With the recent revival of the Star Wars franchise in the form of the theatrical (and more recent DVD) release of The Force Awakens, along with the excellent TV shows, The Clone Wars and Rebels, I think it’s safe to say I’ve been on something of a Star Wars kick. With that in mind, I feel that it’s as good a time as any to take a look at the various options for roleplaying a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…
In the first of a two part series, I will take a look at the older licensed titles, now out of print. Next time, I will look at the current licensed Star Wars RPG and some alternative approaches to roleplaying in this setting.
There have been a number of officially licensed Star Wars RPGs. Three companies have held the license between 1987 and the present.
West End Games
Following the conclusion of the Star Wars trilogy, but preceding the explosion of expanded universe content in the 90s, West End Games were awarded a license to produce a tabletop roleplaying game based on the Star Wars franchise. Between 1987 and 1999, West End Games produced three editions of their games and a plethora of supplements and sourcebooks. The quality of their sourcebooks were such that when Timothy Zahn began writing his Thrawn trilogy – widely regarded as the books that kick-started the expanded universe – he was sent a box of West End Games’ sourcebooks as a primer on the finer details of the setting.
The game itself uses the D6 system, previously developed for the Ghostbuster Roleplaying Game and further elaborated for this release. The rules in the book are easy to read and clearly explained. The best of the three editions is the final one which streamlines and improves the slightly convoluted second edition rules.
The sourcebooks are plentiful and can vary wildly in quality and usefulness. The Rebel Alliance Sourcebook and The Imperial Sourcebook are, for example, not all that great. They have some good information on the history and workings on both factions, but they just don’t contain anything that is really necessary or exciting. Similarly, most of the expanded universe-themed sourcebooks are a bit lacking, providing lots of detail about the books and conflicts, but offering little in the way of suggestions for actually running a game in these time periods. It may sound a little on-the-nose, but The Star Wars Sourcebook is probably the best of the bunch, giving you lots of detail about the original trilogy. I’d class it is an essential companion to the core book, in the same way that Evil Hat couples together their Dresden Files Roleplaying Game books, Your Story (the rules of the game) and Our World (the sourcebook for the setting).
There are also a number of campaign books and other supplements which, again, can be of varying quality. The best of these are the ones that flesh out the galaxy in a general sense, without getting in very specific stories. Good examples of this are the Alien Encounters, Creatures of the Galaxy and Planets of the Galaxy books which all provide the GM with resources that are easily transferable to any campaign. Examples of overly specific or uninspiring titles include Stock Ships, which is tedious, or Death Star Technical Companion, which is really just too specific and technical to be of real use. There’s also Graveyard of Alderaan, which is just awful.
In terms of availability, the game is long out of print. Books do show up on eBay, but you can expect to pay a premium. PDF editions are not available due to the license.
This game is considered a classic and it’s a great product line, but it is very dated. It’s still playable, but there are better options out there.
Wizards of the Coast
This product line, running from 2000 to 2010, was essentially the third edition of Dungeons & Dragons in space. With Jedi. And Stormtroopers.
Digest that. For some, the above may be a bit off-putting. For others, it will be a selling point. The first of the Wizards books, the Core Rulebook, was actually one of the first RPGs I owned, and the book is a thing of beauty. The whole line looks fantastic, with great art through the sourcebooks and fantastic production quality. It really does make West End Games’ offering look all the more dated. The art is so good that I actually get a little annoyed when they use screenshots from the films, as I’d rather see something original that I had not seen a hundred times before over my many, many viewings of the Star Wars movies.
The Revised edition makes some light changes and adds some more content, but it’s the Saga Edition book that significantly changes the game. It streamlines the whole thing and does make the game a bit easier to play, but it also shifts focus towards an increased use of miniatures. I guess Wizards of the Coast were trying to sell miniatures at the time. It does maintain the art style of the previous games, which is definitely a plus. It also moved to a different physical shape. The Saga Edition line featured squatter, square books in place of the traditional A4 pages of previous editions. Odd, that.
I love the sourcebooks in this line. There are some, such as Arms and Equipment Guide and Starships of the Galaxy, that are useful books, but which are very listy and full of stats. The single focus of these books mean that they are not the most interesting of reads and are resources that you will find yourself dipping into and out of as needed, rather than necessarily reading them for enjoyment. On the other hand, the real gems in this line are books like The New Jedi Order Sourcebook, Rebellion Era Sourcebook, Coruscant and the Core Worlds and The Dark Side Sourcebook. The books give wide overviews of aspects or time periods of the Star Wars galaxy, detailing setting, characters, equipment and stories, across a central theme. The d20 line actually gives the widest view of the Star Wars galaxy, with supplements covering both the Legacy era and the Knights of the Old Republic era.
I’m not the biggest fan of the rules, which I consider to be a little obtuse and overbearing, but in terms of completeness and detail, this range is fantastic. Again though, it’s out of print and the nature of licensing agreements means that you won’t be finding any PDFs out there for purchase. I’d recommend eBay, where the core book can show up at a reasonable price. The supplements show up too, but often at incredibly inflated prices.
Next time, I will look at the current license holder, Fantasy Flight Games, and examine their offerings. I will also look at some of the alternatives that exist for people who do not wish to use these licensed titles.
I hope to see you soon, and may the force be with you!