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That 70 BBY Show: Your Star Wars RPG Campaign as a TV Series

When Emmy met ENnie
When Emmy met ENnie

Hello and welcome again to The Force Does Not Throw Dice! Yes, yes: you probably forgot that this website had a series devoted to the Star Wars roleplaying game, but we are still here. It’s been a long time, but you know what they say: better late than fired!

Our previous campaign-building article on how to create your first campaign was rather popular, so I decided to start working on a few follow-ups. In this second article I’m going to be talking about how to structure your campaign using a template we all know quite well: that of a TV series.

Giving shape to your campaign is a daunting task, to put it mildly. Odds are that you will more or less know where you want to go with your game, but you won’t have the slightest idea of how you’ll go about it. I was the same until famed RPG designer Robin D. Laws wrote a piece called T.V. Structure in the pages of Dragon Magazine #293, a really good article where he talked for several pages about some of the typical tricks that television showrunners use in their craft and about how to implement them in your RPG campaign. Mr. Laws has written some extraordinary books about the art of game design that I regard as part of my personal GMing canon, but this one short article was probably one of the most influential RPG pieces I’ve ever read: even though campaign-building was just a small part of the piece, it completely changed the way I designed campaigns. Sure, as I’ve become my own GM with my own distinctive style, I’ve ended up dropping many of that article’s suggestions and reworking many others, but “TV series-style” is certainly still one of the main pillars of my campaign design philosophy.

There are many reasons to structure your campaign as a TV series. It’s very easy to add, remove or move around episodes, making your life considerably easier. The human brain loves patterns, after all, and TV has taught it many patterns that it knows well. And, after all, RPG campaigns are by their own nature already very similar to serialized fiction: a longer storyline arranged in discrete adventures or, at the very least, sessions.

So let’s start working on Star Wars RPG: The Series!

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The Force Does Not Throw Dice: Running Your First Star Wars RPG Campaign

FFG-StarWarsHello and welcome once again to The Force Does Not Throw Dice, our feature devoted to running tabletop roleplaying games in the galaxy far, far away. This time we are going to be talking about that exciting point in the life of a Star Wars RPG Game Master where they decide to bite the bullet and start their own campaign. “What’s a campaign”, neophytes ask? Well, to use a television example, if an episode is an adventure, the campaign is the whole TV series. Unsurprisingly, most GMs would eventually prefer to create a series rather than one individual episode, so we all end up at that point in due time.

Let’s say that’s the point where you are. You’ve read the manuals, you’ve found a gaming group, you’ve played a character in the game, and you’ve probably run your first one-shot adventures. Now your head is exploding with possibilities: you want to make a sequel to your last adventure, you think that this one character could become a recurring antagonist, and you’ve even started thinking on how everything fits within the vast Sith-Ithorian conspiracy. Excellent! You got the itch to create a long-term storyline, and that’s all you need to start playing. But I’m going to be frank: if you thought that writing your first adventure (if you didn’t use a pre-published one!) was a daunting prospect, you will find out that building your campaign can end up being a real odyssey. It’s going to be a lot of work. If this doesn’t scare you, great: let’s take a peek at how we can try to make the process as painless as possible.

Hi, I am your host, David. I’m a Game Master with twenty-five years of experience, and I’ve successfully run more than twelve campaigns in several systems and settings, three of them at least five years in length. Let’s look at one way to do this!

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The Force Does Not Throw Dice: Emotional Roleplaying

TFDNRD

Hello and welcome again to The Force Does Not Throw Dice, the ETE feature devoted to tabletop roleplaying games in the galaxy far, far away. This time we are going to be tackling the topic that won a poll I conducted on Twitter months ago: emotions in roleplaying games. We are going to be chatting about how to go beyond the usual hack-n-slashing fare and construct an emotionally satisfying experience.

So first I’m going to define what I mean with emotional roleplaying. I’m not just talking about good roleplaying, about the ability that good GMs and players have to have their character fake emotions (although this is a prerequisite, as we’ll see below) but about the ability to evoke an emotional reaction from the players themselves, just like a novelist tries to evoke emotions from their readers. Emotion is very important to storytelling and RPGs are, after all, shared storytelling.

This is honestly not an easy topic to tackle and I’ve been reluctant to write a piece about it, because in my opinion there are few things as personal as emotion. For all the speeches that exalt emotion as a universal experience—that can even be a bit ableist, to be honest—the truth is that whatever my personal definition of “love” or “sadness” is, it probably has little to do with yours. We are getting into the realm of the abstract so we gotta tread very carefully: the best we can do is try to make our games more evocative, more resonant, more emotionally rich, but we have to remember that a game table is not a novel: trying to force the players’ emotional response is either going to make us fall into the insidious trap of railroading or create the most melodramatic, clichéd grub. And we are better than that! Hopefully!

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Let’s Game Like It’s 1999 — Running a Prequel to Your RPG Campaign

It's time for the people back there to take over!
It’s time for the people back there to take over!

Welcome again to The Force Does Not Throw Dice, our section about the wonderful world of running tabletop roleplaying games set in the Galaxy Far Far Away. No, this piece is not about gaming in what is known as “the prequel trilogy era”. What we are going to be talking about is how to set up a prequel campaign to your existing campaign. So dust off your Jar Jar sipping cup, find your old Y2K survival kit, play your least-hated Limp Bizkit CD… and let’s game like it’s 1999!

First of all: I’m perfectly aware that, out of the many words that are likely to elicit strong reactions from the fans, the two most powerful ones are probably “canon” and “prequels”, but this article is not going to get into whether the idea of Star Wars prequels was pure genius or a regrettable mistake. I have my own personal thoughts on the matter, of course, but it’s completely undeniable that the existence of prequels has become one of the most important or at least one of the most popular facets of Star Wars storytelling. So, if one of our objectives as GMs is presenting a faithful “Star Wars experience” in our RPG, why not bringing this to the table? So let’s work together and see how we can make our own prequel game.

Before taking a look at how to run a prequel, I’m going to make a few assumptions here. First of all, I’m assuming that you’ve had a “source campaign” running for a while and that you’ve created enough lore and characters to draw from: to be able to create a prequel, you need some kind of original work first! Second, I’m also assuming that we are talking about a “prequel” purely in the manner of the Star Wars prequel trilogy: we are not talking about a series focused on the childhood of the current characters or about a distant prequel set in the Old Republic or even before that, but a prequel set one or two generations before the current series. Third: in an effort to make this article as useful as possible, I’m assuming that the prequel campaign is going to be either a one-shot game or a short campaign, but there’s nothing stopping it from turning into a long campaign or even completely supplanting your original game: it happened to me, and it actually was the best Star Wars campaign I’ve ever directed. But I’m being realistic: it’s hard enough to get a campaign running, so I’m assuming you will be more likely to run a one-shot between adventures. Most experienced GMs are not really going to need any of this advice, but I still hope that they will find a few useful ideas in here! Read More

The Force Does Not Throw Dice: Oops We Killed Darth Vader

vips-vaderHello and welcome again to The Force Does Not Throw Dice, the very irregular ETE feature devoted to tabletop roleplaying games in the galaxy far, far away. It’s been a long time since my last piece but, after seeing the warm reception that my Star Wars RPG tweets usually get, I’m going to try to change things around and turn this into a more regular feature. So expect more RPG rants in the near future!

Last month we asked Twitter for suggestions for future features, and the topic of this month’s piece was inspired by Mario Escamilla’s question on the use of VIPs in the game. So first let’s define a VIP as any canonical non-player character, from a main character like Luke Skywalker to a secondary character like Officer Thanoth. Using canonical characters in your game is, to many gaming groups, intrinsic to roleplaying in the Star Wars galaxy. If we used the jargon from the old GSN Theory classification method, we could classify Star Wars RPG as a “setting simulation” system: although there can be a variety of approaches and many divergent campaigns can be played, one of the most common objectives is to make the game feel like it’s set in the Star Wars universe. Some Game Masters find that, alongside using known worlds and technology, one of the easiest ways to make sure that the game is unequivocally set in the galaxy far, far away is to have an established character guest star in it.

Yet using VIPs in your Star Wars game is not as simple as it sounds, and can bring some unexpected headaches if not thought through. Although all published settings come with their own canonical characters, be it the wizard Elminster from Forgotten Realms or the various corporate chairmen from Shadowrun, few can claim to have any characters as ingrained in popular culture as Han Solo or Darth Vader. So let’s take a look at some common challenges and mistakes when it comes to using VIPs. Let’s ask ourselves a few questions.

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