Eighteen Years Ago in a Family Room Not Too Far Away: West End Games’ Star Wars RPG

Star Wars 1EI actually owned the first edition of the Star Wars RPG before I played D&D. The summer of ’93 I went to a small Star Wars convention held at the luxurious Cherry Hill Holiday Inn, where I picked up a few posters for my room and the RPG, which was intriguing despite (or perhaps because of) a lack of comprehension on my part. I looked through the book a lot, but I don’t think I really tried to read it and figure it out for myself. However, I do distinctly remember talking with a couple older kids about wanting to understand what the game was and how you played it, as that conversation led directly to my first D&D session.

After that first game, I remained a strict D&D junkie until January ’95. At that point I decided it was time to take the Star Wars RPG off the shelf and give it a go. Initially I was so thrown off by its systemic differences that I instead ended up running my own Star Wars game based off of a homebrew of slightly altered D&D rules that didn’t really work, though being kids we still managed to turn it into a fun, snowstorm-aided all-nighter in which PCs who started with blasters and landspeeders at 11 a.m. Saturday had acquired a personal fleet of Imperial Star Destroyers by 2 a.m. Sunday. Ahh, youth.

After that session, things reverted to the D&D status quo at the table for a few months, but at the same time I started rapidly expanding my RPG reading and collecting beyond the borders of D&D. In the aftermath of the uneven results from my attempt to D&D-ify Star Wars, I became fascinated by different rules systems and concepts of game design. Also, I had picked up a copy of the Fantasy Role-Playing Gamer’s Bible and tried to get as many of the game listed therein as I could.

It was actually one of my other friends who first picked up the 2nd Edition Star Wars rulebook at the FLGS, though. He thought the system seemed really cool and that we should give it a try as written. Since at the time 2nd Edition equated to “better” in my mind, I went out and got that rulebook as well, rather than using the one I already owned. And while I know some people prefer that first version of Star Wars, when I read the 2nd Edition in June 1995, everything just clicked. For the better part of the next two years, a new game became the default go-to RPG for our group.

2nd Edition and 2nd Edition Revised

It being the mid-90s, we were in the generational sweet spot for Star Wars. Everyone playing had grown up with it, though some of us were a bit more obsessive than others, and its reputation had yet to be tarnished by the Special Editions or prequels. Plus, the Expanded Universe books had just started a few years earlier and were still teetering on the edge of a boom in quantity and bust in quality.

For anyone not familiar with the game’s system, here are the basics: It is a skill-based system that uses only d6s. Attributes are rated in number of dice, and all skills under that attribute get to be rolled at that level unless they have been raised above it with additional dice. The general scale ranges from 2D to 4D, with a static +1 and +2 bonus providing the interim steps before the number of dice increase (2D, 2D+1, 2D+2, then 3D). The results are totalled and compared to a difficulty number, often determined by the GM. The difficulty target number scale is pretty comparable to that of the D20 System/3.x D&D, which isn’t surprising considering Bill Slavicsek’s involvement in developing both systems.

One of the dice rolled should be distinctive  as it is the Wild Die. If the Wild Die comes up as a 6 or a 1, the GM can either use this to signal a respective advantage or complication for the players or simply allow for an effect on the total of the roll. In the latter case, the 6 is added in and re-rolled, continuing to explode if it comes up 6 again, whereas with a 1 both the Wild Die and the highest other die rolled are removed from the total.

Starships and vehicles are rated with dice attributes in a manner similar to characters, and a scale system is used to keep the total number of dice rolled from getting out of control.

It was a pretty simple system that did a great job of capturing the “Star Wars Feel” with the rules themselves, and it was a heck of a lot of fun. I personally see a lot of influence from the system in Savage Worlds, my current preferred system (I know Savage Worlds came out of the more complex first edition of Deadlands, so I might just be projecting, but there is that SW title parallel).

Over the next few weeks, I’m going to take a look back at some of the supplements for the game that had the biggest influence on how we depicted and played in the Star Wars universe and on our soon-to-be-shattered perception of what the “real” Star Wars universe was.

And may the Force be with you.

Author: John Carr

Gamer, comic guy, office drone.

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