#RPGThursday Retrospective – My #StarWars Saga (Star Wars RPG Saga Edition, 2007)

star_wars_roleplaying_game_saga_edition_core_rulebook
Courtesy Wookiepedia

Between 2007 and 2009 I was stationed overseas, and therefore had limited access to RPG items. I had put a lot of my items in storage so I did not have a strong library to draw upon. I was looking for a new RPG game, but had resigned myself to having to wait until my return stateside or use DriveThruRPG (a risky proposition given the internet security of the time). One day I was in the Base Exchange and saw a new book on the shelf, Star Wars Roleplaying Game – Saga Edition Core Rulebook. The book caught my eye partially because it used a very different form factor (9″x9″) and had a beautiful gold Darth Vader on the cover.

Forward – Going Back?

The Forward was very interesting because Chris Perkins claimed this was the latest iteration of a Star Wars RPG and the first to span the entire six-episode saga (p. 5). This was news to me; I had missed the earlier excellent West End Games Star Wars RPG – although interestingly I had the associated Star Wars: Star Warriors star fighter combat board game – and the original WotC version.

Saga Engine

In terms of the game engine, Star Wars Saga (SWSaga) technically used Wizards of the Coast d20 Modern. In reality, it would later become apparent SWSaga was an interim step between d20 Modern and Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition. I had tried to use the d20 Modern engine before, but had only limited success. This time around I committed myself to learning the system and playing with it. In concept it sounds so easy:

THE CORE MECHANIC

The Star Wars Roleplaying Game uses a core mechanic to resolve all actions. This central game rule keeps play fast and intuitive. Whenever you want to attempt an action that has some chance of failure, you roll a twenty-sided die (or “d20”). To determine whether your character succeeds at a task (such as an attack or the use of a skill, you do this:

  • Roll a d20.
  • Add any relevant modifiers.
  • Compare the result to a target number.

If the result equals or exceeds the target number (set by the GM or given in the rules), your character succeeds at the task at hand. If the result is lower than the target number, you fail. (p. 9)

So simple, and easy to figure out. Except that d20 is built on breaking the rules. Feats and Talents are mechanical ways characters can act in addition to the rules. This concept took a long time for me to fully understand because d20 appears internally inconsistent since it emphasizes – at least to me – ways for characters to “break” rules.

Characters with Class

Unlike the Traveller RPG system I was so familiar with, character generation in SWSaga uses classes. Coming as I do from a Traveller RPG background, classes have always felt foreign to me. That said, I dug into SWSaga and built many characters, putting together their Attributes and Skills and Feats and Talents (oh my!).

I struggled again to understand what I was doing. Looking at it critically, I think I struggle with character generation using classes in d20 because I subconciously want to see a life path progression system, not a video game-like leveling up of characters.

May the Fourth Be With You

Combat also proved challenging. As it soon became apparent, SWSaga was moving towards D&D 4th Edition, in which combat has sometime been described as a tabletop video game. On one hand the combat system was a bit familiar, being that it drew heavily from WotC’s Star Wars Miniatures game that I played with my boys. But at the same time it was different. A different part that I found very confusing was Conditions (p. 149). I think I found Conditions confusing not because of what they represent, but how they were presented in the book. Going back now (and after many other narrative games) I see how conditions attempt to explain a non-damage situation in terms of a mechanical game effect. At heart it is not really a difficult concept to imagine, but I found it was not communicated very well by the unlabeled Condition Track on p. 149.

Force…and Destiny

For an RPG about Star Wars, I found The Force rules convoluted and disorganized. In particular, it would seem to make sense to look at Chapter 6: The Force for the relevant rules but within that section one is referred to the Use the Force skill in Chapter 4 (p. 77). Looking at Chapter 6 today, I can see that The Dark Side, and especially Dark Side Transgressions, were a stab at non-mechanical (i.e. narrative) means of explaining how to avoid falling to the Dark Side. To further add to the confusion, Destiny Points (found in Chapter 7: Heroic Traits) were included as an optional form of game economy but I rarely used them because the narrative effect was limited – whatever narrative action was there had been reduced down to a table lookup mechanic (seven effects, three of which were Force-related)(p. 113). From today’s perspective, and after having now played Fantasy Flight Games Star Wars Roleplaying Game, I see how SWSaga Destiny is an earlier form of FFG Star Wars’ Obligation / Duty / Morality mechanic. However, the implementation in SWSaga is weak; the relationship between a character’s Destiny (p. 112) and the tangible Destiny Point is neither detailed nor strong.

Sad Saga

As much as I tried, I just could never get SWSaga really going. It was not for lack of effort on my part; I eventually bought EVERY SWSaga book in the series. In the end though, I found the setting suffered from the same bloat and canonicity battles that plague the Traveller RPG community – that is, the setting is too detailed and too well defined that it is easy for a GM to get locked into a certain course of action. Indeed, after purchasing every book in the SWSaga series, I realize that I had too much information (although the entire collection is a good ode to Star Wars Legendsbut in the end the rules were too bloated for me to handle.

A New Start

So committed was I to turning over my d20 leaf that I even bought the Dungeons & Dragons Roleplaying Game Starter Set (2008). I prepared to plunge into the world of D&D after avoiding it for 30 years. I really wanted to try to play d20. I thought my boys would want to play D&D (both read many of the Rick Riordan fantasy series). In the end though my inherent dislike of the fantasy RPG genre, coupled with a feeling that D&D 4th Edition was a tabletop video game, put a relatively quick end to that little gaming excursion. As much as I tried to make SWSaga my new science fiction RPG, it just didn’t work. As much as I love Star Wars, playing in the setting using SWSaga felt like I was getting too hemmed in. Even with the option of playing in multiple eras, it still felt restricted (it didn’t help that my boys were huge prequel and Clone Wars fans – two of my least favorite eras – and they wanted to play in those times whereas I didn’t).

The Saga Narrative…NOT!

In preparing for this retrospective, I pulled out the Core Rulebook and tried to look at it independently of the other books in the series. Much like the Traveller RPG community has arguments over the Little Black Books, I can see how the Core Rulebook – by itself – is not a bad game. Setting aside, everything needed to mechanically play a Star Wars adventure is included. Looking at it with my eyes today, I also see how SWSaga attempts to reduce many narrative play elements to mechanical effects. Nowhere is this better seen than in Talents and Feats. Unlike Skills which represent various abilities (be it trained, natural, or luck – p. 57), Talents are particular to a character class and Feats are special features that give characters new or improved capabilities (p. 79). Thus, the classic Star Wars character Han Solo (p. 255) gets classed as a Scoundrel (p. 45.) with the Spacehound Talent (p. 47) – giving him proficiency with starship weapons – and the Quick Draw Feat (p. 87) because, after all, Han shot first! All of this is very descriptive of the character, but together it reduces the character to a set of well-defined – even narrow – mechanical effects. The Core Rulebook example of Han Solo has him with four Classes, seven Talents, eight Feats (several of them in multiple areas) and six Skills. The implied game limitation it that without the “right” Talent or Feat, the action is unachievable by a character regardless of the player’s desire. Thus, instead of “playing” their characters, players start trying to gain/spend XP in pursuit of the right Skill/Talent/Feat to justify a desired action. To me, this is the opposite of narrative play.

So my search for a new RPG continued, and my next two RPG purchases brought back an oldie while introducing something new.


Star Wars Roleplaying Game: Saga Edition Revised Core Rulebook by Christopher Perkins, Owen K.C. Stephens, and Rodney Thompson; Copyright (c) 2007 Lucasfilm Ltd & (R) or TM Where Indicated, All Rights Reserved. Used Under Authorization. Some rules mechanics are based on the Star Wars Roleplaying Game Revised Core Rulebook by Bill Slavicsek, Andy Collins, and ID Wiker, the original DUNGEONS & DRAGONS (R) rules created by E. Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson, and the new DUNGEONS & DRAGONS game designed by Jonathan Tweet, Monte Cook, Skip Williams, Richard Baker, and Peter Atkinson. This Wizards of the Coast game product contains no Open Game Content.

 

 

Miniatures Monday – Star Wars Miniatures Battles Companion & Imperial Entanglements

Courtesy BGG

IN AUGUST 2011 (wow, that long ago?) I got the West End Games Star Wars Miniature Battles rulebook. At that time I mentioned needing the Star Wars Miniatures Battles Companion for vehicle rules. Last week, I was once again in Gamer’s Haven in Colorado Springs and searching the used game book section I happened across a boxed Star Wars Vehicles Starter Set  as well as the scenario book Imperial Entanglements.

First off, I was amazed to even find the Vehicles Starter Set at all. Secondly, to find it COMPLETE is a real bonus to me. By complete I mean not only does it have the box (with expected wear) but the Companion Rulebook (mint condition – probably opened only a few times),  five die, and unopened/unbuilt/unpainted Snowspeeder and Scoutbike miniatures!  All for the cost of $6.99!

Courtesy BGG

Like the original Miniatures Battles Rulebook, Companion is compatible with West End Games’ Star Wars Roleplaying Game Second Edition rules. Like the basic miniatures rules, Companion continues to be a stand-alone game; i.e. one doesn’t need the RPG to play Miniatures Battles.

The heart of this game are the vehicles. Vehicles rules are in Chapters One and Two (total of 24 pages). Additionally, there are six pages of Reference Sheets for vehicles, including two pages of actual vehicles. I am a bit disappointed here; actual vehicle descriptions are missing. Instead, the authors direct the player to other WEG Star Wars RPG products. Good if you are a Star Wars RPG collector; bad if you aren’t (or can’t anymore). On page 27 there are rules for “Converting Other Star Wars Vehicles” – as described in Star Wars: The Roleplaying Game. The end result of all this for a player of today means that in order to expand the vehicle list one must either acquire the older materials or try to reverse-engineer the vehicles given to divine the design assumptions.

Vehicles cover only about 36 pages of this 96-page book. The balance covers new combat rules, equipment, and unit insignia and organization. Chapter Six, “Scenarios and Campaigns,” has one stand-alone scenario and one campaign. Interestingly, for a supplement focused on vehicles the stand-alone scenario specifically states the NO VEHICLES are allowed whereas the campaign limits the Rebel player to one landspeeder and two speeder bikes while the Imperial player is limited to a single speederbike.

When I first wrote about the basic Miniatures Battles I stated that the game was more of a wargame and less an RPG. Companion doesn’t change that. I am also disappointed that even though vehicle rules are here, they are not showcased in any scenario or campaign here.

Courtesy BGG

Imperial Entanglements is a scenario book for Star Wars Miniatures Battles. Interestingly, the  section titles “Rules Updates and Clarifications” starts out with the following quote:

“All rules-intensive battle games, including Star Wars Miniatures Battles, have a few oversights and ambiguities.”

After “clarifying” the rules, Imperial Entanglements has nine scenarios. Each scenario is a bit unique:

  1. Big Game is a solitaire safari hunt
  2. Terror in the Trees takes place in an Ewok tree village; beware the Ewok traps and falls!
  3. Hammer of Destiny uses a single vehicle as a terrain/objective piece
  4. A Bazaar Encounter is a swoop gang brawl
  5. To Hunt the Hutt is a bounty hunter ambush
  6. Who Goes There introduces a “fog of war” mechanic where the table as laid out is not a true reflection of the ground
  7. Scavenger Hunt is a take-the-booty-and-run scenario
  8. Rescue Run showcases the prisoner rules and variable night visibility.
  9. Surprise Visit is an ambushed ambush.

Taken as a whole, the scenarios bring home the point that Miniatures Battles really is a skirmish game.

For $6.99 (Vehicles Starter Set) and $3.99 (Imperial Entanglements) I can’t say I’m disappointed. Miniatures Battles is a decent set of rules, though I must say that other skirmish games do a better job of streamlining rules and creating a faster playing experience.

Miniatures Monday – Balancing the Force(s) in Star Wars X-Wing

Courtesy BGG

A Problem? Take a look at this thread over at BoardGameGeek. It will take you a while to get through the several pages (7 at the time of this post) of comments but give it a shot.

My Take: I don’t’ see the game as broken. Never forget that Star Wars X-Wing is a squad building game. The game by its very nature is not balanced 1-on-1. I think this is why you get two TIE fighters and one X-Wing in the Core Set. This is also in keeping with the source material where the outnumbered Rebels make up for their quantitative disadvantage through quality. Building a proper squad is the real key to victory. As designed, the Rebel player gains many complementary advantages if the squad is assembled the right way.

In my games, the younger RMN has always wanted to be the “good guys” and taken the rebels. I can now see that playing the rebels is harder than the Imperials because of the qualitative advantage. Unfortunately, the younger, inexperienced RMN pilot is often not able to take advantage of the inherent Rebel abilities and therefore loses to the numerically superior Imperials. I think this happens because the younger player wants to “turn and burn”  in a dogfight rather than “slash and run.”  Does this make the game unbalanced? I think not, but it definitely makes it more difficult to play for younger players.

Even the Star Wars Universe recognizes the threat of TIE swarms. In Star Wars: The New Essential Guide to Vehicles and Vessels (Ballantine/Del Rey, 2003) the entry for the Alliance RZ-1 A-Wing Starfighter includes the following:

“…the compact A-wing was a Rebel Alliance response to the Empire’s growing number of TIE fighters and TIE variants. Realizing the Rebels needed a craft capable of outrunning these enemy fighters….Because of its speed, the A-wing excels in hit-and-run missions, long-range patrols and reconnaissance, and surgical strikes against large starships.” (p. 17)

Looking over other Star Wars genre games, like Star Wars: Star Warriors or Star Wars: Silent Death Starfighter Game one can see the same “balance” issues. In every case the X-Wing is qualitatively superior to the TIE fighter when compared head-to-head. But the balance is restored though point valuation where a single X-Wing will often face several TIE fighters in a “balanced” battle.

Wargame Wednesday – Carriers in Space

Courtesy loomingy1 via Flickr

Michael Peck, writing for Foreign Policy National Security Blog, had a very interesting interview with naval analyst Chris Weuve on the concept of aircraft carriers in space. Basically, Mr. Weuve discusses what is “right” and what is “wrong” about aircraft carriers in science fiction.

After reading this article I think it is easy to say that Chris would probably agree that starship combat games that use vector movement (such as Mayday, Power Projection: Fleet, Full Thrust, etc.) are far more realistic than ones that don’t. The article also explains why it was so easy to base Star Wars: X-Wing off the Wings of War series (WWI and WWII) and make it appear “cinematically correct.”

Good comments for designers of science fiction games to keep in mind.

Miniatures Monday – Star Wars X-Wing: A Matter of Scale

Courtesy Fantasy Flight Games

The new Star Wars X-Wing Miniatures game claims that their ships are all in scale to each other. So what do you see in the above photo? Looks like a single X-Wing against two TIE/In fighters, right? But those TIE fighters are way too big!  Everybody knows that the TIE fighter is a small ship and NO WAY can it be that big compared to the vaunted X-Wing!

According to Star Wars: The New Essential Guide to Vehicles and Vessels (Del Rey/Random House/Lucasfilms Ltd., 2003) the Incom Corporation T-65 X-Wing Space Superiority Fighter is 7.25m long (p. 168). The Seinar Fleet Systems TIE/IN Space Superiority Starfighter is 6.3m long (p.156).  By this material (canon?) the TIE should be about 1/3 shorter than the X-Wing. Looking atthe photo above that does not appear to be the case.

So did Fantasy Flight Games (FFG) screw up the scale? In an interesting twist, FFG claims that all the source materials over the years has been dead wrong:

During the production process, we were surprised to discover that the official dimensions for some of the ships did not match our pre-existing expectations of their relative sizes. Nowhere is our devotion to scale more evident than in our TIE fighter. Through intensive research and close correspondence with Lucasfilm Ltd., we confirmed with no degree of uncertainty the true scales of this iconic Imperial fighter as it appears in the films, even going so far as to study the proportions of the original film models. (“The Making of X-Wing)

The main source FFG appears to have used is this production photo of various models:

Courtesy Fantasy Flight Games

The TIE fighter certainly looks big compared to the Y-Wings (front) or X-Wings (back row). Did George Lucas retcon another change into the Star Wars Universe? Do I really care?

I don’t really care because the X-Wing game is a guilty pleasure that I enjoy with my youngsters. It’s Star Wars…not reality. Once the Millennium Falcon comes out the scale will be totally ruined anyway.

Courtesy Fantasy Flight Games

Miniatures Monday – Star Wars X-Wing

Courtesy BGG

OK, I will admit it; I love the Star Wars Original Trilogy. So when Fantasy Flight Games announced they were making an adaptation of their Wings of War system for starfighter combat in the Star Wars Universe, I was both happy and hesitant. Happy for Star Wars; hesitant because see the Wings of War system as pricy and not quite “crunchy” enough for my grognards tastes.

What I failed to initially factor in was Little RMN. He is a true Star Wars fanatic (see what I created?). When I brought home the Core Set and first four expansions he badgered me endlessly to play it. I was a bit concerned because the game is rated for ages 14+; Little RMN is only 8.

I needn’t have worried.

Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures Game is an easy to learn, easy to play system. The miniatures are well detailed and a joy to move through space. The game mechanics are fairly straightforward and simple enough that even Litle RMN (with a bit of coaching) was able to make sense of it.

Most importantly, we had fun. We first played an introductory game of two Academy TIE fighters versus Luke Skywalker. We didn’t use many of the advanced rules, starting first with a focus on game flow and basic mechanics. Little RMN as Luke scored a few hits but never concentrated on one TIE fighter long enough to knock it out. He eventually lost as he ran for a board edge (safe exit) after losing all his shields and a bit of hull.

But he wants to play again. He wants to add the full rules. The grognard in me hasn’t changed my opinion  that the Wings of War system is a bit of a simplification, but I will freely admit that X-Wing captures the cinematic feel of Star Wars space combat rather well.

Most importantly, it brings me closer to my kids. That’s the real win for me.

Old- Fashioned Star Wars Miniatures Battles

Courtesy RPG Geek

A few days ago I was in Gamer’s Haven here in Colorado Springs and was looking over their used RPG book sales. Amongst the items I picked up that day was the West End Games Star Wars Miniatures Battles (SWMB) rulebook. This book is part of the West End Games Star Wars Adventure Game series and proclaims to be “compatible with Star Wars the Roleplaying Game, Second Edition” although you “do not need the roleplaying game to play this game.” According to Wikipedia, these rule were first published in 1989 and won the Origins Award for Best Miniature Rules in 1991. My book is copyright 1993 making it part of the Second Edition collection.

SWMB is essentially a set of skirmish rules for the Star Wars universe. The scale is one miniature per soldier and 1 inch equaling  2 meters. The time scale is not defined but looks to be about 30 sec to 1 minute per turn. The core combat mechanic is closely related to the West End Games D6 engine; indeed soldiers in SWMB can be used in the WEG Star Wars Roleplaying Game with almost no conversion needed and vice versa. The Basic Game covers the sequence of play for combat while the Advanced Game adds useful rules such as hidden movement, Heroes (essentially player characters), droids and creatures.

Courtesy RPG Gek

Vehicles are not covered in this book; for that you need the Star Wars Miniatures Battles Companion. Also note that this ruleset was published after the original trilogy (Star Wars, Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi) and before the prequels so it is based heavily on the first three movies with a bit of what would later be called the Expanded Universe thrown in.

Courtesy RPG Geek

Inevitably, one wants to compare SWMB with the newer Wizards of the Coast Star Wars Miniatures . The older game is definitely more wargame-like and less of an RPG, although the section on Heroes is essentially how to take a RPG character and drop them into the game. For an old grognard like myself, I find these wargame combat rules more to my liking but at the same time I recognize SWMB is a set of wargame rules and not intended to replace player combat in an RPG, nor is it a mass battle resolution system. I also like the fact that you can almost seamlessly move SWMB soldiers from or into a roleplaying game. This makes the entire series hang together better. There is alot to be learned here regarding how to integrate an existing RPG system with a wargame.