Let me start off this conversation with explaining that, while I usually take little interest in what is considered Star Wars canon, I have traditionally embraced the tenets of the Star Wars universe as depicted in the X-Wing, TIE Fighter, and X-Wing Miniatures games. They are all very well designed games that have (and will in the future) stood the test of time as classics. It was those video games of the 1990’s that definitively set in my mind what a B-Wing behaves like, or what the capabilities of a TIE Interceptor were. At least from my viewpoint, those early games defined and gave name to the starfighters of the Star Wars universe. In retrospect, however, I wish to now abandon some of these hard-baked tropes.
The status quo in Star Wars starfighters has the Rebel Alliance fly powerful, durable, hard-hitting death machines while the Galactic Empire skirts by with frail, vulnerable, nimble dog-fighters. By this standard, the Galactic Empire is clearly the David to the Rebel Goliath. In fact, that is part of why I love the TIE Fighter game so much; the odds were stacked against you from the start, allowing only the most skilled pilots any possibility of survival or victory. But having the Rebels bully around Imperial starfighters isn’t the tone that we really want here in a roleplaying game, is it? I want the Rebels to be the underdogs, scrappy and nimble, attacking the much more powerful Empire and winning in spite of their poor equipment, not because of it. While I understand that having weak starfighters implies a certain callousness for the lives of the Imperial pilots, it also implies that the Rebellion is short on cash while having few able bodied volunteers. Sort of the opposite of what you would expect. Isn’t the Rebellion a popular uprising struggling to find the resources they need to win against an opponent that outmatches them? For whatever reason, this strange juxtaposition has taken root.
John Powers, in his blog post here, discusses the earliest designs and artistic intentions behind starfighters in Star Wars. He, seemingly blessedly ignorant of canon, finds the heart of the matter and puts it into better words than I could:
“Rather than an interwar period, the X-wing and Y-wing fighters [were] an obvious hat tip to the military surplus of the last Great War. Luke and his rebel cohorts were flying into battle in the Star Wars equivalent of an old WWII surplus. Like the Polish aristocrats who rode out against German tanks on horseback at the very beginning of WWII, we were meant to understand that the Rebels were hopelessly out-matched.
The most advanced technologies in Star Wars are the Imperial Death Star and the Tie-Fighters. Unlike all the other ships we are shown in the first film, these alone have no visible means of propulsion (the Death Star moves from point to point, but is never actually shown in motion). Again, to use the metaphor of military technology, the Tie-Fighters are jet fighters and the Death Star a nuclear submarine, in relation to the Rebellion’s WWII surplus Grumman F3Fs and Bearcats. And the designers went to some pains to make these technologies stand out.”
So, while the Imperial craft are visually smaller than the Rebel starfighters, let us not confuse that with them being weaker. They are more mobile, better equipped, and overall superior to the Rebellion forces. The Rebels use X-Wings and the like because they have no better alternative. The Empire uses the TIE series because they are the ones in charge and use the best technology available.
The end point of this post is the following House Rule to FFG Star Wars roleplaying games, intended to bring about a shift in perception among players that Imperial craft are inherently superior. It’s a small step forward, likely not enough to get across what I want to in the narrative, but it’s a step in the right direction.
TIE series starships are Silhouette 2, increasing the difficulty to attack them and decreasing their difficulty in attacking larger starships accordingly.
In addition, all TIE series starships have Shields 1 / 1 and 1 hard point, if they did not already have such.