Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Science Fiction Month! Star Wars RPG

Well I was impulsive enough to buy this thing so let's talk about the Star Wars Roleplaying Game. Keep in mind that I haven't actually played it and so it's possible that if I did the fabulous nature of the game would be revealed with a burst of trumpets and fireworks.

In the Star Wars Roleplaying Game (SW) players get to play characters from the Star Wars universe. Your character may be active in the last days of the old Republic (roughly the time depicted in the fourth through sixth movies released), in the the days of the Empire (as seen in Star Wars and its two immediate sequels), or in the days of the New Jedi Order (as described in various comics and novels). The rule set describes how to make characters for the game and then gives rules for playing in the three eras. There are rules for using the force, flying space vehicles, and descriptions of various creatures and beings one might meet while adventuring.

The summary for beginner role players is that SW is a tolerable game. The rules are a little complex for my taste and are probably best suited for teens. The game seems strongly oriented towards combat and the system itself really demands the use of miniature figures to represent characters, enemies, and terrain features. I didn't walk away from the rules with a clear sense of how to start the game rolling although that may be because I'm not a huge Star Wars fan. This may be a game best suited for fans of the franchise, teen and up, who are looking to do some miniatures oriented role playing with a strong emphasis on combat.

Now, for those who care, let's get detailed. The SW game uses modified late edition Dungeons and Dragons rules and, coincidence or not, reads like space D&D. Players have a few character classes to choose from: soldier, jedi, noble, scout and scoundrel. Classes have a huge effect on character strengths, so much so that the noble and scoundrel should really never bother picking up a gun. The noble excels at providing support to other characters which allows them to perform better in combat. Like a cleric, for example. The scoundrel seems best suited for sneaking, gambling, hacking computers and being generally lucky. Kind of like uh, a thief. And the jedi has amazing powers with a limited number of uses per encounter, just like a magic user! In 2009 I think a worthwhile game setting deserves a game system tailored to the setting's qualities and simply using the d20 system seems a little lazy. Oh, and the scout is a space ranger basically.

From a personal point of view I'm also an "old school" style role playing gamer. I prefer resolving issues through role playing and a few impromptu die rolls instead of using lists of skills, talents and feats. SW provides an extensive lists of special abilities and stunts that characters can perform. In my experience having lists of special abilities acts to limit your choices just by suggesting that if an action is not on this list then it's out of the question to try. It would be myopic to ignore the appeal of the new school game but for my purposes it seems to stray from role playing to miniatures-based skirmish gaming.

The game does allow some crossover potential. For example you could play a noble who joins the military, lives as a soldier, and then gets her discharge and becomes a scoundrel. But that requires multiclassing and going through an experience level per class at minimum. So no interesting characters at first level. Of course with 1st edition D&D you could do such a thing by simply role playing it. Experienced players know by now whether they like lists of feats and directive class systems.

Let's move on to other irritating issues. The book covers character generation and basic rules but lacks any acceptable details on setting. I can't find anything about what nobles do, for example. If your character is a noble can they command troops? Do they get a castle, or a planet? If your character is a soldier how are the military orders organized? How does a scoundrel make money? Are there police to chase the scoundrels? Also lacking is any information on how ordinary citizens live. I suppose the message here is to read the novels, see the movies, and then play the game. From looking at the web site it appears like the message may also be to buy the rules and then buy four more supplements.

I think that covers the basics of why the Star Wars Roleplaying Game is such a disappointment. Space precludes complaining about the boring weapons list, short list of vehicles, lackluster space combat rules and minuscule creatures list. We'll also skip over how dull the jedi seem to be when in reality they should be a non-stop rocking good time to play. I am struck by the contrast between this product and the previously reviewed Starblazer Adventures. I think I could run a much more exciting Star Wars game with the latter. At least Starblazer gives you plot seeds, planet generation systems, and campaign ideas.

The Star Wars Roleplaying game is available in many locations. I got mine at Your Move Games in Davis Square.

Pros: combat oriented miniatures based role playing game

Cons: Dungeons and Dragons in space, lackluster, skimpy on setting details

Beyond the Basics: beyond the basics you try either a real skirmish wargame like Chain Reaction, Necromunda or even Warhammer 40K, or a real character driven role playing game like Starblazer Adventures.

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