Session Deconstruction: Star Wars – Edge of the Empire #1 & 2
Lately, I find myself in a bit of a strange bind. Since I’m looking for a house, that’s taking a lot of my time and creative energy away from me. There are too many factors to balance that I can’t simply carve out the requisite time to be able to sit down and write. Or at least, not on the subjects that are required for a novel, per se. It doesn’t help that I’m in the pre-production stage of putting the new novel together. I finished the old one, distributed it with a couple of people and the process of building a query letter is also firmly in the ‘once-I-have-things-settled-on-the-house’ area.
At the same time, I’m finding myself with a stock of things to talk about, blog-wise. For the first time in quite a while, I have a surplus of blog entries written out, with more pushing in around the edges. I guess the habit of writing on a daily basis has sorta taken hold on me, given my previous rate of production here and on novel-related ephemera. At the same time, I don’t particularly want to go back to a daily deadline with these, since I know things are going to get in the way of my goals. A weekly entry seemed like a good idea, and I am loathe to break that schedule too badly.
As a sort of compromise, I figure I’ll put in an extra feature – a sort of post-game recap of the one game that I’ve got going at the moment. (Technically, I’m running two regular games, but the biweekly Carrion Crown game has been going for three years at this point, so I don’t know as that grind is necessary to talk about at length.) The game in question is a recently built Star Wars game, using FFG’s Edge of the Empire system. I’ve talked about the system at different points, and I only grow more fond of it as time progresses. As to why I’ve put together a new game of it, I’ll get around to talking about that … oh, next week.
The game has been running for two weeks thus far. I put together a new group, comprised of one of my current players, one of my old players from a little over ten years back, and the guy that originally introduced me to role-playing in the first place.
It’s … a bit of an odd group.
For what it’s worth (and like I say, I’ll get into this part a bit later), the current player is the last man standing of what had been a pretty solid group up until recently. When the last other player departed, we decided that, rather than scrap the idea of a regular Friday game entirely, I’d cast about to see what I could assemble from the other possibilities. The second player is a good friend of mine who had moved off to The Big City a little over ten years back, only to return about six months ago. I had largely fallen out of touch with him over the years, what with being in Asia and generally not having a lot of time to look him up when I wasn’t. Sure, my wife’s parents were less than twenty miles from where he was living, but I never managed to cross paths with him while we were there.
As to the third guy, he and I had fallen out of touch a while back. After his first marriage ended, I’d tried to give him a hand getting back on his feet. It was one of those situations where no good deed went unpunished. I ended up writing him off before I went abroad, and it was only after his second marriage fell apart that we’ve been talking again. (These aren’t specifically related, but that was the impetus for him to reach out again and look to reconcile.)
I suppose it’s something peculiar to our local group, but the saying goes that we can forgive anything except a bad game. Oddly, the guy that coined that ended up running one of the worst games any of us had collectively been in, right before he melted down and burned his last bridge with the larger group. C’est la vie, I guess.
The first session had two of the three players, as one was coming down from dental surgery and begged off that week. We built characters, decided on the era of play and started throwing dice. I was running a canned adventure from one of the available official modules, just to make things simple. I’ve gotten into the mode of starting things off with the FFG stuff, just to test the waters and see what the players are up for. I figure I’ll run one or two more before deciding what direction to go in from there.
It’s an interesting notation, in its way. Fantasy Flight has done some fascinating things with the way they craft their adventures in Edge of the Empire. When I convinced one of my older players to run it for us, he dove directly into the canned adventures to get an idea of how the flow was supposed to go and to see what sorts of tempo the game designers had in mind. And the adventures that he’d lain hands on were startlingly good, even as far back as the original beta of the core rules. The module was fast, loose, action-packed and filled with really interesting locales from the various media of the galaxy. There was investigation alongside the shoot-outs, some ship combat and plenty of opportunity to play the action hero in the midst of it all. It was actually sort of impressive.
It also laid the groundwork for the larger plots that the GM put together. The important NPC’s from that adventure were tweaked into the other adventures, and it established enough of the backdrop that we could range about within the plots that we had already set in motion. Naturally, I took this success as a cue and worked up my new campaign with the same sort of ideas in place.
The first session was a simple sort of intro adventure, taken from one of the Free RPG Day modules that I never got the chance to find locally. (As an unneeded commentary on the hellhole that I currently live in, the only store to actually participate in Free RPG Day in my area is also the only one in about two hundred miles. There’s not much to go around, once the regulars have stopped in for their swag.) Since it was meant to get people buying the product line, it’s fairly fast and fun, geared toward extremely basic characters. I didn’t bother with the pre-generated characters that had been included, assuming rightly that they wouldn’t be terribly interesting or long-term.
What’s interesting, as I look over the pre-gens, is that none of these characters make any sense from the established rules that I’ve been using. I could understand it, were this an early beta or the like, but the rules were codified enough to release the core rules within a month or two. (Furthermore, they re-released this module on PDF after the rules had been out for a little while, and the pre-gens are still really, really weird.) A similar thing holds for the characters in the Beginner’s Game Box Set, where the rules that govern these characters are similarly weird. In the case of the Boxed Set, the characters are given advancement trees that are wildly dissimilar.
Digress, digress, digress.
The module itself is extremely simple and geared pretty heavily to the locales, rather than any intricate plot. It starts in media res, with the characters fleeing a data theft that they were given as a job. They’ve successfully stolen the data, the enemies were alerted to what’s going on and a chase ensues.
I wish I could say this went well. That is to say, the players had fun, but their characters suffered.
One of the players had power-built his character (which seems to be part of FFG’s philosophy in their pre-gens) by stocking most of his points into attributes and leaving the rest of the character to natural advancement. This ended up giving him a fairly respectable dice pool for most of the important actions. Being a Wookiee Melee Specialist, this meant that he was mainly focused on beating people with his vibro-axe. The other character was a stock human Slicer who had a scattering of skills, largely average attributes and some as-yet unnecessary talents. And for whatever reason, neither one could roll a success to save their lives. It was actually fascinating to watch.
When they finally made their escape, following two largely unnecessary combat sequences, they learn that they need to do some investigation and track their quarry down to wherever he’s holed up. And again, when it comes to throwing dice at actions, they’re able to maintain a legacy unmarred by success. The fact that they accidentally over-bribe a passing informant is all that leads them in the right direction. Doing so shortcuts the rest of the adventure and leads them directly to the main villain of the scenario.
Oddly, this is where everything comes together. They manage to succeed admirably in evading security, tracking the logical hideout of the bounty hunter and finding their way to him. Granted, they managed twice to accidentally set off the traps that have been strewn in their paths, but the end result isn’t changed much as a result. I figure this is going to turn into a tense scenario like the first combat, only to have the Wookiee hack the villain’s arm off and intimidate him enough to give up. They return the stolen goods to their employer without incident, and all is well.
There’s an odd aspect to this adventure, having read through a number of other modules and various suggestions in the core rules. The adventure that’s featured in the core rule book of EotE makes a fairly succinct point of denying the crew as much of their reward as they possibly can. When they manage to apprehend their target, they’re essentially told that they’re working for free or that actually making good on the money they were promised is next to impossible. Yet in the end of this module, the conclusion notes that they will come off with a solid amount of money without problem. By way of comparison, the reward is about five to ten times as much as the bounty the core book wants to deny them. And in a similar manner, the module I’m working the characters through now offers a similar screw job where they may be able to walk away with a tidy sum, but the consequences for doing so mean that they’re going to end up in much worse straits in the immediate future.
That’s the thing, though. I get that Edge of the Empire characters are supposed to be scum and villainy who have to work for their every meal. Between Firefly and Cowboy Bebop, it’s a common theme of the genre. What I don’t get is that FFG is going out of their way to make sure that they will never get ahead, no matter how hard they try. Or that when they do manage to do so, it seems like a pre-beta mistake in writing. Add into this the fact that decent equipment is the core of the game, and it starts to get weird. (By way of explanation, it’s been noted that investing several thousand into your gear will compensate for much of the early power disparity for the low level characters. A good gun or a set of custom armor will get a character much farther than skills or attributes alone. The same holds true for customized ship systems, but that requires a whole lot more outlay.)
That was the first session.The second session, which ran this last Friday, added our third player, likely the final addition to the group. This netted us a Selonian Smuggler, which makes it official – if I am involved in an Edge of the Empire game in any way, there has to be a Selonian involved somehow. My Bounty Hunter in one game was a female on the run from her clan, and a friend of mine played a Selonian Soldier searching for information on the destruction of one branch of her clan in the game I ran.
As I go along, I’m building out the crime syndicate that the characters are working for. At the moment, it’s shaping up to be a Rodian Crime Boss with a mass of scar tissue along the side of his head, a cybernetic eye and a propensity to quietly threaten them with untold consequence if they don’t manage to succeed. It’s going well, all told. I made a mistake early on, when I didn’t pay nearly close enough attention to the details of the module (and didn’t check on a specific mention in the module), so I’m going to modify the picky aspects of it for the subsequent modules.
One of the problems I have with the FFG adventures is that, if you aren’t completely aware of the reference that they’re making in the text, there’s a good chance that you’ll miss the larger backstory. The case in point that I was referring to earlier is the Pyke Syndicate. The module notes that they’re a group of spice smuggling crime lords, and the syndicate is made up of members of the Pyke species. In my skim through to prepare the adventure, I had missed the species angle to things and assumed that it was more of a family thing. When I started researching bits later, I realized that it was a reference to a Clone Wars episode that I had not watched and there’s much more to the syndicate than I had put into the adventure (and the build out of their criminal contacts). As such, the details that I built out specifically contradict the species and syndicate as they already exist. Since none of the actual Syndicate show up in the module (they’re more of a shadowy employer that works through go-betweens), it hadn’t been a problem. Now that I’m involving the characters more readily in these affairs, I need to retcon a couple of names.
As things go, the characters haven’t gotten terribly far in the module as yet. It opens out with the characters on their way to meet with their employer. (In the original text of the module, they’re working for a Hutt. This is another bit that starts to wear on me. I realize that the Hutt crime families are built out pretty heavily in the expanded universe, but it seems like about half the modules lead back to a Hutt in one way or another. In about six modules, I want to say that they mention four separate Hutt crime lords that the characters are either working for or running from.)
Early on, there’s a conflict between some Gamorreans and the crime lord over finances. It’s supposed to be a subtle thing that the characters pick up on as the action mounts, but the Wookiee noticed it right off and picked a fight with a couple that were waiting around for the action to start. Largely without provocation, he demanded to know if they had ‘paid the looking tax’ for loitering outside the boss’ mansion, beat them senseless and threw them at the boss’ feet. This had the interesting effect of shortcutting the action and removing a third of the adversaries from the upcoming fight. Needless to say, they had things well in hand when the rest of the group showed up.
Well, up to the point that the Wookiee got his arm cut off. Live by the sword, and all that. He took a chunk of Obligation and ended up with a cybernetic replacement (something that he had talked about getting anyway), and they were sent off to deal with a labor dispute at a mining complex. We called the session a little after they arrived, and I’m figuring that the rest of the module will be finished in another session.
So, what observations can I draw from the first sessions?
This is essentially the second campaign I’ve started for Edge. And as I go along, I’m more and more impressed by the ease at which the rules come together for new players. Character creation is ridiculously simple, the dice rolling is both fast and intuitive and most of the players are immediately familiar with the source material. The more I look at it, I think there’s an inherent assumption that most of the opening experience points are going to go into Attribute buys, as it’s the one thing that is actually difficult to do later. As such, it seems like the spread is somewhere around two to three of the six attributes are expected to have raised to three. If a player chooses to keep their attributes close to stock, it’s a bit of a disadvantage over both the short and long term.
For starting characters, there needs to be at least three players to have any balance. All characters need some sort of combat ability, no matter what. From there, it’s assumed that one character will be able to pilot, one will take care of technical matters (including first aid and general knowledge) and one will have the ability to talk. If any of these are not well represented, the adventures will get hung up in fairly short order.
Of my players, two are pretty heavy Star Wars fans. At the same time, they’re the two players that haven’t played this system before. The third player has been in two separate games, having built a number of solid characters, and he’s able to speed up the dice and move the action along for me. It isn’t as though the system requires a lot of heavy explanation as it goes along, but an experienced player helps free me up for other tasks.
…and I pushed this past 3,000 words. If I go any farther, I’m never going to get around to talking about Session #3, wherein the focus of the game starts to come to the fore. I shall pick this up next time.`