System Split: Star Wars D6 System and Narrative Dice System

Star Wars has been around for 41 years, and it’s been in the tabletop roleplaying game market for 31 of them now. There have been many writers, companies, and game systems involved over the course of the far, far away galaxy’s tenure at the table. This System Split is going to do things very differently; rather than compare different games using the same system and genre, we’ll be taking a look at different systems in the same universe: the original D6-based Star Wars: The Roleplaying Game from West End Games and the modern Narrative Dice System-based Star Wars Roleplaying from Fantasy Flight Games!

This System Split is complicated a bit by the fact that there are multiple versions of each game. D6 Star Wars had two editions and a revision of the second one, while NDS Star Wars has Edge of the Empire, Age of Rebellion, and Force and Destiny. On the D6 side I’m going to stick with what I’ve got, the core rulebook for 1st Edition 30th Anniversary Edition, which will cover all of the basics we should need. On the NDS side of the line I’m going to be focusing on the Age of Rebellion core book for examples, because the basic rules across all three NDS lines are the same and Age matches the default premise of D6: that the player characters are agents of the Rebel Alliance.

The Dice and the Rules

West End Games’ Star Wars: The Roleplaying Game used and uses the D6 System (the modern version of which is known today as the OpenD6 System). The only type of die you will ever need is the humble d6. Your attributes and skills are ranked by ‘dice codes’ such as 3D, 5D+2, 2D+1, and so on. For any action you are rolling the number of dice in your relevant code (attribute by default, skill if it has been improved past the attribute’s), adding the static +1 or +2 to the total rolled if it’s part of the code. You compare your total to a difficulty number determined by the mechanics (firing a weapon at someone from point blank range has a difficulty of 5, for example), or by the GM. If you meet or exceed the difficulty number, you’ve succeeded.

The Narrative Dice System used by Age of Rebellion and its cohorts uses, as the name might give away, ‘narrative dice’. Your basic characteristics determine how many Ability Dice you have, and your skill rank determines how many of those are upgraded into Proficiency Dice. For any action you roll your Ability and Proficiency (and Boost, if you’ve earned some) Dice at the same time as the Difficulty and Challenge Dice (and some Setback if things have gone dire in some small way). You compare the Successes and Failures you get: if there are non-cancelled Success symbols, you succeed! You also compare Advantage and Threat, which if not cancelled can activate abilities or introduce narrative points for the player and hamper the players or introduce narrative points for the GM respectively. Triumph and Despair do not cancel, and introduce enormous benefits and enormous complications respectively.

Both games also have a Points system, a type of metacurrency. For d6 this is represented by Force Points, and each character begins play with one. They can spend their Force Point to double the number of dice in their pool, which has a massive effect on your chance of success. However, the next step is greatly determined by the way they used the Force Point in the first place. If they used it selfishly, they don’t get that point back at the end of the adventure. If they were heroic, they do get it back. If they used it not just heroically but risked themselves, they get that point back plus an extra one. NDS has Destiny Points, which are in the Destiny Pool. At the start of a session each player rolls the Force Die, and the Light or Dark Side pips determine what kind and how many points are in the pool. Light Side Points can be used to Upgrade a PC’s dice by one step, Downgrade the difficulty of the check, or introduce something to the narrative. Dark Side Points are used the same way, but by the GM. The Points flip between the Light/Dark states as they are used, unlike Force Points which are spent and can’t possibly reappear until the end of the adventure..

Conclusions? The D6 System’s dice are obviously going to be easier and probably cheaper to acquire, their learning curve looks pretty much like a flat line, and they’re easier and quicker to use in play, but they’re potentially quite swingy and there are limited ways to improve the dice pool. The NDS dice pools can improve in several different ways, provide mechanical prompting for narrative action, and can net pretty dependable results at a certain point, but require the custom dice, have to be learned, and at the table can take time to interpret.

There are a lot of nitty gritty rules we could go into, but I’ll just cover some basic differences. D6 turn initiative involves everyone at the table declaring all of the actions they wish to take during a round. Actions take place simultaneously, with conflicting actions (Han and Greedo both want to open fire) are resolved by who has the better dice roll. NDS initiative does involve rolling for it, but creates ‘slots’ that characters can then choose to use in whatever order they PCs (or the GM, for NPCs) prefers.

NDS characters have Wounds (physical health) and Strain (mental fortitude), with damage to each reduced by Soak. Exceed the threshold for either, and you’re out of the fight. D6 characters don’t even have hit points of any kind. Instead they have different states: stunned, wounded (-1D to all rolls), incapacitated (out cold), or mortally wounded. Their state is determined by comparing a damage roll versus their Strength to resist it.

Ironically enough, the D6 System often seems the more narrative one, with less ‘crunch’, although the Narrative Dice System can still claim its name quite strongly with the narrative power of Advantage, Threat, Triumph, Despair, and the Destiny Pool.

The Characters

To compare how characters are built and and how they play in each system, I’m going to grab one of each and I’m going to have them be of as similar a role as possible: the Brash Pilot template for d6, and AoR’s Ace/Pilot Career/Specialization.

Having picked the Brash Pilot template my attribute dice codes have been pre-determined: Dexterity 3D, Knowledge 2D, Mechanical 4D, Perception 3D, Strength 3D, and Technical 3D. Every skill under those attributes has the same skill code, but I have 7 dice I can assign to skills (and can assign no more than two to a single skill) . . . so I’ll pick Blaster 4D, Astrogation 5D, Starship Gunnery 6D, Starship Piloting 6D, and Starship Shields 5D. That’s it, I’m done, aside from things like the name, description, and what sort of connections I have with other characters (tips for which are on the back of the template). I’ve got some gear and some credits handed to me, and could buy some stuff if needed, but otherwise I’m good to go.

For Age of Rebellion, I first have to pick a Species. I know I want to play a Pilot, so I’ll choose a Sullustan, which starts my characteristics off at Brawn 2, Agility 3, Intellect 2, Cunning 1, Willpower 2, and Presence 2. I also get a rank in the Astrogation Skill and a rank of the Skilled Jockey Talent. Choosing Ace as my career and then Pilot as my specialization I get a number of skills designated as Career Skills, which make them cheaper to spend experience points on, and I get several free ranks as well. After choosing my free ranks my skills look like Astrogation 1, Cool 1, Ranged (Light) 1, Gunnery 2, and Piloting (Space 2) (two ranks being the max at character creation).

I’ve got 100 XP to spend. Since this is the only time I can increase characteristics with XP I’ll spend 40 to raise Agility to 4. I could get to Agility 5, the max at character creation, but I want to be able to do some interesting stuff right away, so I’ll spend the remaining 60 XP on Talents. I end up with Full Throttle and Improved Full Throttle (which raises the max speed of my vehicle), Dead to Rights and Improved Dead to Rights (which lets me add my Agility score as extra damage by spending a Destiny Point), and a total of 3 Ranks in Skilled Jockey (removing up to 3 Setback dice from all Piloting checks).

From there I choose my Duty (I don’t choose to reduce it for extra XP or credits this time), my Motivation, and then all the usual name/decription/etc. stuff. I’ve also got 500 credits to spend, and that’ll probably get spent on a blaster pistol, a comlink, and some type of armor.

So, character creation in Star Wars d6: incredibly fast compared to the Narrative Dice version. Not counting picking a name and such, I think I spent maybe 40 seconds putting the character together. That’s not to say that building a character in NDS is difficult; I actually find it quite easy. But there are more moving parts involved, a lot more choices to be made that could slow things down as you dither over options, and keep in mind that a Sullustan Ace/Pilot is an extremely straightforward series of choices. So d6 comes out on top if you’re looking for quick and easy character creation, even if you’re making a template of your own (an option NDS has no equivalent of).

However, our Ace/Pilot is capable of much flashier stuff than our d6 Brash Pilot, thanks to the Talents they’ve taken. Right at character creation they can surpass the top speed of their craft, do extra damage, and ignore situational modifiers that would make their piloting more difficult. Also, given the dice systems and how characters improve, the Ace/Pilot is going to be more consistently competent.

The average of 6d6 is 21, so the Brash Pilot should succeed on the majority of the rolls related to Starship Piloting and Starship Gunnery. However, if they want to perform multiple actions a round (or have to perform reactions such as Starship Shields) then those dice will be reduced which has a serious effect on the odds, and even with all 6D there’s always the chance you’ll roll nothing buts 1s and 2s.

Our Ace/Pilot’s 2 Proficiency Die and 2 Ability Die for Gunnery and Piloting (Space), however, are much less swingy (although the possibility remains that you could roll multiple blanks or nothing but Advantage). Against 2 Difficulty die, the difficulty for shooting at your average TIE Fighters, the Sullustan will at least succeed approximately 80% of the time. Perhaps more to the point, however, is that it will be much easier for the Ace/Pilot to improve their abilities. It’ll take 15 XP for them to raise Piloting (Space) or Gunnery to Rank 3. That’s two sessions worth, maybe one if the GM is generous or things are particularly action-packed. Increasing Starship piloting or Starship Gunnery to 7D will take 18 skill points, and while I can’t find any recommended amounts to give at the end of an adventure, I find it hard to believe that those could be gained in 1 or 2 sessions. There’s also the fact that our Ace/Pilot was able to increase a characteristic at character creation, and if they buy the Dedication Talent later they can do it again, greatly improving every skill under that characteristic’s ‘umbrella’. The Brash Pilot can never increase their attribute die codes, thus they can never have that same kind of sweeping improvement.

I’m given to understand that d6 Star Wars eventually did make it possible to increase attribute codes, but that’s not in the version I can buy new right now, so I’m sticking to what I’ve got.

The dice and the advancement aside, that doesn’t even factor in what Talents can do for an AoR character, while the Brash Pilot can only increase skill die codes.

To swing it back the other way, however, the Brash Pilot is capable of making multiple actions in a turn, and the higher their die codes get the more actions they’ll be able to take with a reasonable expectation of success. Only in the rarest of circumstances or via very powerful abilities will the Ace/Pilot ever be able to take more than a single Action per turn. A d6 character can also spend skill points to improve the die codes of their starship(s), or even their weapons, the equivalent of which is something an AoR character will need credits and/or a good mechanic to pull off.

You could also consider the fact that while both characters can improve whatever skills they want, the Ace/Pilot will have to pay extra in XP for any skill that’s not a Career Skill, which can get expensive fast. If they want any Talents not in the Pilot Specialization, or want to get more Career Skills, they’ll have to buy more Specializations, which really gets expensive. Our Brash Pilot can get the same value for their skill points wherever they spend them, and they don’t have to worry about anything like Talents.

To sum up: your d6 character will be extremely easy to build and easy to play, progression is very freeform, you have some extra uses for your skill points, and once you’ve reached a certain degree of skill you’ll be adept at performing multiple actions a turn. Your NDS character will be generally more consistently competent, easier to advance, and flashier (I’m getting a OSR D&D v. 4e D&D vibe between the two, now that I think of it), but they’re more complicated and more restricted by the Career/Specialization system.

The Force

Here’s an important bit: in either game, anyone can be or become capable of using the Force. Even characters who never become ‘Force Sensitive’ can put their trust in the Force via the Points mechanic. The specifics are very different, but the fact remains that the Force will be with you, always, regardless of which system you play in.

The actual use of the Force is governed, like all things in d6, through the use of Skill Codes. There are three Force skills, none of which fall under any attribute die code’s umbrella: Control, Sense, and Alter. Four of the pre-written templates come with at least one of these skills at 1D, and they can assign some of their seven dice to those skills. Each skill can be used to express a number of different Force abilities. Control alone grants the use of Control Pain, Remain Conscious, Hibernation Trance, Accelerate Healing, Contort/Escape, Detoxify Poison, Control Disease, and Absorb/Dissipate Energy (while also being the skill used with a Lightsaber).

The trick here is that is very hard to actually learn to use those skills. If you aren’t one of the characters who starts with them, you must have a master. That master could be another character who began play with the Force skills, but otherwise you’ve got to find a teacher in a galaxy that’s been trying to kill them for a long time. You need the skill points to improve the Force skills, and as we’ve discussed those can be a long time coming. If you’ve got the skills already but no longer have a master (or have reached the same level as your master, thus leaving nothing for them to teach you), you can continue to improve your skills . . . at double the cost in points.

Age of Rebellion and the other Star Wars NDS games base the actual use of the Force on the Force die which has light side and dark side pips; when trying to use a Force power, you’ve got to roll the die and gain enough light side pips to activate it. You get Force dice equal to your Force Rating, and you get a Force Rating the same way you get everything else: Careers/Specializations. Age of Rebellion (and Edge of the Empire) have a Universal Specialization you need to take, while everyone in Force and Destiny starts with a Force Rating, and you can increase your Rating via Talents. Specializations will grant Talents that let you use Force Dice in special ways, but for the actual Powers you need to buy into them, and then spend XP to buy your way through their own unique ‘talent’ tree to make them more powerful/efficient.

Most of the Force users in Age of Rebellion and the other NDS games are assumed to have been self-taught, unlike most D6 characters (except for the Quixotic Jedi). All you need to use the Force is the rating and then the XP to improve your abilities and powers. While there are some rules for having a mentor or training via a holocron in Force and Destiny, they’re not mandatory.

On the one hand, becoming a master of the Force is much more difficult in D6; unless your GM is generous enough to have Yoda or someone on his level mentor you (he is in the Sourcebook), finding someone to teach you in the first place could be difficult, and learning the Force skills is going to be expensive. While it does require either a Force and Destiny character or an expenditure of XP to become Force Sensitive in NDS, there aren’t any narrative barriers in that system.

On the other hand, once you’ve bought into the three D6 Force skills and strengthened them, you’ve got access to a wide variety of powers, many of which are unique and many more of which can cover for other mundane skills. In NDS, having a Force Rating does not grant you any abilities or powers in and of itself; you need to have at least a Talent that puts that Force Die to work, or a Power, and each Power in individualized. There’s also the fact that a single Force Die is quite unreliable, meaning you’ll need to buy Talents (and be in the right kind of Specialization) to improve your rating, and the use of a Lightsaber is a separate skill while in D6 it comes as part of the Control package, all of which means more XP.

Each path has its obstacles to overcome, I suppose. You might say that D6 Luke Skywalker started off as a Brash Pilot or the Kid and gradually learned the Force Skills from Kenobi and Yoda, while NDS Rey put some starter XP into the Lightsaber skill and the Move and Influence Force Powers, later trying to learn what to do with all that from NPC Mentor Luke. Each has an interesting journey to take.

One cannot talk about the Force without addressing its Dark Side, and both games address it differently. Using Force Points selfishly, as mentioned earlier, doesn’t just cost you the Point: you gain a Dark Side Point in the process. Every so often, you’ll have to roll a d6, and if you roll under the number of Dark Side Points your character falls to the Dark Side; they become an NPC under the GM’s control. Here’s the real kicker: Force users don’t just gain Dark Side Points when they use a Force Point selfishly, they gain DSP any time they act selfishly. Ever. Give in to the Dark Side and forever will it dominate your destiny, indeed. So no playing Dark Side-users, and no playing a character attempting to claw their way back to the light.

Age of Rebellion . . . doesn’t have anything. If you want to use Dark Side pips to power a Force ability, it costs you a Destiny Point and some strain, but rules-as-written . . . you can’t fall to the Dark Side in AoR, aside via GM fiat. Force and Destiny introduced the Morality mechanic, a 1-100 meta score that can go up and down depending on a d10 roll and how much Conflict you’ve accrued by using the Dark Side and acting evil. However, even if you fall to the Dark Side, you don’t automatically lose the character, and redemption is possible (although it’ll be quite the arduous journey). There are even rules for starting play as a Dark Side-user!

D6 Star Wars thus draws a firm line in the sand between the good guys and the bad guys, appropriate enough from Star Wars, and that could lead to some backdoor character death. NDS . . . there’s a good bit more leeway to make mistakes, falling isn’t necessarily the end of your story, and the system is open to evil characters and redemption arcs.

Final Thoughts

Wrapping things up, both systems seem to be indicative of the time they were made in. Star Wars D6 has characters that are a little bit on the hardscrabble side, with rules that are freeform in other places and unforgiving in others. Star Wars NDS has given the players more mechanical power (I didn’t even address Signature Abilities because they’re not in core) and ability to influence the narrative but is more structured, less fire-from-the-hip.

The heart of each is very similar, however, so I won’t recommend one over the other. Whether you want to roll old-school or try for Triumph, I don’t think you can really go wrong, just different.

Now I just need to find a GM so I can play a Quixotic Jedi. Or maybe another Soldier/Medic. Any takers?

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