Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Nostalgia Nugget: Joining the Rebellion

80's Mickey Mouse dressed as Captain
EO back in 1987!
1987 was the tenth anniversary of Star Wars: A New Hope. I don’t remember there being all that much hype surrounding this. For most folks Star Wars was looking long in the tooth and a bit uncool. Most kids I knew were more into Transformers and G.I. Joe at the time. But the big topic of discussion was the Nintendo Entertainment System. I had many lengthy conversations about secrets in The Legend of Zelda during those days.

All that changed for me when my family went to Disneyland that year and rode the newly opened Star Tours. It reminded me of why I loved that film series and started my obsession with the series for the next couple of years. After the ride ended, you walked directly into a gift shop and distinctly remember my dad commenting on the overt commercialism of it all. But I didn’t care. I was in a Star Wars induced dream world. Of all the things that caught my attention, there was a pair of large books all about Star Wars. I flipped through one and was surprised at all the new information about the creatures, droids, spaceships and everything else was contained within. I asked for both, and my parents let me pick one.

The book that sparked dozens of
When I got home and started reading the book I was even more excited. Not only was it a wealth of new information, but the book described how to create your own adventures in the Star Wars world, and play these adventures with your friends. That’s right I had picked up West End Games Star Wars: The Roleplaying Game (or just SWRPG from now on). Both it and the Sourcebook were published that year in time for the anniversary.

I had played a tiny bit of the basic ruleset of Dungeons and Dragons at that point. I understood how the game was played, but the few times I tried to get a few friends to play it just didn’t go well. The great thing about SWRPG is that is seemed a lot less complex.

Eventually I got my hands on The Sourcebook, which included even more information about all kinds of Star Wars related things. The writers not only provided game stats and rules, but provided full-blown descriptions and histories for each entry as well. This was well before we had regularly published books in the Star Wars universe. So for the fan in the 80s this was a treasure trove of information. The book covered Starship systems, nearly every starship featured in the films and a few from the 80s novels. It had info on droids, alien species, and creatures. It also provided in depth explorations of weapons, standard bases layouts for rebels and imperials and then a full exploration of key heroes and villains from the series. Most of these are fun to read now, because things have changed so much with the prequels and expanded universe material. But back in 1987, West End Games let their imaginations go (I’m sure with Lucasfilm’s blessing) and crafted some really interesting stories.

So many secrets packed into this book!
Both books are packed with stills from the films of course. But they also used concept art that I had never seen before. The Sourcebook especially was imagination fuel. I actually started working on my first bit of fan fiction because of the material in these books and all the information and images they provided.

The RPG book had 12 color plates that were awesome. Most were color stills from the film. But the others were creative and very amusing ads directly from the Star Wars universe. One was a recruitment poster for the Imperial Army. One was an ad for the new X-Wing starfighter, touting all its advanced weapons and speed. There was another ad for the R2 series of droids extolling their versatility. The last was my favorite, a travel ad for a Star Cruise to all your favorite planets from the Star Wars universe. Visiting Bespin on a cruise starship sounds like a blast.

Time went by and I enjoyed reading and rereading the books, but I never got to actually play a full-fledged roleplaying campaign. Then in college I somehow managed to sucker my girlfriend, my sister and a friend from down the street to play a session or two. I had created a couple adventures over the years. So I dusted those off, revamped them a bit and helped them create characters.

Micro Machines released a bunch of small Star Wars
figurines and vehicles. We used these during the
game to figure out battle tactics.
My girlfriend created a specialized character (because I gave her preferential treatment and let her be the most powerful character of the three… yeah I broke all the tabletop gaming rules. I was young and in love… and I had convinced her to play an RPG based on STAR WARS with me. I was going to do anything I could to keep her playing). She was a rebel special agent, kind of like a galactic James Bond character. She used to be part of a smuggling organization, so they had a bounty out on her, but now she was one of the rebellions top field agents. My sister played an outlaw whose family had been massacred by the Empire, and now she was on a vendetta to kill the Colonel in charge of the massacre. She was a sharpshooter and bad ass. My pal from down the street wanted to be a Jedi. The only problem was that this game takes place after the events of A New Hope, so the Jedi order was destroyed. You could pick from a couple of force adept characters. He selected the best Minor Jedi. Essentially the character was trained by an old Jedi Knight who died before the training go too far along. So the Minor Jedi has some powers, but they are on the weak side. He does have a lightsaber so that is always fun.

Just look at these guys... our crew never
got this motley. 
So these three characters started their journey. Along the way they created a couple of other characters they would play instead or along with the ones they normally played. There was a little kid named Beatrice who tagged along sometimes. I remember a scout that helped them out on a few of the far-flung missions. He died in a dramatic moment and that fueled the other players to avenge him – especially my sister’s outlaw character who had a crush on him.

If this all sounds elaborate, that is because it was. We played nearly every week for two years. What started out as something to try, exploded into a full blown campaign that stretched from the end of the Battle of Yavin to the final shots fired on Hoth. By that point my sister and my girlfriend were still playing, and their characters were presumed dead by the rebels and left behind during the evacuation. The next adventure was going to be them attempting to steal an Imperial transport of some kind and escaping the frozen wasteland. But my sister was starting college and my girlfriend and I were getting more battered by our own workload at university. I just didn’t have time to craft the adventures. We stopped playing and those two characters were left on Hoth. We’ll never forget you Zendra and Sara. I’m sure they made it to the rebel alliance and were there celebrating on Endor.

The blank character sheet just
waiting to craft a new hero.
So yeah, two years worth of adventures, and I have to say it was some of the most fun I ever had writing and creating stories. Once we had a set group of characters I started to tailor the missions to their strengths and weaknesses. We actually played two campaigns. The first revolved around the search for an ancient storehouse of Jedi knowledge. I combined Raiders of the Lost Ark with Star Wars for that one, and it was a blast. The players didn’t want Darth Vader to find this before they did, so they were racing against the Empire trying to put the clues together. They had to interact with all kinds of characters who had pieces of the puzzle. They even went to Ben Kenobi’s old hovel on Tatooine to find out if he had anything hidden away about this lost storehouse. It was a ton of fun, and the finale sessions were intense and difficult as the Empire arrived right after our heroes and they had to decide if they would destroy the storehouse or try to fight off the enemies. They got what they could and destroyed the place, killing a Imperial General that had been dogging them the whole campaign and escaping before Vader arrived on the scene.

The second campaign was a bit looser in structure. My buddy wanted to seek out a Jedi mentor, so that was part of it. I also had them discover that the Empire was working on a new Star Destroyer for Lord Vader. They traced the location of that and committed some sabotage to slow the construction process on the Executor. They ran into a couple of Jedi who offered to train them, and turned out to be Vader’s protégés. That was a lot of fun. Then I had the past come back for all the characters in some form or the other. My girlfriend’s character ran into some of her old smuggling buddies and then bounty hunters just started appearing in nearly every session gunning for her. Word on the street was that Boba Fett himself was considering hunting her down. She decided to end this and take on her old boss herself. By this time she was starting on the Jedi path because of the information they extracted from the storehouse. My friend down the street moved, so his Minor Jedi character was killed, and so the agent picked up his lightsaber and went from there.

Hunting down the right pack for the ships we needed
in an upcoming adventure was always fun.
Together we made some great stories, and by this time I was able to pull characters and situations from the expanded universe books as well. So while this was all still happening before The Empire Strikes Back in the timeline, I kept it feeling new and exciting as this small group of rebels accomplished impossible missions. And boy did they keep me guessing. They came up with some amazing solutions to problems, talked their way out of trouble more than once and would often take the story in directions I never considered. One time in particular always stands out.

At one point they landed on a planet and made some real trouble for the Empire. But they had difficulties getting out of the entanglement and Imperial forces were able to mobilize and lock down the spaceport. At this point it was just the two player characters, Sara the jedi/agent and Zendra the sharpshooting outlaw. Against them was a whole battalion of stormtroopers just waiting for them to show up. They had set up heavy gun emplacements, they had a couple AT-STs on patrol. It was going to be a hard fight. As they snuck forward Zendra managed to kill a stormtrooper on patrol with a single well-placed shot and do it quietly. Then my girlfriend got an idea, she took off the trooper’s helmet, put it on and then sent out a emergency notification that the rebels were attacking at the opposite end of the port. She had to roll pretty high to con the commander who was already on alert. She rolled very high indeed. Not only did he believe her, but he sent most of his forces in that direction. They two pretty much waltzed right into the port hopped on the ship before the Empire even knew what was going on. I had planned out this huge battle for this finale to the session, and was ready for it to really test them. But when they attempted that trick, I had to let them have it, because it was so clever and my girlfriend rolled so high.

What do you mean someone made a movie of
the Star Wars RPG?!?
So I created a whole bunch of fan fiction with my friends, creating this set of interesting characters, filling it with all kinds of adventures and not really involving the main characters form the series all that often. It was a lot of fun and something that created a lot of memories that my sister and my wife (who pulled that stunt with the stormtrooper helmet all those years ago) will still bring up from time to time.

These days Star Wars has a completely different roleplaying system that is enjoyed by lots of folks. The old West End Games is remembered fondly by a lot of people because of how easy it was t explain and play and how entertaining the rulebooks were. Seriously the writing had a great sense of humor and plenty of good advice for new players. It was one of the most enjoyable bits of fiction writing and tabletop gaming I’ve experienced. There is really something neat about crafting a story with other people, building and exploring characters and diving into a fantasy world where the only limit is your imagination.

Enjoy this content? Click an ad and support this blog.


  1. I’ll bet that Disney’s Star Tours was a blast. One of the earliest space-themed rides, incidentally, was at the Pan American Exposition in Buffalo in 1901. (I didn’t ride it: I’m old but quite that old.). 30 passengers at a time boarded the spaceship Luna. On a tower inside a large enclosed arena, Luna rocked, shuddered, and flashed as Buffalo and then the whole earth appeared to recede below. A papier-mâché moon loomed overhead. After more light and sound effects, the ship landed on the moon where passengers disembarked. They walked through tunnels and grottoes amid costumed midgets. They met the Man in the Moon who sat on his throne surrounded by Moon Maidens. The passengers didn’t fly back to earth on Luna though. They exited (as you did) into a gift shop. Some things never change. I don’t know if President McKinley took the ride, but he attended the fair: he was shot there.

    I’m glad you were able to explain what you actually had in mind when you proposed a role playing game to your girlfriend.

    1. I believe that Walt Disney recreated that experience in Tomorrowland at Disneyland. There used to be a ride, "Mission to Mars" which used rumble seats, a screen that showed you leaving the Earth and landing on the moon. There was even a mission control with animatronic figures working away. If memory serves it was originally Mission to the Moon. You never got to disembark on the planet, it was more of a flying tour of the planet. Eventually they closed it down and turned it into a restaurant, but there is still a rocket theme to the building just to keep the old memory alive.

      As for playing a roleplaying game with my girlfriend... well she caught on pretty darn quick. She's a clever gal. :)