The System: West End Games Star Wars: The Roleplaying Game (2nd Edition), 1992. Set within the era of Star Wars: The New Republic.
The Appearance: Both books are soft cover, full-size (8.5”x11”) with 144 pages. The cover art for each is taken from the Timothy Zahn book covers making for instant recognition (at least at the time). Interior layout is double-colum, black-and-white text with light blue text for chapter headings and major subheadings. Art work is a somewhat cartoonish rendering of the Star Wars Universe. At several times the art covers entire pages. There are several recognition guides that do a wonderful job of portraying scale and size.
The Setting: Each sourcebook is based on one of the three books in Timothy Zahn’s Grand Admiral Thrawn trilogy of books. The trilogy was the first serious literary success in what later became known as the Expanded Universe for the Star Wars license. For those not familiar with the setting, it takes place five years after the Battle of Endor as the young New Republic is forced to face off against a resurgent Empire led by a mysterious Grand Admiral who has returned from the Unknown Regions.
The Content: Both books are very similar in layout. Let’s start with Heir to the Empire:
- “Introduction” (1 page) which is half Star Wars fandom speak and half teaser for Heir to the Empire
- “Prologue Between Jedi and Heir” (4 pages) covers the basic timeline between the end of Return of the Jedi and Heir to the Empire; two of the pages are the New Republic Declaration
- “The New Republic” (24 pages) focuses on elements of the New Republic including the political organization, key character (many from the Star Wars series, and even a 1-page short story
- “The Force” (15 pages) has background on the Force as well as stats for key force users present in this era; it is here that the early Expanded Universe canon presented here starts to separate from canon that is later established
- “Remnants of the Empire” (13 pages) discusses the background politics and key members of the remnants of the Empire; also includes are two short stories (1-page each) and a nice graphic depicting Grand Admiral Thawn’s armada
- “The Fringe” (13 pages) talks about the organizations and characters present in the book but not part of the New Republic or Empire; again there is a short story and maps for key locales
- “Planets” (20 pages) covers locales in the series as well as several very short stories and maps
- “Aliens” (7 pages) provides “typical” stat blocks for new alien races
- “Equipment” (11 pages) is commentary and support focused on new equipment introduced in the book
- “Vehicles” (4 pages) and “Starships” (26 pages) cover both iconic and new vehicles and starships; many pages are devoted to recognition guides and scale comparisons as well as an occasional short story thrown in.
The Dark Force Rising Sourcebook follows a nearly identical organization with one additional chapter on “Droids” thrown in. It also has fewer short stories.
The Verdict: BLUF: I like these books although they do show their age and several portions have been retcon’ed by George Lucas (curse him!).
Like the authors of the books say you should read the Thrawn trilogy first so the story doesn’t get spoiled what is here. On the other hand, if your players have never read the Thrawn series then as a GM you need to be judicious as to what you let the players see. Unfortunately, this book is not divided into a GM and player section.
Although many of the illustrations of people or aliens appear cartoonish to me, the illustrations of ships and maps are top-rate. The recognition guides are especially handy and very well done. I also like the short stories embedded in the books as they serve as adventure seeds or good examples of what a RPG adventure could be like. I also like how many of the chapters are written “in character” as though you are reading a contemporary accounting of the events or history and not an RPG sourcebook.
As I put this review together, I wanted to compare these sourcebooks with the Star Wars Saga Edition series. Interestingly, I now realize there is no New Republic Era sourcebook! The Rebellion Era Campaign Guide ends at the Battle of Endor and the Legacy Era Campaign Guide picks up nearly 100 years ABY. You can find Grand Admiral Thrawn in the Saga Edition, but in the Force Unleashed Campaign Guide with stats as he was during that time. This gap in coverage makes these sourcebooks even more valuable as they may be the only “game-ified” versions of the New Era present. This seems like a gross oversight for the Saga Edition as Timothy Zahn’s trilogy has always rated highly in ratings of Star Wars fiction. Maybe this is a testament to how good the Thrawn trilogy is; though some aspects have been superseded by later canon, the story is too good to mess with. These sourcebooks are a wonderful tribute to the series and worthy of any Star Wars gamer collection.