I recently had a chance to read through Star Wars: Saga Edition by Wizards of the Coast, which sports a revised d20 rules set that I think will become D&D 4th Edition. I’ll just write briefly about some of the changes – I haven’t played the game, but I skimmed/read the entire book with an eye for new mechanics I’d heard about and wanted to see for myself.
The class sytem has been pared down to only five base classes: Jedi, Noble, Scout, Scoundrel, Soldier. Compared to the previous edition of Star Wars d20, these classes are mostly the same – at first glance.
Skills are streamlined – you have a number of trained skills and your skill bonus is based on your level plus your ability modifier – no spending skill ranks at all. Another interesting change is that you have fewer skills. For example, Use the Force is your skill for using any Force powers. Acrobatics combines Balance, Tumbling and Escape Artist, and so on.
Saves and Armor Class have been combined into your three Defenses – Reflex Defense, Fortitude Defense and Will Defense. I like this decision – if only they’d gotten rid of the attack bonus, it would be even more reasonable, but you can’t be perfect.
Talent trees have been added to all classes, making them somewhat similar to classes in World of Warcraft. Every level, each class gets either a new Feat or a pick from the Talent trees, and it is through Talent trees that you are able to customize your character, essentially resulting in 5 base classes and 20 modified class options. I loved the talent trees in WoW, and I love them in this game as well. They mean that, especially combined with Feats, that you can have four very different Jedi, for example, or four very different Soldiers.
Hit points are retained, unfortunately (I was a fan of the Wounds and Vitality system that the previous edition used), but they are made a bit more interesting by two things: Second Wind and Threshold. Second Wind is the ability to essentially recover a portion of lost hit points quickly when you have a chance for a brief rest – making them somewhat similar to my preferred Vitality. Threshold is a portion of your hit points which measures the amount of damage you can sustain in a single hit without being threatened. So, you might have 40 hit points but a Threshold of 17, meaning that a shot that does 18 hit points of damage is threatening. This is similar to the Wounds system, and is preferable to hit points a’la D&D.
I’m sorry to report, Attacks of Opportunity are retained.
On the more positive side, Destiny is an element that I think is a great addition to the d20 system overall. Each character has a Destiny, and Destiny points are awarded for actions which further this destiny. These points can be spent in a similar way to Force points for temporary boots in-game and help to mitigate the effect of unlucky rolls.
I haven’t played the game, but having read it I give it 3.5 out of 5 stars. If they dropped Attacks of Opportunity, the score would go up .5 right there, but the rating is for the game as it is written. About a year ago I played in an excellent Star Wars d20 game, and I think that this system would have made the game even better.
At the very least, if D&D 4th Edition goes this way, I think it will be a solid improvement on 3.5. I’m not sure I want to spend $100 to get the core rulebooks for another incarnation of D&D, but I can’t promise I won’t end up doing so against my better judgement…
For the record, I think Wizards of the Coast will announce D&D 4th Edition at this year’s GenCon (a good way to mark the convention’s anniversary) and will have a year-long countdown to 4th Edition, to be released at GenCon in 2008.