Star Wars Review – Fantasy Flight Games

We now have access to all three Star Wars RPGs from Fantasy Flight Games – Edge of the Empire (Edge), Age of Rebellion (Age), and Force & Destiny (F&D). All are set in the time period of the original trilogy and explore characters during the struggle between the Rebel Alliance and the Empire. For the most part, characters are intended to be anti-Imperial heroes fighting against a tyrannical regime.

Edit: My good friend Mat Gilson pointed out some spelling and grammar errors that I have corrected.

Common System

The three games use the same base mechanics for character creation and dice mechanics.

Character Creation

Across all three games characters are made up of the same basic parts: thematic mechanic, species, career, specialization, skills, and characteristics

The thematic mechanic is the big, overarching struggle in each game. Edge has Obligation, Age has Duty, and F&D has Morality. These track your character’s progress through a larger conflict and greatly affect the tone of the game.

A character’s species is what race is in D&D. It’s how you look, what languages you speak, some special abilities, and background on your character.

A career is a broad penumbra similar to a class, even more so now that 5e effectively has subclasses. It provides some career skills that guide a character along a certain path. Smugglers are good pilots and deceivers. Soldiers know how to fight and blow stuff up. Mystics are deeply attuned to the Force.

Each career has three specializations in the core book (more are presented in supplements) and a character picks one specialization from their chosen career at character creation. Each specialization has a talent tree, which is effectively a collection of feats, stunts, or other special abilities the character can purchase.

Skills are the various actions characters can take. All skills are available to all characters and ranks in a skill improve dice pools but do not necessarily add more dice. Skills highlighted by the character’s career and specializations are cheaper to upgrade. A skill cannot be improved beyond rank 5.

Finally, characteristics are a character’s mental, physical, and social attributes. They are Agility, Brawn, Intellect, Willpower, Cunning, and Presence. Each is rated at 1-5 at character creation and can be improved through play to a maximum of 6.

There are also a few derived attributes across the board but they aren’t super important right now.

Dice

When characters perform skill checks in play the players build dice pools, tally up the various symbols rolled, and then resolve the action based on the results.

There are eight kinds of dice: three positive, three negative, and a Force die. The positive dice are blue D6 boost, green D8 ability, and yellow D12 proficiency dice. Positive dice have three symbols: success, advantage, and triumph; triumph is only found on yellow proficiency dice.

The negative dice are black D6 setback, purple D8 difficulty, and red D12 challenge dice. These dice have the opposite symbols as positive dice: threat, failure, and despair; despair is only found on the red challenge dice.

The Force die is a white D12 that has light side and dark side pips. There are more faces (7) with dark side pips but there are 8 light and 8 dark pips on the die, meaning there is a greater concentration of double light side pips. I love this thematically – the light side is harder to access but provides deeper wells of power. In Edge and Age the Force die is almost exclusively used to set the Destiny Pool at the beginning of each session while it gets some primetime spotlight in F&D as all the characters are Force users.

The game also uses percentage checks to trigger certain narrative mechanics at the beginning of each session and to determine specific critical effects in combat. Nothing special with those.

Symbols

The six symbols are paired: advantage and threat; success and failure; triumph and despair. Threat cancels advantage while failure cancels success. Notably, triumph and despair do not cancel one another out.

Success and failure are probably the least interesting of the symbols. They don’t really have any impact on the story other than success and failure. Which isn’t to say they have no impact, just that the results are very binary and straightforward.

Advantage and threat are where things get interesting. They cancel one another so you will never have to spend both in a single roll, only the net result. Advantage is used to create story moments where the characters succeed with style, allowing them to activate special weapon abilities, score critical hits, and create story-based momentary advantages. Threat is the opposite and means the character suffers a momentary setback, strain, or some other mishap. And the way the dice are coded means that if the pool generates a lot of threat the player will probably succeed because there aren’t as many failures being generated. The inverse isn’t as true because the positive dice typically outweigh the negative in a given pool, players can afford to generate a few excess advantage most of the time.

Triumph is a spectacular effect that cannot be canceled. Triumph is able to activate any special ability, cause a critical, or give a story-based great advantage. It also counts as a success but the success can be canceled by a failure or despair; this leads to the awkward position of having a triumph on a failed check. Despair functions just like triumph – it is a spectacular mishap and a failure.

I would also like to point out that the dice are not all equal or mirror copies of one another. Not only are larger dice more potent but the dice are weighted such that the positive dice slightly outweigh the negative dice. Ability and proficiency dice both have one more face with success than their counterparts have of failure. Boost dice have one more advantage than setbacks have threat. Difficulty dice, which form the majority of negative dice in a pool, have more threat than ability dice have advantage. So on balance, most dice pools of equal and opposite dice will tend toward net success with some threat.

Dice Pools

When characters take action, they create a dice pool with both positive and negative dice. Players compare the characteristic and skill being used for the check and grab a number of yellow proficiency dice equal to the lesser of those two. Then the player adds green ability dice until the total number of dice is equal to the larger number. Some purple difficulty dice are added and they may get upgraded to red challenge dice in some circumstances. If the player has any boost or setback dice, those get added in last.

In play this is actually very fast and intuitive. If a pilot has 3 Agility and 4 ranks in Pilot (Space) then the positive dice pool is three yellow and one green. Adding the negative dice is as simple as the GM declaring “that’s an average (2 purple) check” or “That Royal Guard is a serious adversary, so your average Brawl check gets upgraded twice and is now two red dice.”

Combat

First off – combat is narrative, not simulated. There’s no grid. Just some range bands and a map if your GM has one.

Ranged combat is broken up into three skills: Ranged (Light), Ranged (Heavy), and Gunnery. Ranged (Light) is anything fired one-handed such as blaster pistols, slugthrowers, and, somewhat controversially, grenades. Ranged (Heavy) covers most any rifle you want to carry. Gunnery handles all of the bigger weapons, shoulder-based missile platforms and repeating blasters all the way up to starship weapons. Ranged combat checks have difficulty based on the range of the shot. Short range is easy (1 purple), medium is average (2 purple), long is hard (3 purple), and extreme range is daunting (4 purple). This holds true for every character. The only way to make your character harder to hit is to get some ranged defense or take cover, both of which add black setback dice to your opponent’s pool.

Melee combat is also broken up into three skills: Brawl, Melee, and Lightsaber. Brawl is unarmed combat. Melee covers any non-lightsaber weaponry. Lightsaber covers all weapons that could conceivably be called a kind of lightsaber including double lightsabers, shoto lightsabers, and lightsaber pikes (no, I’m not kidding about the pikes; yes, they’re canon, watch The Clone Wars). Melee combat checks are always average difficulty. This includes lightsabers so watch out – get into melee with a Jedi and you will get hacked apart.

Dual-wielding and autofire are handled in very similar fashion: anyone can do it but it’s harder than attacking just once. My only complaint here is that the question of, “Can I dual-wield with my two fists?” is left somewhat unanswered. As a huge Hong Kong cinema fan, I want to be able to build a viable martial artist.

Space combat is similarly cinematic and narrative. Attack difficulties are based on the difference in size between the two ships and almost entirely constrained to close range (a distance of several kilometers in vehicle scale). The system is set up such that being smaller than your target is to your benefit. Ships of the same size face average difficulty to shoot one another. Shooting a smaller target is harder and shooting a larger target is easier. This is so perfectly tuned to the fiction where snubfighters are too small for capital ship weapons to hit.

Characters get one action and one maneuver each round during combat. A maneuver covers a wide range of activities: taking cover, moving down a hallway, hitting the door release, aiming, or shouting orders over the comm. If a character is willing to suffer two strain, they may take a second maneuver during their turn. That’s it, no more maneuvers. It’s a hard limit. The general rule is if it takes a skill check then it is too complicated to be a maneuver.

Combat is deadly in these games. Characters start off with enough wound points to be able to take a few hits from enemies but don’t gain new wounds very quickly (potentially not at all) and the ability to up one’s damage resistance, called soak, is fairly limited. While the game isn’t a tactical minis game, characters should not go charging headlong into danger without giving some thought as to how they might approach a situation. Healing is similarly limited and time consuming. Stimpacks have diminishing returns each day until you rest.

Damage is simple. When a weapon hits, it deals its base damage plus the net successes. Which is dead simple but a bit misleading. A blaster with a damage rating of 6 always deals at least 7 points of damage on a hit because the game requires net success to win. The defender then applies their soak (initially equal to one’s Brawn characteristic and then armor is added on) to reduce the damage. Going back to that blaster with a rating of 6, that will be good against Bothans and other species that have a low Brawn but it’s not going to do much against a Wookiee – especially if that Wookiee is fond of armor. This is nicely thematic but does lead to a pretty big disparity in the survivability of party members.

What makes combat interesting in Star Wars is the advantage and threat. Generating net advantage will let you hand out bonus boost dice to allies or setback dice to an opponent. Or you could recover some strain, shoot the door controls to slam the blast doors shut, or any other of a million cool things. On the other hand, when you screw the pooch and wind up with a fistful of threat the GM can do those same things back at you. It’s constantly flowing story based on the dice, which changes the direction of play, which keeps things interesting and unpredictable. It’s good stuff. It reminds me of the best bits of Firefly RPG in a few where you create Assets and Complications on the fly.

Force Powers

Most Force powers work with a very simple mechanic: roll a number of Force dice equal to your Force rating and spend the generated Force points to fuel the power’s effects. Some Force powers let you reduce your Force rating temporarily to get a persistent effect, such as improving your Brawn or Agility by one. Some of the Force powers combine the Force dice roll in with a skill check, letting the user turn generated Force points into successes and advantages. The powers seem to be kept in check pretty well. We won’t see Jedi functioning as god-like beings in a campaign.

The game operates on the assumption that everyone is a light side Force user. So if you want to use the dark side, there’s a cost associated with that. Characters have to flip a Destiny Point (more on those in a bit) and then suffer strain equal to the number of dark side points used. It literally taxes you to use the dark side of the Force. F&D characters also earn themselves a Conflict when they do this, which we’ll cover in the Thematic Mechanics section.

What I most like about the way Force powers work is it divorces the Force from characteristics. You don’t have to have a high Presence to be a powerful Force user. You just need to have a deep connection to the Force, which is represented by your Force rating.

Destiny Pool

The Destiny Pool is similar in many ways to Fate points or Plot Points in Fate and Cortex Plus. At the start of the game, each player rolls one Force die, plus extra Force dice equal to the character’s Force rating. The GM also rolls one Force die. All the pips from everyone’s rolls are tallied and used to create a Destiny Pool.

Light side Destiny Points can be used by the players to upgrade their dice pools, upgrade the difficulty when an opponent attacks them, and a few other interesting story things like having the right piece of gear available.

Dark side Destiny Points get used by the GM. This encourages people to spend back and forth because if the pool ever becomes all one color, one side gets locked out from using Destiny Points. The GM can use Destiny Points to upgrade difficulties for the players. I didn’t realize how potent and interesting this was until I played with Keith Kappel at GenCon. Most rolls the players make won’t have any red challenge dice, which means it’s not possible for despair to come up. By upgrading rolls to add challenge dice the GM gets to point to a check and say, “This could all go horribly wrong.” Used judiciously the GM can highlight actions and increase the tension at the table.

Abuse of the Destiny Pool is capped by the limit of the players and GM each only getting to spend one Destiny Point per roll.

Characters

Species

It’s Star Wars! You can play all sorts of alien species in addition to humans and droids. Each game has a list of species that characters can choose from and they are all cross compatible. The supplement books also introduce new species on a regular basis so there are already more than thirty species available or announced despite significant overlap between books.

A typical species starts play with four characteristics rated 2, one rated 3, and one rated 1. This gives each species a starting strength but neither an insurmountable lead over other characters nor a punishing restriction. Each species also gets one or two special species traits, most commonly a free rank in a skill and some minor mechanical benefit (sometimes a free talent). Humans are presented as the most adaptable of species and start with all characteristics rated at 2, the most starting XP, and a free rank in two non-career skills. Starting wound and strain thresholds are determined by species, as well, with a fairly tight range centered around 10.

The strangest species attribute to me is the starting XP. The various species have differing amounts of XP that can be spent during character generation. Wookiees, for instance, have 20 XP less than humans. How this is balanced is a mystery to me, though it appears related to the potency of the species abilities. It seems to work, though. No one species seems over or underpowered.

Droids are special snowflake characters that start with all characteristics at 1 and three extra career skill ranks. They also get 180 XP for character creation but it’s not enough to wind up with even decent stats – it’s 120 points just to get a 2 in each characteristic. I’m not a fan of droids as written because droids are encouraged to specialize but they can’t specialize as well as organics because they don’t have any generalization to back it up. That’s all personal preference, though.

Careers

Each character picks a career at the outset and each game has six to choose from. A career is akin to a class – it has a list of eight career skills and three specializations. The whole thing is arranged around a theme of some sort. The Colonist career is about the people needed to make a fringe settlement work. The Commander career has specializations based around leading soldiers into war.

Career skills are not only cheaper to upgrade with earned XP but the character also gets free ranks in half the list at character creation. The career skills feed into the theme of the career and give the character a bit of a nudge in that direction by making them better at career-related things.

At the time of this writing, there are eighteen careers and sixty-four specializations released or announced. That’s a lot of options.

Specializations

Specializations are specific interpretations of a career. There are a variety of Smugglers – the Scoundrel, Pilot, and Thief among them. Each specialization further refines the theme of the character down into something tangible.

Each specialization has another list of four career skills – which may or may not overlap with the broader career skills. Characters pick two specialization career skills and receive a free rank in each. Overlap between career skills and specialization career skills is good because it lets allows a character to achieve rank 2 skills for free. Overlap is bad because it results in fewer overall career skills and earned XP won’t be spent as efficiently. It’s a neat balance.

Each specialization also has a talent tree – a 4×5 grid of connected abilities that the character may purchase. Those familiar with MMOs will pick up on this idea immediately. Progressing through a talent tree requires you to be able to draw an uninterrupted line between the talent you want and the top row. This lets FFG carefully plot out how long it would take someone to unlock any given talent.

Advancement

Earned XP can be spent to upgrade skills, buy new specializations, buy talents in one of your specializations, or buy Force powers and upgrades. New careers cannot be purchased. A character will only ever have the career chosen at character creation.

Upgrading skills is the most straightforward path to badass: spend XP equal to five times the new rank and level up a skill. There’s a 5 XP surcharge if it’s not a career skill. This gets you more yellow dice in your skills and additional green dice once the skill ranks surpass the characteristic.

Buying new specializations has a number of benefits. It opens up a new talent tree, which means you may unlock potent talent combinations, and it also adds the four specialization career skills to your list of career skills. No free ranks in those but the first few specializations may offer some pretty tantalizing discounts on skills. This is twice as expensive as upgrading a skill: spend XP equal to ten times the new number of specializations you will have, with a 10 XP surcharge if it’s not in your career. There is no hard limit on the number of specializations a character may have but earning enough XP to unlock all of them would be an astounding undertaking.

The Talents themselves are neat special abilities supporting the themes of the specialization and the career. The talent everyone wants, though, is Dedication which is the only way to increase characteristics after play starts. Almost every specialization has it and it’s always in the bottom row, costing 25 XP to unlock after your buy your way to the bottom of the tree. The only specializations that don’t have this are the F&D ones that have two Force Rating increases. If a player is on a quest to max out a character’s stats, then buying new specializations and racing through the tree to Dedication is the only way to do it. It’s expensive but a character could conceivably have all characteristics rated at 6 with enough time and XP.

Force powers are available to any character with a Force rating – that is, any character with an F&D career or the Edge or Age Force user universal specializations. Droids can’t be Force-sensitive and can’t take these (which, interestingly, puts a more finite cap on droid growth in an obscenely long campaign). Each Force power has a base price to open (10, 15, or 20 XP depending on if it requires a Force rating of 1, 2, or 3, respectively) and then a series of upgrades that lets the character do more, bigger, and better things with the power. All told, buying everything in a given Force power might cost between 95 and 235 XP depending on the power in question. That’s important. I’ll come back to this point in a bit.

Gear

If you’re a gearhead, as I am to a degree, then Star Wars can really deliver some awesome to you. The game comes packed with plenty of options for weapons, armor, ships, and other stuff but also includes a fully fleshed out system for modifying your kit with upgrades, add-ons, and illegal tech right out of the box. Each supplement has introduced new gear and modifications so FFG is definitely on board with exploring the loot. Go ahead and roll up that Outlaw Technician. Your crew will love you.

There is also a fairly comprehensive list of non-combat gear.

Ships

Ships are treated somewhat like characters: they have hull trauma and system strain, defense zones, can take up to one maneuver per round in combat, and suffer critical damage just like characters. The other key statistics for a ship are its speed, silhouette, and handling. Speed affects movement and fleeing in combat, relative silhouette determines the difficult of combat checks, and handling adds boost or setback dice to all piloting checks made with the craft – more nimble craft have a higher handling score.

There are a ton of ships. Edge deals with the iconic TIE fighters and some Imperial picket ships while offering plenty of freighters and runners for the crew. Age introduces all of the Rebellion’s finest snubfighters and the Empire’s biggest guns. There are also fleet combat rules in Age for people who want to drive the big ships instead of fly the little ones. F&D breaks era a little bit and has rules for the Jedi Starfighters as well as other ships associated with the Jedi. Honestly, Force users aren’t as defined by their craft as smugglers and fighter pilots so it’s less important that they have an exhaustive selection for F&D.

There are some speeders, fighters, freighters, and picket ships available in all three games so no game is without options for a given class of ship. The exception being the truly enormous ships found in Age that aren’t shown in the other two, which is another thematic consideration. If smugglers come up against a Super Star Destroy things have well and truly gone pear shaped, as they say.

Much as the gear can be upgraded, each ship has the ability to be upgraded if you want to kit out your smuggling vessel through the course of play. The system is simple and lets players build investment in the ship through customization.

Thematic Mechanics

While the games share the core mechanics, it is important to note that they are all thematically very different. Each game has a specific mechanic that highlights the central conflict the game presents and engages the players directly at the beginning of each session. The GM chapter for each book also covers how to engage the tone of its slice of Star Wars.

Edge of the Empire – Obligation

Obligation is a measure of what you owe other people. It’s a worry that hangs around your neck and drags you down. It’s easy to get and hard to get rid of. You might even be tempted to take more Obligation because there is often a short term gain to be had for taking some on. Plus no respectable crook is going to deal with you if they don’t know who is pulling your strings. If you want good paying jobs, it’s best to owe someone something. Not too much, though. Too much Obligation and the Empire takes notice of you.

A given Obligation has a title and a value. The title just describes it in broad terms – Criminal, Bounty, Debt, etc. It’s the nature of what follows you. The value is the magnitude the Obligation. Five is pretty low, it might be a small bounty or a case of being mistaken for a petty thief. Twenty Obligation is huge, the sort of lucrative bounty that will bring Boba Fett after you or a criminal death mark from killing an Imperial official.

Characters begin with Obligation and can take additional Obligation to get more starting XP or credits. Which is fitting because characters can work off some Obligation over time but they can also take on additional Obligation if they get caught performing criminal acts, cross crime lords, make enemies, or even if they’re a bit shy on cash when they need those critical ship repairs. Sure, the chop shop will extend you some credit but when they call that marker in you had better pay! Clearing Obligation typically takes resources as you have to pay off the people you owe. This keeps the crew lean and hungry for more work.

The start of each session the GM makes a percentage roll and compares that to a tally of character Obligations, with the biggest at the bottom. If the roll lands on an Obligation it is triggered for the session – each character reduces their strain threshold by 1 for the session. Except the poor sap whose Obligation was triggered. That character has minus two strain for the session. These effects are doubled if the GM rolls doubles, too. Strain is a character’s ability to handle stress, make hard decisions, and deal with all the millions of details. Lowering your strain threshold when an Obligation is triggered says that the characters cannot bring their full attention to any one task.

From there the GM is encouraged to work references to the Obligation into play and spin the story a bit so that the Obligation is relevant. In that way it’s kind of like compels in Fate – damn your luck. One of my tricks is to create a list of Obligation hooks before each session so I can drift the story quickly and easily.

As characters can gain additional Obligation over time, it’s sometimes possible that the total party Obligation will exceed 100. When this happens the party is not only guaranteed to trigger an Obligation each session but they can’t spend XP until Obligation drops below 100. It’s a desperate life on the run when you have more than 100 Obligation. Managing Obligation is a neat exercise in being shady enough to get good jobs but not so shady as to draw undue official attention.

Age of Rebellion – Duty

Where Obligation is what hangs over your head, Duty is what inspires you. It’s the inverse of Obligation in many ways. Characters in Age are members of an insurgent military who have volunteered to fight an oppressive regime. Your Duty is how you feel you can best contribute to “The Cause” and the options for Duty are pretty widespread: combat victory, counter-intelligence, political support, resource acquisition, space superiority, sabotage, and more. There is a Duty to cover any way you can think to contribute to the success of the rebellion. Much like Obligation, Duty has a title and a value.

Duty is a positive thing. It’s your specific mission, tailored to your talents and skills (or not, I guess, if you want to make a Soldier Commando with the Political Support Duty and have your Duty be a real challenge).

The GM makes a percentile roll at the beginning of the session and compares that to a group Duty chart, just like for Obligation. If a Duty is triggered, everyone increases their wound threshold by 1 except the person whose Duty was triggered. That person increases it by 2. Again, this is doubled when the GM rolls doubles on the percentile. I love this. When you’re feeling inspired, you can slog through more crap on a mission than when you have some hesitation. The GM is also encouraged to make the triggered Duty an important part of the session’s story.

Characters in Age are effectively reputation grinding in the Alliance. When the group Duty goes over 100, the whole group steps up to a new tier of responsibility and power while having their Duty scores reset to zero. When characters rank up like this, they get some material, tangible benefit. The Rebel Alliance provides them with new gear –a personal piece for each character, some strategic asset, or a ship for the whole team.

Characters improve their Duty scores by making strides in keeping with their goals. At least I think so. The Beta had a nice sidebar that explained this but it seems to have been dropped in the core book. That’s actually the most vexing thing about the whole game system I’ve come across while writing the review. The published adventures generally recommend 5-10 Duty for a completed mission with some bonuses for heroic actions. I can get behind that. Groups would rank up every 3-7 sessions at that pace. Sure would be nice to have it stated explicitly in the game book, though.

Force and Destiny – Morality

F&D does things a little differently. Morality is a thematic mechanic that tracks how good or evil your character is. Anyone who has played the BioWare Star Wars computer games knows how this works (in general). What’s neat about it is that FFG has added an element of uncertainty to the whole process.

But I get ahead of myself. Morality again has a description and a value. The description has two parts, an emotional strength and an emotional weakness. These are paired up so they complement each other on the chart – enthusiasm could easily become recklessness or pride develops arrogance, for instance. If you want to pick your own pair, go ahead. The value starts as the same for each character: smack dab in the middle at 50. Characters whose Morality is less than 30 are dark side users. Characters whose Morality is above 70 are light side paragons.

At the start of each session, the GM rolls a single 10-sided die (or, as I will probably do, just look at the ones die in a percentile roll). Any character whose Morality has that number in the ones column is triggered for the session. So if Obi-Wan has a Morality of 84 and Anakin has a Morality of 34, they both get triggered when the GM rolls a 4. Triggering a Morality is the queue for the GM to challenge the characters on their emotional strengths and weaknesses. Characters whose Moralities were triggered double the Morality change at the end of the session.

Changing Morality is much different from Obligation or Duty. Players will need to track through a session how much Conflict they accrue. Conflict is a measure of moral uncertainty and wavering. A character picks up Conflict by using dark side Force points to fuel Force powers, doing evil things (like killing younglings), and by succumbing to the effects of fear. At the end of a session, the player rolls a d10 and subtracts the Conflict they accrued in the session from the die roll then adjusts their Morality by the net result (i.e., if you generate 5 conflict and roll a 10 your Morality increases by 5 but if you roll a 1 it decreases by 4). In this way the total change is random – dabbling in the dark side might yield a net light side change in Morality or it might set you on a path to the dark side.

Random change is neat because it triggers that gambling response in players. “I’ve only got two Conflict so far this session and we really need this power to go off… I can take the strain and we have plenty of Destiny Points available. Yeah, I’ll use two dark side points to make the guard forget he ever saw us.” Then the player rolls a 1 at the end of the session and slips ever closer to the dark side. Thematically this means the dark side is always tempting but it’s the character’s choices that lead to damnation. Characters who stay the straight and narrow have nothing to fear from the dark side and will quickly rocket up toward light side paragon levels where their reputations precede them.

Characters who do fall to the dark side have a long road to redemption. To be redeemed, the character has to improve their Morality up above 70 to light side paragon status. Only at this point do they shake off the vestiges of the dark side and start using the light side of the Force again. Once they dip below 30 they start using dark side Force points instead of light side. This means that if they want to use light side points, they must flip a Destiny Point and suffer strain. That’s important because using dark side points still generate Conflict.

I haven’t yet played F&D but this mechanic seems really solid and incredibly interesting to me. It’s much, much more interesting than the d20 mechanics ever were.

Edge of the Empire Careers

Edge of the Empire has careers that span the whole of society. You can be down on your luck or well-to-do. More than the other two games, this one attempts to show a slice of life in the galaxy. It works, I’m running a very successful game of Edge but I notice everyone tends to take the same few careers and specializations. The ones that don’t get picked seem to lack zest for making compelling characters. This is especially true once they get compared to Age or F&D careers and specializations.

Bounty Hunter

The Bounty Hunter is well represented in the lore of the films with Greedo, Boba Fett, and the like. The specializations presented allow the character to be a combat monster with some variances in approach. The Assassin specializes in devastatingly powerful single hits and inflicting critical injuries. They’re stealthy and prefer to use melee weapons or sniper rifles. Gadgeteers are gearheads with guns and armor. If you want to play a heavily armored death machine and to trick out your kit, this is the way to go. The Survivalist is a more traditional hunter focused on stalking prey wherever it may go. They are more at home in the wild than the other Bounty Hunter specializations.

Colonist

The first of a few seemingly mundane careers, the Colonist is for people who want to play leaders, healers, and intellectuals. These fill in the tropes from Westerns like the doctor and the Eastern dandy on an adventure. Colonists recently got a class book called Far Horizons that introduced three new specializations. The Doctor is a medical professional, able to tend to the wounds of sentient species. The talent tree makes a potent healer in a game where healing is scarce. Entrepreneurs are looking to open new markets and bring goods to the colonies of the Rim. It’s all about the deals for this one. The only specialization to have some explicit municipal authority is the Marshal. While it does have Ranged (Light) as a career skill, the Marshal is just as much about non-violent conflict resolution. The Performer is a dancer, singer, or other form of entertainer. If you want to play Oola or Max Reebo, this is your best bet. A Politico is a social powerhouse and face for the group. If you wanted to form a community, having a Politico in your group is not a bad idea. Lastly we have the Scholar who is modeled a bit on the eccentric professor from Westerns.

Explorer

The specializations in the Explorer career are all focused on pushing on to new horizons and making discoveries. This was the first career to get a supplement, Enter the Unknown, so it also has six specializations. The Archaeologist is Indiana Jones in space. No, really, the art for this specialization is a Duros in khaki pants, a button down shirt, with a satchel over one shoulder, and is holding a fedora. Big Game Hunters give the career a bit of a boost in weapon proficiency. It’s a Star Wars take on historical figures like John Henry Patterson and Teddy Roosevelt. When you need wheels, the Driver is your expert. The whole talent tree is focused on being awesome in planetary vehicles like The Transporter or The Fast & The Furious jumped to another galaxy. The Fringer is a space bum and jack-of-all-trades. Good at getting out of trouble. For a true Explorer it’s hard to go wrong with a Scout. Master astrogators and self-sufficient out on the rim. Traders are traveling shop owners hauling and selling their wares across the galaxy. Their existence allows Han Solo pass as a law abiding citizen.

Hired Gun

When you need a real bruiser in Edge, make sure someone rolls a Hired Gun. This is the only openly combat focused career in the bunch. Bounty Hunters have combat ability but they play second fiddle to the Hired Guns. The Hired Gun supplement is called Dangerous Covenants and adds a ton of options for the career both in a heavy hitting combat perspective (the new guns are sweet) but also from a role-playing view. Having a Bodyguard makes sense for protecting the weaker characters but also from a story perspective as to how the crew dynamic works. The Demolitionist is a bombs expert and even gets the ability to not hit allies when the bombs detonate. That’s nice. An Enforcer is a neat departure from the combat focus. This is a character embedded in a larger criminal organization that uses threats and intimidation to great effect. The Heavy is, pure and simple, the Heavy Weapons Guy from Team Fortress 2. The biggest guns are child’s play for this specialization. For a melee combatant, the Marauder is your best option. Talents improve the Melee and Brawl skills and there are plenty of wound threshold upgrades to boost survivability. Lastly we have the Mercenary Soldier who is just as much tactician and army captain as gunner. If you need a battlefield leader, take a look here.

Smuggler

What would a Star Wars game be without Smugglers? Han and Lando both get some nods in the specializations and it’s nice to see some more combat proficiencies handed out. There hasn’t been a smuggler’s book yet but I can only imagine it’s on the way. The Pilot is the ace behind the yoke, able to fly against incredible odds and come back in one piece. If daring space combat is your thing, this is it. On the other hand, the Scoundrel is much more of a charming rogue who would rather bluff on by than outrace security. Lastly there’s the Thief who just takes things. Breaks in and steals them. Simple, straightforward, and delightfully illegal.

Technician

The last career in Edge is the Technician, a support class focused on technology. These are the characters that keep the ship flying and the warehouse security blissfully shut down. The Mechanic is the shipboard engineer. Think Kaylee from Firefly and you’re not far off. The Outlaw Tech is less interested in repairs and more into modifications. Equal parts mad scientist and racer boy, this specialization will make the crew’s kit better. Finally, we have the Slicer who is the computer whiz and hacker. I can think of all kinds of ways that a slicer would be useful in a campaign.

Age of Rebellion Careers

Age of Rebellion careers are more focused and locked onto an overall theme: characters as part of a rebellious military force. Each career is dripping with exciting thematic content and it is incredibly easy to map these specializations to characters from the films and books. Does anyone doubt that Admiral Ackbar is a Commander Commodore? Or that Wedge is an Ace Pilot? What’s most exciting is how easily Age can be retooled to be a clone trooper campaign.

Ace

The Ace is a career focused on being the best and being a bit of a daredevil. Characters looking for glory and excitement will probably be drawn to this one. The upcoming Stay On Target supplement introduces three new specializations and has even named them. The Beast Rider looks to be like a cowboy or stable master. It’s going to introduce beasts of burden as mounts and have rules for taming them. The Driver is the same as the Explorer specialization. The Gunner is the gung-ho soldier hanging out the side of the LAAT/I with the biggest gun available. This is who you want riding shotgun. The Hotshot is coming up and looks like it’s going to be focused on the insufferable pilot whose only saving grace is being nearly as good as they imagine they are. The Pilot is the same as the Smuggler specialization. A Rigger seems to be someone with a custom vehicle. If it’s like a Gadgeteer but with a ship, I’m all for it.

Commander

The Commander career is focused on officers and leaders. The specializations are split into different theaters of conflict: capital ships, fighters, and infantry. I wouldn’t be surprised if the inevitable career supplement added ground vehicles, naval/underwater combat, and military intelligence to the list. The Commodore is in charge of a big ship, or possibly multiple big ships. This is the Star Wars Armada specialization. Counter to that, the Squadron Leader is the Star Wars X-Wing Miniatures specialization. This is all about being in charge of a group of starfighters and leading the charge against enemy fighter craft. And the Tactician is our ground-based leader. It’s similar to the Mercenary Soldier but has a more military vibe.

Diplomat

Age isn’t just about battles. It’s about the Rebellion and all it entails. The Diplomat career is out to garner support for the cause. The Ambassador visits worlds and dignitaries looking to get entire groups and peoples to join the Rebellion. This is the face on the recruitment poster. By contrast, the Agitator uses very different tactics and means to achieve similar results. Fomenting rebellion on a world may not bring them into the Rebellion but it hurts the Empire. Making a bid for thematically dullest specialization is the Quartermaster. This specialization is all about buying supplies for the troops and making sure everyone has clean blankets. (Yes, that’s me being intentionally harsh on the specialization.)

Engineer

You knew the Rebellion was going to have someone who loves the toys, didn’t you? Here it is: the Engineer career. The Rebellion needs people to keep their ships and weapons in good working order. The Mechanic is the same as the Technician specialization. The Saboteur is another bomb maker, this time with an emphasis on stealth. The talent tree is very similar to the Demolitionist. Surprisingly, we get a straight-up Scientist. This character is good at finding information, inventing things, and tinkering with gadgets for maximum effect.

Soldier

Here are the grunts, the ones who do the fighting and dying. Age is explicitly a more military game than the other two so it’s not a surprise most careers get at least Ranged (Light) but this is the meat of where the combat awesome can be found. The Soldier includes all of the combat skills except Gunnery and Lightsaber. Take the Commando for example: incredible ability to soak critical injuries and great armor benefits. This is a walking tank. The Medic is a better healer than the Doctor when you’re in a clutch and can lay down some covering fire as you scramble back to cover. The Sharpshooter is the sniper and can deal obscene amounts of damage.

Spy

The Spy is a career all about operating in the shadows, gaining intelligence, and sabotaging enemy efforts. The Infiltrator gets in, gets the secrets, and gets out. It’s similar to the Thief but big on unarmed combat to knock out guards. The Scout is the same as the Explorer specialization and the Slicer is the same as the Technician specialization. Seems like a cool career but I’m a little disappointed two of the specializations were already done in the Edge core book. At least the Driver appeared in a supplement.

Force and Destiny Careers

Force and Destiny really surprised me with the career choices. You won’t find anything that says Jedi or Sith in a career or specialization. These are about specific approaches to the Force that can be used for good or evil. The theme on almost all of them is spot-on and I’m a really big fan of how they broke out the lightsaber forms into their own specializations. It also surprised me that only the lightsaber forms have the Lightsaber skill, so if you want to buy that at the discounted career skill cost you had best sign up for one of the lightsaber form specializations. I have to wonder where they’ll go with the career supplements but that’s a long way off.

A small nitpick here is that some of the lightsaber forms seem to be using ill-suited characteristics for lightsaber attacks. Why does the Consular use Willpower when its specializations are focused on Knowledge and other Intellect skills? The Guardian uses Intellect but that seems strange for a leader specialization. The Mystic uses Presence, which fits Makashi well, but wouldn’t Willpower be better suited to the career that seeks the deepest bond with the Force? Just things that make me scratch my head.

Consular

The Consular is focused on helping others. More than other careers their focus is really on assistance. The Healer uses the Force to mend wounds and save lives. Force based healing uses up a stimpack use for the day so it has diminishing returns. A Niman Disciple is a lightsaber form focused on movement and awareness. There is a talent here that allows Willpower to be used when making lightsaber attacks, a pattern repeated throughout the F&D careers such that there is one lightsaber form that uses each characteristic. The Sage is dedicated to exploring the deepest mysteries of the Force. One of the two specializations that do not have Dedication but instead have two +1 Force Rating talents.

Guardian

The Guardian acts as a defender and protector of the innocent, more explicitly than other F&D careers. The light side of the Force is about knowledge, defense, and protection but this is the express manifestation of it. The Peacekeeper attacks the problems head on, leading others to face evil on its own ground. This specialization is very defensive and can tank well. Protector is the Force using equivalent of the Bodyguard specialization. It protects other characters, even taking damage for them, and has defensive boosts. A Soresu Defender is the most defensive lightsaber form for melee combat. It uses Intellect for lightsaber attacks and has the best parrying abilities.

Mystic

Where the Consular has a deep connection of the Force to help others, the Mystic plunges ever deeper for its own sake. This career has a lot of warnings and insight talents. The Advisor is the power behind the throne, a Mystic who peers through the mists of the Force and offers insight and guidance. There are a number of social manipulation talents in the tree, as well. The Makashi Duelist is a flashy, aggressive lightsaber style that uses Presence for lightsaber attacks. It’s best suited to dueling with a single opponent. The Seer is the other specialization that gets two +1 Force Rating talents and no Dedication. The talent tree is filled with things like Sense Danger, Forewarning, Uncanny Reactions, and the like.

Seeker

Now we get into the more aggressive careers. The Seeker is about rooting out evil at its heart. It’s proactive. Ataru Striker focuses on the alpha strike. It’s an acrobatic lightsaber form that uses Agility for lightsaber attacks and includes both the saber throw talent and the ability give lightsaber attacks the Linked quality (which triggers multiple hits if you generate enough advantage on a successful attack). Yikes. The Hunter follows evil back to the source. It seems strongly independent and specializes in Ranged (Heavy) for attacks. The Pathfinder is a trailblazer with the ability to make friends with animals. If you want an animal companion, this looks like it.

Sentinel

The Sentinel is an archetype dating back to the Knights of the Old Republic. It’s been updated to suit the needs of the career system and it fits in nicely. The beta says Sentinels are pragmatic and are ideally suited to fighting the injustices that arise in the heart of civilization. Right. Makes sense. The first specialization, however, is the Artisan. It’s a tinkerer with some slicing ability and a unique talent that imbues items with the Force. How is that a Sentinel rooting out injustice? The theme kind of breaks down on this one. But then we get to the Shadow, which is basically a noir detective Jedi. Holy shit, does that sound awesome. The talent tree is all about being undercover, avoiding detection, Force stealth, and all kinds of other awesome pulp detective stuff. The Shien Expert is a lightsaber form that uses Cunning to make lightsaber attacks and has the best ranged defense. It seems to be good at shutting down enemy attacks, as well.

Warrior

Warriors are not kidding around. The entire career is martial in one capacity or another. It has career skills for Brawl and Melee and each specialization gets another combat skill. The talent trees are just as focused on combat as you might imagine. The Aggressor is all about getting up in people’s faces. Coercion is a career skill and there are talents named Intimidating and Fearsome. It also has Saber Throw, which is odd since it doesn’t have Lightsaber as a career skill. The Shii-Cho Knight is the last lightsaber form and the one that leaves Brawn as the skill for lightsaber attacks. It’s based on the idea of engaging multiple enemies at once and has Sarlacc Sweep, a talent that is effectively autofire with a lightsaber (i.e., increase the difficulty of your attack and if you generate enough advantage on a success you can hit multiple targets). Lastly we have the Starfighter Ace, which is a pilot that can use the Force to be awesome in the cockpit. Honestly, it looks pretty cool but part of me wonders why it needed its own specialization.

Universal Specializations

There are a few universal specializations that don’t incur the out-of-career XP surcharge when you take them even though they are not a part of any career.

The first is in Edge and is presented for Force using characters living in hiding, the Force Sensitive Exile. Its theme runs strongly toward blending in, not rocking the boat, avoiding conflict, and sensing danger before it happens. The Force powers in Edge are subtle and utilitarian: Influence, Move, and Sense. Taking this specialization is the only way to gain a Force rating if you are playing only Edge of the Empire.

Along a similar vein, Age has the Force Sensitive Emergent, a Force user who is coming out of hiding to help with the fight against the Empire. This specialization is a little more overt, a bit more bold and daring. The powers available are Enhance, Foresee, and Move.

The third and final universal specialization is again from Age but this time it’s called the Recruit. This strikes me as a transition specialization for Edge characters who aren’t martial enough. It starts off by unlocking Athletics, Discipline, Survival, and Vigilance as career skills. Then the first two rows of talents unlock all the combat skills, Piloting (Planetary), Knowledge (Core Worlds), and Knowledge (Outer Rim). For a minimal XP investment, a character can go through boot camp and be all set and ready to join the Rebellion.

Fear in Star Wars

One of the big themes in the games is fear. I thought this was an unusual choice at first until I thought about the films and just how much fear pervades them. In the original trilogy Owen and Beru are afraid Luke will turn out like Vader. Luke’s fear, and his eventual triumph over it, is a driving theme through the entire trilogy. The prequels show Anakin’s fear of loss as the instrument of his downfall and the entire Clone Wars was Sidious using fear to manipulate the entire galaxy.

The games deal with fear by having characters make fear checks when confronted with frightening things. When characters are outmatched in combat or suffer through a speeder wreck, they make a fear check. Facing down a rancor alone is enough to warrant a daunting (four purple) fear check. Shell shock from a large scale battle is a fear check. The adventure Beyond the Rim has the characters on an alien jungle planet making fear checks as they are stalked by exotic predators or surrounded by bizarre beasts in the middle of the night.

A failed fear check impedes the character in some way. It could simply inflict some strain on the character, add a setback die to all their actions for the rest of the encounter, or, if a despair came up, increase the difficulty of all checks for the rest of the encounter. This doesn’t stop them from doing anything but it does highlight how fear makes things more difficult.

In F&D, failed fear checks also generate Conflict because fear is part of the dark side. I like how this actually gives Force users, particularly Jedi, an incentive to increase ranks in Discipline and up Willpower without making them more powerful Force users. If you want to remain in the light, you had best learn to control your fear.

In Comparison

The three games really are unique in presentation and content. The themes are wildly different and tell divergent stories within the backdrop of the Star Wars universe. Nominally the setting is during the height of the Rebellion between the battles of Yavin and Hoth but it’s very, very easy to move this to the Old Republic or (next Christmas) to the time of Episode VII when the Jedi are more prevalent.

The systems are fully compatible thanks to the core mechanics being the same throughout. Integrating characters from all three games would be pretty easy, all things considered. None of the three games seems to overshadow the other two in power creep.

Balancing the Force

Many people were worried about Force users being overpowered to the point where it’s pointless to play anything but a Jedi. Fantasy Flight has avoided that pitfall. The careers and specializations system keeps everyone pretty even. As all three games share the same skill list and basic mechanic, it’s easy enough to keep the parity. And while Force powers are useful, they aren’t stunningly, incredibly useful or must-have abilities the way wizard spells are in D&D. They’re a tool in the tool kit for the character. That feels right to me.

If anything, I can actually see Force users being somewhat underpowered compared to their mundane counterparts. Perhaps underpowered is a poor phrase. I can see them being more focused and less able to cope with things outside of their specialties. This is because of the way that Force powers are handled and purchased in the games. Force powers are a potentially huge XP sink for a Force using character.

Back when Edge first came out I had some lonely fun and built out what I wanted for my ideal Gand Bounty Hunter Gadgeteer. It wound up being something like 850 XP across three specializations to max my favorite skills and buy all the talents I wanted. And that character would be a one-Gand wrecking crew.

By comparison, it would cost a Force user a minimum of 270 XP just to get to unlock all of the basic Force powers. That’s no Force power upgrades. The only talents were the ones needed to get to +3 Force rating so Protect/Unleash could be unlocked. No skills were upgraded with that XP. With this path the character doesn’t even have a rank in Lightsaber yet. And 270 is only if the character is a Sage at the start! If you earn 25 XP per session, which is on the generous side of the recommended amounts, it would take you eleven sessions just to open all the Force powers. Three months of weekly sessions. If you wanted to be a complete boss like Yoda and master all of the Force powers? That’s another 1,700 XP. And that’s just what’s in the base book. Who knows if new Force powers will appear in supplements. It wouldn’t surprise me if they did.

While the Jedi characters are exploring the Force and learning the deep mysteries, the mundane characters are maxing out skill ranks, picking up multiple specializations, buying down to Dedication to increase characteristics, and generally just going to town on being awesome. More than anything, this is the sort of thing that can become a trap for players very easily. Players who want the Force to be awesome will explore the Force powers and find that players are outshining them in all the other categories. Which is why I’m fine with the lightsaber forms allowing attacks with other characteristics. Not every Force user is going to be able to afford to put Brawn as a high characteristic or even to upgrade Brawn after character creation.

What I do worry about with the Force powers and how much they cost is that players will buy one or two Force powers and that’s it. Which would be a shame because Jedi should have access to more than one or two powers. It’s not a deal breaker until I see it in play but it does make me think that Force users will be best a) in their own, long term campaign, or b) only dabbling in the Force for a few specific abilities.

Final Thoughts

I’ve been running an Edge game for the past few months and it’s been great. The mechanics really sing and aid storytelling. Building dice pools is quick and intuitive enough that it just gets out of the way when you want to role-play. I have three players and we’ve been having a blast every time we play.

The games aren’t perfect. The dice can all zero out and leave you hanging. When the dice do something interesting 99% of the time, the 1% they come up goose eggs can be really frustrating. Balance isn’t really a concern with weapons, which makes it very easy to TPK accidentally. There are some inconsistencies with the way wounds work where characters with higher wound thresholds take longer to heal.

Some of the careers and specializations just don’t seem to be as interesting as others. In my experience, no one plays the Colonist unless a Doctor is needed. And, I’m sorry, but playing the Quartermaster just sounds dull. It’s hard to make requisition forms exciting. (Again, yes, I’m being hyperbolic about the Quartermaster; there aren’t any requisition forms but it just seems so dull!)

One of my biggest challenges with the game is that the rules are such that it’s most a narrative, indie story game but the way the game is written is very prescriptive and feels very traditional in its approach. I had a hard time figuring out which side of the fence the game wanted to be on.

All told, though, the games are very solid. The writing is clear and the system is robust. It supports role-playing and creative solutions. This is easily one of my favorite licensed RPGs ever and definitely the best version of Star Wars for my gaming sensibilities.

Final Score: A-

About PK

PK Sullivan is a game designer and writer living in Chicago.
This entry was posted in Blog, Reviews, Role Playing. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply