Depending on who you talk to, recent Star Wars media has produced some mass market offerings that have firmly embraced the type of story near and dear to the heart of many longtime Star Wars roleplaying fans. Both Star Wars Rebels and Rogue One show Rebel operatives fighting against the Galactic Empire in stories that have stakes and present a true danger for the characters involved, because they aren’t the main characters we know from the mainstream saga. Star Wars Rebels even went so far as to “canonize” elements of the old West End Games roleplaying game supplements, with references to various bits of gear, species, and galactic locations.
Dawn of Rebellion is a sourcebook for this era of Star Wars storytelling. It is unique in the Fantasy Flight Games Star Wars Roleplaying line in that it is a sourcebook for all three of their game lines (Edge of the Empire, Age of Rebellion, and Force and Destiny). It also presents me with some challenges for this review.
Fan Service versus Table Use
Sourcebooks based on licensed material tend to have an intrinsic tension inherent to them. I’ll refer to this as Fan Service versus Table Use. Fan Service means that the sourcebook will define elements from the media being covered in game terms, based on that element’s popularity. Table Use is the ability of the sourcebook to help the roleplaying group craft a narrative that uses elements of that media to create a game with a similar theme and tone to the source material.
I mention that there is tension in a sourcebook of this nature, but that doesn’t mean that those two strategies of design must be mutually exclusive. Providing game statistics for a type of trooper, a vehicle, or a weapon that the PCs could encounter satisfies both design goals. Presenting game statistics for a character that was an unstoppable force of nature in the source material, instead of providing a framework for how characters could witness and survive such an encounter without directly engaging the character, is an illustration of how one strategy might win out over the other.
I’m bringing up this tension between game design strategies up front because it is relevant throughout this sourcebook.
The Retrieved Archives
Unlike the previous Fantasy Flight Star Wars books, this book doesn’t follow the same color coding scheme of the previous game lines. Instead of the beige and off-white scheme of Edge of the Empire, the red and white scheme of Age of Rebellion, or the black and gold of Force and Destiny, this book is externally black, gold, and blue-green, setting it apart from the other books in the line.
The book is the standard 144-page offering that Fantasy Flight has established for sourcebooks in the Star Wars Roleplaying line. It has the same impressive formatting and visual impact that the rest of the Star Wars line has. The artwork is consistently of high quality, and often depicts characters, gear, or ships from Rogue One or Star Wars Rebels. As usually, much of the artwork is utilized across multiple Fantasy Flight game lines, appearing in games like Destiny, X-Wing, Armada, Imperial Assault, or the living card game, but the art is largely artwork commissioned by Fantasy Flight (with a few exceptions, such as the artwork from Paul Kemp’s novel Lords of the Sith).
There is a table of contents, but no index. There are numerous sidebars throughout adding context to the information presented in each chapter, as well as the standard formatting for stat blocks and talent trees.
The book opens with a foreword from Rebels show runner Dave Filoni, and then begins to describe the state of the galaxy just before the destruction of the first Death Star. There is also a two-page spread examining two characters living in the galaxy, and how life is different in the Core Worlds versus the Outer Rim in this period.
The point of view was an interesting perspective, and a solid way of reinforcing the state of the galaxy, I just wish that point of view way of presenting the setting had been utilized more in later chapters. While I normally don’t like excessive fiction content in an RPG sourcebook, the point of view reinforcing what had previously been stated in the chapter was a nice way to emphasize life for common people in the galaxy at this point in time.
Chapter I: Worlds In Revolt
This section has a gazetteer of various planets, presented in a fashion similar to how other Fantasy Flight Star Wars products have described planets that relate to the overall theme of the book. In this case, the major planets covered are Alderaan, Atollon, Dathomir, The Death Star, Jedha, and Lothal. There are less detailed listings for the Anaxes Asteroid Belt, Garel, Malachor, The Ring of Kafrene, Seelos, and Shantipole.
The previous sourcebooks for the various lines included modular encounters, short scenarios that may not quite be a full adventure, keyed to various locations detailed in the book. In previous sourcebooks, these modular encounters had their own chapter, but in this book, they are added at the end of various planetary guides. There are also stat blocks for various famous NPCs at those locations, from Rebels era Leia, to Director Krennic, Governor Pryce, Maul, and the designer of the prototype B-Wing, Quarrie.
There is a stat block for the Death Star, giving it stats in a similar fashion to the stat blocks that appear for various capital ships in the game. There is also a three-paragraph sidebar on the Bendu, and how he is a plot device that doesn’t warrant stats. This is a great example of why I wrote the Fan Service versus Table Use section at the beginning.
I admit, I’m a little disappointed in this section. While I like the modular encounters for the Death Star (more accurately, for Scarif, but Scarif doesn’t get a planetary write up itself), and for Dathomir, many of them either feel very thin (Stormtroopers like to harass pilgrims on Jedha), or they feel like they exist to remind you that more important people exist in the galaxy, like the modular encounter where you distract people while Leia does important stuff, or when you walk from point A to point B for Commander Sato at Phoenix Base.
I would have loved a more detailed explanation of the kinds of wisdom that the Bendu might impart, or the kind of training someone might receive from visiting him, if a character is Force sensitive. Even if he doesn’t get stats, that doesn’t mean a more detailed section outlining an encounter with him wouldn’t have been useful at the table. Instead, we’re told to use encounters with him sparingly to nudge PCs in the right direction without directly giving them answers.
I am also still puzzling out how, because the Bendu is a plot device, we don’t get more than three paragraphs about him, but the Death Star gets a whole page of stats, in addition to having the standard planetary write up detailing the location.
There are several signature creatures that appeared in Rebels given stats, although a surprising number of them are only given minion stats. If you use this gazetteer for Dathomir, Ghosts of Dathomir (the most recent Force and Destiny adventure published) can’t actually happen. They also do not mention Concord Dawn or Mandalore, and if you want a glimpse at what the Jedi Temple on Lothal was hiding, it doesn’t get a mention, as the material in this guide does not include any information from the last season of Rebels.
Chapter II: Organizations
This section of the book looks at various organizations that were active, important, and influential in various parts of the galaxy in the pre-Battle of Yavin days. The Empire, The Rebellion, and Independent Organizations all get sections, and most of these organizations get sub-sections, such as the Empire’s military academies, the ISB, and the Inquisitorius, and Rebel cells like Phoenix Squad. Independent organizations cover things like the Free Ryloth Movement, the Broken Horn Syndicate, the Protectors of Concord Dawn, and, oddly enough, the independent organizations of people that don’t operate in an organization, like Hondo and Lando Calrissian.
The larger organizations get full page histories before launching into the smaller groups that make up the whole. There are stat blocks for characters like Tarkin, Thrawn, Vader, Ahsoka, and the cast of Rebels (as of Season Three). Strangely, the protagonists of Rogue One, while being pictured throughout the book, don’t get any stat blocks of their own.
The section is a good refresher course on what the organizations have been up to in this era, especially summarizing some of the information from the Zare Leonis led young adult fiction. There is a section that lays out the Imperial bureaucracy and all its various sub-groups, that is a good primer on that topic for anyone that hasn’t seen it in the past.
What I was hoping for most in this section fell a little flat. Given that this era at least partially predates the Rebel Alliance as a single organization, I really wanted more detail on what it would be like, as PCs, to be part of Saw’s Partisans versus being part of Cham’s resistance versus running mercy missions for House Organa, and although groups are given a few pages each, it’s not from the perspective of PCs working for those groups. I would have liked to have seen what missions from those groups would look like, and what kind of conflicts might arise for their members.
As mentioned in the previous chapter, Mandalorian information is sparse. The protectors of Concord Dawn have an entry, but of the two pages allotted, one page is almost all Fenn Rau’s stats, and the stats for the Fang starfighters. Additionally, because the information in the book caps out at Season Three of Rebels, we don’t get any of the information on the Inquisitorius that the newest Vader comic series delivers.
Chapter III: Player Options
This chapter introduces new species for PCs, universal specializations inspired by the various characters from Rogue One and Rebels, gear, droids, and vehicles. This section does the best job of synthesizing the conflicting goals of fan service and table use, although there are still a few quirks that pop up.
The new species introduced are the Drabatan, Gigoran, Iakaru, and the Tognath, all species seen in Rogue One. I’ll do a terrible job of explaining them, but when you see them, you will most likely remember where you saw them in the movie. All of them were present, either in Saw’s Partisans, or in the Rebel Alliance itself.
I don’t disagree with the inclusion of any of the species, but I was a little surprised that we didn’t get to see stats for the Lasat in this section, especially since they aren’t quite as rare as they seemed in the first season of Rebels.
The Universal Specializations that appear in the book are Force Adherent, Imperial Academy Cadet, Padawan Survivor, Pirate, Retired Clone Trooper, and Ship Captain. The artwork used for each one gives you a big clue about what archetype inspired the specialization. In general, I really like these. I think the universal specializations are an aspect of the system that could have been used more frequently in other sourcebooks, and they are a good way of capitalizing on the cross-game nature of this book.
For anyone not as well acquainted with what a universal specialization is in the game, it’s a specialization that isn’t tied to a specific career, and has previously been used for the Recruit, someone that started as an independent operator but joined the Rebel Alliance, and the two Force sensitive specializations introduced in Edge of the Empire and Age of Rebellion, to represent characters that are Force sensitive, but are not primarily pursuing use of the Force as their main career path. They are, ahem, bridger specializations that provide broader abilities than one specific career will provide.
The new gear includes some weapons used by characters in Rogue One, including Baze’s heavy repeating blaster and Chirrut’s lightbow. It also includes the vibrorang, which to date has only shown up in a Star Wars mobile game. Droids include the KX series, of which K-2SO was an example. U-Wings, TIE-Strikers, and Hammerhead Corvettes all get stat blocks in the vehicle sections, as well as other support ships that appeared either in Rogue One or Rebels.
In general, this is probably the most straight-forward useful section of the book that we’ve looked at so far. It lets you play as races you from the source material, use weapons and vehicles from this era, and utilize specializations that reinforce archetypes from Rebels and Rogue One. The only thing I wish would have been done differently is a matter of external references.
For whatever reason, all Fantasy Flight Star Wars RPG books are written from the standpoint that the book you are reading and the core book are the only books that exist in the line. I understand this strategy in the normal game lines, as this doesn’t imply that you need to buy Age of Rebellion books when you are running Force and Destiny. Given the cross-game line nature of this book, I think this is the place where you want to add those references to other game lines. It would have been great to have a sidebar mentioning that you could find a base VCX-100 ship (not the Ghost itself) on page 63 of Keeping the Peace, or that you could find Mandalorian species stats on pages 7-8 of Friends Like These.
Chapter IV: Game Master Support
Most of this chapter is about structuring campaigns as television seasons, weaving in narratives that are important to the individuals in the campaign, and managing primary and secondary plots, as well as moving toward resolutions and “season finales.” There is also a section of antagonist motivations, ties that those antagonists might have to the PCs, and Rebel Cells, origins, missions, and changes that might happen to them over time.
This section spends six pages, with sidebar examples at each step, of structuring a campaign to match a television season. It touches on creating branches, and revisiting those branches and how to cut them off when they aren’t contributing to the overall story.
There is another four pages on antagonist development, how to manage the first meeting with the PCs so that it has as much impact as possible. There are sections on recurring encounters with the antagonists, and how and when to pull of the final scene with that antagonist.
The final section touches on what I wanted in previous chapters, but instead of using existing Rebel cells as examples, it discusses creating unique origins, leaders, goals, and motivations for individual Rebel cells. They are a solid two pages of advice that gets close to, but not quite achieves, what I was hoping for when it comes to the Rebel cells structure of this era.
Overall, this is my favorite chapter in the book, and I like how it illustrates to GMs not just what Star Wars Rebels looks like with stats in the game, but how to emulate that style of play, overall. My biggest complaint in this section is that I think I would have almost had those two pages on developing a Rebel cell devoted to how to manage a campaign that has Obligation, Duty, and Morality all at play in it instead of the Rebel cell advice.
Chapter III and IV have solid information for players and GMs that want usable stats for species, weapons, vehicles and plots structure that emulates what they enjoyed about Star Wars Rebels and Rogue One. The information on television season structure and antagonist development is going to be of use even outside of the pre-Battle of Yavin timeline of Star Wars, and can be used in each individual line of Star Wars RPGs. Stats for characters like Death Troopers and the overall structure of Imperial command will be broadly useful, and some NPC abilities, like Vader’s Force Choke or Thrawn’s Art of War might make good templates for abilities that a GM may want to give other NPCs in their campaigns.
Puffer Pig Schemes What is explored is entertaining, but the level to which many topics are engaged can feel a little unsatisfying.
Given that it was already known that Season Four of Rebels would be the end of the series, releasing this book now, instead of a few months down the road, makes a lot of the information feel incomplete. Creating “NPC only” abilities for some NPC traits, but not others, means that characters like Vader still have very complicated stat blocks overall. Because the book attempts to touch on so many elements from both Rogue One and Rebels, they don’t spend a lot of time on details for many of the topics they introduce. Because we don’t spend much time on the Bendu or Malachor, and because Vader and the named Inquisitors from Rebels aren’t likely to be the Inquisitors a given GM is using for their campaign, this book feels more like a cross-game sourcebook for Edge of the Empire and Age of Rebellion where your Force and Destiny characters can also tag along.
Tenuous Recommendation–The product has positive aspects, but buyers may want to make sure the positive aspects align with their tastes before moving this up their list of what to purchase next.
There is some solid roleplaying advice for Star Wars gamers in this book, and for people that enjoying seeing important NPCs defined by stats, this book has that as well. Despite that, 144 pages doesn’t seem to be enough space to explore all the topics and themes that are introduced in the book.
For a major cross-product line release like this, FFG might have broken their usual 144-page limit for sourcebooks. For a series like Rebels, with a known ending point, it may have been worthwhile to wait a few more months to include more of the series content.
While the book has worthwhile information in it, you may want to purchase some of the titles coming out for whatever Star Wars RPG line you are currently following before picking this one up.
What do you think about licensed sourcebooks, and the degree to which a book prioritizes fan service or table use? How important is it to you to have the game stats for iconic NPCs or items in the game? If you are an FFG Star Wars fan, would you like to see more cross-product line sourcebooks in the future? Finally, what products would you like to see me tackle in the future? Thanks for your time, and I hope to hear from you below!