This is an unusual review for me to be writing. Before I got involved with ROTDOG and writing about “the hobby” rather than just indulging in expensive models once in a while, the term “beta” only made me think of video games.
A beta test is a pre release test that is open about there being some flaws in the product. Its whole purpose is to have those flaws spotted and talked about, before a finished and working version is released as a final product.
Betas are everywhere in video games, I’m currently a semi regular player on DayZ; Minecraft reached global success in varying forms of beta release. Bulletstorm of the Xbox 360 only sold as much as it did for early access to the Gears of War 3 multiplayer beta test. I could go on…
When Andy dropped a copy of Star Wars: Edge of the Empire into my lap, it was the first time I had ever seen an RPG book labelled as a beta version. Playing and running an RPG requires a lot of attention to detail. When you are confronted with the fact that parts of this may not work at all it does make you wonder how you are going to be able to form a proper opinion.
However, beta or not, this book is potentially a pretty big deal.
There are more RPGS on the market now than you can shake a stick at. The big daddy of them all, Dungeons and Dragons steam rolls on relentlessly in its various formats. Meanwhile literally dozens of other tastes are catered for, from Warhammer 40k, to Call of Cthulu right the way down to free downloads of systems like Judge Dredd and even Fallout.
Its not just the odd spelling mistake and contradictory rule that awaits in this Beta. Even the printing has mistakes in it. This printing error is actually several pages fused together in the top corner. Going to be fun seperating them without causing permanent damage!
Whilst there have been other systems concerned with Star Wars, this beta represents the spear tip of a serious assault by FFG. That immediately gives it some weight in the market. FFG have a tremendous pedigree when it comes to RPGS. Dark Heresy and its various supplements are nothing short of a masterpiece and Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay is a big, involving and incredibly enjoyable format.
Perhaps most importantly, aside from how well FFG make their RPGS work, the one over riding qualification they have is that FFG can take licensed material and make it work. Not only that, they can take licensed material and in some cases improve it. Pick up a Dark Heresy source book. Literally any one of them, and then read it in conjunction with a Warhammer 40000 codex and ask yourself who you think handles the IP better.
For Star Wars fans this is a blessing. Like everyone, I loved the films until the fateful day Ep.IV was released in cinemas. The resulting 3 film abuse of a brilliant franchise left me as disenchanted as the next person. I haven’t indulged in any of the extended universe material. I’ve never read a Star Wars novel, don’t really care for the trading card games and whilst I have played some video games in the setting, I wouldn’t say I have ever fully embraced all the Star Wars has to offer.
Did for Star Wars what the Gulf of Mexico did for BP…
Whether this RPG can present a Star Wars experience that I can engage with is going to be a big box to tick.
But what else am I looking for as I flick through this pre release version?
I want to see interesting mechanics. I want to see interesting and diverse character classes and races. I want to see something to role-play and make your own.
I do not want this to turn into a race to gain enough experience to use a light sabre. I certainly do not want this to have an endgame that involves, as a certainty, interaction with any of the established characters from the films.
The fact that certain people re appear throughout the films is bad enough. The fact that Chewbacca knows Yoda, that C3PO and R2D2 were built by Vader, and other sundry reappearances by people over the course of 6 movies makes this “extended universe” seem about as populous as Albert Square. I want to see people given the opportunity to build their own stories and endings, not be shoe horned into being a supporting character for Luke Skywalker.
Classic, but lets hope neither of these guys show up as NPCs.
Given the fever that Star Wars encourages in people this RPG deserves a bit more attention than a normal one shot review. In fact, it’s probably becoming apparent that this first part isn’t going to really review anything about the product. But, as I have said, Star Wars is a big deal for a lot of people, especially in the hobby market where passion for the product is very much alive and well. Witness Allen’s review of X-Wing, for example. X-Wing has been literally flying off the shelves from the moment it docked in the ROTDOG Death Star.
So, going forward, I will be dealing with this beta in a unique fashion.
The next instalment of the review will go into the meat and potatoes of what you get in the book. The classes; the races; the skills and the setting. You’ll get my gut reaction to what I have read and whether I think this RPG has the right to sit shoulder to shoulder with its stable mates at FFG. I’m not so enamoured with Star Wars that I will overlook shoddy gaming because it’s a setting I love. Part 2 of this review will give it to you straight.
Then, regardless of what my take is after part two, you will get to see how this game runs when I hand pick a selection of role players from around the ROTDOG community to put this game through its paces. I will invite some of them to give their thoughts on how they felt it run before I round things up for the final verdict.
I won’t leave it there though. For those of you who have made it this far and want to know as much as you can about this new and hard to come by product, here is what I know so far.
The skill system and “core mechanic” seems to riff heavily off the system used in Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay. When checking to see if you can accomplish something you generate a pool of dice. Positive effects come from dice generated by your skill and aptitude, negative effects from any difficulties that are present. At the end, a surplus of any successes equates to being successful.
It is a method that appears complicated at first, but is actually really intuitive. It also presents great role-playing opportunities, because you don’t know just whether you have done something or not. You know by how much and how well.
You might hit someone for one damage, but when looking at the three “boons” you rolled, that one damage suddenly becomes a little flick to the eyes rather than just an abstract one damage off their total hp. Similarly, the 10 point critical to the head that also had several “banes” in the final dice pool might suggest you really did smack that guy hard, but left yourself dangerously over balanced afterwards. For people who take the narrative roleplaye seriously, this dice system is very beneficial.
The most significant nugget of information I have come across so far though is that this beta represents the first of three very distinct systems set in the Star Wars universe. The title, Edge of the Empire, is a pretty big clue as it turns out.
This release will deal with the eponymous frontier of empire space. In the opening description, the book details all manner of rogues and villains scratching a living “out here”. Explorers and colonists, bounty hunters and smugglers are going to the bread and butter of this book.
The second release, Age of Rebellion, will deal with soldiers and pilots and concern itself more with the idea of the Rebel Alliance taking on the Empire. If there is going to be rules for space combat I imagine you will find them here.
Finally, Force and Destiny will have the players “becoming figures of legend”. Lightsabre duels and force lightning aplenty I imagine.
I’m not sure how to take this information if I’m perfectly honest. On one hand it does seem like FFG are going to deal with a big universe if they need 3 books to do it. But, how will they work together? The three strands are described as stand alone, but being fully integrative. This is a bold move. We’ll have to see how this one pans out.
That’s it for now. Keep your eyes peeled for part 2 which will be along shortly.
Let me know your immediate thoughts in the comments below. It would be good to be able to answer specific questions from people too, so if you have read this and have some things you want know then tell me and I will do my best to address this in part 2. I will be reading this entire book cover to cover over the coming days, so get them in early if you want me to pick up on your questions!
In the mean time, keep an eye on the stock levels for X-Wing, especially if getting a Star War s fix is your thing!
(Oh and before anyone asks, yes, there are Wookies in this book!)