I can't believe that it's been over a year since I started this Blog and I haven't yet gushed about one of my favorite planets evarr—Yelsain. First introduced in Star Wars: Galaxy Guide 6, this planet struck a chord with me on a personal level. Why? Well, let me count the ways...
10) Forest Planet
Spending my early childhood in Michigan, I have always loved forests. A whole planet of forests? Even better. It's like Kashyyyk and Endor, only with mostly humans instead of furry guys (not that I have anything against furry guys). There is a whole aura of mystery and beauty that Forest planets hold for me. So right away, Yelsain grabbed my attention. Oh, and to say nothing of the fact that I have ALWAYS wanted to live in a huge treehouse. Damn you Swiss Family Robinson!
9) The Frontier
Spending my later childhood in South Dakota, I got a taste of what it was to live on the 'edge of civilization' (or at least as close as you can come to it in the lower-48 states). And truth be told, I kind of liked it. Oh, of course, I am romanticizing it in my head- but in literature (and gaming) the idea of the frontier has always held an appeal for me. People eking out a simple living, battling harsh environments (and critters) in order to survive. Yelsain is that—only 50 years (or so) settled. Still wild and wooly, with no big settlements and lots of smaller farmsteads with tough frontiersmen families living in them. Very cool. The wild west, only with lots of trees.
And what would the wild west be without your trusty steed! Only in this case, it's a speeder-bike (or occasionally airspeeder). The book describes them as the primary means of travel on Yelsain. Yeah. Ridin' through (or over) the wilds on your 'hawg'—good times. Even though fast-moving vehicles and lots of trees logically don't seem to work together, the image of Speeder-Bikes and Big Trees is easily one of the most recognizable 'Star Wars' things there is.
7) Garaths and Trogliths and Wilderbeasts, oh my!
And what would the Frontier be without nasty (and mysterious) creatures to make it more dangerous. I loved the fact that in the original source material, just the names of these critters were mentioned, nothing else. It was up to the GM to figure out just what they were. In my case, Garath's became 6-legged black panther like critters. Trogliths became gigantic (Rancor-sized) half-bear, half-lizard critters who didn't like to be woken up from their naps (or have picnic baskets kept from them). And the Wilderbeast? Well that's just a myth, isn't it? Used to scare children or have fun with tourists. Or.. is it?
Almost everything on Yelsain is made of wood. Even airspeeders. How cool an image is that? And the fact that they use a lot of 'low tech' in their every day lives, just because they feel it is a more 'wholesome' way of living. I like it, but I'm glad they don't go completely amish. They still use repulsorlift technology afterall, and medicines, and guns...
5) Highly Educated Hicks
Yep. So Yelsainians are a bunch of gun-totin' farmers and ranchers who live in the wilds and don't use a lot of technology. Hmm. You know, that could be problematic. A whole planet of hillbillies? Oh, but wait. They aren't ignorant yokels. In fact, Yelsain houses a well-respected University—and most folks on the planet are highly educated. THAT is certainly a twist on an otherwise 'stock' kind of a setting. And another thing I love. I picture an entire college (draped with ivy, of course!) cradled in the boughs of the trees. I picture a bunch of farmers leaning over the corral fence, discussing the finer points of astrophysics or ancient galactic history. I picture eccentric professors who spend their weekends exploring the wilds. Yeah, I wouldn't mind going to the U of Y, myself. Garath as a school sports mascot? Oh yeah.
4) "Anarchist Democracy"
Yep. That is the officially listed government type of Yelsain. Just how does this work, you ask? Well, simply put, folks do what they want, just so long as it doesn't hurt other folks. And if it might? Well, everyone is armed- so you better thing long and hard about doing something bad to your neighbors. As far as the big decisions go, and for setting general 'guidelines' for folks to follow, well, that's what the "Moot" is all about. Once a year, any folks who want a say in these things show up at a big gathering and hash things out (amongst various celebrations, strong drinks, contests of skill, etc.). Yep. Governmental decisions are made at a big party. In all honesty, I'm not sure this kind of government could really exist, but its nice to imagine, isn't it? Well, for me it is.
When someone does something wrong on Yelsain, folks get together, find the culprit, then sit down and decide what to do with him. A refreshingly simple and appealing form of law enforcement that cuts out all the legal loopholes and doubletalk and (in theory at least) dispenses justice, not law. On the other hand, the source material points out that this 'justice' can often be harsh, and isn't ALWAYS fair. To me, that was a nice touch to help ground what could otherwise have been a 'too idyllic' planetary setting. Yeah. There are a lot of appealing things about Yelsain, but it has a darker-side, too. And that just makes me like it all the more.
2) No taxes
In first reading the section on Yelsain, and particuarly its relationship to the empire, I was highly amused. Simply put, the Empire doesn't know what to do with Yelsain. Even in the midst of the Emperor's tyrannical reign, Yelsainians are outspoken and openly rebellious. And yet (for the time being at least) the Empire can't really do anything about it. They have no large cities to bombard from orbit. And even if they did destroy the main settlements, the people in the deep woods could hold out indefinitely—and either way, they STILL would refuse to pay taxes to what they consider an unjust government. So, thwarted (at least for the time being) the Empire must settle for taxing imports and exports. Its either that or send out tax collectors into the woods... to face highly-intelligent woodsmen who have grown up knowing how to hunt and shoot. Yeah. Not a good prospect.
1) Tree Rangers
And finally, what makes Yelsain Rock are the Tree Rangers. Simply put, 'Tree Ranger' holo-movies are the Star Wars equivalent of Westerns. Tree Rangers were the 'mythical' heros of Yelsain who defended the other settlers from the dangers of their newly settled planet. Across the galaxy, this is the general concept most folks have of Yelsain. And yet, on Yelsain itself, the movies are something of a sore spot. Calling someone a 'tree ranger' is a joke (at best) or an insult (at worst). I'm a sucker for anything termed 'Ranger'—have been since I first saw the "Lone Ranger". And the equation of Yelsain to the wild-west gives it a nice symmetry—so much so, that in my own campaign, I envision Yelsainians as speaking with a 'western' drawl. In more recent years, I've narrowed this down to the kind of talk folks on Firefly used. Yeah. Mal would definitely fit in on Yelsain. And to me, the Tree Ranger legend could easily have a root in 'reality'—it is stated that several Jedi came from Yelsain—and even that a few might be hiding out in the wilds. Tree Ranger Jedi. Yeah. Very cool.
So, there you have it. Probably one of my favorite 'expanded universe' things ever. The Planet Yelsain.