Thursday, July 21, 2016

The New Star Wars Campaign, Canon, and Making It Yours

I'm in a bind - I'm finally getting to run a game in a system I really like using a campaign concept I came up with years ago but I can't really spill the beans here because my players haven't figured out the big picture just yet. They know it's different, they just don't know why. The odds they would read it here are small but I want to see the look on their faces as they figure it out. Another session or two should do it.

Let me say this: The biggest complaint I hear (and have heard for years) about playing a Star Wars RPG is that "We already know what happens". This is a very narrow point of view - it's a big universe, both space-wise and time-wise and there are a lot of places and eras to play in without being upstaged by the movie characters. I've never felt constrained by knowing who blew up the Death Star and all of that story because I've never felt like that was the only thing to do in that universe.

Some people feel that way though so it can be a factor. Two things that drove my concept for this game:

  • I read somewhere that the best science fiction follows all the laws of physics that we know about now except for one. it might be FTL travel or psychic powers or whatever interests the author but that's a good place to start. These stories typically examine the impact of that one change on a society like the one we know now. It's an interesting way to focus in on a particular idea.
  • The best alternate history novels follow the history we know up to a particular point in time where things happen differently. The story then examines all of the differences that flow from that one change.
One of the attractions of using a known universe like Star Wars is the chance to interact with familiar things, but it loses a lot of the appeal if it turns into a museum trip where you can look and talk and maybe touch but cannot make any real change. Even if the GM tells the players that change is possible, a lot of players are reluctant to do so, to take actions that would send things "off course". 

In my experience the best way to get over that is for the GM to make the first change. This lets the players know that it's OK and they aren't trapped in a movie or expected to stay on the rails. Once that happens, in a big bold way, they know anything can happen - and you're off and running!

I feel like I'm being too general here so fine, I'll get specific: How is this Star Wars campaign different? Well, it follows canon completely up to The Empire Strikes Back. Then, near the end, one thing changes: When Vader says "Join me", Luke, battered and bloodied, says "OK". After that, a lot of things start moving and the rails disappear.

So that's my big reveal for the campaign. it's the same universe we all know and love except that one man, in a moment of crisis, made a different decision - and changed everything. 

Now to see what my players do with it!


Kelvin Green said...

If I ever run a Star Wars game it will follow along similar lines, except my point of divergence will be the end of the first film; I came to a realisation that I enjoyed that wild and inventive period in which A New Hope was called Star Wars and the only sequels were Splinter of the Mind's Eye and the Marvel comics, and I want to recapture some of that.

The first film is canon, but everything else is up for grabs. Vader killed Luke's father, the Emperor is an unknown quantity, Luke and Leia aren't siblings,and so on. I think that would be an interesting universe to explore.

Adam Dickstein said...

This is interesting. I always find this idea, the concept of an alternate history to a familiar, and much beloved fictional universe, very interesting.

I am also highly unlikely to ever run it, or play in it myself.

It's different if it's Marvel, or DC Comics, with their What If?'s, and Infinite Earths, but to do it in Star Wars, or Star Trek seems very off putting to me. Why am I in that universe if it isn't that universe? Why bother if the established story hasn't been established?

I'm the opposite of many people it seems; I don't want to have an effect on what already happened. It ALREADY happened. I want to have an effect on NEW things. I want to create NEW events. I want to be part of the tale you haven't heard, in a part of the galaxy you didn't know about yet.

The Star Wars Story film ROGUE ONE appeals to me immensely for this reason, as does the cgi animated Star Wars Rebels.

Leia gets the plans to the Death Star, and puts them in R2-D2. Fact. How did she obtain them? We don't know until that story is told.

There is a Rebel Alliance. Fact. How did it form? We don't know until that tale is revealed.

I'm curious to hear/read more and see where this story goes, as I've heard some great examples of this type of campaign recently. It fascinates me. I just can't bring myself to try it.

Blacksteel said...

KG - you may recognize some elements when I finally get that first session posted and I really like your "first film only" concept. I remember that time too and things were so wide open, we wanted to know so much more about the whole thing. Just going back to Vader not being Luke's dad - that could be a lot of fun.

BA - As a player I'm with you - I can play in a full-canon Star Wars universe game just fine and have a ton of fun doing it. This is a deliberate thing for me, something I've wanted to explore for a long time as a GM and now I'm finally getting to do it. There have been a lot of Star Wars RPG campaigns over the years where the players were the ones who stole those plans - now that's getting canonized so it's a tiny bit less room for PC's to contribute to the story. Making a deliberate break point prior to the campaign start ensures that kind of thing won't happen.

As a wild idea for a mix of canon plus extreme freedom you could go with the idea that the movies are just what THEY want you to believe. Do you REALLY think a single x-wing could do enough damage to blow up something the size of a moon? Do you REALLY think obi-wan just vanished when he was hit by a weapon like that? Do you REALLY think there's only one "Darth Vader" working for the Empire? Conspiracy nut Star Wars opens up some really crazy stuff. What if the Rebellion was created by the Emperor to give malcontents an outlet and to give his subjects something to be against, kind of like his manipulation of the separatists in the prequels? I'm particularly intrigued by the idea of 6 or 9 Vaders running around like Nazgul. Any dark side force user that reaches a certain level of power gets promoted to "Darth Vader" - I mean, it's a fully sealed suit that conceals everything including the voice! Only other force users would see the deception and they're all wanted criminals anyway so who's going to believe them? It wouldn't be my first choice for a Star Wars campaign but with the right group of players it could be amazing.