Star Wars: Roleplaying Game Saga Edition – TTRPG Review

The third official iteration of a Star Wars roleplaying game was “The Saga Edition” by Wizards of the Coast, which had previously produced the “Star Wars Roleplaying Game.”

The game was published from 2007 to 2010. As a precursor to the soon-to-be-released fourth edition of Dungeons & Dragons, it featured some of the rules that would soon polarize the D&D fan base. It did a similar thing to Star Wars RPG fans.

The game had access to two more movies’ worth of material than the previous game, which was working off of Star Wars episodes I, IV, V, and VI. In the intervening time, Episodes II and III came out, completing the prequel trilogy and providing a host of the new canon to harvest for roleplaying.

In the foreword, Christopher Perkins summarizes a key point of the new game. Not only was it a chance to complete the prequels in game form, but it was a vehicle for the company’s Star Wars Miniatures Game. So right there you get how this game will be played. This is not a game that is easy to play in the Theater of the Mind style of combat. It is, instead, meant to use those miniatures on battle maps with rules that support wargaming-style movement and ranges, etc.

The foreword also notes the intent to be especially customizable in character evolution. For better or for worse, the game certainly accomplishes that. Four Soldiers can sure feel quite different by level eight but the trade-off is hyper-specific talents and feats that can sometimes make half a character sheet seem useless in too many situations.

The game is absolutely a “trad” or traditional RPG experience. It uses all the polyhedral dice. It has hit points and attributes and skills. It has a huge chapter on combat and a sprinkling of attention paid to social interactions and travel/exploration.

There are six core attributes of old: strength, dexterity, constitution, intelligence, wisdom, and charisma. It has a host of skills linked to those attributes, including Use the Force as a skill to springboard into the larger concept of Force powers.

And while it has the typical feat mechanic, it also uses talent trees, a precursor to the similar function of the future Fantasy Flight Games version of Star Wars. The main difference is that this WotC-produced edition hands out class-based talents at level increments whereas the FFG game eschews levels for experience points to be spent on the skills and talents themselves. The other difference is that these talents are essentially the same “cost” — so PCs can choose from anything in the current talent tree (or a new tree that’s available to them) as long as they meet any (rarely needed) prerequisites. The complication, to me, is that they do vary wildly in how good they are or in how many situations they’d be useful. In the FFG game, different talents cost different amounts of XP based on how far one advances in a talent tree. In this game, talent might be weak or incredibly strong and be available to a starting character the same as for a level seven character. In the FFG game, the “better” talents felt organically earned. Here, it feels more slapdash, with a player just picking from options here and there and everywhere.

OK, choose a class: Jedi, Noble, Scoundrel, Scout, or Soldier. Each is defined by bonus feats and talents. (This is also another case of the game overloading players with options, leaving them to wade through dozens of often underpowered or at least niche options.) They’re also potential springboards to Prestige Classes, high-level classes that narrow characters’ focuses but require certain skills, talents and feats before one can head into one of them. Since Jedi is the lone class that is truly unique to Star Wars as compared to other settings, here’s a little about how the talents of this class set it apart. Initial Jedi talent trees are Consular, the negotiator; Guardian, the fighter; Sentinel, the enemy of the Dark Side; Light Saber Combat, the, well, the fighter again; and Alter, Control, and Sense talent trees that are available to all Force users. Alter is a bit of a catch-all, while Control is for internal factors and Sense is all about perception. There are also the Dark Side and Light Side trees, which are pretty self-explanatory.

Again, since Jedi is such a unique option, let’s skip the classic skills on the list and focus on the one that signals we are playing Star Wars: Use the Force. Being able to use the Force starts with having the Force Sensitivity feat, which is a bonus at the first level for Jedi. Then there’s the skill, which requires a character to have it as a “trained” skill, meaning it is one of the several designated by the player as their character’s best abilities (a function that grants a hefty +5 bonus). The skill has several inherent uses — Force trance for quick healing, Move Light Object for basic telekinetic moves, Search Your Feelings to get some insight about whether planned actions will be immediately favorable or not, Sense Force to see if there are Force users nearby, Sense Surroundings to ignore cover and concealment, and Telepathy to send a single thought. The bigger effects of the Force are in Force Powers, which are slowly acquired by PCs when they achieve Force-based feats. Then there are Force Talents, Force Techniques, and Force Secrets. Remember how I said the game can feel a bit complex, even overwhelming sometimes? This is one of those times. Talents we already covered. Techniques are higher-level abilities for Force-related Prestige Classes. Secrets are for even higher-level Force-related Prestige Classes. The last two are for ramping up the effects of existing powers, such as allowing a PC to use a power with a move action rather than a full round or expanding an area of effect.

But how does the Force feel in this game? It feels powerful! One of the benefits of having so much to acquire and improve is that it showcases how big and powerful the Force is. It can do virtually whatever someone can think up. Because the Force is everywhere and in everything, it should be capable of many things. Also, the game does a good job of allowing Force users to touch the Dark Side without immediately falling to ruin. It can corrupt without taking over. But it can take over too, and the game allows PCs to have story arcs that include both a fall and redemption, whether it be themselves or non-player character allies.

The game’s meta currency is the Force Point (and there are Destiny Points, an optional mechanic we’ll get to next). PCs get a few of these each level and can use them for the mundane effect of adding a d6 to an attack roll, skill check, or ability check. Force Sensitive characters can also use them to activate certain powers (and to restore the use of those powers to their “active suite”).

The optional Destiny function is a way to give players long-term goals that include in-game benefits and penalties, with a static reward for those who accomplish their big goals. These points are awarded one per level and are used as a meta currency to activate bonuses while making progress on a PC’s Destiny — a sort of hyper-specific Force Point. So, if a PC chooses Rescue (at creation or as a revealed plot point down the line), they can earn Destiny Points to use to help save a specific person from death or an object from destruction. It might not even be obvious at the time. A player may learn through play that their Rescue goal is a person they hadn’t even met when they took their initial inspiration. One example in the book is Wicket saving Leia from Imperial scout troopers on Endor.

Now let’s talk about combat. The game is essentially a re-skinned D&D so the basics probably don’t need rehashing here. Let’s focus on what’s unique or at least system- and setting-defining. There are things like damage thresholds to reflect how massive amounts of damage can cause devastating effects unlike a trickle of smaller hits. But the more unique, and, to me, more frustrating part of a character’s health is represented by the Condition Track. The track represents the slow and cumulative degradation of a person, droid, vehicle, or device. There are four conditions between normal and helpless. The first three impose -1, -2, and -5 penalties while the fourth halves movement and adds -10 penalties. Certain game actions can move characters back up the track. And while I like systems that can reflect the difference between flesh wounds and injuries that make your vision blur or reflexes dull, this one seems heavy on the bookkeeping.

The game’s piles of modifiers can make combat feel a little too much like math class, but it does come with the benefit of giving combat a sense of depth that doesn’t feel like a war simulator but instead offers a lot of options other than the feel bad of “I shoot. I miss. That’s my turn.”

An often difficult system for a Star Wars game to handle is space combat. From scaling issues between ships that range from barely bigger than the pilot to the myriad sizes of Star Destroyers to the various actions offered that allow non-pilot PCs to feel like they’re contributing, this edition doesn’t do this combat setting much better or worse than others. It merely provides even more minutia (feats, talents, etc.) to make the experience as specific and specialized as a player wants.

Some other versions of gaming in the Star Wars universe do some things better. For a slim, rules-light experience, stick to the original West End Games rules. For an experienced group that wants to use the narrative dice system, there’s Fantasy Flight Games. This system is a fine option for players who are comfortable with classic D&D systems but want to play in George Lucas’ sandbox.

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