At GenCon 2013 Fantasy Flight Games released the beta version of the next installment in their Star Wars RPG line: Age of Rebellion. Since I was there I picked up a copy, mainly to taunt Chris, but also to read it. Since I have a copy and Chris doesn’t I thought I’d go ahead and give a review of it. Since this is a beta much of the features will likely change before release and the soft bits (art, story) are all but missing. Also, since Edge of the Empire, and more importantly its dice set, have released already this book does not have the sticker activity fun time that the last beta does, though it does still have a chart for converting numerical die results to the die results used in this system. As to this review, since much of the crunchy bits as far as rules are the same I will be quoting the relevant section from our reviews of Edge of the Empire or it’s beta release. If you’re already up to speed feel free to skip those sections.
Age of Rebellion Beta is a 224-page full color softcover that retails for $30 if your local store chooses to get in on the action or you were lucky enough to go to GenCon and pick up a copy, unlike Chris (probably my last taunt. Probably).
Age of Rebellion is the second in the line of new Star Wars RPGs from Fantasy Flight, covering various Rebel operatives, from pilots and troopers to spies and diplomats. Characters in Age of Rebellion are not only expected to serve the Rebel Alliance but also mechanically have some form of duty to the Rebellion, be it bringing in new recruits, hindering the Imperials in their efforts, or just stomping Empire face and therefore showing that the Rebellion should be taken seriously. Whatever your motivations, the players will be working for the Rebel Alliance now, so hopefully they’ll actually take your orders and do missions as expected. (A GM can dream, right? Chris, stop laughing, that’s mean.)
As I said, this is the middle child (or Empire Strikes Back, if you will) in the new RPG lineup. Edge of the Empire, covering scoundrels, smugglers, and various ne’er do wells was officially released a few months ago, while Force and Destiny, the Jedi book, will almost assuredly be beta’ing as of next year’s GenCon (Sadly Chris will likely be able to get his own copy then, so significantly less face rubbing on my part.).
All three lines are set exclusively in the Rebellion era. Not that Rebel Alliance characters make much sense in any other era.
The basic mechanics are the same as Edge of the Empire‘s. So much so that I’m just going to quote the relevant section of the previous review: feel free to skip it.
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.
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.
Duty (heh, I just said Duty)
The new mechanic is Duty. Where characters in Edge of the Empire had some sort of Obligation to a crime boss, Rebel players have a Duty. It fulfills a similar role as Obligation in the way that it gives the characters a motivation and can affect the session based on a die roll. But where the obligation was primarily a negative, Duty is a positive. Firstly, like XP, Duty is a reward at the end of a session for a job well done. (In fact, I see no reason why Edge of the Empire characters working for the Alliance couldn’t get in on those sweet Duty points too) More importantly, Duty can be used for both tangible and intangible rewards. As it reflects the player’s status with the Rebellion, more Duty means more trust and more support. (By which I of course mean better gear.) Further, when doing the Duty roll at the start of the session, if a player’s Duty is triggered for the session it can have the effect of boosting the party’s morale, leading to more hit points. Finally, the party’s Duty is maxed at 100. But this does not mean that it stays at 100 and they’re always at max Duty, quite the contrary. Every time the party’s Duty reaches 100 it is reset to 0 and their contribution rank goes up by 1, representing even greater levels of trust in the party. In fact, one of the charts in the GM section shows how the player’s ranks in the army correspond to their increasing contribution rank. Increasing Duty/Contribution rank also correspond to the players being able to requisition better gear from the Alliance. And more Imperial entanglements/ excuses to send bounty hunters after them.
Very similar to the Edge of the Empire characters, as such I’m going to interlace quotes from that review (on the generics) with the changes (the specifics)
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 alien races for Rebels are Bothans, Droids, Duros, Gran, some weird species called Hu-mans, Ithorians, Mon Calamari, and Sullustan. (Though I see no reason you couldn’t pull your Wookie out of Edge, nor put a Mon Cal smuggler over there.)
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: Ace (Driver, Gunner, Pilot), Commander (Commodore, Squad Leader, Tactician), Diplomat (Ambassador, Agitator, Quartermaster), Engineer (Mechanic, Saboteur, Scientist), Soldier (Commando, Medic, Sharpshooter), and Spy (Infiltrator, Scout, 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 also spend XP on Duty, so they start with more than 0 Duty. (heh, Duty)
Each character gets a small amount of credits to spend on starting gear and, finally, the party as a whole gets a ship (Lambda Shuttle), ships (Y-wings enough for the party), or base of operations (If doing a campaign set on one planet) depending on the party/GM choice. Side note: this is one of the places I would have liked a minor clarification on combining with Edge as far as communal resources, though a crafty GM can establish several different options as far as what to do for shared resources. (We’ll just operate out of the smuggler’s ship, thanks guys!)
The basic force mechanics are the same as in Edge, but with different specialization and abilities. The Rebel specialization is “Force Sensitive Emergent” instead of “Force Sensitive Exile” and they have access to Move, Enhance and Foresee instead of the scoundrel’s Sense, Influence, Move. Though again I see no reason you can’t mix and match, if you’re willing to sink that many points into the subject. (And no, taking both specializations does not boost your force affinity short of going all the way in both trees, an even larger XP sink than just the one)
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/Or 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.
As Chris predicted, this book has all of those missing vehicles you were expecting, from the AT-AT Walker to the X-Wing and all of the star destroyers/fighters you’d expect to define the ships that both the Rebel Alliance and the Empire would be fielding.
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 (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.
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.
As you’d expect, the adversaries in this book focus primarily on the Rebellion and the Empire (including no less than 9 different types of Storm Troopers), though there are several entries for less savory neutral parties to be involved.
The book finishes with an adventure to acclimate the players to the system/the Rebel Alliance. Operation: Shell Game sees the players trying to steal a new prototype ship from the Empire.
Any more info would be spoilers, Dearie.
As it is a beta I’m not going to go into a thorough review of the book’s quality. As with the last beta there is very little by way of art. That said, based on the difference between the last beta book and the release version I fully expect the release version of this book to be gorgeous.
Also, since this is book two, I would have liked a little more about integrating characters from the two books. Can my Smuggler have a Duty? Can my Spy have an Obligation? Can either pick up specializations from the other book? How should a party with both interact? Certainly not insurmountable obstacles, but I would have liked at least a little guidance in the GM section if nothing else.
All that said, likely you already knew from hearing “there’s a new Star Wars RPG book about the Rebels coming out” whether or not you wanted a copy, but hopefully this gives you an idea of what to expect from it (as if the last book didn’t)
May the Schwartz be with you!