Dec 282013

I’ve been playing a fair bit of the Star Wars Edge of the Empire (EotE) RPG lately. No serious campaign this time, but an easy going romp with pre-generated characters and new players, a far cry from the experienced players I ran with in my previous Saga edition campaign. This has been filled with light hearted gamorrean stomping and stormtrooper blasting.

I haven’t played enough EotE yet to feel confident in contrasting it at length against Star Wars Saga Edition, but I do have a feel for the overall flow of the game and can make some broad observations.

If I had one big “thing” to draw a contrast between Saga and EotE it would be the distinction between the mechanics of distance and range. Saga, if one remembers, was influenced by the development of 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons (4E) which was being developed at Wizards of the Coast while Saga was being finalized. In some sense Saga was an early preview of 4E, and therefore very miniature combat oriented. Using one inch grid maps was common and with both published and D20 OGL material very available. In my Saga campaign I used the fine starship maps from Future Armada, for example, where you could detail out the encounters with Line of Sight, range, and all that you would expect from a miniature-centric combat system.

With EotE that comfort of precision is unceremoniously stripped away. Range in this system is loosely defined as short, medium, long etc. and is left to the GM during game play to confirm. Rather than being a measured process based on a granular tracing of squares or distance, movement between ranges is achieved by the mere expenditure of an action by the player character. For example, to move between medium and short range would be one movement action.

This, I must say, takes a bit of getting used to. After so many years of comfort with simply allowing range and movement rules to keep a melee controlled, being awash in uncertainty can be frightening. But from a different perspective, it can also be quite liberating. There is no counting squares, no measuring movement; A quick decision on expending an action to change range is all that is needed. If you think back on all of the sessions over how many years you GM’ed in how many systems, how often did encounters begin at range “short”. Probably most. So why all the need for expansive range and movement rules with all of the time they consume? Why indeed.

I am still getting acclimated to this concept, I have a bit more convincing that needs to be done. And I must admit on more than one occasion the thought of retrofitting a Saga-like range system into EotE has crossed my mind. As of now I’ve managed to hold this compulsion at bay; I really want to see how this system works in different flavors of encounters and the multiplicity of combinations that can only come about during extended game play. For now I am pushing forward with the rules as-is and keeping my straight-edges and rangefinders in the drawer.

Aug 102013

I have been a long time player of pen and paper role playing games. Abbreviated as “RPG”, the number of unique games and systems have grown over the years since the original Dungeons & Dragons launched the genre with the hallowed white box three book set in 1974. They have creeped into every imaginable popular milieu; post-apocalyptic (Gamma World), American west (Boot Hill), espionage (Top Secret), super-hero (Villains and Vigilantes), and far future sci-fi (Traveller). They have been published under every imaginable license including Star Trek, Lord of the Rings, Starship Troopers, Conan, and even the obscure such as The Terran Trade Authority.

As some of you know, one license that is near and dear to my heart is Star Wars. There have been a few examples of Star Wars licensed RPGs through the years including the original West End Games (WEG) Star Wars D6 system, Wizard of the Coast’s first attempt with Star Wars D20 (Original and Revised) and a second go at it with the Star Wars Saga Edition. I own and have played the D20 and Saga editions, so when I heard Fantasy Flight had taken over the Star Wars hobby game license from Wizards of the Coast in August of 2011, my interest was to say the least, piqued. I had owned and played some Fantasy Flight titles prior to the announcement, but they had been all board games. I had no experience with any of their RPG products and I was definitely taking a wait and see attitude.

As a huge Star Wars fan, I had plans to be at the Celebration VI convention in Orlando in August of 2012. At that time Fantasy Flight had just published the beta rule set for their first Star Wars RPG book, Star Wars: Edge of the Empire (EoE) and had it for sale at the convention. Once on the vendor floor I made a beeline for the impressive Fantasy Flight booth and picked up a copy. (I was in line behind an Italian Sandtrooper who was intent on purchasing a complete set of X-Wing minis and tried his best mind-tricks to get at the prototype Millennium Falcon in the display case. Only at a Star Wars Celebration!)

I was pretty pleased with what I read on the new game. I loved the new dice and the challenge resolution system with the building of a dice pool. The addition of positive and negative dice depending on the conditions of the challenge and the circumstances prevailing is a great way to simulate events in the Star Wars universe. The Force dice with light and dark side symmetry really had me hoping that one of the weaknesses I felt about the Saga system would be resolved in EoE, the unbalanced Force system. Another area that looked good was the talent tree diagrams.The old Saga talent system which governed the special abilities and powers for the various character classes, started off fine when the game was simple and only the core book was in print, but as the supplements began to flow the talent trees became unwieldy and difficult to play. The manner in which the rule books were laid out made it difficult to get an idea of what talent depended on what force power or other talent as a pre-requisite. I always wanted an online reference to the complete talent tree for every class but online support for the game was severely lacking. I ended up making my own excel spreadsheet to help arbitrate the progression of talents and figure out the interconnectivity of powers and skills.

In EoE the talents are diagramed to show dependency and related prerequisite talents. Think of a computer programming flowchart. This seems to be a great improvement over the Saga system’s text block approach in my opinion. It remains to be seen as the Fantasy Flight Star Wars RPG grows, whether the designers can keep the ease of use for talents consistent. I sure hope so.

I’ve touched on this with my description of the dice pool, but one very important thing that the design team on EoE seems to have understood about Star Wars is the yin and yang of the saga, the balance between dark and light. That overarching premise is reflected right down to the central character: Anakin Skywalker and his fallen form, Darth Vader. This balance is reflected in the dice pool and in other areas of the game design. The third installment in the core books for the game is tentatively titled Force and Destiny and scheduled for a 2015 release. If the Fantasy Flight team keeps to the symmetry they have so far installed in the game, the issues with creating balanced Force-users that existed in the Saga edition will be solved.

I am looking forward to the next major release in the core book series, Star Wars: Age of Rebellion of which a beta release will be made available. Another upcoming title that will be of interest in the first full-length adventure written outside of a rule book or box set: Edge of the Empire – Beyond the Rim by Sterling Hershey. By recruiting a veteran of Star Wars RPG development, Fantasy Flight has shown they are serious about the game and its quality. Writing an adventure that captures the feel of Star Wars is a difficult undertaking but with Hershey, who also worked on D6 and Saga material, they have made a strong start.

May the Force be With You and with your gaming!

Sep 222012

Many of you who are classic table-top RPG fans may have heard of Monte Cook’s Numenera Kickstarter project; an RPG set in a distant age of earth known by its natives as the Ninth World. Those who follow the design and development of RPG’s know Monte and are familiar with his prior work on D&D 3rd edition and Ptolus among many others. This project would have had a core of supporters just given his reputation and it would most certainty have funded at its goal of $20K. I was an early backer and felt confident it would make the cut.

Numenera funded 2,586% over its goal at $517,256.

I don’t think anyone could honestly have seen that coming.

Feel free to take a moment to close your gaping mouth. You might wonder what this means for the future of tabletop role-playing games. Well, if there is a Tenth World in Numenera I think we just teleported into it.

Kickstarter has enabled individuals and small publishers to launch projects without the backing of a major publisher. This has proven beneficial to gamers of all types. As a board gamer, I backed Dirk Knemeyer’s Road to Enlightenment, a game I don’t think would have been anywhere near the quality of the final product without successful funding. I believe Kickstarter has ushered in the golden age of game capitalism. I for one am euphoric.

Now, Numenera wasn’t the first RPG taken to Kickstarter, (see GM Sarli’s e20 System Evolved for an example of a pioneer (also a backer)), but Numenera had all of the right chemistry to boost the category from minor release to major project. It benefits from Monte’s notoriety, his design cred, his social media presence, and the well presented video and early supporting material for the setting.

However, I think there was one other small nugget that made this project enticing, nay, I’d even say seducing to many of us. Monte’s unexpected departure from the D&D Next design team. That happened in late April and Numenera was launched August 9th. It is known that Monte uses homebrew to play test and assist in design of his core rules and mechanics. Ptolus was used for this purpose during the development of D&D 3rd edition. Was Numenera his homebrew for D&D Next? Was there creative differences on design techniques that we are now seeing as part of the roleplaying architecture of Numenera? All speculation, but speculation that makes this project all the more appealing to be a small part of.

Here are some interesting stats on where Numenera falls in the Kickstarter universe: Of successfully funded Kickstarter projects, those funding over $100K are a mere 0.9%. Of those projects funded between $100K and $999K, 20% were games. How many do you think were tabletop RPGs? Ill leave that as an exercise for the reader.

Source: Kickstarter Stats