Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Rolling Dice in Star Wars: Edge of the Empire

Looking for my insight on The Last Jedi?  Sorry, haven't seen it yet.  In the interim my Star Wars time has been spent playing the tabletop role-playing game (RPG), Star Wars: Edge of the Empire Beginner Game by Fantasy Flight Games (FFG), with my 8-year old son.  I made the purchase to bring in a change of pace for a father/son Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) group we participate in.  I have not yet brought it  to the table with that group, but after a few hours of game master (GM) practice with my son running multiple characters I am excited to give this a go.

The first thing to note is that this tabletop RPG is not a D20 (20 sided dice) based system like D&D.  The dice are custom dice specific to this system and function in a different manner than a D20 based system (or a D6 system for that matter).

The unique dice

In the D20 system the narrative culminates with a single dice roll deciding the fate of an action.  Then, more dice are chucked to derive a number for things like damage or how much gold was found. 

For example; "Reed decides to attack the goblin."  The player playing as Reed rolls a D20 to determine if they hit/miss.  "Reed hits." The player now rolls more dice to determine damage.  Any number of interesting things may have happened leading up to this point but ultimately it all came down to that attack roll hitting.

In the FFG custom-dice system the roll (of multiple dice) is ahead of the narrative and decides the choices that the players and GM get to make.  Each roll results in multiple outputs; first the number of success symbols compared to the number of failures.  If there are more success then the action is a success; more failures then it fails. 

Success/failure is not the end of the roll as there are also symbols for threat and advantage.  As with success/failure both threat and advantage cancel each other out.  If there are more advantage than threat then something good can happen for the player or GM rolling; alternately more threat means something bad may happens.  This allows for the possibility that someone could be successful at a task but have something bad still happen because of it.  Or alternately they could fail at a task but have a positive side effect. 

This opens a huge opportunity for narrative choice for both the players and GM.  For example; "Reed decides to aim and attack the stormtrooper."  The player playing Reed rolls a dice pool and fails (more failures than success) with three advantage (three more advantage than threat).  The roll has now opened a door; the attack misses but Reed has a choice (or the GM has the choice) to decide how that advantage impacts the narrative.  It could be a "game" element such as recovering a point of strain.  Or it could be a "story" element such as "Reed is surprised when the blaster bolt ricochets off the wall and still hits his target." because it was important to the narrative for Reed to hit in this situation.  (+3 advantage is like rolling a natural 20 on a D20... and anyways Han didn't shoot first... he rolled a failure with advantage!).  Like the D20 example any number of interesting things could have happened before this roll and those interesting things could influence choices for either success/failures or threat/advantage.

The D20 aligns more with a "game" while the FFG system aligns more with a "story" and for a gamer that leans more towards the role playing side of tabletop RPGs I find the FFG system a better option.  It does put the onus on the GM being good at thinking on their feet and not defaulting to the same result for rolls (i.e. every failure with advantage can't be a ricocheting blaster shot).  The system also moves the narrative forward in new and interesting ways instead of the static this/that way of the D20 system.

In the next post I will cover my thoughts on how the unique dice mechanic translate to the rest of the game and compare combat, movement, and abstract vs exact representation of the game world.


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