Sunday, November 13, 2011

WEG Star Wars: What it was, and why you should play it

I am a Star Wars fan. I've read every book based off the original trilogy at least twice. Some of them I've read five or even ten times. I keep the audio books around as well, which I've probably listened to hundreds of times each. At the age of 11, I wrote the editors with omissions I had found in the Star Wars Encyclopedia When I was 12 years old when I attended the midnight showing of The Phantom Menace, and despite how terrible that and Attack of the Clones both were, I was still at the midnight showing for Revenge of the Sith. I cried over the death of Chewbacca, and I cried harder over the death of Anakin Solo. And when Jaina Solo was forced to kill Jacen? That haunted me for days. I still break down crying every time I try to read through that chapter.

Star Wars is my great, lifelong obsession. And "The Star Wars Roleplaying Game" Second Edition published by West End Games is among the greatest tabletop role playing games I've ever encountered. You really don't even need to read the rest of this post. If you don't have it, you need to find it, and buy it, now. Once you have it in your hands, you can read the rest of this post to learn why the choice to make that purchase was the right one.

The entire system is designed to keep game sessions fast paced and exciting. The rules are very simple, the character creation is minimalistic, and any actions which requires a roll are handled with one of two basic systems. If a player is attempting to do something to another player or NPC, the two make opposed dice checks (such as "shoot" and "dodge") and whoever gets the highest succeeds. For any other kind of action, the GM just picks a difficulty number (based of a difficulty chart which GMs should memorize) and asks for a roll. Simply put, that's it. Much as I love Pathfinder's more complex rules, there's something freeing about switching gears and running something with almost no rules at all. To put it in the words of the system's designers:
Keep the Game Moving Quickly. Star Wars is supposed to be exciting. Laser bolts fly fast and furious, starships dodge around asteroids, and speeder bikes race through thick forests at frightening speeds. Keep the game moving as fast as the Star Wars movies!
Even the core rulebook is fast paced. Chapter 1 starts off with a solo adventure where the book plays the role of game master, and the reader takes on the role of a player. It plays out sort of like a 'choose your own adventure' book with dice occasionally thrown into the mix. In whole, the player's portion of the rulebook is sixty six pages long, including the adventure at the beginning. In comparison, the D&D 3.5 Player's Handbook has 317 pages. Pathfinder's core rulebook doesn't get past the player section until page 393! WEG Star Wars is a definitely a game which adheres to the old school role playing philosophy of keeping most of the mechanics away from the players to better simulate the fantasy.

Like Pathfinder, WEG Star Wars characters have six basic attributes; Dexterity, Knowledge, Perception, Strength, Mechanical, and Technical. Each of these has a certain number of six sided dice attached to it during character creation. (WEG Star Wars only uses six sided dice.) For example, a human character gets 18 dice total, and has a minimum of 2 dice and a maximum of 4 dice in each of the six attributes. After filling the minimum requirements, players have 6 dice to spread between their six abilities. Once in play, any action which requires a roll will be associated with one of the six abilities, and the player gets to roll however many dice they allocated for that attribute. For example, hitting something with a blaster requires the ability to aim the blaster accurately, so you would roll your dexterity. If you went ahead and maxed out your dexterity, then you'd be able to roll 4d6 against your opponent's dodge. And if he or she rolls lower than you did, the blaster bolt hits! And given how dangerous combat is treated in this game, there's a good chance getting hit by that blaster bolt killed them.

There's also a skills system for more specific tasks. Each character starts out with 7 dice to apply to skills. So even though you have 4 dice in dexterity, you could put another 2 dice in the Blasters skill, and be able to roll a whopping 6 dice whenever you try to hit somebody. Dice can also be split up. Each die counts as 3 "pips," which is WEG's code for bonuses. Essentially, if you've put 2 skill die into blasters, 3 into medicine, and 1 into starfighter piloting, and can't decide where to put your last die, you can just break it up. Add a +2 to starfighter piloting (making the skill 1d6 + 2) and a +1 to blasters.

All praise aside, there is one thing about West End Games' masterpiece which I really don't like. I can't find anybody to play it. New players curious about the hobby are normally the most interested in playing Dungeons and Dragons. It's probably the only game they've heard of, and it's the one which drew their attention to the hobby in the first place. Others are wary of playing a Star Wars game, either because they don't think they're familiar enough with the mythos to keep up, or because they don't like games based on movies/television/etcetera.

I did manage to play a few sessions of the game once. In the first session, my player (I only had one) managed to steal a ship, which he painted bright orange and christened "Stealth Ship." He was too lazy to hire a crew for it, so I gave him a wookie communications officer. By the second session he had been hired by the rebellion to free some prisoners from an Imperial prison camp. One of them as it turned out, was his psychotic ex girlfriend, who shot him. By the time the second session ended, he had recovered, been chased around the corridors of an abandoned Star Destroyer by the same psychotic ex, and narrowly escaped form said Star Destroyer just before it exploded. We never got to session three, which is sad, because the rebellion was going to commission him to find them a new hiding place "now that the Yavin base has been compromised." I was going to let him re-shape the original trilogy by becoming an incredibly important, off-screen character. It would have been glorious.

Buy the game. You will not regret it. And, once you have it, all you need to do is move to WA state so we can play it together...


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