Digging into the original Star Wars RPG

Many folks have written roleplaying games for the Star Wars universe. I can think of four different officially-licensed games with different systems: West End Games (d6), Revised Core Rulebook, Saga Edition, and the various Fantasy Flight games. Others, like Scum & Villainy, file off the serial numbers so they don’t get in legal trouble regarding trademarks and such, or (if they’re small and independent enough) not even bother with that.

I’ve played a fair few of both sorts, but surprisingly not the original one from WEG, even despite having collected several of their sourcebooks over the years. Most of these sourcebook tend to have lots of fictional information and general lore with relatively limited mechanical bits (like game stats for various NPCs, ships, and other equipment), which made them useful in other roleplaying endeavors (RIP Star Wars Galaxies).

I’d been thinking about trying to do for Star Wars d6 what Cthulhu Dark did for Call of Cthulhu, or what Into the Odd did for Cypher: break it down to a minimal approach without needing to spend too much time thinking about game rules. As I was looking at this, I started to wonder if it doesn’t need anything more than GM attitude. Here’s my first set of thoughts about the game.

Attributes

Star Wars d6 has the following attributes:

  • Strength
  • Dexterity
  • Perception
  • Knowledge
  • Mechanical
  • Technical

The game defines attributes as “things you’re born with — innate abilities.” Clearly this is incorrect, as nobody’s born with those last three! In fact, the first edition says “you can’t improve your attributes during the game, just as you can’t make yourself smarter or taller”. At a minimum, of course we can improve “education and knowledge of facts and data”. The attributes Mechanical and Technical both claim refer to “instinctive” abilities to use and understand things. Eh, this is a game with space wizards, so I should probably let it go. But I needed to note it down, at least.

In any case, each of these attributes is used to figure out how well a character does something (or not). Skills — “abilities you learn, instead of ones you’re born with” — get added to those, so a skill like Astrogation effectively provides a bonus to Mechanical checks for plotting hyperspace jumps just like Dodge does for Dexterity.

At first I got mildly annoyed that it has Knowledge and Perception – as core attributes, no less! But then I see Perception skills are almost entirely not about Perception: Bargain, Command, Con (Deception), Forgery, Gambling, Hide, Investigation, Persuasion, Search, and Sneak. Resisting Force powers also uses Perception. So it’s really poorly named; while it includes a few things that most of us would consider “rolling Perception”, like Search, it really could have been called Interaction or something to that effect. So it bothers me a little less.

Similarly, I don’t like having a Knowledge statistic in games, especially if it’s quantified. “What does my character know about X?” usually gets answered “I dunno, what should they know based on their background?” To the extent this is just writing that down in advance, I guess it’s okay. But then I noticed that the game also has Mechanical and Technical – that’s three attributes for something that many games would lump together.

Eventually I came to a realization. This design is making a statement about the world. It’s saying that not only can a character be type who “drinks and knows things”, but you can have multiple ones that know different things in very different ways. It also tells the GM that there should be challenges for knowing and building and fixing things so that characters can have heroic moments, getting the hyperdrive online just as the TIE fighters are closing in or shutting down all the trash compactors on the detention level before your allies get a lot thinner.

I frequently remind myself that there’s nothing like actually playing a game to evaluate it and determine what sorts of tinkering it could use. This definitely feels like one of those times, so I’ll do that very soon here.

3 thoughts on “Digging into the original Star Wars RPG

  1. Really wish Perception had been called something else. Interaction or Social works nicely! Likewise the three Knowledge attributes (Knowledge, Mechanical, & Technical) were always a bit funky but it does play pretty nicely into the information design of the game which is that everything you need to know for play rules-wise (as a player) is on your character sheet. I’ve played a bit of Open D6, Mini-Six, & Mythic D6 but I always come back to Star Wars D6 as the best iteration. (I’m quite fond of the Introductory Adventure Game edition as it has the simplicity of 1E with some of the few bits of streamline play of 2E.) Will keep follow along to see where you take this!

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