Sterling is an architect, writer and game designer. As an architect, he works on projects of all sizes, local to international. As a game designer and cartographer he works in fantasy settings and a galaxy far, far away.

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« Star Wars Wednesday - Running Published Epic Length Campaigns pt 2 | Main | Star Wars Wednesday - Clone Wars & »

Star Wars Wednesday - Running Published Epic Length Campaigns

Adventuring in the Star Wars universe takes many forms: the one-shot adventure, the homebrew campaign, the convention “classic” adventure, the living-style campaign, and the long term published campaign. Campaign length ranges from a few adventures, to epic length storylines played across dozens of sessions and multiple months or years. Campaigns are plotted well in advance, grow organically out of the choices made by players and gamemaster characters, or more likely, a combination thereof.

While these are all great blog subjects, today I’m focusing on the long-term, epic length published campaign. In this case, I’m defining a this campaign style as one that includes full length adventures for every major plot point in the story. There are a ton of products, including some that I have contributed to or written, that include campaign storylines and ideas, but rely on the gamemaster to connect the dots and generate the details. Here, I’m talking about the campaigns a GM can run solely from the published adventures, with minimal gamemaster tweaking, if that’s what they want to do.

I’m a veteran dungeon master and game master of several campaigns designed for that purpose. For Dungeons & Dragons, I ran the Desert of Desolation campaign twice all the way through - once after its release in 1st edition and a second time as a 2nd Edition game years later. Previous to that, I ran one of the original standalone I-series modules before their consolidation into a single campaign book. It is easily my favorite classic Dungeons & Dragons campaign. I also ran the Rod of Seven Parts box set campaign for 2nd Edition. While I looked at later published D&D campaigns with interest, such as the various adventure paths, I was already playing in other long-running homebrew campaigns.

For Star Wars, I ran both of the major long-term campaigns published for the role-playing game. I ran the DarkStryder campaign 1 1/2 times, and Dawn of Defiance once. I also wrote adventures for both campaigns, though that didn’t influence my decision to run them.  As we’ll, see, though, it did influence HOW I ran them.

The first question in a GM needs to ask himself or herself (and possibly their players) is how much they want to adhere to the product’s story. No adventure or campaign survives first contact with the players, or at least not completely. The players are going to do something bizarre, unexpected, funny, stupid, or, most likely, a combination thereof. GMs adhering strictly to the storyline risk railroading the players and their decisions. How limiting or disruptive this is to the game is a matter of the GM’s skill and sometimes a player’s willingness to adapt their expectations and goals to the needs of the story.

OK, so nothing new there, that’s in the GM’s job description. However, if you want to play the campaign through to its intended ending, the GM has to learn what plot points to protect, and which ones can change without, say, changing the major events in the epic storyline. Say, oh, I don’t know, maybe failing to free the Rebel agent charged with introducing the PCs to the local Rebels as well as the campaign itself - in the first session of the first adventure. That would never happen. Nope.

When both the DarkStryder and Dawn of Defiance campaigns were first released, it was impossible for the gamemaster to know the details of later adventures. They simply had not been published yet, or written for that matter. They existed as outlines - descriptions given to the various authors with a start point, an endpoint, and a general plot. There was no way for the GMs to know the plot in detail. Today,  however, GMs can read (or at least scan) the entire series before play begins. If a player character development threatens to change a later story, the GM can look at the details and adjust accordingly.

Next question: how much playing time will be spent on events between the published adventures? Will there be side quests? These campaigns are so long, it takes months, if not years to complete them - at least for those of us who can no longer play daily or multiple times a week. Every side adventure adds to the length of the overall campaign. If time is at a premium for your group, consider eliminating or severely limiting any side adventures, and gloss over activities between adventures with narrative descriptions as to what happens, preferably with player buy-in. If time is not a factor, side adventures are great ways to allow characters to grow in ways not limited by the campaign locations and storyline.

Character creation: Here the GM is best served by staying within the storyline. Allowing players to create characters that do not fit will only lead to problems down the road. They may be frustrated that their skills and abilities never come into play. Their backstories might cause great conflict within the party or storyline, or be ignored all together, if their goals do not align with the campaign. GMs can work around issues like this, but if when trying to move quickly through the campaign, it can become an unnecessary disruption.  

Character death: Usually, this isn’t a huge issue any more than in a regular campaign. In DarkStryder, though, it presents special issues because the campaign includes a lot of pregenerated characters that are expected to be used. More on that in the next post. Some GMs want character death to have a mechanical impact in the game, and may require replacement characters to be of lower level.  In my experience, it’s usually easier to just bring them at the same level.

Player changes: With one big exception, every one of my long campaigns has seen at least some player turnover. Most campaign storylines are not greatly affected by this, any more than in a homebrew game. Once again, the exception is DarkStryder, due to the pregenerated characters. Mainly, when bringing in a replacement player, the gamemaster should decide if they are taking over a character, rather than replacing it. In most cases, replacing the character works best for everyone.

Character growth: if the player characters have been created with the campaign goals in mind, character growth is much easier to achieve. Ideally, the gamemaster can tie existing plot elements from the campaign to specific character backgrounds. Again, this is much easier when the entire campaign is available for review prior to game play. Of course, the gamemaster may not want to give away too many secrets, but giving some additional insight to individual players is a great way to encourage role-playing without having to pass a note or explain what a character knows at the table.

Next week, we’ll look at some specific examples from the DarkStryder and Dawn of Defiance campaigns.


Reader Comments (5)

Looking forward your next comment. I am new to RPGs but have been playing SW-SE with a group for half a year and I want to see if I can get into DMing. Our current DM is good at organizing encounters/battles based on the characters that are playing at the table but he makes up the story as he goes to connect battles. It ends up feeling more like a group of thugs going around causing random mischief than heroes.

So I wanted to get my ears wet by doing 3720 to 1 and Unlikely Allies (I am a bit scared to run 25 to Rescue or Point Blank because I don't know if I can handle the whole battle-group mechanics), but the players already complained when I told them it would be with pre-generated characters instead of ones they create themselves. I could run Dawn of Defiance but I don't want to ruin that campaign in case I end up being really bad at DMing. One aspect I feel a bit apprehensive about is that there is information scattered in 14 books (and there is at least 1 player that has them all) and I don't want to slow down the game to have to figure out about some equipment or mechanics a player wants to use and how it will impact the game.

January 20, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterNes

You didn't mention what sort of campaign you were playing in, but there are a couple of ways you might be able to increase the heroic aspect of the game. One is for the players to play up the heroic nature of your characters - avoid acting like criminals, and so forth, take the good guy role. Another is to talk to your game master about making the story line more heroic in general.

As you are new to being a GM, using 3720 to 1 or Unlikely Allies is a good way to go. Though the characters are higher level, you know exactly what they have and what they can do going in, and can prepare for it ahead of time. If your players don't like using pregenerated characters, try to sell them on this as a one-shot game for you to try GMing. If you find you like running the game, let them create their own characters and go from there with Dawn of Defiance. It also gives them an opportunity to try out some mechanics they probably haven't used in their own characters yet.

3720 to 1 is a bit simpler in managing the location, but as a new GM, Unlikely Allies might be easier to run because each encounter is spelled in a more traditional fashion. 3720 to 1 is less linear and depends on the GM deciding on the fly what the various bad guys do in response to player actions. 25 to Rescue and Point Blank are better left for when you're a bit more secure in rules knowledge.

Aside from that - initially, you don't have to use every book in the line. It is perfectly ok for you to start slow and just concentrate on a few books to begin with - usually the core rules and the campaign guide for your era is a good start. As the GM, it is ok to rule out books, talents or equipment that don't fit your era or fact, we don't expect GMs to use everything in every game.

It occurs to me we don't have a specific starter adventure beyond DoD episode 1. Might have to think about that one...

January 21, 2011 | Registered CommenterSterling Hershey

Thanks Sterling. We are playing sometime between the clone wars and before order 66. It is not a pre-made campaign but of the GMs devising. I think part of the problem is that the GM tried hard to convert the whole party to the dark side and the Sith/Empire at the beginning of the game, but our party was not keen on playing all evil characters and just would try to do good acts instead, although sometimes with not so good results :-).

Last game we "acquired" some fancy military droids at an abandoned base for a caminoan merchant in exchange for a ride as passengers to the next planet. Unfortunately after docking, one of the members of our party commented after seeing one of the security droids there: "Look! That droid looks just like the ones on our ship". Causing a republic inspection and the merchant sent to jail forever for transporting unlicensed heavy military droids. Our characters got off the hook because we were just "passengers" and not owners of the ship.

I was thinking of starting with Unlikely Allies, I like it because it has a number of interesting things the players can do but at the same time the number of npcs and things to keep track looks manageable. I need to investigate a little the relationship between Mandalorians, Sith and Jedi at that point in SW history. Because I don't think all of my players will understand the background. I am not 100% sure about the attitude a Sith would have towards a Mandalorian at that point either for example.

January 21, 2011 | Unregistered Commenternes

If you have access to the KotOR Campaign guide, look at page 107, the Mandalorian Wars and Jedi Civil War sections. Also, the Jedi, Republic, Mandalorian and Sith chapters each have a paragraphs marked Mandalorian Wars and Jedi Civil Wars which focuses on their part in each conflict.

The adventure takes place very early in the Jedi Civil War, but the characters are heavily influenced by the end of the Mandalorian Wars. Their backgrounds contain enough info for them to understand their part in the war and their feelings about it, more detail is good to have, but there is enough included for one session. For most of the characters, this is this first exposure to the Jedi Civil War.

The Mandalorians of this period are shattered, really a non-factor in major galactic events. They are more concerned with returning and rebuilding their society, and the Sith would treat them as enemies (mostly).

January 22, 2011 | Registered CommenterSterling Hershey

Excellent! I will look that up.

January 22, 2011 | Unregistered Commenternes

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