In the second of our two part series on roleplaying in the Star Wars galaxy, I am moving firmly into the present, with the third of our licensed games and a look at some of the fan-made alternatives that exist.
Last time, I discussed the licensed titles put out by West End Games and Wizards of the Coast. These are now out of print and the license resides with Fantasy Flight Games, who have a different approach to their game.
Fantasy Flight Games
I adore Fantasy Flight Games. I have about 20 of their games and a lot of expansions on top of that. Needless to say, I was very excited in 2012 to hear that Fantasy Flight had been given the Star Wars license and were making a new line of roleplaying games. The interesting thing is in that plural, “games”. Rather than release one huge and all-encompassing game, Fantasy Flight have broken Star Wars down into three parts based on the sort of characters and adventures that gamers want to play:
- Edge of the Empire is for stories about smugglers, bounty hunters and others in the outer rim, on the fringes of civilised space. This is your Han Solo book.
- Age of Rebellion is all about rebels versus the Galactic Empire. This is your Princess Leia book.
- Force and Destiny is about the Jedi and other force users. This is your Luke Skywalker book.
Each one is treated as a separate game, but should also be cross-compatible with only some minor niggles (e.g. use of Conflict, Duty and Morality systems in the same game).
The core of the game is in the dice pools. The game uses customised dice covered in symbols which can slow everything down at first, but work really well once you get the hang of what each one means. I like the success or failure is quantified beyond the binary, with some combinations of symbols meaning you may, for example, fail, but gain some sort of minor advantage. All in all, there are actually 18 possible outcomes from a dice pool, which can be a bit difficult for the GM to plan for. Other than that, the rules are quite straightforward, and character progression is also very clearly laid out.
What I do not like about this system is the business model it uses. Three huge core rulebooks, each priced at £39.99? Yikes! Add to that the need for custom dice at £11.99 a pack? The price adds up very quickly if you want to mix and match character types to the same extent as the films. Remember, each book represents one of the core “party members” from the films. To get a group that mimics the characters from the original trilogy, you are going to be using all three books.
I praised the Wizards of the Coast games for their art styles, and I feel the need to do the same for Fantasy Flight. Loads of fantastic artwork, and far fewer screenshots! I suppose it helps that the content of these books is not really focused on the films, but rather the galaxy around them. That is great, as they really do encourage exploration and storytelling that goes beyond what is covered in the cinematic offerings. That said, I’d love to do a campaign based around the Star Wars: Rebels TV show.
I do not know much about the supplements for this one. They seem to be a mix of campaign guides and sourcebooks for specific character classes.
I think this game has the best rules, with the caveat that you really do need to get your head around the dice symbols before you start to see the charm and speed of the system. The beginner sets are also wonderful entry points, giving great resources to use with new players. That price, though…
Whilst we’ve had licensed Star Wars games for the past thirty years, they are far from your only option. Any game can be adapted and used to tell Star Wars stories. Heck, you could argue that the Wizards of the Coast game was just a conversion of Dungeons & Dragons! As a further example, here are three fan-made conversions of popular games that are available online.
These are particularly good for groups who are already used to these systems, but want to try out a new setting for their games.
Fate is a fantastically simple system with a fantastic approach to character creation. The Aspects system require you to create short, simple descriptors for your character that you are expected to play to and may call on in specific circumstances. For example, were I playing as Han Solo, one of his aspects may be “Shoots First”. This should mean that when I am playing, I should be quick to shoot in response to potential confrontations. I should also be able to pay a Fate Point to invoke my aspects, perhaps getting an early shot in when taken by surprise.
The specialised dice that the system uses also takes a lot of the arithmetic out of the game, making it accessible to younger players who find that basic maths a little challenging.
Fate as a system is pretty setting-agnostic and plays well in a range of settings. I currently use it to play The Dresden Files Roleplaying Game, which is set in modern day Chicago, but with wizards and vampires and whatnot. There is no reason it should not work with Star Wars.
There are a few conversions around, one of which is written by Ryan M. Danks and can be found by clicking here.
Savage Worlds, like Fate is a generic system that has been adapted to many different settings already. Notable examples include the weird west game, Deadlands, and the fantasy game, Hellfrost. The core rulebook for Savage Worlds actively encourages the use of the system for sci-fi games.
I like how skills work on this system, utilising a range of different dice. Skills start out by using a d4, but progress to using d6, d8, d10 and d12 as levels are gained. Attributes are treated in the same way, giving tangible improvement to your character, rather than just adding in dry, numerical bonuses.
You can click here to see Mike Glanville’s Savage Star Wars conversion.
What Dungeons & Dragons is to the fantasy RPG genre, Traveller is to science fiction. It was the original sci-fi RPG.
It’s also a game that I know little about, but I’m really enjoying listening to the crew over at Happy Jack’s RPG Podcast playing through a Star Wars Traveller campaign. You should check it out, too.
One thing I do love is the minimalistic, simple design of the classic Traveller books.
Star Wars is a fantastic setting, with plenty of room for roleplaying. That can’t be said of all great properties. I find it really hard to play in the A Game of Thrones setting, for example, Maybe it’s because the whole things is so fluid and changeable, and takes place in a relatively small area. You can only really tell your own story by completely avoiding or completely ignoring the plot and characters of the books, and that kind of removes the appealing parts of the setting. Star Wars is different. It’s vast and inviting. It’s comfortable and strange. It’s sci-fi, but it’s also very much fantasy.
In this article, I’ve laid out just a few of the ways you can play your games a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away. There are countless more systems that can be adapted for the purpose, and I can only encourage you to dive in and give it a go.
Farewell for now, and may the force be with you, always.