A few weeks back, Lost in Translation looked at adaptations of tabletop RPGs. While there haven’t been many RPGs adapted to other media, the reverse is far more likely. Many popular franchises have been adapted for gaming, from Star Trek to Supernatural. The result is a licensed property created by game designers who are also fans. With The Force Awakens turning into a powerhouse beyond expectations, now is as good a time as any to look at the Star Wars roleplaying games past and present.
Role-playing in an established universe is more than just letting the players take the roles of existing characters. With a setting as vast as the Galaxy Far, Far Away, there’s room for any number of characters, from scruffy rogues to naive farmboys to dashing conmen to dangerous bounty hunters. Adding to the complexity, Jedi and Sith lurk, depending on the era. The goal of the games is to provide an experience that would fit in the Star Wars setting but still giving players the flexibility to play what they want. There have been three published RPGs for /Star Wars/, detailed below.
Star Wars: The Role-Playing Game, West End Games
The first Star Wars RPG, released in 1987, used WEG’s Ghostbusters: The Role-Playing Game‘s core mechanic, modified for the new setting. Determining success or failure was based on rolling a number of six-sided* dice based on the rating of a character’s skill, with a differently coloured die designated the wild die. The wild die could allow for amazing successes or crushing failures, depending on its value. Players could use character points to add dice to the roll. To account for the Force in Star Wars, players also had Force points. Spending a Force point allowed players to double the number of dice they could roll for a skill, allowing feats such as firing a proton torpedo into a two metre exhaust port without the aid of a targeting computer.
Because it was released three years after Return of the Jedi, there was little information about Jedi, beyond that they were rare after the Emperor destroyed the Order. At the time, Star Wars wasn’t the big franchise that it is now. The Expanded Universe consisted of the Han Solo and Lando Calrissian trilogies; Timothy Zahn’s Heir to the Empire would be published in 1991, a year before the RPG’s second edition. Jedi were limited to what was shown on screen and what the WEG writers could extrapolate and get approved by Lucasfilm. However, the more earthier characters, like Han, were supported, with all starships, from starfighters to Star Destroyers, being written up. The Revised and Expanded edition, released in 1996, became the definitive version of the RPG.
The game played fast; the mechanics loose enough to let players swoop through space in a transport modified for smuggling while out running a flight of TIE fighters and maintain the feel of the Galaxy Far, Far Away. WEG’s RPG still has an impact even today; Dave Filoni, showrunner for both CGI-animated series, The Clone Wars and Rebels has stated in commentary that he and his crew have refered to WEG’s Imperial Sourcebook and Star Wars Sourcebook for details on vehicles and droids used in the series.
WEG lost the license in 1999 after having to declare bankruptcy when its parent company, West End Shoes, drained the game publisher to stay afloat. Speculation on the Internet on who would get the license next grew as the prequel movies were announced.
Star Wars Roleplaying Game, Wizards of the Coast
Wizards of the Coast, who also owned Dungeons & Dragons, picked up the license in 2000, a year after The Phantom Menace was released. Wizards used a modified version of the d20 System, as used in D&D 3rd edition. The result was a class-based system that covered not just the original trilogy, like WEG’s game had, but also the prequels and the Expanded Universe. A second edition was released in 2002, a year before D&D 3.5, cleaning up some problematic rules. The Saga edition came out in 2007, streamlining the d20 system more to keep the gameplay flowing.
As mentioned, the d20 System is class-based, meaning that every character falls into one of a number of character classes that define their abilities. Instead of using the D&D classes like Fighter and Wizard, the d20 Star Wars games used classes like Scoundrel, Fringer, and Jedi. The result was playable, but the sweet spot was between levels 7 and 12, where characters had the skills needed to pull off difficult but in-setting plausible stunts without becoming impossible to challenge without throwing a Star Destroyer at them. Thanks to the prequels and the Expanded Universe, Jedi had more options than in WEG’s RPG. Sourcebooks detailed the different eras of the Galaxy Far, Far Away, giving gamemasters (GMs) and players flexibility in play styles.
Wizards let the license lapse in 2010, after not just a large number of detailed sourcebooks but also a miniatures game that could tie into the RPG or be played as a stand-alone.
Edge of the Empire, Age of Rebellion, and Force and Destiny, Fantasy Flight Games
Fantasy Flight Games picked up the Star Wars license with an eye to create both a miniatures and a role-playing game. The first of the RPGs, Edge of the Empire, came out in 2013, followed by Age of Rebellion in 2014 and Force and Destiny in 2015. Each of the games, while using the same mechanics, have a different focus. Edge deals with characters on the edge of polite society; smugglers, bounty hunters, colonists. Rebellion allows for characters in the Rebel Alliance, fighting against the Galactic Empire’s evil. Force focuses on Jedi and other Force-sensitives. The three games are set during the original trilogy, but can be adapted, with work, to other eras.
The FFG games need to use specialty dice marked for use in play. It is possible to use regular dice** and convert the numbers to the special markings, but it is easier with the specialty dice. The dice provide for more than just success and failure; they also add advantages and threats. A failure could come with an advantage and success could come with complications. Scenes from the movies, like Han stepping on a twig when right behind a stormtrooper in Return of the Jedi, can come from the mechanic, ensuring that the feel of the movies is kept.
Each game moves the timeline through the movies. Edge is set shortly after the destruction of the Death Star in A New Hope. Rebellion is set just after the events in The Empire Strikes Back. Force is set after Return of the Jedi. However, players and GMs aren’t limited to those eras. /Force/ can easily be used for a group of Jedi padawans during the prequel era. All three could be used for a campaign set during The Force Awakens. Work would need to be done, such as re-skinning existing vehicles for the new ones seen in the new movie, but the amount of work needed is minimal.
Each of the above games had a different approach to the Galaxy Far, Far Away. While each one had some areas that needed work, overall, the games remained faithful to the source. Players could feel like they were part of Star Wars, which is the most important part of adapting to a game.
* Role-playing games use more regular polyhedrons than just the standard cube dice.
** Regular meaning six-, eight-, and twelve-sided, as used in other games such as D&D.