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Criminals in Space: Edge of the Empire Review
Why Should You Care?
(If the length of this review intimidates you, take a look at the TL;DR section at the bottom.)
In a world full of fantasy, sci-fi, horror and everything else in between, why should you be excited for Edge of the Empire?
First of all, if you're not automatically excited for Star Wars, stop reading. I'm serious. Get the heck outta here.
Second, while I'm sure there are RPG universes very much like Star Wars, nothing fits the bill quite like the official universe. You've got your science and your fantasy together in a wonderful, flashy sandwich that came from George Lucas's brain. I know that sounds gross, but bear with me. Better still, here's your chance to experience some legitimate Star Wars action without having to wait for the new movies.
Dice Gameplay Example
Morgan Fletch is trying to convince a junk vendor to sell him a hyperdrive motivator for cheap. Being the kind soul that he is, he tries to use his Charm to persuade the vendor. He fails the check, but has two Advantage left. The vendor isn't convinced, but his wife steps out of the back room. She happens to be one of Fletch's old smuggling partners. Surely she'll cut him a deal.
The Core Mechanic
Before I can explain the rest, you have to learn about the beating heart of the game: Edge of the Empire (from now on referred to as EotE) uses a dice pool system that uses custom dice. They don't have numbers on them, so there's no math involved. The reason for this is so you can have a wide variety of outcomes on any given dice roll. This is due to four symbols, two good and two bad, that cancel each other out. They are:
Success vs. Failure: You need to have more Successes showing than Failures in order to "succeed" at any given dice roll. They cancel each other out.
Advantage vs. Threat: These are an abstract way of representing good or bad things happening. In this system it's possible to succeed with bad things happening, or vice versa.
There are also Triumph and Despair, which are just the "critical" version of Success and Failure, so they're easy enough to understand (see the sidebar).
When you crack open this massive tome, you'll be greeted by a table of contents. Here are each of the chapters with my thoughts on them in brief.
Chapter 1: Playing the Game. This chapter explains how the dice work, how the universe is supposed to be run, how the story fits in with Star Wars and works to get the player up to speed quickly with the core rules.
Chapter 2: Character Creation. I liked this part because it takes you step-by-step through the process of making a character. The presentation of information is good, but it's easy for a beginner to miss a few things.
Chapter 3: Skills. An overview of all of the game's skills, complete with examples of how they can be used for dramatic effect.
Chapter 4: Talents. Each character class has a World of Warcraft-like talent tree that allows players to customize their character more fully. This chapter displays all skills in one convenient place.
Chapter 5: Gear and Equipment. Very thoughtful presentation of gear, weapons, armor and miscellaneous stuff that players need.
Chapter 6: Conflict and Combat. If you want to know how combat works, this is the chapter for you.
Chapter 7: Starships and Vehicles. What's Star Wars without vehicles? This is very much like the Gear chapter, except with stats for loads of space and aircraft.
Chapter 8: The Force. Although you can't exactly be a Jedi, this chapter allows you to become a "Force-sensitive Exile," which is an untrained force-user (much like Luke early in Empire Strikes Back). It adds a few more talent trees and lots of helpful information.
Chapter 9: The Game Master. Perhaps one of the most helpful resources for veteran or beginner GMs I've ever seen in a game. I recommend that anyone, even those who don't intend to play this game, read this chapter.
Chapter 10: The Galaxy. This is the longest chapter in the book, easily twice the size of the next largest. Here's where all of the Star Wars expanded universe stuff comes in. It's really quite amazing. Personally I've always perceived the EU kind of like fan fiction. The way it's presented here makes it seem completely official. After reading this chapter, I felt much more comfortable running games in this vast universe (and I now have a healthy respect of the EU).
Chapter 11: Law and Society. If the Galaxy chapter was about planets, this is much more granular. It covers what the Empire is doing at this time in the SW lore, what gangs are in power and what kind of factions the players can expect to run into during a game. Just compiling this information must've taken forever, but the book is much better because of it.
Chapter 12: Adversaries. In other RPG books this would be called the Bestiary. In Star Wars, most of the enemies aren't beasts. It details stats on just about everything your players will ever need to kill. There are also rules on how to "upgrade" an enemy to keep pace with the players. Very useful stuff.
Chapter 13: Trouble Brewing. An included adventure. I don't like running premade adventures very much, but there are many ideas here that can be used for homemade stories.
Where it Excels
Unlike many other systems, this game really emphasizes characterization of player characters. I once thought Savage Worlds was the pinnacle of character background with its Edges and Hindrances. Now I know better. During character creation, players can randomly pick (or choose) their Obligation. In short, Obligation is "what you owe." Each character will have something hanging over their heads, and it often comes back to haunt them (see the sidebar for the Obligation table).
Character also must have a Motivation. There are three kinds, Ambition, Cause and Relationship. Once the broad category is chosen, each type has its own table of 10 specific motivations. By the time a character is finalized, there is a vivid image in the player's mind about who this character is. In fact, I'm tempted to use the system when creating characters for fiction in general.
This feeds right into my next favorite part (which fixes one of my major complaints with RPGs in general) GM prep.
I have spent hundreds of hours of my life prepping adventures. Dungeons and Dragons was personally the hardest system for me to prep (since it heavily involves monster statistics and preconfigured skill checks). Savage Worlds was much easier, but still required loads of writing; my group at the time loathed combat in all its forms, I had to fill the time somehow.
Fortunately, I've gotten better at running adventures on the fly with very little prep. EoTE can work either way you care to GM. If you like writing a 5,000 word adventure beforehand, or running by the seat of your pants, you'll find something to love. How is this possible?
Obligation. Because each player has already picked their history (and if they're like mine, added quite a few interesting wrinkles) then you just have to turn the screws a little bit to see remarkable results.
Example of Obligation
SK-LR is a very special protocol droid. He is 200 years old, and he's obsessed with something he can never have: The Force.
He served in the Jedi academy on Coruscant under Mace Windu. When Order 66 was issued, the droid found himself very alone. Some call it mental trauma, which is strange, considering he doesn't exactly have a mind. The result is that SK-LR will do whatever it takes to get his hands on Force objects.
He's amassed a small collection of trinkets. The prize of his collection is a battered, broken lightsaber that looks like it went through a Rancor's GI tract and a garbage compactor. SK hopes to repair this forbidden artifact one day.
How Does This Help a GM?
It's very easy to make an adventure that engages this character's Obligation. Force objects are highly illegal in this era, particularly lightsabers. I just have to put a few temptations between SK-LR and the mission objective. His obsession puts the entire group in danger, and I love it.
• The rule system is very consistent, with very few exceptions. Some systems are bogged down with them. Even still, if you don't know how something works, improvise and look it up later. Chances are you weren't far off. It's very sensible and straightforward.
• The combat is fast and deadly.
• It's so easy to create character stories that I'm in love. My GM prep has gone from ten hours to half an hour.
• The book is beautiful.
• Annoyingly, there are a surprising amount of typos and errors. Certain points of the book reference things that were removed in the beta. It's just an oversight, I guess, and not a huge problem.
• The MSRP is a little high at $60. Shop around and find it cheaper online like I did.
• The custom dice can be a turn-off to some people. I recommend buying the Beginner Box, which nets you the dice along with a stripped-down version of the game.
The only reason it doesn't get a perfect 10 from me is those odd typos. I assume the second printing will fix those.
TL;DR: If you have any interest in RPGs, this is the most beginner-friendly game I've seen. See my review of the beginner box for more info. You might also be interested in my top 5 tips for new game masters.