Star Wars Wednesday - Running Published Epic Length Campaigns pt 2

Before picking up where we left off last week, I wanted to mention a few things:

First, I enjoyed the final Savage Opress Clone Wars episode, especially the lightsaber battles.

John Jackson Miller’s new novel Knight Errant released yesterday. He talks about it and some good rules for working in a shared universe over at the Border’s blog.  It includes a bit about working on the Knights of the Old Republic Campaign Guide. For those who haven’t seen it, John, Troy Denning and Joe Schreiber have been guest blogging over there for the last week or so.

Star Wars RPG license – there is a rumor out there that Fantasy Flight Games doesn’t have/isn’t interested in the license, and that Lucasfilm Licensing has said it hasn’t been granted to anyone. There is no confirmation either way, though, so it’s still all rumor.

Returning to our discussion of running epic length published campaigns, this week I wanted to look at a few examples from West End Games’ DarkStryder Campaign and Wizards of the Coast’s Dawn of Defiance campaign.


DarkStryder is a massive multi-product campaign, with a detailed storyline and story arc. It kicks off with a box set that includes all of the campaign background material, pregenerated characters, a poster map of the main ship used throughout the campaign, and character recognition cards.The cards have a picture of each main character in a summary of their stats on the back. Next up are two books of adventures: The Kathol Outback and the Kathol Rift, and the series wraps up with another source-heavy book called Endgame. Novelist Timothy Zahn wrote the introductory short story.

The campaign follows the crew of the FarStar, as it pursues a fleeing Imperial warlord into the wilds of the distant Kathol Sector. The campaign includes battling Imperials four years after Endor, exploring the largely unknown sector, and diplomacy as the ship serves as the first New Republic craft to make it out this far. Beyond the challenges outlined above, the crew is not the typical military crew, but made up of New Republic officers and crew, plus a tremendous number of locally recruited members.

For a roleplaying game campaign, DarkStryder is unique in that it provides a couple of dozen or so pregenerated characters and their backgrounds in the box set. Generally speaking, most campaigns expect the players to create their own characters and histories. While it is possible to play DarkStryder the same way, players will miss out on the built in roleplaying opportunities provided in the histories and motivations of the provided characters. Also unusually, the campaign expects the players to have at least 2 to 3 characters running concurrently throughout the game. That’s not to say they will be using them all once in every session. Usually, each adventure focuses on a particular set of characters or specific situation. Basically, each character gets a member of the command crew, and two other crew members of lesser rank/position.

DarkStryder is intended to be grittier and more dangerous than traditional campaigns, which is part of the reason for the multiple character set up. The intent was that you could, and probably would, lose one or more of the main characters during the campaign, and then use replacements from either the ranks of the crew within the ship, or from one of the many planets visit along the way. In practice, my campaign didn’t have a lot of main character fatalities until the final adventure. Maybe I’m just too easy on my player sometimes. However, part of the problem was that there were certain characters that became more integral to the plot than others, but not knowing their exact role ahead of time made it too tempting to protect the named characters when possible.

While character death did not occur as often as initially expected, interparty conflict came as advertised. The characters’ different goals and personalities came to the forefront often. If your group cannot handle, or does not like, in-character roleplaying differences and arguments, this may not be a campaign for you. The crew is made up of ex-Imperials, Rebels, locals, and a few outright crazy people. Later in the campaign, the ship picks up more outsiders, and integrating them into the crew is always a challenge. Depending on the adventure, interparty conflict may take up significant playing time. Most of the adventures expect it.

With so many characters available, it’s tempting to add a lot of players. The first time I ran the DarkStryder, I had upwards of 12 players. It sounds like it was too many, and it was. However, I was actually counting on getting about 6-8 players per game each week. It worked for a while, but ultimately fell apart, I think somewhere in the first book after the box set. When I restarted it, the number was much reduced to a more traditional and manageable six players or so. There were a few holdovers from the first game, but most were new.

As the campaign progressed, we switched out a few players, usually recruiting new people to take up the old characters. Because of the pregenerated characters, this was crucial to keep some of the storylines going. Integrating new people into the game proved to be more challenging than I expected, and didn’t always mesh well with the existing group. I.E., they didn’t fit the play style as well as I expected. Such things are always a problem in ongoing games, but having a main character switch personalities or goals midstream causes new problems. Now, I would probably either take the character on is a gamemaster character, or find a way to replace them altogether.

Dawn of Defiance

Dawn of Defiance is a 10 adventure campaign that set out to provide the iconic Star Wars role-playing game experience and provide an example of how to run the game from 1st to 20th level. Set in the early years of the Dark Times, the characters work for Senator Organa as proto-Rebels. Ultimately, they are chasing after the Sarlacc Project, first to discover what it is, and later what to do about it. They are, essentially, some of the earliest to battle the Empire directly.

The players create their character stats and their backgrounds, like a typical campaign (within certain guidelines). While the adventures are linked, they do not normally depend on the same characters being involved in every adventure. The time between the adventures varies, with some substantial breaks in the action. There are ample opportunities to replace a character, and since much of the action takes place within the most populated areas of the galaxy, virtually any species and character type in the era is theoretically available. However, the campaign runs the smoothest if the characters truly want to oppose the empire - a mercenary approach might work for awhile, but becomes hard to sustain long term.

One of the challenges of this campaign is the pace of advancement. In the first few adventures, the experience point awarded are generally enough to level the characters as expected. Later on, however, the number of points needed to advance simply do not fit into the space allocated for the product, and more adventuring is generally needed. GMs should expect to either forego awarding XP and just level when needed, or provide their own adventures in between the published ones to make up the difference.

For GMs running this campaign, see the dedicated sub-forum on the Wizards of the Coast message board for additional advice and ideas.