This is, perhaps, the most iconic aspect of the Star Wars universe. As such, it feels like a good place to start a Star Wars conversion. There are three aspects of the Force that I feel need to be considered when adapting a system to replicate it:
- Applications of the Force used by those with some level of training.
- Applications of the Force used by those that don’t know they’re using it.
- Light Side vs. Dark Side
This is the really meaty part of it. Here where we’ve got the most powerful uses of the Force. You want to chuck someone across the room? Look here. You want to deflect a blaster shot with your lightsaber? That’s here. Want to communicate with your sibling a few miles away? Also here. Now, 5E has a few different things that could work for this and they each have their place.
Because, let’s be honest, Jedi are really just Mages. They’re doing something overtly supernatural. Call them sorcerers, psions, superheroes, or whatever. I mean, the Witches of Dathomir even believed their use of the Force was closer to what we call magic than anything else. In the end, it boils down to people breaking the laws of nature. The closest equivalent in 5E is spellcasting.
Here’s a problem, though: Vancian magic is weird. 5E, at least, decided to translate everything to spell slots so that prepared casters can pick X spells and use them in whatever way they want. But preparing spells is still problematic at best. Force users typically don’t prepare their Force abilities ahead of time. They don’t have a subset of their total powers that they gain access to by studying or praying. As such, I don’t know that Wizards or Clerics would make good fits for this conversion. However. I’m not willing to rule them out entirely. Consider a Jedi that spends a considerable amount of time in the Jedi Temple Archives, learning from holocrons. That sounds a lot like a Wizard. Or a Force-using mystic that spends each morning in quiet contemplation of the Living Force. That could be represented by a Cleric. But I’m getting ahead of myself here. I don’t want to talk too much about classes just yet. We’ll get there, though.
Anyway, do spell slots make sense for Force powers? Maybe. Maybe not. 5E handles spellcasting a little differently than 3.X. Caster Level is no longer a thing. A spell has a base level, as usual, and if you want to cast a more powerful version of the spell, you use a higher level spell slot. Easy. Does this work for Force powers? I think so. Much like spells, there are “tiers” of Force abilities. They are not always categorized as such, but there are clearly abilities that are more advanced than others, allowing us to organize Force powers similarly. For instance, the ability to deflect a blaster bolt with a lightsaber is an early technique many Jedi learn, while something like Mace Windu’s ability to perceive “shatterpoints” is an advanced ability. Deflecting a blaster shot might be a low level power and Shatterpoint might be a higher level power.
Additionally, there are a number of Force powers that can be amplified. Let’s look at something like “Move Object” which we can say is the generic telekinetic ability of many Force users. It’s not too difficult to whip a lightsaber into your hand from the floor, but it’s considerably more difficult to lift an X-Wing out of a swamp. If using a spell slot equivalent, then pushing yourself to use a more powerful application of a Force power uses a higher spell slot.
From this perspective, spell slots are looking pretty good. The downside is resource management. Spell slots are limited and using them up means you don’t get to use your most powerful spells anymore. In 5E, cantrips can be used all day long. This is pretty wonderful. The most basic cantrips can be useful. Right now, we’ve got things like Mage Hand (Move Object?), Friends (Mind Trick?), and True Strike (Luke and the proton torpedoes?) which feel like basic Force abilities already. Is this enough? That’s an excellent question—one I don’t immediately have an answer for. I think it would require some good planning to decide what abilities are cantrip-equivalent and extensive playtesting to make sure you still feel like you’re using the Force.
The d20-based systems typically limit how often a player can use their Force abilities. If I’m correct, the d20 and Revised d20 system used vitality as a measure of the toll certain Force skills took on the user. Your limit was, then, your own health over time. Saga Edition allowed you to have a “suite” of powers that were depleted over an encounter and were replenished afterward. The weird thing in Saga Edition was that you needed to learn multiple instances of a Force power if you wanted to use it more than once in an encounter. If we’re using the spell slot system, that isn’t a concern. The limit imposed by the spell slot system is general management of power usage. If it works for spells, I don’t see a real issue with using it for Force powers.
All in all, I think using the standard spell slot system for most Force powers works just fine. Now, not all Force abilities can be encapsulated so succinctly as spell-equivalent powers. A number of Force-dependent abilities are more passive, like a Jedi’s ability to sense danger, disturbances in the Force, or something like Battle Meditation. What do we do about these? The answer is twofold. Firstly, D&D already handles similar situations. Not all magical abilities are spells. Some are class abilities. Battle Meditation could easily be a class ability. Things like sensing danger and disturbances in the Force might act a little differently. They feel more like at-will abilities, which classes could provide… but I’d argue that most, if not all Force users should have some common abilities, regardless of race or class. And, really, that goes for any Force user that doesn’t have training, too.
So that ties us into the next section: universal abilities. Now we’re starting to get into a surprisingly complex territory. From what I can tell, every Star Wars system starting with WEG has used some variation of “Force Points”, where even someone not trained in the Force can subconsciously use it in varying circumstances. It represents some extra push or stroke of luck. That’s a really good way to do things. Can we use this? Yes. Easily. Because 5E already does this. It’s the Inspiration mechanic.
Before we continue, let me admit something: I am biased. I unabashedly love the Inspiration mechanic. I think it might just be my favorite thing about 5E. I also think it is the single most underutilized part of 5E. So, with that said, let’s continue.
Inspiration in 5E is simple: you do something with a roleplaying benefit (based on your Background) and you get Inspiration. This can be used to gain advantage on… well, pretty much anything (sure, sure, there are specifics, but it’s so widely applicable that it might as well be anything). Okay, so Han is flying the Falcon through an asteroid field and uses Inspiration to make sure that Pilot check succeeds. Cool, that works. Maybe they know they’re using the Force, maybe not. Either way, we can rename Inspiration as Use the Force and voila, problem solved!
…or is it? Up above, I was commenting on how there are some universal Force abilities like sensing danger and disturbances in the Force. I was saying these should be universally accessible for those with training and then said that we can use Inspiration for universal abilities. But Inspiration is used for everyone, not just those with training. Ah. Now we’ve got a conflict. Both Han and Luke should be able to get advantage on a roll by calling on the Force. But Han shouldn’t be able to sense Darth Vader in the room next to him. So Inspiration works for one aspect of this, but not the other. How do we resolve this? I’m going to outline a few preliminary options that I’ve been thinking about.
Ender’s Expanded Inspiration System
Over in the Eberron subforum, I’ve been tinkering with the Inspiration mechanic and I think there are a few things from this prototype homebrew expansion that I think could be used in a Star Wars game.
Eberron is all about pulp action and the 3.5 campaign setting used “Action Points”… which are fundamentally equivalent to Force Points. The issue I always had with Action Points was that you got a finite number per level. Saga Edition did the same thing with Force Points. The problem is that players look at a finite pool and tend to horde their Action Points, refusing to use them unless it’s absolutely necessary. Inspiration, though, can be used more frequently. But Inspiration also isn’t always available. This was a bit problematic. So I made some key changes.
First, everyone gets Inspiration after a long rest. In Eberron, we want pulpy action all the time. In Star Wars, we want people to be heroic pretty constantly. Next, Inspiration isn’t such a binary thing that you either have or don’t have. Instead, you have a pool of Inspiration Points (or Force Points). Not a lot. At low levels, you still have a max of 1. By the end, you can have up to 3 at a time. GMs are also encouraged to give out Inspiration like candy, so that a player doesn’t feel like Inspiration is a limited resource that they’ll get stingy with using. Heroes don’t hesitate to be heroic because they’re afraid they’ll use up their heroicness. At the same time, they can’t always be heroic or it wouldn’t be a game with any challenge. A recharging pool of Inspiration strikes a nice balance that can be controlled by the GM if necessary.
That’s the most basic change to the Inspiration system. Next is the more drastic part of the expansion. In 3.5, Action Points could also be used for a few other heroic things, so I thought to myself “Why not expand the Inspiration system to replicate this?” Jester of The Fraternity of Shadows has a 5E Ravenloft conversion that lets each player choose a single trait, known as a Dark Shadow, during character creation that gives the PC a new use of Inspiration. Maybe you can spend Inspiration to see incorporeal undead or use a cantrip or become proficient in a skill for a limited time. Things like that. I thought this was neat.
Additionally, Eberron has an iconic, defining feature of the setting known as Dragonmarks. These are essentially magical tattoos, tied to your soul, that manifest on you during a time of need and provide you with a small magical benefit. In 3.5, it was a +2 bonus to a skill and a cantrip or first level spell-like ability. I tried to expand the Inspiration system to accommodate Dragonmarks. I thought that you could start out with, or alternatively gain a Dragonmark that let you use your Inspiration to activate its ability. That seemed fine… until I thought about people that don’t have Dragonmarks. There needs to be something to balance this out. Dragonmarked characters shouldn’t just get more options for things to do that those without a Dragonmark. The answer seemed to be: every character gets traits. You can choose to gain a Dragonmark or choose a different trait. It’s like the choice of Feats (and, really, is almost identical to feats) but requires the use of Inspiration.
This same system can be applied for the Force if we want Inspiration to govern the use of all universal Force abilities. We design a selection of traits for those trained in the Force, like sensing danger or sensing the Force and also design a selection of traits for those without training. For example, you could have a trait called Lucky Shot that lets you use Inspiration to reroll weapon damage or something. Do you want your character to be like the iconic Jedi in the movies? Select the traits that represent that. Do you want to be more like Mara Jade, who was trained as a Force-sensitive assassin, but didn’t really understand the Force at the start? Don’t choose the traditional traits and opt instead for something combat oriented. Like any other part of 5E, it’s a choice.
It isn’t perfect. The system has downsides. No matter how often you give out Inspiration, it’s still a limited resource. “Recharging” keeps the players using it, but there will come a time when a player doesn’t have Inspiration and says “I want to sense for danger”. And the GM will have to say no. Then you’ve got the story conflicting with the mechanics of the game again. Certain applications of the Force probably shouldn’t be tied to an expendable resource. Maybe some should just be at-will. Well, I don’t immediately have a fix for that. My expanded Inspiration system isn’t designed with that in mind.
You may also be asking how many traits you get. At creation, just one. How do you get more? Well, that’s a longer explanation than you’re expecting. In my system, I also decided to base ability score improvements on character level instead of class level—because I honestly can’t figure out why 5E set it up that way. I do not understand why a Rogue gets more ability score increases than a Wizard. This makes no sense to me. (Before the comments roll in, yes, I get why they did it. They want a distinct disincentive for multiclassing. Which would be fine… if every class got the same number of ability score increases and got them at the same levels. But they don’t. So this is just messing with balance, which bothers me. ) So I just went back to the way 3.X did it. Every 4 levels, you get an ability score increase. And then, if you wanted a trait, you pick a new trait instead of one of your ability score increases. If you like the way 5E handles it by default, traits still work just fine with it.
You may now be questioning why, if I’m swapping out ability score increases, I’m not just using feats. That’s an excellent question. The answer is: I’m stubborn. Eh. Feats are an optional system in 5E. I didn’t think it made sense to say an optional system is suddenly mandatory for a campaign setting. But I thought it made sense to say that an entirely new subsystem is mandatory for a campaign setting. No, it doesn’t make sense. I’ve had a ton of trouble trying to design traits because feats pretty much thought of everything. Any trait I made was just a subset of some feat. Here’s some ways to reconcile the system, none of which are perfect:
1. Instead of traits, use feats. Give everyone a feat at first level and find a way to make the Variant Human relevant. Force Sensitive can be a feat that provides a few different universal Force abilities.
2. Instead of feats, use traits. Break down feats into bite-sized pieces that require Inspiration to activate. When you get to the point where you can increase your ability scores, you can choose to gain a trait and increase one score, gain two traits and increase no score, or increase your scores by two points and gain no traits.
3. Use both feats and traits. Make traits distinctly different from feat abilities and less powerful. Feats can still be optional, because now it won’t matter how traits are related to them. Maybe you can select traits instead of ability score adjustments like in option #2, but you could also take a feat instead. Or maybe you just get a new trait with an ability score adjustment.
So that’s the Expanded Inspiration System. I'd love to hear what people think of this idea. I'm not sold on it, actually, so criticisms are not only welcome, but appreciated. This is only one possible solution, however. Here’s more.
A New Attribute
The DMG contains a section detailing two new Ability Scores: Honor and Sanity, that can have use in specific kinds of games. Consider an Ability Score we design called Force (I know, super original, right?). This score measures the strength of a character’s connection to the Force, how well they utilize it, and maybe their knowledge of it. In general, Force users would have a higher Force score and others would have lower scores.
This score would open up some interesting ideas, I think. Anakin and Obi-Wan both try to Force Push each other away on Mustafar? Roll opposed Force checks! You want characters to be able to Sense Danger at-will? Roll a Force check! A jedi is trying to use the Force near an Ysalamiri? Roll a Force check! Someone is trying to use Sever Force on you? Make a Force saving throw! Stuff like that.
What I find even more interesting, however, is the fact that the PHB notes that skills are generally tied to a specific ability score, but can sort of wander around when needed. For instance, an Orc trying to intimidate a mook with a show of force might make a Strength (Intimidate) check instead of Charisma (Intimidate). What this means is, with a Force ability score, we open up other avenues of using skills. Some can use the Force to see with an ability known as Force Sight. For something like that, we can say “make a Force (Perception) check”. Maybe if you’re trying to leap really far using the Force, it’s a Force (Athletics) check. There are many options to use the Force instead of a normal ability score.
Now, that’s certainly interesting. I really like that idea, but it’s also very problematic. First, adding a new ability score is always a hassle. The DMG says that you add an 11 to the standard array for a new score, add 3 points to a point-buy, or you roll for the score. Well, okay, but a Force score is really only applicable to Force users. It is inherently less valuable to those untrained in the Force, even if they’re “strong in the Force”. A player has no reason to prioritize the skill if they’re not trained. That means that those who are trained in it will want to boost that score, but now we’re thinning out the other scores. They, then, would have lower regular scores. Does this balance out well? Are the added options of the Force score weighty enough to even things out? Maybe. I’m undecided.
Another issue deals with classes. Spellcasters use differing mental stats for their spells. Wizards use INT, Clerics use WIS, Sorcerers use CHA, and so on. If we have a Force score, then I don’t think it’s a huge stretch to say it would make sense to use it as the governing ability score of all Force using classes. Ahhhh but doing that shifts its importance pretty drastically. Let’s assume, for a moment, that all the classes remain as they are right now but we introduce a Magic ability score that all spellcasters use. Does a Wizard have any reason to raise his INT? Not really. Sure, skills are nice, but skill points aren’t part of the system anymore. The difference between a +1 modifier and +3 modifer for skills is relatively small. Not to mention the default ability score cap of 20. Your proficiencies end up playing the largest role in how good your skills are. So now Force sensitive characters will be more likely to dump other scores in favor of Force. This is not a good thing.
One solution to this problem is pretty simple: Force is not a separate ability score, but rather is another name for the ability score that governs your “spellcasting”. A Wizard’s Force score is, then, his INT. A Sorcerer uses CHA, and so on and so forth. This allows us to keep all the benefits of a Force score, like contested rolls and skills that use your Force ability, and means that the priority of the score doesn’t really factor into character creation. It’s one of the default scores and doesn’t become any more important than a standard spellcasting ability score. Great!
Except… now we’re giving Force users more options. If they can do so much more with one of their ability scores, the balance is tipping in their favor. Spellcasters are already pretty powerful. 5E does a nice job at keeping them on the same level as everyone else, but if a Wizard can suddenly use INT to lift things with his mind, then we’re messing with that balance. I don’t like that. It could be argued that since proficiencies are what really matter, then it’s not a huge deal. A Jedi might be able to make a Wisdom (Athletics) check to jump, but if he’s not trained in Athletics, then it’s just a Wisdom check and it’s not that much better than a rogue untrained in Athletics making a Strength check. If he is trained in Athletics, then the difference is still negligible! This is certainly one way to look at it. I recognize it’s still slightly unbalanced, so I hesitate to say this is the way to go, but I think it’s a good option that simply requires some more thought.
Sidenote: If you think a separate Force score makes more sense than multiple possible scores governing the Force, consider that a Jedi uses serenity and calm to access the Force while a Sith uses emotion and passion. Sounds like WIS vs CHA to me.
But wait. You might be questioning why you’d make a Force or Wisdom (Athletics) check. Surely using the Force to perform this skill means you wouldn’t be trained in Athletics, but rather in using the Force. Yoda doesn’t seem like the kind of person that’s trained in Athletics or Acrobatics, but he’s a powerful Force user and we’ve seen him jump around and twirl in his fight with Darth Sidious. If he’s not trained in those skills, but is that good, it can’t come from the base ability score but rather from…
A New Skill
I thought about this long and hard before putting it down as an option. Saga Edition had a special Use the Force skill that only Force Sensitive characters could use. The skill had some basic applications like Move Object, Force Trance, and Telepathy. It was also used to activate most Force Powers. If we’re basing Force Powers on spells, there should be no need to make a skill check to activate them or to increase their power. 5E handles that pretty elegantly as I’ve written before. So if we have a new skill, it should act like any other skill: relatively at-will, specialized uses of an ability.
The above example of Yoda vs. Sidious is a good one here. For the sake of this argument, we’re starting with the assumption that Yoda is not trained in Athletics and Acrobatics. We also assume there exists a Use the Force skill that he is trained in. What ability score governs this? There are really only two options. First, is a separate Force ability score (see above for pros and cons of this in general). Personally, I wouldn’t do this, for the very reasons we’ve discussed above. The second option is the solution to the above ability score problems. Choose a mental attribute as the governing ability score for a Use the Force check. A Wizard’s Use the Force check is governed by Intelligence, a Sorcerer’s by Charisma… you get it by now.
Why have the skill governed by anything at all? Maybe a Use the Force check can fall under any ability score. Lifting something with your mind? Strength (Use the Force). Using your Force Sight? Wisdom (Use the Force). Sure, that works. And that’s really how skills work anyway, as we’ve already discussed. So give it a default ability score. My preference is the one that governs Force Powers. This skill won’t have any use to someone that isn’t trained in the Force, so it should be a proficiency obtained only through your class or background. Maybe a race or two gets a trait that goes along with it. The Miraluka using a constant Force Sight, for instance, may let you make Wisdom (Use the Force) checks instead of Wisdom (Perception) to spot something. Want to be better at it? Take a class or background that grants Use the Force as a proficiency. If you absolutely want it to be relegated to a single ability score by default, make it Constitution.
Yeah, Constitution. The Living Force deals with living things. Droids can’t use the Force, despite being connected to other aspects of the Force. Certain canonical sources claim that Vader would have been even more powerful had he not lost so many limbs and been so badly damaged. So Constitution would make sense. And it would give Constitution an associated skill… so it doesn’t feel so left out. Poor Constitution. People only like you for your hit points.
Anyway. If it’s a skill, I say tie it to a spellcasting class ability score and any other way of using the skill is explicitly defined for the individual circumstance. Or use CON. Whatever. But is it okay to have a single Use the Force skill that can be so widely applied? Probably not. If you can gain proficiency in Use the Force and then apply that in place of other skills, it’s going to get highly prioritized and then end up just like Saga Edition where all Jedi characters could boost that single skill to the exclusion of others and still be more powerful than everyone else because they never failed a Use the Force check. That’s bad.
Can we solve this problem? Maybe you can be proficient in Use the Force, but only specific class abilities (or maybe traits from my expanded Inspiration mechanic) let you use it in place of specific other skills. A Force-based Monk may get to use it for Athletics and Acrobatic, while a Force-based Bard can use it for Persuasion and Deception. Something about this seems inelegant, though, and I can’t place my finger on it. If it’s a trait you can get that lets you spend an Inspiration Point to make a Use the Force check instead of another skill (or a specific skill), I’m more inclined to use that. It limits how often you can do it and ties it to a replenishing resource.
Alternatively, maybe it makes sense for Yoda to have to be trained in Athletics and Acrobatics. You can be really strong in The Force, but if you don’t know how to be acrobatic, no Use the Force check is going to let you do a triple somersault and land, balancing on your big toe. Yoda can do all he does because he was trained as a Jedi. That’s what Jedi do. But a Dark Side Prophet? He’s not going to be doing flips and leaping across chasms. In which case, I’d go back to your regular proficiencies being important.
Now, all these ideas could actually work together. They don’t have to be mutually exclusive. Have a Force-governing ability score, a Use the Force skill, and traits that can maybe affect either or both. I’d love to hear what your thoughts are on the options I’ve presented above. If you’ve been following along up to this point, you may have noticed that I haven’t touched on the third important aspect of the Force yet: morality, or the Light Side and Dark Side. Every system deals with this. It’s so iconic that it can’t be ignored... but it's also a really complicated discussion, so I'm going to reserve it for its own thread and will post about it once I've solidified my thoughts on the matter.