Revisiting the Edge, with some notes on going forward
In one of my early posts a few weeks back, I delved into Fantasy Flight’s Star Wars game, Edge of the Empire. That was an early skim of the rules, with only a casual eye to the rules and mechanics. Since then, I’ve read more closely, run a bit of a demo session, and started my players through character creation. And none of the lustre has faded from my early enthusiasm. If anything, I’m finding myself excited about revisiting the familiar territory of Star Wars, even though I’ve had to move on from my beloved WEG D6.
One of the advantages about going back to Star Wars is that my own personal knowledge of the setting borders on the inane, so there’s little about it that isn’t immediately familiar to me. This is a double edged sword, as I can get caught off-guard by players asking routine questions that I take for granted (“What’s a Trandoshan? Well, that’s the race that the bounty hunter Bossk was. What do you mean you don’t know who Bossk was?”), but it also means that I can go into depth on setting minutiae if needed. There isn’t a whole lot of paging through reference manuals to get myself up to speed on the differences between YT-1300 and YT-2400 freighters, as they’re pretty much ingrained.
Honestly, it’s a bit embarrassing to have been this obsessive about a setting like this. But at least if I’m running a game, it’s an asset, rather than a source of social isolation. That’s what I tell myself, at least.
Last week, I ran something of a demo game of Edge of the Empire, using a borrowed copy of the Beginner’s Box Set. I’m glad I didn’t pick up the box, given my level of experience, but it’s a solid product for new players and people that aren’t old hands at the hobby. (This is much the same way I view products like Paizo’s Gamemastery Guide. It’s a great book for most people, but it’s also a product that I will never need.) The canned adventure is set up to slowly integrate the rules, and it includes a set of dice for the purpose of running the game. All in all, it gets the players and the GM up and running with a series of quick scenes, and for my group’s purposes, it worked very well.
Almost too well, honestly. I’d wanted to run it as a one-off sort of thing, a palate cleanser for the long-running game we’d been in the middle of (one of the early Paizo Adventure Paths). As it turned out, my players were so enthused about the game that they decided on the spot that they wanted to keep running the same pre-generated characters from the box set, rather than make up new. It actually took a little bit of work to get them to build characters that were more appropriate to the setting I had in mind.
As far as the dice went, they will be part of the learning curve. As it stands right now, it’s going to take a couple of sessions to reorient their thinking towards using these new mechanics, but I’m confident that once they get the hang of how the symbols can be manipulated, they’re going to love it.
My own impressions are still divided, since it looks to me like each player is going to have to have access to about $30 worth of dice. (Two sets, $15 per set, per player.) I went ahead and bought four sets of dice for my own use, assuming that I’d need a set as a GM and one for my players. Granted, I got them through a sale, but it was still a chunk of change for new dice. (These are the reasons I’ve been resisting FF’s new version of Warhammer Fantasy. Not only is it prohibitively expensive, but it requires a new set of funny dice for that system as well.)
As a game, Edge of the Empire has some interesting assumptions built into it. This is not a comprehensive Star Wars game that covers every aspect of the Galaxy. It is specifically geared towards Fringer games, offering a scattering of careers that are applicable to the seedy underworlds of the Outer Rim territories. If you’re looking to play a character that moves through the higher echelons of Core World diplomacy, you’re out of luck. Similarly, if you want to play a hotshot Rebel X-Wing pilot, there are no rules to allow you to create such a character in-setting. (Of course, that’s what the next game, Age of Rebellion, is being designed to cover.)
There are some questions as to whether the scope of the games that are in the proposed line up will be able to cover all of the potential campaigns that can be set in Star Wars, but it’s way too early to field that sort of complaint. Last Unicorn was the last game company to work in that direction, with their various Star Trek games built around Next Generation, Deep Space 9, and Original Series. (They did an admirable job covering the different shows as different games. The fact that they were bought out by Wizards of the Coast and had their entire product line cancelled before they could reach their full potential is another matter.) For right now, the ability to play a Jedi-centric campaign will have to wait until the third game in the line, Force & Destiny, is published in 2015 or thereabouts. Whether or not it will ever be possible to play an Imperial centric game is still up in the air, as are the prospects for Expanded Universe games like Knights of the Old Republic or Legacy.
Being a game of scum and villainy, more or less, Edge of the Empire requires that the characters have fallen on hard times in one form or another, which forms much of the basis of the Obligation trait. If the characters weren’t heavily beholden to some larger motivation, there would be that much less in the way of adventure hooks to move them forward in the game. For my part, the setting suggests something more along the line of the setting of Firefly, where the characters are a rag-tag band of heroes on the losing side of history. (It doesn’t help that I’ve always thought of Firefly as ‘The Adventures of Young Han Solo,’ only done by someone more competent than George Lucas.)
With this in mind, my players set about creating their characters. I’ve chosen to set the game in the Old Republic Era, somewhere around the time of the Bioware Knights of the Old Republic video games. This allows the backdrop of the Mandalorian Wars and the Jedi Civil War, where entire planets lay in ruin and there’s a momentary peace for the crew to make their way through. In keeping with the Firefly theme, the characters are going to have been on the wrong side of the war when everything came crashing to a halt. The easy way would be to have them enlisted as members of Darth Malak’s forces during the Jedi Civil War (with the possible larger backstory of being part of Revan and Malak’s forces during the Mandalorian Wars), only to be abandoned and lost on the frontlines when the war came to an abrupt end.
The characters in Edge of the Empire are pretty specialized. We started out with two fairly basic characters, a twi’lek scoundrel and a medical droid. The scoundrel could shoot pretty well and talk her way out of most situations, where the medical droid was … well, a medical droid. When the players got done with basic character generation, they started looking over the skills and came to the conclusion that they were going to be thrown in a meat grinder if it ever came down to a real combat situation.
That’s when this game started to get interesting.
You see, my gaming group at the moment is somewhat limited. I’m in the process of gearing up to move, as are both of my regular players. We’ve got another player that’s around, but even then, he’s not as committed to things and can be a bit unreliable. That means that, for this particular group, we tend to factor on two player games. Depending on the game, we can either roll up extra characters, as happened with the Savage Tide game, or we can build out the characters to compensate for the general weakness that we see in the game, as happened back in the Legacy of Fire days. These players love Savage Tide, but understandably, they feel the extra characters aren’t getting the same sort of attention they’d get if they were the only characters.
So we decided to play this one Troupe Style.
If this is an unfamiliar term to you, don’t feel bad. It doesn’t show up very often in role-playing games, but it does exist enough to be considered part of the larger pantheon of gaming techniques. Essentially, it means that the game has the players build multiple characters, of which only one will be on-screen at a given time. The other characters are wandering around in the background, only showing up and taking the spotlight when they have something to add to the scenario.
Troupe Style gaming started with Ars Magica, where the players built a cabal of mages in medieval Europe. Since the mages were usually in the middle of some research or another, they didn’t end up going on individual quests with each other, and in-game, they were implied to be sort of weak on some fronts. To make up for this, they were always accompanied by a retinue of servants and men-at-arms. This meant that one player would take their mage on some adventure, and the other players played their entourage. When they returned and it was time for another mage to wander off to seek ancient ruins, another player would dust off their main character, and the rest of the group would bring out that mage’s retinue. It made sense, allowed each of the larger characters a chance in the spotlight, and changed up the way the game was played.
WEG’s D6 Star Wars did this with the Darkstryder boxed set, where each of the players got a character in the ship’s command crew, a character that was a division chief, and a character that was just a regular guy along for the adventure. Dark Sun also did something along this line, but most of that was due to the perception that the setting would simply murder or incapacitate the main character, and it would take too long to get another character up to speed to join the group.
What it means for this game is that the players are going to spec out six separate characters, the members of a small freighter’s crew that had fought as a unit in a recent war. They were largely hung out to dry at the end, forgotten in the closing days of the war and regarded as war criminals by a certain segment of the populace. In addition to using Firefly as an inspiration, there are elements of A-Team, Twilight 2000, and Armor Hunter Mellowlink. And because it’s going to be set during the Old Republic Era, I’ve got a much larger canvas to work with, in terms of setting and adventure ideas. I’m already in the process of filling a notebook with ideas.