Edit: In the original article, I misrepresented a fellow Star Wars blogger: 13donkeys was incorrectly listed as 13donkies. Thank you for catching my error!
Every now and then, new games come along that take an existing platform and modify and transform it to produce a stellar new way of playing. The Star Wars Edge of the Empire game published by Fantasy Flight Games (FFG) does just that. In this preview, I want to discuss some of the major themes, concepts, and mechanics that make FFG’s Star Wars RPG line unique and special.
The Edge of the Empire is the first of three stand-alone core rulebooks for FFG’s line of Star Wars themed roleplaying games. All three books (Edge of the Empire, Age of Rebellion, and Force and Destiny) focus on a different aspect of the Star Wars universe, but are completely compatible with the other core books in the line. Edge of the Empire puts its emphasis on characters who find themselves at the “edge” of the empire, both socially and geographically. It is a world filled with bounty hunters, colonists, smugglers, and scum of all kinds. While the core mechanics and general gameplay are the same as what you’d find in 5th Edition D&D, there are many unique tools that make Edge stand out among its peers.
All three games in FFG’s line utilize custom dice. These dice (sold separately) come fourteen to a pack, and are composed of seven different types:
- Ability (Green d8)
- Proficiency (Yellow d12)
- Difficulty (Purple d8)
- Challenge (Red d12)
- Boost (Blue d6)
- Setback (Black d6)
- Force (White d12)
When the GM asks a PC to make a skill check, the PC will assemble their pool based on a combination of their characteristics, skills, environmental/mechanical advantages/setbacks, and the overall difficulty of the skill. This means that virtually no two checks consist of the same combination of dice. There are three main axes of success on the first six dice listed above (the Force Die will be discussed later). Good and bad die contain opposing symbols that can be canceled out in order to determine the overall outcome. First, there is raw success and failure. In almost all circumstances, only one un-canceled success is necessary to pass a skill check. If you do not generate at least one success, you fail the check. Simple as that.
The second axis of success is advantage vs threat. Regardless whether you passed or failed your check, you can produce advantage or threat on the check, giving you narrative or mechanical boosts/setbacks to future events. What does this look like? Think about the Star Wars films for a minute. In Episode IV, A New Hope, Luke and Leia are running away from the prison block when they come across a deep cavern. Luke wishes to stop the Stormtroopers following them, so he blasts the door control panel, locking the door behind them. Sadly, he generated threat on the roll, which meant GM George Lucas allowed MORE Stormtroopers to appear on the ledge opposite them. This is a unique concept that adds far more depth to the average dice roll than most d20 systems can accommodate.
The third axis of success is Triumph/Despair. These symbols are only present on the Proficiency/Challenge die respectively, and represent a “super awesome” or “super terrible” even that happens. These symbols generate a success/failure that can be canceled out by other appropriate symbols, but also produce the Triumph/Despair which does NOT get canceled out by anything. That means it’s possible to have a dice roll produce both in a check, forcing the GM to come up with a strange combination of effects that allows both events to occur.
This is an interesting mechanic that is found only in Edge. Age of Rebellion and Force and Destiny both have their own mechanics unique to their setting. In essence, Obligation means that you can’t get anything for free when you live on the fringe of society. During character creation, each PC takes an Obligation that they must (or should) work to pay off over the course of play. This is both a narrative and mechanical tool for the GM, as well as a resource for the players to use in game. Can’t afford that new YT-1300 light freighter? Take a group obligation of 20 points of debt and you can have it. In return, you owe the ship dealer 100,000 credits that you can pay back eventually. Run headlong into a group of Stormtroopers and get wiped out in a TPK (total party kill)? Maybe you will owe the Rebellion a favor for freeing you from the Empire’s prisons.
No character is allowed to be totally debt free. If a PC is able to completely clear their Obligation (pay off a debt, break an addiction, return a favor, pay off a bounty), they must take at least 5 points of Obligation in another form.
So how does this effect gameplay? The GM makes a list of all of the Obligation values for the players and orders them from lowest to highest by value. For example, if you have two players, one with 10 and one with 15, the 15 will be first (numbered 01-15) and the 10 will be second (numbered 16-25). At the beginning of each session, the GM rolls a percentile die (not included with the Special Dice) and compares the results to that list. If the rolled number falls on a PC’s Obligation, that PC loses 2 strain for the session while every other PC loses 1 strain. Also, the GM must provide an encounter for the effected PC to address his/her Obligation (as long as it makes narrative sense). Think of Greedo and Han Solo in the Mos Eisley cantina.
The system also provides Destiny Points which are used to represent the movement of the Force throughout the universe. Even if there are no Force-sensitive players in the party, they are still Heroes, and are thus influenced by the Force. At the start of a session, the PCs roll the Force Die, which is covered in black and white pips. Based on the number and color of pips rolled, those Points are added to the Destiny Pool. These points are then “spent” to produce one of three possible effects:
- A single dice pool is upgraded/downgraded once
- A narrative fact is added to the story by a PC
- The PC produces and owns a piece of equipment that they did not previously have
PCs use light-side points to produce one of the above actions, while the GM uses dark-side points. When a Destiny Point is spent, it is flipped over to the other side, meaning that the number of points in play does not change during a session. Instead, the balance of power is shifted but always, in the end, maintained. (Remember, the Force is always in balance, so for every good action, bad must follow)
If you would like to see the game in action, I will be hosting an Actual Play session this upcoming Wednesday, August 5th at 8pm PST on my YouTube Channel. I will be running the a Free RPG Day adventure for the Edge of the Empire system. You will be able to watch that session HERE. It will also be saved for later viewing. Below, I will post the character sheets for the session. I hope to see you there.
The Free RPG Day adventure is Under a Black Sun. If you are interested in trying the Star Wars Edge of the Empire system, there are rules provided at the beginning of the PDF and a conversion table for taking standard polyhedral dice and generating the appropriate symbols for play. If you would like the events of the live-play video to be a surprise, do not read the adventure prior to watching the session.