As I suspected, Wizards’ license to produce Star Wars games expires this year. Neither the mini or the RPG lines were performing that well, so the company has decided not to renew the license. Unknown Regions will be the final Star Wars RPG book (until someone else inevitably rents the license and makes a new one). I could sort of tell, with the brief glimpses I occasionally get behind the scenes, that WotC was putting less emphasis on the Star Wars lines. Most tellingly, last year they shifted promotional duties for the games from their PR firm to someone in-house, and the cancellation of support for Star Wars minis tournaments was a major blow as well. So while I saw the writing on the wall, I’m still a bit surprised. Whenever I preview a new figure from an upcoming Star Wars minis expansion, I get a ton of traffic, often more than when I preview a Magic card! I guess interest doesn’t always turn into sales.
Why is all this business talk germane to the review at hand? When the designers (Gary Astleford, Rodney Thompson and occasional Robot Viking reader and commenter Owen K.C. Stephens) realized this was the game’s last hurrah, they pulled out all the stops. The result is possibly my favorite book from the entire Star Wars RPG line. It certainly makes the top three, alongside Scavenger’s Guide to Droids and Threats of the Galaxy.
The premise of Unknown Regions is simple: go out and explore all the parts of the galaxy we don’t know anything about. Gone are the usual Empire vs. Rebels, Republic vs. Separatists, Mandalorians vs. Everyone dynamics. There’s a chapter relating how the unknown regions fit into the various eras of Star Wars history, and how the dominant political entity of the time treated exploration (hint: the Empire was a big fan of gunboat diplomacy), but for the most part, this book is about small bands of intrepid adventurers trekking into the great unknown.
There’s a nice assortment of new class options, feat trees, new species and a ton of new talents. I like the section of new starships, written in the Star Wars RPG’s usual pseudohistorical style — in addition to the stats, you get some nice anecdotes about the design and operational history of a given model. Because every major recognizable starship in the Star Wars universe has been covered already, these are all original designs. As a special treat, you can even fly a Klingon Bird of Prey (actually a SoroSuub Preybird-class starfighter, but they look awfully familiar).
“Threats” is a huge chapter that serves as a sort of Star Wars Monster Manual, describing all the deadly, bizarre creatures and cultures to be found in the unknown regions. My favorites would have to be Mnggal-Mnggal, a sentient grey ooze that can devour entire worlds, and can turn people into hollow ooze zombies, and the Sorcerers of Rhand, chaos worshippers who take on sanity-smashing forms both aberrant and abhorrent. The “Hazards” section is similarly filled with traps and terrain features designed to vex any band of Jedis and scoundrels that happen along.
Interwoven through each chapter are dozens upon dozens of adventure hooks. One section outlines ways to base an entire campaign on exploration, and there’s a whole chapter of mysterious planets to explore. Every single “Threats” entry includes ways to tie the species into a campaign or adventure. Best of all, there are eight mini-adventures ready to run in the back of the book, something I think every RPG book should have.
What really tops this book off, ices the cake, and steals the show all at the same time is the fact that the authors included design tools. Free from any future expectations of having to continue to sell books full of monsters, hazards and planets, they created charts, rules and guidelines allowing Star Wars gamemasters to create their own monsters, hazards and planets. An entire series of charts labeled “Planet Generator”? That is incredibly useful in an exploration-themed campaign and to anyone playing a sci-fi RPG. When your players drop out of hyperspace to check out that weird spatial anomaly, you’re just a few die rolls from a rough sketch planet for them to visit. And for more in-depth planet creation, there are tips for creating planets that are realistic and interesting.
This book really is a fine end to the a line. The Saga System is probably the best of the many Star Wars RPGs that have been made over the years. It’s nice to see it heading out on a high note, but it’s a bit sad as well.
You can pre-order Unknown Regions from Robot Viking sponsor TrollandToad.com.