Generic · Star Wars

Star Wars Saga v. Cortex

I put together the graphic in my previous entry to try and create a representation of the difficulty I have with the transition of a single franchise’s (AD&D) development. As I was playing around with this chart, it occurred to me that I’d never really attempted to figure out why I prefer the earlier versions over the d20/4th Edition. Ironically, it wasn’t until I began examining WotC’s other franchise — Star Wars — that I finally realized what that element was.

Let me begin by saying that I’ve been a longtime fan of the d6 Star Wars game. So, when WEG coughed up the ball and lost the franchise, I began buying d20 Star Wars books. There were things I liked about the direction WotC took the game, but there was something about the underlying mechanics of d20 that bugged me and I never really used it.

When WotC announced that they would be retooling the brand to the new Saga Edition, I was again excited and wound up buying a copy as soon as it was released. I’ve literally been working on a Star Wars game ever since. I say “working on” a game, because it’s never really gone anywhere, and I finally decided this was the perfect time to sit down and figure out exactly why I can’t get excited by this edition, especially since it’s got such phenomenal support.

What I discovered is that it’s not about the raw mechanics of the system, it’s about the shift away from roleplaying and back towards a miniature style of playing. Yes, I realize that D&D got its start as a miniature based game; and as anyone from my group will tell you I do enjoy the occasional evening around a table full of GDW minis or a good old fashioned Car Wars brawl. However, that’s not why I play RPGs.

I play RPGs because I enjoy the varied thematic encounters that arise from a myriad of different obstacles, encounters, and storytelling elements. I appreciate working out game settings and watching players develop and thrive within them. Unfortunately, the elements necessary for a combat-oriented system, which is required with any good mini ruleset, isn’t really necessary for a good RPG.

To demonstrate how I arrived here, let’s take a look at a list of the Feats from the Star Wars Saga core book (divided between combat and non-combat orientation):

Star Wars (Feats)


Acrobatic Strike, Armor Proficiency (x3), Bantha Rush, Burst Fire, Careful Shot, Charging Fire, Cleave, Combat Reflexes, Coordinated Attack, Crush, Deadeye, Dodge, Double Attack, Dreadful Rage, Dual Weapons Mastery (x3), Exotic Weapon Proficiency, Extra Rage, Extra Second Wind, Far Shot, Great Cleave, Improved Charge, Improved Defenses, Improved Disarm, Improved Damage Threshold, Martial Arts (x3), Melee Defense, Mighty Swing, Mobility, Pin, Point Blank Shot, Power Attack, Powerful Charge, Precise Shot, Quick Draw, Rapid Strike, Running Attack, Shake it Off, Sniper, Throw, Toughness, Trip, Triple Attack, Triple Crit, Vehicular Combat, Weapon Finesse, Weapon Focus, Weapon Proficiency, Whirlwind Attack


Cybernetic Surgery, Force Boon, Force Sensitivity, Force Training, Linguist, Skill Focus, Skill Training, Strong in the Force

As you can see, there’s almost nothing here that isn’t combat oriented. The few that aren’t combat related are disproportionately Force related. Not surprisingly, when I decided to compare this to a (newer) system that I liked, I found the exact opposite to be true:

Cortex (Traits)


Ambidextrous, Born Behind the Wheel, Brawler, Combat Ready, Danger Sense, Enhanced Manipulation, Enhanced Movement, Fast Healer, Fast on Your Feet, Immune, In Plain Sight, Inherent Armor, Inherent Weapons, Lightning Reflexes, Natural Athlete, Sure Footed, Talented, Tough, Two-Handed Fighting, Unnatural Healing


Air of Mystery, Allure, Alternate Identity, Animal Empathy, Attuned to Nature, Attuned to Technology, Blue Blood, Constructed, Contacts, Destiny, Devoted to a Cause, Enhanced Communications, Enhanced Senses, Faith, Focused Hunter, Formidable Presence, Good Natured, Hardy Constitution, Head for Numbers, Healer’s Touch, Hideout, Higher Education, Intuitive Leaps, Light Sleeper, Longevity, Loyal Companion, Lucky, Natural Leader, Natural Linguist, Photographic Memory, Quick Learner, Rank and Privilege, Reputation, Shadow, Signature Item, Simple Needs, Steady Calm, Unbreakable Will, Uncommon Knowledge, Wealthy

I should also note I’m actually fudging in favor of the Star Wars system here as there are a few Traits listed above that aren’t specifically combat bonus oriented (Enhanced Manipulation, Enhanced Movement, Immune, In Plain Sight, Sure Footed, and Talented).

Examining these two games and their related components side-by-side made me realize what kept me from embracing the d20 and 4th Ed iterations. It’s this seemingly progressive slide back towards miniature based gaming. While I realize that a decent GM might be able to compensate for this, it’s difficult to see how you can build holistically vibrant roleplaying environments when your characters are built around a single game element.

Of course, the question it really raises with me is: why is it necessary to load up a game with all these combat Feats? As I said in a comment in the previous post, I actually like the unified mechanic that d20 created but this is why I never really signed on, because of these lopsided crunchy bits.

4 thoughts on “Star Wars Saga v. Cortex

  1. Miniatures sell…very well.

    It’s a business decision, but in the same grain, how are all of the combat centric feats preventing RP?

    Does anyone actually need feats to roleplay? I keep hearing that 4E is lacking any RP at all, and yet my players are reveling in not being told how and when to do it…

    Rules for roleplaying just turns it into an extension of combat, doesnt it? Why waste precious character creation resources codifying what my character has in his background, when I could just write a paragraph and have it?

    You make a good point, but is it just the way you play?

  2. Donny, yes, it is just the way I play, and I certainly don’t mind acknowledging that. I tend to skew towards a storytelling adventure game as opposed to a hack-and-slash dungeon crawl.

    And I agree that you don’t need feats in order to have good roleplaying (and I hope I’m not inadvertently advocating that), but I’m essentially wondering why only combat feats? The original idea was to allow players to develop characters that weren’t cookie-cutter models of the same template (i.e. class), yet the only feats they give you to make your Scoundrel unique from all the other Scoundrels are combat feats.

  3. I agree that saga edition is combat heavy, but i think that theres a philosophical reason for doing so that works (at least for me).

    The point of rules, in any RPG, is to moderate a situation where roleplaying alone isn’t sufficient. A scoundrel can chat and scheme all he wants and theres no need for dice to determine how clever or deceitful he is. Combat calls for stricter rules. Least thats how i see it.

    Plus, the source material is pretty combat heavy, so i think it works in that regard as well.

  4. Jude, I agree that the source material is action heavy, and honestly that’s one of the reason I enjoy it, but there is something to be said for non-combat feats/powers/traits. As someone who throws all sorts of social, mechanical, or even knowledge-based obstacles in my party’s way, it would be unreasonable to think that roleplaying alone would see them through; particularly as they’re often playing characters who have talents and upbringings that they, as players, clearly don’t possess.

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