As I mentioned in a prior post, I’ve recently donned the DM cap once more for a campaign set in a Steam-punkesque landscape. Still in its infancy, I am running that endeavor using the EnWorld Setting of Zeitgeist which gives both myself and the players access to a relatively modern assortment of gear and weaponry including things like guns and steam-ships. Unfortunately the technology of the late Ninetieth century, even mixed with spell-casting and arcane infusions just wasn’t enough to sate my more Sci-fi leaning tendencies. So to quench that fix I casually mentioned to my weekend group a few sessions ago of possibly running a Star Wars series of adventures for them- which was met by unanimous enthusiasm and annoying impatience that we weren’t dropping what we were playing right then and there and doing that instead.
A modest Star Wars fan, I’ve watched my required repeats of the movies as well as read a paperback, graphic novel or two from the plethora of spin-offs from the films, and made my share of Boba Fett references both at the gaming table and awkwardly away from it. But this was going to be my first attempt at trying out a Star Wars role-playing game. Well to be fair, it wasn’t.
See a long time ago in a borough far far away, back in my High School days, I had a group of eclectic friends, nerds if you will, and it was through this gang that I actually encountered my first role-playing game; and it was a Star Wars one. I still remember my friends’ obsession over the layout of the Millennium Falcon, and their hard-core science tendencies, ones that to this day I don’t share in abundance.
The take-away from this game was that I was wholly unprepared for what a role-playing game was at that point in my life. My friend, the GM running the mod, had us in an Imperial Starships’ prison hold trying to escape and my solution, annoying now in retrospect, was to don the bed sheets and have my character claim to be Socrates imprisoned for his beliefs. I was taking philosophy at the time, what?
Anyway, fast-forward to today and my enthusiasm for a Star Wars game has come back with a vengeance, a phantom menace if you will. So after my announcement I started investigating the newest Star Wars system to come out, or rather the newest system slated to come out- Fantasy Flight’s Star Wars Edge of the Empire.
Still in its Beta phase I’d seen the system at some events in my neck of the woods specifically the Beginner Box(BB) being played which prompted my suggestion and desire to give the system a try.
After looking into the Beginner Box online, and talking to some of the staff at my local and great gaming store, the Compleat Strategist, I came to the conclusion that for my needs and my groups needs we would get more use out of the Beta Book than the simplified rule-set the ‘red box’ provides. For one thing, the rules in the BB were limited and didn’t include any character generation outlines, a major drawback as I know my group; some of whom are optimizers to a fault.
So taking the plunge into the Beta I shelled out the bones and picked up a copy. The original plan was to give it a quick read-thru and create characters at the end of a session with the group. But sometimes plans go awry and at the session this was supposed to happen at, all but two of the gang were no-shows.
But sometimes plans go better than expected too.
After playing through a couple of Card games the three of us decided to give the Beta a try and come up with some characters to get the ball rolling with the system. We followed the step-by-step generation rules and between our trio we ended up deciding on creating a bounty hunter, a pilot and a colonist for myself from the available Occupations.
In Edge of the Empire, player’s portray characters from the fringes of the Galactic Empire, under the guise of scoundrels and smugglers, living a life away from the grip of the Emperor and his Imperial forces. In the game, the Force, an idea that plays a central role in all the films is largely absent and instead characters are expected to rely on their abilities and their innate, non-force natures to see them through the day.
The ability to customize your race, your occupation and your skill set are how Edge of the Empire allows you to create unique individuals but its the Obligation mechanic that the system uses to breath life into the characters themselves. Through Obligation, or really the equivalent of a back-story that comes into play during each game session, player’s are expected to use this as a motivating factor into why their character has fled or lives on the fringes of the galaxy rather than making their living within the structure of the Empire.
This mechanic along with how the game itself plays lends towards a much more narrative feel than systems I’m familiar with. Instead of a battle-map or dice rolls involving exact numerical values to beat, Edge of the Empire employs a pool of dice with modifying dice given the difficulty of the situation or challenge. These dice are unique to the game and have specific sides, a fact that presented its own set of problems for us.
Asides from the dice there were some confusions as to the character generation rules, specifically some of the racial traits that perhaps from the wording or our lack of familiarity with the broader system itself left us scratching our heads. But after our characters were given life we decided to run through a small mini-adventure with the characters, I mean why not?
I set up the bounty hunter and pilot on an escort mission, leading them into a situation where they unwittingly were trying to free my colonist from a low-level bureaucratic job in the bowels of a Galactic planet. Using their Obligations as plot devices I sent them on a fairly simple mission that I hoped would encapsulate the feel of the Star Wars universe. And that’s where I really liked the implementation of the system itself.
With the use of dice pool granting a basic ‘pass-fail’ mechanic along with beneficial and harmful side-effects the narrative of both the role-playing and combat in the game was much more open-ended and fluid. It allowed me and my players the benefits of running a game that was much more cinematic and fast-paced than the tactical planning I’ve grown accustomed to with D & D systems out there. It helped to have an entire universe of content I was already familiar with to flesh out the world I was sending them into as well and overall, the grittier, smuggler aspect of characters like Han and Chewbacca that the players more or less appropriated and my own Lando-esque character really gave the mini-session a sense of depth and believability.
I’ve played other systems that consist of dice pools like the World of Darkness system, but the lack of exact numbers and levels really gave the experience a free-form improvisational feel that matched the sci-fi fantastic and gritty intent of the Star Wars universe itself. It was actually a very welcome change from the highly tactical and often times clunky and overly meta gameplay I have become used to in terms of a role-playing system.
Overall the Star Wars Beta is a great improvisational system where the designers really attempted to give both players and GMs a chance to fill the shoes of a fringe adventurer. The fluid hands off tactically, hands-on narrative elements make you constantly cognizant of the fact that the characters truly are the ones driving the story as opposed to simply being rote statistics and bonuses to dice rolls. By incorporating from the moment of character creation itself ideas like Obligation and open-ended occupational abilities rather than simply traits and a matrix of skills the Beta thus far has fleshed out a system that puts the emphasis on a truly collaborative story-telling and role-playing experience. In all, a good attempt and a system I’m looking forward to playing more of in the future.