These Aren’t the RPGs You’re Looking For…

 

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Photo by ClaudioT at Morguefile.com

In my experience as a Dungeonmaster, I have desired to expand my horizons. I have had a good experience with the diceless horror RPG, Dread. Although I prefer telling longform campaigns, Dread is a good one-shot horror RPG. I had a moderately successful run with my campaign that took place in the Silent Hill universe. I am retooling that for a D20 Modern campaign.

 

We also played Maid RPG, which quickly went off the rails. We had a good time playing it, but we weren’t drawn to it like Dungeons & Dragons. I wanted something meaty that I could sink my teeth into. Something that provided a rich backdrop upon which to build a larger than life story. If any universe fits that criterion, it was Star Wars. Indeed, the universe is very conducive to RPG storytelling.

If you look around at other properties, there are RPGs for a good lot of them. There are RPGs for Firefly, Lord of the Rings, Star Trek (which is upcoming), and probably any other piece of pop culture that is moderately familiar has a tabletop RPG.

Star Wars does indeed have an RPG, though perhaps more accurately you could say that it has three. In my attempts to broaden the RPG palette, I purchased the beginner games to each.

$90 and twenty minutes later, we reached a conclusive verdict: we were not adding it to our RPG lineup anytime soon.

So what happened? Why did it bomb so hard?

The current licensee of the Star Wars franchise, Fantasy Flight Games, opted to release the game in three standalone installments. The first is Edge of the Empire, the second is Age of Rebellion, and the third is Force and Destiny.

In an RPG Far, Far Away

There is a core rulebook for each of them.  The way they are divided is by the type of the character and environment you want to play. If you want to play as a Han Solo type, you’ll want to play Edge of the Empire. If you want to play as a member of the Rebel Alliance, you’ll want to play Age of Rebellion. If you want to play as one the galaxy’s last remaining Jedi, you’ll want to play Force and Destiny.

Unlike Dungeons & Dragons, which sells its core rulebooks around the premise that people will need different books if they are a player versus if they are a DM, this decision to separate the rulebooks by class makes character experimentation inaccessible without shelling out the money for a completely different rulebook. You can get reduced prices on Amazon to make it less than the retail price of $60, but not by much.

If you’re Gamemaster (the more generic and frankly not as cool version of “Dungeonmaster”), you’re going to need all the rulebooks that your players are carrying. At least that’s the impression I got. I say this because there are class-specific mechanics that a GM is probably going to have to handle differently, and since there is no official “GM guide”, you’ll have to buy the rulebook that contains that class-specific information.

This means that having the archetypal cast of Han, Luke, and Leila that we saw in the original trilogy is going to run your players $150 between the three of them if you get it off of Amazon. For that price, you can buy six 5th edition player’s handbooks on Amazon. The GM will also have to spend $150 on those same rule books. By contrast, a DM only has to buy a Dungeonmaster’s Guide and a Monster Manual, running at about $50. Even if we account for the possibility that the DM does not already possess a Player’s Handbook, we are left with total expenditures cut in half at about $75.

That’s not even counting dice, but we’ll get to that later. Even among my current friend group, we still don’t all have 5e player’s handbooks and share between each other (much to my frustration as it’s much quicker when everyone has their own book). The idea that players would pay significantly more for a much more limited product is mind-boggling.

Credit where credit is due, the art is phenomenal. Then again, I also really love 5e’s art. Ultimately as much as I do love that art, I want solid mechanics at the core. This where the Star Wars RPGs that Fantasy Flight has put out falters.

So Much for Scum and Villainy

We played the Edge of the Empire beginner game. The very central mechanic of the dice-based roleplaying game is, of course, the dice.

This is the point where the game broke down for us. We could not wrap our heads around the dice system, or perhaps we could have but didn’t care to because it took more time than should really be required.

The Star Wars dice system is not based on numbers or even mathematical operations that could be intuitively inferred like Fudge’s plus or minus dice.

 

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I’m sure it all means something, but I’m not invested enough to know or care what… Photo by Dylan Greene

 

Instead, it’s abstract symbols that require consulting a table to discern their meaning and when they should be used. These are proprietary dice, custom made specifically for Fantasy Flight’s Star Wars games.

So, we can’t bring in our own dice that we use for D&D. Since the system that Star Wars uses is not licensed out to third parties to create derivative products, nor does it have an Open Game License like Wizards of the Coast does, those dice are only for the Star Wars RPG and the other Star Wars games that the company produces. None of us are interested in pursuing those games either.

This has a very distinctly consumer-unfriendly feel in its approach in both the rulebooks and dice system. These create unnecessary barriers to playing.

But, should you have a good grasp on roleplaying history, you’ll realize that this is not the only iteration of Star Wars RPGs. In fact, Wizards of the Coast did indeed produce a Star Wars RPG that uses the d20 system. Before then there was West End Games, but those are probably harder to come by.

These play a lot like Dungeons & Dragons 3.5e and given the popularity of that edition you have more people that are familiar with the mechanics. Additionally, it’s compiled into a single rulebook, much like other d20 variants. The big caveat is that since the books are out of print, it’s going to be much more expensive. You could spend up to $70 to get the most recent core rulebook, the Saga Edition. But, even when we line that up with the current system, it’s a better deal.

I began my D&D life with 3.5, so going back to that kind of system is not an issue. That being said, I would like to see a new Star Wars RPG with the improvements that 5e has made.

There are unofficial conversions, should you desire it, but I would like to see something officially licensed. Especially with the upcoming sequel trilogy kickstarted by the Force Awakens. This is especially necessary since much of the Wizards Star Wars RPG was produced before Disney’s acquisition of Lucasfilm. So, most of the future material written in those rulebooks is non-canon because it was cobbled out of expanded universe sources (now dubbed Star Wars Legends).

This actually dovetails with other variants of the d20 system that take place in different settings. Once Wizards moved to 4th edition, they switched directions and closed off their system. This didn’t work in 4e’s favor. Lots of players either stayed at 3.5 or moved to Pathfinder, which is a modified version of 3.5 and is often referred to as “3.75”.

But 5e is a smashing success so to me it makes logical sense that these variants are updated. There are indeed unofficial conversions. But that requires owning the old rulebooks and it’s unknown just how much these conversions are supported.

5e has made the decision to focus more on premade adventures as opposed to supplementary rule books, as the supplement-heavy approach was a nail in 4e’s coffin.

The prospect of such a revamp requires buying the license again and Fantasy Flight Games is probably not going to like that. It may even be an exclusive license. Until that circumstance changes, you’ll be better served by buying the Wizards RPG. Even if there’s a learning curve, it’s going to give you a better shot than the system used in the current Star Wars RPG.

In the words of Obi-Wan Kenobi,”Move along.”

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