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Star Wars RPG (D6) – A look back at a favourite

The Star Wars RPG D6 system is for me one of the best to teach, and easy to learn, game systems out there. Using the films Star Wars IV-VI as a backdrop, it’s largely outside of the Expanded Universe (but see later 🙂 !). II’ve probably used this game to introduce more people to RPGs than any other. Nearly everyone has seen one of the Star Wars films in some shape or form. The background is instantly familiar to most people. It takes only a few minutes to create a character. And, by using Force points, any PC can be a hero.

The Star Wars RPG used a simple D6 dice pool derived from the Ghostbusters RPG. See my previous post for thoughts on that game, but first a brief history of the Star Wars RPG.

The Star Wars RPG  – A Brief History

Star Wars RPG (1987).jpg

Star Wars Role-Playing Game (1st Ed.1987)

The 1st edition of the Star Wars RPG was published by West End Games in 1987, who had the official license from Lucasfilm to produce both RPGs and boardgames derived from the license. Published in hardback, its a book that’s worn very well over the years I’ve owned it (I bought mine in 1989). A second edition followed in 1993. A number of source books also added to the Star Wars RPGline – all were lavishly illustrated with pictures from the films. As well as some other game aids like a Companion and Campaign pack/GM screen, a number of adventure modules were released. There’s a very loose chronology (no meta-plot) and most can be played on their own, although some NPCs crop up in more than a few adventures.

Star Wars: The Roleplaying Game (abbreviated to the Star Wars RPG for the rest of this post!) also won the Origins Award for Best Roleplaying Rules in the same year.

In the UK, Grenadier Miniatures UK (closed since 1996) produced a 25mm miniatures line of various characters and villains from the films featuring their Star Wars RPG stats. They were very well cast – I still have a boxed set of the heroes.

When Timothy Zahn was writing the landmark Heir to the Empire series, Lucasfilm sent him Star Wars RPG materials from West End Games, and this pretty much lead to the whole Expanded Universe as result. Every journey starts with a first step. 🙂 – loved those books. I think they’re the only Expanded Universe novels that I really liked.

Sadly, as with a number of games companies of the time, West End Games fell foul of the slump in the RPG market in the late ’90s. They  declared their bankruptcy in 1998, and lost the Star Wars license as a result. Ironically, this was the same year Star Wars: the Phantom Menace came out.

Wizards of the Coast picked up the license and produced both the D20 and Saga editions until 2010, as well as a miniatures line (although this was phased out). Fantasy Flight picked up the license in 2011, releasing their own edition.

More information can be found on Wikipedia, on the page for the Star Wars RPG (D6).

The Game

Like Ghostbusters before it, the Star Wars RPG system uses a D6 (six-sided dice) dice pool derived from Attributes and Skills. This affects everything from Force Powers and Droid repair to firing a Blaster and piloting a ship. You roll the dice, add them together,  and try and beat a difficulty number (3-5 is Very Easy, 6-10 Easy, 11-15 Moderate, 16-20 Difficult, 21+ Heroic!). PCs can take multiple actions but are penalised by a reduced dice pool (-1D for two actions, -2D for three, etc). The six attributes total 18D for every Character Template (including Force Powers). Those seeking to use the Force tend to have lower attributes than others (the default attribute is 2D – 2 Dice). Droids can be created by allocating 18D directly, although they cannot use the Force.

It’s a very intuitive system to learn and combat is fast-paced. Consequently, most folk pick it up quite quickly. Even those that haven’t role-played before will understand the concepts. PCs can combine on actions, but only up to the PC’s Command Skill pool. Remember how Stormtroopers can’t aim straight? Well…

These blast points… too accurate for Sand People. Only Imperial stormtroopers are so precise – Ben (Obi-Wan) Kenobi, Star Wars IV: A New Hope

Stormtroopers can combine their shots in an unlimited fashion. In a room of 10 stormtroopers, they’d add +9 to their dice roll. No wonder Han legged it in this scene:

All PCs have something known as Force Points, and all PCs start with one. A PC can spend a number of Force points per adventure. Spending a Force Point allow them to temporarily double their dice pool for a single round. If they use these heroically, they’ll get it back, plus another one. Save their own skin and it’s spent. However, use it to kill, wound or manipulate will lead to a Dark Side point. They can also spend these in the same way, although there is a chance that a PC becomes consumed by the Dark Side (see below).

Rather than spend ages buying equipment, the gear is kept pretty simple. Given the cinematic style of the Star Wars RPG, the PCs are often up to their neck in it, right from the get-go. It’s not a game for PCs to become attached to equipment- although the Smuggler and Mon Cal Pilot both begin player with spacecraft, the PCs are usually assigned one anyway.  The Star Wars RPG isn’t really focussed on gear and wealth anyway.

Character creation is by far the simplest of any RPG. The templates are bare-bones equipment, personality, often humorous quote, and a capsule background. It also suggests links to other PCs. You have 6D to add to Skills. After that you’re ready to go. One of my favourite things about this system it doesn’t care if you’re human or not (although the Mon Calamari, Wookiee, and Ewok each have their own templates). I’ve actually bundled the templates here, if anyone is interested.

For GMs, there’s a huge section on running the Star Wars RPG in a cinematic fashion, complete with terminology. Using cut-scenes, dropping PCs right into the middle of the action (in media res), plotting, scale etc. It’s all covered. Even if you’re not that much up on film terminology there’s some great suggestions for adventures in the book (with a humorous introduction to each), plus a solo adventure to learn the rules. You don’t blow up buildings in Star Wars, you blow up planets – it’s all about being as heroic and bombastic as possible, especially when using/adding Force Points. I love how the system doesn’t focus on one particular class, to the detriment of others. In fact, GMs are encouraged to give all the PCs a chance to shine, and encourages heroic acts if it furthers the storyline or experience. I love running games in a cinematic fashion – it’s not easy with fantasy RPGs, but you EXPECT it in Star Wars! It’s probably the closest I’ll get to film-making despite my HND in Audio-Visual Technology…

Set just after the Battle of Yavin, there are very few Force users in the Empire or Rebellion (after the Jedi Purge). The game system reflects this in the Templates. Force Powers (Control, Sense and Alter) are at the cost of the Template’s Attributes. All the favourite powers are there – including a few Dark Side ones – and would-be Jedi need to adhere to the Jedi code. If you’re Force user, you’re not going to be high-powered except in a few small ways – obviously the Sith are not mentioned with the exception of Vader. There’s possibly a few Dark Jedi out there, but they’re not PCs. The Force skills aren’t over-powered either: if the Jedi is using telekinesis for example, the “size matters not”, but the Force skill roll does… Lightsabers are incredibly powerful damage dealers when used by a Jedi – they add their control bonus to the 5D damage. So Luke just after the Battle of Yavin, with a Control Force Skill of 3D – does 8D damage. Twice that of a Blaster. They’re also illegal, though.

There a number of Wound levels: Stunned, Wounded, Incapacitated, and Mortally Wounded. Obviously this is on separate scale for NPCs – Incapacitated or Mortally Wounded will take them out of combat. For PCs, there’s still a chance they can survive a Mortal Wound if they can get to medical treatment in time. Or alternatively they can heroically stagger to their feet, and yell “I’ll cover you! Get outta here!” or “Run, Sara!”. Another aspect I like is that although Skills can increase, Attributes can’t. You’re average PC has 2D+2 Strength. That won’t change with experience – if you’re hit by a regular blaster, the damage is 4D. Chances are you’ll be Wounded, even if you were Boba Fett (armour reduces the damage by adding up to 2D to Strength for damage purposes though). PCs can also declare that they are Dodging either as a Full Dodge or a Reaction Dodge (DEX skill).

There’s a strong vein of humorous banter in Star Wars and the Star Wars RPG is no different. For example, in the GM section, here’s a quote relating to “An unsuccessful use of the Con skill”.

Han Solo: Uh, everything’s under control. Situation normal.
Comm Voice: What happened?
Han Solo: Uh, we had a slight weapons malfunction, but uh… everything’s perfectly all right now. We’re fine. We’re all fine here now, thank you. How are you?
Comm Voice: We’re sending a squad up.
Han: Uh, negative, negative. We have, uh, a reactor leak here, uh, now. Give us a few minutes to lock it down. Uh, large leak, very dangerous.
Comm Voice: Who is this? What’s your operating number?
Han: Uh…[FX: ZAP!] Boring conversation, anyway.
-Star Wars IV: A New Hope

Sounds like something a player would do, doesn’t it? Not to mention the bickering that features so often in the movies appears in  module scripts (see below), as well as the adventure suggestions and solo adventure in the book.

There are a few darker adventures for Star Wars (like Domain of Evil), but by and large there’s always time for a one-liner, comic relief moment, or corny dialogue. It actively encourages it. The number of times my players have used quotes from the movies just adds to it. It’s a game of heroes, not villains. You don’t really get to play Dark Jedi or Sith Apprentices. You’re the Good Guys. Ultimately everything should go down to the wire, and the PCs escape with mere seconds to spare. And trust me, your players will get really caught up in it.

Star Wars RPG Adventures

If there was a particular shining gem in West End Games crown, it would be the modules for 1st Ed. Star Wars RPG. Usually a 64-page staple-bound module filled with illustrations. These were not always from the movies either, and most really evoked Star Wars. So much so that I made them into a collage for the GMs screen, or to use as a montage or cut scene. Later modules usually were published as soft-bound books with no extras.

The modules often featured counters for Star Warriors (a companion board game), or another Star Wars board game, but usually had a large A3 colour map of some kind (such as cross-section of a Victory-Class Star Destroyer, a floor-plan of the Mos Eisley cantina). Or even a Sabacc deck and rules. These alone were worth getting the module in most cases.

Every Star Wars RPG adventure started with a script with up to 6 players reading out their part. Although hit-and-miss sometimes, they were great in creating an atmosphere, getting players into the action, and starting banter just like in the movies. Not to mention setting the scene without the GM having to go through a lot of exposition as well. There were usually hand-outs you could photocopy/print out as well as a pull-out section that had the NPC statistics and GM maps.

Most of the plots see the Heroes (they actually call them that) foiling some Imperial Plot or escaping some kind of peril, usually over a number of “Episodes”, featuring cut scenes, chases, and explosions. The plots were designed to be more than just be all shooty – social interactions, flight skills and technical abilities are often required, and usually build up to a climatic scene. SPOILER: There’s a summary of some of the adventures I ran for my group here. Most are published, although the summary for Incident on Iyuta is my own adventure.

Summary

So Star Wars RPG over 25 years old. Star Wars is even older, and still has an enduring appeal as Space Opera. Regardless of how I feel about the Prequels and Expanded Universe, the original D6 Star Wars RPG is the game that  still faithfully recaptures the spirit of the films, unlike its successors. I know there’s been a tendency in recent years to focus upon darker “edgier” characters . It got darker with the Expanded Universe such as the Yuuzhan Vong invasion, death of Chewbacca, etc. so I’m looking forward to Abrams effort.

“A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away….” still resonates with me.

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