Gaming and the Expanded Universe (Part 1): The Source of Our Power


This post marks a first for me, as it’s the first time I’ve actually done a little research on this topic before posting. Not that it actually qualifies as “research”, given that I have only done a little bit of reading up and more asking questions. Yet I put the call out there on TheForce.Net’s Jedi Council Forums and got a few answers.

It started with a remark by Jimmy Mac on the TheForce.Net and RebelScum.Com’s podcast the ForceCast during his interview with Dave Filoni recently about the origins of Mandalorians, one thing led to another as they tracked them down through the various realms of the EU and then, miracle of miracles, I heard the first ever mention of tabletop gaming on the ForceCast that I have heard since I started listening.

…I saw that Mandalorians were further established in the West End Games Star Wars Sourcebook which was published in ’87, and a book I consider to be the seed of modern Star Wars Expanded Universe as it contained for the first time many backstories about alien species and characters, planets, ships, weapons etc. And then the term Mandalorian was featured consistently throughout more West End Games materials throughout the 80’s and into the 90’s with books like Bill Slavicsek’s A Guide to the Star Wars Universe and the Star Wars Essential Guide to Characters and action figure packaging and everything…

And then, there’s what Dave Filoni says…

…especially during that time when, between Return of the Jedi and The Phantom Menace, there was really for a long time not much. And yet, somehow, even before the Timothy Zahn novels, our knowledge of what was happening in those movies in the background seemed to be increasing all the time. Which is why I think your credence of the roleplaying games and the novels and the comic books, it makes a lot of sense that maybe a lot of that information was coming out of there…

I guess this gives me the l0ngest but perhaps best intro I have had to date, and it’s time to get it a little more on-track. I know I have commented in the past about Wizards attitudes towards Star Wars continuity in the Expanded Universe, but this is my first serious look at it. It’s rather large, a two-part post where I tackle West End Games and Wizards in each. But I think the best way to start is to go back to where it all began, and that’s right here.

Ahh, the 80’s. The time of bad clothes, even worse hair and music with that characteristic beat that we associate with that decade. But the 80’s were also the decade that saw the start of roleplay gaming, firstly with the works of Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson with Chainmail and the first incarnations of Dungeons & Dragons. In 1987 West End Games came up with their answer to not just the gaming community, but to also to the Star Wars fans in the long drought between the release of Return of the Jedi and The Phantom Menace (also known as the Dark Times).

Not that there was nothing other than the films, as there was Alan Dean Foster’s Splinter of the Mind’s Eye, Brian Daley’s Han Solo Adventures and The Adventure of Lando Calrissian novels by L. Neil Smith in terms of novels and the Marvel Comics–which some of us prefer to forget–as well as the various cartoon shows and specials–also something that a lot of fans tend to forget.

However, compared to the multitude of content available in the Expanded Universe these days, this was miniscule. And, as has been said above, Star Wars The Roleplaying Game gave us a lot of content not just to tide fans over the Dark Times, but formed a rather solid base for the Expanded Universe itself.

When I came as a fairly new fan to The Saga in mid-2002 (yes, I was a very late-comer, but don’t yell at me and I might tell you that story someday) I had no idea that such a range of content existed. And when I picked up Heir to the Empire for the first time later that same year, I assumed that Zahn’s content–though based on the films understandably–was largely new and of his own invention.

I was in for a rather rude awakening.

But there’s more, not only that but quite a lot of Expanded Universe writers began as roleplaying game writers, like Michael Stackpole, Aaron Allston and (believe it or not) Troy Denning. I had the shock of my life one afternoon when I picked up a 2nd Ed D&D sourcebook on ninjas and discovered that Allston was the author.

So, by the time that Zahn began penning his novel in the early 90’s, there was already a wealth of content to the point where Zahn was given quite a lot of West End Games material, presumably so that he would not contradict the already established continuity but also so that he could expand (excuse the pun) on what was already there.

As much as I would like to comment on Star Wars The Roleplaying Game itself, I am afraid that I can’t simply due to the fact that I have not played it nor will I likely anytime soon as I lack the materials as well as people. Mores the pity, as a comparison of the various mechanics of the different systems would be rather interesting, providing someone is willing to take it on.

Next time, a visit with the wizards that live on the coast, and there may be a delay as I’ll have to do some more “research” on the Revised Rules that they brought out after West End Games gave up the license.

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~ by katanageldar on November 2, 2009.

One Response to “Gaming and the Expanded Universe (Part 1): The Source of Our Power”

  1. I’m a huge fan of the WEG Star Wars role-playing game and I’ve always admired the fact that Lucasfilm saw it as an integral part of Star Wars (as opposed to Star Trek, where books and the old FASA role-playing game were just interesting non-canon divergences). There was even a great letter from Timothy Zahn printed in one of the source books where he talks about being given sourcebooks and asked to incorporated material from them in the Thrawn Trilogy. At first, he saw incorporating it as another chore, but then he discovered that they were actually pretty good and the game seemed to be really fun to play. He praised WEG for creating them and enthusiastically encouraged players to keep playing.

    It’s a pity that WEG went bankrupt and lost the Star Wars license. I don’t know of any authors nowadays who would cite the WotC Star Wars RPG as one of their inspirations and write a nice letter like that.

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