In 1987 West End Games published the first Star Wars RPG. In the three decades since we’ve seen different publishers try their hand at creating a system to bring this great space fantasy to life. Fantasy Flight Games, which now have the rights to publish material for Star Wars, recently announced that it planned to reproduce the first books ever published for the Star Wars RPG.
A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…
There are few fantasies (yes, Star Wars is a fantasy – Space fantasy!) that have a fanbase as loyal and strong as Star Wars. Millions watch the movies every year and there have been published over 100 novels taking place in the Star Wars universe, some penned by brilliant writers, e.g. Timothy Zahn and Chuck Wendig.
The first Star Wars RPG was published in 1987, four years after the release of Return of the Jedi. At that point, there were no plans in producing more films and the setting was only dictated by the three films. Since then Lucasfilm and Lucasarts produced not only the prequel (though some hardcore Star Wars fans refuse to admit their existence), introducing probably the most hated character in the history of movies, but also many great computer and video games (X-wing vs. Tie-Fighter anyone!?!).
The license to publish a Star Wars RPG has been in the hands of three different game developers over the years, West End Games, Wizards of the Coast and finally Fantasy Flight Games. Each of these has introduced their own roleplaying system to Star Wars and produced modules and sourcebooks, some of which that have been quite good while some others, not so much.
West End Games
West End Games (or WEG) was the first publisher to introduce a Star Wars RPG. The system used was a d6 system, based on the Ghostbuster RPG (Yes, that game existed!) which WEG had published earlier. WEG put a lot of effort and work into the setting and Lucasfilm was so impressed that when Timothy Zahn wrote the Thrawn trilogy he was sent a box with source materials from the roleplaying game and told to base his story on that material (oh, man, did I love my Dark Force rising source book!). WEG published about 140 sourcebooks and modules for their Star Wars RPG, which was twice revised, and many of these have become classics.
The system was relatively simple. It used 6 attributes (Dexterity, Strength, Perception, Knowledge, Mechanical and Technical) and many skills, which were linked to each of these attributes, e.g. the Blasters skill was linked to Dexterity. Every attribute had a number assigned to it which represented how many dice you’d roll for that attribute, e.g. you could have 4D in dexterity.
Character actions were resolved by making dice rolls against a difficulty number, and there were two types of rolls, standard DC rolls and opposed rolls. Jedi powers had their own subsystem and could be quite powerful.
The WEG system was both fun and challenging. The modules promoted, for most parts, roleplaying and problem solving, though of course they contained a fair share of blaster fights, dealing with the ordinary scum and villainy and searching for droids some guy on a moisture farm misplaced. The modules and sourcebooks focused on retaining as much as possible of the spirit of Star Wars, and what’s even better, many of the modules didn’t involve grand scale galaxy threatening events, but were more modest in their approach to Star Wars.
Since WEG published many great modules it’s hard to pick one, but since I’ve both played and gm’ed Tatooine Manhunt and it’s always been great, that is the one that I always recommend to fellow Star Wars fans. It has everything a good Star Wars module needs; investigations, Rebel heroes, evil bounty hunters and the Empire on the PC’s heels. I think that module is pretty much the epitome of how I see Star Wars modules.
Wizards of the Coast
Written by Bill Slavicsek, Andy Colling and JD Walker, the Star Wars Roleplaying Game was published by WoTC in late 2000 and revised 2002. It used the d20 roleplaying system and had pretty much the same generic system as D&D, of course with some modifications. In 2007 the game was revised and reproduced using the Saga system, which was somewhere little south of 4th edition D&D, using classes and character talent trees along with a more streamlined skill system.
Both editions used the same ability system as D&D and rolls were performed in the same way. The first two versions of the game used a Wounds & Vitality system instead of hit points, though in the Saga system good ol’ HP’s were back in the game along with a condition tracking mechanism. Saga system also introduced Destiny points, which had a great beneficial effect for the PCs.
Of the two editions I always found the Saga system had more lure to it. For a hardcore D&D player it was easy to learn and the rules were more streamlined than in D&D 3.5. The game was also quick and cinematic, especially the Saga system, which didn’t allow multiple attacks in a round, unless your character had special feats, making sure that combat was quick and often brutal, due to the condition track.
There were many sourcebooks published for all editions, many of which were fine while other weren’t, and some were frankly bad. I think that when WoTC weren’t trying to follow other designer’s transcripts, they produced their best books, e.g. The Unknown Regions.
There weren’t many modules published for WoTC’s Star Wars, but the company did produce one line of modules that linked in a campaign called Dawn of Defiance. There are a few modules in it that are good, and I think that the best one is the first one, Traitor’s Gambit.
Fantasy Flight Games
A few years ago Fantasy Flight Games got the licence to publish Star Wars material. And oh boy, have they been at it! Not only have they produced a three-fold roleplaying game, but also a board game, a trading card game and a strategic miniature game. And mind you, there’s more to come! It seems to me that FFG has figured out that to some people Star Wars is like a drug and those people will buy anything with the Star Wars logo on it (I’m not one of those people, oh, no, I’m not. Whoever told you that is rebel scum and a traitor and should be taken away!).
FFG’s Star Wars roleplaying game is in line with FFG’s other games. It uses novelty dice and players and game masters interpret the signs of the dice. Characters have 6 different attributes and can have many skills. There are many different species and careers, each of which have their own talent tree.
There are three different versions of the game, each with its own flavour. Edge of the Empire was published first and in it you take on the role of Han Solo’s ilk, i.e. the scoundrels, smugglers and explorers. The game revolves around exploration and common skulduggery, dealing with crime lords and hutts and avoiding imperial entanglements. In Age of Rebellion you take on the role rebel fighters, eager to fight the evil Galactic Empire and thwart their plans of galactic dominance. And finally, in Force and Destiny you play as a jedi, bent on using the force to solve your problems.
Each of these games have pretty much the same ruleset, with some minor modifications, e.g. in EotE you have Obligation, while in AoR you have Duty and in FnD you have Morality, which are subsystems to monitor and govern your characters ties and feelings towards events, things and actions. Just as the Saga System, FFG’s Star Wars roleplaying game uses Destiny points, though they have slightly more value in FFG’s game.
What makes this roleplaying game great is the interpretation of the novelty dice. It offers not only the game master a chance to make each encounter more fun, more memorable but also the players to pitch in and become co-operative in the creation, and simply not only governing their own character but also have a chance at dictating how things go.
I’ve used this system a lot to play with my teenage son and his friends and they love it. They quickly learned it and how to interpret the dice. They constantly add their own ideas to how they’d like the dice interpreted and it’s awesome. It really opens up the game, making the narrative more a collective effort.
I must admit, I haven’t read all the modules from FFG, but of those I have read and played, I think that the Jewel of Yavin is a top-notch module. In a way it reminds me of Tatooine Manhunt, it has investigations, a number of roleplaying encounters and a few encounters where you need to bring out your sporting blasters and vibro-daggers. It’s simply a great module, which I think that every Star Wars RPG fan would enjoy to play.
The problem with Star Wars roleplaying games
There’s one problem with Star Wars roleplaying games, a problem that each and every one of these games have failed to solve in a suitable manner. That problem is fighting in space!
Whether you choose YT-1300 freighters, slick B-wings or even Calamarian Cruisers, when you’re fighting in space, none of these roleplaying games manage to capture the feel of the films, especially when dogfighting.
Of course, you could always, if you’re using FFG’s Star Wars, simply use models from their X-wing miniature game, and modify the rules a bit, but still… Since blasting your way out of spaceports, attacking Star Destroyers head on and navigating your way, no matter the odds, through an asteroid field with a squadron of Tie-fighters hot on your tail, is such an integral part of Star Wars, I’ve always felt this part a bit lacking.
It seems to me that the rules for space fighting often seem either too complicated and slow the game down, or too elaborate, with too many possibilities for players to choose from. Perhaps this is just me, but I’ve often felt after running an encounter which involved space fighting that it was lacking and wasn’t quite what I had imagined.
Return of the first Star Wars RPG
FFG recently announced that the company plans to have the first Star Wars RPG books reproduced. I think that is awesome. I still have mine and sometimes I go through them, feeling nostalgic and missing those nights I spent in a small windowless room with five other 16 year old boys, fighting the evil Empire to restore the Old Republic.
Well, those days are gone. Now I can play in my own living room, with plenty of open windows (I’ve since then learned that 16 year old boys tend to smell bad after a few hours in a small, windowless room), fighting to earn more credits to pay off the damn bounty hunter in that Mandalorian armor who keeps showing up, saying that I’m no good to her dead and I better do the dishes before the guys arrive… no, wait, that’s my wife!