The Analog Gamer: A Wretched Hive Indeed
There are only a few more memorable lines spoken in the original Star Wars than when Obi Won refers to the Mos Eisley spaceport on Tatooine where Luke and he meet up with Han Solo and Chewbacca as a place where: “You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy. We must be cautious.”
That fateful meeting set the tone for the scoundrel and privateers in the Star Wars setting and introduced us to our first bounty hunter as well (even if he did get blasted by Han.. alas poor Greedo).
Scum and Villainy is the latest book in the outstanding Star Wars SAGA Edition RPG line. Like the place that inspired the films dialog, the book introduces gamers to the seedy side of galactic life in a galaxy far, far away. Lovable rogues, mercenary privateers and less forthright businessmen get their own sourcebook concentrating on making the gray side of Star Wars’ black and white universe not only playable but interesting to set within an entire campaign.
No longer do force wielding Jedi or noble galactic soldiers need to be the sole focus of a Star Wars campaign. Instead players and GMs alike can spend some time wallowing in the mud, making backroom bargains and getting involved in illicit deals with high risk and big rewards.
Not everyone who wants to play a science fantasy RPG wants to run around wielding mystical powers or playing soldier and this book actually serves a wider audience even than the game setting it was designed to support. It only took me about twenty minutes of paging through the book on my initial perusal to realize that Scum and Villainy was actually the only real source book I needed to run any space based game featuring scoundrels and rogues in a d20 system.
This SAGA book features everything you might expect. While it is not in any way a gear oriented book it finally adds rules to replicate a few concepts we see over and over in the original trilogy – like freighter captains who’ve added more than a few “special customizations” to their ships for those sticky entanglements, bounty hunters whose knowledge of weaponeering leads them to create or enhance more effective armaments from commercial stocks, and vehicle jocks that recognize the need to upgrade beyond the manufacturer’s recommended limits even if it introduces a few bugs in the system with the inclusion of a rule system that allows players and storytellers to customize standard equipment, vehicles, etc.
What black market campaign would be complete without dark places to meet and exchange elicit goods? Need a system for creating secret pirate bases or space stations that are a little off the main hyperspace lanes? The book spends a good amount of time describing these locations and providing charts and recommendations for those who want to populate their games with such locations.
Scum and Villainy really does serve as a great reference to the fringe society in the Star Wars setting throughout various eras of play. A few new races are included including the shapechanging Clawdites and the reptilian Falleen. Players who’ve yearned to play as those obnoxious Jawa can even find that race included. In all there are 8 new races for play.
Classes are also a focus with a number of new talent options for existing classes and prestige classes like the Ace Pilot, Bounty hunter and Crime Lord and more than a few uses for existing skills. New feats many of which support the new tech system or expand options for any class and prestige classes like the Outlaw and Master Privateer really expand the options for players with goals of underworld domination.
Any book discussing the underworld of course also has to discuss the laws that these characters are working to undermine or avoid. If there was one area that the book let me down a bit it was in the discussions of how law and law enforcement worked in the Star Wars setting. Sure there is an overview of the major crimes, a table citing fines and possible punishments for these crimes but really not much discussion of the law keeping organizations and their relationships with the criminals of the galaxy. Maybe this would have been out of the scope of a book on the criminal elements of the Star Wars universe but its often important to know who the criminals are working against to help punctuate just how bad the bad guys can be.
After covering the new rules, the character options and the concepts of kit-bashed technology and law the book takes a large amount of space detailing a ready made fringe campaign setting and a number of hooks and mini-adventures that are completely suitable for introduction into an ongoing campaign. One of the nice things about dealing with crooks and thieves is that they work so well as both anti-hero characters and adversaries. It is easy to turn these situations into fuel for non-fringe oriented storytelling as well. Even the heroes of the films had frequent encounters with underworld agencies and often, as in the case of Han’s debt to Jabba the Hutt they served as the glue that kept the disparate characters together.
Scum and Villainy continues the trend of excellently written and useful sourcebooks in the Star Wars SAGA RPG line. Even if, like some of my players, you’re not fond of the Star Wars setting because of the pseudo-mystic nature of the Jedi, this book provides all the tools necessary to take Star Wars from a light fable into a dark, grueling underworld game and the d20 system at its core means industrious game masters can easily twist these mechanics to tell a game set in any setting, not just the one George Lucas licensed Wizards of the Coast to write about.
I’m a big fan of Joss Whedon’s Firefly setting and though there is an officially licensed RPG for that property I never cared much for the core mechanical system underneath, but this book immediately gave me all the tools I needed to replicate the world of Mal Reynolds, The Operative and the failed civil war between the Browncoat colonists and the Alliance. That utility alone would lead me to buy this were I not already a fan of Star Wars.
Combined with The Force Unleashed book fans of the SAGA system have at their disposal every tool they need to run a very different sort of Star Wars campaign. This is a must have resource for every Star Wars RPG fan.