Two weeks ago I had time to test another RPG system: the first Star Wars RPG by Fantasy Flight Games. FFG currently holds the Star Wars license and is publishing a truckload of games in this universe. Three different RPG systems that are compatible with each other, a ton of board games, e.g. Rebellion, and so on and so forth. The emphasis of Edge of Empire is not the conflict between rebellion and Empire but everything on the edge of the empire, in the Outer Rim. You play explorers, colonists, bounty hunters, smugglers, mercenaries, technicians. The force does not really have any role in this.
I have to admit that I am not a hardcore Star Wars fan. Of course I have seen the original trilogy many times and love it. I have also watched Episode I (meh), and have yet to watch the Episode VII blu-ray on my shelf. The setting is great, but I hardly ever watch movies, a true nerd deficit of mine. I would like to watch Rebels sometime. When the time is right, I suppose.
Many many years ago, in a time period far far away, I played a couple sessions of the D6 Star Wars game from West End Games, as a Rodian bounty hunter. That was a ton of fun, and I really cannot remember why we stopped playing. Nowadays, I listen to the Campaign podcast, which is outstanding, and it made me curious to try this system myself. I wanted to play it at the table, with its unique dice system, and drummed up four players. Two players dropped out however. No matter, we still played anyhow.
Using the Beginner Box
Each FFG Star Wars game has a beginner box set. I thought it would be a good idea to try this, as I wasn’t sure I wanted to commit to the core rules for a one-shot. The box is half the price of the core rules, and the contents are quite sumptuous. I paid 26 Euro and for my money I got the following:
Zu den vier verschiedenen Star Wars-Spielen von FFG gibt es jeweils eine Einsteigerbox. Da ich das Spiel mit alten Freunden antesten wollte, aber mir nicht sicher war, ob es auch als System einschlagen würde, kam mir die Einsteigerbox sehr gelegen. Im Gegensatz zum Grundregelwerk ist die Einsteigerbox recht günstig, und doch reichhaltig ausgestattet. Für die knapp 26 Euro, die ich bezahlt habe, erhielt ich folgendes:
- a 32 pages adventure
- a rulebook
- a glossy fully colored poster map of Mos Shuuta and a YT-1300 light freighter
- 4 fully-colored character folios with pre-gen characters
- 14 special dice
- 35 cardboard pawns of characters, NPCs and enemies
- 5 spaceship pawns, e.g tie-fighters
Furthermore, you can download an additional, much longer adventure called The Long Arm of the Hutt and two more character folios on the website, a sequel to the beginner box adventure.
That’s a lot of stuff for that price. The dice alone cost almost 16 Euro over here, which makes the box a real bargain. The pawns can definitely be used in future adventures, and the dice are absolutely necessary to play. The only downside is the box itself. I am not sure if this is limited to the German edition. The box is totally flimsy, very cheap, thin cardboard. Nothing you can use to permanently store the game materials or to put on your shelf.
Escape from Mos Shuuta
My two players had the choice of four archetypes: colonist, pilot, mercenary and bounty hunter. My friend Kirsten chose the wookie Lowhhrick, a mercenary, and my friend Stefan picked Oskara, the twi’lek bounty hunter. The two characters complimented each other as a team, and at no point was it an issue that I ran this adventure for only two characters. The story of the adventure is relatively simple. The characters are working for a hutt in Mos Shuuta on the desert world Tatooine. However, for various reasons they want to shake off his yoke and try to escape. The adventure begins with a battle in a cantina between the henchmen of the hutt Teemo and the two characters.
The character is fairly linear and consists of 7 encounters that are meant to be done in order. If you do, the adventure is easy to beat and the characters can easily flee the planet. Furthermore, you will have been confronted with all the relevant rules. The encounters build on each other, and with each encounter you learn more in-depth rules. The first encounter teaches ability checks, the second encounter details combat, the third encounter introduces opposing checks, etc. In the final encounter you learn the space combat rules, in an exciting battle against Imperial tie-fighters.
As GM you receive a lot of help how to use the different rules. I read the adventure before we played, but I think I would have been fine if I’d read it as we played.
The dice system
The FFG Star Wars games require special dice. This may frighten off the D20 crowd, as you do not roll any values here. I really enjoyed the system, because at no point will you have mathemetical dice sessions like Pathfinder where you need to read and add up various bonuses. There is a total of seven different dice: green ability dice (d8), yellow proficiency dice (d12), purple difficulty dice (d8), red challenge dice (d12), blue boost dice (d6), black setback dice (d6) and a white force die (d12).
To roll a check, you first have to determine your dice pool, consisting of green and yellow dice. You roll your dice pool together with the difficulty dice. Based on the difficulty of a check you add difficulty dice, up to 5 for nearly impossible tasks. There are no numbers on the dice. Instead you have to deal with 6 different symbols: success, triumph and advantage or failure, despair and threat. Goal of each check is to roll more success symbols than failures. Each failure negates a success. To succeed at a task you need to have at least one success left over. This holds true for whatever you do in the game, be it hacking a computer, haggling with a merchant or firing a blaster.
The most interesting element for me are the other four symbols. They allow turning simple rolls into narrative, exciting moments. Same as with success and failure you also have advantages and threats. Those negate each other. What’s left over counts for the roll. This means you can succeed at a task but it may still end up with a threat. On the other hand you may ‘fail forward’ by failing at a task with lots of advantages. Triumph and Despair are stronger versions of advantage and threat.
Threats and advantages may lead to the next die roll receiving a setback- or boost-die. For example the mercenary can fail a roll, but gain three advantages, which then gives the bounty hunter who rolls next a boost die for her check. Or you get a set back. Exciting!
For me as GM this meant I had to be sharp-witted to think of new turns and twists. The players are supposed to choose what they want to do with their advantages and threats. However, the system was new to all of us, and I have at least experience listening to Campaign. Which meant I helped with picking results of those rolls. The longer we played, the easier it got. We also improved our speed at deciphering the roll results.
I don’t know if I did well or if I even made the right decisions, but it was fun. An example: the two characters sneaked into the hangar bay by convincing the guard droids that they were junkyard workers who arrived to deliver a required engine part to the spaceship in the hangar. Arriving in the ship, the owner, a trandoshan slave trader, came to investigate. The bounty hunter tried to lie successfully again that they were technicians. The check ended up as two failures but four advantages. I decided that the slave trader did not fall for it at all and attacked them, but in order to get a clean kill, he closed the ramp of the ship. Which meant the four guard droids outside would not join the fray.
The finale of the adventure was a short but exciting space battle just above Tattoine. There are several jobs available in ship combat. The bounty hunter took over as pilot, the wookie mercenary controlled one of the guns. I thought the fight was fun and exciting, just like you imagine Star Wars as space opera. Very enjoyable.
The adventure itself didn’t take us very long. We skipped two of the seven encounters. As the characters did not go to the spaceport first and instead went for the hangar bay, there was no hacking attempt, and the attack of the stormtroopers following that never happened. That was okay for me. The bounty hunter had a penchant for swindling and managed to convince the spaceport officials to give her permission to depart. I made it very obvious that stormtroopers were swarming Mos Shuuta looking for them, which made it very urgent for them to depart with great haste.
As summary, we all decided that it was a ton of fun, especially because of the unique dice system. Therefore, we spontaneously decided that we will continue with The Long Arm of the Hutt. They expressed the wish to roll their own characters though, so I might have to get my greedy hands on the core rules. I will try to convince a friend of ours to join us as 3rd player. May the force (of conviction) be with me!