Star Wars: Age of Rebellion: GMing Tips

Over the past few weeks I’ve been discussing Star Wars: Age of Rebellion, including how the game works, character creation, and the adventure I ran. Now I want to give a few tips to new GMs who want to run this exciting game. The GM experience is distinct from D&D, so you want to make sure you’re prepared.

  1. Make reference sheets for players: There are a lot of potential actions players can take in structured time. Each player gets one maneuver and one action, and can take an extra maneuver at the cost of strain. These actions and maneuvers vary according to whether the players are on foot or in a starship. It can be a lot to remember for new players, especially on top of their career-specific “talents.” So I made a reference sheet for my players with each of the possible actions and maneuvers and  basic description, to facilitate gameplay.
  2. Never say no: This is standard advice to GM any TTRPG, but it’s especially important for Star Wars. The Star Wars universe involves some fantastical and convenient mechanics, like firing a proton torpedo into a vent to destroy the Death Star or shooting a control panel to block a door. Players will come up with incredibly creative solutions to problems, and the narrative-based dice rolling can produce interesting and unexpected outcomes. Leverage that; never say “no” when players ask if they can try something. Let them roll for it.
  3. Don’t forget (how) to use minions: Combat in Star Wars is unique, involving minions, rivals and nemeses (in ascending order of difficulty). Minions fight as a group, with each additional minion increasing their abilities rather than adding extra attacks; likewise, players attack the entire minion group, not each separate minion. This can make chaotic battles more manageable, as the GM doesn’t need to roll attacks for 15 different enemies. It also allows the GM to adjust the difficult of battles, as it is easy to add or subtract minions without adding a whole new initiative slot. Using minions judiciously and properly can make adventures both more fun and easier to handle.
  4. Use skill checks for even routine activities: When I’m running D&D and players are climbing up a gently-sloping cliff or making their way through a crowd I don’t have them roll. The implications of failure are either trivial–“ok, try climbing again”–or the difficulty of the check is so low success is assured. It’s different in Star Wars. Players can succeed with both advantages (good extras they decide on) or threats (bad extra the GM decides). This means that even if they are certain to navigate the crowd, the result of their skill check could lead them to overhearing crucial information, or stepping on the toes of an angry Gomorrian. Have players roll for every activity to take full advantage of the game’s mechanics.
  5. Think through multiple outcomes for every encounter: As I’ve said, Star Wars RPGs seem to lend themselves to mini-sandboxes rather than carefully scripted adventures. This allow for more player agency but also makes it hard to predict what will happen. One way I deal with this is think through a few possible outcomes for encounters–if players decide to sneak in through air vents, what happens? If players decide to bluff their way in, what happens? I can’t think of every possible decision, of course, but this can help me be prepared if one comes up and also to provide enough details in the encounters to allow for diverse player choices.
  6. Try to have non-combat solutions to every problem: Finally, non-combat in Star Wars is just as fun–if not more–than combat encounters. As a result, having an adventure in which the players attack and kill series of Stormtroopers is kind of wasting the game’s potential. That’s why I always come up with potential non-combat solutions to problems. In the adventure I’ve been discussing, players could have assaulted the Imperial facility. They could also try and sneak in. In the adventure I recently ran (which I’ll post about soon), players could make extensive use of computer or mechanics skills to obtain the item they sought, or just break into the warehouse and steal it. I actually try to make most adventures work without combat, and fighting only breaks out if players want it to or things go badly (which they often do…). This allows for more varied characters–as they don’t all need combat skills–and more diverse gameplay.

 

So there are my thoughts on how to GM Star Wars: Age of Rebellion. Have you had any good or bad experiences? Is there anything you would add?

Advertisements

Star Wars: Age of Rebellion: The First Mission, 3

Last time, Grey Squadron infiltrated the Imperial facility, nearly making it to the lab before they were discovered. A firefight ensued, in which several of the group were injured and Socket Wrench–their Mon Calamari mechanic–was killed. The group grabbed the slicing device and managed to escape in a stolen Imperial shuttle, with the Imperials in fast pursuit…

Crash saw their Y-Wing landing site, and tried to bring the shuttle down. Unfortunately, it was too badly damaged and they crash landed. Everyone got out before it exploded, and they rushed to their ships [failed piloting check. Normally I would have had them take wounds or be scattered, but we were running out of time and I wanted to finish the adventure]. They rushed to their Y-Wings, force starting the ships, causing some strain but getting them off the ground.

[Because of these time constraints, I started doing “cinematic” action. I’d roll a force die, giving them a good result if it was light and bad if dark. So they avoided the TIEs because of a light roll but flew right into the Star Destroyer because of a dark roll. Initially, I was going to roll a percentile dice, with lower results indicating the ship was farther away from them when they reached orbit; actions they took to avoid the Star Destroyer (like tracking its location) would lower the roll while flying away as the landing party descended would increase the roll]

The Y-Wings took off, blasting out of the atmosphere before the TIE fighters could fix their confused scanners. Unfortunately, they came into orbit just below the Star Destroyer, which was still overhead after sending the landing party. Following Crash’s lead, the Y-Wings tried to pass on the ventral side of the Imperial ship, which lacked defenses.

Crash and Grey Leader managed to perform the tricky maneuver—even though Grey Leader was on the verge of passing out from his injuries [took strain for every action from his critical injury]—and shot out on the other side of the Star Destroyer. They managed to avoid the barrage from the Imperial ship, taking some strain as their overworked Y-Wings darted back and forth. Meanwhile, Slinky had calculated their hyperspace jump and transmitted the figures to the other ships.

Recoil was not as lucky. He tried to dive below the Star Destroyer, but the combination of his fatigue and disorientation and the ship’s straining systems led the dive to be too shallow. Instead he dove right for the Star Destroyer, which opened fire with all of its cannons.

Resolving not to lose more personnel—and remembering that Gizmo had the slicing device and was Recoil’s co-pilot—Grey Leader ordered Crash to turn around. The two Y-Wings flew at the Star Destroyer, opening fire with their proton torpedoes. This caused enough confusion for Recoil to slip through, albeit taking significant damage to his ship.

[This was part cinematic. Everyone did a hard piloting check with a setback, and Recoil failed. I gave the others a choice on what to do: jump out or turn back. They turned back, so I gave everyone damage but let them get out.]

As soon as Recoil was clear of the planet’s gravity well, Grey Leader gave the order to jump into hyperspace. The three Rebel ships disappeared into safety, leaving behind a destroyed Imperial facility and a frustrated Star Destroyer commander.

The operation had not gone exactly as planned, as one of their squadmates lay dead on the planet below and the people of Trita 3 would surely suffer from Imperial retribution. Their brand-new Y-Wings were about to fall apart, and would have to be completely rebuilt. But the Empire had lost an important new technological tool—which they didn’t know the Rebels had, thanks to the  destruction of the lab—and word spread of the daring Rebel operatives’ dramatic success….

Next week I’ll end my Age of Rebellion series with some GMing tips.

Bonus Halloween Post: The Jason Theory

In addition to D&D (and other RPGs) and PC games, another thing I love is horror movies and stories. Ever since my stepdad showed Poltergeist to my way too young brothers and I (getting in trouble with our mom) I’ve been hooked. In terms of books, I love Stephen King and H.P. Lovecraft, as my readers know.  And I can’t turn away from horror films. Slashers like Halloween, demonic tales like The Omen, psychological thrillers like The Shining, they’re all great. Unlike some horror fans who find the movies amusing, they actually scare me, and that’s why I watch them.

Several years ago, while working in my apartment during grad school I noticed that all the Friday the 13th movies were on Netflix. As anyone in my situation would do, I decided to watch all of them as I finished up the dissertation chapter I was writing. This series, which tells the tale of Jason and his quest to kill all campers, isn’t…exactly…high quality. Some of the later movies were downright bad. But as I watched them, one after the other, I realized something. These aren’t just disconnected slasher films churned out to make lots of money. They tell an interconnected story about the spread of evil in our world and the backlash of good Really, hear, me out.

In these movies, Jason is an idea, an evil idea. He travels from the mind of his mother to the surrounding lands, eventually to outer space. It is a story of how we can infect and corrupt our world. But it is also a story of how this corruption can draw positive forces to counter its spread. A warning, this is a long post, but I mark each movie so you can read it in small chunks at a time.

Continue reading “Bonus Halloween Post: The Jason Theory”

Star Wars: AoR Grey Squadron: The First Mission, 2

Last week, Grey Squadron landed on the planet Trita 3 to infiltrate an Imperial research facility. They planned to sneak in with a sympathizer’s trash truck before an Imperial landing party arrived to obtain the item they hoped to steal…

The next morning, they woke early. Grey Leader decided to wake up first, to rouse the others, but nearly slept through his alarm [nearly failed a willpower check]. Once they were up and ate, Recoil and Slinky headed to the road and the rest went into town. They got dressed in waste disposal coveralls and piled into Seera’s speeder truck, Grey Leader in the front.

Continue reading “Star Wars: AoR Grey Squadron: The First Mission, 2”

Star Wars: Age of Rebellion: The First Mission, Part 1

At long last–character creation, game introduction and adventure creation finished–here is the adventure I’ve been building up to. This was an introductory adventure, so I came up with a generic campaign: Grey Squadron, a group of rebel undercover operatives. We actually took the campaign in a different direction after this adventure, but it was a lot of fun so I wanted to still post it. Enjoy.

A squadron of Y-Wings comes out of hyperspace in the Trita system. They are manned by Grey Squadron, a group of Rebel operatives assigned to disrupt Imperial operations throughout the Galaxy as the Rebel Alliance recovers from the loss of their base on Yavin. Grey Squadron is comprised of: Grey Leader (Gran commander), Crash (Sullustan pilot), Recoil (human commando), Gizmo (human slicer), Slinky (Bothan spy), and Socket Wrench (Mon Calamari pilot). They were assigned three two-person Y-Wings, with Crash, Grey Leader and Recoil in the pilot seats. For their first mission, they had been assigned to investigate and procure a technological breakthrough at a remote Imperial research facility. They were given the name of a contact—Seera—their Y-Wings, basic gear, and thermite explosives in case they decided to destroy the facility.

Continue reading “Star Wars: Age of Rebellion: The First Mission, Part 1”

Star Wars: AoR: Adventure creation process

Alright, by this point we’ve created our characters for Star Wars: Age of Rebellion (AoR). Now we need an adventure to run. There are some printed adventures, but to be honest I’m not a huge fan. This partly because they are kind of generic, to accommodate all different playing styles and campaign themes. They also just aren’t that fun. So I try to come up with my own adventures when I run AoR. I’ll talk through my process in this post. The first half is the general discussion, and the second walks through how I came up with my group’s first adventure.

Continue reading “Star Wars: AoR: Adventure creation process”

Star Wars: Age of Rebellion, Character Creation, 2

Last week I discussed the first steps for character creation in Star Wars: Age of Rebellion. This week I’ll finish that up, and discuss the balanced squad I made for my players’ first mission.

After setting your characters skills and talents, the next step is your background. There are tables with motivations for your players; you can either choose or roll (or use a combination of the two, as I’ve discussed). Then you need to decide Duty. This is an important mechanic in AoR, explaining what you hope to accomplish in the Rebellion. Characters should try to act on their duty over the course of the adventure; those who do gain extra Duty points. Eventually, you may gain enough Duty to increase your Contribution to the Rebellion and become more famous and influential. Duty also matters for gameplay; at the beginning of each adventure, the GM rolls a dice and compares it to the total Duty figure for the party. This may result in one player’s Duty being emphasized throughout the adventure.

I decide to roll randomly for motivation and Duty. For motivation I got “Quest,” and decided it would be to save a family member captured by the Empire. For Duty I got, appropriately enough, “Space Superiority.” I hope to shoot as many TIE fighters out of the sky as I can. I stick with that. So Crash joined the Rebellion to save his sister, and hopes to take apart the Empire with his excellent piloting skills.

Finally, you buy your gear. Each player starts with 500 credits, and can increase the credits you have by “spending” Duty points. I recommend doing this, as 500 credits goes quickly and it’s nice to have the extra cash; you can always earn more Duty. You’ll want a weapon, of course, as well as gear specific to your specialization. A slicer will need slicing gear, for example, and a mechanic could use a toolkit.

My most important gear is my ship, so I can make do with the basics. I get heavy clothing, for some protection, a tent in case my ship crashes, a comlink to talk to the rest of my squad, and stimpak in case I’m wounded. Weapons will be useful, but I don’t need anything fancy. So I buy a combat knife and a light blaster.

When forming a character, it’s worth coordinating with the GM and other players. Having two slicers (computer hackers) may not be fun if the adventures don’t involve complex computer problems. And the party can end up in trouble if there’s no mechanic and their ship breaks down.

For an example of a balanced party, here’s the pre-generated characters I made for my intro adventure. They are “Grey Squadron,” a covert group of rebel operatives. I tried to include characters to cover most problems without too much duplication. And I picked species/specialization combinations that played to each species’ strength. I gave them “code names” to make the gender flexible, depending on players.

First is our friend Crash, the Sullustan Ace/Pilot. This is the party’s pilot, focusing on space piloting but also proficient in planetary piloting. As a Sullustan, this character would also be proficient in Astrogation.

Next is Grey Leader, a Gran Commander/Squadron leader. This is the party’s leader and social “face,” coordinating actions, rallying the troops and interacting with others.

After that there’s Socket Wrench, the Mon Calamari Engineer/Mechanic. This is the party’s tech whiz, able to repair their ship and sabotage enemy installations. As a Mon Calamari, the character is also highly educated, and is able to provide scientific expertise as needed.

Next in line is Recoil, a Human Soldier/Commando. This is the party’s close-combat fighter, able to handle everything from a blaster rifle to a hunting knife. The character is also proficient in tracking and exploration. As humans gain extra skills, this character is the backup pilot.

Then we have Slinky, the Bothan spy/infiltrator. This is the party’s stealth character. As a Bothan, the character is well-suited for subterfuge and information gathering.

Finally, there’s Gizmo, the Human Spy/slicer. This is the party’s computer expert. Additionally, as a human, they have proficiency in blasters to serve as a secondary fighter.

And that’s my squad. This is kind of a mixed group, meant to handle whatever comes up. You could easily develop a more specialized squad. Maybe you want a whole group of commandos, or spies. Maybe it’s a diplomat with an escort. The possibilities are limitless, and you should talk to your GM about your ideas.

What do you think? Anyone you’d have substituted in?

Next week I’ll discuss how I come up with Age of Rebellion adventures, and then start the walkthrough from Grey Squadron’s first mission.

Star Wars: Age of Rebellion- Character Creation

Last week I discussed how Star Wars: Age of Rebellion (AoR) worked. This week I’ll go through character creation and present the pre-gen squad I made. This should help new players get a sense for the mechanics and plan ahead for a good balanced group. I’ll talk through the general mechanics and use a running example of a character I created. This will be a two part post, because it got pretty long.

AoR basically uses a point buy system. Each player starts with a certain amount of experience points (XP) that they can “spend” to create their character. The XP varies by species, but it’s around 100. Players can use this to increase characteristics, buy ranks in skills, or buy “talents,” specific powers that flesh out their character. Instead of leveling up as in D&D–e.g. ones you hit 300 XP you go up to level 2–players receive XP at the end of each adventure that they can spend to further upgrade their character.

As with other RPGs, the best way to start character creation is to come up with a character concept. What do you envision your character doing? Frontline fighting? Piloting starfighters? Sneaking through back alleys? This will guide your other decisions.

I want a pilot, specializing in starfighters but able to pilot anything he ends up in. We’ll call him Crash.

The first choice a player makes is the species (equivalent to races in D&D). In Aor you have a choice of humans, Ithorians, Duros, Gran, Bothans, Mon Calamari, Sullustan or droids. Each has a different specialty, which translates into different starting characteristics, species powers, and free ranks in a skill. Sullustans, for example, have high agility, a rank in astrogation and a piloting talent. The two outliers are humans and droids. Humans get more XP to spend and gain a few extra skills, but they lack the specific abilities of other races. Droids, by contrast, get lots of XP and one rank in all skills, but low starting characteristics.  Humans tend to be well-rounded (and easy for beginners), while droids allow for a lot of customization.

Let’s pick a species that has relevant piloting skills. That would be Duros or Sullustan. Duros have a rank in piloting, but Sullustans start with higher agility (the relevant attribute). I’ll go with the Sullustan.

The next step is to choose a career and specialization. Careers indicate your role in the party–ace (piloting), commander (leader, social interaction), etc. And specializations are the specific type of character you will be. For example, an ace can choose to be a driver (planetary piloting), pilot (space piloting) or gunner. Each career and specialization comes with a set of “career skills.” Characters gain a rank in a certain number of these skills; additional ranks are cheaper to buy thank non-career skills.

This one is pretty obvious; Ace/Pilot. 

Now that that is set, it’s time to spend XP. The first step is to increase characteristics. It costs 10 times the level you’re raising an attribute to. That is, if you want to raise willpower from 2 to 3 it costs 30XP. This can get pretty expensive, but is a good area to spend initial XP, as the only way to raise characteristics after creation is a rather expensive talent (see below).

Sullustans start with 100 XP, and I want to increase my characteristics as much as I can now. I’ll go ahead and increase Agility up to 5 (from 3), which costs 90 XP. 40 to go from 3 to 4, and 50 to go from 4 to 5. That doesn’t leave much leftover for skills, but I can increase those later. 

After characteristics are set, you pick your skills. You get ranks in four of your career skills and two of your specialization. You can buy more ranks at 5x the rank level (so 10 for rank 2) for career skills, and 10x the level for non-career skills.

For my career skills I decide to take Piloting (Space) and Piloting (Planetary) for obvious reasons. I also choose Cool, as this seems useful for a pilot, and Ranged (Light) in case I have to fight on the ground. For my specialization skills, I taken a second rank in Piloting (Space) and a rank in Gunnery (to fire my starfighter’s weapons). I also take a second rank in Piloting (Planetary), buying that with my last 10 XP. And I got a rank in astrogation for free as a Sullustan.

Once you’ve chosen a career/specialization, you can choose talents. These are “powers” geared towards your specialization, some active and some passive. Each costs some XP and are good ways to customize your character, giving them something unique to do. Some of these talents seem kind of situational, but that can be fun (as I’ve discussed).

I used up all my XP, but I get a rank in skilled jockey as a Sullustan. This allows me to remove a setback die (see last week’s post) from piloting checks. 

Next week I’ll finish up character creation by discussing character backgrounds, gear, and the sample squad I created.

Star Wars: Age of Rebellion: introducing the game

20180921_065328

When I write about D&D, I assume most readers know the game (even if they are not regular players). But that may not be the case with other RPG systems. So for Call of Cthulhu, I wrote first about H.P. Lovecraft–on whose writing the game is based–to introduce the game. This is the first post in my series on Star Wars: Age of Rebellion. While I don’t think I need to explain Star Wars to anyone, this game system may be unfamiliar, so I’m going to talk through it. This post is less about history or its genesis; instead, I’ll focus on explaining how it works.

Star Wars: Age of Rebellion (which I’ll shorten to AoR) is a “shared story-telling game.” All TTRPGS are, in some ways, shared story-telling, since the players react to situations the GM provides them in ways that shape the narrative. But Star Wars: AoR goes a bit further, actually letting players determine the results of dice rolls (in consultation with the GM). This is one defining characteristic of the game.

The other is the, what I call, chaotic nature of dice rolling. In many systems you succeed or fail. You hit the goblin or miss. Sometimes there are degrees of success or failure, like critical hits and misses in D&D. But Star Wars: AoR goes beyond that. There are actually three sets of results–success/failure, advantage/threat and triumph/despair. The combination of these leads to some interesting, and unpredictable, encounters.

So how does this work?

Unlike other systems that use numeric dice, Star Wars: AoR uses custom dice. Here’s a picture:

20180921_065501

The dice capture character’s attributes (the green dice) skills (yellow dice), difficulty of rolls (purple and red dice), and the effects of situational and environmental conditions (black and blue dice). For example, if my PC decided to sneak by a Stormtrooper, this would be a “stealth” roll based on the “cunning” atribute. Let’s say his cunning is 3 and he has 1 rank of stealth. I would choose three green dice and replace one with a yellow dice (to represent the skill). The GM decides this will be a moderate roll–since the Stormtrooper is alert, but not actively searching–and the trooper has one rank in perception (the opposing skill to stealth). He would then add two purple dice (for the moderate difficulty) with one replaced by a red dice (for the skill). Finally, the GM decides that it is dark out, which grants the player a blue die (“boost”). I would thus assemble my dice pool and roll:

20180921_065301

It’s more complicated than a d20, but it’s not that hard to interpret this roll. So I got two successes and a failure (the stars and triangly things). Since there are more successes than failures, the check succeeds; the PC sneaks by the Stormtrooper. If this was an attack, the player would add the number of successes–after subtracting failures–to the damage of the weapon to determine its impact. Then I got two advantages and one threat (the wavy and hexagon symbols), meaning there is one advantage. After a roll, players decide the outcome of advantages and triumphs–based on the GM’s discretion–and the GM decides the outcome of threats and despairs. So in this case, maybe I’d say I managed to watch the Stormtrooper’s movements while I moved by him, so I could get a boost die on future checks because I know about their patrols.

Another element is destiny points. At the beginning of the game, each player rolls a force dice (the white one in the above picture). The results–either black or white dots–generate destiny points that are set to the appropriate color. During the game, players can flip a white point, while the GM flips a black point. These can grant extraordinary advantages for the flipper or disadvantages for their foes. For example, when I am GM I use these to upgrade the difficult of a player’s check for some in-game reason (“you suddenly bang your head on a low ceiling”).

So you can probably see why this system’s defining characteristics–shared story-telling and chaos–come from.

The shared story-telling arises from the interpretation of the dice rolls. Players get to actively shape the story through their interpretation of advantages and triumphs. Sometimes it can be mechanical–they do extra damage or regain strain (a form of hit points). But other times it’s more than that. They can actually change the situation they face, or gain hidden secrets. In the first session of my Star Wars game–which I’ll blog about soon–one player failed to set up a surveillance system of an Imperial base, but had several advantages. She decided to use the advantage to pick up Imperial comms traffic and learned important information about Imperial plans. Destiny points give players even more control, as they can cause dramatic, deus ex machina moments. In a game I ran for Edge of the Empire–a related system–a player used a destiny point to “remember” he had packed explosives he wanted to use against their enemies. These dynamics give players a lot of control over their own game.

The chaos comes from the combination of success/failure and threat/advantage. You can succeed on a check but something bad can go wrong, or–like the above example–fail, but have something good happen. One of my favorite things to do in combat is to use a successful attack that includes threats is to cause the blaster bolt to ricochet, forcing allies to duck and cover. This leads to them getting disadvantages on their next attack. Nothing is ever straightforward in this game, which requires everyone to be willing to improvise. But it’s a lot of fun.

The result is a unique type of gameplay that is very different from D&D. I love D&D–it’ll always be my “base game”–but I try to get a Star Wars game going periodically because the system is so exciting.

So that’s how you play. Next time I’ll discuss character creation, and present my pre-gen Rebel squad.

Has anyone else played? What do you think?

 

The issue with overly-specific RPG skills

It’s happened to all of us. You create your new table-top RPG (TTRPG) character, investing points in skills to give them a unique and well-rounded flavor, sit down to play…and spend the entire game session not using any of your skills. No situation that arises seems relevant. The combat doesn’t rely on your proficiency in catapults, your expertise in wilderness tracking was useless in the city you’re exploring, your ability to withstand the effects of supernatural horror are irrelevant in the face of the goblins you’re fighting. This is partly an issue of GMs not gearing a campaign to their players (which I’ll talk about below). But it is also a problem that arises when a game system has lots of specific skills, decreasing the chances of any particular skill coming up in play.

One of the biggest culprits is Fantasy Flight’s excellent line of Star Wars games. This system allows players to make highly customized characters, using a variety of skills and class-specific “talents.” The skills cover nearly situation that arises, from firing a laser turret (gunnery) to understanding alien lifeforms (xenology). The problem is that a lot of the skills players invest points in rarely come up. It’s fun to have a character with knowledge of lore–like my archeologist, Arkdo–but it doesn’t seem to factor into many adventures. And some seem redundant. For example, in addition to xenology, other knowledge skills include “education” and “Outer Rim.” Depending on the situation, these could all be used for the same thing. And one can invest XP in both “charm” and “negotiation.” These seem interchangeable. They also seem like they are confusing role-playing with skills; some players may rely on their charm to get things done, others their quick wits. But the skills don’t have to be distinct.

By contrast, D&D fifth edition uses just a few broad skills. For example, just one skill–persuasion–in D&D takes the place of charm and negotiation in Star Wars. Knowledge is divided into rather broad and kind of mutually exclusive categories, history, arcana, nature and religion. And the multitude of weapons are divided into just two proficiencies, simple and martial. It’s a lot easier to make a character, and you face less of a risk of investing points in useless skills.

There are benefits to both approaches. More specific skills allow for more detailed characters. If you want a charming scoundrel with encyclopedic knowledge of the Outer Rim, you can make that character. It also makes it easier for characters to be distinct from each other. In D&D, if two characters have high charisma, they tend to overlap–as I’ve discussed–unless one relies purely on persuasion and the other on intimidation. But in Star Wars, you can have one charismatic character good at inspiring their teammates and another that focuses on negotiating with the locals.

The broader skill approach is also useful. It allows more room for creativity. A PC proficient in nature may use the skill to identify weak points on a charging beast, while another may draw on their nature knowledge to find healing plants. It’s also easier to fit PCs into a campaign, especially if you aren’t able to coordinate details on the characters ahead of time (see below). If a new player joins a Star Wars game focused on space exploration with the above expert-scoundrel, the GM and player may struggle to work them in. In D&D 5e, however, the PC could roll up a rogue proficient in history and tailor the specifics of the character to whatever is going on in the campaign.

Generally, I find broader skills to be better. Why? I think they allow for more expansive role-playing. If a player decides to use their PC’s “jump” skill to overcome an obstacle, all they have to do is roll. If, instead, the player wants to use their “athletics” skill to get over a rushing river, they’ll have to describe exactly how to do it. Likewise, a player who rolls a “charm” check can just say, “I charm them.” But rolling a persuasion check requires fleshing out the exact use of persuasion. Similarly, I imagine that with more detailed skill lists, some of them just go unused. I know I rarely invest XP in xenology when playing Star Wars, as the other, broader, knowledge skills are more useful. So in practice, these systems run on fewer, more general skills.

So what can be done? Well, I don’t like tinkering with game systems, and I wouldn’t abandon any games completely. I love the Star Wars games, despite my issues with the skills. Instead, there are three solutions.

First, when creating a character, avoid investing in redundant skills. I gave the examples of a few from Star Wars above. There are similar issues with games like Call of Cthulhu. So when picking skills, determine whether you’ll really use all of them. Do you need proficiency in all types of rifles? Could you make do with only one out of charm, negotiation, and coercion? This will avoid wasted XP.

Second, work with the GM to ensure skills can have multiple uses. Some GMs may not let characters use, for example, education to try and learn about alien lifeforms. That’s their call. Talk with the GM ahead of time to make sure that the skill your choosing can be used for the purpose you’re imagining it. The GM may have a different idea of what a skill means, and this can help focus your skill selection.

Finally (the best option in my opinion) always start with a good session 0. The Angry GM has some good posts on this. A “session 0” is the session you have before you start gaming. The players and GM get together to chat about what sort of adventures they want, how they want the campaign to go, and what characters they plan on playing. This is a little extra work for players–some of whom just want to roll a barbarian and get to smashing–and GMs need to be flexible to incorporate player wishes into their plans. But it makes the game more enjoyable. It also helps with the issue of misapplied specific skills. To use our running example, if you want the charming scoundrel with Outer Rim knowledge, a session 0 is when you and the GM make sure that character has something to do.

So there’s my thoughts. Any reactions? Anyone want to defend specific skills?

UPDATED for typos.