Monday, 9 April 2012

The Original Star Wars Roleplaying Game: Why It Worked So Well

When West End Games released ‘Star Wars: The Roleplaying Game’ (SWRPG) in 1987 it was part of the celebrations for the first ten years of the franchise. Ten whole years, and Star Wars was still very popular. It had been four years since The Return of the Jedi had been released in cinemas and the only other media fun to be had were the Droids and Ewoks cartoons.

When SWRPG hit the shelves it was a golden age for roleplaying games. They had matured greatly since the 1970s and there were a plethora of games to choose from. Star Wars, being a new roleplaying game and a holy grail for fans who were drooling at the mouth for more Star Wars material, was an instant success. The simple and free flowing D6 system, which could be modified for any kind of playing style a gaming group wished for, was perfect for the setting and the use of official images from the three movies only served to heighten the enjoyment. Players felt they were taking part in a living, breathing Star Wars adventure.

And that was just the beginning. When West End Games released their first sourcebooks the fans, both gamers and general fans alike, could now see the inner workings of the setting they loved. Not only that, they utilised concept designs that had been created for the original movies and gave them statistics and names; now those unused designs for speeder bikes, starships and weapons were being given purpose. The Star Wars universe had names, details and histories. Suddenly, the Star Wars universe was very real.

The material was all sanctioned by Lucasfilm, which made the designs and histories official. In fact, they were so well regarded that they became the initial foundations for what became the Expanded Universe, so much so that when Timothy Zahn came to write the Heir to the Empire novels he was given a pile of West End Games books and informed that he should use it for background details. The SWRPG had become the go-to source for new Star Wars material for a myriad of authors and artists, and in turn the SWRPG reproduced their resulting creations for the roleplaying game.

What made the game so successful and such a joy to play was its accessibility. For a start it had the fact that it was Star Wars going for it, and everyone wanted to be in Star Wars. The images the first edition rulebook used immediately took you to the Star Wars universe, and the great thing was that when playing you didn’t have to describe what a Star Destroyer, an X-Wing or a Stormtrooper looked like or what they represented – everyone knew the basics, even those not totally versed in the setting. The rulebook was incredibly well written and introduced new players to the hobby with ease and offered some amazing beginner’s advice and it was written in a friendly, easy manner that was a joy to absorb because it was obvious the guy writing it was enjoying every minute of it. The original game was easy to master and play, used general six-sided dice so new gamers wouldn’t get confused by all those strange polyhedrals, and suited the pulp adventure and cinematic action style perfectly. The rules covered everything from aliens, droids, blasters, using the Force and flying starships. You could do absolutely anything you wanted in the Star Wars universe in any style you chose. It was the perfect sandbox game system for the perfect sandbox science fiction setting. Star Wars: The Roleplaying Game came along at just the right time, when Star Wars was still young and, now that the movies were over, there was a universe out there that the fans wanted to explore. With the SWRPG they could not only read up on the larger Star Wars galaxy as fans they could also experience it as roleplaying gamers.

The first edition of the SWRPG, as it was released in 1987, is in many ways the perfect iteration. The game saw a second edition in 1992, and an excellent revised and expanded edition in 1996, but these game bloated the rules slightly and added more options. The rules weren’t the greatest focus in the original game, the aim was to get stuck in and have some fun and, as such, gamers could mould and change the system to suit their games and make it as complicated or as rules-light as they wanted.

With all this material, product identity, easy-to-learn rules and a wonderful rulebook that oozes sheer enjoyment of the game and setting that’s perfect for new and experienced gamers alike, what’s not to love? If re-released it would be a wonderful way to bring new gamers into the hobby and there’s more than a decade of material to cannibalise and adapt to suit the Star Wars universe as we know it now, as well as plenty of new material to write for the those who already have the D6 collection.

Of course, the odds of this happening are approximately 3,720 to 1.