RPG Game Design for the Fun of it

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What is Star Wars?

Posted by Chubby Funster on November 17th, 2011 at 10:42 pm

For a while, I have felt that none of the Star Wars RPG systems that exist really capture the essence of Star Wars. Despite being branded Star Wars, I felt like they weren’t any more applicable to Star Wars than GURPs was. No element of the design really spoke to what I feel is the Star War experience.

I should clarify here that what I feel is the Star Wars experience is the original Star Wars trilogy.

I know that it is a source of contention and I don’t want to get into a Originals vs Prequels debate in the comments. But I have my reasons and I want to lay them out. I feel that the Prequels are so overloaded with material, light, sound, stuff, etc. that they lack the dramatic tension of the originals. And as I describe what elements of that drama I am trying to capture with this method, it is going to become pretty clear what exactly I am talking about here.

The aspects of Star Wars that I want to capture:

1. Dramatic Tension: There are many times in the original films where the audience is placed into a kind of extreme anticipatory mode. Something big is going to happen. When combat occurs, someone is in serious danger. In order to care about those characters, there needs to be few of them. When 50 Jedi fight 2000 battle droids, there is no tension. Just a visual extravaganza. You can’t care about an individual in that kind of mass melee. But when Darth Vader turns on his lightsaber and steps out of the shadows to face Luke, there is tension. Normal round-by-round combat does not encapsulate this. It transforms combat into a sideshow game. A tactical experience. I don’t want to do that and I will be abandoning that.

2. Active inner conflict: The characters need to struggle with their own desires in a serious way. They need to be tempted to cast their ideals aside and take the “quick and easy path”.  Choices are hard. Do I stay on Dagobah and become a better Jedi or go to face Vader and potentially get killed, but save my friends? What the character WANTS to do should be in conflict with what they SHOULD be doing. They should be staying on the moisture farm, they should be getting a better deal on travel but they need a smuggler, they should be trying to get off the Death Star instead of rescuing the princess, they should be trying to live instead of letting Darth Vader kill them, they should be running away to survive instead of flying towards a giant space station of doom, etc. But they don’t. In the prequels, despite having this conflict, Anakin and ObiWan continually give in to the bad behavior. They let things slide, they fuck up, they do it wrong. Now I know the stories are about a series of mistakes, but maybe stories about mistakes… kinda suck? Someone who continually fails to live up to their own morality isn’t a hero. They are an enabler of evil. And stories about how people just kinda let evil happen are not fun. In my opinion.

3. Mobile action-oriented characters: The characters are central actors, not sitting around waiting for something else to happen, they take action because they are propelled forward. Defend the princess from random assassins that could strike at any time is not a heroic mission, it is guard duty and doesn’t seriously challenge the characters.  Aside from the beginning of ROTJ, characters in the original trilogy are mostly on the move. In the prequels they are constantly hiding and avoiding things. Very different dynamic. Active characters are forced to make choices to accomplish their goals. Choices are made FOR passive characters as the action is brought to them.

So how to do this?

I have developed a cluster of RPG mechanics that work together to create the above effects. I think.

But that is the subject of tomorrow night’s post. I am tired. But I have my notes here and I will deliver my answer tomorrow.

5 Responses to What is Star Wars?



  2. I think this post is missing a great deal.

    You state that “none of the SW RPG systems really capture the essence of SW”, but your examples — Dramatic Tension, Active Inner Conflict, and Mobile Action-Oriented Characters — are all elements I’ve not only witnessed in the two SW versions I’ve played, but the games focused on it.

    In terms of SWs I’ve played, I’ve played the old WEG’s D6 SW (Revised Edition) which I still think does a bang up job of representing life in a galaxy far, far away — and I’ve also played Gary M. Sarli’s SAGA edition, which to me offers some of the most depth in character development possible.

    And that’s really what you talking about here; character development. Also, how conflict moves a story forward, but that still all ties in to character development.

    I can only guess that you haven’t invested enough time in playing either of those versions of SW, or when you did, the GM did a terrible job of running the campaign.

    I can’t personally speak for the d20 version, as I skipped that period of gaming.

    Hopefully you’ll have an opportunity to play a well-run SW game one day; I’m sorry you haven’t had that experience personally, because my own experiences are some of the best games I’ve played in.

    • I have played in games that have come close, but it hasn’t been the system that did it. It has been the GM.

      The D6 system is no more about Star Wars than Traveller or Star Trek or any other universe. It has a dark side point system bolted on, that’s it. that’s my point. There is nothing uniquely Star Wars about those systems.

    • Ha ha…just noticed I wrote “Gary M. Sarli’s SAGA edition” instead of WotC. You can tell how fried my brain has been lately. :)

      I’ve decided to follow-up on the latest post about Star Wars…hope you don’t mind the transition, but I wanted to keep up as new details were released!

  3. I think it will be interesting to see how you encapsulate this.

    I’ve played (well, GMed) the WEG d6 SW game system. I’ve played the original D20 version. Both had things I thought were really well done. And things that weren’t.

    The WEG system had some great source material. The books included great images and background and “fluff” that helped me GM those games better than I could have otherwise. It also emphasized drama and pacing. The Director (instead of GM) was encouraged to start the game in the middle of a fight — as all the original movies did, so there was no slow build-up.

    The D20 system had a good fatigue / HP model. I liked how it had core classes that progressed to more fine-tuned specialist classes.

    But you’re right that most of those systems used a highly tactical combat system that, like just about every RPG I’ve ever played or GMed, stops all plot and dramatic tension until the dice-rolling combat scene is done. My wife HATES D&D for this very reason: there’s no drama. There’s just hacking and slashing until one side fails.

    So I’m eager to see how you tackle this. Oh, and I wanna see how you manage space combat. Most engines fail utterly at that, in my experience.