Skill challenges were the best thing to emerge from our Dungeons Dragons 4th Edition mini-campaign, and when we started playing Star Wars: Saga Edition, we pieced together our own version of the rules. We based them on 4E’s examples, the skill DCs established in Scum and Villainy, and personal experience. The end result created some of the most memorable moments in our campaign, including the heroes’ disastrous attempt to escape a proto-star nebula.
Galaxy of Intrigue formalizes these ad hoc rules by creating a Skill Challenge system for Saga Edition that improves the 4E iteration in every way. The source book introduces new feat and talent options for skillful characters, nine new species (including the Bith, Defel and Neimodian), an entire world dedicated to intrigue, eight mini-adventures, and the “The Perfect Storm” campaign.
Mastering the Skill Challenge
Skill challenges were met with praise, derision and confusion when they were launched as part of 4E’s Dungeon Master’s Guide. The core idea is simple: make skillful encounters as exciting (and integral) as combat encounters. Some complained that this new game mechanic eliminated role-playing, turning robust, dramatic role-playing encounters into a series of dice rolls. Others liked the idea, but struggled with how to create them.
I’ve found that that a good skill challenge provides a framework for role-playing, and gives skillful characters a chance to shine. It’s odd that it originated in a game like 4th Edition, which puts so much emphasis on powers rather than skills, but it fits Star Wars perfectly.
Look at almost any major scene in Star Wars and you’ll see a combination of skillful and combat encounters. Obi-wan deactivating the tractor beams while Han and Luke blast their way into a detention block … and then try to escape from a trash compactor. R2-D2 attempting (and failing) to hack his way into the Imperial barracks on Endor while the rebels fend off a stormtrooper battalion. Han and Leia trying to escape from Echo Base while Luke attacks Imperial AT-ATs in his snow speeder. The list goes on, and demonstrates why a good encounter isn’t just about how many stormtroopers you can mow down in a fight. Combat is only half the answer; skills (and good thinking) are the other half.
Galaxy of Intrigue begins by introducing the concepts behind skill challenges, and then spells out the core mechanic: players must achieve a certain number of successes before three failures; the more successes required, the harder the challenge. It explains how to construct the challenge, from the narrative that binds it together to the Difficulty Classes Chart that sets the target number for each skill check (a chart which appeared first in Scum and Villainy and again in Galaxy at War).
All of this has appeared in D&D 4E before; where it jumps to lightspeed are the “challenge effects”. These new options for success and failure allow you to tweak the core mechanic to represent different situations. For example with the “Catastrophic Failure” option is used in challenges where things can rapidly go from bad to worse (e.g. negotiating with a xenophobic species). With this effect in play, checks that fail by 10 or more yield two failures instead of one. A “Degenerating” skill challenge is one where the skill DCs increase with each failure. The skill challenge only ends when the tasks become impossible. There can be positive effects as well. “Extreme Success” lets players earn two successes instead of one when they beat the Skill DC by 10 or more while “Recovery” allow players to remove a failure if they’ve succeeded on a check by 5 or more.
I’ve used several of these in play, and they do an excellent job of changing the tone of the skill challenge – “Extreme Success” makes for a more rousing skill challenge as players have a chance to do the truly spectacular, while “Degenerating” is good for those challenges that are slowly grinding down their resources. They’re a useful tool, and one that should be backported to D&D 4th Edition.
Skill Challenges are something every game master should try once or twice to see if it fits their play style (actually, I’d recommend 2-3 times, as it can take a session or two to get the hang of them). It’s particularly good for games like mine, which is comprised of a group of Jedi Knights and their skillful compatriots, the crew of Binary Transport Inc. It gives those skillful players a chance to shine as brightly as the martial ones, and fits perfectly with the Star Wars experience.
The Skill Challenge Talent Tree for nobles takes full advantage of its namesake mechanic, and lets these quintessential skillful characters soar in skill challenges. “Learn from Mistakes” lets you grant a +2 bonus to someone else’s next skill check when you fail one of your own, while “Leading Skill” does the same for checks you succeed at. “Try Your Luck” is another that triggers on failure, and let’s an ally make the same check you just did, but with two dice instead of one. Even better is the Superior Skills Talent Tree, which has the advantage of being useful in a campaign without Skill Challenges. “Critical Skill Success” grants a +5 bonus to a subsequent check with that skill when you roll a 20, while “Exceptional Skill” lets you treat rolls of 2-7 as though you’d rolled an 8. “Skill Boon” lets you increase the die type of any Force points spent on skills by one step, while “Skillful Recovery” grants you a bonus Force point whenever you fail a check with a particular skill.
There are also challenge-related feats. The “Last Resort” feats allows the player or his alley to re-roll a check that leads to a third failure once per challenge. With “Catastrophic Avoidance” the player only fails catastrophically if they miss by 15 or more, while “Skill Challenge” recovery lets him treat a skill challenge as thought it has the recovery effect, even if it doesn’t.
The book is about more than skill challenges. There are nine new species, almost all of whom have some sort of espionage of covert connection. There are the Bith (the black-eyed alien musicians from the cantina in A New Hope) who are brilliant aliens that gain a free Force point whenever they spend a Force point; the bonus point must be spent on an Intelligence-related skill check, the wolf-like Defel, who are capable of seeing in ultraviolet light and have light-bending fur that helps with concealment, the Fosh, an obscure avian species that can heal with their tears and the Givin, a skeletal-looking species obsessed with logic and mathematics. There’s also the Gotal, who have two cones on their head that grant them untrained use of Sense Force and Sense Surroundings, as well as the ability to easily sense others emotional states, the nefarious Neimoidians, the Duros offshoot that played such a pivotal role in The Phantom Menace.
It’s an oddball mix of mostly obscure aliens. I’m most likely to use the Bith and Neimoidians in my campaign because of their iconic species status, and I could also see throwing in a Gotal as a nod to the Knights of the Old Republic comic book. The rest are a little too weird for my liking, but I could see folding them into an Unknown Regions excursion.
As with all the Saga Edition rulebooks, there’s a wealth of new talents. In addition to the Skill Challenge and Superior Skills talent trees, nobles get the “Master of Intrigue” talents. The tree looks to give nobles more flexibility on the battlefield, with “Advanced Planning” allowing them to swap their initiative score with another ally, while “Get Into Position”, which lets two allies move up to their normal speed as a reaction on the noble’s turn. “Done It All” let’s the noble pick two talents that she qualifies for; she can then spend a force point to gain the benefits of those talents until the end of her next turn.
The capstone feet for this talent tree, “Master Manipulator”, offers three new options: “Demand Recovery”, which instantly moves the ally to the top of the condition track and grants a +2 bonus to attacks and skill checks for a round, “Exceptional Control”, lets you roll a d20, then swap it out for an ally or enemy’s roll before the end of the encounter, and “Word of Warning”, which lets you swap out your defense score for an ally’s when they’re targeted by an enemy’s attack. I like this talent tree – I can see it working well with a noble/soldier commando build in the Clone Wars or Rebellion eras. I was always partial to 4E’s Warlord class, which was all about providing your allies with additional movement and combat opportunities. “Master Manipulator” has a similar feel, and I can see it add a lot to an infiltrator sort of campaign.
Other classes benefit as well. The Scoundrel gains the Revolutionary talent tree, which is useful for creating improvised weapons (“Bomb Thrower”) and encouraging allies (“For the Cause”) while Scouts get the Espionage talent tree which focuses on infiltration-style talents that let them hide in shadows after being targeted by an enemy attack (“Reactive Stealth”) or make quick escapes after dropping an enemy (“Prudent Escape”). Soldiers gain new hand-to-hand options thanks to new Brawler talents (“Crowd Control”, “Disarm and Engage”) as well as new protective options thanks to Commando talents like “Dedicated Protector”, which allows a soldier grant a protective bonus to an ally.
Nyriaan: World of Mystery
As with Galaxy at War and Scum and Villainy, Galaxy of Intrigue includes mini-adventures that showcase the supplements new rules while simultaneously giving game master’s ready-to-run scenarios for their campaign. It also includes a full-blown campaign involving the struggle to save a planet from complete destruction.
I was disappointed by the campaign. With a book like Galaxy of Intrigue, I’d expect the campaign to focus on the political machinations of Coruscant or the commercial scheming of the Corporate Sector. Instead we get the jungle world of Nyriaan. It’s a backworld planet that’s home to a number of noble, corporate and political factions, all vying for control. I understand what they were shooting for here – a self-contained sandbox where players have the chance to save an entire planet – but I wish they’d taken the opportunity to explore the more urban – and urbane – aspects of the Star Wars universe.
Galaxy of Intrigue isn’t a perfect book, but is an essential one for Star Wars: Saga Edition. It helps game masters and players tell the sort of skillful, thrilling stories that were such an essential part of the Original Trilogy, and it’s well worth hunting down for your collection.
- Galaxy of Intrigue
- 224 pages
- Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
- ISBN-13: 978-0786954001
- Buy it from Amazon.com