At GenCon this year Fantasy Flight Games had the most exciting announcement for me: they released Edge of the Empire, the first of three Star Wars RPGs, in beta form. I’m a Star Wars fan and always have been. Star Wars is what drew me to RPGs. My uncle gave me a copy of Star Wars Adventure Journal Vol. 4 as a Christmas gift one year. I didn’t have the rule book, I didn’t even know what an RPG was at the time. But I read the cover off that book over the next few years. I still have that issue of Star Wars Adventure Journal. And I’ve since bought two more. And the WEG Star Wars RPG 2nd Edition Revised and Expanded. And a few source books. To date, I’ve never had a chance to play the West End Games Star Wars RPG. It remains my unicorn.
I’ve been reading the beta book here and there since Thursday. Today I want to talk about the dice system.
Custom Built, Custom Fit
Edge of the Empire uses a custom engine that I’m told is based on the Warhammer Fantasy RPG. The dice faces are covered with custom symbols instead of numbers. There are seven types of dice of different polyhedral sizes and colors: boost dice (blue D6), ability dice (green D8), proficiency (yellow D12), setback (black D6), difficulty (purple D8), challenge (red D12), and Force (white D12). Generally speaking, the larger the die the more potent that die is, giving more significant chance of changing the story.
Boost, ability, and proficiency dice represent the various advantages and benefits that a character will have for any given task. The basic mechanic is to identify the characteristic and skill appropriate to the task. Skills are rated between 0 and 5 and characteristics are rated between 1 and 6. The larger of your characteristic or skill determines how many ability dice (green D8) get added to the dice pool. The smaller of those two determines how many dice get upgraded to proficiency dice (yellow D12). Special abilities, equipment, and situational modifiers can add more dice to the pool. It’s important to note that nothing bad comes from these dice. The worst thing that can happen is a null result – each die has one or more blank faces.
The setback, difficulty, and challenge dice form the opposition. The interesting thing about opposed rolls, such as combat, is that the opposing character’s characteristic and skill add difficulty (purple D8) and challenge (red D12) dice in exactly the same way that the acting character adds in ability and proficiency dice. In this way only one player is rolling dice at a time.
Force dice are unique. They don’t help determine success, failure, or advantage/disadvantage. What Force dice do is generate resources in the form of Light side and Dark side points. The Force die is a D12 and has seven faces with Dark side points but only five faces with Light side points. Most of the Dark side faces give a single Dark side point while the Light side faces are mostly doubles. As a quick thematic point, I really like that the Dark side is easier and more reliable to get but the Light side has greater depths of power when you are able to touch upon it.
I’m Johnny-Come-Lately to Clyde Rhoer’s podcast Theory from the Closet and just listened to Episode 12: Interview with Fred Hicks in which Fred explains his idea of “rich rolling”. This is a concept where the dice give multiple data points in every roll. Fred’s example was from his own game “Don’t Rest Your Head”. Edge of the Empire accomplishes this through its custom dice. The biggest drawback to this system is that the symbols aren’t exactly intuitive. A small explosion is a Success, while triangles with concave sides are Failures and cancel successes. A Republic wreath is an Advantage and something that sort of looks like an Imperial gear is a Threat, which don’t cancel one another. The blazing sword icon is a Triumph and the Failure with a circle around it is a Despair. Triumph and Despair count as Success and Failure, respectively, but also trigger special effects and have the ability to change the story significantly.
It takes a while to wrap your head around the symbols and their effects but it’s actually pretty elegant once you internalize them. The thing I really like about it is that the dice don’t just measure success and failure. Every dice system does that to some degree. What the symbols do is give the players success or failure, advantages, disadvantages, and more powerful story effects with Triumph and Despair. The dice have the potential to very quickly change the story with a very short seek and handling times. It’s a strange thing – the dice system has a steep learning curve before play for a shorter, punchier handling time at the table.
The custom nature of the dice is a divisive issue in the gaming community. A cursory glance at the forums on fantasyflightgames.com shows a lot of vitriol directed toward FFG for making this design choice. After getting an idea of how the dice work, though, I’m very impressed with what’s going on under the hood. I’d love to play the game. I just need to wait for the rest of my dice to arrive.