08 July 2013

Funky Dice Mechanics - My Initial Thoughts on Star Wars : Edge of The Empire

   Greetings, programs.  Sorry it's taken me so long to get back into the posting groove.  Grad school started for me, and now I'm working on HIST500 and HIST501 trudging the expensive, reading-intensive path toward my MA in Military History.  Luckily, we used 4 and 6 July 2013 to roll some dice, this time on a new game system - Fantasy Flight Games' Star Wars : Edge Of The Empire.

 This is far from my first Star Wars RPG.  My all-time favorite iteration of Star Wars has been, and at this time remains, the first edition of Star Wars D6 from West End Games.  I still find it the perfect gateway drug to get new folks into gaming - the system is quick and intuitive, the Star Wars Universe is pretty well known even to folks who are not game geeks, and the feel of the first edition material is spot-on to where I want my Star Wars to be.  From the graphic design to the in-universe advertisements to the plethora of ready-to-play character archetypes D6 is my go-to Star Wars game.  I was lukewarm on Star Wars D20, and D20 revised.  They were OK, but not quite what I was looking for.  Saga Edition was pretty sleek, but still had some issues my group had trouble dealing with - the level-based scaling being quite a bit of it.

  So here we are giving the final print version of Edge of the Empire a spin.  The book is beautiful - the illustrations are all in a wonderful full-color style that can't help but put the line art of the D6 later editions or the cartoonish art of the D20 editions to shame.  There's even a few pictures that are either Ralph McQuarrie originals or re-imaginings of them.  I nearly squee'd when I saw the early concept for the Millennium Falcon, the one that looks more like the Rebel Blockade Runner, sitting in a bay waiting for adventure.

  This game is class-based, but not level-based.  Sure their are tiers of abilities that must be purchased in a tree, like Feats in D20, but there's no strict "leveling" aside from the accrual and expenditure of Experience Points.  XP are the currency with which characters are created and improved, and aside from the Characteristics - Ability Scores for us old grognards - everything is purchased the same way after character creation as it is during character creation.  Now, this leads me to something I feel I need to point out, because our initial group missed it despite it being in bold letters on the page.  Characteristics can not be bought with XP after character generation.  They must be raised by taking a Talent that is all the way at the end of the talent tree, and appears only once on each tree.  To really crank up a Characteristic after play begins, one must invest a LOT of XP to get to that level on the tree, and if one wants another point in characteristics, one must "multi-class" and choose another specialty and climb all the way to the end of THAT tree to get a second one.  So... if you're creating a character, heed the advice that's in the bold sentence and think hard about spending most of your starting XP on Characteristics.

  Here's where the funky die mechanics come in.  So, to play EoTE without constantly referencing a table, you need their custom dice or the Star Wars Dice App from the Android or iOS app stores.  To sum but the dice mechanics, there are no target numbers - only "bad" dice in the pool you roll.  Your "good" dice come from three basic places.  Your Characteristic gives you a base set of the green "ability" dice.  So, if you have an average Characteristic of 2, you would have two of the green dice.  Now, if you have a skill of one rank in whatever skill you are rolling, you "upgrade" one of those green dice to a yellow one.  The yellow dice are twelve-sided as opposed to eight-sided, and have more positive results.  The bad dice are determined by difficulty.  Now there are situational dice, like boost dice or setback dice that can also be added.  The whole pool is rolled, and the results are tallied.

  On these custom dice are two axes of outcome.  Successes and Failures are one, and Advantage and Threat are the other.  It is possible to succeed, but have threat.  It's also possible to fail but gain advantage, and every other outcome.  Oh, there's also Triumph and Despair, but those are just extreme versions of the above better explained by the full rulebook.

  So, the dynamics of the game rely a lot on these dice pools.  Do something cool to set up an action, and you may get to add a boost die to the pool rolled for that action.  If something unfortunate happens, it may add a setback die.  Dice are upgraded and downgraded and added or subtracted, and then the pool is rolled and all the little symbols counted - with each negative symbol cancelling out each positive symbol.  The net results inform the outcome of the die roll.  GMs are encouraged to interpret these rolls dynamically - such as you got a bunch of successes but also quite a few threats - you made your blaster shot, but now your weapon is out of ammunition!  (As an aside, I love this way of not counting ammo, it reminds me of 1st Edition D6)

  So... do I like this kind of system?  It's hard to say after one marathon session.  D6 is certainly quicker and more intuitive to most players, but by the end of our game even our most game-mechanic-impaired player was quickly grokking what was going on.  We were using the rules for trading advantage to add boost dice to our own and each other's dice pools, and having a great time.

  We have yet to do anything with starship combat or Force powers - Edge of the Empire is pretty focused on places like Tatooine and Ord Mantell and characters who are what have come to be called "fringers" - smugglers, hired guns, etc.  There's not a lot of heavy duty military hardware, and very little that is useful to you if you want to run a campaign full of Jedi.  This is by design - FFG is going to release two more corebooks, one focused on the Rebellion/Empire conflict and another on Force users.  I will say the downplay on Force users is thematically appropriate to the time period the book is covering, as well as being reminiscent of the original D6 core rules for me- published to cover the same time period because in 1987 no other time periods had really been fleshed out.

  My minor annoyances were on the amount of damage needed to get through the soak of opponent characters (DR, in D20 parlance) and do damage.  It made light and standard blaster pistols kind of mediocre weapons.  Our combats took a little too long.  We'll see what happens if and when we pick this game up again.

  May the Force be with all of you!


  1. I picked this game up yesterday, and I agree that the dice roll is rather unnecessarily complicated. Another complaint I have is the lack of diversity between the classes. In my experience they all feel very similar. Sure different classes have different abilities, but they are not enough to make the characters feel unique. That said, I have only played the game for about 8 hours.

  2. Hmmm... I'm going to have to look closer at the class diversity issue. This is probably going to have to wait a while, as EotE isn't one of my regular games, and I have very little time for "regular" gaming as it is due to parenthood and school etc.