This is the sporadic journal and on-going review of Fantasy Flight Games’ excellent Star Wars Edge of the Empire role-playing game. This article is intended to help teach new players and players curious to know how this unusual system works.
This series will not be a detailed accounting of the events of the chronicle (campaign), instead it will focus on the highlights, concerns, and ideas that derive from playing. This series will have potential spoilers of the prepared adventures from several game books, supplements, and fan-made endeavors.
A Promise Made is a Debt Unpaid
The session started with the Obligation roll for the player group. The first session they escaped having one flare, but this session I rolled M2-LD’s obligation. With a current group Obligation total of 65 it will happen frequently.
Obligation is a system in Edge of the Empire that treats the various bits of baggage that groups tend to accumulate for the Game Master to
torture them with use as story hooks in a consistent and mechanical manner. It helps beginning Game Masters understand why character background is so important, but also helps them not constantly pile it onto only one character. Unless that player just happens to have greedily opted for more of it or is simply really unlucky.
Obligations can include financial debts, blackmail, oaths, duties, obsessions, addictions, and a whole host of other role playing gold. Many of the weaknesses and flaws from other systems are included in the Obligation system. All players start the game with Obligation based upon the number of players in the group, and no player may ever have less than five obligation at any time. Obligation can and will fluctuate during the chronicle as players work off old ones and incur new and shinier ones.
Did the players steal from a hutt? Feel free to add obligation to reflect his resentment with perhaps Bounty Hunter, Debt, or Betrayal. Did the players need a quick spot of cash from the loan shark over in the cantina? Add Debt until they pay it back. Perhaps the player is wanted in multiple systems? Add Criminal instead.
While experience Game Masters do things like this all the time, the fact that a game has it codified makes it simple to use for new referees. It also has an in-game effect for all of the characters, regardless of whether anything happens during the session about the obligation they are still worrying about it and lose points from their Strain Threshold. This is temporary, but too much obligation could lead to regular reductions until it is lowered.
M2-LD’s Obligation is Betrayal. He was Betrayed by his previous owner, mind-wiped, and sold to
a bunch of suckers the other player characters. The player did not want to know why, so we discussed it at creation and I came up with the back story. I plan to use it as a continuing side plot, so I will not reveal it now.
Since M2-LD’s obligation flared, he started detecting program artifacts from before the mind wipe. This causes additional Strain, but also gives the character the hint that something is not quite right in his systems. I have small ideas like this for all of the player characters, working up from hints, to encounters, and later to nemeses and organizations.
This system seems to work best with a little forethought and brainstorming. You don’t have to derail the current plot just because a specific character’s obligation was rolled. Keep the plan, just use it as a B-plot for the session. Give a little bit more depth to the story you are currently weaving.
The Second Session
The second session of Trouble Brewing slowed down just a bit, mostly due to the caution of the players once they realized a sizable gang of thugs were looking for them. Cautious players are rarely a bad thing, but this game is really designed to be fast paced with pulp action elements. It just didn’t feel right, so I kept nudging my players into less thought – more action!
We opened with Kyra having a pleasant discussion and having dinner with the rodian atlas maker. The faithful droid M2-LD was off in the corner acting oddly, still dealing with his Obligation. A simple conversation transpired, but the wrong questions were asked and not a lot was learned. The lack of rules for social combat really sticks out after playing the Dresden Files version of FATE. They wouldn’t have been necessary for this scene, but it still came to mind. After a few short scenes, the player characters regrouped back at the Last Call to prepare for the ambush.
The ambush itself was turned about on its head by the player characters. They traveled to the gang’s base and were trying to break in when they returned. A large fight ensued and I have to say I was pleased with the first actual fire-fight. The less combat oriented characters were still able to hold their own, and Bren did not gobble up all the glory.
The action was fun, and fast paced but with plenty of complexity. My biggest complaint was how we kept slipping back into the standard “<roll>, you peek around the corner and fire off a couple shots from him behind cover and hit for 6 damage”. While the game is focused to keep us from backsliding even as the heat ratchets up, it can still get dry if the players get too concerned about their characters. An all too common complaint, and not one that is the fault of the system. If anything, the way dice pools are determined with situational modifiers and upgrades helps to keep the scene alive for the players.
Turn Your Wounds into Wisdom
I have a confession to make. During the combat, I had the minion group and one of the other minions focus on one weaker character. I wanted to see how well Kothri could handle taking damage and how critical hits would work out. I have to say I was pleased.
While the dice pool system limits critical hits to various amounts of advantage (which never seemed to accumulate for either side) or Triumph (which also never seemed to be rolled for a strike roll), it will automatically occur when the Wound Threshold of a character is exceeded. To me this makes perfect sense and is very similar to the “Taken out of Action” decision in FATE.
Instead of a moderate consequence like in FATE, I had the player roll on the d100 Critical hit chart. Every unhealed critical hit the character already possesses will add a bonus of +10 to that roll. At 141+ the character will die, so combat retains some of the edge needed for dramatic purposes but isn’t as kill happy as games such as HackMaster or Cyberpunk 2020. It is a good and balanced wound system, which I have to say I enjoyed playing out.
The end of the battle is roughly where our second session ended, so we will have to wait until next time to play through the healing rules. They looted the corpses, raided the safe house, and found the droid they were looking for. Next week they travel to find Bandin Dobah, but they still haven’t decided if they are going for the Imperial Bounty, the Hutt Bounty, or strike some sort of deal with the dastard.
Ah well, such is life on the Edge of the Empire.