[Cross-posted, originally posted on Canadian Geek]
My roleplaying experience has pretty much revolved exclusively around Star Wars. My first game was the West End Games 2nd Edition Star Wars RPG, which I played for many years. When I joined the SWRPGA, the d6 rules were still going strong. When WotC published the d20 Version of the Star Wars rules, the club pushed back quite severely, myself included. In hindsight, it was rebellion for the sake of rebellion rather than a real aversion to the new take on the rules. Eventually, the senior members of the club realized that we had to embrace the new rules so that the new players didn’t feel outcast. As for myself, I didn’t pick up the d20 rulebook for many years, as I tried to focus more on storytelling than gameplay mechanics. Eventually, I found a copy of the first edition rulebook at a used bookstore, so I decided to purchase it. By that time, the Revised Core Rules had been out for a while, but the changes weren’t so significant for the mechanics I wanted to utilize, so I didn’t care that much. Shortly thereafter, I burned myself out trying to run the SWRPGA – and I wanted to spread my wings, so to speak. I started a new site, d6d20, originally dedicated to ‘anything but Star Wars’ and passed the torch at the SWRPGA. Fast forward a year or so – and the Star Wars Saga Edition was announced. I didn’t give it much thought, but as the release neared, I became excited. Coupled with a new-rekindling of my love of Star Wars, I bought the book. I was very impressed with the rules – and I lifted the ‘ban’ on Star Wars at d6d20, which has resulted in a number of Saga games popping up.
While I had a bit of mechanical play-through with my group of players in the Dawn of Defiance campaign provided by Wizards. I also had the opportunity to run a scenario of Saga at the EGA’s RPGCon. This gave me a few more insights into the system to write a better review of the game (it also gave me another experience – Running a Con Game).
The one main goal of the Star Wars Saga Edition is to capture the cinematic nature of the source material. Ultimately, I think they’ve succeeded.
Character creation is quicker than your standard d20 game. The first stages are the same – attribute generation, species selection, class selection. There are no surprises in the attributes they are still Str, Dex, Con, Int, Wis, and Cha. The core book contains a good smattering of the species from the Star Wars universe (Humans, Bothans, Cereans, Twi’leks, Gungans and Zabraks, to name a few), each have their own advantages and disadvantages, and I think that the species are fairly balanced against each other. Once you have your attributes and species selected, you move onto class selection. In Saga, there are five base classes: Jedi, Noble, Scoundrel, Scout, and Soldier. As with other d20 systems, your class gives you particular abilities and access to certain feats. Your class also determines your class bonuses to a new somewhat concept – your defenses.
In Saga, instead of Saving Throws, you have static ‘defenses’ that improve as you level (by one point every other level). The three defenses are familiar terms: Reflex, Fortitude, and Willpower. Doing away with saving throws lowers the amount of rolling done by the players and speeds combat up significantly. As an example – when attacking, the attacker rolls his attack. If his attack roll (including bonuses) is equal to or higher than the defender’s defense (in this case, Reflex), the attack succeeds, then damage is rolled. An interesting side effect of the way your defenses improve is that armor becomes less helpful, as you have the option to either wear armor and take its benefits or take one half your character’s level. As what I would consider to be common armor at best gives you a +4 to your Reflex Defense (and no bonus to your others), you would quickly want to shed your armor. I feel this mechanic (intended or unintended) really helps drive the ‘feel’ of the Star Wars Universe. When you watch the movies, the heroes don’t wear armor, so it makes sense that the game mimics that.
Another addition to the classes are talent trees, an idea obviously taken from d20 Modern. It is a welcome addition and gives players an opportunity to specialize their characters in their class. Having certain talents also ends up being a requirements for some of the Prestige classes in later levels. Also, characters are granted feats. Feats are the same as they were before – no comments to be made there.
The truly interesting concept in Saga is the reformed skills. Not only has the number of skills been reduced (albiet, only slightly), but the way they are used has changed too. Even if untrained, your skills improve over time, by one half your character level (rounded down) – which means, no clumsy skill rank system. Each class is given a number of class skills which they can train in (each class is given a particular number of skills they can train in initally, plus their INT modifier). Training in a skill grants you a +5 bonus to all checks relating to that skill. Some uses of a skill require training, but the basic uses do not. In addition, you can train in new skills through the Skill Training Feat, or improve your Training in a Skill with the Skill Focus Feat (which grants another +5 bonus). As one of my online group member’s put it: “you’re unskilled, skilled or have a masters degree”. I haven’t played with the system at higher levels, so we’ll see how having everyone with a +5 (or more) to their skills just because they have 10 levels goes when I get there. Overall, I like the mechanic.
Force powers seem to work well. As a Jedi, you are able to train and get a set of powers, which you can use – once per training in that power in a situation. If you rest for a minute, you regain all spent powers. Its a simple mechanic (it involves the Use the Force skill) and in my experience is alot easier to administer than the d6 counterpart.
The only other additions to combat is the condition track and damage threshold. The damage threshold is a number that is generally your FORT defense (plus any modifiers) that represents how many points of damage you can take before moving down the condition track. So, if you take damage equal to your damage threshold and you still have hitpoints, you move down the track by one square. The condition track has 5 steps (-1, -2, -5, -10, helpless) and represents how wounded you are. As you move down, the greater the penalties you incur when performing tasks. It works nicely and like everything else, its pretty simple.
A problem we encountered at the Con game was that according to the rules, you cannot grapple an opponent without having certain feats, and in general, the unarmed combat rules were lacking. We worked around that in our game as a quick fix, but if I was running something longer term, I’m going to need to develop some new house rules.
Online, there has been a number of debates about the rule mechanics of kneeling. The rules seem to contemplate only two stances: Prone and Not-Prone. I felt this did not fit the game well, so I made a ruling that basically halves the bonuses (and penalties) for being Prone. I think this fixes that ‘hole’ to my satisfaction.
Another comment I had regarding the book was its lack of vehicles. From my understanding, the Starships of the Galaxy sourcebok is almost entirely stats for starships, but the land vehicle area still is lacking somewhat. A fellow Con-goer, commented on the lack of ‘fluff’ or setting in the book. Personally, I felt that most people picking up the game were already quite familiar with the Star Wars Universe, so it wasn’t required. The information the book does provide covers all 6 movies and provides a bit of information regarding some major Expanded Universe happenings. I see his point, but for my style of GMing, what is there is good enough.
I think that Saga is an excellent addition to my library and anyone with an interest in any former edition of the Star Wars RPG would find this system easy to learn. The rules are set up for fast-paced action (assuming you set up your encounters correctly), with a low amount of dice rolling, and a real sense of character advancement.