Roleplaying the Galaxy: It's Skywalker!
You know what, I’m just gonna start this article off by telling you that, if you and your friends find it fun blasting around space in the Millennium Falcon packed to the brim with Luke, Han, Leia, and all your favorite heroes, go for it. This is a roleplaying game. You can make it whatever you want.
But I’m still going to tell you why I think you’re cheating yourself.
As you may have surmised, you’ve come upon my short rant as to why it’s best to encounter preexisting Star Wars characters in your game sparingly, if at all.
To be clear, I’m not saying I’m immune to the vice grip nostalgia has on our collective hearts when it comes to the heroes of the Star Wars films and its immersive Expanded Universe.
There have been times when I’m running a game and I know it’s perfectly feasible to have a familiar Solo, Skywalker, or Antilles prance onto the scene and interact with my players through me. I’ve even indulged that desire, once or twice, but only judiciously and when it wouldn’t compromise the personal story being crafted by my players.
As an example, a player of mine has taken to playing estranged relatives of the Fel family, and so a certain baron has played a very minor role in the attached campaigns. However, over about a hundred sessions, I can count Soontir’s appearances on one hand, and each has been purposely brief. Why? Well, to tweak a quote from another one of my favorite franchises, “I am telling you your story, not his.”
It can be an exciting moment when a recognizable character descends upon the story you and your friends are weaving, but, if they become more than a peripheral character, you run the risk of overshadowing your players’ accomplishments. Though it was exciting for one of my players to have a brief dogfight with Soontir Fel, having ol’ Mr. Wynssa Starflare hang around and show up her abilities at every turn would have proved disheartening. That’s what having a nemesis is for, and the being your players struggle against and (hopefully) ultimately overcome should really either be an original creation or obscure to the point of their name randomly popping up in an Essential Guide. More on that another time, I think.
I’m also not saying, however, that notable characters should be conspicuously absent from their station, in your chosen time period. It’d be a bit odd if your party was a team of young Jedi in Luke’s new order, training hard at the Yavin Praxeum, and they never once spoke with any of the incumbent masters, of the council or otherwise. What I’m suggesting is that maybe anyone with surnames like Katarn, Ackbar, or Durron should be relegated to walk-on roles…unless your players take steps to interact with them. That’s part of the fun of roleplaying games, after all. But your player characters should be free to form meaningful relationships with their own master(s) and classmates, ones integral in their story.
Not only can exterior characters of legend overshadow your party, but they can compromise mortal tension. Unless a game master is willing to throw in-universe continuity out the window, your best buddy Lowbacca isn’t going to die from that blaster wound, and that girl your character’s been making eyes at certainly isn’t going to remain captured for long. Not when her name’s Jaina karkin’ Solo.
Which isn’t to say that there can’t come along surprising twists to sweep along players and game masters alike, when it comes to preestablished characters. I’ll let you guess who, but, in my current campaign, fortune dictated that my players crossed paths with a certain Jedi survivor of Order Sixty-Six. And, as many of the party were students of the Force who’d recently found themselves without a teacher (owing to that whole kerfuffle near the start of the campaign, which I’ve expanded upon in a previous article), this aged mentor briefly became instructor to those who needed his guidance, playing a small but pivotal role in their journeys. I still kept his stint with the party purposely brief and backseated, but it was a fun moment for those who knew the character to interact with someone whose story they’d followed in real life.
Lastly, and perhaps the most important reason for your campaign not to rely on cameos of diminishing returns, is that you rob yourself of crafting a story that is wholly your own in the galactic playground you love. Exploring and building off major events is one thing, but, if your characters essentially become interviewers to the folks who toppled empires or liberated worlds, you’re shifting the focus from your story to one that’s already been told.
The Star Wars galaxy is enormous, with near-infinite possibilities to explore. Yes, the Second Galactic Civil War sports some exhilarating battles, but your game really should, in my opinion, more heavily reflect the lesser-known, very RPG-like exploits of Jaden Korr and his new pals shortly thereafter. Smaller, more personal adventures with stakes just as poignant as the fate of the galaxy.
There are hundreds of factions out there, each with complex histories, rivalries, and alliances to discover. For complete freedom, you can even play in a totally undocumented period for a sector and go utterly barvy dreaming it all up yourself. Who are the local heroes and villains?
Who’s still got nerf-beef with whom, why, and for how long? Is this a lawless time and place, like the depths of Nar Shaddaa in and around the GCW, and/or are there Jedi leaping about, trying to keep the peace? Build your own world, and let your players live in it.
Too daunting? There are hundreds of worlds and story prompts to explore from the decades of Star Wars roleplaying content. Cobble something together from the bits you like, repurpose plots and characters, or just run a module as written, to get started. That’s what they’re there for. There are a ridiculous number of options beyond just tagging along behind the movie or EU greats that we all love, an option I feel to be a disservice to the immensity of the world gifted to us by Lucas and others, and to the characters you’ve lovingly made.
I actually consider it no small personal achievement in restraint that Luke Skywalker showed up for all of about thirty seconds in my first, years-spanning campaign, and only as a cameo during the denouement. Han only got a single line. And, by dropping in the big heroes only once the player characters had proven themselves against an overwhelming threat, the moment was simply a quick wink of fanservice and a pat on the back for a job well done. To (happily) bring up Jaden Korr again, it was like Kyle Katarn and Luke dropping in to congratulate the young protagonist at the end of the Jedi Academy game.
Which demonstrates another way for game masters to play things, though less favorable, in my estimation; have the favorites show up all the time, just keep them out of the trenches with the new heroes as much as possible. Though the missions in Jedi Academy with Kyle were fun, the developers were careful not to have Star Wars Chuck Norris steal the show.
And, of course, everything I’ve said goes immediately out the window if your group simply wants to build a party that’s Tag and Bink 2.0. Drop in on all the big moments, in or out of the movies, and fumble your way out of it, while the real heroes save the day and get the glory. Huh, now I kinda want to see that campaign…
Hit the hyperlanes, find an adventure that’s truly your own, and start building something epic and unique.
May the Force be with you!