Saturday, July 20, 2013

First Impressions of the Edge of the Empire Core Rulebook

It's been over a week since I've gotten my copy and I'm just now getting to the end of reading it cover to cover.  The first thing you notice is just how MASSIVE it is.  A nearly 450 page hardcover, it almost feels more like a textbook than a game book when you're sitting there reading it.  The next thing I noticed after flipping open the cover was the end spreads of a Firespray, dwarfed by the planet its departing from (which given the twin suns is probably Tatooine).  I LOVE THIS PIECE OF ART!  I haven't heard anyone mention it in any other reviews yet, but it's probably my favorite piece in the whole book (which is filled with top-notch art).  And of course after that I skimmed through the book, flipping through each page very briefly and being hit by a flood of information.

Production Value

Much like the Beginner Game, the quality is EXTREMELY high here.  Nice thick, glossy pages and excellent binding should be pretty resistant to wear and tear.  Around the time the Beta came out I'd heard that FFG often has editing issues in their products, but that's generally not the case here.  Sure, there were some typos (I've yet to read an RPG book without any), but the most glaring error is the presence of references to the Surveillance skill, which was cut during the Beta.  A minor issue, though.  Finally, as I hinted at before, the art in this book is gorgeous all around.  Some of it is recycled from the Beta book and Beginner Game, but most of these were pieces I already really liked.  And there is new stuff aplenty as well.  The deeper I've delved into this hobby, the more I've come to appreciate good art in a book.  It goes a long way toward increasing immersion in the setting.

Game Mechanics and Character Creation

No big surprises here given that I already had the Beta book and had followed the Beta updates.  The additional examples of dice pool creation and interpretation should make the mechanic very easy to understand even for new players (though of course nothing is easier than simply playing the game).  My biggest point of contention with the core mechanic is that I still feel some of the skills are redundant.  The skill chapter promised to shed light on the differences between similar skills, and while the examples certainly pointed out different mechanics and situations where such skills were used, it didn't quite answer the "why" of splitting them up.  The biggest offender here are the "Cool" and "Discipline" skills.  Cool is defined as "the ability to stay calm and think as one's life hangs in the balance," which sounds an awful lot like "the ability to maintain their [sic] composure and react in an effective manner" as Discipline is described.  So yeah, you can say that Cool is used for initiative and Discipline is used for fear checks, and that both oppose different social skills, but that still doesn't change the fact that they're both basically the same thing.  It's almost like having a "Running" and "Sprinting" skill.  The other offending pair that comes to mind is Perception and Vigilance.  The Order 66 podcast differentiated the two as Vigilance representing noticing things because you're constantly on the lookout, whereas Perception is your ability to notice things you don't expect, but I'm not buying this distinction either.  You're still basically just noticing things either way.  Sure, they say different things about a character (paying attention vs reacting), but I just don't think that's enough of a distinction to justify more than one skill.

Character Creation is quick, with a lot of room for customization.  The presentation of the talent trees (as well as the Force power trees) is much improved from the Beta so that it's much easier to tell how much XP everything costs at a glance.  The design is also sleeker and simplified, so that there's less visual clutter.  The Obligation and Motivation sections were fleshed out a bit more, and each career also has a sidebar that provides some neat inspiration (the Bounty Hunter's Creed, Unknown Stars for the Explorer, Droid Companions for the Technician, etc.).  Finally, a small detail that I really liked was putting the sentence reminding players that starting XP is the easiest way to increase characteristics, and therefore that a good chunk of it should usually be used for that purpose, in bold.  It jumps out immediately when you turn to the page, ensuring that new players see the advice (which they're, of course, free to ignore, but at least they can make an informed decision).

Equipment and Starships

I like the approach the game takes toward gear.  There's a combination of different approaches to economics, with credits being the D&D "counting gold pieces" approach, whereas Obligation provides an opportunity for a more abstract wealth (or, rather, debt) system (sort of like Treasure Points in The One Ring).  Obligation will be very useful for providing PCs access to specific big-ticket items without giving them so much credits that they could save up for said items, but are just as likely to wreak havoc on your plans buy buying a small army or arsenal instead.

Equipment walks a fine line between big lists of different stuff that promotes a "let's go shopping!" style of play and a simple, to-the-point list (instead of Merr-Sonn Model 44 blaster and BlasTech DL-18 being separate items, they're both just a "Light Blaster Pistol" and you can fluff to taste).  The baseline equipment list is pretty simplified, but individual items are customizable by using their "Hard Points" to add different "Attachments."  Tech-savvy characters can put further time and resources into the process by "Modding" these attachments for additional benefits (though it requires skill, and is risky).  Some Talents also provide options for customizing gear.  It should cater equally well to the detail-oriented and those who just want to grab a gun and get into the action.

When we played the beginner game, my group was really into Starship Combat.  The table of additional actions will make it even more enjoyable (this was also in a Beta update), as well as the fact that the book makes it very clear that these aren't the extent of your options, but rather should act as inspiration for improvisation.  I love the side bar on Chase scenes (simple and exciting).  I was surprised to see that the GHTROC 720 was removed from the list of starting ship options (and from the book!), and was replaced by the Wayfarer-Class freighter.  While I really like the GHTROC, I've made my peace with it not making the cut and I understand why they did it.  It was fairly similar to the YT-1300, whereas the Wayfarer provides a more distinctly different option.  The thing's a full silhouette bigger, it's unwieldy, and its Encumbrance capacity is more than 4 times that of the YT-1300.  Overall, there's a good variety of vehicles of every kind, and should be more than enough for most groups.

Oh yeah, and there's a Starship sheet included, which is awesome (and necessary!).


More were added since the Beta, including such iconic creatures as Gundarks and Rancors.  Unfortunately, the stat block presentation is atrocious.  This is easily my biggest sticking point with the book.  Sure there's a graphic with individual boxes for Soak, Wounds, Strain (for Nemeses), and Defenses, and the Characteristics are laid out in an eye-catching format just like the character sheet.  This is an improvement, but they really only got halfway.  Nemeses with a lot of talents have a wall of text, and more egregious yet is the fact that equipment (including weapons) have this same wall of text style!  Individual weapons don't even get their own line; they just continue as part of a bizarre run on sentence of weapon statistics.  None of the weapon names are bolded, and because they're just part of sentences there's no one place in the stat block you can look to get a weapons damage or crit rating, for example.  You have to skim this paragraph, which is a presentation style that I've found crippling in actual play.

I vastly prefer stat blocks that are well-organized for ease of reference.  D&D 4E is a great example of this.  Fortunately, the Triumph and Despair blog produced some 4E style stat blocks for all of the adversaries in the Edge of the Empire Beta, and there are plans to update them for consistency with the core rulebook.  First is the name of the adversary, and then sub-blocks (each name highlighted for an obvious visual break point) split up by Social, Defense, Attacks, Special Abilities, and Other Skills (which includes Characteristics).  Each weapon is given its own line, with its range listed first in bold (so your eyes are immediately drawn to melee weapons vs the different ranges of ranged weapons without even having to read the weapon's name).  I'll certainly be using these stat blocks for my game, but it's a shame that I don't have a useable reference in the actual book.

Background Info

There's a whole chapter devoted to The Galaxy, and another for Law and Society.  There's a Galactic Map (complete with hyperlanes), and an overview of each region with specific points of interest, historical facts, etc.  My favorite feature is a series of datapad-graphic sidebars called Grinner's Galaxy of Opportunities.  Grinner is a former smuggler, current infochant, and these sidebars are his first-person accounts of each galactic region.  His reaction gives you an initial overall impression of what the region's like, he cautions you about its perils and opportunities, and then best of all provides you with a list of current jobs in that region.  These examples are great inspiration for adventure seeds for GMs, and they give players a good idea of the type of jobs they might seek out (and where to go to find them).  At the end of the Galaxy chapter are 8 full-page planetary profiles where major worlds are detailed.

Law and Society gives an overview of the major players (obviously the biggest of which is the Empire).  This is full of information on power structures, goals, and most importantly how encounters with such groups are likely to play out for the PCs.  Also covered is the Rebel Alliance, Black Sun, the Hutts, and misc. other groups.  All good stuff.


Though I have a few gripes with it (I doubt a perfect product is possible), FFG have largely done a phenomenal job here.  While some may complain that the core books are being split up between fringers/smugglers, the struggle of the rebellion, and the Jedi, the fact that they were able to deliver the experience with such depth is a huge selling point to me.  I don't feel that I really need any supplements to get a complete experience (though I'm sure I'll pick up some of them), and I think that the focus makes for a more cohesive gaming experience (of course that could very well be thrown out the window in 3 years when you have a bounty hunter, a rebel x-wing pilot, and a Jedi all running around in the same party).  The biggest advantage of this format in my eyes is that after 2 years of actual experience by thousands of groups, the designers will be in a much better position to ensure that they get Jedi "right" on the balance scale.  Personally I don't know what "right" will be for this game, because Jedi are inherently problematic.  Either you let them do what Jedi are known for and they overshadow everyone else, or you reign in their power so that they're balanced and risk them not feeling like Jedi anymore.  For now I'm happy playing without them.

You can purchase the book here.

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