Monday, April 27, 2009

D6 vs. D20

Every once in a while, I will go back through old gaming books, reading bits and pieces just for the heck of it. Tonight I did that with my old (and, alas, falling apart) 1987 Star Wars 1st Edition Rulebook. I remember devouring this book when I first got it. It really opened up my eyes to an entirely new kind of gaming. D&D and even Star Frontiers all had a kind of 'formula' to them- sandbox type adventures and the like. I enjoyed them, sure, but only rarely did they capture the really dramatic 'cinematic' feel that I craved. 

And then I got this rulebook. 

Early on, in the section about game-mastering, the text spoke about making the game "feel like the movies". It offered suggestions on just how to do that: Encourage your players to 'banter' in character. Tie things back to the movie. Make the settings 'alien' and unique. Maintain a grandiose scale. Use 'pseudoscientific gobbledygook'. Never before in a game had I seen such attention being paid to capturing the feel of a setting. I mean this was even before they delved into the rule system. Yes, it is easier to do that when you have a very specific setting like Star Wars, as opposed to the more 'generic' D&D system. But it was still an eye-opener for me—putting 'mood and feel' before mechanics and systems.

In the same section is a list of 'Useful Things to Remember About Gamemastering'. One suggestion in particular that struck me:

3. Expect to extend the rules. No set of rules can be as ingenious as players. Use your common sense to handle problems that arise, and keep playing. Don't wast too much time looking up minor rules. Reserve the right to change your mind about rules judgments. ("This is my ruling tonight, but after I've thought about it, I may want to change my mind.").

This, to me, is another pillar upon which the Star Wars D6 game was founded. Speed, action and excitement over rules-mongering and 'charts'. After this, the rulebook goes on to to say:

...So don't worry; loosen up. Wing it. Rely on common sense and imagination. Don't get too hung up on making sure everything is just as it should be. Remember: the purpose of the game is to have fun. If our suggestions get in the way—toss 'em out. Having a good time is more important than any picayune details.

Simple suggestions, yes. But they really hit home with me. I know in my other gaming, I had been almost 'timid' about bending the rules, afraid that I wasn't running things the 'right way'. More than any other game, D6 Star Wars instilled in me the idea that the game was mine to do with as I pleased—that the rules were just a framework for my own style.

I'm sure I've already talked about this in my other posts, but it keeps coming up in my own thoughts—the way this game really 'set me free' as a game-master. Originally, that's all this post was going to be about. But the more I got into it, the more contrasts I could see with the current incarnation of the Star Wars RPG. 

The D20 system is a workable system from what I've seen (only played it a couple times, but I own a lot of the books). But for me, it really doesn't capture the 'feeling' of Star Wars. It feels like D&D... with lightsabers instead of swords. Stormtroopers instead of orcs and the Force instead of magic. 

Don't even get me started about the pages and pages of charts and stats. I would venture that at LEAST 1/3 of all the D20 books consist of blocks of charts and stats for NPCs of varying level. Where the D6 books provided deep source material for you to work with—broad strokes of stat-less information—D20 gives you pages of minutae and attack modifiers. Every book details new powers that give you some stat or attack bonus. Every book has new 'prestige classes', each with their own special stat bonuses and powers... Stats. Stats. Stats. Everything in the game seems to be reduced to a "you get a +1 bonus to do such-and-such". As a GM, I know I'd much rather have actual INFORMATION in these books—some in depth history on the various races presented. Some interesting story-hooks on how things can be used to make something more exciting or tie into a particular plot line.

Maybe I'm just being too harsh on D20—maybe I don't really know enough about it to make a judgement call. So consider all of this just the opinion of one grumpy 'old school' Star Wars gamer. I'll take D6 (with its emphasis on atmosphere, excitement and fun) over D20 (and its pages of stats and charts) any day.


  1. No, you're right. D20 (at least the non-Saga edition Star Wars) was just so laden with rules and charts that when a friend bought it for me I looked it over and decided then and there that I would never run the game. Now Saga edition does a better job at getting away from the massive complex of charts, but it's still lacking in certain areas. It doesn't feel quite right. It certainly feels better than the older D20 incarnations of Star Wars, but it's no D6!

  2. This is true not only when comparing two different Star Wars systems, but when comparing D6 to any other system out there (At least to my knowledge.) I am most familiar with D6 and with percentile dice games like Marvel Super Heroes (TSR) and Warhammer Fantasy RPG. But D6 by far is the easiest to learn, easiest to wing, and easiest to participate in stories... In every other system I've played in there's almost always a dispute regarding this rule or that rule, powergamers who search for loopholes in the rules, or GMs who want to use players' ignorance of rules to their advantage. This is the only system I feel confident enough to GM for, and every time I've done it the group has had loads of fun. I'll be playing this when I'm old and grey and in a nursing home...