WEG’s Star Wars RPG: Which Edition?

[Note: When I first published this in February 2004 I had firm thoughts on which edition I considered the best...the most recent Revised & Expanded edition. In the years since I’ve altered my perception of what makes a good game for me, especially in light of my dwindling time and focus as a busy parent. The text below has been revised to reflect my current preference for the first edition of this game, both out of nostalgic feelings as well as a growing dislike of rules-heavy games. – PS]

Every so often I stumble upon a discussion debating which was the best incarnation of West End Games’ D6-based Star Wars Roleplaying Game.

Although I didn’t sign on with West End Games until a few months after the release of the Star Wars Roleplaying Game second edition, I was familiar with first and second edition, and had a hand in creating the Second Edition: Revised & Expanded (commonly referred to around the office as “Super-Mondo”). As a gamer, writer, and game designer, I have my preferences, and I thought I’d explore those and my other opinions on the various editions.

For purposes of clarity, I’m not including the Star Wars Introductory Adventure Game in this discussion. That product was specifically designed to bring new gamers into the fold with the release in spring 1997 of the special edition Star Wars trilogy. Although gamemasters could use much of the game’s materials in their own campaigns (maps, cardboard stand-up figures, the campaign book, references cards), the skill names and certain other tidbits were simplified or condensed for clarity and ease of play. Personally, as the designer, I veered toward the first edition of the rules, which didn’t include as much rules clutter and complication, but that reflects my overall game design style.

The Short Answer: For me, the best version of the Star Wars Roleplaying Game D6 system is the first edition of The Star Wars Roleplaying Game, partly for nostalgic feelings on my part, but because its text and graphics really captured the spirit of the movies and drew readers into the universe (and because I prefer its basic skill definitions to the other editions’ more complex skill breakdowns and specializations). Second Edition – Revised & Expanded comes in a close second, primarily for its full-color presentation and a more clear organization; while it represents the final refinement of the game system, it remains chained to rules-heavy mechanics implemented in second edition.

Major Differences

Each edition differs slightly from the others in areas of gameplay, content, and presentation.

First Edition:
  • Simple, D6-based rules engine with basic skills.
  • 18 customizable character templates without illustrations.
  • Illustrated with black-and-white stills from the films.
  • Included both a solitaire tutorial adventure and a short group scenario.
  • Really required the main rulebook and sourcebook to play with adequate stats for most everything in the Star Wars universe.

Second Edition:
  • More rules-heavy D6-based rules engine with many more skills plus specializations.
  • 16 customizable character templates with illustrations for each.
  • Illustrated with original black-and-white line art of varying quality and subject matter.
  • Included several substantial adventure hooks buried in the gamemastering chapter.
  • Served as the main rule- and sourcebook for the game, with all stats required to play inside.

Revised & Expanded:
  • Refined rules-heavy D6-based rules engine.
  • 20 customizable character templates with illustrations for each.
  • Illustrated with original full-color, high-quality art and stills from the films.
  • Included both a solitaire tutorial adventure and a short group scenario (written by yours truly).
  • Served as the main rule- and sourcebook for the game, with all stats required to play inside.

These differences don’t dive into changes in certain rules for using Force powers, figuring “to hit“ chances and damage between various scales, and other rules minutiae. The basic premise of the D6 game engine remained much the same throughout all three editions, though the latter two were definitely designed more for players seeking crunchy game systems and less for people looking for an easy-to-learn, quick-and-dirty cinematic game style.

First Edition

Ah, I remember the day I first saw the roleplaying game and sourcebook in Waldenbooks at the Danbury Fair Mall and bought them without hesitation. They were the first step on several exciting campaigns, convention appearances, and eventually a crazy career writing game material. The cover displayed artwork from one of the numerous film posters (with the sourcebook looking like some dataport spewing movie stills here and there). The black-and-white stills inside brought back fond memories of the characters, starships, and planets we as fans loved dearly. The text encouraged gamers to dive into the action, speak in funny voices (or growl like Wookiees), and employ goofy sound effects. The character templates and easy skill system allowed players start playing quickly with a character archetype with which they could easily identify. The solitaire scenario taught the basic rules principles, while the group adventure gave a good example of the format and content of an exciting Star Wars story.

Compared with later editions of the game, first edition kept the skills simple. You had lightsaber, melee combat, brawling, piloting, and such, without the more complex delineations of various “parry“ skills and piloting, shields, and gunnery for different classes of ships. For me, proficiency in a melee or piloting skill translated (much as in the films) to proficiency in both fighting and parrying, or piloting various craft of differing sizes and configurations.

The in-universe ads, particularly the Imperial Navy recruitment ad and the ones selling Incom’s X-wing and Industrial Automaton’s R2-series droids, were sheer genius and captured the spirit of the Star Wars universe.

The game was not without some flaws. The group adventure promoted using the Imperial Security Bureau (ISB) as villains, which I felt was a poor substitute for Imperial stormtroopers. For stats on anything beyond the basics (stormtroopers, X-wings, YT-1300 freighters, TIE fighters) you needed the Star Wars Sourcebook, which contained more movie stills, size-comparison charts, and an overall good reference to all things useful in a Star Wars Roleplaying Game campaign. The rules assumed if a character was Force-sensitive he had access to all powers (something I altered in my own game, limiting Jedi to a handful of powers at first, with others learned from training, teachers, and ancient artifacts).

First edition gave people a cinematic rules set and enough universe material (with the sourcebook) for gamemasters to run off and create exciting campaigns, and players to expand their characters to heroic proportions.

Second Edition

First edition was out for maybe five or six years before second edition released, which is a pretty good interval between editions. Although I later knew, worked with, and was friends with designer Bill Smith, everything from the book’s D6 rules interpretations and changes to its overall layout and artwork screamed mediocrity. The blue cover adorned with Darth Vader presented a rather reserved if minimalist initial impression. I’m not a fan of some of the more character-oriented artwork inside. The interior layout was uninspired and not terribly clear regarding subheads.

In its defense, the color, in-universe advertisements are good (though they still don’t touch those in first edition), and the artwork by Allen Nunis (influenced by Star Wars comic strip artist Al Williamson) and the incomparable Mike Vilardi stands above the other pieces, and its handy black-and-white format allowed fans to scan and insert into their own player handouts, adventures, and other materials (not that us copyright-minded people would ever consider doing that...).

Unlike first edition, second edition included stats for creatures, starships, aliens, vehicles, droids, weapons, and other universe goodies all in one book for handy reference. The character templates finally came with illustrations (which always helps new players envision their characters), though some ported over from first edition and others were left behind in favor of different templates.

Second Edition – Revised & Expanded: “Super-Mondo”

Thanks to a renewed fiction program pioneered by author Timothy Zahn and his popular Grand Admiral Thrawn novels, rumors of Star Wars prequels, talk of an upcoming release of the Special Edition Star Wars Trilogy in theaters, and an overall upsurge in Star Wars-related comics, figures, and merchandising, West End Games planned a new, full-color, hardcover, no-holds-barred edition of the roleplaying game to capitalize on the films’ popularity and draw new players/customers into the game from the huge fan base.

The planned “super-mondo” edition of the roleplaying game initially hit some snags. With a more varied development team than second edition, the editorial staff had to adjudicate everyone’s opinions on the “best” changes, choose the best approach to game design and presentation, and fine-tune previously problematic rules (particularly those pesky scale mechanics). As a book written by committee, everyone had their own opinion what the game should include, delete, or change. Other staff difficulties caused a delay in the initial summer 1996 release (after the entire West End staff jumped in to do a last-minute fill-in writing job on much of the book, it finally released in the summer of 1997).

Luckily the presentation of the book was in the capable hands of West End’s production staff, headed by production manager Richard Hawran, a huge Star Wars fan and tireless head of the gaming division who somehow managed to keep various tempers and personalities in line and productive (myself included). The cover screamed “over the top action” with a full-bleed shot of the Millennium Falcon blasting through a flock of TIE fighters at the Battle of Endor. The book was huge, full-color, and packed to the gills with computer-enhanced movie stills, original color art, and a compendium of all the in-universe advertisements that ran in the previous editions. Each chapter began with a color rendering of a character (including a few of my own smuggler Platt Okeefe) by talented Mike Vilardi with in-universe, in-character introductions. Most of the art consisted of movie stills or prop/costume archival shots, with original art illustrating the introductions, solitaire scenario, and group adventure, and spot art filling in the sections detailing creatures, droids, and vehicles. The comprehensive universe section included a planet guide detailing locations in the main films and Coruscant.

Since “Super-Mondo” was a collaborative effort among West End’s numerous editors at the time, it’s a bit more well-rounded than second edition. (About the only two contributions I distinctly remember making are the solitaire scenario, “Cantina Breakout,”and the group adventure, “The Pirates of Prexiar,” though I’m sure I wrote a good portion of the attributes and skills chapter, with spot contributions and ready advice to other sections, too). It’s possibly the best-looking book West End ever published, and it’s a shame the company never did a similar product for the D6 version of its Indiana Jones roleplaying game. “Super-Mondo” represents everything the game should have been after 10 years’ play: a meaty, full-color extravaganza that included everything you needed to play the game and develop your own campaign.

If I had to add one book to make “Super-Mondo” even more complete, the full-color Star Wars Movie Trilogy Sourcebook Special Edition is it. Presented in the same mold as “Super-Mondo,” it relies heavily on film art with excellent original art. The information inside rounds out the rulebook’s comprehensive stats and descriptions, providing information on everything else seen in the films.