Star Wars: Edge of Disbelief

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So one of the role playing games my group decided to try out recently was the boxed set for “Star Wars: Edge of the Empire“.  Edge of the Empire is a new series of role playing books being developed by Fantasy Flight Games.  If you’re unfamiliar with that company, then you’ve never played any of their board games (too various to list) or their card games or their miniatures games…you get the picture.  Yeah, they’re HUGE.  They even feature “print on demand” for their customers–something that I’ve heard some in the gaming community speculate as being the future of tabletop role playing.  That last part is a little scary when I think about it (I’m looking at you, hobby/comic shops) but that’s for another post entirely.

Fantasy Flight Games makes some really great stuff.  The production value in everything they do is outstanding and I have thoroughly enjoyed many of their board games (Talisman, Lord of the Rings, Mansions of Madness, Arkham Horror, Battlestar Gallactica, Descent…).  That being said, I did not enjoy Edge of the Empire.

I should preface the rest of this review with the fact that I HATE modules.  I used to roll my eyes and grind my teeth anytime my gaming group would go, “Hey, let’s run through this module I picked up–its got giants!”  Thankfully, I haven’t experienced that too much these days.  In the heyday of 2nd and 3rd edition Dungeons and Dragons, however, there was a lot of that crap going around (and maybe it still is).  Unfortunately, this boxed set was just that; an adventure module.  No complete core rules, no players guide or rules for creating your own characters.  Nope, this is a pre-made adventure with pre-made characters that you will play.  Granted, the books that came with boxed set listed rules for advancing (only so much) your pre-made characters and essentially continuing on your adventures at the “edge of the Empire”, so to speak.  Still, there wasn’t much about this adventure-in-a-box that I liked.

The box came with a bunch of custom dice made specifically for the game’s mechanics.  There were also double sided tokens for the pc’s and npcs, slightly larger vehicle tokens for a Corellian freighter and tie fighters, a fold out full color map with four or so mini-maps on the back, player character folios for the pre-mades, a (very limited) rulebook and the adventure game book.  This whole thing will run you $20-25.  I don’t have to address how pretty the game was production-wise so I’ll just jump right into talking about the system itself.

This version of Star Wars runs on a “narrative” (or story game) mechanics system that will seem very familiar to anyone who has played Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay (not surprisingly, also made by Fantasy Flight Games).  Despite not having played WFR before myself, we all coincidentally made characters for a future WFR game just prior to going headlong into Star Wars.  As one of the players assured me during play, “This is a much simpler version of what you’ll be seeing in Warhammer.”

So what is a narrative/story game?  Well, according to Boardgamegeek.com:  Story Games…”Are RPGs which focus more on the overall story than character building or rules enforcing. Most RPGs can be made to be more story driven given the predisposition of the GM/Players, but clearly some RPGs are more tailored to this style of play.”

Ok, I really like the sound of narrative/story games…but this didn’t feel like a narrative game.  For one, it was fairly structured and straight forward; all characters have the same 6 or so stats, a damage “soak” stat, skills and edges (for lack of being able to remember the actual terminology) damage scores for weapons, and so on.  Alright, I’m fine with that.  I’ve played and ran really straightforward games in the past and have enjoyed the majority of them.  According to the GM (who confided with me after the game) our group did not ‘run’ with any of the narrative elements the game had to offer.

Another thing this game suffers from the same predicament as West End Games’ (D6) Star Wars game and other games like Marvel Heroic Roleplaying; lots of fucking dice rolling.

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With this game, the only recognizable difference is that the dice don’t have numbers on them, but symbols instead.  There are symbols that indicate the player made a good success, a great success, no successes but provided an advantage (?) a failure, a grand failure or that there’s some kind of negative aspect involved (despite success of lack of it).  So if you had a good success symbol, those could be cancelled out by its equal opposite on “challenge” dice that you roll along with your character’s skills or ability dice.  Yes, that means that the GM only suggests a difficulty by handing the player 1-3 challenge die (plus any setback dice-which are also basically bad) and asking them to roll them as well as their ability dice to see ‘what happens.’  Advantages don’t mean a hell of a lot unless you get two of them on a die roll.  Typically, whether your action succeeded or not, it can possibly aid another player with a boost die (opposite of the setback dice), change something in the narrative (your shot missed but it hit a pipe and now the bad guys can’t see you too well) or accomplish some sort of secondary goal.

If that sounded at all confusing, that’s because it is.  If it didn’t sound confusing to you, it may be that you can take in and understand everything this game wants you to intake.  Or you just haven’t experienced it for yourself.  Throughout the course of the extremely narrow progression of the adventure, many of the players around the table (including myself) exchanged confusing glances and shrugs.

“So after cancelling out successes and failures, I succeeded in installing the piece of equipment but something ‘negative’ happened?”

“Yeah.”

“So what was it?”

<Silence>

“We’ll see.”

“Ok…”

Or you would get the following exchange:

“Ok, I have totally missed the storm troopers in the marketplace with my blaster but I got buttload of advantages on my die rolls.  What happens?”

“I don’t know, you tell me what happens.”

“What?  You’re the GM, you tell me what happens.  No really, I have no idea how that would help us.”

<shrug>

<shrug>

The one thing I can say about the die mechanics is that once you learn what all the symbols mean, the flow of the game is improved.  Despite that, however, I found myself confused at a lot of the results.  Also, I roll terribly.  So more than half the time my character SUCKED even when I was actively using skills and abilities he excelled at (I played Pash, the smuggler).  Also, the Force die was pretty interesting.

The Force die is a D12 with black and white dots on most sides.  At some point in the session, the GM makes all the players roll it.  According to what comes up, the GM provides a series of 5-8 bennies that act as a pool of tokens that both the GM and players can flip back and forth between good die and bad die.  Basically, if the GM flips over a bad die token, he can change a difficulty die (bad) to a challenge die (really bad).  Alternately, the players can flip a good die token to change an ability die to a specialty die.  And so none of the bennies are removed from the game but help to propel this constant back and forth tug of war between the GM and the players.  Although being an interesting mechanic, I really missed the Force Points that I have come to understand and use in various other Star Wars games.  I kept failing (or succeeding with ‘bad stuff’) constantly, going: “Where are my Force Points?!”  All in all, I didn’t really feel like I was playing Star Wars, which is a pretty good indication to me that the game (or the group) is not suitable for what we as players intended.

I am a total sucker for boxed sets.  Anytime a box came with rulebooks and a set of dice…?  Yeah, go ahead and take my money.  I will even admit to wanting to buy this boxed set when I first saw it in my comic/hobby store a few months back.  Hell, I even almost bought the Pathfinder Beginner’s Box and I don’t even play D&D anymore.  I don’t recommend getting this boxed set.  It seems like something a store would buy to have as a demo to get people interested in the actual game (which isn’t out yet in full as of this post).  Star Wars: Edge of the Empire may be a great game.  Who knows, that session might have been great if it was divorced from the adventure that screamed ‘no matter what you do, here’s what happens next.’  Even with that, I will be very wary of this Star Wars in the future and I may be dreading having to play Warhammer Fantasy.

Buckets of Dice: AKA “Marvel Heroic Roleplaying”

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So recently I was going through that phase that (almost) every roleplaying geek goes through where they think; “Oh hey, I should totally make a roleplaying game….from scratch!”  Like most other gamers that get this weird itch, I had no idea what I was doing.  But I knew that I wanted to make a superhero roleplaying game that simulated the concept of playing a superhero inside of a comic book.  Long story short, I was getting nowhere pretty fast.  This was even after I had looked to various supers games that I knew and even a few that I didn’t.  I wanted to take little bits that worked from all of them and incorporate them into a simple, fast action, story flowing roleplaying system.  While I was doing this, of course, I took a look (again) at the latest Marvel rpg called “Marvel Heroic Roleplaying” by Margaret Weis Productions.  Somehow, my interest was derailed from creating something from scratch to tweaking the hell out of this system to that it wasn’t so damn complicated to follow on paper or to play at the table.

Now, I should probably point out that I have never played or ran this game with any group.  I’ve never even seen the game being played.  However, even after reading COUNTLESS reviews, forum posts and responses from one of the designers on the system, I have discovered that attempting to simplify this game may actually be a fool’s errand.

For anyone who’s not familiar with the game, MHR was advertised as a simple to play, unique system by which players can control their favorite Marvel characters and play out a gaming session that will end up feeling very much like playing through their favorite comics.  Sounds great.  Except that if you read what I read this past week on all these online forums for the game, you would probably be more confused and aggravated about the whole thing before you ever sat down to roll your first bucket ‘o dice.  Yes, this is a dice pool game.  A dice pool game that, apparently, has players rolling anywhere from 3 (minimum) dice to 12+ dice.  Keep in mind that the main mechanic in this game is:

“Choose which abilities/distinctions/specialty dice your character is using to do something and roll those dice.  From the results, keep two and add them together–that’s your effort/attack target number.  Then, you choose one of the dice you didn’t add up as the ‘effect/damage’ die for that action.  The GM rolls difficulty against your effort or a character being attacked rolls THEIR dice pool (using the same mechanics/methods) and compares their numbers and effect dice to yours.”

Sounds simple?  According to those who have actually played it, its a lot easier to play than it seems in the instruction manual.  Apparently, the manual for the game isn’t very easy to follow.  Whether its a layout or writing issue is anyone’s guess or opinion, I suppose.  But I have to admit, trying to grasp the immense amount of terminology the game uses made my brain explode and want to do something else.  Just to give you an idea, the GM “cheat sheet” that was put out by Weis Productions is three pages long!  Looking at it, it was like someone was trying to say, “Marvel Heroic Roleplaying is as easy to understand as…” a Honda engine.

Behold: The Watcher Cheat Sheet

In writing this post, I actually found a much easier to follow explanation of the rules here.  Go ahead and take a gander at that one if you’ve never read the main book–its a really good indication on how overcomplicated this game is on paper.  For starters, there’s like six different things you can do with Plot Points/Doom Dice.  Then there’s the terminology:  Assets, Complications, Stunts, Push Dice, this list goes on.  Its an overly complicated game for what’s supposed to be a fast, easy to understand game where you play superheroes.  Its overly complicated in that there are so many little facets to the game that the mechanics seem to get in the way of creating a simple scene of actions.

There’s a fairly infamous example of play on the internet forums and blogs for this game that has Spider-Man using his super strength to rip up a piece of machinery on top of a building and hurling it at the Vulture (who’s trying to get away) in order to “Shutdown” his flying ability or his “Asset: Far Away” (whatever that means).  In the example, the author explains how that scene would play out via the rules of the MHR game system.  The fucking thing takes up almost three pages of text!  In any other supers system (yes, even M&M) this simple action scene would have taken infinitely less time.  Well, go ahead and read the example yourself.

Like I said, buckets of dice.  Buckets of dice for a scene that should have been resolved a little longer than it takes to read the illustrated version.

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