In the 1980s and 1990s, I played a lot of Star Wars using West End Games Star Wars Roleplaying Game. Even after Wizards of the Coast and Fantasy Flight came out with their versions I still find myself going back to it from time to time. With the recent Mandalorian television show on Disney+ I’ve been giving some thought to another such game…
I’ve never found my absolutely perfect Star Wars RPG but I do tend to find the West End Games/D6 incarnation works the best for me. In this post, I’m going to write a bit about what I learned in my many years playing the system. I’ve previously done a review of the original, 1987 edition and Stephen has done a walk-through of every edition of the game,
It’s worth noting that over the 10+ year history of the game line there were a number of incarnations of the game. When one version of the game is noteworthy for how it handles something I’ll call it out explicitly, but the various incarnations are broadly compatible with one another.
Probably the biggest selling point for the D6 version of Star Wars is, for me, it’s simplicity. I’ve probably taught more new gamers how to play using it than any other game. At its core, the rules are simple. Your character sheet has a number of ability scores, each with a die rating. When you want to do something that uses that ability score, you roll that many dice, hoping to beat some number. You might have some skills that improve those ability scores. If so, use that number of dice. Things do get a bit more complicated, but it’s always a variation of that. If you want to do a lot of actions at once you can, but you don’t get to roll as many dice as you normally would. Same thing if you’re hurt or wearing heavy armor.
Simplicity is great, but it is not sufficient, I could make a simple game where you flip a coin for every action – heads you succeed, tails you fail. But it probably wouldn’t feel like Star Wars. In my experience, the “dice bucket” system wonderfully captures the feel of Star Wars. Any character can try anything, It’s not particularly realistic that a 10-year old kid who has never flown a fighter could do anything if thrown into the cockpit of one, but it is the sort of thing the setting encourages (such as Anakin in The Phantom Menace). And the rules simulate that perfectly.
So what are some places where one needs to be careful when using Star Wars D6?
First, something to note in the earlier editions: the game was initially quite a bit more dangerous. In all editions, characters have a small number of Force Points (often just one) that can be used to double all of their abilities for a single round for example, if you would normally roll 4 dice for your blaster skill, you would instead roll 8. This is powerful narrative control, but its use must be declared in advance. Starting in the 2nd edition of the game, characters also get Character Points. These are more plentiful, each allowing a single extra die. These provided a lot more narrative fine-tuning. In a game designed to emulate Rogue One, you might want to go without character points, preferring the grittier style of play.
All editions suffered from the “wookiee problem”, where high Strength characters – or well armored characters – were very difficult to harm. This was especially noticeable in the very first edition;
One issue I’ve noted with the game is you tend to roll a lot of dice. Typically a character will roll to hit his foe who will make a parry or dodge roll. Then on a hit, the attacker will make a damage roll, contested by a Strength roll to resist the damage. You might find this is a bit more dice rolling than you’d care to make. I’ve seen a number of game masters house rule the defensive rolls to always be average – assuming a 3 or 3.5 for every D6. Personally, I’ve preferred the system as it is, but I also tend to play with a virtual tabletop which speeds up dice rolling. I do have recollections of the constant counting of dice pool totals when I played on the real tabletop…
The various editions of the game handle movement and vehicles differently. The first edition is a lot more abstract, especially when it comes to starship combat. The second edition embraces a more tactical movement system. Your own tastes may vary on what you prefer. Even when I played with later editions, I tended to keep starship fairly abstract.
Various sourcebooks give stats for characters like Luke Skywalker, Boba Fett, and Darth Vader. Personally, I always felt the D6 game inflated such characters. It’s fairly unlikely you’d be making such characters major characters in a game, but it’s something worth considering if you are using such characters as benchmarks. This is an area of personal preference – others might disagree with my interpretation of the stats.
While keeping background material in mind, it’s worth keeping in mind the game was initially written during a time when there was no “Expanded Universe”. Indeed, in many ways, it introduced the Expanded Universe. The Expanded Universe was de-canonized when Disney acquired Lucasfilm; however much of the original RPG’s influence can still be found in current productions – concepts like Imperial Inquisitors and Interdictors had their origins in the RPG. An adventure for the 1st edition, Strikeforce: Shantipole, became the inspiration for an episode of Star Wars: Rebels (“Wings of the Master”).
Probably the most awkward aspect of the game is its Force rules. In my opinion, they work best when dealing with fairly minor Force users like Luke in A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back. In my experience, the Force rules begin straining as Force-users become more powerful. Such characters are constrained in two ways. First, starting characters tend to have fairly low Force abilities, limiting their effectiveness even at modest tasks. Second, many powers require the use of multiple powers at once (i.e. Control, Sense, and Alter), incurring dice penalties. This does have the desired effect of preventing Force-users from being too powerful at the start but once they cross a certain threshold they become far more likely to succeed at tasks. It could definitely be argued that this is true to the setting. I also found that the Lightsaber Combat Force power, found in the 2nd edition of the game, was rather complicated, requiring a lot of dice rolls and bookkeeping.
The various Wizards of the Coast and Fantasy Flight Games versions of Star Wars allow a lot more fine-tuning of characters – specialized equipment, talents, feats, etc. Personally, I tend to favor the looser rules of the West End Games incarnations, but your own preferences will certainly vary.
Going through my old Star Wars adventures from West End Games, I’m surprised to say that most hold up very well, though if you wanted to keep to the modern “canon” you might find yourself making some tweaks to them. Overall, for a game well over thirty years old, it has aged remarkably well and is still a game I’d place in my “greatest of all time” lists.
I’m curious about others’ experiences with the various incarnations of Star Wars D6. Do you have a favorite edition? What do you like best about it? Do you have any pet peeves about the system and if so, did you add your own house-rules to account for them? I’d love to hear your thoughts, please add them as a reply to this article and let’s keep the conversation going.
~ Dan Stack