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Sass & Sorcery

Wherein I Read Star Wars D6, Second Edition

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As a kid practically raised on Star Wars (and other pop culture media experiences, often produced by George Lucas), this game was a staple of my formative roleplaying years. During the short window of sixth- and eighth-grades, my gaming lexicon consisted of Palladium's games, Rules Cyclopedia D&D, and Star Wars. Pretty much in that order, too. I have changed in the two decades since first picking up a bucket of dice and pretending to be a Jedi-in-training, so I figured I'd take a second look at some of the things that hooked me into the hobby.

First up is the production value of the book, itself. This is the basic Second Edition, not the later Revised & Expanded: 167 pages of rules, advice and setting information, plus 8 pages of pre-made character templates and a full character sheet in the back. The layout is clean, readable, with lots of sidebars and examples of play. Occasionally, a line or two from the films will head up a section to prime the reader.

ART: The artwork is largely black and white, with some color inserts - stills from the movies, other artwork, in-game advertisements, etc. While there are some pieces in which characters (often Imperials) are not engaging in high-action antics, overall I'd say the artwork sets the tone for what your characters *do* in the Star Wars universe. And what characters do, by and large, is get into chases and fights and other assorted misadventures, and use blasters shoot things in the face. Much like in the films.

RULES: The basic rules are simple enough, and don't require the funny-looking dice that D&D used. Roll one or more common six-siders, total and compare to a target number, chart or another roll. This was my first experience with a unified resolution mechanic, though it wasn't the last (certainly, I prefer a single mechanic to the alternatives nowadays).

Complicating this is the Wild Die, one die in the pool, which had equal chance of causing a Complication (something doesn't go your way) as exploding and getting better totals. Complications aren't failure, they're just not perfect success - the *task* gets accomplished, but the *conflict* just got more interesting (sort of a proto-conflict resolution mechanic embedded in a task resolution system). Fantastic idea, though I'm not sure about this version's implementation; it seems likely to come up more often than I'd want. (The Revised & Expanded edition addressed this somewhat, but by the time it was published, I was largely not playing Star Wars anymore.)

Character creation is quick and straightforward, defaulting to the template method - grab a template, distribute skill dice, start the opening crawl. Custom characters, those not featured as an existing template, aren't much more involved - distribute attribute dice, pick a skill list, and hooray, you've created a new template. What's neat about the chargen section is it puts a bold section on Communication before nearly anything else: communication with the GM, which is standard stuff, but also with the other players, which is pretty novel, going by the games we played. I don't remember D&D having this, but I never owned the books, so I can't say it definitively wasn't there; Palladium's games, on the other hand, lacked it. I also really like the game puts the burden of group cohesion on the players as part of chargen, with the "Connection to Other Characters" entry on the sheet.

Overall, the mechanics are fairly decent, but they have some warts. There are ten times more charts than I want in a game, covering things from grenade scatter (meh) to lifting heavy things (meh) to equipment cost and availability (bleh). Sure, there are vastly less-elegant ways of handling these things, but really, there only needs to be two charts: the difficulty chart and the damage chart, both preferably also on the character sheet itself. Beyond that, there are only two major turn-offs in the rules.

The first is the character point mechanic. Character points are part benny, in that you can spend them for bonus exploding dice, and part experience. Yep, you use the same resource as a benny and spendable experience. Yep, I realize that you're supposed to get loads of the stuff at the end of a session. I still don't care for them being the same resource. Maybe if they only became experience points after you spend them as bennies, it'd be more tolerable (but then you'd have a third resource to track, after character points and Force points, which goes back into the 'ugh' category :P).

The other big one, and this might get some heat from some of you enthusiasts out there, is the Force. As written, there are three Force skills - Control, Sense, Alter - and a fair amount of powers for each skill, which is two skills and a fair amount of powers too many. (Or maybe three skills. I'm undecided on if there should even be a separate skill for Force-y goodness.) Sure, splitting the Force into three skills helps limit power levels, but with my exposure to FATE and other indie systems, I'm not so sure this is needed. There are ways of making sure a character doesn't dominate play, without using experience sinks to reign in power levels.

(Shadowrun, consider yourself to be on notice, as well. Poor Rayne would like to do something with her karma other than learning slightly more powerful versions of spells she already knows. Er, sorry. Back to Star Wars~)

I could say something about having a damage and resistance roll after the attack roll being a third wart, but it's ridiculously easy just to use the margin of success from attack-minus-defense on the damage chart, and ignore the separate damage roll altogether. Unlike the other two, which require a bit more tinkering, thus time and effort - especially the Force subsystems. Of course, this makes equipment choices pretty close to irrelevant. Which is how I like it ^_^

ADVICE: The vast majority of advice in this book is geared towards the GM, including what the GM's role is and how to use the mechanics to further the pursuit of fun. Pretty standard stuff, and a lot of it is still used in my games today. What's missing, I feel, is advice for the players - how to play Star Wars in a roleplaying context, what behaviors are conducive to the experience, what behaviors aren't. That sort of stuff. There is a general overview of roleplaying chapter, covering stuff applicable to both players and GMs alike, but it's not the same as having a section on being a player and not just playing a character.

To be fair, not many of the games I have on my shelf do this, old and new alike, so it's not a failing of Star Wars d6. Merely an observation based on what the adult Sascha wants to see from games, rather than what the preteen Sascha found. Addressing the player's role at the table, outside of the character, is very desirable, even if the reader's not actually a new gamer. (Arguably, *especially* if the reader's not a new gamer.)

VERDICT: Despite some lingering issues modern me has with the game, Star Wars d6 Second Edition's still solid. It's got some interesting concept mechanics (like a conflict-resolution scope bit in Complications) and a few good years of memories. I'd easily play it again, but I'm not sure I'd run it; gutting the major nit I've picked (the Force) and replacing it with a satisfactory subsystem seems like too much work, when there's a perfectly good FATE sitting there, begging to be run. Still, it's Star Wars and will always have a place on my shelf.

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  1. Narayan's Avatar
    Nice writeup, I remember introducing D6 Star Wars to my group during my freshmen year. It was a great success that led to many good memories.

    I dunno how it was for you, but the West End Star Wars played a lot like 2nd edition D&D. There was just enough rules to make it easy to improvise as you went along.

    For example, during the first adventure I GM'd in D6 Star Wars, my friend Damon decided to hurl his light-saber at a Lambda Shuttle as it was lifting off a landing pad. There weren't any rules for throwing light-sabers so it was just a judgment call.

    His light-saber didn't have a dead-mans switch so the blade would stay lit and with enough spin it could theoretically chop its way through the durasteel wing and cause it to crash. Great moment.

    My only real gripe about D6 Star Wars was the whole "space-unit" thing for starship combat. Nowhere in the book did it actually say how big a space-unit was supposed to be, which made the whole thing kinda hard to figure out and visualize.
    Updated 03-08-2011 at 11:55 PM by Narayan
  2. Sascha's Avatar
    For us, D&D was way different from Star Wars. We played it more like the original Final Fantasy (the SNES game hadn't quite hit the States) - fight monsters for treasure - than any of the literary sources or Tolkien (which I never read, and still haven't). Star Wars was Star Wars: the films set the expectation for crazy stunts and heroics.
  3. Narayan's Avatar
    Thats a good point, Star Wars is something more gamers are familiar with. Playing the D6 system actually got me into reading Star Wars books. I even won a drafting design competition with some custom schematics for a light freighter and a starfighter I made.