Playing the ‘bad guys’

So, consider this.

You have a group of five guys. A pilot, a scout, a highly connected noble, a sniper and a natural leader, all Imperial stormtroopers. They begin their story on a dropship, being dropped off on some planet and given orders by a pushy officer to do something that they later regret. Namely, the shooting of innocent civilians. Then, later on, they meet on the ship to discuss what happened and are not really sure what to make of it.

Then something goes wrong. This same pushy officer barges his way into a situation with the group that ends up with him getting killed. Knowing there will be reprisals, the guys steal his ship and abscond, becoming fugitives of the Empire in a matter of a few minutes.

What I just described is not a bad campaign opener, but it so happens to be the outline of the opening chapters of Timothy Zahn’s 2007 novel Allegiance. The ‘guys’ are respectively, Joak Quiller, Korlo Brightwater, Saberean Marcross, Taxtro Grave and Daric LaRone. And the ‘pushy officer’ is Major Drefin of the ISB.

I admit, that I am a fan of Timothy Zahn. And I remember reading this novel after it first came out and being rather impressed. It is not every day that you see Imperial stormtroopers among the protagonists of a novel along with Luke Skywalker, Han Solo and Princess Leia. Yet I think the situation with this group, who later name themselves the Hand of Judgement, is particularly interesting from a gaming point of view. Particularly when you examine the problems of playing as the Empire in the classic era.

 The Problem with Military Campaigns

 As I soon discovered with planning The Threat of Peace, military-oriented campaigns can be problematic. For starters, all the players have to be on the same page. While some games may work with a rag tag bunch of misfits being involved in battles and the like, this does not work all the time for Star Wars. All of the players have to agree to be part of this, either all be stormtroopers, the Republic Army, the GAR, whatever, in order for it to work. No exceptions.

And there’s more. If the game is to be played within the bounds of this organisation, they not only need to be legitimate members but have to play within the rules of this organisation. Basically, this means following their orders.

While this provides a nice and convenient way for a GM to keep players on the plot-rails, it impinges a lot on the creativity. While the Rebellion has quite a lot of latitude due to the fact there were quite a few rather independent cells (probably owing to the effect of West End Games on this era), what happens if you want to play as the Empire?

Well, I can see two possibilities which will still give you a little elbow room.

You can play as someone within the organisation that has a considerable amount of autonomy, such as ISB or Imperial Intelligence. There are equivalent organisations in other eras that will let you do this thing.

Or, you can take Timothy Zahn’s route.

 Allegiance from the GM’s Chair

 Let’s take the GM’s perspective of this story. I think the GM would start with a group of players who would want like the Empire and want to play as stormtroopers. They may even be members of the 501st.

They come to the GM with this. The GM explains the situation with military campaign as outlined above and possibly offers to make them from ISB. This is vetoed, so the GM explains that a few things may have to be compromised in order for this to function as they want and still be fun.

Whether he explains, to one player or to all, they need to follow through with the desertion is immaterial. With this campaign beginning everyone is exactly where they want to be. They can march around in the armour of a stormie and still be independent, in short they are stormtroopers without actually being stormtroopers.

And if you take a look at the party make-up, they are rather easy to categorise in terms of the Saga system. Quiller, I imagine, would be pure Soldier as he’s the pilot. Brightwater and Grave would no doubt have levels in Scout, due to being scout trooper and sniper respectively. Marcross would have a few levels in Noble before moving on to soldier to reflect his background. And finally, LaRone would have begun his character as Scoundrel due to his background and the fact he has quite a lot of Charisma.

This you can taken even further when you look at the ship the guys steal, with the amount of equipment on there, both exposed and hidden, it sounds like a player’s dream. Perhaps even a bit too much as the half a million credits seems a little excessive to me.

It does make me wonder though what Zahn would be like as a GM.

There are other examples of the Empire being the ‘good guys’, like the comic To the Last Man that I am planning to adapt as a machima film, but I think Allegiance is perhaps one of the best examples.

And in a way, it makes sense, given the involvement Zahn had with WEG in the early days.


~ by katanageldar on March 1, 2010.

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