As a gamer and a Star Wars fan, I have always enjoyed RPGs set in the Galaxy Far, Far Away. I have played two radically different versions of such games, and I have my own opinions and takes on what does and doesn’t work with each form of the game. I haven’t really got into the latest version of a Star Wars RPG from Fantasy Flight games, but I am not enamored of what I have seen of it, for reasons which I will discuss later in this post.
The West End Games RPG is the first notable licensed version of the beloved franchise. It uses a simple system of points to determine the values held in a number of attributes, and in certain skills based off those attributes, sort of like GURPS. It also relies on using only typical six-sided dice (or as commonly known in gaming circles, d6). However, the values are all labeled as the number of dice assigned to each value, with any modifier added after: 2D, 3D+1, etc. Obviously, a character with a skill at 3D+1 would roll three six-sided dice and add one to the total. Overall, it’s an easy system.
However, this system is not as kind to characters who aren’t just human, primarily because the pool of points has preassigned minimums and maximums for characters of certain species, like Wookiees and Rodians. In addition, the Force is treated as additional add-on attributes with their own skills that require development, so that it’s very possible for someone Strong in the Force to be weak in mundane, everyday ways. Also, Force-using characters proved to become much more powerful than non-Force-using characters, and this created a two-tier aspect of the game. In a way, it’s true to the source material, but it also comes off leaving non-Force-using characters as a bit second-fiddle to the one with the lightsaber.
Also, built into the WEG RPG is assumptions disproved by later movies and media in the franchise: Wookiees were said to not be Force-sensitive, but EU materials allowed for it, Lucas was against it, and now the canon character of Gurgi the Wookiee youngling exists. Furthermore, it was assumed being Force-sensitive was a requirement to use a lightsaber safely, much less at all, but General Grievous, as well as the Mandalorian wielders of the Darksaber have disproved this assumption as well. And, in some instances, handfuls of d6 dice could potentially be rolled with some developed characters.
The next notable attempt of a RPG for Star Wars was done by Wizards of the Coast (of Magic: The Gathering and editions 3+ of Dungeons & Dragons fame, and in essence was a modified version of the D&D system for Star Wars (which, actually, was more in line to their d20 Modern d20 game system). Instead of elves and dwarves, it was Wookiees and Twi’leks and Ewoks and the like. Instead of fighters, rogues, clerics, and wizards, it was Scoundrels, Jedi, Soldiers, Nobles, and Scouts (and even Technicians in earlier versions). The game included prestige classes—classes that only a higher-level character of a certain class or class combination could take. These prestige classes included roles like Jedi Knights and Masters, Sith apprentices and masters, officers, gunslingers, bounty hunters, ace pilots, independent droids, and the like. The Saga edition of the d20 Star Wars game simplified a few things, and sort of field-tested a few elements that would appear in the 4th edition of D&D years later.
I personally liked the Saga edition of the WotC Star Wars RPG, though it did get mechanically cumbersome in comparison to some other games at higher levels, especially newer games like 5th ed. D&D. Also, the limitations on using Force powers, though making sense in a game balance sort of way, didn’t help with trying to replicate the potential and ability of using the Force like it was in the source media. Whereas a version of Darth Sidious could use his Force Lightning more than once or twice in a battle, it wasn’t the constant, overpowering barrage of at-will use as could be seen in the films, TV shows, and other media.
The Fantasy Flight game is actually three different games: it is, the best way I can say, built much like the World of Darkness games, where the central “theme” of the game determines the varieties of characters that you can possibly play in each of them: a Vampire, a Werewolf, a Ghost, a Mage, etc. But instead, the three games focus on three different aspects of the setting individually: as a member of the Rebel Alliance, like Leia; a fringe-dwelling scoundrel or outsider, like Han; or a Force-sensitive, like Luke.
This is okay if you’re playing a bunch of characters like Han and his ilk, or members of the Rebel Alliance like Leia, or even a group of Force-sensitives like the Jedi before the Empire. But though the systems are compatible and the like, the fact that it’s three separate games and their associated materials required to basically replicate the broad mix present in the original movie, much less the movies and media that follow afterward, is daunting. It is quite an expenditure to get all of that material, review it all, and use it all to pull off the great possibility of play for a game set in the Star Wars setting. The fact that using custom dice for the game makes it easiest to play, though, technically you can use non-standard polyhedral dice to play and just interpret the rolls on a chart, adds injury on top of injury.
Each system has its perks, quirks, and flaws, and I would say one of the biggest challenges of making a RPG based on a narrative media franchise is the narrative element: the characters do and achieve what they do for the purposes of the story. In gaming, that’s called railroading and many dislike it since it effectively has players go through set motions to reach a predetermined outcome, usually.
However, to capture the “feel” of the franchise, some things need to be, well, fudged, to allow that. Having your stalwart band of Rebels get wiped out by a squad of Imperial Stormtroopers due to lucky dice rolls by them and bad dice rolls by you doesn’t feel as action-packed heroic as some of the scenes from the films. But such things can happen in a RPG. I would make some recommendations for a new incarnation of the game.
While the d6-only system of WEG’s RPG makes it rather accessible to beginning players, the accumulation of d6s for character abilities and the like can get into the realm of the ridiculous (or at least, looking back, it did for certain aspects of the game). And the d20 system of the WotC RPG was D&D customized for Star Wars, it was an earlier iteration of the game that could’ve used some improvement. There is a fan-based adaptation of 5th edition D&D for Star Wars, but that more or less maps the D&D classes into Star Wars-themed analogs, which isn’t what I’d go for with such a game. However, the math behind the 5th ed. D&D system is definitely something I’d advocate, and it’d serve as a current and familiar backbone for what I would have a Star Wars RPG be like.
First off, I would use the core system of 5th ed. D&D, including experience point-based level advancement, ability scores, ability score increases at fixed levels of advancement (or Feat special abilities taken in lieu of ability score increases as an option), and the like. The list of skill, tool, and weapon proficiencies would be stripped down and simple.
As for the various species and droids of the setting, I would have a more freeform model akin to that used in the Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything sourcebook, where a character gets a +1 to one ability score of choice and a +2 to another ability score of choice, along with a special ability or free skill, tool, or weapon proficiency, and other unique genetically-based species traits and modifiers (such as Wookiees being physically unable to speak languages other than their own, though they can understand them, for example). There’d also be a formula for creating a custom species, so as to allow for rapid creation of a new species for the players’ game, or a useful means of codifying a new or unique species featured briefly in the franchise. Droids played by players would be more akin to the Independent Droids of earlier versions of the game, and thus not be as restrained as an off-the-line model of droid that would have a monster stat block.
The classes are where a key diversion will come into play. In this version of the game, there would only be a few base classes: Scholar, Fringer, Soldier, and Adept. Each of these base classes would have multiple archetypes that the class could select. Furthermore, the ability to multiclass would be easier in this version of the game than in regular 5th ed. D&D, due to the prominent examples from the franchise: Luke would have begun as a simple Fringer who then switched over to Adept once he began his tutelage under Obi-Wan Kenobi and later Yoda, for example. Characters with connections, resources, knowledge, and social skills would be Scholars (so Leia and maybe Lando as a charming gambler); Fringers would be characters who lived on the edges of the galaxy or society, as well as criminal or less-than-legal sorts; Soldiers would cover troopers, guards, (traditional) Mandalorians, insurgents, and several other sorts of combatants; and finally the Adept would be the catch-all for any sort of Force User, such as Jedi, Sith, the Bendu, Dathomir witches, and even the shamans of simpler cultures like the Ewoks.
I would not go down the rabbit hole of getting specific with the Jedi into subclasses like Jedi Guardian, Jedi Consular, Sith assassin, and the like, because those roles really limit the character. They are fine for stat blocks of non-player characters or opponents who don’t grow and change, but I’d argue that the principal characters of the film do grow and change: Luke may have been a Jedi Guardian-like character at first, but the older mentor Luke was closer to Yoda than Obi-Wan at the end. Therefore, allowing the characters to grow and develop their abilities as they grow and mature would be best.
As for magic, or rather, the Force, I would have a tiered system of Force powers that could do more as the character grew in power and knowledge. For example, telekinesis is a fundamental Force power; easier tasks lift or push things with no problem, and can be simply done at will. However, moving rocks, ships, opponents, or other such things exerts more effort, and demands more mastery of the Force. In this sense, I’d use something akin to spell slots–the power can do more if used at a greater intensity, like throw a starfighter or lift and Force choke an opponent.
However, some uses, like Force choking, would incur a dark side cost. This cost would remain unless the character atones and refrains from using the Dark Side further; though to be fair, using the Dark Side makes it easier to use the more powerful and hostile aspects of a Force power, which in turn makes the user grow closer to the Dark Side, and so on.
Like 5th ed. D&D, backgrounds would be available and provide useful perks outside of combat: Noble, Gambler, Farmer, Smuggler, Bounty Hunter, Officer, Crack Pilot, Pirate, Jedi, Sith, Dathomir Witch, Seperatist Guerilla, etc.
The Sidekick rules from Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything would be available, especially to ease solo play or a small group. Here characters like droids, alien compatriots (ala Chewbacca), lieutenants, and the like could be created and played, and assist players in the game without an overwhelming number of characters to manage.
Starship battles would be something covered in the rules as well, though I think what rules are used should be well thought out for tabletop wargaming akin to Star Wars Armada or the like. The complexity level of the rules should vary, as well, depending if the battle is conducted on a table with tokens or miniatures in detail, or is more open and loose for playing via the theater of the mind. If anything, I would say the ship would have base statistics that can be augmented by the character’s base proficiency bonus and relevant ability score (as a vehicle or tool is treated in 5th ed. D&D). Each ship would have hit points, and its armor class would be a mix of speed, agility, durability of the ship, and shielding; I’d suggest boosting power to the shields would be activating an ability that grants temporary hit points or the like.
Now, there really wouldn’t be anything akin to magic items, per se, though unique Force artifacts, well-made items, and the like may have a bonus to them: the lightsabers Jedi and other Force users builds for themselves would fit into this category, as would true Beskar Manadalorian armor and weapons, customized blasters, or the like. Special technological items like medical kits and the like would roughly stand in for healing potions and the like.
And of course, opponents and creatures would be akin to monsters, and have monster stat blocks for those elements. Legendary or mythic opponents, like Darth Vader or Darth Sidious, would be extremely challenging opponents with unique abilities that enable them to deal with multiple opponents at once.
My argument for this is that it uses a simple, easy-to-learn system that’s already popular thanks to the current edition of the game, and it can build on the continuing interest in the franchise thanks to the numerous projects pending release on Disney+ in the near future. However, it won’t be so tightly based on the source game system that it removes the ability to make a diverse array of characters as depicted in the franchise itself.
There is said to be a new game from Asmodee’s Edge Studio, though nothing new has been added on that front, and the official site just promotes the Fantasy Flight Games version. This wouldn’t be that much of an issue to me if it weren’t for the appearance of less of the FFG materials on shelves. I’m not sure if there’s going to be an actual game or effectively a 2.0 version of the FFG RPG that unifies the three themed games into one system.
The releases on Disney+ for Star Wars are just one reason why an official licensed Star Wars RPG should be available for play. The pending release of Star Wars: Eclipse game, set in the High Republic era, should only stoke the interest and desire for Star Wars more on top of the Disney+ shows. However, my take is only one of a myriad of possibilities; I’d definitely like to hear what other fellow Star Wars and RPG fans would have to say on the subject.