Monday, June 24, 2019

Star Wars Saga Edition - Chapters 1-8

Star Wars Saga Edition is an example of one my favorite branches of the rpg taxonomy - d20 renaissance. There are several games on this branch, that took the core D&D 3 rules and modified them for other genres and preferences. And really, I should have probably saved this book until after I reread the original D&D 3rd edition Player's Handbook, but since there's a possibility I might be playing it in the near future, I needed to break sequence and treat myself to a refresher.

The thing I love most about the d20 renaissance (and never mind that I'm the only person who calls it that - it's a thing now) is how incredibly unlikely it was. The biggest company in gaming decided to embrace the internet and release their core rules into the wild, to be used in whatever ways people could imagine. It was a magical time, when ideas flowered and every day seemed like it brought a new innovation. Sure, people complained about "bloat" (a word that has no meaning on this blog, in case you hadn't noticed) and low quality 3rd party supplements, but honestly, that's just the price of being part of a brilliant culture - even the non-elites can participate.

If we're being technical, though SWSE is at the closing chapters of that renaissance. Like True20, it is a mutation of the basic 3rd edition rules, meant to clean up some of its inconsistencies and facilitate a new style of play, but unlike virtually every other d20-family game, it eschewed the open license and the SRD. It could do that because it was a Wizards of the Coast, the authors of the original Open Game License, but the decision was a tragic one. With new editions came the reactionary embrace of a more traditional IP philosophy and the eventual death of the d20 community.

But SWSE is a pretty decent game, so I don't hold that against it. I've played it before, so I know there are a couple of math glitches, but those are easily fixed. And while it doesn't especially feel like Star Wars per se it doesn't not feel like Star Wars. With only minimal reskinning, it would work well for any sort of generic fantasy.

The main innovation of Saga Edition is the way it made classes broader and more versatile, almost to the point of being generic. You pick the Noble class to play any sort of social-focused or leader-type character. Scouts can represent any wilderness or survival archetype. The only class that breaks the pattern is the Jedi. Jedi characters have a much more specific set of abilities that puts them narrowly into the role of Jedi. You could probably get away with playing a Sith using the Jedi class, but any sort of exotic force user or mystical adept is something you'll have to kludge together with some optional feats or house rules.

Saga Edition's main strength is that it's both streamlined and comprehensive. This is not a book that wastes a lot of time getting to the point, nor does it wear out its welcome by over-explaining simple concepts. It's very well-written that way, and could easily serve as a model of economy in rpg design. The classes have a unified progression, getting talents on odd-numbered levels and feats on even numbered levels, making both multiclassing and levelling-up in general super easy. Yet there is enough diversity in what the talents and feats actually do that it's easy to build a wide variety of characters.

The game's biggest weakness is that attacks and defenses scale differently, allowing for characters of wildly divergent effectiveness. That's fixed simply enough with two quick house rules - all characters have a base attack bonus equal to their level, and whenever a skill says it targets a defense, make an attack roll, modified by the skill's key ability, rather than a normal skill check. I'm pretty sure neither of those rules significantly breaks any of the dozens of talents and feats, but even if it does, it's likely to make something overpowered into something that is merely useful.

The back half of the book is going to be much more GM-focused (combat chapter notwithstanding), so I'm looking forward to it. Saga Edition does a fairly good job incorporating the setting flavor into its explanations and examples, but it's no exaggeration to say that the art is doing the bulk of the work in making this feel like a Star Wars game.

Nonetheless, I count Star Wars Saga Edition as one of the jewels of my collection, and the only reason I am not more deeply invested in it is the ridiculous price of the supplements on Amazon.

3 comments:

  1. Did you ever cross paths with one of my personal favorites of the d20 boom, Arcana Unearthed (rereleased as the expanded Arcana Evolved)? I don't see it on your list there, but you might have encountered it regardless.

    -PAS

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    1. I thought I had that one, but looking at my list, apparently I have Unearthed Arcana, which I guess is something different. Might have to look into it.

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    2. Yeah, Unearthed Arcana is the old TSR alternate rules supplement. Arcana Unearthed, etc., is Monte Cook's 3.x variant with attached setting, from after he left WotC.

      -PAS

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