A big galaxy far, far away…(Part 2)


Last post was so long that I decided to break it into two posts, I’ll continue where I left off. Which was finding the room to move in a published setting.

All of the players at the table are Star Wars fans, in varying degrees but the reason we all started to play was because we were fans of the franchise, the game came later. And because we already have some degree of knowledge about the Star Wars franchise, there’s a lot I don’t need to explain to the players as well as lot the players don’t need to explain to me.

There is a very powerful temptaion with choosing a setting that you are a fan of: you can let the fan within dominate everything else. This could potentially turn into a fantasy journey akin to a Hollywood star tour (pun not intended) of various events, places and people of the galaxy.

“And on your left, ladies and gentlemen, you can see the Battle of Yavin. This pivotal conflict with the Empire’s superweapon space station, the Death Star, will decide the fate for the entire galaxy.”

This can be avoided with some compelling storyline for the players, but that doesn’t mean you can’t use big events at all. I like to think of them as signposts for the players, both in-game and out of game and I use them for story-cues so the players can orient themselves in regard to what has happened and they know what to expect, so can plan their character development accordingly. An example is to use the galaxy-spanning media that is so much like this galaxy due to it’s on-going coverage as well as it’s immeidate assesibility. An event like the destruction of Alderaan or the invasion of Coruscant would be big news, that the players may know about even if it does not directly involve them.

The one draw back of these big events exposes another of the larger problems of using a well-known and well-documented published campaign setting. Big events, though they form part of the larger story which exists whether the players know about it or not, are not the story of the player characters. The events of the Prequel Trilogy is the story of Anakin Skywalker, Padmé Amidala and Obi-Wan Kenobi; the events of the Original Trilogy is the story of Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia Organa and Han Solo. These characters are the heroes (even tragic heroes, in the case of Anakin) of their own story. Is it too much to ask for the players to be the heroes of their own story?

In the last post I talked about elimitating these character from the story, and it’s a big ask of players to be asked to forget Luke et. al., and I think any GM that is considering it that is reading this blog should immediately reconsider. It’s not just a cheap shot, it’s rather lazy. While re-enacting the Battle of Yavin may make a fun and non-serious session, actually dfoing it with a “stand in” for Luke Skywalker and Han Solo could go very, very bad. And who said the players wanted to re-enact?

I have said this quite a few times in this blog and I’ll say it again: this is really about the players. But finding room in a well-documented era for players to have their own story can be a little tricky. But it’s not impossible. You can have your cake and eat it too; you can have be creative and still keep within the confines of the larger story that the players know about; you can have a group of PC Jedi with a battle for the Republic and then throw Order 66 at them.

Personally, I think this incorporation actually enhances a game experience. As in terms of stories, people don’t just like what they know, they like what they know happening to them. Hence the saying “I’ve always wanted to do that.”

Maybe this is why I chose the Clone Wars as opposed to a less-documented era such as Knights of the Old Republic. From my work in fan fiction, I am well aware of the delicate act of balancing my story with someone else’s.

And of course, since the players are the heroes of their own story, there’s a lot that isn’t known until it’s done. You can and can’t prepare for the unexpected, and I always find the unexpected the best part about gaming.

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~ by katanageldar on August 11, 2009.

8 Responses to “A big galaxy far, far away…(Part 2)”

  1. I have only played in one Star Wars campaign (as well as a few one-shot adventures) and the GM for that was brilliant! We did all of the behind the scenes things that were needed. The game started with the evacuation of the rebel base after the Death Star was destroyed and ended with the evacuation of Hoth, when the GM left town. But our characters freed Mon Mothma from imprisonment, purchased the ion cannons used to defend Hoth and a host of background plot points woven into the main story of the movies as out GM had an encyclopedic knowledge of the setting and was just the cleverest man alive to boot. I miss that game.

  2. It seems you’re advocating sticking with canon while trying to give the players an interesting story. This is a very delicate business and one that is usually doomed to fail. Players want (rightfully so, IMO) to be the center of the story. *They* want to blow up the Death Star, not hear about “that Luke guy” doing it.

    The problem that most frequently crops up is GMs who make the PCs the “wind beneath the wings” of the famous characters of the story. In one campaign I played in, the GM made us the bounty hunters who Han ran into on Ord Mantell (referenced by Han in SW:ESB), thus giving Han the impetus to leave Hoth, blah, blah blah. In another, we the players ran into Han Solo a year before the events of Star Wars and managed to talk him into gambling with our PC gambler for the Falcon. Of course the GM fudged the dice to keep us from winning because he didn’t want Han to be without the Falcon and break canon. Screw that! We should have been flying around in it instead. *That* would have been a fun game!

    So what I do when I GM is chuck canon out the window. This tends to anger canon fans, but I don’t care; it’s my and my PCs story, not theirs. We want to have fun, and my PCs don’t want to be second banana to the famous characters. So my last game, which was quite a hoot, involved an alternate timeline wherein R2D2 and C-3P0 were shot down over Tatooine during the first few minutes of SW:ANH and the consequences thereof. Luke’s aunt and uncle never died so he never left Tatooine; Leia never got rescued and eventually fell to the dark side (Darth Fury); Vader eventually killed the Emperor by pointing the Death Star at Coruscant; Kenobi eventually came out of retirement and became Admiral of the Rebellion, which was even more rag-tag than they seemed during SW:ESB; Solo eventually got caught by Jabba the Hutt and, although he eventually talked his way out of the torment Jabba put him through, never really recovered.

    The PCs had their own back stories and their own motivations. Although they quickly became part of the Rebellion, it was their decisions and actions that shaped the galaxy. They were the ones who found the weakness of the Death Star. They were the ones who faced Darth Vader. They were the ones who blew the Death Star up.

    The best thing about it? When I finished the campaigns, one of the other players picked up where I left off with his own story twenty years later, entirely based on the story we had created. It was quite fun to watch him chuck canon out the window. When we faced a cyborg Admiral Thrawn paired with IG-88 I nearly giggled with glee.

    Good times.

    The point I was trying to make is that you don’t need to worry about canon all that much. Use the setting and the denizens, yes. But the major characters of the movies and the novels and the events therein? Put them in the background, change them, or remove them entirely.

  3. @ seaofstarsrpg: Looks like your GM managed to find the balance between canon and fanon, keeping within what people know while also being original.

    @ randolpho: The fact that I advocate sticking with Star Wars canon probably says more about me as a fan than it does as a GM. I don’t mind spending time doing my research on the Wookiee and finding little bits where to put the players, as well as possible alternatives. Throwing canon out the window, while tempting, seriously suspends my sense of disbelief and I don’t think the players would be too fond of it either.
    But don’t think I’m a purist, well, not with everything, just big events. I’ve moved small events, which are documented to some extent but not a lot, and put them so the players can go to them. But the last thing I want to do is emulate the new Star Trek movie in terms of changing things. It may work with some groups, but probably not with us, at least just yet.

  4. Just wanted to say, recently found this blog and it’s refreshing and fun to see someone ‘coming into their own’ as a new player and GM of an RPG! I really like it 😀

    On this thread, I can say that is precisely why I would run a campaign of Star Wars in the Old Republic era. It’s wide open and huge! It covers thousands of years, has Sith and Jedi in good supply and it really is open ground to go crazy making your own stories and legends in the Star War Universe, but that’s my opinion. I can see the attratction of running a game during the time period presented in the movies as any fan will admit.

    I think you are doing great, and you have discovered and learned things as a GM that took me FAR longer…hmm….faster, quicker…more seductive? You sure you didn’t tap into the Dark Side? 😉 Seriously though, you are doing great as a new GM and I’m looking forward to reading more on the progress of your campaign and your gaming group. 🙂

  5. -=Nods=- I’ll agree with that assessment of the new GM, and I’m one of the players.

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  8. […] canon characters come with a great big glaring WARNING sign above their heads. Remember how I said that visiting planets can lead to a fantasy tour of the galaxy? The same situation exists with […]

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