After all of the Star Wars excitement of the past weekend, it’s time for a very special game day today – it’s a blog that I’ve been ruminating over for close to two years, in fact! Let me take you back in time, to the late 1980s, and the original Star Wars Roleplaying Game from West End Games!
This bad boy dates back to 1987, and it still gives me chills to pick up any of the books produced to support the run. I may as well tell you now, this blog will be quite heavily biased in the game’s favour!
The game system is based on West End Games’ d6 Roleplaying System, originally developed for a Ghostbusters RPG. The system is fairly straightforward to use – the core rulebook features a number of templates for characters to use from the off, or you could also create your own character from scratch. Your character has six attributes – dexterity, knowledge, mechanical, perception, strength and technical – along with a number of skills that are grouped under each attribute. These attributes all have a code against them that shows the number of six-sided dice (d6) you roll when making a test involving that attribute, often along with a modifier that would be applied to the final result. When rolling for tests, you need to equal or exceed the opposed result in order to succeed at that test.
That’s pretty much all there is to it. There are some rules for the Force, though as this was in a time where the original trilogy was the only thing around for fans of the franchise, there wasn’t a lot to go on and so the rulebook doesn’t spend a lot of time on it. Interestingly, though, the rules state that you can learn a Force skill from a character who is willing to teach you – implying that anyone can use the mystical energy field! Something important about this system, however, is its categorization of Jedi powers into three groups: control, sense and alter. These are so often used nowadays in Star Wars gaming, it’s interesting to note that this is where that categorization started!
Of course, the main focus of roleplaying games in the Star Wars universe is combat, which is divided into action segments. During each segment, a player can use one skill or attribute, or move – the latter usually having an adverse affect on the dice rolling. Initiative is handled weirdly – weirdly, in comparison to other systems – in that players roll together when they’re doing something that will affect each other, and whoever has the higher result is deemed to have initiative and thus gets to have their action happen. I can’t think of another system that I’ve played that doesn’t have Initiative on the stat line, anyway!
The rules are otherwise fairly simple, and the core rulebook provides a solitaire choose your own adventure-style game to get you familar with them before you play, which I think is really nice! WEG later published two full-length solitaire adventure modules, written by none other than Troy Denning (author of Star by Star, among others!)
The rulebook features a fairly comprehensive GM section, including advice on everything you could need to run an adventure. It also has a short adventure included, “Rebel Breakout”, which gets you into the feel for how WEG adventures work, broken into a series of encounters within larger episodes. These are often broken up with useful sidebars with information you might want to use, and also blocks of text you can read aloud as GM to set the feel. Along with an extensive bank of character templates is a series of adventure ideas you can use to populate your own games!
As I said before, the West End Games line features a whole raft of supporting material, from sourcebooks to adventure modules that you can use as preconstructed adventures, either to play as a stand-alone experience, or to slip into an ongoing adventure. In the early days, they also produced the above Campaign Pack, which came in a number of components – a GM screen, an adventure book, rules upgrades, and a fold-out map of a starship. The adventure book features advice for running a campaign as well as a short adventure, similar to the book included with the Gamemaster Kit, which features the Bissillirus Campaign. I wanted to mention this specifically because of the enormous production value of the product – the book fully fleshes-out the Trax Sector in a manner that would become commonplace for further WEG content, as well as providing some advice on building Rebel cells presented as in-universe advice from General Airen Cracken.
This brings me on to an extremely huge point about West End Games’ books – they effectively created the expanded universe with this enormous wealth of content, from creating new worlds to filling-out background on existing worlds. They also started the trend of providing names and backstories for all of the extras and bit-players in the movies – who’d have thought this guy, who was little more than set-dressing for Return of the Jedi, would become so important to the EU, as none other than the head of Alliance Intelligence, Airen Cracken himself!
Oh yes, their service to Star Wars lore simply cannot be understated! In addition to providing the backstory, however, they also created the lore through the Star Wars Adventure Journal – a quarterly “magazine” that featured all sorts of stuff, from campaign settings to short fiction. I’ve mentioned this before, of course, back when I read some of that fiction (such as Command Decision), and while the Journal only ran to fifteen issues, it nevertheless has a whole host of amazing stuff to enjoy.
Returning to the subject of fleshing out existing stuff, I want to talk a bit about perhaps one of the more famous adventure modules WEG produced: Tatooine Manhunt!
This was published in 1988, and I believe was the first full-length adventure module they produced. The Ralph McQuarrie cover art is another hallmark of the line, along with the fold-out map (double-sided – the reverse has the city of Mos Eisley itself, with local landmarks labelled).
The adventure follows a band of rebels (the players) aboard Kwenn Space Station who, learning that the Clone Wars veteran Adar Tallon has been discovered to be alive and well and living on Tatooine, and that the Galactic Empire has put a bounty on his head, travel to the desert world in an attempt to rescue him from the Emperor’s clutches.
The book introduces us to several bounty hunters – the cover art is misleading as, while it represents the blueprint for Vader’s bounty hunters in Empire Strikes Back, the hunters featured in the module are entirely new characters. Notably, we have the first appearance of Jodo Kast, a Boba Fett impersonator who would go on to have a fairly detailed history in Star Wars. WEG used him in several other books as a Boba Fett stand-in, and he has crossed over into both novels (the short story Side Trip, by Timothy Zahn and Michael A Stackpole, features Grand Admiral Thrawn using the personal of Kast) and comics (Twin Engines of Destruction saw the then-canon death of Kast, at the hands of none other than Boba Fett himself). Adar Tallon would also go on to a fairly interesting career in the lore, and also made it into comics for the Republic series, Dreadnoughts of Rendili.
I barely got to play with this system while in college – West End Games lost the licence to Wizards of the Coast in 1998, who produced three editions of the RPG, latterly Saga Edition, which I’ve already covered. But d6 West End Games will always hold that special place in my heart, both for the enormous impact it had on the Star Wars universe, and also for having gotten me interested not only just in Star Wars gaming, but in creating my own stories within the galaxy far, far away.
I’m only scratching the surface of the amazing source of Star Wars lore that the West End Games stuff supplies, and will likely be showcasing more of these books as time goes on. It’s become something of a Christmas tradition for me to reacquaint myself with one module (last year, it was none other than Tatooine Manhunt!) so I’m sure I’ll be sharing the wealth in the future!