Star Wars Wednesday - Gambling Wisdom

Another "inside baseball" type post regarding Saga Edition this week. However, before I get into the details of scoundrels, nobles and gamblers in the game, I have the following random comments:

  • A potential Clone Wars continuity conflict with Tarkin in the Citadel series didn't materialize (and I had been assured by someone at Lucas that his appearance wouldn't be a problem when I mentioned it on facebook). Tarkin's background can get a bit fiddly, as it's pretty dense with events at certain times of his Imperial career. Instead, we got an entirely different continuity problem - no spoilers for those who haven't seen it yet.
  • There was a big Star Wars Atlas update at this week, including a sector map of the Mid Rim.

So, on with the post. In a message buried in my facebook inbox, a friend asked if there was any way to boost his noble character's gambling abilities without resorting to taking a level in the scoundrel class to pick up the Gambler talent. After rummaging around in the books, a look at the SW Saga Online Index and sending a note off to Saga developer GM Sarli, the short answer is.... no. That's it.

Now it's possible that we overlooked something, and if so, let me know.

Still, at first glance, it's pretty interesting that any subset of the Saga rules escaped further development in later products. Usually, there are at least a few new feats or talents to tweak the system a bit.  The only addition to gambling apparently was some adventure-specific notes in the Dawn of Defiance Episode 8: The Gem of Alderaan by GM Saril. More on that below. It was an interesting enough omission for me to take a harder look at the gambling rules.

Gambling in Saga is very abstract, and noted in a sidebar of the scoundrel class section (p 47) in the core rulebook. It is broken up into gambling against the house, against other characters, and games of pure chance. Since skill doesn't come into play for the pure chance version, we'll look at gambling against the house and other players here.

Gambling in this form is a simple Wisdom check: a d20 roll + the character's Wisdom modifier. Note that unlike skills, ability checks do not gain a bonus for half the character's level, thus they only change when the actual ability increases or decreases.

I saw no feats increasing Wisdom, so it appears that the only way to increase the Wisdom score is by using the level increases at 4th, 8th, 12th, 16th and 20th level. If the character spends every increase they can on Wisdom, they'll add a maximum of +5 to their score (+2 or +3 to their modifier, depending on their starting score) by 20th level.

The only talent related to Wisdom and gambling appears to be the aforementioned Gambler talent, which grants a +2 to this check (only). Giving up a talent for simple gambling is a pretty hefty price, and also says it's a core part of the character. Better take every opportunity to use it. On the other hand, this +2 is the equivalent of a minimum of 12-16 levels of ability increases (depending on if your score is odd or even when you start) that you can use potentially from 1st level.

You can actually take this talent more than once, for an additional +2 each time. As a GM, I wouldn't worry much about this for most heroes with low to above average Wisdom scores. However, if the character in question has a maxed Wisdom bonus, like you see in the following examples, you may want to restrict them to taking this once, or it will eventually break the system at the high end.

Now, some math: 

  • A starting character using the standard score package (and no species bonus to Wisdom) has a max 15 Wisdom. They end with a 20 (+5 modifier) if they max their Wisdom through ability increases to 20th level.
  • A starting character with an 18 (max. planned generation) similarly ends with a 22 or 23 Wisdom (+6 modifier either way).
  • A starting character with an 20 (max. planned generation, +2 max Wisdom species bonus...I think. I didn't check them all) similarly ends with a 24 or 25 Wisdom (+7 modifier either way).

Assuming the character only takes the Gambler talent once, that means the best modifier to a Wisdom check that a 20th level character with the Gambler talent can have is a +9. The worst roll they could make would be 10 (roll of 1 +7 Wisdom modifier +2 Gambler talent). The highest would be 29. 

The Gambling chart for playing against the house is:

Wisdom Check Result          Wins or Losses

Less than 5                           Lose entire stake

5-9                                        Lose half of stake

10-14                                    Break even: keep entire stake

15-19                                    Win stake x2

20-24                                    Win stake x5

25 or higher                          Win stake x10

So the worst a 20th level maxed out gambler of the right species could do against the house would be to break even, and he or she would almost certainly be a galactic gambling legend. Every one else always has at least a chance of losing all or part of their stake, no matter what their character level is.

The long and laborious point is this: adding more bonuses for Wisdom checks for gamblers via feats or talents may beneficial to lower level characters, but it could make it impossible for just the right character build to lose against the house at the high end, using this chart (especially if they take Gambler more than once).

Granted, this super gambler character build isn't likely....but it could happen and the math appears to work with that notion to ensure it's still possible for a character to lose something at any level against the house. 

Now, things are different if the gambler takes on another character - hero or a gamemaster character -  instead of the generic, abstract house. It's an opposed roll. Just for fun, what happens if the super gambler (still only taking Gambler once) takes on a 1st level hero who doesn't have the gambling talent? Here both gamblers make a Wisdom check and compare the results. High score wins, difference determines the winnings using this chart:

Difference                       Change in Winnings

1-4                                  Break even; keep your entire stake

4-9                                  Give 1/2 of stake to winner

10 or more                      Lose it all, give entire stake to winner

Say the super gambler maxes out his roll at 29 and the 1st level hero with a 20 Wisdom also maxes her roll with a 25 for a difference of 4 - the 1st level hero gives up half her stake. Say the super gambler hits his minimum roll result of 10, and the 1st level hero still maxes out at 25 for a difference of 15 - boom! super gambler loses his entire stake. Even if the hero has and "average" Wisdom bonus (+0), with a natural 20 die roll, it is still a difference of 10, and the super gambler's rotten luck still costs them their entire stake. So while it's likely the super gambler will wipe out the hero over many games, it's still possible for the lowest level character to still win any single game. They always have a chance (unless their Wisdom score is below average).

With all of this in mind, I'd be very careful adding anything to the game that affects the bonuses around Wisdom checks or gambling related talents. It won't take much to alter the balance in breakable ways. I would also not house rule letting just anyone take the Gambler talent. It's special to the scoundrel, like armor talents are to soldiers. Yes, you could let anyone do it, but it erodes their differences. That said, there is nothing inherently game breaking about it if the GM chooses to do so.

The only new gambler related talent that springs to mind that doesn't actually alter the bonuses would be, predictably, a reroll style talent of the "must take second result" variety. Seems terribly appropriate that a gambler would risk worsening their result on a chance to improve it. Give this a try:

Gambler's Fortune (Fortune Talent Tree): You love to take big risks for bigger rewards. You may reroll any Wisdom check when you gamble, but must take the second result, even if it is worse. When gambling against other characters, you must decide to reroll before the results of your opponents are revealed.

       Prerequisite: Gambler

Another idea is to have the character replace a second selection of the Gambler talent with Gambler's Fortune, after they reach something like 7th level in the scoundrel class.

So this post is way longer than I thought, but I'll go ahead and throw in the only published example of other options a GM can build around gambling within the game. The Gem of Alderaan adventure allows other skills and other characters to come into play during a gambling event, which can boost the gambler's wisdom score, making the scene more like a skill challenge. Enjoy:


In the casino, a lively game of sabacc has started between several attendees, including three major guests. Each round of gambling— representing a series of several hands of sabacc—requires a stake of 2,000 credits (but see below), and the outcome is determined by opposed Wisdom checks made by all players. Heroes who have the Gambler talent (page 46, Saga Edition core rulebook) add +2 to this roll per instance of the talent.

Depending on how they play, the losers of each round might have to give some or all of their stakes to the winner, as shown in this summary of the basic gambling rules (page 47, Saga Edition core rulebook):
• Lose by 0 to 4 points: Break even, keep entire stake.
• Lose by 5 to 9 points: Give half of stake to winner.
• Lose by 10 points or more: Give entire stake to winner.

A hero with less than 2,000 credits can still play, taking a –2 penalty to the Wisdom check (it is easy to be pushed out by high bets) and giving the entire stake to the winner on any loss.

In addition, a hero might do several things during the game to affect the outcome. These are outlined below.

Bluffing: Make a Deception check; if it equals or exceeds the Will Defense of all GM characters, you get a +2 bonus to your next Wisdom check. If the check is unsuccessful, you take a –2 penalty to your next Wisdom check. In addition, you give away a “tell” that makes it easier for other players to realize when you’re bluffing; as a result, for each previous failure, you take a –5 penalty to future Deception checks.

Body Language: You can try to pick up on the unconscious body language of your opponents, “tells” that indicate the strength of their hand. Make a Perception check; if it equals or exceeds the Will Defense of all GM characters, you get a +2 bonus to your next Wisdom check. If the check is unsuccessful, you take a –2 penalty to your next Wisdom check.

Chatterbox: You can attempt to distract your opponents by engaging in casual conversation. Make a Persuasion check; if it equals or exceeds the Will Defense of all GM characters, you get a +2 bonus to your next Wisdom check. Because it’s hard to keep the conversation light and engaging for very long, you take a –5 penalty to your Persuasion check for each previous attempt. If the check is unsuccessful, no heroes can use this option for the rest of the encounter.

Cheating: Make a Deception check in place of your Wisdom check to determine your success during the game. However, each GM character makes a Perception check to notice your actions; if the Perception check beats your Deception check result, you are ejected from the game, forfeiting your entire stake. In addition, the group attitude of the guests drops by one level (for example, from indifferent to unfriendly). Alternatively, you can attempt to cheat using sleight of hand (Stealth). This is resolved as above, but you take a –5 penalty to your
skill check.

Collusion: On any given round, a player can attempt to aid an ally instead of trying to win. Make a DC 10 Wisdom check; if successful, you grant a +2 bonus to a single ally’s next Wisdom check. When determining the outcome of that round of play, treat your Wisdom check as 10 or your actual result, whichever is less.

Steady Hands: Make a DC 15 Endurance check. On a success, your steady hands and nerves allow you to retain a high level of focus during the round, granting a +2 bonus to your next Wisdom check. Add +5 to the DC for each previous attempt. If you fail, fatigue sets in, and you can’t use this option for the rest of the encounter.

Wild Cards: Make a DC 15 Knowledge (galactic lore) check. On a success, you call for an obscure variant of sabacc when it’s your turn to deal, something that most players haven’t played. You gain a +2 bonus to your next Wisdom check. Add +5 to the DC for each previous attempt. If you fail, you have exhausted your knowledge of sabacc variants and
can’t use this option for the rest of the encounter.