Sunday, April 19, 2009

Star Wars Saga Edition campaign

My kids, especially the older two (girls) do a lot of "lets pretend" roleplaying inspired by favorite books and movies. They wanted a different sort of game. I was thinking something Harry Potter-ish or something Star Wars. Star Wars won, by popular acclaim and my preference. Besides, I've been looking for an excuse to try the rules and I've been positively dying for an excuse to get my wife to drop coin on RPG material (she actually did the legwork and made the purchase for me, to my amazement). Rules in hand, source material only a google away, lets have some fun with the kids.

First, the rules. Being familier with other iterations of d20 and Star Wars and having read some lukewarm reviews online, I was honestly expecting Saga Edition to be kiddie-fied: beneath my highbrow RPG standards, but perfect for my kids. I cut my RPG teeth on D&D when it came in a little box and Greyhawk was still cool. I was 11 or 12; girls mature differently so surely 10-11yo girls should be fine for Star Wars SE. I still think of "SE" as "Streamlined Edition" not "Saga Edition" and its not a bad way of looking at it. It fits, but isn't really derogatory. Having fewer details to keep track of is good for everyone and nice for me as a GM since I can do more "on the fly" roleplay encounters.

If you're familiar with d20 anything (including many Star Wars computer games), you're at home with Star Wars SE. You get your core 6 stats, bonuses and penalties come at the same levels you're familiar with. The d20 is king. You roll a d20, add modifiers, and compare to a target number which may be fixed based on difficulty of a task or may be something rolled in opposition to your number (high roller plus modifiers "wins"). My kids have all played Star Wars Miniatures and Star Wars Starship Battles so they all grasp the d20 concept readily. Now d20 is rolled for more than just initiative and attacking. It is also rolled for skills.

Previous versions of Star Wars RPG had characters earning "points" towards skills with each level, distributing their improvements in various ways. Now life is much simpler. Like D&D4, you're either Trained or you're NOT. Anyone can use any skill (few exceptions), being Trained gives a bonus and having Skill Focus in the skill gives a bigger bonus. Not Trained? Skill is probably still usable, but without the bonus(es) you'll rarely roll well enough to do anything complicated. I honestly think that this is totally appropriate for a "heroic" sort of Space Opera genre such as Star Wars where the PCs are supposed to be Heroes and Better Than Normal. So sure, everyone can pilot a starfighter, ride a bantha, fly a speeder bike, juggle lightsabers, and do zippy things with computers; those with TRAINED SKILL simply do all of the above better, faster, more reliably, and can do so under combat conditions. Now instead of being able to pile on all of your skill improvement and focus your character in a specific way, all of your skills generically and simultaneously improve with every level. Thus, higher level characters will always be able to do everything better than a lower level character AND have more opportunities to earn Skill Focus and get even better. At moderate character levels there is little need for "specialist NPCs" who help with some specific task because 1) there are only ~20 skills to worry about in the first place, and 2) the higher level character is better at everything.

The skill formula: level/2 + STAT modifier + 5 (trained) + 5 (focus). A lvl10 character has had +4pt for STAT advances (+2pt every 4 levels), so an UNtrained lvl10 Hero will be at least as good at any skill as a TRAINED lvl1 Non-Hero.

The end product of this is that if you allow your PCs to interact with and "use" higher-level NPCs for help (a Jedi Master, for example), that higher level character will be able to do things he's good at like a Demi-God and things he's not good at better than the PCs who are "experts" and can easily dominate a game.

This lack of attention to detail would be anathema to a campaign-hardened Rolemaster/Spacemaster player but "just works" in the context of Star Wars.

The previous edition of Star Wars RPG (Revised Edition), had this concept of Vitality Points. I loved it. If you took a big enough hit, it might kill you outright regardless of how many HP (Hit Points, you n00b) you had. But the statistical math of this worked out such that if you primarily gain XP by combat encounters, AND the difficulty of your encounters scales with your character level such that you have the requisite 13.4 encounters-per-level, you have a ~13% chance of spontaneous death every level. So now there is this Damage Threshold, same as Vitality Points, and if a hit exceeds your DT your "condition track" deteriorates. You take negatives on all your rolls the worse it gets, until you're KO'd or killed. Lots of things can deteriorate your "condition track" (mental attacks, electricity, poison, torture, etc) so it is possible to get KO'd before you lose all your HP. Like D&D4, you get healing surges in the middle of a fight. SW-SE calls it "second wind", and you spontaneously rest and heal in the middle of a fight. Or pop a Red Bull, get slapped with some Jedi Healing (aka "Vitality Transfer"), regenerate, or just be so darned tough that you can spontaneously heal multiple times. None of this (usually) improves the condition track, so you'll still be fatigued even if you have lots of HP.

I still prefer Vitality Points. I think the concept does a better job of movie visuals like Leia being dropped by a single shot from a blaster, but not dying. Or any of the various people who get arms/legs/both chopped off and walk/crawl/climb away.

Overall, I do like SW-SE. I like how starting character classes are streamlined into 5: Jedi, Noble, Scoundrel, Soldier, and Scout. Everything else is a Prestige Class. The differentiation between Consular and Guardian Jedi is made in Talents, which are available equally to any Jedi (plus many more). I didn't like how D&D4 simplified Magic Users into "guys with a special ability to cast X spell", but the concept works well for Star Wars. It fits the genre: you pause, meditate, recharge, and back use of the powers you just expended. Just like Qui-Gonn pausing in the middle of his fight with Darth Maul. But you never hear about Jedi having to sleep to recharge their connection with the Force or memorize "spells".

So we started a bit of a campaign with the game rules.

Saga Edition is supposed to be written to be suitable for any era of the Star Wars Saga. The three main eras that the game rules refer to are: Rise to Empire (everything before the culmination of Episode III), Empire (Episode III through culmination of Episode VI), and New Republic (post-movies). I further subdivide this timeline into Old Republic (anything further back than ~100 years before the Clone Wars), Fall of the Republic (the last ~50 years of the Republic), Clone War (the timeline between Episode II & III), Empire (until about Episode IV), Rebellion (IV-VI), and New Republic. I have mixed personal reviews of a lot of the post-Empire novelizations, so I don't care to go beyond that even though it is all "canon". What the kids wanted was to be "Jedi". What we wanted was an age when Jedi aren't refugees, outcasts, or criminals. I wanted a campaign that didn't focus entirely on combat, war, and battles. That left me working with either Fall of Republic, or New Republic (esp New Jedi Order). Either could work; my joy of political machinations tipped the scales to Fall of Republic.

I set the campaign we have now in 945 ARR (55 BBY), or 23 years prior to the Battle of Naboo (Episode I) and 33 years prior to the Battle of Geonosis (Episode II). Anakin Skywalker has not yet been born. Obi-Wan is a toddler. Qui-Gonn is a Master, but has a different Padawan (Obi-Wan becomes his 3rd). Darth Plagueis is still alive, Sidious is his Apprentice, and Maul has not even been born yet; Palpatine has not been elected Senator yet. Mace Windu just completed his Trials. Many of the "supporting characters" of Episode II and III are young or have not been born yet. Jango Fett has not become Mandalore yet. Thats the era.

What I did was to "cast" the PCs (my 3 kids old enough to play plus my wife) as Younglings or Padawans, but without Masters (and thus no lightsabers, ain't I a stinker). They've all been, for whatever reason, passed over and are almost old enough to get kicked out and sent to the Agri Corps with other "failed" wanna-be Padawans. But not quite. They have one last hope, that of being noticed by a Jedi Knight or Master.

It is 945, the year of the 5th Galactic Games. A lot of other big events happen in the Expanded Universe timeline this year, so I've conveniently woven a bunch of them together into a single storyline. The Trade Federation is at this moment vying in the Senate for a Free Trade Franchise. They're a huge sponsor of the Galactic Games. They're vying for contract to build a new spaceport at Theed on Naboo. Instead of putting the Galactic Games ("Olympics") on a single planet, I've decided to distribute different event types to different planets so all the games can be simultaneous and simulcast on HoloNet to the viewers back home on Coruscant. The aquatics events are on Naboo, hosted by the local government and sponsored by your friends the Trade Federation. Much of this arranged behind the scenes by an up-and-coming able bureaucrat and administrator, a Senate Prefect (senior aide to Senator Vidar Kim of Naboo) named ... Palpatine.

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