May 17th, 2011

A new Star Wars RPG - suggestions:

Okay, so:

Mongoose Publishing recently got "beaten to the punch" as they put it by a company that has the license to write a Star Wars RPG but so far hasn't yet. And as someone who still has some ideas for campaigns, I wanna put in my two cents in terms of what I'd like to see. And I want to start by making a statement I am sure will be argued with, but I stand by it:

So far, no game company has ever done Star Wars - as a paper and pencil RPG - right.

Everyone who's gamed for more than 15 minutes knows that paper and pencil RPG's live on a spectrum. On one end of that spectrum are games with as few rules as possible and on the other are games that are a tactician's dream. Indeed I am thinking that in the next ten years, the hobby will split altogether into two distinctive sub-hobbies - one more oriented to RPG's as a storytelling enterprise with a small but efficient ruleset designed for maximum flexibility and the other heavily reliant on rules and codicils to provide a painstaking look (and control) of the actual mechanics of a story's conclusion.

I believe that in order for a Star Wars RPG to succeed, it must live mostly in the middle, but slightly more to the story-oriented side.

In my opinion - and I think that the repeated failed attempts to maintain interest in a Star Wars RPG over the long term bears out my opinion - everyone who's tried so far has failed to put the game there and keep it there...mostly in the middle, but slightly to the story-oriented side.

West End Games was very story oriented but its ruleset was a little wonky - well, more than a little actually. And when we applied Star Wars as a concept to D20 games from the Big Ol' Wiz, we got beautiful games that tried really hard to capture Star Wars but always ended up bogged down in the numbers. Even Saga Edition - which IMO was the closest anyone has come to the "right" Star Wars Game idea had some serious trouble once you started crunching the numbers. You ended up with such interesting nonsense as AT-AT's who indeed COULD be taken down by Snowspeeder weapons, Characters able to withstand more damage than Imperial TiE fighters and the terrible scourge of the "Always Do's".

And now someone is trying again. So, lemme offer some suggestions - and a few of these may seem picayune but I found they were important.

1) Nevermind classes or types or roles. Let that go. Don't rule the players into the Han Solo, Ben Kenobi, Princess Leia roles, but make them possible if that's what the players want. When you start getting into classes and class strictures, you eventually end up leaving people out and marginalizing their concepts.

2) Do yourselves a favor...make a rule that says body armor doesn't protect you from beans. No, I mean it. Body Armor is good for intimidation, identification of belonging to a group, hiding your true identity and hanging all sorts of cool gadgets on, but it doesn't protect you. This is highly counter-intuitive and will make the hard core Clone Troopers/Storm Troopers/Mandalorian Bouny Hunters howl their heads off, but it will go a loooong way towards maintaining the atmosphere of Star Wars, where frankly, at NO time in the movies do you see body armor helping anyone stay alive.

3) Make vehicle combat as simple as you can without insulting people's intelligence. Keep vehicle combat narrative AND introduce the idea that characters being hit with vehicular weapons is a bad idea. While you're at it, don't be afraid to simply say "some weapons cannot hurt this vehicle - period". That includes character scale weapons - no matter how good the character is.

4) And this one is likely going to be the most controversial - create TWO games. One for Jedi and another for everyone else. Much the way that Fantasy Flight's Deathwatch is on a different level from Dark Heresy. Far far FAR too often RPG's lump the Jedi in with everyone else and they are NOT everyone else. They're not on the same level. They are super-heroes with super-powers and a super-weapon. "But" says ye "there ARE stories where Jedi and non-Jedi interact, how do we handle those?" Yes, there are such stories, indeed they are numerous in the canon, so what you do is you create a group of rules to "step up" the non-Jedi so that their power levels are comparable. Again, much as they do with Dark Heresy and Deathwatch. What you DON'T do is hobble the Jedi, introduce rules that exhaust them after they use their powers or pretend that they're not more powerful and just chuck-em into the mix of starting characters. They don't belong there.

5) HEAVILY expand the scope of possible campaigns in terms of the Star Wars timelines. Go all the way back...back beyond the days of the Republic and all the way forward - to the time of the Legacy (or whatever that comic book series is called...escapes me now...). Stop focusing exclusively on that relatively time sliver of 40 years or so that these games traditionally focus on. And don't worry about angering the fans. Believe me, most people who want Rebellion era (and especially Rebellion era) material already have a wealth of it to turn to. Be bold! Be innovative! Create a game where you can play in any era without having to pick up the obligatory - almost created by rote - X era or Y era supplement.

Creating a Star Wars RPG has become a by rote matter. It has become a thing that's highly predictable and most fans of Star Wars RPG's (particularly the older ones) can predict like Nostradamus. Change it up! Do it different! Or I fear when it appears this new game will be met with yawns and scratches...brief interest and then a return to sleep mode.