Roleplaying the Galaxy: Oh the places you'll go!
I briefly debated with myself where to place this entry in my series. Shouldn’t the topic of the many planets of Star Wars lore be addressed when one (and one’s compatriots) are determining where to begin their journey, after all? As you may have guessed, however, I’ve landed on putting this article precisely where it’s turned up. My reasoning is that the game master of a group will likely have an idea of where they wish to start things, but, unless the entirety of the ensuing campaign is strictly kept to the rails (I’ll discuss why I believe this to be a mistake in a later entry), the party will soon be determining a course through the stars.
Thus, I think investigation of Star Wars locales, whether in or out of game, can wait until after the campaign has already begun. Let history judge how fiercely I’ve miscalculated.
And, yes, I do think it’s best to start with the player characters in roughly the same location, even if they haven’t met. Players wishing to explore their character’s backstory, beyond perhaps the briefest of preludes, should talk with their game master about this before the first session, maybe even getting some rolls in to help shape their story leading into the campaign proper. As the first session begins, however, everyone should either be corralled to the same location already or be swiftly guided there. The Star Wars galaxy is a sizable place. As a great philosopher once said, “Space is big.” And having an indeterminate number of sessions for the game master to try wrangling people together will feel far more forced than just dropping everybody in or around Chalmun’s Cantina. If anything, it helps provide the player characters with more history. How and why are they there at this precise moment? Figure it out, ideally with ties to your already established backstory.
Anyway, everyone’s gathered, and maybe even already gone on their first adventure to deal (either violently or diplomatically) with a band of Nighsisters. Now what? Obviously there are other possible adventures to be had on the same planet. What wildlife is there? Are there any dark secrets to uncover? And will that one Nightsister who fled possibly cause more trouble?
At the same time, however, that old clunker of a ship from the grateful villagers you helped is now your ticket off this rock. Sure, it’s only got a Class 4 hyperdrive, and the gun turret only fires in concentric circles, but your gaggle of characters have people to see and old rivals or allies to catch up with. Maybe your party even has unfinished business from one end of the galaxy to the other. Where will you head first? Are any of these matters time-sensitive? And what about those juicy plot threads the game master is dangling about?
Here’s probably the biggest reason I’m throwing all of this at you after my advice on forming a party dynamic. Simply put, I don’t think a party should be called upon to collectively determine any unified course of action until they’ve effectively gelled. This one I’ve learned the hard way…maybe. I’m still not sure what I would have done differently (advice is welcome), but the events have at least shown me that current group cohesion is something important to keep in mind.
Mid-length story reasonably pared down, the current party for which I game master had all their characters gathered on a remote base deep in the Unknown Regions. They set out from their base on what their game master assumed to be a blue milk run…only to suffer catastrophic failure, loss of limb, and nearly of life. A retreat was called, but, in their absence, their base had fallen under attack by overwhelming forces I may or may not have expected them to encounter head-on. A prolonged, Scooby-Doo-esque chase sequence later, the party secured a vessel and took to the atmosphere. Unfortunately, the vessel in question now sported a sabotaged navicomputer, irreparable from within the ship. A course had to be plotted manually, none could seem to recall any relevant coordinates, and, given their current, asteroid-filled surroundings, a microjump would likely prove just as deadly as anything longer. Besides which, they couldn’t be sure if their pursuers might be waiting for them wherever they reverted to realspace. So, jumping at a sluggish pace on their Class 12 backup hyperdrive, the party kept a droid’s hand on the throttle, in case of proximity or collision alert, and (after prolonged debate that nearly got their ship crippled by enemy fire, causing a certain game master a fair amount of panic) set off for the only set of coordinates everyone knows; one synonymous with safety and security in the New Republic.
It was a three-month journey. A dozen PCs and NPCs, some of whom thought decidedly ill of each other’s guts or gut equivalents, confined in a ship meant for three human-sized sentients. For a quarter of a year.
Obviously, we didn’t play out the entire trip, but you might imagine that tensions were high with a near-death escape, minimal space, and dwindling rations. The party members of vastly different backgrounds and motivations were now forced together as wounded, hungry refugees who’d just suffered a humbling defeat.
Not much progress was made in the way of friendship on this voyage, and the tension and resentment between the characters was palpable for many sessions after. The players themselves, of course, were simply glad that their characters hadn’t been snuffed out before the adventure had truly begun, but, merely by playing to their characters’ vastly different traits, and in a situation well short of ideal, there followed no small amount of bad blood in-game (and graciously confined there). Sparing you the broader details, things came to a head when one character’s privacy was compromised and one of the offending teenagers was summarily struck.
Their destination was reached before weapons were drawn, but, only a few sessions into our campaign, it didn’t seem an outlandish potentiality. Each player wished to help the team, but their characters simply hadn’t had the time needed to form anything resembling friendship. Granted, this was only one of the reasons why their first trip together was rather high-stress, but it was ultimately down to die rolls and plot advancement to force the party to determine their course of action. No one especially wanted to go to Coruscant. Neither the main story nor their individual ones had root there. It was just seemingly the best option for survival left to them after a string of harrowing events.
I don’t know if they would have gotten themselves shot down while bickering about a destination as they fled the Unknown Regions, but I’m glad I didn’t have to find out. The getting shot down part came shortly thereafter, as it turns out, but that’s another story.
Ultimately, once the characters were afforded some distance from each other, and a chance to catch their collective breath, they did join forces. Reluctantly, at first, but less so, as time went on. Then, when they were next faced with the prospect of traveling together, they were able to agree on a beneficial course for them all.
I suppose my point is twofold. First, it’s a potentially risky proposition building a party (especially a nine-member one like mine) comprised largely of sentients with no prior ties to each other. Second, in a galaxy so rich with possibility, there are near-infinite opportunities for players to pursue. And that’s a good thing.
Though some players might find it overwhelming deciding even which sector to explore, a patient game master can help provide direction, or simply guide their players along a prepared sequence of locales until the players are ready to spread their…well, most ships in Star Wars don’t really have wings, but you get it. Maybe the PCs’ options are limited, at first, as they have to adhere to the destinations and schedules of public transport. This allows them time to assemble a list of places they wish to visit in the future, making the triumph of finally acquiring a party ship all the more rewarding.
The game master can even be seeding directions in a player’s mind during character creation. “You want your character to be a former aspiring Sith? You’ll probably have spent a fair amount of time on Korriban, so let’s do some research on what’s been going on over there. How far did you get in your training? If you’d visited any dark side nexuses, maybe you’d be familiar with places like Dromund Kaas or Byss or…” Perhaps where characters are from even helps to inform their whole motivation, like the remnants of Alderaan in the Galactic Civil War. Do they want revenge by striking against the Empire’s shipyards at Kuat, or are they more invested in meeting up with fellow survivors to preserve the heritage of their planet?
And even having a team on a single, unified mission doesn’t preclude the possibility of branching adventures. Does one of the PCs have a child who’s thrown in with a rough crowd over in Hutt space? That’ll warrant pursuing, at some point. Has the conduct of a team member on a mission resulted in a summons to a disciplinary hearing on Dac? Will the other PCs stand with them?
There’s an entire, imaginary galaxy out there to explore, built from decades of storytelling. Use it.
Run a clandestine op under the nose of a Black Sun Vigo on Coruscant. Get tangled up in Hapan backstabbing and politics. Sweet talk your way up the ranks of the Imperial Remnant on Bastion. Dig up something that should have been left alone in the Malachor system. And, most importantly, have fun at every stop.
Even if you’re not where you’re going yet, or where your skills are best utilized, your character can still learn and grow from a new flavor of life in the galaxy. How does your hippie Jedi react to the noise and bustle of Coronet? What’s your serving droid’s opinion of the subsistence living of colonists on the fringe of known space? Which wonders of the Corporate Sector will your wide-eyed Ewok sketch for his people?
Civilly discuss your party flight plan, soup up your hyperdrive, and get ready to bribe or connive your way past many a docking authority.
May the Force be with you!