Saturday, September 17, 2016

What Do I Know About Reviews? Edge of the Empire: Lords of Nal Hutta

Last time I posted one of these reviews, it was for the 2014 Edge of the Empire product Suns of Fortune, a Star Wars Edge of the Empire supplement detailing the Corellian Sector. As a comparison, I thought I would look at Lords of Nal Hutta, another supplement dealing with a geographical region of the Star Wars galaxy, for the same game system.

Lords of Nal Hutta came out in 2015, after the Edge of the Empire system had a few rulebooks under its belt. Additionally, and possibly more importantly, it came out well after the Disney acquisition of Lucasfilm. Like Suns of Fortune before it, it is a well laid out, attractive book that clocks in at 144 pages of material.

The former Star Wars Expanded Universe had, at the time of publication, been branded as the Legends continuity, delineating Legends products from the movies, television shows, and the ongoing products from that point which would be considered part of the same canon as the projects George Lucas had worked on personally.

While there is a change in how information is presented is present in this book, compared to Suns of Fortune, it becomes even more pronounced moving into the Force and Destiny line, but that's a story for another day. Suns of Fortune presented as fact information about the Infinite Empire, the Rakata, and the founding of the Corellian system. Lords of Nal Hutta presents the wars with Xim the Despot as factual, as well as some of the events of A.C. Crispin's Han Solo trilogy, but the references feel a little less detailed, and the more modern events are added in a way that makes them seem more like adventure background rather than solidly defined history.

As an example of the book dealing with a "fuzzier" history than Suns of Fortune, while the book mentions events that happened with Nar Shaddaa during the Mandalorian Wars and the Sith Wars, one event is noted as having happened "during a later Sith conflict." The further back the references go, the less specific that dates get as well.

Showing that the book was borrowing from Legends, but not beholden to the events of that continuity, there are some events mentioned as being open plot hooks or potential adventures that are not resolved as they were in the Legends timeline. Specifically, the events of Tempest Feud, an adventure that came out for the d20 Star Wars line, which could be used in multiple eras, are referenced in the current, post Battle of Yavin era, but have not been resolved. Similarly, the Sienar Fleet Systems plant on Nar Shaddaa is mentioned, which first appears in the Force Unleshed video game, but there is no mention of it being destroyed or heavily damaged, or that a Rebel cell had attacked the plant in the past.

Given the development cycle, the book may have been in the works before any of the developers had any idea what was going to be happening with Legends, but it definitely looks like the book is pulling back from giving too many hard facts about the distant past, other than matters that can directly drive the narrative related to Hutt Space, like the aforementioned war with Xim the Despot or Treaty of Vontor.

That's a lot of rambling, so lets get into actually review the bits and pieces of this thing, shall we?

The Care and Feeding of Hutts

The first section of the book deals with Hutt personalities, clans and kajidics, and the history of the Hutts. This is the section that has the most interaction with what has been established in Legends, detailing the ancient wars of the Hutts, and their transition from warring clans to crime families.

Right away, this book distinguishes itself from Suns of Fortune in this regard. Not only is Hutt Space always on the fringe of whatever galactic civilization is dominant at the time, but the Hutts who rule it are criminals.

The history of the Hutts is engaging and reinforces their dangerous nature, as well as explaining why there may be PCs running around acting on their behalf. Hutt culture is largely based on using proxies to get things done, and that's well explained in this section.

Visit Hutt Space on Your Next Vacation!

The next section of the book details Hutt Space in a more geographical manner, introducing various notable planets in this region of space. Unlike most of the worlds introduced in Suns of Fortune, almost every one of these worlds has, as its primary feature, some form exploration, frontier living, or criminal activity.

There are several worlds that also contain hooks that pertain to the Rebel Alliance and the Galactic Empire, but those hooks are clearly secondary to either working for or against the Hutts, or intentionally trying to stay out of their way. As presented, that means a lot of these locations are especially suited to Edge of the Empire play, but still have useful applications for other Star Wars campaigns.

Of special note are the worlds in the Bootana Hutta. While crime is a big deal when discussing places like Nar Shaddaa, the Bootana Hutta, or "garden of the Hutts," are the less traveled worlds in Hutt Space that house many of the species that regularly are enslaved by, or work for, the Hutts. This region has plenty of room for lost treasure, exploration, and even frontier colonization, playing to just about every aspect of what Edge of the Empire covers.

Want your players to be farmers and homesteaders holding out against Hutt gangs on a remote world? Plenty of room for that here. Want to navigate new hyperspace routes and get paid for it if you survive? The Hutt kajidics are always paying for more routes that only they know about.

Most of the worlds in this section have either four or two page entries, often with a page or two of stats for creatures or characters likely to be found on that world. At the end of the chapter are a few multi-paragraph entries on less detailed worlds. Many of the worlds covered deal with the homeworlds of relatively well known Star Wars species such as Toydarians and Weequay.

Everybody Loves Options

The third section of the book is Player Options, or in other words, the crunchy bits. There are four new species introduced to the game (including Hutts), new weapons, armor, and equipment, a bunch of new cybernetic implants. There are also vehicles and ships that are often associated with the Hutts, like the skiffs and sail barges made famous by Return of the Jedi.

Of the new species presented, only one has the same problem as the species presented in Suns of Fortune. Sakiyans are usually homebodies, but they are also excellent bounty hunters, and in this case, being homebodies that work in Hutt Space is less of a problem than the Drall or Selonians that don't even like to leave the Corellian system proper. The previous section on Hutt culture is reiterated a bit here to let you know that Hutt PCs are younger Hutts trying to prove themselves to their kajidics or exiles from their clans. Ganks and Niktos are both species prone to being used as minions, and are pretty appropriate to appear anywhere there are Hutt interests.

There is much more culturally significant equipment in these pages than in Suns of Fotune, from Hutt Shell armor, to Sakiyan stealth suits, to Morgukai Cortosis staves, much of the specific armor and weapons found here have a reason to be showcased in a book about Hutt Space.

As mentioned above, the speeders and starships that appear in the guide are likewise very "Hutt-Centric" models. Instead of the mass marketed Corellian ships and the custom Nubian ships, which are produced in the Corellian Sector to be sold elsewhere, most of these ships are made for the Hutts by corporations elsewhere.

If there is a downside to this chapter, its that there are a few questions raised and not answered, and one entry that feels like it is obviously there to add a few pages. The Nikto tradition of the Morgukai is largely explained under the entry for their staff weapon and in the stat block for Morgukai, but more information on a cult that hunts both Jedi and Sith and that are largely thought to be extinct, yet are still on the list of prohibited religions for the Galactic Empire, feels like it warrants more space.

The Ganks, which were based on a throwaway line that didn't make it into The Empire Strikes Back, and were given their first visual reference in Dark Empire, feel very padded. They like to kill and hunt, and have lots of cybernetics . . . which just happens to let us use up a few pages introducing pages of new cybernetics into the game.

Finally, there is an entry for Gamorean axes, but not Gamorean PC stats. Where are my Gamoreas, Fantasy Flight?

There is Plenty of Time to Get the Smaller Modules on the Transports

The final section in the book is the section with Modular Encounters, mini-adventures that may not take up a whole night, but can be dropped into a game when you don't have anything else prepared. However, this time around, not only are the modular encounters set pieces that reinforce the themes of Edge of the Empire, there are some notes on how to string these together into a larger adventure that might introduce the characters into Hutt Space.

Not all of them are that deep. Going on fetch quests where you are lied to by your employer or stumbling into a firefight between two factions aren't exactly inspired, but what makes these interesting are that there are characters that can serve as contacts, potential employers, or long term enemies introduced into these encounters.

"Rubbing Slimy Elbows" is my particular favorite, because it seems to be the essence of what working for the Hutts is like, distilled into a modular encounter. You are basically given an invitation to come to a dinner where you have to compete with other teams, all sponsored by a Hutt, to see if you are worthy to work as agents for that Hutt. If you die during the event, well, then you at least entertained your host.

Final Thoughts

Honestly, this book feels like it is presenting the "home" section of the galaxy for an Edge of the Empire game. Yes, you can run Edge games in lots of locations, but Hutt Space seems to be the absolute idea region for the style of games that the line is attempting to promote.

There are plenty of interesting locations, plot hooks, and reasons to gain and lose Obligation. There are just enough ties to the greater galaxy that when you see Stormtroopers on Teth or TIE Fighters being built on Nar Shaddaa, you know you are in a Star Wars game, but just enough freedom to know that you aren't playing Age of Rebellion or Force and Destiny.

I'm not sure why the production schedule placed Suns of Fortune first. It's certainly not a bad book, but I almost think that had this book come out first, as more of the "ideal" location for Edge of the Empire games, Suns of Fortune could have been a nice "transition" book, coming out after  Age of Rebellion's official launch, with it's more "general interest" locations. Then again, had it been in development earlier, it's hard to say that the book would have been the same book it was, once the line had matured a bit.

This is a well put together model.

**** (out of 5)

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