amount of older-era ships and such appear as out of date equipment.

While Edge of the Empire focused on characters like fringers and smugglers, and Age of Rebellion focused on more organized rebel agents, Force and Destiny more loosely focuses on (shock) force users. These characters are, in this time frame, required to hide their activities and abilities for fear of Imperial retribution.

Characters in Force and Destiny start with limited Force ability, and only whatever Force powers they use up their standard allotment of starting XP for. They also don’t start with lightsabers or equivalents. Alternatively, a group can choose to engage in Knight level player, which essentially translates to getting extra XP to spend right away, plus a lightsaber right off the bat.

Basic Mechanics (~25 pages) (I may just be mostly copying this section from my Edge of the Empire and Age of Rebellion reviews)

The Basic Roll

swf02_threespecies            The mechanics for Force and Destiny are virtually identical to those for Edge of the Empire and Age of Rebellion. 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.

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 (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.

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Morality

The single new mechanic introduced in Force and Destiny is Morality, which replaces Obligation (from Edge) or Duty (from AoR). All characters start with a Morality rating, which tracks where the character lies between the light side and the dark side of the Force. Unlike Duty or Obligation, Morality is personal to each character, and is not combined for the group like those ratings are.

During play, characters might accumulate Conflict through calling upon the dark side when using Force powers, from some Fear checks, and generally for being a bad guy in the narrative. At the end of each session, each character rolls a die. If the player rolls higher than the amount of Conflict, the character gains Morality equal to the difference. If the player rolls lower than the amount of Conflict, the player loses Morality equal to the difference. So the more dark actions the character takes in a session, the more likely it is that they will lose Morality, and the more likely that the shift will be big. Likewise, never gaining Conflict is a path too lots of Morality.

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Characters default to starting at a Morality of 50. Go up above 70 and the character is a light side paragon with certain mechanical benefits. Drop below 30 and the character has fallen to the dark side, which has some ancillary mechanical effects, but the big effect of changing how the character interacts with the Force. Most notably, when using Force powers, the character cannot use light side points to power Force use (more on that later), which means that the character gains conflict pretty much anytime they use the Force, which means that getting Morality up above 70 and redeeming oneself from the dark side (reversing the mechanical effects) is exceptionally difficult.

The Force (~35 pages)

The Force is, unsurprisingly, much more present in Force and Destiny than in its sister games. In addition to Destiny points, every single character is Force-sensitive and starts with a Force Rating of 1. When a character uses the Force, the character rolls one die for each level of Force Rating. The Force die has dark side and light side faces. The character can spend any of those pips to fuel the Force power, but using the dark side ones bestows Conflict. There are some Force powers that, instead of a die roll, require committing a Force die, locking that die down in return for a static benefit (so if the character only has a Force Rating of 1, that’s pretty much it for using the Force).

Force and Destiny includes an extensive array of Force powers, including Battle Meditation. Bind, Enhance, Foresee, Heal/Harm, Influence, Misdirect, Move, Protect/Unleash, Seek, and Sense.

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Characters (~110 pages, including the Skills and Talents chapters)

In addition to their Morality (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 Cerean (like prequel-era Jedi Master Ki-Adi-Mundi), Human, Kel Dor (prequel-era Jedi Master Plo Koon), Mirialan (prequel-era Jedi Master Luminara Unduli), Nautolan (prequel-era Jedi Master Kit Fisto), Togruta (Ahsoka Tano from Clone Wars/Rebels), Twi’lek, and Zabrak (Darth Maul). As droids cannot access the Force, they are unavailable for selection as player characters in Force and Destiny.

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Characters then choose one career (out of six) and then one specialization (out of three per career) from that career. Careers each mark six skills as “career skills” that are cheaper to train, as well a rank of training in three of those skills (player’s choice). Note that this is a reduction from the 8/4 used in Edge of the Empire and Age of Rebellion, I’m guessing to make up for everyone starting with a Force Rating. 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: Consular (Healer, Niman Disciple, Sage), Guardian (Peacekeeper, Protector, Soresu Defender), Mystic (Advisor, Makashi Duelist, Seer), Seeker (Ataru Striker, Hunter, Pathfinder), Sentinel (Artisan, Shadow, Shien Expert), and Warrior (Aggressor, Shii-Cho Knight, Starfighter Ace). Most, but not all, of the Specializations include a talent that increases Force Rating. Note that, while the terms Consular, Guardian, and Sentinel are used here, they are used more narrowly than they have been used elsewhere (which makes sense, since they are only defining half of the realm of Force-using characters, instead of all of it).

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For each of the six careers, one (and only one) is a lightsaber specialization, granting the Lightsaber skill as a career skill and containing an array of talents relating to using the energy blade. The Lightsaber skill defaults to Brawn, but each of the six lightsaber-focused specializations is paired with one of the six attributes. For the five that are not paired with Brawn, there is an early Talent that makes all Lightsaber rolls use the appropriate attribute. So fear not, that crafty but physically weak lightsaber duelist is fully viable.

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 also has the option of taking a few bonus XP, or foregoing that and having more starting cash or more starting Morality (or less starting Morality).

Force Powers and enhancements to them can also be bought with starting XP.

Each character gets a small amount of credits to spend on starting gear and, finally, the party as a whole gets a group resource. This can be a Jedi Holocron, a mentor, or a starship. The default starship is a G-9 Rigger, which is a fairly ancient light freighter (Anakin Skywalker used one as his personal ship during part of the Clone Wars).

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Equipment/Gear/Ships (~85 pages of gear/weapons, vehicles, and starships)

As one would expect, Force and Destiny Age of Rebellion includes gear, vehicle, and starship lists. 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 is 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).

swf02_atarusideimage            Unlike its predecessors, Force and Destiny has a variety of lightsaber options (and, of course, a character can actually have the Lightsaber skill here). Lightsaber varieties include double-bladed lightsabers, lightsaber pikes, shoto lightsabers, and training lightsabers. The customization options also apply to lightsabers, including the possibility of using different sorts of crystals for different blade types. There’s even an “ancient sword” that uses the Lightsaber skill, so that starting characters who don’t have lightsabers yet won’t have to waste points on some other skill (I know, whether that is a “waste” may depend on your personal playstyle and viewpoint, but I know it would feel like a waste to me). There are also cortosis weapons to combat lightsabers.

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. The armor selection includes a variety of cortosis gear to combat lightsabers. 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 vehicles available include an airspeeder, a cloud car, a landspeeder, a speeder truck, a speeder bike, a groundcar, a walker (vintage Republic style) and the Gallis-Tech 48 Roller (this one is from Star Wars: Droids … yes, I had to look that one up). The starship selection includes the Y-Wing, X-wing, TIE/ln Fighter, the Lambda-class shuttle, several versions of the Jedi Starfighter, the Pathfinder scout ship, the G-9 Rigger, the HWK-290 (the Moldy Crow), several other light and medium freighters, CR90 Corvette, Victory-class Star Destroyer, and a couple of other light Imperial warships.

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Combat (~50 pages for combat, dealing with the environment, and travel)

Personal Combat

It’s usual for an RPG that the most detailed rules are for combat, and Force and Destiny 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.

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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. A couple of solid shots from a blaster rifle is likely to take down most characters.

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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 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.

Advice for the GM (~40 pages)

As per usual for an RPG core book, Force and Destiny includes advice for GMs – starting with 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, and using Conflict.

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Gazetteer (~60 pages)

The setting information section is divided into two chapters – The Galaxy and The Jedi and the Sith. No one book could possibly go into all of the detail that has been created about the Star Wars Expanded Universe (EU), but Force and Destiny has a nice galactic map and overview of different areas of space – Deep Core, Core, Colonies, Inner Rim, Expansion Region, Mid Rim, Outer Rim, Wild Space and Unknown Regions, Sith Space, and some notable Force-related locations. Each of those areas lists half a dozen to a dozen locations (or two dozen, for the Outer Rim). The most distinctive focus of the locations featured in Force and Destiny are worlds with tie-ins to the Jedi, Sith, or other Force users, wherever they might be located. Where Edge of the Empire has sidebars about possible jobs and Age of Rebellion had Rebel-themed flavor passages like intelligence updates and mission debriefings, Force and Destiny has data fragments. Eight planets also get full-page write-ups – Cerea. Coruscant, Dagobah, Dorin, Ilum, Moraband/Korriban, Ossus, and Weik.

swf02_nightsisters            The first half of the Jedi/Sith chapter is mostly a history lesson – if you aren’t up on the plethora of Force-user history created in various EU comics, games, and novels, this is a good place to get a primer. There’s additional information on how the Force and Jedi are perceived in the Empire today.

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 – minions, 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 assorted rim world citizens, underworld figures, Imperial forces, droids, Force users, and creatures. There is also a detailed section on creating your own Inquisitor to torment the player characters.

Adventure – Lessons From The Past (~20 pages)

As is standard for Fantasy Flight RPGs (and more and more RPGs generally, it seems to me), Force and Destiny includes an adventure. This adventure sends the PCs off to learn more about the Force, and also start picking up the parts they need to construct lightsabers. I shall not discuss it further so as to avoid spoilers.

Force and Destiny v. Age of Rebellion v. Edge of the Empire

As you may have noted from the above, the only mechanical differences between the three FFG Star Wars RPG game lines is Obligation v. Duty v. Morality. The GM is effectively given the option of having everyone do the same thing, letting everyone choose their own, or some hybrid solution. As noted above, Obligation and Duty don’t really work the same way as Morality (although there is the option to run Morality like those two and have it “trigger” or not every game). Personally, if the game was truly mixed (as opposed to being an almost-all Force and Destiny game with a single non-Force user), I would go with the option to have every character (even ones created from Force and Destiny) use Duty or Obligation, and then the Force users additionally have to keep track of Morality/Conflict. Careers, skills, starships, and so forth can be used interchangeably between the two games (note that characters who do not start out Force-sensitive need to take one of the Edge or AoR Force-user careers to gain the Force Rating before diving into the Force and Destiny careers).

Opinions

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This clip cannot do justice to the glory that is the full page Ahsoka art.

The art for the Fantasy Flight iteration of the Star Wars RPG remains amazing, benefiting from drawing on a common pool with Star Wars: The Card Game, X-Wing, Armada, and who knows what else is coming down the pipe. Writing and graphic design remain as solid as ever. A personal shout-out to Andy Christensen (Managing Art Director), Zoë Robinson (Art Direction), or whoever green-lighted the awesome, awesome Ahsoka Tano art that leads off the characters chapter.

Of all the Star Wars RPG lines, Force and Destiny is arguably the most ripe for cross-line use. All three lines are, of course, designed to be fully compatible with each other, but (even for a Jedi-fixated player like myself) it seems less likely to have a whole group of hidden force users than, say, a Rebel cell or a cadre of smugglers. An Age of Rebellion character or an Edge of the Empire has to give up something to join a group of the others – you can build a character using Edge mechanics and then have them join a group of rebels, but the more they’re performing jobs for the Alliance to Restore the Republic the less of a “scoundrel” they really are. This dichotomy is exemplified by the two line-specific mechanisms of EotE  (Obligation) and AoR (Duty) – each is to some extent a group-based mechanic, with the group as a whole getting dragged around. The equivalent from Force and Destiny (Morality), however, is a deeply personal concept to each individual character. Just as a character can easily have both Morality and Duty/Obligation, so too can a force user built from Force and Destiny be dropped into a campaign with few or no other force users, and fit right in (indeed, that’s basically what the Force Sensitive specializations in those game lines were).

I still wish that the core books included more species options, instead of spreading them around. With that said, I personally find the options here to be the most appealing to me for purposes of character creation. That’s probably in no small part because, for most of these species, I’ve seen nifty members of the species in action in a more extended way (because I’ve watched all of Clone Wars and Jedi Masters of all of these species appear in there), rather than a character who shows up for 75 seconds in one of the films.

I do wish the advantage/threat system flowed more naturally. Out of combat, as the GM it sometimes feels like more of a chore – your players are rolling these extra things, and you feel like you should make them matter, but you get a little tired of trying to come up with effects that aren’t just succeed more/fail more (especially when it’s something like succeed but with threat or fail but with advantage). In combat, it basically just adds a second set of results to track with each roll, mostly healing or causing strain, and with some bigger effect thrown in every once in a while (with the players sometimes having to then scan down the chart to see which effect might help them the most). For me, this adds up to the threat/advantage system not really living up to the billing of enabling exciting narrative moments.

Aside from that, I’ve been pleased with FFG’s system for the Star Wars RPG. I find that the system works well for the setting, and does not have any major holes. I’m pretty excited for the line to now be ‘complete’ (I use air quotes there because, although this was the last announced core book, my guess is that FFG will drop an Imperial/Dark Side book at some point), and especially for the full Force user/Jedi options to now be available.


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