Post Mortem–Fantasy Flight Star Wars RPGs
I’m calling this a post-mortem on FFG’s Star Wars line, but I’m really focused on the end of my time running Age of Rebellion. To be fair, it hasn’t been the longest run. For my full FFG Star Wars resume, I’ve played in two short Edge of the Empire campaigns, ran one with the Beta rules that lasted about four or five sessions, and then ran two 12-episode campaigns with the rules. I’ve run one 9-episode campaign of Force and Destiny that came to completion, and played in another Force and Destiny game while it was in beta. I ran a three-session mash up of all three games that fizzled out. Then we come to Age of Rebellion.
I played in one Age of Rebellion game that lasted about two sessions before I inherited the game from another GM. That game went about four sessions before it ended, because I inherited a traitor sub-plot and it kept coming to the forefront of the game and made it harder to run. Years later, after watching Rogue One and Rebels, I decided to buckle down and run a successful, start to finish, Age of Rebellion campaign. It didn’t work. Here are some thoughts on why.
I have argued in the past that I like the idea that Edge of the Empire, Age of Rebellion, and Force and Destiny are three different games, because it’s hard to come up with a unifying, ongoing campaign that bridges all those aspects of Star Wars. A GM can come up with a good framing device, but I liked the idea that the game already provided them.
I’ve also played and run several of the FFG Warhammer 40000 Roleplaying games, which had similar, but not identical, resolution mechanics. I’m bringing this up, because I think FFG may have overcorrected for some of the quirks of the 40K line with the Star Wars line.
The big difference between the games comes down to a narrative subsystem, and where the extra, but interchangeable, details are placed. In other words, a character from any of the RPGs could play in any of the other RPGs, with no mechanical conversion, except that different characters will have Obligation, Duty, or Morality as a subsystem, which only comes up in certain situations.
Edge of the Empire has more non-military starships, and gear centered around exploring, gambling, and subverting law enforcement. Age of Rebellion has more mainline Rebel and Imperial ships and gear. Force and Destiny has more available Force Power trees and more details on things like lightsabers. But all those things use common terms and means of determining their use.
One other thing that is common to all three is that you track individual credits, and you use those credits to buy things and get better gear. Gear porn is a thing, even for a game that has some heavy narrative elements like the FFG Star Wars games. I’m not going to say that gear porn doesn’t have a place in Star Wars. The movies alone hint at a lot of customizations and modification of weapons and ships. That said, we may revisit using credits, specifically, to measure how all this works.
There is also a system built into the Negotiation skill for getting items at higher or lower prices, and a rarity system that makes items scarce in different places in the galaxy. Additionally, there are price modifications based on rarity in the gear section, and all of this appears in all three games.
Core Stuff I Like (But Isn’t Perfect)
I love the narrative dice. If you don’t know, there are three levels of positive dice, and three levels of ways you determine how many of each you roll. You can come up with successes, failures, advantages, threats, triumphs, and despairs. The neat thing about these rolls is that you can have success or failure and still have complications or boons arise, independent of that success or failure.
The biggest issue I’ve ever really had with this system is that sometimes you can generate a massive amount of threat or advantage, and it’s hard to adjudicate large amounts of those without feeling like you are subverting what’s cool about rolling a triumph or a despair. When you have one of those odd rolls when you get 8 advantages outside of combat, it just feels like some of that is wasted no matter how you narrate that “extra.”
I’m not sure how it would work, but in some ways, I almost wish there was a banking system for those rolls like the threat and momentum pools in the Star Trek Adventures RPG.
If you aren’t the kind of person that wants to interpret potentially chaotic situations, I can understand that this system may not be your favorite. That said, I kind of love trying to figure out what it means when a character is successful, has threat, a triumph, and a despair. Because clearly SOMETHING happened on that character’s turn.
Disturbance in the Force
I like the general idea of the Force rating, and that’s how many dice you roll, and for each pip corresponding to the side of the Force you are using, you can activate the power and some kickers to go with that power.
When I first read the power trees in Edge of the Empire, I thought there were some fuzzy descriptions. “Sometimes” a target can trigger an opposed test to see if the power worked. If you do that with a power that also requires a skill check normally, are you just rolling that skill check, and checking against what the power says, and the opposed check, and if so, how does the difficulty listed in the power work.
So, there were some fuzzy areas, but my thoughts were that it was due to Force powers not being the “point” of Edge of the Empire. Unfortunately, but the time Force and Destiny came out, there were still some vague descriptions of how some of those powers worked.
In addition, the Force power trees are really confusing to read. In trying to impose an “efficient” structure on the trees, you don’t have enough information in one area to quickly reference what the powers do, and when expressing those powers on an NPC (if you are the GM), they are a nightmare to decipher.
Then, there is the Adversary issue. Adversary is a talent only NPCs have, to help make them simpler to stat. It just makes going after them more difficult, by increasing the difficulty of doing anything to them. Except, as written, it doesn’t apply to Force powers. If you Adversary 4 legendary bounty hunter doesn’t have ranks in Discipline, they are still getting tossed around by your Force user.
Genesys makes it clearer that you “could” allow Adversary to work on “powers” in that book, but the clarification for the Star Wars line would have been nice.
If Money is All You Love . . .
All three games run on credits. By that I mean, you need credits to get stuff, and upgrades to stuff, stuff to do things. You don’t even have starting packages of things you get, you get X amount of credits and you buy until you want to stop buying.
I think that works great in Edge of the Empire. It makes perfect sense in that context. Smugglers and Bounty Hunters are looking for a big score. Colonists are trying to scrape by day to day. Haggling for prices, filling a cargo hold in once place and hauling it to another place . . . all of that is what Edge of the Empire is ostensibly about.
It’s still functional in Force and Destiny, because the default assumption is that your small band of Force sensitives is running from Inquisitors, and trying to balance their learning about the Force with the mundanities of survival, and Morality can even play into how well you balance making credits with learning about the cosmic truths of the universe.
Where I don’t think strict credit tracking works is in Age of Rebellion. The core book describes the default assumption being that the PCs are elite operatives that only get nudges from the Alliance on how to do their missions, so that they can have a large amount of agency in how they do what they do. The problem is, to do what they do, they need credits.
Additionally, there is a core specialization in Age of Rebellion, the Quartermaster, that plays with the negotiation rules.
Every time a group hits 100 total Duty, they go up a Contribution Rank with the Alliance, and they get either one big item for the group, or an individual piece of gear. But between hitting those contribution rank increases, the group is basically self-sufficient. To get operational funds, they must get stuff from the Empire or other places, resell it, and get what they need.
Age of Rebellion kind of assumes your characters are “true believers.” Either they really hate the Empire above all else, or they really believe in freedom, but they are willingly fighting for the Rebellion. The Rebellion gives them their starting ship, and then nothing until they “prove” themselves at every 100 Duty. It’s almost unavoidable that discussion turns towards “how much does the Alliance really value us,” and toward spending time stealing, selling, and buying gear.
You, as the GM, can give the PCs items and gear, but that’s not really the assumed baseline. What’s the difference between the mission gear you give them and the gear they get from contribution ranks? We know the Alliance has limited resources compared to the Empire, but at the same time, it feels strange that each individual cell is still self-funding once they are an Alliance. That feels more like the whole game is Saw’s Partisans, not the Rebel Alliance.
This is why I brought up the FFG 40K games earlier. At times, while they had a similar resolution mechanic, they had a lot of variability in how characters advanced, and how the subsystems worked. I think FFG saw how divergent some of the games got over the fiddly bits, and wanted to make the Star Wars game more unified, but went one step too far.
Deathwatch, the 40K game based on Space Marines, had a requisition system based on how much glory that character had earned. The more over the top and the more famous the space marine had become, and the more legendary the gear that he could draw for a mission would become. The Only War game, based on the Imperial Guard, had a different requisition system, which could have characters under-equipped, or accidentally given proscribed, heretical gear. Both of those requisition systems made perfect sense for those games, and neither of them should have had the same system as the Profit Factor system used in Rogue Trader, which was based on how well business ventures were going for the crew.
In my opinion, Age of Rebellion really needed a requisition system that got away from tracking individual credits. Even if you want you crew of Rebels to “fund” the alliance, they should be hijacking Imperial freighters, not tracking how much the goods on that freighter is worth, and having someone negotiate extra so that they can take their own cut. As it stands, tracking credits too closely almost makes characters feel more like Edge of the Empire Privateers working for the Alliance, than actual members of the Alliance.
Very Specific Side Note—Dawn of Rebellion
I was going to review Dawn of Rebellion, but I’m not sure how to approach it. If you don’t know, Dawn of Rebellion is the first “cross game” sourcebook they released for all three product lines, focusing on information from Rogue One and Rebels, and looking at the galaxy before the destruction of the Death Star.
Licensed products have a line to walk. There is table functionality, and there is fan service. Dawn of Rebellion tried to do both, and it feels thin. I won’t go into too much detail here, but what I was hoping, when the product mentioned things like House Organa, the Free Ryloth Movement, and Saw’s Partisans, was that we might get some information on how to play as members of those cells.
We didn’t really get that. We got descriptions of the organizations. We got stat blocks for some of the NPCs associated with them. There is a great section at the end, on how to run the game with a television series structure, but I wanted more of that. I wanted something like the big list of short mission ideas in the d20 Star Wars era Galactic Campaigns.
But, we get stats for Krennic, and Vader, and the Death Star. But even leaning heavily on the fan service side of things, we don’t get stats for the heroes of Rogue One. The book went into production before some of the best story arcs in Rebels started, so we don’t get information on Mandalorians, Imperial Supercommandoes, or even species stats for Noghri or Lassat.
It feels light on both table useful direction, and fan service stats, to me. Its odd, because we knew when Rebels was ending. It wasn’t a surprise like the Clone Wars. I don’t know why this book came out when it did, with so many loose ends hanging.
In the end, it feels like a lot of good bits that somehow never got pulled together into a cohesive whole (which, to be honest, is the feeling I’ve been getting with a few of the newest products).
I don’t know when, or if, I’m going back to running FFG Star Wars games. At this point, I am much more inclined to run an Edge of the Empire game than the other lines.
To be clear, ending my most recent Age of Rebellion game came from several items, none of which is the sole determining factor:
- Scheduling issues from holidays, illness, and conventions
- The GM doing a bad job recapping the theme and tone of the campaign when new players were added or after a break
- Lack of enthusiasm for newer products
- My villain’s plot having way too much resonance with the concluding arc of the Rebels series
One or two of these wouldn’t have been a problem. All four made it hard to recover and move forward.
Fantasy Flight has the last of the “splat books” for all the careers on the schedule now for all three games. I’m not sure what that means for the future of the line, but if they end up doing a second edition of the game, there are some things I hope they address.
- Better defined and described Force powers and procedures for adjudicating them
- Sub-systems that are going to be used in all three games being defined in the core books instead of partially in three different splat books (looking at you, crafting)
- Simpler explanation of vehicle combat, and an emphasis on running vehicle combat as chases except when they aren’t instead of the other way around
- A requisition system for the “military” branch of the game line that doesn’t make the team feel like their organization doesn’t particularly support them
- A banking system for advantage and threat to help with rolls that generate a ton of those resources
That said, I can’t presume to know if FFG would even do a second edition of the game. They seem to introduce Star Wars lines that compete with themselves, then retire the less popular of those lines, and it makes it hard to get a handle on what the strategy is these days.