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"Goodbye, Jean-Luc, I'm gonna miss you. You had such potential. But then again, all good things must come to an end."
- Q, Star Trek: TNG

The Unknown Regions

by Ken Newquist / September 14, 2012
The Unknown Regions Source Book: Your guide to the unexplored frontier of Star Wars. Credit: Wizards of the Coast

The Unknown Regions is the final sourcebook for Wizards of the Coast's Star Wars: Saga Edition Role-Playing Game. The book serves as a placeholder for all the books left unpublished, and promises to carry players to the unexplored corners of the Star Wars galaxy. It does this by venturing into The Unknown Regions to explore what fans know -- the Chiss, the Rakata and the Sorcerers of Rhand -- and plenty that they don't.

The Unknown Regions details eight worlds created just for the book, introduces a planet generator that game masters can use to make their own, and debuts creature generation rules to populate them. Since Scouts are essential to exploring these brave new worlds, they get a variety of feats and talents, and because no final frontier should be without its dangerous challenges, the book re-envisions "Hazards" as Dungeons & Dragons Fourth Edition-style threats that require a combination of brawn and skill to defeat. The end result is a tool kit that gives players everything they need to continue their adventures beyond the last book in the Star Wars Saga Editions line.

Unknown Regions opens with a Species chapter that reads like a who's who of weird and obscure Star Wars aliens. The Anzati are vampiric humanoids who survive by drinking a "soup" of a victim's life energy; the Chadra-Fan are diminutive, rodent-like creatures who are exceptional tinkers; the Nikto are a slave race of the Hutts; the Sluissi are half humanoid, half snake species, while the Shistavanen are galactic wolfmen. There are also two insectoid species: the spiritual, wandering Krevaaki and the Verpine. Even better, there's a "Near Human" species that lets you create your own genetic offshoots. The "Near Humans" swap out humanity's bonus feat or bonus skill for a near-human trait, such as "additional arms", "dark vision" or "quick healing" and provides a chart of suggestions for physical variations (oddly colored skin, webbed feat, etc.). Taken together, the species reinforce the alienness of The Unknown Regions, and help set them apart from the rest of the galaxy.

The Unknown Regions is nominally Saga Edition's "Scout book", in the same way that Scum and Villainy was the "Scoundrel book". There are certainly plenty of new tricks for Scouts found in its pages, including a host of new talents. There's the "Mobile Scout" talent tree focusing on beast riding, and culminating with the "Battle Mount" capstone talent. This multi-functional talent lets players use their beast as cover and attack from a mount as a swift rather than a standard action. The talent tree is augmented by new rules for animal mounts and companions. The "Master Scout" talent tree is focused on typical backcountry skills like speed climbing, building traps, and fighting opponents who are over-reliant on their armor.

Other classes get similar frontier-themed talent trees. The Scoundrel's Outsider talent tree is all about operating on the fringe of society, the Soldier's Warrior talent tree offers options for a Conan-esque fighter, and the Noble's Exile talent tree provides options for former galactic players who've decided to withdraw to the far end of forever.

The gamemaster potion of the book is built around the re-worked core mechanic known as "hazards". Introduced in the Saga Edition core rulebook, hazards are threats that aren't beings, droids, or animals. They're things like malfunctioning power conduits, carnivorous plants, and powerful thunderstorms that make attacks and do damage, but have no hit points or defenses of their own. For The Unknown Regions, hazards borrow a page from D&D Fourth Edition's traps and arcane terrain.

Each threat has a trigger that causes it to fire, an attack bonus that targets a particular defense (typically Reflex or Fortitude), damage dice, and a list of skills that can be used to help negate or evade the threat. There's a new hazard stat block format that makes them far easier to read and run. Dozens of examples covering common terrains and environments are included in Hazards chapter, with world-specific hazards featured in the Planets chapter.

The new hazards feel somewhat like "skill challenges light", and they may work even better for less Scoundrel/Noble oriented campaigns. Players can choose to simply take their chances with the hazard's attacks, but creative ones will use their skills to their advantage. In this way, hazards have the potential to add some depth to what would otherwise be dangerous scene dressing.

I used hazards in a few adventures and found they work best when representing some sort of environmental danger: an ongoing lightning storm, an exploding energy conduit, and so on. Players understand those dangers, and move to avoid them. With hazards that are more creature based -- for example tentacles attacking from the sea or a carnivorous plant that lashes out at a hero -- the players' instincts are to try and attack back ... but there's nothing to attack. The hazards have no Hit Points and no Defenses, so the players' initial reaction gets them nowhere. Skills provide away of avoiding or negating these animal/planet hazards, but with both these and environmental hazards, I've found it difficult to get my players to use their skills.

I ended up taking a hybrid approach to hazards, using the Skill DC-by-level chart from Galaxy of Intrigue to come up with Defenses and other attributes on the fly. It’s not perfect, but its filled in nicely when the party’s suddenly decided to shoot, rather than run from, the man-eating plant. I’ve also found that threats work well with skill challenges -- instead of just having a simple failure with a narrative or merchanical consequence, I’ve taken to throwing in an appropriate threat. So when my heroes were trekking across the volcanic plains of Durace, pursued by a threatening thunderstorm, and failed one of their Survival checks, I used a lightning threat to reinforce the danger they were in.

The Unknown Regions concludes the "gamemaster toolkit" approach featured in Scum and Villainy, Galaxy at War, and Galaxy of Intrigue. The book presents eight new worlds, each with a two-page background spanning the Star Wars timeline from Knights of the Old Republic to Legacy, a half-dozen plot hooks, and world-specific hazards. The worlds are varied, from the remote wasteland of Durace to the mining world of 244Core, to the civil war torn planet of Altiria/Anarris.

If you don't like these worlds, you can create your own with a star system generator that will spawn stars, planets, and moons as well as populate them with strange new civilizations (or the ruins of said civilizations). There's also a beast generator (though it's really more of a set of guidelines with some random options) that fleshes out the beast rules first introduced in the core rulebook. There are also eight mini-adventures, each set on one of the new Unknown Regions worlds, and most highlighting specific kinds of hazards.

In many ways, The Unknown Regions is for those who don’t want to play Star Wars. While every other book in the line sought to enhance the Star Wars feel and style of the game, Unknown Regions is more about exploring strange new worlds and less about crafting your own epic Jedi/Sith-fueled trilogy. The tools presented in the book, from the random world and creature generators to its rare species to the feats and talents, are all about creating a game that might feel more like Star Trek, Star Frontiers, Buck Rodgers or heck, even Gamma World than Star Wars ... and that’s not a bad thing.

At the same time those traits make this book the perfect end cap to the Star Wars: Saga Edition line because these self-same tools can be used to create the unexplored (or as of yet, uncreated) portions of the galaxy.

As with the earlier books, there's going to be a certain subset of players who can't stand to see gamemaster content in "their" books, but I think the approach worked well for Saga Edition, providing each group with what they needed to carry the game forward. More importantly, these tools help keep the game going when it might otherwise falter -- the week before I wrote this review I found myself overwhelmed with work at the day job, and with no chance to finish my planned adventure. So I grabbed the "Rogue 7 is Down" mini-adventure, changed a few details, threw in a skill challenge from Galaxy of Intrigue and I was good to go. With out it, we wouldn't have been playing Star Wars.

I'm disappointed that we won't see New Jedi Order or The Old Republic (based on Bioware's MMORPG) for Saga Edition, but The Unknown Regions was a good book to go out on. The book gives fans the tools they need to keep the adventure going and to give Star Wars d6 a run for its money as a legacy game.

This review originally appeared on GameCryer.com