Star Wars: Edge of the Empire Review

This week, I’m going to deviate off the Dungeon path and talk about space. Particularly, a galaxy far, far away…

Edge of the Empire by Fantasy Flight Games is the first of three core rule books that will eventually encapsulate the Star Wars Universe RPG game. Edge of the Empire has been out for well over a year now and focuses on creating roguish exploits for your players at the edge of civilized space. The ongoing Imperial and Rebel war rampaging through the inner-rim seems far away, and the lawless outer-rim is full of sly profiteering. Players become smugglers, bounty hunters and pilots hungry for work on the fringes, taking whatever jobs they can to get by.

If you're a fan of shows like Firefly, then you already know what kind of mood Fantasy Flight is setting. Star Wars is ultimately a science fiction fantasy and Wild West adventure. If you can balance these two atmospheres well, then you can easily run the game. Keeping players hungry for work is the main goal of the GM. Unlike Dungeons & Dragons, your players are usually not heroes and won't stick their neck out for the common folk. They might become entangled in a plot and save a space station, but at the end of the day, they need fuel for their ship and to remain free from Imperial entanglement.

Ultimately, you should decide with your players ahead of time how much Star Wars canon you want to incorporate in your game. Throughout expanded universe books, prequels and animated TV shows, Star Wars gives the feeling that main characters, like R2D2 and Lando Calrissian, are involved in every plot that has ever come up or that every important event somehow involves the backwater planet of Tatooine. One of my biggest fears about GMing the game was becoming embroiled in an argument over the lore with the players or feeling like I had to roleplay a beloved movie character just because. Subsequently, I set my adventure on a made-up station of my own design.

If you played the old West End Star Wars RPG back in the 90s, you might feel trepidation about picking up a new one. However, you can leave you piles of D6s at home. One of the best things about Edge of the Empire is its custom dice system. Other games have attempted to tackle space combat in their own way, but instead of taking paths developed by Traveler and GURPS, Edge of the Empire has chosen to focus on group story building and keeping things rather loose.

There are seven different dice in total, six of which come into play situationally. At its simplest, when a player makes a skill check, their rank determines how many of the positive D8 dice they grab. These contain both success and advantage symbols. Then, the GM decides how difficult the task is and assigns difficulty dice, containing failure and threat. These are rolled together by the player, and if successes outnumber failures, the skill check has succeeded. The advantage and threat symbols help to paint a broader picture of the narrative action. A successfully spiked security door may open due to success, but an overwhelming threat count means the player triggered the alarm. A failed blaster shot might still have enough advantage to startle the enemy storm trooper, making the next player’s attack that much easier. Because the player rolled the dice, they feel included in the outcome and invited to participate in the result’s decision. All the rules have been decided ahead of time. Once the dice are tossed, it’s all roleplaying.

I instantly fell in love with this dice system because it elevated one of the biggest hang ups in Dungeons & Dragons roleplaying—checking against the DM. In D&D, an experienced player will generally know whether they rolled well or poorly instantly. There is very little suspense involved, but they still need to wait for the DM to check their roll. The feedback of the action is usually basic at best, simply telling players whether they hit or miss.

Over the course of a campaign, characters gain XP that can be spent to rank up their abilities. There is no leveling system, but there are talent trees that provide new skills and boosts. The force is one of these possible trees, but maxing it out will only ever allow players some light telekinesis or upgrading their abilities with boost dice. For full Jedi adventures, we’ll have to wait and see what future core rule books bring.

Players also have to manage both their health levels and a stat called strain. Strain is reduced by using special abilities, getting hit by a stun blast or anything else the GM decides. It’s a welcome edition, and allows you to keep tension high without having to keep their health low. It also allows you to punish players in situations where they wouldn't actually take damage, such as failing to lift a heavy object or running for long distances without rest.

All these tools come together to make an extremely solid theater of the mind experience. As long as the players know what's going on, the rules invite you to go at it fast and loose.