This post has been a long time coming. I’ve been itching to write about it, but decided to patiently wait for Force and Destiny to be released and to finally arrive (backordered, bah!) to do this post justice. Now that it’s arrived, let’s see if I can do this. . .
As I try to make quite clear, I love Star Wars. I’ve been a Star Wars nerd for as long as I can remember, and I don’t think that’ll change. My wife and I already booked days off to see Episode VII, I’m getting close to pre-ordering Battlefront, and my bank account is already cringing at the new Lego sets coming out (there’s 3 on my docket already; this is gonna hurt).
If you read the above, have been paying attention enough to know my hobbies, and assumed I haven’t been playing any of the roleplaying games, you should be ashamed. I’ve played each of the RPGs at least once, but I have to say the newest one released by Fantasy Flight Games has by far been my favorite. It’s not perfect, but it’s good enough for me to keep buying it.
Fantasy Flight Games (FFG) decided to start off their Star Wars game by doing something no one else did: they released a core rulebook that did not give you the option of playing a Jedi out of the box. In fact, the first two rulebooks (and therefore, game lines) didn’t give Jedi player characters, but rather made the use of the Force something that characters had to strive for.
The first book was “Edge of the Empire” (EotE), and it told a story of smugglers, bounty hunters, and the general citizens living on the fringes of civilization. It had everything you need to be fully immersed into the Star Wars Universe: the usual gear, favorite starships (including everyone’s favorite YT-1300), a few fan favorite aliens, and enough material to keep your game running. Unlike previous games, less than one-tenth of the book was dedicated to the Force and the Jedi way; you were given a skill tree for a “Force-Sensitive in Exile,” a few minor Force powers (like Move), and a note on those hunting the Jedi. The majority of the book was dedicated to rules and how life on the fringe can be.
A year later, FFG released their second core rulebook: “Age of Rebellion” (AoR). Like EotE, not 10% of the book was dedicated to the Force (a new “Force-Sensitive Emergent” and some new powers). The rest of the book weaves the setting for a group of Rebels fighting a galaxy-wide military machine, while being hunted, under equipped, and often on the “wrong side of the law.” The emphasizes these elements, and makes being a Jedi more of a liability for this fledgling government.
Finally, this summer, FFG has released the final core rulebook: “Force and Destiny” (F&D). Players on the forum have been making a stink about the lack of Jedi, Force powers, and customizations thereof that were present in other games, but the majority of them were waiting on bated breath for this books, and now it’s here. F&D paints a portrait of the galaxy and where the Jedi currently stands within it. Granted, we are not given Jedi per-se, but rather those who will follow those traditions, learn their techniques, and fight against the darkness currently plaguing the galaxy.
As I previously mentioned, each of the core rulebooks is it’s own line within the Star Wars Universe. You can play the game with just a single core rulebook or create any combination of them (personally, I have all three).The stories do vary with each one, making each game line it’s own experience.
EotE takes place around the time of the Battle of Yavin (A New Hope), and puts your characters on the fringes of society, playing sentients that don’t belong in the “proper” worlds of the Core due to any number of reasons. My players and I joke that it’s the “Han and Boba Fett Crowd” book, as you are promoted to be living on the edge. Another comment that often comes up: this setting is Firefly in the Star Wars universe, making this a must-have for Browncoats. You’ll get smugglers, fringers, fast ships with lots of cargo, and plenty of ways to modify those ships.
AoR puts the characters within the Rebellion, and the story told revolves around military life. The characters are soldiers, spies, or even the technicians that keep ships running as they fight the Empire. Everything here will help you set a stage of intrigue, military heroics, or even dramatic dogfights. You’ll get plenty of one-man fighters, large capital ships, and even more Empire-based opposition than what you were given in EotE.
Finally, F&D allows players to play as characters that are inheriting the roles of the Jedi. Many of the characters are untrained and are just finding their way in the universe, while very few were once padawans and are trying to keep the fire of the Jedi Order from dying out. This book focuses solely on the Jedi-like careers and how they are the last of their kind. The stories here are about survival, keeping traditions going, and seeking allies in a galaxy that can turn you in for a sizeable number of credits. Of course, this is also the book with the most with regards to the Force, giving a number of lightsaber options, Force powers, and for the GMs, ways of building even bigger bad guys.
Within each core book, you have a number of “Careers” (think character classes) and “Specializations” (think a focused build). Each of these specializations has a talent tree (if you’ve played an MMO you should be good here), and as you move up the tree, you gain better abilities.
As you can guess, the careers within each book are tied directly to the type of game at hand. In EotE, your options are all of those living on the fringe, like Bounty Hunters, Smugglers, Colonists, Hired Guns, Explorers, and Technicians. If you were to pick up AoR, you get careers with a military slant, like Soldier, Diplomat, Engineer, Ace/Pilot, Commander, and Spy, with an additional talent tree for those who are “Recruits.” F&D makes a slight step away, and gives you a number of careers that were either Jedi/Sith in nature, or have a reason to have Force abilities in their basic training, like the Consulars, Guardians, Mystics, Seekers, Sentinels, and Warriors.
Within each core rulebook, these careers are also given three “specializations” that further focus the character. As an example, one Bounty Hunter can be an Assassin, while another is a Gadgeteer.
When you make a character, you choose a Career as your base career, and then choose a starting Specialization. Add a race (each core book has eight to choose from; Humans are in all three), spend your assigned XP and credits, and you’re just about ready to play!
Before this could get boring with regards to choices (“Everyone’s a Trandoshan Tracker AGAIN?”), FFG thought ahead and has released new career specializations and new species in multiple books. Each game line has adventures, career books, and location books that expand the story within that game line, so again, you don’t need to play any other line beyond the one you want with the story that fits best (more on this below). Added bonus: you don’t know what they’ll sneak into the books. For example, one location book for Corellia had three new species, while the book for Hutt space included four.
Now that you’ve read what the game has to offer (and hopefully picked the right setting for you), you’re probably asking how the game works. Well, ask no more!
==The Core Mechanic==
Unlike most roleplaying games, this game doesn’t use standard numbered dice. Instead, each die has a number of symbols to denote the degrees of success and failure. Positive dice have symbols of advantage (a perk; something going right), success (duh) and Triumph (succeed with awesome results), while negative dice have symbols of threat (something isn’t quite right), failure (duh), and Despair (things have gone REALLY wrong). If you bought your dice from FFG, you will realize that blue (d6), green (d8), and yellow (d12) are positive, while black (d6), purple (d8), and red (d12) are negative.
When you put together your dice pool, you take the highest of your stat and skill in basic positive dice (green), and you take the lower of the two and upgrade that many into the next step up (yellow). For example, if you wanted to shoot a stormtrooper with your pistol, you would need to roll Agility and Ranged (Light). If you have Agility 4 and Ranged (Light) 2, you would start with 4 greens, and upgrade 2 of them to yellow. The end result: 2 yellow, 2 green.
If you or the GM can come up with any bonuses, they are added to your dice pool, normally in the form of boost dice (blue).
Unlike other games, you are actually rolling against yourself, as the GM will hand you the negative dice associated with the roll. There’s a base difficulty (in purple dice), with any upgrades (changing to red dice), and then setbacks due to any additional penalties (like poor lighting).
Back to our example: shooting at short range is a difficulty of 2 purple dice. You would now have 2 yellow, 2 green, and 2 purple. Roll them.
After the roll, you compare the symbols. Threat cancels Advantages, while Failures cancel Successes. Triumphs and Despairs hang around for special effects regardless, but the Success and Failure they provide can be negated. In the end, you determine if you succeed, and then thanks to how well you succeeded (or failed), you tell a story about what happens.
By far, my favorite part of the game is how the core mechanic promotes telling a story. Rolled a Triumph? Your shot ricocheted off of a stormtrooper’s helmet and into the ceiling, knocking a tile loose and taking out more of them. Rolled a Despair? You missed your shot and blew out a wall, which you can now see was the only thing separating you from other troopers. Hope you roll well!
I’m also grateful that FFG didn’t limit the storytelling to dice rolls and stats, and instead added a mechanic for each game line to give characters more backstory. Outside of Motivations (goals and the like), each game line has a number assigned to Obligation (EotE), Duty (AoR), and Morality (F&D).
Obligation is something that the character has over their head. These are things usually tied to living on the outskirts of society, like owing a crime lord some money, having the need to constantly risk your life, or an addiction to illegal substances. Each game session, Obligation is rolled to see if it will come up; you’ll want to keep this score low.
Duty is your standing in the Rebellion (or similar military). I personally haven’t run AoR, so I haven’t seen it in action yet, but I’m sure my group will be using it real soon if they continue on their path.
As far as I can tell, it’s a note that determines your standing within the Rebellion, what you’re known for and what perks you get to ask for. I’ve read through it once when it came out and haven’t revisited it due to lack of use, so forgive me.
Morality is the final mechanic released in F&D. This scale shows if your character is Light Side or Dark Side, and gives added bonuses for each one (extra wounds/strain, as well as different Force points). This rises and falls each game based on the character’s actions, and is rolled at the beginning of each game to see if a hard choice will arise in the game relating to the core of their Morality.
All in all, it’s nice to see there’s a narrative mechanic built in. The game gets massive bonus points in my book for that.
Like most tabletop games, this game has expansion books and boxes. Dear gods, it has expansions.
Well before a product hits the shelves, FFG does an “open beta,” during which you can purchase a softcover version of the rulebook. It’s a bit light in the art department (with a picture for each chapter, images for the races and careers, and that’s about it. This will set you back about $30, but it’s a way to get your suggestions voiced before the final book goes to print.
Months after the beta is done and before the core book is released, there’s a “Beginner’s Box” to prime the pump, then the GM guide is released at the same time as the core book, there’s an adventure released within two or three months after the core book, and the other books are sporadic.
The “Beginner’s Box” isn’t necessary unless you are a completionist or love pregens. The box includes the dice (which are normally costly, and arguably are about half of the cost of the box), some pre-gen characters (not exactly character creation material, but fun with nice pictures), and includes a ready-to-go adventure. I’ve ignored them as I’ve been putting money towards the rest of the line, but some friends have spoken highly of them.
The GM kit is just that: a GM kit. They include an adventure with the GM screen, so if you’re looking at getting started, it’s not a bad investment. They also have a few other rule notes that I’ve been learning about the hard way, making these more worthwhile than expected. F&D, for example, includes rules for characters to build lightsabers, something that was not in the core rulebook.
While I would avoid adventures, I’ve learned that they are almost required to get the full experience. For example, the first adventure for AoR, Onsalught at Arda I, involves a mass combat. These rules don’t exist in the core rulebook, so if you are planning on mass combat, you’ll need this one. The first adventure for F&D is adding a new species, so if you want that, you’ll need that book (or hope it is released in another book). There’s usually little snippets of useful things, but I mainly buy them for the NPCs (which, honestly, make these things worthwhile).
Another book type is the Career book. Each of these books is released with a specific career in mind, introducing new storytelling options (new Obligations, motivations, etc), new mechanics (elaboration on roles they play), new gear (from ships to random survival gear), new species (three each; sometimes they are brand new, and others are reproduced from another line’s book), new specializations (again, three; these elaborate on the roles of the career), and my personal favorite: signature abilities.
That last part sells these books for me. Each career gets a special ability that can be unlocked, normally running a great deal of XP to purchase (meaning lots of time; 300 XP to unlock it all if you’re lucky with the talent trees), but they are amazing. For example, smugglers can automatically get out of any combat situation, and with the right upgrades, they can take the ship (and crew) with them, while a Hired Gun can take out EVERY minion (the lowest type of opponent) on the battlefied out of the fight in one roll. While they take a lot of work, they give a mechanical and narrative perk to the character, making them worthwhile.
The final type of book is the Location Book. I’m not sure if it’s the correct name (as they’re releasing a book that is a bit loose with “locations”), but it fits. So far, we have two of them with a third coming out. The first covered the Corellian sector, the second elaborated on Hutt space, and the third discusses Alliance bases and where they are located. Each of these books has been well worth the money, as you are given a number of new species (three seems to be the norm, but Hutt Space gave four), in-depth details on locations, “modular adventures” (essentially adventure seeds you can use anywhere), and of course, location-specific gear.
==A Note On Art==
One of the things that always gets me with RPGs is the art. Dungeons and Dragons had near pornography in the early years, and until Wizards of the Coast acquired the license, the artwork was a mix of sub-par sketches and some detailed (but sometimes stylistically odd) artwork.
Star Wars wasn’t much better. West End Games used black and white images from the films with some black and white drawings that would have been at home for a comic book. Wizards of the Coast stayed true with the images from the films (but in color this time), with sporadic art that wasn’t nearly as detailed as the artwork for Dungeons and Dragons. Saga Edition had some better artwork, but it rehashed a large amount of what we saw before.
Then we get to FFG, who has been producing a card game using drawn art of all of the main characters and Expanded Universe creations. The artwork is simply gorgeous, and is worth picking up the books just to see artwork for a Star Wars book done right.
Like most games, there are parts of this I love, and parts I really wish would change.
The sheer number of books is staggering, so if you want the full experience (including correct, specialized dice), your wallet and bookshelves will not like you.
Mechanically, the game is sound, and some of the qualms people have with it can be resolved with simple house rules. As it is a partial class-based system, some people will not like it, and as it’s not level-based, others may hate it.
The biggest dividing factor among my groups has been the narrative method of play. I find it refreshing and a great fit for the cinematic approach of the Star Wars Universe, but others aren’t keen on it.
Personally, I’d say go for it. If you are a fan of tabletop games and a fan of Star Wars, this is probably the best Star Wars RPG released to date. It’s not perfect, but it’s pretty damned near close. After running the game since 2013 and taking part in two playtests, I’m still loving it as a Star Wars game, and expect to continue on with it for the years to come.
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