Roleplaying the Galaxy: The Fellowship of the Galactic Ring
I’d like to start off by assuring you that, no, you haven’t committed some loathsome (heh) transgression as a player or game master if the player characters clash ferociously and perhaps even unenjoyably in the first session of your campaign. It’s a learning experience.
Learn from it. Chances are, no one’s even actively trying to be difficult. This is a phenomenon (I theorize, anyway) fueled by the distinct lack of cooperative, story-based video game experiences. Video games being, at least for now, much more widespread than tabletop roleplaying games, most people’s RPG experience is built solely around their narrative; the choices they, and they alone, make. It’s learned behavior. And, in the words of a wise, wrinkly puppet, “You must unlearn what you have learned.”
Addendum: Thereafter, you must learn to be more gracious and supportive of your fellow players…meatbag.
Especially with a group of players new to the ways of tabletop roleplaying, it’s important to discuss beforehand about the communal and giving nature of the pastime. Everyone should be helped to understand that this type of game focuses on teamwork and moving toward a common goal. Perhaps even toward each other’s personal goals, in turn. Yes, Luke is our hero, but he would have met the fate of his aunt and uncle if Artoo and Threepio hadn’t upturned his life. He never would have heard the call to adventure and sought a way off Tatooine without Obi-Wan’s encouragement. He never would have gotten out of Mos Eisley without Han and Chewie. And he might never have found his way into the Rebellion without Leia. Similarly, each of those characters needed Luke and each other to fulfill their respective role in the group, as well.
None of this works if the droids manage to find Obi-Wan on their own, or if Obi-Wan decides Luke isn’t ready and takes off alone, or if Han and Chewie decide transporting a Jedi is too much of a risk, or if Leia brushes off her short and scruffy rescuers and peaces out with the Falcon… Hopefully my point is getting across. Players need to be able to utilize their character backstories and abilities to help each other build a compelling story. If your character would stubbornly refuse to take part in the adventure at hand, then what are they doing in this game? This isn’t a railroaded experience. In a video game, you can refuse the call to action all you want, secure in the knowledge that (with very rare exceptions) the game will draw you into the fun anyway. This is not that.
Which is not to say you can’t play a reluctant hero. It can be incredibly rewarding for a player and their game master to work out beforehand the type of inciting incidents that might cause a dour loner to throw their lot in with a group of trigger-happy do-gooders. But, unlike the code in a video game, it’s not the game master’s responsibility to drag everyone along. If a player is provided ample opportunity for their character to join the action but decide not to, maybe it’s time to build a different character.
The potential troubles here aren’t confined to the first steps, however. How would the very first adventure in the galaxy have gone if Han’s annoyance with hokey religions had been hatred instead, causing him to shoot a certain old fossil in the back while in hyperspace? Or if an untrained Luke had been forced to fight his way through the Death Star alone, rather than adopting the path of disguise and escape? Or if Leia’s disgust with Han had pushed her to drop his charred body back in the trash compactor?
Not a very satisfying adventure, is it? Especially if the offended characters have a real person behind them.
Which is not to say that inter-character rivalries can’t be fun. Where would we be without Leia’s snarky remarks to Han, Luke and Han’s clashing ideals, or Han and Chewie’s dismissive commentary on Obi-Wan? Boy, this whole thing kinda falls apart without Han, doesn’t it? As long as the players are okay with some playful jibes back and forth, this type of thing can be great in a roleplaying setting, too. Even a lethal, Spy vs. Spy kind of relationship can be fun, provided the players either agree on it beforehand or are open to that sort of escalation. Ultimately, real-life communication is the key to making sure that a solid party dynamic, fun for all, is built.
One helpful tool in this is making sure that everyone has a clearly defined role in the party. If everyone’s essential and willing to do their job, this drastically decreases the odds that animosity will grow too far. Mutual dependency is a fantastic method of teambuilding. Not that there can’t be some ability overlap. A crack shot pilot (Han) needs his muscle/navigator (Chewie), of course. Likewise, the droids are good with machines, but in their own, unique ways. A sweet talker/businessman (Lando) can be useful on many occasions, but there are times when galactic renown and diplomacy (Leia) are what the situation requires.
Another tool for keeping the group cohesive is having some sort of connection between party members. Maybe your Jedi pilot and former Black Sun Vigo have nothing in common and would otherwise be at each other’s throats, but they both share a hatred of organized crime, or even just an immediate goal of dismantling a drug or slavery ring. Perhaps, along the way, they even learn how to respect each other and to accept their ignorance of what led the other toward past actions. “Joining Black Sun was the only way to work your way out of slavery? I’m sorry. I never knew.” “Yeah, well I can’t imagine it’s fun to be stripped from your family and raised to believe it’s evil to miss them. Karkin’ rough.”
Most important of all, though, whether you’re a game master or a player, the best thing you can do to help build a team you’ll cherish as much as the Rogues, Wraiths, or the crew of The Last Resort is to do everything in your power to help others tell their story. True friends are invested in the lives of those they value, so, as soon as is remotely feasible, have your characters build each other up, get to know one another, and dig into what it is your party members want. Your smuggler friend is worried about an old contact who got picked up by the Empire? “Game Master, can I roll to see if I might have heard anything about that during my time at the ISB?” The career officer in the New Republic who’s now assigned to your secret task force is haunted by an evacuation they ordered before a harried retreat? “Would I have any intel on that, Game Master? I might have even been a fighter pilot in that battle.”
“Roll the dice! We’ll let fate decide!”
Finding a group dynamic enjoyable for everyone is essential to crafting something everyone will remember fondly. It’ll be imperfect, messy, and probably weird, but, if everyone is happy just to sit down and play in this world together, you’ve already built something worthwhile. And, from that foundation, your game can truly make the jump to lightspeed.
Gather your party, venture forth, and explore an immense galaxy of possibilities.
May the Force be with you!
Seth Saunders is an avid reader of the Star Wars Expanded Universe who writes his own science fiction and fantasy novels under the pen name S.J. Saunders. You can find him all over social media @EhsJaySaunders and explore his work over at SJSaunders.com.
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