Saturday, October 1, 2016

What Do I Know About Reviews?--Edge of the Empire: Beyond the Rim

My backlog of cover to cover reading and reviewing brings me to the first published adventure for the Edge of the Empire system, Beyond the Rim. In keeping with the theme of Edge of the Empire, this adventure has to do with shady merchants, lost treasure ships, and rival criminals.



Backstory


Beyond the Rim was originally published in 2013, early in the life cycle of the Edge of the Empire roleplaying game. As mentioned in earlier reviews, the beginning of this RPG line took place before Lucasfilm was purchased by Disney, and before the previously EU material was branded under the Legends banner.

This is evident in a few places in the adventure. Instead of presenting a kind of hybrid of Legends and current canon, as the more recent Star Wars RPG material from Fantasy Flight has, the adventure assumes that this adventure will take place in the continuity of the Expanded Universe. While the adventure clearly points out that you aren't doing it wrong if you don't care about canon, there are some details that point out the context of a few locations within the EU, in case you were worried about stepping on events.



The first place where this comes up is in the description of the Wheel, a space station first introduced in the Marvel Star Wars series from the 70s and 80s, in issue 18. While the important thing is the overall setting of the Wheel and its status as a neutral meeting place, there are a few notes on the events that happened in that series.



The next place where this reference to Expanded Universe canon comes up is in the description of Raxus Prime. The planet that is first referenced in one of the Boba Fett junior novels, but is probably most recognizable as one of the levels in the Force Unleashed video game. Without mentioning Starkiller directly, the former status of Raxus Prime and changes brought about by Vader's Secret Apprentice are mentioned in the gazetteer of the planet.

Look and Feel

As I continue to review the Fantasy Flight Star Wars line, it's probably going to start to sound redundant for me to continually mention how nice the books look. Attractive layout and gorgeous artwork adorn the book, and that's pretty much a  hallmark of every Fantasy Flight product. The book clocks in at 96 pages.

If there is one thing worth noting, it's that the backlog of Star Wars art that Fantasy Flight has on hand wasn't quite as deep at this point. Fantasy Flight reuses a lot of its art across multiple lines, between the board games, card games, miniatures games, and RPG products. There is nothing wrong with this, especially when the same characters, ships, and locations are being referenced, and it still feels much more fresh than the recycled art and photos from the movies that WOTC was using by the time they moved on to the Saga line. That said, you notice a few things, like a Wookiee captain whose accompanying art appears to be Chewbacca on the Death Star.

To put that reference in context, most of the artwork is very clearly created specifically for this adventure, and the recycled Wookiee is only used towards the back, in reference to an NPC that may or may not be used, not a character critical to the plot of the adventure.

Introduction




The introduction to the book takes up more space than you might expect, if you are used to other RPG adventures. This is mainly due to the fact that the book not only gives you a quick overview the plot, but also breaks down each chapter, points out the important things that will be coming up in each section, highlights some NPCs that are more plot critical than others, contains a "canon sidebar," and finally, has a section that introduces sub-plots that might be inserted into the adventure to better tie it to the PCs Obligations.

All of this is really nice. It's the kind of introduction I wish adventures had back when I was a youngling and wondering how an adventure was suppose to flow and what things I needed to make sure happened, and when. If there is one down side to the section, it's that the sub-plots, while handy for reminding the GM to customize the adventure, don't have fully fleshed out NPCs to use. While a character that has a specific bounty hunter after them should probably have that bounty hunter come after them when the sub-plot calls for it, it would have been nice to have a pre-made group of bounty hunters, leg-breakers, and Imperials ready for those that are just starting a campaign or who want some good ideas about giving such NPCs a bit of kick.

Chapter One




The introduction to the adventure, and the PCs getting hired is a pretty standard affair, but it assumes the PCs are on the Wheel space station, which allows the GM to expound upon the nature of the "neutral territory" location. The general idea of finding a lost treasure ship is a good theme for Edge of the Empire, although it could probably be a little more heavily reinforced that the PCs are getting paid for information about the location of the ship and a specific set of things from the ship, rather than just finding the ship and all of its assumed riches.

This section has its speed bumps. There is one section that I felt begged to be turned into a chase scene, especially to balance out the exposition heavy "you guys get hired for this job" section. There are passages that make it sound as if the planet the ship landed wasn't in doubt, but no one found it's exact location. This seems at odds with the ship having never been found, considering it's a fairly large capital ship. It's easily fixed if you just ignore anything that implies that anyone might have thought to look there for the ship in the past.

There is also a confusing map on page 35 of the book that I think is suppose to help with figuring out hyperspace travel, but despite being on a grid with numbered coordinates, no explanation is really given, and the rest of the book usually just cites how long various hyperspace routes take.

The chapter also includes a few adventure specific knowledge and computer check charts. These encounter and location specific style charts show up in many of the Star Wars RPGs from Fantasy Flight, and they are a great way to show how the narrative dice can be interpreted. They also make a specific encounter feel special, by having it's own chart to add flavor to the narrative elements. It's a good trend that started here . . . but it's not as exciting in this example, since the charts essentially call for doling out really small clues based on various questions and how they are asked.

Chapter Two




This chapter is mainly concerned with finding the lost ship and getting what the boss wants to be delivered later in the adventure. There is a lot of great flavor as the PCs explore Cholganna, a scary jungle world with lots of alien predators, but the presentation could be clearer.

The first thing you may notice in this chapter is that it calls for a lot of skill checks. All over the place. It honestly gets a little tiring reading through some of the encounters and all of the potential skill checks that come up.

It almost reminds me of some of the adventures I wrote myself for some of my campaigns back when I was much more formal about my prep time. I would attempt to come up with every possible contingency for what the PCs may do in a given situation, and invariably they would do something I hadn't outlined in my notes. Some of the encounters in this section read that way. Some of the encounters would have been better served if the purpose of the encounter was better stated, difficulties were assigned for some of the "hard facts" of the encounter (the computer is difficulty X to slice, the cliff is difficulty X to climb), and then just allow the GM to use that as a benchmark to improvise when players do something totally off the wall to resolve what happens.

This chapter has a lot of resolution symbols buried in paragraphs of text. It's easy to lose what special thing will happen when  you roll a Despair when the symbol is halfway through the paragraph and not color coded to jump out at you.



For an adventure that is set in the Star Wars galaxy, and presumably moving at a more cinematic pace, a lot of the locations are described in great detail. This comes up a lot in adventures, and I think its a consequence of the natural war between making the adventure fun to read, and making it functional to run. While the overall setting of the scene deserves to have grand visuals and details, descriptions of this or that hut or shack or garage probably could be bullet pointed and have their plot relevance pointed out.

That sounds like I'm savaging this chapter a lot, but honestly, it's probably my favorite section of the adventure. A lot of Star Wars tropes show up here, like having rivals pop up to cause trouble, having the local alien wildlife attack with a surprise twist, and having the Empire show up at a really bad time to ruin everyone's fun. There are a lot of areas where roleplaying and social skills are going to come up in this section, and maybe even some technical skills as well (though not as many technical skills as in the next section).

Chapter Three




This section is all about what to do when it's time to get paid, and that means showing up on Raxus Prime and avoiding Imperial attention. There is a section that points out what happens if the PCs have to avoid an patrol of TIE fighters on the way in that doesn't mention the chase rules in the core rulebook. This, coupled with the lack of a chase in the opening chapter makes me wonder if this book was in development before that part of the core rulebook was finalized.

There is also a "timer" later in the adventure that has the PCs essentially prepping a ship and loading it with goodies in time to escape before the Empire arrives. I love the number of tasks around the ship that the PCs can help perform to get the ship off the ground in time, but the the way you keep track of time before the Imperials arrive feels a little confusing. Additionally, there are people wandering around that can help, but it seems as if juggling that many NPCs could be a pain.

Both the timing issue, and having a small "unit" of characters to help do things like fight or perform big tasks are things that Fantasy Flight actually resolves in some of it's later products. Lead by Example has rules for small units coordinated with the Leadership skill, and Onslaught at Arda I introduces the Action Track, a means of keeping track of how long it is until something happens by ticking off boxes on a track with a pre-determined length. Both of these tools might be handy for a GM to look into if he runs this adventure, and this adventure may have helped Fantasy Flight realize the utility of those kinds of tools.



My favorite bits from this chapter include the encounter table of random junk terrain when flying to the destination on Raxus Prime, and an ambush involving characters dressing up as Jawas that just begs to be played for laughs.

There is also a section at the end of the chapter that suggests future adventures tied to the NPCs, locations, and organizations introduced in the adventure. Some of these are pretty solid follow-up activities, and one even has a full outline for an NPC that might be either an ally or rival for a particular task.

Bringing It All Together

I like this adventure. It's solid, but not outstanding. It has enough hooks that it is a good representation of what characters should be doing in an Edge of the Empire campaign. That said, the presentation is confusing in a few places, with paragraphs of important information running together and important game terminology lost in the flow.

For what is a pretty straight-forward adventure, the GM probably needs to read it more carefully than one might assume, and take a few notes on what could happen here or there. Similarly, many of the skill checks can be thrown out or consolidated, and it will likely run smoother if the GM looks into some of the later tools that Fantasy Flight developed for the RPG line. Finally, for a Star Wars adventure, there isn't really a good, gripping villain. The Empire ends up being the recurring main bad guys in Chapter Two and Three, but the rivals the PCs encounter have more personality than the one named Imperial.

It's definitely not a bad adventure. There are a lot of cinematic scenes that come through, and lots of very classic Star Wars-feeling moments, but the presentation could use some clarity, and some of the NPCs could use a bit more personality. If you are a Fantasy Flight Star Wars fan, you likely won't regret buying this, but there may be other adventures that you may wish you had purchased before this one.

*** (out of 5)


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