A long time ago in a galaxy far far away….
EDGE OF THE EMPIRE
It is the 100th Post on the Roleplayer’s Guild and I can think of no better way to do it than by talking about the first of the games Fantasy Flight Games released, Edge of the Empire. With the beginner boxed set in tow and several players keen for some Star Wars action, I decided to run the starter adventure. The question was, would the force be with us and the roleplaying experience be up to our expectations? Would these strange dice covered in odd symbols instead of numbers aid or hinder the experience? How does the advice in the book stack up and allow for some freedom for an experienced DM?
Read on to find out!
As mentioned before on the blog, one of my more recent acquisitions was the Star Wars beginner boxed sets for both Edge of the Empire and Age of Rebellion. After examining the two products, I decided to see if some of my players would be interested in Edge of the Empire first and give it a go. Firstly, the beginner boxed set I feel is an excellent product and probably one of the best I have seen in terms of a starting point. The included adventure is fantastic, with a very well written book that clearly introduces rules elements with each encounter and gives some very good advice to a new or experienced gamemaster. Possibly the highlight of the package is the very well done pregenerated characters, who each get a printed portfolio making it straightforward for players to get right in with a minimum of fuss.
Obviously the thing to talk about first is the dice that come with the game, which instead of being regular d6s, d8s or d12s with numbers have different numbers of symbols on them. At first this seemed like a cynical “Here is how we can make some more money!” kind of plot, but once I had actually ran the game it is actually a really inspired decision. Once you know what symbols are what, it makes conflict resolution and complications very intuitive. For example, a player character might succeed at an action but roll one threat symbol, which means some unforeseen complication like their gun jamming (as an example) occurs as a result. Or fail an action, but roll an advantage and still get some kind of benefit out of what they did.
It’s actually a really simple way to present a conflict resolution system and highly intuitive. I like how the game avoids having excessive rolling in things like a negotiation, by adding the enemies negotiation skill as a negative group of dice into the other players checks. So for example if I am trying to convince a stormtrooper that these droids are not what they are looking for, I might roll 1 yellow and 2 green dice. Instead of rolling his own counter skill, the stormtrooper adds their 1 yellow and 1 green die as a red and purple (the “bad” dice) to the pool I am rolling. So you roll 1 yellow, 2 greens and 1 red and 1 purple – with the net successes determining if you convince the stormtrooper or not in one overall roll. This greatly speeds up play and is a very smart system.
Another very clever mechanic is the way they implemented the idea of how the force manipulates events to someones advantage or disadvantage. When play begins, the players roll a white 12 sided die with several white or black dots on it. You add up the total and it forms a “pool” of tokens that represent the force. When a player or the GM uses one, they flip it to the other side (from dark to light for the GM, from light to dark for the PCs) improving one of their die from a green to a yellow (or improving a bad purple die to a red). This proves to be a very tempting and powerful mechanic in play, which I honestly need to gush more over in an entirely separate post.
In play for this session, I started with three players with a fourth coming in about halfway through. As I had both boxed sets, I actually let my players choose from some characters from Age of Rebellion as well, so I had the Spy (Age of Rebellion), the Colonist (Edge of the Empire), the Smuggler (Edge of the Empire) and then later the Ace (Age of Rebellion). Once again, I can’t praise the system enough for how easy it was to get all three players up to speed on the basics of the system and how their characters functioned due to the wonderful pregens. These little portfolios also explain the core rules like “What can I do in a turn” and “What does this stuff about strain and wounds mean?” in a straightforward manner as well.
After reading out the initial crawl – to appropriate music of course – we began by establishing that the players were running from Teemo the Hutt, then making the appropriate Spaceballs references to Pizza the Hutt (just to get it out of our systems straight up). The initial encounter is nicely set up, with the PCs running from some of Teemo the Hutt’s Gamorrean guards to hide in a cantina (again, very classically Star Wars). This encounter serves initially as an introduction to how the rules work and gives the PCs several options. They could pose a dancer, hide behind the bar, pretend to be a patron, duck behind a curtain and so on. It’s a good way to introduce the core die mechanics into the game.
In my game, the Colonist decided to pretend to be a bar droid serving drinks, the smuggler hid in the closet behind the bar (before the barman could object) and the spy just slipped into a booth. Most of this went off without a hitch, but the interesting point came up when the spy slipped into the booth and succeeded, but rolled a threat on the purple die. Here I decided to elaborate that despite being successful, he disturbed a particularly strange and ornery hairy alien, who objected to the newcomers presence. After making a bit of a fuss and throwing his drink at the spy, the alien departed and cost him 1 strain as a result – but he was still hidden. Just covered in drink!
Here is where the “narrative” elements of these dice come out. While you can turn advantage/threats into simple mechanics like regaining strain or gaining/losing extra maneuvers in combat, it is interesting to think about how it can change the story or situation in different ways. Not everything requires you to think of something novel for a particular situation, but you can use it to direct a scene towards a more interesting (or thematic) direction or conclusion. I find this to be by far the most appealing aspect of the system, because you can succeed at something but still get a complication out of it. Alternatively, the system has room to fail but still get a positive result out of that failure – which is good game design to me.
As all the characters successfully hid, the Gamorreans* entered the cantina and then began squealing/squeaking at one another in confusion. With the advantage of surprise, the players leaped out from their hiding spots and mowed down the guards in a single brutal round of combat. Interestingly, combat in this game felt surprisingly lethal and quick – especially with the free boost die I gave the PCs for successfully getting the drop on the guards. The poor guards didn’t stand much of a chance and the PCs ruthlessly dispatched them!
With the pig guards dispatched and sarcastic applause going around the cantina for their actions, the head of the bar congratulated them and gave them an idea how to get offworld: An old freighter used by a Trandoshan mercenary the Krayt Fang had landed some time ago. Unfortunately the Krayt Fang’s Hypermatter Reactor Igniter (HMRI) needed replacing and it can’t get out of the system without it. He then cheerfully suggested the junk shop might have one and then told the PCs to get the heck out of his bar.
At this point – as is so often the case with prewritten adventures – they immediately went off script. The adventure assumes that the PCs will go right to the junk yard at this point, but instead my players had a better idea: How to keep the local guards distracted for them to move around? It’s actually a good question and right near the cantina is the dewback stables. Dewbacks are basically really big desert lizards and tend to be common mounts around Tatooine. Naturally releasing a whole bunch of them into the streets of the star port would be suitably hilarious and cause an enormous amount of distraction.
Thankfully the book actually did a good job helping me rule this on the fly, because there is a description of the core NPC who runs the place in the book and what the general costs of the dewbacks were. I decided this would be a great time to tell the PCs more about the starport and that they couldn’t just try to flee into the desert: An extremely fierce sandstorm was whipping up around the place, which would flay the skin off anyone trying to march into the desert. Only the spaceports shielding was keeping everyone there alive and in decent condition. Naturally the PCs were using this smallchat to distract her, while the colonist (a droid) went to silently open the doors to the dewbacks. This worked pretty well and before anyone could react there was a stampede of dewbacks roaming the streets!
I decided this action would heavily distract the Hutt’s guards and the local stormtrooper patrols – possibly avoiding the later encounter with them. It also gave the PCs the confidence to wander around more freely and most essentially, get back on track by going to the junk dealer as the module planned.
Once at the junk dealer, the players decided to have a chat and naturally, the owners mistreatment of the little R5 droid rankled the colonist especially (who is a freed protocol droid). While distracting the owner and finding out that yes, they did indeed have the HMRI there, the colonist went out and had a conversation with the R5 unit. After discovering he’s not a fan of the abusive meatsac, they came to a little deal: The R5 unit would steal the HMRI while the others distracted the owner, in exchange for the colonist agreeing to remove the R5 units control bolt. Naturally the R5 unit couldn’t wait to backstab its miserable owner and the spy and smuggler got to distracting the owner. This eventually culminated in the droid succeeding, when the spy tumbled over some junk and got a nasty plasma burn, throwing them all out – just with a shiny new HMRI!
It’s worth noting that this is another “Off script” part, because I actually decided the R5 unit would happily go with the party at this point (why would he stay with his owner he hated anyway?). I wasn’t sure how to appropriately represent the droid statistically, so I just ruled that on things he’s good at like repairs, computers and such he added bonus die onto the relevant PCs role. This felt like a good bonus for their ingenuity and decision to free him, without majorly unbalancing the way the scenario was designed or giving myself a lot of extra work in a system I’m not 100% familiar with.
In any event, the next big thing to do was find out where the Krayt Fang was and unlock the docking controls so they could fly it out. So it was time to pay the Spaceport a visit and here I found out that a combat can go south *really* fast. The PCs decided they wanted to sneak in through the side of the spaceport and not go through the front, so they encountered the commander and two of the battle droids. Initially things went fairly well, but a couple of big shots later and two of the players were actually down! Things were getting pretty real in here and I actually almost wiped the party, if it hadn’t been the colonist saving the day by barring the spaceport up!
Of course, even while appealing for help over the comms and the fight going for a fair while, no reinforcements managed to arrive. This I decided was because the general Imperial and Hutt forces were still so absorbed getting the dewbacks together, that the message appealing for help was lost in the shuffle and couldn’t be dealt with until the PCs had control of the situation. Here I decided to make a reference to the original movies, with the commander deciding to tell the inquiring stormtrooper asking about the trouble that everything was fine, just some accidental blaster discharges from a droid (which in this case, he bought).
At this point, one of my other players arrived and so I had 4 players now instead of 3. She took the role of the Ace from Age of Rebellion, which I figured would be handy in one of the upcoming starship battles. How to get her into the game was the trick and after some thought, I decided to re-purpose the existing stormtrooper patrol encounter into them holding the Ace prisoner. Narrative wise, I justified this by thinking that the imperial shuttle arriving at the other landing bay was there to pick her up. To give the existing group a reason to attack the stormtroopers and free her, I had the spy recognize her as an ace pilot of the rebellion to give an RP reason to encourage them to attack the stormtroopers.
This battle showed the interesting “minion” mechanics and also that heavy blasters are very scary, as I downed a couple more characters and made life difficult for them. Overall though they handled this very well and got pretty lucky on a couple of rolls, easily dispatching one group of stromtroopers with little effort and taking some pain from the remaining. Minions work really well, basically getting improved dice and statistics when they have all their members, but getting progressively worse as members are picked off. It’s a simple way of having multiple enemies (in this case, one group of stormtroopers were 3 minions each) without substantially increasing the number of die rolls they need to make.
I allowed the players to level up their characters a bit before the climactic battles in the hanger and when pulling out of the planets orbit. Once again can I praise these character folios some more in this post? My players could just flip a page, all the information they needed was right there and it made the various choices they could take easy to understand. This is also when the system introduces the force mechanic called “Destiny”, where the row of light side/dark side tokens is created. In the end between my players we ended up initially with 4 light side and 2 dark side tokens.
At this point it was time to get out of this hive of scum and villainy and into space! They hit up the landing bay and tricked their way past the droids at first, but the canny Trandoshan wasn’t so easy to fool and figured out the players were acting immensely oddly. A fight soon broke out, with the characters fighting their way into the Krayt Fang and the Ace shooting dead the Transdoshan slaver without any major effort at all! The rest of them got the idea this was going to get pretty real as a droid slammed on the alarm and tried to close the landing bay doors on the ship. Stormtroopers began piling in and the smuggler managed to get it flying, but a despair symbol indicated that the ship wasn’t able to properly get its drive sorted.
Cue a desperate struggle for the colonist and smuggler to get the ship flying. Meanwhile the spy and ace used their gunnery skill to mow down the approaching stormtroopers. This proved to be really effective battle and while the ship took some damage, it was an incredibly dramatic escape with a lot of relief around the table when the ship finally sped off into space. It’s really worth while noting just how evocative of the escape of the Milennium Falcon from Episode IV this managed to pull off. For a “Genuine star wars feel” I have to give this boxed set an A+++ in all departments!
In any event, the ship wasn’t out of trouble as several Tie Fighters were incoming and the HMRI was not installed yet. This combat was amazingly intense, with the ace sweeping one of the tie fighter wings from space in a single shot – while the other tie fighters pounded the deflector shields. I copiously used the destiny tokens and the “stay on target” maneuver to really amp up the tie fighters attacks and tension. By the time another two wings were incoming, the ship had a minimum of hull and ship strain remaining, with 2 rounds to go before the HMRI started up allowing them to jump out of the system.
With a whole 3 hull left only fancy flying, fancy shooting and some desperate repairs kept the Krayt Fang together long enough to see them safely out of the system. They had finally escaped from the Hutts! Of course, they then started to explore the ship a bit and here I couldn’t help myself. Once they looked in the captains quarters and around the ship, they found themselves a very interesting old fashioned lightsaber. Not to mention, a strange woman who was restrained in the cargo hold and seemed to have been someone of importance the bounty hunter was transporting.
One would wonder…. why exactly did the HMRI of the Krayt Fang break down forcing that ship to land on Tatooine?
In any event, that was the end of the beginner box adventure for Edge of the Empire. Overall I was extremely impressed with this on numerous levels. The adventure slowly introduces mechanics, gives new or experienced GMs excellent advice on how to proceed/run those encounters and the novel weird dice fit right in. As well as the dice and adventure/rulebook, it also comes with some thick sturdy and well made tokens for the GM to use. I’m particularly enthused with this because they thought about how to extend the adventure, providing an additional one entirely free of charge on their website (which is an enormously classy move).
Overall I would say that this is an absolutely terrific way to start playing Star Wars and indeed, I would even say RPGs in general. It’s extremely approachable, very well written and the boxed set is just terrific in terms of price to content (especially given that they provide an extra two characters and a follow up adventure free for no cost). The map that comes with this boxed set in particular demands the highest of praise, being extremely high quality and offering numerous great locations for future adventuring.
In fact, I am already trying to figure out how to make a mini-campaign, which would use the main assets from Edge of the Empire, Age of Rebellion and when it comes out, Force and Destiny. Possibly the highest praise I could give this is that it made some of my players, who weren’t that enthused with Star Wars before, highly excited about the idea of playing in a future Star Wars campaign.
And ultimately, I can’t think of a better effect for a boxed set or introductory product to have on someone new to it.
Verdict: Absolutely recommend this to beginners to the genre of RPGs and veterans alike. Much of it will be extremely useful for future adventures and it’s a brilliant introduction to the games rules. It’s precisely what a beginner’s boxed set should be.
*These guys are the pig guards from Return of the Jedi, if you’re a bit lost as to what they are.
Disclosure: This boxed set was purchased from a store with the Guild’s own Galactic Standard Currency.