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Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Reflections on Star Wars: Edge of the Empire

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

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I'm sure none of my astute readers have failed to notice the announcement and concurrent beta release of Star Wars: Edge of the Empire roleplaying game from Fantasy Flight Games. It's been a given that FFG would make a Star Wars rpg since they aqcuired the licence for miniature, card and roleplaying games set in the Star Wars universe two years ago (but not board games! Alas, we're destined to only seeing Star Wars themed Monopolies and chess sets until the end of time!). I was simply surprised at how well they've managed to keep it quiet up until the beta reveal!

Anyway, I haven't read the beta book (was tempted, but not $50 tempted) so my ramblings here are simply founded on stuff I've read online or heard from people who have actually read, or are reading, the book. Like Kosta.

First off, FFG has decided to copy their own line of successful 40k rpgs and release no less than three standalone core books for their Star Wars roleplaying game. It's interesting that this was originally an idea put forward by Black Industries and that FFG inherited, but how it has in the end paid off for them well enough to now do the whole thing over again. The first book is Edge of the Empire which will focus in the fringe worlds and the people who inhabit them - smugglers, bounty hunters, explorers, colonists... all kinds of space riff-raff. The next book (released a year later) will be Age of Rebellion - focusing on the rebell alliance and the galactic civil war. A year after that we'll see the relase of Force and Destiny featuring jedi and the force. I'm sure that won't be the end of it though and a new cycle of books featuring the prequal trilogy (or the old republic perhaps?) are sure to follow.

I've seen a lot of people complaining about not starting out with the jedi book as that is obviously the only thing anyone would ever want to portray in a Star Wars rpg! However, I'm happy to see that there seems to be just as many who appreciate this shift away from the glowstick afficionados and towards the grittier elements of the setting. As you might imagine I'm perfectly happy with this decision as I've always felt drawn more to the smugglers and bounty hunters. Again this mirror the development of the 40k rpgs where the first game focused on lowly inquisitorial henchmen and you weren't able to play actual Space Marines until the third core book was released, and that worked out pretty well!

From a financial standpoint I think it's a no brainer doing it this way (at least with a strong IP like Star Wars or 40k) since even the jedi wannabes will still likely buy Edge of the Empire (begrudgingly) so they can hack it and play as a jedi, and then they'll buy the force book later anyway. It's also well known that an rpg line is usually at its strongest around the launch of the core books and supplements immediately following it. Later as the books become more and more niche less people will get them and we enter into a downward spiral where books have to be niche not to cover stuff already released while this at the same time turn a certain percentage off buying them and so on. Breathing fresh life into the system by releasing new core books every year (and some core supplements for each book of course) is a smart way around this, although it can be frustrating retreading all the same ground you knew from the last book. Actually, Cubicle 7 recently announced that they won't be doing three separate core books for their excellent The One Ring rpg as originally planned for this very reason (they'll make sourcebooks instead). Commendable, yet perhaps FFG's plan is more future-proof.

On top of this yesterday FFG announced the Star Wars: Edge of the Empire Beginner Game, which is a boxed set with a thin rulebook (think quickstart rules but a little meatier), some pre-constructed characters and an adventure for them to run. There are also a couple of maps and a bunch of counters used for tracking relative movement etc. It's all very snazzy looking and even though this is obviously aimed towards people new to roleplaying I must admit I'm tempted. And again I think this is exactly what FFG is counting on. Many of us old veterans will still probably get this box just because we'll be able to get our hands on it sooner than the proper game. I think the price point ($30 from FFG but likely $20 from online retailers) is just about right to make me feel that I could probably get this and the proper game later on.

EDIT: Yepp, I got the Beginner Box a couple of weeks ago and have digested it enough to write a review. You can read it here.

The stuff you get in the Beginner Game. Swanky!

Hmm... that was a lot of ramblings about the rpg industry and FFG's business decisions. Let's have a look at the actual game shall we?!

I wasn't very surprised when I saw the similarities between FFG's 3rd edition of Warhammer Fantasy Rolepay and the new Star Wars rpg. It's their own in-house system (unlike the legacy system of 40k rpg) and while it's not been universally acclaimed I think most would agree that the core is solid. I ran a WFRP3 campaign for about a year and I can honestly say that I really like the system but I started to suffer from component fatigue as more and more supplements, containing more cards and tokens, were added. That is not to say that I'm not a fan of the concept of the cards and tokens! I think the idea is sound, it just got a bit out of hand with WFRP3.

It seems to me that they've got rid of the cards and (most of) the tokens but otherwise kept the dice pool and core mechanics. The largest change seems to be character construction and development as there are six different careers, each with three specialisations in the Star Wars rpg. Each career and specialization has its own little tree of skills that you can invest in, but you can also buy skills from other careers - creating a fairly open system where it's easy to customize your character the way you want it. Something I like. There are of course a bunch of races to choose from, including droid, Trandoshan and... Gand! Awesome! I'll be an ammonia sucking Gand smuggler for sure!

The game uses special dice with different symbols on them and FFG call them non-binary, meaning the result you get from them tells you more than just pass/fail. The dice pool system is definitely one of the best points of WFRP3 so I'm happy to see it make a return here. And it seems like the one drawback of unmaneagably large dice pools have been mitigated in this game as well. Neat!

Characters can (and most likely will) start the game with different Obligations. These are basically story hooks chosen by the players for use by the GM. There are some mechanics where you roll to see who's obligation will feature in the upcoming adventure but overall I see it as plot hooks. It's a nice idea to incorporate from the start as I think it will help new GMs especially. It also feels nice and Star Warsy, considering this is fringe characters we're talking about! What would Han Solo be without his huge dept to Jabba the Hutt?!

The Hired Gun career with skill tree.


Speaking of which, having an entire game devoted to the dirty underworld and slow backwaters of the Star Wars galaxy is pretty much a dream come true for me! While jedi and the rebellion are cool it's great to see another side being brought to light like this. I'm certainly one of those guys who feel that Star Wars is not what it once used to be since the release of the prequals but stuff like this certainly make me recall fond memories of playing with Han Solo and Boba Fett action figures as a kid! Pew pew!

The characters as a group also get a ship of their own. Either a YT-1300 Freighter (Millenium Falcon), a Firespray Patrol Ship (Slave-1) or a Ghtroc 720 Freighter (the Falcon crossed with a turtle). Seeing as FFG recently announced the Falcon and Slave-1 for their X-Wing miniature game I can see some synergy between the two games. Although combat in the rpg is quite abstract and models like that would most likely just for a bit of extra immersion.

The incredibly detailed Millenium Falcon model that will be released later this year.

Also there is a Force component in this new game. You can play as a force user and there are rules for lightsabers. They are simply not all that fleshed out and there are no rules for playing a jedi (not even a lightsabre skill! Ha!). This I like, as it allows you to play someone who is force sensitive but don't really know what to do with their powers... you know... kind of like Luke. And isn't that what should be the norm considering that Vader and the Empire have hunted down and killed pretty much all jedis?!!

So where am I going with all of this? I don't really know to be honest. All I can say is that I'm excited to see how it all pans out and I feel confident that FFG will at the very least make a good, solid game. However it remains to be seen if it will become anything more than that.

There are a lof of ropleplaying games that I want to play and/or lead. At the moment The One Ring is at the top of the list with the recent release of Tales of Wilderland (more on that book later. Spoiler: it's awesome!) but I wouldn't be surprised if Edge of the Empire might eclipse my desire to play TOR when it is released next year. Hopefully I'll have some people to play with by then.

So yeah... more Star Wars sheenanigans later. May the force be with you I guess!

EDIT: My fellow Swedish blogger Kosta is doing a series of posts about Edge of the Empire, chapter by chapter as he's reading it (in English). His posts about first impressions, character generation and skills are already up and more are to follow I'm sure.

11 kommentarer :

  1. I've been wondering what was going to happen to on the Star Wars RPG front - shame about the system though. Star Wars 2nd Edition (revised) I miss you!

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  2. Hey Matt! How are things? :D

    Yeah, the old WEG Star Wars rpg is actually the only one I played. I bought the WotC edition but I've never been a fan of D20 so never actually played it. I have fond memories of the WEG editions for sure as the system is easy to use and (just like this version) focus mainly on non-jedi.

    Still I do like the FFG system as well. It just remains how well they adapt it to the setting.

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  3. Nice writing as always.

    I have to say that your reflections on the FFG's coming Star Wars RPG are pretty much the same as my own thoughts on the game. While I'm not that keen on all design choises FFG has made, like the commercial beta, I'm confident that FFG will deliver us a solid game.

    I too really like the WHFRP 3rd dice mechanics and I too found that eventually the chits start to slow down the game. There are just too many of them! My group is actually swiching back to 1st/2nd edition next time we go trotting back to the wilds of the Old World since we wrapped up the last campaing a few weeks ago. But there's no denying that FFG's system isn't a good one. I was actually wondering when the system would be adopted to a new IP and it's good to hear that FFG has addressed some of the pitfalls of the WHFRP. Namely the chits and large dice pools.

    I'm actually happy that FFG had the sense to leave the jedi out of the first Star Wars RPG and stay focused on the setting they're providing with the first game. The exclusion of the jedi makes me I actually want to buy the game.

    I think it's worth noting that the more recent Star Wars stories are moving to a grittier and more mature direction. The Death Troopers novel and the coming LucasArt's Star Wars 1313 computer game come to mind. Even the Star Wars: The Old Rebublic trailers were much darker than most of the movies. Not that I would call myself an expert on Star Wars literature, it's just the general feel I'm getting. And it would be nice to explore the grey shades of the Star Wars universe as they've always been there, not just that prominently featured in the films.

    The Edge of the Empire actually has a really familiar Traveller wibe to it. A rag tag group of opportunists, never-do-wells, guns-for-hire and genarally people with shady pasts stuck on one ship. All out of their dept trying to scrape for a better living under the boot heel of the Empire, local gansters or fighting warlords.

    I'll probably buy the Beginner Game and take it for a spin with my group even if most of them are seasoned roleplayers. It seems quite good given the $30 price tag and leap to the actual rulebook shouldn't be too expensive if we decide to explore the Empire's edges beyond the Beginner Game.

    I'm looking forward to reading more of your reflections on the game. Perhaps even a review when the time comes.

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  4. @NetDiver - Hey, a fellow Nord! It certainly seems that we are of a similar mind on the matter of Star Wars rpgs. I don't really know what to think of the whole beta thing. On one hand it's an opportunity to get a truly limited edition preview of the final game, but on the other hand it wasn't cheap exactly. Hmm...

    With all the expansions adding more cards and chits I as a GM certainly started to get weary. Maybe it's easier on the players. I've been toying with the idea of using Burning Wheel if we decide to dive back into The Olde Worlde in the future (and we probably will), or perhaps a stripped down version of the current edition.

    Exclusion of jedi definely made it a high priority for me! As you say this returns Star Wars to the era before the prequals where jedi and the force were still something mystical and largely unknown. It also helps to really bring the rest (vast majority!) of the galaxy's inhabitants to the forefront. And playing as something non-jedi certainly opens up the story possibilities a lot more (it feels to me that if there's a jedi in the group the story almost has to revolve around her in some way, seeing what big a deal she is). The exploration aspects of traveller or even just the old WEG Star Wars rpg is what I'm hoping for.

    1313 certainly marks a new chapter when it comes to Star Wars games as it seems to really be a tripple A title, unlike other non-jedi games like Bounty Hunter. The X-Wing/TIE Fighter games belong there as well of course, but that's a long time ago now. I'd love to see a shift towards more grit and less lightsabres. The upcoming(?) tv-series certainly seems to aim for that as well.

    I'll very likely get the Beginner Game to get a feel for it and try it out. Hopefully my friend Kosta (irrfarderutanslut.blogspot.com) who has the beta book (some articleas about it on his blog) might do a one-off or something that I could play in.

    If/when I get any of the stuff I'll certainly write and review them here on the blog.

    Thanks for reading by the way! Always nice to hear other peoples thoughts on... everything! :D

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  6. @Martin - Yes, greetings from the flatlands to your east! I've been actually a long time reader of your blog. I just don't usually comment on blogs, unless I have something to bring to the discussion. That being said, I like your writing style and your in depth take on the stuff you're presenting.

    Burning Wheel is not familiar to me, so I really can't say how well it would work for Warhammer setting. I did loan the rulebook and the character burner from the local library, but I haven't yet read them. Burning Wheel seems quite focused on the characters and seems to promote character driven stories. Which is great in my book, but what's your take on the system for running it in Warhammer setting? Pros & cons compared to the original systems?

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  7. Thanks for the kind words! I do try to make this place reasonably interesting, even when I keep rambling on. Glad you like it. :)

    I don't have much experience with Burning Wheel either to be honest. I read through most of it a few years ago, and I bought Burning Wheel Gold when it was released. But I'm more familiar with Mouse Guard, which you could say is "Burning Wheel light".

    Character driven is certainly the main pillar of the game, and after running The Gathering Storm this seemed like a refreshing path to take. Partly to mix it up but also as a way of easing the burden on the GM. Games of Mouse Guard (and I think this applies mostly to Burnign Wheel as well) require none or very little prepp as the story grows during play depending on how the characters fare and the use of beliefs and traits.

    The reason I made the connection between Burning Wheel and Warhammer was simply because there's no specific setting tied to Burning Wheel (there are setting supplements for Dune and Heian era Japan). You can use whatever you want and since I know the Olde World so well that's where my mind went. I think a character driven, sandboxy romp through the Empire could be great amounts of fun! I just don't know when I'll have the time for it. :)

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  8. I have run one WFRP 3 campaign and recently started another one, and my only complaint about it is the components (a big complaint, granted!) I really like the basic idea of cards though adn I love the dice mechanic, so I really want to work out how to manage it better. If this star wars system has solved the component issue then I think it could be a real winner. I hope they use any experience they gain in star wars to smooth WFRP3's management issues.

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  9. @Faustusnotes - I know exactly where you're coming from. I like the idea of the cards and bits but with all the new stuff in every expansion they started to become a burden. I've got the beginner game box now and it certainly seems like they slimmed things down while keeping the core system intact. :)

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  10. I should add ... I'm not actually using WFRP3 in the warhammer world, but in a steampunk weirdness of my own creation. I like the warhammer world but I think the system is flexible enough to use for other purposes. I wonder if the star wars version is too?

    I don't think I could go back to WFRP 2, which I have only played a few times. I love the setting and I love the style of the game, but to me the system is the very definition of killjoy role-playing. If only they could rework the system but keep the original structure, art and style ...

    (Nice site by the way, I really like it here ...)

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  11. I agree about the system. As soon as I read that FFG had aqcuired the Star Wars license I thought "that would go well with the WFRP3 system". :)

    I've played quite a bit of all three editions of WFRP and grew up using BRP so for me it still felt fairly natural, clunky as it may be. WFRP brought some new changes and the system was good and overall I quite like the products I bought and read (although The Gathering Storm started to feel like a chore halfway through). Then again, this newer version does feel like it has taken a step away from the weird fantasy background of 1st/2nd editions and toward the more mainstream of Warhammer Fantasy Battles.

    Anyway... I've been reading the rulebook you get in the beginner box and like what I see. :)

    Glad you like it here! Your own blog looks interesting as well. Hehe!

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