Dawn of Rebellion Review

The Empire reigns across the galaxy even as an alliance of resistance fighters and rebels begins to form to overthrow Imperial oppression. A space station with the power to kill worlds is still being constructed near Scarif. A group known as the Spectres still fights to free the planet Lothal. The Imperial Senate stands impotent, but certain members secretly resist. A boy on Tatooine still has no idea what his future has in store. It’s a new era in galactic history, and you can find what you need to play in it within the pages of Dawn of Rebellion, the newest Star Wars Roleplaying supplement from Fantasy Flight Games!

Dawn of Rebellion is the first of its kind, an ‘Era Sourcebook’ meant to be fully compatible with all three game lines already produced by FFG: Edge of the Empire, Age of Rebellion, and Force and Destiny. With the last of the Career sourcebooks for each line either already out or on their way through the production process, it would seem like Era Sourcebooks could very well be the future of Star Wars Roleplaying outside of published adventures, a possibility that had me very curious about what the book would offer. What made me more curious was that the book purported to draw heavily from both Rogue One and Star Wars: Rebels.

Worlds in Revolt and Organizations

The first actual chapter of the book features gazetteers in the style of the setting books like Suns of Fortune, Strongholds of Rebellion, and Nexus of Power, each dedicating several pages to each world. DoR features Alderaan, Atollon, Dathomir, Jedha, Lothal, and of all things the Death Star (which includes on entry on Scarif), in addition to an Other Worlds section collecting smaller entries on Rebels and Rogue One planets. As per usual each includes basic data points, history, points of interest, and the like, as well as example NPCs and notable personages (more on those later).

There’s a lot of interesting stuff to read and interesting material to use (I wish I’d had the Death Troopers to unleash on the crew of the Borrowed Time), but this section also sees the return of the Modular Encounter. Each gazetteer features one, and the best thing about them is that they’re not just modular in and of themselves: they also provide great examples of encounters that could happen anywhere in the galaxy. Bypassing checkpoints, avoiding inspections, stealing supplies, scouting out safe locations, and dealing with the Force gone mad are things that work all over the place during the height of the Empire’s power, and more to the point could definitely work for an Edge crew, an Age squad, or a F&D group.

The second chapter features the various organizations extant during the DoR era: The Empire, obviously, the fledgling Rebellion, and various independent movers and shakers. There’s a lot of information here on how these groups operate and what their organizational makeup is; now and then you’ll see people asking for an Imperial sourcebook for Star Wars Roleplaying, and a lot of the flavor text you’d probably find in one of those can be found here.  Mixed in there are a bunch of potential campaign ideas and adventure hooks that an enterprising GM could expand upon (and I spotted a few that have made their way in from the old West End Games material). Here we also have more NPCs, all of them in this case notable in some way.

Heroes and Villains

There are a lot of familiar names accompanied by stats in this book. Vader, Thrawn, Krennic, Ahsoka, and the entire crew of the Ghost are just the tip of the iceberg. I’m going to lead off by saying I think most if not all of them are very well designed, and actually include a lot of build choices and unique Talents that I think might serve as great inspiration for GMs looking to make characters of their own. For those alone they are worth the cost of admission and absolutely should be included here, but I want to go back and forth with my thoughts on them for a bit.

When it comes to Villains, there’s the old adage that if you can stat it you can kill it. I’ve stopped short of stating out Vader myself, even if a party’s activities probably warranted his personal touch, because to quote myself “You’d kill him and I’m not letting you break canon that badly.” On the other hand of that particular issue is that, well, there’s no canon at the table anyway except that which you make, so if you want to see Vader vs. the players go right ahead. And, of course, in many cases you can file the serial numbers off and your players will be none the wiser. The party doesn’t need to know you’re using the Fifth Brother’s stats to run some other darksider, and as dangerous as Thrawn is in Mass Combat you could always use the stats to run the party’s personal nemesis of a genius tactician instead of the Chiss.

When it comes to the Heroes I’m a little more cautious. I’ve written before about how some players can feel as if their own contributions to a pre-existing setting don’t matter if the ‘real’ main characters are running about, and the inclusion of the Spectres from Star Wars: Rebels is probably the example most likely to run afoul of that. Standard levels of caution and care to keep the players in the spotlight should suffice, however, and this is helped by a neat little sidebar in the Spectres’ case full of ideas for using them in a variety of ways.

I’m a little surprised that the heroes from Rogue One aren’t included, actually. With a part of the Rebellion’s organization section devoted to Fulcrum agents I expected at least Cassian and K2, Jyn would’ve fit right into the Independent Agents section at this point, and Baze and Chirrut would have had a place in the Jedha gazetteer. Maybe you couldn’t include Bodhi without kicking off the plot of Rogue One but . . . oh well, maybe they just didn’t have the pages.

A final note on this aspect of the book is actually from near the beginning. A sidebar on the fifth page points out that every iconic character from Ezra Bridger to Vader isn’t set in stone, encouraging GMs to modify them as needed depending on the situation, the point in the timeline, or what the campaign itself needs. A good point to make, and they made it early.

Player Options

So far everything’s been for the GMs, and they have more stuff coming, but there’s also quite a bit for the players. In terms of gear you have weapons and droids, from the blasters of the Death Troopers to the lightbow of a Guardian of the Whills to the ID9 Seeker droid to the KX-Series Enforcers that count K-2SO among their number. No new armor or other bits of equipment, although I suppose you could certainly raid the NPCs for some interesting bits. The vehicles section is pretty hearty, from the AT-DP to the U-Wing to the TIE Striker to the Hammerhead corvette. All useful stuff that can probably find a place in most games of the era and beyond.

There are four new Species in DoR, all of whom have been drawn from Rogue One (which drew some of them in turn from older sources, but that’s another history lesson): Drabatans, Gigorans, Iakaru, and Tognaths.

Drabatans have high Presence and low Cunning while getting a rank in Charm or Leadership while also getting to affect additional targets with Leadership and Coercion checks thanks to their loud voices (and some Advantage). Gigorans have high Brawn and low Intellect, get a rank of Brawl and the ability to remove cold-related setback dice, but upgrade the difficulty of Mechanics checks involving advanced technology. The Iakaru have high Agility and low Willpower, gain a rank in Piloting (Space), and are adept at moving through jungle environments and climbing, swinging, and balancing. Finally the Tognaths have high Willpower and low Presence, gain a rank each in Coordination and Perception thanks to their cybernetics and are resistant to Coercion checks, but do spend a cybernetic slot and require a breathing mask to survive outside of their native atmosphere.

Not to be overlooked is that the species each have pretty detailed entries, from the meaning of Corporal Pao’s cry of Sa’Kalla! to the bond between Tognath egg mates. Each species has its own reasons for getting entangled in the struggle against the Empire, giving players an immediate buy-in to the era.

Most interesting of the new player options, and possibly the most interesting part of the book, are the new Universal Specializations.

The Force Adherent represents believers in the Force who, like the Guardians of the Whills, cannot touch it themselves but nevertheless have faith in its influence over the galaxy. The specialization brings some intense melee fighting ability, while also having a number of Talents involving Discipline and Lore, among others.

The Imperial Academy Cadet represents students of the Empire who have become disaffected and left their oppressive destiny behind. They’re an interesting mix of skilled pilot, combatant, tactician, and leader.

The Padawan Survivor doesn’t add any Career skills, but it does add a Force Rating so long as the character didn’t have one beforehand. Unlike the other Force Sensitive Universal Specializations this one does lead to aptitude with a lightsaber via Talents, and besides that also becomes adept in social and stealthy skills.

The Pirate is exactly what it says it is, a scoundrel looking to make a profit. They particularly trade in reputation, with Coercion getting the flashier Talents, but the tree touches upon every social skill. They’ve got a few extra tricks under their belt as well, such as Natural Rogue, and know their way around credits.

The Retired Clone Trooper is even more obvious than the Pirate, and is the only one with a restriction: characters must be male humans, being clones of Jango Fett (although I imagine Mandalorian humans from Friends Like These would also work; probably not Corellians, though). The tree makes a record six skills Career skills, and is dedicated to being an above-all-else Durable combatant that also helps allies via extra soak and healing.

The Ship Captain is how you play your very own Hera Syndulla, leading a crew and piloting your vessel across the galaxy. Unsurprisingly the Ship Captain is a skilled pilot, with new Talents to make that happen, but they’re also the Captain. As a result the Leadership skill pops up all over the tree in a variety of different Talents.

I’ve often thought that the Universal Specialization mechanic was underused; aside from those that granted the Force, there was only Age of Rebellion’s Recruit, which whet the appetite but was never joined by anything. Now we’ve got all sorts of archetypes that can be created across game lines, with some new and interesting Talents tossed into the mix. I almost wish it didn’t cost XP to buy into these in the first place. As a final note, since on the face of it these would seem to be largely related to a character’s background, the book does address gaining them later in the game. Some can be added situationally (a character wasn’t a Ship Captain until they had a ship), while others can be the character revealing their past (a Padawan Survivor dropping the facade and stepping up as a Jedi).

Game Master Support

The final chapter of the book focuses on advice for running campaigns and adventures in the Dawn of Rebellion era. The first part addresses the idea of running a campaign as a season, inspired by Star Wars: Rebels (no wonder Dave Filoni did the book’s foreword). It talks about story arcs, including subplots that highlight specific players, and addresses how story arcs can branch out and how to manage them.

The second part of the chapter is about Antagonist Development. It talks about antagonist goals, their connections to other characters (including the players), and how they interact and develop a relationship with the protagonists. There’s a lot of good advice, but the sidebars about antagonists that aren’t necessarily evil, what kind of opponents the players actually want to face, and how to deal with premature PC-induced antagonist death stand out.

The final part of both the chapter and the book addresses the use of rebel cells in a campaign. There’s some interesting reading, particularly about how such cells have formed in the galaxy and what sort of reward to offer the player characters of a rebel cell, although it is only two pages, which leaves me feeling as if there could have been more.

The Book Itself

It’s a darn nice book to look at, typical of the Star Wars Roleplaying line, but I do feel that the art has surpassed even the usual high standard. The inside cover art of the Ghost and Phantom flying in front of a nebula, pictured in the header image, is just the start. It’s a small thing, of course, but it’s nice to get something pretty as well as functional for the price.

One criticism of the book’s design: with some of the NPC entries, the Talents and Equipment sections can turn into bricks of text that are a little hard to read. When it comes to Force powers each power’s name is bolded; doing something similar with Talent and gear names would have gone a long way to keep me from squinting at some of the entries.

An interesting little caveat: while it does cover an era, it’s a little up in the air as to when exactly DoR’s starting point is. Obviously there’s the usual leeway left in place for people to work with, which is good, but some of the material (particularly certain NPCs, and in some cases the state of said NPCs) relates to things from the first season of Rebels, while other pieces of material definitely come from after the second season. Just be aware of the precise when of your game or have an explanation in place in case a sharp player sees someone or something that should be dead, busy elsewhere, or different.

Also, yes, there are going to be some spoilers in this book, particularly with Rebels. Nothing too major, but they’re there. I’m also not sure how much one would need to have seen Rogue One or Rebels in order to fully enjoy the book. I think you could get away without having seen one or the other or even both and still like Dawn of Rebellion, but then I have seen both, so perhaps I’m biased.

Final Thoughts

If you’re running any version of FFG’s Star Wars set in between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope, then Dawn of Rebellion is going to be a highly useful addition to your collection. Even if your game takes place after the Death Star meets its end, a GM will probably be able to use some of the NPCs, and the Universal Specializations are still completely viable for players.

Of course, now the door for more Era Sourcebooks is open, and the rampant speculation has begun. Clone Wars, Sequel Era, Old Republic stuff . . . well, we’ll just have to see. If Dawn of Rebellion was meant as proof of concept, I’d say they’ve succeeded.

If you’ve got Dawn of Rebellion yourself, what do you think of what it’s brought to the table? What do you think we’ll see next in the Era Sourcebook line?

7 thoughts on “Dawn of Rebellion Review”

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