I’ve been running online games for the Gauntlet community since we went online. I enjoyed running different game systems for new and returning folks. It helped forge new friendships and grow the community, too. After several months, I started to find the open table, one-shot or miniseries-only format a little unsatisfying for my storytelling tastes. I craved longer campaigns, ongoing stories, and character development. I wanted to find some way to shape the format of the Gauntlet game-running style to work for me.
In 2016, I launched a living campaign I called Gauntlet City Limits (GCL). The goal of GCL was to create a loose structure to run lots of light-hearted small press RPGs with some recurring characters and a slowly growing set of player-created neighborhoods within Gauntlet City. It worked! We played dozens of hilarious and fun games in Gauntlet City for a couple years. I recently brought the series to a close this year to make room for new things in 2019.
Riding high on the success of GCL at the end of last year, I started thinking about 2018 and what I could do next. I was jazzed about the resurgence of Star Wars in popular media, enjoying the Rebels TV show, excited for Last Jedi, and altogether hyped for that galaxy and fandom. With the power of Disney, it felt like it wasn’t going anywhere soon, and I was happy about that (still am, mind you).
Some of my favorite college gaming memories were playing the WEG d6 Star Wars game with my buddies Christopher Robin (CR) Cronan and Chris Norwood. Me and the Chrises spun wild tales, sometimes playing through modules, often just playing what CR cooked up. We never rubbed shoulders with the cast of the original trilogy (which was the only trilogy back then), but we tromped around in the worlds of Star Wars and the WEG books that expanded the universe. It was a wild ride and we loved every minute of it. Side note: CR was the first GM who ever created a piece of media for a game I played in. He recorded a “emergency distress call” from a starship in trouble that we listened to at the beginning of a session. It. Blew. My. Mind. I’ll always think of that when I work on stuff to set up for games I’m running.
With all of this in mind, I decided my new living campaign for 2018 would be Star Wars Saturdays. Rather than run a campaign of WEG d6 Star Wars, or Saga Edition, or d20, or even Edge of the Empire or the other FFG RPGs, I decided to do it my own way and run it like an anthology series, similar to GCL, where I would run a different game every month. To help decide what games I’d run, I created a set of guidelines to help me choose RPGs from my (embarrassingly large) library of RPG PDFs.
- run in miniseries
- game sessions run from 9-12
- need 4-5 players per session
- easy to allow for drop-in, drop-out play
- games I know relatively well
- prefer PbtA (to tie to +1 Forward podcast)
Run in miniseries - The Gauntlet approach for miniseries to that point had been to run miniseries a month at a time, so I worked in that framework.
Game sessions run from 9-12 - that’s 9 AM to noon, Eastern time. I did a poll with the G+ community and it was the most popular game time. It’s also convenient for me to be “done with gaming” by lunch.
Need 4-5 players per session - I knew we needed larger games because the community was growing, so I set a goal of looking for games that could work with larger tables (5 players in one online game can be hectic, I’d never choose to do more).
Easy to allow for drop-in, drop-out play - this follows the Gauntlet open-table approach. It meant I would need games with fast character creation that can be fun in every single session rather than paying off three sessions in.
Games I know relatively well - since I was already running a new RPG every month for GCL, I didn’t want to freak myself out by learning two new games every month. So, I wanted to run games I “got” or could learn easily.
Prefer PbtA (to tie to +1 Forward podcast) - what can I say? I’m selfish that way, I wanted fodder for the podcast I co-produce with Rach Shelkey.
Using my tenets, I created a short-list of potential games, then put out a pitch post on G+ (oh G+, how I’ll miss you). The pitch post was to stoke interest as well as put out feelers for new ideas from the community.
This is what I posted:
Starting this December and continuing through 2018, I'm going to be running Star Wars Saturdays
I love Star Wars because it's a universe of wild science fantasy with a grungy cosmopolitan lived-in feel, with hundreds of alien species thriving despite a despotic Empire that wants to control and subjugate them.
There's a mix of magic as a backdrop, some core ideas of good and evil that fuel a galaxy-spanning war, with action and intrigue always around the next corner.
Star Wars Saturdays will be an experimental ongoing campaign set in the Star Wars universe (timeline is the space between Revenge of the Sith and New Hope so we have some movie and TV canon to inspire, but NOT confine us).
Each month I'll run a different game system, but the characters, locales, and stories will all contribute to an ongoing narrative. Imagine a sci-fi version of Mercy Falls, We Hunt the Keepers, or Gauntlet City Limits. I'm going to create a wiki or perhaps just a Google doc (or something better, if folks have ideas) so we have a common resource for the worlds and people we see and create together..
The Potential Game lineup:
- Star Wars World (kicking off this December)
- An X-Wing Squadron using Era Balam (see the KS here: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/shadesofvengeance/jump-in-your-starfighter-for-era-balam-a-project-o)
- Jedi in the Vineyard (Dogs in the Vineyard with the PCs as padawans on an Outer Rim star system trying to solve problems)
- Apocalypse World set on Tattooine (Scarcity: power converters)
- Impulse Drive with a tramp freighter trying to haul freight in the Mid-Rim worlds
- Stay Frosty (an OSR game) with Storm Troopers (thanks for the idea +Tom McGrenery!)
- Lady Blackbird, but with Star Wars characters (there's a Jedi Blackbird out there, or I can tweak the original)
- My Life With Sith Master
- 1%er with a Swoop gang (Dwang yeah!)
- Probably something with Star Wars d6 ReUP edition (it's a classic, y'all, don't hate), maybe I'll even run one of the old WEG modules, for fun
- Crush the Rebellion
- Rebel starfighters in a re-skin of The Few
- The Hood or Urban Shadows on Level 1313 of Coruscant.... ?
- Night Witches re-skinned for TIE Fighters....?
I'm very excited about this new thing. We can have ongoing stories, the feel of a campaign, without the burnout of only one system. It's also an anthology approach, letting us switch focus and see different sides of the galaxy-spanning war.
If you have any questions, feedback, or suggestions, let me know!
(PS: stole the scarcity joke from +Michael G. Barford)
(PPS: Don't suggest Scum and Villainy, I need to play Blades in the Dark published version and/or read it before I even tentatively put it on the list, I'm not convinced this is a game I can run well)
December 2017 - Star Wars World - Omega edition
January - 1%er Swoop Gang
February - The Rebel Few
Star Wars World is a brilliant PbtA hack written by Andrew Medeiros, fully playable in the Omega edition. I used the Edge of the Empire module Beyond the Rim, which is quite solid with beautiful art and a swift plot that allowed for lots of creativity and free play like a PbtA game needs.
1%er Swoop Gang was a reskin of Robert Nolan’s AWESOME 1%er, one of my favorite RPGs in the last few years. I had fun swapping in Star Warsy words for this fun game about bikers. The PCs were a swoop gang on Nar Shaddaa in Hutt Space, making trouble for Hutt crimelords and tussling with their rivals.
The Rebel Few is a hack of an RPG about World War 2 pilots called The Few. My buddy Tom McGrenery pointed me to a play-by-post of it on Tavern Keeper, run by one of the original designers of The Few, who hacked it for Star Wars himself! I literally scooped out huge gobs of his amazing work to reuse in my game, reading his mission briefings and acting them out. I have no shame, his work was so very good!
The next three months I ran a couple games I knew well and a terrifying experiment in the middle.
March - Apocalypse World - Tatooine
April - Rebel Blackbird
May - Impulse Drive - Tramp Freighter
Apocalypse World - Tatooine. I’ve run Apocalypse World quite a bit, live, online, and via play-by-post. Rather than run a version made for Star Wars, my approach with AW - Tatooine was to run AW straight up. We changed the names of some weapons to be blasters, but kept all their stats. For the psychic maelstrom, I found a cool bit on Wookieepedia that Tatooine used to be a verdant planet before a Sith plot ravaged the world and turned it into a desert. Sounds like a great excuse for a psychic maelstrom, right?
As I expected, this game ran “like butter." We had a Faceless running around with a Sith mask from the Old Republic, a Hocus who lived with Tusken raiders, a Savvyhead raised by droids, a Togruta Gunlugger who was straight out of a noir film and a Brainer. It was an amazing crew. I will never forget the moment Tyler Lominack, who played a Force-wielding Brainer with a goal of maintaining the Light Side, realized that he had a set of Moves that pushed his powers into very dark places. It was such horror for him, seeing that he wanted to plant flowers and only had hammers and sickles.
In April, I ran Rebel Blackbird (https://jesseross.com/games/Rebel-Blackbird.pdf), a Lady Blackbird hack that Jesse Ross and I developed from Jedi Blackbird. It was thrilling to work alongside Jesse, a fellow fan of Lady Blackbird and all-around creative dude. We had multiple meetings before that game to hammer out pre-gen characters, develop awesome keys and traits together. I’m really proud of our work and excited to continue working with him. ALSO, this game had our first lightsaber fight! Pawel Solowczuk literally whipped out a lightsaber on camera and it was the most wonderful moment!!!!
May was Impulse Drive, a personal favorite PBtA game that slots in so very well with Star Wars. Maxime Lacoste and I worked on converting the playbook names and gear, but honestly he did the lion’s share. He also cooked up one of the most beautiful Character Keepers (Google Spreadsheet for online player character info) I’ve ever seen! (seriously, check it out)
The next three months, I tackled another light conversion, some beta playtesting for a Gauntlet community member, and a return to a classic.
June - Hutt Cartel
July - Sea of Stars
August - 1%er Swoop Gang 2
Hutt Cartel. I’d had the pleasure of trying out Mark Diaz Truman’s sharp Mexican narcofiction game Cartel a few times over the years he’s been developing it. From his successful Kickstarter in April, he released a Quickstart. I reached out to check with him to see if he minded if I hack it for Star Wars, and of course he was excited to see what I do with it. The game itself I didn’t touch. I renamed a few playbooks, and rejiggered the setup. I reframed the game as the Hutt Cartel on Coruscant on a subterranean level called 1313 (it’s over 1,300 levels down into the city, many hours travel away from any sunlight). I cooked up a little backstory that Emperor Palpatine had driven the Hutts off Coruscant in a big push for “law and order” and the PCs were the cartel that filled in the gaps, acting as proxies for the Hutts to move their product, all the while dealing with Imperials and the Black Sun, too. It was an intense and grimy game with double-crosses, nasty fights, and some tragic endings.
In July, I ran Sea of Stars, a game in early development by Michael X. The game has some really fun playbooks, and one of them was so exciting that we just had to declare that the Twi’Lek species has royal families so we could have a Twi’Lek Princess. We had a rascally droid, a scoundrel and even a Force-wielding Trandoshan (it was awesome). I used an old WEG d6 module called Strikeforce Shantipole as the loose frame for the game series, and it was so exciting to see the players meet a PC from the movies! The party worked with Admiral Akbar (who was a Commander in the module) to get the plans for the B-Wing to the Rebel Alliance!
In August, I just had to run 1%er Swoop Gang again. We had a bunch of new members of the Gauntlet, so I ran 1%er because I knew I could handle six players. I ran it for new Gauntlet folks only and while I was nervous going into a game where I literally knew nobody, the group was amazingly creative, engaged, thoughtful, and so very fun. We ran around on Tatooine and dealt with some of the fallout from the AW Tatooine game.
Coming into the home stretch, I violated one of my tenets, went a bit “out there” with a game, tried a game I expected would be a cinch, and returned to another classic.
September - Misspent Youth
October - Void Vultures
November - Hunt the Wicked
December - Impulse Drive - Tramp Freighter
I’d never run or played Misspent Youth, but during the Impulse Drive Tramp Freighter game I was describing a group of rebellious young Twi’Lek on Ryloth as “A group of punks who are starring in their own game of Misspent Youth”. That just stuck in my head and I decided in September to give it a shot. Robert Bohl, the game’s designer, was so gracious with his time as I asked him questions about the game, how to run it for five sessions, how to convert it for Star Wars, all kinds of stuff. Now, MY needs a consistent group, so I requested that all players sign up for every session. Turns out that due to shifting schedules not every player attended every session, but we worked through it!
October was a light month for SWS with Gauntlet Con and other events taking up my time, but I got to squeeze in a session of Void Vultures, a game about starship scavengers by Josh Roby. I couldn’t for the life of me find any AP for the game to see how it played, but I was able to chat with Josh, read and re-read the game. I wasn’t sure on the best frame for the game until Rach Shelkey mentioned the module Starfall, which had maps of a Star Destroyer and that turned out to be perfect for our session!
Hunt the Wicked. HtW, by Ben Dutter, is about Bounty Hunters, so it only took a little work to reskin it in the Star Wars universe. I’d backed Ben’s Patreon when he put out some bounties for HtW, so I reworked them for Star Wars and ran it straight up. It was a tight group of bounty hunters for two of the three sessions, but their last bounty was so vicious and challenging that it broke up the group! It was a sad ending to a team-up and one of the darkest moments in the SWS series.
I decided to finish up the year with Impulse Drive again, this time with a new tramp freighter and a new crew. It’s the freshest on my mind, of course, but it really was one of the most solid series of the year. There was this make-your-own family relationship between the crew members and a patched-together astromech droid that I simply adored. I didn’t push them to become heroes, but they decided to be heroes nonetheless, stopping a genocidal weapon and helping to bring an end to a proxy war.
Be sure to stay tuned for the second post in this series, where I will share some observations and missed opportunities from SWS 2018 and detail my plans for next year!