Friday, June 20, 2014

The Rebellion Approaches

A Big Shiny Red Book

I am getting very excited about the upcoming Age of Rebellion RPG from FFG. While I plan to begin writing adventures for the game once it's released, I am definitely new to the system. In fact, I own only the Edge of the Empire Beginner Game and have only played in one adventure thus far (the intro adventure found in the Age of Rebellion Beginner Game...GMd by Nate).

I am still trying to wrap my head around the dice used in the game and what, in particular, they really mean. I was leery, at first, leaving my good old standard polyhedrons at home for this new system. I have noticed a few positive side effects, however, inherent in these mechanics. The main one is speed. Think of it this way: old fashioned dice, as great as they are, only serve to generate random numbers. Many times these numbers must then be compared against a table or chart in the rulebook. This takes time.

The custom dice used in the new SW RPGs are random result generators. A subtle, but important, difference, I think. The piece-wise cancellation of symbols, read from the rolled faces of the dice themselves, can yield a fairly complicated result in a relatively easy way. This result is influenced by random elements (the different sides of the dice that can be rolled), skill level (the types of dice added to the initial die pool), difficulty of the task (a negative type die, also added to the actor's dice pool--a nice way to ensure that only a single roll of the dice will be needed for most actions; you essentially roll for and against yourself, all at once), positive factors which may aid success (but themselves can't contribute a net negative effect), and negative factors which do the opposite.

In addition to determining the straight-up success or failure of a character's attempted action, the dice symbols go one step further...toward aiding and empowering the telling of a story. In this way, the dice not only keep one from having to look up results on a table or chart, but they also prompt and direct the narrative. Saving time, keeping the action-filled pace up, maintaining interest and investment by players and GMs alike, and building a potentially deeper (and a bit random, but still player influenced) story during the adventure.

All the dice
The green Ability Die has an evil twin, called the purple Difficulty Die.

The green Ability Die also has a big brother, called the yellow Proficiency Die.

Unfortunately, the purple Difficulty Die also has an evil big brother called the red Challenge Die.

The yellow die is like an improved green die. The red die is like an even worse purple die.

I feel these four should be arranged like this in your mind. Far left is great, then good, then bad, then terrible. The number of each die that goes into your dice pool is dependent on your skill and the level of difficulty for the task at hand (plus extraneous factors).

Basic Task Success or Failure?
Now we look at the positive and negative factor dice, that may help or hurt you. The good die, the light blue Boost Die, can only help (but it might not). The bad die, the black Setback Die, can only hurt (but it might not).
Extraneous Factors?
The last one is the white Force Die, which, as the name implies, probably doesn't come up very often.

Only Luke uses this?
Finally we will look at the symbols found on these dice. There are no numbers, so you have to get used to interpreting the runes. The success or failure of an activity is determined by the following symbols found on the Proficiency, Ability, Difficulty, Challenge, Boost, and Setback Dice.

Arcane Symbols
Here again we have a nice symmetry (I am a big fan of that). Successes are good, Triumphs are better. Failures are bad, Despairs are worse. They piece-wise cancel each other. The net result after all cancellations have been made, determines whether or not you succeeded at the task at hand. In addition to counting as a Success, a Triumph may "be spent trigger a positive consequence". The Despair has a similar role; in addition to counting as a Failure, it may "be spent trigger a negative consequence".

But wait, we have more arcane symbols!

We're Not Done Yet!
Interestingly enough, these supplemental positive and negative symbols cancel each other, but do not influence the overall Success or Failure state of the task at hand. They will simply add a random element of extra story in the form of side effects or consequences. So you could fail to accomplish something, yet still move the story forward, at least indirectly.

This is great for driving those things that make Star Wars roleplaying games memorable: Imperial Entanglements and Unintended Consequences. Basically a mechanic-based way for sneaking people to accidentally step on a twig or a falling person to inadvertently press the right button on the console or something. You messed up what you were trying to do, but you did wind up doing something kinda useful (or the opposite of that). My guess is this is a way for GMs to really tie the action into the setting; most of these side effects would be related to the environment the characters are in, I would guess.

Here is a look at the relative abundance of the various symbols throughout the dice, taken from the 2013 Free RPG Day adventure "Under a Black Sun".

Faces of Dice
I do not know the origins of this symbol-based dice system (it appears that, at least, the FFG incarnation of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay uses something very similar), but I think it has potential. Certainly potential to allow FFG to sell us stuff we already own (i.e. polyhedral dice)*, but also the potential to make gaming quicker and richer in terms of story-telling.

The system kinda drags you, whether you like it or not, into a twisting narrative style of play (at least twisting along the margins of the narrative), because you have to somehow explain all the weird symbols that crop up when you attempt to do anything. This very likely keeps both players and GMs a bit more on their toes, as the system encourages everyone to chime in with ideas on what the heck, exactly, just happened when you tried to shoot your blaster rifle at those stormtroopers while standing beside stacked up carbonite-encased blocks of spin-sealed Tibanna gas.

Questions? Comments? As I mentioned, I am a newcomer to this system (but not SWRPGs). Nate has been running an Edge of the Empire campaign for quite some time (starting the day the Beta book or Beginner Game was released or something...). He'll chime in if I've made any errors in reporting the facts. Won't you, Nate?

*FFG is very good at making stuff. Boxes with books and dice and miniatures and cards. With supplement cards. And boxes. And books. And dice....Good thing they have superior quality stuff; because you will be buying ALOT of it.

At the Core: A Preview of the Star Wars(R): Edge of the Empire(TM) Beginner Game

Under a Black Sun: A Star Wars(R): Edge of the Empire(TM) FreeRPG Day adventure

1 comment:

  1. One correction (now that I have, and am reading, the AoR rulebook):

    The Success portion of a rolled Triumph symbol can be canceled out...but the Triumph itself cannot be canceled. Same holds true for the Despair symbol. The Failure symbol that rides along with Despair can be canceled out, but the Despair itself cannot be canceled.