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WEG Star Wars: An Almost Perfect Roleplaying Game?

I think it’s not the first time that I’ve mentioned my love for West End Games’ original Star Wars Roleplaying game from 1987. It’s one of the first roleplaying games I’ve played and it’s a game I still read from time to time even though I don’t actually play it at the time.

One thing I’ve noticed in recent years is that Star Wars The Roleplaying Game 1st Edition – albeit all of its flaws is an almost perfect roleplaying game, especially if you’re trying to introduce new people to the hobby.

Star Wars: The Roleplaying Game 30th Anniversary Edition

The most obvious advantage is its setting. Star Wars is hugely popular – nowadays probably even more so than back in the late 1980s. It’s THE pop culture phenomenon of the second half of the 20th century. Everyone knows it, most have watched at least one of the movies, many love it. This makes pitching it to new players extremely easy. You may think introducing D&D might be as easy, but that’s only true if you have been raised on D&D-inspired fantasy material. Many D&D-isms are actually quite specific to the franchise, and are not easily grasped by new players.

The second huge advantage of WEG’s game is its mechanics. The D6 System is an easy to learn, fast, cinematic and quite robust roleplaying game system. The core rulebook also does an excellent job at teaching how to play it. The book starts with a basic explanation of the most important concepts which is followed up by a solo adventure which any aspiring GM or player can play through. More detailed rules are included, but you get the basics first, which is actually how more games should be structured.

The GM advice included is also pretty good. You get concrete advice not on how to run roleplaying games in general, but particularly how to run Star Wars. How can you convey the vastness of the Star Wars universe and the impressive vistas you know and love from the movies at the game table? The book has an answer for that. It gives tips on whether its appropriate to make “pew-pew” noises, provides adventure hooks and explains how to design your own adventures. Apropos adventures: there is of course a fully-fledged introductory adventures which you can use to jumpstart your own campaign using the ideas and hook provided in the book.

Because of the character templates the game uses, people don’t have to worry about character creation too much. You just pick a template, make a few changes if necessary and start playing. Players more familiar with the system can of course create their own templates.

The setting information included in the book is limited, but because of the popularity of the setting there’s not much needed to enable GMs to run games in the Star Wars universe. The 145-paged book contains everything you need to start playing aside from a couple of ordinary six-sided dice. No fancy dice are needed – which is another plus.

In my opinion the Star Wars Sourcebook is the only other book of the roleplaying game series you really should have, everything else is just “nice to have”. It includes stats for most major characters, more equipment and vehicles, creatures and aliens, and a lot of beloved spaceships. Together with the core rulebook GMs have more than enough material for months to come. The entry hurdle is pretty low with this one.

Unfortunately other Star Wars games were never as good as the very first one. Even the second edition was a lesser product – at least in my opinion. It included a lot of new rules which might have given the game more mechanical depth, but it also raised the complexity which can easily drive off players or GMs less interested in this aspect of the game. The d20 edition released by Wizards of the Coast at the height of the d20 System craze, was a great game, but it was even more complex and had a way higher hurdle of entry. Fantasy Flight’s series of Star Wars roleplaying games are brilliant in their own way, I love the Genesys System they spawned, BUT again, it has a higher complexity than the simple d6 System, uses proprietary dice and is quite costly. Perhaps Star Wars fans are financially more well-off nowadays.

Sure, nostalgia plays a role, but I still think Star Wars 1st Edition by West End Games is an awesome Star Wars game and a great game in general. Heck, you can easily hack it to be used in other settings or genres. The excellent Heavy Gear d6 is a perfect example. Unfortunately it has also been out of print for ages. Fantasy Flight Games has released reprints of the core rulebook and the sourcebook a few years back which should be still available online. Alternatively some fans have scanned many if not all of West End Games’ Star Wars games and made them available online.

If you are a fan of Star Wars I highly recommend getting your hands on a copy of this fine game. It’s the perfect game to introduce people to the hobby, it’s easy to learn, easy to run, and even the reprint is not too expensive. It might even be a great gift to a Star Wars fan (of any age) who might not familiar with roleplaying games yet.

So what are your thought on this game? Did or do you enjoy playing it? Would you recommend it as highly as I do? Or do you think I am totally off my rocker? Please share your thoughts below. Every comment is highly appreciated.

A Look At Mörk Borg

For me Mörk Borg (Dark Castle) came totally out of the blue. I don’t remember where I first read about it, but I was immediately intrigued. It is published by Free League Publishing after all, and everything they touched so far turned out to be pure gold.

So, what is Mörk Borg all about? It’s a dark and gritty old-school roleplaying game inspired by older editions of D&D while not trying to emulate any specific edition. It’s set apart from your regular retro clone by coming with an original setting and some pretty far-out aesthetics. This is not just a game, it’s a true piece of art!

I’ve included a couple of photos below since screenshots of the PDF copy just don’t do it justice (By the way, at this point I should mention that a print copy of MÖRK BORG has gratuitously been provided by Free League Publishing for the purpose of this review). The first thing you notice when picking up the 96-paged hardcover book is that the binding has a nice velvet-like feel to it. Some of the elements on the cover are also slightly embossed. This definitely supports the coffee table book vibe this product emanates.

On its Kickstarter project page, designers Pelle Nilsson of Ockult Örtmästare Games (writing), and Johan Nohr of Stockholm Kartell (art) call its genre “blackened art punk” and looking at the photos it’s obvious why the name fits. But enough about the looks – let’s have a look at the content.

Mörk Borg is a complete old-school, D&D-inspired roleplaying game. It comes with a set of light rules, a setting, and a small but original bestiary. Ruleswise Mörk Borg feels like a very stripped down version of D&D. Instead of the regular six attributes you get Agility, Presence, Strength and Toughness. Tests are all done with a d20 and follow the familiar d20+ability>=difficulty rating format. Characters are usually classless, but there are a few (optional) classes like the Fanged Deserter or the Esoteric Hermit players can use. Classes in Mörk Borg are much more specific than in D&D and reminded me a bit of the Failed Careers in Chris McDowall’s Bastionland since they also help define a character’s background and outlook on life aside from the mechanical aspects. Instead of Vancian Magic, characters get access to a list of powers on scrolls, they can use Presence + d4 times per day. Overall the rules can be summed up on about two pages and luckily the book includes a rules overview on the endpaper.

I use luckily in this context because even though the book looks great and everything from the text to the artwork is pretty evocative, reading the book is sometimes pretty hard. Mörk Borg often feels more like a piece of art and not like something to be used at a game table. Don’t get me wrong, I love leafing though its pages, read a paragraph or two and look at the artwork, but reading through some parts of the book makes my head spin.

But what I love about the game are its simple rules and a plethora of tables for you to roll on. There’s a d66 table for what you find on a corpse, a d12 table to randomly determine how bad the weather is (there are truly no good results), tables for random names, a d20 table to generate looks for NPCs, the list goes on.


The setting of Mörk Borg is all about a dying world and how the player characters react in the face of certain (?) doom. Do they try to fight the apocalypse, or do they use their last days to kill people and take their stuff? Regardless, the world of Mörk Borg definitely has a sinister outlook even if you decide to embrace hope. I have considered giving an overview of the world in this review, but I opted against it. Describing the place using my words would just not do it justice. Some of the descriptions in the book are also left quite vague probably to allow for different interpretations. I wouldn’t want to mar your experience by shoe-horning in my ideas. I am sorry if this sounds utterly confusing, but I think you get it, if you read the book yourself.

Mörk Borg is definitely a game you should check out. The simplified D&D-like rules should work great – especially in one-shots like con games or short campaign – the artwork and art design in general is just awesome and I mean that in a quite literal sense. It’s also crammed full of content. It’s mindboggling how much stuff they managed to fit into such a small book. I am pretty sure that even if you never play this game, even just leafing through it will definitely inspire you. But I also found it pretty confusing at times since its layout – expressive as it is – is sometimes not very readable.

I have to admit I have struggled with this review as I have struggled with reading Mörk Borg. It’s biggest strength was – at least in my case – also its biggest weakness. As you’ve seen with my review of Old-School Essentials I prefer a way more clear presentation. Perhaps I am getting old, perhaps it’s just how my brain works. Nevertheless I wholeheartedly recommend you to give Mörk Borg a chance!

The hardcover book can be bought directly via the Free League Publishing web shop for about $29 or your local equivalent. The purchase also includes the PDF version. Alternatively you can get a digital-only copy from DriveThruRPG for about the half.

Last but not least I have to mention the Mörk Borg website which not only offers a rules summary, character sheets, and a character generator, but also free material for your game created by both fans and the creators of the game.

A Look At Old-School Essentials

Let me start by giving you some context. Even though I have enjoyed the roleplaying game hobby for almost 30 years now, I started playing at an older age than most of you. I was 16 when I first played in a TORG convention game in 1992. Shortly after that I was finally allowed to join a friend’s Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay campaign, which lasted a couple of years and ended with our party saving the Empire from utter destruction! Even though I was aware of D&D at this time, I did only play it a few times. And – oh boy – I really didn’t like the AD&D 2nd Edition rules which were popular back then. I found the rules too restricting, and just plain weird. I still played it if I got the chance because everything aside from the rules was fun and I had the chance to spend some time with cool people.

Back then I didn’t know much about the history of the game, neither was I aware of Basic D&D. D&D 3rd Edition which came out a few years later was more to my liking and we played it quite extensively. But over the years my interest in rules-heavy games plummeted. It was somewhere in the 2010s when I first read blog posts about the Old School Renaissance (or whatever you want to call it) on the RPG Bloggers Network I had joined in 2008. As far as I remember I was pretty skeptical at first, but when I eventually looked closer into these “retro clones” I found something which I didn’t know I have been looking for all this time.

Old-school D&D had all the elements I liked in the D&D editions I played so far, but it was much more rules-light. The kind of gameplay it supported was also something I found intriguing. Eventually I started my long search for the “perfect” retro-clone (I know, there’s no such thing). I played Lamentations of the Flame Princess several times and it came pretty close to what I was looking for. I enjoyed the artwork associated with this game and some of the changes to the rules compared to the edition of D&D it emulated just felt right to me. Unfortunately the guy behind the game is not someone I want to support, so I looked for alternatives.

Over the years I have read basically everything OSR-ish I could get my hands on. There are some pretty popular games inspired by old-school D&D without trying to emulate the original rules which just didn’t click with me. Especially Index Card RPG is a game I really enjoy reading but I just can’t make it work at the game table. A game that almost worked perfectly for me was Swords & Wizardry Whitebox. It was simple and very easy to hack. But you know me, I kept hunting after my personal “white whale”, the perfect retro-clone.

Eventually I heard about Old-School Essentials by Necrotic Gnome. People all over the internet talked about it as if it was the best thing since sliced bread. At first I was seriously underwhelmed when I read it was trying to emulate the B/X edition of D&D perfectly. What I didn’t realize was that the author, Gavin Norman, rewrote it from scratch, so that the rules are much, much easier to understand, made some minor fixes, and added some optional rules like THAC0 or Ascending Armor Class.
But what really sets OSE apart is its layout. To call it perfect would almost be an understatement.

Continue reading A Look At Old-School Essentials