- Seth Saunders
Roleplaying the Galaxy: Join the role playing side! (A new series)
If you’re reading this, I’m gonna go out on a highly abbreviated limb and guess that you have watched at least one Star Wars movie. And, if that’s all you’ve experienced of the galactic setting of hyperspace and mysticism, congratulations on taking your first steps into a much larger world!
Maybe you’ve seen all six original movies, or maybe you’ve already taken the deepest of dives into the weird, immense pool of space adventure that encompasses nearly four decades of Expanded Universe storytelling, from novels to games to cereal box comics. Whatever your familiarity with George Lucas’ space opera and its intricately connected surrounding materials, you’re probably taking the time to read at least two paragraphs into an article about role-playing in that world because the following thought has crossed your mind at least once; “What would it be like to live in a galaxy like that?”
Absolutely no disrespect to the dozens of video games that have proudly borne the Star Wars banner, but that’s not really a question that can be answered in a digital simulation limited to the imaginations of its programmers and technological constraints. Which is not to imply that said games aren’t a ridiculous amount of fun. I’ve probably spent far too many hours of my life spinning about with a lightsaber in the Jedi Knight games or fighting over command posts in the classic Battlefront entries. I’m even replaying through one of my all-time favorites, Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords, right now. However, none of them fully represent what a real person’s journey might entail with you, a devoted fan, in those bantha-hide boots.
Board games, too, fall short of immersing oneself fully in the rather distant galaxy. A tactile element is introduced, but always an objective or victory condition barricades the mind from fully exploring the emotions and personal needs of a galactic citizen, be they Jedi, diplomat, or dashing rogue. But what if there was a way to engage with the Star Wars galaxy on a deeply personal level? A way to explore the life of a colonist, senator, or Sith without invisible barriers or railroaded objectives?
By way of roundabout, verbose introduction…hi, I’m Seth! The kindhearted visionaries who’ve painstakingly built the audience and infrastructure of and surrounding this site have made the grievous (*obligatory chuckle*) error of requesting that I take up the creation of a weekly-ish column all about the running and playing of Star Wars tabletop role-playing games. Quickly capitalizing on their distinct lack of knowing better, I’ve accepted. So, in the coming indeterminate number of weeks, I’ll be exploring how you, a passionate fan and likely EU rebel scum, might begin or better your adventures in the distant past and across the stars.
This, as every hero’s journey must begin, is your call to action. Stat-blocked, hallucinated adventure awaits, and I’m here to provide you with a kriffin’ Killik’s nest full of reasons to answer its call. Firstly, and most simply, it’s fun. Without exaggeration, some of my greatest, shared memories with friends and fellow fans have been forged on the fictional worlds of Star Wars. We’ve built stories that are wholly ours in a setting we all hold dear, fashioning as bombastic, mocking, or emotional of a narrative as we wish. There’s nothing quite like claiming victory through character-unique means, combining strengths (both in and out of game), or crafting an inside joke reliant on dozens of hours of play.
Which leads rather neatly into point two. TTRPGs are perhaps the purest, most vulnerable way for us fans to share our love of favorite, nonexistent worlds. Simply by crafting their own character and contributing to the grander story of the group, a player reveals what Star Wars means to them; the themes, archetypes, and story threads that spoke to them most profoundly on their introduction to the world. Always thought Luke was too whiny? Maybe your Jedi-in-training ain’t got no time for emotional poodoo, focusing instead on quick, decisive action to control or liberate galactic sentients. Can’t decide if you like Han or Lando better? Craft an amalgam of their characteristics and pour it into your resulting ladies’ man smuggler or scruffy-looking entrepreneur. Want a princess who isn’t an insensitive racist after being in a cell for a few hours? Make someone as admirably passionate Leia, but with a bit more diplomatic flair. Or just play a version of Chewie. No improving on the ultimate Wookiee bro.
Thirdly, to my third point, and thrice repeated for emphasis, don’t let the volume of available sourcebooks overwhelm you. Start simple, if you must, but, for the love of the White Current, start. Fantasy Flight Games has core rulebooks and beginner boxes for their current system (which I’ve enjoyed for years), as well as a reprint of the original West End Games core rule- and sourcebook. For the former, you can determine if you wish to run a more Rebellion-centric campaign, one more focused on exploration, bounty hunters, and scoundrels, or one steeped in the mysteries of the Force. There are no wrong answers here, only personal preference. You may even wish to lift elements from each to form something appealing for everyone.
If you’re willing to do a bit more hunting (and likely a bit more parting with your real-world credits), sourcebooks from the past eras of Star Wars roleplay can be tracked down in physical form. For a more wallet-friendly solution, however, I’d recommend availing yourself of the West End Games PDF collection compiled over on starwarstimeline.net, which also has converted Wizards of the Coast material. For those uninitiated, the Star Wars license met an untimely severance with WEG and was subsequently picked up by WotC, who basically treated it as a Dungeons & Dragons skin. There was also seemingly very little effort put into expanding the world with the various sourcebooks, at least in comparison to their rights-holding predecessors. Nothing wrong with that, if that’s your thermajug of tea, but most purists seem to prefer the old-school, imaginative WEG content, with heretics like myself even valuing FFG’s contributions well over those of WotC. Ultimately, though, pick up the book that looks most interesting to you and let the inspiration begin to fly.
Quick disclaimer and mild warning: yes, the FFG books do begin to diverge into Disney continuity, but the bulk of it is prime EU/Legends content.
Hopefully that’s at least enough to kick your atmospheric thrusters online. But finally, and most importantly, if you know of many interested potential players, but not anyone who wishes to run a game, I urge you to lower your blast shields, stretch out with your feelings, and do it. Beginner boxes tend to guide new Game Masters on their first steps just as much as they do new players, and there are dozens of adventure modules, or pre-written adventures, to get you started. You’ll almost certainly be struck by unseen stun bolts (figuratively speaking) as you learn the carbon-ropes and nuance of spearheading a communal narrative, but remember that everyone gathered in your basement, living room, or rented game store nook are there to have fun and play in a galaxy that they love.
And, chances are, all a player or Game Master will have to do to feel as though the adventure’s already begun is to hear the opening notes of Mr. John Wiliams’ chill-inducing opening fanfare.
Until next time, may the Force be with you!
Seth Saunders is an avid reader of the Star Wars Expanded Universe who writes his own science fiction and fantasy novels under the pen name S.J. Saunders. You can find him all over social media @EhsJaySaunders and explore his work over at SJSaunders.com.
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