Dan's Top 19 RPGs - #2 - Star Wars (West End Games)
Welcome to the penultimate entry in this journey that has lasted a lot longer than I'd anticipated. I'm one of those Star Wars fans who were there at the beginning, seeing it for the first time at the age of five in a Brooklyn movie theatre - a big one, one with balconies.
In the mid 1980s, Star Wars entered a lull. I still loved it but popular interest in it had waned. At Quassy Amusement Park, where I worked in high school, we had a few gazillion Snowtrooper figures redeemable with tickets from Whack-a-Mole and Skee-Ball.
But it began picking up steam slowly. I remember being overjoyed at the first Star Wars Encyclopedia that I picked up from a Stop & Shop that had a small book section. And in 1987 I remember seeing advertisements for a new Star Wars RPG. I was overjoyed. I'd tried my hand at adapting AD&D for Star Wars but it wasn't right. I'd had better luck with the Marvel Superheroes RPG oddly enough.
The West End Games Star Wars RPG is my favorite incarnation of Star Wars RPGs. I've played them all. Fantasy Flight Games' version is a lot of fun - it just missed an entry on this list. And I think Wizards of the Coast really got Star Wars right with their Saga Edition series of Star Wars books.
So why the silver medal to the West End Games Star Wars? The first reason is that it feels like how I picture Star Wars. No character is incompetent. No skill in starship piloting? Make a roll anyways.
This version of Star Wars uses what would later be called the D6 System. It got its start with the Ghostbusters RPG. Every character has a bunch of attributes and skills. Every skill falls under an attribute. If you don't have a rating in a skill you just use the attribute rating. The ratings are simply the number of dice you roll, plus possibly adding one or two "pips" to the total. You use six-sided dice. So a rating of 3D+2 means roll 3 six-sided dice to the total and add 2. Tasks have difficulties. Characters can take as many actions as they want in a round, though they every action after the first takes one die away from all actions that round.
My favorite version of the game is, oddly, one that is not often even considered one. It is the Star Wars Introductory Game, put out late in the game's license. The versions of the game are:
- 1st Edition
- 1st Edition plus Rules Upgrade - the first few adventures had a four-page rules upgrade that gave the game a more standard round sequence.
- 2nd Edition - Made the game a little crunchier.
- 2nd Edition Revised & Expanded - Close to the 2nd edition, dialed back the crunch a tad.
- Star Wars Introductory Game - Boxed set, returned to the simplicity of the 1st edition but in a much more polished format.
Space and vehicle battles are just an extrapolation of normal combat rules - something nice, not requiring you to learn a whole new system. If the game has one weakness, it is the Force rules are a little wonky. Beginning Force users are pretty mediocre, but if they get to a high enough skill level they become extremely dominant. Admittedly, one could argue that's how they are in the movies too... I find the Force rules work well for a Luke Skywalker in A New Hope or Empire Strikes Back - or Rey in The Force Awakens.
West End Games really did a fantastic job in production values. Though the 1st edition was primarily in black and white, it had color plates with advertisements from the Star Wars universe. With just three movies, a few novels and comic books (at the time the game came out), they did a fantastic job filling in details of the universe. These details still find their way into modern Star Wars productions. Star Wars Rebels featured a number of things first seen in the West End Games incarnation - Imperial Inquisitors, Interdictor-class ships, Shantipole being the source of the B-wing fighter, etc.
Fantasy Flight Games has a reprint of the 1st edition coming out, albeit extremely delayed. I'm very pleased that people will have a chance to check out the original game. It's worth noting the 1st edition has some concepts that quickly went away - for example, in action scenes, your skill roll also doubled as your initiative roll.
How does it compare with the Fantasy Flight Games version? Fantasy Flight Games gives your character a lot of interesting nuggets and abilities. West End Games' version is a lot simpler. I can definitely see why some might appreciate all the funkiness that the FFG version brings - I've played the game myself on a number of occasions and quite enjoy it. But the West End Game version is more along the line of "spend five minutes making a character (or less) and get playing".