Hello and welcome to the first Triumph & Despair interview! GM Ross interviews fellow Galaxy Master Colin Oldenkamp about his experiences with a unique and exciting Star Wars roleplaying game campaign he created using the Traveler RPG system rules. The campaign’s reputation has been such that those outside that gaming group have salivated over the last year or so at the tantalizing scraps of information squeaked out during conversations. While Triumph & Despair has been absolutely enamored with the Edge of the Empire system, we’re really excited to talk about other ways people have used Star Wars in general as a backdrop for their creative expression in the medium of tabletop roleplaying games.
If there’s one thing I cannot abide it is boring or uninspired design. Thankfully, Colin’s game is neither.
Q1: What were some of your design goals in terms of how the campaign played out?
A1: My first and foremost design goal was to create fast, simple game play that focused on excitement instead of the mechanics. Many of the Traveler rules were quickly discarded to speed up play and reduce time spent looking through books.
Q2: What were some of your inspirations?
A2: Other than the original Star Wars trilogy (duh), my biggest inspiration was probably the D&D Dungeon Masters that I know and play with. I won’t name names, but I was inspired by a lot of their great ideas and also many of their shortcomings. I sort of strove to create something that was notably different from what was going around our local circle.
Q3: What game mechanics did you alter to drive home your vision? Or was that even needed at all?
A3: As I mentioned, my biggest move was to reduce time spent looking up rules. So the biggest mechanical changes were to toss out things like Recoil and random location starship hits. I also introduced Fate Points, which allowed a character to automatically succeed at any check or to push the story in their direction. I felt like many exciting moments were made more exciting by a stylish flair added by a Fate Point boosted action.
Q4: Can you briefly describe some memorable moments in your campaign? Specifically the extremes, the times when the players at the table experienced great Triumph or crushing Despair.
A4: Fate Points pushed a lot of exciting moments to new heights. At one point, the party’s Rodian was trying to catch up to a group of villains who had kidnapped another party member and were travelling through a dense jungle. So he stole a pod racer, and while en route, the enemies (and captured party member) were attacked by a crazy space monster. So the Rodian does the equivalent of a handbrake skid, running over several villains, and then performs a Fate Point assisted leap from the now crashing vehicle and onto the monster’s back, from where he was able to use his fledgling force powers to tame it and ride it into the rest of the battle.
That sounds awesome!
Q5: If you could go back with hindsight, what would you have changed or done differently?
A5: I think that if I could go back in time, I would probably institute some of my hand-waving of the rules earlier. I probably also wouldn’t have killed the Sullustan. Not because the players couldn’t handle it, but because he died as a result of my poor game design. I felt a little bad killing off a character due to no fault of his own.
Q6: How did the campaign end? About how long did the campaign run?
A6: The campaign ran for about 6-8 months, if I recall. It ended with the players yanking the Death Star out of hyperspace with experimental technology to separate it from an Imperial Fleet headed to Mon Calamari. The players then got to raid the Death Star while simultaneously doing a big fleet battle between their Rebel forces and my Imperial armada.
Oh man, you cannot get more epic than the Death Star. Love it!
Q7: Oftentimes, Galaxy Masters hold back on the planned difficulty of a scene because they worry that they will derail their campaign or piss off their friends with the kind of brutality they once imagined. Do you have any tips for overcoming that urge to pull your punches?
A7: Know your players. Talk to them. Find out what they want and what they expect, and if that’s compatible with what you want to run, then you’ve got a group! If not, compromise until fun can be had or happily part ways. No need to force round pegs into square group dynamics.