Star Wars: Edge of the Empire – The Game Has Changed

It’s been just over a month now since Fantasy Flight Games announced their plans for the Star Wars RPG license at their In-Flight seminar this past GenCon, which included the rather bold decision to have a fairly open playtesting for their first offering in the line-up, Edge of the Empire.  It’s also gotten a fair share of talk around the GSA office as well (or what passes for an office), including a couple reviews, a recorded live-play session, and several ready-made characters in our ongoing Heroes on Demand column.

So in the weeks that have passed, you might be wondering to yourself, “What sort of changes has the feedback provided to FFG inspired?”  There’s been plenty of chatter on their official forums, on the d20 Radio Forums, and several other forums besides, to say nothing of suggestions e-mailed directly to FFG.  And as to what sort of changes, that can be summed up in a single word… major.

There were some initial concerns that due to the nature of coordinating a licensed product FFG wouldn’t be able to stick to the weekly update schedule they had with their previous beta testing effort, Only War for the Warhammer 40K RPG license.  Well, that concern has proven to not be a concern at all, as FFG has released one update a week starting September 4th and continuing on to the most recent update posted just a few days ago on the 25th.

And, as I said above, the changes that have been made have been pretty major, enough so that a decent amount of what’s in the Beta book no longer matches the current standing of things.  As is often the case when changes are made in any RPG product, there’s a wealth of opinion on if those changes were good, the changes were bad, or if the changes were even needed in the first place.  I have my own opinions, but I’ll do my very best to leave those at the door and just stick to the facts.

For the Week 1 updated, the changes mostly focused on character creation, with a few minor changes made to other chapters, mostly consisting of clarifications, such as the addition of a “New Sidebar” on page 18 that clarifies how upgrading and downgrading the Ability dice or Difficulty dice in your dice pool works, making it clear that instead of adding more ability or difficulty dice, you instead change them to or from Proficiency dice and Challenge dice respectively, only adding extra dice if you’ve run out of dice to upgrade/downgrade.  Combat got a significant revision in that it was made clear that attacks made using the various combat skills are made at a flat difficulty rather than being an opposed check as the skills’ original descriptions indicated.  Some folks really liked having melee attacks being an opposed check, but quite a few were happy to have them be a flat difficulty.

The big changes in the Week 1 update were to Character Creation, with most species either getting an additional special ability, or having their special ability completely revamped, as was the case with Humans, turning it from a “ho-hum” bonus of an extra career specialization for free to a “pretty sweet” free rank in two non-career skills.  Gand also got a change in that the option to play lungless Gand was present, which gave you extra starting XP at the cost of making your Gand reliant upon a respirator to survive in most environments.  They also clarified that characters start with 500 credits, but also added that you get a small amount of “pocket change” so you didn’t go totally broke buying a light blaster, some heavy clothing, and a comlink.  Also, the costs to buy into new specializations were doubled, making it a bit more prohibitive to just jump into a combat-focused specialization to get a cheaper rate on buying up those combat skills that weren’t covered in your starting career or specialization.

Week 2 was where we started seeing some really drastic alternations to the rules printed in the Beta, this time focusing entirely on Chapter VIII: The Force.  To be honest, there were a lot of problems with Force Powers as they were initially laid out, with our very own Agent 22 giving a stellar example of how a Force-user with nothing more than the standard starting XP budget could be powerful enough to demolish a veteran bounty hunter on par with Boba Fett in one round.  So yeah, changes were needed to keep Force-users from utterly dominating the game.  And boy, were changes made.

A relatively minor change was the clarification that once you purchased the Force-Sensitive Exile specialization, that Force Rating 1 trait you got was a one-time deal, even if you discarded that specialization.  This was done mostly as a means to prevent would-be power-gamers from jacking up their Force Rating quickly or cheaply.

But the real meat comes with the near-total revamp of how the various Force Power upgrades work.  The first and most important update was that if you want to use those upgrades you’ve purchased, you need to roll extra Force Points on your Force Die.  For most Force-Users in this game, they’re going to have to choose which upgrades they want to apply, particularly for powers like Move, which really needs its upgrades to be anything more than a nifty parlor trick.   The other big change was that several effects, most notably the offensive use of Move and the mind trick upgrade of Influence, are now opposed Discipline rolls where previously they just occurred automatically with the target having no means of resistance.  While it was sad to see the initial simplicity of Edge of the Empire’s Force system fall to the wayside, in the end it was a much needed change, especially if this game is laying the foundations for the 2015 Force and Destiny core book, which has been stated to focus heavily upon Jedi and other Force-users.  Some people may not have liked the fact that you didn’t get full-fledged Jedi in Edge of the Empire, but as the Week 2 updated proved, the game was simply not yet ready for such potent characters.

Now that the initial balance problems with the Force have been addressed, Week 3 moved on to equipment.  There were a couple more tweaks to the combat skills, mostly removing  text that stated if the skill inflicted wounds or strain on a target.  Some clarification was added regarding Weapon Qualities, in that you need to spend one or more Advantage to trigger an Active quality, then later adding that Active qualities by default required two Advantages unless the quality lists a different cost while also noting that Passive qualities were always on.  Defensive was changed to only affect melee attacks, a sensible alteration (after all, how does a vibro-sword make it tougher for the other guy to shoot you?)

For weapons, there were quite a few changes, mostly consisting of the re-pricing of several weapons, most of them becoming cheaper but a few of them, notably lightsabers and disruptor weapons, becoming a lot more expensive.  The damage ratings for a lot of weapons were taken down a point, though the various vibro-weapons suffered an even bigger reduction in damage output.  Range categories were also clarified, with Close Range being renamed to Short Range, and several weapons had their special qualities updated.  Armor was clarified to be less encumbering if worn (makes sense), and disruptor weapons lost the insta-kill feature but had their critical hit effect updated to match the Critical Hit chart on page 142, and are still very nasty weapons for a group of heroes to have to face off against.

One change that stirred quite a bit of debate on the FFG thread for the Week 3 update was lightsabers losing the Breach quality, which was part of what made them such awesomely powerful weapons in this game.  To be frank, in previous Star Wars games, a lightsaber by itself was kind of boring, with the WEG version simply doing the same damage as a heavy blaster pistol or a blaster rifle, unless you had a Jedi with the Lightsaber Combat power, at which point the damage could get obscene in a hurry.  For the d20 versions of Star Wars, a lightsaber was really little more than a glowing long sword with an extra die of damage, though it did have the ability to bypass damage reduction, which was fairly common in the RCR given how armor worked, but not so much in the OCR or Saga Edition versions.  This was rather quickly addressed by forum moderator FFG_Sam_Stewart, who informed folks that lightsabers would be keeping Breach, but instead lose their Defensive and Deflection qualities.  Cue another round of heated forum discussion about whether lightsabers should have any inherent defensive traits, particularly as rules to allow a Force-user to block and deflect incoming attacks with a lightsaber really don’t exist at this point in time.

This brings us to the Week 4 update, which has some pretty sweeping changes in its own right.  For starters, the Player Starting Obligation chart had most of its values reduced, likely prompted by feedback that smaller groups of starting characters were almost pushing their group Obligation score dangerously close to 100 just to have more starting credits.  Droids had their previous special ability from the Week 1 update removed and replaced with something much sweeter, providing them with a broader range of starting skills.  Also, Gands had their starting characteristic scores altered to a starting Intellect of 2 and a starting Presence of 1 to better reflect how the Gand as a people are represented in the Star Wars Expanded Universe.

One of the first sweeping changes was the removal of all references to permanent abilities and permanent talents; in short, if you’ve bought it, you get to keep it, so no more losing talents when you discard a specialization.  Speaking of which, the previous cap of three specializations was itself dropped, permitting a character to buy as many specializations as they want without ever having to discard them.

Sound good?  Well, here’s the stick to go with the above carrot.  The costs for buying specializations have been radically altered.  Instead of a flat-rate, you instead pay an XP cost based on the number of specializations you already have.  So the more you purchase, the more expensive it gets, especially if you’re looking to branch out into non-career specializations.  Also on the subject of increased costs, non-career skills have become more expensive too, as they now simply cost double what it would cost to raise a career skill rather than a flat increase of 5 XP.  So if you want to branch out of your starting career and specialization’s list of skill and talents, it’s going to get pricey.  Again, this is a matter of opinion, though players with characters who started in non-combat careers such as Colonist, Explorer, and Technician are going to have a rough time boosting their combat skills no matter how they go about doing it.  There’s been some discussion that part of these changes to cost were to curtail instances of players simply hopping to a new specialization for the discounted cost in a few key skills, Gadgeteer and Scoundrel being popular due to offering Ranged (Light) as a bonus career skill.  Now, unless you’re planning on investing in the talents a given specialization offers, you might just be better off paying the non-career cost to raise those skills.

The bulk of the Week 4 updates are dedicated to Chapter IV: Talents, and this got nearly as many changes as Chapter VIII: The Force got just two weeks prior.  A few talents got removed entirely, mostly the Improved versions of Defensive Stance and Side Step, which themselves got revamped to be ranked talents that cost strain to activate instead of requiring a maneuver, and upgrade the difficultly of all attacks (melee or ranged, respectively) until your next turn rather than just adding setback dice.  Jury Rigged was clarified to cite that you can only decrease the Advantage cost of a weapon’s special quality to a minimum of one, due in no small part to rules lawyers abusing this to make the rather powerful Autofire quality able to be activated for free.  Quite a few talents that add a bonus to damage were updated to add the caveat that they only apply to a single successful attack, probably again due a prevalence of those talents being used in combination with Autofire to deal massive amounts of damage in one go.  Stalker was updated to be much more useful than it was previously.

There were a few weapons updates, covering a minor revision of Auto-fire that gave the person firing the weapon the choice of using that quality or not, a change to Blast to enable you to trigger it if you miss, which makes grenades a bit more useful since it’s a lot easier to generate excess Advantage than it can be to generate Successes.  Stun Damage now has a hard cap on range, preventing would-be snipers from making stun blasts from Extreme Range, and lightsabers have been officially corrected to include Breach 1 but not Defensive 2 or Deflection 1.  Guess we’re going to have to wait for Jedi material to deflect blaster fire with a lightsaber, should you be fortunate enough to acquire one.

The other half of the Week 4 updates were to Chapter VI: Combat, including revisions on taking cover, which now increases one’s ranged defense rather than just adding a setback die.  Mechanically it’s the same effect, though a note is added that certain types of cover could increase the character’s ranged defense by more than one if it’s particularly sturdy.  Engaging and disengaging from an opponent also got a revision, making it a bit more clear as to what happens when you attempt to disengage from a melee fight.  Critical hits are clarified to only be triggered on a successful hit, something that kind of falls into the “common sense” category, but better safe than sorry.  Another “New Sidebar” is added confirming that you can inflict a Critical Hit even if your attack only deals strain damage.  Also, the waiting period for when the stimpacks can be used at their full potency is clarified to cover either 24 hours or a full night’s rest.

So there you have it.  In the course of a single month, the Beta version of Star Wars: Edge of the Empire has become quite a different creature than when it was printed.  Admittedly, I’ve not gone into extensive detail about all the changes, but instead have opted to hit the highlights.  But while the changes do make it so that looking stuff up in the book isn’t quite as viable as it was, it also demonstrates that Fantasy Flight Games is listening, and perhaps more importantly, are responding to the feedback that people are providing.  Obviously, what they consider to be an ideal solution to a problem may not match what you think is an ideal solution, especially if you think the problem in question really wasn’t a problem to begin with, but it does provide some very interesting insight into the evolution of an RPG and the impact that living in the Digital Age has on this hobby.  Back in the old days, before the Internet, one had to wait for second printings, possibly even second editions, of their favorite RPGs to have various rules issues, exploits, and loopholes addressed, if at all.  So even if you don’t agree with all of the changes that FFG has made, it’s still pretty interesting to watch this game grow and evolve based upon player responses.

If you’re interested in checking out the updates on a week-by-week basis, here are the individual links.  Thankfully, FFG is releasing the updates in a compilation format, so that each new update contains the previous weeks’ updates as well, making it a bit easier to reference all the changes without having to look through several different documents.

Week 1 Updates (released 09/04/12)

Week 2 Updates (released 09/11/12)

Week 3 Updates (released 09/18/12)

Week 4 Updates (released 09/25/12)

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