When reading through the new Age of Rebellion Beta, I can’t help but be reminded of this time last year reading through the brand new, fresh Edge of the Empire Beta. Clearly, there was a wave of excitement brought on just due to the novelty of such a new system. Though perhaps the mechanics basics were in place already with Warhammer Fantasy RPG, the narrative dice system was certainly coming out of left field for me. I feel that Age of Rebellion, however, is still coming up short in the department of inspiration and drive, even accounting for the fact that the mechanics of the system are no longer particularly special. There’s something deeper here. When reading Edge of the Empire, I was overwhelmed with new ideas, was bursting with innovation and creativity, and simply could not hold back on the flood of games I wanted to run and ideas I wanted to share. That is, of course, how this blog got started in the first place. It was simply criminal to let these bubbling ideas go unheard!
I think I’ve finally put my finger on what is making Age of Rebellion fall a little flat for me – player agency.
This is entirely a function of the “fluff” of Age of Rebellion and has nothing to do with its mechanics. Indeed, when you take away the things that are present already in Edge of the Empire, there are only a handful of actual Age of Rebellion mechanics to speak of. One could argue that Age of Rebellion is merely a “campaign setting” for the generic FFG Star Wars RPG, exactly equal to Edge of the Empire in that way. I certainly have described it to people in that fashion.
No, this is about the tone and direction “officially” presented for Age of Rebellion campaigns. The default campaign style that we are presented with is one of a patron system. The player characters are doled out missions from somewhere up on the Rebel Alliance Command. They just go about the galaxy, following orders, waiting for their leaders to tell them what to do, and, from a purely story perspective, almost entirely dependent on those leaders’ mercy to equip themselves. In contrast, Edge of the Empire is about a Crew making their way through a rough and tumble galaxy in any way they choose, working for whomever they want, beholden to nobody, earning and taking what they can from a universe set against them. In Edge of the Empire, the Crew decides where they are going, how they are going about it, and gets to make their own tough decisions at their desire. The classic, simple example of increasing Obligation to garner more cash embodies this ideal neatly. It’s satisfying to complete a H is for Heist in Edge of the Empire, because it is you the Crew who has made the decision to take that heist, and possibly even you who dreamed up the plan all along. Age of Rebellion, however, is far more railroading in its presentation, and I don’t care for that.
Not to curse the darkness, I have come up with some ideas that might just turn on some light. Below, I’ve outlined two distinct campaign settings intended for specific use with the Age of Rebellion roleplaying game. Both campaign settings aim to address the inherent problems I see with the implied Age of Rebellion, and to promote the style of gameplay that I am personally interested in. Future articles will provide additional details as needed.
GOALS OF ROSS
Deadly – Combat is dangerous. Victory must be earned. There is no ‘easy’ button.
Pressure – Something must always drive the story forward, it can never be allowed to stall. The game is dynamic and changing, no matter how apathetic any given players is.
Player-Driven – The direction of the campaign and the adventures undertaken are important decisions made by the players. What they do matters, their actions have a lasting impact on the galaxy.
Overview: The players take on the role of the Alliance Council, taking personal command of a given sector of the galaxy. Multitasking, smart thinking, and guerrilla warfare will lay the path towards ultimate success by securing this sector in any one of a number of ways. Facing the Empire head-on with the meager forces you can muster will spell certain doom.
Deadly: Shadowy Sith assassins lurk around dark corners, deadly Bounty Hunters track you down, superweapons are being built, and the Imperial Military outnumbers your forces 3 to 1 in almost every engagement. Every threat you manage to defeat will simply spawn a new, more dangerous opponent.
Pressure: The iron grasp of the Empire is closing in. Your sector location has been discovered. In a short time, the Empire will arrive with the full might of the Galactic Navy and crush the Rebellion. Can you secure this sector before the Imperial Fleet arrives and destroys what you have built? A time limit is put in place at the start of the campaign to fit the desired total length of play.
Player-Driven: Instead of taking commands, the The Council are giving the commands. Intelligence reports present an array of Missions to choose from, each with varying levels of danger and rewards. Multiple Duties vie for the attention of The Council, and they must choose which Missions are worth pursuing and which need to be abandoned. The level of commitment needed to succeed at a given Duty is adjusted at the start of play to adhere to a desired level of difficulty and chance of Alliance victory.
CRUSH THE REBELLION
Overview: In this campaign, we see things from the other side of the war. Taking several cues from the magnificent video game ‘TIE Fighter’, the players are a group of Imperial special Agents working for the Emperor and trying to claw their way up the ranks of the Inner Circle. The Agents will be the feared, shadowy hand of The Emperor.
Deadly: The public face of the Agents’ Operations will be to restore peace and order throughout the galaxy, ushering in a golden age of prosperity. The Rebel Alliance, local politicians, space pirates, and feuding planetary warlords will be the easy tasks, as their intentions are known. Traitors, saboteurs, rival Inner Circle Agents, and the scattered remnants of the Jedi are a far more dangerous threat that will make the players take heed around every corner. The Agents must restrain themselves from acting foolishly, however, as the Emperor is quick to punish any murderous traitors, those who do direct harm to their fellow Agents, with a swift execution. Or worse.
Pressure: This campaign pits you against your fellow players, vying for the favor of The Emperor as you climb the ranks of his secret Inner circle. An Agent must constantly be vigilant for opportunities to advance their Secret Agenda and earn The Emperor’s Favor, lest their rivals swoop in to take all the glory for themselves.
Player-Driven: The Empire is plagued by problem on all sides. Multiple choices of Operations are presented to the players and they must choose which to accept. To earn victory in the campaign, the players must find creative ways to satisfy multiple instances of their Hidden Agenda, roughly analogous to Age of Rebellion’s ‘Duty’; while at the same time maintaining the public face of the Empire’s peacekeeping duties. Oftentimes these Agendas will run counter to each other and the desires of the Agents will come at odds.