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Star Wars roleplaying - doing it the right way!

May the 4th be with you! This is an excellent day to speak about what makes a great Star Wars roleplaying game. Star Wars as a whole is epic, larger-than-life, heroic, pulpy action, exciting, it has large fleet battles, chases, dogfights, hutts, scoundrels, smugglers, droids, bounty hunters, a large number of aliens, huge beasts and wondrous planets and other locations, usually quite extreme in some way. One big part in the movies are also personal growth stories.

A character's view to space mass combat

Star Wars is also Jedi, Sith, Lightsabers and the Force, and they are elements that easily dominate the universe - and in a roleplaying game, risk of stealing the spotlight in a game, unless everyone's a force user. While this is great basis for an action-centered roleplaying game, Jedi as characters are easily a bit dull.

Star Wars mass combat in space

The stormtroopers have breached the perimeter. I repeat, ...My Savage Star Wars campaign is going to begin soon. Looking back to my previous Star Wars campaign and a other short-lived attempts gives a good idea what went wrong with them. While Star Wars can be run as a traditional rpg, I believe you can get much more out of it if you make them more movies/tv -like. Discovering Savage Worlds with it's various mechanics for different types of action and it's easiness for GM are also a step towards a better game. Btw, the one everyone keeps talking about is John Brown's version and it is hard to find - you can find it here (PDF link).

Optimal setup

My campaign will start with player characters being high-stading crew member of Nebulon B frigate Cavalier, which is running on special mission, from diplomacy, strike-and-fade attacks, temporary planetary defense, part of larger military operations, and many other types of missions, many of which require leaving the ship behind. Just like Star Trek and Babylon 5, this requires adventurous command crew, itching to take care of matters personally, and wouldn't work without captain having a capable and reliable Second in Command. I'm also providing a number of npc's, who are promoted from Extra to Henchman status should a player character want to leave his character onboard the ship and play another character.

In addition to Star Trek and Babylon 5, the game will have influence from Clone Wars -series, the original trilogy (of course!) and Galactica too. One of the characters is a former Imperial ground assault strategist, currently working as a diplomat for the Republic, and will be leading diplomatic negotiations on many undecided worlds. A high moff of the Empire, who controls imperial forces on the sector, is a cunning and merciless man who will surely put the Republic in tight spots.

As a nebulon B has docking bay for a flight of fighters (and modified to carry a shuttle and an unofficial small freighter too plus two Longproble reconnaissance y-wings), this setup allows also dogfights and fighter chases, incognito missions and pretty much anything you can come up with. The next task is to finish the characters, and encourage players to make them interesting - not a bulk Star Trek -like crew. The more shaped characters are Captain (Kel Dor, with a death wish to get a revenge), Commando leader (Twi-lek ex-bounty hunter with authority issues) and a slightly paranoid ex-imperial mentioned above. One of the characters is likely to be an arrogant and vengeful fighter ace, another a rogue squadron member and one possibly a technical officer of the ship.

One more thing: Why start with characters already being in high position, instead of getting there? I have already seen way more campaign starts than advanced play. It also starts with unique interesting backgrounds, kind of which are very difficult to build during the game. And if you think about tv-shows like Star Trek or Galactica, characters are already right on the spot where the hottest action is - which the players will love! This may leave personal growth story -aspect a bit on the background compared what it would be in a game where players start at nobodies, but this is aspect I'm willing to leave on the background, if it doesn't come forward naturally.

Space combats - how to do them right?

There are several different types of space combats that can happen in the games - especially if the characters have access to larger ships, for example because of being part of Rebel or some other faction's military.

Fleeing the planetChases: This is most straightforward. You can use the rules version you like the most, I used to be a great fan of the Explorer's edition version but have come to see that while it can be used with miniatures, that kind of chases may start to drag with multiple participaints. I even did my own variation of it, which works better (it has simplifications for ranges, obstacles, initiative etc) but I've come to conclusion that I may have to try the Deluxe version after all. It has ups and downs and nothing is sure, unlike EE chases sometimes.

Classic Star Wars dogfight!Dogfights are suggested to be done with chase rules too, but this is something I find easier to do with custom vehicle rules - I think the current vehicle rules are a bit too complicated for that. The rules I'm using are very close to character combat rules, with some tweaked rules for movement, facing and other things.

Fleet battles: Mass combat. A leader leads his fleet, fighter pilots take part in front lines and other characters may participate by using various skills to boost the combat - using skills, sensors, repair and resolving special situations. I wrote an article about this earlier, you might find hints how to handle mass combat in space, especially if you want to use miniatures. Miniatures can be used to create tactical view of the situation if you want.

A character's view to space mass combatSmall fleet battles: If a combat happens mainly with two capital ships, if both participants' firepower are relatively similar, the battle can be run as a competitive dramatic task, giving penalties to weaker participant. If the other participant is considerably stronger, it win unless the crew of the weaker vehicle can come up with a trick to tip the balance. Well-described special environment  can make things more interesting. Also, fighters are dangerous weapons, and skilled pilots can use their crafts for great effect - this can change results of a battle.



Damage is a tricky aspect in Star Wars games. Blaster bolts take stormtroopers out pretty much always, even if they have armor. To handle this, I've created a rule that high-tech weapons (blasters, vibro blades etc) cause an automatic wound to an extra that would be shaken by that attack.

What comes to heroes in Star Wars, heroes use no armor and keep going even if they've taken some beating before. But the trickiest part is to make things exciting, while more or less ensuring heroes's survival and encouraging them to heroic action. What come to risk, I believe that a risk of a single wound or level of fatigue and disadvantageous location - possibly a story hook - are enough risk for crazy stunts. So, an extra, falling or other non-wild card damage can't deal more than 1 wound unless gm warns about it beforehand, and this should generally be because of player stupidity (such as declaring his character is walking to a destroyer's engine exhaust flow) or critical failure.

It's important to let players know that if they jump on the passing speeder they can't get more than 1 wound from falling if they don't roll critical failure. So, the players know there's risk, but it isn't huge. Furthermore, I'm using a rule that a critical failure is a critical failure - if you reroll it with a benny, you fumble in some other way. This may cause interesting complications, for example character being able to grab an antennae of the speeder, dropping his pistol and hanging there until a successful strength check. 

What come to unarmored heroes, I'm giving a benny to each unarmored hero after a non-trivial action scene, armored heroes may gain them if they spend edge(s). I'm still not decided about whether to use benny cap (starting bennies) for this, or whether to handle case of excess bennies by throwing the players with a bit harder encounter. I'm also allowing the heroes to make an unmodified healing check by spending a benny when they catch breath after an action scene.

Ground mass combat - including At-At's and At-St's of course!

Other game features

Many games are trying to emulate various features of movies, tv -series, books and comics by various means. Cortex allows players to do story editing, how big depending on how much resource points the player is willing to invest. Savage Worlds has adventure cards, and Daring tales of Space lanes has some special rules for contacts and other things. They all have good and bad sides, but which works best?

The most freeform of these is Cortex, which has potential to work best, if the players are story -driven and imaginative. Savage Worlds adventure cards may force players to decisions they wouldn't otherwise choose, making the game richer; sometimes they might choose a combat option over a story option though, which is a kind of boring option. DToSL makes quite sure that a contact is used in almost any session, and nothing prevents from using adventure cards with DToSP for more variety though.

I decided to go with a bit different option. My choice is to give characters some extra background points to be used on knowledge and language skills, and/or Connections -edges. I'm allowing story edits with bennies; This should give characters quite an amount of interesting options to do during the game. You should also note that Connections -edge may need some tweaking in an a setting where players move around a lot; The edge should also be able to represent multiple local contacts in various locations.


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