Many gamers have enjoyed role-playing in a galaxy far, far away over the years. As one of the most expansive and engaging settings ever conceived, Star Wars has drawn in creative types like artsy moths to a flame of inspiration. As such, three major pen and paper game releases for the sci-fi titan have graced our tables over the decades. Fantasy Flight currently owns the license for the official table-top game line, but it has not always been so. Both West End Games and Wizard of the Coast have produced completely independent game systems in the past, and each has their own fans and supporters. What follows is my effort to compare and contrast them so you can decide which one will work best for your group.
1 . West End Games (d6)
This first incarnation of Star Wars tabletop is still held-up by many fans to be superior to later iterations. Supplement after supplement expanded the game to herculean proportions over its 12-year lifespan (over 70 supplements, not including adventure journals). It’s received a full second edition, followed by a Revised, and Expanded version of that edition. Any GM will find more content with this line than they could ever hope to utilize within even a decade-long campaign. What’s more, the game system proves simple to run and fun to experience. It uses d6s for all actions and damage rolls, with the player adding the results and attempting to reach a target number set by the GM. Character and Force points can be spent for even more dice to throw. One die is considered wild and explodes on a 6 (take the 6 and roll again), or drops out on a 1 (remove the die entirely). Results can be impressive, leading to some awesome heroics. What’s more, the combat system allows for player agency while keeping things simple. Starship combat functions similarly, with some alterations to make if feel genuine and fast-paced. If I could levy one critique, it’s that the game doesn’t have much that sets it apart from similar game systems. This is no fault of the creators, mind you. West End’s game arrived pretty early to the table-top scene, and this game doesn’t have any direct predecessors to build upon.
The simple system and massive library of expansions West End produced have led to some fantastic user-generated content as well. For instance, I will be playtesting a fan-submitted upgrade to the game and writing an article about it soon. I’m very excited for some high-level play in the expanded universe!
2 . Wizards of the Coast (d20)
What might be most appealing about the second Star Wars table-top game is its familiarity. If you’ve ever played D&D or Bioware’s Knights of the Old Republic, then you’ll be ready to jump into the d20 version of Star Wars. Wizards of the Coast produced books for this title for about 10 years (from 2000 – 2010). The game plays a lot like 3rd edition (and 3.5) Dungeons and Dragons or d20 Modern, with some noticeable alterations to better fit the setting. Roll d20 for all actions against a difficulty set by the GM, adding modifiers where appropriate from Feats, Force Powers, Skills, and other features. In combat, you test against a character’s Will, Fortitude, or Reflex defenses. If you’re able to get your hands on the Saga edition, largely viewed as a superior revision, you can even enjoy the redesigned armor system, which adds to your avoidance stat (Reflex, typically). Characters are free to multiclass without restriction or penalty, so two characters are rarely the same. Combat is fluid and manageable, though can become a bit bland after a while due to players’ options being relatively limited. Nevertheless, it provides an easy entry point into the Star Wars galaxy for D&D and KOTOR veterans, though I would encourage GMs to consider turning to the other two entries in this article after spending some time with this one.
3 . Fantasy Flight (d?)
The newest Star Wars table-top games form a trilogy: Edge of the Empire, Age of Rebellion, and Force and Destiny. Each uses a unique proprietary dice system (hence the question mark above) that is quite easy to get a hang of. I’ve had repeated success introducing the new system at conventions, and I’ve had a blast playing. Each of the three aforementioned core books provides details on playing different types of characters. The first allows players to create outsiders, bounty hunters, smugglers, and the like. The second helps players create soldiers of differing stripes that belong to the Rebellion. Finally, Force and Destiny lets you make (you guessed it) Jedi. These books can be mixed and matched with ease, allowing for diverse and complex narratives forged through creative systems. Specifically, when you roll the dice you receive two types of results: successes/failures and advantages/disadvantages. Achieving success on a roll does what you’d expect: you hit the Rancor with your blaster, fix the hyperdrive, or program the coordinates into the navicomputer. Rolling advantages or their counterpart, which you can accrue independent of success or failure, provides a secondary effect that can benefit or hinder your allies, create or exploit environmental effects, or cause critical effects in combat. As with the other systems, players can use Force points to influence their dice pools or the narrative, but when they do so the point flips so that the GM can use that point later in the story to cause complications for the players. What follows is an intriguing push and pull of the story that creates exciting encounters, all within a genuinely fun system.
Some flaws that bear mentioning, however, are the way shields are portrayed, acting as damage avoidance rather than ablative wounds, and the gimmicky nature of the special dice required for gameplay. You can use regular polyhedral dice, but you’ll be required to consult a chart every time you roll to determine the results. This can turn a lot of players off to the system, especially role-playing veterans.
Hopefully you now have a bit more insight into the three major Star Wars table-top experiences that are floating around out there. As always, please share your experiences and your opinions with me, and let me know which system is your favorite and why. Cheers!
David Horwitz is a gamer and freelance writer with an obsession for exploring new forms of leisure. If you’re looking for an inquisitive mind and a deft hand, or just want to chat about gaming, contact him at www.davidhorwitzwrites.com/contact
I am become death, destroyer of worlds.