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Interviews -
Face To Face With The Masters

Any citizen of the galaxy may be summoned to answer to the Jedi Council. Here you may read the transcripts of such sessions.

Cellblock 1138 - 1997-1999 - 2000 - 2002 - 2003+

TF.N's Adrick Tolliver talks to Wizards of the Coast game designer Rodney Thompson.

ADRICK: Tell us a little bit about how you became a Star Wars fan, and how you came to write and design for the Star Wars RPG.

RODNEY: Wow, big question! I first became a Star Wars fan thanks to my parents, who, when I was a kid, made sure that I got to see Star Wars as soon as they thought I was old enough. I'm only 28, so Return of the Jedi was the first Star Wars film I got to see in the theater, and I was pretty young when that came out. I remember being scared of Jabba the Hutt, and that's about all. Regardless, my parents liked Star Wars and were really supportive of me when I got into it as well. They bought me action figures, books, comics, etc. One year we were on a trip to the Disney World theme parks, the year that the Star Tours ride opened, and we were blown away. I think my parents, my brother and I had to have ridden the ride 10 times that first year. My parents also made sure we went to Disney World each year that the three prequel films came out so we could go to midnight showings down there; the theaters at Disney World had digital projectors, and we loved it!

Anyways, I had gotten into the Star Wars RPG from West End Games, and was sad when they lost the license. About the time that I was heading off to college (this would be 1998), I started up a Star Wars RPG website. Not too long after that, Wizards of the Coast produced the first d20 Star Wars game, and my website flourished as we put up both D6 and d20 material. Eventually, my writing caught the eye of Christopher Perkins and JD Wiker, and they offered me the chance to write a Star Wars book, the Hero's Guide. That first project put me on the path of the freelance writer, which I did from 2001 through 2007. Let me tell you, freelancing isn't easy, especially when you're also in college full-time and trying to work a day job! All of the freelancers out there have my eternal respect.

In January of 2007, Wizards of the Coast offered me a job as the designer in charge of the Star Wars Roleplaying Game following my work on the Saga Edition rulebook, which came out last May. I took the chance, packed up my bags, and moved from Tennessee to Seattle to take the job full-time. I'm currently the only in-house designer for the RPG, but it's proven to be a dream job, as I get to make the Star Wars RPG I always wanted to see!

ADRICK: If you could write an RPG based on any of the Star Wars novels, which one would it be?

RODNEY: I already try and make sure that every Star Wars medium is represented in the RPG, but more on that later. If I were to go back and pick out any one Star Wars novel to do a sourcebook on, I?d have to say it would probably be one of Stackpole or Allston?s X-Wing novels. They?re among my favorite source material, not just because they are interesting and funny but also because they really focus on what life as a member of the Rebellion/New Republic military is like. I?ve always had a soft spot for the military-themed stuff, especially with regards to the pilots.

ADRICK: To what extent do you incorporate information from existing Star Wars books and comics when designing new games?

RODNEY: To a great extent! I consider myself to be pretty much an EU fanatic. While I won?t claim to have read everything, I do buy and read almost every novel, comic, and guidebook that comes out. I also have played almost every Star Wars video game, and I love to mine all of the different medias for ideas. What I think is a big strength of the RPG is that, since it is a game that relies so heavily on the source material, the rulebooks need to present a coherent setting so that Gamemasters can run a game and have it feel like Star Wars. So, one thing that I get to do as a designer is take all of the different elements of the Star Wars setting that have appeared in novels, comics, and video games and pull them together to create a coherent and unified setting. The writers of novels and comics and the creators of video games have much more narrow needs for their creations and so sometimes they will create people, places, ships, and other technology to fit only their needs. We get to go in, look at it objectively as a piece of continuity overall, and figure out how to best integrate it with stuff from other mediums so as to create a coherent setting. I love nothing more than seeing the art come back for a book and having a character from an animated show fighting against an opponent from a video game set against the backdrop of a planet from a novel or comic book.

That having been said, a big advantage of writing for the RPG is that we get to expand on the details of a lot of things. The RPG has always been a great source for material that?s tough to work into the narrative mediums because it would be just exposition. My favorite thing about working on the RPG is that I get to look at things from other mediums, then take them and expand upon them so that they have a history and a real place in the galaxy. Sometimes it really pays off, too. For example, a while back I wrote an article for the RPG about the planet Prakith. Prakith had been mentioned in one sentence as a fortress world in the Deep Core in one of the Black Fleet Crisis novels, but nothing else was known about it. So, I took it and expanded it out into a full-length article for the RPG. I was recently pleasantly surprised to see that John Ostrander had used Prakith as the setting for an issue of the Legacy comics; imagine how thrilled I was to see a planet I had described in detail then translated to the comic book medium, complete with awesome artwork.

ADRICK: The Knights of the Old Republic Campaign Guide was released recently. How was the decision to write a Guide for this era made?

RODNEY: Honestly, it was a pretty easy one. First of all, the KOTOR comics were out there, and it?s always great to produce material for an active setting or for something fresh in the minds of Star Wars fans. Second, it had just enough source material to give us a jumping off point, but not so much that it would be easy to get totally bogged down in continuity. We wanted to start doing more books that really expand upon the Star Wars universe as well as cover the existing EU material, and KOTOR provided a chance to do both in the same book.

ADRICK: What are some of your favorite things about the KOTOR guide?

RODNEY: I?m really happy with how the book came out. Some of my favorite things? Let?s see. Having the author of the comics on board to write about the stuff from the comics was great. I?m really happy with how the book turned out mechanically, as I think it (and the Force Unleashed book) fill in a lot of gaps that we had in the core rules. Likewise, getting to take obscure vehicles, ships, equipment, etc. from the KOTOR games and comics and flesh those out with details, histories, and roles was fantastic. For example, we went into the games and made sure that things like speeders on Dantooine or Taris were given names, manufacturers, histories, etc. in the book, even though they were nothing more than background objects in the games. Keep an eye out for the ship from the roof of the Sandral estate in the KOTOR Campaign Guide!

ADRICK: The Force Unleashed is an epic, cutting-edge video game. Were there any challenges adapting the material to the low-tech world of RPGs?

RODNEY: Working on a book based on a video game that is not out yet is challenging as a whole! As for high-tech vs. low-tech, that?s not really the issue. We work on these books over a year before they hit bookshelves, and the nature of video game design usually means that a lot of stuff won?t be finalized until we?re already supposed to be done with our writing. Still, the folks at LucasArts were fantastic about providing us with updated information on the characters, locales, etc. appearing in the game. Haden Blackman was kind enough to not only spend some time on the phone with me discussing the project, he also introduced me to Sam Witwer at Celebration IV. Sam is the voice of the secret apprentice in The Force Unleashed, but he?s also a big fan of the Star Wars Roleplaying Game. Having direct access to the voice talent and Haden both made the work much easier.

Mechanically, the Force Unleashed does a lot of very over-the-top things with the Force that I knew from the start probably works in the very controlled environment of the video game but not necessarily for an RPG which tends to focus on trying to recreate the Star Wars films first and foremost. In the Force Unleashed Campaign Guide, what we wanted to do was make the incredible feats of Force use from the video game possible, but also make sure it didn?t spin the game out of control. So, while you?ll be able to do some amazing stuff with the Force with the book, it?s probably not going to happen as frequently as happens in the video game. That having been said, the Force Unleashed video game also really inspired us to look at the concept of ?Unleashed? in the broader sense of the Star Wars galaxy; I?ll just say that Force-users aren?t the only ones capable of performing incredible feats, and that the Campaign Guide makes it possible for every character to unleash their full potential from time to time.

ADRICK: What will The Force Unleashed Campaign Guide add to the The Force Unleashed experience?

RODNEY: The obvious answer is ?more backstory.? The folks at LucasArts were great with providing us with all kinds of story elements that had been created for the video game that would never see the light of day otherwise. So, we took those things and put them in the RPG. Similarly, the Force Unleashed is set against the backdrop of the Dark Times, an era that has seen very little expansion. In order to replicate the feeling of The Force Unleashed in a roleplaying game, we wanted to make sure that the book really expanded upon the setting as well as the actual characters and technology from the game. So, the Force Unleashed Campaign Guide has a massive chapter on the Galactic Empire, which should help Gamemasters create campaigns where the Empire is the main villain. Similarly, the Force Unleashed video game focuses on one character (the apprentice) facing off against overwhelming odds to achieve his destiny. We wanted to take that theme and really make it central to our Campaign Guide, so we really emphasize trying to encourage Gamemasters to create campaigns where the heroes are very much on their own against the monolithic threat of the Empire.

ADRICK: Will The Clone Wars Campaign Guide incorporate any information from the cancelled Clone Wars Sourcebook?

RODNEY: Tricky question, the answer to which is ?Yes and No.? The Clone Wars Campaign Guide was written from the ground-up to be a comprehensive look at the Clone Wars; this means novels, comics, video games, the animated series, the new Clone Wars CG series, everything. A lot of that material wasn?t out yet when the cancelled book was written, so it would have been very incomplete even now. That being said, I?m sure we covered many of the same topics (I?ve never seen any of the text from that cancelled Clone Wars book), and even had one of the authors of that defunct book work on the new Clone Wars Campaign Guide. I think the Campaign Guide is going to satisfy the needs of anyone looking into the Clone Wars setting, as it again tries to go a long way toward helping unify the elements of the different mediums into a single coherent setting.

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