Fantasy Flight Games is the latest publisher to create a Star Wars RPG, bringing a custom dice system and a galaxy divided by theme to your gaming table. Start your adventures amidst scum and villainy at the Edge of Empire.
As it goes with galactic empires, so it goes with Star Wars RPGs. Empires rise, become bloated and are usurped by a band of plucky young rebels. Publishers create Star Wars RPGs, release a stack of sourcebooks, then lose the pricey LucasFilm license until another publisher comes along. LucasFilm licenses are considered some of the trickiest for third party companies to deal with. In this case, you’ll note that PDF versions of this new Star Wars RPG are not legally available. It is widely rumored that LucasFilm considers such products “electronic games,” which the RPG license doesn’t cover. Feel free to join me in a hearty LOL.
Fantasy Flight is releasing their Star Wars RPG in stages, starting with the galactic fringe and working their way gradually toward the Rebel Alliance versus Galactic Empire conflict at the heart of the Star Wars story. Instead of trying to cover various chunks of Star Wars’ long and not always beloved history, this game is focused on “classic” Star Wars. It’s set just after the destruction of the first Death Star, when the Rebels have made their presence and intent known to everyone in the galaxy, but with the Empire still maintaining control with an iron grip.
Edge of Empire introduces us to this new game by starting out where Imperial control is distant and tales of Rebel triumph more distant still. The immediate antagonists out here, far away from the bright center of the galaxy, are crime lords and assassins, Hutts and Fetts, rival smugglers and old war buddies to whom you owe more credits than any honest man can earn. It turns out there are quite a few hives of scum and villainy out there.
As a result, some of the things you might expect to find in a Star Wars RPG are missing, set to be released in future books. You can’t play a Jedi, only a “Force sensitive” character with access to minor mind tricks. You won’t find Imperial Star Destroyer stats or detailed info on specific characters (no Luke or Yoda or Darth Vader). There’s been some vocal disappointment over these omissions, but it has the advantage of letting players create their own Star Wars stories, with the Rebel/Empire war a distant backdrop.
The system itself, designed by Jay Little (Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 3rd Edition, Cosmic Encounter: Cosmic Storm), is a pretty crunchy, old-school RPG. The custom dice add a colorful twist and hide the math, but you’re going to spend a lot of time looking things up on tables. A lot of the mechanics will look familiar to players of D20 systems – skills are almost exactly the same (with setting specific additions like Astrogation and Knowledge: Outer Rim), and the game’s talent trees are rebranded feats. However, there’s no level-up ladder to climb. Experience points are spent to purchase various upgrades to a character. You can advance through a talent tree, train in a skill, or even pump up one of the character’s basic attributes, like Brawn or Intellect.
There are character classes, called careers. Smuggler, Technician, and Explorer are some of the options. Each career has three different talent trees to choose from, and within each tree there are numerous choices you can make to customize a character. It’s also possible to purchase access to other talent trees, even those outside your career. So you can start out as a Smuggler working through the pilot talent tree, then buy your way into a Technician career so you can repair your own ship. You can buy your way into Force sensitivity the same way. These character customization options are the game’s biggest strength. There are hundreds of different ways to build a character.
The custom dice offer different outcomes to each roll aside from a simple binary succeed/fail result. Rolls can turn up advantage or threat symbols that represent positive or negative add-ons to basic conflict resolution. These occur independently of whether you succeed or fail. So for example, you might be trying to slice a control panel to open a door in a prison complex. If you roll some advantage symbols, you might learn the access codes to the doors on the prison’s next level. Threat symbols might instead cause you to trigger a sensor letting the security officer on duty know exactly where you are. So even if you open the door successfully, a bunch of Gamorreans are about to come running. And if you failed and rolled threat, your situation is about to get real bad in a hurry. “Boring conversation anyway.”
One of the clever things about Edge of Empire is how certain rules are entwined with the setting. No one will ever mistake this for a rules-light story game, but there are some hooks to hang plot and character development on. All characters, for instance, start with Obligation. This can be an addiction, a debt, a strange obsession, or a responsibility you can’t avoid, among other possibilities. Your entire group will have a combined obligation, and during each adventure you might be called on to deal with it. As obligation grows, it becomes harder to avoid, so eventually that bounty on your head or spice addiction you can’t shake is going to need to be dealt with.
The equipment list isn’t just a menu of guns and thermal detonators. Each is given a rarity, and high rarity items might only be available on a given planet’s black market. Of course, availability may vary from planet to planet, offering lots of opportunities for travel and shady deals. Another nice touch: all groups begin with their choice of three starships, including the YT-1300 light freighter, the model the Millennium Falcon is based on. This prevents you being stuck planetside until you can save up for a ship – you can ride the hyperlanes right from the start of your campaign.
The GM’s section offers a nice overview of the Star Wars galaxy – it’s not as narrowly focused on the Outer Rim as you might expect, with info on most major and familiar planets. There’s nothing here you can’t find on Wookiepedia, but it is tailored to the classic era, which is helpful. There’s a decent bestiary full of weird droids, various Imperial troopers, smugglers, Hutt bosses and other nefarious foes. GMs can dive right into running Edge of Empire, since it includes a 20-page adventure called simply, “Trouble Brewing.” You might even get to make the Kessel Run.
There are already a few options available if you want to expand your Edge of Empire experience. There's an official dice app (and a few free unofficial ones). Suns of Fortune is a setting book focused on the Corellian Sector, while Enter the Unkown is your typical RPG splatbook filled with options for the Explorer career. Both are slated for release in the next few months.
I’m not sure the world needs a new Star Wars RPG every six years, but that’s the way the tabletop industry works sometimes. I’m intrigued to see how the basic system here is adapted to other parts of the Star Wars story, particularly powerful Jedi and Sith masters. Age of Rebellion is set for a 2014 release, with Force and Destiny tentatively slated for 2015. And if you just want to form a group of smugglers out to get the job done and avoid any Imperial entanglements, Edge of Empire provides the perfect place to start.