Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Star Wars Saga Edition Review (Episode I)

We interrupt Silly Template Week to bring you actual content: Thoughts on the Star Wars Saga Edition.

For those of you who don't know, this is the new Star Wars rpg that is based off of streamlined d20 rules.

Back in the late eighties, I played a bit of the West End Games d6 version of Star Wars. The books were cool (they still are. I still have them. I love the mock-up ads in them.), and the rules were pretty simple. There were bits of them that didn't really feel like Star Wars to me, though. Skills were very specific. You could be a great droid repairperson without being competent as a starship mechanic. You could be an ace fighter pilot, but not be able to use a landspeeder. That might make sense in a realistic game, but it didn't work for me in the Star Wars universe.

When the d20 rules for Star Wars came out, I wasn't interested. Star Wars and d20 didn't seem like a good mix to me. The d20 system seemed too tactical and number-crunchy to get the fast-and-loose feel of Star Wars pulp.

Now, Wizards has released the Saga Edition, which cuts down significantly on just those aspects of d20 that I don't think fit Star Wars well. The game isn't perfect, but it looks like the best Star Wars rpg yet.

So, what did they do?

Levels: Similar to base d20, with a few exceptions. Every four levels you can increase two abilities by one each instead of one ability by one. Each level you gain a certain number of Force Points. These work a lot like Action Points (from Eberron, d20 Modern, and other places) for most characters, but are used by force sensitive characters to fuel their force powers. Force points don't carry over from level to level.
Good: It works. Leveling up actually fits many peoples conceptions of Star Wars.
Bad: The force point mechanic requires leveling up to occur with a particular frequency, which might not jibe with some people's expectations and playing styles. Also, there are no rules for playing past 20th level - and force points don't really replenish except for leveling up, so 20th level characters will run out of force points without some sort of house rule.

Races: There are a bunch of races: wookies, rodians, quarren, twi'leks, bothans, ewoks, gungans, and others.
Good: There are no level adjustments. The races all seem fairly well-balanced.
Bad: Few of the races are really presented in a way that makes them compelling as PCs. There aren't any rules for making up your own race. There are a few races that are missing, like Tusken Raiders and Jawas.

Classes: There are five base classes - Jedi, Noble, Scoundrel, Scout, and Soldier. There are two 'layers' of prestige classes, one which you can qualify for at 7th level and one which you can qualify for at 12th level. Prestige classes include things like Jedi Knight, Jedi Master, Ace Pilot, Bounty Hunter, and Crime Lord. Multiclassing is expected and does not appear to be penalized. Classes have talent trees, like in d20 Modern. Every level in a class gives you either a talent from a talent tree or a bonus feat from a class-specific list.
Good: The classes cover the basic archetypes that you need. The prestige class implementation looks solid. The classes seem reasonably balanced (with one exception). The Jedi doesn't overshadow everyone else.
Bad: The Scoundrel class is a bit weak compared to the others. They probably ought to have received an extra trained skill. The classes may be a bit too heavy on niche protection. Most character concepts will require some multiclassing.

Skills: There are, I think, 18 skills (not counting multiple knowledge skills). The skills are fairly broad for the most part. The skill list now includes Initiative. Skills in SWSE don't have ranks like they do in normal d20. Instead, your skill roll is 1/2 your character level + ability modifier. You also have a list of class skills - you can pick a certain number of these (depending on your class, you get between 2 and 6 + your Int bonus) as trained skills. You gain a +5 bonus on rolls with trained skills. Also, there are certain skills (or uses of skills) that cannot be used unless the skill is trained. Skill focus (a feat) adds another +5 and can only be taken with trained skills.
Good: The skills are (mostly) nicely broad. Balance, Escape Artist, and Tumble have been grouped into Acrobatics. Bluff, Disguise, and Forgery are now Deception. Hide, Move Silently, and Sleight of Hand are now Stealth. The skills themselves have a wide variety of uses. Use the Force is a skill (and is well-done as one), but it requires a feat (Force Sensitivity) to use. If your Intelligence is raised by leveling, you get additional trained skills retroactively.
Bad: For some reason; Climb, Jump, and Swim are still separate skills (why not Athletics?). (I also think Ride ought to have been grouped in with Survival, but I can deal with that.) The way in which trained skills are acquired is somewhat limiting. As far as I can tell, you simply can't take a non-class skill as trained - so if you want to play, for example, an acrobatic character you need to take levels in either Jedi or Scoundrel. Also, having Skill Focus in a skill means that you have at least a +10 in it. At relatively low levels, it is a simple matter to have a +14 to a skill roll, which makes DC 15 tasks automatic and DC 20 tasks fairly trivial. A lot of tasks are DC 15 or 20.

to be continued...

No comments: