Last night we finished Part 2 of our one-shot adventure “Under a Black Sun” for the Star Wars: Edge of the Empire system. It was significantly shorter than Part 1, primarily because we had completed everything except the final encounter and simply ran out of time the first evening of play. So now that the tale of CH-1, Tray’Essek, and Kaa’to Leeachos has been wrapped up and put “in the books”, I wanted to give my thoughts on the system, as well as echo the thoughts of both of my PCs who were first-time players of the system.
One of the early criticisms of Fantasy Flight Games’s (FFG) take on the Star Wars role playing system was the unique dice that people had to purchase. Why would people want to play a game that required them to buy special dice when we already own a full set (or hundreds of sets) of standard polyhedral dice? I think the simple answer is that these dice make the game feel more like watching or living through a Star Wars movie. The dice have three axes of success compared to one for standard polyhedral dice. This means that you can have any combination of (and different scales of) success/failure, advantage/threat, and triumph/despair. For example, in the final encounter of last night’s session, CH-1 rolled two triumphs in the final attack of the session, making super awesome things happen in defeating the rogue bounty hunter. However, the unique dice did bring up a concern for one of my PCs.
Tray’Essek’s player expressed that there were times where he didn’t know what to do with advantage/threat rolled, especially when the dice came up mixed (i.e. success with threat). On one hand, this is typical of most new players to a game, especially RPGs, because there are so many things that can be done in a session and no new player has the patience to read through a 448-page book. On the other, there are plenty of resources out there that one can look for on the subject. The Order 66 Podcast had an entire episode dedicated to adjudicating dice rolls and the different combinations that can come up during play. 13donkeys also has a post on the subject that any new player should look into. If a GM can prepare handouts outlining at least some of these ideas before the game, that might help new players over the learning hurdle that the dice present.
Personally, I love the dice. It forces players to be creative on the fly like GMs, encourages them to contribute to the overall story rather than be semi-active participants in it, and really encompasses that cinematic feeling that many RPGs try to achieve. In linear-success systems, if you meet a certain threshold, you accomplish your task and that’s it. With the narrative dice, succeeding at your task may not be good enough (Han Solo chasing a squad of Stormtroopers through a hallway only to meet an even larger squad around the corner).
From a GM perspective, these dice also make bringing new players into the experience a lot easier. Rather than trying to tell them “add your strength modifier and your proficiency modifier, and since you’re behind a wall add +5 unless you describe it as half cover, in which case it’s only +2…”, you say “grab your pool, 2 purple and a blue die. Roll that.” Once they learn the different symbols and which ones cancel out which, it really becomes easy to at least get to the point of saying “you succeed!”
One other major observation was that combat felt very fast and cinematic. I know in my home D&D game, combat can often disintegrate into “I hit him” “How?” “With my sword” *roll* “Seventeen.” *roll* “Six damage”… yeah, that was just as boring for me to type as it was for you to read… With the advantages/threats/triumphs/despairs, players are encouraged (almost required) to be creative in describing the exact events that occur when attacking NPCs or fending off their attacks. Even with the extra time it takes to add that level of detailed narrative, combat still goes faster in this system than in most standard d20 systems like D&D. I personally love this as combat is an important part of many stories, but it shouldn’t ALWAYS be the ENTIRE story. I recall a Fourth Edition game I played in where our three-hour session involved 10 minutes of narrative story telling and 170 minutes of turn-based combat (all for one encounter). Not the most cinematic and exciting story ever, that’s for sure.
Overall, this is a system where the rules get out of the way of play and allow players and GMs to be creative and loose with their storytelling, all-the-while providing a deep, robust experience for those who crave that sort of thing. The setting is pretty well defined, so those who are not major Star Wars enthusiasts may be less than thrilled playing in it. That said, I’m sure someone out there has homebrewed a fantasy setting for the dice mechanics.
Also, if you are interested in playing the Under a Black Sun adventure yourself or with your group, feel free to reach out to me and I will happily try and set up a time to run that adventure for you. You can also find the pdf yourself by following the hyperlink at the top of this post.