Making the Kessel Run through the Star Wars RPG Universe

A long time ago on a gaming table far,
far away…

It is a period of choice. Star Wars Roleplaying games, some out of print, are finding their way back to the gaming table. During these decisions, gamers are unsure or not aware of the choices available to them. ROLLING BOXCARS, the best blog for such information, takes a look at the many options of official Star Wars Roleplaying games published throughout the years.

A New Hope
The first officially licensed Star Wars RPG game premiered in 1987 by West End Games (WEG) titled Star Wars: The Roleplaying Game. The game used a D6 system which created a pool of D6s for its resolution mechanic. Using the Ghostbusters RPG that West End Games published a year earlier as their starting point, the game designers then modified and added new elements to the system to create a Star Wars themed game. The resulting game was simple to learn and use. Players of the game built their characters using template archetypes that used attributes and skills. Depending on the skill used and the associated attribute linked to it, determined the number of D6s a player rolled when resolving some type of test or challenge.

In the same year that the first edition premiered, WEG produced Star Warriors: Starfighter Combat in the Star Wars Universe. It was a miniatures board game, but it provided additional instructions on how it could be integrated into the roleplaying game to increase player experience.

An updated version, Star Wars: The Roleplaying Game Second Edition, came out in 1992 and was later revised in 1996. The second edition saw some minor changes and fixes to the rules. While at the same time it added some new mechanics. The second edition added the wild die as well as character and force points. The wild die was an exploding D6 within a player’s dice pool. If a six showed on the die, that D6 would be rolled again, adding the result of both rolls to the sum to the dice pool’s roll. The die would continue to explode as long as a six was the result, thus making for some over the top results. Character and force points were extra bennies that when spent could augment your dice rolls. Each character would start with a pool at character generation and the gamemaster could replace or add to players pools as they saw fit. 

WEG introduced a starter boxset, Star Wars Introductory Adventure Game in 1997. It provided all the components needed for a beginner to enter the roleplaying hobby and play in the Star Wars Universe. It was the only beginners’ boxset for WEG Star wars and sadly it was released at the end of the companies reign.

West End Games declared bankruptcy in 1998 losing their licenses to produce any further Star War materials. The WEG version of Star Wars set a pretty high bar for those who would follow. Not only did they expand the universe in the RPG gaming world by developing new material past the original movie trilogy, producing close to 140 sourcebooks and supplements, but that material was also canonized in the Star Wars Expanded Universe and used by authors in their own Star Wars stories. That material remained canon until 2014 when the Disney Corporation declared it non-canonical.

Despite the span of time, The WEG Star Wars game is still very popular. Several unofficial fan-created version is available to those with rebel ties or smuggler connections. One of the most widely known ones, Star Wars REUP (Revised, Expanded, Updated), was self-published in 2014. It took the second edition revised and expanded rules and updated the system to include Star Wars Universe material not already covered during the WEG D6 era. Fantasy Flights Games, in 2018, reprinted the first edition of the game along with a sourcebook and housed them in a sturdy slipcase. They titled the pair Star Wars: The Roleplaying Game 30th Anniversary Edition and is available for sale at their website.

The rules of WEG Star Wars were simple as too was its dice mechanic. It allowed for easy adoption for first-time roleplayers. Gameplay was fast and captured the feel of the Star War movies. The one negative side to the WEG version was their implementation of force sensitive characters. The game mechanics didn’t really do a good job at capturing the feel of Jedi characters which later incarnations would improve upon.

Splinter of the Mind’s Eye
At the end of the West End Games era, Scholastic published a series of solitaire adventure books. Star Wars Missions was the first series, published in 1997, and available only through a mail-order book club through schools. Club members first received a box containing one D6 and one D12, a rulebook, a pad of score sheets, a blank notebook, some cards, a small poster and the first adventure in the series. Other gamebooks with adventures would follow over time, there were 20 in total. The adventures had a linear path of events that a player would take. The outcome was always victorious. The story could change depending on which path a player took, but it was the final score which was the goal.

The series was successful and spawned Star Wars Episode I Adventures in 1999. Star Wars Episode I Adventures followed the same distribution and implementation model as Star Wars Missions. Members would first receive a box contain everything they needed to play with gamebooks to follow. There were some changes though. The dice used changed to a D10 and D20 instead of the previous D6 and D12. The gamebooks changed into novels that you could read all the way through or substitute the middle section as a playable adventure, then going back to a linear story for the ending.

Scholastic put out a third series called Star Wars Adventures in 2000, which was a follow-up to Star Wars Episode I Adventures. In that series, they expand the adventure content with more material from first and the second Star Wars prequels.

Empire Strikes Back
After West End Games collapsed, Wizards of the Coast (WoTC) gained the rights to the Star Wars Licence. They produced the Star Wars Roleplaying Game: Core Rulebook, in 2000. The core mechanic used the D20 system, where a 20-sided die played the main role in dice resolutions. The game was a Dungeons and Dragons 3.0 variant which was in print at the time and published by WoTC. It featured many familiar elements of that system like feats, saving throws, ascending armor class, class-based characters that leveled up from gaining XP, and so on. The rulebook was very robust and provided a lot for players and a gamemaster with mastery of the D20 system. To aid those who didn’t have that background of knowledge, Wizards of the Coast produced an introductory boxset called Star Wars: Invasion of Theed Adventure Game in 2000. It included all the necessary components for a beginner to get started.

Two years after premiering, the game’s core rulebook underwent a revision to add new material from Episode II and adjusted the earlier musings. It removed some elements while adding in new ones. Almost every section of the book saw minor changes or clarification of items that may have been ambiguous. Both the original and revised rules produce a plethora of support material in print and digital publication. In 2007 WoTC readjusted their Star Wars product line and produced another version, the Saga Edition.

The Saga Edition is easily recognizable on any shelf by its square books. Not only was their square size noticeable but also their shift to emphasizing miniature combat as part of the game. Character movement changed from standard forms of measurement like feet and meters to squares. There was a strong push in the rulebook to use miniatures in gameplay which WotC produced. They even went so far as to list a battle map as a necessary tool in their “what you need to play” section. The rule changes implemented in Saga melded the best elements from Dungeons & Dragons 3.5 and 4th edition, which premiered the following year. Starting hit points tripled and characters gained feats more often. They simplified the skills section while adjusting the force point spending system to prevent player characters from easily slipping to the dark side.

Out of the WotC Star Wars D20 era, Saga was the most refined of all the editions and was the most popular. To this day it is in high demand in the marketplace and commands a higher dollar than the earlier versions. The WotC Star Wars D20 versions allowed for deep character customization along with more tactical gameplay. They covered the old and newer Star Wars universe material. In 2010 WotC discontinued the Saga line and leaves the Star Wars Universe behind.

Return of the Jedi
Unlike like the subhead above, roleplayers will only have to wait two years for a new Star Wars roleplaying game. In 2012 Fantasy Flight Games (FFG) publishes Star Wars: Edge of the Empire (Beta) and Star Wars: Edge of the Empire Beginner Game. The beta is a soft release of the core rulebook for their new Star Wars game whereas the beginner game featured a basic overview of the system with the tools to get started. The finalized rulebook released one year later. Both oddly focus strictly on commerce, criminal, bounty hunters, and similar style characters. Characters that move freely and conduct business on the edge of the Empire. It wasn’t clear until the following year that a pattern was emerging as to Fantasy Flight Games’ plan for their new Star Wars RPG product line.

Fantasy Flight Games released Star Wars: Age of Rebellion (Beta) the same year as the finalized version of Edge of the Empire. In Star Wars: Age of Rebellion (Beta) the main focus is on rebels to the Empire types of characters. A year later in 2014, Star Wars: Age of Rebellion Core Rulebook, Star Wars: Age of Rebellion Beginner Game, and Star Wars: Force and Destiny (Beta) released. Star Wars: Force and Destiny (Beta) introduced force sensitive characters. Star Wars: Force and Destiny Core Rulebook and Star Wars: Force and Destiny Beginner Game published in 2015. Finally, in 2016, Star Wars: The Force Awakens Beginner Game released having adventure material that focused on Jakku, the new world introduced in The Force Awakens movie.

Fantasy Flight Games’ approached their Star War product line in a unique manner. Each published game uses a common set of game mechanics. Instead of placing a collection diverse of character types in just one main rulebook, FFG chose to focus on one specific type and center each product line around that concept. You can combine the different product lines to make a more diverse game because they all use the same mechanics. In turn, it provides Fantasy Flights Games with several product lines and product to sell. Each line has its own focused supplements, accessories, and add ons which can all intermix with each other. The amount of product available for FFG’s Star Wars games is astronomical. One could easily be overwhelmed trying to own everything produced. But each division is its own game so you can run a hyperfocused campaign of your choosing without incorporating the other product lines.

Not only is FFG’s approach to their sales strategy unique but it’s game mechanics are too; the FFG system uses the Narrative Dice System. The Narrative Dice System uses standard shapes polyhedron dice but with cryptic symbols instead of numbers. Players can opt to use regular polyhedron dice if they desire. A conversion of the symbols is available in each ruleset. Each symbol on the dice has a special meaning which helps the gamemaster and players develop the narrative during the game. Certain symbols cancel out other symbols and the like. The learning of these new symbols can hinder entry into this system at first but once players and gamemaster learn to read the dice results the rest of the game is simple to figure out. The game uses attributes, skills, and talents, along with bonuses and other familiar roleplaying mechanics. The style of play is very modern and allows the player more agency within the story.

So which one is right for you?
Comparing the three different incarnations of Star Wars Roleplaying Games is like comparing the original trilogy, prequels, and Disney movies. Each group is uniquely different but all share the same story elements that make up the Star Wars Universe. Choose the system that you are most familiar with or choose to by era. Keep in mind that whatever edition you choose you will have to buy the physical books. There’s no legal PDF in the marketplace to buy. Lucasfilm has always held tight control over its material and has never authorized legal PDFs of their printed material, which still holds true under Disney. Each system is great but also has its faults. In the end, once you become comfortable with the system you chose, you’ll find that Star Wars works great because the Star Wars universe is a great setting no matter the game mechanics.

Happy gaming and May the Fourth be with you.

~Stephen Pennisi

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7 Comments Add yours

  1. Daniel Stack says:

    The lack of official digital versions has always astounded me. I did some quick checking and the bulk of the WEG, WotC, and FFG versions of their Star Wars RPG have already been pirated digitally. It would seem to make some sense for LucasFilm/Disney to at least realize some revenue from people who would be willing to pay for such content. And like you mentioned, it’s clearly a LucasFilm/Disney issue – FFG does produce legal PDFs for it’s own properties.

    Like

  2. We really need a Rolling Boxcar’s live play Star Wars Podcast.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. DadsAngry says:

      That sounds great. Which system should use?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I love the FFG storytelling mechanic. Gotta vote FFG

        Liked by 1 person

  3. modoc31 says:

    Reuster might be on to something!

    Like

  4. froth says:

    Great post, May the 4th be with you, always. Completely blanked on mentioning that I linked over here on my blog/podcast last week.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. DadsAngry says:

      Thank you for sharing us with your readers.

      Like

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