Side Note: There are a few player complaints in this post but like all games no group is perfect, no games master is perfect and no player is perfect. As a games master I give players a lot of benefit of the doubt but I do have my limits. Expressing my thoughts here helps ease the frustration with players and lets me continue on with a clear head. This is based on my views and experience and I try not to take it personally while giving players the benefit of ignorance… at least initially.
When I look to start a new Star Wars campaign I have a few steps I go through before I am happy to look at characters:
- Agree on the Storyline
- Get an Overview of the Storyline
- Make Character Creation Limitations
- Have a Character Creation Session
- Determine Character Advancement and Story Modifications
Agree on the Storyline
There are a couple of periods in the star wars universe that you can set the game.
- Classic Era – This is the Rebellion vs the Empire era of the movies; Episodes 4 to 6.
- Old Republic – This is the time of the Sith vs Jedi galactic conflict set thousands of years before the movies and the source of the Old Republic and Knights of the Old Republic computer games.
- Expanded Universe – This covers the book series from the Thrawn Trilogy to the Legacy books that are no longer part of the cannon storyline.
- Dawn of Rebellion – The time of the rise of the empire and the formation of the rebellion set before the classic era. This includes the Star Wars Rebels series, Solo and Rogue One.
- Rise of the Separatists – This time of movies episodes 1 to 3 leading into the Dawn of Rebellion timeframe.
- Force Awakens – This covers the time of Episodes 7 to 9 and is the least detailed of all the timeframes in the roleplaying source material.
Besides the storyline there is the concept of how you will do the story. I have run a few different storylines concepts.
- Run the beginner games – As fantasy flight have released a set of teach you to use their games adventures with expansion storylines to give players and introduction to the setting and rules.
- Run the published adventures – You can run a series of individual stories, linking them based on how it is played and adapt them to suit the players. This is a good option depending on your preparation time as it does most of the work for you.
- Run a set campaign – There are a few campaigns in the various game systems and by running a set campaign you can specify an overall storyline upfront that the players are trying to achieve with there characters. This is the easiest game to run long term as it lays out the main stories that the characters are expected to do over the game. With a beginning, middle and end to the storyline.
- Run a character driven storyline – The last story type here is one based on the character backgrounds which is the most work but can also be the most rewarding. I generally only do these when I have the time and feel like I have enough player investment to make the effort worthwhile.
Get an Overview of the Storyline
Now that you know when the game is set and what style of game storyline you are willing to run it would be a good time to work out some other basics for the players before making characters:
- Where will the game start.
- What faction will they need to have some alignment with.
- What resources will they be starting with.
- What is the current organisation of Sith and Jedi for a force user.
Make Character Creation Limitations
Now that we know when and where they characters are, listing what sources are available depends on the rules used.
- West End Games – D6 System – This is a favourite of many people still as the rules are very loose and they have the most resources released for the classic and expanded universe eras. There are three editions of the game: 1st, 2nd and 2nd Revised and Expanded.
- Wizards of the Coast – D20 and Saga Systems – This was aligned with D&D and while a fun game was not a hit with the old guard (who were happy with no class levels). It also covered various era and its books were quite useful with their varied information. There are also three editions of the game: 1st, 2nd and Sage editions.
- Fantasy Flight Games – Genesys System – Unlike the other editions they released three separate systems that work together. Edge of the Empire for fringers and scoundrels, Age of Rebellion for the rebels and lastly Force and Destiny for the force users. The rules have since been released as a generic Genesys system. As a rules system this is my favourite as it is a cooperative narrative system that gives more power to the players, if they are willing to play within the system.
Now that you have the rules, what’s next:
- What Source-books are allowed – This is a hard one as you will get players who just use everything anyway and object to be told they are cheating when you discover them using forbidden source-books. When starting a campaign I prefer to start with Core books and only open up the others based on the game-play.
- What Races are allowed – Giving a breakdown of what races are available is usually as easy as saying which source-books are allowed.
- What Character Build Options are allowed – ie. What levels for a level based game, or what points to build from on a points system and what classes, templates or careers are available at character creation can set the tone of the adventure and campaign as much as the story. Not having force users at the start is very different from everyone being a force user.
- What equipment is allowed – This is also usually from the source-books.
Negotiation between games master and players is fine as long as the game masters gets final say on what is allowed or not allowed. Any player who takes it upon themselves to use rules from books not permitted in the game is (as far as I’m concerned) cheating. If you’re in one of my games and want to use a rule, gimmick or option from another book it needs to be run by me first before the game session or your ability to play in the game might be called into question. Players who continue to lie and/or bully (it happens) tend not to remain players in my sessions for much longer.
Have a Character Creation Session
Now that you have the base rules and have been notified of what you can and can’t select for the new game it is best to have all the players together and discuss what it is they want to play. This is a good and a bad thing.
The good is that the players can work as a group and build a bunch of characters that compliment each other and have an interesting and cohesive back story about why they travel together and trust each other. The bad is that you will get some players who will default with “I will take what no one else takes” and have no personal stake in the process as well as players who after the character creation session discard them and try to bring in a new character in the next session.
Another option is that characters bring their premade characters to the game session and you work out the details of integrating them as the character creation session.
The good parts of this approach is you have ready made characters who can use roleplaying elements to get their characters to work together. You can get straight into the gameplay and work a narrative into how they met, why they trust each other and what they have as their first objective. The bad parts of this approach is they can all be very similar builds or be conflicting enough to not work together that they want to kill each other on sight. Plus there are always the characters that are just stats, not able to play if a rules gimmick that the player has deemed essential is not allowed to be played (or their unique interpretation of the rules involved) so when it’s not ruled in their favour they ditch the character.
Determine Character Advancement and Story Modifications
Each session could have a set advancement, such as experience assigned to it, or upon completion of a story-line gain your advancement with bonus experience based on how well you achieved your objective.
This can also be personal for each character, or the same for all characters. Personal can feel a little like favouritism, where as the same for everyone can feel like someone who role-plays well is penalised, while someone who does not is rewarded. It can be a hard balance.
For my next Star Wars campaign I will be doing the following:
- Running the Fantasy Flight Rule.s
- Set at the Rise of the Empire era.
- Character options will be Core book and the Career book for their career.
- They will start on Coruscant.
- They will have a freighter as the party ship.
- They will know at least two other characters to the point of trust and who will cover their backs.
- Players who create a character with the group and then bring a brand new character the following session without clearing it first with the games master will not be welcomed to the table.
- Characters will be created and run their first session during character creation.
- The campaign will be character background driven.
- Characters cannot be considered evil.
This will give me a good grounding for what campaign I will run though it will require the players to figure out what they want to do as a story beyond leave Coruscant. This is planned for third or forth quarter this year.