Thursday, May 30, 2013

Edge of the Empire: Core Mechanics

You probably won't like the new Star Wars roleplaying game if you:

 * Don't enjoy Star Wars in the first place, or
 * Don't like learning strange, new gaming systems, or
 * Get pissed off at games with skills and talent trees, or
 * Hate big gobs of proprietary dice.

So, yeah, if you have problems with those things - move along - there is nothing here to see.  If you can get over it, come jump down the rabbit hole with me . . .

Star Wars: Edge of the Empire is a role playing game that stresses a narrative style of play and abstract combat resolution.  This is in direct contrast to the last version of the Star Wars RPG created by Wizards of the Coast.  The Star Wars SAGA edition was actually the test bed for the mechanics that led to D&D 4e, and was so tied to minis and a grid that if a GM tried to run an abstract combat, most of the abilities the player characters had would be useless or difficult to leverage.

While you can use minis in EotE - it doesn't really matter.  You can keep everything in your head.

The core mechanics for the game revolve around the 'Narrative Dice System.'  Okay, so what you've got is 14 dice that you'll shell out around 15 bucks for with freaking weird symbols that have a bunch of different names and probably won't be useful in any other system ever.  But they do some pretty cool stuff.

In play, I've noticed that it's a heck of a lot easier to use the dice than to explain them.  They engage the visual part of the brain, methinks, sailing over the analytical chunks in a single bound.  And they not only indicate failure or success, but have a multi-dimensional result set.  Let me explain.  No, there is too much.  Let me sum up.

To determine whether an action is successful - be it firing a blaster or sneaking into Jabba the Hutt's palace, the player or GM rolls a dice pool.  Yeah, it's dice bomb - but quick to resolve.

The two basic types of dice are eight-siders.  The green ones are called Ability dice, and the Purple ones are called Difficulty dice:

Types of Dice
The splat/starbust/explosions on the green dice are called Successes.  The pointy triangle things are called Failures.

Types of Results
You assemble your dice pool and roll.  Let's say I wanted to break down a door.  My Brawn is a 2, so I get 2 green ability dice.  Let's say it's a regular door, so it's an average task - thus I get two purple difficulty dice.  Those four dice - two greens and two purples - make up my dice pool.  Then I roll!

Success at a task requires that I get more successes than failures.  So one success and one failure would cancel each other out, so I would fail.  But two successes and one failure would mean that I smashed that door down big time.

Okay, yeah, that is simple.  But what are the other frikkin symbols?  Well, there are only two more on these dice.  The green dice also have a laurel wreath/phoenix wing/rebel symbol called an Advantage.  The purple dice have a hexagonal/flower/imperial symbol called a Threat.

Types of Results
Advantages and threats cancel each other out in a similar manner to Successes and Failures.  So, if I rolled 3 advantages and 1 Threat, I'd come away with two advantages.

Advantage and threat results in a dice pool roll indicate something else happened other than just a flat out success or failure.  For instance, if I rolled a success while breaking down the door, but also had a threat, then the GM could deem that the door broke so noisily that it woke up the bounty hunter who was sleeping in the room.  With an advantage, the I could say (with the GM's approval, of course,) that door splintered into a ga-zillion fragments, blinding the bounty hunter for a bit.

In combat, the use of Advantages and Threats are more defined, and results in a kind of menu of effects the GM and players can buy for themselves.  For instance, if I roll a certain number of advantages on a bowcaster attack, I could decide that it triggered a special effect on my weapon - which is this case would be to not only injure the bounty hunter, but knock him on his keister via the Knockdown ability.   If I rolled a threat, the GM could grant a free maneuver to the bounty hunter, and have him run away, or close in to melee range with his force pike.

But even if I miss with my bowcaster, I still could get some advantage results.  I could use those advantages to give one of my allies a boost to his attack, saying that the caster bolt went by his head and startled him, setting him up for my Twi'lek friend to get a better chance to blast him with her hold-out pistol.

The players are big fans of the advantage and threat system.  It gives them more control over what is happening on the battlefield, allows them to cause effects that would truly be useful, and lets them be helpful even if they couldn't hit the broad side of a barn.

The next dice are a pair of six-siders.   The blue one is the Boost Die, and the black one is the Setback Die:

Types of Dice
These two dice represent smaller increments of good and bad, and are used to indicate special things.  For example, if I aim with my bowcaster, I get to add a Boost die to my pool.  If it is raining while I'm trying to shoot the bounty hunter down the street, I might add a Setback die to my pool.  If I am aiming while it rains, I would get both a Boost and a Setback Die added to my pool.

Boost and setback are the most common things to be added to a pool.  Really, as a GM, you want to look for opportunities to add setbacks, since they usually indicate interesting environmental effects - but also, many of the characters abilities negate Setback dice, so if you are not using them, they cannot counter them.

The Boost and Setback dice do not have any symbols that the green Success and purple Failure do not have.  However, there are two more symbols on the last pair of dice.

The last pair of dice are the yellow Proficiency and the red Challenge dice, both twelve-siders:

Types of Dice
The Proficiency and Challenge dice are typically used as Upgrade dice.  The green Ability can be upgraded into the yellow Proficiency, while the purple Failure can be upgraded into the red Challenge.  This is primarily used in determining your dice pool for a skill check.  These dice, with their twleve sides, have more chances for Successes, Advantages, Failures, and Threats.

Character have characteristics (Brawn, Presence, Agility, etc.) with values from 1 to 6.  The skills, anything ranging from Astrogation to Skulduggery, are rated from 0 to 5.  To use a skill, you look at your skill level and the characteristic that it is linked to.  Let's say I am plotting a course to Tatooine.  I'd look at Astrogation and Intellect and find the highest value.  My Astrogation is a three and my Intellect is a two.  The biggest number is a three, so I'd get three green ability dice.  The second highest number, that of Intellect, is a two.  so I' upgrade two of those green dice into yellow proficiency.  My pool would then be built of two yellow Challenge dice, plus one green Ability die (and then any other dice needed.)

These two dice have special symbols that are not on other dice.  The yellow Proficiency die has the lightsaber in a circle thingy which is a Triumph, and red Challenge die has the triangle circle thing which is the Despair symbol.

Types of Results
A Triumph counts as one Success, but it also counts for something really, really good.  In combat, that might automatically dispatch a lower level mook that you punched in the gut.  Or it might create a friend for life out of the underworld contact that you were pumping for information about the location of a certain bounty hunter.  Or . . . whatever.  A Triumph usually means something big.

Despairs also mean something big, as well as counting as one failure in the dice pool.  Getting a Despair might mean that your gun runs out of ammo.  Or remember those controls you blasted i hopes of sealing the door blocking the stormtroopers?  Yeah, that panel also had the controls for the bridge extender on it.  Oops.

The last type of die isn't normally used during game play, at least in Edge of the Empire.  It is the Force die:

Perhaps in the Jedi game expansion the Force die will be used more, but in this game, its is only used before play to determine the group's Destiny Pool. Each player rolls a die, and for each result, one or two light or dark points are added to the pool. During game play, the players and GM can access the light and dark points to alter or enhance die results, or 'force' other things to happen. But I'll get into more about that in a future post.

Oh, I forgot - the game also uses percentile dice for rolling results on percentile driven tables.  They are not really used for anything else - except perhaps to quantify the pocket change that the bounty hunter you just killed was carrying.

The biggest problem with the dice now are that they are not available, unless you buy the Beginner boxed game.  Fantasy Flight does have one of those phone app things that lets you assemble pools and roll the dice, but I don't have a phone that will support anything beyond calculating a waiter's tip, so that is not an answer for me.  The current solution is to just buy a box and use the dice in a communal style - like monks or something.  But so far, it's working.  I do wonder what will happen when people start buying their own sets and the dice start getting mixed.  That could lead to fist fights. :)

So that's it for how the new, strange dice drive the game's core mechanics.  I've found this system to be much easier to grasp than expected, even for people new to tabletop rpgs.  It's also pretty fast - once everyone gets a handle on all of the symbol meanings.  And it gives a heck of a lot of power to the PCs, so that they are not just reacting to the GM's ruling on what a dice roll meant, but coming up with things themselves.

I'm not sure what about Edge of the Empire I'll tackle in the next post, but if you have any questions, just let me know.

- Ark


  1. This is quite a cool system with lots of subtle kinks - yet once you've worked out what dice apply, you can roll and interpret and narrate the sequence, rather than rolling on various cascade tables which interrupts play.

    And because it's visual, even quite young players remain engaged. Sort of Ultra-super Fudge Dice ;)

    Thanks for going through it.

    1. No problem, Kobold. It did bring Fudge to mind.

      - Ark

  2. I want to like this but, even with your exemplary explanation, I'm afraid, for me at least, it's no dice (pun intended).

    Aside from not loving the dice mechanic, which seems unnecessarily cumbersome for what it's trying to achieve, I just don't like the companies approach to the game.

    We are expected to get a Beta, a Beginner Game and finally the gamebook. They want use to buy Edge of Empire (a title which irks me grammatically and I'm not even a grammar nazi) three times? And you don't even get the entire filmed universe, you get a small part of it.

    I just don't know. I suppose I will have to play it but so far it fails to do what it needs to do to interest me. Be easy, cooler and/or more fun than good old WEG D6.

    I will reserve my final opinion however until I play it. I didn't like the idea of Marvel Heroic at first either and now I'm kind of into it, flaws and all.

    Great article Ark.

    1. BA - I hear you, I hear you. The company has made some odd decisions, in my mind.

      Pay to Play Beta? Quite odd - but they do that for video games now. It certainly is one way to show executives that there is interest in the game, though.

      Beginner game before the regular game? Well, okay, that makes sense - just no one ever does it. :)

      Beginner game with no way to make new characters? Stupid and irritating, IMHO.

      Universe chopped up into three books? Okay, yeah, waiting 2/3 years and paying double to get a Jedi might piss some people off. Actually, I am fine with a universe that contains only one to three Jedi Knights - and none are the PCs. But that may be just me. The Beta game does have force sensitives, though, so you can get your 'force' on - you just won't be jumping 80 feet into the air - more like convincing people those were not the droids they are looking for.

      It' Edge of THE Empire, not Edge of Empire. I don't know why, but I thought the THE wasn't present initially, either. So grammatically, it works. :)

      I never played the West End game, so I can't compare - but I do like this game much better than the SAGA version.

      So yeah, give it a try and see. You may hate it. Let me know how it compares to the d6 version - I need to try that one one one of these days.

      - Ark

  3. This is a great article, and certainly has at least taken the edge (no pun intended) off my feelings about the game-specific dice. But the beginner box set only has for pre-gen PC's in it (unless I'm mistaken). I've got six players and I'd like to let them make up their own PC's. I'll wait for the book and the inevitable blister of dice.

    1. Yeah, I'm not a big fan of the pre-gen thing. It's more of a convention demo piece than a beginner set. that' why I hunted down the beta afterwards - but yeah - 'normal' people should wait for the real book. :)

      - Ark

  4. The dice rules are not cumbersome in practice. The only person I can imagine would not like this game are people who like their combat closer to a tactical wargame rather than a system that brings the playful chaos of Star Wars to life.

    1. jester actually, I saw someone playing with an online desktop thingy with a grid system - they just used the range bands for the grid - and it worked out pretty well. Still, it was 'abstract gridding,' rather than the WOTC style.

      - Ark

  5. They have two extra PC's online for the beginner game.

  6. Interesting doodle by google for Julius Richard Petri birthday

  7. The entire time I played this game all I could think is "Why are we wasting our time with this when West End made more cool stuff than we could ever use."

    This game is too full of gimmicks meant to impress mmo fans. And the gimmicks really do very little to make the game fun.

    The talent trees are of the sort that most mmos have abandoned already in favor of fun abilities. By this I mean talents which give you a slight boost to a skill or ability you already have as opposed to giving you something new to play with. In a word, it is lazy design to boost old things rather than create new things.

    It is game design that tries to mimic video game design even though all the video games have moved on.

    The dice mechanic also makes it absurdly easy to do most things once you have a few levels under you belt. As you increase skills and talents, most common die checks like say, shooting your blaster, will not increase in difficulty. Some modifiers can make a shot more difficult, but these are usually the exception rather than the norm. he cumulative bonuses that come with leveling make a lot of the skill checks moot.

    And don't get me started on the half-assed space combat fiasco that it uses.

    1. Elite - having not played teh West End version - what makes it play better and feel more like Star Wars?

      - Ark

  8. Hi Ark, The final product has finally arrived and though well-written, I have to say, you did a better job of explaining the dice mechanic. Albeit, in humorous fashion.

    I played both the WEG d6 and Saga Ed's d20 systems. IMHO, WEG did a simple but decent game that we all enjoyed very much and for a long time too. Saga Ed was definitely eye-candy but ultimately was the D&D 3.5 in space we all feared. Which was also the beta-test for D&D 4e and we all know how disappointing that turned out.

    FFG's Star Wars RPG focuses on the narrative rather than Saga Ed's endless number crunching, table scanning and incessant referencing of just about everything.

    My only gripe is the Beta, Beginner's and eventual release of the Edge of the Empire Core Rulebook. That we have to pay thrice to eventually get the entire experience.

    The dice mechanic takes sometime to get used to but it becomes second nature fast. The book's approach to Star Wars RPG is new but not alien, play it some and you'll be having fun in not time at all. Besides, its only as good as the players that use it.


    1. Thanks Miguel. I tried to explain the dice in less words - but I never got around to a word count to see. :)

      I'm very impressed by the final game. They did a really good job. Dragging us die-hards through the Beta and Beginner's Game was worth it, I think. Well, to me, at least. Now they have something to really impress the not-so-die-hards with. :)

      - Ark