Roleplaying the Galaxy: We take what is given
Sometimes, as a game master, you are incredibly fortunate to have a player who’s as invested in the story you’re telling together as you are. These are the players who spend time crafting nuanced backstories and personas for the characters, who bombard you with questions about lore and trivia as they build their in-world avatar, which you’re absolutely delighted to answer. They delve deep into sourcebooks, Wookieepedia, and numerous Expanded Universe stories (or another game’s equivalent), sparking a level of creativity in themselves and in their game master that’s as unexpected as it is welcome.
These are the players who help you build every session with their character’s interaction with the world, and who respond to die rolls or narrative twists with unapologetic shock, horror, or joy.
As a game master, I’ve been beyond fortunate.
I run, have run, and will continue to run games for numerous players who embody the characteristics listed above, from giving shocked gasps as polyhedrons are cast, to spending free time in between sessions theorizing about where the plot may go next, to even correcting continuity slipups, on my part.
It’s an incredibly rewarding experience as a game master receiving real-time feedback, both on what I’ve carefully written and what I’ve frantically improvised, as dice and character actions dictated. I’m heading into my second decade as a science fiction and fantasy novelist, and I cherish sharing and receiving criticism on my written work.
But there’s nothing quite like sitting around with a group of friends and experiencing the moments of them living the story I speak into existence for them.
“So…that’s great and all, Mr. Humblebrag GM, but did you have a point beyond praising a bunch of random people we probably don’t know?”
Why, yes, I did, outspoken and slightly hurtful strawman! It’s this one!
When we receive the gift of such invested players, it is our duty as game masters to take what we are given and carefully forge it into something to delight.
Our players have come to us with broken pasts, biases, and nervous ticks built into their characters. Now it’s up to us to help showcase these offerings as something beyond merely experience points and stat blocks.
I’m not saying that building encounters with opportunity for players to use their hard-won abilities and honed tactics is unimportant. That’s probably what I’m writing about next (if I remember). But, while it can feel kinda gimmicky to throw a deadly chasm in front of a player the week after they’ve poured all their XP into Force leap (or all their credits into a jetpack), few players will question coming face-to-face with a dark villain from their past or the personal effects of a lost loved one, so long as at least some reasoning is provided.
Many times in the Star Wars games I’ve run have I savored repackaging elements from a character’s backstory, or even played-through experiences, presenting them back to the player in ways meant to shock, derail, or cause reexamination of a character.
Yes, your crime lord uncle is an unrepentant scoundrel, but maybe he really doesn’t take any joy in the thought of leading a mutiny?
The vile Moff who murdered your fellow hunters and robbed you of your record in the eyes of the Scorekeeper may deserved to die, but what of the threat he now poses to the Rebellion you reluctantly serve? Has that become more important?
Is your loyalty to your bloodline misplaced, if this ancestor you’ve discovered was truly as evil as they seem?
And, I’ll admit, it can be doubly delicious as a GM when your player was just trying to make something cool without thought of consequence.
Enter Danos Fel. Yes, Fel. Black sheep of the family, and you’re under no obligation to recognize him as canon. I’m pretty sure I’m incapable of not doing so, now.
As a general rule, when a player comes to me with a character concept, as far as possible, I try to set my EU purism aside and reply, “Why not?” Such was the case when one of my players asked if he could play the portly, forgotten brother of starfighter ace Soontir Fel.
Danos fell (heh) into the Rebellion by way of his being a Boba Fett superfan. I imagine some context is required. Decked in the equivalent of Mandalorian cosplay, Danos had fashioned his plastoid armor and arsenal to resemble those of the infamous bounty hunter as closely as possible. The only thing he was missing? A bounty. No one seemed too keen on supplying an out-of-shape wannabe with a worthwhile target. And he was having a bit of a hard time finding one equal to his skill on his own.
So, lacking any cash flow from the main players in the galaxy of the Empire and the Hutts, Danos offered his blaster to the only faction desperate enough to take it.
Despite his insistence that he was a free player in the war, Danos eventually found a home among the members of his Rebel squad, even accepting a rank within the organization. Over the long months of the Galactic Civil War, Danos also found honorary status among the beast riders of Onderon, additionally restoring a wrecked, ancient Basilisk war droid to serve as his mount. By piecing together recovered scraps of the precious metal, recovered over time, Danos even acquired the help necessary to fashion his own beskar’gam.
Flying high with everything he’d ever wanted, namely respect, now earned, nothing could bring Danos down…except an unwitting mission to sabotage an installation under the supervision of his still-more-accomplished brother.
Arriving at a facility with instructions to destroy a TIE prototype, as well as the plans for it, Danos abruptly found himself cowering in the squad’s ship as Soontir greeted the disguised members of his team outside. A failed stealth check from the team’s assassin droid later, things escalated rather quickly, with the squad’s battle tested Duros pilot squaring off with Soontir in the skies.
In the clash of aces, Danos begged his friend not to shoot to kill on his brother, nearly costing said friend her life as she begrudgingly tried to adjust her tactics. Danos had spent years resenting the exalted baron that was his sibling, but, when his loyalty to the Rebellion was tested against blood, he couldn’t bring himself to join the effort to bring Soontir down.
A narrow escape was had, and (veeery long story short) Danos renewed his conviction in the Rebel cause, eventually baiting an Imperial fleet to assault a droid force that presented a mutual threat.
The fleet arrived ahead of schedule, tractoring Danos and his team aboard. And who should find Danos in the interrogation room, brought in to consult by an attractive ISB agent Danos had encountered before? Yuuup.
But Soontir, it seemed, also believed in the bonds of family, retreating from the subsequent Imperial assault on (and defeat by) the droid army and helping his brother to escape.
One crash landing and a barely successful mission later, the brothers were recovered by the Empire, with Soontir informing Danos that he never wished to see him again. Just before letting him go.
Catharsis only came in the campaign’s epilogue, by which time (spoiler alert) Soontir had grown disillusioned with Palpatine’s empire, seeking out causes elsewhere. The two brothers finally reconciled, with Danos’s daughter (I’ll give you one guess who the mother was) planned to visit the far reaches of the galaxy and study the ways of a new empire under her uncle…but that’s another story.
I’m still ninety percent certain that Danos’s player only built his character’s backstory because of his appreciation for the red-striped TIE miniature in the X-wing game, but it still granted me, as his game master, ample opportunity to call Danos’s loyalties into question. When it came down to it, were sibling rivalry and a newfound purpose enough to excuse fratricide? What mattered more to Danos, reputation or blood?
These recurring themes (along with Danos’s slow-burn romance with said ISB agent), helped to make Danos a favorite of both myself and his player, ensuring an entire bloodline of the Fel Dynasty now exists in our little pocket of the EU.
So, wherever possible, let your players build the characters they want, help them actualize the effects to make it memorable, and value their investment for what it is; the highest of compliments for the story you’re building together.
May the Force be with you!