A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, a ... company called Wizards of the Coast abandoned Star Wars fans who enjoyed their tabletop roleplaying game to an awful fate: product death. The Star Wars d20 product line, which saw print from 2000 to late 2004, attempted to capture the epic adventure that is the Star Wars setting within a simple quantifiable ruleset. Unfortunately, the d20 rules (circa 2000) were far too clumsy to make the RPG 'feel' like Star Wars. Even a 2002 Revised Core Rules book did little to create an intuitive play experience. Now, in time for the setting's 30th anniversary, Wizards has released a brand new edition of the rules, marking a relaunch of the product line. Dubbed the 'Saga Edition', it has completely revamped the d20 rules to meet with demands for Star Warsyness. Read on for a review of the changes, which may finally bring the fun to the galaxy far, far away.The first notable thing about the Saga edition of Star Wars d20? It is small. Instead of the normal 9 x 11 footprint of almost every other gaming book, Saga Edition looks more like a coffee table book, measuring a petite 9 x 9 inches. It's over 100 pages thinner than 2002's Revised Core Rules book, too. A few pages in, and it's obvious that the loss in size and thickness has not come at the price of production quality. The entire tome is full color glossy paper throughout. While there is quite a bit of art reused from previous products, there are also a number of notable original works peppering the pages. What's not there, to my relief, are the needlessly huge quotes from the movies. There are quotes, to be sure, but they're used sparingly. It is laid out to provide the maximum amount of information in the minimum space; a significant improvement over previous main books.The Revised Core Rules seemed to have a half-page-sized quote every three pages, turning most of its 400ish pages into wasted white space. Saga Edition is a tight, well crafted book.
That attention to detail extends to the rules as well, which may be the most refined version of the d20 mechanic yet released in an official Wizards product. Gone are the cumbersome concepts of Armor Class, Defense, Vitality points, and Saving Throws used by other products. The game takes a simple approach: every Star Wars character is a hero. As such, it's possible for every character to take part in every scene, to one degree or another. Character Level, then, becomes the tie that binds every other mechanic. Almost every d20 roll you'll be making is modified by your character's level; neurotically min/maxing every aspect of your character is no longer a requirement.
The difference, of course, is that your choice of class determines your character's specialties. Everyone can participate in the scene where the party flees from the Imperial Star Destroyer in a cargo ship. The star of the show, though, is the Scoundrel at the helm. Classes have been revamped to allow for several 'builds'. Seemingly taking a cue from Blizzard videogame titles, every class has a trio of talent trees. Talents accumulate from these trees as characters gain levels, allowing for my Scoundrel to be completely different from your Scoundrel. Further customization is encouraged by allowing free multi-classing. Prestige classes further this idea of customization by allowing access to novel talent trees, as well as mixing and matching talent trees from multiple base classes. The Officer, for example, allows access to trees from the Soldier and Noble classes.
The best part is, as far as I can tell, none of these classes are completely useless. The Noble, which had a poorly-understood role in previous editions, has become something of a social hacker/bard character. Smooth talking abilities and talents that improve the capabilities of her fellow characters combine into a highly effective support class. The designers have as much as admitted that these changes were prompted by the Jedi. Instead of tuning everything so that the Jedi beat everything else, the Jedi is the baseline all other classes were tuned to. Every character made under Saga Edition rules is going to be some kinda badass.
Badassery in combat is the focus of many class abilities, of course, and it's going to be easier than ever to convey that to players. Combat is dirt simple. There are very few ways to modify in-combat die rolls. The endless hunting for a +1 to hit here or a +2 to hit there will not longer be required. Even better, every character only gets a single attack per combat round, regardless of their level. High level D&D games are marked by endless dice rolling, as characters make a ludicrous number of attacks in a frighteningly short amount of time. And if you really want to attack more than once a round in Saga Edition, you can; you just take penalties for it, penalties more easily compensated for at higher levels.
An additional decrease in the fiddly-factor comes from skills. Instead of requiring you to track skill points, which must be slotted into a dizzying array of strangely over-specific disciplines, skills in Saga Edition are a binary state. Either you're trained or untrained in a skill. Thus, a skill roll looks like this: d20 + half your character's level + relevant ability score (strength for climbing, etc.) + 5 if you are trained. That's it. This mechanic, then, allows even the Princess Leia to fly the Falcon for a short while, or a merciless bounty hunter to sweet talk a taciturn guard; or, at least, it allows for the possibility of such a thing happening. There are far fewer skills as well, with specific uses outlined in the book. The skills Spot, Listen, and Search have all been combined into Perception, for example. This one skill also allows a character to ascertain an object's wealth (Appraise) and see through duplicity from another character (Sense Motive). Thus, with fewer skills to keep track of, players and GMs are encouraged to make heavier use of the few that still remain. Fun without the fuss is the order of the day.
The rules section that benefits most from these rule revamps is the vehicle combat section. Formerly an arcane labyrinth of edge cases and complex maneuvers, simple skill checks and combat tests now allow dogfights and space-based combat to drop neatly into the middle of a Saga Edition campaign. For example, ships are now functionally creatures; characters inside the ships alter die modifiers, and can act independently, but there is no longer a need to keep elaborate track of ship statistics as opposed to crew statistics. The two are now one and the same.
Though I've yet to have the chance to roll dice in a Saga Edition campaign, it's hard not to be impressed by the rule changes this book represents. Essentially the cutting edge of tabletop RPG rules, Saga Edition has the benefit of more than seven years of modern roleplaying design and dozens of gaming books to prove out ideas. The book was helmed by Chris Perkins, a Dungeons and Dragons R&D veteran, and it really shows. It's been a long time since I read through an RPG manual with such enthusiasm; the clarity and precision with which the designers have conveyed their ideas does nothing less than inspire excitement. Based on a tried and true mechanic, eschewing complexity for approachability, and integrating tightly with the miniatures game for even more simplicity, this may be the best product WotC has put out in years. While I'm not eager for a D&D 4th Edition, more products like this make such a concept seem much less repugnant. Highly recommended for tabletop playing Star Wars fans, and anyone interested in the future of d20 game design.
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