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Star Wars Roleplaying Game: Knights of the Old Republic Campaign Guide

My earliest brush with Star Wars and gaming came not from any of the role-playing games, but the old Escape from the Death Star board game from Kenner, eons ago. (They made it seem so easy, then.) It wasn't too long after that that I discovered Dungeons & Dragons — the boxed version with B1: In Search of the Unknown inside — and that role-playing hijacked a good deal of my junior high existence. I was the vice president of the school comics club in seventh grade, but I was president of the D&D club in eighth grade — right up until the religious group shut us down.

I probably spent more time in later years doing wargaming and strategy boardgaming than role-playing, often for a lack of other players nearby, but also because of interest in the subject matters being simulated. I still kept up with what was going on in RPGs, though, buying plenty of game systems — to read, if not always to eventually play. I was in college when I bought the first West End Star Wars game guide; it had been a while since any licensed products had been out, and  I loved the fake ads inside. They really had something there!

I backed into working in the gaming industry through my work with comics -- and more than once, it would turn out. As editor of Comics Retailer when Magic got hot, I helped turn the magazine into Comics & Games Retailer; later, when Scrye was added to the division, I became editor for that as well. That kept me abreast of events in the market for a long time, including trips to Gen Con and the Game Manufacturers Association Trade Show; I also got to work with Michael Stackpole to fight off — you got  it! — some of the few remaining attempts to demonize role-playing in the press. So to the kid who got our gaming group shut down in eight grade: Nyaah, nyaah.

So we come along a few years later, when I'm writing Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic for Dark Horse. In early 2007, my colleague and sometime collaborator James Mishler informed me that Wizards of the Coast was relaunching the Star Wars Roleplaying Game with the Saga Edition; I thought, naturally, a KOTOR Campaign Guide would be interesting, but I had no idea how to pursue it. Later that spring, at Star Wars Celebration IV, an old friend doing Saga demos for Wizards suggested the idea as well, and pointed out Rodney Thompson, the head designer. I made a note to find him but got sidetracked with other business -- and then, ironically, after my panel, a Lucasfilm representative came by to introduce — yep! Rodney Thompson, there to discuss my possible participation in an already scheduled KOTOR Campaign Guide.

As the book already had writers in Rodney, Sterling Hershey, and Abel Peña, the initial idea was simply that I provide some continuity oversight. Once I got into my gaming background, however, Rodney — who went to the University of Tennessee as well, where I'd gotten that West End game years ago — asked me to write some of the sections, as well. I visited Wizards of the Coast in Seattle later in the summer, meeting everyone as we began to figure out how to begin to cover so many different events in one time period. Wizards was simultaneously working on KOTOR miniatures, so it was going to be a big release.

I enjoy writing flavor text a great deal; it's not much different than writing things like the KOTOR Handbook, which I was still working on during that period. However, the Campaign Guide required the full experience: designing stat blocks for characters, ships, and weapons. I approached this somewhat more tentatively at first — it was something I could do, but it took me a while. But then I remembered my wife, the Intrepid Meredith, renowned as a character-generating engine. She was able to help me through a lot of the stuff I was rusty on, or simply misunderstood. (Hey, I learned in the world where it was S-I-W-C-D-C — we're talking even before THAC0, here.) Her contribution to my contribution made it a lot better -- I tried to get her a credit in the frontmatter to no avail, but it's all right: she got 100% of the money!

The writing, for me, took a couple of months. Rodney came up with a breakdown that understood the KOTOR era to include everything from 4000 BBY to 3951, bridging from the Tales of the Jedi comics to the second KOTOR video game. Rather than dissect the era into sub-periods, the idea would be to make the necessary distinctions within the subchapters. It was the best call, I'm sure. The Mandalorians of 4000, 3963, and 3950 are dealing with completely different situations, but it's better to explain the Mandalorians in one place and then get into the vagaries there, rather than bust it up across different sections.

As we broke it down, I wrote the chapters on the Republic and the Mandalorians, with Abel writing the Sith and the Jedi; Sterling and Rodney split up everything else. That said, we did a bit of horse-trading within chapters so that I could write (or contribute to) elements involving the comics outside of my own chapters; I also had the chance to read most of everything in progress, giving me a few chances to make suggestions for inclusion or exclusion. I didn't expect that level of access would be possible, but I really appreciated it.

Lots of fun and interesting electronic discussions ensued as we went along. The decisions of what characters to include began and ended with editorial, but we were able to make the case for various things. A great amount of thought went into how to balance the worlds of Tales of the Jedi, the KOTOR comics, and the two different video games. There was never any kind of a quota; it was something that came about organically as it related to the chapters we were in. For example, no Sith at all had appeared in the KOTOR comics when we were working; so the Sith chapter was going to be more heavily about the other eras. The Mandalorians are hip deep in the comics eras and nearly gone by the video games, so the Mandalorian chapter was going to be more about the different comics incarnations. I rooted for Tales of the Jedi often -- it being the most distant in terms of time of release, I didn't want to overlook anything. There had been a West End guide for the comics already, though, so we probably focused more on the major players from that time.

Being involved also allowed me to do something that isn't often done in game guides: advance some stories a little. Haydel Goravvus would have been on nobody's short list for inclusion in a book like this -- but I needed a Corporate Agent, which was one of our new prestige classes. So I gave more background on him than we'd ever had in the comics -- including the fact that he'd escaped Taris after the Resistance fell. There were some other bits of business like that. While "Vector" had not yet shipped when I'd already completed my work on the Guide, Rodney suggested adding an entry for Celeste Morne. So we did. As guides go, it was pretty much up to the minute, as continuity was concerned.

Something else involving that up-to-the-minute nature can be seen -- as I was too crafty for my own good when it came to Malak's identity. I had created a character named Squint in the comics a couple of years earlier that we pretty much always intended to turn into Malak later on. However, I always wanted to keep the door open for a potential change, if necessitated by events elsewhere in the universe or if we simply came up with a better idea. There was a good chance we'd complete the Squint-to-Malak transition in the next year, and we wouldn't invalidate that — but things were uncertain enough that I suggested the Campaign Guide play Malak fairly close to the vest, not getting into his early days or previous identity. Meanwhile, over in the comics, I was continuing the is-he-isn't-he tease, with my last intended red herring when we revealed the name that Squint -- whose true name was simply Alek -- had been assigned by Republic immigration: Squinquargesimus, after his hometown. It was a last little fake-out: "We wouldn't make THAT Malak's name, would we?" Well, of course not — as later stories would establish. But I forgot that the reference works -- like the Campaign Guide and the Essential Guide to the Force — are snapshots in time, reflecting whatever is known at the moment. So when both sources went in for editing, the sesquipedalian surname was still in continuity, since the story explaining it away didn't come out until later -- and worse, I hadn't informed everyone the name wasn't his, and that it would be going bye-bye. My mistake. So it happened that the surname made it into the final Guide in a later round of edits, after my part was done; were it coming out today, it wouldn't be there because of KOTOR #32. (Which I hadn't yet written when I was done with the Guide -- and yet, which ironically, came out the same month as the Campaign Guide -- because of the shorter lead time. Oy -- too many plates spinning!)  A little episode, but I regret it for being a red herring too far -- I forgot that I wasn't really trying to fool the readers about Alek being Malak, just the characters -- and worse, for causing confusion both behind the scenes and for readers, as it let an element into the mix that wasn't intended to be permanent. I'm more careful, now, I hope.

There was a case going in the other direction, too, as one of the late adds to the book was a gazetteer section on Bespin, detailing the fact that it had already been discovered in this era. I saw that part in the final product after I had already sent in the script for KOTOR #37, implying that Bespin had just been discovered by telescope. This time, there was time to make the fix -- and so the planet in #37 is now Bespin-like, but not the same size. Whew!

The final product was a joy to page through -- I hadn't imagined there would be so much cool artwork, and so many pieces involving the comics characters. I was also surprised to see Steve Ellis' work in the book; he was the artist on my first comic book, Crimson Dynamo #1.

The book came out in August 2008 at Gen Con, which gave me a wonderful excuse to go there and have a reunion with my high school gaming group. Full circle, as they say! It was harder work than most kinds of writing I do, but it was a pleasure to work on, and I'm glad to have been a part of it.

 

TRIVIA

  • One of the more interesting discussions between the authors was what to call the individual eras. The names for The Restoration and the Dark Wars are both Rodney's, I think.

  • The Feeorin entry tips some material about Odryn, a planet that we saw for the first time in the comics just weeks before the Guide came out. Again, it was a case of various projects being at various stages; when writing the Guide, I knew we would be going to Odryn in 2008, but not sure which issue in which we'd get there for sure. Thus, the hedging of bets.

  • In a lot of the early sections in the book and in the Jedi section, Sterling and Abel worked out a lot of the Covenant-related material into things that would allow a player to design Covenant characters. It was presumed that Krynda's Covenant might not be the only one, for the purposes of gamers wanting to run their own.

  • The picture on page 56 may be the only shot anywhere of Haazen with the four Covenant First WatchCircle consulars.

  • The 578-R Space Transport layout was reverse-engineered from Dustin Weaver's cutaway drawing of the Last Resort in the KOTOR Handbook.

  • As 2008 progressed, many people invoked the Darth Sion entry as evidence that Lucien could not be Darth Sion. Well, right. Lucien was never going to be Darth Sion, and in this case, we didn't hedge overmuch to make it seem possible.

  • While Abel wrote the descriptions for Zayne and Lucien, Meredith and I generated the characters. He and I traded some other characters in our sections: He wrote Bao-Dur and Atton Rand in the Republic section and Canderous Ordo in the Mandalorian section. I wrote Saul Karath entirely, including a line that, as near as I can recall, was cut from KOTOR #21 for space: "War's a funny thing. It makes you do things you'd never thought you'd do."

  • The Restoration material -- along with Morvis' father and the Commercial Protectorate Acts -- was meant to convey a very robust period of trade abetted by a muscular Navy; definite maritime history echoes there.

  • The header for the Mandalorian Wars on page 168 should be one paragraph higher: The events described there take place in 3965.

  • The Admirals of the Coreworlds idea I added to give the Navy some texture, befitting something that came together from multiple different forces. I like the idea of a "lumpy" command structure, with guys out there with overlapping authorities and powers dating back ages.

  • "Midships" comes from not really being able to say "midshipmen," naturally. I think it works.

  • I talked with my old gaming friend and Army member Mike Singleton -- one of the guys who turned up at that Gen Con reunion -- in coming up with some of the ideas for the groundpounders. Unlike the Navy, I wanted the Army to seem much more patchwork and chaotic, highly decentralized. We're thinking Mexican-American War era, here; it's just a whole bunch of militias and other outfits loosely thrown together. (It gives the "Grand Army of the Republic" from the movies more emotional weight, I think.)

  • While Meredith helped with the characters, I did all the shipmaking solo -- which was sometimes challenging as Starships of the Galaxy hadn't come out. The best guide to how a ship should be statted comes from comparisons with similar ships, to my mind -- and having a whole bunch to choose from helps!

  • I already knew in writing the Inexpugnable description that we'd be hijacking the system later in 2008, but I just couldn't bear to give that away. Now gamers everywhere can try to crack the system!

  • Karen Traviss kindly provided the Mando'a translation for the Six Actions.

  • It's been noted by some that the content on Bendak Starkiller seems to contradict the timeline for the outlawing of deathmatches as stated in the game. However, stories coming in 2009 will establish what the real timeline is, and how everything works...

  • Designing some of the Mandalorians was fairly tricky in cases where their species have not yet been revealed. Sometimes you know what a character's species is, sometimes you don't -- but in either case, we figured in the game material it was better neither to reveal nor establish if it could be avoided.

  • Some of the Mandalorian ships were a bear to design, having only appeared in teeny-tiny shots in panels past. On the other hand, that sometimes allowed them to be whatever we needed them to be.

  • A number of the art images are speculative. We've never seen the Moomo Williwaw with the Last Resort in the same frame; nor have we seen a young Lucien with a young Bastila. But nothing saying we won't...

  • Finally, the stats from Jarael and Gryph came from me and the Intrepid One -- whose signature happily made it through in Gryph's key possession: his winning smile...

 

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