Playing Star Wars in Story Game Systems

I was having a chat with Rich Rogers lately about his fabulous “SWS” (Star Wars Saturdays) series, which he has been doing with great aplomb and great success for several years now. He’s run over a dozen different systems, using a different game each time (but always reskinned as Star Wars), and I figure it’s time we picked his brains about what worked and what didn’t.

Why? So we can have lots of fun doing the same, of course. (I may be personally running “Burned Over” as a Star Wars game on Sunday, so it’s quite immediately relevant to me!)

Anyone else, feel free to jump in, either to ask Rich questions or to share your own ideas and experiences.

My only experience doing this has been with Dogs in the Vineyard. It was a great success and lots of fun. The rules and structure of the game work really well (you just have to reinterpret “Guns” in the escalation schema as “Murder” or “Energy Weapons”).

However, in retrospect, the shape the games took was really much more Dogs in the Vineyard with Star Wars Colour - the gloss and aesthetic was there, and the characters were Jedi rooting out the influence of the Dark Side, but the overall shape of play was, at its roots, DitV.

This has led to wondering about this whole topic. My own take on that is simply that the Town Creation process in DitV shapes the game so strongly… for a more heavily Star Wars-like experience, you’d need to change the way the GM preps for the game. (Neither is necessarily good or bad; it can be really fun to see how a game system changes your experience of Star Wars, too, which is what happened when we played “Jedi in the Vineyard”. But it’s interesting to consider the possibilities!)

@RichRogers, you wrote the following to me a while back:

That doesn’t surprise me a whole lot! Sure, it’s possible to do a “dungeon crawl” in the Star Wars universe, but the themes and adventures we’re used to seeing in Star Wars films are much wide-ranging and full of personal drama.

However, would it be fair to say that another aspect of the experience which really makes it work is the energy and the ideas that the players bring to the table? More “narrative” systems tend to leave more room or provide more tools for the players to add to the game, and that would probably be a big advantage with a group of enthusiastic Star Wars fans.

Do you feel that covers it, or are there other ways/reasons that you think more story-oriented game systems have given you such consistently positive experiences?

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I think this topic is interesting in general (and I don’t think we should put too much on Rich to tell us “how to do it”), but I’m picking up this because it seems to me like you think this is a negative and I’m not sure why. Is it a problem that the DitV structure guides the play? To me it seems like that is orthogonal to the Star Wars-ness of the experience, but maybe I’m missing something?

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My experience with Padawans in the Vineyard felt very Star Warsy to me. One thing that helped was the frame for the miniseries. The PCs were padawans of a single Jedi soon after the death of Emperor Palpatine. Their Jedi master had sent the PCs out on reports of sightings of other Jedi or in one case, a dream he’d had about someone who has access to the Force. So yes, they went into towns to solve problems, but they also had a reason to be there.

It also felt unlike Dogs in that the padawans didn’t have the authority of Watchdogs of the King of Life like in DitV. That led to some interesting moments of how they do what they want.

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[quote=“Paul_T, post:1, topic:4449”]
However, would it be fair to say that another aspect of the experience which really makes it work is the energy and the ideas that the players bring to the table? [/quote]
It’s a huge part, yes. I love the RSVP system of the Gauntlet because folks sign up for these games. They want to experience Star Wars through a different lens, so they come to the table with their own Star Wars memories and ideas. I have players who have sorted into mini-experts, like how @Blaise plays these amazing Trandoshans, or @StevenW has played Jawa in a bunch of games, or how @SabineV5 taught me about Weequay, @LeandroP’s Starfall family of PCs has created our own mini-canon and even when @DavidMK asked about how a clone trooper would still be alive post Return of the Jedi and I was like “what? Why not?” Turns out they weren’t designed to live that long based on some Star Wars canon. Wow!

I don’t set myself up as an expert, I only declare the original trilogy to be unshakably true. I tell players we can pull from Expanded Universe as we see fit, ignore what we don’t like (like how a player recently X-carded midichlorians).

For me, Story-oriented systems work well in Star Wars because more conventional RPG approaches focus on combat, on trappings, and on mechanizing the different alien species. And worst of all, they try to mechanize light side and dark side.

As long as you can find (or carve out) a piece of the Star Wars universe where the genre assumptions of a Story Game fit, you can make it work and the buy-in is easier and it’s so much faster to get things running. No more session of world-building for AW, you drop down the Mos Shuuta map, let players make decisions about this town, and go.

Story Games (the ones I’ve chosen to use in SWS) care about the emotions of the characters, it doesn’t assume players will bring those emotions through during action sequences. It allows for collaboration and player authorship of their own world-view, which I think is really the heart of why folks come to the table to put their Star Wars dreams on the line.

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To elaborate a bit on a couple of @RichRogers’ points, with any game, not just story games, you’ll get the best experience if the content of the game fits the assumptions of the game rules. Since many story games are more focused in their approach to situation, when you adapt that game to a different setting you need to find a similar situation. Like, if you’re going to use Night Witches you need to have a Night Witches-like situation or the game just won’t work, just like if you try to adapt the rules for D&D 3.5 to play Desperate Housewives style suburban drama - huge chunks of the rules won’t apply, there will be other huge chunks you don’t have rules for, and whatever pieces match will be weakened by the parts that are missing.

For more simulationist oriented games (using the term generally and not in a GNS or GDS specific sense), there is often the illusion that everything is working fine since the rules tend to focus on the physical actions of the characters rather than their intent so the game will have rules that kind of cover that. Like for that Desperate Housewives D&D 3.5 game, you’d probably mostly be making skill checks with Bluff, Sense Motive, Diplomacy, and a few others and that would kind of work to resolve the actions of the characters, but it wouldn’t give you at all the same experience as if you were using a story game that was built for interpersonal drama.

So whether you have a game you want to use in a Star Wars setting (for example), or you have a particular situation in the Star Wars setting you want to explore in play, you need those two elements to match. If you have a game, find a situation suited to that game. If you have a situation, find a game suited for that situation.

On a different tangent, I’ve played a fair amount of FFG’s Star Wars games, and while I think they do an admirable job of translating Star Wars into the mechanical framework they have chosen in my opinion that mechanical framework is entirely unsuited to providing the Star Wars feeling. Especially the super high latency for resolving actions, the necessary tracking of credits, and the focus on highly detailed equipment specifications all work directly against the feel I’m after. So I would much rather look for a different game that has the feel and adapt it to Star Wars, like Scum & Villainy, which I think does a much better job of providing that feel - assuming the game you want to run fits in it’s structure.

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I’m really glad I started this thread; this conversation has already been really rewarding. Thanks! Lots of great posts already.

I think playing Star Wars in RPG play is a really fascinating topic, and hearing everyone’s perspectives on it is really enlightening. (I’m also planning on running such a game myself in two days, so it’s immediately relevant!)

I’ll hit a few interesting topics here, one by one:

I agree! One of the things that I consider fairly fundamental to the “Star Wars aesthetic” is how those details - guns, species, spaceships, technology - simply aren’t that important. We never see a gunfight go in someone’s favour because they have a more high-tech blaster, or because such-and-such an alien species has better eyesight. It’s simply not part of the style or aesthetic of the films.

However, it makes me wonder about the light and dark side… because those are quite fundamental to Star Wars stories. I think that there are some story game designs which handle the Light/Dark dichotomy mechanically and could be really fruitful for use in Star Wars.

Which might those be? One comes to mind for me, but it’s rather obscure so you probably don’t know it: in Tales of Entropy (a game by Petteri Hannila), characters have points of Flame and Shadow which they accumulate in play based on how the other players see their characters. They don’t limit your choices as the character’s player, but they do determine the likelihood of various options in play and the likely endgame for each character. (For example, having more Shadow makes it more tempting to access that power to win conflicts, but eventually writes you out of the story, as an antagonist or NPC.)

In a Wicked Age… could bring up some interesting considerations in this sense, too. While it doesn’t strictly codify morality, the Forms suggest a lot about a character’s morality (“For Others, With Love, For Myself”, and so on). In addition, your choices of dice line up nicely with whether your character ends up on the Owe List or wins the fight but gets written out of the long-form saga. This has interesting implications for the way a character is positioned in the story (and is fun to think about; somehow I’d never considered doing Star Wars in In a Wicked Age…, but it could be a pretty good fit for more prequel-like stories).

Dogs in the Vineyard could also fruitfully address some aspects of Light/Dark by assigning dice to a relationship with the Dark Side or the Sith, or letting players change their Traits with Fallout (perhaps changing “I am a Knight of the Jedi Order” to “I will bring down the Jedi Order!” over the course of the game, as happens to Anakin in the prequels).

I’d love to hear more about this! What was your prep/Town Creation like? Would you be willing to share it with us? Or just summarize it, if you have nothing typed up or written out?

What kinds of things did the Jedi end up doing in your game that surprised you?

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This is a good question! I wouldn’t necessarily say that it’s always a negative, but I do find it a really interesting “dial” to consider.

I’m basically curious how much of the Star Wars-ness is a question of “feel” and aesthetics (to you, or any given reader or player) and how much is about content and themes. Is it enough to have lightsabers and Wookies and a free-wheeling sense of adventure? Or does the game or story have to feature struggling with personal heritage, family ties, the lure of the power of anger (as symbolized by the Dark Side), expanding the lore of the Force, and the battle of the underdog against overwhelming but faceless evil?

Consider, for example, that all the Star Wars films (even the ones we sometimes wish didn’t exist!) deal with a family drama at their core. Some combinations of situations, games, and stories will feature one but not the other - the genre trappings but not the themes, or vice-versa.

I find the idea of trying different games and scenarios in a Star Wars setting quite interesting: sometimes it’s because of how they will warp and distort what I think of Star Wars, sometimes it’s because of how the Star Wars feel will distort those games, and sometimes it’s because they fit together perfectly. All are interesting to me! But teasing those out and experimenting with them is part of the fun, I think.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the above (anyone reading this thread)!

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Well, a while ago I somewhat embarrassingly came to the conclusion that for something to feel like “real” Star Wars for me it has to have the aesthetics of the original trilogy. The prequels and the Old Republic don’t quite work for me - no TIE fighters, no Star Destroyers, no (real) Stormtroopers. Lightsabers help, but they’re not enough. The new sequels are close enough to work for me.

But in a game I also need a more freewheeling feel than something like FFG’s Star Wars games gives me PbtA style games give me something that works much better for me.

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DitV does feel like Star Wars to me, but that may be because I never really cared for the movies but loved the Knights of the Old Republic series, where you do go to random planets and pass judgment on those planets, though you’re doing so as part of a main quest to find MacGuffins that happen to be on said planets. Ultimately, you’re still doing the same thing in DitV - you’re just stripping out the meta-plot that ties those random planets together. (Though I think it should be easy to add that back in, if you wish.)

I think Star Wars can hold multiple types of genres, “feels”, and aesthetics. See, the Star Wars galaxy is big. Like, absurdly big. In the Legends canon, there is a billion inhabited systems. The current Disney canon scaled down the galaxy to 3.2 million inhabitable systems, but considering how most Star Wars media only focus on a few worlds (cough, cough Tatooine ), there’s still millions of worlds out there that are undefined, waiting for some Gamemaster to worldbuild to their heart’s content. And that’s just the planets in one era…you can always go backwards in time (back into the early days of the Old Republic) or forwards in time, until you find/create an era that matches the style you’re looking for.

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Sure, I’ll share my Town Creation with you. I pored over RPG.net forum, the old Forge forum, RPGGeek, and everywhere else I could find DitV Towns that were already created. Then I found one that I could swap out names and Star Wars up a bit and used that core conflict as my first town. I hunted through my own SW material to find a place that might work for a bunch of Padawans rolling into town and chose Adarlon in the Minos Cluster, primarily because it was an Outer Rim planet (outside the Empire vs. Republic fight post Palpatine’s death) and because Adarlon has a booming HoloNET recording industry (like a Bollywood type thing), so I declared that they had Jedi serials they had shown, meaning the folks in this town knew Jedi existed and were “Good Guys”, which made the town feel more like a DitV town.

I was going to do the same for the subsequent towns, but then @DavidMK told me about a “Jedi in the Vineyard” town he’d made called Mercy or Ragas 3, and I just used that. It was such a fun premise (you go into town asking about Jedi and they say “we’ve already got one, how much do you charge? are you cheaper?”). I did add the flavor that their town was made of crystals (Miska’s Maps FTW!), but it was pretty much David’s thing.

As for how the Padawans surprised me? The second session was a wrap-up of the first town, and I thought it would be done in half an hour. But the players got into a very interesting debate about The Force, vengeance, right and wrong, salvation, and they ended up in a conflict with the Dark Side in two different NPCs, with very different results. It was awesome.

The last big surprise was the epilogues. One Padawans stayed on Mercy to help out since they’d killed the town’s “Jedi”, and another Padawans left the temple. It was fascinating to see how the trials of being out in the universe affected them.

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I think it’s great to see how much of “Star Wars” is in the eye of the beholder. For @Anders, it has to have the aesthetic of the original trilogy, and a lot of those familiar fixtures (like Stormtroopers and TIE fighters). For @igorhorst, the whole expanded galaxy is fair game, and there is a great variety of possible settings, styles, and types of stories.

I can definitely see how being a fan of a series where Jedi go from planet to planet to pass judgement would be a very natural fit for Dogs in the Vineyard, whereas for Anders, perhaps it would be stray too far from the premise of the original films. (I’m much closer to Anders in this respect, as I love the original trilogy, find the new sequels “close enough to work”, but pretty much ignore the existence of anything else when it comes to Star Wars. I’m not familiar with the Expanded Universe at all, for example, nor do I have much interest in it.)

@RichRogers, I really like how you used the premise of “HoloNET Jedi serials” to explain the notoriety and public acclaim of the Jedi. That’s a great way to adapt the Dogs premise to a group of young Jedi!

When I played “Jedi in the Vineyard”, I similarly assumed an attitude of hope and admiration on the part of the townspeople towards the Jedi, to match the Dogs premise. That worked really nicely, and made intuitive sense to everyone in our group at the time, but your framing of the HoloNET materials makes it much more spicy!

Do you remember which Town you used in your original game, by any chance? And whether one of these was recorded on the Gauntlet (I think there’s an SWS “Padawans in the Vineyard” video or two)?

I’d love to see Mercy or Ragas 3. Is it written up anywhere?

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I used San Miguel, which I found on The Forge
http://www.indie-rpgs.com/archive/index.php?topic=16251.0

My three sessions can be viewed here:

@DavidMK made it, it’s up to him to share it.

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The San Miguel Branch is a very interesting Town! It’s got a real “Western” feel to it, which is quite appropriate to Star Wars, and would work well on some distant mining planet.

Aside from changing names and reskinning things (e.g. the Mountain People probably would be some alien race, and so forth), did you change anything about the Town to make it Star Wars-appropriate? Or did you find it worked well “as is”?

@DavidMK, if you’re willing to share, I’d love to what you came up with (especially since it’s not in the recorded game - and you can share it with me privately if you don’t want it “out there”, no problem).

In the meantime, I’ve been checking out Rich’s SWS Tatooine game, and, with his permission, I’d like to lay out what he did for that game here:

  • Start with a specific and carefully-chosen time frame.

In this case, it’s Tatooine immediately after the death of Jabba the Hutt: the beginning of Return of the Jedi. An excellent choice for a variety of reasons, but mainly it allows all the familiar elements of the original trilogy to be in play, if need be: a great moment in the trilogy and rife for gaming. The “main players” of the story have left Tatooine, so their absence is clearly telegraphed, and the stage is set.

  • Present the players with a simple but clear setting to play in.

Rich brings forward a small town called Mos Shuuta, which he got from a module. There is a nice map and a clear sense of what the place is like. It’s Star Wars-y and clearly laid out.

The setting features a notable NPC: Teemo the Hutt. Putting him there gives the players something to react to, if they wish, in coming up with character concepts.

  • Given that basic but wide-open setup, the players launch into the regular AW character creation process, which gives us colourful PCs with connections to NPCs and the setting as well as to each other (Hx).

  • Finally, Rich kicks off the session by having NPCs deliver the news of Jabba the Hutt’s demise.

This is destabilizing inciting incident which leaves a power vacuum and an opportunity for scavenging, and starts off the session.

An effective but simple beginning, with room for everyone to establish a variety of characters, and no “rails” to follow: the ground is set but what happens next could go in just about any direction, given those starting pieces on the table.

(Rich, you let me know if I’m misrepresenting anything or missing important details! This is just my analysis from watching the first hour and a half of your session, as well as our brief chat about it.)

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The Mountain People became Bothans. The son who was suffering abuse was the force-sensitive person in town, so his desire to kill his dad for the abuse made things extra complicated. I did strip out a few characters to simplify the plots. That’s about it.

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You’ve got it, that’s about all I do.

Wonderful! How did his force sensitivity make things extra complicated?

This is an interesting subject. I know that there have been Star Wars like games, such as Traveler and Stars Without Numbers, but has there ever been a Star Wars RPG?

At least two. West End Games made one back in the late eighties or early nineties, and Fantasy Flight Games are still publishing theirs, though the line seems to be petering out.

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Bosty, the renamed son of an abusive father, was sensitive to The Force and his anger at his father had him calling out to the Dark Side for enough power to kill his father. The PCs intervened and tried to talk him through his anger, but they were left with the tough choice of whether to bring him back to their master, as a youngling, or stop him and leave him there with his parents.

Further complicating this, one of the PCs used The Force to teach the father the error of his ways. So his father was seeking redemption and a way to care for his son, but his son didn’t trust his outreach.

It was messy and complicated and they spent the second session of the game working through those issues. They even got into a conflict with Bosty and the kid drew the Dark Side into the conflict. Juicy!

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