Star Wars: The Essential Atlas is the best source book never released for any edition of the Star Wars RPG. While Del Rey is publishing the Atlas as a general interest reference book, it’s beautiful maps, graphical timelines, and planetary write-ups make the book an excellent for gamers, regardless of whether they’re playing d6, Saga Edition, or a homebrew of their own design.
The soft-cover, coffee-table-style book covers every Star Wars era from the pre-Republic days of the alien and powerful Celestials (who constructed the Corellia system) through to the Sith Empire depicted in Dark Horse’s Legacy Era comic books. It offers maps of every major sector of the galaxy, historical and political write-ups on them, and occasional “closer look” sidebars on topics like astrogation and galactic mysteries. Cynics might argue there’s nothing here that can’t be found in fan resources like Wookipedia but they’d be wrong; few resources I’ve seen can compare the beautifully crafted maps featured in this book, and its bound-form makes it far more browseable than the web based alternatives.
I first saw the book when one of my friends showed up for our weekly Star Wars game and placed the atlas in front of me, flipping it open to a timeline map of The Great Sith War. A flip of the page revealed one for the Mandalorian Wars. A third flip brought up the Jedi Civil War.
It was all there — arrows showing major fleet movements for each military campaign, demarcations showing the extent of the Krath, Sith, Mandalorian and Republic political spheres, notes about major offenses and counter-offenses. In short, it was everything I’d wanted for my game’s upcoming switch to a military-oriented campaign.
The maps themselves were beautifully done; always showing enough information for you to grasp the basics of a particular era or region, while at the same time offering nitty-gritty details about particular worlds or mini-campaigns (such as the inset map for detailing the Mandalorian invasion of Taris and the agricultural systems that support it).
But it wasn’t just the Knights of the Old Republic era; the book offered the same level of loving attention to detail for all of Star Wars major time periods. There are maps depicting the timelines of each of the six motion pictures, the exploits of Han Solo, the atrocities of Palpatine’s Empire and even one identifying the famous shadowports of the galaxy. This last is the sort of thing that game masters will see and instantly bookmark.
The solar system write-ups offer short encyclopedia-style entries on Star Wars most famous worlds, including Duro, Ithor, the forest moon of Endor and Dantooine. Each has details such as diameter, length of day and year, terrain of each system’s namesake world, as well as a sidebar listing other planets and moons. The Atlas isn’t nearly as comprehensive in its maps for planets as it is for the galaxy at large; each world has nice looking – but unlabeled – fractal map of one side of the sphere. I would loved to have seen some more detailed maps, perhaps listing major cities, but if nothing else they provide a nice quick visual reference for players (as well as a source of flavor text for GMs).
As a gaming aid, I’ve found the Atlas most useful when I want to paint a dramatic backdrop of the galaxy at large. I don’t like inserting my players into the signature events in the Star Wars movies, but when running a war campaign (or even a rebellion one) I like being able to call out specific events. During non-movie time periods – like KOTOR – it’s great to be able to show my players the full sweep of the war, noting when particular worlds fall or are liberated. I also found some one off maps, like the aforementioned shadowports as well as a map that shows the population density of the galaxy, to be great idea fodder. Any time I can pick up a book and it spawns three story ideas in as many pages, I know I have a winner.
I have some quibbles with the book; the index is based on Galactic coordinates rather than page numbers; I’d rather it listed both. While most of the maps are clear and concise, there are a few where the color differences (such as the arrows depicting the Mandalorian False War and the invasion proper) are too subtle to easily differentiate. But these are just quibbles; the vast majority of the book is solid, and it’s a worthwhile edition to your gaming (and Star Wars) library.
- Star Wars: The Essential Atlas
- By Daniel Wallace and Jason Fry
- Illustrated by Ian Fullwod, Modi, Chris Reiff and Chris Trevas
- Published by Del Rey
- 243 pages
- Buy it from Amazon.com
- This review originally appeared on GameCryer.com and is reprinted with permission