A long time ago in a Tabletop RPG company far, far away . . . West End Games released its Star Wars: The Roleplaying Game. The game would go on to produce two full editions (plus one revision of 2e) and more than one hundred sourcebooks and adventure supplements, but as with most things time eventually moved on. West End Games closed up shop, the Star Wars RPG license transferred to other companies and other systems, and the fans of the original SWTRPG were left to carry the flame as best they could. Now, however, Fantasy Flight Games has brought it back into the light with Star Wars: The Roleplaying Game 30th Anniversary Edition!
There’s no denying the fact that no small percentage of the 30th Anniversary Edition’s sales will be due to the nostalgia effect; fans who played the game as far back as its debut in 1987, and are getting their hands on a new copy to replace one they’ve lost or one that’s fallen prey to the ravages of time, or just for old time’s sake. They’ve got fond memories to justify their purchase, and that’s awesome. But if you played the original editions of the Star Wars Roleplaying Game, that nostalgia will either do it for you or it won’t, and if you never got to play it (like me; these books originally came out a year before I was even born) then there’s no nostalgia to work with in the first place. So here’s the angle I’m going for: why take a look at this game if nostalgia isn’t a factor for you?
The Roleplaying Game
The first of the two books in the 30th Anniversary Edition is the actual core rulebook for Star Wars: The Roleplaying Game’s 1st Edition. It’s a comparatively slim tome, clocking in at roughly 142 pages (no index, sadly), and is largely black and white aside from a few splash pages of concept art, movie stills, and in-universe posters/documents/ads. That ‘slim’ part shows through the entire book; I’m not sure I’d go so far as to say the game is rules-light, but it does strike me as highly narrative, and it definitely isn’t rules-heavy.
The games uses the D6 System, which actually got its start with a Ghostbusters RPG of all things, and which lives on to this day as the OpenD6 System. Any roll for any reason is going to involve rolling a number of six-sided dice (thankfully nowhere near to Shadowrun numbers), sometimes adding a static number to the accumulated roll results, and going up against either a difficulty number set by the GM and/or an opponent’s roll. Characters have six Attributes (Dexterity, Knowledge, Mechanical, Perception, Strength, and Technical) that have what’s called a ‘die code’ (more on how you get those in a bit). The Attribute Codes read like 3D or 2D+1, and each acts as an umbrella for several Skills; each Skill has the same die code as its associated Attribute unless it has been increased during character creation or via Skill Points. Increasing a Skill’s Die Code is actually the only way characters can improve; even the Force is mastered that way, although it’s more expensive and difficult.
A character gets their starting Attribute Die Codes from a template, and there are 24 of them in the book that also include Equipment and a bare-bones backstory that you then customize by assigning extra dice to Skills, picking things like a name and description, and filling in the backstory gaps. You’re encouraged to customize things further if you want, or create a template from scratch, but it’s assumed that at least right out the gate you’ll be grabbing a template.
From there the actual rules are pretty simple. As mentioned, you’re rolling against a target number. Initiative in structured time involves everyone declaring their actions, and ‘acting’ simultaneously; in cases of exchanging fire, for instance, the character with the best roll is the one to get their shot off. Characters who take hits are either stunned, wounded (-1D to all rolls), incapacitated (out cold), or mortally wounded depending on how their Strength roll compares to the incoming damage roll. You can actually take multiple actions a turn, in exchange for fewer dice on all of those actions.
Overall, the tone of the book is . . . I want to to say ‘casual’. You get the feeling while reading it that you’re talking to a fellow Star Wars fan who really wants to encourage you to play games in this universe. There’s a not-insignificant portion of the book devoted to examples of play, a first adventure, its script, and several more adventure ideas and story hooks. Of particular interest is a ‘solitaire’ adventure that reads like one of those choose-your-own adventure books, taking you through a scenario by yourself to teach you the basic mechanics and how player choices in a roleplaying game can matter. It’s a fascinating little touch that I’m actually surprised I haven’t seen more of.
Overall? Between the templates, adventure material, and the straightforward rules, this strikes me as a game that you can jump right into. The dice system does strike me as a little swingy (5D+1 might seem like a lot, but with a few rotten dice you could fail even some of the simplest checks), and the characters come across as a little simple since all they do is improve specific Skills, but there’s still a lot to like, here.
Originally published a month after the core rule book, The Star Wars Sourcebook brought a ton of information, as well as extra mechanical resources, to SWTRPG. It covers the basics of spacecraft tech, vehicles from starfighters to Star Destroyers to repulsorcraft to AT-ATs, to aliens and creatures. It includes information on general equipment, lightsabers, and various types of stormtrooper. It also contains an example rebel base on Tierfon, and an example Imperial garrison. It even has profiles and stats for many famous characters of the original trilogy circa just after the Battle of Yavin, with the profiles written by in-universe characters.
Yes, you’ll find various stats (including ways to turn several alien species into player characters), but give-or-take roughly 90% of the Sourcebook is just information and reading material about the galaxy far, far away, and that’s what makes the Sourcebook great (and the foundation for many similar works created over the course of SWTRPG’s lifetime).
Wander into the CHG archives and you can probably guess I’m a pretty big Star Wars fan, but aside from the RPG side of things I’m actually pretty low key these days. Sure, I’ve seen TFA and TLJ and Rogue One and enjoyed them (I’ll see Solo when the wee lad gives us the time), Rebels was great, and Alexander Freed’s Twilight Company was amazing, but that’s nothing compared to my Legends days. It was a deep dive back then, I read every scrap I could. I bring this up so I can point out with some degree of authority: I’ve seen a lot of the stuff in the Sourcebook before, just in other Star Wars products that came out all over the last 30 years.
Look, there is so much of what became core to not just the Legends continuity but Star Wars in general here in this Sourcebook, from the fact that there are two different types of Y-Wing fighter to the name of the Twi’lek species. It’s kind of staggering to think of the vacuum West End Games was working in at the time; so much of this material is taken for granted now that it’s like trying to recapture the first time you found out who Luke’s dad was or the shock (heh) and horror the first time we saw Force Lightning. There was practically nothing, and yet the Sourcebook made a whole lot of something out of it, using concept art for inspiration and purely making things up to fill in the gaps. So much of what I grew up on in Star Wars, from the comics to the books to the games, can trace itself back to this book and this game. The words ‘piece of history’ are often trite, but in this case I really think they’re applicable. Star Wars would not be the same without this book (Timothy Zahn was famously handed a pile of SWTRPG books as reference material when he was tasked with writing the Thrawn trilogy), and it’s still influencing things today, even in the current Narrative Dice System version of Star Wars. So if you’re a Star Wars historian type or are a fan of ‘behind the scenes’ things, that alone could make this worth buying.
I managed to pick up a few volumes of the old Adventure Journal over the years for that reason, and having read this I’m eager to see if I can hunt down a few more.
Is the 30th Anniversary Edition of Star Wars: The Roleplaying Game for everyone? No. Its biggest appeal will be to nostalgic fans and collectors. But if you’re looking for an easy to learn and play game that does everything it can to capture the feel of Star Wars? If you’re looking for a piece of Star Wars history, or for something to inspire you even while using the more recent SWRPG? Then you might just want to give these two books a look yourself. There’s also something to be said for the fact that, as ‘dead’ games go, SWTRPG continues to have a large and thriving fandom for you to find.
Star Wars: The Roleplaying Game 30th Anniversary Edition is currently for sale at your Friendly Local Gaming Store and on the Fantasy Flight Games site.
May the Force Be With You!
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