Star Wars: Rise of the Separatists Review

“The galaxy is in conflict. After years of growing tension, the worlds of the SEPARATIST ALLIANCE have seceded from the GALACTIC REPUBLIC. Under the leadership of the Jedi Knights, clone troopers fight bravely against the remorseless droid army. Away from the battlefields, Separatist diplomats and agents work to turn additional planes against the Republic, and both sides seeks alliances with neutral systems. Meanwhile, smugglers, scavengers, and pirates find opportunities to profit from the war, which continues with no peace in sight . . .” Such is the opening crawl for Rise of the Separatists, the latest Era Sourcebook from Fantasy Flight Games. The light of the Jedi Order still shines, the Republic still stands, and clones fight the good fight, so let’s go section by section to see what this book has to offer for Star Wars Roleplaying!

Before we even get out of the introduction, Force and Destiny’s Knight-Level play is reintroduced as Heroic-Level Play. More importantly, the sidebar that does so makes a point to recommend Heroic-Level Play, which grants an additional 150xp, increases the starting skill rank cap to 3, and bestows 9,000 credits on each character, as the default starting point for Rise of the Separatists campaigns. Honestly, good call. The book is trying to give you the Attack of the Clones and The Clone Wars-grade experiences, and basic characters probably just don’t have what it takes. Speaking of characters, let’s get started with Chapter 1 …

Heroes of the Republic

There are four new species for players to choose from: Clone, Geonosian, Kaminoan, and Umbaran.

Clones have the standard human stat block, although they have slightly less XP in exchange for a rank each in Knowledge (Warfare) and Resilience and a rank of the Physical Training Talent. As we’ll see those are skills and a Talent that every kind of Clone Soldier might benefit from; more importantly, there’s a lot of interesting reading on clone personality and culture, helping players to make their ‘identical’ characters stand out and be unique.

Geonisians are a bit of a surprise in more than one way. Geonosis was the primary source of the droid army before the Republic occupied it, but the book makes a note that your average citizen isn’t really aware of that fact, so Geonosian characters in the wider galaxy face little prejudice for their role in the war. Stat-wise the Geonosians have low Cunning, Willpower, and Presence and are just average in everything else, but receive quite the trade off: a whopping 140XP, a free rank in any skill of their choice, an additional boost for allies and a healed strain for the Geonosian when assisting, and the ability to fly.

Kaminoans are low-Brawn high-Intellect and receive a free rank in Medicine. No surprises or particularly exciting notes there. They do also have the Expressionless feature, which adds a setback to all of their Charm checks but also adds a setback to all social checks against them. The stand-out part of their entry is really the information on their culture, their place in the galaxy, and how they think.

Umbarans are average across the board in characteristics and have the usual 100XP, but their other features lean towards the social: a free rank in Deception, and a boost dice to all Charm/Deception/Negotiation checks. They also remove up to two setback dice caused by darkness, but add one setback die while in bright natural light. So they’re useful ‘face’ characters, but aren’t going to struggle in any other roles, and there’s some interesting reading here about such a, ahem, shady species.

More dramatically than any of the species, we have a first for FFG’s Star Wars Roleplaying: new Careers outside of a core rulebook, the Jedi and the Clone Soldier. The Jedi has two Specialization trees, the Padawan and the Jedi.

The Padawan has some pretty basic Talents that make sense for any Jedi: Parry, Reflect, Sense Danger, that sort of thing. The Talents that are unique to the spec, however, all emphasize their plucky nature as a student of the Force. Learning Opportunity lets them spend Advantage on a failed check to upgrade their next one. Beginner’s Luck let them add Successes to a check equal to the number of light side Destiny Points in the pool. Something to Prove sees them suffering strain to reroll a failed check, healing the strain if they then succeed. Adaptable lets them spend a Destiny Point to remove the effects of a Despair or Threat (equal to their ranks in Cool), but only for skills in which they have no ranks.

The Knight’s basic package does carry the feeling of being more experienced and learned than the Padawan: Sense Emotions, Researcher, the Improved versions of Reflect and Parry. They then go on to get Talents like Balance, which lets them roll Force dice to recover strain, and Will of the Force, which lets them convert a dark side Destiny Point to the light side once per round after a failed check. The lower left corner of the tree kicks the teamwork and defensive lightsaber use up a notch: Circle of Shelter allows Parry and Reflect to be used for allies, Side by Side adds Threat to all attacks against the Knight and their engaged lightsaber-wielding allies, and Guardian of the Republic keeps allies defended by Parry and Reflect from even being attacked for the rest of the round!

Well, I can’t find any reason to complain about the actual Specializations and what they can do! I think I like the Padawan more, with all those unique and flavorful Talents, but Knight looks very potent itself. A Knight and Padawan pair looks like quite the challenge for the droids to take on. I’m a little unsure of putting the two together in terms of advancement and niche-overlap, though.

I know that one of my biggest questions before opening the book was how they were going to handle the fact that, narratively, you’ve got two Specializations that are supposed to be at different levels in terms of power/experience/etc. Here are the answers I found. First, like any Force and Destiny career a Jedi begins the game with a Force Rating of 1. Second, a character must have a Force Rating of 2 or higher in order to take the Knight specialization (emphasis the book’s). So basically, although there’s the usual language in the book about gaining additional career skills and ranks in same when Knight is a character’s starting specialization, they then immediately tell you that you can’t have Knight as your starting specialization. So if you want to be a Knight you need to start somewhere else and get a Force Rating Talent. The Padawan tree is probably the fastest – 40xp to get Force Rating 2 and then 20xp to get the Knight tree – but there are some problems there.

First, the Knight’s additional skills are Cool, Leadership, Lightsaber, and Negotiation. Gaining Negotiation and Leadership make sense for a Padawan becoming a Knight, but Cool and Lightsaber are basic Jedi career skills, so you’re not gaining as much as you could be. Second, a Padawan can easily get that Force Rating 2 and then just stay in Padawan; one who becomes a Knight will have to spend 105xp to get to Force Rating 3. With Force-using characters always starved for XP, you’ll likely have a Padawan and their Knight at the same mystical power level for a long stretch – and that just feels a little off to me – or you’ll blow most of your Heroic-Play XP just getting to Rating 3, which seems like a tax to pay.

Maybe they should have kept the prereq for Knight a narrative one, maybe the Knight’s Force Rating Talent should have been moved up the tree a bit, or maybe they could’ve done something like a Signature Ability and tacked Jedi onto the bottom of the Padawan tree. I don’t know, but what should be the most natural progression doesn’t feel that way to me, and a Padawan/Knight and Knight in the same party seems awkward in terms of niche. Surprising nobody, I’m going to be doing a Meet the Party with this book, but I’m going to be taking a careful look at this one, and mixing and matching with some F&D careers to see if that helps. Maybe I’ll end up proving myself wrong.

The Clone Soldier Career manages to give a career-wide vibe while still presenting three Specializations that won’t crowd one another if they’re in the same party. The Clone Officer, Clone Pilot, and Clone Trooper each have different niches, but all of them have Talents that emphasize teamwork and the bond between clone brothers. An army of one man but the right man for the job, indeed.

Clone Officers are the leaders of their fellow clones, and they stand out from the rest of the Grand Army in a number of ways. Coordinated Assault is a maneuver that grants allies free Advantage, the Tactical Advance string of Talents let them send allies charging out of cover while still receiving that cover’s benefits for a time, the Scrap ‘Em string hands out Boost dice after a successful attack, and For the Republic! can keep an incapacitated or even dead ally in the fight one more round (evoking all the heroic last stands we saw in The Clone Wars).

Clone Pilots deliver their fellow clones into the battlefield and then often support them from the sky. Assault Drop lets allies embark or disembark the Pilot’s vehicle as an out-of-turn incidental, and the Barrel Roll Talents let the Pilot inflict system strain on their vehicle to reduce incoming damage (even firing back, eventually). Mission Critical lets them spend a Destiny point on Piloting checks to add Successes or Advantage equal to their skill rank to those rolls, while Fire Support gives the next ally a Bonus die after the Pilot makes a successful vehicle weapon combat check.

The Clone Trooper is the backbone of the Grand Army, and it shows. Deadly Accuracy, the Armor Master string, the Brace string extending its effects across an entire encounter and even to allies, Clanker Killer turning Boost dice into automatic Success or Advantage against droids, and Natural Trooper granting a reroll of Gunnery or Ranged (Heavy) once per session. Suppressing Fire lets the Trooper and allies within short range spend Advantage from failed combat checks to inflict Strain on enemies, and Lateral Thinking forces an enemy to reroll a successful check by spending a Destiny Point (except you don’t have to spend the Point if the enemy is a droid).

Aside from the fact that all of the Specializations look useful, I really like how all of them are distinct enough that you could have all three in the same party and not feel like you’re muscling in on one another’s spotlight time, and all the support-your-allies Talents are great. I think they knocked this one out of the park.

We don’t just get Careers, however. We also get a quartet of Universal Specializations.

The Force-Sensitive Outcast represents the Force users who have either left the Jedi (or Sith) or have been completely overlooked. Granting a Force Rating of 1 upon being selected, many of its early Talents focus on adding Boost dice to rolls, like Sense Emotions and Uncanny Senses. It’s primarily a combat tree, though, gaining the Lightsaber skill through the Secrets of the Force Talent and the ability to use a characteristic of their choice for the school with Renegade Form. Along with a smattering of Parry and Reflect, the Outcast’s status as not-exactly-a-paragon-of-Light is reflected in Prey on the Weak and the Conflict-generating Ravage, which lets them add Force dice to combat checks.

The Republic Navy Officer covers the territory of those experienced commanders drawn from various system defense forces to lead the naval forces of the Republic. Bringing along the skills of Astrogation, Discipline, Knowledge (Warfare), and Leadership, the Officer has the typical selection of leadership and spacefaring Talents, such as Command and Galaxy Mapper. The Officer truly shines with gunnery and strategy-based Talents, however, like the Blast-damage-inflicting Ordnance Saturation or the Outmaneuver action that forces enemy ships to spend extra maneuvers to move.

The Republic Representative is basically what the name tells you, a junior representative who works with the Senate and acts as its envoy. A lot of the Representative’s Talents aren’t surprising given its role – Smooth Talker and Natural Negotiator, for example – and neither are the skills of Charm, Cool, and Negotiation (although getting to get a Knowledge skill of your choice is nice). There are some particularly interesting new ones, though: Respected Delegate downgrades the difficulty of social checks the Representative makes off of their homeworld, and Translation Error lets them remove the results of a Despair from a social check once per encounter.

Finally, the Scavenger is the Specialization for those picking around the edges of the conflict. Skilled in Mechanics, Perception, Streetwise, and Survival the Scavenger’s Talents then all focus on making the most of what they have – including grabbing what’s nearby. There’s some Tinkerer, a Jury-Rigged, and even some Utinni! In the mix. There’s a trio of Talents that let the Scavenger Exceed Expectations, potentially damaging or even deliberately damaging items to add Boost, upgrade, or even roll extra proficiency dice after the fact for checks using the item.

Overall, the Universal Specs all offer something useful and unique and, most importantly, actually universal. Whether you’re playing a Rise of the Separatists campaign or just one of the core lines, I think any of these could work – call it the Alliance Representative or Former Senator or something and you’d be fine in Age of Rebellion – although some of them are niche enough that they won’t make the cut for every kind of story you might want to tell.

Heroes of the Republic wraps up with two Force Powers, Bind and Enhance, which would seem to be there solely for the purpose of adding them to list of available options in an Edge or Age-based game. Nothing really to see here, then, so move along.

Weapons of War

Hard to have a more obvious name for a section of a book: this one is all about the weapons, armor, gear, and vehicles that will be used on both sides of the Clone Wars. There are a pair of noticeable absences in the vehicle section: the Torrent starfighter is featured in multiple pieces of art within the book and the Acclamator-class assault ships are mentioned by name, yet neither is present in terms of a stat block. Other than that, though, there’s plenty to work with from the DC-15 blaster rifles to lightsabers to the LAAT/i to Vulture droid fighters to Venator-class cruisers.

While all of that is nice, though, the most interesting part addresses a key way in which a Rise of the Separatists game will stand out. ‘Normal’ Edge of the Empire, Age of Rebellion, and Force and Destiny characters are generally speaking a hardscrabble lot. Credits can be difficult to come by and are often hard-won, and even the backing of the Rebel Alliance doesn’t always mean a steady supply line. The Jedi and Clone Soldiers, however, have the Galactic Republic and its Grand Army backing them up, and that changes things.

First, Clone Soldiers and Jedi are likely to be issued equipment and vehicles at no cost to them in order to carry out a specific mission, and the book supplies several examples. A squad expected to engage in a boarding action will be issued armor-piercing grenades and blast shields for every trooper, and a Nu-class shuttle to deliver them to the target. If they’re expected to defend a site, however, the squad will instead be given an AT-TE walker and a Z-6 rotary cannon to hold the line with. Second, if characters want to request a specific item they can make a Knowledge (Warefare) or Negotiation check to receive it, again at no cost. Of course none of this gear belongs to the characters, and it’s expected they’ll have to hand it over at the end of a mission, but some of it might become their regular kit if they end up specializing in those mission types.

I feel like the ghost of the Only War Warhammer 40K RPG FFG once published found its way to the Star Wars section of the company, just for a bit.

There are also some interesting character creation options. A Clone Soldier can receive a basic loadout of armor, blaster rifle, and several other items for a much smaller amount of their credits than is listed in each item’s usual cost. Meanwhile, a Jedi character can receive a lightsaber for a relative pittance. Given the credits involved even at the discount the ideal of starting at Heroic-level play is a requirement, but it’s a nice way to reflect the greater resources available.

The Spark of War

The third section of Rise of the Separatists is the actual ‘setting’ section of the book, providing information on the Era this Sourcebook has been written to focus on. It begins with ‘Prelude to War’, discussing the history behind the conflict that reaches as far back as the creation of the Republic and right up to the Battle of Naboo. The flashpoint that was the Battle of Geonosis is discussed in the next section, ‘The Clone War Begins’, followed by information on the nature of the war – typified by victories with a steep cost – and some of the events that characterize it.

The next few parts of The Spark of War focus on the factions and organizations of the era. The Republic is covered, from the Office of the Supreme Chancellor to its vast bureaucracy to the Jedi Order to its new Grand Army and Navy. The Confederacy of Independent Systems is next, including the founding corporations that form its Council, the Separatist Congress and its factions, and the army and  fleet that fight for it. Included among these entries are a number of statblocks for some of the pivotal figures of the era (Padme Amidala, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Count Dooku, Asajj Ventress, and General Grievous), allowing them to be included in your campaign, along with some sidebars discussing the secret events behind the scenes of the conflict.

The Spark of War ends with ‘Worlds at War’, which starts by talking about a few of the hotspots across the galaxy before four gazettes that highlight specific worlds: Geonosis, Kamino, Naboo, and Tatooine. Each has basic information about the world, points of interest, and some NPCs native to the world. Not sure we really needed to see Tatooine here, but even that entry is redeemed by the fact that each world also comes with a Modular Encounter, ready-to-play for your PCs to jump into.

Clone Wars Campaigns

If the first section was about who you would be playing, the second was about what they would be playing with, and the third would be about where and when they’d be playing, this final section is about how to play a campaign using Rise of the Separatists. It opens up by addressing using Rise of Separatists with the different core rulebooks. No one core book is highlighted as better suited than the others. Rather, the effects that a single book will have on the tone of the campaign, particularly when it comes to the unique mechanics of Obligation/Duty/Morality, is discussed at length. The changes that happen to the core books are also discussed: the Jedi are more plentiful and organized than the Force-sensitives of Force and Destiny, the Grand Army of the Republic is much better supplied than the Rebel Alliance, and those used to living on the Edge of the Empire will find life a little easier without the Imperial Navy breathing down their necks – and a little more difficult because other criminals are enjoying the same lack of law enforcement.

Of course you could end up using two or even all three of the core books, and one way Rise of the Separatists suggests for dealing with this is something it calls ‘Troupe Play’ – basically, the idea that players actually have multiple characters, and they change which one they’re playing depending on the circumstances. I’ve encountered this concept in an informal way a few times in different games, but it’s really cool to see it codified and discussed here. The section goes on to talk about what sort of different player character groups might be involved, the effect it can have on gameplay, and even how to handle a situation where different groups of PCs come into conflict with one another.

The next section is all about ‘Using Nemeses’. It’s a very useful section, although it’s been included in a few books before now, so how much it’s worth depends on whether or not you’ve seen it before.

Then there’s ‘Campaigns as Film Serials’, which is all about episodic pacing and cutaway scenes and plot development and cliffhangers. Again, this is something we’ve seen before in other books, but it is particularly relevant given that the majority of the audience’s knowledge of the era has come from the episodic if often arc-based The Clone Wars animated show. This also makes Troupe Play a little easier to wrap your head around. The Clone Wars had (has, I suppose, given that there’s another season on the way) a pretty broad cast of characters, and not everyone was in every episode. From a certain point of view Dee Bradley Baker was the only player who showed up for pretty much every session, so he had a whole roster of characters so he could play along with whatever story was going on that week.

There’s also an optional rule sidebar for the unending Droid Phalanxes we often saw in the show, which is a pretty neat challenge for the players to take on.

Next we have ‘Running Large Battles’, with advice for doing exactly that. There’s a lot about ‘Identifying the Key Conflicts’, and ‘Showcasing the Villains’, and ‘Connecting the Heroes’ across all the action going on. However, there’s a glaring lack: we don’t see anything like the mass combat rules established in Age of Rebellion. This era seems like the perfect setting for those rules, and I think it was a mistake not to include it. Yes, sure, you could go get the AoR books with the rules, but you could say the same about the Nemeses advice, so why have one and not the other?

What they did include, however, are optional rules for Fighting in Squads and Squadrons, a mechanic we haven’t seen outside of the Age of Rebellion GM’s Kit, and I think it was a great idea to have it here. To summarize, these rules allow PCs to gather NPC minions into a Squad or a Squadron around them, use them to soak attacks, put them into formations for certain benefits (such as Support Fire adding a Boost dice to their leader’s attacks), and use Advantage/Triumph/Threat/Despair in several new ways. Given how many clone trooper and pilot NPCs are likely to be following the party around, this was a solid choice.

The section and the book ends with Adversaries. Not a lot to talk about here, except to say that if the NPCs in the Worlds at War gazettes were planet-specific, the NPCs here are era-wide: Clone Troopers, Republic Fleet Officers, B1 Battle Droids, T-Series Tactical Droids, and the like. A simple addition, but a welcome and necessary one.

Conclusion

Rise of the Separatists isn’t a perfect book. There are some things that maybe didn’t need to be included, a few gaps that seem pretty noticeable to me, and even on my third revision of this article I’m still not sold on how they handled the Jedi Knight prerequisites and the transition from Padawan to Knight. That being said, it is a good book. The Jedi and Clone Soldier specs are well-designed, the Universal ones are good additions to the overall system ecosystem, gear is handled well, the era is explained in detail, there’s good advice for running this type of game, and there are new ideas and good rules included. It might also be worth remembering that there’s another book on the way to close out the era, that may fill in some of what I perceive as gaps.

Plus,  just in case you were wondering, FFG continues to print books that are very nice to look at.

I’ll have a Meet the Party up later this week, so until then, let us know what you think, and remember:

For the Republic!

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