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DanteRotterdam

The Alexandrian 'review' of F&D...

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Oh my god...

 

http://thealexandrian.net/wordpress/37670/roleplaying-games/review-star-wars-force-and-destiny#comment-1811287

 

Weirdly enough you cannot comment without it being moderated so that might explain why there is nothing but Yes-man in the replies.

 

 

Review: Star Wars – Force and Destiny
August 24th, 2015

The core rulebooks for Fantasy Flight’s iteration of the Star Wars Roleplaying Game are incredibly gorgeous. For several years I would walk past them in game stores, pick them up, and say, “Wow!”

Then I’d look at the price, realize I wasn’t likely to get a Star Wars game together any time in the near future, and then slowly put the book back on the shelf with a lingering pang of regret.

 

Over time, though, I started putting the book back faster and faster, and eventually I just stopped picking them up. And that’s largely because I find Fantasy Flight’s packaging of the game absurd.

Back in 2012 when they released the beta version of Star Wars: Edge of Empire for $40 I didn’t have a problem with it: It provided early access to the game. Nobody was being forced to pay for it if they didn’t want to. And it wasn’t the first (nor the last) time that a beta program had a price of admission.

… but then they did it again for Age of Rebellion and for Force and Destiny. And it began to look a lot more like a marketing strategy: By executing a beta-beginning-core triumvirate for three separate games, it looked suspiciously as if Fantasy Flight Games had figured out how to sell the same core rules nine times over.

And there’s really no justification for it. The claim by the game designers that the “core experience” of the Star Wars universe is for Han Solo (Edge of Empire), Princess Leia (Age of Rebellion), and Luke Skywalker (Force and Destiny) to all adventure separately from each other is utterly bizarre.

On top of that, however, there’s the specialized dice. I don’t actually have a problem with a game using a specialized dice set, but these are sold at $15 per set… and in order to get a dice pool large enough that a table of beginning characters can reliably make their checks without having to reroll dice to form a full pool you’ll need three sets. So there’s another $45 you need to spend in order to start playing the game effectively.

Money-grubbing corporations will grub money, right? Fair enough. But I think what I find particularly frustrating is that the Star Wars roleplaying game should be a major point of entry for players new to RPGs. And that’s particularly true right now as Star Wars enters its second renaissance. And instead of opening the door wide to those new players, Fantasy Flight has packaged the game at an exorbitant price point which makes it basically as unattractive as possible.

Honestly, the cost would have kept me from ever trying the game. But I had a friend who wanted me to run it for them, and they purchased all the books and supplies. So let’s lay the cost aside and talk about the game itself.

CORE MECHANIC

In FFG’s Star Wars, your character is defined by their Characteristics and their Skills. In order to resolve an action, you take a number of Ability Dice equal to either your Characteristic or your Skill, whichever is higher. Then you upgrade a number of those Ability Dice to Proficiency Dice equal to either your Characteristic or your Skill, whichever is lower.

 

(For example, let’s say you’re making a Brawn + Athletics check and you’ve got Brawn 3 and Athletics 2. You’d take three Ability Dice because the higher score is 3. Then you’d upgrade two of those to Proficiency Dice because the lower score is 2. That would give you dice pool of one Ability Die and two Proficiency Dice.)

This basic pool can be then be modified in various ways: The GM can add Difficulty Dice (representing the difficulty of the task), which can be upgraded to Challenge Dice by various horrible circumstances. Particularly notable successes or failures on previous checks might also grant you Boost Dice or Setback Dice, and so forth.

The key point is that all of the dice in these pools are marked with a number of different symbols: Success, Failure, Advantage, Threat, Triumph, and Despair. You roll all the dice, you count up all the symbols and…

MECHANICAL NONSENSE

 … and that’s when the hoverpads fall off the landspeeder.

After you’ve rolled the dice, you have:

(1) Success vs. Failure (these cancel, multiples successes accumulate but failures don’t)

(2) Advantage vs. Threat (these cancel, multiples of both accumulate)

(3) Triumph vs. Despair (these don’t cancel)

Ignoring quantitative differences, these give you 18 qualitative results:

Success
Failure
Success-Advantage
Success-Advantage-Triumph
Success-Advantage-Despair
Success-Advantage-Triumph-Despair
Success-Threat
Success-Threat-Triumph
Success-Threat-Despair
Success-Threat-Triumph-Despair
Failure-Advantage
Failure-Advantage-Triumph
Failure-Advantage-Despair
Failure-Advantage-Triumph-Despair
Failure-Threat
Failure-Threat-Triumph
Failure-Threat-Despair
Failure-Threat-Triumph-Despair

I’m a huge fan of systems that characterize the quality of success or failure (instead of just treating those as binary qualities). But why do we need to count each tier of dice symbols in a slightly different way? And why do we need three separate tiers of symbols? This system literally generates outcomes like, “Moderate success with something vaguely good, but also something vaguely better than vaguely good, but also something seriously bad in a vague way.”

Okay. So you flip over to the skill guidelines hoping for a little guidance… and that’s when you discover that even the designers have no idea how to use their convoluted dice system.

For example, advantage can’t turn failure into success… unless it’s a Knowledge skill, because then advantage can grant you “minor but possibly relevant information about the subject” even on a failure. (Except… if you’re gaining access to relevant information, that sounds like a success, right?)

 

If you’re making a Computer check, then additional successes reduce the time required to make the check. But if it’s a Stealth check, then you’re going to use advantage to reduce the time required. With Skullduggery you use advantage to gain additional items, but if you’re making a Survival check you’ll use successes to gain those items.

It goes on and on like that.

So you have a system that’s supposedly feeding you “useful” information, but the designers can’t even figure out how to interpret the results consistently despite multiple years of development and nine different products featuring the core mechanics. Why should we believe that this system is going to do anything useful at the table?

Based on my experiences running the game, it doesn’t. A system that says “success-but-complicated” or “success-but-extra-awesome” is giving you valuable guidance in adjudicating the outcome of a check. What FFG’s Star Wars gives you, on the other hand, is a tangled morass.

But maybe I was still missing something. So I talked to people who were playing the game. And what I discovered is that people who were enjoying the system were almost universally not playing it according to the rules.

Many of them weren’t even aware they were doing it. (Subconsciously house ruling away the inconsistencies in how symbols of different tiers are tallied is apparently very common, for example.) It’s as if we were talking about a car, I mentioned the gas pedal, and multiple people talking about how great the car is to drive said, “What’s a gas pedal?”

Even among those who were aware they were changing the game, it would lead to some really weird conversations where I would criticize the dice system; someone would reply to say that they loved it; I would ask what they loved about it; and then they would reply by basically saying, “I love the fact that we changed it!”

Which is, I suppose, the ultimate condemnation of the system.

THE REST OF THE SYSTEM

What about the rest of the system?

Actually, there’s some really interesting stuff in there. The way mooks are handled is really elegant, allowing the GM to rapidly group their actions together (all the mooks using suppressive fire on one guy) or split them apart on the fly (as the mooks pursue PCs who split up while running through the corridors of the Death Star).

Also of note are the starship combat rules, which do a really nice job of creating a simple structure that (a) captures the dynamics of the dogfighting we see in the Star Wars films and (b) allows all of the PCs on a ship to take meaningful actions during the fight.

But there are two problems.

First, you can’t escape the core mechanic. It is, after all, the core mechanic. It touches everything. So, yes, the starship combat system’s mixture of starship maneuvers and starship actions creates what looks likely a really dynamic structure… but the core mechanic you’re rolling multiple times every turn is still a clunky, time-sucking disaster.

Second, the system is frankly riddled with inconsistencies.

For example, combat initiative works in all ways exactly like a competitive check… except for how ties are broken. Why?! Why would you do that?

Another example: The difficulty of a check to heal someone is dependent on how injured they are. Similarly, the difficulty of repairing your ship is dependent on how damaged it is. If you take those rules and you put them on a table, you end up with this:

 

Oh! That’s nice! They’ve unified the difficulties so that you can easily memorize and use… Wait a minute.

What the hell?!

I honestly can’t tell if that’s just incredibly sloppy design or if it’s actually a revelation of Machiavellian evil. (I literally keep looking back at the rulebooks because my brain refuses to accept that this is true. But it is.)

The whole game is like this. (We’ve already talked about how the skill guidelines seem to take an almost perverse glee in never doing something the same way twice.) It’s almost as if the designers said, “This system is pretty slick and elegant… let’s go ahead and randomly change half the mechanics for no reason.”

CONCLUSION

Somewhere inside the nine core rulebooks that FFG has published, I feel like there’s a pretty good Star Wars game screaming to get out. And if you’re the type of roleplayer who’s comfortable just kind of playing vaguely in the vicinity of the actual rules, you might even be able to find it in here occasionally.

But all the clunkiness adds up.

I designed a short little scenario for the game: A few modest combats. A little investigation. Some cool set pieces.

It’s the kind of scenario that, if I was running it in most systems, would take one or two sessions to play through. As we wrapped up our fourth session, we still hadn’t finished it. The mechanics superficially lend themselves to dramatic, swashbuckling action, but the system is so sluggish in pace that even simple combat encounters drag out. The result is that the system takes narrative material and stretches it out until it has long since been drained of interest. It’s bloated, unfocused, and…

Ah. I know what this reminds me of.

FFG’s game is the Special Edition of Star Wars roleplaying games.

Style: 5
Substance: 1

(Substance would be a 2, but you have to buy the game a minimum of three times to get all the rules to play something resembling any of the Star Wars movies. So, weighing its value against the actual price of $180… nah. And that doesn’t even include the dice.)

Author: Jay Little, Sam Stewart, and FFG Development Team
Publisher: Fantasy Flight Games
Cost: $59.95
Page Count: 456
ISBN: 978-1-63344-122-4

Edited by DanteRotterdam

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He wants to get pedantic about possible die roll results, but he fails at simple math. 3 betas and 3 core books doesn't add up to 9 published rulebooks last time I checked, even using the ridiculous methods my kids' teachers use now.

I won't even get started about his complaints regarding the dice.

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I admit that since you have 3 levels of "success" on a roll (Success/Failure, Advantage/Threat, Triumph/Despair), it takes a little more time to get really familiar with the system to allow for more fluid fights. There are great tools (and the GM screens) that give a quick view of how to interpret each symbols. The dice system is great : it allows for non-combat oriented characters to be able to shine in combat with the Boost dices and Triumphs, it's also faster since there is no competitive checks, only base difficulty + defensive talents.

 

I frankly believe that he was forced to try a game that he didn't want to believe in... hence his negative review.

I played Star Wars WEG D6 system for maybe 20 years on and off : loved it and still have fond memories of great adventures... but with FFG, I'm never going back.

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I agree with everything he says. I was one of the proponents of the new RPG system, until I got my hands on it. Ever since Edge I haven't touched the system. Now don't get me wrong. The book is high quality, the art, is great, and it looks good ect. The actual game system the mechanics are just awful. I found it vague. Or my players would cheese it and make everyone always drop their gun because why wouldn't you? 

 

A single simple combat in Edge lasted longer than fight in 5th and nearly as long as in their 40k RPG line. And we all know how much of a time sucking dreary thing that is. 

 

The cypher system does lightweight story focused games better than this game could ever hope to achieve with its vagueness. And I always have more complex RPG choices if I want those like 5th or many others. 

 

The Cypher system and Numenera (most well known of it) allows non-combat characters to shine in combat and combat guys to shine out of it. All on a single dice and combat that takes 1/4 as long. So you can stay focused on the story and dramatic events. It's even got a cool GM Intrusion system that can alter the story, but it's not so frequent like the dice that I feel confused thinking what dumb thing could possibly happening now. 

 

Anybody who wants a lightweight story based game that can easily be tailored to any stetting should check into the Cypher system. 

 

Vague. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NdLa9yYt_jw

Edited by Gamgee

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He wants to get pedantic about possible die roll results, but he fails at simple math. 3 betas and 3 core books doesn't add up to 9 published rulebooks last time I checked, even using the ridiculous methods my kids' teachers use now.

I won't even get started about his complaints regarding the dice.

to give him the benefit of the doubt with the math, he is counting the beginner games as the 3 additional core rule books. Not that they're really core rule books, but still... Maybe he can count at least...

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A single simple combat in Edge lasted longer than fight in 5th and nearly as long as in their 40k RPG line. And we all know how much of a time sucking dreary thing that is. 

Either those two systems are pretty quick, or something is off here. How come it took you so long?

 

 

I was just about to ask... We literaly breeze through encounters at our table.

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I agree with everything he says. I was one of the proponents of the new RPG system, until I got my hands on it. Ever since Edge I haven't touched the system. Now don't get me wrong. The book is high quality, the art, is great, and it looks good ect. The actual game system the mechanics are just awful. I found it vague. Or my players would cheese it and make everyone always drop their gun because why wouldn't you? 

 

A single simple combat in Edge lasted longer than fight in 5th and nearly as long as in their 40k RPG line. And we all know how much of a time sucking dreary thing that is. 

 

The cypher system does lightweight story focused games better than this game could ever hope to achieve with its vagueness. And I always have more complex RPG choices if I want those like 5th or many others. 

 

The Cypher system and Numenera (most well known of it) allows non-combat characters to shine in combat and combat guys to shine out of it. All on a single dice and combat that takes 1/4 as long. So you can stay focused on the story and dramatic events. It's even got a cool GM Intrusion system that can alter the story, but it's not so frequent like the dice that I feel confused thinking what dumb thing could possibly happening now. 

 

Anybody who wants a lightweight story based game that can easily be tailored to any stetting should check into the Cypher system. 

 

Vague. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NdLa9yYt_jw

 

Not that you have to like the FFG system but your complaint seems different than the Alexandrian.

Alexandrian's complaint - whether true or not - is that the FFG system is not consistent and is clunky.

 

I think Alexandrian's comments are off the mark because, according to RAW, interpreting what success and advantage mean is largely left up to the GM and players.  The uses for success, advantage, etc in the skill section are not "hard coded" but lay a foundation of common expectations and are solid suggestions (that work fine as they are written).  Even the uses for advantage, threat, triumph and despair in combat checks are wide open to GM/player interpretation.  The words "may" and "could" litter the descriptions and the tone of most of the rules.  Though I do think Alexandrian is correct that there is some inconsistency in what results can reduce time to accomplish a task etc.  His complaint about the inconsistency between > and >= was purely pedantic though.

So, his  assertion that, all his conversations with people who like the systems boiled down to them liking the system only because they didn't actually follow the rules (and had to house rule it to make it work) doesn't really stand up to scrutiny.  Because these people are in fact using the system and playing the game as intended.  The devs have touted this as one of the big features of the core mechanic.

 

Now, the vagueness of the system - the requirement of the core mechanic that results be interpreted and the bounds of these being the guidelines in the book and the GMs approval - is not for everyone.

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Or my players would cheese it and make everyone always drop their gun because why wouldn't you? 

 

 

Because you are making a combined effort to tell the best story possible. Both players and GM are...

 

 

Or the players get tired of the opponents just picking the weapon back up with a Maneuver. 

Or if they use up two initiative slots to make the enemy drop the weapon then grab the weapon themselves...that's great if you're trying to take them alive! (because with 2 actions you could have just taken the enemy down).  Or the opponent draws another weapon.

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Or my players would cheese it and make everyone always drop their gun because why wouldn't you? 

 

 

Because you are making a combined effort to tell the best story possible. Both players and GM are...

 

 

My players did that in one game.... I was rolling Despair after Despair after Despair... it was laughable.

They were fleeing an Imperial Station with a badly wounded Rebel Commando team.... a Sith Lord was waiting for them in the hangar ; they made a break for it and ran to their starship. The troopers all ran out of ammo and dropped their weapons during the fight... my players finally made it to the shuttle and took off.... the last thing they saw was the Sith Lord using Force Lightning to punish his troopers for incompetence :P

I told them not pull off this stun again... that it was kinda lame... even if the ending was quite funny to imagine :)

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Somewhat surprised by his review given that he made an incredibly comprehensive cheat sheet in his previous blog entry.

 

Not everyone is going to like everything, though...

 

Yeah, I noticed that as well.

 

Also, in his comments he notes that on Wednesday he'll release some post/document that mostly fixes all the problems he has with the system.

Seems like a lot of effort for something he doesn't like that much.

And with his own fix doesn't that mean he thinks the game now works?

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In all honesty, and I like the system, I have to agree with the point of the inconsistencies and lack of guidance the core mechanic in the CRBs. We should remember that all of us spend some time here on the boards and have the benefit of them to ask questions and see how others are solving problems, often the very issues the Alexandrian has mentioned, but the boards aren't part of the CRB. Additionally I have noticed that a lot of the answers we get for Sam and others on how to adjudicate die results or address the vagueness or inconsistencies the Alexandrian mentions more often then not comes down to a version of "it's meant to be a little vague, play it how you want at your table", which I must admit I find tiring and not particularly helpful. He's also correct in that people are generally making it up as they go along using the core mechanic as more of a guide than a rule because, quite frankly you have to. I've been to several games with different groups and each of them, including my own game, reads the dice a little different or glosses over results that don't fit.

All in all I think his take on the system is pretty accurate and although I don't have a problem with the multiple books but I can see his point. 

 

 

Edit: I would recommend actually going to the page and reading the review there, he has added a couple of charts that show his examples better.

Edited by FuriousGreg

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I can see that non-creative people could have trouble with this system.  Always looking for that one specific rule and only able to follow charts.  For me and my group, we are a creative powerhouse and this system is amazing.  Our combat and social encounters flow and as a group we are able to tell some pretty amazing things at the table.  Let the rules lawyers go somewhere else and take the min/maxers with you.  I'm playing this game for a long time to come!

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^non-creative? Sorry, some of us like fast systems. Clunky and slow isn't everyone's preference. If a combat takes longer than five minutes when you're doing the bare bones only,  it's too much.

 

The reviewer is spot on about the business and release practise, which border on the reprehensible. Personally, I am no great fan of the dice system (it's slower than what I usually play, namely mini-d6, Unhallowed Metropolis, WEG 1st ed), but that boils down to preference more than anything else. I'm not familiar enough with the system to comment if it's "broken" or not, but so far, it looks a lot more internally consistant than FFG's other RPGs. Unfortunately, that's...not really saying much.

Edited by DeathByGrotz

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Somewhat surprised by his review given that he made an incredibly comprehensive cheat sheet in his previous blog entry.

 

Not everyone is going to like everything, though...

 

Yeah, I noticed that as well.

 

Also, in his comments he notes that on Wednesday he'll release some post/document that mostly fixes all the problems he has with the system.

Seems like a lot of effort for something he doesn't like that much.

And with his own fix doesn't that mean he thinks the game now works?

 

The Alexandrian is, if you can use this term for an RPG'er, a pretty professional person. He may not like how the mechanic works at present but that hasn't closed his mind to it and just written it off. He also doesn't just complain and then do nothing, which I fine refreshing. Also he seem like the idea of the system enough to spend a bit of time working through his complaints, I'm curious as to how it will work out.

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I completely disagree with this assesment as it should be obvious to anyone reading through this 'review' that the reviewer was not on board with the system right from the get go. The language he uses when talking about the publisher and their supposed "scheme" alone makes that abundantely clear.

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In all honesty, and I like the system, I have to agree with the point of the inconsistencies and lack of guidance the core mechanic in the CRBs. We should remember that all of us spend some time here on the boards and have the benefit of them to ask questions and see how others are solving problems, often the very issues the Alexandrian has mentioned, but the boards aren't part of the CRB. Additionally I have noticed that a lot of the answers we get for Sam and others on how to adjudicate die results or address the vagueness or inconsistencies the Alexandrian mentions more often then not comes down to a version of "it's meant to be a little vague, play it how you want at your table", which I must admit I find tiring and not particularly helpful. He's also correct in that people are generally making it up as they go along using the core mechanic as more of a guide than a rule because, quite frankly you have to. I've been to several games with different groups and each of them, including my own game, reads the dice a little different or glosses over results that don't fit.

All in all I think his take on the system is pretty accurate and although I don't have a problem with the multiple books but I can see his point. 

 

 

Edit: I would recommend actually going to the page and reading the review there, he has added a couple of charts that show his examples better.

 

I'm curious about what you specifically mean by: "people are generally making it up as they go along using the core mechanic as more of a guide than a rule because, quite frankly you have to".

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I can see that non-creative people could have trouble with this system. Always looking for that one specific rule and only able to follow charts. For me and my group, we are a creative powerhouse and this system is amazing. Our combat and social encounters flow and as a group we are able to tell some pretty amazing things at the table. Let the rules lawyers go somewhere else and take the min/maxers with you. I'm playing this game for a long time to come!

"Non-creative" seems quite a slight against an imaginary demographic. I'd argue that everything has some degree of creativity, latent or otherwise, and anyone I know who plays an RPG, regardless of the system, is in some way exhibiting creativity. I'll add that although FFGSW is hands down my favourite RPG of all time, I can see why the reviewer feels this way. As I said in a post elsewhere, I'm running D&D5e at the moment and the rules are so slimline compared to previous editions and it's so refreshing to not have to worry about what the official verdict is in a hefty tome whenever I encounter a situation that we haven't dealt with before. One thing that does stress me out a little as a GM with FFGSW is when you get some bloody cryptic dice result and as a group you can't for the life of you come up with a rationale that does the symbols justice. In my D&D5e campaign that simply isn't happening, we're focusing on storytelling and interesting use of the advantage/disadvantage system. When I come back to FFGSW, I'll be saving the dice pool mechanics for the combat/chase encounters.

Edited by Pac_Man3D

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He has also mentioned other perennial complaints about the FFG line - 3 separate core books to get the complete Star Wars experience and the cost (and previously the unavailability of components) this brings with it.  I think this is a legitimate complaint - though the route taken is reasonable too, it's a matter of trade-offs - but I would add that each core book contains information that would in other systems go beyond a core book.  In other words, each core includes material that would also constitute a separate splat book in other systems.

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One thing that does stress me out a little as a GM with FFGSW is when you get some bloody cryptic dice result and as a group you can't for the life of you come up with a rationale that does the symbols justice.

 

I usually just have something good or bad happen "off screen" which the players find out later.

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