Wednesday, May 12, 2010

When, Where, and How: Imagining A Star Wars Campaign

Bring it! It's game time! You probably read in yesterday's post (and if you didn't, shame on you) that my little cohort of local gamers has finally found a place to play. It's wide open, has an established network of gamers from which to pluck new players, and is just a really kick ass place. It's the one last great hurdle that we have overcome. Now, on to the next phase, where another Game Master and I will take turns running some games to get our feet wet with new gamers in a new environment. For my game, I'm 90% settled on running some Star Wars.

I love playing in a good one-shot. I love building a character over a long campaign. I love sitting behind the screen. But, right now I'm embarking on my very favorite part of the role-playing hobby.

It's time to plan.

This is where I'm at my best, and probably the reason that I've found myself in the writer's and now publisher's chairs. It's probably why, even though I love a good narrative short story or novel, I have gravitated toward writing RPGs rather than straight fiction. This is the part where I get to set up a world, map out a city, fill it with places and people of interest, ripe for adventure and then just drop in a bunch of player characters and ask, "So, what do you want to do?"

Before I ramble on and make this post about my love for world-building, let me just stop there, for now. Today, let's talk what I view as the essentials for this Star Wars game, and how I plan to shrink this vast universe down to a single, bite-sized bit for my players.

System: Old school

For the game, I'll be using the Second Edition of the old West End Games D6 Star Wars. Just briefly, why use D6? I find it to be the best Star Wars system out there. West End Games published scores of excellent sourcebooks for it, it didn't over-emphasize Jedi (*cough*Wizards*cough*) or turn it into a "play your favorite Star Wars character as a mini" strategy game (*cough*Saga*cough*). The D20 incarnations have their place, and they would be especially great for playing games set in the Old Republic or somewhere down the line in the future, but that's not where I really want to play.

Timeline: Pre-Yavin

For starters, when running a game in the Star Wars universe, it's essential to pick a starting point. If running something even remotely contemporary with any of the films or better-known novels or video games, it's probably a good idea to even go so far as to pick a specific year. It's never a bad idea for a Game Master to know what is going on the in world apart from what the players are doing, but it's especially essential in Star Wars, as it has such a uniquely dedicated fanbase. Luckily, our Star Wars resources are endless and inexhaustible. You could never read everything that's out there, and luckily, you won't have to try.

I've selected a time some years prior to the Battle of Yavin. At this point, the Emperor still used the Galactic Senate to maintain control over his vast Empire. There was no Rebel Alliance yet, though dissent and rebellion still exist. It will be some years before Bail Organa and other prominent leaders turn away from diplomacy and start to seek the military means to stand against Palpatine's rule.

This time period also bears another standard that I feel benefits the game. There are no Jedi. Darth Vader has spent the better part of a decade eradicating the Jedi and all of their traditions, knowledge, and history. What few Jedi remain in the galaxy are in hiding.

Characters: Living in a world of gray

Speaking as someone who always played a Jedi in my old D6 gaming days, I now recognize that the presence of a Jedi, particularly if adhering to the rules as presented by West End Games, are a burden to a player group. For starters, the Jedi Code doesn't leave a lot of wiggle room, and severely limits a character's actions and associations. That's why, in my opinion, the D6 version is designed to specifically disallow the playing of evil, or even of semi-evil characters, so that all parties will fall more or less in line with the ethics of the Light Side. There's nothing wrong with that, for sure, as the main characters in the Classic Trilogy are certainly all heroes, even the selfish Han Solo. A Jedi also tends to demand special attention from the Game Master, and it detracts from the game. If everyone were to play a Jedi, or else embark on a strictly heroic campaign, it would play differently.

For my game, in this time period, I see a real potential to live in the gray area between Good Guys and Bad Guys. A game built around smugglers and bounty hunters, with a growing presence of Rebels against increasingly-entrenched Imperials, with crime syndicates and local authorities filling in the gaps, all adds up to a great gaming world, in my opinion. It allows the players to choose from basically any type of character they can imagine and run with it.

This "gray area" of law and order is especially interesting in the Star Wars of the generation living their lives prior to the Galactic Civil War because it shrinks so rapidly. As the Empire grows in power and begins to pile on the tyranny such that it affects the day to day lives of its citizens, and as the Rebel Alliance gains strength and starts to win some military victories, characters will find it more and more difficult to keep from choosing a side, either for moral reasons, or simply the practicality of business and politics. These choices have to matter, and the player characters must feel the weight of the decision, when it comes to that.

Location: Edge of the galaxy

By setting the game some distance from the primary events detailed in the various Star Wars franchises, characters are allowed to breathe. West End Games published a number of sourcebooks full of information on systems and planets and spaceports and every imaginable type of resource. By picking something out of the way, characters will be free to make their own choices and impact the world without feeling bound to an existing storyline. And, thankfully, I won't have to start from scratch when setting things up.

Also luckily, whenever the players do decide to leave home base, WEG has a bunch of resources for world-building. They produced books full of pre-made planets and races and technology, along with guides for adding to the catalog.

Story: All-original

With Star Wars, you get a double-edge sword. Players are intimately familiar with the world, but the story is already told. In a game like this, you have to establish from the very beginning that this is a new story, and the players can run with it. There is nothing more boring than a game where the players and their characters are just along for the ride.

I'm going to endeavor to keep my players off the beaten path, and there will be no "guest appearances" by Chewbacca or C-3P0. However, if my players do end up taking the game to Tatooine and saving Owen and Beru from Stormtroopers, then so be it. They can save or doom the galaxy as they see fit. Without that freedom, there's no fun.

And for my first trick...

How will I proceed with laying out the games and establishing the plot? For that bit of information, you'll have to tune in next time. Until then, may the Force be with you.


Lord Nor'Deth said...

Awesome! Nice to see another "old school" WEG D6 Star Wars player around. Don't know if you are aware of not, but there is actually quite a thriving group producing new material, and converting all of the D20 stuff over to the old D6 rules. Google "The Rancor Pit", it's probably your best place to start.

Enjoy the game! It's still one of the best ever put out in my opinion.

"Lord NorDeth" (from the Palladium forum)

Jason Richards said...

Cool, thanks for the tip. I'll definitely check it out! More thoughts on this game coming up later today, I hope. My brain is in constant Star Wars mode right now. :)

EvilTwinBrian said...

I got the Saga edition, but I haven't had a chance to run/play it. But yes the WEG old school version is awesome. We had an entire group play non-jedi (the idea of wielding a lightsaber didn't even come up). But of course we were a goofy group and basically rolled up a Star Wars version of the A-Team. I was the pilot ("Howlin' Mad" Murdock), of the group, Allen played an Ewok as Hanibal, and of course the Wookie was B.A.

Jason Richards said...

Brian, that might be the greatest gaming group ever constructed.

Lord Zaboem said...

Groovy! I like having a variety of games and rules, but if I made a Top 5 List of Best Personal Gaming Experieces, four or five would be from D6 Star Wars.

As always, your analysis is insightful and piercing. I suspect that Jedis can work even in mixed groups, so long as the role is reserved for the most experienced player in the group. I've seen the role of Jedi Master played so well that younger gamers started going to this player for real life advice. Nonetheless, I support the decision to restrict these characters. If you are potentially gaming with people you did not previously know, then it's a downright great idea.

In that same old group outside of Saint Lious, I remember a campaign in which our characters had become moderately well known unofficial heroes of the New Republic. We were still poor. Instead of taking a merc job for funding and sidetracking from the main story, our brilliant GM introduced a PR agent who agreed to get us sponsorship in exchange for marketing us. Most members of this large group (up to twenty players at a time) were either humble Jedi-types or stealthy types, but two of us took the deal. The perpetually drunken Ewok saw his likeness marketed by a toy company, and the Tickle Me Ewok became a huge seller. My Corellian Private Eye became a cover girl. Hey, one the elements I like about D6 is a complete lack of an attractiveness stat, so I can be as pretty or ugly or unremarkable as I like. It was the only time that character did not assume a support role. During an subsequent mission, we were followed by camera-droids who were recording our adventure for a for a reality holovid show (to the frustration of our sneaks). Negotiating with a sleazy agent and managing fame were brief scenes but very fun.

Why am I relating an old gaming story? A few months ago, I was asked what was my ideal campaign. I chose a Star Wars campaign which focuses on the celebrity theme. Lando has another crazy scheme, pick a diverse team to be new faces of the New Republic, saving the day while also winning the PR war against the Empire. I think adding fame to a game which doesn't otherwise use it makes for a much more dynamic and unique roleplaying experience.

Here's the point -- after being away from the game for ten years, getting published by another company, and helping to develop my own system, my dream game is still a D6 Star Wars campaign.

Jason Richards said...

Cool story, Z. The publicity angle just might work into one aspect of the campaign that is developing in my head. Not a bad idea, at all. Hmmmm...

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