Star Wars: Edge of the Empire

I am going to say upfront that I am not, and have never been what I would call a Star Wars fan.

I watched the original trilogy and liked them well enough, though I never got around to watching them after they were "re-mastered" (or whichever ones had all the added CGI). I do not think I have ever owned a single toy, except maybe by accident. I tried playing the original NES game, but failed to get past the asteroid belt. I have started Knights of the Old Republic twice, but ended up stopping shortly after getting off of the exploding spaceship both times. I gave one of the novels a shot, but lost interest about a third of the way in.

No, most of my exposure to Star Wars came from the old WEG version that relied entirely on d6's. We played it quite a bit, almost as much as Dungeons & Dragons and Rifts, though from what I recall the only parts of the Star Wars license we really levied were Tatooine and wookies. After that the only time we played it was after the first d20 version came out, which ended up being a one-time fling probably starring a human jedi of some sort, and definitely featured an idiotic trandoshan soldier and hutt noble.

I got Saga Edition pretty much because I had heard that it had some precursor mechanics to 4th Edition, and I had been hoping to get some kind of sneak-peak at what to expect (which, in hindsight, was virtually nothing). I also had a considerable chunk of cash, and started buying the supplements on the promises that we would play it eventually (which we did not...really the most thought I have put into running a Star Wars game involved taking the core plot of the original trilogy and transplanting it into Gamma World).

As for Star Wars: Edge of the Empire, that I pretty much got on a whim while in the market for the first Dresden Files RPG book (again). Given my previous track record I am not sure why, but I think at the time my flawed reasoning was leaning towards, "Hey, Kamon knows a lot about Star Wars, maybe he could run it!"

It is because of this that I was surprised that I ended up running it.

This was not exactly a premeditated event, mind you. I read something on Penny Arcade where Tycho touched on the custom dice. From there I found another article--somewhere--that mentioned that the game was intended to be learned as you played. I decided to take the game up on this challenge, partly because I would not have to put in an initial time investment of learning the rules and planning a game, partly because my lack of Star Wars lore could be chalked up to a third-party, and partly because I wanted to see how close the game could come to meeting that expectation.

The plot of the adventure is that the characters have upset a hutt for various reasons, and are trying to escape from a town, I guess, on Tatooine. It is broken up into encounters that gradually teach you the rules, so in the first encounter when you are trying to hide from some gammoreans, you get to learn how skills and--very shortly thereafter--combat works. As the encounters progress you dig deeper into the rules, learning about advantages and threats, critical hits, minion groups, and so on.

We ended up getting to the part where they got on the ship before we quit--and so did not get a chance to try out vehicular combat--but decided that it was a pretty fun romp and that we would not mind playing it again, ideally with someone more informed at the reins.

The first thing I noticed was the distinct lack of anything jedi. The pregens were basically a couple of soldier-types, a scoundrel, and a droid. I imagine that a later expansion will add at least force powers to the list, but for now it was nice to see a Star Wars game where jedi was not an immediate option or assumed progression.

Some people were turned off by the prospect of custom dice, but I really liked them. You roll dice based on how good you are at something, along with a number of difficulty dice based on how hard it is. So if, say, Oskara the twi'lek bounty hunter tries to hide from someone, she would roll Stealth. Checking her sheet, we see that she has three green--or ability--dice in Stealth. I figure that it is pretty easy to hide from some gammoreans, and add a purple--or difficulty--die to the pool.

The player rolls, canceling out her successes with any failures. If there is at least one success left over, she succeeds. That part is simple enough, but you can also get advantage and threats, which not only cancel each other out but can impart positive or negative effects whether or not you succeed. For example, you can spend advantage to regain strain (a kind of temporary hit point pool), activate critical effects, or gain a boost die/impose a setback die on someone else.

This can add all sorts of narrative effects to the game. You might miss a gammorean (no successes), but keep him pinned down so that an ally can get a better shot (spending two advantage to dole out a boost die).  On the other hand since the GM can spend your threat, you might hit a bad guy but suffer strain in the process, or even break your weapon.

Finally, I liked the advice at the back of the Adventure Book, which encourages you to not stop the game on a failed check, and to say "yes" and "yes, but".

One thing I did not like was the lack of setting information. Sure I know of Tatooine and hutts, but not much else. The two-thirds of a page of flavor material provides a few ideas, and attempts--and fails--to paint an entire galaxy with very, very broad strokes, meaning that running this game is going to require some hardcore and/or very forgiving players. For a game with the tagline of Edge of the Empire, I guess I had hoped that there would be at least a setting booklet detailing this part of the galactic sandbox.

I also did not see any rules for generating your own characters. Normally this is not a problem, but I could not find any ETA on a more complete version of the game coming out anytime soon. I guess that, at the least, there is a freely available adventure and a pair of extra pregens to play with.


  1. I bought it on a lark and once I saw the custom dice, and the charts you had to rummage through to interpret what they meant, I decided against ever running this game.

    If I want to look at charts every ten seconds, I'll play something by I.C.E.

  2. Played this this weekend, with a novice GM. The game doesn't really include many charts, and is pretty standard for a beginner's box style of game.

    the dice take a bit to get used to, but move fast once everyone has understood them. If I run it for another group (which I will - we had a blast) I think I will probably try to handle the threats and advantages more fluidly, and with more narrative outcomes than did our GM for the evening. He tended to stick explicity to the printed rules.

    Like any beginner's box, this is not actually Edge of the Empire itself. It is just an introduction to the idea of a roleplaying game, with a "rules-light" system intended to be parleyed into playing the full game. I've never much cared for this marketing strategy, but even without character creation rules - or the other 300+ pages of stuff that will be in the core book this spring - it can still be fun.

    As for the charts, I really don't know what By The Sword is talking about. There aren't any in the intro game, really, except the slideshow presentation style introductions to new rules. Overall, the first half of the game seems to be written with the style of a play through tutorial for a video game. Not a bad effort for teaching the ropes of an RPG to the uninitiated, but a little bit restrictive for those looking for more meat.

  3. Yea...the only "charts" are really just lists of examples on how to define advantages and disasters and what not. Even then the whole point is that they are something to be decided on the fly and these "charts" can be freely ignored if you prefer.

    Unfortunately, custom dice are something most old school RPGers fear...just like any other innovation which comes along to improve the hobby. Its mind boggling really that those "weird little dice" everyone found so odd and intimidating in the old Basic D & D boxes are now so important to people that they immediately turn their noses up at any game that doesn't use them.

  4. To be honest, I was a little concerned about the custom die when I first heard about them. Not so much for myself but for new players. Having played the game, I have found that the mechanics are quite good. There doens't have to be a lot of chart flicking, it is easy to come up with interpretations of each die roll and the advantage/threat's can be used to create some interesting wrinkles. Another concern I had is that the official setting is quite a narrow one, I would have prefered not being limited to Rebellion era Outer/Mid Rim. As an experienced ref it is not too difficult to kit-bash the game into another period. My own preference is the Old Republic since this gives a massive period in which to play and the Jedi are at the height of their power. This is not just about playing Jedi, but the plot possibilities involving them. All in all I think that the game is a very strong one.

  5. I like it, and would not mind seeing a fantasy-esque game that uses similar custom dice keyed to weapon and magic skills, with advantages allowing you to perform various stunts and altering what your spells can do.


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