Star Wars: Edge of the Empire – Is the Game Still the Same?

Hard to believe it’s been almost three months since Fantasy Flight Games made their announcement in regards to what they’ve got in store for the Star Wars RPG license.  And given the more recent announcement that the Week 11 Update is the final update for the Beta book, as well as the December 1st deadline fast approaching, I thought now would be a good time to follow up on my previous overview of the updates for Weeks 1 through 4, which can be found here.

So the first question is “How much more has changed?”  The short answer is “quite a bit, but not quite as much as you might think.”

After some of the rather drastic and sweeping changes in the prior weeks, the Week 5 Update was comparatively minor, but did introduce a pretty significant change to how NPCs are handled in regards to combat.  When the book was released, many NPCs, particularly those with the Henchmen and Nemesis tags next to their names, had various defensive talents that the players had access to, each of which had different mechanics, and could frankly be a bit of a pain for a less-experienced GM to keep track of.  FFG’s solution was rather simple, that being the introduction of a single NPC-only talent dubbed “Adversary,” which makes the GM’s job a lot simpler as this new talent provides an automatic upgrade to the difficulty of any combat checks that target said NPC based upon the rank in Adversary, with the pre-generated NPCs being updated to various ratings from 1 (minor threat) to 3 (major league threat), though it’s worth noting that there’s no official cap on how many ranks in Adversary an NPC could possibly have.  The other big change in Week 5 was the removal of the Surveillance skill, as the designers felt that most of what Surveillance did could be covered under other skills, making it a bit redundant.  The few careers and specializations that had Surveillance got a new skill to replace it, though there’s been a persistent error that cites the Survivalist specialization (which never had Surveillance in the first place) gets to add Medicine to their list of bonus career skills, when it should be the Scout specialization under the Explorer career that has the skill switch.  The other rather minor change was to Mechanics, which lost the ability to spend Triumph to restore a vehicle’s hull integrity, but instead gained the ability to spend a Triumph to provide a free boost die for a session, reflecting an extremely high-quality level of repair.

The update for Week 6 brought with it quite a few changes to Chapter 7: Starships and Vehicles, such as the creation of a new table listing out a number of additional action choices for the characters, ranging from helping to plot a course to making manual repairs (mesh tape and binding paste) and quite a few others.  Safe to say that a lot of this chapter got overhauled, to the point you’ll probably find it easier to just stick the updated sections in with the book.  There’s also mention of a new sidebar detailing rules on chase sequences.  I’ve not had a chance to put these on the table, but from what I’ve seen and what little I’ve heard on the FFG forums, it looks to address a fair number of issues that folks had with running chase sequences in Edge of the Empire, such as the one in the introductory adventure.

Week 7 takes us back to Character Creation, making some rather notable changes.  The first is that buying new Specializations becomes a bit easier to track, as it’s now a flat-rate with an extra cost if you’re buying a non-career specialization.  However, that flat rate is ten times the number of specializations the character will have, including their new one, so multi-classing can get rather pricy.  Truthfully, it’s a bit of a mixed bag, as this change does discourage players from readily exploring character concepts that would work best with multiple specializations, or even dabbling in a non-career specialization, but it also cuts down on players trying to “game the system” and pick up a wide number of career skills.  Another change, one that actually didn’t make it into the initial release of this week’s update, was that the Force-Sensitive Exile was now a “universal” specialization, which meant that while it didn’t belong to any of the careers, it was purchased at the same cost as a career specialization, though a note is made that a universal specialization is most definitely not a career specialization.  Sounds like a bit of future-proofing, leading me to think that we’re going to see a few more Force-based specializations well before the “Force & Destiny” core rulebook is released in 2015.

And speaking of skills, the costs were reverted back to their entry in the book, so one of the big draws to picking up multiple specializations, getting the reduced rate on career skills versus non-career skills, was removed.  Droids also got a nice little perk, being a bit tougher than normal thanks to a free rank of Enduring.  There were also a few more changes to the Starships and Vehicles chapter, however those updates were comprised entirely of increasing the Encumbrance values of many vehicles.   The final changes in this update were to the Move power, both in extending its range to make the basic power a bit more valuable and in addressing concerns of how long an application of Move lasted, with a couple suggestions to the GM about how to apply ‘upkeep’ costs to the power, both in and out of combat.

For the Week 8 Update, a number of talent trees got tweaked, mostly to make way for some defensive talents by discarding others.  While this certainly expands the defensive options available to several specializations, particularly ones that didn’t have a lot of defensive talents to start with, not all the changes were met with universal acclaim, with the Assassin specialization loosing the rather appropriate Deadly Accuracy talent to instead gain the Dodge talent.  While the Dodge talent is certainly useful, a number of folks, myself included, felt that there were other talents that could have been discarded.  The Slicer talent tree also got a much needed link between the first and second columns, though personally I think said link could have been established a bit lower than Row 4.

A number of starship weapons had their damage output reduced in this update, a good thing as quite a few playtesters found that starship combat often boiled down to “who scores the first successful hit,” particularly when the Linked quality got involved.   As for Linked, it got mildly tweaked to double its listed Advantage cost, making it a bit less likely that some sugar-addicted street kid will take out a group of TIE Fighters in one round when at the controls of a quad laser cannon.  The Flame Projector and explosives in general got updated to be able to ignore the defensive benefits of cover, making it possible to lob a grenade over a wall at the cost of an increased difficulty on the attack roll.  It was also in the announcement of the Week 8 Update that FFG stated they were going to slow things down a bit in light of all the major changes that had been done over the past 8 weeks, likely inspired by the string of changes regarding the costs of purchasing non-career specializations and ranks in non-career skills.  This announcement lead to a fair amount of speculation on the FFG boards that the next update, slated for Week 10, would have some major changes.

Well, those folks expecting “huge, sweeping changes” in Week 10 were pretty disappointed, as Week 10 really only had two changes of note, those being a revision to the controversial Autofire quality and fighting with two weapons.  Autofire has long been a problem, as it was generally seen as being too good, particularly if a PC had the rotten luck to be targeted by an Autofire-capable weapon, as two hits would be enough to take all but the hardiest of PCs out, though a third hit would drop them as well.   Every since the Beta book found its way into the hands of playtesters, the FFG forums have been alight with various suggestions to correct the issue of Autofire, and that didn’t really change once the Week 10 Update came out, as there’s still a lot of concern that Autofire is still too good, although the bonus damage from extra successes on the attack roll now have to be split out between hits instead of being applied universally; it’s a tad more math in exchange for Autofire not being quite as devastating, though it’s still pretty nasty.  While some have put forth the perfectly valid opinion that an autofire-weapon is something the PCs should be afraid of, and that only a true jerk of a GM would choose to hammer a character with a half-dozen hits from an autofire weapon in a single round, there is still the concern that a really lucky roll on the part of the shooter could drop a single target with alarming ease.

Two-weapon fighting had previously been restricted to either two melee weapons or two ranged weapons, each of which had to be capable of being used in a single hand, but the rules were updated to permit for blade’n’blaster style of fighting.  It’s a bit trickier to pull off, especially given that melee and ranged combat not only use different Skills but different Characteristics, but it is doable and offers the chance of scoring two hits against a foe, which may well be enough to put them down depending on the weapons used.

A few talents got updated, with Disorient being a bit less expensive to activate, Spare Clip getting the rules text tweaked while generally keeping the same effect, and Street Smarts finally being addressed in wake of the Surveillance skill being removed back in Week 5.

But the big announcement with the Week 10 Update was that FFG was only going to release one final update, and that while they would still be accepting feedback on Edge of the Empire up until the December 1st deadline, any further changes would only be made to the final version to be released at a yet-to-be-determined date next year.

For the final Edge of the Empire Beta update, we start with Autofire and Linked once again being revised, with the splitting of successes to each individual hit being removed entirely along with the section on Walking Fire in the combat chapter.  Each of those attack options now specify exactly how many enemies can be targeted, though the question still remains “does a minion group still count as a single target?”  For Autofire, it’s been made pretty clear that you need to not only declare its usage before rolling, but also declare if you intend to attack multiple targets, with the attack’s difficulty being based on which target will be the most difficult to hit, which cuts down on opportunistic players and GMs from simply selecting the most vulnerable target and then hosing down any other adversaries.  There was also a slight tweak to a few of the melee weapons, making them a bit deadlier by decreasing their crit rating, trading off damage for better odds of leaving the target with a nasty injury, plus a few changes to some talents, notably Toughened getting quite a boost to help promote character longevity and some further talent consolidation where Bodyguard and Precise Aim were concerned, removing the Improved versions of those talents and making each of them ranked.  Pretty minor updates considering this is officially the final update to the Beta.

And so, this brings a conclusion to what has been a very interesting look at the development of an RPG from the initial “not-quite-ready-for-prime-time” status when released back in August to the near-closing of the beta testing period.  And during those weeks, there have been some pretty significant changes, though as with any change, whether those changes were good, bad, or somewhere in between will vary from one person to the next.  From a design standpoint, it’s quite interesting to see how things can change in an RPG.  As Rodney Thompson quite wisely said during one of his appearances on the Order 66 Podcast, “no game survives contact with its player base,” and Edge of the Empire has been no exception, as the changes from week to week have demonstrated.

Now while FFG did address a great many concerns brought up by the playtesters, there were some that were simply never addressed.  The most prominent is the small yet very vocal group of playtesters crying out that the basic math of the game simply didn’t work, that players either wound up succeeding with lots of excess Threat, or failing with lots of excess Advantages.  Personally, I never saw any of this, finding that while those extremes occurred, they weren’t as common as some posters would have you think, and I can only speculate that FFG felt exactly the same, as I’ve little doubt that they did some pretty extensive testing of the custom dice and the math long before the Beta book was printed.  Odds are good that the design staff at FFG believe quite strongly the math is just fine, and simply never felt the need to address such concerns publicly.  And with the Edge of the Empire Beginner Box due to be released right around Christmas, it’s doubtful they could have done any large-scale changes to the dice facings at this point even if they wanted to.

Another common cause for complaint, one that was quite common in the early days but still cropped up from time to time, was the apparent lack of Jedi characters.  On a personal level, I’m quite okay with Jedi not being a major focus of Edge of the Empire campaigns, particularly in the wake of Saga Edition and how powerful even low-level Jedi characters could be simply by virtue of selecting a single feat.  Besides, the default setting for Edge of the Empire is smack dab in the middle of the Dark Times and Rebellion Eras, both a period in time in when the only canonical Jedi could be measured on one hand, and the only three Force-users in the films with proper Jedi training were an old man hiding out on a giant dust ball, a wizened green midget hiding out on a giant swamp, and an armor-clad tyrant that was a living symbol of the Empire’s overwhelming might.  But not everyone felt the same way, and that particular topic got rather heated more than once.  Some folks wanted a full-blown Jedi career with the attendant specializations, while others (self included) would be happy with a kind of Jedi-in-training specialization, to perhaps mirror Luke’s progression from being almost entirely self-taught to minor Jedi after his training under Yoda’s supervision.  But again, FFG remained silent on the matter, aside from a couple remainders to keep things civil.  It could be they don’t think it’s an issue, but given the extensive amount of interest in a “proper Jedi” character, I think it’s a bit more likely that they might be including some low-level Jedi stuff  for the final version of Edge of the Empire.  And if they don’t, well between the three Force powers given, stats for a lightsaber, and the Force-Sensitive Exile specialization, there’s enough to create a “Fledging Jedi” type of character quite easily.

Now I’d probably be remiss if I didn’t at least make note of the sale of LucasFilm to Disney that occurred back on October 30th, as there was quite a bit of speculation about what this sale would mean for Fantasy Flight Games, as well as other companies currently with prior licensing agreements with LucasFilm, such as Dark Horse Comics and Del Ray Publishing, to say nothing of Hasbro, who themselves have ownership of Wizards of the Coast, the previous home for the Star Wars gaming license.  As far as the Star Wars RPG and Fantasy Flight Games’ plans for said license go, this sale won’t have any immediate impact on Edge of the Empire or any of their other games, such as X-Wing or the Star Wars Living Card Game, as the ink dried on FFG’s license quite some time ago, particularly given they had playable demos of those last two games at GenCon 2011.  So for at least the next few years, FFG is going to be holding the reigns in regards to Star Wars RPGs, so all their work on Edge of the Empire and plans for future books certainly won’t be for naught.

Like the last article, I’ve provided the links for each update on a week-by-week basis, although you only need the most recent update if all you seek is the collected changes, with the most recent updates being in red text to contrast the black text of prior weeks’ updates.

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)

Week 5 Updates (released 10/02/12)

Week 6 Updates (released 10/09/12)

Week 7 Updates (released 10/16/12)

Week 8 Updates (released 10/23/12)

Week 10 Updates (released 11/06/12)

Week 11 Updates (released 11/14/12)

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