Gaining new power and abilities through accumulating experience points and raising in level is perhaps the oldest form of motivation and meaningful progress evident in roleplaying games. New things are fun and a character rising in skill can feel like a tangible reward and a sign that you are doing well in the game. Compared to some other roleplaying games, FFG Star Wars is very nebulous in its guidelines for handing out experience points, with a wide range of values automatically distributed without qualification and arbitrarily set by the Galaxy Master. While I do appreciate the design intent of simplification, I feel that the games I tend to run deserve a more rigid set of incentives for advancement. Taking a cue from some more experimental indie RPGs (Torchbearer and Dungeon World), I’ve put together some solid guidelines as an alternate method of awarding experience points and incentivizing good roleplaying.
As Galaxy Master, I like to run a very face-paced game of Star Wars. I don’t sit down. I treat my GM Screen as a clipboard and little more than a hard surface to help jot down notes on paper. I drink coffee and energy drinks at 6:00 PM just to get amp’ed up for a game. I don’t stop the game to discuss or analyze rules in a book. I listen to thrash metal and hard-beat industrial.
I cannot be bogged down by rolling on a critical injury table.
This function of FFG Star Wars has long been a speed bump in my GM’ing style. To get around it and keep the game pounding at my preferred breakneck speed, I devised a clever little system of Critical Cards (click to download) to replace the drudgery of rolling d100 and looking up the results in a chart. I implemented this first in FANE of the SITH LORDS and it worked amazingly well. Wow, it has been a long time since I’ve made them. Jeez, why didn’t I post these sooner?
Galaxy Masters wishing to use these instead of the traditional system should print out several copies, two at the least, and shuffle them up. Create one deck for Critical Injuries, those affecting an individual Crew Member, and Critical Hits, those affecting vehicles and starships. Whenever something or someone would suffer a critical, roll just a d10. Previous criticals held by the target, the Vicious weapon quality, and Wounds or Hull Trauma suffered above the target’s threshold all add a +1 to the roll, similar to the rules-as-written critical mechanics.
- If the total of the roll is 8 or lower, use the end of the Critical Card that has a white background; a Minor Critical.
- If the total of the roll is 9 or higher, use the end of the Critical Card that has a dark gray background, a Major Critical. Disruptor weapons always use the Major Critical end of the card.
- If the total of the roll is 15 or higher, the subject is completely destroyed or instantly killed.
This system is intuitive to use, quick to deploy, and gives the players physical reminders of their debilitating conditions. It also opens up an avenue for customization for the Galaxy Master, tweaking the composition of the Critical Cards deck to suit his or her desired level of lethality. For example, during my CRUSH the REBELLION campaign it was made well known that the Critical Cards deck would be stacked with an overabundance (about three times as much as normal) of Maimed critical injuries. What can I say, I like my games of Star Wars to have a lot of lightsaber amputations.
The Critical Cards as presented do not fit the percentages and ratios presented in the rules-as-written charts exactly. I do not care and neither should you. This system overall is a little more swingy, risky, and dangerous; an injury of Dead can theoretically be applied on just the first critical injury delivered. If you’re uncomfortable with that, tweak the die roll thresholds (9 and 15) to be a little higher, or remove those offending cards from your deck.
When designing a deadly, challenging B is for Beast or N is for Nemesis, it is often helpful for the Galaxy Master to begin by envisioning what extreme Characteristics their creation should have. These types of superlative enemies should always have an array of talents, tricks, weapons, and defenses that present a challenge to the players that have broken the rules, gone beyond the envelope of “fairness”. Most importantly, these additions make this creature into something totally awesome. The techniques described in this post are in large part an extension of the design of the major enemies in Fane of the Sith Lords, such as The Emperor, Mara Jade, and the Four-headed Hyper-evolved Dianoga.
Under the FFG Star Wars RPG, a typical creation made in this manner will have one of four options for their brutal base Characteristics:
- one characteristic at 7
- two characteristics at 6
- four characteristics at 5
- a mix of the above
In addition, every frustrating enemy must always have one or two Characteristics at a lowly 1. Your creature should have an unfair advantage, a true challenge to be overcome, but also a distinct weakness that can be exploited by clever and persistent players. The fun in using these horrorific creations is not in punishing the other players or reveling in your own ability to “win”; satisfaction is instead found in seeing the players pull out a glorious victory in the face of certain doom.
At this stage, a Galaxy Master should also begin imagining the fiction that informs and supports the Characteristics. What makes your creature’s abilities so extreme? Is it cybernetic, Sith-touched, genetically modified, from another universe, incredibly ancient, or something else?
Lastly, make sure to enforce your narrative with real bite by applying concrete, definable new abilities and weaknesses to reflect your creature’s Characteristics. An enemy with Willpower 7 is just one that rolls a lot of dice, but a foe that can drain the life force of living creatures is an opponent that will never be forgotten. An array of special abilities and weaknesses has been provided below to help inspire your own designs. It is recommended that a truly frightful enemy be provided with a minimum of 3 such abilities.
Here’s a list of the nuggets of wisdom I’ve been dispensing on social media platforms for the past two weeks, in no particular order. This is the last of my helpful tips & tricks, at least for the foreseeable future. I hope you’ve all found them entertaining and/or useful! I’ve you’ve got any questions about more specific topis or areas of interest, please let me know in the Comments below.
- Hit your players with multiple threats at once. Make them worry about dangers coming from all angles.
- If the Empire is involved; how does this all fit into The Emperor’s elaborate secret plans? If it doesn’t, stretch your imagination.
- Have a crazy contingency plan for every major enemy that will protect them in some way. Clones, escape pod, hostage, secretly a Jedi.
- A good alternative to combat, especially in space, is a Chase Scene. Who’s running? What for? Why is it dangerous to follow?
- Bait the players into taking more Obligation. Offer them an easy way out of a bad situation or a quick increase in power/wealth.
- Have a list of twists to introduce for when each character triggers their Obligation. Derail your dumb story to spotlight a player.
- Figure out what real-life subjects your players think are cool or unsettling. Spice up your adventures with those.
- Instead of the usual back-and-forth of Destiny Points, try this: all PCs roll 3 Force Dice and gain Destiny for Light Side. GM can never use Destiny.
- TRIUMPH: reveal a secret, gain a clue to a puzzle, add an opportunity for profit, reveal a welcome truth, an unexpected ally appears
- DESPAIR: complicate a puzzle, It’s a trap!, add a new enemy, put in a moral twist, reveal an unwelcome truth, something is destroyed
Here’s a list of the nuggets of wisdom I’ve been dispensing on social media platforms for the past two weeks, in no particular order:
- When designing a scene, establish why combat here would be a bad idea. Fights will happen on their own, don’t encourage them.
- Present outlandish rewards (lightsabers, starships, cybernetics, etc.), at the cost of outlandish danger or penalty.
- Find ways to emphasize underused skills, such as the Astrogation. Build your challenges around them.
- Make every adventure ABSOLUTELY AWESOME! … but also kind of unfair.
- If a rule bit is becoming trite, boring, or grinding the flow of the game; make a single skill check and move on.
- Every campaign should have a few lightsabers, even “campaigns” that are only a single adventure. It’s not Star Wars without them.
- Every enemy fears something or someone. What keeps your Nemesis awake at night?
- It’s a used future. Make things broken, scuffed, old, someone else’s property, or just totally gross.
- Use strict out-of-game time limits to ratchet up the tension and emphasize quick decisions.
- Steal your players’ ideas. Let them speculate on clues & grab a hold of the most interesting / controversial theory they come up with.
I will be running some local one-shot games using the FFG Star Wars at some local cons and MeetUps in the coming weeks. Naturally, I went with what I am excited and passionate about at the moment and put together a quick little adventure related to my CRUSH the REBELLION campaign. When running adventures like this with strangers in the mix, or any one-shot game really, I always prepare a set of easy to use pre-generated characters.
My ultimate goal with these character sheets is to have something available so that any player can sit down with one of these, grab a pen, and start playing immediately. Everything should be easy to read and work in an intuitive fashion. Additionally, I wanted jaded fans of the Star Wars lore to be immediately become enraptured and excited at the audacity of the characters I was providing. These aren’t nameless Imperial lackeys that no one cares about; these are the big time movers and shakers within the deep core of the Empire’s machinery. I want every character to inspire someone to say, “Whoa, this person is such a badass!“
I’ve already established a method that I enjoy for showcasing skills, talents and the like. For this adventure, however, there was another wrinkle to consider.
A core mechanic for any CRUSH the REBELLION campaign, the thing that makes it really unique, is the use of Secret Agendas. To foment an atmosphere of tense, cold-war style manipulation and intrigue, I needed to have each character with something to instantly focus their disdain on, something for the character to hate; and also a seemingly simple end goal with an added complication of needing to rely on someone, perhaps another Agent, to be able to accomplish. The tension between the Agents competing against each other in the macro scale, but also needing each other to survive the micro scale, is what defines this setting.
These characters are each built with an additional sum of experience points above starting level (I think I ended up with +100Xp for each), basic gear, and one special equipment; a gift from The Emperor that defies the normal order of Imperial dogma and gives that character a special advantage.
In the rare chance that you might be involved in any of the local Baltimore games that I am running, please do not read these character sheets until after your game. No spoilers!
The Galactic Empire rules its subjects through uncompromising laws. Frequently, your player characters will encounter, or become, special Imperial citizens that have been accused of a heinous crime. These crimes all represent cases that are somehow unique, with the details of the circumstances left open to fit the needs of the Galaxy Master’s story.
Each crime has a Perpetrator, an individual suspected to be the head of the offense or perhaps merely a scapegoat. A suggested list of misconduct is then provided to describe the Crime for which this character stands accused.
Each wrongdoing here is consider a grave felony and with comes a Punishment designed to instill abject horror in any would-be felons. When the player characters get involved with this crime, and surely they will, a complication or wrinkle will be brought up that may make them question their previously held values. The Motivation behind the crime, why the perpetrator committed such an act, should come as some sort of surprise or revelation, a most excellent way to introduce ethical and moral decisions onto the players at your table.
Roll randomly (d10) on the charts below or choose the grim sentence of your own volition.
When designing a Crime & Punishment, it may be helpful to also envision the associated Trial to go with it.