Star Wars: The Roleplaying Game. 1st edition, 1987, West End Games.
We didn’t go on holiday when I was growing up, and there were no gaming shops in my town. A trip to the exciting metropolis of Birmingham, and the delights of Games Workshop and Virgin Megastore, offered the rare outlet for my RPG addiction (now serviced all too easily by Kickstarter and on-line stores). However, in 1987 I found myself as a teenager on a somewhat surprising and surreal holiday – a trip to York to the see the recently opened Jorvik Viking museum, but with my mum, sister, and my former infant school teacher and her husband. Wild times. I recall a dingy B+B, with all my family in one room, and a bathroom shared with the other guests on the rest of the floor. In addition to the stomach-churning smells of the museum (is it still the same? I was too nauseated to ever risk going back), I do remember, to my delight, finding a gaming shop, and stumbling across the Star Wars RPG and buying it with some left over birthday money. Although I’d been into RPGs for a few years by this point, I’d not been aware of the game having been released, so possibly the holiday coincided closely with the book’s publication in the UK. Like many of our generation, I’d grown up on the original trilogy of films, and had been collecting the Star Wars Mattel toys when younger. I was a Star Wars fan. I can’t claim to ever have been an obsessive, always having a slight preference for the Trek universe, but Star Wars had action, romance and high adventure and the RPG was great fun to play as a teenager.
We played the game a lot – heading off to the local library in our lunch breaks from school to huddle around a table. One friend, keen to be a combat monster, went for the ‘Wookie’, or ‘Bounty Hunter’, and another, with our persuasion, the ‘Smuggler’, who handily came with a Stock Light Freighter for us to whizz around the galaxy in. My own personal favourite was the ‘Failed Jedi’, whose personality was described as “Cynical, foul-mouthed, and pessimistic – but with a heart of gold.” He could barely hit anything with his lightsaber, but started with both the Control and Sense Force powers, and the latter allowed you to parry blaster bolts. Which I still think is a way cool thing to do. Scum and villainy were battled, beautiful slave girls rescued, and evil Imperial commanders thwarted.
Re-reading the game over the summer, in parallel to playing the excellent recent iterations of the Star Wars RPG from Fantasy Flight Games, it struck me as a remarkably modern game. The game merges attributes and skills, and rather than numbers, each has a value denoted by a number of dice, reminiscent of the Cortex system. However, what struck me most was how the templates and character generation system reminded me of RPGs ‘Powered by the Apocalypse’, and of the Feng Shui RPG: playbooks/templates of archetypal characters from the setting (‘arrogant noble’, ‘brash pilot’, and the oft spoken of ‘quixotic jedi’) that could be easily modified by the player to create their individual PC. Each template came with a background, suggestions for connections to other characters, and a quote. A very quick and easy way to get started. As us grognards know, it’s all been done before, and, much like music, was better in the 1980s.
Its perhaps not surprising that I have all the various Star Wars RPGs released since 1987. What is clear, for the fans and those who’ve played them, is that it is the initial Star Wars RPG from West End Games, together with Fantasy Flight’s Edge of the Empire, Age of Rebellion, and Force and Destiny RPGs more recently, that gets the most admiration, rather than the d20 and Saga editions from Wizards of the Coast. WEG d6 Star Wars is fast, simple, high action and gives all the feelz of ducking down corridors in the Death Star whilst pew-pewing white-clad Stormtroopers. The books released for the game were influential in their time, interfacing with other media outside of RPGs: they were reputedly used by Lucas Films as an overview of the Star Wars setting and given to authors to guide them when writing novels for the expanded universe. The game itself went through three editions – the 1st in 1987 (the one I purchased in York, after the horrors of the Jorvik), the 2nd in 1992, and the ‘revised and expanded’ 2nd edition in 1996. It is this latter edition that is the best and the one for Eddy to pick up from e-bay when on a bargain hunt. However, if you don’t want to part with any cash, with ‘free’ being the best price, a fan updated pdf of this is available at http://waveyourgeekflag.blogspot.co.uk/2015/04/star-wars-d6-reup-re-updated.html .
Since coming back to the game, my admiration for WEG Star Wars has been further reinforced by a recent podcast interview between Jim McClure and John Wick. John was discussing his influences when creating my favourite RPG, Legend of the Five Rings. He cited Pendragon (samurai, as knights, being constrained by honour and duty, but occasionally overwhelmed by passion) and WEG Star Wars. From the latter he took the mechanics used for Force powers to underpin his system for magic and the spells and prayers of the shugenja of Rokugan. And as we know, Wick, like Master Yoda, is wise in all things. I’d like to think my enjoyment in playing my L5R PC, Asako Soh, a Phoenix clan Shugenja, is linked in some way to the fun I had in playing a grouchy, whisky-sodden Jedi in the 80’s. Although Asako Soh’s personality is very different to my real life persona, I fear the cynical, boozy old man has got rather closer over the years. To quote the Failed Jedi: “Kids. Gah. Kids. You wanna learn how to use the Force? Listen when I talk to you. (Wheeze). Damn kids. Where’s the whiskey?” Mysterious indeed are the ways of the force.
@Asako_Soh, September 2016.
Many thanks to Dirk @theGROGNARDfile for permission to put the article here and for publishing it in the Grogzine.
Here’s a link to a film from the first Grogmeet where the Grogzine was launched: