The Gamer's Codex

The Gamer's Codex

The Gamer's Codex

Star Wars: Edge of the Empire “Shadows of a Black Sun”

Star Wars: Edge of the Empire – Shadows of a Black Sun
From
: Fantasy Flight Games
Reviewed by: Ron McClung

Star Wars: Edge of the Empire – Shadows of a Black Sun is a new Free RPG Day Adventure from Fantasy Flight Games

Within the Star Wars community, few things, short of the Disney purchase of Lucas Films and the impending release of Star Wars VII, have had more buzz than the release of the new RPG by Fantasy Flight Games (FFG).  Back in 2011 when FFG obtained the license after Wizards of the Coast dropped it, I was skeptical.  I personally went through a long phase of my life with various versions of the Star Wars role playing game – from d6 to d20 – over several campaigns.  However, thanks to the prequels, my Star Wars fandom was severely diminished and I stopped running Star Wars games all together, selling everything I had.

Now my young son is getting into Star Wars rather intensely and I am not hindering it.  Slowly but surely, I am reliving Star Wars fandom through my boy.  But I never thought I would ever consider running the RPG ever again.  My question when I first heard about the new RPG was – can they pull me back in?

As I heard their design decisions as well as setting decisions, I was torn.  They were going to market it much like the way they had with Warhammer 40K RPG, starting with the “rogue trader” book, Edge of the Empire, focusing on the fringe and criminal elements of the Star Wars universe.  That did not thrill me because that just meant more books to buy.  Couple that with the rumors of custom dice used in the system, and my expectations were getting lower.  However, the focus was on the Rebellion era, which gave me, I dare say, a new hope.

The Shadows of a Black Sun Free RPG Day adventure has created a lot of buzz.  For a time, the hard copy of the adventure was selling for between $25 and $30 on Ebay.  Since FFG has now released it on PDF, the buzz has died down a little.

This is my first foray into the new Star Wars, so I will be reviewing not only on the Free RPG Day product but also the system itself.

What strikes you first is the stunning layout, art and quality of the product.  You just cannot believe it is free.  However, you should not expect anything less from FFG, especially in relation to the Star Wars universe.  It is full color with brilliant art that says that FFG understands the universe and what is expected of them.  I would even venture to say that it is better quality than the WotC release of the d20 version. I was never overly impressed with their art, but then again it may have been my bias against the prequels.

From the back cover:
“A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…”

The book opens up with a general overview of the basic rules.  One of my main concern was the custom dice.  I was pleasantly surprised to find that the first thing you see is a conversion table for standard dice to their special dice.  That alleviated a lot of concern up front.  They also provide an app for iOS and Android; however, they are not free apps.

THE RULES

The rules themselves are abridged, focusing on just what you need for the adventure.  It explains the dice, one by one, and then goes into the mechanics.  The dice mechanic is actually one of the praises I have heard about this game.  The dice, with the varying symbols, range from 6-sided to 12-sided.  Each die is colored, based on type, and each type has its own set of symbols.  For instance, the Ability Die has a Success symbol (a sort of burst symbol) and a Failure symbol (a three pointed star symbol).  Each symbol has its opposite – once cancelling the other out when rolled.

Every symbol has its own meaning and once you get used to them, I can see the game flowing fairly fluidly.  It is that period of adjustment I am most concerned about, however.  The longer it takes to get used to these symbols, the more likely people will want to play other games with more familiar dice.  The reward will have to outweigh the investment of time to adjust.

What all this means is that the dice not only decide success or fail, but decide severity as well as additional context and consequences during task resolution.  In game, there may be a call for a die to an upgrade.  Ability dice are upgraded to Proficiency dice, and Difficulty dice can be upgraded to Challenge dice.  This dichotomy coupled with the symbol pairing brings task resolution to a whole new level and adds much more storytelling to the dice mechanic.  I was impressed with that from the start.

The Difficulty of a task determines the number of Difficulty dice and/or Challenge dice you roll in your pool.  These range from Simple (no dice at all) to Formidable (5 Difficulty dice).  At any time, these dice can up upgraded (or in some cases, downgraded).  There are 6 Ability scores following the familiar pattern of 3 physical and 3 mental.  The Skill check dice pool is determined by skill rank and the Ability score is associated to the skill.  The higher number determines the number of dice and the lower determines the number of upgrades.   It is a very interesting and subtly elegant system.  It relies heavily on the custom dice but I feel the adjustment period is worth the reward in the end for a system like this.

From the back cover:
“Amid the backdrop of civil war, the Empire tightens its grip on the galaxy.  Yet, even the Emperor’s influence only extends so far.”

Aside from success or failure, the dice add other factors into the game.  The dice may roll Advantage or Triumph as well as Threat and Despair.  The player now must “spend” these on various options presented in a table.  In the abridged version, the table is shorter, as noted in the text.  The Core rulebook has a much more extensive Advantage and Triumph/Threat and Despair table.  Options include adding Boost dice to other actions, inflicting critical, causing strain, or adding setback dice to other’s actions.

There are also Destiny points that represent the Force’s influence on things.  They are basically tokens or coins with two sides – Light and Dark.  PCs can spend the Light side for help in a situation and when spent, the token is flipped to the Dark side.  The GM may in turn flip the Dark side point  to hinder the players.  I really like this aspect of the game.

Combat is simply an extension of the task resolution system, as one would expect. This booklet spends a little time explaining intricacies of combat as obviously it plays a big part in the Star Wars universe.  At first glance, it appears that it goes along the standard Roll Initiative/Roll Attack model, but there are some subtle differences.  Initiative is rolled once for each combat encounter but it is not static for each character.  Each initiative result rolled makes an initiative slot, either Player Character or NPC.  The players as a group decide each round who takes each slot and the GM determines who takes the NPC slots.  That also is an interesting take on initiative, making it more tactical.

I have played combat fairly abstract when playing d6 Star Wars and more tactical in the d20 version.  I prefer a flexible tactical approach to combat.  This new version of Star Wars is quite the opposite.  They encourage a more abstract approach, focusing on action and story rather than grid maps and miniatures.  Unfortunately, I would find myself wanting to favor my grid maps and minis over the abstract, but that’s a personal preference.

THE ADVENTURE

The adventure takes place on Coruscant and puts the players right into the heart of it.  They start out after they have already infiltrated a Black Sun facility and have to escape with stolen data.  It goes through three episodes, starting with a harrowing chase through Coruscant, followed by the search for the bounty hunter that betrayed the Pyke family, and ending with a confrontation of said bounty hunter.  It is an interesting journey through the underbelly of the once great capital of the old Republic.  It not only supplies enough required encounters for a fulfilling adventure, but also a few options are thrown in there as well.

The adventure also illustrates rather well the stylishness of the system, with its simple ways of breaking down NPCs to the ways it makes encounters flow smoother.  I can see how easily it can allow for a lot of adventure and storytelling without getting too bogged down into the system.

The adventure takes the characters through several locations on Coruscant, from the greasy speeder bike repair shop and seedy drug dealing clubs to high-stakes sabacc houses and high towers of weapons smugglers.  A nice addition (and also something that made this free adventure very sought after) is rules to play Sabacc in game terms.  Along with that, it provides 4 pre-generated characters that allow for immediate play.

In conclusion, like most anything out of FFG, this is a high quality product.  It is amazing that it’s free.  It definitely exemplifies what I envision Free RPG Day is.  It gives you all you need to play right away.  The only preparation a GM would need is to read the adventure and rules thoroughly.  My only complaint is that it only supplies 4 characters, but it does supply a means to download more for a larger party.

From a system point of view, some of my skepticism is relieved.  Some publishers would simply release a system with specialized dice just to make more money but honestly, I do not think that was the only motivation behind this design.  Star wars needed a totally new system and a new way of looking at it.  It needed something to revive its fans and play it again in a new way.  This system seems to accomplish at least some of that.  The rest remains to be seen.

For more details on Fantasy Flight Games and their new Free RPG Day Adventure
Star Wars: Edge of the Empire – Shadows of a Black Sun” check them out at their website http://www.fantasyflightgames.com

Codex Rating: 19

Product Summary

Star Wars: Edge of the Empire – Shadows of a Black Sun
From
: Fantasy Flight Games
Type of Game: Free RPG Day Adventure
Written by: Jeff Hall
Contributing Authors: Michele Carter, Christine Crabb, Mark Pollard
Produced by: Katrina Ostrandler
Cover Art by: Scott Schomburg, Mark Molnar
Additional Art by: Brian Schomburg, Jacob Atienza, Ryan Barger, Caravan Studio, Christina Davis, Tony Foti, Tom Garden, David Kegg, Adam Lane, Ralph McQuarrie, Jacob Murray, Matthew Starbuck, Christer Wibert, Lucas Film art archives.
Number of Pages: 40
Game Components Included: 1 booklet
Retail Price: Free
Website: www.fantasyflightgames.com

Reviewed by: Ron McClung

About the author

Ron McClung (Ron McClung)

Gaming Coordinator for all MACE events. Former writer for GamingReport.com and Scrye Magazine.

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