- Seth Saunders
Roleplaying the Galaxy: Protagonist stew
In this era of uncertainty as to whether we’ll ever have further adventures with the heroes of the Expanded Universe, my time building characters for Star Wars roleplaying, both as a player and as Game Master, have helped to keep this world alive for me and expand it even further. Have my friends and I always gotten the rules or lore completely right? Almost certainly not. But we’ve built incredible stories together by standing on the shoulders of past EU giants. Stories without certainty There are numerous recipes, many of them even valid, but the most important ingredient of a character you choose to play in the Star Wars galaxy is that you should find some kind of enjoyment, however twisted, in bringing them to life. However, since you’ll be playing with fellow humans who also wish to have fun, a close second is that your character should not compromise their enjoyment. Put simply, if your intent is to use your character as a tool to antagonize or belittle your fellow players and the characters they’ve built just as painstakingly as you have yours…don’t. Kindly save yourself and everyone else some aggravation and either make a different character or find another activity.
With that unpleasantness hopefully settled, congratulations! Amid learning rules and debating with fellow players about the system and era you wish to explore, you’ve encountered perhaps the most exciting part of embarking upon your hero’s journey; crafting a hero(ine).
Dozens of moving parts comprise the buildup of any Player Character. Perhaps you stumbled across a cool ability you want to build toward thematically in-game, or maybe the era your group has (hopefully) agreed upon has sparked an intriguing concept you wish to explore. Add to that base stats, special abilities, and any unique interactions your character might have with the world that you are absolutely clearing with your Game Master, and the whole process can be as overwhelming as it is thrilling. For now, don’t worry about plugging everything in properly on your character sheet. The system you’ve chosen will guide you through the process. First, let’s get a proper sense of the kind of character you’re building by answering two basic questions of writing; who are they and what do they want?
Don’t be ashamed of wanting to play something “boring.” You want to be a human smuggler, soldier, or Jedi? Go for it. What is it about that archetype that draws you in? What aspects of their life are you impatient to explore? Alternatively, don’t be afraid of crafting something truly bonkers. Does the thought of a Hutt pit fighter make you giggle? Can’t wait to unleash your well-spoken, just-a-tad-racist Jawa diplomat on the Senate? Did your character’s parents of drastically different species spawn something the Force itself would consider unholy? This is, as I shall continue to repeat, a game. Build your over-teethed demon child with dreams of performing on Imperial Center and have far too much fun!
Provided, once again, that you’re not ruining the experience for your fellow players.
An important discussion before or during everyone’s character creation is one regarding disparate expectations. Does the Game Master have a deep, morally charged campaign prepared that they wish to be taken seriously? Do some of the players already have a comedic duo planned who’ll be obsessed with their next zany antic? Are you prepared to introduce your angsty, scarred war hero into a group of bumbling Gungans?
Don’t get me wrong, drastic differences in characters can make for some fantastic interplay. But maybe if everyone else in your group is interested only in relentless, lighthearted mockery back and forth, you won’t feel as though your ex-Jedi with a dark past ever truly has a chance to shine. Or vice versa. Of course, each campaign will run a broad spectrum of intensity and hilarity. Stories grow dull without humor to alleviate unending tension, just as they do without any sort of dramatic weight for the humor to undermine, or even possibly enhance. All I’m saying is that it’s a good idea to communicate with your fellow players about the varied types of investment they may be bringing with them.
For some, laughing with friends is the end goal. “Oh, I died? Ha! That was just stats on a sheet. I can easily make a new one, and accidentally tripping and falling down that lift shaft was hilarious!” For others, it’s all about the encounters with Non-Player Characters, specifically combat. “A Rancor? Blast! Maybe if we lure it into a gauntlet of proximity mines, we can… What are you doing? You don’t kriffin’ charge a Rancor! Spast!
And now they’ve tripped and fallen down that lift shaft! We’re a teammate down, and we’ve still got a Rancor to kill!” And, for still others, roleplaying games are all about, well, playing a role. Embodying a character in another world. “My backstory explains why I have a deathly fear of both lifts and Rancors! I turn to my teammates with panic in my eyes, call out, ‘I’m sorry! I can’t do this!’ and flee back to the ship! My weapon clatters to the floor, and I’d like to roll to see if I am able to remember the way back to the ship through my terror, Game Master.”
I’m sure you can hear the post-session arguments already. “Lighten up! It’s just a game, man!” “But we could have won! If we’d gotten the high ground, we could’ve…!” “Well, neither of you were playing to character!
You’re supposed to be a tactical genius war veteran, and your species is natural prey of Rancors on Felucia!”
To quote the poem “The Blind Men and the Elephant” by John Godfrey Saxe, “Though each was partly in the right…all were in the wrong.” Roleplaying games are about fun and group tactics and characters and more.
Which (hopefully) brings us back to my point. Other players may not care about the intricate history you’ve woven for your character, but it’s important that they respect its value to you. Just as it’s important for you not to be a constant burden and nuisance with the painfully weak excuse of, “Hey, I was just playing my character!” Ultimately, whatever it is you’re bringing to the game that ruins the experience for your fellow players, leave it behind, even if it’s inextricable from your character.
Guess I had more to say about that than I thought.
Anyway, let’s assume that everyone’s united in the kind of game and characters they’d like to play, however long that takes. Now that you’ve given some thought as to the species, origin, history, and skillset of your character (who they are), let’s address the second question. What do they want?
In many ways, this should be an extension of the first question. After all, a person’s goals and desires are heavily informed by past experiences, which are, in turn, heavily informed by species, origin, history, skillset, and even previous goals and desires. Did your character join Luke Skywalker’s Jedi Praxeum before or after the students’ encounters with ancient Sith Lords? What’s their specialty, and how have they put it to use for their faction or sub-faction? Is there a defining moment during their time in the Galactic Alliance Guard, or has their career simply shaped them as a whole? Now, with these past experiences, what drives this character as we pick up their story? Are they cocky after only hearing of the exploits of fellow Jedi, overconfident that they can match them and determined to seek out opportunity? Was their skill at crafting bombs a source of pride until the day of a horrible accident? Do they seek to atone for past GAG atrocities, even if they didn’t have a direct hand in them?
Kyle Katarn’s time as an Imperial in many ways determines the course of the rest of his life. His path of vengeance and redemption help to shape him into one of the greatest Jedi of a generation. A keeper of the peace. Mara Jade is shaped by her misplaced loyalty to a pale raisin before she finds unconditional acceptance with a man she swore to kill. She espouses freedom of thought, knowing one’s own strengths, and not trivializing the power of the Force. Have you ever heard the tragedy of Darth Plagueis the Wise? He was raised in the fleeting trappings of wealth, cast aside by his family, and trained mercilessly by his mentor.
As a result, he sought undying power and to build a twisted, surrogate family through fear and mutual reliance.
Disagree? Great! Why? What do you think these, or other Expanded Universe favorites, desired most?
If you’ll indulge me, I’d like to continue the story of my Klatooinian Jedi, Korrigosh. If you won’t, feel free to pick up a few paragraphs down.
Korrigosh is a Klatooine native, born to a sort of shaman of his people who’d had a vision that her son would become a great beacon to his people, shining with hope like the Fountain of the Ancients, a natural, fountainlike formation of the planet comprised of wintrium, a mineral liquid in its subterranean deposits that crystallizes on contact with the air.
Being a rather literal sort, Korrigosh’s mother carefully introduced wintrium into her occupied womb. This caused…complications on the day of Korrigosh’s birth. The same day, as it turns out, that a Devaronian Jedi Master by the name of Akinci Yannek arrived on-world to settle a dispute with the Hutts. As her womb crystallized and ruptured from within, Korrigosh’s mother stumbled up to the Jedi, begging for her to cut her child to freedom with her lightsaber. Yannek reluctantly assented, taking great care as she performed the delicate caesarean procedure. Korrigosh survived. His mother did not.
Korrigosh was raised by his grieving father, who couldn’t help but blame Korrigosh for the loss of his wife, until Korrigosh was old enough to be taken and trained by Master Yannek. Studying under the woman who’d failed to save his mother proved difficult for young Korrigosh, so he directed all his anger toward the Hutts who’d subjugated his people. Just before his training was complete, Korrigosh returned to Klatooine, seeking to strike back at the ol’ slugs. He failed spectacularly, soon captured, beaten, and strung up as an example to any who would oppose their Hutt masters.
Despite her student acting against her wishes, Master Yannek retrieved Korrigosh, nursing him back to health without a word of correction. The wintrium his mother had bathed him in as a fetus still pulsing in his blood, Korrigosh’s scars took on a glinting sheen, nearly matching the vibrant white of his eyes. A healed and humbled Korrigosh then asked his master to begin his training anew, a timeline that put the second nearing of his trials concurrent with his master’s departure to join Lord Hoth’s Army of Light.
Yannek offered to have Korrigosh undergo the trials before her departure, but Korrigosh deferred, disguising his fear by telling his master that he wished to learn more from her when she returned. Yannek’s response was a sad smile and an assurance that already knew he that which he required. But, y’know, not in Yoda-speak.
As EU fans will have guessed, Master Yannek never returned. This is where my time playing Korrigosh began. A twice-trained Padawan filled with self-doubt and unresolved anger for each of his parent figures now rushed to Coruscant alongside other ill-prepared students so that the reeling Jedi Order might quickly replenish its ranks after a long, grueling war.
And Korrigosh has been a morbid delight to play. In direct contrast to the Jedi Code, he fears the burden the mother he’s never known has placed on him. He resents his father for blaming a vulnerable young boy for things beyond his control. And he’s perpetually furious at a dead master and mother figure who indirectly killed his true mother, even as he misses her guidance and comfort terribly. He longs to be the beacon to his people his mother envisioned, but he can still feel the sting of the whips from the last time he failed to bring them hope. He wishes to honor his master and ascend to knighthood, but he feels no more ready for his trials than he did years earlier. He yearns to avenge the deaths of Yannek and an army of fallen Jedi, but he knows the order’s code warns against such a path. Besides, the enemy was already inconsiderate enough to wipe themselves out!
Long story reasonably truncated, Korrigosh winds up crash-landed on Dathomir with his fellow Padawans, encountering a hidden pocket of Sith who sought to claim a world steeped in dark mystery. A final showdown ensues at an ancient Infinity Gate the Sith have uncovered, in which Korrigosh straps a grenade to an equally ancient Forcesaber. He channels his many, incurable angers into the blade, powering it with the dark side as he faces down his band’s opponents. After a short battle between the factions, Korrigosh manages to draw the bulk of the Sith against him and away from his companions. As he is struck down, his grip on the activator of the grenade is released, catching himself and his enemies up in shrapnel and a shockwave of dark side energy as the saber hilt is ruptured.
Both his flesh and his mind in tatters, Korrigosh awakens in the arms of his wookiee comrade (my wife’s character (I know, so sweet!)) and finds that his companions have carried him into the Infinity Gate. As his friends vanish from the ocean of stars that seems to surround them, Korrigosh feels at one with the universe, sensing the barest notion of his mother’s presence and reaching out for his master’s troubled spirit. Sensing Yannek’s anguish in the Valley of the Jedi and knowing that he can do nothing to end it, Korrigosh screams in frustration across the galaxy the words he could never say while his master lived. “You killed her! And I never forgave you for that! …And I miss you.” Then, sensing Yannek’s remorse and her plea for him to accept the pain of his past as a Jedi should, Korrigosh whispers, “I never forgave you, but I never stopped trying to.”
Manifesting back with his friends, Korrigosh returns with them to Coruscant, where each has been cleared for knighthood. Shocking himself (and me!), Korrigosh declines, saying that he wishes to continue serving the galaxy alongside the Jedi, if they’ll allow it, but he’s grown disillusioned with the order and the events that led to the Ruusan Reformation. The culmination of his dream is laid before him, and he literally smashes his lightsaber, keeping nothing but the Mephite crystal within as a reminder of his time with Master Yannek.
Basically, after spending so much time with Korrigosh, I realized that if he was going to stay with the order, both he and it would have to change. The Jedi may have insisted that his trials were over, but he knew there was more he needed to confront. Through time in combat, interacting with other players, and who-knows-how-many die rolls, Korrigosh had become as real to me as any of my favorite Star Wars characters, and I owed it to him to explore this nebulous future, and sometimes without even a happy ending. All we have to determine our course are some dice and the driving wants of the characters we play.
So build your characters, form their deepest desires, and realize that, although they may never achieve or may even cease to want them, there’s a unique beauty to be found in championing the cause of a character you’ve breathed to life in your favorite galaxy.
May the Force be with you.
To see more from Seth, click here!
Connect with us on Facebook! * Connect with us on Twitter!