This fantastic scene is a slightly changed color and cropped image of this piece, which was originally drawn by the incredibly talented Simon Goinard.
From the moment I tried Edge of the Empire by running the excellent beginner’s box, I fell in love with and became very interested in Fantasy Flight Games Star Wars Roleplaying system. Of course the tricky complication is that there are actually three separate products making up what FFG’s “Star Wars Roleplaying” actually is with Edge of the Empire, Age of Rebellion and the most recent addition, Force and Destiny. As I mentioned in the previous reviews, each individual game tackles an aspect of the Star Wars Universe and gives detail on that particular style. Edge of the Empire is about being rogues, bounty hunters and smugglers – effectively Han Solo or Chewie type characters. Age of Rebellion is where you play primarily as soldiers or saboteurs of the Rebel Alliance fighting against the Empire. Force and Destiny on the other hand, covers force sensitive characters hiding from and even trying to piece together the Jedi order from whatever fragments of its lore they can gather.
It is completely possible to run an individually fantastic game in any one of these systems, which are built to give each campaign an individual style and feel. On the other hand you can also do something really ambitious: Combining all three of the products into one and allowing players to make characters sourced from any of these books. This provides some tricky elements in terms of storytelling and is quite daunting from a “running the game” point of view. I say “Daunting” because if you got into this system late to the party like I did, you’re going to be reading three pretty thick books to get up to speed with the ins and outs of each “pillar” of the game. On the other hand to me this extra work isn’t even a consideration for why I would do this, because I really want to capture the feel of Episodes IV and V. In doing so, the source material in these two original films most closely resembles what the game looks like using all three books at once.
So I decided to take the plunge and make Hunters of the Force about all three books at once. Of course, having an idea for running a game and doing so are two different things. The first thing I had to do was determine which of my groups would be interested in a potential change to Star Wars. As my Trail of Cthulhu group had been playing in that system for nearly two years, I thought that would be a good place to start for a potential switch in system. So here’s my first tip on how you propose changing a system, start by bringing it up casually one day and see how your players react. In my case, I started talking about it while everyone was around a bit early before we started playing for the day. I got some enthusiastic supporters immediately from those who were fans of Star Wars, but also got some more skeptical views as well. So here is the second and most important tip: Give them a chance to try the game out first (including yourself).
I invited them all to play the Edge of the Empire Beginner Box, which back then was a new acquisition for me as well, with even the couple of players who were more skeptical being firmly won over. This made the decision to ask “Would people like to play Star Wars after Trail of Cthulhu?” a much easier proposition for me. The enthusiasm my players have for moving from my gritty, tension filled horror game to something that I described as more “Action Adventure in Space” has been great to see. It’s also something I’m looking forward to, as Night’s Black Agents, Shadowrun and the new Trail of Cthulhu game one of my other groups will be starting are pretty dark in tone. Having a game that runs very contrary to those in style, even if there will be moments of darkness or despair, will be good for my writing and plotting in general.
I already knew when I began writing this game that I wanted something that easily fit into the genre of “Space Opera”, which Star Wars and as another example, Mass Effect, both occupy. A Space Opera is essentially a large scale action-adventure story, which often spans a large number of interstellar worlds, encountering aliens (both friendly and hostile), warfare or clandestine military actions and a story with high stakes should the protagonists fail. Everything about the Star Wars Roleplaying game naturally lends itself to this kind of game and story to bind it all together.
Initially I had two main writing challenges compared with most other roleplaying games that I run. The first was that it’s actually three different takes on the same system and each does have quite a different focus. Generally speaking, Edge of the Empire is the “Grittiest” in feel and Force and Destiny is directly focused around “What is it like to be a persecuted force user in a galaxy suspicious of you?”. In contrast, Age of Rebellion is sort of in the middle of the previous two and does a very good “Military Science Fiction” style of game, if that is what you’re interested in. These differing styles are tricky to work together and require a very clear “overarching plot”. This is rather like what the original trilogies have with Luke and friends outrunning the Empire, which again, is close to an “All three” at the same time campaign.
Unfortunately trying to combine all three and then find a plot that encompassed this created my second story related problem. Essentially, I didn’t want a story that revolved entirely around either force users or someone that used it. This is after all what the original trilogy of movies is entirely about and so there is a degree of “This has been done”. At the same time, I wanted to have a plot that let me explore some interesting concepts for this period of time in Star Wars such as “What exactly did it mean to be a Jedi?”, “Who fights for the Empire and why?” and “What methods should the Rebellion consider as ‘too extreme’ in order to defeat the Empire?”. While the game does have force users, lightsabers and other trappings “expected” of Star Wars, I deliberately ensured that the plot was not reliant on these elements to be compelling. As a result it started to move into a genre of a galaxy spanning adventure, with a distinct focus on finding new methods or allies in order to defeat the Empire.
A military styled game – at least at the outset – was a simple way to provide a homage to the original trilogy and provide logical ways for the players characters to work together. Edge of the Empire characters can be easily “hired” to help work with the Rebellion, characters from Force and Destiny may be using the rebellion to “hide” and of course anyone from Age of Rebellion just fits right in. Additionally having a somewhat military based theme to the campaign let me indulge in my great love in science fiction: space battles. Another great thing about deciding to make starship combat and interstellar travel to numerous locations important, aside from the adventure aspect, is how many character options it opens up. You can have a crack ace pilot from the rebellion, or someone more like Han Solo as a skilled smuggler pilot, be consistently useful for their piloting/gunnery skills. Likewise, the classes in the core books who focus on exploration and discovery of new worlds like the seeker or colonist, are very handy indeed.
Adding to Star Wars
Of course, I wasn’t really wanting to run a straight up “military” style game for the entirety of the campaign. There had to be a degree of intrigue and mystery, which justified wandering to far off worlds well beyond the control or either Imperial or Rebellion interests. An additional function was that I wanted to provide myself a less obviously black and white contrast between the two factions. Where the movies portrayed a clearly villainous Empire and it’s obviously heroic Rebel opponents, I needed a villain who was not inherently aligned with either side. In order to do this, I decided to add my own “villains” and look through the lens of a group who view both Jedi and Sith with contempt. An enemy who remembers the former Republic and scoffed at its reliance on the now fallen Jedi Order. Equally, my “villains” find the Sith ruled Empire as preposterous and in such disarray due to the Rebellion, as evident by the recent destruction of the death star, that now was the time to finally strike.
Adding an entire group of villains and then effectively telling a story around them, is actually a fairly bold choice when using a well known setting in many ways. Often when using an established setting like Star Wars, there is often a temptation to not “add” to it or change elements to the game masters liking. Effectively there is almost a fear of going “off script” and not having the Empire or well known villains like Vader or Sith behind everything. In some ways this is because some GMs feel their players will want to inherently defeat Vader themselves or meet Luke Skywalker. This problem often occurs in well loved settings with large amounts of metaplot, such as the Dungeons and Dragons setting of Forgotten Realms with its hordes of well known high level NPCs.
Getting around this involves taking firm charge of the games universe and actually not being afraid to just make it your own. It’s well worth noting that all three of the Star Wars Roleplaying books emphasize this point extremely well. They are not making books to let a DM just follow what happens in the movie, but to use the wonderfully diverse and fascinating setting of Star Wars to make their own stories. One of the best things I noted from Age of Rebellion was a discussion on the morality of the Empire and the Rebel Alliance. Here the book strongly emphasized that the Empire could have individuals who act morally, while the Alliance can have some genuinely ethically repugnant commanders. While the morality of the two core factions isn’t strictly good vs. evil, I don’t want to try reinterpreting or turning every element of the original trilogy into its opposite. I honestly didn’t feel there is a lot of merit to focusing on a “The Rebellion is just as bad!” story and I don’t think it’s one that would be compelling to my players.
So in order to make a compelling story from both my POV and hopefully my players, I decided upon creating my own villains and cast of characters. The process of creating something new in “someone else’s” setting and not inherently relying on just what the movies or books offer can be rather intimidating. As a result it can be seen almost as “sacrilege” to change or add entirely new elements to an established setting. For a comparison, I actually see this problem a lot with Lovecraftian inspired horror games like Trail of Cthulhu. There is almost a slavish devotion to the original source material, with the way certain gods work or how individual mythos horrors act needing to stay “close” to Lovecraft’s original stories. In many ways my post about how I interpret the Elder Sign was along these lines and how taking ownership of a setting is not defiling the source material, it’s using it as the base inspiration to tell your own story.
A core point with how I use the Elder Sign was to do so in a way that both met and subverted players expectations. In the case of Star Wars, turning the game away from the Empire being the villains and portraying the Rebel alliance as evil would be fairly controversial. On the other hand, using the existing material to add some moral grey to both the Empire and Rebellion, while still keeping the overall tone similar is a much easier to justify position. By subsequently creating my own faction and tying the story around them, I’m able to have any kind of flexibility in characterization or central antagonists that I desire. At the same time, by still keeping to my players expectations about the universe and how the core factions “work”, I make the setting and game readily approachable. This is especially with my players who are a mix between existing Star Wars fans and those who aren’t as hugely into it.
Tying in the Beginner Boxes
To make getting into working with the setting easier, I decided to start with the three beginner boxes and the general storylines established in those. As I ran each of the +beginner boxes with different players, I effectively had different people portray and establish the initial pregen characters across a variety of locations. This means that most of the content, like the maps and similar, are pretty new to the group that will be playing Hunters of the Force (with the exception of Edge of the Empire and one player who was in Age of Rebellion). Reusing the three locations, planets and some of the characters is actually quite a good idea for a few reasons. For one, it reduces my initial workload and gives me a lot of time to learn how to make compelling adventures. I gain this extra time simply because I can reuse the excellent maps, tokens and other handy things the beginner boxes came with.
Another great thing I can do is bring back the characters my group played as during the beginner boxes as NPCs. Due to having played the character in the past, it’s a good way to build up a quick attachment with the group to an NPC and already “feel” like they’re good old friends. Additionally these former pre-gen characters already have full character sheets, so will be suitable for guest players to come along for a session or so (if required). Referencing the things that happened during the times I ran the different beginner boxes, even if it does feel a bit “in jokey”, gives what happened in those games additional weight. When you let players see that their decisions matter in that universe, even from a game that was just a one off session, it clearly reinforces the idea they really do have an impact on the overall setting. In other words, I do this because it clearly shows my players the setting is affected by everyone’s action and decisions: Not just mine (or what’s written in the book).
Another benefit of using the beginner boxes in this manner, is by taking the players somewhere familiar first I can more quickly get everyone into the game. Edge of the Empire is best for this, even with two of the players having not experienced it, because it’s set on a very familiar world in the Star Wars universe: Tatooine. This rough desert world of general lawless Hutts and moisture farmers is as iconic as it gets, so provides a good familiar anchoring point. Additionally when I ran Edge of the Empire, I also deliberately seeded some potential campaign ideas into the Krayt Fang during some extended scenes. It thus made a lot of sense, given the potential story hooks I had implemented there, to have the players initially return to Tatooine first.
After all, according to recently gathered intelligence from a group of rebels returning to Hoth aboard a captured ship the Krayt Fang from Mos Shuuta, something of great value had been gifted to Teemo the Hutt. An ancient artifact known as a holocron, had apparently been used as payment by the former owner of the Krayt Fang to the Hutt. This was because the Krayt Fang needed to land out of necessity, in order to make major repairs and it seems the mercenary underestimated the value of his prize. Now Teemo has it and it is only a matter of time before his Imperial contacts get wind of the artifact for themselves. Assembling a small team to return to Mos Shuuta, Rebel command decides it’s better to try to retrieve the artifact before the Imperials realize what they potentially have and take it.