This is cross posted with my gaming blog Other Worlds Than These.
Some of you may know me as a guy who is really in to Star Wars, I’ve written about it and put on enough shows and classes about the subject. Some of you also know me as someone who loves games. I’ve played, run, and developed several RPGs and LARP settings. So, when given the opportunity to do both at the same time, I decided to take it.
I created a tabletop campaign using Fantasy Flight Games book, Force and Destiny. Force and Destiny is one of three corebooks that FFG put out, one focusing on a specific part of the Star Wars setting. Edge of the Empire focuses on the fringer groups like bounty hunters, explorers, smugglers, and scoundrels; Age of Rebellion focuses on playing members of the Rebel Alliance, so you can feel what it’s like to be an X-Wing pilot or be a member of Rogue One. Force and Destiny is, as it suggests, centered on portraying Jedi or other Force Sensitives in the age of the Empire.
FFG’s system relies on the use of dice with symbols instead of numbers. Certain symbols determine the success and advantage of an action while others determine the failure and threats to that action. The symbols cancel each other out and the remaining is the result. You can have successes with disadvantages, or failures with the potential advantages. Much of the effect is determined through interpretation and narration. This is fascinating, but it’s also not initially intuitive for people used to more qualitative systems like d20. A friend had described the system as akin to ‘reading chicken entrails’.
Here is a brief video rundown of the system from a fan: Mechanics Video
Going through the core-book of Force and Destiny, I’m going to be honest and say that I’m not a particular fan of the writing. The language behind it is passive, and usually requires several read throughs to understand exactly what is being said. Even then, I had to go through several youtube tutorials and runthroughs of the book series. Part of this, I feel, comes from the sense that it is trying very hard to come across brand new role players buying in for the Star Wars brand. This came out the most in terms of the Careers and Specializations, with me having to fill in certain gaps, especially in the way that the different Lightsaber Specialists differed in style of character from one another other than ‘you use the lightsaber differently’. It gives you an idea of what they do, but there was something to be said about taking time to talk about what these specialists are like.
I will say that the Force and Destiny book does something that I truly appreciate. There are six careers in the book, classes that depict the styles of being a Jedi. In each is one of the first six of the seven Forms (they omit Juyo, assuming that most of the players are light siders). The writing of the Forms are short, but they give fairly good descriptions of the Forms themselves (again,the characters are another story).
I’ve played Fantasy Flight’s other Star Wars property, X-wing Minis. In their war game where you control ships from the Star Wars Saga, the company has a beautiful knack for tying the theme of the ship and pilots to their mechanics. This similar consideration for the mechanical themes of the Forms is what stuck in my mind for a while before I decided to sit down and make a game. I knew that, if I were to make a RPG, I wanted to do a story about Jedi, and the Force, and Lightsabers (because duh). So I gathered my roommates together, all of whom are gamers and game designers of some stripe or another. I wanted to sit down with them and get a better feel for the system and the writing. We are all nerds, and we wanted to see where we could go with this.
So this was how the story of the Seven Masters began.
The story of the Seven Masters takes place centuries after the events of the movies. The corebooks in the series takes place during the events of the original trilogy. I didn’t want to do this, because 1) I don’t necessarily want to retread old ground and 2) I’m living with people who know Star Wars as well as I do, the ability to get Meta about the whole thing would not put me in the mood. So, I did what most of the Star Wars fan groups do when they want to tell an original story: Put it so far in to the future that everything that we’ve seen before is considered legendary or a myth. This keeps everything away from stepping on the toes of being canon. It saves time, and aggravation of fans (or other writers) pulling out flowcharts and wookiepedia articles screaming
So the name ‘Skywalker’ is a footnote, and Organa is barely listed as a founder of New Alderaan. The Hutts still hold sway, but more and more gangs and pirates have control. Coruscant is once again the capital of the Republic (since Hosnian didn’t really do that great of a job in the Force Awakens). Out there, the Sith Remnant still exist, but if they are doing anything, they are being silent about it. Having played the Old Republic games, you learn that culture and technology runs at a snails pace in this galaxy, with advancements stalling to varying degrees for tens of thousands of years. Considering the used feeling of technology in Episodes IV, V, VI and VII, this may indicate periods like the Dark Ages at varying points. I digress.
The Jedi are much more lenient than before. They still maintain the tradition of finding and training infants, but they also raise older students to control their late blooming (or under the radar) powers. The Jedi Code, once seen as The Law of the Jedi (and still is for many conservative members), has returned to being a mantra to calm its users.
The game focuses on six characters, four of them are Jedi, two are non-Jedi and may or may not be Force Sensitive.
– Kothalas ‘Ko’ Vita (played by Nico): a Twi’lek former slave, being trained as a lightsaber duelist.
– Zara Dawnwheel (played by Abigail): a Human with exceptional Mind Reading abilities, but little control.
– Sanoia (played by Shoshana): A Zabrak with anger/discipline issues.
– Shalya Fortuna (played by Josh): a Twi’lek, and a stalwart exemplar of what a Jedi should be (or at least what they assume it to be).
The Scoundrels and Hunters:
– Amiwara (played by Gia): a female Wookie Smuggler, uses a device to translate shyriiwook…badly.
– Alto Spinex (played by Sean): a Trandoshan Hunter who is protecting Amiwara…despite the Trandoshans and Wookies hating each other for millenia.
After we had set up the characters and their sheets, we decided to go in to some light Roleplay to give everyone the opportunity to get a feel for their characters. There wasn’t going to be any dice thrown, just interactions with each other. We did this primarily because by the time we had made our characters and got a crash course on the rules, it was already 10 (we started at 7) and starting the campaign in proper wouldn’t have made sense. What follows was improvised for the most part.
Star Wars: The Seven Masters. Episode Zero (“Meditations”)
The scene begins on Coruscant, a the Jedi Temple. Sanoia, Zara, Shalya and Ko are all in a meditation chamber with Master Revas, a Mon Calamari. The meditation is working with varying degrees of success, Zara is having trouble tuning the thoughts of others out, and Sanoia is having trouble committing to the meditation. Kothalas and Shalya discuss their different viewpoints of being a Twi’lek, and express interest in being stationed on Ryloth.
Meanwhile, on Takodana, Amiwara is approached by Maz Kanata to deliver a special package to the Jeid. It is a hexagonal cube of black material with silver trim on all of the intersections. As Amiwara is preparing to leave, they are dragged down by Alto and told that they need to run. They flee to a freighter, and are soon attacked by armed assailants. They flee the planet and set to go to Corscant, despite Alto’s protestations.
Credit to this scene goes to Gia and Sean. They had suggested the relationship between Amiwara and Alto at the very beginning of character creation. By the time we got to the scene we realized that it was going to be the beginning of the relationship, and not backstory. So Takodana and Maz are now officially canon. As will probably be said in the future This Can’t Possibly Come Back To Bite Us Later.
They are greeted at the Jedi Temple, and lead to the same meditation chambers to await one of the High Council members. The droid makes an error, and leads them to the same chamber as the four students and Revas. All of the Jedi immediately recognize that the device Amiwara is carrying is a Holocron, although the make and design of it are not of the usual configuration.
There is some confusion between the six, which leads to the holocron being jostled. Sanoia reaches out with the Force to stabilize the device, which in turn activates. A hologram appears, showing a white, vaguely humanoid mask. It introduces itself as a teaching tool, and then asks its location. Upon learning it is in the Jedi Temple, it asks if the Jedi High Council is in attendance. Zara confirms that they Council is present, and currently in a heated debate, although she cannot discern the subject of argument.
Then, things begin to go weird. The lights in the meditation hall begin to flicker, and confusion is ripe in the air throughout the area. Attempts to stop the holocron is halted by the power inside of it. As Shalya runs to the door to warn the Knights and Masters, the holocron says: “Begin the Invasion”.
The game ends as the characters are all knocked unconscious by the power of the holocron.
End Game Report
This was a fun run, which aside from the holocron was more or less improvised on the spot. I had originally intended the game that will be happening next time to happen tonight, but it was good to set some landmarks on our characters and the setting before we start throwing chops. It also gets the players thinking more about their characters and their connections, to one another and the world. I love character ties, because it gives the game a tighter sense of self.
One of the greater challenges is to make this game feel like a Star Wars game. To keep the themes and tone of the series intact and inherent to the game. More challenging (because of course I couldn’t just focus on the damn smugglers book and went straight to the more complex force users) is to make a story about Jedi interesting. I’ve mentioned before, and will definitely mention again, that many people view the Jedi as boring and that storytelling with Jedi can be a challenge.
The inherent challenge in an RPG campaign is that it’s playing in a sandbox instead of on the rails that a movie script provides. How does a Jedi react to certain things when they don’t have an inherent prompt to follow and it is up to them to make the judgment call? What is the ‘line’ between Light and Dark? If the Force has a will (as Chirrut Imwe claims), then how much control and agency does one have?
This will be an ongoing campaign, and I look forward to doing these recaps, as I think that it will entertain and possibly help people looking to portray Jedi (and yes Sith) characters and tell their stories in a Galaxy Far, Far Away.