Running the Galaxy
A Preview of Edge of the Empire from the GM's Perspective
“Since we’re a small operation, we don’t fall into the…uh…jurisdiction of the Empire.” –Lando Calrissian Characters – their histories, their motivations, their obligations, and their stories – are the heart of Star Wars®: Edge of the Empire™. The game’s narrative dice and Obligation systems work to reinforce this truth; they both empower the GM to explore the consequences of the players’ actions. Moreover, the game’s character creation process supports the development of rich, three-dimensional individuals, who have reasons to work at the fringes of the galaxy while they seek to reduce their obligations and pursue their goals. Accordingly, our early previews of Edge of the Empire have explored several of the basic elements that players will want to understand about how their characters interact with the galaxy. Designer Jay Little introduced the features of the narrative dice system, as well as the implications of each character’s Obligation. We walked through the ten steps of character creation, and we explored the lives of the few remaining Force-sensitive exiles who cultivate their powers while avoiding the Empire’s notice. Today, though, we turn our attention to those people who really make the galaxy move, the GMs. While GMs can still appreciate all the things that make Edge of the Empire a great Star Wars roleplay experience for players, they approach each gaming session from a different perspective. Like the Empire, the GM holds jurisdiction that reaches to the far edges of the galaxy, and he can create truly memorable adventures by shaping his stories around the characters and their actions.
True Power “You underestimate the power of the dark side. If you will not fight, then you will meet your destiny.” –Darth Vader Don’t be seduced by the dark side! When you sit down to GM a session of Edge of the Empire, you’ll have true power. You’ll be able to read the hearts and minds of men, women, and even monsters. You’ll be able to destroy planets with just a few syllables. The galaxy will literally respond to your whims. However, you also have responsibilities. As Chapter Nine of the Edge of the Empire Core Rulebook reminds you, the GM’s first goal should always be to create a fun and exciting roleplay session. Every tool the game provides you and every ounce of power you hold should work to that effect. Accordingly, the Core Rulebook also provides plenty of advice for both new and experienced GMs to help them master the art of bringing the Star Wars galaxy to life at the gaming table.
Interpreting the Game’s Narrative Dice
As previously discussed, the narrative dice system used in Edge of the Empire often rewards players with surprising turns of events. Advantage and Threat can add depth to each action that reaches beyond its success or failure, and the Core Rulebook provides examples of how a GM may interpret them. During a climactic space battle, the players may successfully gun down the TIE fighters that were pursuing them, but if they generate enough Threat, their space battle may still leave them limping through space when they suffer damage to the reverse power coupling. Alternatively, if the players earn enough Advantage while failing to repair the reverse power coupling, they may find the trace signal hidden in the ship’s engine that allowed the Empire to locate them in the first place. Whatever the outcome, the game’s narrative dice advance storytelling throughout your gaming sessions, and this leaves you plenty of opportunity to pursue new angles in your adventures. If you’re GMing a published adventure, these angles may help you guide the players toward future scenes or allow you to explore other space within the bounds of the adventure. If you’re running your own campaign, these angles may lead to entirely new adventures and gaming sessions!
Spending Destiny Points
The Core Rulebook also offers GMs some helpful advice about the use of Destiny Points. The Destiny Pool is generated at the beginning of each session and presents both the GM and the players with opportunities to spend Destiny Points to modify dice rolls…but at a cost. The GM can spend a dark side Destiny Point to upgrade a Difficulty die () to a Challenge die (). This allows the GM to make the roll more difficult for the players, but when he does so, the dark side Destiny Point is converted to a light side Destiny Point. Alternatively, the GM can spend a dark side Destiny Point to upgrade an NPC’s Ability die () to a Proficiency die () to gain a greater chance of success during a key roll. In either case, the GM’s expenditure of a Destiny Point means the players gain another Destiny Point available to use in future encounters. In the hands of a savvy GM, Destiny Points can do more than simply modify a couple of dice rolls; they can make important villains truly menacing or make the players feel like their embattled characters are caught in the middle of a location that’s strong with the dark side.
Using Obligation to Advance Stories
In Edge of the Empire, the Obligation mechanic offers the GM plenty of story hooks and roleplay opportunities. Each player character begins his career with outstanding debts he must repay. Thus, each player character should be driven to adventure and seek ways to reduce his debts, lest his debtors come calling, especially because in Edge of the Empire a character’s debtors aren’t always friendly or cordial about collecting what they’re owed. To the GM, this means that each player character comes pre-built with a potential cast of contacts, associates, and opponents that can all impact a game’s events. Before each game session begins, the GM should make an Obligation check. The greater the group’s total Obligation, the greater the chance that one of the players’ Obligation will make a direct impact upon the session. If the group’s Obligation is triggered, the GM notes which player’s Obligation is activated and how that player’s specific Obligation manifests itself. The results allow the GM to create any number of a range of custom challenges. You might be able to add an extra adversary. Perhaps the player characters will learn that they’re being targeted by a deadly bounty hunter, and they’ll have to conduct their adventure under the strain of that looming threat. Then again, the Obligation may manifest in other ways: the characters may find it hard to purchase the items they need when they’re blacklisted, they may be coerced into taking on a difficult side mission, or they may have to speed up their efforts when they realize their time is running out. No matter what type of Obligation the players trigger, the Obligation mechanic helps you impress upon your players the meaningfulness and consequences of their decisions and actions. It keeps them rooted in the world of the adventure. In fact, there’s one more way that the Core Rulebook illustrates the impact of Obligation. While an individual’s Obligation concerns him directly, a group’s total Obligation says a lot about its reputation, and the GM is encouraged to hold player characters accountable.
Characters highly in debt to the galaxy’s shadiest crime bosses aren’t likely to gain favors from upstanding politicians, but they may be able to find contacts among black market tech heads and gun runners.
How to Use Motivation
Like Obligation, the game’s Motivation mechanic helps characters relate to the galaxy in which they adventure, and like Obligation, it offers the GM plenty of hooks for storytelling. Players receive additional XP for playing their characters’ Motivations, so there’s real incentive involved when the GM wishes to present opportunities in gaming sessions for the player characters to pursue their goals. These moments may be introduced simply for the joy of developing characters and roleplaying with cunning adventurers and alien species, but they can also be used to lure the characters toward your adventure’s main plot points, especially if the group has strayed “off the rails.” Sometimes, characters will achieve their goals, or they may have changes of heart. People change, and so do their motivations. In these cases, the Edge of the Empire Core Rulebook also offers GMs some suggestions about how they may help players find appropriate times and ways to change their characters’ Motivations. When used properly, characters’ Obligations and Motivations allow the GM to craft adventures that connect to the player characters in deeply personal and meaningful ways. Characters won’t just be adventuring for the money; they’ll be looking to pay back old debts, restore lost pride, aid their friends, and pursue love. And when the players find themselves invested in their characters and their characters’ interactions with the galaxy, that’s when the magic happens!
Other Ways to Enhance Your Gaming Sessions
The GM’s experience in an Edge of the Empire gaming session starts with the game’s core mechanics, but it can certainly go far beyond them. The game’s narrative dice may drastically shift the momentum of key encounters with their Advantage and Threat, but they can also inspire entirely new adventures when players roll Triumph and Despair results in critical moments. Rules for Fear checks allow you to challenge player characters and their resolve when momentous adversaries hit the stage. Additionally, some GMs may choose to use music to further enhance their gaming sessions, establishing the mood at key moments. Some may use props, and some may work to integrate their games into the larger Star Wars canon. The Core Rulebook touches upon all of these and helps you establish those truly high highs and devastatingly low lows that lend so much drama and excitement to the Star Wars universe. Adding the Edge of the Empire Game Master’s Kit to Your Toolbox Part of running a session is budgeting your time, and the Game Master’s Kit includes a GM screen with quick reference to most of the rules you’ll want to have on hand. Additionally, the Game Master’s Kit includes a complete adventure, and when you start to look beyond running published adventures and into the idea of creating your own campaign, the Game Master’s Kit provides some advice to help GMs create truly memorable nemeses for their groups. Here, we’re not talking about the mid-level overseer who provides the real challenge in an adventure after the player characters blast their way through a squad of Stormtroopers; we’re talking about utilizing proper recurring villains to give your players chills. How do you create someone as menacing as Boba Fett or Darth Vader? The Game Master’s Kit can help you along the right path.
Freedom to Be Imaginative Edge of the Empire allows players to adventure in some of the galaxy’s grittiest locations and meet some of the universe’s shadiest characters. Its mechanics keep characters grounded in their adventures and invested in the events taking shape around them, but they also provide GMs with plenty of opportunities to loose their imaginations during spontaneous, structured interaction with the players and their characters. In the end, as the GM of an Edge of the Empire adventure, you’re far more than just a rules arbiter, you’re also a partner in the fun. Whether you’re running a published adventure or pursuing the events of your own campaign, you’ll be every bit as invested in the heroic space fantasy that makes this game Star Wars as your players will be.
Next up: We’ll look at the resources that the Core Rulebook offers to GMs as they seek to develop ongoing campaigns!