In September, we announced the upcoming release of the Star Wars®: Edge of the Empire™ Beginner Game, a standalone roleplaying game (RPG) experience that’s the perfect starting point for roleplaying adventures in the Star Wars galaxy. Today, we’ll continue a series of previews outlining what new roleplayers can expect when they open their copy.
In our last preview, we guided you through an overview of the the Beginner Game’s introductory content: the learn-as-you-go Adventure Book and the first two pages of the convenient Character Folios. We explained how as the Game Master reads the first six pages of the Adventure Book and sets up the story to come, the Hero Players select their characters, familiarizing themselves with the included backstories and initial skills.
All of this leads up to the first encounter, a simple scenario designed to teach the basics of the game’s core dice mechanic. Entitled “On the Run,” Encounter One is intentionally the briefest and simplest of the adventure; it consists of a scene spent hiding from pursuers. “On the Run” places the characters in the entryway of a small and sparsely patronized cantina, where they must quickly find hiding places to avoid the goons chasing them. Each player may only make one attempt to hide before burly Gamorreans enter, and each attempt is subject to one “skill check,” which we’ll explain below.
What Do You Do?
This brief opening encounter serves two main purposes. First, it is a relatively low-pressure way to introduce new roleplayers to the experience of actually roleplaying. Discussing how RPGs work in the abstract is fine, but when the Game Master leads his players into an genuine situation, explains a few options, and asks “What do you do?,” things get real. For someone unaccustomed to the range of narrative possibilities an RPG presents, such a question can be unsettling, or even a bit daunting. “On the Run” is sort of a narrative encounter with the “training wheels” still on. It presents a problem, offers several possible solutions, and invites the players to either select a solution or concoct one of their own.
Above, a two-page spread that constitutes the first encounter, with the dice mechanic instructions magnified. As you can see, this brief encounter is designed to familiarize players with the basics of dice pools and skill checks. Click to enlarge.
Second, this initial encounter establishes the basics of the all-important dice mechanic, a concept that will serve the players in everything they do throughout their exploits. Let’s take a closer look at the core dice mechanic in the Star Wars: Edge of the Empire Beginner Game, and see how it will enrich your adventures by providing outcomes that go beyond mere success and failure.
Accounting for Fate
Stated simply, a skill check is a way of accounting for random chance or the fickle whims of fate. Whenever a character attempts anything that has a chance of failure, a roll of the dice is necessary to determine success. But which dice should a player roll, and how many of them? To explain that, let’s first look at the symbols present on the Beginner Game’s custom dice.
An explanation of the dice symbols. Today’s simple example won’t delve into Triumph and Despair, but suffice it to say that these two symbols represent rare and extraordinary twists of fate.
Below are the seven types of dice that come in the Beginner Game. For now, we’ll ignore the Force Die (white); it’s used in rare and special dice pools when the mysterious power of the Force is taken into account.
The other six main dice, three positive and three negative, make up the Edge of the Empire custom dice system. Ability, Proficiency, and Boost dice provide beneficial symbols, and represent a character’s basic aptitude, advanced training, and environmental advantages. Conversely, Difficulty, Challenge, and Setback dice provide negative symbols, and represent a task’s inherent complexity, active opposition, and environmental disadvantages.
Success, Failure, and Everything in Between
At the most basic level, if there are more Success symbols () than Failure symbols () after a roll, the check passes. Whatever the Hero Player wanted to accomplish has been accomplished, for good or ill.
Things are seldom as black and white as mere success or failure, however. Often, things can go well overall but with annoying side effects, or fail utterly while producing an unexpected benefit. Edge of the Empire presents a unique way to explore these further narrative possibilities: Advantages () and Threats ().
In the Beginner Game’s first encounter, Advantages () and Threats () simply cause characters to suffer or recover “strain,” a measure of mental fatigue or stress. Everything we do (or try to do) has the potential to either discourage or exhilarate us, and the strain is an abstracted measure of one’s level of exhaustion and general anxiety.
Once the Game Master becomes more confident in shaping the story, he or she can come up with other engaging narrative outcomes of Advantages () and Threats (). It needn’t always be about suffering and recovering strain; these “side effects” can instead have very real narrative consequences. Perhaps you will successfully break into a building (enough symbols), but unbeknownst to you, you’ll trigger a silent alarm (too many symbols). Or perhaps in failing to successfully haggle with a merchant (too many symbols), you’ll discover that he’s a hopelessly indebted gambling addict (enough symbols). Once your group becomes experienced enough, Edge of the Empire’s narrative dice mechanic opens up a range of storytelling options.
The Deep End of the Dice Pool
To drive the point home, let’s build a dice pool based around a task of average difficulty: making basic repairs to a speeder. Let’s imagine that 41-Vex, the droid colonist, needs to fix his broken vehicle in time to keep an important meeting. First, we’ll look at Vex’s Character Folio, where we’ll find his “Mechanics” skill listed under the “Skills” section.
The (Int) after Mechanics tells us that this skill is based on the Intellect Characteristic, and Rank of “1” tells us that Vex has special training in Mechanics. All we really need to know for our example, however, is that his dice pool for a Mechanics skill check consists of three Ability Dice (green) and one Proficiency Die (yellow). That’s clearly listed in the third column.
Vex’s player sets aside those four dice, and the Game Master declares that this particular repair is of average difficulty. This means that two Difficulty Dice (purple) will be required. All things being equal, this would be a complete dice pool for a skill check: a character’s abilities balanced against a task’s inherent difficulty.
But all things are not equal. The Game Master declares that it is raining on a pitch-black night, making the repair more daunting. It’s important to note that extenuating circumstances such as these do not reduce Vex’s capabilities, taking away his Ability or Proficiency Dice. Nor do they add Difficulty Dice of the check; making this particular repair to this model of speeder would always be a task of average difficulty, regardless of other circumstances. Instead, they add Setback Dice to the pool, one for each negative factor (at the GM’s discretion). Luckily, Vex has brought his trusty hydrospanner along, so the GM agrees that this is worth the addition of a Boost Die. Since no one is actively opposing Vex and his task has a standard difficulty, the Challenge Die (red) won’t be needed. Now, we’re ready to roll.
41-Vex’s player makes his roll, with the results seen below. At a glance, all the players can see that several of the and symbols cancel each other out, and that likewise several of the and symbols cancel each other out, leaving two and one symbol. The skill check has passed, but with an unintended negative side effect.
The Game Master declares that while making his successful repair, Vex took a nasty shock from some frayed wiring, suffering one strain. Vex boards the speeder and rushes off to make his meeting, considering himself fortunate that things didn’t go worse.
41-Vex’s skill check, after his roll. Dice with symbols canceling each other out have been faded slightly to emphasize the final tally: two Success results and one Threat result. A successful check...with one unfortunate side effect.
The Star Wars: Edge of the Empire Beginner Game’s straightforward dice system takes a number of narrative conditions into account, allowing players and Game Masters quickly build a dice pool for each task. Then, players simply roll and let the dice help guide the growth of the story.
Check back as we discuss character advancement and other details, then look for the Star Wars: Edge of the Empire Beginner Game on store shelves in just a few more weeks!