Introduction - Star Wars and Me
I have been a fan of Star Wars since, well, forever. Saw all the movies the first time around, collected all the figures. Lost all the figures. Cursed when all the figures became valuable. Yet there have been some Star Wars fads that passed me by.
Take the books, for example. Never wanted to read them. I liked the movies, but had been burnt a couple of times by fictionalisations of favourite series. Also, I had seen the Star Wars Comics by Marvel... ugh.
Still, when WEG released Star Wars the Roleplaying Game, I was in with a grin. Unfortunately, I never was comfortable with the game. It just never felt like... well... Star Wars.
Enter my d20 loving friend, Craig, and his plan to run Living Force. I had been intrigued by the idea of RPGA and really wanted to give it a try. He convinced me that the revised Star Wars was not like the initial Star Wars d20 game, and so I decided to give it a go.
Star Wars The Roleplaying Game: Revised Core Rulebook
Layout and Visuals
Upon initial viewing the core rulebook is a very pretty book to behold. The cover is sufficiently epic in scope, and keeps with the general style of the movie posters. The bullet point blurbs on the back also help give a clear idea of what you are purchasing.
Something that WoTC definitely excels at is layout. When you're planning a game book, a lot of things need to be put into consideration. Not only does the book need to be easy to read, it needs to be practical in actual play. I have always found WoTC's method of layout is, if nothing else, well thought out. Each set of rules are kept together for ease of reference and a list of definitions and terms at the back also means that there is little confusion.
Each chapter of the book is focused on a particular set of rules, and is clearly laid out. Of particular note are the skills, which combines both Force and general skills. Initially this would be a confusing mess, however WoTC highlight all the Force skills in red - making it very easy to find a particular skill description in a hurry.
Playtest: Taking a leaf out of Dan Davenport's excellent review structure, these segments will be discussing particular cases where playtesting showed how the rules worked... or failed.
In the case of layout; I have found over the course of the last six months of playing in Living Force that the core rulebook has been very simple to navigate. We have hardly had a game freeze due to rabid page turning in the hopes of finding an obscure rule. The headings are clear, and most of the rules tend to be in the most intuitive places. If the rules relate to spaceships - you can be assured that it will be in easy reference in the spaceships chapter. This layout is consistent through a majority of the book. The only case where I found a problem was the droids chapter at the back of the book. More on that further on...
Come on. It's Star Wars! The book covers not only the movies, but the expanded Star Wars universe. However it does take the view that you are buying the book with some basic knowledge of the movies. Personally, I think this is a reasonable assumption. There are many, many books about the Star Wars universe, both in the gameline and available from most book stores.
Having said that, the game does discuss the three eras that are identified by WoTC as being core to the series: The Rise of the Empire - which covers Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones; The Rebellion Era - Classic Star Wars; and the New Jedi Order Era - which covers the novels.
Major characters from the movies and books are discussed and have game stats provided, and a summary of the over all universe is given.
At the end of the day, a game can have a fantastic setting, but it is only as good as its mechanics. One of the key issues that arises, especially with a game that is based on a movie, is how well the mechanics capture the setting and genre of the game. Given the contentious issue of d20, I think it is safe to assume that some people simply will bypass this game because of their own perceptions of the d20 system. Heck, I used to be one of those people. What follows is a very general breakdown of how the mechanics stood up to play...
Star Wars Revised follows the same basic d20 structure of character creation. Players are provided with a number of base classes
which they can then multi-class as they rise in levels
To flesh this out, classes are essentially recognised archetypes of the genre. In Star Wars these classes are: Fringer, Noble, Scoundrel, Scout, Soldier, Tech Specialist, Force Adept, Jedi Consular, Jedi Guardian.
When creating a character, the player first generates abilities - these are the standard six traits from d20 - Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom and Charisma. Then the player selects a race. The Core book provides seventeen races to choose from - more are available in other rulebooks.
Playtest: I found the races to be a good mix of the most popular Star Wars races. From Humans to Ewoks, Wookies and Mon Calamari, they cover the most commonly seen species. The addition of Gungans is expected - although I honestly don't know that many people who would willingly play a Gungan. Our GM has banned them from the game altogether.
In our group we ended up with a Rodian, Duro, Cerean, Human, Wookie and Kel Dor.
The races are all detailed nicely. The only fault lies in the Kel Dor. The rulebook details that they need breathing masks to live - but the rules provided for breathing masks in the equipment section make Kel Dor impossible to play. It should be noted that the Ultimate Alien Anthology fixes this problem by providing rules for special Kel Dorian masks and canisters.
Once a race and class have been selected, players need to consider levels. If you are unfamiliar with d20 or Dungeons and Dragons - unlikely, but possible - levels are d20's standard of measure. The idea behind these is to allow players and Game Masters to make balanced but challenging games.
Playtest: I initially was against the idea of levelling. But I must agree now that it does make planning a scenario a lot easier. It gives a quick measure of the overall competence of a standard group of characters. We have found in play that this scaling is usually reliable. It can be wonky at times... but nothing is perfect.
Finally, players get a number of "Force Points." These are essentially a number of points that the player can spend to add bonus dice and generally break the rules of the game in a cinematic way. Players gain one Force Point per Level, and can also gain them for doing particularly dramatic or heroic actions.
Most of a character's non-combat ability is measured through skills. In d20 a character's ability provides a given modifier. This is then added to their skill ranking to provide a final modifier to their roll.
The standard d20 system mechanic is:
Roll d20 + modifier VS Difficulty Number
If you roll over the number provided, you succeed. It's as basic as that. As characters go up in levels, they get the opportunity to increase their skill rankings, thereby raising their basic modifier at a particular skill.
Combat in Star Wars Revised is based on the same basic principle. The difference lies in that an opposing character's Defence Value - dictated by class level - is the number needed to be exceeded to hit.
Here is where two of the games main differences to other d20 products comes into play. Firstly is Armour. In standard d20 games, like Dungeons and Dragons, the default view is that Armour adds to the defence value. Essentially, strong armour makes you harder to hit. In Star Wars, armour reduces the damage you take from a hit.
Playtest: So, in our game session, Quelb the Duros Scout is wearing an armoured flight suit which has a damage reduction of 3. That means whenever he takes damage he automatically negates 3 points.
The second difference is Vitality. Star Wars characters have two health tracks. Vitality measures an abstract concept whereby the characters in the movie seem to always miraculously dodge blaster fire. It represents how much heavy fire you can take before it actually hits you. All damage is removed from Vitality before being taken from the second damage rating - Wound Points.
Criticals, rather than doubling damage, bypass Vitality and directly remove from wound points. While Vitality increases with each level, Wound points do not.
The Force and Vitality
This raises an interesting issue in the game mechanic. Force users power their abilities with Vitality. What this does is create an unusual dynamic where the more a Jedi uses the Force... the more likely she will get wounded in combat. This seems to somehow contradict the way Jedi are portrayed in the movies. On the other hand, Jedi do gain the largest Vitality scores in the game.
Playtest: In play we have found that this means a beginning first level jedi won't use the Force very often, if at all. This is because after using one ability, most Jedi are then tapped of vitality and will most likely spend the rest of the combat trying to avoid being hit rather than getting into a fight.
Ultimately this is where game balance comes into play. Without the vitality rules for jedi - no one would want to play any other class. This rule allows the game to be more balanced - something that consistently comes into focus through the course of the book.
Much of the combat rules are based around miniatures. Due to the tactical nature of the d20 system, there is still attention to miniatures as a method of following the complexities of combat. Of course the game is still very playable without them - but I do think that certain elements of the combat rules would suffer from this.
Playtest: Craig prefers the use of miniatures, and I must confess that not only has it allowed us to gain a much clearer view of what is happening in any given combat... it has also added to the entire feel of the game. We use the figures from the Star Wars Duels boardgame, which helps us keep the Star Wars flavour.
Essentially these follow the same core rules as personal combat. The rules again are very tactical, and rely on the use of miniatures for a more complete picture. Again, it is possible to run without miniatures, but the additional tactical maneuvers and detailed combat possible through their use makes it worthwhile using them.
The corebook details all the permutations of vehicle combat and movement in the one chapter. From vehicle statistics to their use in a conflict.
Playtest: Many may argue that miniatures combat slows everything down. In actual play - given that only two people in the group had a strong initial knowledge of d20 - we have found all the combat rules to be on par with White Wolf combat rules when it comes to actual play. Also, given that there are an abundance of Star Wars toys and figures - it is easy to use them without losing the immersive feel of roleplaying.
Being a key part of the Star Wars universe, Spaceships follow the same basic rules as Vehicles. Interestingly, the book repeats these rules in the Spaceships chapter; something I commend. It means that rather than flicking back and forth through the book, everything is easy to find in the one chapter.
There is more discussion on the issues of space travel, and a fantastic two page map of the Star Wars galaxy. Rules are provided for navigation and star warp travel.
Playtest: We found these rules added to the gaming experience. It wasn't simply a case of just rolling dice - we need to look at how to chart out our course to Ryloth, the Twi'lek's homeworld. This was fun namely because the characters sat in the ship debating on the best routes to get there.
In combat, the rules are clear and pretty straightforward with a variety of combat maneuvers suggested. There are also rules for how to use other characters during a space battle.
Playtest: We had an epic battle where four of the characters were on a space station battling a Dark Jedi and her minions while the Duros was in a space battle with a fighter ace. The fact that the rules are standardised meant that we were cutting back and forth between battles due to the initiative structure - making for a very dramatic and exciting combat.
With the table split into a map of the space station and a map of space around the station, it proved to be very cinematic in play. Definitely a highlight of our campaign to date, and certainly memorable for all the right reasons.
GM's, NPCs and Experience
Much of the GM's Section details how to plan a Star Wars campaign and how to deal with particular rules. I found this section to be mostly useful. The only issue I have is the experience system. It essentially splits scenarios into either simple, challenging or extreme.
The problem I have that arises is that with the given system, character advancement is agonisingly slow. What this means is that either the GM needs to pick a level and accept that it is pretty much the level of play that the game will always stay at, or be prepared to play for a very very long time.
Ultimately there should have been more thought put into using experience to handle the speed of development. For a game that is very cinematic, development needs to be quick at the beginning and eventually reach a plateau. For gritty realism, then it needs to be slower. There isn't enough provided to allow for both. Considering that the game system is fairly flexible, this should have also been flexible as well. As it is, the GM will need to make the decisions for herself.
Despite this, the rest of the GM's section is well written. Also provided are a plethora of pregenerated NPCs to handle most levels of challenge and even rules for creating your own Star Wars monsters. Very handy.
This is a bit of a mystery to me. Why is it that an element so key to the Star Wars genre is added almost as an afterthought?
The droids rules at the back of the book are fairly straight forward for the most part. But when it comes to droid PCs the rules become a little confusing. Droid "heroes" are taken from template droids with levels added. What this chapter needed was more space, and rules on creating new droids. Something still lacking in the gameline. While the rules are workable, they do take a little getting used to.
Overall there is very little that I would consider bad about this game. The droid rules could have used a little more detail and clarification - providing a boxed text section on how to make droid PCs isn't really sufficient. Personally, I feel an attempt should have been made to work out droids in a manner similar to aliens. Select them as races and add their various specialties to that. As it is, they are something between a race, a template and a class.
Also, when one considers the game's focus on achieving balance, the experience system seems somewhat under represented. Star Wars is big flashy action, and at times I feel that the designers were too scared to go far enough in some respects.
Certain elements of Jedi and Force users don't seem to meet up to what is seen in the movies. There is also the distinct lack of the Force Push skill, and some Force skills have unusually high Dark Side Penalties. In fact the Dark Side rules in general seem a little too harsh at times - often taking the fun out of playing a force user. I can understand the rationale, but in some cases it seems a little too restrictive.
Yet despite these complaints, they are not as regular as it may first appear. Overall the game plays out faithfully to the movies. Dramatic, exciting and well paced. Combat is rarely a slow thing, and is usually fast and fun.
I do think that overall, game balance is achieved. No particular class stands out as too strong, and there are a good mix of prestige classes for advanced heroes.
I can't recommend this game enough. Over the last six months of play I have found it to be entertaining and faithful - in the most part - to the Star Wars "feel." Moreso than the WEG line. It takes the best elements of the d6 setting and adds a much more dramatic and exciting treatment of the d20 mechanics to provide a definitive roleplaying game.
Should I buy this game? If you are a fan of Star Wars? Yes. If you want a tightly executed well designed game system for space opera - yes. Star Wars Revised showcases the strengths of the d20 system and its faults are quite minor in regards to actual game play.