Books for Role-players: Jeff Grubb – Scourge (Star Wars)

Star Wars: Scourge
Scourge is a Science Fiction/Space Opera book written by Jeff Grubb and published by Del Ray.
By Cape Rust

Scourge is the first novel that Jeff Grubb has written for the Star Wars Universe, and in typical Grubb fashion he has converted an adventure that he wrote for the Star Wars RPG into a well-paced and action-packed novel.

The cover art for Scourge is understated, and extremely effective. The cover has a hooded Jedi wielding an activated green light saber in front of a white background. There is no doubt that this book is about a Jedi and instead of a cluttered portrait setup, this cover has a monastic feel that fits not only with tenants of the Jedi, but is very fitting for the main character Mander Zuma, Jedi Master and archivist (not a librarian!).

In the novel Scourge a novice Pantoran (Wookieepedia lists Pantorans as a slender, blue-skinned humanoids native to the moon Pantora) Jedi named Toro Irana has been sent to the world of Makem Te, to obtain the coordinates for a highly secret, hazardous smugglers route that could be used as a very beneficial trade route. While on this mission, Toro gets into a bar room brawl that quickly turns lethal and ends up with him taking a 40 story nose dive into the plasticrete below.

The unusual circumstances of Irana’s death lead his former Master Mander Zuma the archivist (not a librarian!) to leave the comfort of finding and restoring documents that were lost, destroyed or deleted during imperial rule. Mander is not what most people in his galaxy or ours would call a “typical” Jedi. Mander is a thinker who views his iconic light saber as a tool, not an extension of himself. Mander is full of self-doubt and constantly wonders if the training he provided to his former apprentice was inadequate and led to Toro’s death.

The investigation of Toro Iranas’ death leads Mander Zuma into the intricate and often convoluted depths of Hutt space where nothing is as it seems and the only thing a being can rely on is the fact that in some way, shape, form or fashion, Hutts will screw you over. This investigation and adventure even takes Mander and some “friends” he meets along the way to Corporate space where everything is done by the book, which ends up being a double-edged sword for Mander and his motley crew.

I won’t go into the rest of the story, to avoid spoilers, but if my description hasn’t at least peaked your interest, then please read other reviews and find one that will cause you to read this book. This particular novel takes place during the New Republic era. Beyond the minimalist cover, the more recent Star Wars books have done a great service to their readers by placing a timeline of the existing Star Wars novels in the beginning of each novel. The Star Wars Universe is a big place, with lots and lots of stuff going on, this timeline helps bring it all together for experienced and novice fans alike.

There is absolutely no need to validate Jeff Grubb’s position as a writer. Yes this is Jeff’s first Star Wars novel, but you would swear he’s been writing them all of his life. I became a fan of the Star Wars Novels while stationed in Germany. I was happy to be able to read more stories from a universe that had filled my childhood. As I got caught up on the backlog of novels I had previously overlooked in book stores, I started to notice a pattern. First, so many of the novels were trilogies and while well-written, they all fell into a wash, rinse, repeat cycle. If you haven’t read any of these novels here is how that cycle went. We just got rid of the last threat. We are recovering. There is a minor threat that has emerged, it may or may not have something to do with the Empire or the last threat we dealt with. We don’t have many resources so we will let the minor threat get bigger until we have just enough resources to fight them. Even though we are outnumbered we will face the threat. After minor failures we will find an ally we didn’t know we had and defeat or drive away the threat. Wash, Rinse, Repeat. Things got better in books that were recently released, but this formula became tedious and soured my taste for my beloved Star Wars, that is until Scourge.

Scourge is a stand-alone story that should appeal to people who might not be Star Wars fans but still enjoy Sci-Fi. This novel doesn’t need rely on cameo appearances, by better known Star Wars characters, to be good. There are a few references to some better known beings, but it is all done in good taste. Jeff Grubb is a smart writer; he is able to allow us to get to know the major characters by their current interactions and some short flashbacks. At no time did I feel like the book got bogged down by stopping to explain the character’s past. The way the characters deal with their present situations is as much of an indicator of what they are made of as their pasts.

Scourge is an outstanding book for role-players! With its’ genesis as an RPG adventure, there is quite a bit that players and GMs can learn from Scourge. I like to think of RPGs as interactive storytelling; Scourge is of one of those stories. I never played the original adventure, but after reading this novel, I want to. I am sure that those of you that did go through the adventure will recognize many of the elements of the story. I would love for my players to feel the same way at the end of a game I ran as I felt at the end of this book. There was an actual ending to this story. Sure the characters have the legs to carry other stories, but this was written like an adventure, not a campaign. The pace and flow of this book is another lesson that GMs can learn from.

The book started with the death of Toro Iranas death. If I was running the adventure I would have used this as a great introductory cut scene. This would have been a great way to get the players involved, or be a great way to start describing the world of Makem Te without having to resort to a handout or your standard robot-like description. While some GMs might frown upon these cut scenes, I think it would have worked well in this case. GMs are not the only readers who can benefit from this book; players can get in on the action as well.

The character development in Scourge had all of the elements that make good player characters. Even though Mander is a Jedi Master, he has self-doubt issues and isn’t the most accomplished Jedi in the galaxy. Players should always resist the urge to make the uber character that has no faults. Some game systems incorporate these faults, but they are often overlooked or become just another modifier as the game goes on. Mander’s lack of self-confidence made him real, without detracting from the story. There are actually several characters in the book who I would love to run as characters and like any good player, I will cherry-pick some of their concepts in the next game I am in, no matter what the setting.

Scourge has brought sexy back when it comes to Star Wars. If you were disappointed by the last three/first three movies, don’t let that disappointment play a Jedi mind trick on you, this IS the book you are looking for. Jeff Grubb takes the time to delve into the mental ramifications of such frequently used Jedi powers as the mind trick. I had never thought of the implications of misusing the mind trick and exactly what circumstances could make it more effective. I learned all of that and didn’t even realize I was in class; such is the power of the Grubb! This book has appeal for gamers as well as lovers of Sci-Fi, I highly recommend you buy it and read it twice, first as a reader then as a gamer, I don’t think you will be disappointed. May the force be with you!

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