The Alphastream Game Design Blog
Esper Genesis is a fantastic sci-fi RPG that uses the 5E D&D engine. It has a compelling world and story, and excellent design. It is also a superb way to run a Star Wars campaign, from an epic tale to an episodic one such as we see in The Mandalorian. As gamers, we probably noticed how The Mandalorian’s episodes have the beats of an RPG adventure. It practically begs us to run a Star Wars campaign. Here’s how Esper Genesis lets us do that.
Before we get into the excitement of the system… I have to mention that one of the creators recently passed away. Brian Dalrymple was an amazing creator who gave his time and energy to gaming stores and the larger industry, and he was a kind and good person. You can contribute to his final expenses here. My heart goes out to the many people Brian touched. He will be greatly missed.
There have been many editions of Star Wars RPGs, each handled by different teams. The result is that each Star Wars RPG is very different from the other, and imperfect in different ways. The original d6 Star Wars RPG has a wealth of adventures and lore. The Star Wars SAGA edition by Wizards of the Coast is full of innovative concepts. The Fantasy Flight Star Wars edition uses funky dice to open up play. There are a lot of great reasons to admire each of those editions.
An excellent choice is a game that isn’t trying to be Star Wars at all, but will be incredibly easy to run for anyone familiar with D&D 5E… because it uses the same underlying engine. The game is Esper Genesis.
Esper Genesis is a sci-fi RPG written with the D&D Open Gaming License, so it makes use of everything that drives 5E, from classes and subclasses, to feats, to combat, and exploration. It adds to it, providing what you need for a sci-fi game: the equipment, species, races, and feats, and of course the monsters and adventures. It also adds some elegant new subsystems, such as for starships and space combat.
EG is expertly crafted by Alligator Alley Entertainment. Their designers include the amazing Rich Lescouflair, a Guild Adept and incredibly talented 5E D&D designer. It’s worth mentioning that Esper Genesis has excellent adventures and an organized play campaign (called Crucible Corps) that is easy to jump into and enjoy. If you aren’t looking for Star Wars, you can simply have a blast playing Esper Genesis.
Esper Genesis has its own lore and story, focused on the Espers, rare individuals who can channel cosmic energies to perform spectacular feats. It all works perfectly within the Esper Genesis narrative… and yet it is also a perfect stand-in for the Force in Star Wars. It makes Esper Genesis perfect for running Star Wars, especially if you want heroes who can have a gradient between being full Jedi and those with a touch of the Force they can call upon in rare occasions. Unlike other Star Wars RPGs, it isn’t saddled with making Jedi more powerful than other classes. It’s nicely balanced.
Converting is almost as simple as replacing anywhere you see the word “Esper” with “force.” Having Esper as a force analogue is what makes conversion so easy. Some classes that aren’t Jedi have esper powers, so if you don’t want that, you can fairly easily adjust them to not be esper/force-based. It’s often as simple as explaining that it’s due to athleticism or technology rather than esper.
Many of the spells and powers will be recognizable to you if you know 5E well, though they are often renamed to fit a sci-fi setting. And, there are many new spells, powers, and features that reflect the world and its technology. All of it works perfectly for Star Wars.
In a galaxy far away, before the pandemic, I ran an Acquisitions Incorporated campaign using the adventure in the book. I was running the game for 8th graders, and in a section of the adventure there are some portals leading to various scenes. I figured… why not? And I added a portal that took them to a cell block on a star destroyer!
When this happened, I handed each player a new character sheet. I had taken the type of class and race they played in 5E and selected something similar using Esper Genesis, renaming it to Star Wars. When you suddenly hand a teenager a character sheet… and they get to be an ewok? Yeah, the look on their faces is priceless! How much did they like it? Well, when they found their way back to their fantasy world, one kid said, “but I was hoping to stay in this world and learn from Leia!” All the feels.
EG has excellent pregens, and the races and classes have cool features. In many cases, these worked perfectly with just a bit of renaming.
So you can grasp the classes, here are their 5E analogues:
|EG Class||DnD Class|
I chose either the same class each player already had, or something similar they would enjoy. You can rename these as desired, based on how clearly you want to represent Star Wars, or leave it as-is. For example, an Adept can be a Jedi, but it can also be more like a monk who is discovering they have the Force within them. Similarly, a Melder or Cybermancer can be either using technology for their powers or can be using the Force and be more of a “force choke” and “lightning” type of Jedi.
For the races, here I mapped based on the features. This isn’t exact, but it’s close enough. In some cases I renamed features so they felt more natural, rather than technological.
|EG Race||D&D Race||Star Wars Race|
I took the Dendus race (a bit like a gnome) and its features worked both as an Ewok and a Twi’lek with minor changes. A Valna feels like a Tabaxi, but works incredibly well as a Rodian. The Matokai are “Dragonborn” and worked just fine as a Trandoshan. And so on. Keep in mind that in Star Wars, races sometimes have archetypal roles (wookie as warriors), but also then can have them as mechanics. You can play more to the race or more to the role, depending on the character.
If you have specific questions on conversions, leave a comment and I can check the final character sheets I came up with.
Finally, I took elements from two Esper Genesis adventures and used the monsters (reskinned, of course) to come up with a short two-session adventure. The characters appeared on a star destroyer and helped a young Ackbar escape from the cell block, helping him past stormtroopers to deactivate the tractor beam and reach an experimental tie-fighter he wanted to steal. The characters heard something terrible coming from far away… something so evil that it caused the security cameras to blacken as he approached. As he drew closer, he flung stormtroopers into the hallway… and that’s when the players knew that Darth Vader was coming to stop them! With sheer terror and utter excitement they blasted open the door, made their checks to start the tie-fighter, and escaped just in time. Close call!
Esper Genesis is a fantastic system, and it supports excellent designers. The easiest way to jump in is with the Jumpstart Bundle, available here. You can also pick up just the Core Manual (available through that same link) or view the free offerings, including a free version of the rules. There are maps, adventures, and much more. Highly recommended!
And, once again, you can help Brian Dalrymple’s family and business here.
Interesting. Have you heard about Star Wars 5e mod? What do you think about that? I wonder if it’s better for Star Wars fans to just run that or try to mod Esper Genesis for Star Wars…
I have. I found it fine, but I like to support actual products that companies and individuals can sell (vs a fan work that can’t be sold). Esper Genesis is made by one of the top designers for all of 5E, so their design is top-level quality.
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