Guest Writer: Jeffrey Webb
I have been a gamer since I was eleven years old. I know, compared to many here I’m a Johnny-come-lately. I started rolling dice in the summer of 1986 and haven’t ever looked back. Very quickly after my descent into the throes of a gaming addiction that’s resulted in a garage full of books, West End Games released Star Wars: The Roleplaying Game. This was a Big Deal. Thought Star Wars was more or less in a dead state in 1987, the Star Wars RPG hit us hard.
There are two major reasons for this- first, it’s Star Wars. Every kid we knew had at least seen the Star Wars films. It was almost as much a requirement in every American home’s VHS or Beta collection (I have it on CED) as a copy of Queen’s Greatest Hits was in any vehicle with an 8-track. Star Wars was ubiquitous, thanks to the home video revolution everyone could watch it pretty much whenever they wanted by 1987. Most everyone knew the basics. Rebellion good, Empire bad, The Force is with us. So, when the Satanic Panic caused eyebrows to raise the pearls to be clutched when you asked someone’s kid “Hey, wanna play Dungeons & Dragons?” there wasn’t the same reaction from the kid or the parent when you asked “Wanna play Star Wars?” Of course. Star Wars is good, clean fun. Nothing Devil Worshippy there.
The second part of this one-two punch is the game itself. Star Wars used only six-sided dice, the kind any household had in their copies of Monopoly and Risk. The system is very simple, everything is roll a number of dice, sometimes add pips, and compare to a target number. The D6 system, an outgrowth of the earlier Ghostbusters RPG, was much less intimidating to non-gamers. Simple math, no funny dice. Add to that the beautiful layout and use of actual film stills, Ralph McQuarrie concept art, and those wonderful in-universe advertisements and you’ve got a book that makes the game enticing even to folks who have never rolled d20. Top it off with the character templates in the back of the book, and you’ve got a game that marries to a franchise so seamlessly it’s a perfect gateway drug for non-gamers. I have used Star Wars to initiate many friends into the hobby – including the young lady that became my wife. Non-gamer before Star Wars, now she runs her own games.
I can’t say enough about those templates – not only do they take the vast majority of “character gen” out of that first game session with someone who may not be all that sure about this gaming thing, but each one of the templates is evocative. The Brash Pilot. The Smuggler. The Wookiee. The Quixotic Jedi. Each fits so well into the Star Wars universe, each gives just enough background to help a player get into the headspace of their character. It’s more than a character class, it’s as much of a description of a character as we get from any of the main cast in the original Star Wars 1977 film. In fact, one can look at the cast of Star Wars: Rebels and use these original Templates to play them. Ezra is the Kid. Kanan is the Failed Jedi. Hera is the Brash Pilot. Zeb is the Tough Native or possibly a reskinned Wookiee. Sabine is the Bounty Hunter. Chopper doesn’t get a template yet, but the rules for playing a droid were quickly forthcoming in the Star Wars Sourcebook.
These books were important to more than just me. Timothy Zahn was given the West End Games books to write his Thrawn Trilogy. Zahn treated them like Jane’s Fighting Ships and was able to introduce non-gamers to ships that were in the WEG books and have become iconic in their own way – the Interdictor cruiser, the Lancer frigate. Some of these vehicles became canon like the Juggernaut, which appeared in Revenge of the Sith. We got names and backgrounds for the Twi’leks, the Rodians, the Quarren, and the Ithorians. Before WEG Star Wars, we had alien names like “Hammerhead” and “Snaggletooth.” In a way, this game laid the groundwork for modern Star Wars canon as well as the Expanded Universe canon that is now Legends.
Why do I write about this now? Well, Fantasy Flight Games, producers of the current Star Wars RPG, have announced that they are producing a 30th Anniversary Edition of D6 Star Wars. This will be a faithful reprint of the original Star Wars corebook and The Star Wars Sourcebook. There will be a couple of changes – better paper, color illustrations in some areas, and a foreword by Pablo Hidalgo, keeper of Lucasfilm canon, about how influential the books were. If you don’t already own Star Wars The Roleplaying Game and you are a gamer, a Star Wars fan, or both, you owe it to yourself to snag a copy of this 30th anniversary reprint. It’s a lovely example of 80s game design that is a clean and simple system, a beautiful presentation, and a great way to get your non-gamer friends to sit down and roll some dice.
Oh, and may the Force be with you.