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Ulairi

Edge of the Empire is more of a linear RPG?

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I have been listening to the Order 66 podcast while I decide to buy the Edge of the Empire book or not. The hosts keep talking about the game as being built around "set pieces" which to me, sounds very linear. I know that a lot of modern gaming/indy gaming leans more towards linear/set piecing in order to push the more cooperative storytelling model. However, my players and I are much more interested in a more sandbox style of game. They (and I) don't like pushing narrative or storytelling over the results of actual play. The whole the dice/player's actions being the major drive of the story. Has anyone run Edge of the Empire as a sandbox? Even Jay Little from FFG seemed to be all about linear campaigns from the podcast.


I freely admit that my biases may be showing through and a lot of modern game design isn't as linear as I believe it to be but from reading posts here and when I've played in some other games it sure seems that way.

Thanks!

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Huh?  Just because the system is narrative it doesn't mean that the campaign can't be a sand box.  In fact, its actually easier. The whole concept of set pieces is there to spur your imagination and allow you to have done some prep work to improve the story.  Nothing says that the players can't wander off the rails and go do anything they want to do.

 

And whatever gave you the idea that story telling systems are designed to only work cooperatively?  FATE is an excellent narrative system, and players often use the social conflict rules to establish pecking order and persuade other player characters.

 

I really don't understand what makes you think this.  Could you provide a few examples of why you believe this to be the case?

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I think how play unfolds in any game, regardless of titles of play, is more about the imagination and level of effort the GM puts into the setting.  In my games I tend to have an idea of a story arc and a grand event occurring in the background of wherever with hooks to get the players actually interested in pursuing that story.  However, I also include a flavor of the location and other personalities in the setting that lead to other missions and goals.  Then of course if players are set on striking out to do something I haven't planned for in the setting there is a certain amount of improvisation that needs to occur from me.  This game like any RPG is about storytelling, so having a GM that can tell a story and make one up on the fly is important.  I think that's pretty universal to all tabletop RPGs.

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I see nothing in the EotE mechanics that requires you to adopt a "set-piece" approach to encounter design. No matter what the hosts of a podcast may say, or how they may run their games, a game is linear if the GM and the players make it linear, and nonlinear if they make it nonlinear.

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I usually run games sandbox style, with small set piece encounters I can drop in as needed.

This works just fine with EotE. I stat up various likely or standard encounters ahead of time, and some tied to generic locations, "in a droid shop", "at the cantina", "starport customs", etc.

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@Ulairi

I also don't understand how you got this impression. It's possible that you're hearing references to the Beginner box set. In that case, yes, that one adventure is presented in a linear fashion, but the only reason it does so is to unveil the mechanics in a slow and structured fashion...it lets you play the game and have fun in a story while letting the players absorb the mechanics at a comfortable pace. If your players are RPG vets like mine, they'll get it in no time and would probably finish the story in a completely different way.

I don't think you could gotten this impression from posts on this board, unless they were referencing the product above. The other published adventures are pretty open...far more so than anything I've read from WOTC. Both my campaigns are total sandboxes, I'm sometimes barely one step ahead of the player's desires and goals.

The last thing I don't get is how you think "narrative equals linear". I'd say it's the opposite, that the narrative encourages sandbox, and all previous games have felt far more linear to me. As an example: in the first session with my one group, the mechanic failed to fix the ship's hull during a mechanics check. However, he rolled a Triumph. His interpretation of the Triumph was that he'd found a secret stash of something hidden between hull plates. So I ruled it was a stash of spice. Just dealing with that spice, finding someone to sell it to, negotiating the price, etc, has led to complete changes in the direction of the campaign. That's one example of something that happens regularly. For me, this kind of player input has never occurred in any game I've played before.

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My game is completely sandbox.

 

Lots of different styles, maybe the podcast people just prefer their game that way.

 

Nothing about EoE is intrinsically linear, in  the way (say) 4th Edition D&D was.

 

In fact, 'Suns of Fortune'  seems to be going the other way, with mini-adventures you can slot in anywhere.

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Did you listen to the O66 podcast about the GM Holocron?  This was where they described the set piece idea in detail, and subsequent episodes have referred to "set pieces" without much clarification, possibly leading to confusion if listeners hadn't heard the GM Holocron episode.  

 

Basically, the general idea is that when you prep for your games, you can build "set-piece" encounters that are as generic as possible, and you keep them in a binder (laptop, tablet, etc.) so you can pull them out whenever you need something in-game.  This way you can let the players go off in whatever direction they want, but you still have some awesome, well-planned encounters to throw at them so you don't have to think of something on the fly.  

 

The set pieces encourage a sandbox playstyle.  

 

Actually, for some anecdotal evidence, my group is usually somewhere in the middle of the sandbox/railroad spectrum, with the specific position varying based on who is GMing.  Our EotE campaign veers more strongly toward sandbox style than any campaign we've ever done.  And our GM tended to lean more toward the railroaded end of things when we'd play D&D (though admittedly he was pretty new to GMing back then).  

 

EDIT:  

 

Nothing about EoE is intrinsically linear, in  the way (say) 4th Edition D&D was.

 

I'd say the same advice holds true for 4E.  I never felt that it was particularly linear; quite the opposite, in fact.  As a GM, I found prepping for 4E much easier than prepping for 3.x, and therefore I didn't feel the need to "steer" the players toward that stat block that I'd spent 2 hours working on.  No, with 4E I could just pick a monster and reskin it.  Even building a stat block from scratch took maybe 5-10 minutes, depending on how complicated it was.  Furthermore, the condensed skill list, the "generalized" DC tables, page 42 (improvisational DCs/damage), and players themselves re-skinning or putting narrative twists on their powers made 4E (IMO) the most narrative edition of D&D (at least of those produced by WotC).  

 

Granted in terms of GM prep time EotE is even easier yet, and now that 13th Age is out it goes even further in that direction.  Now I'll probably only run 4E if I want really in-depth tactical combat.

Edited by alien270

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Alien270 has it right.  Did you by chance miss the GM holocron episode?

 

The whole concept of set peices that they talk about in the order 66 podcasts is to have a collection of very generic encounters/situations that are mostly fleshed out so when your players do something unexpected you have something to fall back on.  For example, in your sandbox game the players are in a cantina talking to some contacts about an upcoming job.  In the course of role playing one player decides that the NPC just insulted his mama and starts a bar fight.  You could just wing the numbers for the opponents.  You could take a few minutes to look up a bunch of appropriate opponents.  Or if you had a generic bar brawl set peice in your holocron you can whip it out have decent stats for the opponents.

 

The idea is to minimize down time when your players go off into left field.

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 Furthermore, the condensed skill list, the "generalized" DC tables, page 42 (improvisational DCs/damage), and players themselves re-skinning or putting narrative twists on their powers made 4E (IMO) the most narrative edition of D&D (at least of those produced by WotC).  

 

Every single 'adventure' for 4E was just a series of combats (or skill combats) on a grid.  No out-of-combat, no alternative means of bypassing them, no scouting or interaction or anything beyond getting on the battle mat and grinding. 

 

That's what I would call 'linear' - an old-school dungeon crawl with no choices or alternatives. It pretty much plays like 'Descent' and would have probably made for a great boardgame.  EoE certainly doesn't play like that as a default. No minis, no tactical combat, no set order for encounters, no limits based on levels and artificial constraints. . 

 

Yes, you could try and do things differently, run 4E as free-form interaction that has nothing to do with the stats, but then you're actively fighting the system. 

 

But that's getting off-topic.  

 

EoE is anything but linear. 

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Well... Stating misconceptions about a different system doesn't really help your original point, Maelora...

I've GMed 4th for the last few years in a weekly game and had a blast, none of it was linear or "just a series of combats", there was plenty of scouting, out-of-combat and interaction. Not once did I need to "actively fight the system" to do so.

Now if you want to talk about the huge disconnect between combat and the rest of the system, then you would be right. This is hat I think holds the game back a bit.

Still after EOtE, 4th is still my go to fun system. Especially the Gamma World games are immensely fun and I can recommend them to anyone.

Edited by DanteRotterdam

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Personally I've found that EotE very conciously pulls the game/story from set-pieces and linear adventuring towards the narrative and the spontaneous.

 

We have started with Escape from Mos Shuuta and The Long Arm of the Hutt (from the Beginner Game) and while decidedly linear or rail-roaded I can feel the game tugg the story in other directions all the time through Obligations and Triumphs and Despairs.

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The only way I see EotE, or any game for that matter, being linear is if you use prewritten adventure modules.  As were the issue with my group.  They claimed there weren't enough options of the story.  My point to them, is make something happen that's not in the story.  Well, for them, that was to much work.  Their mind and their actions were two competing opposite actions.  They wanted to zerg the dungeon, but they wanted a story along with it.  Even one player, was about to kill a key NPC, after being told that he was being tortured by Orcs.  It's the GM's job to make a tight enough story that when (not if), the players derail the story, the GM can change gears and keep the story going.  And that derailment, definitely makes the story not linear by any means.

Edited by Talley Darkstar

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It's the GM's job to make a tight enough story that when (not if), the players derail the story, the GM can change gears and keep the story going.  And that derailment, definitely makes the story not linear by any means.

 

I disagree and frankly I am tired of the seemingly age old idea of the GM being responsible for creating the story, often competing against the stupidity and or stubborness of the players.

 

If the group wants to play something other than murderhobos, or anything specific at all, it is every player's responsibility - including the GM - to make that happen.

 

That said system do matter, I think, and the OP's question is perfectly valid, if unfounded.

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Completely open sandbox is almost never a good idea. It's frequently just overwhelming. Limited sandbox, in other words several possible jobs that each could branch into more plots, is probably a better idea. Just like with Rogue Trader. Too much choice can be absolutely paralyzing.

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Completely open sandbox is almost never a good idea. It's frequently just overwhelming. Limited sandbox, in other words several possible jobs that each could branch into more plots, is probably a better idea. Just like with Rogue Trader. Too much choice can be absolutely paralyzing.

 

I agree. Or if not paralyzing the story veers of in more and more contrived and crazy ways, sometimes ending up as a tug of war between the interests of two or more players.

 

I think that EotE with its Obligation and dice mechanic and relative traditional adventuring moduls strikes a very good middle ground.

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I agree.

My best sandbox game was an adventure that took place on an Earthmote (floating island) in forgotten realms. It was an area that contained so much fun and games but at the same time was constrained enough for me to kno what was going on. My players spent several months on there finding every little thing to could and had a blast as well. It took a while to set it up but eventualy once I had done the hard work I could fall back on this for months on end. It was awesome.

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Alien270 has it right.  Did you by chance miss the GM holocron episode?

 

The whole concept of set peices that they talk about in the order 66 podcasts is to have a collection of very generic encounters/situations that are mostly fleshed out so when your players do something unexpected you have something to fall back on.  For example, in your sandbox game the players are in a cantina talking to some contacts about an upcoming job.  In the course of role playing one player decides that the NPC just insulted his mama and starts a bar fight.  You could just wing the numbers for the opponents.  You could take a few minutes to look up a bunch of appropriate opponents.  Or if you had a generic bar brawl set peice in your holocron you can whip it out have decent stats for the opponents.

 

The idea is to minimize down time when your players go off into left field.

Yeah. The cast I'm talking about has Jay Little on it and they were referencing the whole set piece. I'm new to the podcast and listened to it because it had the designer on it (I listened to another one with Jay Little) because I'm deciding if I want to drop the money on the book. That makes me feel better. I got a little worried when they talked about an e-mail from a DM who was having trouble with his players not following the narrative once they got their ship. To me, that scared me when one of the DM's said something to the effect: If anything gets in the way of the story he'll change it to meet the story. Which is the antithesis of how I play. I thought about picking up the beginners box (and I will just for the dice) but if I'm not going to move onto the full game I don't want to waste the money. 

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The way I see it, EotE will inevitably pull your game into a narrative structure. This isn't a bad thing, and you can keep the sandbox going for a long, long time. But as your players build their characters and make a reputation for themselves, as long as you're doing your job as GM, it'll be impossible for them to avoid being caught up in a narrative (albeit one of their own making).

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The way I see it, EotE will inevitably pull your game into a narrative structure. This isn't a bad thing, and you can keep the sandbox going for a long, long time. But as your players build their characters and make a reputation for themselves, as long as you're doing your job as GM, it'll be impossible for them to avoid being caught up in a narrative (albeit one of their own making).

I like this, but I wonder if we're not exaggerating the lines around "narrative" vs "sandbox".  Or maybe I'm the one who's fuzzy on the definition, but it seems to me there's some disagreement here where there doesn't need to be.

 

With my son's campaign, we dreamed up the basic starting obligation and conflict together during character creation:  1 year ago, his grandfather, a mine owner, had sent him out in a ship to look for new sources of ore.  When he returned, everybody was gone, the mine was empty, but he was chased away and barely escaped from some unknown villians.  For the last several months he'd been on the run, hiding here and there, until he was finally so desperate he had to turn to a Hutt for ship repairs.

 

That's where the game started.  As the GM, it's my job to answer the questions of who is behind all this, and why; is gramps still alive or can he be rescued; can he still investigate all this and keep the Hutt happy; and what will happen after the situation is resolved.  Clearly that's a "narrative" framework.

 

The twists and turns the campaign has taken, how leads and key NPCs have been introduced or dealt with, etc, feels completely "sandbox" though.  Example:  there's someone watching his ship, I give him a chance to detect it.  He succeeds, and after a couple Triumphs or plenty of successes and advantages, captures the spy.  Do I know ahead of time who this spy is?  Sure, he's part of a minor swoop gang in the employ of the Black Sun.  Does the spy know this?  No, he's just a low-grade thug, all he knows is what his boss tells him.  But he does know where he's based:  Coruscant.  Did I know at the beginning of the session that this series of events would lead to spending most of the rest of the session on Coruscant?  Heck no!  All I wanted to do was give him that "you're being watched" feeling.  Time to scramble:  maybe he can learn clues XYZ from someone else...

 

All that feels like overarching narrative in a sandbox style of play.  And maybe I just call my style "sandbox" because the narrative, ie:  the purpose of the characters, their intents and goals, is something I assume exists.

 

If there is no narrative, you can still use EotE just fine as a dungeon-crawl game.  But I agree with CaptainRaspberry that the EotE mechanics will draw more narrative into the game.  The first time the player rolls a Triumph, especially on a social roll, some form of interpersonal connection will be made that can easily drive a story in a different direction, or generate one out of thin air.

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I'm curious and interested: can a 'true' sandbox-style tabletop rpg exist? And be, well... good?

 

Don't get me wrong - I can really enjoy a sandbox-style MMO. The first incarnation of Star Wars Galaxies was heaven for me before they buggered it up, and then buggered it up worse. But even in the beginning, as it was initially released, there were still railroad-y quests to be done... decidedly un-sandbox.

 

But as regards tabletop rpgs, if we're talking sandbox, I'm picturing everyone gathering around the table and the GM saying, 'okay, when we left off last session, you guys were in town XYZ. What do you want to do?'. That sounds ridiculously unfocused to me, and probably baffling for the players.

 

In my long-running (6 years!) diceless online game, this can be achieved because every player is also essentially a GM, and everyone is throwing ideas into the soup. But when it comes to conventional tabletop games, can you have a campaign where the GM does nothing but react to what the players do?

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It would be a lot of work to have a completely unrestricted sandbox game, or it would be terribly generic in flavor.  The more a GM knows about the group of players the easier it will be to make an open sandbox feel, while still being able to focus a level of creativity on the faces and places.  That's where the GM needs to be involved in the player character creation not just at the mechanical level but at the story level as well.  Players have to communicate with the GM not just their career and spec, but the kind of personality and motivations they have as well to help the GM out.

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But as regards tabletop rpgs, if we're talking sandbox, I'm picturing everyone gathering around the table and the GM saying, 'okay, when we left off last session, you guys were in town XYZ. What do you want to do?'. That sounds ridiculously unfocused to me, and probably baffling for the players.

 

It's really not unfocused when you play. Usually, if the last session ended clean that's what I do. If we ended in the middle of something, we'll finish up and then it is "you guys just saved the princess. What would you like to do?" and usually the players have had something happen during play that they want to explore. I like that better than me trying to write a novel and have my players act it out. 

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