An editor at the late Star Wars Gamer magazine (one of the three for whom I worked before that periodical finally folded) once suggested I write an article about the 10 most important or influential Star Wars roleplaying game products West End Games ever published for its D6 version of the game. Star Wars Gamer has long since closed down, but the idea stuck in my head as a possible piece.
That’s what this annotated top 10 list is: my opinion of the top 10 West End Games Star Wars Roleplaying Game products, ranked considering content, subject matter, and play value, with some graphic considerations thrown in for good measure. Some I loved as a player, others I took pride in as an editor, writer, and designer. Some are mine, many are not. They are, from my perspective, the 10 products no serious D6 Star Wars roleplayer or collector should go without (beyond, of course, one’s preferred edition of the rulebook) as either a reference, game aid, or simply a ground-breaking product.
#10: DarkStryder Boxed Set
The DarkStryder campaign was an experiment inspired by various sources, including the Star Trek series Voyager (which happened to debut at the same time this supplement was in development). The initial boxed set inspired two more campaign books that took the crew of the FarStar – assembled to chase a renegade Imperial Moff – into unknown regions of space. Artist Doug Shuler introduced the idea of players running multiple characters among the crew, one named bridge/command character and one or two less-important crew members who could find excuses to go out adventuring (and get killed without any huge story ramifications). The box included a booklet of information on the set-up, a book of initial adventures, a huge map of the FarStar (a modified Corellian corvette), and reference cards for ships, vehicles, creatures, droids, and the crew. It was a huge undertaking that involved West End’s entire creative staff, and required a good deal of personality wrangling to keep the project in line. DarkStryder introduced the epic campaign concept to the Star Wars roleplaying game line later followed by the Tapani Sector box (more a location source-box, but with some campaign supplements) and the piratical Far Orbit Project (though without all the fancy, and expensive, boxed-set trappings). Was it a successful experiment? Yes and no. Some gamers warmed up to the concept, but others found it too foreign. A more mainstream “Rebels versus the Empire” campaign box might have sold better, but the direction DarkStryder took was more experimental and, ultimately, more esoteric than a traditional Star Wars campaign.
#9: Tales of the Jedi Companion
While ostensibly a guide to the universe as portrayed in the eponymous comic book series from Dark Horse Comics, this hardcover supplement allowed West End to describe material in the distant pre-prequel era (the company had previously been restricted to the eras in the classic trilogy movies and post-Endor novels). The comics, plus rumors and speculations about the prequels, fueled an interest in gaming during the heyday of the Jedi Knights. The supplement added some Force powers, offered some adventures and scenario ideas (including a solitaire adventure by yours truly), and served as a basic reference work for anyone gaming in that era. The companion was a breakout product mainly because it set out into hitherto uncharted waters of the pre-trilogy era (at least for roleplaying game materials) and pushed the bounds of the Star Wars universe West End normally covered, though good writing and an engaging subject also helped.
#8: Platt’s Starport Guide
Although I’ll freely admit (as the author) it could have used a bit more work and more substance, this sourcebook continued the popular smuggler theme started in Galaxy Guide 6: Tramp Freighters, but featured exclusive art from Christian Gossett, the Dark Horse Comics artist who went on to become the creator of the hit comic series The Red Star and other projects. West End became known for working behind the scenes as a continuity resource for Dark Horse Comics, Bantam Spectra, Decipher, and a host of other licensees (before, of course, the company went bankrupt and lost the Star Wars license altogether). The guide offered seven specific locations, with detailed notes, maps, and non-player characters tailored for smugglers, plenty of adventure ideas, and a four-page, full-color spread of original and vibrant Gossett artwork for each starport. Unfortunately sales were hobbled by an overly obscene price on the book, $25.00, which, at that time, was too high for a softcover book with only 32 pages of full color.
#7: Heir to the Empire Sourcebook, Thrawn Trilogy Sourcebook, et. al.
These sourcebooks were the first of many collaborations between West End and popular Star Wars fiction authors. Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn Trilogy novels resurrected interest in Star Wars during the late 1980s and led the way for a renewed publishing program from Bantam Spectra (and no doubt the entire renewed marketing push that arguably led to the special edition of the classic trilogy and the prequels). West End initially published three sourcebooks, one for each novel, that were later released as one mondo-sourcebook compilation. Each book included updated stats for all the main characters, new equipment, creatures, starships, vehicles, locations, and Force powers. Many fans bought them precisely because they served as good companions to the novels. They illustrated key scenes and characters, and included location maps. Since West End had already published sourcebooks for the first two novels by the time Timothy Zahn began work on the third, the company played a small role in detailing the climactic action in The Last Command. Apparently the author asked West End’s art department to render maps of the clone chambers and Emperor’s throne room so he could script the final scenes there using the visuals to choreograph his action.
Perhaps the best iteration of the style of players’ book that began with Heroes & Rogues (and included my own Platt’s Smuggler’s Guide), Rules of Engagement offered equipment, campaign ideas, new rules, and character templates for commandos in the Star Wars universe. Commonly called the SpecForces Handbook (it’s subtitle), it is widely hailed as the most useful and inspirational player book West End ever produced. For example, most of the conventions I’d prepared up to that time consisted of rag-tag Rebels carrying out operations against the Empire, or smugglers running some errand. This book inspired me to whip up missions specifically for Rebel commandos with pre-generated characters reflecting different ranks and duties within the team. They had a grittier feel than most Star Wars adventures, but players seemed to love them. Like Galaxy Guide 6: Tramp Freighters, Rules of Engagement opened up a previously unexplored field for Star Wars players.
#5: Instant Adventures
Rather than expand one adventure by a single author into a full-length book, this supplement offered a handful of one-shot scenarios gamemasters could browse, quickly review, and use at a moment’s notice. Each scenario included maps, non-player characters, and a quick summary at the beginning to brief the gamemaster. Several pages of perforated cards in the back provided stats on one side and a full-color illustration on the other, covering all the ships, vehicles, droids, creatures, and adversaries in the adventures. The scenarios range in location and theme, but each offered a solid night’s Star Wars gaming. The format gave rise to at least one other adventure collection that included illustrated stat cards (the bounty hunter-themed collection aptly titled No Disintegrations) and led the way to include more cardstock goodies bound within gamebooks or slipped in boxed sets. I still keep a copy with my Revised & Expanded rulebook and personal scenarios in case I ever need to pull out a quick adventure at a convention.
Affectionately dubbed “Heroes & Roogies” by West End’s warehouse staff, this sourcebook was pioneered by designer Paul Sudlow as a player’s workbook, with numerous tools to help create a more rounded, deeper character. It included lists of possible homeworlds, reasons for joining the Rebellion, and many ideas on expanding a character’s motivations. It also packed a host of additional character templates elaborating the kinds of people who inhabited – and who players could run – in the Star Wars universe. Heroes & Rogues set the standard for other player-oriented books struck from the same mold, including Rules of Engagement, my own Platt’s Smuggler’s Guide, and Pirates & Privateers (yes, the warehouse staff butchered that one, too, as “Privates & Privateers”).
#3: Tatooine Manhunt
If I had to choose one adventure that stood out from the rest, it would be Tatooine Manhunt...and not because it was a great adventure (I heard tales of how many times, and how much money was spent, to write and rewrite it over and over before the final product). This initial adventure module (and later Galaxy Guide 7: Mos Eisley, which included much the same and expanded source material) gave gamers both a detailed setting and scenario in perhaps the richest location shown in the original Star Wars trilogy. Half the module consisted of descriptions of Mos Eisley locations, including the infamous cantina, docking bay 97, and Jabba’s townhouse, all keyed to a full-color, double-sided map showing the starport’s downtown and the cantina interior. It worked well as a city location providing services for spacers and Rebels, and a setting for various adventures. The scenario itself was okay (I completely botched it when I first ran it as my initial Star Wars game...thermal detonators tend to do that), but the source material more than made up for that.
#2: Cracken’s Rebel Field Guide
Not just a compendium of handy gadgets, Cracken’s Rebel Field Guide took common equipment found in the Star Wars universe, explained in part how it worked, and then taught Rebels how to modify it into useful field equipment. It was among the first products to create a notable, original character within the universe and give him a personal voice in the perspective of the supplement. Years before Del Rey’s equipment and ship books flooded the stores, General Cracken was sharing the secrets of Star Wars technology with gamers. Since it was never updated to the second edition of the game (though portions of it found their way into future supplements), it remains one of the more difficult of the early supplements to find. It inspired a later generation of Star Wars Roleplaying Game writers and editors to create an entire series of Fantastic Technology books covering personal gear and droids, including commentary from various but notably lesser personages than General Cracken.
The original edition of this book broke the mold that all previous products assumed the player group was part of the Rebel Alliance. Now people could play smugglers. The book included rules for trading, a slew of new starships, a short campaign with extended adventure outlines, non-player characters, and their ships. The regulations and infractions from the Bureau of Ships and Services (BoSS) alone were worth the price and gave gamemasters and players some ideas of law enforcement that affected the average spacer. Although the book (and its second edition revamp) wasn’t a huge breakthrough in terms of graphics, text, or even the mini-campaign, the entire concept and the combination of materials made Tramp Freighters a must-have supplement in its time that continues to provide good mileage for players today.