2/01/2011

Published on 2/01/2011 Written by 24 comments

Why Star Wars is the Best RPG Ever

Everyone has some event in their adolescent years that shapes their lives and their outlooks as an adult. Perhaps it's a particularly bad breakup, or your parents’ divorce, or witnessing the horrifying murder of your father and vowing to avenge him. For me, I can name three things that made me the man I am today:

1) Robotech
2) The Swords of Power books by Fred Saberhagen
3) Star Wars: The Role-Playing game

The first two are topics for another day, but Star Wars is always an acceptable topic for any conversation. I'm referring here to the original Star Wars RPG that was written by Bill Slavicsek and published by West End Games back in the late-eighties/early-nineties. The d20 by Wizards of the Coast was pretty good, but it doesn't deserve to hold the black felt, satin-tipped Sith cape of the original. In fact, I can't think of any other game that can compete with this masterpiece.

You have to be really badass to get away with a head this shiny.

Here are my Top 5 Reasons that Star Wars: Second Edition by West End Games is the greatest RPG ever:

1. It’s Star Wars

Every white male between the ages of 8 and 50 have loved Star Wars at some point in there lives (I can't speak for Asian dudes). If someone tells you they don't like Star Wars they're either lying or they used to like it until a certain ghost-like menace crushed their childhood dreams like a testicle under the stiletto heel of an over-enthusiastic dominatrix.

When we were pimply faced teenagers we didn't need any ass-rapingly mindless prequels or stupid expanded universe tripe by Kevin J. Anderson. We wrote our own expanded universe, dammit! We were Jedi and smugglers and X-wing pilots and X-wing piloting Jedi smugglers. While other teenagers were getting laid we were saving the universe from the forces of darkness. Who do you think had more screwed-up priorities?

2. You can make a character in 90 seconds

Seriously. You didn't need forty rulebooks and thousands of feats or a glitchy program that cost you 10 bucks a month. You didn't have to qualify for a class or race, or min-max your stats to make sure your average hit rate was in an acceptable ratio to the potential damage you could take. You just come up with a concept, assign a few attributes and skill points, and you're done. You could say, "I'm going to make a womanizing gambling cyborg ewok" and WHAM! A minute and a half later you were a teddy bear playing sabacc and pleasuring a twi'lek dancing girl with a robotic phallus.

I was going to insert a picture of some chubby convention nerds in Star Wars costumes here, but then I thought: Why?

3. You didn't learn skills or powers magically and spontaneously

I don't like games where you gain a level and all of your skills and powers automatically get better. It doesn't make sense that you get better at stuff you never use or practice. Star Wars avoided this by making you earn and buy every point (or "pip") of every skill and power separately. It's similar to the system used in Vampire: The Masqurade and it worked incredibly well. It gave your more flexibility and control over your character because you could pick exactly what skills made sense for you.

What's better:
You've specialized in demolitions and starship gunnery but you've dabbled in cooking and politics. You also have a few points in ancient melee duelling you picked up while stranded on that archaic medieval planet for a few weeks.

OR

Wait! I forgot I have helicopter pilot! I picked it at first level and never had to use it until now. Let me check... Sweet I have a 98% chance of success!

4. You get to roll buckets of dice

There's nothing more satisfying than hurling fistfulls of little plastic polyhedrons. Sure the game only uses d6, and at first level you start with only three or four per check. But as you grow more and more powerful and use force points to make those "one in a million" shots, your dice pool increases exponentially. At the climax of my longest campaign two Jedi master players faced off against each other (one had turned to the dark side). I think the last attack came down to each guy rolling 55 dice. We had to roll them on the floor because there wasn’t room on the table. The light side won, about 163 to 148, and cut the other dude's head off. Then he gloated about it, which wasn't a very Jedi-like thing to do, but come on. That was fucking awesome.


In what universe is it okay to advertise devices to make it easier to kill other human beings?

5. The fake ads in the book

The rule book itself was very slick and well designed. The coolest part though, were these fake, colour full-page ads scattered throughout. There were Imperial recruitment posters and a promo that you could buy a whole wing of 72 used TIE fighters for the price of 70. It really helped make the universe feel alive and real.

The one ad I don't understand though is the wanted poster for Luke Skywalker. He was wanted for treason, murder and the destruction of military property, with a bounty of 500,000 credits. Really? That’s it? This guy killed millions of Imperial citizens and destroyed how many hundreds of trillions of space bucks worth of top secret military hardware, and they only offered 500 grand to take him out? No wonder no one ever caught him.

But you know what? In your game, you could capture Luke Skywalker, if you so choose. And then you could mock him for being a virgin and making out with his sister. I think my players did that once. Name another game where you can do something that awesome.

For more on the Star Wars RPG:

20 Years of Star Wars RPGs by SilverForce

Star Wars RPG Wikipedia page

History of Star Wars Roleplaying from Let The Wookie Win


Like this?

24 comments:

  1. I only ever played one game of the original Star Wars but that single game was absolutely amazing. I still think those original first edition WEG books were some of the best game books ever produced.

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  2. Book_ScorpionFebruary 01, 2011

    I had a horrible Star Wars d20 experience where I killed my character on purpose just to get out of the game. But that wasn't the game's fault and when I gave it another chance, things worked out much better between us.
    One thing was consistent, though: the Jedi in the group had spectacular bad luck. One encounter with armed enemy forces went like:
    Jedi: I'm going to leave cover and you can run to the exit while I deflect their fire.
    Jedi fails the roll and gets shot down in the middle of the corridor. So another character decides to throw a grenade at the enemy. He fails that as well and the grenade lands ... on the Jedi. Talk about awkward.

    I'd like to try the d6 system, if only because my d6 roll way better than my d20...

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  3. Mark, Game-makerFebruary 01, 2011

    Amen to everything in this post. Star Wars was one of two major influences on the design of my own system, and I've been going through a crisis the past couple days about my system being too clunky and considering just 'selling out' and making is a setting for d20, which goes against all my design goals and principles. #2 and #3 in particular (and, to a lesser extent, #4) really brought it back for me what I want my own game to be like and gave me the refresh of inspiration I needed.

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  4. I have never played Star Wars. It was the game we always said we were going to play, but never actually did.

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  5. The first time I played Star Wars RPG is in 1989,

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  6. I've only played 1 star wars game, and it was the D20 system. It was ok, but my biggest problem was the fact that while I enjoyed the 3 original movies, I never went any further than that. I know so little about the universe setting that I am always at a disadvantage. Having read a bijillion forgotten realms, dragonlance, tolkien, tolkienesque, etc. Novels, I always feel much more at home in a d&d game than in starwars or vampire...

    Perhaps one day I'll get a chance to give them another chance.

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  7. CDGallant_KingFebruary 01, 2011

    Obviously, I agree. Best-looking AND best-playing!

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  8. CDGallant_KingFebruary 01, 2011

    I think it's only fair. Jedi in these types of games are extremely over-powered (especially in d20), so it's nice when something screwy happens to them. Glad you gave it another try, though, and definitely try d6 if you ever have the opportunity.

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  9. CDGallant_KingFebruary 01, 2011

    That's how I feel about Aces & Eights.

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  10. I've never been big into Star Wars aside from the original trilogy (or should I call them the last three movies? Arrrgh! Damn you George Lucas!). For me the sci-fi to beat was Star Trek (and recently I've taken to using Traveler to play in that setting), but egads have I heard such wonderful things about the D6 Star Wars system.

    The closest I've ever come to playing any version of the D6 system was the Mini-Six variant of D6 because it was easy to come by, but I have thought about searching down a copy of Star Wars D6 just to see it for myself.

    Pity none of my group would touch it with a ten-foot lightsaber....

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  11. CDGallant_KingFebruary 01, 2011

    I'm glad I could be of help! I wish there were more systems like this one. The d6 system was much like a lightsaber, "an elegant system, for a more civilized age." You know, that was back in the old days, before the dark times. Before 4th edition.

    (I'm sorry, John requires me to make at least one dig at 4th edition per week)

    Thank you for the comment, though!

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  12. CDGallant_KingFebruary 01, 2011

    See? That's what I'm talking about! In how many other games can you do something so kick-ass? Okay, I'm sure there's a couple, but how many of them have Darth Vader's big shiny head on the cover?

    Thanks for sharing!

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  13. CDGallant_KingFebruary 01, 2011

    You would like the Star Wars books. Many of them are really bad, much like the Forgotten Realms books. Some are even by R.A. Salvatore!

    And I remember your one Star Wars game. The PCs were literally fighting each other in the cockpit over control of the starship, while pirates were trying to shoot you out of the sky. As the GM, I thought that was brilliant on so many levels. :)

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  14. CDGallant_KingFebruary 03, 2011

    Your group sucks. Get a new one. :-)

    And yes, Damn George Lucas to hell.

    Thanks for the comment!

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  15. The "original Star Wars RPG" was not written by Bill Slavicsek, it was by Greg Costikyan. Slavicsek only wrote the second edition of that work. I realize you're talking about 2nd edition here, but how about giving credit where credit is due? Personally, I find the first edition to be the better game, and think second added some really poor ideas (but I admit both editions are very similar games.) I pretty much agree with you though that it is the best RPG ever. And the D6 system itself is probably the most elegant design ever for a RPG that is actually complete enough to fill a big hardcover.

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  16. Mini-Six is great, possibly the most concise AND complete version of the generic rules ever. But Star Wars is perfectly tailored for that fictional universe. You could easily play Star Wars with Mini-Six, but having the game itself is cool too.

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  17. That shouldn't be a problem. In fact, when the 1st edition of Star Wars RPG (d6 version) was written there were only the original three movies too. No novels, comics, etc. had been licensed or produced outside of the ones made in the 70s and 80's during the film trilogy's original run. The galaxy is wide open for you to create and do whatever you want. Most of the early stuff included in novels and the like had it's origins in the RPG supplements, oddly enough, so the RPG was breaking new ground, just as GMs would do in their campaigns. You should never be at a disadvantage in the Star Wars RPG if you have at least seen the original movie, or the first three.

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  18. I agree completely about the first edition. While I own a ton of second edition stuff, I now consider it to be a flawed version of the original great game (Do we really need to track ammo? Who ever ran out of it in the films? Do Force-users need to learn what are effectively specific "spells" like a D&D wizard? Luke didn't. Second edition includes these rules changes, but I disagree with them). I now only use my first edition rulebook and occasionally select parts of the Sourcebook (ship stats mainly). After that I feel the game really went astray. It seems the more books they made the less it resembled the film universe. I guess I'm a purist!

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  19. One thing that's especially cool about D6 Star Wars, you can make NPCs by just assigning values you think sound right. While this is true of just about any game, in this case it's notable because these NPCs are mechanically NO DIFFERENT from what the PCs could someday achieve. You don't need to check and reference endless tables to make sure they have the correct whatever for their experience levels, or what have you. Nor do you have to feel like you are sidestepping the PC creation rules and making a type of character your players could never achieve themselves using the rules. Improving characters is all organic, and does not follow a set structure, so literally ANY type of customization is do-able by the book! I don't think I've ever seen another game that worked that way.

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  20. CDGallant_KingFebruary 14, 2011

    I will admit that I'm not as familiar with the First Edition. I learned the 2nd Edition rules, and when I occasionally picked up 1st ed sourcebooks they always seemed wonky to me because there were subtle differences, so I tended to stay with what I knew. I also liked the 2nd Edition better than the "Revised" edition, which I think had even fewer changes than 1st to 2nd.

    But fair enough - Kudos to Greg Costikyan. I guess that makes him Gary Gygax to Slavicsek's David Zeb Cook? :-) Though Slavicsek did have a hand in generating and compiling a huge amount of background material to the Star Wars universe. For better or for worse, he may have had more influence on Star Wars than anyone not directly related to the films.

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  21. CDGallant_KingFebruary 14, 2011

    I agree. I felt the same way about weapons, droids & starships. I loved the sourcebooks, but it was also so easy to make up your own material. No Challenge Ratings or Encounter Levels or any of that - just build it the way it makes sense for your needs and for the game.

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  22. Heretic alert - I think I preffered the D20 version, but maybe because I played it a lot more, and GM'd it. I think when I worked out that to make the Kessel Run in 12 parsecs Han Solo would have needed to roll 11 6s on the trot in the D6 version I fell out of love with it.  Also, I played one time and we met a load of walking, man-size, pink bunnies on tatoine.  Apparently that's normal for Star Wars D6...  (I thought it'd be a bit warm for a bunny suit on a DESERT PLANET but there we go).

    However, whichever system you use, Star Wars inspires awesomeness!!!!  Players who hide behind doors in D&D or Vampire are all of a sudden ready to land a starship on a building as boarding action.  One of the sessions I refereed for D20 the group did just that, except the Pilot always rolled a 1 anytime he tried to fly so he crashed the starship into the building!  This probably worked in their favour as the bad guys were expecting them to attack, but not like that!  They jumped from the starship into the room with the bad guys and had an awesome combat.  That would never happen in D&D - even if they used a wagon or something.

    The biggest gripe I did have as the GM was the ridiculously overpowered wimpy Jedi I had.  Within D20 if you maxed out one skill (my Twi'Lek was had something like +14 to bluff, with a re-roll, at first level) then you were unstoppable with it.  If that skill happened to be, I don't know, Use the Force, then there was naff all anyone could do to stop you.  Every combat we had the Jedi would just got - "I mind fuck the nastiest NPC" while the others chopped up what was left.  Being a fair GM I refused to use my own knowledge to screw them over so I kept trying to get enemies to escape so they could tell their boss but the Jedi would generally drop a speeder on the head of anyone trying to escape.  In the end he had to move 200 miles away so I dropped a cavern on his head.  Cavern for the win!

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  23. I agree so hard, it just broke something in Micronesia.  SORRY, MICRONESIA!

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  24. Jonathan McNallyAugust 18, 2011

    WEG STAR WARS is, hands down, my favorite RPG. I am very pleased to say I'm now running a 1E game for a group of friends and it's every bit as good as I remember. Even the rule book itself is a hoot and gorgeous to boot!

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