Like the title says, I finally got the chance to run a bonafide session of Fantasy Flight Games' Star Wars: Edge of the Empire Beta (whew, that's a mouthful) last night. So now I've had the chance to be both a player and a GM for this game.
And I must say, in spite of my initial skepticism, I'm quite liking this game. That's not to say it's the perfect Star Wars RPG experience, but it's not an abysmal train wreck of a failure either.
I had chosen to convert a pre-existing adventure, Rendezvous on Ord Mantell (first printed in Star Wars Gamer #1 back in the early days of WotC's OCR version of Star Wars). Aside from the bad guy stat blocks (I'll get to that later), converting the adventure proved to be a breeze, needing just a few tweaks here and there to account for the very different game mechanics.
I won't spoil the details of the adventure, but if you're curious, stay tuned to the GSA website for further news down the line ;)
I had thought about creating a bunch of pre-gens for this group, which consisted of most of the folks I routinely game with on Saturday nights, but opted to let them build their own characters. I must say, even though they were largely unfamiliar with the system, it only took an hour for all five people to build their characters, and everyone seemed pretty happy with what they had. One house rule I did implement was doubling the starting credit allowance, which gave everyone a chance to buy gear suited for their character concepts without being forced to take increased Obligation. A couple heroes did take some extra starting cash, and the rest wanted a few extra XP in their starting budget (though one of those ended up changing his mind and not taking extra Obligation since he didn't really have a good use for the token XP bonus).
So after that hour, this is what we had for a party:
- Raith Bardo, Captain of the Rusty Sparrow (Human Smuggler/Pilot)
- Gen Capo, Co-Pilot and First Mate of the Rusty Sparrow (Rodian Explorer/Fringer)
- Seku'dira, Teenage Tech Savant (Twi'lek Technician/Mechanic)
- Dewryyhn aka Dewie, Grouchy Ex-Gladiator (Wookiee Hired Gun/Marauder)
- Trista Keyis, Laconic & Sarcastic "Field Operative" (Human Bounty Hunter/Gadgeteer)
A pretty eclectic mix of characters, who again may be showing up at a later date
As to the adventure itself, I'd figured it'd take three, maybe four hours at most for the PCs to get through it all, with about half of that time being devoted to combat to allow for them to learn the rules and get used to the dice pool mechanic that EotE uses.
Let me just say that the dice roller app that FFG is offering, either thru iTunes or as an Android app, is totally worth the five bucks. I'd put the app on both my iPhone (so I could roll my dice) and on my iPad (so the players could use it), and having said app available to the PCs speed things up quite a bit. In fact, after the first combat encounter, one of the players went to iTunes through their own iPhone and bought the app to download right then and there, so I imagine the next time I run a game in this system, most everyone will have the dice roller :)
There's also the fact that most of the fights in the adventure were against minions, who tended to go down pretty quick seeing as how everyone except Seku'dira were dealing a minimum of 9 damage per attack, and none of the minions could absorb more than 8 damage before dropping. I think the first Henchman they encountered was quite a surprise when he didn't just drop after getting shot by Trista.
I will say that one thing that makes combat go a lot faster in this game than Saga Edition is that the heroes are lot more fragile, in that one good hit with a blaster rifle will drop all but the toughest of PCs (such as Dewie). That doesn't mean they're at risk of dying, merely being knocked unconscious with some lingering effects of the battle after the fact.
The dice pool system is really a case of "you need to play it to fully understand it," as on paper it looks much to cumbersome, though admittedly if you're converting regular dice rolls to the symbols that EotE uses, it's going to be a slow process regardless. After the first few rolls of the initial combat, the players had the hang of it, making frequent use of their Advantages to either hinder their enemies and/or boost their allies' efforts, which in turn lead to combat being less about "who deals the most damage" but more of a group effort, something that's been kind of lacking in the other Star Wars RPGs, as d20 generally required a character to give up their chance to do stuff in order to help an ally, and though it's been a while, pretty sure the D6 system was much the same. With EotE and the use of Advantages and Threats, you can still attack, but you're going to do more than just deal some damage to the target.
Ultimately, it took about two hours total to run through Rendezvous on Ord Mantell, with the heroes ultimately successful and not being quite as broke as they had been at the start of the adventure.
As for the amount of prep-work needed by the GM... really, it's not that much, and calls back to D6 Star Wars in that for most NPCs, you just need a couple of lines noting the NPC's characteristics (probably a 2 in most cases), what skills they have ranks in (if any), with combat-based NPCs needing a Soak Value, Wound Threshold, and combat-related gear. And that's about it. Raith's player caught me by surprise by wanting to chat up the female bartender, whom I had no stats for, so I simply gave her a Cunning and Presence of 3, a rank each in Cool, Charm, and Negotiate, and went from there. And it worked wonderfully.
For the major NPCs of the adventure, I didn't so much as convert them to EotE as totally rebuild them using EotE's mechanics. And they all came out pretty close to function if not exactly form compared to their d20 versions. Unlike the d20 versions, building an NPC in EotE really is more of an art-form, as there's currently no official guidelines on how to do so other than comparing what you've come up with to what's published in the book. For people that are used to RPGs that largely require you to follow a fairly strict formula, this can be quite a shock and not something they're entirely comfortable with. Hopefully, either in a weekly update or in the finished product, FFG will offer some NPC creation guidelines, but until then, you'll just have to wing it.
The only thing missing was having someone play a Force-Sensitive character, but given the steep costs involved (particularly after the Week 1 updated), I can't exactly fault anyone for that, as the couple players that were initially interested in playing Force-users lost interest when it became clear that they'd be pretty darn weak, at least compared to beginning Force-users in the d20 versions of Star Wars; I think only one person in this particular group has ever played the D6 version of Star Wars, something I might have to remedy at a later date. But having played a Force-Sensitive character myself, I can understand where they're coming from; I'm a D6 veteran myself, so playing a wannabe Jedi that can barely accomplish the more routine tasks in the Force isn't something new to me, and EotE is firmly of the mindset that if you want to be an awesome Force-user, you're going to have to work for it. And even then, there's a limit on how powerful you can get as a Force-user, at least at this early stage. You're not Obi-Wan Kenobi in TPM or Ahsoka Tano in the early Clone Wars, but rather you're Luke Skywalker long before he gets trained by Yoda. Heck, you can't even begin play with a lightsaber, which given how freakin' awesome those weapons are in EotE is probably a good thing.
So the early prognosis of Edge of the Empire is pretty good, seeing as how this was the same group that was largely burnt out on Star Wars gaming (or at least the d20 versions). Everyone had fun, and there wasn't a huge focus on tactical positioning (which also helped speed up combat), even though I did make use of some maps and minis to give folks a relative idea of where everyone was.
If the opportunity presents itself, I'll definitely be running this system again.