One Hour Library Review: Star Wars Edge of the Empire RPG

In our One Hour Reviews, we set a clock for sixty minutes and analyze the book. When time is up, we stop. The goal is to try and look over as much of the book as possible, without getting bogged down in any one section. Similar to how you might leaf through a book in the store, with some specific granularity, but mainly to focus on gaining a high level understanding of everything the RPG has to offer. Set the clock and let’s go!

This book has been a long time coming, and I’m excited to crack it open. First things first, this book is absolutely gorgeous. The art team outdid itself with the layout, the way they use art to frame the text, and the quality of the images. My favorite piece is a scoundrel type gritting his teeth and pointing a blaster at a Jawa who is casually holding a thermal detonator. How do you say “come at me bro!” in Jawa? Beyond that, there’s a nice heft to the book, and at over 400 pages it is definitely going to stand out in your gaming bookcase.

Time is ticking away and I’m eager to breakdown the chapters, but one other thing to note is the setting. The game is set during the original trilogy, specifically right after the destruction of the first Death Star. This is important to note because it means there really aren’t any Jedi or Sith, so don’t expect to be stating up a Jedi Consular or Sith Assassin with this game. Instead the focus is on playing players on the fringe or “edge of the empire” if you will – smugglers, bounty hunters, droids, etc. Time to dive in.

Part 1: Playing the Game

This section outlines the base mechanics and how to run the game. For players of Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) there’s going to be some new material here. Edge of the Empire relies on dice pools to make the various skill and combat related checks that move the game along. If you’ve played World of Darkness, Exalted or other RPGs that embrace dice pools, you’ll still want to spend some time here since Edge of the Empire uses custom dice and the symbols that a bit of learning to grasp. There’s a table for how to translate normal dice rolls in case you didn’t buy the custom dice (they are sold separate from the book), but it seems a bit complicated and even before playing I’m already thinking that having the dice will make life a lot easier. If you can’t get the dice, there’s also a dice rolling app for iOS and Android that works with the game.

While the checks basically boil down to balancing out success and failure, they’ve worked a storytelling element into the dice as well, with the Force die and Destiny Points. When the game session starts the party rolls the Force die and determines how many light side and dark side fantasy points are available to the party as a whole. The players use the light side points and the DM (called the GM in this book) uses the dark side points. When they are used, they are “flipped” (there are tokens included with the dice) to the other side, so light points become dark and dark become light. It’s a way to balance out one side having a massive advantage for the whole game.

Balance aside, the most interesting use of the points is to introduce “facts” into the game. Say the players land on a planet with a toxic atmosphere that they thought was going to be fine and breathable. A player can spend a light side Destiny Point and say “good thing we packed those re-breathers…” despite that not ever occurring previously. The re-breathers now become a “fact” in the game and play continues. I really like this a way to encourage planning and role-playing because while it doesn’t provide a blanket do over, it can help the party when their best laid plans go to heck and they need to get creative.

One final mechanic that caught me are the “derived attributes”. Instead of just having HP and an AC there are wound and strain thresholds as well as soak value. Wound threshold is how much physical damage you can suffer before getting knocked out with the Soak value being how much damage you can actually shrug off before having damage count toward your wound threshold. Strain threshold is how much mental duress you can withstand before becoming stunned,dazed, etc. I need to see how this comes out in gameplay, but at its face it sounds like a more realistic way to track how much you’re hurting someone.

Part 2: Characters

So now we’ve seen how to play the game, let’s take a look at who we’ll be playing. The character section takes up several chapter and covers everything from skills to talents (like feats) to equipment. Yet before you can even pick a species, the game has you choose an obligation. Obligations are the basis for your character and represent some driving force behind them, and perhaps serve as the reason for why the character enters into the story of your campaign or delve. Obligations vary from things like an Oath or familial duty to more tangible issues like a Bounty on your head or an addiction.

While obligations are similar to “backgrounds” or “themes”, unlike those aspects obligations can come to affect gameplay. There’s a system where the party and individuals have an obligation score that can start to impact characters once it gets too high. This might take the form of becoming so distracting that characters have to turn away from a main story to solve a lingering problem or that they face greater obstacles (like a bounty hunter being sent against you). What’s more, is that you can’t ever completely get rid of your obligation, just mitigate it, so you’ll always be faced with it.

Once your obligation is set you get to choose from one of eight species:: Bothans, Droids, Gands, Humans, Rodians, Trandoshans, Twi’leks and Wookies. Droids get a few more choices since you can choose to be everything from a protocol droid (C-3PO), an astromech (R2D2) or a more battle ready assassin droid (HK-47). The choices provide a nice cross-section of Star Wars species.

Of course, what would an RPG be without “classes” and Edge of the Empire provides these with their careers and specializations. The career choices are: Bounty Hunter, Colonist, Explorer, Hired Gun, Smuggler, and Technician. Within each of these are several specializations such as: the Assassin, Survivalist, or Gadgeteer for the Bounty Hunter and the Doctor, Scholar and Politico for the Colonist.

Your career grants you access and ranks in skills and your specialization gives you access to a talent tree, which looks exactly like a tech or skill tree you might see in a video game. Talents are like a mash-up of feats and “powers” from D&D 4th edition. Spending experience points (and each species starts with a different amount) allows you to purchase talents. It’s a simple way to create a character and get started, which is what this whole section seems aimed at. That’s not to say the character creation is a shallow experience, there’s definitely depth here, but the design is geared toward expediting the process.

I’m skipping past the rest of the character stuff for now because there’s a chapter I MUST get to, and time is a factor, but one quick observation and an omission. First, character stats are on the lower scale with 6 being the absolute limit of any ability score, and no score can be higher than 5 at character creation. I would imagine this was done to make things more manageable both from a game play and design perspective. One thing that is missing from character creation that would be a fun addition is picking your home planet, and receiving some sort of small bonus or unique trait to your character. But hey, maybe there’s room for that in the expansions (more on those later).

Part 3: Equipment

There’s more equipment in this game than you can shake a gaffi stick at (and it has those too!) including all sorts of “black market items” like glitterstim and death sticks (don’t buy death sticks). I skimmed through most of the equipment, but there’s over an hour of stuff to study in there. I did see an entry for a lightsaber, though it has to be used untrained (since you can’t be the Jedi) and seems to be discouraged. Also, there are jetpacks…excuse me I meant THERE ARE JETPACKS. I think that’s all you need to know.

Part 4: Conflict and Combat

I swear, we’re almost to the really awesome section, but I can’t just blow past the entire discussion of combat. Combat uses the dice pools discussed earlier and on each turn there are incidentals (free actions), maneuvers (movement), and actions (er..actions) that characters can take. You’re limited to one free maneuver and one action per turn, however there are options to get more based on talents or by intentionally spending strain points (in the case of maneuvers). It’s a nice risk/reward system that has more nuance than I have time to read through at the moment but it should provide opportunities for your characters to try really heroic things and constantly yell things like “never tell me the odds” and “I’ve got a bad feeling about this.”

Then there are “critical injuries” which are most definitely part of the risks. They come from critical attacks or exceeding your wound threshold and can vary from dropping whatever is in your hand to being maimed and losing a limb, to “complete, obliterated death.” Don’t worry, there are totally bacta tanks and other ways to heal up from the really terrible injuries, except the “complete, obliterated death” thing, I don’t think they make bacta tanks for that.

You've got one on your tail!

Part 5: Starships and Vehicles

We made it! And no my friends, these starships and vechicles aren’t just for show. They aren’t just for epic level players or uber wondrous rewards that you will never obtain. Nope, none of that nonsense. You get your own ship when you create your character. Just let that wash over you, they give your very own starship at level 1. Oh and maybe you’re thinking that these ships are just what you use to travel around and amount to window dressing. Again, you would be wrong. There are stats and rules galore for starship combat. I’m excited to pull out my miniatures from the X-Wing Miniatures Game, which will be the perfect minis to use.

The party as a whole gets a starting ship and each of the ships has a price. So while you can’t get yourself an escort frigate to start, you can afford a Millennium Falcon aka YT-1300 Light Freighter or Slave 1 aka Firespray Patrol Craft. Each of the ships has its own stats, abilities, payload capacity, pretty much everything you could want. There’s also a whole section developed to ship upgrades and modifications so you can spend all those hard earned credits on pimping out your galactic ride.

One odd thing is that while the Tie Fighter and Y-Wing are included, X-Wings are not part of this book. Again that seems like something we can expect in an expansion, but the distinction seems a bit strange.The chapter goes beyond starships, and includes landspeeders, airpseeders and land vehicles for use in planet. If you want to get really nuts you can also check out the rules for sublight and hyperspace travel.

Part 6: The Force

As much as I’d like to spend all the remaining time outfitting my new ship, we need to move on before time runs out. There’s a whole section on the Force, including a career/specialization for a Force Sensitive Exile. Since you aren’t a full fledged the powers associated with this class are mostly based on enhanced senses and agility. Don’t expect to be launching force lightning around or anything like that. There are separate trees for individual abilities and how they can be enhanced or upgraded over time, such as Force: Move which allows you to start by moving small objects and upgrade to move multiple objects of larger size over a greater distance.

Still, for this book and this setting, the Force isn’t a central pillar to character construction so while the options might seem sparse, that is definitely intentional and there’s more to come in the future.

Part 7: Society and the Galaxy

The latter chapters of the book are geared toward the GM and include how to run the game, and chapters that give background on the galaxy. There are great single page profiles of each planet and a wonderful set of maps of the galaxy and various hyperspace lanes. The maps and pictures are again gorgeous and even if you have no intention of playing the game these chpaters are a delight.

Part 8: Enemies

The last section is a bestiary that explains the various factions throughout the galaxy and gives you a host of  enemies to encounter. Enemies are separated into the categories of minion, rivals and nemeses with Nemeses being virtually the equivalent of players. You’ll find everything from bounty hunters to storm troopers and even Mynocks. One thing you won’t find are stats for specific Star Wars villains and characters like Boba Fett, Jabba the Hutt, Han Solo, Lando, or even Darth Vader. This is an interesting omission since a) those characters appear in art all over the book and b) the book makes specific mention that you might encounter these players and even interact with them. The section on “fear” specifically uses an encounter with Darth Vader as an example.

My guess as to why they aren’t included is that the designers wanted players to be able to focus on their own games and stories. Plus, many of these characters could be easily custom stated to work, with the exception of Vader. We’ll need to wait for more Force powers and material first.

Conclusion

One hour is just not enough time to spend with this book. It’s beyond gorgeous and the wealth of material just on reading about the planets that make up the galaxy or the upgrades for your starship will consume hours of your time.

While you might be disappointed at the current scope of the game there’s so much more on the way. Aside from a few adventure modules and rule supplements that will provide new enemies, specialties and more we do know that two other full expansions are in the works. Age of Rebellion due out in 2014 looks like it will focus more on the Rebels and Imperials and should provide more material specific to the military factions of the universe. Force and Destiny due out in 2015 will probably give us a fully fledged out set of careers, talents, specializations and choices for fully embracing the Force as a Jedi or Sith. 

But, we can’t worry about that stuff now. “Difficult to see. Always in motion is the future” Yoda told us. Edge of the Empire is the here and now and it isn’t just some generic RPG with the Star Wars license slapped on top for show. It’s a game that is taking the most memorable and valuable parts of the saga and weaving them into the core of the game.

While fans of White Wolf games will definitely feel at home with most of the mechanics, even new players or those that haven’t yet ventured away from D&D shouldn’t have a problem finding comfort playing in the galaxy far, far away. This is a must try new game for RPG fans and Fantasy Flight seems to have laid the foundation for the fantastic Star Wars RPG I’ve always wanted.

Star Wars Edge of the Empire is available on Amazon, as is the set of Star Wars Dice that can be used with the game. 

All photos courtesy of Fantasy Flight Games.