“You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy.”
– Obi-Wan KenobiI post the photo of me running the Star Wars Roleplaying Game at a large, boxed-in diorama of Mos Eisley starport at a convention. During my time at West End I built the diorama from scratch and set it in a custom-made box for transport. I subsequently hauled it around to various conventions, even after the company went bankrupt. It’s sat in the basement or storage for many years now, but occasionally I pull it out, dust it off, and take some photos of it with the 25mm Star Wars miniatures I still have. I’ve featured the diorama and figures here before; head over to “Schweig’s Gaming Roadshow Gallery” and scroll down (though I’ve posted a few photos again here). It’s a relic from my West End days that still stirs feelings of nostalgia for a time when running demos on a visually appealing table helped promote one of my favorite games.
I’m not sure why I felt the need to create a diorama for Star Wars Roleplaying Game demos back in the mid 1990s. Most convention games, demos or full sessions, consisted of everyone gathered around a table, with few visual accessories to enhance play. There wasn’t much to see, especially when trying to draw casual onlookers into a demo game. Perhaps I was inspired by the two-level alien planet battlefield and mine complex West End’s miniature sub-licensee, SimTac, brought to GenCon one year to run Shatterzone and Star Wars demos at the booth. Having a visually interesting set-up attracted onlookers and potential customers, with the temptation to drop in for a quick encounter or two demonstrating the game’s action and mechanics. West End already had a host of painted 25mm minis and some terrain featured on the cover and illustrations in the Origins Award-winning Star Wars Miniatures Game; it seemed a shame to keep them packed away, so dynamic demo games on interesting terrain helped showcase them.there beyond Tatooine Manhunt: Galaxy Guide 7: Mos Eisley, the Mos Eisley Adventure Set (with miniatures) and the promotional “Mos Eisley Shoot-Out” minigame flyer. So even today setting a game adventure on the iconic desert planet seems almost a core element of the Star Wars experience.. a docking bay, for a typical scenario involving heroes fighting their way back to their starship after a deal gone bad (though I devised other basic scenarios fo demonstrate the scope of the game). To make sure the set-up was portable I asked my brother to craft a custom-built wooden box, three feet by three feet and six inches deep, that could open up on on hinged section into a play area about three feet by six and a half feet. (My brother is far more skilled in such practical crafts than I am.) I blew up individual buildings from the map to create properly proportioned templates used to cut individual structures in craft foam. Getting the sandstone textures was a bit problematic, since few things stick to foam. I ultimately wrapped (“mummified” might be more accurate) every building in masking tape before coating the surfaces with white glue and pressing them into a tub of plaster; when dried and dusted it had a decent sandstone texture, which I sealed with paint. I added doors and other details. I glued most structures right into my box, though the buildings on the hinge portion were fixed with magnets so they could be removed to fold up the box. Flocking the streets with model railroad sand and adding a few other details completed the overall look. different arrangements to fill out the other figures inhabiting the diorama. (I think I still have some based and waiting for sand flocking...you can never have enough Jawas in Mos Eisley.) My brother also crafted for me a larger cantina set-up in its own case, which I finished with some textured spray paint and used for the inevitable cantina scenes in my demos; a little out of scale with the main diorama, but still a visually appealing accessory.
I hauled the Mos Eisley diorama and all its bits to various conventions during my time at West End. I’m sure it appeared at GenCon one year. The photo I keep using was taken at SciCon in Virginia Beach the one year it was actually in a hotel fronting the beach. I dragged it to a few small conventions in New England and the mid-Atlantic. I suspect I used it in a few of the road-trip demos I ran with other employees in the company’s final six months, thinking my meager efforts might stave off the troubles everyone sensed the company was experiencing. After West End went bankrupt I brought it to MarsCon in Williamsburg, VA, at least one year (maybe more, I can’t remember). At that point I’d also crafted a desert starship junkyard, Imperial scout outpost, and used some of the fantastic GeoHex mountain terrain to run entire adventures with miniatures (alas, I sold the junkyard and GeoHex materials during my “Desperate Freelancing Years” to help make ends meet). I even started using Galoob MicroMachine starships on a cheap felt starfield mat I made for the inevitable spaceship chase episode.
These days I’m almost embarrassed to bring the Mos Eisley diorama out in public. For one, I don’t run Star Wars Roleplaying Game sessions very much at local conventions. It’s a lot of work to haul around, set up all the figures, and pack everything away. Most Star Wars wargames I see these days use elaborate models and terrain pieces, many produced by professional companies and purchased in piles by gamers with lots of disposable income. The prevalence of the Star Wars Legion miniatures game means most of these, as well as the figures, are scaled to 28mm or 32mm (I can never tell these days), which stand out conspicuously from my traditional 25mm figures and terrain. The board needs some maintenance work: the structure doors are peeling, flocked sand has shed from streets, my goofy moisture vaporators made from old modeling sprues look like wonky modern art (especially in the face of actual sci-fi scenery wargaming models). Maybe I’m too self-conscious about my amateurish terrain crafting efforts in the face of store-bought accessories. Maybe someday I’ll buff up the Mos Eisley diorama and bring it out for a public event...we’ll see. For now it sits snugly beneath the basement wargaming table, emerging occasionally for a photo shoot, until such time as I and the general public find the inspiration to immerse ourselves once again in that wretched hive of scum and villainy.
“As a little kid, you get to see the movies only once or twice, but playing with the toys in your backyard, that’s where you’re first telling stories in your head.”
– Rian Johnson