Roleplaying the Galaxy: That is the system...
So, you’ve returned to continue your training. Good to know my enthusiasm for roleplaying in the Star Wars galaxy is more infectious than off-putting. I suppose we should start at the beginning. For some, my first question to you may seem a no-brainer. To others, borderline sacrilege. But I’m neither here to gatekeep nor to be gatekept. Whatever avenue facilitates the introduction of further players is perfectly acceptable to me.
My query, then, is thus; what system would you like to use as you explore the Star Wars galaxy?
For those who are not yet even younglings in the ways of tabletop roleplaying, I understand how this question might seem overwhelming, at first, so allow me to smash a few potential concerns to bits. Asking what system you wish to use is largely only asking by which ruleset you wish to play. Don’t be afraid about missing out on lore, locations, or story possibilities. Every scrap of Star Wars ever written is at your disposal, regardless of whose ruleset you wish to explore. And the decision need not even be final. If your group collectively determines that they want to shift to a different system, whether indefinitely or as a test run, there is nothing but self-imposed limitations keeping you from doing so. Sometimes it can even be fun to interpret a character built one way from a different certain point of view.
That said, let’s revisit the main options I touched upon briefly last time. Chronologically, we begin with the tried and true West End Games d6 system, which churned out quality content from 1987 to 1998. Talk to any Star Wars roleplayer old enough to have watched the original Star Wars in cinemas, and this will almost certainly be their go-to answer. And with good reason. The unbridled imagination, worldbuilding, and clever design on display, across the rulebooks, supplements, and adventure journals, played no small part in building the Star Wars Expanded Universe into what it is today.
A wonderfully symbiotic relationship existed between the Star Wars contributors, at this time, with the novelists, comic writers and artists, and RPG creators all feeding off each other in a great circle of creativity, with some contributors, such as one Michael A. Stackpole, spanning all three processes. The result was a simple, well-executed RPG system that understood its world and encouraged exploration of both one’s character and the galaxy.
The basics? Load up on d6’s, or six-sided dice. You know, the normal, cubic ones. Skills, Attributes, character race, etc. are going to inform how many dice you’re rolling, as well as what modifiers you might be able to add to tip the gravsleds in your favor. Hit or exceeded the target number? You did the thing! Fell short? Well, as with any of these systems, feel free to have backup dice, so that you might inform a particularly troublesome polyhedron that it has failed you for the last time before you disdainfully cast it aside.
And there you have it! All you need is the core rulebook, some basic dice, writing utensils, copies of the character sheet, and enough friends/acquaintances to use them. The book itself will walk you through character setup, game mastering (the duties of the individual actually running the adventure for everyone), and any other basics for getting started. Either first or second edition should have enough prompts to start either a standalone adventure or a full-fledged campaign. Go forth, toss some cubes, and may your Wild Die always come up ‘6’…you’ll get there.
As for additional resources, you can find PDFs of most every WEG entry on starwarstimeline.net, as I stated in my last article. It’s a wealth of free information at your fingertips that I suggest your Star Wars-loving mind absorb, if for nothing else the absolute karkin’ joy of it. There are even a bunch of converted stats from WEG’s subsequent purveyors of Star Wars roleplay. Or, if you’ve got an insatiable collector’s mentality, I’m sure you could track down the physical copies of most volumes…for a tidy sum.
The second rights-holder and publisher of Star Wars roleplaying content was the industry juggernaut that is Wizards of the Coast, who, at the time, had also recently acquired TSR, holders of the Dungeons & Dragons license. The astute among you may see where this is going. In 2000, the same year that D&D’s 3rd Edition d20 system was released, so was the first of the new wave of Star Wars content under WotC, utilizing a system almost identical. A revised edition popped out alongside Attack of the Clones, two years later, with a final, “Saga” Edition in 2007 that more resembled D&D 3.5 and the forthcoming D&D 4th Edition. For his credits, this scribe would recommend the Saga Edition, as it simplifies things like the Force, Perception (vs. Spot/Listen), and how character health is tallied. With a good hydrospanner, and a bit of jiggery-pokery, the customization of earlier editions can operate reasonably well within the simplified confines of the Saga Edition.
My main reason for promoting the Saga Edition, however, is that this is the era, with the last of the Star Wars movies having been released, when WotC seemed to stretch their legs a bit more in the galaxy. It’s a common gripe that WotC played it a bit safe with their content, largely relating the events of the novels, comics, or movies with little added content. This scribe, however, feels that, not only was the Star Wars d20 system at its best in the latter years, having benefitted from the ups and downs of its Dungeoneering, Dragon-slaying cousin, but the sourcebooks produced were at their most innovative, particularly in what (sadly) turned out to be their final entry, The Unknown Regions. But that’s merely my own two centi-credits. Any of the d20 variations will feel like an old friend, for those accustomed to playing more recent variations of D&D, and I fail to see how that’s a bad thing.
Basic rules, for if you’ve somehow managed to avoid learning a single scrap of D&D, even through cultural osmosis; Skills, Feats, race, etc. are, once again, going to determine your modifiers for attempting different actions. In place of d6’s, however, one rolls a single d20, adding modifiers to determine success or failure, based on whether they meet or exceed the required DC, or “Dice Check” number. Anything from d6’s to d12’s may then come into play to determine damage or other effects. So, choose which d20 strain you think you’ll prefer, acquire its core rulebook, grab a set of RPG dice from your local game store (just ask; they’ll know what you’re talking about), along with the aforementioned writing utensils, friends, and character sheets, and get ready for a thrilling game of Space Jockeys & Jedi!
I’ve yet to find a full archive of WotC’s contributions to Star Wars roleplay, but places like fillinsheets.com and theberserker.net compile an impressive amount, between them. The double-edged sword of out-of-print material; legal to share digitally, difficult to acquire physically for anything short of murder on the pocketbook.
But, as with WEG content, it is possible.
Lastly but, in my mind, certainly not least, we have Fantasy Flight Games entering the scene in 2011, promptly rolling out a three-tiered RPG system in the following years: Edge of the Empire, which focuses mostly on the lives of scum and scoundrels; Age of Rebellion, which sticks largely to the Original Trilogy conflict between the Rebellion and Empire; and Force and Destiny, which emphasizes Jedi in hiding and the use of the Force. All three utilize the same, unique dice system, with subsequent materials largely focusing on the specific Career paths introduced in the core rulebooks. And, since much of the content was in production before Disney (in their total need for “creative freedom”, you guys!) hit the reset button on the galaxy, much of it expands on original EU lore to make grandpappy WEG proud.
Unfortunately, this is also where things get a bit tricky. Though the bulk of FFG RPG content currently out is in the old continuity, some, as I mentioned last time, goes down the Disney path. A path I, at least, cannot follow. Personally, I still find the stats and rules in these gray area additions enjoyable and more than salvageable (save for the TFA Beginner Box, obviously), though I wholly understand if you refuse to have your game tainted by the Disney Side in any capacity. For a more in-depth breakdown of what counts as classic EU (or “Legends”) and what doesn’t, check out Dylan Kling’s article entitled “Fantasy Flight Games and Legends: It’s Complicated.”
But onto happier matters. This system is fantastic. Full disclosure; it’s also the only Star Wars system I’ve actually run as game master, so my perspective may, admittedly, be skewed. The dice system is innovative, the lore draws from comics, books, games, and its RPG predecessors, expanding things even further, and the rules are just nebulous enough to allow for maximum creativity without sacrificing gameplay structure.
Here, the basic rules of past eras also take a hard, Solo Slingshot turn. Rather than things like Skills, Talents, and Attributes determining modifiers to add or subtract to a numerical result, they determine the very dice you roll. Said dice are custom to the system, comprised of d6’s, d8’s, and d12’s with modified face results (normal dice can be used, if you don’t mind referring to a chart for each number’s corresponding “true” face). There are positive results on the Boost (blue d6), Ability (green d8), and Proficiency (yellow d12) dice, comprised of Success, Advantage, and Triumph, while the Setback (black d6), Difficulty (purple d8), and Challenge (red d12) show only ever show the negative results Failure, Threat, or Despair. As you may have guessed, the “positive” dice are meant to reflect your relevant character stats and external aiding factors, while the “negative” interpret the overall difficulty and external debilitating factors.
I know the system immediately sounds more complicated, but, I assure you, she’s got it where it counts.
For reference, an “Average” check (likely the bulk of what you’ll be rolling, in-game) is comprised of two Difficulty dice. A player’s Characteristic score (1-6) determines how many Ability dice they’ll be rolling to counter those, with each Ability die upgraded to its mightier Proficiency sibling for each rank the player has in the Skill being used. Boosts and Setbacks are applied based on anything from weather conditions to whether or not a player has the right tools for the task, and a single roll is made. Net Successes (any not canceled a matching Failure result) indicate that the goal of the check was achieved. However—and here’s where things get interesting—it may happen that, while the number of Successes rolled exceeds the number of Failures, there may also be a net Threat result (any not cancelled out by Advantages). The check is then successful, but with some sort of negative side effect, determined either by chart, player or game master.
What’s more, a Triumph (a sort of “Critical Success,” which does also count for cancelling out any Failures) may result from a failed check, as the positive effect of the Triumph cannot be cancelled, meaning that the initial goal is not achieved, but there’s still some great, positive outcome of the attempt. And, though the Triumph’s negative counterpart, the Despair, can have its in-built Failure cancelled by a Success result, the drastically negative effect similarly cannot be erased. So, a result can conceivably indicate a resounding success with an awful, unforeseen development or an abject failure with a potentially game-changing consolation prize! Every roll is like a little present for the game master to unwrap!
…You are to be commended for making it this far.
As you may be able to sense, I’m rather enamored with FFG’s update to Star Wars roleplaying, and I’ve no intention of throwing such an inventive baby out with the Disney-tainted bathwater.
The sourcebooks for FFG’s system are still in print and should be readily available to purchase, both in print and PDF form. To get started, you can go the core rulebook route (dealer’s choice of the three), with accompanying requisite character sheets, writing utensils, and at least one other person, or you can dip a toe into the Pool of Knowledge by grabbing a beginner box. It’s a great way to acquire the dice needed while also cheaply acquiring some basic rules, test characters, and various NPC and player 2D pawns.
A few additional resources for the system include the wealth of materials at
bastionkainssweote.blogspot.com, the coolest being fillable PDFs of all kinds. Another great resource is legendsofthegalaxy.com, which, among other useful tools, has a full, digital character creator by Oggude that I use mainly for crafting NPCs or converting stats from prior systems. Two more, really quick, are swa.stoogoff.com, which has stat blocks for every NPC found in the books, and swrpg.viluppo.net, which provides a full index of the sourcebooks.
So, what’s your preference? The simplicity of a fistful of d6’s? The tried and true d20? The artistically balanced chaos of more fluid results? Again, and I cannot stress this enough, there is no wrong answer.
Whatever avenue helps you feel ready to dive in and forge your own adventure in the Star Wars galaxy is already a winner.
Grab some polyhedrons, a set of rules that fires up your hyperdrive, and start building the hero, scoundrel, or villain of your dreams!
May the Force be with you!
Seth Saunders is an avid reader of the Star Wars Expanded Universe who writes his own science fiction and fantasy novels under the pen name S.J. Saunders. You can find him all over social media @EhsJaySaunders and explore his work over at SJSaunders.com.
To see more from Seth, click here!