Further thoughts on Edge of the Empire
The other night, we managed an abbreviated session of Fantasy Flight’s Star Wars – Edge of the Empire. Being a holiday weekend, we all had other obligations on the following days, so there wasn’t time for the main session we’d had in mind. Right now, we’re running two separate campaigns of EotE, largely because I managed to convert one of my players over to the system pretty early. He sees it as a chance to better learn the rules through running the game, and I have a rare chance to actually play the damned thing. It’s a strange phenomenon, let me tell you.
Being on the other side of the screen has afforded me a number of interesting insights into the mechanics of the game, particularly in terms of how important equipment modifications and and attribute arrays are. The attribute part is fairly self-evident, given that it’s relatively difficult to upgrade once play has begun as you have to dedicate something like 75 Experience Points (with a base of 10 to 20 awarded per session) in each specific Career Specialization. And a little experience with the system tells us that even though it may be generally possible to play a character with the absolute minimum for attributes, it’s a better idea to have at least two points per, else things start to get problematic.
It was the equipment modifications that caught me off-guard, in all truth. I’d glanced over the rules in my first pass through the book, but it hadn’t seemed like it was something essential. It was only when it showed up in play did I realize how much of a real difference these rules offered.
Baseline equipment – which includes weapons, armor and vehicles – comes with a number of hardpoints which vary based on the type and quality of the equipment in general. These hardpoints offer a discrete number of modification slots that can be fitted with attachments and accessories. Since weapons are the most likely to be initially modified, I’ll use them as the go-to example for the moment.
Say your character has skill in Ranged (Heavy), which covers the ability to shoot most sorts of rifles and heavier armaments of the like. For a starting character, the best options for blasters are regular Blaster Rifles and Heavy Blaster Rifles. The differences with these weapons are actually relatively minimal. The Heavy Rifle does one more point of damage, but it weighs significantly more and has a special quality (Cumbersome) to make it more difficult to wield in combat. (Encumbrance is actually a part of the game, but it’s minor and fairly easily dealt with. For the most part, it’s in there to keep characters from rattling around the galaxy with eight different guns strapped to their belts.) The increased difficulty of using it is balanced with it having the ability to fire fully automatic. This is pretty significant, to be honest.
Just looking at the numbers, however, is enough to drop the Heavy Rifle from consideration. Using a stock Heavy Rifle is actually fairly unlikely for most characters, as the normal starting Brawn for most races is under the requisite threshold. With that in mind, it’s probably acceptable to go with the normal Blaster Rifle instead.
This is where the equipment modifications become important. As it happens, simply adding a strap to the Heavy Blaster is enough to mitigate the difficulty of using the gun by removing a point from the Cumbersome keyword. And as it turns out, further tweaks to this strap are enough to imbue the weapon with the Quick Draw quality, which appears elsewhere as a Talent that can only be bought in a couple of career specializations. So, for the price of a couple of hundred credits, a gun that was originally too heavy for a normal character to easily use in combat becomes ridiculously useful, as it no longer has any real drawback in combat and is given a significant advantage in the process.
Similar modifications can net such advantages as better up-close weapons and vastly improved tactical ability, most of which just require a competent technician to modify for use. Each upgrade requires an ever-increasing difficulty to install, but the effects make this something of a necessary thing, as they can quickly shift the balance of combat towards the characters.
Finally, I came to sort of epiphany on the Obligation system for the game. As I have noted, this is one of my favorite elements of EotE, as it gives the GM a dynamic method for generating adventures and keeping the characters aware of the things that have brought them to this place. Edge of the Empire is, at its heart, a game about broken characters, and the Obligation reinforces this element of the backstory.
As written, the characters are free to choose their starting Obligation based on the various sorts of backgrounds that make sense to the player. This means that a sample group of four characters will have four wholly separate skeletons in their closet to work out over the course of play, which is fine and good, were it not for the whole ‘having a ship’ thing. See, the final part of the whole character creation thing has the characters picking out a ship for their group, assuming that the cost of such is balanced by the previously allocated Obligation. Mechanically, it works out pretty well, but thematically, it has a couple of holes.
Most of this comes in the form of not being able to reconcile the alien who has important familial ties and the hardened criminal that’s fleeing the bounty hunters after he murdered someone back on his home planet with whomsoever they’re owing money to for the privilege of having a home base and means of transport.
For my own part, I’ve decided to house-rule it so that the required Starting Obligation takes the form of Debt to a specific source, thereby allowing the ship to provide adventure hooks in and of itself. While there’s plenty of room to adjust things (like the case of Lando, where ships and executive positions are gained through games of Sabacc), it gives a starting point for the game and a sense of why the ship itself binds them together.