ecently, there has been a huge interest in RPGs like Dungeons & Dragons, with the successes of the Hollywood movie and shows about people playing the game live on stream. So, for Star Wars fans, the question quickly becomes, “Is there a system where I can play as a Jedi or a smuggler with my friends?” Thankfully, the answer is ‘yes’, but the details can get a bit more complicated. This guide will point you in the right direction and help you get started.
The biggest hurdle is the fact that there is not just one published RPG system but four different systems as publishers have changed over the years. If you are a fan of Star Wars books, you could see this divide as similar to the Canon/Legends split.
If you're not even sure what it means to have four different rule systems, let me explain. Each system has different rules for how to resolve conflict and skill tests. Each system tries to capture a different feel for how the action in Star Wars plays out. Some focus on “high pulp" action with swashbuckling and nigh unstoppable heroes, while others focus on making the universe grounded with quick and deadly combat. While all of them are similar enough that you can play as Wookiees, Jedi, bounty hunters, or even a combination of all three, the character sheets and how you as a player interact with the world can vary wildly from system to system.
As a quick overview, West End Games published the first game in 1987, with a D6 system that used a pool of six-sided dice for each skill. In 2000, Wizards of the Coast published a game using a D20 system similar to the third edition of Dungeons & Dragons. Wizards then refined the D20 game in its 2007 Saga Edition. Finally, Fantasy Flight Games took over the license and, in 2012, published Edge of the Empire. These games are still in publication and use unique dice.
West End Games d6 System
The first published Star Wars Role Playing game was made by West End Games. Before they got their hands on the Star Wars license, WEG was most famous for the Ghostbusters RPG, but in 1987, they used the same rule system to release Star Wars: The Roleplaying Game. The game was quite popular, and several of their published works are said to have been seen as authoritative by Lucasfilm in the Expanded Universe.
Over the next decade, they refined the rules and published many extra books with new ships and campaigns, including tie-in books for the entire original Thrawn Trilogy by Timothy Zahn. Unfortunately, West End Games went bankrupt in 1998 and thus lost the license to Star Wars.
This d6 system does not have character classes you may be familiar with from other game systems. Instead, as you make your character, you put points into various skills to shape the character you want to play. You have six main statistics with various amounts of dice (or “d”), ranging from two to five. Under each statistic, you have skills; as your character gains experience, you can train and spend experience points to get better at them.
So, for example, if you needed to hide from a patrol, you would use your Perception stat, add your Sneak skill, and roll that many six-sided dice. So a scoundrel might have 4d for Perception and three more dice for Sneak for a total of seven dice. But if you were playing a lumbering protocol droid, your total pool might look more like 2d.
The difficulty range to beat is set by the gamemaster (GM), and it usually is around 10-15 for tricky challenges. If your roll total is over the difficulty check, then your character succeeds! If not, your character fails and will either suffer a consequence or another player will have a chance to try.
There are a ton of skill types, with 110 outlined in the rule book. These range from abilities as useful and commonplace as Lifting to as esoteric as Aquatic Vehicle Engineering. So, how you spend your skills is very important to your survival in this system.
Combat uses the same skills as everything else, so you need to spend your development points in blasters and dodge if you don't want to be eaten by womp rats. Combat is turn-based, with one side acting all at once, then the other side reacting. You can take as many actions as you want in a round, but each additional one beyond the first lowers your dice pool by one dice. So if you wanted to do three things — shoot a blaster, duck and weave, and try and jump a large gap — that would require three rolls, each with two fewer dice from your normal pool.
When you get hit, you don't lose hit points. Instead, you make a contested roll between your Strength stat and the weapon's damage dice. If you roll higher than the damage, then you just shrug off the hit with no negatives. But if you lose that roll, then you take penalties depending on the difference in the contested roll. In fact, if the difference is more than 16, then you are immediately killed.
You read that right: depending on the luck of a die, you could die right away from a blaster shot with no previous damage taken. This system encourages the more grounded elements of Star Wars, where conflict is quick and deadly, where pulling your blaster on a bounty hunter first might be the difference between life and rolling up a new character.
Despite being more than thirty years old, this system feels very modern in many respects. It streamlines character creation and focuses on fast rolls and quick actions with easy-to-understand dice mechanics. But it is also super harsh, with the ability for anyone to die at the drop of a hat, as combat is super deadly.
You can get these rules a couple of different ways: a fan group has a free PDF of the main rules available, and Fantasy Flight Games, the current license holder, has published a 30th-anniversary edition of the core rule book as well.
Wizards of the Coast d20 System
Soon after West End Games went bankrupt, Wizards of the Coast acquired the Star Wars RPG license. They published a new game called the Star Wars Roleplaying Game, commonly called the Star Wars d20 system. At the time, Wizards was most famous for publishing the third edition of Dungeons & Dragons and the trading card game Magic: The Gathering.
This edition does take a lot of influence from D&D, and the systems are nearly compatible; instead of spell slots and magic items, you have force skills and powered armor. Also, like D&D 3rd edition, there was an updated rule book in 2002 to clarify a few rules, expand on starships and vehicles, and add some additional races and classes. With the release of Attack of the Clones, the publisher wanted to showcase some new parts of the saga and capitalize on the marketing wave.
Additionally, anyone who played either of the Knights of the Old Republic games will be very familiar with this system, as BioWare used this rule system as a base for building their classic video game.
To start with, the statics are the same six found in Dungeons & Dragons, so anyone familiar with even the fifth edition of the game will feel at home. Also, like D&D, this game uses nine character classes such as soldier, scout, scoundrel, noble, and two flavors of Jedi: Consular and Guardian.
As you gain experience points, you level up in your class, gaining benefits to your defense, attack bonus, hit points, skill points, and class-specific abilities and feats. This game also allows multiclassing so that you can broaden your horizons each time you level. In fact, at later levels, there are things called prestige classes that you can unlock for a more specialized play style. These include bounty hunter, crime lord, ace pilot, and Jedi master.
There are a few dozen skills, and they all work the same way. When attempting to do anything with a risk or chance of failure, you roll a twenty-sided die, add your skill modifiers, and then compare it to the difficulty class set by the Game Master. As long as you meet or exceed the target difficulty, the action your character took was a success.
Combat starts with each player and creature rolling initiative. This determines the turn order for the conflict. On your turn, a character may take both a move action and an attack action or sacrifice both and make a full-round action. There are also free actions, but you can take as many of those as you want.
Attack actions are what you will be doing most of the time. First, you determine your target, roll a d20, and then add your individual attack bonus. This bonus is a combination of your class's Base-Attack-Bonus (BAB) and either your Strength or Dexterity statistic. Add any miscellaneous modifiers like equipment bonuses or flanking, then compare your total number to the target's defense. If you hit, roll damage to determine how much vitality or wound points the target loses.
Characters have two hit point pools and fall unconscious once they lose all their wound points. Normally, a character takes damage to their vitality pool first, representing a skilled or trained character's ability to roll with punches or narrowly avoid deadly blaster fire. However, with a critical hit (when you roll a 20 and then confirm the hit by successfully rolling again), the damage goes right to the target's wound points. So, like in the previous version of the game, hits can be instantly deadly.
This is a very complex system, and despite being the one I am most familiar with, it is the one I am the least likely to recommend to beginners. For one, the books are long out of print, and finding them would require a lot of hunting. I also don’t believe the rule systems inherently capture the feel of Star Wars. The rules are bogged down in minutia, and something as awesome as shooting two blasters at the same time requires looking up two tables and figuring out which combination of four feats you have to check.
Wizards of the Coast Saga Edition
Wizards of the Coast published the Star Wars Roleplaying Game Saga Edition in 2007. The brand new edition could fully incorporate all six films out at the time and all the Expanded Universe novels published up to that point. Also, systems based on the third edition of D&D were beginning to show some age, so the new Sega Edition provided a testing ground for game concepts and player powers for use in other future publications and editions of the Flagship D&D brand.
This gamble paid off as this game received enthusiastic reviews and won Best Game from the 2008 ENNIE awards. But, while Wizards published several additional books for this system, introducing more starships, a tie-in to the Force Unleashed video game, and providing a campaign guide for the Old Republic Era, the higher-ups at Wizards of the Coast did not renew their license agreement for Star Wars. So, in 2010, they stopped publication and cut all support for the game.
Historically, this game had the shortest production run and the smallest chance to make an impact. However, it is still fondly remembered, and the mechanics are the most similar to the very popular fifth edition of Dungeons & Dragons, so if your regular D&D group wants to play with lightsabers, this would be an easy transition.
To counter the almost comical bloat and complexity of the last edition, Saga Edition pares things down to a much narrower focus. The six statistics remain unchanged from the previous game, and their values and how they work are the same. However, there are just five base classes: scoundrel, Jedi, scout, noble, and soldier. Each class's progression is also simplified, alternating between getting a talent or a feat. This structure allows for much more free-form character development without overwhelming players with too many choices.
The new edition also streamlined leveling up. Instead of receiving new skill points as your character gains experience, when you create your character, you select skills where you get extra points in each roll. Then, as your character progresses, you add half your level to damage and skill checks. That way, the more your character levels up, the better they get overall. According to designers, this was to encourage players to feel comfortable trying new things and encourage exciting scenes like riding a lizard after an enemy general or allowing the entire party to hop into starfighters and have a massive dogfight.
This combat system starts with the same grid functions and attack rolls as the previous edition and, like everything else, streamlines the rulings and order of combat. You still have to make attack rolls and beat your target's reflex defense value, and if you do, then roll damage and apply it to the target.
There is just one type of hit point now called HP, and you will fall unconscious if you have zero HP left. The only way your character dies is if the attack also exceeds your Damage Threshold. This statistic determines how much trauma you can take at once. If an attack leaves you with zero HP and deals more damage than your Threshold, your character dies.
This system might be the most heroic power fantasy experience available to players. Even from level one, you are empowered to fight evil, overcome challenges, and save the day. As I said before, if you are most familiar with the fifth edition of D&D, this would be the easiest jumping-on-point for you and your friends. Combat is punchy, and the more you level up, the more options you have to create a truly unique character.
Also, don't let the short publishing run dissuade you; there are still many great books readily available to add to your enjoyment of this system and make a deep, impactful Star Wars story.
Fantasy Flight Games Star Wars Roleplaying Game
When, in 2010, the license to create and publish official Star Wars Role Playing content was not renewed by Wizards of the Coast, the landscape went silent for about a year. Then, in 2011, Fantasy Flight Games announced they had acquired the license and would publish a brand new ruleset. Fantasy Flight Games has been a major board game manufacturer and publisher, but it also produced several Warhammer RPG systems, so excitement was running high for the beta and the first core release of Edge of the Empire in 2013. This was followed by Age of Rebellion in 2014, then Force and Destiny in 2015.
If you are a little confused by the three books released for the same game system with different names, don't worry; it's a unique approach that had not been used in any other major RPG like this before. Fantasy Flight focused each of its three core releases on separate key aspects of the Star Wars RPG fantasy. For Edge of the Empire, the character classes are smugglers and bounty hunters, with a focus on making a rough and tumble living outside of the eyes of the Empire. Age of Rebellion is about running a rebel cell, fighting for galactic freedom as ace pilots and diplomats. Lastly, the Force and Destiny book is all about Jedi and the Force, setting up lightsaber forms, and hidden secrets.
All these rule books are 100% compatible with each other, and each one teaches the same game, so if you are waiting to play these games, you just need one of the core books to get started. Edge of the Empire is the most common one played and talked about, partly because it was first on the scene and partially because the theme is a little easier to create drama and adventures with.
The characters in this ruleset are more free-form in creation, much like the old d6 system. You have six key statistics, and they typically start at a value of two, which is average. Some species give you higher starting values in certain statistics, like Trandoshans and Wookiees, with a starting Brawn value of 3.
Next, you get to pick your career. This is similar to other systems' classes, with broad archetypes such as smuggler, explorer, ace, soldier, or Force consular. Each of the three core books has six careers relevant to their distinct focus areas. So the only book with Force-using careers is Force and Destiny, while Edge of the Empire features careers like bounty hunter and colonist.
Also, each career has an associated supplemental book with various specializations. Specializations are like a subclass or a more focused skillset, and each player picks one upon character creation. To focus on my favorite career, the smuggler, you can be a pilot, scoundrel, or thief in the core book, but in the smuggler-specific supplemental book, Fly Casual, you could also be a gambler, gunslinger, or charmer.
So there is a ton of variety in character creation, and two players could be playing the same career but have completely different niches within their party. This also affects how skills work in the game: You start with several experience points and earn more at the end of each game session. You then decide how to spend them upgrading your skills and acquiring talents within your specialization.
Combat mechanics work much the same way as all the other skills in the game, which involves some unique dice mechanics. This game received some pushback from fans and players for requiring special game-specific dice. There are two dice types: positive and negative. Positive dice have symbols representing advantage, success, and triumphs, while negative dice have threats, failure, and despair.
Whenever you make a skill check, you assemble your positive dice based on your skill and its associated stat. So, to shoot a blaster rifle, you would take your agility, and then your ranged (heavy) skill ranking. If your agility was a three and your skill was rank two, you would take three positive green dice and then upgrade two of them to the much better yellow dice. Then the Game Master would say what the difficulty number would be; if it was two, then you would add two negative purple dice to the three dice you had, roll all of them together, and look at the result.
Success and failure dice symbols cancel each other out, and if you have any success left over, the attack or skill check succeeds! If you also have advantage symbols, you can spend them to trigger extra benefits, like critical hits or bonus outcomes. While this sounds quite complex, once you have played for about 30 minutes, it becomes second nature to create your dice pools and test your luck.
Combat itself has some fun factors. For the first time, the game's base rules don't rely on a grid for movement, instead abstracting things into range bands of short, medium, and long ranges. If you get hit by any attack, you also have a soak value based on your brawn and any armor you have, and that will reduce the amount of damage you take. So a Wookiee in full battle armor can shrug off all but the most potent firepower.
When I first encountered this system, I did not know what to think about it with its rainbow dice and non-level-based progression system. But once I played a single one-shot adventure, I had to go out and buy the rule book. There is a lot to this system, but the free-form character creation is great for veterans, and the rulebook's explanation makes it very straightforward for new players to get rolling on making their very first character.
This book is technically still in publication, so finding copies is still fairly easy. Fantasy Flight used these dice mechanics to create a setting-agnostic RPG called Genesys that allows players to make their own fantasy, cyberpunk, or post-apocalyptic campaigns. They rebranded the dice accordingly, so you can now find them listed as Genesys Dice.
If you ask five Star Wars fans what they love most about Star Wars, you will get about four different answers. And that's perfectly fine as far as I am concerned; allowing different people to love and really get into different aspects of the Expanded Universe is amazing and part of why I love Star Wars. But when you get the same five fans together for game night to play robots and space wizards, you need to make sure everyone is interested in getting the same experience.
As we've seen, there are four systems on the market, each offering its own unique view of Star Wars. While each perspective is valid and well-thought-out, the resulting game systems each have their pros and cons.
The West End Games d6 system is really something special. There is a ton of mechanical freedom, and the dice rolling is very exciting, especially with an exploding Force die included in each pool. It probably has the lowest barrier to entry since you would just need a handful of dice from your old Monopoly set, and you can do your character creation on a blank piece of paper. Plus, there are tons of premade characters readily available in the core books. If you want a mechanically simple game for some first-time players or a one-shot game, I would recommend the d6 system.
The Wizards of the Coast d20 system is a power gamer's playhouse. If you love getting into the systems, mapping out character builds, and living out the power fantasy of rising through the ranks of the Jedi Order, you should check this system out. If you have fond memories of Knights of the Old Republic and want a real zero-to-hero journey — starting off fending off womp rats, building and specializing your hero until you can fight toe-to-toe with Sith Lords — you will probably enjoy the d20 experience. If you don't mind doing a lot of homework behind the scenes, I recommend the d20 system.
The Saga Edition is a real refinement of the d20 system. It's a lot easier to get into and run this one compared to its older brother. The rules are more streamlined and focus on quicker action and combat that really play into the strength of Star Wars. If you want pulp action, with heroic and capable characters facing down villains, hopping from planet to planet, and overcoming various challenges, I recommend the Saga Edition.
And lastly is the Fantasy Flight trio of games. These are the latest in a long and storied history to step up to the plate, and their take is very good, if very spread out. It addresses the challenge of mechanically balancing a party of Jedi, scoundrels, and freedom fighters by spreading them across three different styles of campaigns. And I think that was a wise decision.
If you want a rough-and-tumble adventure struggling for credits in the style of sci-fi classics like Firefly or Cowboy Bebop, Edge of the Empire is the one for you. If you want tense action and fighting an overwhelming force trying to stick it to ‘The Man,’ Age of Rebellion is what you should play. And if you like the Force, lightsabers, and inner conflict, pick up Force and Destiny.
Author’s Personal Recommendation
If you want to know which of these systems is the best, my pick is Edge of the Empire. That system reignited my love of Star Wars RPGs, and I can fully recommend it to first-timers as the rule book spends a lot of time talking players through character creation and makes the process very straightforward. But it also has a lot of meaty backend mechanics for veteran players, so they can modify their gear, optimize their build, and get the most out of every dice roll they make.
As I said at the beginning of this conclusion, Star Wars means a lot of things to a lot of people, so having a specific focus — in the case of Edge of Empire, “scoundrels in the crime-riddled Outer Rim” — puts everyone in the right mindset for the adventure. I have used this system with six different groups, and each one quickly latched onto the theme and type of story they were about to undertake.
Now, at the risk of muddying the message, if you want a heroic story of Good vs. Evil, with Jedi and Senators fighting side-by-side in a pulpy, romantic story, just like the movies, then The Saga Edition might be where you should park your speeder. That system can give you a ton of wonderfully epic Star Wars moments with more streamlined mechanics familiar to anyone who has played D&D.
But to anyone starting out in the RPG scene or wanting to try a new system outside the classic Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition, Edge of the Empire is your best choice.
Of course, none of these are bad choices, and a lot of this decision comes down to availability. If you only have old d6 books in your attic, run that. If your used book store only has a few rule books for the d20 system, pick those up! The most important thing is that you and your fellow players are having fun together, spending time in this galaxy far, far away.