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"Goodbye, Jean-Luc, I'm gonna miss you. You had such potential. But then again, all good things must come to an end."
- Q, Star Trek: TNG

Star Wars: Saga Edition Playtest Notes

by Ken Newquist / June 5, 2007

The Star Wars: Saga Edition Role-Playing Game is the third Star Wars RPG released by Wizards of the Coast. Like it's predecessors, its based on a variant of the d20 engine that drives Dungeons & Dragons. Unlike the previous editions though, this one truly feels like Star Wars.

My friends and I (collectively known as the Blackrazors Gaming Group) compiled the following list of pros and cons while playtesting the new Star Wars: Saga Edition game. My full review of the game is up now on SCIFI.com. For the most part, our feelings on the game were almost entirely positive, to the point that at least two, maybe three of my players are planning on buying the game because of the playtest. It's hard to come up with much higher praise than people actually spending their own cash to buy a game because they played it once.

Pros

  • Everything is streamlined, which makes for faster play. Fewer attacks per round, the combination of saving throws and armor class, it all makes things move along much more quickly
  • Expanded use of Force points beyond just buffing rolls (they can also be used to power certain abilities as well as to prevent instant death) is much appreciated and helps balance the game's potentially lethal nature.
  • Simpler but not dumber: Diehard d20 fans may mourn the loss of skill points, but replacing them with skilled/unskilled generic skills should be a lot easier on new players.
  • Talent trees, inherited from d20 modern, provide each class with diversity beyond that normally achieved through feats and skills.
  • The game stresses team play through feats and talents that allow characters to easily assess and help their other players, whether its quickly scaning the battle field to see whose below 50% of their hit points or jumping in front of an incoming attack to save a companion.

Cons

  • "Gazetteer" section is exceedingly limited, containing basic information about traveling between star systems and some basic information about several signature Star Wars worlds. Then again, this being Star Wars, that information is available in a wide variety of ways on the web starting with Lucasfilms' own Star Wars Databank.
  • Font size is smaller than in the Revised edition, and the book itself is square. The later isn't a big issue -- it makes it distinctive and surprisingly easy to read -- but the font can be hard on the eyes.
  • Artwork from earlier editions is recycled into this one, but in general the screen captures from the film are crisper, and the use of drawings and other illustrations is much stronger.
  • We're not sure of the new "Condition Track", which is designed to simulate an individual's worsening condition during battle as they take exceptional hits, is a useful innovation or just busy work. More game play is needed, but I think it's a good idea.

Comments from a Casual Star Wars Fan

One of our players -- George, aka T1Mirage -- isn't a diehard Star Wars fan (a fact we teased him about repeatedly throughout the playtest). He posted his thoughts on the edition to our gaming group's message forum, and agreed to let me re-post them as part of these playtest notes.

"I don't know much about art, but I know what I like" - Monty Python

I don't know much about Star Wars and I really enjoyed game.

I have had bad experiences with d20 Modern, Spycraft, and various ‘Superhero’ games and was hoping this would be different. It was. In part, I don’t like to try ‘new’ things when it comes to gaming… I like D&D and variations of it but not different time periods or types (e.g., sci-fi, current, etc.).

  • Thresholds – On a single attack, if a character is damage for more than their threshold, a penalty is incurred. The penalties increase as more thresholds are passed. It seems very logical that the more beat up a character becomes, the harder it becomes to do well. I think it would be a nice add if some of the feats or abilities could counter this for that ‘comeback’ fighting approach.
  • Feats – It could just be the ones that Ken selected, however a lot of the feats, talents (?), and perhaps abilities really tied in nicely and assisted across the party. It’s a big difference from D&D where it seems each person is an individual and acts on their own. I’m uncertain how to fully describe it but it was very cool how things worked and came together for the party. Again, perhaps the test was skewed with Ken developing the characters – but I am certain that there was a higher amount of feats that work across the party.
  • Maps – At the end of the game, this came up. I think the maps that Ken had were very fitting and helped move the game along. It worked incredibly well to help pull the characters in.
  • Setting – While not a Star Wars expert, I understood a lot of what was happening. I could see the planets (e.g., when Ken described the planet we were landing on I thought of the one with the ewoks, big trees, huge forests, etc.), when Bob used his abilities as a Jedi, I found myself thinking “these are not the droids I’m looking for.”, and the cantina was just as I seen it in the movie. I think it all set the stage and how the game mirrored the movies.

 

I have to say. It clicked and I may be hooked.

Scenario: Expedition to the Jungle World

What follows are my notes for the scenario I ran as part of the Star Wars saga edition playtest. I'm including it here for completeness' sake, so people have a sense for what I threw at the players. If I had more time, I would have included a vehicle combat; probably a nice speeder chase through the rain forests of Imbozi

Overview
The Republic has lost contact with the Outer Rim world of Imbozi, a jungle colony established by the Kenzo Corporation as a harvesting output for a rare tropical wood known as imboza (from which the planet takes its name) which is prized in the construction of musical instruments in the Core. The colony also had a small Republic garrison stationed at it, which served as a staging area for exploratory expeditions into neighboring space.

The heroes are ordered by Jedi Master Sriine Skyray (Dolan's master within the Order) to go to Imbozi, contact Town Manager Luen Dryrus, determine what the problem is and reestablish contact with the colony.

The Story
Unknown to the settlers, the Republic, or anyone else, Imbozi is a forward base for the Sith. The Sith have taken advantage of the situation, co-opting the town in a secret coup that saw most of the original leadership (Town Manager Luen Dryrus, Chief Medical Officer Bedra Sarrott) killed in a shuttle crash (which simultaneously locked the colony out of the communications array when the new leader didn't know the access codes).

Previous to the coup the Sith had captured one of the town's exploratory parties, tortured its members, and then erased all memory of the event. They also found a willing collaborator, and upon launching their coup they installed this man, Wilkin Oran to rule the town.

Things have taken a darker turn since Oran came to power. Now in addition to harvesting wood, he has sent his exploratory parties looking for gem outcroppings (this at the request of the Sith, who seek a particularly powerful and refined gem in their lightsabers).

The heroes must investigate the town, learn of the coup, and finally confront the Sith (or be confronted by them, if Oran gets off a distress call).

The Trip to Imbozi
The trip aboard the Lucky Dream takes nearly four weeks -- and two missed hyperspace jumps -- to reach Imbozi. Once there the heroes will find their hails go unanswered, but that the planet's homing beacon for the colony space port in Emerald remains active.

Arriving on the planet, they find the colony is barely worthy of the name "settlement". There are a handful of prefab buildings -- a town hall and a cantina, if the typical Republic forms are being followed -- and a number of more-recently constructed but rudimentary wooden shelters and several large temporary tent structures. There is one large building -- a warehouse-like structure near the center of town.

The spaceport is little more than a raised platform on the edge of town. When the PCs disembark they are met by a surly portmaster named Tyros Norant who demands to know the reason for their visit. The word "republic" makes him squirm and even more belligerent (his attitude risk turning Hostile); hints about big game hunting or other adventure sports interest him and a successful Persuasion check can make him Indifferent (in which case he points them to a local hunter, a Rodian named Gadvat) or Friendly (mentioning large beasts that have been stalking around town recently).

If he asked who's in charge, he'll direct them to Town Manager Wilkin Oran.

The Town Manager
A meeting with the new town manager, Wilkin Oran, is dodgy at best. The man will be visibly disturbed to see two Jedi in town, but does his best to push this off as a distrust of the force … not one for strange religions and such.

He will explain that a terrible shuttle crash the month before had killed the colony's best and brightest -- Town Manager Luen Dryrus, Chief Medical Officer Bedra Sarrott -- and that a freak electrical storm had disabled communications. In truth, Oran locked himself and the colony out of the main computer because of his repeated attempts to access its communication protocols and other secure files.

When he realizes the Jedi are in town, he will attempt to deal with them by having seeding their quarters with sonic attractor, which will attract a rancor to the town. The ensuing attack will draw the Jedi's attention away from him and his men … and hopefully kill them when they run out to fight it.

The Cantina
At the cantina they've find a number of harvesters and hunters mulling about. Talking to them reveals that they've recently lost several people to a terrible beast that showed up in the forest recently. They also offer up drinks to their fallen leaders, Luen and Bedra, and grumble about Oran's "leadership" capabilities and his goon squad that gets all the perks. They also complain about a drop in wood harvests as some of their people have been delegated to hunt down strange geological formations instead.

The "strange geological formations" are supposed to be reported back to Oran, who then sends some of his men out into the woods to investigate further. What no one other than Oran and his men know is that these formations are home to a rare yellow gemstone that can be used in the construction of lightsabers to grant them special powers above and beyond those of normal blades. Unfortunately for these hunters, these gems are most likely to be found near rancor pits.

The Sith Base
The Sith base is located deep within the jungle, and will take about three hours to get to. Oran knows its location, and can possibly be bribed/mindtricked/browbeaten into revealing it. Failing that, a good tracker can find the base by making three successive DC 20 Survival rolls.  At the base awaits a Sith apprentice and a small cadre of troopers who receive the shipments of raw gems, stockpile them, and prepare them for off world shipment.

Pregenerated Player Characters

For this scenario I pre-generated three characters and used two that Wizards of the Coast had created to demo the game at Star Wars: Celebration. These characters included:

Golan Dol, Kel Dor,  Jedi 3

A favored son of the Jedi, Golan Dol already exhibits many of the traits prized in Jedi Knights, including patience, wisdom, and discretion, not to mention a deeply intuitive sense of the force. Raised by the Order, he is one of its most trusted Padawans, and his mission to Imbozi is seen as a crucial test of his team-leading skills.

Golan is the leader of the Imbozian expedition, and takes his role quite seriously. He is of the mindset that the best commanders lead by example, and thus will now browbeat his charges into submission. Instead he quietly points out the correct course of action, and only reverts to his authority as expedition leader when absolutely necessary.

For him, Jax is is the expedition's true trial. Clearly talented, the younger padawan also has a tendency to be reckless and to needlessly question orders. Stormbreaker has succeeded in pushing Golan into more verbal fights in the last six weeks then he had experienced in the previous year. He has tried to convince Jax to give up his armor, arguing that a true Jedi trusts in the Force for his defense. He also disdains Jax's reliance on blasters, arguing that a true Jedi should be more civilized. For some reason, these aberrations of Jedi conduct strike him more deeply than Jax's occasional outright refusal to follow orders, instead following his "gut" instinct.

Jax Stormbreaker, Human Soldier 2/Jedi 1

Jax was a mercenary, and happy to be one, for years. He served the Republic as a hired gun on the Outer Rim for a half-dozen years before an incident on the Outer Rim changed his life forever. He'd led a group of 20 men to track down rumors of a pirate base on the Rimworld of Draxis that had been raiding Republic shipping lines.

He found the base … and the dozens of heavily armored men and droids defending it.  Surprised and then surrounded by the base's defenders, he and his fellow mercenaries would have been slaughtered to man if the Force had not awakened within him … and given him the raw power needed to defeat his enemies.

The exact details of the incident are known only to a few, and they don't speak of it. Jax, stunned -- and somewhat worried about his new powers -- sought out an old chaplain from his brief stint in the Republic Army. Without giving too many details of the fight -- which were hazy even to him -- Jax explained his new-found insight into the Force. The chaplain, a Force-sensitive himself, but never strong enough to join the Jedi, urged Jax to seek out the Order and ask to be admitted as a padawan. He sent along his recommendation as well. That recommendation, which carried weight among some of the order who'd fought alongside the chaplain in earlier engagements, combined with Jax's undeniable strength, led him to be admitted as a special class of padawan.

Jax has now spent two years with the Jedi, struggling to master his powers … and the Order's strict code of conduct for padawans. After years of carefree existence as a mercenary, suddenly having to obey the orders of a Jedi Knight came as a shock. His own master, Savdra Lightus, was a strict disciplinarian, and Jax chafed under his constant admonishments. Still, his strength in the Force has continued to grow, and after months of resistance, he has accepted his role of padawan as a sort of necessary evil.

His new-found acceptance of his role in Jedi society, as well as his knowledge of the Outer Rim, led the Order to assign him to the expedition to Imbozi, with the understanding that he would defer to Golan Dark, the expedition leader.

Unknown to the Order, the temptation of the Dark Side boils deep within him. It once granted him the power to slaughter 50 men on his own … and it waits for just the right combination of stress and desperation to erupt again.

Tusserk, Trandoshan Scout 3           

Tusserk is an expert hunter, and tracked prey and killed prey on dozens of worlds. Some he's killed with his bare hands, some he's shot expertly from afar … and then torn open with his bare hands.  He occasionally supplements his income with bounties, finding that his skills in the forest often work just as well in cities -- the prey may be different, but the hunt is the same. He's presently serving as first mate and pilot of the Lucky Dream, a modified corvette own by the smuggler -- that is, opportunistic businessman -- Vann Sair. He's found that life has been profitable around Sair, a man who isn't afraid to take on unusual ventures in search of unusual profits.

The mystery at Imbozi intrigues him, but it is the chance to hunt some of the rainforest's notorious and deadly felines that truly excites him.

Adalric Ferys, Human Noble 3

Aldalric Ferys is a young noble from the Tapani Sector whose decided to spend a year or two adventuring on the friend, much to the horror of his mother … and the pride of his father. Initially arrogant at the beginning of his adventure, Aldalric has since learned that the Galaxy still has a few things to teach him, but still tends to look down on those who aren't as competent at their jobs or as intrigued by adventure as he is. He is accompanied on all of his adventures by his retainer, a mercenary named Pash Lynn hired by his father to assist him in his adventures (and to keep him alive should he get in over his head).
He recently signed on with Vann Sair and the Lucky Dream as a way of exploring the regions of space where most sane individuals (or at least, those who aren't properly insured) refuse to go. The expedition to Imbozi is his first official outing with Vann, and its already proving to be exceptionally interesting, as the addition of two Jedi to the roster can't help but mean something strange is afoot on the frontier world.

Pash Lynn, Human Soldier 3

Pash Lynn has served the Ferys family for years, and had all but given up on their future until meeting Pash. When he was first assigned to accompany the young noble on his adventures to the Outer Rim, he assumed Adalric Ferys was just another rich family idiot he'd have to save from getting himself killed a dozen times over.

He did have to save him, but Adalric turned out to be smarter than befit his class. The noble has even saved Pash once or twice (in particular, that one night on Dattoine when he'd had too much too drink and picked a fight with a couple of huge brawlers. Some how, Adalric had talked their way out of that mess). That's earned his grudging respect.

The expedition to Imbozi neither excites nor troubles Pash; he's secure in the knowledge that he and Adalric can find deal with anything they find there. His only reservation is the Jedi; a superstitious man, he does not trust Force wielders, no matter what they say their intentions are.

Vann Sair, Human Scoundrel 3

Vann Sair was once so down on his luck that he was living in gutters on Coruscant and went a full year without seeing the true light of the sun. That year of squalor taught him many things -- how to stay alive, how to sneak into places he shouldn't be, how to use his wits to trick others into working for him -- but the most important thing was that he never, ever wanted to be poor again.

When that determination seized him, he used all his considerable skills (with considerably help from Lady Luck) to turn a wager of the shirt off his back into a fortune that let him buy the Lucky Dream and flee the hell of the capitol world for blacker -- and even more profitable -- skies.
He's done well ever since, running a mix of safe and adventurous jobs that have netted him a sizeable fortune … and a hunger to probe ever deeper into the frontier. With the Jedi expedition to Imbozi, he's found a way to satisfy both of his obsessions: the Jedi are paying him well to explore a region of space he'd only heard of in tavern tales.

Vann trusts his first mate Tusserk implicitly, and the two have made for a surprisingly good team. He is less sure of the new duo he hired on, the rich kid Adalric Ferys and his man Pash Lynn. Pash seemed competent enough, but Adalric had the look of someone who'd only just begun to learn what hard work really was … and had certainly never spent a year living in the sunless sewers. Still, if he was half as good as he claimed to be, he'd do well enough on the Lucky Dream. And if not … he'd be dead, in which case the problem solved itself rather nicely.