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RPGs Finally Get Some Credit in Defining a Galaxy: A Review

When Disney took over the Star Wars universe, the press release called out role-playing games as part of the new Star Wars canon. Since then, Pablo Hidalgo has been a champion of bringing content established in West End Games' (WEG) tabletop role-playing Star Wars books into the movies and cartoons. But it all started with Bill Slavicsek, who sets the record straight in his new book, Defining a Galaxy: 30 Years in a Galaxy Far, Far Away.

World-building for a tabletop role-playing game has a lot in common with creating a setting bible for a media franchise. It also forces some difficult questions that a writer might normally ignore or hand wave in service to the story. For Bill, that issue was the names of the various alien species ("Ithorian" and "Quarren"), which were largely relegated to whatever the toy company Kenner called them ("Hammerhead" and "Squid Head," respectively).

What goes unsaid was how WEG got the license in the first place. WEG was not the largest tabletop RPG company at the time, but its bid for the Star Wars license was higher than competitors. Bill doesn't go into details as to exactly why or how much but has said elsewhere that WEG's $100K offer was pitted against TSR who offered $70K. Bill goes on to speculate that there were several companies circling the license with Star Wars games planned, so the spate of sci-fi games that came out afterward.

For fans of WEG's D6 system, there's even a hidden gem -- Bill update the mechanics for use in convention play on pages 155-158.

One of the prescient things Bill did as part of his research for WEG was to delve into the Lucasfilm archives. This practice has become commonplace now (much of the animated Star Wars Rebels cartoon was inspired by Ralph McQuarrie's original works), but back then it was revolutionary -- and also gave WEG's subsequent source books authenticity that no one else could claim. As much as Bill fleshed-out aspects of the Star Wars universe with his own imagination, he did so with a reverence for the source material that drew on the original series, along with the smattering of novels that were produced at the time, whenever possible.

This philosophy would serve WEG well. Bill evolved from a backup filling in for various staff to the mastermind behind multiple Star Wars products. That alone is an achievement for the history books, but most remarkably, Bill repeated the act later in his career, becoming the Star Wars lead for Wizards of the Coast when his new employer got the license. Bill's Star Wars expertise goes well beyond just role-playing games -- he wrote the second and third editions of A Guide to the Star Wars Universe.

Bill's anecdotes are priceless as he doles out tidbits about what started as a stray reference in a WEG source book would later become canon -- twice! -- both in the Extended Universe and then in the new Disney core. In addition to the aforementioned Ithorians and Quarren, he named the Twi'leks (which, if Lucasfilm had its way, would been named "Bib Fortunas"), Disney used the Inquisitors, the Imperial Security Bureau, Sienar Flight Systems, Ryloth, the Interdictor Cruiser. and details of the Sabacc game. Most striking is the recent reference to Shantipole, an adventure Bill worked on that was largely replicated in a Rebels episode.

By the end of the book it's clear Bill had to write it. Defining a Galaxy distills much of his panel discussions, anecdotes, and interviews about the origin of many Star Wars tropes into one place. More important, it sets the facts straight about someone who was nearly as influential as George Lucas in setting up the Star Wars we know today. If you've ever wondered about the importance of role-playing games in the larger pop culture landscape, Defining a Galaxy leaves little doubt that our hobby is a major contributor, now more than ever. And for that, we have Bill to thank.

Mike "Talien" Tresca is a freelance game columnist, author, communicator, and a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to http://amazon.com. You can follow him at Patreon.
 
Michael Tresca

Comments

Reynard

Legend
I just wanted to point out that WEG Star Wars is still a great game. I ran it last year at 2 different conventions as an ongoing campaign heavily influenced by Rogue One and it was amazing. I had a few house rules (including pruning the skill list and using a more Threat/Momentum inspired system than the force/character point one) but it is still a simple, clean game easy to run on the fly.
 

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