Game Day 36 – Edge of the Empire and Eternal Contenders

EnWorld Game Day

EnWorld Game Day is a local day-con held at Games Plus in Mount Prospect, IL. It’s a nearby suburb and I have friends who usually drive so I can make it out there. Mark Delsing organizes three Game Days a year and I’ve been going since late 2011, I think. Games Plus is a great store and the crowd for Game Day has always been amazing. People get together for a group breakfast before the games begin at the local diner and then there are two 5-hour game slots and an hour lunch. Yep. Ten hours of games. The games served up are incredibly varied. AD&D and retro clones get played next to the newest indie hotness and homebrewed systems. I’ve played a Dresden Files Monsterhearts setting hack while the table next to me played Harnmaster.

Edge of the Empire – One Simple Job

Game Day is a great way for me to scratch my Star Wars itch, so I pitched an Edge of the Empire game using pregens. This was my first convention play experience where I was running something that was not either from a pre-written module (Marvel Heroic and Firefly at GenCon) or improvisational (Fiasco or DungeonWorld). Suffice to say that I underestimated the amount of prep required to write an adventure in a relatively traditional RPG. Building a crew of five characters and making them heavy with potential for story drama is a lot of work when a system is somewhat fiddly. One of my mistakes was having the characters be a little more advanced than starting characters and investing 100xp into advancement. By the time I was finished with the characters, I had two days before the event. Time was of the essence so I stole liberally from John Harper’s fantastic Lady Blackbird, which is at least part love letter to Star Wars already. While I do think I could have done more prep and improved my game session, I also think there are diminishing returns. Aside from a very basic scene structure, there wasn’t much else I could have done plot-wise to make the game better.

When we sat down to play Saturday morning, I handed out the characters and gave a brief overview of the system. We finished up the characters by letting the players assign the backstory to their Obligation. The human Hired Gun Mercenary Soldier chose to be the captain of the ship and made her duty Obligation reflect her status as a disgraced Imperial officer who had been drummed out of the Navy. The gand Bounty Hunter Gadgeteer had sworn an oath to some underworld figure. The wookiee Explorer Scout was obsessed with reclaiming his grandfather’s blaster rifle that had been stolen in the Clone Wars. The zabrak Technician Mechanic was being Blackmailed because he’d slept with the wrong person. Lastly, the bothan Smuggler Scoundrel was sending money back to his overbearing family.

The game started off with the PCs cooling their heels in the brig of a Star Destroyer while their ship was searched by Imperial technicians looking for a shipment of weapons bound for the Rebel Alliance. Their Rebel contact tried running when the ImpStar Deuce appeared and was blown out of the sky for his trouble. The bothan convinced a weak-willed Navy trooper to open the cell in exchange for some reward money, at which point the wookiee charged and the battle began. I think there’s some karmic law stating that if the wookiee is the first target of the first combat of the first session of an RPG then the wookiee must suffer a critical hit. One crippled limb later (I rolled max on a d100), the wookiee was narrating a lot of one-handed attacks. Oh, and the wookiee was the party doctor. Whoops…

Something I like about Edge of the Empire is that it allows players to take some interesting actions. The zabrak didn’t have much in the way of combat but was quite the slicer and disabled the alarms, triggered false fire alarms in another part of the Star Destroyer, and set up a back path to their own ship, Stardust Dancer. No one was useless in the game, everyone was able to contribute meaningfully to the action. It was all very nicely done.

Things went a bit weird when the characters encountered the captain of the Star Destroyer. A few of them had singled that NPC as the face of their Obligation – specifically Mercenary Soldier. They decided to take the battle to the captain and wound up kidnapping him off his own damn ship. He was in rough shape after the gand had a particularly nasty critical hit so they put him in the ICU as they went through a thrilling space battle and chase scene. Long story short, the bothan decided to kill the Imperial captain instead of heal him and blew his deception roll so everyone knew he did it on purpose. The rest of the session was spent dealing with the interpersonal drama of a smuggler captain who wasn’t too keen on an insubordinate pilot but also had a load of weapons that she couldn’t sell without him. The bothan seemed perfectly content to leave the crew at the next port.

All in all, I like Edge of the Empire but it can get a bit crunchy in prep. I still think that Fate is probably the system best suited to Star Wars for me but Fantasy Flight Games is certainly putting out a good product. My biggest issues with the session could have been resolved through normal play. Group character creation goes a long way toward establishing common goals and a social framework for the party that allows for interesting party conflict that doesn’t have one the characters threatening to just abandon the crew. There were also procedural issues I ran into that would smooth out with system mastery, something that can only be gained through play experience.

Eternal Contenders – Fantasy Grudge Matches

My friend Dain posted to Google+ a while back that he got his copy of Eternal Contenders, a fantasy game based on an earlier game called Contenders. I have Contenders in PDF and think it’s brilliant. I’ve been dying to play for four or five years but have never managed to get a group interested. Where Contenders was meant to be a roleplaying game that emulates “Raging Bull” and “Rocky”, Eternal Contenders takes that same struggle-to-the-top framework and gives it a solid fantasy spin – complete with quests, magic items, and a nifty magical desolation setting. My character was Vassily, the nephew of an impoverished baron who is fighting to gain the glory and recognition so that his uncle would recognize him as the heir to the title. His rival was his cousin Sascha, the baron’s daughter and only child. She wanted to be named the first-ever baroness in her own right. Dain played a rough-and-tumble type armed with a rapier. I don’t recall his rival. We had one other player and he made an assassin named Lucid trying to escape the assassin’s guild. His rival was Damian, a poor farmer who had been one of Lucid’s contracted targets. Things went awry and Damian’s family was slaughtered. Now he seeks vengeance.

Already I like what Eternal Contenders does with characters – it establishes not only your character’s details but also who they are in opposition to another character. The rivals aren’t black hatted villains tying girlfriends to railroad tracks. They’re people just like your characters who have hope and pain but are driven to oppose you. This was a key facet of play. Sascha and Damian were drawn into the conflicts because they were interesting and compelling antagonists. Dain tried getting friendly with Sascha if only to spite my character and Damian became Vassily’s nemesis. This was a very interesting play dynamic.

The game uses a standard deck of playing cards for conflict resolution. This worked well but it could drag on quite a bit depending on how the cards fell. One thing that was interesting is that the cards determine who narrates the outcome of a round of conflict. This was easy enough to deal with in normal conflict but the quests got unwieldy quick. quests are new to Eternal Contenders and they’re a way for characters to team up and earn glory together, while getting loot in the form of both money and new items. These are all huge bonuses. A quick read of the quest mechanics suggested it was no big deal. Wrong! It was a very big deal and both quests we attempted went south in a hurry. Accomplishing your goals in a quest is very, very difficult. The conflict is also very drawn out which means that the narration can get a bit heavy, especially since the player controlling the quest is narrating a bit of color for every success.

I’d love to give Eternal Contenders or even Contenders another go. It was an immensely fun game with some great mechanics that promote a powerful emotional connection with the characters of the game.

About PK

PK Sullivan is a game designer and writer living in Chicago.
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