Revisiting Star Wars, the Greatest RPG of All Time

It's been five years since I started writing for Rule of the Dice, and a lot has changed in my life since then. Having two kids is certainly the biggest event(s), and publishing my first novel was also cool. But of particular interest to this blog is how my outlook on and taste in role-playing games have changed. One of my first posts here was fawning over my favourite game of all time, the old D6 Star Wars RPG by West End Games. Recently I've started running a Star Wars campaign again for the first time in many years, thanks in part to the buzz and excitement provided by the first good Star Wars movie in many, many years. Yet playing this game again regularly for the first time since I was a kid has struck me with an odd thought:

I'm not sure if I still like it as much anymore.

In honour of my new game, the new movie and my five-year anniversary with Rule of the Dice, I thought I would revisit my previous argument and touch on the five reasons why I originally stated that Star Wars D6 was the greatest RPG of all time.

(To clarify, the numbered headlines are the arguments I made 5 years ago, but the explanations below them are my new thoughts on each point)

1. It's Star Wars
Lightsabers, droids, stormtroopers, it all checks out. Han's looking a lot older and grumpier, though.
He'll definitely shoot first if you don't get off his space-lawn.
Well, it's still Star Wars, and thanks to The Force Awakens, Star Wars is fun again. I've been on a huge Star Wars high for months, the biggest I've been on since playing the RPG and reading the Timothy Zahn novels as a teenager twenty years ago. I'll be honest: I got a little choked up watching the trailers for Episode VII when they first came out, and then again when I sat down in the theatre and the opening crawl started. I've been hit with a wave of nostalgia that I've not felt with any of the other cash grab reboots and sequels that have been coming out lately. Plus, I thought the new movie was actually pretty good - sure it had some faults, but over all I really enjoyed it and really look forward to the next one. The biggest sign that I enjoy something is that it makes me want to game it, and The Force Awakens did that for me in spades.

So yeah, the game definitely still has that going for it.

2. You can make a character in 90 seconds
Which is probably still longer than they spent developing
Captain Phasma, am I right?
This is still very much true. I have a couple of new players who have never played the game before (but also a couple of the guys I actually played with as a teenager) so it took a little longer at first, but character creation is still really easy and stream-lined. That being said, it also leaves very little room for customized flair or tweaking, which leaves the characters coming out very flat. Every character will inevitably get some combination of the skills blaster, dodge, starship piloting and starship gunnery. You also have to have at least one guy with starship repair, and another with con (bluff). These are the skills you need to survive, so everyone picks the same ones. It gets to the point where if someone picks first aid it seems like a novelty.

Worse, the game is very crunchy and combat heavy (more on that in a second). There is absolutely no room for characters to have dramatic or role-playing advantages, at least not in a rules sense. In recent years I've started to lean way more to games that encourage storytelling and leave more freedom for their characters to improvise and be creative, like FATE and Apocalypse World-based games (Side note, I played my first game of Dungeon World a few weeks ago and it was the most fun I've had with a game in YEARS). Of course, you can always put that into your game, and I'm encouraging my players to have fun with it (in our last session they spent half-an-hour discussing with cleaning droids what scent of air freshener to use on their ship), but in my opinion the rules don't really encourage that kind of creativity.

3. You don't learn skills or powers magically and spontaneously
Which, if you think about it, characters in Star Wars actually do ALL THE TIME.
This is still very true. I do like the way the skills grow organically, and you have to focus on training them individually and specifically instead of getting broad increases in a level-type system. Again though, it's very crunchy and detailed. It would work great in a video game, but it's not so much what I look for in an table-top RPG anymore. You have to spend your characters points, a few at a time, increasing your skills one "pip" at a time, laser-focusing on the skills you use most often... which means you're going to be putting most of your points into blaster, dodge, starship piloting and starship gunnery. I think I would prefer a system where your skills are broader and looser, like you can have a character that's good at piloting, and he can fly anything - starfighters, transports, airspeeders, whatever, and you don't need to quantify that his repulsorlift operation is 4D+2 and his space transports piloting is 5D+1. I think it would be good enough to know he's good at piloting, give him a flat bonus for all ships, and maybe an extra bonus on his preferred ship type or something.

4. You get to roll buckets of dice
Or use this, as the case may be.
This is not as much fun as I remember it being. Okay sure, in an epic encounter where you get to roll like 20D on one attack it's great, but when you have to roll several handfuls of dice on EVERY attack, it gets pretty tedious, pretty fast. An average attack action involves a character rolling 4-5 dice (and adding them up) to hit, the defender rolling 4-5 dice (and adding them up) to defend, the attacker rolling another 4-5 dice (and adding them up) for damage and then the defender rolling another 4-5 dice (and adding them up) to resist the damage. That's 16-20 dice and a lot of fucking math for EVERY ATTACK ACTION, and characters can sometimes take 2 or 3 attacks per turn. Multiply that by every player and enemy on the table, every round and well, no. Just no.

Just typing that exhausted me.

5. The fake ads in the book

While this is true, unfortunately we are not using the old book anymore. I still have my old book, but since we're playing online, I've been using the fan-created "REUP" version (it stands for "Revised, Expanded, UPdated). It compiles all the old West End Games material (along with a bunch of community-created content) into one massive tome that covers everything from Episodes 1-6. If you haven't seen this PDF file, do yourself a favour and check it out. It's a very detailed, high-quality labour of love by some very dedicated fans. Sure, it doesn't have the fake ads anymore, and the pictures on the character templates are ridiculous (they look like digital paintings over top of celebrity headshots), but it's still a really, really awesome book that is just as cool as my old hardback, just in a different way.
Hey look, Katniss/Jennifer Lawrence is in Star Wars, now.

And who made Seth Green a Jedi?
So there we go. I think I wrote my original post five years ago whilst wearing a pair of rosy nostalgia glasses (and trying to ape's crude dick-joke style of writing - seriously, it's embarrassing). Or maybe my tastes really have changed that much in the last half-decade. Either way, while I'm not so high on the game as I used to be, we're still having a ton of fun, and that can carry even the worst games a long way. People must play Palladium games for some reason, after all.

The most fun comes from the fact that it's a shared universe that we all understand, care about and enjoy. I think it's the only setting where I've ever experienced so much buy-in by every player. Except perhaps Battlestar Galactica. Or ROBOTECH. Huh. I guess I just really like licensed Sci-fi games.

Anyway, I think I might want to try Fantasy Flight Games' new Star Wars RPG. It certainly sounds like a lot of fun if the Campaign Podcast is any indication (by the way, check out the Campaign Podcast, it's awesome). Or maybe I should try to make an Apocalyse/Dungeon World hack for Star Wars.


I think I just thought of a new project for myself.

Has anyone else played Star Wars D6? What do you think of it? What about some of the other Star Wars games out there, like Wizards of the Coasts' D20 version, or the new Fantasy Flight Games series?


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