I have previously given a broad overview of Star Wars tabletop RPGs. Now I would like to present a more detailed review of the system I am the most familiar with: the Wizards of the Coast Star Wars Roleplaying game from years 2000-2010. Let’s start with the 2000 core game, which underwent minor changes with the Revised edition that was published after Episode II came out.
“D&D in Space”
The basic rules of WotC’s SWRPG are exactly the same as Dungeons and Dragons 3.0 or 3.5. What does it mean in practice?
The game is founded on the d20 system, which means that everything important is accomplished by rolling the twenty-sided die. However, all other classic forms of n-sided dice (4, 6, 8, 10, 12, 100) are used in some cases, such as damage rolls.
Just like in D&D, there are six starting abilities (Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom, Charisma) in values roughly between 3-18. They are further influenced by character’s species (Gungans have bonus to Constitution, but minus to Wisdom, and so on).
Perhaps the chief difference from classic D&D is the amount of species existing already in the core rulebook (11, Revised and Saga editions have 17). The very nature of Star Wars universe demands a broad selection of alien races, and further expansion modules (crowned by the Ultimate Alien Anthology for the revised version) offer dozens of other species known from all Star Wars films, novels or video games imaginable, from Geonosians to Dashade. But already the core rulebook includes all the necessary classics, such as Ewoks, Gamorreans, Mon Calamari, Rodians or Wookiees (Zabraks only in the Revised/Saga editions).
Copypaste And Rename The Class
If SWRPG has more species than classic D&D, I daresay it lags behind in the matter of classes. I am not exaggerating if I say that the core handbook essentially has D&D 3.5’s Fighter, Ranger, Rogue and Bard under new names (Soldier, Scout, Scoundrel and Noble, respectively), plus two Jedi classes on top of that (Jedi Guardian, which is effectively again a Fighter variant, and Consular, which is your classic spellcaster class). The two extra classes (Fringer and Force Adept) do not save the originality (Fringer is a sort of hybrid class and Force Adept is, in spirit and in function at least, almost identical to its namesake NPC class from the Dungeon Master’s Guide of 3.5 – it represents non-Jedi, non-Sith “wild” Force-users such as Dathomir Witches and various “Force shamans”).
Such “variety” almost calls for the possibility to take your favourite D&D character and simply transfer them into the Star Wars universe. Indeed, a Halfling Ranger would likely end up exactly the same as an Ewok Scout.
The similarities continue with the selection of skills and feats. Skills are nearly the same as in classic D&D, with the addendum of things like Piloting or Astrogate, and the Force skills, which are something really unique and to which I shall return later. But this is perhaps good news for those who have managed to learn the D&D skill system and would not be so cheerful at the prospect of learning yet another long list of items. Everything from Bluff to Tumble works 99% the same as in D&D.
The same goes perhaps even more strongly for feats. All the classic feats remain, sometimes with new names (a test: guess what feat is “Improved Bantha Rush”?).
I could continue listing things that are similar to D&D – or, let’s be honest, the same – for a really long time. But let’s instead take a look at what is different.
Jedi Skills: No Memorizing!
Contrary to expectations, the game does not handle using the Force through the use of some sort of “magic points”; not even “memorizing”, familiar from the D&D system. Instead, things like Force Push, Jedi mind trick or even Force Lightning are simply extra skills that only the Jedi can learn. When used, these skills exert the Jedi: whether the skill check turns to be successful or unsuccessful, the Jedi loses a certain amount of Vitality points (usually one or two, in extreme cases a number relative to their level).
This is a rather original system that manages to reflect the effort that accompanies the use of Force. And remembering the sweat trickling down Luke’s brows in the most intense moments of concentration, we see that it corresponds well to the film portrayal.
Vitality and Wounds: A Touch of Realism
Yet another innovation against most games that have only one sum of “hit points” is the Vitality/Wounds system. Vitality are the classic “hit points” one acquires every level, however losing them does not mean death of the character. Instead, the character starts getting Wounds, which they can get up to their Constitution score – and only then they are dead.
What I perceive as the best innovation ever, however, is not even the system of Vitality/Wounds itself, but its meaning. Let’s face it, the system prevalent in most RPGs, where you get the more hitpoints the higher your level, is unrealistic. Yes, with experience, one can become a more precise fighter or more skilful, but should a hero, however epic, really be able to withstand fifty cuts with a saber instead of one?
In SWRPG, the actual physical damage is represented only by the Wounds. Vitality is more like what you can endure before you are exhausted – but it is more than that. Losing Vitality points represents for example dodging a nearly deadly blaster bolt that grazes you instead of hitting you head-on. And that is wonderfully realistic, especially if we see our heroes as Heroes with capital H. The awkward picture of a battle where Darth Maul stabs Qui-Gon fifteen times before Qui-Gon falls to the ground turns to a more compelling image of Qui-Gon dramatically dodging fourteen slashes before reaching the point where he can’t dodge the fifteenth.
The Force, The Dark Side, and Reputation
Unlike D&D, SWRPG has no alignments like Lawful Good, Chaotic Evil and so on. There is one feature, however, that reflects the character’s alignment in regards to the Light and Dark Side of the Force: the Dark Side points. A character can get Dark Side points for performing cruel deeds or intentionally calling on the Dark Side while using the Force. The feature is chiefly relevant for Force-using characters. Calling on the Dark Side is mainly represented by adding extra dice to specific rolls, but there are also particular “evil” Force skills such as Grip or Lightning.
The default game is created with the perspective that the player characters would intend to resist the Dark Side. Dark Side points can be removed by acts of atonement. Perfectly in tune with the film portrayal, evil is not stronger, merely “easier, faster and more seductive”. The more Dark Side points one gets, the more difficult it is to atone, and the more one must pay to use the Dark Side’s benefits effectively.
The game also reflects the fact that everyone is connected to the Force. This is represented by Force points every character gets – including non-Jedi. These (very rare and hard to obtain) points represent extraordinary “luck” and can be expended to gain significant amount of extra bonus dice for a specific task.
The last special rule is Reputation (or, potentially, Infamy). It depends on level and represents the character’s renown. Both Reputation and Force points can be also obtained for performing significant heroic deeds.
Less Dragons and Items, More NPCs and Skills
All in all, Wizards of the Coast’s Star Wars Roleplaying game – core and Revised edition is the best choice for those who are already familiar with D&D and at the same time want to freshen it up in some way. The few extra or modified rules make the game different enough and at the same time familiar enough that it is easy to start playing.
The chief difference from D&D lies perhaps in the fact that in Star Wars, one does not battle against monsters. There are of course rancors and gundarks, but most enemies will be essentially NPCs. For that reason, SWRPG has no real “Monster Manual”, but already the core rulebook comes with a chapter full of handy NPC archetypes (bounty hunters, sith or troopers on multiple levels) that one can use as basis, or simply as stand-in for a random NPC whenever needed. There are also detailed rules for vehicle combat (especially in the Revised edition) as well as stats for various common vehicles and starships.
Similarly, because of the nature of SW universe, there really isn’t much focus on items. Luke Skywalker didn’t walk around wearing ten Rings of Deflection +5. Even classic weapons and armour are more likely to stick around with the characters largely unmodified (and majority of the characters won’t even wear any armour at all). This is compensated by more focus on skills, and for example Defense rises automatically with level (which perhaps makes sense).
Summa summarum, SWRPG is like D&D with fewer monsters and magic, and more skills and various alien species. Even if you are not a hardcore Star Wars fan, but are a D&D player interested in more “realistic” world, SWRPG may be worth trying.