On First Read: Star Wars - Edge of Empire

by Aaron McLin

Interest: Star Wars: Edge of the Empire is not a fully-fleshed out Star Wars game setting. It concentrates exclusively on the margins. Players looking for a broad variety of character backgrounds and themes may be disappointed; most especially those looking to utilize Force abilities. (While it is possible for PCs to start the game with Force powers, this does have its drawbacks.)

Layout: There is a small “Read This First” booklet that comes tucked inside that contains a short piece of fiction, an example of play, and a brief backgrounder on the Star Wars setting. The rulebook proper is divided into 13 chapters, starting with an introduction to the mechanics of the game, then dealing with creating and fleshing our characters, combat, spacecraft and other vehicles, the Force, game mastering, then progressing into detailing the setting and ending on a short introductory adventure.

Mechanics: SW: EOTE uses a dice pool mechanic that relies on a set of custom dice printed with various symbols. The custom dice are not strictly necessary; they can be simulated with common 6, 8 and 12-sided dice, but players may have to be careful about separating them. Percentile dice are also used in some situations. A player normally rolls a total number of Ability Dice (d8) equal to the greater of a character's Characteristic or Skill, with the lesser value representing dice Upgraded to Proficiency Dice (d12). Opposing these are Difficulty Dice (d8), which, if Upgraded, become Challenge Dice(d12). Outside influences that play a part in the outcome are represented by six-sided Boost and Setback dice. Positive dice will yield Successes, which are needed to prevail at a task, and Advantages, which result in other opportunities or positive outcomes. Negative Dice will result in Failures and Threats, which result in setbacks or negative consequences.

Proficiency and Challenge dice may also yield Triumph and Despair, respectively with count and both a Success or Failure AND a 'super' Advantage or Threat. Successes and Failures cancel, but Advantages and Threats do not - a single die roll can therefore lead to a number of different effects. Tokens to track each of these results may come in handy, especially if the table is short on dice. Results other than Success and Failure manifest as points that can be spent for certain outcomes, although excess Successes may also sometimes be used to enhance a result. The final die type are Force Dice, which both govern the generation of Force for Force powers, but also set the starting state and total size of a Destiny Point economy. Destiny Points come in Light Side (for the players) and Dark Side (for the GM). There is no substantive difference between the two - it simply makes it easier to keep track of who 'owns' how many points at a given time. Destiny points may be spent for a number of different mechanical or narrative effects. When players spend points, they flip polarity and are given to the GM, and vice versa.

Between differing Species, Careers and Specializations, player characters may be a fairly diverse lot, even if the confines of the setting do tend to enforce certain limits. One balancing act that groups may find themselves dealing with is party size as certain mechanics of the game favor smaller groups.

Playability: SW: EOTE is a fairly rules-heavy implementation, and this means that there are a lot of moving pieces to keep track of. While it doesn't get to the level of a tactical roleplaying game, there are a number of options in combat, and any number of things that are purely cosmetic in many games are given mechanical effects. At the same time, the overall levels of detail and mechanics are variable.

Campaign Setting: Player characters are assumed to be Han Solo-types (which may explain why he appears in so many of the game's illustrations), marginalized characters working on the fringes of the Galactic Empire, free agents independent of both the Imperials and the Rebel Alliance, trying to stay out of (too much) trouble, and attempting to pay off (or outrun) their debts. Each PC also has Obligation, to one or more parties. While individual obligations (monetary or otherwise) can be discharged (or deepened) during play, the rules do not allow for Obligation to ever drop to 0. Regardless of the specific nature of a PC's Obligation, the mechanical effects are the same. Because Obligation tends to operate on the group as a whole, larger groups tend to feel Obligation more keenly. Access to the Force is limited and use of powers will be inconsistent unless PCs make liberal use of the Dark Side; Jedi PCs are outside the scope of the rules as written. PCs are generally assumed to be mobile, one or more characters owning a starship and/or some fighters between them for transport.

The book appears to presume a certain level of knowledge of Star Wars canon, especially of the various alien species. Of course, there are a number of things that are obvious, but a lot of the details are glossed over, and this makes the overall setting seem bland and shopworn in places if you aren't already aware of them.

The sample adventure presented at the end of the rulebook is fairly rote and unimaginative, common fare for many RPGs, but a bit thin in the options department for characters who are supposed to be eking out an existence on the margins by their wits. Also, players are likely to find the ending a bit frustrating. While it's nothing unprecedented, and it makes perfect sense within the context of the overall theme of SW: EOTE it may prove discouraging for new players, especially younger ones.

Editing: The book is well-edited, with only a couple of obvious errors. However, there are a few inconsistencies and omissions that crop up here and there, and in a few places they lend the game a feeling of having been written by committee. Certain items that seem like natural fits are left out; although the game specifically mentions using "The Economy as an Adventure Hook" and encourages GMs to be stingy with cash in a side bar called “Keeping the Crew Hungry”, there is no mention of upkeep costs or lifestyle expenditures which would serve such purposes.

Artwork: The whole of the volume is liberally sprinkled with full-color artwork by a wide variety of different artists. The exceptions to this are the equipment illustrations, which are primarily line drawings of items in profile. The artwork does a fairly good job of being evocative of Star Wars, but most of the heavy lifting in this respect is done by the iconic alien races - it would be difficult to mistake them for generic science-fiction creatures. Illustrations designed to illuminate the game's frontier setting are rarer. Much of the art is relevant, at least in a general way, to the text at hand, but only rarely seems to be directly linked to it. One minor issue is that illustrations are not captioned (save for the pictures of allowable PC species), and so while any number of different sentient and animal species are depicted, readers who are unfamiliar with them won't know what they're looking it, depriving them of the opportunity to learn about the setting and add color to their descriptions.