Monday, November 15, 2010

Why NOT Just Play D6 Star Wars

Despite a decided lack of posts the last few days, there’s a subject that’s been on my mind quite a bit. Enough that I’ve ended up having conversations about it (or at least mentioned it) with 3 to 4 people. Yes, it’s all about Star Wars, my usual obsession. Those uninterested in the subject matter…sorry. I’ll be blogging more about White Plume Mountain later.

The subject I want to expound on is “D6 Star Wars – Why I Hate Thee.” Of course, I don’t actually hate D6 Star Wars…it’s hard to hate the thing that revitalized an entire franchise and touched off the commercial explosion of books, film, comics, etc. What, you don’t believe me? You must not have been around back in the pre-Prequel, pre-Timothy Zahn, pre-Dark Horse days. D6 Star Wars was the biggest collection of Star Wars “codification” and “canonization” on the market, and helped fuel and inspire all the rest. Yes, at base we all have Lucas to thank for Star Wars (and for what it’s worth, criticizing GL is kind of like criticizing Gygax for any number of imagined slights…fact is, we wouldn’t have Star Wars at all without Lucas, or D&D without EGG, and what a much sadder world this would be). But West End Games helped rebuild and rekindle interest in the franchise…or at least, they kept the flame of interest alive until Lucas got back in the Star Wars game and opened it up into its next commercial phase, the “expanded universe.”

At least, that’s how I see it…and as a guy who pretended to be Luke Skywalker or Han Solo on the playground loooong before I ever picked up a D&D book, I can say West End Games did a more than admirable job converting the films to an RPG using their D6 system.

However, that doesn’t mean I don’t have real and severe issues that preclude me from ever playing D6 Star Wars.

And no, I’m not just talking about cheesy pastiche, scripted dialogue, or a skill system that makes me exceptionally cranky. Yes, D6 has all those barriers in the way to me liking it, but I might be willing to look past those…or at least work around them…if the game (both the 1st and 2nd editions) didn’t have the same unforgivable flaw: an advancement system that’s inconsistent with the films.

Now briefly, let me explain my position on “advancement systems” in role-playing games. I do NOT think it is necessary to include advancement mechanics in ALL role-playing games. An advancement system (whereby a character develops into a more effective vehicle for player interaction with the game world) is NOT a requirement of having a fun/enjoyable role-playing experience. A lot of RPG game designers get stuck in this idea that character development needs to be a large or central part of game design…because otherwise, without measurable “achievement,” players are just spinning their imaginary wheels, “playing pretend.”

What utter bullshit. All we are doing is “playing pretend” when we sit down to play an RPG. We are having the same kind of fun we did as kids at recess, albeit with a few more rules. I’ve said it before: playing RPGs is NOT curing cancer, or fighting poverty, or getting more socially conscious politicians elected to office. YES, playing RPGs has VALUE: exercising the mind, stimulating the imagination, promoting social interaction with others. But caring whether your character is 14th level or raising your skill percentage in “sword attack/parry” is an EMPTY goal in the long run.

But JB, you’ve said that there is exceptional value to playing long-term D&D campaigns! If getting one’s character to 5th or 15th or 25th level is an “empty goal” [because, for example, one can always create or pre-gen high level characters for both campaigns and one-off adventures…like we did with White Plume Mountain], then why do you expound on the “goodness” of playing long-term? Why would you bother to put out something like the “B/X Companion” if you didn’t want people to play B/X up to level 30?

Ah…I see my point about long-term play may have been unclear in the past. The “goodness” of long-term play isn’t the advancement/increase of a character’s power, or the opening of “new content” (and by the way, much of the reason for the writing of the B/X Companion was to provide new content for a specific form of play; i.e. “high level type”). The GOODNESS of long-term play comes in seeing the development of characters over time in the imaginary game world…the relationships they build (with each other and the campaign’s NPCs), the impact they have, the legends they write. In other words, the stories (or “yarns” as R.E. Howard might have said) that come about from the on-going adventures of a heroic persona in a fantasy world.

You don’t need to start at level 1 and go to 36 (or 14 or 20 or whatever the maximum “achievement” level is). And if all you’re interested in doing is collecting XP/gold, or check marks next to your skills, maybe you should be playing a different game. Like the stock market.

Having said all that…and just to reiterate, my point is simply that ADVANCEMENT SYSTEMS ARE NOT OBLIGATORY TO AN RPG (there are plenty of other “reward systems” that can be used to make a game enjoyable)…having said THAT, let me now say that in SOME genres or types of RPG, an advancement system, while not necessary, is certainly desirable AND true to the genre the game represents.

[and let me just note, I’m using the word “genre” as an expedient term; I understand it is a poor word and may end up causing some confusion]

Star Wars is one game that cries out for an advancement system and a method of character development.

Why? Because that’s what the movies are about! The protagonist starts out as a shmuck and grows up to be a badass (if still kind of a shmuck). Whether you’re looking at the original trilogy or the prequels, the Jedi (at least) are constantly comparing themselves to each other and looking at their own relative power levels, which grow and develop over time with experience.

Though even non-Jedi grow and develop during the films…certainly in the “extended universe” (see Princess Leia becoming a Jedi, as well as Amidala and, yes, Jar Jar Binks). If any RPG based on a specific IP is begging for game mechanics that model “advancement,” Star Wars is it. Compared to other serial fiction (for example, Firefly/Serenity or Michael Moorcock’s Elric) SW is probably the BEST example of heroic development over time.

Which is why D6 Star Wars is soooooo Goddamn frustrating: its development system is terrible and glacially slow…in direct contrast to its own cinematic example! If one looks at Luke Skywalker’s stat blocks between episodes…or even from the beginning of Episode IV to the climactic battle at the end…one can see the character advancing/developing a LOT faster than player characters in the game. And the game designer’s justification for that? Well, YOU aren’t Luke Skywalker.

POW. That’s me, punching the game designer in the mouth.

Why the hell do you think I’m playing a Star Wars RPG in the first place? Because I WANT to be Luke Skywalker. Or Han Solo. Or Princess Leia. Or Obi-Wan Kenobi. Or whoever! Don’t tell me I don’t get to be The Hero of the Rebellion…or of the Clone Wars for that matter. Why do I (or my players if I am the GM) have to play 2nd fiddle to the movie characters? To preserve the films’ integrity?

Or was the designer just too lazy to design an advancement scheme consistent with the rate of advancement displayed in the films?

Regardless, it chaps my hide.

So THAT (plus the excessive skill system) is the major reason why I find the D6 system completely un-satisfactory for my purposes (my “purpose” being “a Star Wars RPG that allows me to recreate the films and the types of adventure/development found in the films”). D6 can go fish up a tree.

Not that WotC and D20 is any better, of course (I hate D20 as a Star Wars vehicle…even the exemplary Saga edition…even more than D6), but it is at least a BIT more consistent with the films. Just excessively complicated and non-cinematic.

Recently, I picked up MERP, a game with a level-based advancement scheme that peaked at level 10 and it got me thinking: how many levels does one really need in a game, anyway? After all, there are other ways to instill granularity besides having dozens of levels. Why does Yoda need to be level 20? Why not level 8 or 9?

Anway, some folks may be getting tired of this conversation (or the subject matter in general), but it’s something I keep getting drawn back into…I’m about 99% sure my B/X-based space opera game will be the next project completed by Yours Truly. Why? Because I see similar patterns with my first book, the B/X Companion:

1) Obsession-compulsion for the subject matter (such that I keep returning to it).
2) Complete dissatisfaction with others’ prior attempts at the material.

I tend to be stubborn and egotistical (ask my wife), but I also tend to be lazy (again…ask my wife). If there’s anything that can keep me motivated to finish a project, it’s the two things I list here.

Okay, end Star Wars discussion (for today, anyway).
; )


  1. I'm missing something here, but if the advancement system is your only problem with it, why not change that system? It can't be that difficult to come up with a more suitable system.

  2. If your ire for D6 and D20 Star Wars is what is fueling your B/X Space Opera project, then by all means, IRE AWAY!

    (Looking forward to it!)

  3. "Why do I (or my players if I am the GM) have to play 2nd fiddle to the movie characters? To preserve the films’ integrity?"

    You have in 2 brilliant sentences summed up why I love the old republic setting and absolutely despise settings tied into the movie series. "Ultimately anything you do is futile because you're 2nd fiddle and X happens in the film."

    More KotOR please.

  4. The movies are the highlights of their careers. Supposed to be three years between IV and V, and one year between V and VI. Plenty of time for a multi-year rpg campaign.

    I'd play some D6 Star Wars.

    One thing I like about Savage Worlds is that it has a narrower power band. You don't go from killed-by-a-sword-thrust to demigod, it's more like Young Indiana Jones to regular Indiana Jones.

  5. Dude, stick with your ire! I would LOVE to see a B/X based space opera game come to fruition!

  6. Can't you just increase the experience doled out per session by some multiple, or cut the experience needed to raise skills, etc. by some multiple? I'm all for a good blog rant, but this seems like a relatively easy fix. (And I do have a copy of d6 Star Wars on the shelf)

    My grip with d6 Star Wars (also easily fixed) was the chance for a Jedi to hit himself with is own goddamn light saber. Even Luke at his schmuckiest never did that...

  7. @ Ryan: Mmmm...I'm not sure it IS relatively easy. I suppose I'll have to go back and re-read the damn thing, but it appears to me that the game is set up a particular way to be a "balanced" (by whatever standard was set) space game.

    I have little interest in balance. I have an interest in the films.

  8. I am a D6 Fanatic- specifically Star Wars D6. That having been said, I don't think the system is perfect (what system is?)- and a lot of the points JB (and some of the other commenters here) made are valid.

    As far as advancement goes, I've never had a problem with it being glacial- especially if you use the upper end of the per-adventure experience scale presented. Just like other game systems, it depends upon the GM to decide how quickly a group advances. For instance, in my campaign (which went during the original movie timeline), by the time my guys reached Return of the Jedi, they were pretty bad ass.

    I wholly agree that the statistice presented for some of the Feature characters were entirely bogus, however- especially for Luke and Leia, who were VERY young (and just starting their careers). My answer to this was simply to re-do the stats as I saw fit and to allow my own starting characters to have beginning skills of a similar level.

    As far as gaming within a setting where 'Everything is already set and nothing you do has any impact', well, I don't agree with that. My players enjoyed occasionally crossing over into the storyline of the movie- rubbing shoulders with the feature characters. But they had their OWN paths to adventure in which they accomplished a whole lot of their own- even saving the galaxy a few times- and even saving the Feature characters at least once. If all your GM is doing is having you toddle along in the 'shadows of giants', then that is the GM's problem, not the game system.

    All that being said, I would be VERY interested to see what a B/X Star Wars system would look like. JB has always come across to me as a guy who 'gets it' regarding the Star Wars setting and I'd love to see what he works up.

  9. I recently ended a mini Star Wars campaign using Savage Rules for a rule set the West End books for background and adventures. I definitely share your pain with the horrible pastiche stuff and cheesy scripts used in the adventures. I would also throw in the unbelievable railroading your expected to do to the PCs.

    As far as canon goes, I'm sure my game would tick off a few people. I'm an original unedited trilogy purist - no EU or prequels in my Star Wars. As a matter of fact, the events of Empire and Jedi were moot as well. The campaign started two weeks after the destruction of the death star. The PCs were allowed to do whatever they wanted without worry for messing up the movies. Like you said, why bother if the PCs have to play second fiddle to movie characters. I pretty much followed the same rule when I ran a Hyborian campaign. Conan didn't exist.

  10. @ rolo: thanks for the vote of confidence. For the sake of not getting sued, it will be more of a space opera game than Star Wars, but it should be fully adaptable to an SW campaign of ANY era.

    @ arcadyn: I think "disappearing" the original characters is a totally valid way to play Star Wars...and one of the more desirable ways. Hell, I just hope the players can find SOME way to stop Darth Vader!
    ; )

  11. It was not oversight or poor design; they even explained directly in the 1st Edition Rules Companion that players were subject to different advancement rules than Luke and Leia, and things were not permitted to come as easily to them. So WHY did they make this decision?

    Hint: it's the same reason they ran the movie characters' stats literally dozens of times in different books each costing a minimum of 15 and maximum of 30 late-80s-to-mid-90s dollars.

    Because, when gathering feedback from First Edition, they learned that a disturbingly high percentage of their players (and I mean overwhelmingly high, such that they had no choice but to consider them the primary market for the line) never created characters. They simply played as Luke, Han, Leia, etc., and recreated moments from the films, or lesser, similar moments, perhaps by breezing through published adventures designed for characters with 1/10th the skill dice of any of the Heroes of Yavin.

    Sad but true. Anyway, that's a silly reason not to play the game. Says right up front in the rulebook you should change or ignore any rules you don't want, so if you can't stand to play the game without your PC hero being better than Luke Skywalker (which, frankly, I find pitiable), you can just make advancement as easy as you like—with their blessing!