Sunday, October 2, 2016

What Do I Know About Reviews?--Edge of the Empire: The Jewel of Yavin

Let's keep this train rolling! In my continuing quest to clear up my backlog of RPG books that I haven't yet read cover to cover, I just finished up The Jewel of Yavin, another adventure for the Edge of the Empire RPG line, and collected a few thoughts on the subject. Ready to depart for Cloud City? Let's head out.



What Have We Here?

The Jewel of Yavin is the second adventure released for the Edge of the Empire system, at the end of 2014. This was over a year after Fantasy Flight had released Beyond the Rim, and was well after the Disney purchase of Lucasfilm. Additionally, in the spring of 2014 the "Legends announcement" had already been made, which may have been an indication that Fantasy Flight had at least an idea that the EU may not be the canon standard to which their games would be measured while this adventure was in development.



Compared to Beyond the Rim, The Jewel of Yavin doesn't include a "canon sidebar" mentioning what might be going on in the EU at the time of the adventure, or any disclaimer about deviating from EU stories. While there is no disclaimer, there is a section that details the history of Cloud City as it stood in the EU in the adventure. Most of the information isn't likely to be heavily contradicted with new canon material. That is, unless Bespin is suppose to contain some deep, dark secrets.

Lobot, Lando's cyborg administrator, is actually somewhat import to the plot of this adventure, or at least one part of it, and is given a character write up that contains what is now Legends material. This has since been contradicted by Marvel's post Legends Lando limited series. The information that diverges from Legends isn't particularly pertinent to his role in the adventure.



The physical book, as with most Fantasy Flight products, is attractive, filled with formatting and artwork that is well put together and complimentary to Star Wars and the themes of the RPG. Compared to Beyond the Rim, there also appears to be a lot more character artwork that is specific to this adventure. This is good, considering the number of named NPCs that appear. The book clocks in at 96 pages.

Introduction

As with Beyond the Rim, The Jewel of Yavin contains an overview of the plot, a quick sketch of the important NPCs, and a section on using the PCs Obligation and Motivation for sub-plots. In addition to these familiar sections, there is a huge gazetteer of Cloud City added. This goes beyond the one page summaries that most planets get, and summarizes the history, several locations, and a few important NPCs of Cloud City, including the Baron Administrator Lando Calrissian and his aide Lobot.

The plot, as outlined, is very much a heist adventure, with the PCs attempting to steal a thing while also stealing some credits, and getting away with all of it. There are several events that are suppose to happen, but between those events, there is a very wide range of options for the PCs to plan the heist itself. The sub-plots section for this adventure doesn't just point out where those sub-plots should potentially trigger, but they use a few of the NPCs from the adventure for examples, if you don't have existing NPCs to fill those spots. I like this, and it's what I would have liked to have seen in Beyond the Rim. The section is still a little more spare that I would have liked, but it's definitely a step in the right direction.


One important note on Lando and Lobot's stats--the adventure specifically points out that these may not be their "true" stats so much as their stats as they need to exist for this adventure. In other words, if you interact with them on some level, you need to know what your dice pools will be, but someday if they appear elsewhere, don't expect them to look exactly the same. It's interesting, because that is a philosophy that I'm used to in a more narrative game like Marvel Heroic, where a bad guy might be a Large Scale Threat if he is the one villain, or just a guy with high stats if he's not the main bad guy in another adventure. In other words, you may never see definitive "this is their stats, full stop" write ups on the big guns in the Star Wars RPGs, but if you need to interact with them, there will be a profile that is as complete as you need it to be. I'm kind of okay with that. I don't really want Vader or the Emperor defined, especially out of context of where they might be used.

Cloud City is given a lot of page count here, and in Beyond the Rim I mentioned that giving out too much information that isn't relevant to the adventure can feel like wasted space. Here, I feel that it's not only important, due to the fact that the PCs can do so much free-form work planning their heist, but also because it gives the adventure more value as a partial sourcebook for using Cloud City in an Edge of the Empire campaign. Because the entire adventure takes place in the city, this information is put up front, before the adventure itself, which I think also preserves the flow of the adventure proper. There is a part about staging a bust by the Wing Guard to show the PCs how efficient and professional they can be mentioned in their entry, but I wish had also been noted in the actual adventure, since it's hard to forget once you start running.

Finally, a note on fiction in a gaming product. This book does it. This time I didn't mind. Yeah, I know, I'm making exceptions all over the place aren't I? But this time, it shows up before you start reading the "game" material, only takes up one page, and most importantly, actually serves to highlight some of the personality and backstory of two of the NPCs in the adventure.

There is a note on how experienced the PCs are assumed to be and scaling the adventure. While it's good to know that the assumption is that the PCs have some previous experience, there isn't a point amount or anything mentioned, so in the end, it's not as useful as it could have been. More solid examples of  just how experienced characters should be would have been nice.

Chapter One

This chapter goes from the introduction to the clients, to the legwork phase of the heist, to a race where the PCs will presumably earn an invitation to a big gala that is going to help out with the payout of the heist. Fantasy Flight likes to arrange these adventures in three chapters, to emulate the three act structure of many stories, but I feel like lumping all of this together makes for a murkier transition between acts.

That said, the adventure starts off with the PCs needing to help an NPC ditch a tail, which is a good, solid start for both a Star Wars story and a crime story. This is also an introduction to an NPC that can be used to direct the PCs if they don't have an idea what to do next when preparing for the heist. I think is a good addition, given that some groups will be great at self-direction, and some will not.

The chapter bogs down a bit, with extra rules that complicate the process of finding a black market seller, which already has rules in the core rulebook. Additionally, some of the benefits you can gain in the legwork phase from interacting with NPCs are fiddly and might be forgotten if the GM isn't diligent in taking notes (since the effect of interacting with those NPCs won't be known until the right events are triggered later). There are also a few parts of the plan that are murky and cleared up later, but should probably be spelled out up front. For example, initially the PCs are told they have to win a race to get invited to a gala, but later the adventure says they could come in 2nd or 3rd, they just get a payout for coming in 1st. There is legwork mentioned for the slicing portion of the adventure, but it's not clear how they are going to do the slicing, and it would be easy to assume they were going to either remote slice a location, or assail a bank location, where later in the adventure they mention stealing a banking droid. This seems like cogent information to reveal up front.



The race introduces a points tracking system, similar to one that will be mentioned later. The race itself seems worth the hassle, as it sounds really fun, but given the other places where fiddly mechanics start to intrude on the plot, it might have been better streamlined, or at least better represented with a visual tracking tool. The chart for spending symbols in the race is excellent, however, and really sells that the race is worth running, even as a set piece. The sabotage chart is fun as well.

The rules for discovery by the ISB agent in the story, as well as the rules for creating a custom computer spike, are very portable. There are also new vehicle upgrades in the book that will be useful beyond this adventure. NPCs in this adventure are given at least a few personality traits or memorable quirks each, which makes them useful as contacts on Cloud City beyond the adventure.

Chapter Two

One thing that is evident in this chapter is that more of the checks the adventure calls for have upgraded dice. This is to show that there is always a threat of discovery, in the form of a potential despair being rolled, which I like. It is a notable change from the static difficulties listed for most non-opposed tasks in Beyond the Rim.



The gala, where the PCs can interact with various NPCs to drive up the bidding on the object they are going to steal, seems like it would be a lot of fun for players that enjoy roleplaying, and characters that have invested in social skills. That said, this section also has another fiddly point based tracking system to keep track of who the top bidder is, and if they drop out of the bidding. I feel this could have been simplified or would have been better if accompanied by a visually represented tracking tool to make it easier for the GM to run.

Revisiting the NPCs, this is a high point of the adventure. They have backstories, secrets, and personality quirks, and all of them could serve as contacts, rivals, or villains outside of this particular adventure. It's also nice that there are ways to manipulate and interact with each of them that varies.

The timeline of events is nice to have, but it would have been better to list not just what will happen, but when the PCs should be doing what they are suppose to be doing. The physical theft, the bank job, and the gala all have parts that could be going on at the same time, but until you get towards the end of this chapter, that doesn't really fall into place.

There is also a section that explains where security guards and guard droids will be at what time, and the pattern that they move, that I feel you could probably better model just rolling a Force die when the PCs enter a given room.

Chapter Three

While the "client double crossed us" trope is an established one in crime stories, I'm almost a bit gun-shy to use it at this point. I've heard many, many gamers that get tired of every NPC screwing them over, that I'd almost be afraid of a mutiny at the table, or at the very least a meta-game, immersion breaking conversation about how this happens all the time in games. That's not entirely the fault of this particular adventure, but it's probably something you may want to gauge before running this.

There is a potential for this section to be very short. If the PCs plan ahead for their boss screwing them, they might circumvent some of this. If they park their ship somewhere more secure than the main spaceport, they may circumvent some of this. If they don't want to track down their double crossing boss, again, they may cut some of this act out.

That said, there is a great climax that I would love to see used in a game. In fact, the climax is so good, I'd be afraid of pushing a little too hard and railroading it to happen if the PCs planned ahead. If it happens naturally, however, it's a really cool scene as written, and would make for a very memorable shoot out, especially when utilizing the specialized ways that the symbols on the narrative dice can be spent in the terrain.

The "continuing the campaign" section is less about long term employment with a new faction and more about short term repercussions for your actions on Bespin, depending on how stealthily you pulled everything off, and how many people you double crossed. Despite that, between the expanded section on Cloud City, and the more detailed NPCs both in the Cloud City section and in the section on the various bidders at the gala, you could get a lot of millage out of this material.

Bombed Out?

The fiddly point tracking mechanics of the race and the auction phases seem like they could have been more streamlined, or at least made easier to track. All of the details of the plan should be a bit better laid out at the initial meeting with the client. A heist adventure that is very open ended in a few sections, and doesn't have much combat, unless the PCs decide to really push their luck and approach everything guns blazing and hope for the best, may not be the kind of adventure every group will like. There can be a lot for the GM to track, depending on how complicated the PC plans get for the phases of the heist.

Pure Sabacc?

The min-sourcebook on Cloud City, extra vehicle upgrades, portable rules for custom spikes and Imperial intelligence picking up information on PCs, and the detailed NPCs make the book worth it for a lot of GMs just for the extra campaign material.



If the race goes well, and the players enjoy social interactions, and the final climax comes across naturally, there are a lot of cinematic, memorable moments in this adventure that will make it stand out.

Calling Phase

Between the fiddly bits, the idea that not every player is going to like an open ended heist adventure, and the concept that a client betrayal may not fly with the group, I was tempted to bump this one down a star.

However, the Cloud City material, NPCs, and the potential for all of those scenes to go over well outweigh the fact that they may not, and the book definitely has value beyond just the adventure presented. Lando would be proud of you if you took a gamble on this adventure.

**** (out of 5)



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