- Galaxy at War
- Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
- ISBN: 0786950358
- 224 pages (hardcover)
- Note: This review first appeared on GameCryer.com and is re-printed with permission
Star Wars is about conflict. From the Mandalorian Wars to the Rebellion to the Yuuzhan Vong invasion, war defines each era, and the characters roles within in them. Galaxy at War is a Star Wars: Saga Edition source book that puts players on the frontlines of these wars, offering new warlike (or wartorn) species, feats and talents, a martial arts prestige class and an arsenal new weapons and vehicles. Player characters can get their hands on that gear using the new requisitioning system, and they can rise through the ranks using the "Rank and Privilege" subsystem.
This is all good, but where the book truly shines is in its support for over-worked game masters. Building on the successful Scum and Villainy format, Galaxy at War includes seven drag-and-drop mini-adventures, a 1st level Clone Wars mini campaign, and a brand-new component-based system for creating bases and battlestations. The system can handle recreating the famous Death Star scenes but its modular nature means you can just as easily place individual components -- like say an airlock or hanger bay -- into what every adventure you're running.
The book features nine new species, starting off with the barabel (war-like reptilians with a deep-seated respect for Jedi, and one of the worst species illustrations I've seen in a Saga Edition book) and continuing with the murderous Dashade, the Mandalorian-predecessors known as the Taung, the multiple-personality Thakwaash, the feline Triani, the ghoulish Yevetha, the brutish, ape-like Yuzzem and the kill-or-be-killed Zygerrians. The odd balls in this lineup are the Lurmen, the pacifistic raccoon-like aliens featured in Season 1 of The Clone Wars cartoon. It makes a kind of sense -- playing a pacifist in war time will certainly appeal to some players -- but it does stand out against the other far more violent races in the book.
Of those I like the Taung for their Mandalorian ties (a bit of history I hadn't heard of before this book) and the Takwaash for the role-playing potential of their perfectly alien multiple personalities. The survivalist Zygerrians also look good for hand-to-hand combat builds, since they get Martial Arts I as a species bonus feat.
The feats and talents section introduces new options for the game's six base classes. Among the best of these are the Martial Arts feats, which combined with the Martial Artist Prestige Class gives the game, suddenly give the game a host of hand-to-hand combat options. Among the Martial Arts feats introduced are Echani Training, which allows characters to double their Strength modifer to damage if only making a single attack in a round. It also grants a per-encounter attack that knocks an enemy prone. Another cool feat is K'tara Training; it deals an extra die of damage against flat-footed enemies, and allows a per-encounter attack can render an enemy speechless if successful.
I like the design of these feats, which grants a frequently used constant or conditional ability along with a more powerful per encounter ability. These feats may seem a bit more powerful than regular feats, but they're also capstone feats, usually requiring one or two prerequisites, and frankly, Martial Artists could use the help.
The Martial Artist prestige class serves as a pinnacle class for hand-to-hand combatants. It introduces two new talent trees --Martial Arts Forms, which is built around different species-based forms like Echani Expertise (improved critical threat range) and K'tara Expertise (disarm as a swift action). The Unarmed Mastery Talent tree is about substance over style, with talents like Hardened Strike (reduce damage reduction) and Punishing Strike (make an extra attack on a critical hit). The class also has an odd level ability (confusingly listed under the Unarmed Mastery Talent tree) that grants bonus hit points equal to your class level whenever you successfully hit an opponent with an unarmed strike.
The Galaxy at War book introduces team-oriented feats. Each is based on a particular skill -- stealth, climb, swim, use computer, etc. -- and grants a flat +3 bonus, plus an additional +1 bonus for each ally who has the feat. I don't know that my players would ever burn a feat on a team-building exercise, but I could see this sort of thing working in a dedicated military campaign.
The book's armory is well stocked. It introduces automated sentry guns, and assortment of anti-personnel and anti-tank mines, fragmentation and razor wire, an assortment of heavy artillery (up to and including orbital bombardment options), tactical tractor beams, flame cannons, biohazard and camo scout armor, and much more. There's also a section on advanced cybernetics, allowing players to finally replace those pesky flesh-and-blood limbs with the latest cybernetic components. If you ever wanted to be General Grevious, here's your chance.
The Requisitioning system provides a way for heroes to get their hands on this gear. Characters are given an operating budget, and can then use that to requisition weapons, vehicles and even starships. They don't own it, and have to return any gear after the mission, but it provides a way for soldiers to have the very best equipment without having to buy their own gear.
The Rank and Privilege system supplies a mechanic for advancing player characters through the military bureaucracy. Adapted from and compatible with the Organization rules from The Force Unleashed, Rank and Privileges provide mechanical benefits as characters move up through the command structure. This benefits run the gambit from simple morale bonuses to allies to the ability to requisition starships for military campaigns. Both systems could be handy in a long-term war campaign, particularly if you want to reinforce the military feel.
On behalf of over-worked game masters everywhere, I have to say that where the book truly shines is its game master's support. The Galaxy at War dedicates an entire chapter to base and battlestation design, offering all the component pieces -- like detention blocks, barracks, tactical command centers, and airlocks -- you need to recreate everything from the Death Star to Echo Base. Complementing these entries are write-ups on base-centric computer and security systems as well as common hazards.
As a GM, I found this fantastic. Forget designing an entire base; I was able to instantly put the book to use when my heroes decided to cut their way through a starship airlock. I just flipped the book open to the airlock entry and instantly had a ready-to-run set piece. Of course, none of this replaces the need for good adventure design on the part of the game master, but it sure is nice to have help with the nuts and bolts.
Another nice feature ported from Scum and Villainy are the mini-adventures and the short campaign. The seven mini adventures are two-page scenarios that feature an adventure seed, encounter notes, and a map and are ready to run at a moment's notice. The campaign - "Operation: First Breach" -- is nominally set during the Clone Wars, but its story -- in which heroes attempt to disable a planetary shield to enable a Republic infantry landing -- is easily portable to any era. I haven't had a chance to run any of these yet, but they look solid and I had great success with their Scum and Villainy counterparts.
The book isn't perfect. The barabel illustrations are the worst I've seen in any Saga Edition product; the reptilian warriors come across as cartoonish, rather than menacing. There are some overly large white spaces in the book, such as in the "Random Mission Generator", where they could easily have squeezed two more missions, and some of the mini-adventures, where it seems like space was let for pull-quotes that never materialized. It's not horrible, but given how tight Star Wars books are, the extra space was jarring. The "Military Units" chapter has 15 write-ups on military units ranging from the famous (Mandalorian Protectors, Onderon Beast Riders) to the Obscure (Churhee's Riflemen, Triani Rangers). They're a good read, but I would love to have seen each stated out using the Rank and Privileges system, if not in the book, then as web enhancements.
I'll freely admit I'm biased when it comes to this book; my Star Wars campaign is about to enter the Mandalorian Wars and the arrival of my review copy of Galaxy at War couldn't have been better timed. After a year of battling secretive Sith knowledge cults and exchanging blows with pirates, my players are finally going to war. As such, there's little in this book that I can't use. Anyone running a military campaign should find it equally useful.