Roleplaying the Galaxy: You Killed my Father, Prepare to die.
What’s an epic fantasy story without an equally epic struggle? A hero’s journey without a great evil to overcome? As I hope I don’t need to tell you, conflicts in Lucas’ world are as spectacular as they are deeply rooted in opposing ideals, and those found in the pages, levels, and audio files of the Expanded Universe do their utmost to follow suit.
Hundreds of factions populate the Star Wars galaxy and its millennia of history, providing ample opportunity for your heroes to be pitted against some unsavory element or another, wherever and whenever you wish to begin your story. Gangs, crime syndicates, and despotic regimes abound, each packed to the brim with wrongs to be righted.
Or perhaps the evil you’re facing is more subtle; corruption at the heart of something once built on the values of justice and mercy. I’m pretty sure some guy made an unevenly aged, oft-underappreciated trilogy with that as the backdrop.
Quick side note: I’m neither a prequel apologist nor a basher. I recognize the flaws some seem blind to, but I also happily credit the achievements others stubbornly ignore. Now that
I’ve angered both extremes, feel free to let your more well-informed hate flow, etc.
However your pitiful band wishes to take on the might of whichever fully-armed and operational foe is in your sights, there is, of course, a deeper truth when it comes to the broader target of a protagonist’s ire in any fiction. An evil faction is only as good as its leaders.
Really, would any of us have such a desire to see the Galactic Empire topple without having encountered its champions of oppression and darkness? Yes, even a faceless empire can slay our favorite characters before our eyes or enact heinous war crimes across a galaxy, but the chilling, unstoppable presence of Vader, the needling confidence of Sidious, and the cool callousness of Tarkin go far in helping us to despise the organization as a whole.
Which means, when it comes to roleplaying in this galaxy, that it’s the job of both players and game master to build your own adversaries to assail your every step, ones who rival the aforementioned greats in pure detestability.
This may seem a daunting task, at first, but you’ve probably already planted the seeds for this as you’ve pieced together the plot and player characters of your campaign. What’s the first information that Luke Skywalker really receives about Darth Vader? Obi-Wan Certain-Point-of-View Kenobi informs Luke that the vile Sith Lord once betrayed and murdered his father. Enough said. Once Luke answers his call to action a few scenes later, he’s got an inbuilt reason to loathe a specific baddie in particular, and a date with destiny to throwdown with the alleged daddy-killer.
Dash Rendar? Prince Xizor killed his brother and ruined his family. Kyle Katarn? Inquisitor Jerec pulled an actual father murder, plus a complimentary mentor-cide. Zayne Carrick? The person he trusted perhaps most in the world framed him for murder.
If a player character’s backstory has them being wronged somehow, the player should give the transgressor a name, as well as at least a few starting characteristics. From there, a game master can build the being’s evil legend, jotting down some notes on how they came to be where they are in their faction and what their personal motivations might be. Perhaps this is far from the first time this player’s new nemesis has acted so ruthlessly or without consideration for others. Could their path of destruction (heh) even carve through the history of another player character in the party? Not only does such an addition to the story further the villain’s status as an object of fear and dread, but this can help to forge a link between player characters that steels the resolve of both. “Darth Bearhug blew up your eopie farm? That schutta stole my ship and sold it to a crime boss!” “Spast, really? You and I have gotta team up and take her down!”
And, if no one’s yet considered how another sentient might have crossed them before the first session, never fear. This is where, for the game master at least, the fun begins.
Yes, Game Master, there your players are, blithely flying into a Coronet docking bay, not suspecting that they’ve stumbled into a veritable laigrek’s nest of unsavory characters.
Wretched hives of scum and villainy are hardly unique to Mos Eisley, after all. You may not know where your players are headed in this enormous city, but that’s perfectly fine. Your evildoers have infiltrated everything from the local government to the officers of CorSec, and it’s only a matter of time until the players come across your secret society of xenophobes intent on leveraging galactic chaos to reestablish the bloody rule of the Pius Dea.
What tense words or explosive combat will pass between the two sides when they meet? Does an alien member of the party even meet an untimely end at the hands of these humans-only fiends? Dramatically delicious, but don’t cheat for it, obviously (and, if it does occur, that character should still go out in a satisfying way, like a storied blaze of glory). If at all possible, should the players start to gain the upper hand, at least one of your villains should retreat to harry the party’s steps another day. Things will only escalate the next time they’re encountered.
However an antagonist is introduced, whether as character history or in the moment, the game master should make a point of building these characters with personality, unique methodology, and perhaps even uncommon combat capabilities. A memorable villain will stay with your players well after the adventure is over, whether or not they survived.
Of course, despite the best laid plans of mynocks and men, sometimes the chaos inherent in roleplaying games will birth something truly beautiful; the player characters latching onto a random NPC. This can obviously be used by game masters to help build the player characters’ catalogue of allies and informants, but a sufficiently conniving GM will sense the presence of another pathway. This character is a blank slate, encountered completely innocuously by the players while pursuing a self-imposed side quest. They didn’t even have a name until you pulled one up in a generator. This random shopkeeper literally had no existence before some PC smuggler strolled through his door and started talking his ear off.
Is there any possibility this fast-talking PC might be sharing a little too much information with the wrong person? Maybe this shopkeeper is attached to your established plans somehow. Maybe he isn’t. But really, Mr. Hotshot Hanclone really should have known better than to blab all about the jewels tucked away on his ship to a random stranger. They’ve got to learn someday, right?
The Star Wars movies and Expanded Universe are an embarrassment of riches when it comes to inspiration for crafting a proper nemesis for a player or group. Beyond that, the various RPG systems are filled with convenient methods and helpful tips for compiling the stats and abilities these antagonists might bring to bear. Ultimately, like most things in roleplaying, it’s down to the collaboration of players and their game master to ensure that such an integral aspect of a Star Wars adventure is given its due. And, really, with the wealth of resources for building the perfect villain, there’s little excuse for the campaign to fizzle out with the anticlimactic death of random Dark Jedi #3.
Be inspired by the villains you love to hate, enjoy giving life to your own, and don’t hesitate to wipe those stupid smirks off their faces with a lightsaber. Call it “aggressive plastic surgery.”
May the Force be with you!