Being a Better Star Wars Player

For many years, I’ve been privileged to co-host the Order 66 Podcast, which has devoted itself to Star Wars roleplaying.  Almost four years ago, the podcast (which started to discuss Wizards of the Coast’s now defunct Star Wars: Saga Edition RPG) discovered the amazing game created by Fantasy Flight Games, a new publisher with a brand new Star Wars RPG:  Edge of the Empire. After many hours of playtesting, meeting the producers and developers – we became converts; lovers of this new game – and we relaunched the show to focus on it. Four years have passed, and have seen the release of nearly a score of supplement books, as well as two new core game books: Age of Rebellion & Force and Destiny.  This new game changed the rules.  It taught gamemasters who were weened on the d20 mechanic a new way to tell stories, and it taught many players a new way to roleplay in the setting set a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away.

In the past four years, the Order 66 Podcast has devoted thirteen episodes to helping the GMs in this system thrive with advice, tips, tricks, and lessons learned to help a GM master the game and provide the most enjoyable and exciting time for their players. But a recent heavily requested topic for the podcast was to visit the other side of the GM screen; with all the love heaped upon the GM – what about the player? What advice can three hard-boiled Star Wars Podcast hosts utterly steeped in this system give… to the player? Well, we recently tackled that in Episode 82. The discussion was an invigorating one, and for the first time in a long time, I found myself really and truly pondering the question: what makes a good player a GREAT player – in FFG’s Star Wars system?

This article relays a lot of the lessons expressed on the show, and will hopefully guide eager Star Wars players in this system, everywhere.  We humbly present:  the rules players should live by.

Being a Better Player

Don’t adjudicate another player’s dice pool.

There’s a long-standing tradition among many superstitious roleplayers that “you never touch another person’s dice.”  But in FFGs narrative system, it’s actually rare to find a player using ONLY their dice. However, there is still a major dice faux pas you should try to avoid.  You need to:  Respect Other Players’ Dice Adjudication.  Simply put, this means that it is typically a very bad idea to sum up another player’s roll.

For some players (especially very new players to this system), it can take a moment or two to perform your cancellations and figure out what you just rolled on those “triple axes of resolution” dice. And we’ve all painfully watched as a tender new player stares at his roll for a full minute, trying to figure it out.  It’s even more painful when (as a more seasoned player) you can merely glance at the dice pool and instantly calculate the results. There is a serious temptation to “do the work FOR the other player” as he or she stares at the dice.  You want the game to move along.  You get annoyed or frustrated.  So you interrupt and say, “You failed, 2 advantage, and a Despair,” then snatch up the dice.

This is one of the most damaging things you can do to another player at the table.  You’re telling that player (without telling them) that they don’t know what they’re doing.  This does NOT foster a love of this game (or any game, for that matter) for a player; you’re removing that player’s agency and voice at the table.  So DON’T DO IT.  Wait.  Be patient.  ASK if a player would like help (but only if it’s been a minute or so).

Don’t hog the Obligation or Duty spotlight.

The Obligation and Duty mechanics are beloved by fans of this system for good reason; they are unique character resources that not only support amazing roleplaying opportunities and tangible, mechanical benefits for your character, but give your GM a codified mechanical way to work your character’s personal stories into the game.  As such, it’s natural that players are going to want to push their Obligation or Duty into the limelight; people are going to want to buy-down their Obligation and increase their Duty.  

But really good players will realize that Duty actually functions as a “Group” mechanic.  The way it’s designed…you might never increase your personal duty ONCE, but because Duty’s benefits are all about the Group’s overall contribution rank (and not each PCs individual Duty), that’s okay.  The group’s total Duty just has to get to 100 for a Contribution Rank increase, so it doesn’t matter whose Duty is focused on.  Really good players will also realize that with Obligation, the entire group suffers when any player’s Obligation is high; and will want to work to bring it down.

Smart players in this system will wisely latch on to other characters’ Obligations and Duties, working hard to help them be bought-off or achieved, because they realize it benefits them, too. It’s also an amazing way to endear your PC to another PC (and yourself to another player, for that matter). And amazingly, when you do this for other players they’ll do it for you. More efficient? Improved group bonding and cohesion? Sign. Me. Up.

Focus on helping other player characters.

This is very much in the same vein as our previous tip, but doesn’t focus on mechanics – it focuses on roleplaying.  A really good player in this system learns his party members’ backstories, Motivations, Obligations, Duties; and (possibly) susses out the Emotional axes of their Morality.  Extremely wise players might go so far as to make a private list of these things, and focus on talking to and assisting other party members each session. Much as the benefits for not hogging the Obligation or Duty spotlight, it will completely endear you to the others in the party; meaning that they will be the first ones up to help you with YOUR problems.

Narrate your own dice results.

Players who really “get” FFG’s Star Wars system learn how to properly narrate their own dice results, instead of letting the GM do it.  First of all, you’ve got to have a solid handle and understanding on what the dice mean; the “order of operations” for the dice, if you will.  They’re pretty easy to figure out.

  • Blue/Black:  All about environmental and other circumstantial bonuses and penalties. 
  • Yellow/Red:  Are all about advanced training and extenuating circumstances. 
  • Green/Purple:  Are all about base ability or difficulty.

So, if a good player fails a roll, and it was because they had a failure on that black setback die, then their narration tells the GM that:  “the rain blocked my vision” or “his armor glanced the blow” or “my eyes hadn’t yet adjusted to the darkness” – whatever the cause of the setback die was. If the same player succeeds due to double-success on a yellow die, they know it was because of “my advanced training” or “the power of destiny” – or whatever reason caused the upgrade.

This level of narrative is the heart and soul of FFG’s Star Wars system, and doing this will add tremendous enjoyment for the game, and make your GM love you (as you’ve taken work out of their hands). So take pride in your narration! SO few players do this!  SO few players are comfortable with this! Try not to be that player. Take responsibility for your own dice pool, and offer a cool narration – it’s YOUR success or failure, after all.

Throw away the suggested Advantage/Triumph result list.

Yes, we’re talking about the tables in each of the Core Rulebooks (and the GM Screens) that lists out how you can spend advantage and triumph. Don’t look at it. Understand what we’re saying, here, please.  That table is an AMAZING resource that is seriously helpful in understanding the mechanics of the game.  What our hyperbole means is that good players should never look to the table, first.

We’ve all seen players roll 2 Advantage and then, when asked what they want to do with it, just stare at the table and go “Ummmmmmmmm….” for 30 seconds.  A good player completely shifts his or her mentality. When told you have advantage or Triumph, use it narratively, and only then work with the GM to determine the mechanical benefit.  In other words: Narrative Result Before Mechanical Benefit. Because when it works correctly, one drives the other.

When you roll 2 Advantage, for example, you should first think about what narrative effect you want to pull off. You’re so skilled, you used your weapon to activate a special effect? You want to further hinder the foe you targeted, or his allies? You want to embolden your own allies in some way? You want to create an interesting environmental circumstance, or another wrinkle into the scene? Once you’ve got that figured out, you narrate it as a part of your dice results narration:

  • “Okay, so with the pouring rain streaming into my eyes, my vision falters for a second, and the shot only grazes his ear… but with my 2 Advantage, I want him to to freak out and jump back, exposing himself out of cover for one of my allies…!”

THEN you work with the GM to define the mechanical benefit:

  • “So… I missed, but I want to spend my 2 Advantage to give our sniper a boost die to blast him, as he jumps back from cover – is that okay?”

It’s also important to ask for permission. (In the example above, it ended with the player asking for permission on his mechanical and narrative choice.)  From who?  Why, the GM and the other players.  Consequently, be open to suggestion from other players (or a flat decision, from the GM). But when done right, this adds so much power to the game, and gives agency to you as a player, and to your character.

Throw away your skill list.

Yay, more hyperbole!  What we mean is this:  great players never look to their skill ranks, first.  They think about narration and character action, first. When faced with a narrative skill challenge, or other problem outside of simply attacking someone, players will all-too-frequently refuse to do things, or not consider doing them, just because their dice pool isn’t great.

  • “No – I don’t want to take a snub fighter.  I don’t have any ranks in Pilot.”
  • “Can…I make a Ranged (Heavy) check to intimidate him?  My Coercion is crap…”
  • “So…in the heat of the firefight, I want to lecture the Storm Troopers on their poor life choices…”

Narrate first, then decide what skill matters. I often have to tell players, “Don’t look at your skills – look at me.  What would your character do?” Great players don’t pore over their skill list – they focus on the scene, their character’s roleplaying proclivities, Motivation, etc., and just decide how they would react. Would your character shoot the guy in the head? Try to scare him into crapping himself? Get into a fighter and try and save his friends? Try to shut down the force field? The answers to these questions (for GOOD players) should have nothing to do with your ranks in Ranged (Light), Coercion, Pilot (Space), or Computers.

Great players decide what to do based off of the scene and your PC’s frame of mind.  Only THEN do you work with the GM on what skill check it will take to do it. You see…good GMs will hear your narration, and help you suggest a skill.  You might suck at it, but a good GM will adjust your difficulty down for great narrative suggestion, or (more commonly) provide you a boost die for great narration and roleplay. Stick firm to your narrative choice, then find a way to make it work. Maybe this means suggesting a weird skill to do it (such as using Melee to skillfully sharpen your blade mere inches from the target’s face, in order to coerce them). And a good GM will allow it, just at an increased difficulty.

Yes, you might fail – but so what?  YOU ARE REALLY, TRULY PLAYING YOUR CHARACTER AT THAT POINT – AND CHARACTERS AREN’T GOOD AT EVERYTHING THEY TRY TO DO. It also encourages you to get creative with narrative results – which (as we’ve just said) is a win for a good player.

Don’t over-think or over-plan.

This is really more of an issue in convention games or one-shots; but Roleplayers tend to get into the habit of trying to “cover every single conceivable base.” This means belaboring story time and game time to over-plan and over-think “just in case” scenarios. That’s not how this system is supposed to work, because it’s not cinematic to do this. Now, we’re not saying “Don’t Plan” – that’s not what we’re saying.  What we’re saying is, when you’re playing in a one-shot and the GM is clearly screen-wiping to move things along – don’t stop and go “WAIT!  Before we leave, I want to dig into the computer system and cover our tracks…I want to hide all the bodies…I want to leave a virus in the enemy computer core to destroy their entire network…”  (Yes…these are all things I’ve actually heard players say, when I’m simply trying to move the story along.) When your GM is clearly not concerned about the risk you’re trying to prevent, and is trying to advance things along – doing this is jarring, unnecessary, and a time sink.

Remember, Destiny Points are there for a reason! Even if you DID forget something, a simple Destiny Point flip can easily let you “retroactively” remember to have erased that computer log, or hidden those bodies with a clever check. Furthermore, Star Wars is about players getting into hairy situations they didn’t plan for.  It’s not a dungeon crawl.  You don’t need a 10 foot pole.  Good Players LET complications happen, because it’s fun, fitting for the setting, and the system provides you with good tools to deal with them.

Avoid Destiny Point douchebaggery.

And speaking of Destiny Points…good players will remember that they are a party resource, but also their resource. There’s a fine balancing line between being afraid to use Destiny Points, and using them every single check.  (And yes, I’ve seen both sides from players.) When using a Destiny Point, it’s important to ask for permission, but don’t be beaten down by it. Asking your party for permission is a good idea. “What do you guys think?  Should I spend this?”  Of course, you don’t have to follow their advice, but asking for it is a good player hallmark.

Having said that…try to spend Destiny Points eagerly! This system is at it’s most fun when the light vs. dark sided Destiny Points are being flipped constantly.  The Destiny pool is a major resource for your characters. So don’t be afraid of it. Use it. (The worst offence is a group “sitting” on an all light-side pool, because they don’t want the GM to have any destiny points. Utter douchebaggery.)

Don’t volunteer rules.

To be frank, this is probably the #1 offense committed in any role playing game; interrupting another player (or the GM) to tell them “you’re not doing that right.” GM’s tend to be the worst offenders, here, when they’re playing (simply because they know the rules so well). It’s extremely…extremely…hard to do sometimes, but really good players in this situation will just shut their mouths. It’s okay if the rule isn’t being followed perfectly. Really, it is.

In the worst case, if a player or GM is struggling, ask if they want advice, or wait to be asked. Don’t volunteer. The bottom line truth is that you only come across as a know-it-all and a rules lawyer; regardless of your best intentions.

DBAD.

Yup. It really all ends (and in some way, begins) with this. We’ve preached it on the podcast far too often to not bring it up, now.  Don’t.  Be.  A.  Dick.  Most of the advice we’ve just given you can really be summed up by that. To cement yourself as an amazing, dependable, enjoyable player in this system – someone others look forward to playing with: Don’t think of your character first, think of other characters first. Don’t take over the game. Don’t tell the GM his job. Be respectful, and above all – care about the fun of everyone else at the table before your own.

Truthfully, it comes down to why you’re roleplaying with these people in the first place. If it’s so you can have a good time, everyone else be damned, then this might not be the hobby for you.

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GM Chris
Co-Host of the Order 66 Podcast, Co-Founder of d20Radio and GamerNation Studios, father, husband, and hopelessly addicted Star Wars gamer. Yup.
GM Chris

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