Last weekend I (successfully?) ran the Edge of the Empire beginner adventure, and so got a taste of the Fantasy Flight Star Wars RPG. Here’s my thoughts on the system, and Beginner Box.
Dice with no numbers
…are a brilliant idea! As I described in my previous post, the dice allow each skill check to pass or succeed, with either advantage or threat in each case. This meant that there were almost no cases where nothing happens when a player attempted something. It took us a while to get the hang of it, but by the end the guys were describing (for example) how their missed blaster shot brought down a washing line on top of the stormtroopers, temporarily blinding them.
The only problem is trying to come up with an explanation every time someone does something. For example at one stage they tried to hack the panel next to a locked door to get it open. They failed, but with 2 advantage. Which means…erm…?
Overall though it’s a great idea, and one I really enjoyed playing.
A system of skills and talents
In the Star Wars RPG (SWRPG) everything is a skill check, which keeps the game quite simple, and gives each player an immediate grasp of what they’re good at and what they’re not. However, there’s also a metric shit-ton of skills, which makes keeping track of them pretty tough at the beginning. I’m also not sure how to apply a lot of them (which is probably more of a problem with my GMing); for example there’s perception, streetwise and vigilance, but when trying to deceive someone (i.e. using your deception skill) you are contested by their discipline. Why? And couldn’t some of those skills have been collected together?
In addition to skills, each character can also use XP to purchase ‘talents’, which are essentially special abilities that show how the character improves in their ‘career’. Obviously we didn’t get very far down the talent trees as it was only a starter session, but I’ve had a look at the core rulebook, and they look…ok? Some careers are really interesting and add new powers that a character can apply – I really liked the mechanic’s ‘contraption’ ability that lets them make a doodad to fix whatever problem they’re faced with. The problem is that a lot of the early talents, especially for some careers (I’m looking at you doctor) are really dull. “Gain +1 strain” or “when making a medicine check, you heal 1 additional wound”. Gaining XP and abilities should be exciting, not just ‘add one to some number’.
It’s Star Wars, therefore a reasonably large part of the game is spaceships, and spaceship combat. Being able to buy and customise a spaceship is flipping awesome, and allows a group to dot around having adventures all over the place.
Combat wise, the rules make a pretty good stab of creating a set of mechanics to make spaceship fights interesting and tense. However it did seem to suffer from the fact that the pilot does most things, the gunner(s) do one thing, and everyone else sits tight and catches up on facebook. Obviously, this is exactly what would happen in ‘reality’, but it’s just a shame to let it happen in a game. The mechanics also seem to take a big upward swing in complexity, so you need to compare speed, size, handling, shields and a whole load of other things. It’s not a bad thing, just an interesting departure when the rest of the game is so rules-light.
Some (Space) Oddities
There were some other new(?) ideas in the game, some of which I liked, and some that confused me a bit. Again, this might be due to not having the full rules.
The group has a pool of light and dark tokens, and you can flip one (light for players, dark for GM) to add something to a scene. For example one of the players used one to describe his friend who works in the town, who was able to help them out of a tight spot. This is a brilliant way of giving the players some power over the story, and I’m going to steal it for all future games.
Some groups of enemies can act as a group, becoming more powerful while simplifying combat. For example a group of 3 stormtroopers acts as one ‘creature’, but has better skills than one trooper alone. As the troopers are killed off, the group becomes weaker, effectively losing skill points. It’s a neat idea, but I sometimes came across problems; for example what happens when one trooper is immobilised, or stunned? And I’m not sure that increasing their skills if enough of a benefit to overcome only acting once per turn (while they’re getting shot 3-4 times in return).
The distance between characters is dealt with quite loosely in the SWRPG. You don’t measure distance, but just refer to things as being ‘short’ or ‘medium’ range. As with a lot of the other mechanics, it serves to simplify things and keep encounters flowing. I think it still only works with miniatures or tokens however, to keep track of everyone’s ranges from everyone else.
Value for Money?
I don’t want to head off on a rant like last time, but I was a little disappointed by the contents of the Begginner Box. You get just enough dice to get by, a few very nice maps and tokens, some pre-made characters, and a very short adventure. It’s a nice product, but not worth the £30-40 RRP. There’s a few bits of additional content on their website, but I would’ve been happier if they’d just that stuff in the box in the first place.
I really like the SWRPG, and will definitely be playing again. I’ve the continuation of the beginner adventure ‘The Long Arm of the Hutt‘ to get one with, and enough content from the box to make up some other stuff if I feel like it. Will I be spending £40 (one third of) on the core rulebook? …maybe, certainly not for a while.
If you see one of the beginner boxes for cheap somewhere I’d recommend a go, it’s a lot of fun.