A big galaxy far, far away… (Part 1)
I’m having an extended friendly argument with a friend who is a dM. Aside from from him giving me tips from his thirty years of experience and many amusing stories (such as how his barbarian managed to destroy a PC wizard’s spellbook) he has an ongoing disagreement with me about my using of a published campaign setting. But, despite the fact that I do use Star Wars, don’t a sizable portion of the gamers in this galaxy use one?
Bear in mind, he hasn’t played with official D&D rules since 2nd Ed came out, or as far as I can tell anyway. He uses his own home brew system which I have had the opportunity to look at, but I think involves far too much randomization and not enough choice. However, though he and I agree that completely relying on published modules is akin to reading a play, using a published setting does have its advantages. And not just because it’s recognisible.
This post I’m going to try and explain the various things I have encountered so far in using the Star Wars Saga setting. Partly to explain things for the benefit of those reading, and partly for myself. Posting this has been rather helpful, as I’ve been able to arrange my thoughts on the system in more or less a cohesive order.
Personally, I think Star Wars is a rather different approach to gaming because largely the game is the secondary focus. Unlike with D&D which does have novels that, from what I gather, are rather secondary to the game. In Star Wars there’s the films, novels, comics, computer games and the TV shows that make up the larger continuity. The game strives to emulate a more personal experience that a Star Wars fan has as an outsider, which is why it trots behind the greater story of Star Wars rather like an infant cousin.
This creates huge problems for a GM, as it is not just possible but probable that a player at the table will know more about Star Wars than they do. It creates a different sort of rules lawyer, call it the Continuity Lawyer if you wish, and I remarked on it in an earlier post.
The problem is not just about content, but the way the setting is organised. Back to my limited knowledge of D&D, I take it that the setting is pretty much “realm based” and each of these realms has their own rules and expectations. Also, many DMs create their own “realms” aside from the published ones such as Greyhawk, Forgotten Realms and Eberron. There is also, to some extent, the thing about multiverses though I have only heard this in passing.
Star Wars is much more linear in it’s approach to things, you could call it a lot more realistic. A GM choosing a campaign setting in Star Wars does not ask the question “What?” or “Where?” but “When?”. Specifically, what year the game is set in. This is a critical choice as it affects the style of play and how much control the GM wishes to have over their storyline.
The current campaign settings published by Wizards are Knights of the Old Republic, Dark Times, Clone Wars, Legacy and Rebellion Era. There are no announcements to date of further campaign guides, but this pretty much covers about 60% of the Star Wars continuity. Of course, there is nothing stopping a particular savvy GM using different elements (as well as existing ones) to do an New Jed Order era game just as there is nothing stopping a GM going to a specific year (perhaps far in the future or past) and creating something completely new.
There is a third option, which is disregarding the fact that the main heroes of Star Wars ever existed and going for a completely alternate universe approach. I’ll address the potential problems with this in part 2 of this post, but I have yet to encounter a GM who would do this.
To best illustrate this, I’m going to go through my reasons for choosing the era that I did, which is the Clone Wars, so I can explain what were my main motivations for doing so.
Firstly, it came from my own knowledge and what was most easily accessible to me as a Star Wars fan, not as a gamer. I chose the Clone Wars era beforeI had a group to play the game, the players simply liked it enough to stay with the era but it was really my decision alone at first. I wanted an era of Star Wars that I knew very well so I could get on with learning to play and not worry about story too much, as despite the fact that my favourite Star Wars film is The Empire Strikes Back, the Prequel Trilogy is what I am most familiar with. Probably to do with the fact that I spent so much time there writing fan fiction.
Secondly, the Clone Wars era gave me a lot of elements that I knew I wanted to use, and use quite easily. While having random Jedi running around in the Empire era works for Star Wars Galaxies, I couldn’t justify this without an actual mindtrick. I wanted intrigue and slumming as well as high politics (or the potential for it, we haven’t gotten there just yet), I wanted big epic battles of several kinds, and I wanted Jedi. The Clone Wars gives me all this, and more.
Lastly, the Clone Wars is of a limited time, three years it lasted for. This gives quite a bit of time to play with the various elements of the Republic, and before it gets too boring I could end it all and start the Empire. And after the Empire starts, there a lot more time to be creative which I knew I could do better after the things I learned as a GM in the Clone Wars.
Now, I look back with mixed feelings at my decision of the era of when to play. We’ve stuck with it because all the players like it, but there’s a huge disadvantage as well as advantage of doing an era that is so recognisable and has a sizable amount of content that covers it. And this is what I plan to address in the next post, where I’ll discuss finding the room for the players to move about.
~ by katanageldar on August 9, 2009.