Enter the Unknown review: Star Wars Edge of the Empire
Fantasy Flight released their first character sourcebook for Edge of the Empire, Enter the Unknown: A Sourcebook for Explorers. At first I thought it sort of an odd choice, because as I go through the list of Edge careers, explorer probably isn’t even in my top 3. However, since Edge of the Empire is about the EDGE of known space and the outer rim, it does kind of make sense to dedicate more pages to those intrepid characters dedicated to charting new territory. This book includes not only new specializations for the explorer class, but new races, gear, and adventure seeds for the GM to create all sorts of explorer-centric stories.
First up, races. Enter the Unknown details stats for Chiss, Duros, and Toydarians. The most recognizable Chiss would be (the now non-canonical) Grand Admiral Thrawn. Arguably the most awesome empire villain since Vader himself. They are described as “cold and calculating” and known for the patience and tactical aptitude, which seem to me to be more traits of an individual than an entire race, but when one has as many races as the Star Wars universe, perhaps one needs to cut corners somewhere. It’s strange that they mention a cultural taboo of preemptive strikes, yet one of the racial abilities is starting with a rank in Cool, the skill you use for preemptive strikes. Hmmm. Cool is also based off presence, the one stat in which the Chiss start with a one. Since they’re so tactical, I would house-rule them to start with a rank in Vigilance as that is the more reactive skill. Other than that, they start with a three in Intellect, and their red eyes have infravision that removes a setback die from low-light conditions, and they all have blue skin and black hair. That makes the description part of the character sheet easy enough.
Next up: Duros. Considered one of the pioneer races of hyperspace travel, Duros are often confused with Neimoidians (trade federation). One of the most recognizable members is Cad Bane. These guys specialize in flying, mechanics, and most notably Astrogation. They have a rivalry with their astral-neighbors the Correllians which has become tense in recent years when the empire annexed Duro as a subject of Correlia rather than an independent world. That tension could be played up in-game once Suns of Fortune comes out. Duros is a natural choice as the party’s pilot, as they start the game with a rank in Piloting (Space) and always add one advantage to any Astrogation roll.
Finally, Toydarians. The most notable member of this race is Watto. Interestingly the first race to start with both two “ones” in starting ability scores, but also two “threes.” Interestingly, these guys would make great face characters, but be absolutely useless in a fight; like C3-P0 useless. They also hover with their little wings, so ignore difficult terrain, but can’t fly any higher than a few feet. Known mainly as lackeys for Hutts, and having some amount of force persuasion resistance, a Toydarian in the group could be a great Trader, Politico, or maybe Scoundrel, but leave the fighting to the other guys.
The next section details three new specializations for Explorers: Archaeologist, Big-Game Hunter, and Driver. The Archaeologist is very much in the predicable “Indiana Jones” rough and tumble school of Archaeology, but it provides a nice balance of educated loremaster with some field abilities. Surprisingly most of the skill tree is filled with Grit, Durable, and Toughened, with a few ranks of Knowledge Specialization and Respected Scholar in there for good measure. This would be a great addition to a small party that needs some knowledge skills, but not at the expense of losing a character that can hold their own in a scrap.
The Big-Game hunter has many of the same skills as a Scout, but is more combat-oriented. You lose the Scout’s skill in Medicine and Piloting (Planetary), but gain Stealth and Ranged (Heavy), both essential to this specialization. It reads a bit like a blend of Scout/Assassin, so those who want some survival skills, but also want to take things down at a distance, this is for you.
Lastly there is the Driver. This is a nice blend of Pilot/Mechanic in which you can gain talents like Full Throttle and Skilled Jockey, but also Gearhead and Fine Tuning. Pretty much the ultimate co-pilot class, as it adds Mechanics and Gunnery to the list of Explorer skills, it also adds a few to set it apart like All-Terrain Driver, Full Stop, and Natural Driver. Not as boring of a choice as I would have thought at first glance.
This book also adds Signature Abilities. The Explorer Signature Abilities are extensions to your Talent tree that have two prerequisite skills from the bottom row of the tree. These are meant to be ultimate achievements of characters that are at the very pinnacle of their field. After gaining the base Signature Ability for 30 points, there are two more rows of upgrades for 10 and 15 points respectively that make the ability easier to trigger or more powerful. One seems almost game-breakingly powerful, the other completely subject to the GMs whim. The first is Sudden Discovery, which allows a PC to pinpoint their exact location, discover a hidden item or location, or identify a safe and fast path thru any terrain. All this for two destiny points, and any results will be determined at the GMs approval. The only way I could see this being cool is if it was used as a last resort, and pulled the party out of the fire. The other Signature Ability is Unmatched Mobility which, a character can spend two destiny points to increase his maximum maneuvers in a round to 3 for 2 rounds. The modification tree below the ability add rounds to the duration or add free maneuvers (no strain) without increasing the maximum maneuvers. I could see how this could get abused, but may allow for some awesome results. Its hard for me to tell how these would balance out in game. I’ve played a lot of low to mid level games, but most of the PCs in my parties aren’t at the bottom of their talent trees yet. We’ll have to see some truly epic encounters to try and balance out these very heroic abilities.
The gear section in the book has some excellent additions, including long range stun weapons, an extreme range sniper rifle, and the shotgun-like Hammer (Blast 6, knockdown). The melee weapons are weird, one is a fusion cutter mining drill, another is a massive chainsaw, and the third a somewhat pedestrian vibrospear. The armor section has some cool suits, including the shockrider crash suit, that sounds basically like a racing suit that reduces strain taken from vehicle crits and reduces fire damage by one. There is also mountaineer armor that provides two boost dice to Athletics checks to climb or rappel. There are a lot of great tools and equipment with an explorer theme like modular backpacks, long range scanners, hunting goggles, chem lures, portable perimeter fences, and specimen containers. Some are more fluff than crunch, but overall there seems to be a good mix.
There is an excellent section on starships and vehicles, including several that could be good ships for a party if you are already tired of the YT-1300 or YT-2400. The Loronar E-9 long-range scout looks serviceable, as does the Ghtroc 720 Light Freighter. If you can’t get away from the signature look of the YT’s but want something a little different, the YT-1000 stats are included in this book, and it looks very cool in my opinion.
The last section of the book is geared towards GMs and making explorer adventures, but also included in there are a lot of background ideas for explorer characters. It also has detailed sections about making characters memorable (which could be applied to PCs or NPCs). There are a few good adventure seeds, but one deals with a heist on Bespin, which, if you plan on running the upcoming Jewel of Yavin, might be a little too close to that plot; Or make a campaign of it, whatever makes sense for the group.
Initially I was on the fence about this book, and to be honest if I didn’t have an Amazon gift card from Christmas burning a hole in my pocket, I likely would have skipped it. I would have been sorry. This is an excellent expansion to the Edge of the Empire game, with an excellent balance of crunch to fluff. Even if you are not overly excited about the Explorer career, I would suggest picking this up for the character development sections, the ships and gear, and the adventure ideas. It adds some welcome diversity without being redundant. It should hold us at least until the next beginner box or core book for Age of Rebellion.