Sunday, June 18, 2017

Rookies - First Time GMs

So it's Father's Day, and I like many parents in this hobby have the pleasure of sharing gaming with my step-son. He's played in one campaign of mine and is lining up to be in the next one. He's come along as a player.  

In the meantime, he's started playing games with his peers; his own friends from high school and college. Actually, he's started down the path of game-mastering, running games for his friends. Frankly, I dimly recall my own first time experiences running games back when I was his age; another decade...hell, another millennium ago. Not only that, but when it comes to Star Wars gaming, I ran 5 whole systems ago. The West End Games system had different rules, but not really a different vibe. WEG's system was ahead of it's time, it had a narrative core layered on with rules and crunch bloat.

As I said, I don't recall much of specific challenges I faced when I was my son's age, but as an exercise, I realized it could be an interesting experience to talk to Jason about the challenges he's facing as a rookie GM.

So why did you want to run a Star Wars game?

Because I've been playing it enough, I wanted to try being the GM.  It's the game system I've enjoyed the most out of what I've played.
What else have you played?

Mutants and Masterminds, the White Wolf games like Vampire, Werewolf, and those. What's their fantasy game...Exalted?  I think I played one of your Rifts modules, but not in the Rifts systems (likely one of my many attempts to hack it to another system).  

I tried the latest Marvel Super Heroes game, but I found the system too complex.

How many times have you run a game?

Three times so far, and they've been all really small groups; 2 people. I've got 5 players, it's just problematic trying to get them all together, so I run with whoever can show up.
Talk to me about your experiences running the game; what aspects are you finding a challenge and is anything coming to you easy?

I've been running adventure modules so far, and it involves a lot of "fleshing it out". They give you a good map to follow, and suggest a lot of stuff for plotlines in between; side quests and things like that. I've been trying to do that, but I've had two problems; the first issue is I've found that fleshing out the book's suggestions is tough.

The other problem is my PCs are relatively new to this, and are more focused on following the main storyline, so some of the side quest stuff is out of their interest.  Like, in Mask of the Pirate Queen, the players are eager to take the bounty contact without doing any background checks on the employer or obtain any information about the target of the bounty. They just want to take the contract and advance the story line.

As far as what's easy?  Combat is really easy, the PCs are all over that, and I enjoy the way the Star Wars system works. It's so open for what you can try to pull off with the results of the rolls.

Rules wise, what's the hardest obstacle you've found?

When I can use skulduggery (laughs) It's really just that you can use a variety of skills for a variety of situations. I'm just trying to figure out which skill you want to use or how to use it given any situation I encounter.

You're running your players through several printed modules. Do your players do what you expect, or are they going "off the rails"? Do you think the books handle that problem, or are you having to come up with your own solutions?

They're not even going off the rails, they're pretty much sticking with them. They straight-line the plot line and don't get distracted with any side topics.  Although they did decide to murder a Rodian shop assistant...

It's like they're playing Diablo; follow the main story and no side quests.

Do you want to create your own adventures?  Any ideas of what you want to come up with for a story or plot idea?

Absolutely, but I'm kinda stuck on what I'd want to do for an adventure with them. Thus far we only have one person in the group who's gamed before. Bringing the newbies through the various adventure modules is a good start. But I'll eventually run out of modules.

Honeslty, I think I'd like to run something similar to Beyond the Rim; find something, retrieve it, have stuff happen in between, and then they discover what they retrieved isn't what they originally thought. 

What setting would you like to run the game in?  Rebellion? Outer Rim?  Force and Destiny?

Probably a freeform game. If everyone shows up we've got two Edge of the Empire characters and three Force users. I think Edge of the Empire is the way to go for this group.

How have your players been taking to the game?

They seem to enjoy it. I mean, they show up, throw some dice, attempt to kill people, and have a good time.

What's their play style?

"Blow everything up". The last game I played that my buddy Everett was running, we had two Hired Guns, two Bountry Hunters, and me as the Demolitionist.  So yeah; "blow everything up".  We had to rescue someone from a building and the other players started throwing explosives through the windows.

I can't image that ended well.

Thankfully the guy we had to rescue was on the second floor.  Everything else got demolished. Anything we might have wanted on the first floor was completely wrecked.

It was all high school guys; no one wanted to be the talker, they all wanted to just wreck things.

I had that phase...

Honestly I'm surprised because two of them didn't go Force Users this time around.

Because they haven't blown stuff up with the force yet.


I'm trying to think of my own experiences, and I'm having a hard time doing it. When I was your age running games, I mean.

When I started playing, I wanted to go straight combat. With your Another Longshot game, I decided not to go full combat. Let's be honest, everyone in my group was a tank or a beatstick.

Right?  Do you find yourself wanting to spread out more?

Yeah, that's why I want to go part mechanic for my next PC. As opposed to maxing out agility and shoot everything off the map.  

But that's fun too.

True! That being said, with some of the mechanics stuff for Rigger, it's really useful.

Any final thoughts on running and being a new GM?

I need to write stuff down if I want to make a game. Otherwise I'm not going to have a clue where to continue games.  I need to write down NPCs, planets, names, backstories; write it all down and keep track of it. I haven't really remembered every character's name when I played Longshot as a player. It's important to do that now that I'm a GM.

I do like using a white board for combat scenes.  In one of your games you did that, and I liked that. My players found it really useful to see where opponents and hazards are. So I'm going to keep using that.

Thanks for participating, Jason!
I gotta say, I'm having a "proud papa bear" moment when I think of my stepson sitting down behind the screen and running games. 

He keeps wanting to borrow my books, though...and I need them too.
Finally, a big nod of thanks to my wife for suggesting this topic. She's a real smartie, that one.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Coloring Within The Lines

One of the biggest personal obstacles I encounter when I'm creating a Star Wars campaign is how close to canon I'm going to keep the game. I've done games where the PCs interacted with established canon (with no adverse effects to the movies), and campaigns that completely tossed canon right out the window. Sometimes it's fun to rub elbows with Skywalker, Solo, Organa, and Vader. Other times I want to keep them as far away from it as possible. Not necessarily because I want to "preserve the story", but more because those stories have been told. By interacting with the movie characters, the PCs may feel like they're simply supporting cast for "the Big Three". That's not their role, though; they're the Player Characters. This is their story, and they deserve an epic as big as any Star Wars hero who's appeared on screen to date.

Aside from the aforementioned "tossing canon out the window", there are several tricks to keep your campaign within canon, but not interacting with canon. I find myself utilizing this when I put together a new Star Wars game.

Location, Location, Location

One of the first questions I ask myself when creating a new game; when does the story take place? Star Wars has a rich history, even if most of it now falls into the category of "Legends", and is no longer established canon. You've got the Old Republic era, thousands of years before the movies. You could even go farther back than that to the formation of the Republic and the fall of the Infinite Empire, and give the game a real "space fantasy" feel. You could play in the Fall of the Republic/Clone Wars era, or the Dark Times. The product line from Fantasy Flight Games is currently written from the standpoint of the Rebellion Era, and much of the media since Disney took over Lucasfilm has been focused on a return to that time. There's the New Republic era, both in the books from the last 25 years and the newer version that Episodes 7-9 will show us. The Yuuzhan Vong war, the Legacy Era, even farther beyond you could make up your own future where your PCs are Skywalkers, Solos, Antilles(es?), Calrissians, and a host of other famous family members.

So "which era to run" is my first question. Once I have that, the next location to decide is where in the galaxy is the game focused? Some campaigns I've run had no specific central location in the galaxy, they just sort of happened wherever the PCs wanted (or needed) to go. This felt rather epic, as the story swept across the galaxy to a score of worlds the the PCs would likely never come back to. However, the games where I had the most fun were ones that had a central location; a place for the PCs to get familiar with, get to know the people and unique places within, and gave them a sense of "coming home" every few sessions. 

I sort of equate it to the difference between shows like Star Trek (Original series or Next Generation) and Battlestar Galactica versus ones like Deep Space Nine and Babylon 5; with one the new location is the exciting discovery or unknown threat, while with the other there's a general desire to protect your home from threats that come to it, or dwell within it. This is a generalization and simplification to be sure, but I hope you get my meaning.

The Right Amount of Seasoning

A sad consequence of growing old was the dawning realization that I can't game like I did in college; not if I want to maintain a healthy social balance among my family and friends. No more weekly games for me, the games typically need to be spread out to months between sessions. This can make sweeping epics very hard to maintain, as I was reminded of with my last campaign "Another Longshot". I have to factor this in to the type of story I want to create with my players; more of a series of connected adventures that could stand alone rather than a sweeping epic that takes years to complete. 

The more I write these days, the more it feels like I'm planning on "seasons" for my game rather than sessions. It's like the Rebels cartoon or any of the DC's "Arrowverse" shows on the CW; each episode (or 2-episode arc) deals with a stand alone story. Within that story are plot threads that weave into a larger storyline that will culminate at the end of the season. This give me more of an opportunity to write sessions based on the player's backgrounds, motivations, and complications while still building towards a season finale that ties it all together.

Uncharted Territory

So what happens when you have a desire to run a game in an era that's seemingly been written a thousand times over? I had this mentality for a good fifteen years that I was done with the Rebellion Era; that every story that could have been told within that time frame had been told. I was distracted by the stories being written after the destruction of the Second Death Star, or by those leading up to and including the Clone Wars. But what appealed to me about those eras were that there was seemingly more open canvas in which I could paint my own picture about Star Wars. An uncharted section of space where I determine what happens there in. What I was reminded of recently was that the galaxy is a really, really, really big place. There's plenty of space within the galaxy for me to create a vast and robust story and never have it cross paths with anything already established if I don't want it to.

One of the best resources I've found is the interactive Star Wars Galaxy Map website. It lists out the location of every known sector, planet, and trade route in the Star Wars galaxy. It even links them all to Wookieepedia, so you can look up important details about the planet, sector, or trade route. Taking some time, it's rather easy to find a sector or two that are practically empty; devoid of any meaningful established canon  or even "Legendary canon".

Practice Makes Perfect

Utilizing the points I've made thus far, let's look at a potential new campaign. With my rediscovered enjoyment of the Galactic Civil War, I elect to place the campaign in the Rebellion Era. Specifically, I'm really enjoying the years leading up to A New Hope, as seen in the Rebels cartoon and Rogue One. I want to tell a story about a rebellion forming within a specific sector, one that will become a part of the greater Rebellion as a whole, but still focuses on the politics and dynamics within a specific region of space.

Looking at the Galaxy Map, there appears to be a nice and mostly vacant sector in the southern side of the galaxy; the Tantra Sector. According to Wookieepedia, there really hasn't been much established there, especially within the new canon. There have been only the barest mention of anything about the sector in Legends canon, even though the sector lies between two of the major galactic trade routes. I can see the sector being heavily colonized within easy reach of those trade routes, with most of the interior of the sector barely touched (or even explored). Entire planets of beings could lie in that region and have yet to be discovered, or lost colonies could have thrived there waiting to be brought back into galactic society.

This region of space, and the era it's in, gives me a huge amount of real estate to create planets, organizations, and plot points for. I can lay out details for the Imperial's control of this sector, outlining the military strength of the Sector Fleet and the general personality and machinations of the Moff in charge of the sector. I can create several worlds to fill specific roles within the sector; population centers, manufacturing locations, agro-worlds, shadowports where criminals thrive, and lost colonies that simply want to be left alone. Pirates who threaten the spacelanes and bounty hunters who hunt them down for sport and profit. Lost temples or starships that hold secrets of the Force... 

And of course, dissidents who balk and refuse to submit to the will of the Empire and who have chosen to be rebels.

This could be a fun place to play, a corner of the sandbox that I can build what I want and how I want it. It can be a familiar place for the players to have meaningful effect on, yet close enough to the "galactic highways" that an adventure could take them across the galaxy if need be.

Growth Potential

Where you place your story is almost as important as what your story is. A good location can make a good game great, a sweeping plot-line epic. It provides players with a sense of familiarity, and can be something to motivate your players to action when you threaten "their home".  Be sure to give a lot of thought to how much freedom and space your location provides, and enjoy the time you spend coloring within those lines.