RPG Review: Star Wars Age of Rebellion Beta

Prior to the big announcement on August 9th of this year, there was a lot of speculation about Fantasy Flight Games and the possible release of a Beta rulebook for Age of Rebellion or Force & Destiny.  After all, the basic mechanics of the game, from dice symbols to narrative interpretation, had already been worked out during the beta period for Edge of the Empire.  I was one of those that was saying “there won’t be a beta for those books.”

bookI was wrong, and quite frankly I’m glad I was.

Much like its predecessor, the Age of Rebellion beta rulebook is a soft-cover product, but has a total page count of 244 pages vs. the 224 of the EotE beta rulebook, likely to account for expanded rules and clarifications that occurred during Edge’s own beta process.  The bulk of the book is text, although it’s not entirely devoid of artwork, and as should be expected from FFG the quality of the product is excellent, and the art is both evocative of the book’s general theme and very nice to look at.  Also, many of the charts and tables, such as those listing out the specialization trees and the Force powers, match the look used in the EotE core rulebook, which is nice and provides a better sense of “this game is a part of the bigger whole,” something very nice given concerns that players wouldn’t be able to mix and match characters between the two books.  That said, this is a Beta, and there are a few mistakes (mostly typos), but they are far and few between, enough so that most readers probably won’t notice them.

One thing I do want to make clear right up front is that if you’ve read the Edge of the Empire core rulebook, there’s a lot of material that’s going to be very familiar.  And honestly, given that each rulebook is designed to be able to stand on its own, that’s to be expected.  I know from the FFG forums there has been some chatter from a few folks that are upset at having to “buy the rules multiple times,” and while I’m not one of them, this fact does bear mention, as at least a good third of the book is reprinted material, specifically the chapters on dice mechanics, skills, talents, equipment, and combat.  There’s some new material, but if you’ve got EotE, then there’s a whole lot of familiar material.  If you missed out on the EotE Beta and just felt the EotE core rulebook was just too pricy, then this might just be your time to act and see what all the buzz about FFG’s narrative Star Wars RPG is all about.

The first few pages of the book are a primer on the general theme of Age of Rebellion. The players take up the roles of members of the Rebel Alliance as they struggle to overthrow the Empire and restore peace and justice to the galaxy.  After that, it’s on to explaining the narrative dice mechanics.

The first chunk of new material is the Character Creation chapter.  There are some reprinted species and specializations to be found, but they are ones that make sense for the book’s theme. There are also a number of new species and specializations to be found.  Players interested in socially-orientated characters will be glad to see the Diplomat career while those preferring stealth and guile over brute force will enjoy the Spy career.  Those with a desire to strap into an X-Wing and race to the stars will be happy with the Ace career, and leader-types are covered by the Commander career.  The Soldier adds combat prowess, with the Engineer rounding out the list to provide tech savvy skills to a party.  Of the new species, many are ones that people had been hoping to see since EotE was released, such as the Duros, the Gran, the Mon Calamari, and the Sullustans.

Deena_Shan_Reb11The big new mechanic for Age of Rebellion is “Duty,” representing how the character contributes to the Alliance’s struggle against the Empire.  In contrast to EotE’s “Obligation,” a character’s Duty starts at zero, indicating that they are fresh recruits that have yet to truly distinguish themselves; think of Luke in A New Hope after the Falcon made it to Yavin 4.  In every way that Obligation can have a negative impact on a character, Duty is the opposite and can have a positive impact, making the heroes tougher and more willing to push themselves when a character’s Duty is triggered.  Plus, rather than issues showing up with Obligation exceeds 100 (namely, the players can’t spend XP to advance their characters), when an AoR party has their combined Duty exceed 100, it gets collectively reset to zero and the party gains a one-timer perk in the form of a Contribution Rank, which can either take the form of equipment, a vehicle, or the more nebulous “strategic asset,” which is the book’s way of saying “non-tangible perks that we can’t ever hope to comprehensively list,” though a few suggestions are given.

Motivations get a revision in AoR, covering Beliefs, Connections, and Quests rather than EotE’s Ambition, Causes, and Relationships.  However, they can both be used seamlessly, with an AoR character having an Ambition to amass personal power while an EotE character is on a Quest to rescue a wrong-fully imprisoned loved one.  Honestly, I love the fact that the types of Motivations available to players now are so much broader, and I fully intend to make the AoR Motivations available to EotE PCs and vice versa.

One other element to note is that unlike EotE, you can’t increase your character’s starting XP budget or credits, though you can choose to spend some of your starting XP to increase your Duty on a one-for-one basis.  Instead, characters only get the XP listed for their species and a small sum of credits with which to buy their gear.  I know that I personally balked at the measly sum of starting credits given out in EotE, and I will admit to flinching a bit when I first read that AoR PCs were stuck with the same but had no means to acquire additional starting individual funds.  However, when I stopped and thought about it, that actually makes sense because the Rebellion is noted for being strapped for supplies; consider that instead of the reward in credits that Han Solo had been promised, he instead had to make do with technical supplies and parts.  Once each player has built their character, they then have the option of starting out with an Imperial shuttle (good for a covert ops group), a small squadron of Y-Wings, or a base of operations.  The last one kind of limits the group to a single planet or system (at least to begin with), but does provide them with a substantial stockpile of goods.

One element that was (understandably) missing was suggestions on how to incorporate both characters from both Edge of the Empire and Age of Rebellion into a single group, particularly when it comes to combining Obligation and Duty into the same group.  My general thought on the matter is that rather than rolling each separately to see which triggers, just put them all in the same chart, highest to lowest, and whichever one is rolled is what triggers, be it a penalty to Strain Threshold from the Smuggler/Pilot’s Debt Obligation or a bonus to Wound Threshold from the Soldier/Sharpshooter’s Sabotage Duty.  Given how comparable the new species and careers are to those found in EotE, that part won’t be a problem, though there might be a slight edge for those PCs that make use of Obligation since they can gain extra starting XP or credits that an AoR PC won’t have access to.  But, since buying up your Obligation makes it more likely to trigger, I believe it ultimately balances out.  Hopefully this will be something that is addressed, either during the Beta period or in the final version of the rules in 2014.

The next chapter is Skills, and if you’ve played or read Edge of the Empire, there aren’t a lot of surprises.  The rules text has been cleaned up considerably when you compare it to the EotE beta rulebook, with much of the extraneous rules material (such as combat checks being opposed checks rather than against a flat difficulty) having been excised.  The only new skill to be found is a new Knowledge skill, Galactic Civil War, which naturally focuses on the Galactic Empire and its conflicts with various resistance groups and movements, in particular the Rebel Alliance.  In truth, it wouldn’t take much to extend this skill to cover all military conflicts, making it a viable option for those GMs and players looking for a “tactics” skill.  You could probably use Knowledge (Galactic Civil War) as written to allow the players to come up with sound tactics when facing off against the Empire, since it’d reflect a degree of familiarity with Imperial military doctrine.

Up next are is the Talents chapter, and again there’s a lot of familiar material for those folks that are coming in from Edge of the Empire.  There are a number of new talents though, so the chapter is not a total “meh, just skip through it” part of the book.  One of the more interesting additions to the talent listing are those talents that enable a character to make a skill check using a specific Characteristic based upon the talent chosen rather than the default Characteristic listed for the skill, such as using Cunning to replace Brawn when making a Melee combat skill check, or Presence to replace Willpower when trying to browbeat an NPC with a Coercion check.  They are only a “once per session” deal, so they’re not major game-changers but they are interesting.

Chapter Five is all about equipment, and understandably a lot of this material is again reprinted from EotE, with the “special criminal gear and illegal goods” portion being removed but a few other goodies added in, such as anti-vehicle mines and armor-piercing grenades which have a good chance of reducing a character to paste and doing some decent damage to a vehicle.  There’s new stealth-based gear, such as advanced flesh camo kits and personal stealth fields.  It does seem kind of odd to have Bowcasters and their attachments listed and no Wookiees in the species listing, but the lightsaber is listed as well and the Jedi have not returned… yet.

The combat chapter is perhaps the one portion of the Age of Rebellion Beta rulebook that is mechanically identical to the EotE core rulebook. No, really.  Other than changing a few bits of the color scheme, the chapter is identical, so if you’re already a veteran of FFG’s narrative combat system for their Star Wars line, you won’t find any surprises here.  Of course, that also means that the hope of mass-combat rules are absent as well, something I know that quite a few folks were really hoping to see in AoR.  We still might, but if we do, we’re going to have to wait a little while longer.

x-wingsThe first half of the Starships and Vehicles chapter is much the same as EotE, so we’re gonna just jump ahead to the goods stuff, specifically the brand new ships.  As hoped, many of the Alliance’s signature starfighters are present, such as the iconic X-Wing (and it’s pretty powerful, matching the TIE/LN for speed while being far more durable and packing quite a punch) as well as the A-Wing and B-Wing fighters.  The various models of TIE fighters also make their debut, such as the Interceptor and surprisingly the TIE Defender.  There aren’t any new freighters, but the Beta does provide a broader selection of capital ships, from corvettes all the way up to battleships such as the Imperial-class Star Destroyer and the MC80 star cruiser.  And should your EotE party find themselves in the crosshairs of one of these ships, they really should hightail it out of that system as quick as possible, because these things are monsters, with only the difference in Silhouette between a Star Destroyer and your average tramp freighter preventing the PCs from being vaporized in the opening round.

The last chapter that’s intended for the players is Chapter VIII: The Force.  There was rampant speculation that Age of Rebellion would be the book in which FFG would start pulling the curtain back on the Jedi and other Force-users.  And I’m glad that was not the case; the Jedi and their ilk already have their own core rulebook in the works, so better not to muddy the waters by trying to shoehorn those characters into a rulebook that’s about Rebel agents and soldiers.  That said, the new Universal specialization, the Force Sensitive Emergent, is quite interesting, if only because the layout is quite different from that of the Force Sensitive Exile found in EotE, and allows you to fast-track to the Force Rating talent; having designed a few of my own Force-Sensitive specializations that struck me as being the most interesting aspect of this new specialization.  It’s also a bit more centered on combat than the Exile, being less about self-taught Force usage, but the Emergent is also pretty good at not being noticed, having a new talent that is essentially “Force Stealth” and works quite well in how it applies within the system’s narrative dice mechanics.

There was a lot of speculation about what sort of Force Powers we’d seen in AoR, with some thinking we’d just get the same three from EotE (Sense, Influence, and Move) while others had a laundry list of powers they would have liked to see.  Well, only Move got reprinted, with the new powers being Enhance (boost to physical prowess) and Foresee (future visions).  During the EotE beta, when some folks were trying to put together their own take on an Enhance power, I was leery about it being nothing but a collection of poorly-themed Control Upgrades, and I’m glad to see that FFG avoided that trap; yes, the power is mostly Control Upgrades, but the bulk of them make the Force-user better at physical skill checks rather than doing weird things like hibernation trances, accelerated self-healing, or outright reducing damage. Instead, the Enhance power in the AoR Beta lets your Force-user convert Light Side points on their power check into extra successes or advantage for several Agility and Brawn based skill checks as well as providing a quick, clean, and concise method of replicating the superhuman leaps and running speed that we’ve seen Jedi perform in the films.  I was also curious to see how FFG would incorporate the vagaries of farseeing into the framework they had devised for their Star Wars RPG system, and I very much like the results, with the bulk of the power being dedicated to allowing the Force-user and his allies to make practical use of their precognitive talents, though visions of the future are also covered and require various upgrades to make those visions less vague, even if the caveat of “always in motion, the future is” still applies.

With the Gamemastering chapter, the only new material here is the awarding of Duty increases to characters in reflection of how their actions during the adventure impacted their accomplishments and standing within the Alliance.   Such awards aren’t huge, with a maximum of 10 being the suggested cap.  However, should your band of Rebel heroes pull off a stunning victory against the Empire, like a certain farmboy from Tatooine accomplished during the events of Episode IV, would certainly merit a much larger increase to the character’s Duty rating.  There’s not much more on Duty here, only to refer to the descriptions and suggested examples from way back in Chapter II: Character Creation, so the GM has a lot of interpretive leeway on what does and doesn’t qualify for an increase in the character’s Duty score.  However, if you’ve not checked out Edge of the Empire, then you’ll find the rules on awarding XP and character advancement here.

troopersFrom there, it’s on to the Adversaries, where we once again start getting some new crunch in the form of brand new NPCs.  The rules regarding Minions (easy to defeat mooks like stormtroopers and thugs), Rivals (mildly notable individuals), and Nemeses (major-league foes) are detailed.  Given the book’s heavy focus on fighting the Empire, it stands to reason that a good chunk of the NPCs listed are various types of Imperials, from the various Stormtrooper Corps up to high-ranking officers, but there are also a number of Rebel generic NPCs as well to reflect the types of people that the heroes might be relying on for help.  There’s other galactic residents as well, running the gamut from wealthy nobles to nerf herders to  Hutt crime lords to a Jedi-in-hiding.  The stat block formats are identical to those used in the EotE core rulebook, making them very easy to read.

The book closes with a ready-to-run adventure, dubbed “Operation: Shell Game.”  As would be expected, the players are Rebel agents tasked with completing a vital mission… except that the players are actually the B-team and last resort effort due to the Rebel outpost’s usual team of operatives having gone missing.  It’s fairly short, and doesn’t have a whole lot of combat, being more of a mission where keeping a low profile as long as possible is a damn good idea.  Having at least one character with strong social skills and one character with good tech skills is incredibly helpful, otherwise things are going to get really tough for the players as they make their attempt to fulfill their primary mission objective.

Now, since this is a beta, that means that if you’ve picked up the book, FFG is looking for your feedback.  The original deadline for feedback was October 15th, but with stores not due to get their copies until the end of August, that deadline has been revised to November 15th, giving folks more time to read and critique the material.  Admittedly, if you were one of those people that really didn’t like the narrative mechanic, don’t get your hopes up on getting FFG to change things at this point.  From their announcement article, the feedback they are really looking for is on the new material, such as talents and specialization trees.  That also means that as the beta period rolls on, there’s a likelihood of things changing from what’s printed in the AoR Beta rulebook to what sees print in the actual core rulebook.

RotJ Luke SkywalkerAlso, one last juicy little tidbit from something I overheard a couple different FFG folks at the booth mention, at least one of whom I know is certainly in the know about such things.  In 2014, there is going to be a Force & Destiny Beta rulebook, meaning that instead of having to wait another two full years for the curtain to be pulled back on Force-users, we’ve only got one more year to go.  I will admit that while I’ve been willing to wait for the Force stuff, no small task given my enjoyment of playing Force-users in general and Jedi in particularly, I am also chomping at the bit for the F&D Beta to see what sorts of awesomeness that Jay Little, Sam Stewart, and their team have concocted.

In the weeks to come, I’ll be doing a more in-depth look at the new careers, as well as some of the EotE careers, so stay tuned for the fun details.  But in all honesty, if you’re enjoying Edge of the Empire and want to expand the options available for characters, then you’d be doing yourself a disservice by not picking up the Age of Rebellion Beta rulebook.

FavoriteLoadingAdd to favorites

Creative Commons License
This work, unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Leave a Reply