Last week I shared a rundown of my year of Star Wars-themed games in a living campaign run on Saturdays that I called, prosaically enough, Star Wars Saturdays (read part 1 here: https://www.gauntlet-rpg.com/blog/a-year-of-star-wars-saturdays). This time I’m going to share some observations, discuss missed opportunities, and talk about my plans for 2019.
During the thirteen month living campaign, I ran eleven different RPG systems. Some of the systems were a natural fit for the most well-known version of Star Wars and the “backbone” of the setting - the original trilogy. Others took some adjustment and explanation, as well as discussions on tone.
The “best fits”:
- Star Wars World (natch)
- Rebel Blackbird
- The Rebel Few
- Impulse Drive
Each of the “best fits” worked from the angle of the PCs either being part of the Rebellion, or, in the case of Impulse Drive, closely tied to it. They worked well with missions, carried action scenes well without ever becoming bogged down, and emulated swashbuckling with aplomb. Rebel Blackbird was likely my favorite for high action and setting a blistering pace. The Rebel Few was the best at huge battles and dogfights, it was so cinematic with those scenes.
The “tilt your head and squints”:
- 1%er Swoop Gang
- Hutt Cartel
- Apocalypse World - Tatooine
- Void Vultures
I knew going in that 1%er would take adjustments. The original game has a stat called Fu@$s, which I renamed into Karks (my buddy Trevis Martin shared a link to an article on Star Wars Expletives that I still use to this day). Hutt Cartel is about spice dealers and corrupt Imperial Officers. Apocalypse World Tatooine has sex moves! And Void Vultures is about scavengers who venture onto space hulks to strip them bare (yes, Force Awakens has a bit of this which I really liked, but the setting for SWS was original trilogy, so it wasn’t our canon). I honestly expected to have to explain this more than I did, but the pitch, a.k.a. Write-up for each game listing on the Gauntlet Hangouts RSVP site, did most of the work to pave the way for the kind of game we were going to play. Also, having rocking players helps, of course.
The highlights of the living campaign, for me, were numerous. Two that I most enjoyed were the continuity that we established and built as the campaign grew, and the gentle brushes with original trilogy canon. I openly declared that nobody would be hanging out with Luke Skywalker or Princess Leia, but that they were playing in the sandbox of those movies.
- We saw the same PC in three different RPG systems (Zuto the bounty hunter, played by Michael Barford).
- We saw the same Droid PC in two different RPG systems (MR-34, played by Keith Stetson).
- Steve Moore, a player from the Apocalypse World Tatooine game, played the NPC cousin of his character as a Spouse in the Hutt Cartel game.
- Blaise Hebert was our resident Trandoshan expert who evolved and explored some of the EU canon on them.
- The PCs in the Rebel Blackbird game met the cousin of a X-Wing pilot from Rebel Few, and they first heard about the mission that the crew from the Sea of Stars game went on.
- The Sea of Stars mission dealt with B-Wings (it was another WED d6 Star Wars module: Strikeforce Shantipole), and one of the 1%er Swoop Gang 2 PCs was a B-Wing test pilot.
- Lieda Mothma, daughter of Mon Mothma, was saved in a mission during The Rebel Few, and she helped out the crew in Impulse Drive 2.
Brushes with Canon:
- The Rebel Few pilots included a daughter of Admiral Akbar (played by Tomer Gurantz)
- Mon Mothma appeared in Sea of Stars to give the crew their mission
- In Hunt the Wicked, the bounty hunter PCs arrived on Cloud City only weeks after the Imperials arrived and took it over, driving away the former administrator (aka Lando)
- In Star Wars World, Apocalypse World Tatooine, and 1%er Swoop Gang 2, there was many mentions of Jabba the Hutt and an appearance of Boba Fett (though it could have been Jodo Kast, we may never know)
- In the Gauntlet Con one-shot of Apocalypse World Tatooine nearly the entire session took place at Jabba’s Palace after he was murdered by Princess Leia
The 1%er Swoop Gang 2 had lots of brushes:
- an ex-Imperial (played by Aybars Yurdun) who went AWOL after his Stormtrooper squad was ordered to murder two moisture farmers on Tatooine
- they had a Jawa (played by Joshua Gilbreath) who was the only survivor from the Sandcrawler that was blasted to bits by some Stormtroopers looking for droids.
- this gang fought and killed the bounty hunter Dengar (who IRL I saved up a bunch of UPC codes and mailed off just to have him as an action figure).
Not everything was perfect, though. There are things I wish I had executed better, some things I flubbed, others that just didn’t land as well as I’d like.
Running eleven different RPGs meant I ran several games for the first time. While that’s good for me to grow as a gamer and GM, it meant sometimes I ran games less than optimally. I searched hard for reviews or explanations of game texts that confused me, or watched or listened to other people play it. But that didn’t always help (or wasn’t always available). Several times during Roses and Thorns (the feedback method I use after every session), I came to realize that I’d missed important rules and needed to bone up on the system before the next session. Other times, I came to find the rules system needed some tweaks to better support how we were playing. In the case of The Rebel Few, I did some research on dogfighting mechanics, from real-world articles on how it worked to thumbing through other RPGs for inspiration. Misspent Youth was a tough nut to crack for me. Luckily Robert Bohl, the designer, was very generous with his time, and there’s the Tabletop episodes that helped me, too. I still took a couple sessions to get the pacing of MY down, it’s a very different game based mostly on the order of operations and the specific intent of each scene.
I struggled with the core mechanics of Sea of Stars. I wasn’t able to talk through the game as much as I’d liked with the designer (Michael X), and I had trouble getting the PC vs. PC relationship mechanics to work the way it seemed like they were supposed to work. Because this was a beta playtest, I didn’t want to change rules without talking with the designer, so I felt like I was running half the game, which was a disappointment.
Due to the content of slavery in the Misspent Youth game (the PCs were Twi’Leks), I had a player nope the heck right out of the game, which made me feel really gross for a bit. It took me some time to work through the feeling that I’d failed a player in explaining the game setting and helping to include them so they could enjoy the sessions. The player was very generous with their feedback and helped me understand their problems with the content. I admired their bravery to be honest and leave instead of “toughing it out”. They made the right choice for their own fun, and I respect that.
Hunt the Wicked, a game about bounty hunting, seemed like it would be the most perfect fit for Star Wars. The designer, Ben Dutter, put out lots of great supplemental info, from hunts to a listing of bounties, all of which made game prep a snap! But in play, the game worked so differently than how I thought it would work. Conflicts worked with a few dice for character traits and abilities plus a bunch of a pool of dice, with target numbers defined by the skill the player was rolling against. Then players would need to talk through how they were pursuing their motivations in order to build up that pool. What should have been a gritty hunt for dangerous criminals sometimes felt a bit flat. I feel like some more experience with the system might have helped me bring out the most in the mechanics, but after three sessions, I wasn’t sure it was the game for me. It was a real bummer, because Ben’s a great designer and Hunt the Wicked seems so darn cool. I just didn’t crack that nut.
From a broader perspective, one big missed opportunity was that the different games played in this living campaign were only connected by three things:
- The original trilogy of Star Wars movies (as intended)
- Players who played in more than one series continuing the stories from before or “bringing over” characters or places
- Me, as a GM, carrying the canon forward, sometimes without the latest group of players knowing it unless I specifically told them (which I didn’t do much, I try to avoid being a pedant)
This did help with making sure the games were inclusive! Nobody had “homework”, it was egalitarian in that everyone had an equal chance to kick the story forward, shape and mold it. I liked that! But some way for folks to see / hear / taste the cool stories from before without feeling impinged by it, that’s something I want to figure out.
After a year of Star Wars Saturdays, some folks may think enough’s enough and throw in the towel. Not me! I mean, I am the goofball who’s completed the Ladder of Insanity for three years running (2016: https://rpggeek.com/geeklist/202592/2016-challenge-ladder-insanity, 2017: https://rpggeek.com/geeklist/219284/2017-challenge-ladder-insanity, 2018: https://rpggeek.com/geeklist/235380/2018-challenge-ladder-insanity). I’m nothing if not… crazy? No, another “c” word - consistent!
Seriously, there are more Star Wars tales to tell, and the Gauntlet continues to grow, so I’m keeping this thing going for another year, at least.
What games do I want to run in 2019?
Primetime Adventures happens in January. This is a game that is HARD to make happen in the Gauntlet short-run, open-table environment. So I asked for a four session commitment from all players involved. I made the same request with Misspent Youth, and we had a core 3 players who participated. We’re going to make PTA in the Gauntlet awesome!
In February, I’m running two spots of Hutt Cartel, using some of Mark Diaz Truman’s new playbooks from recent Kickstarter updates, and two sessions of Void Vultures, a game I want to explore further after only one session with it.
Beyond that, I have a short-list of games I’m itching to run (or run again), and for the first time:
- My Life With Sith Master (it’s gonna happen, Patrick!)
- Warbirds (with some Rebellion-affiliated non-mercenary squadron)
- Something re-skinned for TIE Fighter pilots as PCs
- Crush the Rebellion
- Using the RPG Stay Frosty for a Stormtrooper story
- Star Wars d6 REUP edition, but only setting difficulties so I can be lazy and not roll dice as a GM
- Jedi in the Vineyard
- A kickass Droids hack of Skeletons that Greg Gelder wrote
- Maaaaybe Scum and Villainy?
- Perhaps Night Witches hacked for Rebel Scum
- More Rebel Few, 1%er Swoop Gang, and Apocalypse World
Another thing I want to do in 2019 is run longer miniseries. I’ve had so much fun watching other Gauntlet GMs running quarterly series of games (Lowell Francis and Darren Brockes are two leaders here). I want to run bimonthly series, getting 8-9 sessions of a game in. Longer story arcs, more continuity, spread over more space, it sounds so cool!
In closing, Star Wars Saturdays has been an experimental living campaign that’s brought me so much joy. I appreciate all the Gauntleteers who gave this game a shot with me, and I cannot wait to keep it going into 2019!