When I heard the news about Fantasy Flight Games’ decision to genericize the Star Wars RPG with Genesys, I was definitely interested.
While my experience with the Star Wars RPG was poor, I also took the time to read reviews and I know that playing with a knowledgeable group is key. It seemed like if I understood the dice system that I would probably have plenty of fun. I also didn’t feel like investing in a system that was only going to work inside the Star Wars universe, as expansive as that universe is.
I went ahead and got my hands on the game, and I managed to have a session of play as well.
Gotta Sell You More Dice
So, the custom dice that Fantasy Flight uses elicit a mixed reaction from me. First, the symbols on the dice are easier to grasp than in Star Wars. I can much more easily recognize the difference between a success and an advantage, or a failure and threat.
Here’s where some of the problems with the dice come in. Because of the way that the game is played by pitting positive dice against negative dice, that means that you’re going to be rolling up to five dice in some circumstances (ability dice and difficulty dice in particular). This varies because certain dice get used more than others. You’re clearly going to need at least two sets of dice (I bought three, to err on the side of precaution).
This is probably going to shake out as the GM buying the dice. Sure you could share, but since they’re color-coded it’s easy for people to get them mixed up. In other games, you can differentiate by dice color. This color-coding is essential for the game to work, as dice are opposed this way.
There’s an ongoing gripe I have with Fantasy Flight Games’ insistence on using custom dice. To my knowledge, no third party company has made compatible dice for the Star Wars RPG or for Genesys. There’s a Discord bot that uses Genesys dice, but even so, if you want physical dice or an app you’re going to have to get it from Fantasy Flight Games. It’s clear that the dice are meant to facilitate purchasing additional stuff. This is common in RPGs, in fact, I always say that you need to budget more money than you think if you’re going to start an RPG. But Fantasy Flight’s approach is particularly brazen with its vendor lock-in practices.
This doesn’t only apply to the dice either. When I opened up the book, I looked for an Open Game License, of which I found none. I was pretty shocked at this, I figured that a game like that was going to support OGL content. While this may not make a difference to players and GMs, it does mean that anyone who wants to produce content for the system is probably going to have more trouble unless they’re doing it in a fan capacity.
The Nuts and Bolts
This is pretty clear-cut in its execution, people familiar with Dungeons & Dragons will recognize (for the most part) the character sheet. There are some switches around, but all in all, it’s nothing that an RPG player can’t handle. Rules are written in a comprehensible manner.
In terms of content, the game is incomplete. While this is ostensibly because of the fact that a GM can fill in the blanks with their own house rule content, in actuality this seems like the motivation skews towards something else.
Should you go back to the example settings, you’ll find that all of the settings listed are IPs that Fantasy Flight Games owns, with the exceptions of the modern world (as no setting is provided, since we live in a modern day setting) and steampunk. Well, sort of.
While Runebound, Tannhäuser, Android, and Twilight Imperium are all directly lifted from internal IPs and will likely be expanded upon in supplements, the steampunk setting cribs artwork from their older “Planet Steam” game. I know that Fantasy Flight is notorious for this, though.
When looking through Genesys as a whole, what’s made clear is that Fantasy Flight Games decided it would be smarter to produce a single system that they could use with their IPs rather than make one for every IP they owned. I think that’s a smart decision, and since the Star Wars RPG was definitely a success it follows that genericizing it was a good option.
Hacking it is possible, but it’s not as modular as a system like Fate Core is. Additionally, there is a surprising lack of resources for the game itself. There’s no GM screen, inserts, or even a reference sheet for the dice. The premade adventure is a standard fantasy campaign set in the Terrinoth universe. However, strangely enough, the adventure doesn’t list any archetypes or additional equipment and what’s included in the core rulebook lacks the variety of a game like Dungeons & Dragons. If you don’t know the Terrinoth universe, some parts of the adventure aren’t going to make any sense and you’ll have to ignore them.
But credit where credit is due. If Fantasy Flight Games does something excellently, it’s in the artwork and production values. The “unfinished” aesthetic helps communicate the feel of the system, which is meant of course to be something that you use to build your own worlds with.
How it Looks In Play
I sat down with a test group, thankfully one of my players had experience with the Star Wars Fantasy Flight line of games. We ran the Terrinoth campaign, which functioned. It suffered from a similar problem that the Star Wars beginner games had, where it’s meant to be read in advance and if you try reading it aloud you’re going to run into the issue of revealing information that’s locked behind a skill check.
That being said, I was beginning to get used to the game’s narrative dice system. I am miffed that there was no reference sheet for what the dice did that I could use for the dice. Still, my players eventually got it.
All in all, my thoughts on this are good, with some major caveats. It provides a nice roleplaying experience with narrative play. But I feel like “building your own world” comes secondary to selling supplements later down the line. That and the fact that the system is closed indicates to me that this isn’t going to have as large of a base of content produced by third parties that d20 or Fate has.
And of course, some of my gripes are just with Fantasy Flight being Fantasy Flight. You have to buy custom dice for everything that you get. Of course, I’m not averse to buying different types of dice, I have a whole bunch of Fate dice. But at the same time, they get far more use and can be used for Fudge. Buying dice for Genesys feels more like a chore and less fun.
But when it comes down to brass tacks, the game is still fun to play. Despite my gripes that prevent from engaging with the system in the same way that I would with 5E or Fate Core, it’s still a capable and enjoyable game.