Friday, August 22, 2014

A New Hope, Pt. II: An Even Newer Hope

Yesterday, I wrote with fond nostalgia about West End Games' Star Wars RPG. Today I'll talk about the new Fantasy Flight Games Star Wars RPGs, and basically about how awesome they are.

I've written before about my love for the Warhammer FRPG. I think it's one of the most underrated RPGs of all time. So when I discovered that FFG was going to use the system from Warhammer to power Star Wars, I was delighted. The system, informally called "the narrative dice system," consists of special, custom-made dice with success, failure, advantage, and disadvantage symbols on them. You roll a pool of the dice for whatever task you're doing. Difficulties and obstacles to your success are "evil dice" added into your dice pool. You roll the pool, and if you have more success symbols than failure symbols, you succeed. If you roll more advantage symbols than setback symbols, you have a bit of good news; a silver lining in the case of failure, or an added bonus in the case of success. Vice versa if you rolled more setbacks than advantages.

The two great things about this system jump out right away; no math, and results open to interpretation. Whether you're firing a blaster at a stormtrooper or swinging across a ravine, this system gives you all kinds of stuff to work with, without the math. A critical hit is simply rolling enough advantages with your hit. Coming up just short on the jump but managing to grab the ledge is simply a setback on the dice. There are plenty of mechanical dials you can adjust, too, if you'd rather have something more substantial. For example, characters suffer from Strain, a form of fatigue damage that can knock you out when you hit the threshold, but it heals rapidly. Recovering Strain or taking Strain is an easy, mechanical way to reflect advantages and setbacks on the dice, if you can't think of anything else or if you simply want to keep the action moving.

The fun, fluid nature of the system flows to the dice pool as well. A player comes up with a clever one-liner before he punches out a traitorous Bothan? Give him an advantage die! A player tries to fast talk an Imperial officer while drunk from rotgut? Give him a disadvantage die! Similar to Cortex Plus, giving a die is less precise than a static bonus, which not only makes it more fun, but it also makes it easier to assign without worry of breaking anything.

I love the storytelling aspects of a role-playing game, but I'm also keenly aware of the game aspects, as well. Doing one without the other is, more often than not, a recipe for disaster at the table. FFG understands this, and has gone to painstaking lengths to marry storytelling with rules at nearly every turn. An example of this is in what I call "background mechanics." In Edge of the Empire, each character has a debt of some kind, with various tables to help randomize the amount of debt, what it's for, and to whom one is indebted to. In Age of Rebellion, each character has a Duty, which represents their ideals and why they fight. These mechanics have actual impacts on gameplay. They're not just there for flavor; however, the mechanics of these backgrounds usually tie into the storytelling/narrative aspects of the game more than the technical/gameplay side (though they can do that a little, too).

Finally, one of the last things I love about FFG's Star Wars that I want to talk about is the production quality. I am a sucker for fancy art and colorful layouts. FFG goes above and beyond, delivering these big, beautiful, full-color books that are just a joy to look at. Brilliantly, FFG realized that photo stills from the movies can look dated, so they had artists actually hand draw several scenes straight from the movie. This creates a brand-new pespective of the entire Star Wars universe that gives these RPGs a unique look and feel while still being totally, completely Star Wars. These are the kinds of RPGs I want to show off in public, reading in coffee shops and playing in library conference rooms. We live in a time where anyone with even amateur tools can publish their own work, and that's fantastic. But every once and awhile, it's nice to just plunk down a chunk of money and walk out of the store (or have delivered) an honest-to-God product. 

Granted, it is entirely possible that FFG might go too far, as they have certainly proved in the past. Already the amount of supplemental material for Edge of the Empire is staggering. Age of Rebellion looks like its going to be just as robust. And even though Age has only been out for a month or two, the purchaseable beta of Force and Destiny is already out in the wild! Personally, this is not a problem for me; my policy is almost always "core books only; if you want it in the game, buy me the book!" but I can see how collectors and completionists might pull their hair out over the quantity of content that FFG is producing for its game lines.

Nevertheless, I think these Star Wars RPGs are the best books to bare the name yet. I am greatly looking forward to running my one-shot of Age of Rebellion this Sunday. May the Force be with you!

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