Sunday, November 27, 2016

What Do I Know About Reviews? Age of Rebellion: Strongholds of Resistance

Daunting challenges of juggling work and family obligations nearing the holidays aside, I've finally made my way through the next book on my backlog. Feels kind of appropriate to finish reading and reviewing an Age of Rebellion book this close to the release of Rogue One.

One Moment In Time

Strongholds of Resistance came out in November of 2015. By this point in time, not only was the Disney acquisition old news, the Legends transition was old news, and The Force Awakens was nearly in theaters. In non-tabletop gaming news, this was also around the same time that EA's Battlefront was about to ship, which led to an interesting bit of (anti-)synergy.

To tie in with EA's Battlefront game, the Battlefront Twilight Company novel came out ("read the novel, so we don't need to do a story mode"). Although by the time of Strongholds of Resistance's publication we were well past Fantasy Flight including canon sidebars mentioning the sourcebook's place in the Expanded Universe, it still felt a bit odd to have this book come out about the same time as Twilight Company.

Specifically, Twilight Company goes into the liberation of Sullust and the timing of it, compared to the beginning of Return of the Jedi. While Strongholds of Resistance has lots of material gleaned from Legends as well as fully canon material, the Sullust description in Strongholds of Resistance leaned heavily on Legends material, which stood out compared to the Twilight Company novel. It doesn't affect the quality of the material or it's usefulness in game. It's still possible to tweak things a bit here and there to make both Twilight Company and Strongholds of Resistance true for a given campaign that you might be running, but the timing made the contrasting information stand out more.

The section on Chandrila takes some of it's history from the Rogue Squadron game on the N64, and the Tierfon Yellow Aces were reintroduced to current canon by the Force Awakens Visual Dictionary. The book also includes the G2 repair droids that first showed up in Disney's Star Tours ride, and while the G2s haven't made an appearance, the RX pilot droid showed up in an episode of Rebels. The history of Polis Massa as a Rebel base is part of the storyline of Battlefront II, back when Battlefront games had storylines. I'll stop now.

Crude Matter

Does anybody know what I'm going to say about the art, formatting, and general appearance of this book, based on what I've said about every other Fantasy Flight book I've reviewed so far? This one is no exception. In fact, the longer the Star Wars lines go on, the better they look, as more and more artwork is created and shared across the various card, board, miniatures, and RPG products. Like most of the "location sourcebooks," this book is 144 pages.


After reviewing a few of the adventures, I had gotten used to the opening fiction tying directly into the plot of the adventure, or for it to introduce NPCs from the adventure. This isn't an adventure, so the one page digression into fiction is a first person account of an Imperial spy infiltrating a Rebel base.

Since this isn't an adventure, the introduction, in general is a bit short. It just mentions what chapters are coming up, and what the book is about--in this case, worlds sympathetic to the Rebel Alliance, and bases from which they operate. The chapters include Worlds in Revolt, Hidden Bases, Player Options, and Modular Encounters. Unlike Suns of Fortune and Lords of Nal Hutta, this book doesn't detail one region of the galaxy, but is more thematically based, jumping all around the galaxy.

Worlds in Revolt

Despite the title, these are worlds that have some kind of Rebel sympathy, but most of them aren't technically in revolt. There are in-depth profiles on Chandrila, Kinyen, Mon Cala, Sullust, Ord Gimmel (introduced by this book), the Roche Asteroid Field, Thyferra, Yavin 4, and the Independence (the Mon Cal cruiser that served as the flagship for the Alliance before Home One was constructed). There are also a few paragraphs each on Barkhesh, Chardaan, Contruum, Hoth, Kolaador, Mygeeto, New Alderaan, Sanctuary, Talay, and Vergesso Base.

There are a ton of adventure hooks in this section. That said, I wish there had been a more specific section that detailed potential adventures or campaigns on each of these worlds. For many of them, the adventures almost write themselves. although the idea of Rebels stranded on Yavin 4 after the evacuation is such a good one that I would love to have it as a full-blown alternate option to start Age of Rebellion campaigns.

Chandrila and Kinyen are a bit odd. Chandrila has a lot of potential for sneaking dissidents off world, attempting to break the blockade, and smuggling food and supplies on and off world. Unfortunately, a lot of the space on Chandrila presents the world in a bit more of a gazetteer fashion, rather than "why is it interesting in an Age of Rebellion game," and the planet comes across as a planetary Whole Foods that also exports debate club members and extemporaneous speakers. Kinyen is interesting, from the point of view of examining the Gran, their religion, and how all of that interacts, but it feels like it has the least direct connection to the Rebellion of all these worlds, except that some of the priests kind of like the Alliance. Even at that, Kinyen is a fun read, and Chandrila, in the sections where it talks about blockades and spies and the like, has a lot of adventure potential.

Of particular note for fans of creatures that showed up in the movies--this book has several well known creatures from The Empire Strikes Back statted out. Wampas and tauntauns show up in the paragraphs on Hoth, and the Roche Asteroid Field entry has stats for exogorths (space slugs) and mynocks.

Hidden Bases

This part feels like the strongest section of the book. There are several bases presented, and for each base, the size of the base, its general function, an NPC found at that base, and a few adventure suggestions are presented. Not only do I really like this format, but it also creates a nice template for the GM to capture the purpose and feel of bases that they might make on their own.

Echo Base, Polis Massa Base, Tierfon Outpost, and Defiant Core Base (created for this book) are all presented. Defiant Core deviates a bit from the way the other three bases are presented, in that the base is presented in multiple stages of development. This allows the PCs to either go on missions specifically to expand the base with resources, or to check in on the base between missions, and to see it develop as a means of seeing time pass in the overall campaign.

Each base also has a "Consequences of Discovery" section that deals with how the Empire might find it and what the PCs might have to do to get out safely and potentially salvage whatever the Alliance might need from that base. The Echo Base section essentially covers alternate things your PCs might be doing if they are stationed on Hoth during The Empire Strikes Back.

One of the things that struck me about this chapter is that you could definitely show the progression of the Galactic Civil War by the way that you stationed the PCs in the game, had bases discovered and evacuated, and introduced new bases. Just following the bases presented and the sample adventures (which are only a few paragraphs each, but have some good ideas), you have half a campaign structure right there.

Player Options

Polis Massans, Quarren, and Verpine are presented as player character species in this chapter. As with some other species presented in these books, the Polis Massans and Verpine aren't exactly common species in the galaxy, but unlike, say, the Drall and the Selonians in Suns of Fortune, who don't have much of a reason to leave the Corellian system, Polis Massans and Verpine have logical reasons for being Age of Rebellion PCs. All of the species seem to have some fun abilities and traits based on the information about that race, and none of them have a bonus so good that they seem better than any other similar species at a given task (I'm looking at you, Corellian humans).

If you have always wanted a ton of Mon Cal weapons, armor, gear, vehicles, and ships, this is your chapter. I have to admit wanting to see a Mon Cal run around in powered armor myself. Beyond that, a lot of the gear is either general "useful to Rebels" gear, or gear that might have a tie in to one of the worlds presented in the book.

Two oddities jump out at me. The Verpine Heavy Shatter Rifle (a Verpine railgun) does a whole lot of damage and uses the gunnery skill. While it's very, very expensive, it also isn't cumbersome, meaning that an average to low strength person with ranks in Gunnery can just tote this thing around, not mounted to a vehicle, and shoot it all day long without penalty. The other oddity is the Blaster Suppressor, which mentions a "stifling effect" on range and damage for weapons with the attachment installed, but doesn't give any actual stat modifications that indicate this. The book also introduces some interesting "stealth" but not "cloaked" stealth fighters and light freighters, and quantifies how that would work in the rules.

With the exception of a few hiccups, it's a pretty solid chapter, and with equipment like organic gills, repair droids that talk more than they work, false voice transmitters, and comlinks that can talk to some species directly in their brains, there is a lot more than just power gaming gear--there is some fun roleplaying material as well.

Modular Encounters

Like all of the "location sourcebooks" so far, this book has modular encounters. These are multi-page adventure ideas that aren't quite full adventures, but wouldn't take much effort to make into one, and can be dropped into other adventures fairly easily.

This time, all of the modular adventures are tied to locations explored elsewhere in the book, with adventures near Polis Massa, Mon Cala, Sullust, and Ord Gimmel.

A few things make these modular encounters stand out from some of the other ones that have appeared. First, different locations are definitely geared towards different specialties. Polis Massa favors fighter pilots. Mon Cala favors diplomats. Sullust and Ord Gimmel have a lot of stealth, slicing, and sabotage built into their plots. While it makes them individually a little less functional, the individual modular encounters all feel a little more meaty, and closer to full adventures than some in the past.

Polis Massa's adventure picks up almost immediately after a significant event mentioned for that base, and Ord Gimmel and the Mon Cala modular encounters further expound on the current state of those worlds. In fact, if you were wondering why Mon Cala isn't available for a full blown Rebel base if they just threw out the Empire, the modular encounter helps to explain that.

The Sullust mission feels a little strange to me. Essentially you are wrecking a bunch of SoroSuub's stuff in order to convince them that it's more trouble than it's worth for them to take Imperial contracts. While the SoroSuub agent introduced in the modular encounter is mentioned as being a former Imperial, how the PCs would find this out isn't really mentioned. The missions boil down to damaging a neutral party's stuff so they won't deal with your enemies, which feels a lot more like full blown terrorism than most Rebel missions do. I'm not so much against that kind of thing being brought up, but I wish the book had spent more time discussing the moral implications of this, and how this might be viewed inside the Alliance itself by different parties.

I really like the diplomatic mission to Mon Cala to keep the planet from falling into another civil war. I like that the Mon Cala aren't presented as the obvious good guys when it comes to their conflicts with the Quarren, the way some older Legends materials seemed to imply. That said, I really wish there were a few more mechanical tools in this modular encounter rather than just broad suggestions about what the ISB agent would be doing.

I really like the idea that there are names, motivations, and personality traits for a lot of the Imperials, even if they tend to be a bit two dimensional. My only nit pick would be that I would love to have a few more suggestions on how to introduce those names and personalities to the PCs in game, so they have a face to put on the leadership of the Empire while opposing it.

In fact, my biggest complaint about this chapter is that most of these modular encounters were intriguing enough that I wish they had been fleshed out as longer adventures on their own. I know I could do that, but I want to pick the quick and easy path, dang it.

Imperials Have Entered the Base

The biggest down sides to this book are that there are a lot of really good ideas that are only briefly introduced. A few pages on Chandrila and Kinyen feel like they could be sacrificed to flesh out the good stuff a little more. The early section of the book could have used more of the suggested adventure treatment and how to use this at the table advice that the bases chapter got. A few places begging to be further developed didn't get the attention that the ideas warranted, due to the format of the book.

Woo Hoo!

While there are some ideas that could have been fleshed out, because they were so good--those good ideas are still in the book. There are a ton of adventure hooks in this book. The base chapter provides lots of structural ideas for a campaign. The modular encounters can serve as full blown adventure seeds more easily than some. The development of Defiant Core base is a great way to model progressing time in an ongoing campaign. Mon Cala wearing powered armor, carrying torpedo launchers and spears that shoot laser beams!

Pulling Down the Statue

This is a very solid book. If you plan on running an Age of Rebellion campaign and want any kind of flexibility in campaign structure, this is going to support that very well. It's not quite as perfect for Age of Rebellion games as Lords of Nal Hutta seems to be for Edge of the Empire games, but it is still pretty close to being the best opening "setting" book you could hope for.

**** (out of 5)