Roleplaying the Galaxy: The First One to See'em All!
From Hutt Space to the Unknown Regions, the Corporate Sector to the Greater Javin, the Deep Core to Wild Space, the Star Wars galaxy is both dense and immense, without even taking into account the Rishi Maze and other satellite galaxies, the mysterious life forms and otherworldly rules of hyperspace, or the mystical realms of the Force.
There’s a staggering amount for players to explore, which leads to the understandable reaction of wanting to strike out and take in as much of it as possible.
As with most things, there are pros and cons to this approach. Let’s begin with some obvious positives. Firstly, it can be a fun and rewarding challenge for game masters to dream of ways of linking an overarching narrative together across dozens of systems.
There’s always some crisis or another demanding the attention of Jedi, diplomats, soldiers, or blaster-toting thrill seekers, and a seemingly innocuous initial journey could begin to unravel threads of interwoven intrigue across the galaxy. That Hapan prince scorned his Pau’an lover by marrying the woman his mother chose, who’s secretly an agent in Imperial intelligence infiltrating the reclusive regime, which leads to the discovery of a shadowy cabal that wishes to start a conflict to weaken trade along the Rimma Trade Route to better realign galactic expansion in Wild Space? Why not?
Alternatively, maybe the players are all just part of a trader crew that would naturally bounce around the galaxy, getting caught up in mini adventures. Instead of a complex campaign, the game plays out more like one- or two-shots as part of a larger anthology that simply explores what it’s like to travel the hyperlanes, taking one problem at a time.
Or maybe your party is simply a band of explorers with a souped-up hyperdrive and a mission to chart their home galaxy and beyond. A setting like this can grant both players and game master even further creative license, as new cultures, species, and interstellar phenomena are revealed.
A gaggle of bounty hunters always looking for their next target? That campaign practically writes itself.
Another obvious pro on the scales is that everyone can revisit their favorite worlds from the Star Wars films and the Expanded Universe. How’s Bakura coping with the shifting power struggles in the Legacy era? What secrets might have been uncovered on Yavin IV in the time between the Sith occupation and the Rebel Alliance moving in? How are the Noghri doing with their planetary reclamation efforts? Anyone for a trip to Honoghr?
Perhaps what brings your group joy is just hopping down the stops on each hyperlane, getting caught up in small dramas along the way.
The beauty of roleplaying games is that there are no wrong answers, provided everyone is having fun. There are, however, some inherent drawbacks to flitting about the stars so frenetically.
Most obviously, never staying in one place too long likely means that it’ll be difficult to emotionally invest in any fleeting conflicts one encounters. When you know you’ll just be on to another job or adventure next week, is the plight of two bickering merchants really worth your time? Perhaps players who’ve experienced multiple campaigns where they became grand heroes will enjoy such a true-to-life and mundane look at what it might be like to be constantly on the move, but those who’ve had far from their fill of the romanticism and heroics of Star Wars will probably find such an experience pretty lackluster.
Another potential drawback is that any overarching narrative that attempts to tie so many different peoples and places together runs an ever-increasing risk of growing too convoluted to be enjoyable, both for the one telling the story and for those experiencing it. “Wait, who was this guy? We ran into his secretary eight planets ago, and now he’s wanting revenge for the parcel we forgot to pickup four planets before that? Oh, and he’s maybe the brother of the queen who’s trying to hire us at our next stop? But what does any of this have to do with the zero-g circus we visited last week on our way to the peace summit?”
As something pretty close to a rule in writing, a story should expand and its characters grow, but, as far as possible, new elements should be informed by what’s come before. If new and largely unrelated things are being tacked onto a campaign at every stop, things will likely grow unwieldly at an alarming rate. Players should be excited for the next chapter in their game, not bewildered by a bloated trail of abandoned plot points and bored by an overwhelming cast of interchangeable NPCs. Speaking as a game master, I’d advise that, if the goal is to visit a new planet every week, each story should be kept self-contained. It may prevent a longer story from being told outside of the players and their interactions, but it should also help keep things manageable, in the long run.
And there is, of course, always a danger in opening up the entire galaxy to one’s players that things will be explored before the game master has dreamed up anything to put there. In such times, I’d advise game masters not to panic. You’d be surprised how often players do an admirable job of dredging up conflict with random NPCs you’ve cobbled together thirty seconds ago, on the spot. Random race and name generators are your friend.
As George Lucas’s films in the saga show, if you want to get a good feel for each planet, you should probably spend about a third of a two-hour movie there. How does that translate into gameplay? Not very well. Trust in your feelings. When the simple story you’ve planned out for one planet has run its course, you’ll know. And, believe me, there’s no single recipe for this. Things will either take longer or shorter than you anticipate, as a game master, since the bulk of what happens is gloriously out of your hands. Dice and players have a way of rendering all planning obsolete.
But what about the opposite sort of campaign to a planet-hopping one? What if all members of a player group agree that they wish to explore a single setting in the galaxy and build an entire campaign in a single location? In the interest of not running too long, that’s what I’ll be addressing next time. Consider yourself hooked.
May you travel the galaxy at a rate that seems best to you, and may the Force be with you!