Friday, December 18, 2015

Star Wars Force Awakens: A new Era for Adventure?


So for the last few weeks I've been thinking "hey when Force Awakens is out I should really run some D6 SW rpg again, and won't it be cool to use the new era as a springboard for adventures cause it's so hot right now".

Only... now that I've seen Force Awakens... I'm not thaaaaaat inspired by it as an rpg setting, at least not more than I am by the Star Wars Classic Era games. And I've been mulling this over for the last day or so.

Why is it that I'm not champing at the bit now I've seen it? There's lots of cool non-time specific era stuff to yoink into any Star Wars game:

• The concept of Jakku - scavengers ekking out a living in the shadows of ruined battlecruisers - is great (I have a Junk World in my homebrew Star Wars Malicrux sector where scavengers pull apart beached warcruisers, stealing from the tanker strippers you get on the beaches in India)

• Tons of new races glimpsed, just waiting to be detailed, oh and droids too.

• Hints at the criminal gangs like the Kanjiklub and the Gauvian Death Enforcers

• Those Space-Otyugh (Rathars, I think?) that Solo's transporting - the best space critter seen in any of the SW movies

• Mas Kanata's smugglers den... she's been around for a thousand years (sold pot to Yoda during his college years, I hear) and according to Lupito N'yongo has run the place for a hundred years, so there's no reason it wouldn't exist during Classic or Clone Wars games. "Ya'll meet in a bar..."

• Lord Snoke... (hear me out on this) could possibly be a giant, or he could just be doing the Wizard of Oz trick and just be a little guy behind smoke and mirrors. But if not, and that hologram of him was 1 for 1 scale.... well now we have giants in Star Wars. Cool.

• The First Jedi Temple. Well that's got to have been a round for a few thousand years. So yeah, suitable for any era (I totally reckon they shot scenes from SW VIII while they were there, btw)

• Some excellent new Force Powers for the rare Jedi character out there (Boltholder, Force Paralysis, Seize Memory), plus an excellent demonstration of a latent Force Sensitive awakening.

• Some highly dodgy hyperspace hijinx your desperate smuggler can try and pull off.

... and so on. Bound to be tons more stuff in there that I'm forgetting that can be ripped out and dumped into your game.

But as for playing during the new First Order Era?

One of the few complaints I have about Force Awakens is how thin on the ground it is with its locations and the greater galactic scope. It really highlights one of the strengths of the prequels: Lucas' world building and expanding of his galaxy was really great, and Force Awakens was comparatively really dull. A desert world (been there way too many times already), a world of lakes and forests (been there), a world of snow and ice (been there, too), an urban world (briefly!) and an Imperial military complex (been there, lots). Say what you want about the prequels, but boy did Lucas take us to some really interesting places (same goes for the Clone Wars series, and for the new Rebels series). Even the planets and locations in the Nu Trek films are way more interesting than Force Awakens.

And the complaints aren't just about physical locations. The set up— there's a new Republic, which seems to have a democratic government going down, and there's the First Order trying to tear them down but they're only soso powerful, and they're being thwarted by the Resistance (who's relationship with the Republic is... weird to say the least, why not just be the New Republic Armed Forces or whatever) — the set up ain't very clear, and it's very cursory.

Compare that with say the set up of New Hope: there's a tyrannical galactic empire that's grinding everyone under its boots, the remnants of the Old Republic being swept away, criminality is flourishing under draconian rule, and there's a fledgeling Rebellion trying to fix this crapsack setting. There's more impetus to adventure implicit in the Empire's domination of the galaxy. There's a much grander sense of scale too, even if we don't see Coruscant, the Senate, the Emperor the Imperial Academy. "If there's a bright center to the galaxy you're on the planet that it's farthest from." "I've been from one side of the galaxy to the other and seen a lot of strange stuff." There's an awareness of how small these players feel they are in the grand scheme of things (only they aren't small, after all).

The galaxy in Force Awakens feels small. And incomplete.

Maybe we'll just have to hang out for the next two films to fill in those gaps before we go galavanting around this new galaxy. Maybe I can just make my own shit up to fill in the gaps. But if I have to run a Star Wars game... the new First Order era isn't calling to me, yet. There is little in the new era that makes it stand out from the previous eras (whether it's KOTOR era, or Clone Wars era, or Classic era). There is nothing unique about it that would make the gaming experience much different to those other times. All you'd be doing was changing names.

So how do you fix it?

When they were during production one of the early snippets I caught about Force Awakens was that the galactic war was far from over despite the destruction of the second Death Star, and that the war dragged on across the galaxy for decades. And that really sounded fascinating to me. Imagine a protracted civil war between government forces, numerous anti-government factions, meddling by external powers, and throw in a bunch of wild and crazy experimental game-changing technological weapons. Basically... take your cues from what's going on in say Syria. 

Now take Syria, and make it Syria.... IN SPPPPAAAAACE. A galaxy wide civil war. And then make that war play out over three decades across the stars.

What a horrible, terrible place the galaxy would be.

What I hoped we were going to get was two major players - the New Republic and the remains of the Empire - utterly exhausted by the war, having to deal with interference by vested interests — say a Hutt mercenary army or other criminal enterprise trying to capitalise on the chaos and expand their territory by invading wartorn worlds and offering new security. Imagine the state of the galaxy: everything's shot to pieces, or been consumed by the warmachine, or completely disrupted and malfunctioning, of crumbling edifices, ruined starports, and countless bodies everywhere, a scavenger galaxy where dysfunctional governments are usurped by gangs and warlords and everyone lives under the rule of the gun. And suddenly two fleets appear in the skies overhead, and for days the locals live in terror first of wreckage raining down on their world, and then the takeover by the victors above as they strip the world bare of any fuel and parts and food and munitions and people to continue their idealogical genocide.

And maybe that's what the galaxy of the new First Order era is like. A small pocket of civilization at the heart of the Republic, where things are goodish, and several pockets of draconian rule under the Empire.... and everywhere else is utter shit. A points of light campaign on a galactic scale.

Jakku seems a bit like that at least. 

Anyway... that's what I'd do to the rest of the galaxy, what I'd do to make it stand apart from the other eras. There would be a lot more scavenging, kludging, cobbling, and starving; a lot more desperation, despair, and cruelty on all sides, a miserable place where all hope for the return of the Jedi. 


  1. Theres some subtly neat things going on with the FO. Like, traditionally tie fighters were dime a dozen swarm fighters. No hyper-dive or life support (specifically to discourage tie-pilots from deserting), never would a tie fighter have the luxury of a gunner seat or a sealed cabin. But now the FO, seems to care a lot more about keeping pilots alive, I'm guessing because they are on the ropes and they can't just throw skilled pilots away like they used to.
    Also another small point- the rebellion seems to have no problem whatsoever with destroying an entire planet. Were there no indigenous residents or FO civilians? And Fin is living proof not all stormtroopers are evil. I guess I just would have rather seen "the good guys" maybe inspiring more storm troopers to join them and having a slightly more peaceful ending rather than just blowing everything up.

  2. My explanation for the Resistance/Repbublic/First Order stuff is somehwat similar to yours. Perhaps reformed Republic is no more effective than the last one, and so is mired in bureaucracy, or maybe the war weary Republic made peace with the Imperial remnants (which became the First Order) too quickly. Either way, the Resistance are renegades who will brook no accommodation with anything that stinks of the Empire.

  3. I agree that the galaxy of TFA felt smaller than that of the earlier movies. My interpretation of the Republic/Resistance/First Order was that the Republic was most of the galaxy, where the Empire had been successfully done away with, but the First Order was a holdout, still maintaining control over their corner of the galaxy, continuing the legacy of the Empire. The Resistance, then, would be the Republic forces, agents, and sympathizers working within the territory held by the First Order.

    Still, while the universe felt smaller in terms of politics and planets, it reminded me of how large and varied a galaxy Star Wars takes place in. Over the decades, it's felt like the RPG has ossified a little bit, offering twelve variations on the YT line of tramp freighters and depicting the same six species of alien in the artwork. Okay, that's an exaggeration, and perhaps a little unfair (though the last time I looked for a ship some PCs could use, everything looked like the Millennium Falcon) but watching TFA really reminded me that wild variety is one of the things that makes Star Wars so distinctively fun.

  4. I'm assuming princess Leia experiences such horrid soul crushing loss over the next few films that she blows up a deathstar and force chokes the republic senate. Say it with me: #sithempressleia. Yeah, you know that is where we are headed.

  5. Damn right syria in space.
    the force awakens: alt script. The rebellion is imploding as the remnants of the empire fight it out with multiple rebel factions. And from beyond the edge of space comes a new superpower looking to pick up the imperial territories by providing the remnant empire with a new super weapon and some needed leadership. But its a conspiracy to further depleat the imperial and rebel forces leaving them defenseless before an unseen enemy.