Tuesday, October 18, 2022

Star Wars RPG Instant Adventures

I’m trying to jumpstart my work on a neglected system-neutral fantasy roleplaying setting and, in seeking inspiration to fuel some creative momentum, I’m looking at some of my favorite roleplaying game supplements for ideas and reviewing notes I’ve gleaned from others on relevant game design. My reading includes the Instant Adventures collection for West End Games’ D6 System Star Wars Roleplaying Game. Although filled with scenarios, its original design parameters offer some ideas on how I might approach developing and presenting my setting sourcebook – short, easily digestible sections with maps and sidebars to quickly orient readers – still useful 20 years later in our Internet Age of instant gratification and dwindling attention spans.

The project began in 1996 for publication the following year. Up to that time West End’s Star Wars Roleplaying Game adventures primarily released as standalone books featuring involved scenarios a group might play through over several sessions; the notable exception being the Star Wars Adventure Journal, which offered a mix of short scenarios, source material, and game-related fiction. Such large adventures required the gamemaster to read the entire book and become familiar with all the encounters, locations, resources, and forces at work related to the characters. West End’s creative staff collaborated on a collection of short scenarios in a format gamemasters could pick up, read quickly, and easily reference during one session’s play, providing a satisfying standalone adventure that might even develop into a campaign. The parameters sent to contributors – freelancing staffers and notable out-of-house designers – focused on presenting short adventures with elements to make the gamemaster’s job of running it with little notice as easy as possible. The word count was probably around 5-6,000 words each, including three to five episodes (the narrative framework the game had always used in presenting scenario information). Several sections and sidebars broke out essential information: a “Quick-start Outline” provided a quick briefing on the overall action so gamemasters knew what to expect; “Staging Tips” helped them integrate the scenario into an existing campaign with the players mix of characters; “Spawning a Campaign” offered ideas on using the adventure as a springboard for further game sessions. The assignment required authors to include at least one map (preferably more), ideas for “player handouts” like invitations and datapad readouts, and short stats for several adventure elements along with the usual illustration suggestions. The book came in at 64 pages – the smallest page count the company would produce at the time – but included some quality components in the four pages of perforated cards bound in the back, each with the stats for characters, vehicles, creatures, and equipment found in the scenarios (as well as a full-color illustration). I advocated for the stat cards, which I’d used in my home campaigns for easy reference (and one finds in a few other products of that time, including the Star Wars Introductory Adventure Game).

I don’t recall the circumstances behind the project’s inception. Given the contributors primarily included West End staffers or trusted freelancers it might have started as one of those projects we pulled out of thin air when another book on the schedule encountered unmanageable delays (and there were a few, though 20 years later I can’t recall many specific ones). While I never had much insight into sales numbers, Instant Adventures seemed an instant hit with gamers who wanted to bring one-session scenarios to the table with minimal preparation. I keep a copy near my rulebook in case I ever need a scenario to run at a moment’s notice. I still rank it fifth on my personal list of most influential Star Wars Roleplaying Game products West End released. Years later West End staffer and contributor Eric Trautmann brought many Instant Adventures authors back together for Every Star A Destination for Adamant Entertainment, which used a similar approach presenting a handful of quick-start science fiction adventures for use with D6 Space (to which I also contributed).

So how does Instant Adventures inform my current work on a setting sourcebook all these years later? It reminds me to keep things brief: stick to core concepts, cut down excess verbiage (a persistent character flaw with me), and don’t linger too long on any particular section. Use sidebars, maps, and player handouts to call attention to key information and break up the page layout. Early on I decided to provide gamemaster character summaries of their outward demeanor, covert motivations, and other aspects useful for interactions with characters, both as an outline device as I elaborate on them and for quick reference for gamemasters. I hope to supply plenty of adventure hooks to help readers envision how they might transform the setting they read into an experience they and their players can immerse themselves in a the game table.

Instant Adventures isn’t the only roleplaying game resource I’m reviewing for inspiration. I’m getting lost paging through products that inspired me as a player years ago to glean ideas on approaching my own fantasy setting. We don’t always remember to remove the blinders focusing (and sometimes limiting) our vision in game design and other aspects of life, but examining how others approach similar challenges can help us determine the best course for our own projects.


  1. "I don’t recall the circumstances behind the project’s inception." If memory serves, this book was George Strayton's brainchild. He had a very clear vision of the whole "pick up and play FAST" element and the color cards.

  2. George got "Project Concept" credit on this, so that makes sense. Don't know why I thought it was a quick fill-in for a schedule blow-up...probably had more of those than I can recall.


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